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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard plays Hardball. TRANSCRIPT: 4/11/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Ben Rhodes, David Corn, Ro Khanna, Caroline Frederickson, ThomasPerez, Michael Sean Winters, Tulsi Gabbard

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  I hope you`ll be joining us for that.  But it locked right here because "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Who`s afraid of Julian Assange?  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Big news tonight, President Trump is doubling down on his Attorney General`s assertion that there was spying on his -- Trump`s 2016 campaign.  And the U.S. Justice Department is now charging WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange with conspiracy.  Assange was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London today by British authorities.  He has been living there for nearly seven years until his asylum was rescinded.

He was initially charged today by British authorities for skipping bail, but he was arrested on a second charge from American prosecutors.  An unsealed indictment alleges Assange conspired with former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to commit computer intrusion, that`s the phrase, computer intrusion, in leaking classified military files in back 2010.  U.S. prosecutors now want Assange extradite to this country, which is attorneys say they will fight.

Assange has not been charged with anything related to WikiLeaks` publication of hacked democratic emails in the 2016 campaign.  If you remember, WikiLeaks was also a major part of candidate Donald Trump`s closing argument against Hillary Clinton in 2016.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  By the way, did you see another one?  Another one came in today.  This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.

This WikiLeaks is unbelievable, what we`ve learned about her and her people.

We love WikiLeaks.  WikiLeaks, they have revealed a lot.

Boy, that WikiLeaks has done a job on her, hasn`t it?

I`ll tell you, this WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable.  It tells you the inner heart.  You got to read it.

Now, this just came out.  WikiLeaks.  I love WikiLeaks.


MATTHEWS:  Well, he was asked about Assange this morning and feigned ignorance.


TRUMP:  I know nothing about WikiLeaks.  It`s not my thing.  And I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange.  I`ve been seeing what`s happened with Assange.  And that will be a determination.  I would imagine mostly by the Attorney General who is doing an excellent job.


MATTHEWS:  How dainty.  Anyway, President Trump weighed in on Attorney General William Barr`s comments and he believes spying did occur by the U.S. government in the Trump 2016 campaign.


REPORTER:  Mr. President, are you pleased that your Attorney General yesterday said that there was spying into your campaign in 2016?

TRUMP:  Yes, I am.  I think what he said was absolutely true.  There was absolutely spying into my campaign.  I`ll go a step further with my opinion.  It was illegal, unprecedented spying and something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again.  And I think his answer was actually a very accurate one.


MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California, Caroline Frederickson, the President of American Constitution Society, David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief of Mother Jones, and Ben Rhodes, who was Deputy National Security Adviser in the Obama administration.

I want to start with Ben.  Thank you for being on tonight.  Assange, what - - I`ve noticed a change of attitude by the President on Julian Assange.  I mean, he was his best sidekick back when he was going after Hillary.  And now, this time around, he doesn`t like to talk about the fact that there was Russian involvement in our election in 2016, he doesn`t like the fact that WikiLeaks played a role in publicizing all that hacking stuff on the DNC especially.  What do you think Trump`s up to what he is afraid of if this guy comes to this country under an extradition?

BEN RHODES, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR:  Well, look, Chris, I mean, it was a determination of our intelligence community united that Julian Assange was a partner in an operation with Russian intelligence to publicize those very same emails that constituted Trump`s closing argument in his 2016 election.  This wasn`t just like some random rally in the middle of primaries.  This is what he was closing on in October of 2016.  We know that Russian intelligence found a way through cutout to get these emails to Julian Assange, who then published them to help elect Donald Trump president.  And so if American justice officials were able to ask Julian Assange questions, it`s quite likely that they could learn more about how and why that happened.

MATTHEWS:  David -- David Corn is here.  David, I want to know who now is nervous that Assange is coming to America?  I would think Roger Stone, one person who`s worried.

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES:  Well, the question is whether Julian Assange will cooperate or say anything if he gets here.  They have to go through the extradition hearing in England.  But he`s in several of the indictments.  We have Roger Stone being -- remember this.  In Roger Stone`s indictment, it says that someone directed a senior Trump campaign official to instruct Stone and make contact with WikiLeaks.  We don`t know who did that directing.  Was it Trump?  Was it somebody else?

There are things about the connection between WikiLeaks and people related to Trump that have not been determined.  And maybe, a big maybe, it will be in the Mueller report if not redacted.

MATTHEWS:  We know so far Special Counsel Robert Mueller did reveal a link between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks through former campaign adviser, Roger Stone.  As David just mentioned, according to Stone`s indictment in January, around June and July of 2016, Stone informed senior Trump campaign officials that he had information indicating WikiLeaks had documents whose release would be damaging to the Clinton campaign.

And then after the first batch of DNC emails were released in late July, quote, a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information WikiLeaks had.  Stone thereafter told the Trump Campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by WikiLeaks.  What a relationship.

In his congressional testimony this February, Michael Cohen alleged that Roger Stone gave candidate Trump advanced notice that WikiLeaks would release hacked DNC emails.  Here we go.


MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP`S FORMER ATTORNEY:  I was in Mr. Trump`s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone, Mr. Stone on the speaker phone.  Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton`s campaign.  Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect, wouldn`t that be great?


MATTHEWS:  Congressman, I just want to take a minute to explain why I think there was collusion and why I think, these are only reports from the Mueller report, which we hopefully will get confirmed next week, that the Special Counsel`s operation believes that the Russian intelligence people manipulated Trump`s campaign.  And I believe here is the example of how they did it.  They gave him dirt on Hillary.  They sucked him in the way any intelligence operation would.  Give him something, get him in the habit of using it and establish a means of working together.  And all of a sudden, you got a team.

Now, whether that`s collusion or not, it damn well is being manipulated by the Russians.

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA):  I think as Ben Rhodes pointed out, there is evidence that Assange was cooperating with the Russians to help Trump.  I have never seen a politician other than Trump have the amnesia and inconsistency and get away with it.

MATTHEWS:  Just like there, we showed it there.

KHANNA:  I mean, it would end any person in Congress`s career.  And, of course, they are concerned what Assange is going to say.  With that said, I do think that journalists should also be concerned because the indictment is overbroad.  It goes after Assange even for sharing information with any source if they share information with a journalist, it criminalizes that, and I think that does raise first amendment concerns.

CAROLINE FREDERICKSON, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CONSTITUTION SOCIETY:  Well, I think there is reason to be concerned.  But I`d like to go back to whether or not he actually might want to talk about Donald Trump now.  I mean, when you`re sitting in a different place, all of a sudden, you are the defendant.  And you can change the terms of what the prosecution is going to look like if you talk a little bit more.  He might be more inclined to talk.  So I think that`s a piece of all of this that David alluded to.

I think the other thing that`s important to remember though is that Donald Trump doesn`t like about now what he`ll call wiki who or wiki what, is that it`s changing his story, right?  It was great to praise WikiLeaks when they were putting out information that helped him win the election.  Now, he wants the story to be he won the election fair and square.  So that`s a story he doesn`t want to hear about anymore.

MATTHEWS:  The cosmos has shifted, Ben Rhodes, because you`re right.  I think Caroline got it right.  I mean, during the election, he wanted as much dirt thrown over the (INAUDIBLE) as he could get.  He would get it through Roger, through WikiLeaks, anybody can get it, through his son-in- law, through his son, through his Manafort connections, any connection would get dirt on Hillary, he was loving it.  Now, he denies there were any such connections.

RHODES:  Well, Chris, here`s what I want to know, and I`ve always wanted to know this, because we were watching this in the White House at the time.  And it`s not just that WikiLeaks is dumping out these emails, it`s that there was a surprising correlation in what Trump was saying on the Campaign trail and what was in those leaks.  So, in other words, Trump was talking a lot about Hillary being corrupt and the corruption of the Clinton Foundation and in her operation.  You remember that.  The WikiLeaks tended to focus on those types of things.  So the emails that were being released by WikiLeaks mirrored very closely what Trump was saying on the campaign trail.

We also subsequently found out that a lot of the fake news that Russia was creating and pumping into our system and pumping into people`s social media similarly amplified some of these themes in right wing media and on the campaign trail from Trump about Hillary`s corruption or about her health.

So what I`ve always wondered about in terms of coordination, collusion, whatever you want to say it is, is how come there was this common thread between the emails being leaked, what Trump was saying and what the fake news that was being produced, just like I`d like to know why it is that the Russians were able to prioritize certain states and geographies in the United States that were important to Trump.  I think there is a lot in that October time period that raises questions and if Julian Assange is compelled to cooperate, we might get more answers just like I hope we get more answers and actually being able to read the Mueller report instead of just getting this white washed public relations strategy from Barr.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  And Ben and everybody, in terms of watching how the election turned around in 2016, the surprisingly strong showing by Trump in Pennsylvania, which is heavily Catholic in many of its areas, and you see how they dumped the dirt by democrats talking to each other in a way that didn`t exactly shine up to Catholics.  And they go, let`s get this dumped out there, let`s get this out to Pennsylvania.  As you say, they were micro-targeting using WikiLeaks` information and WikiLeaks` people were getting the right stuff from the Russians who knew what stuff would be useful to hurt Hillary Clinton in states like Pennsylvania, which were pivotal.

Anyway, meanwhile, last night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted Attorney General William Barr for his remark that the government spied on the Trump campaign.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  Let me just say how very, very dismaying and disappointing that the chief law enforcement officer of our country is going off the rails yesterday and today.


MATTHEWS:  Congressman, I`m impressed really by her.  I`ve always been impressed, but she gets better and better.

KHANNA:  She`s amazing.  And she`s got the whole caucus now behind her.  There were all these doubters, but they`ve seen she is the only politician in this country who has gone toe-to-toe with Donald Trump and won.  I mean, on the border dispute, she is the only one who has --

MATTHEWS:  And now, she is going after Bill Barr, in a way.  I trust this guy, Mueller, I don`t trust you.

KHANNA:  Well, look, it`s ridiculous.  We have a whole country that has interfered in our election, Russia, and Bill Barr is in front of Congress and making stuff up without any evidence about complaining that our intelligence agencies were looking into the fact that we had election interference instead of addressing the fact that we had election interference.  So that`s why she is outraged.

MATTHEWS:  I want to make your point.  David, how can you attack somebody for catching the bad guys?  Look at all the indictments, look at all the convictions, look at the fact that we now have evidence probably coming out next week showing that they did manipulate the Trump campaign.  And if all that has been manifest, how can you he say, you shouldn`t have dug it up?

CORN:  Well, these are the flipsides of the same coin.  Donald Trump denies anything about WikiLeaks because now we know WikiLeaks was part of a Russian operation aimed to help him and he helped WikiLeaks.  Yes, he helped WikiLeaks help himself.  And we also know now, thanks to the U.S. intelligence community, but also to republicans and democrats on the intelligence committees, they all say this operation happened, it occurred.  And while it was underway, Trump was denying it was happening.  He was siding with Putin over his own U.S. intelligence while U.S. was being attacked.

So he needs to divert attention from that basic principal sin of the Trump administration.  That is to say, no, no, no, the real story is the dossier, the spying.  That`s what really happened.  Not that we were attacked, and I gave cover to the attack.  So this is a hill that the Planet Fox and Bill Barr, Donald Trump, they will die on this, that the real issue was the dossier, spying and not the Russian attacked, and we stood by or even we helped that attack occur.

MATTHEWS:  The hard thing is, if you`re Trump, I don`t know how he pulls it off, you have to not only educate your fan club at the peanut gallery on the right but you have to constantly reeducate them.  No, no no, we like WikiLeaks but that was the last of it (ph).  No, we don`t like those.  Change the ball game there.

FREDERICKSON:  Well, I think the ball game has been clear from the beginning, and that`s when Trump talked about what he wanted in an Attorney General, he said he wanted a Roy Cohn.  Jeff Sessions wouldn`t be that man, so he got sent packing back to Alabama.  And Bill Barr actually auditioned for the role.  He sent that 19-page memo saying, I don`t think the President can ever be guilty of obstruction.  So why should we be surprised that Bill Barr has turned out to be Roy Cohn?

MATTHEWS:  Explain Roy Cohn.  It`s to be as somebody who was willing to be ruthless and known as ruthless.  In other words, smear yourself in the case of your client, do whatever it takes.

FREDERICKSON:  Do whatever it takes.  This is a man who believes that the President is above the law, who then looked at Mueller`s report and said, I`m going to make a determination that Bob Mueller didn`t make, even though it should have probably gone to Congress for the final evaluation, but he took it unto himself.  He`s given the President exactly what he wanted, the president said he wanted a Roy Cohn and he got it.

CORN:  Who were Roy Cohn`s most famous clients?  Mobsters.


CORN:  So here`s the President of the United States saying, I want a mob attorney.  This is what`s happening.

MATTHEWS:  I just want to know why everybody who actually gets in trouble loses their chin, their neck rather.  The head just -- look at this guy, Bill Barr, his neck has completely disappeared in the last two months.

KHANNA:  He was the same guy who got Bush to pardon all of the folks in Iran-Contra.  It`s like the ghost of Bill Barr never goes away.  He is there to clean up messes.  I mean, he is the person who --

MATTHEWS:  Cap Weinberger?

KHANNA:  Yes, right before Bush was leaving office, five pardons because of Bill Barr.

MATTHEWS:  Okay.  Let`s talk about this last thing here.  President Trump said he hasn`t been -- hasn`t seen the Mueller report, but based only the scant details released by the A.G., Trump is accusing, didn`t take much evidence, treason.  He`s accusing democrats of treason.


TRUMP:  The bottom line, the result is no collusion, no obstruction and that`s the way it is.  And I know a lot of people were very disappointed, but they knew the real answer.  You know, when the democrats go behind the scenes and they into a room back stage, and they sit and they talk, they laugh because they know it`s all a big scam, a big hoax.  And it`s called politics, but this is dirty politics, so this is actually treason.


MATTHEWS:  Caroline, what do these words mean anymore?

FREDERICKSON:  Well, it`s highly offensive.  I think, first of all, it should be offensive obviously to the American public to be treated this way as idiots.  But then, what about our national intelligence services, our FBI, the Department of Justice, Bob Mueller who brought so many indictments, who got so many guilty verdicts and guilty pleas.  There was there there.  There was clearly Russian interference with our election.  And we need to know more about that.  We don`t need to have our intelligence services thwarted by this kind of allegation that is just beyond the pale.

MATTHEWS:  Trump talks like he`s in a fourth world country that has no history of democracy and no culture or a republic.  It`s all just screaming these words.  It`s like Moon Over Parador or something.  I don`t know.  It`s the craziest in the world or bananas.

Anyway, thank you, U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna, as always.  We`re going to have breakfast soon, I think.  Caroline Frederickson, thank you so much.  David Corn and Ben Rhodes, you came through again.  Thank you, sir.

Coming up, the democrats` brand new war room, catch, what (ph), something back to the Clinton era, the mission is to hit Trump where he hurts on his broken promises to the middle class, the blue collar workers, seniors and others.

Plus, the unprecedented conflict between two living Roman Catholic popes.  This is a strange story for me especially.  Retired Pope Benedict openly contradicting Pope Francis on the church`s response to the clergy sexual abuse scandal.  But the ideological divide goes deeper than that.  What it means for the future of the church and the papacy, coming up tonight.  Much more ahead tonight.  Stick with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Throughout the 2016 campaign, candidate Donald Trump promised to work, as we all know, tirelessly for the forgotten man and woman. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We`re fighting for every forgotten man, woman and child of this nation.  I`m asking you to dream big.  We used to dream big.  I see you.  I hear you.  And I will never, ever let you down, I promise.  We will never let you down. 

I will be a voice for all of the forgotten Americans in this country.  I will be your voice.  I`m going to be your voice. 



MATTHEWS:  Well, two years into his administration, the president`s manner of governing, however, seems to be working mostly of, by and for himself. 


TRUMP:  Frankly, there`s only one person that`s running it.  You know who that is?  It`s me. 



Reportedly tired of being told no, he`s circling the wagons now, surrounding himself with supporters and purging people who stand in his way. 

Meanwhile, his critics say, many of those forgotten Americans are still waiting for results.

According to a recent poll, only a small minority of Americans noticed any benefit from his tax cut.  A majority of Americans like the Affordable Care Act -- they like it -- which he`s trying to kill.  And a number of farmers in America`s heartland are struggling under Trump`s trade policies. 

In that backdrop, the DNC today launched a war.  Amid that backdrop, the DNC has organized a war room aimed at ousting Trump in 2020.  NBC News reports the DNC is making a major expansion of its opposition team.  It will be hyper-focused on the impact of Trump`s policies on local communities.

Dozens of staffers have compiled an archive of thousands of documents obtained through local news and Freedom of Information Act requests that will be used to spotlight promises Trump made during visits to specific communities and put a human face on what`s happened since then. 

I`m joined right now by Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Sir, you for the offense.

A war room, it goes back to me and Little Rock and Bill Clinton, rapid response.  How you going to get the voters who care about -- they don`t like illegal immigration.  They don`t like late-term abortion.  They don`t like socialism.

How do you get them to focus on the day-to-day reality of their lives?


We won at scale in 2018 because we focused relentlessly on the issues that were keeping people up at night, health care, health care, health care.  And in 2020, as we run up to this election, 572 days until the weekend, what we`re doing at the DNC is localizing the trail of broken promises from this president. 

He goes into New Hampshire, I promise -- he makes promises about naval yards.  He goes into Ohio and he promises a new bridge to connect Kentucky and Southern Ohio.  He goes all across this country.  The Ohio -- the Chevy plant.  The trail of broken promises. 

And what you see in this is two things.  Number one, from his mouth, those promises, I`m going to -- no plant will close.  And then what you see -- and this is what I think is most important -- is through the lens of ordinary Americans, those forgotten people that he said he would look out for, talking about, my plant is closing, the Harley plant in Kansas City`s closing, I don`t know where I`m going to get my health care.

The Kimberly-Clark worker in Wisconsin who lost her job, and they got a billion dollars in tax cuts, and the overwhelming majority went to stock buybacks.  This is about localizing the impact of Trump and also talking about what we stand for. 

He`s fighting to take your health care away.  We`re working to make sure you can keep your health care.

MATTHEWS:  Can you turn a campaign down to local, how it affects me personally, campaigns, when there`s overriding message coming from Trump?

The Democratic elite don`t care about you.  They got illegal immigration going out of hand.  You`re taking -- having babies killed with late-term abortion.

I know the arguments.  They`re pretty strong and they`re vivid.


MATTHEWS:  Can this kind of mundane, if you will, on-the-ground effort counter that?


I mean, it has a -- it has a way of eating into the narrative a little bit.  Certainly, what we did in 2010 and 2009 and that period to sort of begin to rewrite or re-correct the messaging around the GOP, what were we about, what did we stand for?

So we had to make it personal.  Even the fire Pelosi effort in 2010, we localized it.  You want better government, whether it was a better city council, a better county council, a better state legislature, you had to fire Nancy Pelosi, because you made her the symbol that represented government not working. 

Similarly, I think the Democrats are in a position to make a relative -- same argument about how the promises have not been kept.

The problem -- and it`s something that we were very keen on -- is, once you do that, you then have to have that follow-up conversation.  This is what we want to put on the table.  So it`s not just enough to stop the Obama agenda in 2010.  It then became a message of, OK, so what will Republican government look like? 

Similarly, that`s going to be the argument the Democrats have to make.  So, you have competing forces, though, because you have got two arguments within the party that are emerging, a progressive argument and a center- left argument, around things like taxes, around big government, small government.


You`re talking like a Democrat, Michael.

STEELE:  I`m just saying...


STEELE:  I`m not talking like a Democrat.

PEREZ:  He`s been accused of that, Chris.


STEELE:  I have been accused of that quite a bit in this land.

But I`m not talking like a Democrat.  I`m just talking about the strategy of trying to connect with those voters is what Trump has been the most effective at doing.

And even though you think that, yes, people want to keep their health care, Obamacare, yes, people want -- don`t like the way the tax cuts have played out, he is still, for a lot of voters out there, the fighter.  He`s the guy who`s -- at the end of the day, I can...


STEELE:  ... fight for me.

MATTHEWS:  Well, according to Politico, Politico magazine, Senate Republicans are slowly figuring out how to contain President Trump`s worst instincts. 

However, Senate Republicans are still wrestling with the Trump administration, trying new ways to blunt the administration by taking them places they don`t want to go.

And earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued this warning to the president -- quote -- "There are two things the administration ought to consider before nominating someone, first a background check, and second likelihood of confirmation, and generally better to check up on in advance."

I think that`s what that`s about.  And here`s what -- here`s a problem for you -- 58 percent of the American people like the president`s economy.  They like his job approval.  That`s a high number, given the divide of the country. 

PEREZ:  But here`s the thing, Chris.

When you talk to people who have diabetes or some other preexisting condition, they see Democrats fighting to help them keep their coverage.  They see Donald Trump fighting to take it away. 

When you have someone who got a $1 raise last year, but the cost of prescription drugs and the cost of housing went up $3, all those statistics and all the things happening on Wall Street are irrelevant.  That`s why, when we localize this, and when we tell the story, that`s how we get ahead.

And, also, Chris, this president, he marketed himself as a different kind of politician.  I`m going to drain the swamp. 

And what these trail of broken promises show is that he`s just building a bigger swamp.  He is the worst politician.  He`s in it for himself.  He`s an inveterate liar.  And we`re showing that.

And, again, we`re showing it locally.  You know, @DNCWarRoom, you go on to that on Twitter, and you will see so many testimonials through his words and through the American people who are suffering as a result of those broken promises.

MATTHEWS:  All you got to do is turn a few hundred thousand votes in the whole country, you got the election. 

By the way, this the old Kennedy trick.  Go into this neighborhoods that would normally vote Republican and talk to the people there.  There`s a lot of people.  You can pick them up.  You pick up people that normally you think they`re in that crowd.  They did it in Philly.  Remember, in Philly?

PEREZ:  Absolutely.


MATTHEWS:  And what you do is, you into the white working-class neighborhoods and you get the people who are union guys.  You get the people who are benefiting from the machine, the political machine, and you pick them off, until, all of a sudden, what happened?  The Democrats won again.

STEELE:  Yes.  But here`s the thing.  What are you picking them off with? 

Are you picking them off by saying to them, we`re going to give you free education, we`re going to give you free health care, we`re going to give you free...


MATTHEWS:  No, I think the argument is that the president betrayed you. 

STEELE:  But they`re not buying that argument.  That`s my point.  They`re not buying the argument the president betrayed them, because those folks still believe he`s in their corner. 

And then, when you look at Florida, for example, and other elections in the past cycle, when people get to that point where they`re going to vote on the project -- the promises that the Democrats will be making, the question is, how do we pay for it? 

And so you have got to have an answer to that as well. 


PEREZ:  And here`s the reality. 

People want to know, who has my back?  And, in 572 days, that`s the question they`re going to ask.  Donald Trump said, I have your back.  And what we`re showing is, he`s had a knife in your back, and he keeps twisting it.  And the Democrats are the ones that are going to save your health care.

MATTHEWS:  Quick one-word answer, yes or no.  Is it going to be a close election next year, yes or no? 

PEREZ:  I think we should always assume it`s going to be a close election.

MATTHEWS:  It`s going to be close?  You predict a close election?

PEREZ:  I think we`re going to win, but I don`t -- I don`t take...


STEELE:  Today, I say, Trump wins, close election. 

MATTHEWS:  Democrats win?

PEREZ:  Democrats.


MATTHEWS:  Close election.

Anyway, thank you, Tom Perez, who won`t say it`s a close election. 

Thank you, Michael Steele.

Up next:  Six years after abdicating the papacy, Pope Benedict`s inserting himself back into the discussion about church -- the church sex abuse with a letter that openly contradicts Pope Francis` diagnosis -- diagnosis of the problem. 

This is really something.  This is sticky, this one.  Where do Catholic leaders go from here? 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In 2013, Pope Benedict stepped down from the papacy, making way for Pope Francis.  It was the first time in six centuries in the Roman Catholic Church that a pope had abdicated. 

It was expected that Pope Benedict would truly retire and leave Pope Francis as the single authority for the church.  Then, yesterday, the former pope spoke out in a way that seems to challenge the governing philosophy of the more liberal Pope Francis.

In a 6,000-word letter, Pope Benedict addressed the ongoing sexual abuse scandal by priests, saying it was caused by the breakdown in what he called traditional values.  He cited the 1960s Sexual Revolution that led to an "all-out sexual freedom, one which no longer conceded to any norms," that then led to the rise of what he called "homosexual cliques" within very seminaries.


Well, this argument stands in contrast to the approach by Pope Francis.  The current pope has taken a firm stance that the church`s problem is caused by a culture of corruption and abuse of power by leaders. 

The conflicting views further illustrates the divide between the more conservative and progressive wings that we see dividing the Catholic Church today.

More on that after this break.

You`re watching HARDBALL. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

As the Catholic Church continues to defend its handling of the numerous sexual abuse allegations towards its clergy, the former pontiff, Pope Benedict, broke from expectations when he spoke out yesterday in a letter about the causes of the abuse scandals in the church. 

His explanation contradicted Pope Francis and highlights the divide between the progressive and the conservative wings of the church.

As "The New York Times" writes: "Benedict has remained an icon to conservatives and traditionalists in the church, who feel besieged by Francis, a pope they consider a dictator, a liberal radical and an existential threat to church doctrine."

"Vanity Fair" contributor John Cornwell recently wrote: "The rift between Francis` loyalists and Benedict`s insurgents threatens to provoke the biggest split in the Catholic Church since the 16th century Reformation."

 For more, I`m joined by Anne Thompson, NBC News correspondent who covers the church, and Michael Sean Winters, columnist at "The National Catholic Reporter." 

Thank you both.

Anne, you first just about the news -- the news of a former pope coming up and basically challenging the philosophy of the current pope. 


He writes in that letter, Chris, that he is actually trying to help.  He understands that this is a crucial moment for the church and he thinks that by his experience in talking about what he sees, he can help the church into a new direction. 

But here I think it`s not just so much a political divide, but you see the two different approaches of these men.  Benedict is the academician, the intellectual.  He`s looking at external forces shaping the church. 

Francis, on the other hand, is the pastor.  He is looking for the internal forces that have caused this crisis. 

MATTHEWS:  Michael, I think it`s good to see on the show.  Thank you, Michael.  We have talked about this years ago.  But who -- why was there a cover up? 

MICHAEL SEAN WINTERS, NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER COLUMNIST:  Well, you know this scandal first emerged under Pope John Paul II.  And I wrote in 2002, we started covering this in 1985.  But in 2002 was when it exploded with "The Boston Globe" coverage of the situation in Boston. 

And I wrote at that time that this started, the crisis started about sex the way Watergate started about a burglary.  It was the cover up that really shocked people.  And the bishops would move these pedophiles around and not hold them accountable and then send them to a rehab place and then put them back into ministry.  And, you know, there are cover-ups because people don`t want their dirty laundry showing. 

But I think there was something more, which was -- in John Paul`s approach was, that he identified with the priest and saw these cases of sex abuse as a priest breaking his vows.  So, it was a sin against chastity.  When you listen to victims, when Francis had the summit with bishops from around the world, they started by listening to the victims.  And when you start there, you see there are issues of justice and this is a crime. 

And I think that is the mentality that is going to get us to the place where we need to be to make sure this never happens again. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, at the beginning of his papacy, Pope Benedict that ordered anyone who was gay, for example, was to be banned from seminaries and the priesthood.  Pope Francis took a more tolerant stance, said it in 2013 about this, about sexual orientations of priests. 


POPE FRANCIS, CATHOLIC CHURCH (translated):  If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him? 


MATTHEWS:  Who am I to judge.  There is a difference, Anne. 

THOMPSON:  It is a big difference, but on the flip side of that, Chris, is they see part of the problem in the seminaries of the Catholic Church.  The priests were not properly formed, if you will.  They didn`t do a good job of weeding out pedophiles. 

Now, Benedict in his letter blames it on the homosexual cliques that you refer to.  Francis, on the other hand, he was asked that question.  I was on the plane with him when he was asked that question and the form of the question was, did he -- did he believe there was a gay lobby in the Catholic Church and Francis said, no, I never met anybody who has on his business card, I`m a member of the gay lobby. 

And so, I think it`s a different point of view as to what`s happening and what the root cause is.  But they see that where the problem is, it starts in the seminaries and they have to do a better job of forming priests and determining who is suited for this life and who isn`t. 

MATTHEWS:  Great question.  Anne, and with my friend Michael, here it is -- the big one, the power house question.  The HARDBALL question. 

Is it reasonable for the church, the 21st century to assume there are a lot of males out there who are willing to give up sex for life, whether straight or gay, give up sex for life?  That`s the vow of chastity.  Is that reasonable to assume that that would work or not? 

WINTER:  Well, in religion, it`s swimming against nature.  And normally, people are ill-advised.  We are a religion that`s founded on the belief that a man was raised from the dead.  So, we are swimming against nature at the very get-go. 

I believe there is still a role for the witness of celibacy.  I believe priests are now formed.  They weed out the sexually immature men that were passed through in the `50s and the `60s who went on to become pedophiles because they were sexually immature, not because they were gay or straight.  Most child abuse is heterosexual. 

So, I think -- I hope we`ll still get them.  If not, the celibacy requirement can be changed tomorrow if the pope wanted to. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Thank you so much, my friend. 

Michael Sean Winter, it`s good to see you on, with "The Catholic Reporter". 

WINTER:  Good to see you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Of course, my colleague, Anne Thompson.  This is a sticky business right here, it really is, to be talking about it in a political show, but we did it and I think we did it well. 

Up next, we`ll be talking to Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard about the arrest of Julian Assange, the Mueller report and issues she will focus on as a candidate for president in 2020. 

We`re back after this. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As I mentioned earlier, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested today for his alleged in hacking classified U.S. military files.  Assange spent the past seven years as you know living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.  Well, American authorities are pushing to extradite him to the U.S.

And I`m joined right now by U.S. representative and 2020 presidential candidate, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

Congresswoman, thank you for this.


MATTHEWS:  I wonder what you view is, because I don`t know exactly what is.  What do you make of our effort to extradite and -- well, indict and punish probably Julian Assange? 

GABBARD:  I`m deeply concerned by what`s happened today.  We look at the Obama decision during his time not to do this, not to try to extradite Assange and charge him because of their concern about how this government action would impinge on freedom of the press.  This is a blow to transparency and a blow to a free press when you have a situation where government, our government, is in a position where they can basically create this climate of fear against somebody or those who are publishing things that they don`t like or saying things they don`t like. 

And that`s the concern here.  This is a threat to journalists, but also something that threatens every American because the message that we are getting, that the American people are getting by what happened here today is be quiet, toe the line, otherwise there will be consequences. 

MATTHEWS:  What happens if the Mueller, if we got a good look at it next week and it`s not too heavily redacted, we got a look at it and shows that WikiLeaks, Assange himself worked with the Russians to put out attacks on the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton in 2016?  Is that journalism? 

GABBARD:  I don`t -- look, I don`t think it`s helpful for anyone to deal in hypotheticals.  I think it`s important and I`ve called from the very beginning for the Mueller report to be released so that we in Congress and the American people can take a look at it and see what`s in there. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, in an interview on CNBC, Mike Pence said that embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro must go.  Let`s watch the vice president.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, over the past six years, the people of Venezuela have been suffering through deprivation and the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro.  From the early days of this administration, President Trump has made it clear Nicolas Maduro has no legitimate claim to power and Nicolas Maduro must go. 


MATTHEWS:  I wonder about the neocons, if they`re coming back, Congresswoman, and whether they see an opportunity in Latin America.  Do you think there is a real danger of a wag the dog situation?  You don`t like hypotheticals or here`s another one for you to knock off. 

But I mean, do you think they are up to something?  Everything is on the table and military action and everything.  The thought of the United States army going into Venezuela -- what do you make of it? 

GABBARD:  Yes.  Look, this administration and the neocon war hawks that surround President Trump have made no secret about what their intentions are to further this regime change effort both in Venezuela, as well as in Iran. 


GABBARD:  So, we are hearing the war drums beating.  President Trump is acting not with our interests in mind.  Not with the American people`s interest in mind, and moving forward with something that will prove to be very, very costly. 

MATTHEWS:  How did a guy -- I`m sorry I`m interrupting.  I don`t want to interrupt too much as I always do. 

But I want to ask you this question.  I am so hot to trot on this one.  How can a president who run against stupid wars -- and I love it when Trump said that -- I`m against stupid wars and he hired John Bolton?  You know, Sheldon Adelson`s guy, his pick. 

GABBARD:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  And wanted to bring Elliott Abrams back in Latin America.  I mean, what`s going on?  He brought the neos in to do their stuff again.  How do you explain that switch? 

GABBARD:  That`s a great question.  But the reality is that we are facing that we do have a situation with a cabinet full of neocon war hawks whose history is very well-known in leading our country into one regime change war after the other, and to great expense in American lives to trillions of dollars coming out of our taxpayer`s pockets, as well as the lives and the suffering and the devastation of the people in the countries where we waged these wars. 

MATTHEWS:  How can you explain to every major Democrat in the United States Congress?  I mean, the people I generally like, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, they all supported the Iraq War.  They all did, they haven`t apologized and I know about it. 


MATTHEWS:  They backed that stupid war.  Why?  Why do smart people back a stupid war?  And they did. 

GABBARD:  Look, you know, it`s unfortunate to see how the establishment in Washington, the military industrial complex so often goes and wages these regime change wars under the guise of humanitarianism and saying, well, we`re going to go and try to help people in these countries when in fact every single time what we see is, these regime change war that is our country leads increases the suffering of people in those countries, increasing the devastation and as we have seen in the Middle East and countries like Iraq and Libya and Syria, our regime change wars have made our country less safe by strengthening terrorist groups like ISIS and al Qaeda. 

The real threat we are facing right now is existential threat with this heightening of tensions between the United States and countries like Russia and China, nuclear-armed countries, that propelled us into this new Cold War. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much.

GABBARD:  This is a serious threat that we have got to address and that`s why I`m running for president to take this on. 

MATTHEWS:  As good of a reason as I ever heard.  Thank you so much, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. 

Up next, the important lessons American voters can learn from Benjamin Netanyahu`s electoral victory.  That`s scary.  The victor, I mean. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has just given a lesson to voters in this country to President Donald Trump, and just as important, to Trump`s critics. 

Lesson one: you can with win reelection while not changing your off putting style.  You can be ego-centric, narcissistic, bullying, the works. 

Lesson two: If oppose such a person, and all the narcissism and bullying, you can sure as heck lose to them no matter what you think of them personally and no matter how bad their image is in the world. 

Lesson three: the guy you hate can win because whatever else you can say about him, this person you see is a villain is seen by a lot of other people as the country`s lone tower of strength.  The one politician is willing to take the heat for defending the country, its borders and its sovereignty. 

Lesson four: if your opponent is seen as the man ready and willing to defend the country, its borders and sovereignty, and your candidate and party are not, you should not be surprised at your country`s verdict. 

Bibi won because he, unlike his critics and political rivals, was seen as strong on the issue of defending his country, its borders and its sovereignty.  By refusing to promote a strong alternative for border protection, critics and rivals have allowed Trump to position himself so far as the lone protector of the country`s sovereignty and for him to brand his enemies for being for open borders. 

As former Governor Jerry Brown of California sized it up, Trump has made his call for a wall in the border a powerful metaphor.  Quote: He`s saying, hey, those lefties and socialists are against it, I`m for it, and it`s protection.  And somehow that will protect you from closing down the factory or protect you from these strange social experiments. 

Like Trump, Netanyahu also dealt in images like getting the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem.  That showed he had clout in Washington and they had the toughness to defend his country.  And it worked.  He just won reelection. 

Trump`s opponent should pay attention.  You can bet he has. 

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.