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Trump "detached" from re-election campaign. TRANSCRIPT: 6/11/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Susan Page, Michael Steele, Eric Swalwell, Aisha Moodie-Mills,Cheri Bustos, Bret Stephens


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  That does it for The Beat.  HARDBALL starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Split screen, split country.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.

This is America, the June before a presidential election year.  Tonight, we will see a split screen picture of a country divided roughly down the middle.  On one screen a president attacking the person he fears most politically.  On the other, the challenger who`s waited his whole life for this chance.

But it`s the country that`s split tonight between the defiant minority backing Donald Trump and the popular majority want him gone out of their faces, out of their lives, out of the White House.  Joe Biden is making his bid 18 months ahead as the surest person to make that happen.

President Trump will be speaking in a republican fundraiser outside Des Moines, Iowa while 200 miles away in Davenport, Iowa, Joe Biden will be giving a speech where he plans to excoriate the President on a whole range of issues.  It comes after dueling events today across the Hawkeye State where Biden offer this is scathing assessment of the President.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  Look, I believe that the President is literally an existential threat to America.  He is a genuine threat to our core values.  This is a guy who does everything to separate and frighten people.  It`s about fear and loathing.  It`s about what he calls people the names he calls them.  No president has done something like that, for God`s sake.  I mean, it`s bizarre and it`s damaging.


MATTHEWS:  And on his way out of Washington, D.C. for his own event in Iowa, the President tore into Biden.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  Well, I heard Biden who is a loser.  I mean, look, Joe never got more than 1 percent except Obama took him off trash heap.  And now, it looks like he`s failing.  It looks like his friends from the left are going to overtake him pretty soon.  Look, when a man has to mention my name 76 times in a speech, that means he`s in trouble.

Now, I have to tell you, he`s a different guy.  He looks different than he used to.  He acts different than he used to.  He`s even slower than he used to be.  So I don`t know.  But when he mentions my name that many times, I guess I should be complimented.


MATTHEWS:  Well, even as the President tried to parry reports that he`s afraid of Biden, a new Quinnipiac poll undercut him dramatically.  Look at these numbers.  The new poll shows the President today losing to Biden in a general election match up by 13 points.  That`s a solid majority, 53 to 40 against an incumbent president.

The sparring, by the way, comes as The New York Times reports that Biden seems to have gotten into the President`s head.  According to the report in The Times, after being briefed on a devastating 17-state poll conducted by his own campaign pollster, Mr. Trump told aides to deny that his internal polling showed him trailing Mr. Biden in many of the states he needs to win, even though he is also trailing in public polls from key states like Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

President Trump said today he was hoping to face Biden.


TRUMP:  I`d rather run against, I think, Biden than anybody.  I think he`s the weakest mentally.  And I like running against people that are weak mentally.  I think Joe is the weakest up here.  The other ones have much more energy.  I don`t agree with their policies, but I think Joe is a man who is -- I call him 1 percent Joe, because until Obama came along, he didn`t do very well.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Biden was asked about the President`s latest attacks just a short time ago tonight.


REPORTER:  The President today raised questions about your age and raised questions about whether you have the stamina to run for president.  There`s been a lot of questions about your schedule and that it`s been a little lighter than some the other candidates.

BIDEN:  Look at him and look at me and answer the question.

REPORTER:  You answer the question.  Will you please answer the question?

BIDEN:  It`s self-evident.  You know it`s a ridiculous assertion on his part.  But, anyway, look, listen, people have a right to question all of our ages.  That`s totally a legitimate thing.  All I can say is watch me.


MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief at USA Today, and Aisha Moodie-Mills, democratic strategist and a fellow at Harvard Institute of Politics, and Michael Steele, a former RNC Chair.

And I`ve got go to Susan on this.  Down the middle here, 40 to 53 looks pretty rough.  Although I always wonder if people are completely straight in their answers to some well spoken reporter, a pollster, I always think there`s a hidden Trump vote there, because there was last time.  And I wonder whether the President is perhaps, on the other hand, scared of Joe.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY:  Well, I think he is clearly concerned about Joe Biden because Joe Biden is strong with the kind of voters in the sort of states that gave him the presidency.

But one thing to look at in that Quinnipiac poll is President Trump got only 40 to 42 percent against any of the democratic contenders.  The democratic contenders, all of the ones tested defeated the President, and he is in a very narrow band of support.  So that should raise as many questions as anything for President Trump in looking at his standing at a time the country is in great shape economically, where get good economic reports (ph), record low unemployment.  He can`t get above 42 percent in a poll against perspective democratic challengers.  That`s got to be of concern.

MATTHEWS:  Michael, he has -- he`s backed up to his old tricks.  Remember with Obama -- I was (INAUDIBLE) Obama, (INAUDIBLE) to be Obama.  Anyway, Obama, and it`s like he used to say no one knew him in school, this kind of spooky language.  No one knew him in school.  How come then?  Like what?  He wasn`t in those schools.  And now, he`s saying, have you noticed Biden is different now?  There`s something different about him.  What`s going on?  Is this one of the spooky things where you make the people think there is something wrong with the guy`s brains, he`s got dementia?  What is he pushing here this day?

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIR:  Well, it`s funny.  You know, a lot of what Trump was saying about Biden, people are thinking about him.  So that`s --

MATTHEWS:  The Trumpster.

STEEEL:  -- the Trumpster himself.  But here`s the rub.  What the President does out of the gate, if you noticed the way the two men contrast their conversation about the other, for Biden, it was around policy.  It was about how the country is coming together or not coming together.  It`s around this idea of who we are, the sense of us.

Trump personalized it.  He made it about Biden.  You know, the name calling, the sort of vitriolic undermining of his mental capacity, the sort of taking him down, tearing him down personally.  That`s how Trump wants to engage.  He wants to make it personal, because that`s what his base feeds off of.  That`s what that 40 percent feeds off of is the sort of personalized attack against the individual.

Irrespective of whatever else is going on around him, on the economy and jobs, et cetera, Trump will personalize this.  He can`t take it into the broader space, Chris, because then it becomes a different conversation when he talks about how this president has managed the affairs of the country versus how he manages his personal relationship.

MATTHEWS:  I once heard of that somebody went to a boxing match, and they said it was weird.  It turned into a hockey game.  I mean, because all hockey games turned into boxing matches.  And it`s like this guy, Trump wants to turn trash talking in the main event.  Trash talking is the main event in politics for Trump.

AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Actually, thuggery is the main event in the politics for Trump, and that`s what`s so just shocking as we sit here and, literally, week after week after week, watch this just trash talking guy who is literally a thug.  He wants to be a mobster.  Literally pick bullied school yard fights with folks and not have any type of decent conversation about issues, ideas, policies, et cetera.

I think that, you know, people are not here for that anymore.  When you look at that --

MATTHEWS:  We`ll see.  His crowd loves it.

MOODIE-MILLS:  Any democrat at this point is going to be better than this trash talking thug.

MATTHEWS:  I think his crowd seems to like the wise talk, the wise guy talk.

Anyway, that event in the ethanol plant on council bluffs today, the President tried to sharpen his attack on Biden, once again, rolling out the nickname for the former Veep.


TRUMP:  He was someplace in Iowa today and he said my name so many times that people couldn`t stand it anymore.  No, don`t keep saying it.  Sleepy guy.

With Biden, we would never be treated with respect because people don`t respect him.  Even the people that he is running against, they`re saying, where is he?  What happened?  He makes his stance in Iowa once every two weeks and then he mentions my name 74 times in one speech.  I don`t know.

That reminds me of Crooked Hillary.  She did the same thing.  And then it came time to vote, they all said, you know, she doesn`t like Trump very much, but what else does she stand for.  The same thing is happening with Sleepy Joe.


MATTHEWS:  Susan, the stream of consciousness here is pretty obvious.  That was not strategic, that Rambo we just heard there.

PAGE:  Well, in fact, remarkably, we`re not -- I think we`re not seeing a kind of strategic plan for the President`s re-election.  It`s interesting because, you know, he actually declared his re-election campaign the day he was inaugurated for his first term.  But we see very much kind of a short- term punch and counterpunch campaign.

We don`t see plans for what I would do in my second term, the kind of thing that we heard from previous incumbent presidents when they were running for re-election.  What we hear is a kind of vitriol that really marked the 2016 campaign.  And I think Americans must look at this and think, do we have another year-and-a-half of this coming up ahead of us.

MATTHEWS:  Your first question -- you`ll get the first question.  Here it is.  Is Trump afraid of Biden or not?  Or is he really -- would he rather run against somebody to Biden`s left or face Biden?  I mean, Biden is the safe democratic nominee people think.  Who knows?  Who knows?  But he`s portraying himself as the safe bet.  As I said in the beginning of the show, the best bet to beat Trump.  Does Trump think he`s the best bet to beat Trump, Susan?

PAGE:  I think that President Trump at this moment probably does think that Joe Biden is the biggest threat to him, a bigger threat than someone he can portray as a socialist like Bernie Sanders.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, if you call yourself a socialist, you`re going to be called a socialist.  Let`s start there.  But that`s all right.

PAGE:  Yes.  Because Joe Biden has both experience next in the office next door as vice president, he`s in line with a popular former president, Barack Obama, and he has an appeal to white catholic voters, voters in these industrial states.  And so I think the calculation is he is the strongest candidate.  Not everyone -- not every democrat is going to agree with that analysis, but I think that is likely the analysis we`re hearing inside the White House.

MATTHEWS:  Michael, you`re getting in here.  I heard your voice.

STEELE:  Yes, no.  I think Susan hit it right out of the park.  I think that`s exactly right.  And I think that it`s very evident that Joe Biden, of all the 23 candidates on that stage in a couple of weeks, is the most inside the President`s head.  Because the President knows something that`s very true and very important to him is that Joe Biden can peel off his votes.  He can take votes away from Trump.

And so that`s what`s going to be critical for democrats going into this next cycle.  It`s electability and all these things, but at the end of the day, who can siphon off votes from Trump?  Who can put back the patch holes, fill those patch holes in that blue wall that were open by Trump in 2016?  And Joe Biden, so far, is the guy that I think Trump knows is the best at doing that.

MATTHEWS:  And you, Mike, and I are both roman catholic and I`m thinking is that -- is Trump going to make the risk of going hard on the life issue next year, really hard hitting Biden for giving up on the Hyde Amendment or is he going to be careful because that might hurt him in the burbs?

MOODIE-MILLS:  I think he is constantly going to go hard.  I think he`s always going to play to his most extreme base, because those are the people who show up for him.

I wonder though about Biden`s calculus with some of this too.  I wonder if Biden thinks -- and he`s pretty going hard to the paint too with the back and forth.  If he thinks that he can --

MATTHEWS:  You have been watching the NBA this week, have you?  Go to the paint.

MOODIE-MILLS:  Go to the paint.  I think that he is really -- Biden gets that he gets under Trump`s skin.  And we might see a Few Good Men moment where, you know, Biden keeps poking the bear and maybe Trump, in a couple of months, just says, you know what, you can`t handle the truth and literally gives himself up and essentially says, you know what, everything you all believe about me is right and I don`t care, and that he is going to do that because he`s so frazzled by Joe Biden the way that he`s coming at him.  Maybe that would get him --

MATTHEWS:  That would make for good theater and probably good government and a better country.

Anyway, meanwhile, President Trump reportedly needs Biden to keep -- this is fascinating.  And like Jimmy Connors was after -- look at these strings on the racket to get ready for the match.  I need to focus on something.  Apparently, according to The New York Times, they are reporting that according to the campaign aides they talked to, this president is a candidate who needs an identifiable opponent in order to keep his interests.  And he was alternatively engrossed and detached from the re- election event.  In other words, he won`t even think about anything unless you say Biden, then he thinks.

According to The Times, Trump rarely have ever speaks to aides about what he hopes to accomplish with what would be a hard one second term.  Adding, he has shown no interest in formulating a new message for his campaign, instead continuing with the winning, Make America Great Again slogan, from the last fight.  Well, that`s up to him, of course.

But, Susan, it seems to me he needs to have a mano-y-mano situation, a street corner fight for him to focus mentally.

PAGE:  You know, that is the form in which he excels, right?  He found someone to -- a counterpart in Hillary Clinton that he could batter.  Nancy Pelosi, in some ways, has emerged in that way since democrats won control of the House.  I think he is most comfortable in that format.

Although, in fairness, I think a lot of candidates are best when they have an identifiable opponent who they can demonize and attack and not a more and more (ph) for this field.  It is, I think, probably hard to run against 23 democrats at once.

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  Michael, it seems to -- I mean, this is the way I think about this all the time, so I think about it all the time.  It seems to me Trump had a strategy.  Get in the mid 40s, somewhere around 44 or 45, and then knock the other guy`s block off or woman`s block off, just make it personal, get close enough to strike and hurt and knock the other person off.

Don`t -- you don`t need a lead.  You just need to be within striking distance.  I don`t think he`s within striking distance right now.  I think he`s to get somewhere between now and next year to beat the opponent even if he does go at them personally.  Your thoughts.

STEELE:  Yes, and I think that`s right.  He needs to get somewhere in that 46, 47 percent range.  He`s not that far off in some respects, you know, from where he was in 2016.

But the dynamics are going to be different.  And I think people need to really assess a campaign for Trump against Hillary Clinton versus a campaign for Trump against a democrat who has now seen four years of this, and has a better sense of how to come at him.

You know, an Elizabeth Warren candidate, you know, he can do the Pocahontas thing all day long.  But when she is, you know, thumping on his head --

MATTHEWS:  That`s not working anymore.

STEELE:  It`s not.  It`s not.  So when she is thumping on his head on some serious policy, which has gotten the attention of a lot of people in the country, how does he then pivot off of that when someone comes at him from a different angle other than an attack back at him.

MATTHEWS:  I would say he is giving Joe Biden the political equivalent of a kiss with all this attention that he`s giving.  That`s the biggest thing he is giving, a big kiss, because all the newspapers tomorrow, all the newspapers and everything tonight on cable and in nightly news tonight here, it`s all going to be about this back and forth between the President of the United States and the frontrunner in the democratic side, Joe Biden.

Susan Page, thank you.  Aisha Moodie-Mills, thank you very much, and Michael Steele, my friend.

Coming up, the impasse over impeachment with two powerful democrats unable to see eye-to-eye, they don`t agree.  Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler has said to be pushing hard for impeachment and his committee is to all the democrats are, but Nancy Pelosi will not be swayed on this.  The big strategy is coming from her.  I`m going to talk members of Nadler`s committee.  U.S. Congressman and presidential candidate Eric Swalwell is coming.

Plus, Joe Biden calls President Trump an existential threat to the country.  Wow.  I`m going to go to talk to former CIA Director John Brennan about that, because he has got a case against Trump already.  Does he agree that this president is destroying the country?

And what about Russia`s cyber warfare?  Why isn`t the White House taking it seriously?

And here is something really special, Jon Stewart.  He`s back and he made an emotional testimony on Capitol Hill today on behalf of the 9/11 first responders.  It was powerful stuff.

Stick with us.  Much more ahead.  We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The debate over impeachment has exposed a deepening rift, of course, between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, New York`s Jerry Nadler.  And while Nadler has been quietly pushing apparently pretty hard to hold impeachment hearings -- he wants to get going -- the speaker remains firm in opposition to that.

A source close to the speaker put her thinking in blunt terms today to Politico: "Opening an impeachment inquiry would be the equivalent of jumping off a cliff."

Well, the rift between the two of these exploded into public view last week when Politico reported that Pelosi told Nadler: "I don`t want to see him impeached.  I want to see him in prison."

Well, Pelosi declined to elaborate when asked about that today. 


QUESTION:  Did you actually say that the president, you would rather see him in prison than impeached? 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  When we have conversations in our caucus, they stay in our caucus. 

Do people think that there are some impeachable offenses that the president committed?  Yes.  How serious are they?  Are they criminal?  Many people think they are. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, here`s what Nadler said on MSNBC late today when asked about reports he`s pushing Pelosi to go for impeachment. 


ARI MELBER, HOST, "THE BEAT":  When people say, oh, Chairman Nadler is pushing Pelosi on this, that`s basically true or basically not true?

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY):  Well, Nancy has -- Nancy Pelosi has said that all options are on the table.  They are on the table.  And when we get more information, and as this process continues, we will have to make decisions down the road. 


MATTHEWS:  While neither of these two has been willing to address their differences publicly, the split between Nadler and Pelosi has been evident in their rhetoric. 

Nadler has often alluded to the threat of impeachment, while Pelosi has repeatedly expressed caution. 


NADLER:  We have talked for a long time about approaching a constitutional crisis.  We are now in it.  We are now in a constitutional crisis.

PELOSI:  Impeachment is a step that you have to take that is bringing the American people with you.

NADLER:  With respect to impeachment question at this point, all options are on the table and nothing should be ruled out. 

PELOSI:  I do think that impeachment is a very divisive place to go in our country. 

NADLER:  We will not allow the president to block congressional subpoenas, putting himself and his allies above the law. 

PELOSI:  Many constituents want to impeach the president.


PELOSI:  But we want to do what is right and what get results.


MATTHEWS:  Did you hear the clapping before she changed the point?

It was against this backdrop of these two fighting that the House today voted to approve a resolution making it easier for committee chairs to enforce their subpoenas through legal action. 

I`m joined right now by 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and Congressman Eric Swalwell of California.  He is a member of the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

So, Congressman, a tough question, but this is HARDBALL.  And you agreed to come on.


MATTHEWS:  Whose side you on? 

SWALWELL:  I think we`re on the way to impeachment, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  No, whose side are you on, Nadler, who wants to move for impeachment, or Pelosi, who doesn`t?  Which side are you on?

SWALWELL:  I don`t accept that they`re in conflict with each other. 

MATTHEWS:  You don`t? 


MATTHEWS:  So I`m wrong?  My reporting is wrong?  They agree? 

SWALWELL:  I don`t think they`re in conflict. 

I think they both recognize it`s an extraordinary remedy, and we want to get it right first.  Today was a big day in the House.  We voted to hold the attorney general in contempt. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

SWALWELL:  But it`s...


MATTHEWS:  Well, I will see when any of your ploys work.

Congressman, I have watched the Democrats dither around with process, Adam Schiff talking about what he`s going to do, what he`s not going to do.  Then he`s disappeared.  You guys never get anything done.

SWALWELL:  No, we`re winning.

MATTHEWS:  You have not been able to get a single witness up there that didn`t want to come up.

SWALWELL:  We`re winning.

MATTHEWS:  Name me the witness you have gotten to come before your committee in all these months you have had subpoena power. 

SWALWELL:  You know what, Chris? 

You bring me back in three months, and if that`s the case, if we haven`t got witnesses because of these winning court fights, I will say that you`re right. 

I went to the Department of Justice today, and I reviewed materials that I was not going to review two weeks ago.

MATTHEWS:  You`re going to get McGahn?  You`re going to get Mueller?  You`re going to get who?  Who are you going to get to testify that is important in this race that is going to turn this issue around, so you can move on impeachment?  Who`s going to come up?

SWALWELL:  Empty witness chairs will now mean empty pockets.  So they can either go broke or they can come forward and tell the truth.  That`s what today`s contempt vote means.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think bringing back John Dean served any purpose yesterday? 

SWALWELL:  Yes, of course.

I think laying the foundation of what this means in the perspective of history.  Chris, I was in high school when Bill Clinton went through impeachment.  I wasn`t alive when Richard Nixon went through impeachment. 

There`s a whole generation -- generations of people who have never seen our country go through this before. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SWALWELL:  So I think it`s important not to just assume that everyone has seen and is familiar with Watergate, and so lay that out for them, so they understand what`s at stake. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you know he was going to testify he was not a fact witness, he had no facts to offer to this debate about the guilt or innocence of the president?

Did you know ahead of time he was going to say, I`m not a fact witness?

SWALWELL:  No, I didn`t know that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s pretty dramatic stuff.  It sort of takes him off the table as just sort of a guilt by nostalgia, it seemed like the purpose.

Somebody talked about a Ouija board, bringing him back.  Can he bring Nixon back?  It became -- it became, I thought, ridiculous.


SWALWELL:  I thought what it showed was what is at stake?

This democracy of ours is very, very fragile.  And this is not the first time we have had a lawless president, and it won`t be the last.  And so here, Congress, here`s what Nixon did.  Here`s what you can do now. 


SWALWELL:  I thought it laid the foundation. 

MATTHEWS:  I respect you, but I`m asking you this.  Do you believe Nixon -- I`m sorry -- I`m back into the past now.


MATTHEWS:  Did you think that Trump has obstructed justice, by what you have seen? 

SWALWELL:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what`s holding you up from impeachment, then?  If he obstructed justice, he committed a crime.

SWALWELL:  The evidence that we need to show the American people he obstructed justice.

MATTHEWS:  What do you need to know that you don`t know, that you don`t know, that you need to see?

SWALWELL:  The full Mueller report and his taxes.

And Mnuchin and Barr are blocking that.

MATTHEWS:  You need to know his -- you need to see his taxes before you can prove obstruction of justice?

SWALWELL:  I think -- I don`t think we want to do this like a la carte impeachment. 

I think we want to have one full body of articles, and not just say, oh, we got the taxes, so let`s add that on.  So we`re going about this.  We`re seeking everything we want.  And I think that`s where we head, Chris.

The question that I see is, look, we all know how the story ends.  It`s just a matter of how many pages before we get there. 


Will you make me a gentleman`s bet...


MATTHEWS:  ... that Trump will be impeached?

SWALWELL:  He`s not going to be president on January 20, 2021.  I think he will be impeached.  But I want to get it right before I say that`s what we need to do right now.

MATTHEWS:  So, you bet he will be impeached?


MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you.  We will see how it works out.  Thank you, Eric Swalwell of California, Democrat member of the Judiciary Committee and candidate for president. 

Last month, NBC reported that Speaker Pelosi told her caucus in a closed- door meeting that the president actually wants to be impeached. 

However, "The Washington Post" reports today that the president does not want to be impeached.  In fact, he`s eager to avoid any such thing. 

I`m joined right now by the author that story, Ashley Parker, White House reporter for "The Washington Post." 

Thank you, Ashley.  We have missed you. 

But here`s the question.  So many things that I think Pelosi has used as trying to make a case, he wants to be impeached, so don`t do it.  It`s one of her clever tactics to try to keep her left quiet.  Like, I hate him more than you.  I want him in prison.  All these tactics, I think it`s all delaying action. 

She`s not for impeachment, because she believes it`s very bad politics, and she can`t make the case for conviction.  I agree with all that. 

What`s up with Trump?  For a while there, it looked like he was egging on Pelosi, trying to say terrible things about her family, how she`s an embarrassment to her family, how her district is a joke, with all the needles on the street and the homeless mess. 

He seemed to be wanting to get her to jump at him.


And that`s one of the reasons I said about reporting this story was, there was sort of a theory out there that you could make somewhat credibly that the president, not just in his public comments, but in the way the White House was sort of stonewalling nearly every single request from Congress, that they were basically sort of trying to double dog dare Democrats into impeaching the president. 

And so the truth is, the president is a little impeachment-curious.  There`s parts of it that he finds intriguing.  But, at the end of the day, just about everyone I talked to said, President Trump does not in any way actually want to be impeached. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that why he permitted Attorney General Barr to begin to release some documents, the underlying documents for the Mueller report? 

PARKER:  That`s a great question.  I actually don`t know the answer to that specifically. 

But when you talk to the White House, and you kind of said, look, you have stonewalled on just about every single request from Congress.  Is this part of a broad strategy, again, to kind of goad the Democrats into impeaching you, because you believe that would be politically beneficial? 

The answer is -- and if you take them at their word -- that, no, there is no broad White House strategy to try to bring about impeachment because they think it might help the president get reelected in 2021.

MATTHEWS:  What about the old theory that Trump, if he were impeached, whether they can get the 218 votes they need in the House to even bring the indictment to the Senate for a conviction over there, even if they couldn`t get that fear, it would basically stain his record?

That`s one argument, that Trump would not want to be stained. 

But there`s the other argument that Trump -- maybe this is against your reporting, so challenge it -- that Trump figures, if they do, do that, if they go to impeachment, he will able to say, just what I every -- told my - - every one of my people in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, I told you the deep state was coming to get me.  The media are with him. 

Those damn people out there are coming to rob you of the decision you made in 2016.  And then he really rolls up the excitement on the MAGA crowd. 

PARKER:  You know what?  The truth is, both are true. 

The president, to your second point, he does believe and he has been told by his political advisers that he thinks, if they come after him, that gives him a really good sort of one target to focus on.  You were talking about that earlier in the show. 


PARKER:  It allows him to paint Democrats as sore losers who are continuing on with their witch-hunt.  And he does believe -- he`s looked at what happened to Bill Clinton during impeachment.  And he does believe that it could very well help him politically.  He understands that.

And that`s one of the reasons why he is intrigued by impeachment.  But at the same time, he also understands, as you said, it would be a historical mark against his record.  He doesn`t like that.  And he also doesn`t like the way he thinks, more importantly, it would allow the Democrats to challenge the legitimacy of his presidency, which is something that absolutely drives him crazy. 

We saw that with Russia.  And we see that now.

MATTHEWS:  Great reporting.  Ashley, great reporting.  I don`t know how you guys get these people to talk at the White House, but you particularly get these people to blab for you.  This is great reporting. 

PARKER:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Ashley Parker. 

Still ahead:  House Democrats are gearing up for another big hearing tomorrow, exposing the ongoing threat -- this is serious nonpartisan business -- foreign interference in our elections.

Former CIA Director John Brennan, the perfect guy to come on tonight to talk about Trump being an existential threat to the country, according to Biden.

Don`t go anywhere. 



ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE SPECIAL COUNSEL:  Russian intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system.

And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election.  And that allegation deserves the attention of every American. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, to something that`s really important. 

Robert Mueller started and ended his only public remarks about his Russia investigation with a warning to all Americans about the extent of Russia`s infiltration into the 2016 presidential elections. 

And, tomorrow, the House Intelligence Committee will hold its first in a series of hearings on the counterintelligence implications of Russia`s meddling. 

President Trump has repeatedly downplayed Russia`s attempts to interfere, even as members of his own administration have contradicted him. 

And, today, former Vice President Joe Biden said the president is shredding America`s core values. 


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Look, I believe that the president is literally an existential threat to America.


MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by John Brennan, former CIA director and MSNBC senior national security and intelligence analyst.

Would you analyze Joe Biden`s comment about this president being an existential threat to our republic? 

JOHN BRENNAN, MSNBC SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST:  Well, I think Vice President Biden was talking about Mr. Trump`s impact on our national security, as well as our credibility as a nation across the board. 

So, from the standpoint of an existential threat, I think he`s just emphasizing just how harmful Mr. Trump`s actions, as well as his inactions, in terms of addressing the issues that we need to address in this country, that it is a danger and one that is an existential threat in Vice President Biden`s...


MATTHEWS:  Sometimes, I wonder, when President Trump has to talk about something important, like the issues you have spent your life on, national security, I can`t tell whether he`s deliberately lying or he is delusional, he`s self-inflicted this nonsense into his head.

What is more -- what`s more dangerous? 

BRENNAN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  That he lies all the time, or that he believes this stuff, the malarkey, as Joe Biden would call it?

BRENNAN:  Well, it`s hard to point out any aspect of Mr. Trump`s behavior that is more dangerous than another, because he doesn`t seem to be intellectually curious about the things that really do affect our lives and the lives of future generations, whether it be climate change, or whether it be other issues, such as the threats that exist in that cyber- environment, and how we as a country need to prepare ourselves for these challenges that lie ahead. 

And so I just think that, again, Vice President Biden is emphasizing that Donald Trump is not -- does not have the intellectual capability, nor, I think, the interest in trying to do what is in the best interests, long- term interests of this country. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think a second term would do to the country, if -- if he did manage to squeak a second term, beats Biden or beats somebody else on the Democrats` side?  What`s your worry, because I know you`re worried?

What is your big fear about the look of this country in, say, five-and-a- half years?

BRENNAN:  I keep shaking my head at the thought that Donald Trump is the president of the United States.

But, unfortunately, he has allowed us to treat him like the ball on a kids` soccer field, which is, when they play bunch ball, they all go after the ball.  He enjoys being that focus of attention, that spectacle.

And it doesn`t allow us then, as a country, to really be setting the tone for these other issues that need to be addressed.  It`s all about him.  And, unfortunately, I think there`s too much focus on his every move.

What we need to do -- and I`m glad the Senate committee tomorrow is going to be addressing this issue about the counterintelligence challenges facing our election.  We need to, as a country, in a bipartisan fashion, deal with these challenges, because our national security, our future prosperity, our future security really does require this government to tackle these issues in a thoughtful, strategic and a bipartisan way. 

MATTHEWS:  As Wayne Gretzky once said, don`t go after the puck.  Go where the puck is going to be.  Thank you.

"Wall Street Journal," by the way, Mr. Director, is reporting today that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, his half-brother was a source for the CIA before he was killed in a nerve agent attack over in Malaysia at that airport in 2017. 

President Trump was asked about that report today and whether he thinks Kim Jong-un had anything to do with his half-brother`s death. 


QUESTION:  Is the CIA wrong?  Did he have his half-brother killed?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don`t know anything about that.

I know this, that the relationship is such that that wouldn`t happen under my auspices.  But I don`t know about that.  Nobody knows. 


MATTHEWS:  What did he mean by, "That wouldn`t happen"? 


BRENNAN:  I have no idea. 

MATTHEWS:  Did it mean we weren`t going to spy on him and what -- who he is killing in his family over there?

BRENNAN:  Well, he has no appreciation for the importance of the intelligence profession and the work that intelligence professionals do around the globe, to include going out and trying to recruit individuals to provide us the insights we need to keep our country strong and safe. 


BRENNAN:  So by saying he -- it never would have happened under his watch - - and, again, I`m not going to talk about whether or not an individual was a source or not of the CIA.

But rest assured, Americans, that CIA officers around this globe are trying to get close to those people that are going to provide us the insights, the information, the secrets that we need. 


BRENNAN:  And Mr. Trump has always had a very, very sort of negative attitude towards intelligence professionals, and particularly the CIA, which I find reprehensible.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he would call the CIA, the agency, and say, call off the agents, call off any recruitment of agents, so he can protect his friend, the North Korean dictator?  Would he actually do that? 

BRENNAN:  Well, I wouldn`t put it past him to try to prevent the intelligence agency from understanding what might be happening, if he felt that that was going to be harmful to his policy or personal interests or objectives. 

And that`s why I`m very concerned about the upcoming presidential elections.  It`s clear that the Russians interfered to help Mr. Trump in 2016.  Is Mr. Trump turning a blind eye to that because he doesn`t mind if the Russians involve themselves again to try to enhance his prospects for reelection? 

It`s really quite unnerving to think this president, Mr. Trump, can, in fact, turn off law enforcement and intelligence capabilities if they pose a threat to him personally. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, John Brennan.  It`s always an honor, sir.  Thank you.

BRENNAN:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Still ahead, more on Trump and Biden doing their way across Iowa.  Biden says Trump`s tariffs are crushing Iowa farmers.  Trump says his secret trade agreement with Mexico will make things better in the long run.  He`s right, I mean, they`re both right. 

We`re back after this. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

For months, Democrats have been blanketing the state of Iowa, making their pitches to voters in the perennial swing state.  Biden made his second foray to Iowa today, of course, hitting the president where it hurts, on the issue of tariffs. 


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  President Trump is in Iowa today.  I hope his presence here will be a clarifying event.  Iowa farmers have been crushed by his tariff war with China.  He thinks being tough is great.  It`s really easy to be tough when someone else absorbs the pain. 


MATTHEWS:  President Trump is self titled "tariff man" has launched a tit- for-tat tariff war with a number of countries that has hit American farmers hard, which explains why some were relieved to hear that President Trump would not launch a war in a new front with Mexico, which he is calling a victory on. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The best thing that ever happened to the farmers is me. 

That`s the agreement that everybody says I don`t have.  So, no, because I`m going to let Mexico do the announcement at the right time.  Mexico, they want to go through it, but here`s the agreement.  It`s a simple agreement. 

This is one page.  This is one page of a very long and very good agreement for both Mexico and the United States.  Without the tariffs, we would have had nothing. 


MATTHEWS:  Vice President Biden fired back at that.  Let`s watch.  Find out what he has to say.  We will show you that when we come back after this break. 



BIDEN:  The president, as I said where I come from, is down the road.  And, apparently, he has a secret important document with Mexico.  And I`m sure that there are a heck of a lot of Iowans who are being crushed by his tariffs that who would like to see that secret document.  I`m anxious to see it. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Vice President Biden, of course, today, hitting the president again on his trade wars.  The Iowa state had voted for both Barack Obama and then, of course, for Trump.  It`s been a focal front of that war.

Despite the punishing cost to many farmers, President Trump`s support among Republicans in Iowa is strong at 81 percent.  Strong support.  They are putting up with it. 

Overall, though, only 42 percent of Iowans approve to the job the president is doing, according to a Morning Consult.  While 54 percent disapprove.  That`s sort of a national number. 

For more, I`m joined by U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, Democrat from Illinois, not far from Iowa, who`s chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  And Bret Stephens is a "New York Times" columnist. 

Congresswoman, thank you for this.  I want to you disaggregate this, to separate the two.  The China trade wars that is punishing China because of their screwing around with us all these years in terms of trade and the billions that have been building up in terms of exchange, because of the way they benefit with the trade with the United States and there`s more recent thing with Mexico which is to stop all the asylum seekers from going through Mexico.

Is there a difference in reaction politically to those trade war issues? 

REP. CHERI BUSTOS (D-IL):  Well, keep in mind that the biggest agricultural trading partners we have are China, Mexico, and Canada.  If you want to go back to candidate Trump, he stood behind a podium in Des Moines, Iowa, saying, I am going to end the war on the American farmer. 

And here we are in this trade war where who is getting hit among the hardest of just about anybody?  It`s our family farmer.  Now, this is -- our family farmers are not just hurting, but also the unpredictability of mother nature.


BUSTOS:  But it is also the unpredictability of what comes out of the White House through the tweet of the day.  We just don`t know what`s going to happen with trade next.  It starts out we would have this 5 percent tariff starting Monday, and then, all of a sudden, we`re not.  Now, he pulls this little piece of paper out of his pocket. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he might have a deal, we don`t know.  I think he might have the deal.  I don`t know.

BUSTOS:  I hope he does.  For the sake of the American farmer, I hope he does have a deal.

  MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the patriotism, tough trade wars, and the needs -- economic needs of a farmer who depends on their lives on the success of our props being sold, the place like Mexico.  I remember with Carter and when he pushed the green embargo against the Russians for invading Afghanistan, the farmers stuck with him. 


MATTHEWS:  Through all the hardship. 

STEPHENS:  Because farmers have complex political motives.  They are not just economic determinates. 

I mean, look, farmers are being hit two ways.  That`s the cost of goods for them is going up and their ability to sell is going down, which is a real opening for any Democratic opponent of Trump.  But, you know, this is Tom Frank`s thesis, what`s the matter with Kansas.  People don`t vote their economic interests. 


STEPHENS:  They vote cultural values.  They vote for the guy they feel their -- who speaks for them in a larger sense than the bottom line. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, everybody -- Congresswoman, I think people feel China has been eating our lunch for years in terms of trade deals.  They`re not honest about intellectual property, all kinds of things.  They benefit so they can go buy half of Africa whenever they want to do it, they have so much exchange. 

At the same time people, regular Republican voters want to stomp the immigration for across the border. 

And so, doesn`t Trump get benefits for taking on the fights with the farmers? 

BUSTOS:  Well, I can tell you, the farmers don`t want these trade wars fought on their backs.  And that`s what`s happening right now. 

I was just home -- I was in Prophetstown meeting with about 15 farmers just over the last couple of days.  And on my ride to Prophetstown, and my ride by to Moline, Illinois, which is where I live, literally these farm fields on the right side of the road, on the left side of the road, literally have standing puddles.  I look over to one and there are ducks swimming on a farm field. 

We -- I talked with an insurance agent who sells crop insurance.  He said 90 percent of his farm clients are applying for what`s called preplant.  Meaning, they are unable to plant corn and beans because of the weather. 


BUSTOS:  On top with that, then we`ve got all this unpredictability, again, over these trade disagreements. 


BUSTOS:  We`ve got a big problem here.  Then on top of it, if we get things heading on a good path, then we`ve got Mitch McConnell who is unwilling to take up what we are doing out of the U.S. House of Representatives to address other needs that our farm families have like bringing down the cost of health care. 

So, you`ve got all of these issues going on, along with the trade, along with the bad weather, along with the cost of health care.  All of that is impacting the family farmer in a big way. 

MATTHEWS:  I still see the Republican vote for Trump. 

STEPHENS   Yes, probably, but one important point is the immigration cuts both ways because the Heartland is being depopulated.  There are counties all over the Midwest that are losing -- simply losing people.  They desperately need people.

MATTHEWS:  They need workers. 

STEPHENS:  They need workers and Trump`s war on immigrant labor doesn`t help them. 

MATTHEWS:  So interesting.  They don`t like the idea of immigration, but they need the reality. 

STEPHENS:  That`s right.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Bret Stephens.

Up next, Jon Stewart`s heartfelt plea on behalf of 9/11 first responders.  It`s really something. 

Back in a minute. 


MATTHEWS:  It`s rare that a witness before the Congress speaks with as much passion, authenticity and power as Jon Stewart did today, pleading the cause of the 9/11 first responders. 


JON STEWART, FORMER HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW":  Your indifference costs these men and women their most valuable commodity -- time.  So one thing they are running out of.  They responded in five seconds.  They did their jobs, with courage, grace, tenacity, humility.  Eighteen years later, do yours! 


MATTHEWS:  The comedian and former "Daily Show" host was urging members of Congress to sustain the victim fund, speaking for the thousands stricken with cancer and respiratory disease to exposure to the toxics dust to the buildings destroyed by the 9/11 terrorists. 

Thanks to Jon Stewart, we`ve been reminded of why so many of us grow up wanting to be firefighters.  They want to save people.  And today, we heard that voice calling to us, again, to keep faith for those who raced to save us 18 years ago. 

That`s HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.