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Trump tries to walk back comments. TRANSCRIPT: 6/14/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Natasha Betrand; Michael McFaul; David Frum, Anita Kumar, AdrienneElrod, Ginger Gibson

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  On this new video that's taking on the Trump family separation policy directly.  We're going to get into that with him.  It's an exclusive on Monday and a lot of more.

So have a great weekend.  I'll be on The Last Word tonight filling in for Lawrence.  But don't go anywhere right now because HARDBALL with Chris Matthews is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  A new cover-up.  Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I'm Chris Matthews in Washington.

He's done it again.  The President just told us he would take political dirt from a foreign government and woke up in full denial.

Also in big 2020 news tonight, the lineups are set for the first democratic debates this month which will be held over two nights.  Who will face who?  I'll predict the candidates that will be attacking each other personally.

And at the end of this hour, backseat denials, how Trump and George Stephanopoulos reminded me of that scene from On the Waterfront.

First up, it's been two days since President Trump admitted to the world that he would openly entertain the notion of accepting dirt on a political opponent from a foreign government and would not call the FBI.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  I have seen a lot of things over in my life.  I don't think in my life I have ever called the FBI, in my whole life.  You don't call the FBI.  You throw somebody out of your office.  You do whatever --

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST:  And you want that kind interference in our elections?

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


MATTHEWS:  But in the wake of that admission and the fallout from that and in the face of growing course of criticism, the President headed to his favorite TV show this morning to deny what he had said.


TRUMP:  If I was, and, of course, you have to look at it, because if you don't look at it, you're not going to know if it's bad.  How are you going to know if it's bad?  But, of course, you give it to the FBI or report it to the Attorney General or somebody like that.  But, of course, you do that.  You couldn't have that happen with our country.  But how are you going to -- if you don't hear what it is, you don't know what it is.

Nobody is going to say bad things to me.  They know I'm very a straight player.


MATTHEWS:  And there's Steve Doocy shaking his head in obvious approval.

It's important to note that the Mueller report, quote, identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign and found that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, so they were working back and forth.

Moving ahead to the 2020 campaign, Trump's campaign press secretary told CBS News, that they would consider offers from foreign adversaries, but would also report them to the FBI.  Let's watch.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY, TRUMP 2020:  The President's directive, as he said, a case-by-case basis, he said he would likely do both.


MATTHEWS:  Well, those comments paired with the President's seemed like an invitation for interference from other governments, including Russia come 2020.

Well, President Trump's position pits him against his own FBI Director, Chris Wray.


CHRIS WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR:  It's going to take all of us working together to hold the field, because this threat is not going away.  As I have said consistently, Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.  This is a threat we need to take extremely seriously and to tackle and respond to with fierce determination and focus.


MATTHEWS:  Well, nearly a dozen law enforcement veterans tell Politico that comments have undone months of work, essentially inviting foreign spies to meddle with 2020 presidential campaigns and demoralizing the agents trying to stop them.  But the President doesn't look like he is helping that effort at all.

Meanwhile, ABC News has obtained President Trump's first internal re- election campaign poll conducted this March.  And it shows former Vice President Joe Biden beating Trump by wide margins in key battleground states.  The poll, which the President deny that George Stephanopoulos even exists shows Biden with double-digit leads over him in Pennsylvania and in Wisconsin.

For more, I'm joined former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, Natasha Bertrand, National Security Correspondent for Politico, and David Frum, Senior Editor of The Atlantic.

Natasha, tell me what you have been able to report here.

NATASHA BERTRAND, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO:  Yes.  So we spoke with nearly a dozen law enforcement veterans and they tell us that this task force that was set up by Christopher Wray just after he became the FBI Director in 2017 is really the exact opposite.  Their mission has been the exact opposite in a good way of what the President's stated mindset is, which is that they are trying to fight foreign interference, foreign influence operations in the United States, and this is a combination of cyber security, counterintelligence and counterintelligence officials who are working with every field office in the country, all 56 FBI field offices, in order to combat interference and combat this threat that the President has now essentially said, well, bring it on, open door.  We welcome it.

So in that sense, he has made the FBI's job a lot harder, because now, it's emboldened the foreign adversaries who want to try to attack the 2020 election.  And one of the things that they expressed concern over was that Bill Barr, who is responsible for, you know, the priorities that the FBI has, the budget, et cetera, the resources, he has been extremely aligned with this White House.  So how is he going to look at this priority?

MATTHEWS:  Ambassador, let me go to you.  Look, you've had experience of being in Moscow, you've worked with station chiefs with the CIA, you know how intelligence works.  Everybody works together, I'd like to think.  Tell me how this would affect people like a station chief over Moscow, how it would affect the FBI, people working with the counterintelligence when they hear the President of the United States say, I probably wouldn't tell the FBI what's going on if I got some dirt from an overseas government.  Okay, George, if you ask me, but I guess I'll say the right answer, yes, yes, yes, yes, I would call him them, sure.

Then you call your favorite news program in the morning, Fox and Friends, tell Steve Doocy, yes, yes, I would do that, I think, you know.  This doesn't sound like the clarion call of a leader.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA:  I think that's right, Chris.  I think there would be two reactions from my friends in the Intelligence Community.  One, of course, it's demoralizing because the President is encouraging the exact behavior that they are trying to counter, but, two, I think it would also be that genuine belief that the President of the United States does not understand what these other governments do.

He doesn't understand counterintelligence.  He doesn't understand that when foreigners show up to your campaign headquarters, they don't introduce themselves with a business card that says, hey, I'm working for an intelligence organization from Russia or Iran.  It's much more -- they have covers for that.

And he doesn't understand that when they hand over information, two other things.  One, they're doing that to advance the interests of their country, Russia, not candidate Trump or President Trump.  And, two, they may be providing disinformation at the same time that they're providing alleged information.  And that's why they would be, I think, very deflating for that community to hear those remarks.

MATTHEWS:  David, it seems like if you're fighting a war and you're in the trenches, but it's a cyber war, and you find out that the Commander-in- Chief, at least the person with that job description is part of the constitution, isn't really into the war.

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC:  I think the situation is much worse than that.  And let's step back and remember what it was that happened in 2016 and in this great mess of wars that we're all throwing up in the air.

This story originated with a crime.  It originated with the Russians entering democratic servers or deceiving democratic people to steal.  It's exactly like Watergate.  It happened to digital rather than a physical property, but it began with a theft, it began with a crime.  And everybody knew who had done it and they knew it as early as the summer of 2016.

When Don Trump got the invitation to meet with the Russians, they weren't offering him intelligence.  They were saying, we found some dusty archives at the Moscow State University that maybe you are interested in.  He knew there was the possibility of stolen property.  That's what he went to the meeting to get.

Now, he was disappointed.  They did not deliver the stolen property.  But that's what he was trying to get.  This is the fruits of the Watergate break-in that they are being tantalized with.

Now, ultimately, when the stolen property is produced, it's distributed through WikiLeaks in the summer of 2017, and then, again, more devastatingly in the fall.

But this is not -- Fox and Friends and Hannity and all the Trump talkers are trying to make it seem like, well, are you saying you can never have tea with a German Ambassador?  Of course, you can have tea with the German Ambassador.  This is about a Russian theft that everyone understood at the time it was happening and the Trump people most of all understood and that they wanted to receive the benefit of.

MATTHEWS:  Ambassador, just to get back in your expertise here, it seems that there is two realities.  The President's reality that he is just POW (ph), a beginner POW (ph), learning the ropes, taking whatever shot he had and would look like an uphill campaign, like he was going to lose Hillary.  Go on and be a rich businessman again but not the presidency.

So the same time he is having all these meetings with the Trump Tower and his kids and hanging around with the Russian ambassadors and all these people trooping through the republican convention, walking around everywhere like it's an arcade that they own.

At the same time, are the FBI people in their role as counterintelligence people, are they watching this too or did they miss what Trump saw?  In other words, could he have been that he could have been the lookout for all this stuff if he'd chosen to be?

MCFAUL:  Well, that's exactly right, he should have.  And that would have been the obvious right thing to do.  But what's so shocking about it is after two years, and the Mueller investigation and years and years of talking about it, it should just have been a no brainer, at least politically, even he didn't really believe it to say, I would never do that.  And that's the other part of this that is so shocking to me, that he just says what he thought.

And I used to work at the White House at the National Security Council as well.  We used to provide talking points for the President of the United States to kind of shape the message we wanted for national security.  That also doesn't seem to be working here, which was shocking to me what he said.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, now, this doesn't surprise anybody tonight, broke his silence last night during an interview with Fox to attack democrats while ignoring what the President said about not really caring to tell the FBI when he's up to -- when he's in cahoots with Russians.  Here he goes.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST:  Do you have a problem with that answer?  Because the democrats seem to be taking that and saying, aha, see, we told you so.  Now, it's on to impeachment.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  They just can't let it go, Laura.  You know, I said weeks ago, case closed.  He gets picked at every day over every different aspect of it.


MATTHEWS:  David, he sounds like he's sitting on a corner at some little local, I don't know, Cracker Barrel, you know, chewing the tobacco and acting like he's not the Senate leader.  He talks with that hokey-pokey way of talking of his like I'm not really involved in running this government, like I have no responsibilities for the law.

FRUM:  Well, Mitch McConnell is a simple country lawyer with charming ideas.

MATTHEWS:  That's the game he's playing right there.

FRUM:  (INAUDIBLE) with sophisticated people.


FRUM:  But one of the reasons what the President said was so important, as well has been so disturbing, is why did Mueller not charge President Trump or not suggest the charges were appropriate?  And he said, look, we can see the Russians committing these criminal acts and we can see the Trump campaign welcoming it.  We could never find the evidence to connect the dots.

And especially at the Trump Tower meeting, we could never be sure that Don Trump Jr. was a sophisticated enough to player to have the mental state for us to call him guilty.  Maybe he didn't know what was going on.  That was Mueller's point, is that we cannot -- we did not know what was in his mind.  And it's the same thing about the meeting between Manafort and his friends in Russia.

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  What about an alternative assumption that's RICO a situation?  He's running a criminal activity without doing everything himself.

FRUM:  Well, that's why the statement was so important.  Because Donald Trump just answered the question about state of mind.  The question, did you have the intention?  And he said, would you do it?  One of the ways to know if you have guilty intentions, you know, I had no idea, officer, that was a 30-mile -- that was a school zone, I should drive at 15.  So if you say to officer, well, would you do it now that I've told you it's a school zone?  How do you -- oh, intend to go 55 again.  Thank you, handcuffs on.

MATTHEWS:  And, Natasha, you reported on this.  This is, I believe I said the other night, the reason why his lawyers were smart enough not to let him testify.

BERTRAND:  I think that's exactly right, yes, because he would say something like this or he would walk back.

MATTHEWS:  Admit motive?

BERTRAND:  Right.  And I think now he realizes that he made a mistake.  I think his advisers are telling him, you need to clean this up.  That's why we saw the Fox and Friends interview, and that's why we see him kind of still trying to play defense here.  But --

MATTHEWS:  I love the way that Steve does the approving dad thing with the head when he's saying that.  I would never do that.  I would call the FBI, and here's (INAUDIBLE) the United States.  Good for you.

BERTRAND:  Right.  One of the things that makes no sense though about this new talking point about, oh, they're just trying to re-litigate 2016, this has nothing to do with 2016.  This has to do with 2020, the President that he would accept foreign help in 2020.  So it's not a matter of re- litigating 2016.  It's about what David before.

MATTHEWS:  Ambassador, do you think Vladimir Putin heard that when he said the other night that he would take dirt, that he has no problem with it?  What do you think?  How quickly do you think the associates of the Kremlin leader got that news to him the other night?

MCFAUL:  Of course.  Because, remember, when they are going to offer information, they are also trying to gather information, they're running counterintelligence operations, seeking agents, but they are not the only ones.  That's the other thing when I listen to those comments.  Why does the President always assume that all foreign agents around the world are going to be on his side in 2020?  And so he's opened up the invitation for all kinds of people to be involved.  That is not in America's national security interest.

And I'm glad he's walking it back, that we should give him credit for that, but I think what we saw is what he really believes.  He was being honest in his preferences when he was speaking the other day.

MATTHEWS:  And just as a little thank you note to the Speaker of the House and others who have been pushing this case, he called her a fascist today.  That was really nice of him.

Anyway, thank you, Mr. Ambassador, Michael McFaul, Natasha Betrand for your great reporting on this very segment (ph), David Frum for your thinking.

Coming up, fact check Friday.  President Trump says he never suggested firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, never did it no matter what his lawyers said.  When asked about his refusal to answer questions about obstruction, he said I didn't do nothing.

Plus, check your brackets.  It's like March madness coming up in June.  Look at the candidates.  The lineups are now set.  We know which night, which person are going to shoot spit balls at the big shots, the single- digit people, the 1 percenters, they're going for the double-digit people.  Watch that night, both nights.  We're going to look at all the key matchups coming and who might be a breakout candidate.  You know, somebody is going to win this thing.

Plus, why did Ohio flip from Ohio to Trump, and now is it now firmly Trump country? Maybe.  But we're heading to Dayton, Ohio this Monday for a special, The Deciders program, where we're going to talk to the voters, republicans and democrats.  A preview of the The Deciders is coming up in a moment.  Stay with us.



The President continued to wage a disinformation campaign this week, all week, in fact, in an effort to mischaracterize or outright deny the Special Counsel's findings.

In the second part of his interview with ABC News, the President said he never directed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to be fired, never did, never said.  A claim that contradicts his former White House Counsel, his lawyer at the White House, Don McGahn, who said he did under oath.


TRUMP:  I was never going to fire Mueller.  I never suggested firing Mueller.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  That's what he says.

TRUMP:  I don't care what he says.  It doesn't matter.  That was to show everyone what a good counsel he was.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Why would Don McGahn lie -- why would lie under oath?

TRUMP:  Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer or, or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen, including you, including the media that Robert Mueller was conflicted.  Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  And has to go?

TRUMP:  I didn't say that.


MATTHEWS:  In denying that he tried to fire Mueller, Trump has asked the American people to take his word over the findings of the Special Counsel's report, which stated that, quote, the President called McGahn and directed him to have the Special Counsel removed.  That's pretty clear.

Moreover, Trump is asking us to believe, instead of Mcgahn, a seasoned lawyer who testified to Mueller under penalty of perjury.  As I said, he spoke under penalty of perjury.  The President is just wistfully saying, well, I may have said there was a conflict there, trying to find a little piece of truth there.

Tonight, a person close to McGahn dismissed the President's comments saying -- telling NBC News, in fact, it's just fantasyland.

In contrast with McGahn, the President refused to testify, of course, under oath despite promising to do so because his lawyers reportedly believe he would perjure himself, smart guys.

Here's how Trump reacted when George Stephanopoulos pressed him about that decision.

Here's how Trump reacted when George Stephanopoulos pressed him about that decision. 


STEPHANOPOULOS:  If you answer these questions to me now, why not answer them to Robert Mueller under oath? 

TRUMP:  Because they were looking to get us for lies for slight misstatements. 

STEPHANOPOULOS:  You didn't answer questions on obstruction. 

TRUMP:  No, wait a minute, wait a minute.  I did answer questions.  I answered them in writing.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Not on obstruction.

TRUMP:  I don't know about those -- I don't know.  I answered a lot of questions.  They gave me questions.  I answered them in writing.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Not on obstruction. 

TRUMP:  Look, George, you're being a little wise guy, OK, which is typical for you.  Just so you understand, very simple.  It's very simple.  There was no crime. 


MATTHEWS:  Little wise guy.  He never stops.

Again, the president's misrepresenting what happened.  He did not answer any written questions on obstruction of justice.  Fact. 

And all this comes from a president who, according to "The Washington Post," has made over 10,000 false or misleading claims since taking office.  That's a lot. 

I'm joined right now by Anita Kumar, White House correspondent for Politico, Glenn Kirschner, former federal prosecutor, Eugene Robinson, a columnist for "The Washington Post."

Gene, you write about everything wisely. 


MATTHEWS:  Explain why the Trump -- the Trump -- he is sort of the Trump -- he goes to George Stephanopoulos.  He gives him this tremendous, wide-open interview thing, for whatever reason.


MATTHEWS:  To show off he's president, I think, is really what he was up to.  He calls him little.


MATTHEWS:  He says he's a wise guy, which is sort of an ethnic slur in all kinds of ways.  A little wise -- he's a mobster, he's calling him.

ROBINSON:  You're not making stuff up.

MATTHEWS:  And all George is quoting is the president's own lawyer, who the president says -- it's hard to believe he is president -- the president says he told the truth because he wants to look like a good lawyer. 

Well, first of all, he's violating confidence with his client, the president.  He's not gaining any points in this.  He is just telling the truth.


Right, because he's under over oath, and if he lies, he could go to jail.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Good point.


MATTHEWS:  He doesn't -- Trump doesn't understand that.

ROBINSON:  He can get disbarred and also some bad stuff can happen to him.

  So the president did not put himself in that position.  He calls George Stephanopoulos a little wise guy because he points that out, and also points out just the fact that the president did not answer questions about obstruction of justice.  He just didn't. 

And, somehow, Trump argues against just the fact.  He just simply did not.  It's ridiculous.

MATTHEWS:  Glenn, your thoughts here.  I have to ask you this, because you have been through a lot of this with me.

And I think -- I think the 40-some percent -- and it's still there, about 40 to 45, somewhere in that range -- people do not care how often he lies.

GLENN KIRSCHNER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  But what might change that is if the public can see a Don McGahn testify and say, listen, America, let me tell you what your president did.

MATTHEWS:  Hope springs eternal.

KIRSCHNER:  Hope springs eternal.  Half -- the glass is always half-full. 


KIRSCHNER:  Let me tell you what the president did.  He told me to fire the special counsel.  And when he said no, because that might be obstruction of justice, I told him to lie about it and create a false document. 

I don't know what's going through McGahn's head.  But when the president said, McGahn lied to special counsel, he's not just calling him a liar.  He's calling him a felon.  And the question becomes, what's McGahn going to do?

I think, Chris, McGahn might be waiting for -- if we look through the lens of rational human behavior, maybe what he's waiting for is for a judge to say, all of these privileges that the administration is asserting, they're nonsense.  Mr. McGahn, you're free to testify. 

That may be what he's waiting for.

MATTHEWS:  Anita, somewhere, we're waiting for truth. 

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO:  Yes, but, I mean, he acts like -- the president acts like he spoke for five minutes.  He testified, talked to them for 30 hours. 

So, presumably, they asked that question repeatedly.  Not only that, but Robert Mueller and his investigators would have talked to other people who would have gotten other corroborating information.  It's not just his word against his, right?  So there's a bit more there.

And remember how upset President Trump was when the Mueller report came out, right, that he was -- the one person he was very upset with was Don McGahn. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, because he never thought he would tell the truth, probably. 

KUMAR:  I don't think he thought he would sit down for 30 hours.

MATTHEWS:  Because he didn't understand...


MATTHEWS:  He doesn't understand people that tell the truth.  I think that's unfathomable for him.

Anyway, the last time Trump suggested McGahn had lied to the special counsel, in May, last month, he then refused to say whether he thought his former White House counsel should be charged with perjury. 


QUESTION:  Is there a situation that you could see where Don McGahn is charged with perjury?  You seem to be contradicting what he is saying?

TRUMP:  Well, I don't want to talk about that now.  We have other things that we're talking about, but I will respond to that question at a later date. 


MATTHEWS:  What do we make of fantasyland?  McGahn -- obviously, McGahn wants to protect himself on this executive privilege litigation, but he lets out the word clearly it was OK. 

But the president's denial is fantasyland. 

KIRSCHNER:  It is fantasyland. 

And I can't believe that anybody who watches this would believe, as Anita said, that Don McGahn went in and for 30 hours lied to falsely incriminate the president of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Who is a young lawyer whose entire bar status is at stake here.


And it makes no sense, because Trump calls George Stephanopoulos, hey, you're a little wise guy.  Well, I will tell you, let me use another phrase from criminal practice.  McGahn gave up Trump hard in those 30 hours.

And as soon as the American people get to see that firsthand, I think it could be a turning point. 

KUMAR:  I don't know if they're going to get to see that, right?

KIRSCHNER:  I think they will once a judge clears him to testify.

Now, look, McGahn can't take it upon himself to say, I know the administration has said that these privileges apply, I'm going to decide they don't, and I'm going to walk into Congress.


KIRSCHNER:  He's waiting for a judge to do that.

MATTHEWS:  Point of law here. 

Anita, I thought executive privilege met that President Nixon in the old days talking to Kissinger about China or something.  It really meant something.  It's national security stuff. 

KUMAR:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  It wasn't criminal behavior.  It wasn't about this stuff. 

KUMAR:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And, by the way, what's to stop another person who no longer works in the White House from exercising their First Amendment?  They didn't do nondisclosure agreements. 

KUMAR:  Well, some of these people don't have to listen to what the administration wants, right?

Some of these things, he's claiming executive privilege.  Some of these other people, he's not.  He's just saying, don't testify, don't go to Congress and talk.  And they're saying, OK.

MATTHEWS:  What are they, dogs?

KUMAR:  Well, they're not doing it. 


KUMAR:  They can do -- they can -- they can go and do that if they want.

MATTHEWS:  Heel?  Sit?

KUMAR:  I think...


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, the president was also asked about Senator Kamala Harris' statement this week that, if elected -- I'm not sure she should have said this -- she would want the Justice Department, her Justice Department, to charge Trump with obstructing justice as a criminal. 

Here he goes.


TRUMP:  She's running for president.  She's doing horribly.  She's way down in the polls.  She says she -- I must say, Pocahontas is really cleaning her clock. 


TRUMP:  And I heard she made that statement.  And you know what?  Who wouldn't?

Probably, if I were running in her position, I would make the same statement. 


MATTHEWS:  How many slurs did he get in that sentence?


ROBINSON:  I couldn't count them.  They came so fast.

And I don't really even care.  I mean, number one, I think she shouldn't have said that.  I don't want my president making the decisions who gets prosecuted,.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Yes. 

I think Nixon once said it about Manson. 

ROBINSON:  Right, exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Didn't help.

ROBINSON:  I mean, I want the Justice Department, an independent Justice Department, making those decisions. 

However, the president's response, as usual, was crazy.  And he has to top it off by saying, well, I probably would have said that, right?


ROBINSON:  I probably would have done the same thing.  This is a guy who...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, we're all sleazy politicians.

ROBINSON:  Well, lock her up, lock her up.

KUMAR:  Everybody is doing the partisan thing, the political thing. 


MATTHEWS:  Daniel Patrick Moynihan once talked about defining deviancy downward, just everything goes down.


ROBINSON:  Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS:  It does seem like really a developing democracy, to put it bluntly, when everybody says, if I win, I will put my opponents in jail.  And if I don't win, I will say it was a rigged election. 

This is the lingua franca of Trump land.

KUMAR:  Well, I think the senator would argue that she is -- she was an attorney general, she was a prosecutor, that she knows a thing or two about the law. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

So what's that tell you? 

KUMAR:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  She should adjudicate this case?

KUMAR:  No, I'm just merely saying she has some legal perspective.  It's not like she's coming out of nowhere. 

KIRSCHNER:  But, on the one hand, I agree, don't dumb yourself down to his level. 

On the other hand, we have the Mueller report, which sets out the evidence fulfilling each and every element of obstruction of justice.  So I do think a prosecution should be in play once he leaves office.

  MATTHEWS:  Do you think it will be?

KIRSCHNER:  I think it will be, but we have to wait and see who pardons who.

MATTHEWS:  What about if he gets reelected? 

KIRSCHNER:  Well, no, then he's got four more years of being king and not being held accountable for anything.

MATTHEWS:  What about the statute of limitations?

KIRSCHNER:  The statute of limitations will run. 

I mean, we're going to have to go into court someday and fight.  We're going to have to say, listen, the statute stops, it pauses because of the DOJ policy that says you can't indict.  That may not be a winning argument, though. 


ROBINSON:  It makes sense, but it might not win.

MATTHEWS:  It makes sense logically, like you don't have to pay off your student loan if you're in the Army. 


ROBINSON:  No, if you're the one person who for that period of time cannot be prosecuted, it makes sense that the statute would be paused. 

MATTHEWS:  It does.  It makes logical...

ROBINSON:  However, I agree with you.  I don't know if that would...


MATTHEWS:  I think old cases get tough. 

Anyway, thank you, Anita Kumar, Glenn Kirschner, Eugene Robinson.

Gene, you know so much.

Up next:  The lineup is now set for the first Democratic debate coming up very soon, two weeks.  How's it going to play out?  I want to know what sparks are going to fly.  My bet, the 1 percenters who just made this cut are going after the double-digit people.  And you're going to see that on television. 

I'm curious, by the way, which -- who's going to after who.  I have some theories.

We will be right back.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With 12 days to go for the first 2020 Democratic debate, the stages are officially set.  Today, NBC News announced the lineup of candidates who will go head to head and on which nights you can see the fireworks. 

The first night, Wednesday, June 26, about two weeks from now, you will see Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Bill de Blasio, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O'Rourke, Tim Ryan, and Elizabeth Warren, Elizabeth Warren being the star, big name on that panel in terms of the numbers so far. 

The second night, Thursday, June 27, will feature Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, John Hickenlooper, Bernie Sanders, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson, and Andrew Yang.

And where the candidates will stand on stage each night has not yet been announced.  And that's going to be important. 

The matchups were determined by a random drawing at NBC News headquarters in New York at 30 Rock.  The candidates were divided into two groups, those polling above or below 2 percent, and then a random draw pulled from each group to recreate the two groups of 10. 

You can watch both nights of debate, of course, June 26 and 27, live from Miami right here on MSNBC or NBC News or Telemundo. 

And we may be in for some dramatic confrontations between candidates those nights, who are already taking shots at each other.  We will take you through the possible confrontations, the preliminaries, the intramurals that I expect will be coming.  Everybody wants to move up, except the people at the top, who want to keep them from doing it. 

That's coming up next. 



We now know who will face off on that first two night -- in fact, both nights of those debates, June 26 and 27, in Miami this month, a couple weeks from now.

On each of those two nights, I predict we're going to see candidates square off with more of the swipes they have already been taken at each other out on the trail.

On the first night, will -- well, let's ask our panelists here. 

Will Elizabeth Warren, who said she's done with one set of rules for Democrats and Republicans, spar with fellow Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has argued that, when it comes to legislation, there has to be some compromise?

On the second night, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has already gone head to head with Bernie Sanders, Hickenlooper going after him for his socialism.  That same night will feature Pete Buttigieg, who said Democrats can't turn back the clock to the '90s, obviously going after Joe Biden, who is going to be sitting right near him.

For more, I'm joined by Ginger Gibson, political correspondent for Reuters, and Adrienne Elrod, former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. 

Let me go with -- let me go with Ginger on this. 

Who do you think is going to be the one to take the first shot at somebody else? 

GINGER GIBSON, REUTERS:  I think that it's going to happen on the second night.  I think the first night is probably going to be very light on swings, while that second night with Biden on the stage, with Bernie Sanders and Hickenlooper, as you already pointed out on the stage, these are some folks who have already started to receive some incoming, and are going to get even more.

Also, we can think back to Bernie's first debate in the 2016 election.  He did not take any swings at Hillary Clinton in that debate.  He held off into the subsequent debates.  I would be surprised if he gets through this full debate without taking a swipe at Joe Biden.

MATTHEWS:  Well, one of the great things about politics is, when one person attacks another, when A attacks B, C gains.  Isn't that beautiful?  You shoot at the other guy, you pay for being nasty.


MATTHEWS:  The person you hit gets hurt.

ELROD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But then somebody else benefits.  I just love these weird situations, these ricochets.

ELROD:  Well, that's what's so fascinating. 

And I think we have all been waiting for bated breath to know who was going to make the debate stage and then, of course, to know who's going to be on which night.  I agree with you.  I think the first night, I don't think it's necessarily going to be tame. 

I you're going to see Elizabeth Warren try to create a very stately type of persona.  I don't think she's going to throw a lot of swings either.  I think she's going to try to look very presidential and very policy-focused. 

I do think the second night is going to be pretty wild, to put it mildly.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Mayor Pete Buttigieg will appear on stage with Kirsten Gillibrand, the first Democratic senator to call for Senator Al Franken of Minnesota to leave the U.S. Senate.  That was two years ago. 

Here's what Mayor Pete said about Franken during our HARDBALL town hall, believe it or not, just last week.  It seems like a year ago.  Here we go. 


MATTHEWS:  Al Franken, should have been pushed to resign from the U.S. Senate by the Democratic Caucus, his fellow caucus members?

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think it was his decision to make.  But I think the way that we basically held him to a higher standard than the GOP does their people has been used against us. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he should have been pushed to leave? 

BUTTIGIEG:  Again, it was his decision. 

I think that...

MATTHEWS:  But I'm not asking you about his decision.  Should the other members of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate, starting at the top, Chuck Schumer down, and the other people that pushed him to get out -- they put a lot of pressure on him to leave -- were they right or wrong? 

BUTTIGIEG:  Well, I think it's not a bad thing that we hold ourselves to a higher standard.

MATTHEWS:  I know, but were they right to do that, to push him out of the Senate?  Because they did.

BUTTIGIEG:  I would not have applied that pressure at that time before we knew more. 


MATTHEWS:  Isn't it interesting how people get to an answer? 


GIBSON:  It is.  And, you know...

MATTHEWS:  And now she, of course, the senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, who was really the leader of that -- there's so many senators.

By the way, to be fair, Kamala was for it.  Michael Bennet was for getting him out of there.  They were all very rough on that guy, because it was right in the middle of the race in Alabama, and they were worried about Doug Jones, right, and running against that character down there.

GIBSON:  And it's going to be near impossible, I think, for Buttigieg to try to go after Gillibrand or even draw any sort of distinction there, because he's already having to answer accusations that he's getting more attention because he's a white male, compared to the more experienced female candidates on the -- in the field.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do you think it's his fault that he's getting more attention? 

GIBSON:  Yes.  And it's a question.

MATTHEWS:  Because, for a while, Beto got a lot of attention.  And it really hurt him, I think, maybe.

GIBSON:  It did. 

And we will see what the light does to Buttigieg.  But, I mean, how do you answer that question, when you say, are they paying attention to me more because I'm a man?  I'm the mayor of a city.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Barney Frank was on.  I mean, this gets wild.  Barney Frank, who is a brilliant guy -- he is an openly gay guy -- he says it's because he's gay.  That makes him interesting.  I mean, that's what Barney said. 

ELROD:  Yes, look, I think there's a lot of different reasons why he's breaking out and why he's gotten so much press attention. 

He's a great messenger.  He represents a generational change in our party.  But, look, when it comes to Kirsten Gillibrand, she is desperately in need of a breakout moment.  And I think that you will see her draw a contrast with Mayor Pete on Al Franken. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the Last Chance Saloon for these candidates for the summer?  I guess the next one is in July. 

ELROD:  I think Kirsten Gillibrand, I think she will qualify for the second debate in July.  But I think she's got a really tough time qualifying for the third debate. 

And it's not just her.  There's a lot of other candidates, because, of course, on the third debate, you have got to get at least 2 percent of national polls, and you have got to raise grassroots donations and...


MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.  You're both -- let me ask you both.  You are in this business like my -- I am.

Is this a time to pick a presidential candidate that can be president, and certainly begin by beating the other guy, Trump, or is it still the sort of Baskin and Robbins era, where you go into an ice cream store, and you go, hmm, I think I'm going to try pistachio today?

ELROD:  I think it's the latter.

MATTHEWS:  Is it still like -- yes.

I get the feeling it's still like, I sort of liked Buttigieg last night, or I sort of liked Kirsten Gillibrand last night, or I like this new Tulsi Gabbard.

Or -- is it still at that era? 

GIBSON:  I was on the trail last week with Elizabeth Warren.  I was talking to in Michigan and Indiana.

I have to tell you, there is a little bit of that.  But there's also this real desire for stability and calm.  They see a chaos that they want ended.  And that's kind of vanilla, right?  Like, that's no risks, want what's going to be the calmest.

MATTHEWS:  Safety school.

GIBSON:  So it's like -- yes, it's, Warren seems great, and Buttigieg seems great. 


MATTHEWS:  But Biden is vanilla.

GIBSON:  But Biden is vanilla.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that's not -- he can own that one.  I'm not sure he likes it, but I think he can own it. 

Anyway, meanwhile, in his interview with FOX this morning, President Trump weighed in on several of his potential Democratic rivals.  Here comes the slur machine, ladies and gentlemen.  Hold your ears. 


TRUMP:  Look, everybody knows that Joe Biden does not have what it takes, OK?  He doesn't have what it takes.  Everybody knows that.

QUESTION:  What does that mean? 


TRUMP:  It means mental capacity.  It means a lot of different things. 

Now I see that Pocahontas is doing better.  I would love to run against her, frankly.  I see that Bernie Sanders is not doing well at all.  I would have, frankly, liked to have run against -- I think it's probably those three.  I don't see the other ones.  I really don't see it.

They talk about Kamala.  I don't see Kamala.  I don't see -- I think it's probably between the three of them.

QUESTION:  Mayor Pete?

QUESTION:  Right. 

TRUMP:  Mayor Pete, I don't see it all.  I think that's a joke. 


MATTHEWS:  What do you think?  Is he smart?  By the way, it's Kamala.

ELROD:  Well, I know.  Exactly.  He got her name wrong. 

Look, I mean, there's no question right now that Elizabeth Warren is on the rise, that Biden and Bernie are still the top two candidates.  So, to an extent...

MATTHEWS:  Is Elizabeth passing Bernie? 

ELROD:  I think she's going to.

MATTHEWS:  You think so?

GIBSON:  She's -- I mean, I think that the support she's building on the ground -- she's very good in a town hall, and people are taking notice. 

ELROD:  The one thing, Chris, we got to keep in mind, though, is that she's not bundling.  And I think that could possibly hurt her. 

She's not able to raise the funds that she needs to raise in larger amounts to stay in the race.  But, hopefully, the grassroots donations will come in for her.

MATTHEWS:  I hate conversations about fund-raising.  I know it goes on.  I know it's necessary.  It appalls me.  It does.

GIBSON:  She's taking a gamble, though. 


GIBSON:  She's got twice the staff of anybody else running. 


MATTHEWS:  I think the socialist tag is not helping within the Democratic Party.

I looked at the only polled group are those under 30 who are not -- who -- not at all like that title.

Anyway, Ginger Gibson, thank you, and Adrienne Elrod.

Up next, we're giving you a sneak peek at HARDBALL's coming special event "The Deciders."  We will be hearing from voters in a crucial swing state of Ohio.  Ohio, well, Republicans need it to win.  We're going to find out how that state looks right now next week. 

This is great stuff, by the way.  We're going to want to see this. 

Don't go anywhere.  Coming up. 


 MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

On Monday night -- that's coming up -- I won't be in Washington or New York or with politicians or the big shots.  Instead, I will be in Dayton, Ohio, at a special time, by the way, 10:00, this coming Monday, talking to people that matter ahead of 2020, the voters out there.  We call them the deciders. 

Dayton is in Montgomery County, Ohio, which voted for Obama twice, voted for Trump in 2016.  Also, the state did the same thing. 

NBC's Cal Perry went to Dayton ahead of us this week to talk to voters about how they're feeling two-and-a-half years into Trump's presidency. 

For some, the stronger economy is Trump's card.  It makes Trump everything -- even the president behavior doesn't matter to those people.

Let's listen. 


KITTY KLIPSTINE, OHIO VOTER:  People don't like exactly how he goes about doing it.  But he's -- that's Trump, whether you like it or not. 

But the bottom line, he's getting things done.

DREW SMITH, OHIO VOTER:  Economically, for me, it seems to be like 100 -- 100 percent better. 

MARK GORDON, OHIO VOTER:  So, if I would want a preacher up in the White House, I would have voted a preacher guy in. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, Cal also talked to a left-leaning voter who had a warning for Democrats come 2020.  Let's watch.


BILL DAVIS, OHIO VOTER:  The Democrats, I'm fed up with them because they're -- they have sold out to the corporations, just like the GOP, maybe not as bad, but bad enough, to make me vote for -- I voted for Jill Stein in the last presidential election.

And, no, I don't feel like I wasted my vote at all.  I exercised my voice of dissatisfaction with what the parties were -- were serving up.  And I don't think -- the Democrats had that election to lose, and they did.  They lost it.  And I'm afraid they're going to lose the next one too. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, Cal Perry joins us right now from Helena, Montana, where he interviewed Governor Steve Bullock today.

Cal, it is great that you do the advance work on this and also working with me come Monday night. 

What's the -- what's the mood in the country after -- let's talk about Ohio.  Let's talk about Montgomery County, Dayton, Ohio.  Are they ready to vote for Trump again? 

CAL PERRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, I mean, I think a lot of people are.  You listen to what people say. 

And I love the sort of "Deciders" that you did first in Pennsylvania, because a lot of those issues are the same in Ohio, where the bottom line is, for many people, the economic bottom line, right?  You talk to people.

We spoke to one 21-year-old who's in the asphalt business, and he said, look, I'm doubling my profits.  So, of course, I don't like how the president is acting, but my bottom line is my economic bottom line.

The other big issue we're hearing about -- same in Pennsylvania as it is in Ohio -- health care, and who will the Democratic Party run?  Who do Democrats run that can compete in these states?  You may want a more liberal candidate.  You may relate to a more liberal candidate, but in a place like Ohio, a place like Pennsylvania, moderates and how people speak to people matters. 

This is what we heard today from Governor Bullock.  He will position himself as a man who can talk to people who are outside of that sort of Beltway.  You and I have talked about this.  The Russia investigation does not rate at the dinner table in Ohio.  It just doesn't matter as much as paying for your kids' tuition or putting food on the table, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess another question that keeps leaping into my mind is, will the Democrats who participate in these debates -- watch these debates, rather, the ones who go to the primaries and caucuses, are they going to represent the larger Democratic vote?

Because a lot of moderate Democrats and other Democrats just don't participate.  But they do vote in November.

Jimmy Breslin, the columnist, used to say, those people, the ones that don't show up for these primaries and these debates, think it's patriotic to vote in November.  And they vote. 

PERRY:  And how do you balance getting through the Democratic primary with the general election, right? 

I mean, 23 candidates all going at each other on two different stages on two different nights, I mean, that's going to be really nasty.  We saw the way that the Republicans did this to their party two years ago during the presidential election. 

So when you look at these debates, and you look at how people are jockeying around, who is going to position themselves in a general election to compete with Donald Trump in these places, like Pennsylvania, in Ohio, where we're going to be on Monday night, when you're talking to voters about jobs and about health care, and less about how Donald Trump is behaving in public or how he behaves on these foreign trips?

Getting through that Democratic primary, positioning yourself as somebody who can win in a general, but still winning in that primary, is going to be incredibly tricky.  And you know better than anybody, Chris, the way that these candidates position themselves in the next few weeks is going to matter a great deal. 

MATTHEWS:  Help me with this disconnect.  The national polls show that people recognize a stronger economy, but don't credit Trump for it, and yet I sense from what you have interviewed with people they do connect the two. 

PERRY:  They connect with the salesman job that he provides. 

So he comes to your hometown, and he says, look at those new jobs, employers can't find enough employees.  What he's leaving out there is that, of course, these employers are not paying a living wage; $10 an hour is not enough to support your family.  You have to pick up a second or third job. 

But he comes to these towns.  He spends time in them.  That is key.  Every Democrat we talked to the Midwest says, Hillary should have done a better job about banging on doors and getting out the vote and having a ground game, and she didn't do a good enough job.  And we have to fix that in the future, right?

But Donald Trump comes to your hometown, and he says, I understand the issue that's important to you, and the Democratic Party does not.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, that's so important.  We're going to talk about that.

You and I are going to get the people to talk about that, the sense of being overlooked, of being discarded in these small, middle-sized cities...

PERRY:  Yes, sir.

MATTHEWS:  ... because, unfortunately, the Hillary campaign did not make these visits ahead of the election the way Trump did.  It's as simple as, well, who cares, who shows up.

Thank you so much, Cal Perry. 

We will see you on Monday in Dayton.  We will see you on Monday. 

And, by the way, don't miss "The Deciders."  That's Monday night at 10:00 p.m. this week.  We're not going to be on at 7:00 Eastern, but 10:00. 

And up next, by the way, Trump in the backseat with George Stephanopoulos, I'm overwhelmed by that scene of those two guys crowded together in that backseat.  And it reminded me of maybe the most famous movie scene -- or one of the most famous scenes ever. 

We will get to that in just a minute.  Stay with us. 


MATTHEWS:  Being an avid movie guy, I have noticed moments in politics that remind me of what I once saw on film. 

And when I watched that interview with President Trump and what he did with George Stephanopoulos, with Trump trying to deny that his own polls were showing him losing key states, and George insisting on the cruel reality, I couldn't stop thinking of that other famous backseat scene in "On the Waterfront," with Rod Steiger trying to deny to his brother, played by Marlon Brando, that he had sold him out.


MARLON BRANDO, ACTOR:  I could have had class.  I could have been a contender.  I could have been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. 

It was you, Charley. 



MATTHEWS:  In both cases, two guys arguing in a backseat, but one truth sitting between them.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.