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CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Tanks to Trump, seriously. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. We`re going to have tanks. With those words, President Trump has previewed his plans for this year`s 4th of July. The President was inspired by what he saw in France`s Bastille Day two years ago. But the President`s vision bears a closer resemblance to the chest-thumping displays put on by authoritarian regimes like China.
For his part, Vladimir Putin of Russia has kept up the Soviet tradition of holding parades in Moscow`s Red Square to show off his country`s military. They`re the same kind of theatrics that his Soviet predecessors used as propaganda during the Cold War, all choreographed to project military might, even as they fought a losing battle with the world of ideas.
And as those dictators would observe the proceedings while flanked by their top military brass, President Trump now intends to do the same. According to The New York Times, Mr. Trump has requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all of them, from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines stand next to him as aircraft from each of their services fly overhead.
And, by the way, as we speak, the Pentagon is delivering on Trump`s plan to showcase the country`s military hardware, tanks and other combat vehicles arrived in Washington, D.C. by train last night but was unclear how they`ll be transported to the National Mall. That`s because each of these vehicles weighs more than 60 tons, according to Times, and Washington`s roads and bridges may not be sturdy enough to support their weight.
Here is the President, however, described his plans yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: It`s a salute to America, and I`m going to be here, and I`m going to say a few words, and we`re going have planes going overhead, the best fighter jets in the world, and other planes too. And we`re going to have some tanks stationed outside. We`ve got to be pretty careful with the tanks because the roads have a tendency not to like to carry heavy tanks, so we have to put them in certain areas.
And we have some incredible equipment, military equipment on display, brand new, and we`re very proud of it. You know, we`re making a lot of new tanks right now. We`re building a lot of new tanks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, construction is already under way at the site where the President plans to deliver his remarks in front of the Lincoln Memorial. And while the event has been dubbed a salute to America, the festivities appear to center around Trump himself.
The Washington Post reports that, traditionally, major gatherings on the mall have featured a designated event producer. But in this case, the producer is the President himself.
NBC News also reports that the Republican National Committee is giving out VIP tickets, some of which went to top donors that included perks such as better standing area and even seating.
I`m joined right now by Yamiche Alcindor, White House Correspondent at the PBS NewsHour. Jeremy Bash is former Chief of Staff at the Department of Defense. And Charlie Sykes is Editor-in-Chief at The Bulwark.
Charlie, I see you grimacing appropriately, this is not what we normally think as a democratic display of our values, but rather the values of power, of might making right, of dictatorships in so many cases historically.
CHARLIE SYKES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE BULWARK: Well, that`s true, but I`m also struck by just the tacky narcissism of it and how thoroughly annoying it is that the President of the United States needs to take over what was - - it was really one of my favorite holidays where we celebrated being American. It was not a partisan event. It was not a political event. It with us not about one-man. And yet Donald Trump cannot resist making everything about himself.
Yes, the symbolism is disturbing, but I think it`s just the obnoxiousness of politicizing and militarizing this really -- one of our nicer, more unified national holidays.
MATTHEWS: Do you think they`ll play hail to the chief when he arrives?
SYKES: Probably, sure. I mean, they will stage, manage this. Sure. I mean, look, this is like a -- this is like a Trump re-election kickoff. Here is a man who wants to make his campaign, his image all about patriotism. He is the guy that hugs the flag. He is the guy that wants all of the trappings of American might. Remember, make America great again.
But the way in which he was clearly influenced by his foreign dictator buddies is, I think, more of a sign of his just neediness and his insecurity. And there is a certain silliness about this as well as obnoxiousness.
MATTHEWS: Let`s try to figure that out. Yamiche, dictators, like the Head of the Soviet Union, the Head of the Soviet Union Political Party, the communists, would do it, I assume, to keep the republics in line, all the parts of the Soviet Union empire in line, by showing how much power Moscow had, any time they needed to send them to the East Bloc, to keep Hungary under control, to keep Poland under control. They wanted to show them the tanks they had. They had use for those tanks. Who is Trump talking to with this display of military power? Who is he talking to?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: Even though the White House says this isn`t a political event, it sounds like that he is talking to are his base and the people who he wants to support him again. This is an idea that -- this is, of course, inherently political. The President constantly is making political conversations, making political statements. He obviously kicked off his campaign during the inaugural address. So it`s this person that I think he`s really trying to show, look, at all the mighty things I have.
I think when you`re talking about yesterday, when he was talking about his comments and the tanks, he said, well, remember, before I got elected, people wanted to close down the tank factories in Ohio. I am the one who kept them open. So those are inherently political decision, saying, if I wasn`t President, we might not have all these tanks.
MATTHEWS: You know, the 4th of July is about -- well, Gary Wills deserves the credit for it, because he wrote the author about how Lincoln, the Gettysburg address, brought us back through his words at Gettysburg to the declaration and the 4th of July, not to the constitution but to the conversation we had as a country about democracy, and all men are created equal, and the very values of our country. That was the 4th -- it`s not about defeating the Brits. It was about declaring our values on the 4th of July. That`s what we did in Philadelphia. What`s this got to do with it? What would have big tanks got to do with it?
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF AT CIA AND DOD: Nothing. And this is nauseating, Chris, because this is not just obnoxious tackiness, this is actually dangerous. Because it`s fundamentally un-American, it politicizes a non-partisan celebration of we, the people, of our declaration of independence.
And it also misunderstands the fundamental nature of our military might. Our military is not strong because of the weight of our armor or because of the speed of our fighter jets. It`s because of the professionalism and skill of our service members who sacrifice everything for our freedom. That`s what we should be honoring on July 4th, not displace of military might.
MATTHEWS: Okay. Let`s talk about the message. You see all this on -- you`re in Greece. You`re in Poland. You`re in Angola. You`re in anywhere in the world. You`re in Thailand. When you see this, because it will probably make the rounds, this big show of force, what do they say to each other when they watch it?
BASH: I think they say, America has never done this before. Something must be significantly wrong. Why are they trying to overcompensate for, what, some inherent weakness, their inability to affect world events by showing this military might? Clearly, Donald Trump wants to transmit a message of his strength because he perceives himself as being seen as weak around the world, which he is.
ALCINDOR: And he also -- but he did run on this idea that he didn`t want to send working class men and women into war, this idea that he wasn`t going to be hawkish. He painted Hillary Clinton as the person who was going to send your children off to some country that you wouldn`t even know about it.
So what you have, I think, is the President both wanting to show military might while also still capturing this idea that he is not going to send anyone to war. And that`s kind of why, I think, in some ways, it`s a political decision, because he is saying, I`m the law and order president. I`m the person who is going to celebrate our military. But remember, listen carefully, I`m going to be very careful about how I use this military might.
MATTHEWS: Well, Kim Jong-un has been doing this stuff for years. His grandparents, his father did it too. It didn`t impress the rest of the world. We knew it was lousy country that had done nothing right. Their people were starving and their leaders were living well.
Anyway, the President Tweeted, the Pentagon, our great military leaders are thrilled to be doing this and showing to the American people among other things the strongest and most advanced military anywhere in the world. However, The New York Times reports the top military officials have expressed deep concern about letting the armed forces be used by the President to advance a political agenda. They have long been reluctant to parade tanks, missiles and other weapons through the nation`s capital like the authoritarian leaders of North Korea and China.
Charlie, let me ask about military morale in this. I don`t know what it`s like. They must all be talking in the bunk houses and whatever in the barracks, what is this about? And a lot of them will have to show up on the 4th of July to be part of this exhibition.
SYKES: Yes. My understanding is that most people in the military hate being used as props. They don`t like parades. I mean, it`s one thing to honor the military. It`s another thing to sort of use them as -- for staging for the President. But, I mean, there is no question about it. This is a president who has strong man envy and has this mixed feeling about the military. And Yamiche is absolutely right. You know, he keeps promising not to actually use them but he loves this flexing of the muscle.
And you asked how does the rest of the world look at this? Look, they already knew that America was strong. We didn`t have to show them our fighter planes or our tanks. They know who we are. What I think that they want to know is America is already great, but it is good? Is it stable? Is it reliable? And Donald Trump with his out of control me, me, me narcissism is not reassuring in that respect.
MATTHEWS: Well, here is what Trump Adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters when asked why the Republican National Committee is giving out tickets to a supposedly non-partisan event that`s otherwise open to the general public.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Why is the Republican National Committee giving out tickets to supporters of the President? Why aren`t those going to members of Congress?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: This is a public event. It`s open to the public. The public is welcome to come and celebrate our great country, the greatest democracy, the constitution, all the amendments, not just the First Amendment that seems to interest you only, the Second Amendment, all the others, but, really, just the birth of this country, the greatest democracy that ever lived. I`m not going to allow you to politicize it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, she didn`t answer the question.
ALCINDOR: No, she did not.
MATTHEWS: Why are they selling VIP tickets to the donor class of the Republican Party if this is a national celebration?
ALCINDOR: She didn`t answer the question. And we know from my reporting and other reporting, the RNC has meshed with the Trump campaign. They are now functioning as one big brain, trying to get President Trump re-elected. There is really no way to say why is the RNC giving out these VIP tickets, which are going to be donors to the party?
MATTHEWS: That`s why they`re giving them. Why are they giving them to their fat cats?
ALCINDOR: Obviously, it`s because -- in some ways, it`s because they want people to be rewarded for supporting President Trump, which is inherently political, which is why I think you don`t see a defense from the White House on this.
MATTHEWS: Well, they`re fluffing their big contributors, obviously. It will be an extra perk, give me another $100,000.
BASH: The reason is because they have no shame. They have no shame in actually undermining something sacred in our country, which is our celebration of our independence. But what also galls me and I think probably galls other people in the Pentagon is that this is faux militarism. Because, actually, when it counts, when it comes to conducting joint exercise on the Korean Peninsula, Donald Trump unilaterally, without consulting the Secretary of Defense or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs actually yanked away those military exercises. With respect to the greatest military alliance we have in the world, the NATO alliance, Donald Trump has undermined it at every turn. So this is complete false support for the military.
MATTHEWS: Well, while it`s unclear how much the event could cost, it could cost a hell of a lot, The Washington Post reports that the cost of a military parade Trump had planned for last year was about $92 million. However, that parade was scuttled after the potential costs became public.
There are going to be problems, Charlie. There is going to be problems with the Washington infrastructure. There are tunnels all through this city we`re on right now. There are trains running beneath us. We have a sort of vacuum under the Lincoln Memorial of land down there. There is an opening down there. The land can shift. There`re all kinds of questions when they built the African-American here about the water table underneath. You run 60-ton tanks across that, we don`t know what`s going to happen.
SYKES: And none of it matters to Donald Trump. He just wants his party. He wants it to be focused on himself, because, what, July 4th was not good enough before Donald Trump made it about himself. So all the questions you`re asking, I`m sure, have been raised throughout the government, and at some point all of the bureaucracy from the top down or to this right below Donald Trump down, he`s like, this is not the mountain to die in (ph). He wants his parade. We`re going have to give him his parade. Whatever the damage is, it doesn`t matter. He doesn`t care.
MATTHEWS: Well, I just want to have everybody`s thoughts because it seems to me that the declaration of independence is really about those amazing words, all men are created equal, which, of course, translates today to all people are created equal. And that was the great gold standard that set us off in the right direction in terms of the country with our flaws. It was at least we started off with a goal. We started off with an ideal. And this day the declaration of independence, the 4th of July is about that ideal and trying to live up to it.
And I -- does anybody have a final thought? I just think this is -- the trouble is like saluting. Reagan started that. Civilian leaders shouldn`t have to salute take military leaders. They take orders from the civilians. That`s how our government works. Reagan started doing that in Hollywood- style, saluting, a very nice salute he earned in Hollywood. And now, all the Presidents ever since then have been saluting in the military. Why are they saluting? They`re civilian leaders, but not in the ranks. They`re not in the chain of command. They`re the boss because they were elected, not because they worked their way up the military. Your thoughts. You were there.
BASH: Actually, as I`ve seen it, senior military officials salutes the President, salute the Commander-in-Chief.
MATTHEWS: He returns salute.
BASH: He returns the salute.
BASH: Because he`s the civilian Commander-in-Chief. I think that`s okay. That doesn`t bother me. And the blue angels don`t bother me. What bothers me are tanks in the streets of Washington, selling tickets to the Republican National Committee and making the entire party about faux militarism. That`s the Donald Trump --
MATTHEWS: Well, my point is that Donald Trump is going to start a standard here, a precedent. Help me here, Charlie. I think it`s a precedent. The next democratic elected president probably will be a democrat in 2020 or 2024. He`ll come in there and he or she will have to do this where everybody will say, oh, you moved the Winston Churchill bust. What`s the matter with you? You don`t want to be celebrating our republic`s foundings? You don`t want to be a good patriot? You know how it`s going to sell. This is the start of something awful. Your thoughts, Charlie.
SYKES: So I actually don`t think it`s going to be a precedent because I think we will look back on it as one of those embarrassments of the Trump years. But I think Jeremy put his finger on what this really shows is that, you know, at bottom, Donald Trump does not understand the idea of America. He does not understand the values and principles that we`re supposed to be celebrating on July 4th. It should be about that spirit of the declaration of independence, a document that I am absolutely certain that Donald Trump has never read once.
MATTHEWS: And you know who knows what our values are? Putin. And he is the one trying to kill them, because he said liberal democracy is dying. And I think that Trump didn`t have any idea what he was talking about, which gives you a sense of who is the intellectual leader in that duet.
Anyway, thank you, Yamiche Alcindor, Jeremy Bash and Charlie Sykes.
Coming up, democratic lawmakers came over with a tour at border camps with horror stories about the conditions down there facing the migrants. It`s a situation the Homeland Security Inspector General is calling, listen to this, we`re going to know this later, a ticking time bomb, he called it. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We came today to say we will shut this down if we have to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And it`s a whole new 2020 ball game for the democrats out there. Two major polls now show Joe Biden`s huge lead is melting like an ice cream cone in summer. And Senator Kamala Harris is getting the biggest debate bounce by far.
Plus, with the television ratings for last week`s television debates tell me about republican voters. Were they window-shopping for an alternative to Trump? A lot of them were watching. Much ahead. Stay with us.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
There were more expressions of outrage today as a congressional delegation toured the nation`s largest unaccompanied minor detention facility down in Homestead, Florida. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to say something.
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Taxpayers are paying $775 per day per child for people to be held in these situations.
REP. KATHERINE CLARK (D-MA): What is it going to take to comply with the law, have these children reunited with their sponsors, their family members within the 20 days?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Yesterday, a separate delegation toured two facilities in Texas, and say they heard horrifying stories.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): When we went into the cell, it was -- it was clear that the water was not running. There was a toilet, but there was no running water for people to drink.
In fact, one of the women said that she was told by an agent to drink water out of the toilet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: NBC News was not present and could not verify that particular allegation.
But, today, the Homeland Security Office of the inspector general issued a new management alert, flagging dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults at Border Patrol facilities in the Rio Grande Valley.
The inspector general`s office released these images showing the overcrowded conditions and noted that -- quote -- "Senior managers at several facilities raised security concerns about their agents and detainees. One called the situation a ticking time bomb."
The alert also mentioned that 31 percent of children held in custody in the region have been held longer than the 72 hours permitted by law and had no access to showers.
The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, has invited the acting secretaries of DHS and Customs and Border Patrol to testify about the separation and treatment of migrant children and allegations of overcrowding. They were first invited last week, but neither has confirmed plans to attend the hearings.
For more, I`m joined by U.S. Congressman Marc Veasey, who joined the delegation in Texas, and Clara Long, Human Rights Watch deputy Washington director.
Congressman, thank you for joining us.
And, you know, what everybody watching would benefit from is just a really good description of what you saw as an eyewitness down there.
REP. MARC VEASEY (D-TX): Well, what we saw was horrible, particularly when we talked with some of the detainees that were in the holding cells at the first facility that we visited, where we were told that they were -- if they asked for a drink of water, that the guards told them to drink out of the toilet, that they had gone days without taking showers.
And, of course, when you take those tours, you have to give 48 hours` notice, as a member of Congress, before you can take the tour. And, of course, they try to do everything they can to clean the facility up.
So much -- much of the space at the facilities that we visited were empty, particularly like the outdoor sleeping areas and the outdoor holding areas in the heat. They were completely empty.
But I believe everything that those -- the migrants told us while we were there, just based on the experience that we had with some of the personnel there with Customs. We told -- we told them that it was not a good idea for us, for instance, to go out and have a press conference with all of those hecklers nearby.
And they were just like, no, it wouldn`t be fair if we -- if we move them away. And, of course, they were out there screaming and yelling and what have you. And they did absolutely nothing to help the situation whatsoever.
And you would think that, after finding out that there was a Facebook page where people were making racist, misogynistic comments, that they would do everything possible to make it look like that they had the safety of the American public at the -- at the front.
And they absolutely, in my opinion, did not. And based on what I saw and read on those Facebook pages I was in the ProPublica article, I 100 percent think that those migrants were telling us the complete truth about their treatment in these facilities, because it goes hand in hand.
MATTHEWS: Clara, let me ask you about the cases.
I think it may be one incident of this Border Patrol person saying go drink the water from the toilet. Now, is that literal? I heard it was the same sort of tank of water that had both a faucet at the top to drink from, a fountain, if you will, and then the water used for the toilet.
But I don`t even understand this. Explain that -- that appliance, if you will, where people were asked to go drink from.
CLARA LONG, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Well, right.
I mean, I think the appliance is very much what you`re saying. It`s a pony wall with -- it doesn`t go up all the way to the ceiling, so there`s no privacy, no real privacy, to use the toilet in these cells, where you have dozens of people in them.
And then, based on what I have seen and heard described countless times, it`s a toilet with a tap on top of it. So the water actually comes up to the back of the toilet.
Now, the water doesn`t necessarily have contact, to be fair, with the toilet water, but a lot of people find that...
MATTHEWS: See, what I`m confused about, because life is complicated...
MATTHEWS: ... we heard the other day -- last night on the program, we reported that there were some Border Patrol people who are really so concerned about the welfare of the -- of the people they were detaining, that they have spent their own money to feed them.
And now I hear these bad apples that say, go drink out of the toilet. It just seems -- what`s going on here?
LONG: Drinking out the toilet -- asking people to drink out of that tap that comes out of the toilet is common practice across the entire border.
I was part of this team of attorneys and...
MATTHEWS: But it didn`t mean go drinking out of the toilet bowl?
LONG: It`s not drinking out of the toilet bowl.
LONG: I haven`t -- I haven`t heard an accountant out of the toilet bowl. Drinking out of the back of the toilet.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I understand.
Well, Jerry Nadler, of course, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, criticized the Trump administration today for allowing migrants to be held in these conditions.
Here he is earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): All the people who are in those detention facilities are migrants. They all claim asylum. Some of them are entitled under our law to asylum. Some are not. All are entitled to humanity, to decent treatment, to decent judicial adjudication, and not to be tortured or regarded as refuse.
All the people in the administration who have done this, who have permitted it are guilty of child abuse, which is a crime. We ought to prosecute.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Let me go to the congressman on that.
That`s strong language about prosecution of public officials. What do you make of it?
VEASEY: You know, exactly what Jerry is saying on prosecution.
I mean, I do think that, if people`s rights have been violated, and there have been criminal acts that have been committed, of course they should be prosecuted.
But I think, immediately, that there should be an investigation. And I don`t know if you heard, Chris, Elijah Cummings, who`s the chair of the Oversight Committee. He has announced that there will be hearings to look into these allegations on how migrants retreated on this Facebook page.
VEASEY: And, again, if people have crossed the line, then they absolutely do need to be prosecuted. There`s no question about that.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Clara on a couple of points.
First of all, give us the -- when you have gone through these camps, what do you see? Describe it to a person who`s never been there.
LONG: All right, so there are concrete cells, benches around the sort of outside of them, and then, as I said, these pony walls with the toilets behind.
MATTHEWS: What is a pony wall?
LONG: A pony wall is like a short wall that doesn`t go up all the way to the ceiling, so just, say, goes up to your waist or something.
And, in a lot of cases -- and you have seen those -- we have seen those pictures that the OIG released today. You will have so many people in there, that not everybody can sit or lie down at the same time.
MATTHEWS: Is what you see when you`re down there with these pictures? These pictures we`re looking at right now, that`s what you see?
LONG: Mm-hmm. Yes.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about these groups of hecklers. Who`s heckling who?
LONG: You know, you get a lot of people who I think want to make a political statement here.
MATTHEWS: Are they on the right?
LONG: On the right.
MATTHEWS: And they don`t like immigrants?
I mean, the congressman just mentioned this Facebook group. You have this -- you have 9,500 Border Patrol agents on a secret Facebook group. That`s about half of the agents the U.S. has.
MATTHEWS: And what are they saying on that?
LONG: And what they`re saying on that Facebook group are anti-immigrant statements, racist memes, joking about the deaths of children in Border Patrol stations.
I think congressional oversight, investigations are needed and overdue. On top of that, Congress needs to work to reinforce transparency and accountability in the agency itself, which has too long been allowed to continue...
MATTHEWS: Congressman Veasey, go back to something that you know about.
VEASEY: And -- and...
MATTHEWS: What did it feel like when you saw people heckling? They were heckling the migrants. They were also heckling you, who are showing an interest in their welfare.
Well, of course, the first thing that you think of is your own safety. We`re in Texas, and everybody has guns, particularly people like in the crowd that were part of the hecklers that were there wearing the MAGA hats.
And you worry about your safety, particularly when the people that are entrusted to guard you are probably members of that page. Like it was just mentioned, about half of the members of Customs and Border Patrol are members of this Facebook page.
And these are the same people that we were counting on to protect us from these people that were screaming terrible things, that were distorting people`s names, making them into slur words.
As we walked down, the local congresswoman, Veronica Escobar, they kept distorting her first name to make it derogatory. And they were just saying terrible things about everybody there, about migrants, screaming things about Planned Parenthood.
And it was -- it was a complete circus. And I just don`t think that the Border Patrol people did anything. And we asked them. We said, hey, we know that these people are going to be heckling us. We`re not going to be able to hear. We`re not trying to do anything to stomp on their First Amendment rights, but why don`t we just move them back just a little bit?
And they refused to do it.
One of the law enforcement officials even suggested, well, why don`t you just cancel the press conference? Like, that was their suggestion on dealing with this rowdy group. It was definitely the worst I have seen of any press conference I have ever been to.
MATTHEWS: Just give me a -- where exactly did all this hell break loose today? Where was it, Texas or Florida? Where was it?
VEASEY: Yesterday in Florida on the border is the -- is the heckling that we were subject to, when we were there visiting the Clint facility there.
MATTHEWS: OK. OK.
Thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Marc Veasey of Texas and Clara Long. Thank you so much.
Up next: Democrats in the House filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department today, demanding it turn over Trump`s tax returns. But the president says he will fight this one all the way to the Supreme Court.
We have got a congressman from that committee that filed that lawsuit to tell us more straight ahead.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Tonight, the White House is responding to what it`s called a sham lawsuit by House Democrats in their ongoing efforts to try to get ahold of Donald Trump`s tax returns.
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal filed a lawsuit today accusing the IRS and the Treasury Department of mounting an extraordinary attack on the authority of Congress to obtain information needed to conduct oversight of Treasury, the IRS and the tax laws on behalf of the American people.
Well, this follows repeated attempts by Democrats starting back in April to obtain six years of the president`s personal and business tax returns. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin blocked those efforts, even defying a subpoena last month, saying that the Democrats had no legislative purpose to request the president`s returns.
However, the purpose is irrelevant under the law. The U.S. tax code makes clear that -- quote -- "Upon written request, the secretary of the treasury shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request."
For more, I`m joined by Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Congressman Kildee, why does your chairman have to give reasons for getting these tax returns, when the law says the secretary of treasury shall produce them for the committee? Why do you have to have a reason?
REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): Well, he really doesn`t have to have a reason.
Congress has its authority. We can exercise that authority based on our own discretion. In this case, we do have a legislative purpose. We have two. One is oversight to make sure that the IRS is properly enforcing the law, the tax code on the president of the United States.
And then we have a legislative purpose. And that is the question as to whether or not we need to codify what has been a practice of auditing presidents when they come into office . That`s been a practice of the IRS, but it`s not -- it`s not the law.
But the real point that you make is the most important one. It is not up to the executive branch of the U.S. government to decide when there`s a legitimate legislative branch initiative. The separation of powers makes it clear. We share authority.
And that includes us having access to information to inform our decision- making process. And for have -- to have the White House call it a sham lawsuit, I guess, if there`s one thing that the White House has some expertise on, it`s shams.
MATTHEWS: So where`s this end up?
KILDEE: And the founder of Trump University ought to know something about the subject.
MATTHEWS: Well, where this end? Where`s this all end up? Because I have been hearing about subpoenas and requests for documents and for testimony. And all that seems to be going on and on.
We`re halfway through the first year of congressional control of the House, and we`re getting towards through the summer. And I`m wondering if you`re going to be able to get the president`s tax returns before the next election. Do you wonder about that?
KILDEE: That`s a really good question. I am worried about it.
And it`s going to be up to the courts to determine how quickly they will move on this. We hope they move very quickly.
But I hope that this is not missed on the American people that what we have is a president that is refusing to adhere to the law -- the law is very clear -- and is fighting Congress every step of the way to protect his unilateral authority and to diminish ours.
If people should be concerned about this, it`s partly because we should have access to the information. But more important than that is that this president seems completely unwilling to accept the fact that he was not elected emperor, he was elected chief executive in a government that has the authority divided between three branches.
He has never accepted that. He tries to diminish the authority and the integrity of the courts. And now he`s trying to diminish the authority of Congress. That`s just not how our system of government works.
MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile, in just over two weeks from now, Congressman, former special counsel Robert Mueller will testify publicly in front of Congress.
And, today, President Trump is warning Mueller to limit that testimony to what`s in his actual report. The president tweeted: "Robert Mueller is being asked to testify yet again. He said he could only stick to the report. And that is what he would and should and must do."
The president seems to be really trying to intimidate him to stick to his brief. Meanwhile, your Republican colleagues on the other side of the aisle are clearly getting together a mob attack on this guy, where they`re going to go after him for the origin of the investigation, they`re going to go after him about Strzok, that bad apple in the FBI, and his romantic relationship with somebody else there, Lisa Page, or whatever it was.
They`re going to go after all the misbehavior they can find. I`m more confident the president`s going to dig up dirt on Mueller than I am on Mueller`s ability to produce anything new. What do you think?
KILDEE: Well, he`s certainly going to do everything he can to try to ruin Mr. Mueller`s reputation, in order to diminish the conclusions that Mr. Mueller came up with.
But if the president wants Mr. Mueller simply to stick to the report, we will be happy to do that, because the president says that the report exonerates him. Mr. Mueller makes it clear that it does not exonerate him.
The president says the report says no collusion. The report does not say that at all.
So, if he wants to stick to the facts of the report and have a full and fair hearing on that, game on. But the truth of the matter is, as you said, what he`s going to attempt to do, and cynically, what the Republicans in Congress are going to do is to try to kill the messenger. They don`t like the facts in the report, so they`re going to try to besmirch the reputation of a good and decent public servant. And that`s just shameful.
MATTHEWS: That`s what I see coming, sir.
Thank you so much, Dan Kildee, member of Congress from Michigan.
Up next, some seismic shift coming into focus now in the post-debate polling due to what happened last week. It looks like we weren`t the only ones by the way that see that Kamala Harris was the breakout star of last week.
More HARDBALL after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The race for the Democratic nomination is now wide open after last week`s debates caused a seismic shift leading to what is for now a statistical tie for the lead. Brand-new polls today show that Senator Kamala Harris has officially catapulted into a serious second, and former Vice President Joe Biden has serious reason for concern.
A new Quinnipiac poll shows Biden clinging to a lead at 22 percent with Senator Harris leaping up to second place with 20 percent. Look at that. Two points apart now.
Rounding out the rest of the top tier, the other standout for the performance, Massachusetts Senator Warren still in third at 14 percent, with Bernie Sanders now fourth with 13 percent. He is fading.
That national poll comes alongside a new poll in Iowa about the caucuses there that shows trouble for the former V.P. in a critical first in the nation caucus state. The Suffolk University poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers found Biden leading with just 24 percent with Harris in second at 16 in Iowa, and Warren again in third with 13 percent. Bernie Sanders in fourth place again, down to single digits, 9 percent.
The polls made something else clear, and I really like this, the reporters, columnists and the American public all saw the same thing at last week`s debate, and that`s coming up next. Totally consistency.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, guys, you know what? America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we`re going to put food on their table.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Senator Biden clapping for her before the onslaught, before the food starts hitting him in his face.
Anyway, welcome back the HARDBALL. That was just one of Senator Kamala Harris` breakout moments at last week`s Democratic debate. Harris, along with Senator Elizabeth Warren, have seen their stocks soaring in several major polls since then, dominating their respective nights in last week`s debates. A new Quinnipiac poll out today made that clear.
When asked which candidate did the best job in the debate, 47 percent said Harris, followed by Warren, a distant, well, 17 percent. Only 6 percent said Joe Biden had the best performance. You had to wonder who they were.
For more, I`m joined by Adrienne Elrod, former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton campaign of 2016, and Ginger Gibson, political correspondent for "Reuters".
Let me go to -- Ginger first.
A couple of things, what I really liked about the results is what the main bar reporters for the major papers like Dan Balz wrote that Kamala cleaned his clock. What we all saw there in the booth and the spin room and everywhere else, and what the public saw through the polling was the exact same thing. No fake news, no disconnect from inside the Beltway, outside the Beltway, inside the bubble, outside the bubble. Everybody saw the same TV show. She won.
GINGER GIBSON, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: That`s right. They were on the same page. There was the same perception.
I think because it was such a clear moment. It`s harder to suss out some of the losers. I think Bernie is a great example of a place where everyone wasn`t sure what to make of his performance. I sort of thought he faded into the background. He didn`t have a big standout moment.
And his polls have sort of faltered a little, but not monumentally.
MATTHEWS: Didn`t you think it was replica of Bernie being Bernie? Like if there were a hall of the stage for losers that lose the elections. No, he is not a loser, but he lose elections, he would be behaving like that. That was Bernie being Bernie, the way that Larry David portrayed him.
ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN OFFICIAL: I was just going to say Larry David, Chris. With one other candidate in the race, Bernie being Bernie was fine in 2016. Rather it served him well. But on a stage with nine other candidates, and now with 25 people in the race --
MATTHEWS: You`re so smart. That`s exactly. Whenever somebody says what I`ve been thinking better than I do.
I thought it`s very hard to talk revolution when there`s nine people around you. They`re not in a revolution. How do you claim there`s a revolution going on when you got all these Andrew Yang and everybody else --
ELROD: Well, I also say the same thing he said in 2016 this time around. I think that`s not working.
GIBSON: That`s the point I want to make, is that America has evolved in the last four years. People`s perspectives have changed. Bernie Sanders sounds like 2015 Bernie Sanders. And if you`ve expected some evolution and you haven`t gotten it from him, people are scratching their heads.
MATTHEWS: Has he been stalling his launch on the left because you got Kamala much younger, talking pretty hard stuff, pretty strong progressive stuff.
You have Elizabeth that`s been out there for four years selling it, and she says it in a somewhat more subtle way. I`m not a socialist. I`m a Democrat. I believe in markets, but I want to refine them, I want structural change.
Very carefully calibrating how far left the country is willing to go. Still, Bernie is out there with the old left.
ELROD: Yes, I think so, Chris. And I also think that voters know that Bernie Sanders has been talking about the same policies essentially since he has been in public service, for the past 25, 30 years. But he actually hasn`t done anything to pass them, right?
He has talked a lot about them. But we have not seen any of these policies signed into law.
So, you`ve got Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, new senators on the scene who I think voters are looking at them saying, you know what, we may -- these ladies may actually have a chance to get these policies passed.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Biden, the clear loser. Maureen Dowd with a great column this week. She talked Sunday about how she tried to interview him and talk to him about Anita Hill and the crime bill and everything else he has had to deal with and get it over with before you have to go into the debate. In other words, soften it up a bit with a soft landing with a somewhat not predatory conversation.
Instead, he walked in, it was a predatory conversation. She went right after him with everything she had, and he had to explain himself in the toughest possible moment.
GIBSON: It was like a buzz saw that he should have seen coming. We`re talking about Biden anticipating these things that had been -- this wasn`t an attack out of left field. This was things that had been talked about the week before. I think we saw from Biden a moment of realizing that things have changed, and really not --
MATTHEWS: He was in strange territory for him.
GIBSON: Not anticipating this. And let`s be clear. Biden has a long stellar record on civil rights, but he`s got to remember he is talking to a party that doesn`t remember him, that many voters didn`t see him especially in the Democratic base didn`t see him in the United States Senate, that don`t remember working on voting rights.
MATTHEWS: He`s got a tough one, though, and it`s busing, and he is going to have to explain a position on that because we`re now talking about 30, 40 years ago, 40 years ago and a debate that he was on the conservative side.
ELROD: Yes. I also want to make this point, Chris. I mean, going back to Biden`s record, he has been serving in either the Congress or the Senate since he was 29 years old. So now because of his poor performance in the first debate, other campaigns are saying we`re going to pore through his record, and we`re going to decide which vote and which set of issues we actually want to attack him on.
So, he is going to be playing more defense unless he figures out how to rise above, make it about Trump as opposed to defending his record, because I think he can do that. I think a lot of us were expecting him to do that.
MATTHEWS: Last thought.
GIBSON: One thing I say as I talk to Democratic voters even this week, they don`t want to see a fight. They don`t want to see attacks. And there is a real risk that any of them, if you start boring in harder and harder - -
MATTHEWS: Tell them to watch "Dancing with the Stars," because they`re going to be at fights in every one of the debates now. You know that`s where it`s headed. This is not going to be a fight -- it`s not going to be a food fight. It`s going to be a real fight.
Adrienne Elrod, thank you. Ginger Gibson, great to have you both on.
Up next, the most watched Democratic debate in history last week attracted a surprising audience. I`ll talk about that audience when I come back.
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MATTHEWS: Democrats should take note of something interesting for the first Democratic presidential debate last week. Last Thursday`s encounter was the most watched Democratic presidential debate ever.
I looked at the ratings and noticed three out of four people who came over to MSNBC to watch the debates were viewers of a cable network most associated with Republicans, three quarters.
Now, there are several reasons to explain why a partisan conservative would spend two hours on a Thursday night watching Democrats duke it out. One, they`re looking for someone they can vote for besides Donald Trump. Two, they wanted to stoke their commitment to keep the Democrats out of the White House. And three, they could simply be curious about what the other side is up to.
Whatever the motive, what struck me is that these voters from Trump-land on Thursday night were intrigued enough to stick around watching Democrats for the whole two hours. And for that reason, I think it makes sense for those who see themselves as Democratic leaders to think about getting those watchers of Democratic candidates to become Democratic voters.
I`m simply noting that there are people out there searching for a political home. It makes sense for the Democrats to put out the welcome mat.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
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