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Trump contradicts New York Times report. TRANSCRIPT: 6/13/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Shannon Pettypiece, Greg Brower, Tom Malinowski, Mieke Eoyang,Michael Steel, Juanita Tolliver

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  And tomorrow, we`ll find out who goes on which night.  We`re very excited to have it.  MSNBC and NBC News will have you covered for the debate.

Don`t go anywhere.  "HARDBALL" starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Republicans back Trump on Russia dirt.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Tonight, we can tell you which of the democratic candidates for president have made the cut for the first big debate just two weeks away.  That`s coming up here tonight.  But catch this.  Under fire for the stunning interview he gave to ABC News last night, President Trump is defending his willingness to accept dirt on a political opponent from a foreign government.

Today, Trump mocked the outrage over his comments saying on Twitter, I meet and talk to foreign governments every day.  Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings?  How ridiculous.  Well, how ridiculous is right about him.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi today said Trump is condoning an assault on our democracy and that every American should be appalled.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  -- for the President to be so cavalier to disregard, to be indifferent to law and any sense of ethics about who we are as a country to say he would invite foreign intervention.  That`s an assault on our democracy, an assault on our democracy.

Everybody in the country should be totally appalled by what the President said last night, should be totally appalled.


MATTHEWS:  Well, just two months ago, the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, detailed multiple Russian offers of assistance to the Trump campaign, a campaign that expected it would benefit from Russia`s interference in 2016.  But last night, the President said he would do it all over again.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Trump defended his son`s willingness to accept dirt from Russia to hurt Hillary Clinton.  Most showing is that Trump said that if a foreign power offered him information that would help is campaign in 2020, he would hide it from the FBI.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  This is somebody that said, we have information on your opponent.  Oh, let me call the FBI.  Give me a break.  Life doesn`t work that way. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST:  The FBI Director says that`s what should happen.

TRUMP:  The FBI Director was wrong.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Trump then said, if he was offered foreign dirt in 2020, he would take it.  Let`s watch that.


TRUMP:  If somebody called from a country, Norway, we have information on your opponent, oh, I think I`d want to hear it.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Do you want that kind of interference in our elections?

TRUMP:  It`s not interference.  They have information.  I think I`d take it.


MATTHEWS:  Well, this is the same President who wonders why his conduct in 2016 was investigated by the FBI.  By issuing those remarks yesterday, Trump is effectively declaring that his campaign is on open for business for foreign dirt from foreign governments in 2020.  There`s no other way to read this.  He is sending a signal to foreign governments around the world that they can win his approval by tilting the election in his favor.

Not only that, The Washington Post is now reporting the transaction Trump describes could amount to criminal conduct, his remarks for the pattern we`ve seen from Trump and his allies.  Last month, for example, Rudy Giuliani tried to enlist the government of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.  Then President Trump publicly sided with a communist dictator over the former Vice President.  And early this month, Jared Kushner refused to say whether he`d inform the FBI of new overtures nuance from Russia.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Would you call the FBI if it happened?

JARED KUSHNER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER:  I don`t know.  It`s hard to do hypotheticals.  But the reality is that we were not given anything that was salacious.


MATTHEWS:  Well, meanwhile, the President today announced that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be leaving the job at the end of this month.

I`m joined now by Shannon Pettypiece, Bloomberg News White House Reporter, Greg Brower, a U.S. attorney and former senior FBI official, and Malcolm Nance is an MSNBC National Security (INAUDIBLE) Analyst.

Malcolm, I want to start with you.  What do you make of, I mean, the nerviness of the guy last night to say, yes, I`d take the dirt, I`ll do it?  The government sends me dirt.  Then he mentions Norway, as if he doesn`t have any idea that we`re all talking for the last two years about his dealings with Russia, as if, you know, he didn`t see the elephant in the room.  It`s called Russia.  And he`s trying to go to -- he always talks about Norway for some weird reason, but in this case, it was ludicrous.

MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST:  You know, Donald Trump has this pattern of behavior that if you look at it carefully, he always follows.  First, he lies.  Then he deceives and disinforms you.  And at some point, he arrogantly confesses and challenges you to even think of saying what`s wrong with that.  Everybody does it.  He has normalized the presidential lie.

MATTHEWS:  To wit, Barack Obama is foreign born.  He cheated his way to the United States.  He pulled the whole thing.  Nobody knew him at school, the whole (INAUDIBLE).  And then he said one day right before the 2016 election, Barack Obama is a natural born American citizen, let`s move on.  It`s just like you said.  He just did it.  Shannon, it`s outrageous, but it`s Trump.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Right.  Well, I mean -- and he is in a bit of a difficult position because if he admits that if he was given information from a foreign government in 2020, that he would call the FBI, that is saying that his son did something wrong in 2016.

But I think what the President and his administration and his allies have failed to realize is that foreign election interference can go both ways and they don`t realize that in 2020, it might not be for his own benefit and by opening the door in this way to foreign governments to say yes, it is okay, go ahead and give your dirt on Donald Trump to my democratic opponent, he may not like the results of that.  That`s something they may want to consider.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about the FBI and Christopher Wray.  I mean, he pretty much made it clear in his testimony.  You know, you hear from somebody, a foreign government sends help, we can turn election with you, some dirt we got, some oppo, let us know about it.

GREG BROWER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Yes.  He made it very clear as have all of the other intelligence agencies has forever.  This is nothing new.  But you lay out a pattern, Chris, and this is just the latest in what I see as a pattern.  It began with the campaign.  It was in effect in part what led to the FBI investigation.  It`s what led the President`s own Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, to appoint a special counsel to investigate connections between the campaign.  And so this is -- in part, this is a confirmation of the mindset that led to all that investigative activity.

Now, it didn`t lead to an indictment of a criminal conspiracy but it led to a lot of findings, a lot of evidence that shows that this is exactly what the mindset was and I`m afraid continues to be.

MATTHEWS:  Why is this set off the hook, legally?

BROWER:  The Mueller team apparently didn`t find that they had enough evidence to prove to a jury a criminal conspiracy to conspire with Russia and interfere with the campaign.

MATTHEWS:  What about an idiotic, just screwing around, amateur act where you check out every chance you get the dirt from the Russians without having an elaborate strategy planned?

BROWER:  Yes.  Well, look --

MATTHEWS:  That would be Trump`s method, which is just whatever comes in the (INAUDIBLE), I`ll grab for it.

BROWER:  I think the M.O. has been laid out by way of this pattern for a couple of years confirmed by the President`s comments yesterday.  But a criminal conspiracy apparently couldn`t be found at, least according to the Mueller team.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go in this psychobabble here.  I`m sorry, go ahead.

PETTYPIECE:  To your earlier point though, it is illegal to accept opposition research as considered a thing of value.  And if you accept a thing of value from a foreign government, that`s a violation of campaign finance law if you were to accept oppo research.  The Trump campaign never actually received anything.  They never got the dirt.  So they never received anything of value that they would then have to disclose.

MATTHEWS:  I have a theory about it.  I can`t understand what Trump did last night.  I can`t understand what George Stephanopoulos was doing standing behind him.  I`ve never seen an interview where you get behind a guy and look over his shoulder.  Trump is up looking like this and there`s a weird kind of thing going on there.  I guess it was a day in the life of kind of thing.

Trump thinks he`s won and yet he doesn`t quite act like he`s won.  I know that he`s beaten rap.  The Special Counsel did not indict, did not accuse because he thought it was impure to go there, to go pious (ph) about it.  But he wouldn`t go through with it.  Pelosi has said there will be no impeachment exercise, no beginning of hearings on impeachment.  It`s not going to happen.  The Republican Senate has not given him any threat.  He might feel like he`s (INAUDIBLE).

So I can say, as you say, final stage in the three-step process, you know, lie and then deceive and then admit.  He says, screw it.  I`m home.

NANCE:  Mob boss.  What are you going to do about it?  Who is going to hold me to account?

MATTHEWS:  We all do it.

NANCE:  We all do it.  You know, he said that himself.  This is something every congressman has done.  Because he now believes there will be no accountability for him, whatsoever, he can now arrogantly confess to whatever he wants and he thinks he`s getting his son off the hook.

You know, I don`t understand, by the way, I know, it`s all legal mumbo jumbo, but wasn`t ignorance of the law no longer an excuse?

MATTHEWS:  Apparently, under this one, there is an excuse.

NANCE:  There`re kids who get shot holding toy guns, this guy gets to walk because he didn`t know campaign finance law, Trump is fully aware of that.

BROWER:  I agree.  And, Chris, as you well know, we all know that it`s not true.  It`s simply not true that all politicians do this, that all campaigns do it.  And we heard some republicans on the Hill push back on that today, not enough, I think, but some did.  But it`s just absolutely not true.

PETTYPIECE:  Well, I mean, it was also interesting how he says that, through his life, he has never called the FBI, that he has seen things, that he has seen criminal activity.

MATTHEWS:  I believe that.  I believe Trump once there, yes.

PETTYPIECE:  It`s just part of his idea of what the FBI is and what law enforcement is, and what the rule of law that kind of goes to speak to his history, this pattern of just sort of skirting or turning the other way or ignoring that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about if a foreign government offers you money?  I`m not sure what his answer would be to that.  Well, we all do it.

PETTYPIECE:  And if a foreign government tried to offer him oppo research to curry favor, that`s the --

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s all for money in a different form.  You pay a lot of money for oppo.  People going into presidential campaigns, they pay a lot of oppo on themselves.  I mean, it is a commodity of importance.

Anyway, the President`s (INAUDIBLE) ABC News have been met with astonishment and outrage, especially, well, from democrats, at least.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA):  The message that he seems to be sending now is as long as a foreign power wants to help his campaign, they can count on him having the good digression not to alert his own FBI about it.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME):  What the President said last night was beyond astounding.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA):  Once again, we see that the President is willing to engage in criminal conduct.

REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-NY):  What he`s doing is pernicious.  It`s questioning the shared values that are the bedrock of our system.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA):  The President is inviting Russia and others to sabotage our elections, risk our democracy to benefit him.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL):  He hasn`t learned a single thing despite all of the experience we had since 2016.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN):  You don`t get in bed with Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, not even Norwegians.  It`s just wrong.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA):  My hope and prayer would be that someone in the White House would counsel Mr. Trump that he ought to recognize that foreign interference is beyond the pale.


MATTHEWS:  I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski from New Jersey, who yesterday proposed a legislation requiring candidates to report offers of foreign assistance to the Justice Department.

Congressman, it`s a fine idea, but according to Christopher Wray of the FBI, they should already do that.  They should already inform the FBI if they are informed from a foreign power that they got dirt on one of their opponents.

REP. TOM MALINOWSKI (D-NJ):  Yes.  There are a lot of things that should happen and that we`ve taken for granted for years in America.  It`s ridiculous that we need a law like this.  But, obviously, we do need it.  And the President`s comments yesterday are a case and point.  So --

MATTHEWS:  What is it like to fight for Athens against Sparta?  I mean, it really does seem like that when I look at this guy -- I`m not calling people by name (INAUDIBLE).  I see one after a democrat leading committee chairs all come out and with outrage, and two days later, the story is forgotten, Trump is home free.  He`s having dinner and hamburgers up at the White House, enjoying life with Melania and laughing at you guys because nobody actually does anything.  You won`t impeach.  What else you got in your arsenal?

You don`t impeach, you don`t really scare this guy, because he came out last night with George Stephanopoulos, you know, and come out and said, yes, I do take dirt from the enemy.  Yes, get used to it.  We all do it.  You guys do it.  You guys up on the Hill all do it.  And yet silence of the lambs again.

MALINOWSKI:  It`s very revealing of his whole world view.  He believes that everybody is a crook, everybody is a cheat, and therefore, he`d be a chump if he didn`t do it himself.

MATTHEWS:  That sounds like the old big machines and the big cities.  You`re a chump if you don`t steal something.  But my question to you is what are you going to do about it?

MALINOWSKI:  Well, look, I came out a while back saying we need to start the impeachment process for like a hundred reasons.  This is the 101st reason.  But you know what?  The Mueller report is two things.  It`s an invitation to hold him accountable.  It`s also an invitation to legislate.

And for all those folks out there --

MATTHEWS:  You need the Senate to legislate.

MALINOWSKI:  Yes.  And, well, you`ve got Mitt Romney who came out today who said this was disgraceful.

MATTHEWS:  Mitch McConnell is not going to help you?

MALINOWSKI:  Well, look, my job is to legislate.   My job is propose legislation and try to pass it.  I`m going to my job.  I want the Senate to do theirs.  And if not, we`ll hold them accountable in 2020.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you`re a straight arrow, I can tell.  You`re a straight guy.  I can tell.  And here`s the question.  What matter does that?  I talked to a congressman too the other day, Ted Lieu.  And I said what does it matter that you care?  You`re on the impeachment committee but you`re not doing anything.  So what does that matter what you think?

It just seems that the House has a lot of good members who do want to do something, but they`re not.  And my question is what difference is it what you think if you`re not doing anything?

MALINOWSKI:  Well, Athens did beat Sparta in the end, didn`t they?

MATTHEWS:  Well, they lasted longer.  Thank you so much.  Thank you, again.  You`re so smart.  I told you that you`re one of the smart guys.  Thank you.

Well, President again mischaracterized the conclusions of the Mueller report, falsely claiming that his campaign actually rebuffed Russia`s outreach to his campaign in 2016.  This is a whole new tangle here.


TRUMP:  The Mueller report spoke.  They were very disappointed.  And it said no collusion and no obstruction and no nothing.  And, in fact, it said, we actually rebuffed your friends from Russia., that we actually pushed them back.  We rebuffed them.


MATTHEWS:  Who are these friends?  Your friends from Russia.

Anyway, the reality, however, is very different.  Mueller`s report documented Kremlin links that, quote, included Russian offers to assistance in the campaign and has stated that in some instances, the campaign was receptive to the offer.  And when it comes to the infamous Trump Tower meeting of June of 2016, it says that Donald Trump Jr. appears to have accepted that offer.  Malcolm?

NANCE:  Well, you know, Donald Trump --

MATTHEWS:  He`s just lying again.  He`s back to number two, lie.

NANCE:  Well, he`s a pathological liar, so he`s good at that.  But you have to understand something.  This man mastered the intelligence disinformation technique of meta narratives.  He only knows to speak in these simple short phrases which people will hear in one second on television, no collusion, no obstruction.  Every person we had speak on the democratic side cannot say Trump admitted criminality, which is a meta narrative, we need to embrace it.

MATTHEWS:  Shannon goes (INAUDIBLE), and then he says, your friends, like the Russians have become the associates of those who have been indicting this president.

PETTYPIECE:  Right.  And he sort of thinks there`s this conspiracy where everybody is working together.  But to his point, yes, he is in the sound bites.  It`s marketing.  You repeat the same phrase over and over and over again.  It`s branding 101.  No collusion, no obstruction, that`s all I need to hear.

MATTHEWS:  Why is Sarah Sanders leaving?

PETTYPIECE:  So I don`t have any direct insight yet.  I mean, what everyone is saying is that she`s had a very difficult job for the last 2.5 years in the White House and she has young children who wants to spend time with them.

But I will say, she is one of the President`s closest advisers, most trusted advisers.  And as far as people around him who he listens to and who he will take advice from, she was one of the few remaining.  So that will be a big void in the West Wing.

MATTHEWS:  Well, she is a soldier, if nothing else.

BROWER:  I want just going to say, Chris, getting back to the sound bite thing, this is an example, one example of why Bob Mueller and Don McGahn have to testify in open hearings.  And it`s one thing to read the book, it`s a whole another thing to see the movie.  And that testimony has to be --

MATTHEWS:  You`re confident that he could put on a performance that would convince --

BROWER:  I think, at least it could complete the record, it will allow questions and answers and it could create some sound bites that are aelpful to the truth.

MATTHEWS:  I`d love to hear him do it.  Anyway, thank you, Shannon Pettypiece.  Thank you, Greg Brower and Malcolm Nance.

Coming up, where is the outrage on the right, I mean, among republicans?  The top republican in the House refuses every opportunity to condemn the comments on accepting campaign from foreign countries.  McCarthy won`t say a word against this president because 90 percent of his party is marching along to the Trump beat.

And who made the cut, by the way?  This is great stuff coming out today, the first democratic debate coming up 13 days.  And tonight, the names of those candidates will be spoken on here tonight.  We`ll know them.  We`ll tell you the 20 (INAUDIBLE).  We`ll tell you who didn`t make the cut. We`ll be back with that list, coming up.

Plus, tune in next Monday, four days from now, for a special HARDBALL show, The Deciders.  We`re going to Dayton, Ohio, a county and a state that voted for Obama twice, for Trump once.  We`re going to talk to democrats who don`t understand why anyone would vote for Trump and others who will explain why they did and might again.  Tune in Monday, June 17th in a special time, 10:00 P.M. Eastern right here on MSNBC.

Much more ahead tonight.  Stay with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Trump`s breathtaking acknowledgment that he would gladly accept campaign assistance from a foreign power seems like an open invitation to most people for another attack from abroad in 2020. 

The news didn`t seem to strike some of his Republican colleagues as alarming.  In fact, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy defended the president`s comments last night. 


QUESTION:  Was it right for the president to say that he would listen if foreigners offered dirt on his political opponents?  Is that the kind of help that you would take?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA):  I think we all see you`re talking about a hypothetical. 

QUESTION:  The president says he -- he thought the FBI director was wrong in making that assessment.

MCCARTHY:  I think what you`re asking right here is a hypothetical. 

QUESTION:  He said those things.  And that concerns people.  And so is that -- is that a problem? 

MCCARTHY:  What are you most concerned about the president?

QUESTION:  Doesn`t the president have to set a tone about what is right and what is wrong?

MCCARTHY:  I think the president`s been very clear.  The president does not want foreign governments to interfere in our elections.  He`s been very strong about that.

QUESTION:  He did said he would welcome that assistance.

MCCARTHY:  He did not say he`d have a foreign government to...


QUESTION:  He said he would look at...

QUESTION:  We would like you, respectfully, to please address that question and just...


MCCARTHY:  I have addressed...


QUESTION:  So, no comment on his words yesterday?

MCCARTHY:  I think, if you ask the president, he would -- he would be very clear about it, not allowing any foreign countries to interfere in our election. 



MATTHEWS:  Anyway, his Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was actually silent, instead of just using words that were silent.

As you might expect, however, Utah Senator and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was one of the few Republicans to condemn the president`s comments in stark terms.  Let`s watch.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT):  In circumstances where a foreign government attempts to be involved in an American election, that would be simply unthinkable for a candidate for president to accept that involvement, to encourage it, to participate with it in any way, shape, or form.  It would strike at the very heart of our democracy. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, earlier today, Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia moved to bring a bill to the floor in the Senate that would require campaigns to report foreign contacts to the FBI and the FEC by -- the Federal Election Commission. 

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee blocked the move. 

For more, I`m joined by Michael Steel, former spokesman for the House Speaker John Boehner, and rMD-BO_Mieke Eoyang, vice president for the National Security Program at Third Way. Mieke, this thing here, first of all, there`s no sense of consistency.  If this were Hillary Clinton, president, if she had won in the Electoral College, and if she was sitting in the White House now and said, oh, yes, I got help -- I will take help from -- dirt from the other countries, these guys would be stringing her up. 

MIEKE EOYANG, THIRD WAY:  Well, you remember...

MATTHEWS:  And then they all go like little silence of the lambs now because it`s a Republican president, at least in name Republican.

EOYANG:  Well, you will remember at the end of the Clinton administration, there was this whole scandal around the idea that the Clinton campaign might have accidentally accepted Chinese campaign contributions.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.   

EOYANG:  And the Republicans went nuts, foreign interference in our elections.  How could you possibly do this?  And they were incensed about the idea. 

And now today, when you have foreign governments offering dirt on campaigns, they seem to shrug their shoulders.  It`s like Donald Trump only wants foreigners in American elections and will try and keep them out of America everywhere else. 

MATTHEWS:  It does seem -- well, Michael, speak for the party, if you can. 


MATTHEWS:  Why is 90 percent of the Republican Party voters...


MATTHEWS:  ... in line, no matter what this man says?

We saw "Access Hollywood."  We saw a guy -- where he talked about grabbing women.  We saw, I could shoot somebody on Sixth Avenue, Fifth Avenue, and they will -- maybe Sixth Avenue too, but Fifth Avenue.

STEEL:  Either one.

MATTHEWS:  And Avenue of the Americas, he would have done that too. 


MATTHEWS:  And, in every case, they say, yes, sir.  Yes, sir.  This is North Korean behavior. 

STEEL:  Yes.


MATTHEWS:  You know what I`m saying?

STEEL:  At this point, a substantial portion of the American population, 90 percent of the Republican Party, fairly or not, accurately or not, believes that the president is fighting for them, taking on the elites in this country, and doing things that no president was willing to do before to protect their jobs and their way of life. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

In other words, as long as he hates or sticks the stick in the eye of the Democratic well-educated elite, who think they are better, some of them, it`s fine with his peeps.

STEEL:  The enemy of my enemy is my friend. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you`re dead right. 

Anyway, throughout today, the president`s Republican colleagues were asked to respond to the president`s comments.  Some made it clear they disagreed with the president.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME):  A hostile government like Russia contacts a federal official or a federal candidate with an offer of assistance, to me, the appropriate action to take is to call the FBI. 


MATTHEWS:  That guy is still working right there.  That was an amazing scene of America at work.

But others shrugged their shoulders and deflected the question by dishing out heavy doses of:  What about?  What about the other side?

Here they go.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX):  Because, obviously, there are foreign countries that are interested in influencing our elections.  We saw that in the -- in the Clinton example.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA):  I`m a little astonished at the outrage that I have heard, because I didn`t hear equal outrage when Hillary Clinton and the DNC paid a foreign spy.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  I hope my Democratic colleagues will be equally offended by the fact that this actually did happen in 2016, where a foreign agent was paid for by a political party to gather opposition research. 


MATTHEWS:  You know, anyway, there are those who, by the way, just kept our heads down.  Of the 53 Republicans in Senate we contacted, only 17 publicly responded to the president. 

Anyway, five told us they would tell the FBI if they were given information by a foreign government.  However, 31 did not respond. 

Mieke, the charge here, which the president has confessed to, basically, in principle, is that it`s OK to deal with foreign governments if they will give you something of value in a campaign to win it, right?

EOYANG:  Mm-hmm.

MATTHEWS:  Did Hillary do that?  Why do they keep saying that?  What government did she deal with? 

EOYANG:  She didn`t.  And this is the thing.

MATTHEWS:  They keep saying this crap. 

And it`s Lindsey -- this is artificial intelligence from these people.  They all talk like this.  They know it`s not true. 

EOYANG:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And that the media has to go, thank you, objective media, write down that they said it, as if it means anything.

EOYANG:  It`s very clear that there`s a significant difference between what the Clinton campaign was doing and what the Trump campaign was doing.  And she called him on it during the debates. 

And he got very offended at that.  But not only that, he still and his campaign surrogates are still doing that, right?  Rudy Giuliani going to -- trying to go to Ukraine to dig up...

MATTHEWS:  The government of Ukraine.

EOYANG:  The government of Ukraine to try and dig up dirt on Democratic presidential candidates.

They are still in this business, and not realizing that American elections should be saved for Americans, and not for foreigners.

MATTHEWS:  Was this -- I`m still trying to do some psychobabble on Trump.  Why did he admit all this yesterday?  Was it to protect his son, his namesake? 

STEEL:  I think that could be part of it.  I think there`s also a part of it that he wants to make this a joke.  He makes -- wants to make this seem unserious.

This very serious issue, protecting the integrity of our elections, protecting our political progress -- process, he wants to make that, the attacks on him seem unserious, that he`s been vindicated, and it`s time to move on.  That`s why he talked about Norway.  No one thinks Norway is going to offer...


STEEL:  ... political intelligence.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he acted like, by throwing that neutral country out there that has never fought us for anything, it makes it sound like there was no two-year investigation of Russia.

STEEL:  Or it`s the same thing to get information from Russia as it would be from a neutral country or Switzerland or whatever. 

MATTHEWS:  Here is -- you`re -- and I know, by your work now, you`re concerned about honest elections and to actually have a choice for the American people. 

Here`s my worry.  All this gets past -- past impeachment is the thing we got.  We have an election coming up in 2020.  And that great thing about American democracy is its regularness.  Ever since 1788, I think we have had elections every two years, for Congress every year, four years for president. 

Suppose the Electoral College isn`t decisive, because we have a state that has its system screwed up with, and we don`t get a count from a state like Ohio.  And that`s decisive in the Electoral College.  What happens then?  We don`t know who the president is. 

EOYANG:  So...

MATTHEWS:  What happens, then, because of the Russians?

EOYANG:  So, the Constitution actually provides for this, if there`s a deadlock in the Electoral College, which is that it goes to the House of Representatives, currently controlled by Democrats.


MATTHEWS:  But with the unit rule.

EOYANG:  Right.  So they`re...

MATTHEWS:  Each state gets one vote. 

EOYANG:  So it`s really a challenge about how this would come out, right? 

We could be in a situation where there`s a very close outcome and the election is in doubt, right?  It`s very clear, though, presidents are only limited to four-year terms.  At this point, we`re in really uncharted territory.  It`s never happened before.

MATTHEWS:  Can you imagine?  We had a tricky time.  I love the fact we stick to the law.  And the law says the Electoral College. 

But if we have a situation where New York gets one vote, California gets one vote, South Dakota gets one vote, and that picks the president, people wonder how undemocratic it`s going to be.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Steel. Mieke Eoyang, thank you. 

Up next:  Who made the cut?  This is good stuff.  Coming up, the roster for the first Democratic debate has been released.  We know who the 20 are.  We will be breaking it down to you next in a minute.  Don`t go anywhere.  You will know who`s in and who`s out. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The countdown is on, with just 13 days until the first Democratic presidential debate on the 26th of this month and the 27th.  And, today, the Democratic National Committee released the official list of the contenders who will be in the debate stage down in Miami. 

Among the 20 who made the debate lineup, there`s some familiar names, current front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, of course, and 2016 runner up Bernie Sanders. 

But some lesser known candidates also made the cut, author Marianne Williamson and businessman Andrew Yang.  And, tomorrow, we will find out which 10 candidates will take the stage together each night.  And that will be determined by random drawing. 

There were some elected officials who didn`t make the cut, notably, Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton.  He was on the show this week.  Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who I thought was an early hot shot potential in this race.  Bullock announced his run just over a month ago, however.

He spoke with my colleague Chuck Todd just after the lineup was announced. 


GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Of course, Chuck, I`m disappointed with the DNC.

And I certainly knew getting in at the time I did would give me fewer opportunities to, like, be on shows, shows with you and others. 

But I had a job to do.  And if it ultimately ever came down to choosing between getting Medicaid reauthorized, getting 100,000 Montanans health care, vs. getting in earlier just to try to bump up on yet another poll, I would make that same choice time and time again. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, I hope his invitation to me to go fishing with him in Montana still holds anyway.

But the two-night prime-time event in Miami coming up this month will be moderated by Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd -- you just heard him -- Rachel Maddow, and Jose Diaz-Balart.

And, by the way, you can watch on June 26 and 27 right here on MSNBC, NBC and Telemundo. 

And what I would like to tell you is, I get to do the interviewing in the spin room, the two hours there after the election, where everybody is starting to try to heal the wounds inflicted during the debate itself. 

And while the first presidential debate is two weeks away, we`re already getting a preview of some of those attacks we could see on stage.  They`re starting to go -- sort of the 1 percenters are starting to go after the double-digit candidates. 

That`s coming up next. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

With the stage now set for the first 2020 Democratic debate June 26 and June 27, both down in Miami, we`re already getting a glimpse of what we can expect to see when candidates face off. 

Today, one Democratic hopeful, former Governor -- Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, blasted Senator Bernie Sanders for his speech yesterday offering a defense of socialism.  Let`s watch. 


JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Democrats must say loudly and clearly that we are not socialists. 

If we do not, we will end up helping to reelect the worst president in this country`s history. 


MATTHEWS:  And former Congressman Beto O`Rourke leveled some of the toughest criticism yet of front-runner Joe Biden, saying the country could do far better, he says, than Biden.  Let`s watch. 


QUESTION:  If you stood next to him, why would you tell Democratic voters you are a better candidate than Joe Biden to become president? 

BETO O`ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Because you cannot go back to the end of the Obama administration, and think that that`s good enough.

QUESTION:  Is Joe Biden a return to the past?

O`ROURKE:  He is.  And that cannot be who we are going forward. 


MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined Jonathan Allen, NBC News digital national director -- political reporter, rather, and Juanita Tolliver, campaign director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund. 

What did you make of the cut to 20?  It`s going to be a little cumbersome, but there will be 20 candidates on those two nights, 10 each night.  That will be decided tomorrow, that -- how that shakes out there.  There are some who are not going to make the cut.  Probably a lot more will not make it by September, the next time we hold these. 


Look, DNC made out rules.  Campaigns made decisions knowing those rules.  And so...

MATTHEWS:  Is it democratic? 

TOLLIVER:  Is it democratic?

I think it`s giving an opportunity for voters to hear as many voices as possible.  And besides all these factors, this is going to be a historic number of people of color and women represented on the debate stage in this presidential conversation. 

So, I say let`s leverage this moment and campaigns need to come correct.  And so, what we heard earlier a little bit from Beto and Hickenlooper, kind of taking jabs of other campaigns, I think we`re going to hear some of that on the debate stage, but more than anything, it`s about how candidates leverage that opening statement.  That`s setting the tone. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, the old rule in politics is shoot up.  No, really, there`s nothing wrong with it.  When you are at 1 percent hanging on for dear life, and somebody`s at 15, you go for the guy who`s 15.  So, I saw they both, with Beto going to Biden and Hickenlooper going after Bernie Sanders, they`re doing politicians do, you shoot up and hope you get in the game. 

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS DIGITAL NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Absolutely, we also saw Pete Buttigieg this week take aim at both Trump and Biden, in similarly way to what O`Rourke did Biden, which is they are painting Joe Biden as -- and Trump in the case of Buttigieg, in similar fading hues of yesterday`s news. 


ALLEN:  They`re basically saying, this guy is the past.  We`re looking at the future.  Biden sees as the problem.  Yesterday at the fundraiser in Chicago, at a private audience, he said to those folks, I`m all focused on the future.  At the same time he is telling everybody it`s the Obama-Biden years again. 

He`s got a problem here right now.

TOLLIVER:  Selling it hard.


ALLEN:  Like, how does he talk about the future and talk about the past at the same time. 

We are going to see that tension point in whatever debate Joe Biden is in, because somebody who is generation next will also be on that stage with him. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think in this?

TOLLIVER:  Yes, I think it`s definitely true.  He`s got to really distinguish himself as a presidential candidate, not just Barack Obama`s VP, even though that comes with a lot of sway in his poll numbers, polling at the top even before he announced, and still at the top.  So, he is going to be leveraging that and needs to strike a balance what is an old plan.

MATTHEWS:  I think he held up any longer than I thought he`s held up.  I thought this thing would be completely chaotic from the beginning. 

Anyway, in his interview with ABC News, President Trump continued to deny the existence of polls showing him trailing his Democratic rival and -- he`s trailing even in Texas by four.  It comes after the "New York Times" reported a, quote, devastating 17-state poll connected by Trump`s own campaign pollster showing Trump trailing Joe Biden in critical states. 

Let`s listen. 


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR:  Even your own polls show you are behind right now, don`t they?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No.  My polls show that I`m winning everywhere. 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  We have all seen these reports that 15 out of 17 states, in a polling you`re behind in 15 out of 17 states. 

TRUMP:  Nobody showed you those polls because those polls don`t exist, George.  Those polls don`t exist.  You mean I`m losing in 15 out of 17 states?  Those polls don`t exist. 

I just was given a meeting with a pollster who I don`t even believe in pollsters, if you want to know the truth.  You just run a campaign and whatever it is it is.  But I just had a meeting with a pollster and I`m winning everywhere. 


MATTHEWS:  I`m sorry, was that Jay Leno card and Jerry Seinfeld. 

TOLLIVER:  Getting cocky with comedians, you know?  Like, wow, what alternative reality is he living in to deny what is true?  He is behind -- 

MATTHEWS:  Very close quarters with George there.  He just says, yes, you`re worng.

TOLLIVER:  There`s no escaping.  There`s no escaping and so what does he do?  He doubles down on his own reality and lies. 

ALLEN:  If you`re going to deny that Russia helped you win the last election, why is denying the poll numbers.

TOLLIVER:  Why it`s out there? 

MATTHEWS:  So, if you are a journalist, like George, you say, what?  How do you get out of this?  This is a clown car.  Nobody talks like that. 

ALLEN:  You just keep asking questions and you hope the president continues to talk because ultimately you`re going to get some news out of it.  Now, with these poll numbers that have been leaking out, I think that we are very, very early in this cycle and people who are riding President Trump`s train -- 


MATTHEWS:  My fear, remember how LBJ -- one of the reason Bobby Kennedy did not want to run against Johnson at the beginning is he`s afraid the minute he announced, all of a sudden, Johnson would become the dove.  What happened with Nixon?  He said we will have a peace treaty the week before the election.  So, what happens if Trump becomes normal two weeks before the election? 

TOLLIVER:  There is no possibility of that. 

MATTHEWS:  No possibility just becoming normal (ph), basically incapable?


TOLLIVER:  He has over the past -- absolutely.  Not only do we see it on the trail in `16, we see it with him as president.  All he does is tweets, creates chaos and incapable of stopping tweeting. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it`s impossible?  That he says, Ok, we`re normal for two weeks? 

TOLLIVER:  What would that even look like? 

ALLEN:  I think Trump was a little bit tamer down the stretch in "16.  I think there were times when his folks got to him and he was able to kind of reel it in a little bit towards the end.  I think it was helpful for him with swing voters at the end, breaking for him and for Hillary. 

TOLLIVER:  Yes, I don`t see it happening.

MATTHEWS:  Something really surprising and they blew the Democrats` sox off.  He actually went out and met the voters.  Hillary wasn`t ready for that. 

Anyway, I`m serious.  He did a lot more traveling at the end with the parts of the country that decide that election.  Part of politics is being a politician.  Go out and meet the people.  We will talk about that next week in Ohio.  Go meet the people and that`s a start. 

Jonathan Allen, Juanita Tolliver, thank you. 

TOLLIVER:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, two oil tankers apparently attacked in the Gulf of Oman.  They are trying to -- they think at least this administration said Iran did it.  We`re going to find out what weapons they used.  We can get that straight. 

Does this move the United States closer to a war?  That`s an active war that attacks ships, but not our shipping.  These are other foreign tankers out there. 

We`re going to get a break on HARDBALL and be right back.



MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE:  It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today.  This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with the stark claim that Iran is to blame for today`s attacks on two foreign oil tankers off that country`s coast.  There they are, that burning coming from the tanker there. 

"The New York Times" reports that the U.S. Navy spotted an unexploded mine attached to the haul of one of the damaged tankers that resembled the kind of explosives that investigators believe was used against the four ships in the attacks last month, according to a Defense Department official. 

Well, this comes amid rising tensions in the Middle East.  Last month, the Trump administration moved a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Persian Gulf, there it is, the carrier, in response to what they described as credible intelligence and this I`m not understanding at all, an imminent attack. 

Today, Pompeo confirmed that Japanese Prime Minister Abe who is in Iran on a diplomatic visit was carrying a message from President Trump, to Iran`s supreme leader to deescalate and enter the talks but it was rejected. 

President Trump responded with a tweet: While I very much appreciate P.M. Abe going to Iran to meet with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, I personally feel that it is too soon to even think about making a deal.  They are not ready, and neither are we.

I`m joined now by Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA and Department of Defense. 

Sir, thank you.

What do you make of this?  It`s a little bit murky. 

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF AT CIA AND DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE:  It`s deadly serious.  I think we`re closer to a military conflict in Persian Gulf, Chris, than we have been in a long time.  And it`s a combustible mix because Iran has been firing missiles into Saudi Arabia.  They`ve been taking aim at international shipping.  They want to choke the life blood of those Sunni gulf countries there, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. 

And so, they have been engaged in these attacks against international shipping.  And on the other hand, in our capital, we have people in the State Department and the White House and others who are inclined to see Iran to a very nefarious lens, and they`re quick to claim that Iran is the culprit.  I think we need to see the underlying intelligence and they are quick to claim that this is part of a pattern and practice of Iran over the last decade. 

MATTHEWS:  Talk about the weaponry here, the munitions here.  Are these mines laid there in the waters, in the Gulf?

BASH:  Not traditional mines the way you think of them, but it appears that some small boats or some vessels possibly, according to this information provided by the State Department, possibly sponsored by Iran, used maybe magnetic mines or some other torpedoes in the water.  I don`t think we know the underling weaponry.  But it`s very precise.  It`s not haphazard.  It was clearly a deliberate military operation aimed at these international vessels. 

MATTHEWS: Why would they go?  These are not our ships.  Why would they pick other country`s ships?  They are not hostile, though.  Are they hostile to all other governments? 

BASH:  Well, Iran is in a major conflict with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.  They are in a major conflict with the Sunni Arab countries there.  This isn`t fundamentally about us or about the Iran deal.  And so, they are not necessarily targeting the United States.

But, you know, the Pentagon`s view, Chris, is if Iran is aiming weaponry at vessels transiting the Strait of Hormuz, which includes obviously U.S. commercial ships and U.S. naval vessels, that`s an act of war.  And I think the Pentagon and people inside the U.S. government are going to be very quick to take military response if they fear that these weapons are there. 

MATTHEWS:  What would be the normal response they would count on us engaging in?  What would the Iranians expect us to do in response to this? 

BASH:  Well, I have been in conversations I remember back in the early part of the decade in the Pentagon, in which generals would say, let`s not waste a crisis.  If Iran is going to attack shipping or attack our vessels, then, you know, let`s set the Iranian navy back 25 years.  I mean, that`s the way some people talk. 

It`s very scary.  It`s very combustible and we`re in a very dangerous moment. 

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like Curtis LeMay.

Anyway, President Trump has long criticized the Iran nuclear agreement, of course, as the worst deal in history.  And some in his administration have indicated that the deal has value.  As Iran announced it was accelerating its uranium enrichment, the United States ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency called on Iran to return to compliance with that same deal Trump has announced. 

Here`s State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus yesterday. 


REPORTER:  Why would you call for Iran to comply with a deal that you think is essentially garbage? 


REPORTER:  Is it better than nothing?  Is that what the position of the administration is? 

ORTAGUS:  Our position on the JCPOA has not changed, but we, of course, do not want Iran to get a nuclear weapon. 


MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that? 

BASH:  Well, look, I think Iran is complying.  And that`s the assessment of our intelligence leadership.  They`ve testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this year that Iran is in compliance.  So, I think the claims that Iran is out of compliance don`t hold a lot of weight.  And that question I think did showcase a sort of fundamental tension in the administration`s posture here. 

MATTHEWS:  Thanks so much, Jeremy Bash, for your expertise. 

BASH:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, Bernie Sanders, FDR, and a country with a history of fighting the isms. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  I want to offer some context tonight to Senator Bernie Sanders` case this week for his democratic socialist ideology. 

A Gallup poll last year shows that 86 percent of Americans in this country, of people, admire entrepreneurs, people who go out and create products and services for the market.  So, they like entrepreneurs out there. 

Americans also like economic competition.  Seventy-nine percent, roughly four out of five of us say we admire free enterprise -- again, getting out there, offering a product or service that people will pay for. 

Where people have an issue, of course, is with huge corporations.  Fifty percent admire the image of big business, 50 percent don`t like that image.  But again, the context. 

Socialism rates 37 percent in the Gallup poll, representing just above a third of this country.  The federal government would have to carry out any socialist program in reality is rated not much higher with 39 percent. 

Well, certainly, Senator Sanders is committed to his ideology.  He is opposed to private markets.  That he doesn`t like the profit mode and he said so.  Let that be part of our debate this year. 

Where I think issues when he assumes the historic legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, a hero of the Democratic Party.  I don`t think it was correct when Senator Sanders points to the drastic steps, Roosevelt, a Democrat, not a socialist, had to take at the depths of the Great Depression, when a quarter of the country out work as evidence FDR would back Sanders` calls for structural change in this country.  FDR was a Democrat doing what was needed then. 

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" stars right now.