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Trump: "I am a young, vibrant man." TRANSCRIPT: 4/26/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Bret Stephens, Leon Panetta, Malcolm Kenyatta, Ron Reagan, DavidJolly, Barbara McQuade, Susan Page

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Lightning Rod. 

Let`s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

We have breaking news tonight.  In a stunning new report, "The Washington Post" reveals that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tried to mollify the president in an effort to keep his own job. 

The story describes Rosenstein`s action after "The New York Times" reported last September that he had offered to wear a wire to record the president.  And when Trump called him demanding answers, Rosenstein sought to defuse the volatile situation and assure the president he was on his team, assuring him that he would make sure Trump was treated fairly. 

Well, according to one administration official, Rosenstein said: "I give the investigation credibility."  Here`s the key line.  "I can land the plane."  "I can land the plane."

Rosenstein`s reassurance to the president is particularly ominous given that he and the attorney general later cleared the president of obstruction of justice after the special counsel had not. 

But the other big story tonight is that the president`s waging a pervasive disinformation campaign in the wake of the Mueller report itself.  He`s proving that he`s willing to say anything that elevates him in the eyes of his people.

Most frightening is that he`s leveling a baseless accusation now that the legitimate law enforcement institutions of the United States government have engaged in a coup against him, a coup.

Addressing the National Rifle Association today, the president spun the story that his political enemies were responsible for the Mueller investigation, which he says was a secret plot to overthrow him.  And he`s claiming that he somehow caught them in the act. 

Here`s Trump. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  They tried for a coup.  It didn`t work out so well. 


TRUMP:  And I didn`t need a gun for that one, did I? 

You have been looking at things that you wouldn`t have believed possible in our country, corruption at the highest level, a disgrace, spying, surveillance, trying for an overthrow.  And we caught them.  We caught them.


MATTHEWS:  Well, this followed similar claims by the president in a rant last night on FOX News.  Let`s listen. 


TRUMP:  This was a coup.  This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government, trying to infiltrate the administration to -- really, it`s a coup.  It`s spying.  It`s everything that you can imagine.

Tried to infiltrate the White House, and the lies and the leaks and the overthrow, disgraceful thing.  This was an overthrow.  And it`s a disgraceful thing.  And I don`t -- I think it`s far bigger than Watergate.  This was a coup.  This wasn`t stealing information from an office in the Watergate apartments.  This is -- this was an attempted coup.


MATTHEWS:  Well, a coup, however, is a violent overthrow of a government by force, usually carried out by the military in Third World countries.

A coup is what happened, for example, in South Vietnam in 1963, when the president of that country was suddenly deposed in an attack by members of his army in Saigon.  We`re seeing the pictures there.

A coup is what happened in Chile in 1973, when the armed forces there overthrew President Salvador Allende to repress left-wing movements in that country. 

But a coup is not what happened in our country over the last two years.  And, in making such frightening claims, Trump is using the language of a Third World dictator, debasing the very country he`s supposed to lead.

I`m joined right now by author Ron Reagan, former U.S. attorney Barbara McQuade, and David Jolly, former Republican congressman from Florida who`s no longer with the party. 

Ron, I want you to start with this, just a thought, an opening salvo, if you wish, on this use of the term coup, because it`s one thing to say, deep state was out to get me.  And now he`s saying, in this crazy sort of Mussolini-style rage, that somehow the military or someone was trying to overthrow him, he, to be the legitimate government.

What do you think of this lingo? 

RON REAGAN, AUTHOR:  Well, no surprise that there were no facts and no evidence presented there, because, of course, it`s an absurd claim. 

It`s easy for us, of course, to sit here and mock his buffoonery talking about a coup, but this is dangerous talk.  You notice that the people at the NRA Convention that he was speaking at there, they weren`t booing and they weren`t laughing.  They were -- they were cheering that.  They were eating that kind of stuff up. 

And I see it as a prelude to what might happen in the 2020 election if Donald Trump doesn`t win.  He talked about -- he talked like this during the last election.  And he`s setting it up now, that if he is somehow turned out of office, that it won`t be legitimate. 

And his base, who knows what they would do if they thought that an actual coup had taken place, let`s say, in the guise of an election.  This is dangerous talk.

MATTHEWS:  You know what I think?  It makes perfect sense, because, David, this is what he does.  He talks in the language of, it was rigged.  If he had lost the last election, he was going to say it was rigged, he was cheated out of an election victory. 

If -- he talks about locking up Hillary Clinton.  This is so Third World.  I`m not -- fourth world, really.  This is a country where there`s no democratic institutions, he`s acting like.  If you lose an election, it was rigged against you.  If you win the election, you arrest your opponents. 

And here he is saying there was a military coup.  He talks as if he`s in a crazy country with no history of democracy, no institutions of democracy.  And I`m wondering whether Ron isn`t right, he isn`t ready to pull the plug next time and say, I`m not accepting defeat.  I don`t care if somebody beat me.  I`m not letting it happen. 

DAVID JOLLY, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  Yes, I think that`s possible. 

Look, he is stoking some very dangerous passions, as he does when he talks about Charlottesville and other events.  And he ignores the fact, in terms of the investigation, that one of the reasons he was being investigated is because his own campaign manager, his personal attorney, his son and his son-in-law were in direct contact with the Russians during his race for the White House. 

But I will -- I will tell you this, Chris.  If we get captivated by whether or not this language is outside the norm -- and it certainly is -- we overlook the fact that what he is doing for a large part of the country is, he is very successfully framing this issue. 

He is playing offense on this narrative.  And I have lamented for two weeks I`m not sure his political opponents, particularly House Democrats, have realized that they are two weeks behind trying to frame this very investigation issue, while the president is so successfully doing it for his base and those who will likely turn out to vote for him in 2020. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what can two-fifths of the country do?  What can 40 percent of the country, which is roughly his base, expanded a bit -- and we see it in the latest polls.  He`s running about 40 percent again.

JOLLY:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  What can they do if they recognize that they think he`s somehow the victim of a coup, if he`s somehow the legitimate leader of the country, but everything in the government`s working against him, like a military throwing over -- overthrowing an elected leader? 

JOLLY:  He`s taking grievance politics to the lowest common -- lowest common denominator.  He`s taking drain the swamp straight to the streets, to the NRA Convention, saying, look, all -- everything that happens in Washington, D.C., the reason, Mr. and Mrs. Smith out there in America, you distrust Washington is on full display right now, because what they are trying to do, these Democrats and these conspiracy theorists in Washington, is trying to undo a democratically held election that put me in the White House.

And because they couldn`t beat me at the ballot box, they`re trying to do so through this rigged investigation. 

Look, it`s not going to work with everybody, but it is going to fire up his base, and it is going -- he`s playing the 50 percent -- or, frankly, 49 percent, as we saw last time.  It`s going to be very effective for a large part of that, if we don`t push back on that as those who question the language he`s using, like you do when he says the word coup. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make the fact, Barbara, that he talked to the NRA about he didn`t need a gun to thwart the coup? 

I mean, it`s the old Second Amendment remedy we heard about a few elections ago from the hard right.  Remember that candidate?  Use your Second Amendment remedy.  In other words, if you don`t like a leader, knock them off. 

Here he is saying, I thwarted a military-style coup without using a gun even.  In other words, if I had a gun, I would even stronger. 

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Yes, it`s very dangerous language. 

And I think we need look no further than some of the people who have acted in response to some of his rhetoric.  We had the pipe bomber who was sending pipe bombs to a number of prominent members of the media in the Democratic Party, in part motivated by his support for President Trump.

I think he has to realize that his words have consequences.  And most leaders choose them carefully, so that they`re saying things that mean something and they are not misinterpreted by people who might hear what they need to hear to trigger them to violence.

MATTHEWS:  The mind of -- the mind-bending of thinking of Republicans who still back him, Ron, four out of five, nine out of 10 sometimes, what do you make of this?  Because they call this a witch-hunt. 

They saw everything that was done by Robert Mueller as somehow not really justified, as whimsical, when, in fact, if the exact same reality check had been about Hillary Clinton, if she had been accused of getting Russian help, with or without her help, Russian help, if that had happened, her presidency would be in shambles now.  They would be burning her at the stake, the same people who now say it`s a witch-hunt if it`s said against Trump. 

REAGAN:  Well, you`re looking at things through the lens of reality.  And that`s not what the -- what Trump`s base is doing. 

They don`t -- they don`t really care about any of that.  They like the fact that Trump seems to hate the same people they hate, and from liberals to brown people to feminists, to you name it.  Trump seems to hate the same people they hate.  And they love that. 

So they`re going to be with him, no matter what.  The Mueller report, congressional investigations, none of that is going to make a damn bit of difference to these folks.  They are with him the whole way. 

And you know what?  Forty percent doesn`t -- it`s not a majority.  But you know what?  The fascists in Europe in the `30s, they never had more than 40 percent of their populace either. 

MATTHEWS:  Well...

REAGAN:  You don`t need 51 percent.

MATTHEWS:  No, you speak a raw truth, Ron. 

Anyway, meanwhile, in the Rosenstein story, breaking today, "The Washington Post" is reporting that the deputy attorney general -- quote -- "told the president more than once that he agreed Trump was being treated unfairly."  He`s pandering to him, enabling him. 

But in a statement to "The Washington Post," Rosenstein said the only commitment he made to Trump about the probe, the Mueller probe, is the same he made to Congress, that: "As long as I was in charge, it would be conducted appropriately."

Barbara, it does seem when he says the thing, "I`m going to land the plane," I mean, it sounds to me like he`s going to limit it, he`s going to keep the president`s safe, like he`s a passenger on that plane.  Your thoughts? 

MCQUADE:  That is a very concerning choice of words.  I mean, to say that I`m going to make sure it`s conducted fairly sounds appropriate to me. 

But I agree with you, when you say I`m going to land the plane, it sounds like he`s assuring President Trump of a certain outcome. 

We were, as a country, very troubled by the fact that Loretta Lynch sat on a plane tarmac with President Clinton, former President Clinton, before -- during the investigation of Hillary Clinton`s e-mails, when they talked about their grandchildren. 

This, I think, should be even more alarming when they`re talking about the outcome of an investigation.  I still have some faith in Rod Rosenstein, and I think that the way to get to the bottom of it is to call him before Congress and ask him what he communicated to President Trump.  And was this just an effort to calm him that things would be fair, or was it an assurance that he would make sure that things came out OK as long as he was there? 

MATTHEWS:  Why did Rod Rosenstein enable Trump, David?  Why is he there caught? 

JOLLY:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I know that long-term civil servants, especially high rank -- I have worked in government.  They`re supposed to be accommodating.  They`re supposed to work with the elected people, the people who come in, like the president, of course, and his people.  They`re not supposed to be resistant to them.

But they`re not supposed to encourage them in their worst directions. 

JOLLY:  Yes.

No, Chris, that`s a great question, because, when this story broke, the first thing it conjured up for me was to go back and look at the original Rosenstein memo that, in many ways, introduced Rod Rosenstein to the nation. 

Recall James Comey, I think it was May 3 of 2017, testified to Congress that , in fact, the Trump campaign was one of the targets of the investigation.  Trump kind of lost his mind, summoned Rosenstein, said, write a memo for why I should be able to fire Comey, and put the Russia stuff in it. 

That`s -- that`s what we learned from the Mueller report.  And Rod Rosenstein, instead of doing what McGahn did and said, no, when he was pushed on a certain issue, or K.T. McFarland said no, Rosenstein said, well, I can`t go exactly in that direction, but, Mr. President, I will give you what you need to fire Comey.

There was an uncertainty in real time back in May of 2017.  Why would Rod Rosenstein, knowing that the president was simply angry that Comey had fingered him at this -- at this testimony, turn around and justify the complete wholesale firing of the FBI director?

Look, hopefully, Barbara`s right, and we learn more about this, and Rosenstein has an opportunity to explain this more.  But it injects a lot of uncertainty now, learning that Rosenstein continued to suggest to the president, "I can land the plane," when, in fact, all of this started by him agreeing to fire -- justify the firing of Comey by Donald Trump. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, isn`t that an apt metaphor for how he and Barr did it?  They landed the plane so safely, so carefully that, for four weeks, we thought the president was exonerated on all fronts.  I would say that was a pretty good landing. 

That`s when you clap when the plane lands -- when the pilot lands the plane really well, like on one wheel. 


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, here`s how Trump described himself today when asked how old was too old to be president of the United States. 


QUESTION:  Mr. President, how old is too to be president?

TRUMP:  Well, I think that I just feel like a young man.  I`m so young.  I can`t believe it.  I`m the youngest person.  I`m a young, vibrant man.  I look at Joe, I don`t know about him.  I don`t know. 

QUESTION:  Is he too old?

TRUMP:  I would never say anyone is too old.  But I know they`re all making me look very young, both in terms of age and I think in terms of energy.  I think you people know that better than anybody. 


MATTHEWS:  That was like a testosterone ad or something.  I don`t know.  I just got this new pill.  And look at me.  He was like advertising one of those things they advertise online.  Now, this will make you bold and potent and all that.  There he is talking like that, Ron. 


REAGAN:  Yes, it`s true. 

I was more interested in what he said earlier in the segment, though, when he was talking about corruptions -- corruption at the highest level and a disgrace, because Trump always tells you what he`s doing, what he`s all about. 


REAGAN:  But, yes, this is just, yes, Trump just trying to be a macho guy, I guess, and...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Do you mind if we ask more personal questions, Mr. President?  No, come on.  We love it. 

Anyway, thank you, Ron Reagan.  The mountains look beautiful out there. 

Thank you, Barbara McQuade, as always.

And thank you, David Jolly.  You liven up the show. 

Coming up:  Trump is the first president elected with the help of the Russians, something he refuses to acknowledge.  His deputy attorney general says President Obama is partly to blame for that.  I will talk about that with Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary and CIA director in the Obama administration.

Plus, want to figure out who`s the Democratic front-runner?  Look at who`s getting attacked.  The gloves are off, and Joe Biden`s challengers are coming after him already just a day after he announced.

Much more ahead.  Stick with us. 



TRUMP:  By the way, and Mueller finished out his report.  No collusion and no obstruction. 

So, we get a ruling, no collusion.  We essentially get a ruling, no obstruction, no collusion, no obstruction.  And we have no collusion, no collusion, no obstruction, no obstruction. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

What a rant that was. 

We have heard plenty from President Trump asserting that he sees as vindication from the Mueller report.  But what the president has remained silent on is more daunting, the clear fact that Russia interfered in our election. 

As we end the week, let`s remember Mueller`s indisputable, inarguable bottom line -- quote -- "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion."

The report also makes clear that Donald Trump was the Russians` favored candidate.  Today, the president`s own FBI director sounded the alarm that Russia continues to pose a very significant counterintelligence threat. 


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR:  And that has continued pretty much unabated is the use of social media, fake news propaganda, false personas, et cetera, to spin us up, pit us against each other, sow divisiveness and discord, undermine Americans` faith in democracy. 

That is not just an election cycle threat.  It`s pretty much a 365-days-a- year threat.  And that has absolutely continued. 


MATTHEWS:  And, remember, it`s not just the FBI who affirmed that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.  It`s the director of national intelligence, head of NSA, the Justice Department, Homeland Security and the CIA. 

For more, I`m joined by Leon Panetta, former CIA director and secretary of defense under President Obama. 

Mr. Secretary, I don`t know how to talk about this topsy-turvy world, except the most obvious questions to you. 

How can the president of the United States, the commander in chief, the man who defends this country, ignore what the Mueller report offers as its keynote statement, that the Russians, in a sweeping and systematic way, interfered in our elections? 

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  There`s no justification for a president who doesn`t want to defend our country from these kinds of attacks from an adversary. 

I mean, let`s face it, Russia is an adversary.  And they have been proven to have used a very broad, sweeping and bold cyberattack to try to undermine our election institutions. 

And it`s been established by our intelligence agencies, been established by the Justice Department, been established by all of the authorities, including the Mueller report in volume one, that said this was a very sweeping and systemic attack by the Russians.

To have a president who`s not willing to acknowledge that openly, who said in Helsinki that he trusted the Russians` version that they didn`t do this more than he trusted our own intelligence agencies, raises concerns about whether or not this is a president, as commander chief, who will truly defend our country. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, as we talked about earlier, President Trump has reported to -- resorted to making the baseless claim that the Mueller investigation was an attempted coup, a coup d`etat. 

Let`s watch. 


TRUMP:  This was a coup.  This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government, trying to infiltrate the administration to -- really, it`s a coup.  It`s spying.  It`s everything that you can imagine.

They tried for a coup.  It didn`t work out so well. 


TRUMP:  And I didn`t need a gun for that one, did I? 


MATTHEWS:  You know, Mr. Secretary, I`m afraid he`s teaching a lot of Americans who are just coming into the political world, as maybe teenagers now, reading the paper the first time, watching television, and hearing a president talk about this stuff, I`m going to lock up the person I beat in the election, I`m going to call it fixed if I lose the election, and, by the way, it`s a military coup if I don`t like something done by the Justice Department. 

It`s -- I`m afraid it`s teaching people that we`re living in maybe the new Venezuela.  I don`t know how well the country -- I don`t know which country to compare us to now. 

PANETTA:  Well, I think what -- what bothers me the most is that the president really treats the American people like we`re all chumps, and that somehow he can say whatever he wants, and that the American people will accept it. 

And I think the real strength of our country lies in the fact that the American people are not dumb.  They have great common sense.  They have great faith in what our country is all about. 

And I think -- I think what Trump does when he uses those kinds of words is, he not only demeans the office of the presidency, but he sends a signal to the American people that somehow he can say whatever he wants, and that the American people will accept it. 

I -- look, this is a guy who`s playing to his own base.  Those are the words he`s using to appeal to his own base.  But I think, frankly, the broad cross-section of America is looking at this and is ashamed, really, about the kind of president we have. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the man who`s leading the polls right now to run against Trump in the Democratic Party.  And that`s Joe Biden.  What did you think of his rollout?  What do you think of his chances? 

PANETTA:  Well, like you, Chris, I have known Joe Biden for 40 years.  And I have worked with him in a lot of different positions. 

And, clearly, he`s got a long record.  I`m sure that a lot of people will go after his record.  But I think the reality is that, in light of all the candidates that are out there, he really does have a lot of experience in government.  He has experience in governing. 

And he knows foreign affairs.  He knows what this world is all about and what United States leadership in that world is all about.  I think the most important thing is that Joe Biden has a good heart.  And the fact is that we have a president who never has and probably never will have a good heart. 

And that`s what people are, I think, reacting to with Biden coming into the race. 

MATTHEWS:  Can`t beat that. 

Thank you so much, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Up next -- you have to invite us out there, Mr. Secretary.  We got out to come out to the Panetta Institute again.

Biden entered the race as the front-runner, and the other candidates wasted no time trying to soften him up with quick jabs and the occasional body blow.  They`re already going after him.  Was anybody able to actually land a punch in the last couple days?

Back after this.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The fight has begun, and the gloves are already off.  Less than 24 hours after former Vice President Joe Biden`s entry into the 2020 presidential race, the early front-runner was already taking jabs from all sides. 

Bernie Sanders` campaign took a swing at Biden in a fund-raising pitch.  In an e-mail with supporters with the subject "Joe Biden," the campaign wrote -- this is the Sanders campaign -- "It`s a big day in the Democratic primary.  We`re hoping to end it strong, not with a fund-raiser in the home of a corporate lobbyist."

Well, the campaign of Sanders was referring to a fund-raiser Biden attended in Philly last night hosted by Comcast senior executive producer -- executive producer -- executive vice president David Cohen.  Comcast owns this network`s parent company, NBC Universal, for purposes of full disclosure, of course.

Elizabeth Warren also wasted no time going after the former vice president when asked if she thought Biden was too cozy with Wall Street. 


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  At a time when the biggest financial institutions in this country will try to put the squeeze on millions of hardworking families who are in bankruptcy because of medical problems, job losses, divorce and death in the family, there was nobody to stand up for them, and Joe Biden was on the side of credit card companies. 

It`s all a matter of public record. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, meanwhile, President Trump`s already in full attack mode, testing out his schoolyard insults on FOX.  Here he goes. 


TRUMP:  I have known Joe over the years.  He`s not the brightest light bulb in the group, I don`t think.

I think we`re calling him sleepy Joe, because I have known him for a while, and he`s a pretty sleepy guy.  He`s not going to be able to deal with President Xi, I will tell you.  That`s a different level of energy and, frankly, intelligence. 



At the White House this morning, the president against suggested Biden is too old, calling himself -- this is Trump talking about Trump -- a young, vibrant man.


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, Biden brushed off the latest attack in an appearance on "The View" this morning. 


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If he looks young and vibrant compared to me, I should probably go home. 


BIDEN:  Look, I -- everybody knows who Donald Trump is.  And the best way to judge me is to watch, see if I have the energy and the capacity. 

QUESTION:  Would you do one term?

BIDEN:  No. 

Let me put it this way.  Let me -- I may end up, if I get elected, only having one term.  Hopefully, I can demonstrate, not only with age comes wisdom and experience that can make things a lot better. 


BIDEN:  And so -- but, look, that`s for you all to decide, not for me to decide.


MATTHEWS:  Joining me right now is Malcolm Kenyatta, Democratic Pennsylvania -- Pennsylvania state rep and Biden surrogate. 

Thank you very much, State Rep. Kenyatta.

Tell me...

MALCOLM KENYATTA (D), PENNSYLVANIA STATE REPRESENTATIVE:  Well, thank you so much for having me, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it`s great.  You came from a neighborhood not far from where I grew up.  I grew up in Nicetown at Hunting Park and Broad up the street from you guys. 

KENYATTA:  Yes, right outside of my district.

MATTHEWS:  But you grew up in a tough neighborhood, right across from Temple.  I know that area. 

And tell me about why you went for Biden.  I`m just curious.  You`re for Biden.

KENYATTA:  Well, I`m excited Chris, on your show -- and a fellow Philadelphian -- to announce that I`m endorsing the vice president for president of United States of America. 

And I think that, with his election, because I think he will be elected, it`s going to send a message across the -- across the world that America is ready to restore its leadership on the global stage, and also that we`re ready to expand the promise of America to more Americans here at home. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about these shots at it.

Look -- look, less than 24 hours, Elizabeth Warren is taking shots, Bernie`s going after him.  Does that say you`re the front-runner that you`re getting hit? 

KENYATTA:  Well, listen, I don`t -- I think the polls are going to go up and down. 

But as a fellow Eagles fan, you know they only try to come after you if they think you have the ball.  But I think the good thing about Vice President Biden and the way that he`s going to run this campaign is, he recognizes he has to earn every single vote. 

He has to talk to people across this country about the issues that they`re facing.  People in my district, hardworking people who are worried about deep poverty, worried about whether or not they`re going to have the ability to collectively organize and stand up for themselves with a union, worried about whether or not they will be able to send their kids to college. 

And Vice President Biden has a history of getting things done.  You look at him passing the Affordable Care Act with President Obama, which gave health care to millions of Americans.  And myself and many other activists stood up to this administration and said, you`re not going to take away the protections for those with preexisting conditions. 

And, listen, it`s only one day out of the gate, and you see $6.3 million raised, the average donation online only $41.  That`s the type of enthusiasm that`s going to drive this campaign.  And having those conversations directly with voters is what the vice president`s going to do. 

MATTHEWS:  This show is called HARDBALL, you know, State Rep., and I just want to ask you the HARDBALL question.

KENYATTA:  There you go. Let`s do it.

MATTHEWS:  Older white guy candidate in 2020, does he need to have a running mate who`s a woman and a minority to win the general? 

KENYATTA:  Listen, we need to have a ticket that looks like America. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, here we go.  No, you have to answer this question.

KENYATTA:  Listen...


KENYATTA:  No, I`m answering this question. 

He needs to have a ticket that looks like America.  And I want to see a person color.  And I would love to see a woman on the ticket as well.  He`s going to have a lot of good choices once he wins the nomination. 

But, listen, you cannot measure the drapes.  He has to earn every single vote.  And until he`s the nominee, he shouldn`t be thinking about who his running mate is.  And I don`t think he is.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you`re ready for this show. 

Thank you so much, State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta of North Philly. 

KENYATTA:  Thank you so much.  I look forward to coming back.  Thank you, Chris. 


MATTHEWS:  We will have you back.

In his appearance on "The View" today, Joe Biden discussed his private conversation with Anita Hill several weeks ago over the handling of her 1991 testimony during Clarence Thomas` confirmation hearings, when Biden was chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Anita Hill told "The New York Times" afterwards the call from Biden left her feeling deeply unsatisfied.  And, today, Biden said he wouldn`t judge her interpretation of their conversation. 


BIDEN:  I`m sorry she was treated the way she was treated.  I wish we could have figured out a better way to get this thing done. 

I did everything in my power to do what I thought was within the rules to be able to stop things. 

QUESTION:  You know, I think what she wants you to say is, I`m sorry for the way I treated you, not for the way you were treated.  I think that might be closer. 

BIDEN:  Well, but -- I`m sorry the way she got treated.

In terms of, I never heard -- say -- if you go back and look what I said and didn`t say, I don`t think I treated her badly. 


MATTHEWS: "I don`t think I treated her badly."

I want to bring in Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at "USA Today."

That answer, your judgment whether that kills the story or not.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY":  Does not kill the story. Keeps the story going, and not a surprise he was asked this question.  Totally predictable. 

What was surprising was that he didn`t have a crisp, clear answer to respond to it.  And saying mistakes were made is an unsatisfying apology in politics.  This is a question that is going to get raised with him again and again, until he comes up with something that is a more compelling response. 

MATTHEWS:  I remember the Anita Hill hearings.  And you do too.

PAGE:  I do too, yes.

MATTHEWS:  I remember the time the focus was on the fact we have an African-American who`s going to be the only African-American on the Supreme Court, replacing Thurgood Marshall.  And that seemed to be the sensitivity, not about her, but about him. 

Remember the high tech-lynching charge he made?


MATTHEWS:  That scared those white guys, if you will, on that committee.

And Biden and the rest of them were more worried about Clarence than they were about Anita.

PAGE:  That`s -- that`s right. 

And the problem that Joe Biden has is that it`s not like he was one of 100 senators.  He was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  So...

MATTHEWS:  What`s stopping him from saying, I did wrong or I didn`t do enough, it was a sin of omission at least?

PAGE:  I didn`t do enough.  I have learned some lessons since then.  I would do it differently now.  I`m sorry. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is he not saying that? 

PAGE:  Well, I think we will hear him say that.  We can hear him say that slower or we can hear him say that fast. 

But the answer, the I`m sorry that she was treated badly, does not take any personal responsibility for what happened. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the fact he`s taking shots already from Bernie?  I mean, Bernie`s going after his home, which is -- he doesn`t like big contributors. 

PAGE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But -- and she`s going after him, Elizabeth Warren going after him on the fact he is too close to Wall Street because he is from Delaware, where they all register as their corporate registration or whatever, corporation.

PAGE:  Well, you know, as Mr. Kenyatta said, when you`re the front-runner or a kind of front-runner -- you don`t want to overstate that -- you`re the person who`s going to take the shots.  You`re the person with the lead to take away. 

So you`re going to hear that I think from others, not just from the liberals, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.  You`re going to hear some of the centrists own that same lane as Biden.

MATTHEWS:  OK .  I`m sure you`re not my age, but you`re close enough to understand the love I have for boxing in the old days.  OK. 

Is he going to be rope-a-dope, be able to take a lot of punches, or he has a glass jaw? 

PAGE:  Well, in his -- I covered his two previous presidential campaigns.  And in both of them, he had a glass jaw. 

Now, the question is, has he learned something since then?  Two terms as Barack Obama`s vice president, that`s a pretty good training session.  Will this be different than those two previous campaigns? 

MATTHEWS:  What about the Nate Silver assessment in "The New York Times" that the mainstream media thinks he`s boring and the left-wing thinks he`s not woke?

PAGE:  So here`s what I think.

MATTHEWS:  So, that`s a bad combination. 

PAGE:  Not up to us.  Up to voters.  We ought to learn that lesson.  Let`s see what voters say.

MATTHEWS:  Next February. 

PAGE:  Next February, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Will he be in the race next February? 

PAGE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Will he be a front-runner?

PAGE:  I don`t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Come on. 

PAGE:  I think -- I think this is -- 20 -- 20 people, there are going to be some people who emerge.  There are going to be maybe a couple people at the front of the pack.

MATTHEWS:  Who is the first to break into double digits besides Bernie and Joe?

PAGE:  Maybe Mayor Pete.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think so.  He`s the one that is gaining.  Thanks so much, Susan. 

You know what everybody -- you know more than anybody else.  Thank you so much, Susan Page of "USA Today."  She writes the front-page stories.

Up next:  President Trump`s highly controversial remarks about 2017`s deadly white supremacist rally down in Charlottesville are back in the spotlight today after being featured prominently in Joe Biden`s campaign launch video. 

He was asked about them again today.  Did he backpedal and apologize, or did he double down?  What do you think?  It`s Trump.

We`re back after this.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In his campaign launch video, Joe Biden reignited a conversation over President Trump`s comments after the 2017 Unite the Right rally down in Charlottesville.  In August of 2017, a group of alt right and far right groups gathered to protest the removal of a Confederate statue on the campus of the University of Virginia. 

White nationalists took the streets wielding Tiki torches, chanting racists, anti-Semitic slurs.  The following day, James Alex Fields, a Nazi sympathizer, plowed his car through a crowd of counter protesters, injuring a dozen and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. 

In the wake of those events, President Trump had a hard time condemning the alt-right rally. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If you had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other that was also very violent.  I think there`s blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it, and you don`t have any doubt about it either.  You also had people that were very fine people on both sides. 


MATTHEWS:  Very fine people among the Nazi ranks. 

Well, today, nearly two years later, the president tried to defend and explain those comments.  Stay tuned to hear exactly what Trump had to say on this, maybe his worst day. 

You are watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump is once again defending comments he made about the white supremacists and neo Nazis who gathered in Charlottesville two years ago to protest the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee. 

The president says his original statement about very fine people on both sides was answered perfectly.  Let`s watch.


REPORTER:  Mr. President, do you still think there was very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville? 

TRUMP:  Oh, I`ve answered that question.  And if you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly. 

And I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general, whether you like it or not.  He was one of the great generals.  I spoken to many generals at the White House and many people thought of the generals they think he was maybe their favorite general.  People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee.  Everybody knows that. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, the people protesting the removal of statue were chanting "white lives matter" and "Jews will not replace us".  By the way, I don`t think whatever you think of Robert E. Lee, I guess there are mixed views about the guy at best, I don`t think he was marching under the swastika. 

For more, I`m joined by Eugene Robinson, columnist of "The Washington Post", and Bret Stephens, columnist for "The New York Times".

First, Gene, and Bret, this -- was Biden smart not just on moral grounds, but political and strategic grounds to open his salvo with "you have to get rid of this guy"? 


MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Bret.

BRET STEPHENS, OP-ED COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  It was ingenious on presidency part.  I`m speaking politically because Biden`s brand comes down to one word, which is decency.  Leaving aside complains about the president`s economic policy, his environmental policy, domestic or foreign policy, what I think most people, especially in Middle America, really dislike about this president is the sense that at a basic level, he is an indecent human being and the comments that he made at Charlottesville bring that home I think more powerfully and more pointedly than anything else he has said in his presidency. 

So, that is exactly the right point of attack for Biden.  We might have a strong economy in a year`s time.  It might be the case that America still more or less at peace in the world, but what really disquiets I think a lot of wavering Americans who would like and who are not -- have not made up their minds on who to vote for, is that you have a president who shames them, who embarrasses them, who embarrasses us, who embarrasses me. 

So, that`s why choosing Charlottesville was morally the right thing to do and politically smart as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Gene, your thoughts? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  You know, I agree with Bret.  It was just, you know, just strictly in the political sense, it allowed Biden to sort of isolate himself against Trump.  It`s me against Trump. 

I need to -- I`m running for president to save us from this.  And then he picks the unforgettable, viscerally horrifying moment of Charlottesville for impact.  It had a lot of impact. 

And, look, Biden sounded sincere in that video.  Now, you know, he`s a practiced politician.  He knows what he`s doing, but he sounded sincere.  And for the record, Robert E. Lee was more than a military tactician, you know?  He was the leader of a treasonous military. 

MATTHEWS:  He could have chosen -- if he had going to the other side, if he had stuck with the union, it would have been great.  He didn`t. 

ROBINSON:  He was a traitorous leader of a rebellion. 

MATTHEWS:  You are getting letters.  They`re coming. 

ROBINSON:  I want letters. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the politics, because it seems to me -- I know you are a progressive, your writing is fabulous on that, and I get the feeling that a lot of progressives would like the candidate as progressive as possible and still beat Trump.  They want to solve the simultaneous equation.  And Biden was saying, don`t be too risky out there, because this is a big stakes here if we lose. 

ROBINSON:  You know, I will speak for myself.  That would be fine for me.  I don`t speak for the Democratic Party. 

And, you know, we fight the last war.  So, we struggle to understand what happened in 2016 and where people are on this, everything changes, of course.  So, nobody knows what`s happening in 2020.  But I think that might be right.  I think that might be the general sort of idea. 

MATTHEWS:  As progressive as you can get away with and win.  You have to win.

ROBINSON:  Right.  I know a lot of people who think that. 


ROBINSON:  And whether or not that`s the sort of prevailing view in most of the party, we`ll see.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Meanwhile, President Trump called on Sean Hannity show into it last night, and acknowledged that he accused President Obama of spying on him based on a hunch.  Talking about a previous president, he`s talking about a hunch.  Let`s take a look.


TRUMP:  I don`t know if you remember a long time ago, very early on, I used the word "wiretap" and I put it in quotes, meaning surveillance and spying and you can say whatever you want.  They thought two years ago when I said that just on a little bit of a hunch and a little bit of wisdom, maybe, it blew up. 


MATTHEWS:  So, he is really well-spoken for by Sarah Sanders.  She makes things up.  "The Washington Post" has calculated President Trump has made nearly 10,000 false or misleading claims while in office.

What does it mean, Bret, to just say, it was a hunch or Sarah Sanders say, he came from nowhere.  These comments they make.  These are called speaking for the country. 

STEPHENS:  This is the president of the United States speaking, retailing what he calls a hunch.  One of the people who he was quoting at least in a recent tweet was Larry Johnson, a former CIA agent and sort of serial conspiracy theorist.  Fox News was forced to repudiate one of the conspiracy theories just a few years ago. 

But this is really about what this president means in a cultural or philosophical sense.  You`ve got a post-truth administration, a post-truth presidency who believes fundamentally if I summed it up, the truth is anything he can get away with.  If he can get about 40 or 45 percent of the American people to believe anything, to believe QAnon style conspiracy theories, that in a sense furthers his cause, because what he is doing is he`s destroying the capacity of ordinary people to distinguish between truth and lies.  That`s his strategy. 

MATTHEWS:  Gene, I love your latest column, by the way, where you calibrate the candidates already.  It was well done. 

Thank you, Eugene Robinson.  Thank you, Bret Stephens.

Up next, the senator, the vice president and now the man who hopes to be the next president of the United States. 

You are watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Joe Biden who served as number two to President Obama for eight years has joined the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.  To learn more about the front-runner, watch my documentary on Joe Biden this Sunday night at 9:00 here on MSNBC. 

And here`s a peek. 


MATTHEWS:  There was considerable thinking that Joe Biden would have been a more formidable candidate against Trump than Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Joe Biden if only.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If only, a lot of Democrats are thinking that. 

STEVE KORNACKI:  The states that put Trump over the top against Hillary Clinton, Rust Belt.  It was Michigan, it was Wisconsin, it was Pennsylvania.  Where is Joe Biden from?  Joe Biden, from Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Do you think he could have won those extra 70,000 votes? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Could Joe Biden have defeated Donald Trump? 

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT:  Oh, I don`t know.  I`m not going to speculate. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The Rust Belt, your home territory?  Regrets? 

BIDEN:  No.  I just wasn`t prepared to do it after I lost my son.

  UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Condolences are pouring in for Joe Biden and his family after his son, Beau, had lost his battle with brain cancer. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Beau did not want his illness standing in the way of his dad`s running. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He wanted Joe to run, but you can`t do it.  You cannot lose a child and three months later say, oh, yes, I`m going to get on the campaign trail.  You just can`t do it. 


MATTHEWS:  So, plan to watch it, Sunday night at 9:00.  And it will get you ahead of the pack in charting the 2020 competition and deciding for yourself who is the best to take on President Trump. 

And that`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.