CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Trouble in the playpen. Let`s play HARDBALL
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews back in Washington. Tonight, we have a Friday full of crazy for you. With the Trump crowd calling Speaker Pelosi everything, from nuts to tipsy, Donald Trump crowning himself an extremely stable genius, and now, once again, throwing out the charge of treason against his enemies, a crime actually that`s historically punishable by death.
In Trump`s mind, however, treason is when people are disloyal to him. His incredible lack of understanding about one of the most serious charges in the U.S. criminal code is coming up a little later in the show tonight.
And the civil rights hero, Congressman John Lewis, a man who stood and spoke alongside Dr. Martin Luther King at the historic 1963 march on Washington, and was beaten during a civil rights march in Alabama, he is coming here tonight. He recently welcomed me into his Capitol Hill office to discuss these country`s uptick and racist violence. Here`s a bit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): I don`t know what has happened to America. It makes me sad. It makes me sometimes cry. I can never forget what happened in Charlottesville, what happened at that church in Charleston. And it`s spreading like wildfire.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What a soulful man. A lot more from my interview with Congressman Lewis later in this hour.
But we begin with the incredible back and forth between the President and the Speaker of the House. The dispute reached a new low last night with a volley of person insults that include attacks on each other`s emotional stability and fitness for their offices.
And last night, just hours after President Trump defended himself saying he is an extremely stable genius, he really said that, he Tweeted a video from Fox Business of Speaker Pelosi at a news conference that was heavily edited. Listen closely, heavily edited, cutting together several portions to give the impression she was incoherently stumbling over her words.
Meanwhile, other videos of Speaker Pelosi distorted and altered to make it appear she`s drunkenly slurring her words have spread online in recent days, including this beauty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We want to give this President the opportunity to do something historic for our country.
We want to give this president the opportunity to do something historic for our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that altered video has been shared nearly 50,000 times on Facebook and the President`s own attorney, Rudy Giuliani, Tweeted and later deleted the video. So he`s pushing this.
In another Tweet today, Giuliani was defiant writing, Nancy Pelosi wants an apology for a caricature. Well, first, she should withdraw her charge which hurts our entire nation when she says the President needs an intervention.
And tonight, President Trump said he didn`t know about the videos and defended his personal attacks against Pelosi, arguing she started it. I told you it was a playpen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Did you hear what she said about me long before I went after her? Did you hear? She made horrible statements. She knows they are not true. She said terrible things. So I just responded in kind.
Look, you think Nancy is the same as she was? She`s not. Maybe we can all say that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for the Associated Press, Neera Tanden, CEO of the Center for American Progress, Susan Del Percio, republican strategist, and David Cay Johnston, Founder of DCReport.org and author of The Making -- well, you have to explain yourself on this one, The Making of Donald Trump.
Let me start with Jonathan. I was thinking what Lincoln would think if he was watching all these, or FDR, one of our great presidents, Eisenhower coming forward, about this embarrassing playpen-style behavior by our President. Your thoughts, why is he this way?
JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, Chris, he`s always been this way. He`s someone who cannot take a slight. He does not let any insult go unpunished. And that is what he accounts for his rise in the republican primaries two years ago, two to three years ago, and what he has done since taking office.
So he`s a counterpuncher. Everything -- his instinct is always to fight. We`re seeing that both politically in terms of campaigns but even in the day-to-day with these petty insults he hurls either on Twitter or in news conferences or as you`re seeing there, you know, standing outside the White House before leaving for Japan earlier today.
But Speaker Pelosi, what`s her call (ph)? It`s hard to believe there were democrats who weren`t sure that she was up to the task to go toe-to-toe with President Trump. She has done more than that. She has bested him most days and most encounters. And what we`ve seen in the last couple of days is she knows his soft spot.
She invoked other presidents who were able govern while being under investigation. She invoked other presidents who had to work with the other party on big deals, big infrastructure projects. She suggested that he needed an intervention by family or staff and said she would pray for him, which is very much sort of a bless your heart kind of sarcastic moment. And the President can`t take it. He seemed -- we`ve seen time and time again --
MATTHEWS: Do you think he knew about this dirt thrown at her by saying that she was either incapable of putting a sentence together or that she was a bit tipsy? He says he didn`t know about this stuff. Do you believe him?
LEMIRE: It defies belief, Chris. I mean, we have seen him use a video before, unverified video in terms of attacks. Yet today, he is going after her mental ability felt like an exact counterpunch because she had seemed to hint about his.
This is what he does. He will go fight on any level in order to score points. He tries to win that moment. There is no grand plan here. There is no attempt to be a statesman. It`s just about the political fight.
MATTHEWS: Neera, there is an old expression in politics. It`s a little low brow but it says don`t get into a peeing match with a skunk. And it`s gross, but it does talk to the problem of dealing with it. If you get on - - everybody tried it against him in the 2016 primary fight. Little Marco, the rest of them, every one tried.
Pelosi went out and said it was like the grandmother thinking one of her strange nephews is having problems, so I pray for him, like one of the bad apples in the family, or he needs an intervention from someone else in the family. That bit of condescension by her, which normally would work with Trump, he just went wild. He is wild.
NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: You know, I actually think what happened this week is he made a series of strategic blunders, which she took advantage of, and he can`t handle anyone besting him so he just, you know, melted down more and more, calling himself --
MATTHEWS: Do you think it was the two court decisions that are leading the way for his papers to get out?
TANDEN: I think it`s the the two court decisions and I also think him saying to the American people, I`m not going to pass any legislation until they stop oversight, I think that was a big error on his part. Because it says to people, you know, he is in the way of doing anything to solve my problems, and something so fundamental, like infrastructure, which people can identify as a jobs package. No president who`s been under investigation has ever made this mistake because they know that people -- the only way for people to stick with you is for them to believe that you are still focused on them despite all of this.
So I actually think this week is a full demonstration of how she has been able to make him make mistakes, and he can`t handle it.
MATTHEWS: She did it before here. You studied this. A couple of months ago, she did the same thing, got him in a position to saying, I don`t care if I shut down the government. This time --
MATTHEWS: -- he says, I don`t have -- every time you drive over a pothole at night, every time the bridge you are over feels creaky or the subway is late, blame Trump.
TANDEN: Or you have someone who`s experiencing tariffs and could have a job from an infrastructure package. Blame Trump for it not happening.
MATTHEWS: He has his henchmen now. Susan, I have to go back to you on this. He has his henchmen. One of them is Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani basically did not -- admits, defends, if you will, the use of this corrupted tape to make her look like she can`t put a sentence together.
SUSAN DEL PERCIO, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And it was unfortunate, Chris, because it`s the same thing he did with Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. He went out there and suggested that there were issues with Mrs. Clinton and said go look up videos.
Now, we know what happens with videos. We see it here. He was forced to delete it. For some actually surprised, he did, but he did. And this is the M.O. now, this administration, they are just going to throw as much dirt out there as possible and hope it blinds people.
But what`s concerning -- I think there was also another point that Nancy Pelosi made earlier today, or this week rather. She said, I think have more respect for the presidency than the President does, and that`s for sure. This president has been a disgrace to the Oval Office. And the way he acts out and his tantrums and everything else, it`s not funny. I mean, we like to call it childish, but it`s scary. It scares me that this man is going overseas to represent our country. This is not the person we need right now.
And he is starting to learn a little bit more about the powers he has when you think about what he gave to Barr as far as declassifying information and going on a search where he`s already declare and has been the judge and jury. And this information, a little information for Donald Trump is looking like a dangerous thing.
MATTHEWS: Well, both -- you know, I want you to think about the gender aspect of this. It`s been said today here at my office with my producers, I had my instinct tonight. The first struck me, does he get as much giggle and nastiness of heart against male opponents? Neera, you jump on this first. Because he seems to get the giggle going with this, like this stuff about Pocahontas. So he always seems come up with something especially awful.
TANDEN: I think he has. I think we know over the last couple of years he has a strong problem with strong women.
MATTHEWS: But he brings out the knife.
TANDEN: He brings out the knife. He is particularly nasty. He tries to bring them as much as he can into the mud with him. But I also think one of the things he has to recognize is he has a gender historic gap. And there is a push back and a backlash against --
MATTHEWS: I`m just looking at it. I think the birds are going to be more against him next time.
Anyway, what do you think, Susan? You know the guy. What about Trump? What do you think about the nastiness that seems to come really well into the surface when he`s got a challenge from woman leader?
DEL PERCIO: Well, he obviously can`t handle it. He`s always had been -- had a problem with relationships. I mean, I hate to bring it up, but this is a man who`s married three times, who has affairs with porn stars and Playboy bunnies. This is what he does.
MATTHEWS: I guess you brought it up. Susan, you brought it up. There`s no doubt about that. I`m getting five offenses there. Go ahead.
DEL PERCIO: But this is who he is. This is what he thinks of women. And I think with Nancy Pelosi, he tried so hard. He tried as long as he could and he just couldn`t help but come up with a nickname, and I think he is going to regret it.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, he`ll regret what he`s just done.
Let me go to David, who knows the guy. What do you make of this latest sort of bottom feeding by the President?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, THE MAKING OF DONALD TRUMP: Well, Donald is a man of raging insecurities. I mean, here he is in the most powerful office in the world and he wants to portray himself as the poor victim and how he is being mistreated.
And, by the way, that job he took an oath of office to fulfill, apparently, that`s a privilege. You know, he`ll do it for as long as the democrats are nice to him. Otherwise, he won`t do it at all. And Donald has complete inability --
MATTHEWS: Wow, what a suspect.
JOHNSTON: He has a complete inability to laugh about himself. One of the signs of being a mature person is you`re going to laugh about yourself. Donald is trapped, and always has been, in the year he turned 13, which all of us will recall, so whether it was 12, 13 or 14, we went through a horrible year, and Donald has been trapped in that year forever. It explains why he is such a horrible misogynist in the way he treats women, and his juvenile approach to everything. Your school yard example, Chris, is spot on. That`s exactly what`s going on here. We have a child in the Oval Office.
On the other hand, millions of Americans are not going to recognize that`s a doctored video. James O`Keefe has now infected our system in a way that`s not going away. And I get contacted every day by email or Twitter direct message by people about he`s the greatest president ever. We are having the greatest economic boom ever. And those people, to them, this is exactly right. Nancy Pelosi must be a drunk and addle-minded and Donald is a genius. And they`re not -- there is no indication they are sloughing away from --
MATTHEWS: Well, he said they are. He said that she -- his crowd are saying that she drank, that`s why she talks with that slur. By the way, again, watching this show, to make a point, that didn`t happen.
MATTHEWS: You hear Nancy Pelosi all the time, she`s sharp as a tack.
Anyway, this attack on Pelosi`s mental competence bears a striking similarity to a conspiracy theory that was spread in 2016 about Hillary Clinton`s health. Let`s watch that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: The number one. When you cannot produce a coherent thought, maybe it`s time to hang it up. Pelosi seemed to struggle with the whole subject-verb-direct object thing.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Speculations swirl about Hillary Clinton`s health. She is falling. You`ve got this sort of twitching thing that she does in front of reporters that was really bad. She keeps doing it. What is that?
GREGG JARRETT, FOX NEWS HOST: She could not put a subject with a predicate in the same sentence. What`s going on?
RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP`S PERSONAL LAWYER: Go online and put down Hillary Clinton illness and take a look at the videos for yourself.
TRUMP: Look, do you think Nancy Pelosi is the same as she was? She is not.
Here is a woman. She is supposed to fight all of these different things and she can`t make it 15 feet to her car. Give me a break. Give me a break.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, today, Chelsea Clinton Tweeted, please don`t fall for edited, doctored, fake videos, particularly if they`re made or amplified by the same people in the outlets who have claimed my mother, Hillary Clinton, has been dying for years.
Neera, you were discussing the world with the Speaker of the House this week.
TANDEN: Yes. I --
MATTHEWS: I didn`t notice anything. Did you?
TANDEN: You know, I was the one interviewing her for this actual vide, not the doctored video. I actually think it was amazing that this whole experience is, again, it`s a projection. If there`s somebody who kind of slurs his speech and seems like he is not really in charge anymore, it`s Donald Trump. And what he does every single time is project his weakness and insecurity on to other people.
I have seen Speaker Pelosi over the years. There is no one more in command of what`s happening in Washington. And, in fact, she is, as I said, able to best him, and it drives him crazy. So he must mock her. He must make people think she is weak and he can only do it with a doctored video. Because when people actually see the video of the two of them, one actually looks a lot more presidential than the other.
MATTHEWS: Jonathan, I worked for a speaker for a half dozen years and she is better at keeping the caucus together than anybody in history, better than Sam Rayburn. I have never seen a more effective leader of the House than Nancy Pelosi. I`ve said it before, because it`s very hard to herd kittens or cats. It`s very hard to herd, and they are all independently elected, they get re-elected on their own, they don`t need you.
And yet she makes them do what she wants them to do without them hating her. That`s Machiavellian genius to be feared but not hated. She can do it. The idea she is not competent is an absurdity. Your thoughts about the world we live in, not the one that Trump is creating.
LEMIRE: Well, two things. First of all, you are right about Speaker Pelosi who -- and this is a challenge for any person at her position to herd cats, as you just said, but particularly now, whether such forces in the Democratic Party, some really want impeachment, others do not. And she has, to this point, bent the caucus to her will, they`re proceeding without impeachment now, they`re going investigation by investigation, they`re doing methodical and being strategic, they won a couple of legal battles this week, they have a long way to go in this game, but, so far, it looks like her approach is effective.
And as far as the President goes, I mean, there doesn`t seem to be a bottom in terms of what he and his allies, and it must be said, some conservative media outlets like that. Remember, that video, that`s from Fox Business that was regurgitated on the internet. You know, this is -- again, we saw it like Hillary Clinton, we`re seeing again now forces on the right sort of acting in concert to try to sully the reputation of a public servant who is on the other party.
MATTHEWS: David, it`s the end of the week. It`s Friday. It`s been going into a wonderful weekend. We love Memorial Day weekend. It begins this summer. Will Trump reboot or will he continue spiraling downward?
JOHNSTON: Donald, who has no fundamental philosophy and no moral core to hold him up, is going continue to behave in more and more erratic ways overtime. And he`s going to do dangerous things. I mean, he`s just handed Bill Barr the authority to out American intelligence sources. And if it`s in Donald`s interest to do so, I`m very worried that may happen. So --
MATTHEWS: That`s why he has given a super power of all intelligence, including the CIA, all intelligence agencies, so I guess defense intelligence, everything, and he is able to just decide everything like he is some sort of viceroy.
JOHNSTON: And remember, Trump already has revealed sources and methods to the Russians early in his administration in the Oval Office. So, no, he`s not going to change. He doesn`t -- he`s 72 years old. His personality was fixed a long time ago. And as Rex Tillerson pointed out, he doesn`t prepare, he just operates by the seat of his pants. Unfortunately, there is no spine to hold up the rest of him.
MATTHEWS: I`ve never seen any paperwork in a playpen.
Thank you so much, Jonathan Lemire. Thank you, Neera Tanden, Susan Del Percio, David Cay Johnston.
Coming up, President Trump unleashes his Attorney General, as you`ve just heard from David, giving William Barr broad powers, unlimited, really, to investigate what Trump calls an attempted coup and treason, he`s calling it, by the FBI, because they investigated foreign influence in our elections. That`s treason. He says it`s not about payback, but it sure looks like it, doesn`t it?
And later, more of my interview with civil rights hero, Congressman John Lewis, you`ve got to stick around for that. This guy, as I said before, he is soulful and he`s history in your face. He is real and he`s alive. It`s great. He suffered the wounds, of course, of hate himself during the civil rights movement. He was beaten up a couple of times. His thoughts on the rise of hate in today`s America.
Much more ahead, stick with us.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump is unleashing his attorney general. In an unprecedented move, the president`s is granting William Barr unilateral authority to declassify any intelligence related to the origins of the Mueller probe.
The White House says it`s being done to -- quote -- "help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred and the actions that were taken during the last presidential election."
But the president`s already decided what that truth is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everything that they need is declassified. And they will be able to see how this hoax, how the hoax or witch-hunt started and why it started.
It was an attempted coup or an attempted takedown of the president of the United States. It`s the greatest hoax probably in the history of our country, and somebody has to get to the bottom of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, released a statement trying to calm fears that this new directive would turn the intelligence community -- what it will do to it.
Quote: "I am confident that the attorney general will work with the intelligence community, in accordance with the long established standards, to protect highly sensitive classified information that, if publicly released, would put our national security at risk."
The directive from this president, however, to Barr came only hours after he declared that those who lied -- who led, actually, the investigation of him, the president, committed treason.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Sir, the Constitution says treason is punishable by death. You`ve accused your adversaries of treason. Who specifically are you accusing of treason?
TRUMP: Oh, I think a number of people. If you look at Comey, if you look at McCabe, if you look at -- probably people -- people higher than that. If you look at...
TRUMP: ... Strzok, if you look at his lover, Lisa Page.
And they wanted an insurance policy so that, should she, for any reason, lose -- remember, 100 million to one. Maybe he said 100 million to nothing.
But should she lose, "We`ll have an insurance policy and we`ll get this guy out of office." That`s what they said and that`s what they meant.
That`s treason. That`s treason.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that claim, the president`s made multiple times in the past, of course, of treason by his enemies.
But, of course, none of the people he mentioned actually committed that act.
NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams writes: "Treason doesn`t mean being disloyal to the president. And it certainly would not apply to any actions against a private citizen, which Donald Trump was as a candidate for president."
For more, I`m joined by Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser for President Obama, and Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor.
First of all, the law here, it is a law. You cannot commit treason against the United States. The Rosenbergs were executed for that. Rightly or wrongly, they were. It was use of -- it`s the most frightening charge you can make. And here we go. He`s making it against these guys.
PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Article 3, Section 3 of the United States Constitution, treason is adhering to the enemy, providing the enemy aid and comfort.
What the president calls treason is what the FBI did when it noticed all of these weird contacts between people in the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. From the Mueller report, we now know that there were 251 such contacts.
So, is investigating a really bizarre relationship between an American campaign and an enemy of the United States, the Russians, is that treasonous, or is, in fact...
MATTHEWS: Just to get to -- further into the law here, I thought treason meant in war.
BUTLER: No, so treason can -- what the Constitution says is, treason is going to war against the United States or providing aid and comfort to the enemy.
And so, again, we can look at things like Jared Kushner seeking a back channel, so that he could have private conversations with the Russians that the Obama administration didn`t know about.
MATTHEWS: But you don`t mean it. You don`t think he should be executed for treason, do you?
BUTLER: No. No. But if we want to talk about treason-adjacent, that`s far more treason-adjacent than our FBI and national intelligence agencies opening investigation into something really bizarre that the Trump campaign was doing with Russian operatives.
MATTHEWS: Let`s go back to what the president just today.
Ben, what do you -- Ben Rhodes, what do you make of the fact -- you worked for national security.
What do you make of him saying basically to his -- his political butler, basically, William Barr, the attorney general, who seems to serve him in every way, you have now the ability to go to every agency in the United States, all the intelligence agencies, and release any information you want, in the purpose of destroying the reputation of the Mueller probe, because that`s your goal, destroy the Mueller probe and its reputation?
BEN RHODES, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I mean, Chris, it`s totally extraordinary.
And, once again, it`s him putting his own conspiracy theory-based politics over our national security. The reality is, the declassification authority rests with the intelligence agencies, because they are the ones who know the sensitivity behind that information.
The CIA knows who their sources are. The NSA knows what those vulnerabilities are. And Bill Barr has not worked at those agencies. And for him, who, as you said, has basically been the political errand boy for Donald Trump, to suddenly have authority to cherry-pick whatever intelligence he wants from whatever there is out there in the intelligence community -- and there are millions and millions, billions of pieces of information in the intelligence community.
For him to be able to cherry-pick that for the political purpose of perpetuating this conspiracy theory that Donald Trump has just shows how much these people don`t care about national security at all. They care about advancing their own political agenda.
They`re blowing right through any norms of how the judiciary should be independent in this country of political influence.
MATTHEWS: President Trump has regularly praised his attorney general, Mr. Barr, who at times has echoed the president`s comments.
Appearing before a Senate committee in April, for example, Barr appeared to endorse the widespread Republican allegations that the Trump campaign was improperly surveilled, or, to use the Trumpian term, spied upon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: We want to make sure that, during an election -- I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. I`m not suggesting that those rules were violated. But I think it`s important to look at that.
And I`m not just -- I`m not talking about the FBI, necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you`re not -- you`re not suggesting, though, that spying occurred?
BARR: I don`t -- well, I guess you could -- I think there`s -- spying did occur, yes. I think spying did occur.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: It seems to me he`s putting Robert Mueller on trial, the FBI on trial, Comey, the whole works, because he keeps saying, there`s some higher authority behind all this.
And he`s probably putting President Obama on trial and Loretta Lynch.
BUTLER: Well, yes.
We know that the president said that, Obama spied on my campaign. We know that there`s no basis in truth for that. And so this attorney general is once again taking the loyalty pledge, acting much more like a defense attorney for the president, who badly needs one.
But the United States needs someone to represent its interest and its values. And our present attorney general does not do that.
MATTHEWS: The president`s surrogates have taken to the airwaves right now to make bold predictions about what to expect from Barr`s investigation, the one that just began, of the investigators.
Here`s the president`s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think we are going to see additional criminal referrals, with McCabe getting another referral, Comey a referral, Strzok and Page, James Baker, possibly Bruce Ohr.
And I think what we`re going to see, Greg, is in March or April of next year, James Comey, Andy McCabe, Strzok and Page will be on trial for the crimes they committed against the Fourth Amendment and against this president. And we can`t wait.
QUESTION: And Brennan and Clapper.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Ben, the way that they have this little band of henchmen available now to jump on FOX especially, and Rudy, of course, to say anything, Lewandowski, to say anything.
It`s not just Kellyanne or Sarah, people from the White House staff.
MATTHEWS: He has this band of people that will say -- he probably says, well, let`s try if they will say it.
I can imagine when this happens, in the middle of the night. Can you get Lewandowski to say it? He will say it, I`m sure. Or do you think Rudy will say it? Get him to say it.
MATTHEWS: Have a couple drinks beforehand. Get them after dinner.
It looks they will get -- Rudy will say anything once it`s past dinner. I mean, it`s incredible, what they say for President Trump`s benefit.
RHODES: And, Chris, this is important.
And let`s establish facts very quickly here. One, completely bogus that this was some conspiracy out of the White House. I was in the White House. I was getting the PDB, the presidential daily briefing, every day with President Obama.
I learned about an FBI investigation into Donald Trump in the press after I left office, because we didn`t interfere in those investigations.
Two, Russia did intervene in our election. Jim Comey and all the people at the FBI were just doing their job to try to figure out what Russia was doing in assaulting our democracy.
And the last thing, Chris, I would say to your point, he has these surrogates out and it looks like a political show back and forth. But this language they`re using, coup, treason, people -- Jim Comey, the former head of -- the FBI director, should be on trial, this is the kind of stuff, Chris, that we hear in dictatorships.
This is not normal stuff. And we know that there`s an audience out there, 40 percent of the country, that will just believe anything they say. And they`re whipping them into a frenzy. And I think it`s a little more dangerous than people think.
You have got an attorney general who has shown he will do anything to cover up for the president in his capacity to help him obstruct justice. And now the other side of that coin is, we have seen an attorney general who will use the powers of his office to go after the president`s political appointments -- the president`s political opponents.
This isn`t like normal back-and-forth political stuff.
MATTHEWS: I agree.
RHODES: You have been covering the trenches for decades. This is different. And it should be scary to people.
MATTHEWS: I try to say, Ben, that I have never seen anything like this. I -- nobody can be a veteran of this crap. There is no such veteranship.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the sad news -- and it is sad and depressing -- that Robert Mueller doesn`t want to testify in public.
BUTLER: You know, the Trump people have started this new trend where people seem to think that, when they`re subpoenaed to talk to Congress, they can dictate take the terms.
BUTLER: That`s not how it`s supposed to work.
MATTHEWS: But what about Mueller?
BUTLER: So, if Mueller is subpoenaed to Congress, he doesn`t get to say how he wants to talk to them.
It`s Congress who says whether it should be public or private. The concern, if it`s private, is that the people, the American public, will only get to see the transcript. That`s going to be just like another version of the Mueller report.
What Congress wants is for people to see this very patrician, very credible-looking person telling the stories that he outlines in the Mueller report about those 10 acts of obstruction by the president.
It is something that has to be seen, not just read.
MATTHEWS: I agree. I agree so much.
We all remember, a lot of us remember Watergate and the hearings, because the hearings were so powerful.
BUTLER: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: Everything. You heard it on television. You saw the faces.
Ben Rhodes, thank you. Paul Butler. What a team you are.
Up next: We`re still more than 500 days from the next presidential election. It`s really getting nasty out there. Haven`t you noticed, this week especially?
Which Democratic do you think right now is best equipped? I have been asking that all week. Think about it. Who can go toe to toe with this guy, with Trump? On that stage, eventually, for three or four debates, they have to stand there and deal with this guy`s showmanship. And that often is the final round of who wins.
We`re back after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We got some fresh polling now. It came in yesterday from the Monmouth University poll, showing former Vice President Joe Biden holding a wide lead for the Democratic presidential nomination. He is more than double now the support of his nearest rival, which is Bernie Sanders.
And Senators Warren and Kamala Harris show themselves to be the strongest challenges to Sanders on the left. You see them coming up there.
With roughly nine months, however, before the first votes are cast, the candidates are still trying to define themselves. And this time, voters will have to decide if they want a fighter, I think, or a uniter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It`s early, and I`m running the campaign that I want to run. I love this. I`m somebody who knows how to fight and knows how to win. And that`s what I`m going to do.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a moment in time, Ben, that we must fight for the best of who we are.
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What is at stake right now is not just a four-year presidential term, but really the beginning of a new era. And that era could bring beautiful things and it could bring really dark things.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don`t come from money, but I have grit. And I have the grit to represent the people of this nation and to have their backs. And that comes from my roots. It comes from my story.
JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It`s time for us. It`s time for us to remember who we are. We are the United States of America. And there`s nothing beyond our capacity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: The Democratic nominee will have to have the right stuff, of course, to take on Trump eventually, because the president and his campaign are gearing up for a bloody battle that`s already gotten below the belt.
Stay tuned after the break to find out what they`re planning to do on both sides, or at least what Trump`s clearly up to.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
If the doctored video of Nancy Pelosi brought back troubling reminders of the 2016 election, then gird yourself, because it looks like President Trump is primed to launch an all-out assault on whoever stands before him in 2020.
And he`s already taking shots at the man he reportedly fears the most, former veep Joe Biden. According to the aides, there`s a reason why President Trump is hitting Biden hard. He`s genuinely concerned about Biden`s potential to actually win.
In a recent internal campaign poll by them, the Republicans concluded the president`s trailing Biden in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. In order to stave off that possibility, "The Washington Post" is reporting that President Trump plans on turning his considerable talent for political destruction on both Biden and his family.
You catch that last part? And his family.
To do that, the campaign is getting help from the Republican National Committee, which has launched an extensive opposition research campaign. The oppo boys and girls are out there.
For more, I`m joined by Adrienne Elrod, former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton`s campaign, and Shermichael Singleton, a Republican political consultant.
I want to start with Shermichael on this.
Trump, he`s showing his hand.
SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Oh, he is.
But, I mean, Chris, the reality is, Trump doesn`t play by the typical rules. And when you think as it relates to Joe Biden, Joe Biden not only has the capacity and ability to turn out in urban areas in places like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, but he also can turn out some of those rural areas where President Trump did fairly well, that allowed him to surpass...
MATTHEWS: What is his appeal? What is the Biden appeal to the rural conservative?
SINGLETON: I think that the Biden appeal is that he`s a regular guy that I can relate to, more so than Trump. He speaks their language.
MATTHEWS: Comfort. The comfort factor.
And people like that reality of being able to say, OK, yes, this guy sort of talks the language that I want to hear, that I`m used to. He`s familiar with my background. Biden`s talked a lot about his dad growing up in Pennsylvania and what that was like. He`s talked about having a lot of losses.
That`s something that Donald Trump cannot necessarily do. He can talk a lot about these groups or that group is taking something away from you. But there is a personal relatable factor that Trump is missing that I think Biden has.
Let`s switch around here and talk about the Democrats taking shots at Trump. They`re getting rough. I mean, Biden clearly tied him in with Charlottesville. He just said, that man was -- his character is wrong.
ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: Naturally.
MATTHEWS: Buttigieg, the other day -- you were there with me. We were at "The Washington Post."
MATTHEWS: He went at him on this character for having dodged the draft. He said he had a phony handicap. He got a concierge doctor to cover, so that some other kid would have to go to fight.
That`s pretty personal.
ELROD: It is personal.
And this is the way that Democrats have to -- have to win against Trump. I mean, we`re not going to sink to these low-level tactics like...
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s pretty personal.
ELROD: Well, but -- it`s personal, but it`s also opposition research and it also happens to be true.
I mean, we`re not going to seem to this level of doctoring videos and tweeting videos of Leader Pelosi. I mean, that`s not the way we run and win campaigns. So we have to focus on the issues, we have to focus on the research.
You got to remember Chris, in 2016, yes, Trump was the general election nominee, but it took a long time for the media to ever take him seriously during the primary. So there`s still a lot of information out there, besides all the obvious stuff, i.e., his draft-dodging, that the American people don`t know about.
And those are the issues that cut right to his base of support.
MATTHEWS: I`m sorry.
SINGLETON: I just think, really quickly, as relates to Bernie and Biden, the two top front-runners, I would say, Trump will say about Biden, he`s someone who will bring us back to Obama era.
For a lot of Republicans, and even some GOP-leaning independent voters, they don`t necessarily want that.
And for Bernie Sanders, Trump is going to say, do you want this old, kooky, crazy guy who`s going to say everything`s for free and not explain how we`re going to pay for it, meaning he`s going to jack up everybody`s taxes.
The average person is going to look at that and say, absolutely not, I`m sticking with Trump.
MATTHEWS: I have always thought, when he says the billionaires and millionaires, the guy in the suburbs, the woman in the suburbs says, no, he`s not going after billion -- he`s going after me.
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s take a look at Mayor Pete Buttigieg here going after President Trump`s Vietnam draft deferment. Here we go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUTTIGIEG: 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 I think that`s exactly what he did. But manipulating the ability to get a diagnosis, I mean, if you were a conscientious objector, I would 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Shermichael, this is a non-political assessment, but it`s everything about politics.
MATTHEWS: If that guy there, Pete, had a late-night radio talk show in the middle of the night, he would be a superstar.
SINGLETON: No, I don`t doubt it, but...
MATTHEWS: He has the voice, and he has the brain to develop a narrative at the right pace. And he just put the knife directly into the president`s heart there.
MATTHEWS: He put it so well.
SINGLETON: Chris, maybe, but the reality is...
MATTHEWS: What? He had him -- he said he had a concierge doctor that cooked up the bone spur.
SINGLETON: I`m not disagreeing with the facts of what he stated.
But my thing with Pete Buttigieg -- and I know a lot of people are big fans of his. I`m not. And I will tell you why.
The road to the Democratic nomination cannot occur without African-American support. I have seen no evidence at this point in time that leads me to believe that he is even capable of getting close to that, because I believe he`s only registering 1 or 2 percent with the African-Americans.
MATTHEWS: What is his problem among the black community back home in South Bend? Does he have one?
SINGLETON: Well, I mean, I think once more people start to learn what happened with that police chief, for example, that`s going to be a big issue for him.
This guy hasn`t released any specific policy issues or initiatives that speak -- that speak directly to what African-Americans are experiencing in this country.
Elizabeth Warren has gone to great lengths to do that. Kamala Harris has gone to great lengths to do that.
ELROD: It`s May of 2019. There`s plenty of time. There`s plenty of time to get to this.
SINGLETON: OK, but it hasn`t stopped Elizabeth Warren, though, Adrienne. But it hasn`t stopped Elizabeth Warren.
ELROD: No, absolutely.
And I do agree that he`s got some work to do in this community. But I think we got to give him a little bit of credit for the fact that he had this surge. It`s early. He made it very clear at that event that Chris and I were both at that he`s building out a team in South Carolina.
ELROD: He`s focusing on policies that he will be unveiling in the coming weeks that directly affect...
SINGLETON: Well, he talks about privilege, but he`s only -- he`s not the only one -- Trump isn`t the only one suffering from privilege here.
SINGLETON: I think Pete Buttigieg is also, because the reality is, we`re giving so much attention to this guy.
Elizabeth Warren isn`t given -- getting this much attention. Kamala Harris isn`t getting this much attention. And they`re actually releasing substantive policy issues.
ELROD: Wait until that first debate starts in June.
MATTHEWS: And you are so right. He`s got the buzz. Fair or not, he`s got the buzz right now. The media is focusing on him.
And we`re going to focus on him beginning next week.
Anyway, thank you, Adrienne Elrod, as always.
ELROD: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Shermichael Singleton with a lot of sharp points tonight. I like it.
Up next -- it`s HARDBALL!
SINGLETON: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next, we`re giving you a special sneak preview of our upcoming Memorial Day special event examining this country`s uptick in racial violence of late.
Civil rights hero Congressman John Lewis -- what a soulful man -- joins us.
You`re definitely going to want to hear what he has to say about all this and what`s going on. Don`t go anywhere.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Earlier this week, I sat down with civil rights hero and Georgia Congressman John Lewis to talk about the recent uptick of hate crimes in this country.
I asked Congressman Lewis how he finds the strength personally to speak out against hateful rhetoric.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): Chris, you have to be strong.
There`s too much violence, too much hate.
Dr. King said on one occasion, hate is too heavy a burden to bear. Somehow and some way, we have got to lay down this burden.
I don`t know what has happened to America. It makes me sad. It makes me sometimes cry. I can never forget what happened in Charlottesville, what happened at the church in Charleston.
And it spread like wildfire.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it`s something new, or just old hate? Is it people worried about change, ethnic change, immigration? What`s -- what do you think stirred it up just now?
LEWIS: I think it`s a combination of several things.
Those of us in the political arena need to speak up and need to speak out and say, this is not the America that we want. We want a better America. We want to bring people together, because we`re one people. We`re one family.
We all live in the same house, the American house, the world house. We`re brothers and sisters. And we can do better, much better.
During the height of the civil rights movement, we were taught the way of peace, the way of love. I was beaten, left bloody, left unconscious. But I never hated anyone and never will hate anyone.
Those of us in the political arena need to preach the way of love, preach the way of peace, help create the beloved community, help bring people together as one people, as one family.
MATTHEWS: And talk about a man who walked the walk.
You can catch my full interview with Congressman John Lewis on this Monday.
Up next: the two races going on right now within the Democratic presidential field, two races.
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MATTHEWS: I would like to share with you now my look at the Democratic race for 2020.
There are two races actually going on at this point, one for the center- left, the other for the hard left.
Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading the center-left race. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are competing for the hard left rail.
Biden`s strength comes from a number of factors. There`s the comfort factor. Most Democrats feel good about his service with President Obama, his knowledge of foreign policy and his good spirits.
Biden has also benefited from the absence of candidates competing in his lane. Had Michael Bloomberg entered the Democratic race, had Ohio`s Sherrod Brown, had Virginia`s Terry McAuliffe, if any of them had raced, Biden`s towering lead would be substantially lower right now.
His great advantage is that he hasn`t had to share the vote for his kind of candidate.
Bernie Sanders has had no such luck. Elizabeth Warren has been campaigning hard, and at Bernie`s expense. This means the voters on the hard left have two front-runners from which to choose.
Looking ahead through the debates, starting with our MSNBC debate a month from now, I see the three front-runners, Biden, Bernie and Warren, facing serious challenges.
Kamala Harris is clearly becoming a challenger to both Sanders and Warren on the hard left. I expect Pete Buttigieg will make a good run down the center-left, putting a challenge to Biden.
A candidate`s first test now is to outrun the candidates who offer much the same as they do. And before they can gain a majority of the Democratic Party, they need to clear their own lane of challengers.
And that`s why Joe Biden is way ahead of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, because he owns his lane.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Happy Memorial Day.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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