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Pelosi says Trump wants to be impeached. TRANSCRIPT: 5/23/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Eli Stokols; Michelle Golberg; Eric Swalwell, Glenn Kirschner,Yamiche Alcindor, Barbara Lee, Dana Milbank

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  The President scorned.  Let`s play HARDBALL

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews back in Washington.  That said, it`s not a good evening in Washington.  The war between the leaders of the two political parties, President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is getting hotter.

Yesterday, the President walked out of a White House meeting with the democratic leaders saying there will be no more dealings with Congress until the Congress stops investigating him.  And today, Speaker Pelosi openly questioned the President`s fitness for office.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  And now this time, another temper tantrum.  Again, I pray for the President of the United States.  I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.

REPORTER:  So your comments only suggest your concern about his well being?

PELOSI:  I am, and the wellbeing of the United States of America.

This is not behavior that rises to the dignity of the Office of President of the United States.


MATTHEWS:  And then the President fired back giving the most powerful woman in American government a nickname for the first time.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  It`s very, very sort of a nasty type statement, but I will say this.  She said I walked into the room right next door yesterday and walked in and started screaming and yelling, just the opposite.

You had the group, Crying Chuck, Crazy Nancy.  I`ll tell you what.  I have been watching her and I have been watching her for a long period of time.  She is not the same person.  She`s lost it.

The whole democrat party is very messed up.  They have never recovered from the great election of 2016.

Well, Nancy Pelosi was not happy about it and she is a mess.

I think she`s got a lot of problems.

This happened to me once before with the same group, Crying Chuck.  I don`t want to say Crazy Nancy, because if I say that, you`re going to say it`s a copy of Crazy Bernie, and that`s no good.


MATTHEWS:  Crazy Nancy.  But Politico reports the public feud, it may be costing the President the most.  Quote, the Trump-Pelosi confrontations are getting to be recurring spectacles and even republicans know it hurts the President`s image.  A senior republican said, it`s a disaster, it plays right into her hands.

And at the end of tonight`s show, by the way, an even nastier, and more personal shot taken today at the President.  You won`t want to miss it.

But joining me right now, Eli Stokols, White House Reporter for The Los Angeles Times, Michelle Goldberg, Columnist for The New York Times, David Jolly, former Republican Congressman from Florida, who is no longer with that party.

Eli, this is hot and it`s embarrassing.  The President of the United States -- well, let`s talk.  Nancy Pelosi said he is almost subject to the 23rd amendment.  There is actually something wrong with that guy.  He needs an intervention.  She`s praying for him.  He shoots back that she`s crazy.

ELI STOKOLS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, LOS ANGELES TIMES:  Well, she`s been trying to keep her caucus in the line before going full bore into impeachment.  And what Trump is doing, he is showing that she`s living inside his head rent-free.  He is giving her credence with her caucus to say, look, we`re already getting to him.  Let`s go slowly.  Let`s lay out this public case.

And you can tell when he gets agitated like this, it was reminiscent today of some of the -- there have been so many scenes like this in cabinet meetings where the President goes around and has staffers sort of sing for their supper and sing his praises, and he is fixated on media narratives, and he is just all over the place.  It was sort of similar to a scene like that that you saw after the President fired Jim Comey a couple of years ago.

MATTHEWS:  So you think this is -- this is what I think.  I think I hear you say this.  Nancy Pelosi does not want to go the road of impeachment.  She thinks this is suicidal politically for her party.  But in short of that, an alternative, actually, she says, let`s just mess with the President`s head for a while.

STOKOLS:  I don`t know that it`s quite that simple.  And I don`t know that she`s ruled out impeachment.  There are a lot of democrats that are speaking publicly that they are ready to go down that road now.  And there are a lot more behind, you know, that aren`t saying that publicly that are ready to do that and are trying to not put more pressure on the Speaker.  And so that`s the situation that she is dealing with.

And I don`t think she`s ruled it out.  I think she is trying to be as judicious as she can and show the American people that, you know, Trump is trying to portray this as a political witch hunt. The dems want to redo the Mueller report.  They`re just out to get me.

Yesterday, he said all these people, they are just against me.  She is trying to demonstrate that that is not the case, that they are the following facts, where the facts lead, that they are trying to do these investigations the right way and subpoena people.  And the President is stonewalling and refusing to cooperate.  She is trying to lay that out slowly.  And every time, it just sort of escalates this back and forth.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Speaker Pelosi first referred to the President`s behavior as a temper tantrum in a letter to colleagues last night and Tweets last night.  And this morning she fired back, writing that he was purposely very polite and calm, and this morning, he`s insisting he was extremely calm.  This is the president talking.

He defended his demeanor this afternoon.


TRUMP:  I said I`m going to be very calm because I don`t want them going out to the press and saying that I was anything but calm.  So I was extremely calm, very much like I am right now.  And it was sad when I watched Nancy, all moving, the movement and the hands and the craziness.  And I watched.  That`s, by the way, a person that`s got problems.


MATTHEWS:  Michelle, you are a deep person.  I don`t know what we say because, I mean, I never covered anything like this.  It`s like a kindergarten class.  I mean, one person calling the other in need of an intervention.  And maybe she is trying to gaslight him, make him confused about his own mentality and emotional stability, and he calls -- going to resorting (ph) to all the name-calling he used to be reserved for people well below him in ability and status.  But he`s now calling the top leader of the Congress crazy and she`s calling him in need of intervention and she`s praying for him.  Explain.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Look, I think that it`s really wrong to treat this as if it`s just sort of two people throwing school yard insults.  What you have is an unhinged president given to these -- I mean, it was a temper tantrum.

And then today, there was increasingly embarrassing display of I`m not mad.  I`m not mad.  She`s mad.  I mean, it`s pathetic, you know, and then having him kind of get all of his lackeys to affirm just how not mad he was.  I mean, everyone who watches this should be so ashamed, you know, particularly the people who worship Donald Trump because they think he`s some sort of embodiment of manliness as opposed to this whiny, simpering baby.

And so -- and, Chris --

MATTHEWS:  Okay.  Michelle, let me challenge you.  Do you really think -- I mean, she is a roman catholic, she is a very religious woman and certainly in her private life.  Do you honestly believe that she`s praying for the welfare of Donald Trump?

GOLDBERG:  My sense is that she is praying for the country that is at his mercy.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s not what she is saying.  She says, I`m praying for Donald Trump because he`s in need of an intervention from his family.  You`re letting her off the hook here.  These are clinical claims.

GOLDBERG:  Nothing were off the hook.  These are --

MATTHEWS:  She needs an intervention.

GOLDBERG:  I think the problem with Nancy Pelosi`s approach, and I wrote this in my -- in the column that I just published is that she`s far too gentle with Donald Trump, right?  I mean, he does need an intervention.  The problem is that she is the person who is constitutionally mandated to perform this intervention.  But the fact that he is unstable and unwell is just manifestly true.

MATTHEWS:  Okay, there is a bottom line, as Michelle just mentioned.  President Trump had several aides at the White House lined up today to testify to his demeanor at yesterday`s White House meeting.  Here he goes.


TRUMP:  Kellyanne, what was my temperament yesterday in the room?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT:  Very calm, no temper tantrum.  I told the facts first (INAUDIBLE) in the public the fuming temper tantrum, rage, lost it, that`s just a lie, because everyone is having a (INAUDIBLE).  But you were very calm.

TRUMP:  Do we have it on tape in some place?  Good.  Mercedes, you are always a straight talker.  You were in that room yesterday?


TRUMP:  What was I answer (ph) when I walked in?  Did I ever scream?

SCHLAPP:  No.  You were very calm and you very direct.

TRUMP:  Larry, you were there.  What was my attitude yesterday at the meeting?

LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISOR:  Mercy is right.  Kellyanne is right.  You were very calm and you laid out the case.

TRUMP:  And just out of curiosity, you were there.  What was my tone yesterday at the meeting?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Very calm.  I have seen both and this was definitely not angry or ranting, very calm and straight forward and clear.


MATTHEWS:  David, what do you make of that scene from Downton Abbey with all the staff lined up there?  I mean, that`s what it looked like.  Your thoughts.

DAVID JOLLY, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes.  I don`t know who should be more embarrassed, the President or his staff or that moment.  But, look, embarrassment is the right word because I think the nation saw the President as unstable in the last 24 hours and he is trying to clean up that image.  Nancy Pelosi, to use a boxing metaphor, kind of got a cut on the President and it`s showing, which is why I kind of I find it curious that Nancy Pelosi is suggesting the President wants an impeachment.

I think the last 24 hours had shown he does not want impeachment.  I think he is terrified of impeachment because of what that means for his brand.  He tries to suggest he is the best ever, the most transparent, the most honest, like George Washington when what he is really afraid of what is being found out as being as crooked as Richard Nixon.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let`s go around that.  First, Eli, and then Michelle.  Do you think both sides -- what is being contradictory to me is Nancy Pelosi does not want to the go impeachment route.  I think we agree on this, certainly not now.  Maybe things will change, not now, after a testimony perhaps by Mueller, perhaps, maybe, but now.

Trump doesn`t want it either, but she is saying he wants it.  Is that fair?  Is that true?

STOKOLS:  Well, I think it might be a case of using some reverse psychology on her own caucus, telling people who are avid to impeach the President.  Hey, look, don`t give him what he wants.  He wants this fight.  He believes he will survive it at the end because the Senate will not remove him from office.  And so let`s be careful before we go down this road.  That`s what he wants, don`t play into his hands.  I think it`s strategic on her part.

I think on the President`s part, there is some of that.  There is some -- like, you know, if we are going have this fight, let`s just get it over with.  And he does feel confident that at the end of the day, he won`t be removed from office.  But I`m not sure he -- I mean, he said today, nobody wants to be impeached.  And I think that, deep down, he thinks this is unfair and he believes that -- he really believes this shouldn`t be happening at all.

MATTHEWS:  I think that`s well said.  Anyway, the President defended his own mental fitness again when asked if he`d cooperated with Congress  and sign a budget while investigations are ongoing.


REPORTER:  As it relates to Nancy Pelosi, she says that you want to be impeached.  Do you want to be impeached?

TRUMP:  I don`t think anybody wants to be impeached.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Speaker Pelosi quickly responded on Twitter, writing, when the extremely stable genius starts acting more presidential, I will be happy to work with him on infrastructure, trade and other issues.

Michelle, let`s go back to this.  What do you think?  I mean, I think we have all been impressed deeply by Nancy Pelosi`s ability to lead the House and keep them together and discipline them, but is part of the disciplining effort, is it to convince them that she is fighting as hard as she can, even to gaslighting the President, making him look a little nuts, so they don`t have to go to the impeachment route with the AOC people and the others who really want to go route?

GOLDBERG:  Well, I think you should stop saying gaslighting.  She`s not gaslighting him.  She is describing him accurately.  But I would say, you know, I have a lot of admiration for the way that Nancy Pelosi has led this caucus, for the way that she has been able to get under Trump`s skin.

I do think that this posture that she has of constantly saying that the President, as she said at the Center for American Progress on Wednesday, you know, the President has obstructed justice in plain sight, that itself is probably an impeachable offense.  She talked about how his refusal to cooperate with congressional subpoenas is the same thing as in Article III of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon.  She says all this.  She says he`s an existential danger to our democracy.  And then she says, but we`re not ready to impeach yet.

I think that`s incoherent.  I think -- I don`t understand how she expects that to make sense to most of the American people.  And it does seem sort of slickly political to just say, well, obviously he deserves to be impeached.  But it`s politically bad for us so we`re not going to kind of do our constitutional duty and pull the trigger.  I don`t think it`s a sustainable posture.

MATTHEWS:  So smart.  Let me go to David on the thought here.  Do you think Nancy Pelosi will change?  Here`s the prediction time.  Do you think she will change her mind?  I don`t don`t think so.  I will say that right up front.  I think she decided deeply that impeachment is the wrong route for a party trying to get back to the White House.

JOLLY:  Yes, she doesn`t to impeach.  She is trying to thread a needle here.  It`s very dangerous.  But what she has to be careful of is instead of it looking like her strategy played out, it may look like she got dragged into her rank and file of members strategy and she gets there kind of kicking and screaming, if you will.

I think what she needs to be very cautious though is if she thinks the method to the President`s madness is that he wants to get impeached so he can run on that, I don`t think that`s it.  If there is any method to the madness, the President wants to make this a duel between him and Nancy Pelosi, not him and Mueller report.

He`s happy to have the fight with Speaker Pelosi, because the only person who has with higher negatives among republican-leaning voters than Bob Mueller is Nancy Pelosi.  He would rather have the political fight with her than the legal fight over impeachment.

MATTHEWS:  That`s the strangest thing I have seen.  Anyway, thank you so much, Eli Stokols, as always, Michelle Goldberg, thank you, and David Jolly.

Coming up, what`s in Trump`s wallet?  What`s in his pocket?  Federal judges are handing President Trump defeat after defeat this week in his fight to keep his financial records to himself.  He has lost two court fights and he`s lost a fight up in Albany with the state democrats up there.  Democratic Congressman and Presidential Candidate Eric Swalwell is going to join us to talk about that.

Plus, the President`s war of words with his former Secretary of State.  The very dignified Rex Tillerson says Trump was out-prepared by Vladimir Putin.  Anyway, Trump says Tillerson was ill-prepared and ill-equipped for his job, this little side show.  Well, he actually did hire the guy.  He said he was right out of central casting, and now, he`s treating him like a nit wit.

And big announcement here, be sure to tune in on Monday, it`s the Monday after next, June 3rd. for a HARDBALL Special Event, a live town hall with presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg at Fresno State in California.  We will see why this Midwest Mayor is getting all the buzz right now.  I was just with him this morning, by the way, here in Washington.  He had some very personal words to say about Donald Trump.  More of that at the end of the show tonight.

Much more ahead, stick with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump is raging at democrats as he comes to grips with the increasing likelihood that his finances will soon be exposed.  Trump now says Congress shouldn`t see his financial records because he says now, a new cover, that Special Counsel Robert Mueller already has looked at them.


TRUMP:  They want all the same papers that they`ve just been gone over with.  Now, I would imagine that Mueller went over my financials.  You`ve spent $40 million, so I would imagine they went over my taxes, financials, my everything.  But now, we have to go over it again.


MATTHEWS:  Well, this follows Trump`s angry Tweets this morning accusing democrats of getting nothing done, yet it was the President yesterday refused to work on a bipartisan legislation unless Congress stopped investigating him.

It`s just another maneuver ongoing.  But, of course, that the President is so far is losing, because, yesterday, a federal judge ruled in favor of Congress, refusing to block subpoenas for Trump`s financial documents from Deutsche Bank.  And rejected the President`s arguments, the judge said that Trump`s legal team have not raised any serious questions going to the merits.

In its second legal setback for Trump, it`s the second one, after another federal judge ruled that his accounting firm, Mazars USA, must comply with the subpoena for the same thing, his financial records.  The decision could clear the way for Congress to obtain years of financial records related to the President, his companies and his family.

As the judge said in the ruling yesterday, the power of the Congress to conduct investigations is inherent in the legislative process.

In addition to those back-to-back defeats in the courts for the president, the New York State legislature run by the democrats yesterday passed a measure that could deliver Trump`s state tax returns to Congress.

I`m joined by Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, a candidate for the democratic nominees for president, and a member of the House Judiciary and the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, it`s always great to have you on.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA):  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  When you look at this, you step back politically and as a constitutionally sworn member of Congress, do you think that Trump, the Donald, as he used to call himself, do you think what`s really driving him a little crazy this week is not Nancy Pelosi`s toughness or the name- calling or the meetings that aren`t occurring, but that he realizes his house of cards is coming apart, that his legal defense on being audited, Mueller already knows this stuff, he`s got a million of excuses but they`re falling away.  The courts are not siding with him.

SWALWELL:  Absolutely, Chris. 

I think what this is really about is, the American people are about to find out, one, he`s not as wealthy as he says; two, he`s not been honest with the IRS and people he`s sought loans through about what his wealth is; and, three, that he`s not acting on the American people`s behalf. 

And when we step back and ask, like, why do we care about his taxes, his financial dealings, it`s not because it`s a battle between red jerseys and blue jerseys.  It`s because the president of the United States has to always act on our behalf. 

And if he has financial entanglements or other priorities that we don`t know about, that`s not on our behalf.  And I just want to tell you, Chris, the strategy here by House Democrats is oversight and court fights.

And these aren`t just judges plucking out these cases and ruling on them.  It`s our lawyers who are going to court at our directives.  And we are winning because of that strategy.  That`s the power of subpoenas.  That`s the power that the people gave us during the midterms. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you -- do you know the answer to the question of whether Robert Mueller, in his investigation, did get to his tax returns?

SWALWELL:  I have read the full Mueller report, and it`s pretty clear that he did not look at the president`s finances.  That`s why the House Intelligence Committee is proceeding down that track. 

So, we are going to get the Deutsche Bank records with the Ways and Means Committee.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about that.

SWALWELL:  We will see the tax returns. 

MATTHEWS:  The one that has fascinated me for months now, in the very beginning, with the Deutsche Bank thing -- it seemed like a sloppy bank that survived because it did stuff that other banks refused to do, like give loans to Donald Trump, and to get the money from somewhere, without any kind of collateral, it seems. 

So how do we explain there`s all these billions of dollars going to the Trump family, Jared and the whole bunch of them, coming from this somewhat questionable bank, that somehow might be using money -- the theory I have always had is, it was Russian money pouring through the Deutsche Bank, and the president was getting because the Russians were guaranteeing the loans at the other end.

It was a laundering operation, and the whole deal was crooked, and Trump was benefiting it to keep his empire upstanding -- upstanding. 

How do you -- how do you see the Deutsche Bank background, that reality of this thing?

SWALWELL:  That`s the big concern.

And our set of eyes are going to be the first ones, we believe, to look at the full MRI of Donald Trump`s finances.  It does not look like the Mueller team looked at it.  Despite his promises, the president has not turned over his taxes. 

And so we are going to be able to look in all three dimensions at this president`s financial dealings.  And it will answer the question, I believe, Chris, is, why is he so -- why does he like Vladimir Putin so much?  Why does he drive so close to Russia? 


MATTHEWS:  My question.

SWALWELL:  I think that`s going to be the answer. 


Bottom line, if it turns out that he was benefiting from a Russian pass- through of money through Deutsche Bank during the campaign, he was also trying to get Putin`s OK for a big project, a big tower over there, Moscow, and all the time he was playing footsie with information and dirt coming from them on Hillary Clinton, and all that comes together to make it look like this guy was just in it for himself, would that be the end of him?

Would Nancy Pelosi call for an impeachment at that point? 

SWALWELL:  I`m not going to speak for Nancy Pelosi, but I think we`re already seeing the beginning of the end. 

He`s not going to be president January 2021.  It`s just a matter of when he goes, Chris.  And, again, innocent people disclose and divest, especially innocent presidents.  He hasn`t done that.  And I think the only logical conclusion is that he doesn`t want us to see his finances. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, I can`t wait for the fight between you and Mike Pence.  It`ll be a great one. 

Thank you so much for joining us.


SWALWELL:  My pleasure.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, I`m joined right now by Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for "PBS NewsHour," and Glenn Kirschner, former federal prosecutor. 

You have heard what I have been talking about, this whole question.  What`s it all mean?  If you get all the paper, what`s the bottom line? 

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, "PBS NEWSHOUR":  Well, it`s really going to depend on what the papers show. 

I have always had sources that told me, when the Mueller report was -- before it became came out, these investigations start having tentacles and they could go into his finances.  But then, when we all read the report, there was nothing on his finances. 

So you have these court rulings that are basically real losses for the president and could be worrying him a lot, because his finances are one of the most opaque parts of his presidency.  We don`t really know if he`s benefiting from the presidency.  We know that he`s definitely making money from Trump Hotel and other things. 

But I think there`s -- that`s the big question that we don`t know.  It`s kind of, what are his finances doing for the presidency? 

MATTHEWS:  Glenn, do you ever wonder what he`s doing right now day to day to keep the empire afloat?  I mean, his kids can`t handle it.  Who`s keeping this house of cards with all these billions of dollars potentially up in the air, all based on credit from God knows who?


And I don`t even know if it`s millions of dollars up in the air.  Maybe it`s thousands of dollars.  Who knows.

MATTHEWS:  But it is borrowed money.

KIRSCHNER:  It is borrowed money.

And it may be dirty money, because when Congressman Swalwell says, you know what, now the House of Representatives is winning, I think that`s an understatement.  Chris, it`s been a blowout.  It`s been a blowout in federal court down in D.C. with Judge Mehta just delivering a resounding win to the House of Representatives and a crushing loss to Trump and his lawyers. 

And then when you have in New York Judge Ramos saying -- I mean, what I really find perhaps most people marketable and most heartening now is not just that people are going to get the records , his Capital One records, his Deutsche Bank records, his Mazars, his accounting firm records, but they`re going to get it, I believe, at lightning speed. 

The reason is, the courts, I think, frankly, have been dying to get their hands on this.  And now they have their hands on it.  Judge Mehta ruled in six days.  You know what Judge Ramos did?  He said, you know what, I just heard your arguments.  Give me 10 minutes, walks in the chambers, comes back out.  House, you win.  Trump, you lose.  Next.

I`m telling you, we`re talking a lot about cover-up.  The cover-up is about to crumble.

MATTHEWS:  Talk about the contagion.  People say the judges are listening to each other, and this is building up their confidence to make these rulings. 

KIRSCHNER:  Yes, it`s easy when you`re all interpreting the Constitution based on the same laws, principles and facts.

MATTHEWS:  I keep thinking of Samuel L. Jackson.  What`s in your wallet? 


MATTHEWS:  And the president probably has to answer the question. 

Anyway, Trump has fought tooth and nail, obviously, to keep all his financial records secret, even as he claimed yesterday to be the most transparent president in history.  Here he goes.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It turns I`m the most -- and I think most of you would agree to this -- I`m the most transparent president, probably in the history of this country.


MATTHEWS:  What does he mean when he says that?  Because he`s fought since day one to show any of his tax returns, the only president in modern times that doesn`t show them. 

ALCINDOR:  I think it -- really, you have to go and talk to the White House aides who maybe wrote that line or -- because, in reality, obviously, he was the -- he`s one of the first presidents, but not the first president, to not release his tax returns. 

And that`s a big deal, obviously, especially for someone like him, who has this empire, possibly, at least, we think, an empire of money all around him. 

I agree with the idea that they`re losing badly in court.  And I think that they`re losing because the president has been making this argument, and I know White House sources have been making the argument, you -- what`s the bill that Congress needs for my financial records for?  Tell me exactly what the legislative purpose is for.

These judges are saying, they`re Congress.  They can do this.  This is oversight.  What the president`s been calling harassment, the courts and Congress are saying, this is their constitutional duty, they can do this. 

So I think that what we`re seeing is a president who likely is probably getting very worried about these court rulings.

MATTHEWS:  You think it will get to the Supremes, the whole thing?

KIRSCHNER:  I would love for the Supreme Court to deny review of this case because it doesn`t raise a constitutional issue. 

They may do that.  The Supremes may do that.

MATTHEWS:  So, let the district rulings and the appellate rulings hold?

KIRSCHNER:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  Let them stand. 

MATTHEWS:  I didn`t think it was going this way.  I had lost faith in Congress` tools of power.  But I guess they`re working now.  It`s really an interesting turn of events, this week, two court rulings and the New York state Democratic legislature up there. 

And I`m sure Andrew Cuomo is going to sign that thing pretty quickly.

KIRSCHNER:  Yes, the state of the judiciary is strong. 

MATTHEWS:  That`s going to be a ceremony up there in Albany. 

Anyway, thank you, Yamiche Alcindor.  Thank you, Glenn Kirschner. 

Up next: dramatic new reporting that the Pentagon is working on a plan to send thousands more U.S. troops to the Middle East to counter what the White House says is an increased threat from Iran.  Is this wag the dog?

U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee has a lot to say about that.  She`s an outspoken critic, of course, from the Iraq War.  I cheer her for that.  And now she says the Trump administration is setting the stage for yet another war in the Middle East.  She will be here next.

Stick with us. 



QUESTION:  Would you consider sending troops to the Middle East to counter Iran, as it was reported? 

TRUMP:  Well, I would if we need them.  I don`t think we`re going to need them.  I really don`t. 

We will see what happens with Iran.  No, I don`t think we will need it.  But if we need it, we will have -- we will be there in whatever number we need. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was President Trump today leaving the door open to sending more troops to the Middle East to -- excuse me -- to face off against Iran again.

He was responding to reports that the U.S. could send as many as 10,000 more troops in response to threats from Iran. 

Anyway, earlier today, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan pushed back on those numbers. 


PATRICK SHANAHAN, ACTING U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY:  There is no 10,000.  And there`s no 5,000.  That`s not accurate.  That is not the number.

What we`re focused on right now is, do we have the right force protection in the Middle East? 


MATTHEWS:  Well, Shanahan also said that more U.S. troops could still be sent to the region, but no new proposals have been made. 

For more, I`m joined by Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California.

This saber-rattling, all these news stories, they keep coming out, 120,000 troops going over there, 10,000.  He`s now denying 5,000.  If I`m over there in Tehran, and I`m a reasonable person like Rouhani, the prime minister, I would be thinking, what are they doing over there? 


MATTHEWS:  What are we doing over here? 


LEE:  First of all, this is very provocative, first of all.


LEE:  Secondly, this country, our country, pulled out of the nuclear deal. 

And, in fact, after that, and after the inspectors said that Iran was complying with the nuclear deal, of course, our allies wanted us to stay in.  But then we imposed tougher sanctions. 

And so there`s a -- he`s building up a case to try to provoke Iran into some response.  But the reason why it`s so important that we move forward with my repeal of the authorization to use force, which we did in the Appropriations Committee...


LEE:  ... is to really make sure that this president comes to Congress if, in fact, he is considering the use of force in Iran.

MATTHEWS:  Do you trust him to come to you to if he wants to take a military action over there?

LEE:  Well, it`s not a matter of trust. 

We see how disastrous this White House is and how disorganized they are, and how that no one knows what is going on.  But Congress has to...

MATTHEWS:  Who is the boss?

LEE:  But Congress has to assert its responsibility to do this.

MATTHEWS:  I accept that, but I don`t understand why he brought a real hawk in like Bolton to be his national security guy, and that it seems like he occasionally pushes back against him.  Who is...

LEE:  Well, Bolton -- remember, Bolton was one who wanted and said that he thought that we should use force against Iran. 


LEE:  And so is this the president`s person who -- adviser who he is listening to or not?  We just don`t know, because, one day, it`s this policy, next day, it`s that.

That`s why Congress, Chris -- and I really have to emphasize this -- we have to do our constitutional responsibility. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but you have done a job.  You`re moving it through your committee and move it to the House floor. 

LEE:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  But how are you going to get it past the Senate? 


LEE:  Well, hopefully, the public -- the public...


MATTHEWS:  ... with McConnell?

LEE:  The public has to raise their voices and weigh in with the Senate, weigh in with Senator McConnell, because the Senate has got to move forward to make sure we have -- exercise our system of checks and balances and accountability and say...

MATTHEWS:  I get it.  I know the Constitution. 

LEE:  OK.  So...

MATTHEWS:  But you`re supposed to declare war or not. 

Anyway, last week, you released a statement about the rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran.  And you made a reference to the war in Iraq.

Quote -- these are your words -- "We have been down this road with Ira, a war that was orchestrated based on false intelligence.  And we cannot afford to make that same mistake again."

LEE:  We can`t. 

And, if you remember, when the debate around using force in Iraq came forward, I introduced an amendment that said, look, let`s let the United Nations conduct these inspections.  Let`s hold up and determine whether or not there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 

Well, fast-forward.  I only got 72 votes on that amendment. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.

LEE:  But there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  That was manufactured.  We lost so many of our young men and women.  It cost...

MATTHEWS:  Is that what you call lying?  Manufactured?

Vice President Cheney said they had a nuclear weapon. 

LEE:  It was totally manufactured.  And they deceived the public.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you this.

You`re a person of progressive thinking, and you have been in this business a long time on foreign affairs.  What is the prime motive pushing these people to push our country again and again into war in the Middle East?  Who`s -- what`s their motive? 

LEE:  It`s hard to say what their motive is.

And some believe it`s oil.  Some believe it`s profit for corporations.

MATTHEWS:  You.  What do you think?

LEE:  I believe it has more to do with control, policing the world, being - - and this administration at least wanting to exercise, in many ways, a dictatorial kind of strategy throughout the world, so that it can comply with whatever their very right-wing foreign policy is.

MATTHEWS:  I think that`s called imperialism.  Isn`t that imperialism?

LEE:  That`s imperialism.  And it`s a new form. 


 LEE:  But it`s something that I see playing out before us each and every day. 

And, in fact, it`s very sad, because they`re beginning to erode our democracy in a big way.  And that`s why, again, going back to Congress, the people`s house, we have to assert our constitutional responsibility, Chris, and make sure that Congress does its job. 

MATTHEWS:  Berkeley, California, and Oakland are very lucky to have you. 

LEE:  Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS:  I mean it.  I glad somebody speaks out on this stuff ideologically sometimes.  Anyway, thank you.

LEE:  My pleasure.

MATTHEWS:  U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California.

Up next:  The president`s former secretary of state is accusing Trump of failing to adequately prepare for important diplomatic events.  He`s back.  Rex Tillerson is back in the window, knocking on the school window. 

He`s an idiot.  He`s an idiot.  Trump counters by calling Tillerson dumb as a rock.  This is how deep it`s getting in Washington.

More on Trump`s latest war of words with a former official in his own administration.  Look at this.  This is -- what is it?  I do think it`s a little nutty.

Anyway, we will be back in a minute. 



Amid his feud with congressional Democrats, President Trump found time to keep up attacks on former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.  This morning, on the heels of reports that Tillerson briefed the House Foreign Affairs Committee about his time in the Trump administration, the president tweeted: Rex Tillerson, a man who is dumb as a rock and totally ill- prepared and ill-equipped to be secretary of state, made up a story, he got fired, that I was out-prepared by Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Hamburg, Germany.  I don`t think Putin would agree. 

Nearly two years ago, when he hired Mr. Tillerson, President Trump had a very different opinion of the former Exxon-Mobil CEO. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Some people didn`t like Rex because he got along with leaders of the world.  I said, no, you have to understand, that`s a good thing.  That`s a good thing, not a bad thing.  He is respected all over the world and I think he is going to go down as one of the great, great secretaries. 

Rex is doing a fantastic also.

Rex is a very good man.  I like Rex a lot.  I really appreciate his commitment and his service. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, stay tuned after the break to find out what ruffled the president`s feathers today. 

You are watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

According to "The Washington Post", former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week that Russian President Vladimir Putin, quote, out-prepared President Trump for their 2017 meeting in Hamburg, Germany. 

A committee aide told "The Washington Post": We spent a lot of time in the conversation talking about how Putin seized every opportunity to push what he wanted.  There was a discrepancy and preparation and it created an unequal footing. 

Well, President Trump has made a habit of brushing aside the value detailed security briefings, of course.  Let`s watch him. 


REPORTER:  How prepared of are you for this meeting with President Xi?  How are you preparing for it and how confident are you?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I`m very prepared.  I have been preparing for it all of my life.  You know, it`s not like, oh, gee, I`m going to sit down and study. 

I know every ingredient.  I know every stat.  I know it better than anybody knows it. 

Putin is KGB, and this and that.  You know what?  Putin is fine.  He`s fine.  We are all fine.  We are all people. 

Will I be prepared?  Totally prepared.  I have been preparing for this stuff my whole life. 

REPORTER:  What are you doing to prepare for the summit with North Korea? 

TRUMP:  I think I`m very well-prepared.  I don`t think I have to prepare much.  It`s about attitude.  It`s about willingness to get things done. 

This one-week preparations, they don`t work.  Ask Hillary what happened to her in the debates. 


MATTHEWS:  Additionally, Tillerson reportedly told the committee, the House committee, that the United States needed to do more to counter Russia on the global stage.  He was also asked to describe President Trump`s values.  Tillerson reportedly said, "I cannot". 

For more, I`m joined by Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff to the CIA, and the Department of Defense.  And Dana Milbank, "Washington Post" political columnist.

So, Dana, I assume from your resume you have been experienced.  I`m sorry.  Jeremy.  I know who everybody is.

Jeremy, that your job was to prepare people, to make sure that they were briefed.  Whoever your boss was at the time, they went in with all you needed to know. 


MATTHEWS:  That is not something you skip.

BASH:  Two components of preparation, Chris.  One is intelligence briefings that tell you what you are up against.  And the second is a set of talking points pulled together by your whole team and you sit with this cabinet secretary or the vice president or the president and you review, what do we want to get out of this meeting? 

It`s clear that in Hamburg, the president just mailed it in, he winged it, and Putin got his number.  He pushed him around for two hours, and got every single thing that he and his Kremlin advisers prepared to get.  He got. 

MATTHEWS:  Somewhere, Dana, this reminds of some character in the movies, this guy that doesn`t know anything.  I can do it, I can do it everything.  I know everything.  I don`t need any briefings. 

I`m -- you know, what do you make of this guy? 



MILBANK:  I`ve been preparing for it all my life.

Yes.  I think what you are looking for is the B.S. artists.


MILBANK:  And we have seen that.  And here comes Trump trying, you know, whenever he feels criticized.  He did this when he still had Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, calling him dumb as a rock and ill-equipped. 

OK.  So, why did you hire him? 

MATTHEWS:  Because he looks like secretary of state.  That`s what he based it.  He said -- he said central casting.  So, I picked him based on appearance. 

MILBANK:  Yes and it obviously mixed very poorly.  You know, this was not a guy who was interested in having kids in the White House tell him what to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Yesterday -- the serious thing I want to hear from Tillerson if I was in that briefing room the other day, I would want to know how is Jared who`s never done anything like this putting together these world plans? 

MILBANK:  Well, that`s the point.  The whole notion that he is saying, well, Trump was sort of ill-prepared.  Well, hello, captain obvious, we know that by seeing Trump every day. 

But that is the more meaningful thing and the irritation of having Jared Kushner saying, you know, I`m going to come out with a Mideast peace plan and I have really got the handle on Saudi Arabia now.  That`s got to be infuriating to the former head of Exxon-Mobil. 

MATTHEWS:  Does everybody know who the guy is captain obvious is?  The guy with a military uniform that tells you, you`re an idiot, you don`t know anything about traveling. 

Anyway, as I`ve mentioned, "The Washington Post" also reported that during the roughly six-hour meeting up on the Hill, Secretary Tillerson told the foreign affairs committee that while he didn`t question Jared Kushner`s motives, his, quote, lack of knowledge of history exposed him to being outmaneuvered.  He added: Kushner did not follow traditional diplomatic protocols which made it difficult to understand what he was doing with world leaders. 

In February of 2018, last year, "The Washington Post" reported that four countries have privately discussed ways they could manipulate Kushner.  It`s also reported that the president`s son in law alarmed the administration officials because he was using private backchannels, guess what, to communicate with the man suspected of murdering, with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the crown prince, MBS. 


BASH:  This is the way foreign governments get leverage over the president is by going around the established channels, by going around a secretary of state who has gravitas, experience and the head on his shoulders that go directly to the president through his aides who don`t have as much experience and don`t have as much knowledge about how to fend off those efforts to manipulate. 

MATTHEWS:  I just look at Jared Kushner.  He is trying to put together a Middle East thing, at lining all the Sunni countries.  They`re usually the most favorable to us. 

At the same time, he moves the embassy in Jerusalem.  He says Israel has got the Golan Heights, forget about that negotiation, that`s going.  And he says, oh, by the way, we`re going to buy you off, guys.  We`re going to pay you up front so the world can see us buying the Palestinians. 

It`s humiliating.  The guys like Erekat, those guys are saying enough. 

BASH:  And I think it`s important that the State Department be involved in the role out of this Middle East peace plan.  We haven`t seen anything about the details.  Nobody knows what to expect and I think the region is uncertain, whether you`re going to have a peace break out from Jared or war break out from John Bolton.  I don`t know which one, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let`s talk about this.  When I thought about Rex Tillerson who does look like the secretary of state, he`s got the gravitas and the look and everything.  He`s about the right weight physically.  He looks like a heavy weight. 

Everything looks right and usually, these guys with certain amount of arrogance, which is appropriate for the job.  He comes back to get the president.  It`s like the kid coming back to school and looking in the window during the class.  Why did he come to the Hill today, this week?  Why did he come back to spread the dirt on Trump?  What`s that?  I`m not saying it`s wrong.  But what brings him to do that?

MILBANK:  You know, I think he`s been consistent.  This is sort of the same kind of thing he was saying privately when he was secretary of state.  And let`s remember, he didn`t like give a press conference here. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but he asked for an appointment.  He asked for a chance to meet --

MILBANK:  Well, it was a private meeting.


MILBANK:  The Republicans say when the full transcript comes out, it will be more balance and it does sound like he went out of his way not to explicitly criticize Trump.  Of course, you can`t quite help it by just describing --

MATTHEWS:  What`s his motive?  Patriotism? 

MILBANK:  Well, look, this is a guy who was fired while sitting on the toilet.  He was constantly cut off at the knees and humiliated as secretary of state --

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Trump called up and he said, is he on the toilet?  I want to fire him now. 

MILBANK:  He waited for that moment.

MATTHEWS:  We all hear that stupid story.  It`s embarrassing, but it`s apparently accurate. 

BASH:  I have no idea, Chris. 


MILBANK:  Jeremy was not there. 


MATTHEWS:  He`s not denying it.  One thing he (INAUDIBLE), he called him a moron. 

BASH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  He called the president a moron.

BASH:  Yes.  Well, I think that happened actually in the tank on the first floor of the -Pentagon in the E ring where the joint chiefs tend to meet.  They brought them over for a big national security meeting to try to explain to him basic things about the world which he wasn`t getting. 

And at the end, he said, I want to build 30,000 nuclear weapons.  We have about 2,000 today.  It was a crazy request.  He walked out of the room and Tillerson said, the guy is a moron.  He doesn`t understand anything.  We have been briefing him for an hour and nothing has sunk in. 

So, I think Tillerson was well-founded in his concern about the stability and the confidence of commander-in-chief. 

MATTHEWS:  Where are else can I end tonight? 

Thank you, Jeremy.  Thank you, Dana.  Thank you, guys. 

MILBANK:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  What an illuminate and sad discussion. 

I spent the morning, by the way, with Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend.  His blistering attack on Donald Trump over his military record or avoiding service is next.  You don`t want to miss this baby.  This guy is ready it go to war with Trump. 


MATTHEWS:  Last night, I raised the question whether the Democrat that gets to run against Donald Trump will stand up to the guy.  Will he or she have the right stuff to knock his block off? 

Earlier today, I was chatting with a Democrat ready to do just that.  Pete Buttigieg with whom I`ll be hanging around with in South Bend next Tuesday and with whom I`ll be hosting a town hall meeting the following Monday, June 3rd.  He showed me that that he is ready to hit Trump with a shot that is nasty, direct, personal. 

He went after Trump`s Vietnam War record, by that I mean Trump`s record of getting out of the Vietnam War. 


PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have a pretty dim view of his decision to use his privileged status to fake a disability in order to avoid serving in Vietnam.  I don`t mean to trivialize disability, but that`s what he did.  But manipulating the ability to get a diagnosis?  I mean, if you are a conscientious objector, I admire that.  But this is somebody who I think it`s fairly obvious to most of us took advantage of the fact that he was a child of a multimillionaire in order to pretend to be disabled so that somebody could go to war in his place. 


MATTHEWS:  So, there you saw it.  A Democratic challenger calling the commander in chief a draft dodger. 

Fortunately for Mayor Pete, who served in Afghanistan as a naval reservist, he has a powerful back up for this claim.  Here`s Trump`s own lawyer fixer Michael Cohen testifying to Congress earlier this year. 


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER:  Mr. Trump claimed it was because of a bone spur.  When I asked for medical records, he gave me none and said there was no surgery.  He told me not to answer the specific questions by reporters, but rather offer simply the fact that he received a medical deferment. 

He finished the conversation the following comment.  You think I`m stupid?  I`m not going to Vietnam. 


MATTHEWS:  What makes it worse, what puts Donald Trump in a really bad place in all of this is this remark he once made about McCain. 


DONALD TRUMP (R), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  He`s not a war hero.  He`s a war hero because he was captured.  I like people who weren`t captured. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s one thing you can say about Donald Trump.  Unlike John McCain, he never put himself in a position to be captured in Vietnam.  As he once proudly confessed, his personal Vietnam was right here in America, avoiding sexually transmitted diseases. 

And that`s HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.