ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Thanks for watching The Beat tonight. That does it for me. We`ll be back here at 6:00 P.M. tomorrow with a lot of special stuff.
But don`t go anywhere because HARDBALL with Chris Matthews is up next.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Bad company. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Tonight, Jeffrey Epstein, the shadowy hedge fund manager and multimillionaire, is behind bars in New York after the Southern District charged him with sex trafficking of minors and with conspiracy. Epstein pleaded not guilty and faces up to 45 years in jail.
Epstein`s power gave him entree to the world`s most powerful, rubbing shoulders with the Saudi Crown Prince, Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton.
More than a decade ago, he was under federal investigation in Florida for his alleged crimes involving sexual exploitation of minors until U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, now Trump`s Secretary of Labor, approved a deal allowing Epstein to plead guilty to lesser state charges of soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution. That deal concealed the full extent of Epstein`s alleged crimes.
President Trump told New York Magazine in 2002 that Epstein was, quote, a terrific guy who was, quote, a lot of fun to be with. And he`s even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it, Jeffrey enjoys his social life. That`s the President of the United States talking.
Today, Trump sought to distance himself from Epstein.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I had a falling out with him a long time ago. I don`t think I`ve spoken to him for 15 years. I wasn`t a fan. I feel very badly actually for Secretary Acosta because I`ve known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job. I feel very badly about that whole situation. But we`re going to be looking at that and looking at it very closely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the comments on the President`s first since democrats began calling for Acosta`s resignation.
The Secretary also broke his silence Tweeting, the crimes committed by Epstein are horrific, and I am pleased that New York prosecutors are moving forward with a case based on new evidence.
However, a former Miami-Dade police sergeant told the Miami Herald in 2018 that the FBI had enough evidence to put Epstein away for a long time but was overruled by Acosta, the current Secretary of Labor. The non- prosecution agreement cut between Acosta and Epstein`s lawyer allowed Epstein`s lawyers unusual freedoms in dictating the terms of the non- prosecution agreement, and that the deal would be kept from the victims.
Epstein ultimately served 13 months in prison while being released six days a week to conduct his business.
For more, I`m joined by Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for the Associated Press, Eugene Robinson, Columnist for The Washington Post, Arianna Berg, former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, and Vicky Ward, Investigative Journalist and Author.
Vicky, I`ve been reading your stuff. Your reporting is something else. This guy, how did he get into people like Bill Clinton, into people like the Saudi Crown Prince, into the President today, the current president? How did he worked his way into them or they worked their way into him?
VICKY WARD, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: So I think that that`s one of the great mysteries about Jeffrey Epstein. What I discovered when I wrote about him first in 2003 was that his then girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of Robert Maxwell, who was a very prominent publisher in Britain, really created a social life for him. Jeffrey Epstein was a reclusive figure who, you know, didn`t really go out very much. She went out and did the networking for him. She went out and found President Clinton. I can`t speak for President Trump.
But when Jeffrey Epstein`s black book, as they called it, was actually published a few years ago, you know, I knew Ghislaine. You can hear from my accent, I was born in England too. I recognized a lot of people in it. But they were her friends originally. She gave him the social life.
MATTHEWS: Your reporting showed there were 14 mentions of phone numbers for Donald Trump.
WARD: Right, not really surprising. I mean, Jeffrey Epstein sold himself to the wealthy. He deliberately cultivated this image of someone who`s a bit of an eccentric, someone who dressed in sweatpants, not in a coat and tie. He sold himself as someone with a sort of fantastic financial resume, which was not in fact the truth.
You know, if you actually looked in the markets, you would find no footprint of him. He wasn`t trained as a lawyer. So he had -- he wasn`t qualified to run people`s trusts and estates, which is what he claimed to be doing.
MATTHEWS: You know, Jill, this is the kind of character that seems made for the bad values of Vanity Fair, a magazine that seems to deal with the very rich and awful, you know, on many cases, unfortunately, Vicky. In many cases, they talk about people that are really bad people, but they had a lot of money, therefore, worthy of our attention.
What do you think is going on in the White House? Because I heard the President rather warily say we`re going to -- he never takes a good look at anything. He said we`re going give a really good look at this guy. It sounds to me like he is distancing himself.
JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Very much so. And what was interesting there though was that --
MATTHEWS: I mean, from Acosta, the guy that let him off basically.
COLVIN: Yes. I mean, firstly, we heard nothing from the President in his remarks today in the Oval Office about the victims of these crimes, no reference.
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes, they don`t matter. They`re little people.
COLVIN: Also, I mean, we`ve been told back in February by then Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.
MATTHEWS: How many victims do we know?
COLVIN: At least -- I mean, dozens, dozens that are -- we know of at this point, potentially hundreds, potentially thousands of photographs.
MATTHEWS: These are young underage girls, underage girls.
COLVIN: Yes. But at this point, we were told that Sarah Sanders back in February that they were launching some type of internal investigation. Did that ever happen? We don`t know. But at this point, the President appears still interested in standing behind his Secretary of Labor, Acosta. We heard him multiple times during that Oval Office spray (ph) about commend the job he is doing, saying he is doing a fantastic job as Secretary at this point, just not painful enough for the President to break ties with him.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the President. Again, we`re students of this president. I hate chasing him down yet another rabbit hole, but here is a guy that was a serious -- accused of being a serious sex trafficker, well, hundreds -- the numbers keep adding up of witnesses.
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, he was convicted in Florida too on state charges.
MATTHEWS: Yes. But he got offered pretty --
ROBINSON: He got off so light.
ROBINSON: Well, that`s the thing about the story. And the thing that Acosta will never be able to get past, there is a fact there that won`t go away. And the fact is that he made a deal with Jeffrey Epstein that every prosecutor I`ve heard anything from says is if not unprecedented, just the cushiest, lightest sentence they`ve ever, ever heard, the most sweetheart deal they`ve ever heard of in terms of the immunities it gave, in terms of, you know -- and, by the way, you`re on this sort of work release where you just like sleep at the jail --
MATTHEWS: Six days a week you show up at work.
ROBINSON: Six days a week, you go off to your office, and it`s 13 months, and then it`s all over, when apparently, and, again, I don`t think there is any disagreement on this, there was copious evidence that he was a monster, that he was a monster who abused dozens and dozens of young girls.
MATTHEWS: Arianna, I agree with Gene. This is sort of like a -- this is sort of Donald Trump`s Willie Horton, a guy who gets off with everything with a wrist slap.
Talk about the law and sex trafficking of minors and what it means when this guy was dealing with these dozens and dozens of girls, bringing them into his arms, if you will, whatever, and exploiting them sexually.
ARIANNA BERG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Yes. Let me add my voice to the chorus of former prosecutors that Gene just referred to as being affirmatively against this sweetheart deal that Acosta gave Jeffrey Epstein.
Sex trafficking violations are extremely serious when charged federally. And by all accounts, the evidence here was very strong. Jeffrey Epstein was the head of a vast sex trafficking network in which he was at the helm. He orchestrated and directed his employees and even some of the minor victims in the case to recruit more minor victims.
These cases face stiff penalties if charged federally, which, of course, Epstein was not. He`s facing up to 45 years federally now.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, I don`t have to get into the graphic nature of his sort of Jabba the Hutt behavior here, but the criminal part of it is that the trafficking, the movement across state lines, across, what was it, minors, how does the law get defined here with such an incredible penitentiary sentencing if somebody`s properly sentenced?
BERG: So, essentially, sex trafficking is the moving of individuals here, minor victims, across state lines for the purposes of sexual abusing them. And that is exactly what prosecutors and federal investigators have found to be the case here.
We know that Jeffrey Epstein had his residence here in New York as well as in Florida, New Mexico, Virgin Islands, I mean, he has a vast amount of wealth. And he would essentially, through use of phone calls and probably emails, would set up appointments with these underage victims to meet him in these other residences to sexual abuse them.
And it`s his use of the airplanes flights as well as telephones that make it an interstate and therefore federal crime of sex trafficking.
MATTHEWS: Vicky, what would be the motive for a prosecutor to basically drop charges or reduce them so much, you don`t even recognize the significance of the crime in this case? Why would this fellow, Acosta, do something like this, basically six days a week and go to work, you`ve got to come back to this jail, basically, not even a prison. And it`s sort of like -- it`s a light duty, I think, in terms of the gravity of the crimes. Why would a prosecutor reduce the sentence that much?
WARD: Well, that`s the great mystery, right? Because what he told people in the transition team when they asked him, you know, when he was being considered for his position in the cabinet, and they said what about Epstein? He said -- he bashed it away. He said, oh, I only ever had one meeting about that, and it was above my pay grade. I was told to leave it alone, that Jeffrey Epstein belonged to the Intelligence Community.
Well, I mean, what do you make of that, right? Even if that is true, why should someone who is associated with the intelligence world --
MATTHEWS: Wait a minute, who would have told him that? Who is above his pay grade? Who is that person above his pay grade? The Head of the CIA?
WARD: These are the questions that we need to get answers to, Chris.
I mean, there is a real mystery here, why Jeffrey Epstein has been so untouchable.
MATTHEWS: Okay. Well, wait a minute, let`s break this down, Vicky, because there is no mystery here to why Acosta did this. He must have been told, not by the lawyers for the defendant, that the guy was somehow in the spy business, but somebody at the top must have told them.
So there is a person in the agency who -- Arianna, let me go back to you. Somebody would have to say to the prosecutor, I speak for the President, I speak for the FBI, the CIA or whatever, I can inform you that there is a complicating --a mitigating circumstance here. But you can`t just have the lawyers say that, claim that.
COLVIN: Yes. We don`t -- we -- honestly, like it`s been referred here, this is the great mystery. This violates so many prosecutorial norms to not federally charge this man with these crimes. It is a mystery. I don`t know whether it was because he was -- Acosta was directed not to federally prosecute. I`m suspicious of that. It could be a quid pro quo. We truly don`t know, because the evidence here, as I mentioned before, was very strong. There really was no reason not to charge him federally and for him to get such a sweetheart deal.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I`m very suspicious, because knowing nothing of the internals of the case discussions. Jill, I am familiar with Watergate. And the cover there was -- the cover-up was, in fact, based on the false claim that the people broke into the democratic headquarters in 1972 were, in fact, involved with the Cuban -- the anti-Castro Cubans were working with the CIA. That was the attempt to shut down the FBI investigation. It just seems suspiciously like, you know, somebody imitating that.
COLVIN: I mean, you can draw whatever comparisons we want to. Look, this is nonetheless highly unusual treatment of somebody, and now it`s in the White House`s court.
MATTHEWS: Well, how? Can you predict as an A.P. reporter? You`re a complete straight reporter. You should have no opinions but have some interpretation on history. How long has this guy, Acosta, got with Trump? How long does his loyalty last? 72 hours some people say.
COLVIN: Well, we have to look back at the President`s pattern so far. He is very, very reluctant to part with staff. You saw how long Jeff Sessions managed to last despite the fact that the President was seething and publicly criticizing him at every possible moment.
The way that the White House typically deals with this is the President`s number one question, is this person damaging me? Is this person moving the spotlight away from me? Are they such a big problem that I can`t hammer whatever issues I want to hammer?
MATTHEWS: Do you have a metric for this?
COLVIN: And at this point, it does not feel like Acosta has reached that level.
We have not heard anything from the President so far suggesting that he has broken with --
MATTHEWS: I`ve heard today in our various conversations with our producers that there is a sort of a 72-hour role that --
COLVIN: There`s a wait and see period that they`re going through right now to see how this plays on the press.
MATTHEWS: Well, The Washington Post reports that officials at the White House are nervous. The democrats who encourage women allegedly abused by Epstein to testify publicly before Congress, drawing attention to Acosta`s work on the plea deal, according to current and former administration officials.
Eugene? You`re trying to bring it, like any politician, the democrats want to bring him in on this.
ROBINSON: We are about to enter what I call the Gloria Allred phase of this, right?
MATTHEWS: She`ll be happy to hear you say that.
ROBINSON: If not Gloria Allred, another lawyer, I believe, probably will soon start appearing with women who say that, as underage girls, they were abused by Epstein either in Florida or in New York or in New Mexico or in the Virgin Islands, some place, all in U.S. jurisdiction. I think that`s almost inevitable.
MATTHEWS: But you and I agree it`s about time people did that. Because in the old days, they didn`t show up with Allred, they didn`t have an Allred.
ROBINSON: Exactly, but they do now. And I think we`re going to go into that phase, and I think it`s going to be like the Cosby allegations are going to come out, you know, trickle out more and more and more.
And meanwhile, as you said, of course, the democrats are going to want to look at this. You know, this is a matter for congressional oversight as well. I mean, it just is. It`s the Secretary of Labor.
And this is something that was known about his past. The questions were never fully answered. Southern District of New York now wants to answer -- you know, has given us a partial answer, but it`s Congress` duty to find out what`s up.
MATTHEWS: Well, I`d like to think that the Secretary of Labor, of all people, would be looking out for the little people, the people that don`t get looked out for this.
ROBINSON: Well, he also was in charge of policing, you know, human trafficking. So --
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s see how this develops. I think it will have a resolution in the next week or two that will be very clear.
Anyway, thank you, Jill Colvin, Eugene Robinson. Arianna Berg, thank you for your expertise. And, Vicky, great writing. I love your reporting.
And my only commentary about Vanity Fair is I do read those articles, but I`m sure sometimes I shouldn`t be reading them. But thank you so much. It is sordid, some of that stuff, but always about the wealthy. Thank you.
Senator Amy Klobuchar is playing HARDBALL in just a moment. She is calling for Secretary Acosta to resign from his role in Epstein`s sweetheart deal, while the White House continues to stand by Acosta, the Secretary of Labor.
Plus, Mitch McConnell gets a challenger in Kentucky. Here she is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMY MCGRATH, FORMER AMERICAN FIGHTER PILOT: I sat at this table and I wrote a letter to my senator, telling him I wanted to fly fighter jets in combat, to fight for my country and that women should be able to do that. He never wrote back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, a democrat hasn`t won a Senate race in Kentucky in almost three decades. Amy McGrath says she can do it. She is going to join us live tonight.
Plus, the President`s schoolyard insults to America`s closest ally calling the U.K. Ambassador a pompous -- well, he`s calling him a pompous fool. Anyway, he is also going after the Prime Minister of Britain, Theresa May. He calls her foolish. Well, the diplomatic tiff gives us a glimpse of how the world views Trump, don`t you think?
And the President has called climate change, by the way, again, a hoax. Now in his first speech on the environment, he is trying to defend the indefensible, my thoughts on Trump`s rhetoric versus the reality of this guy.
Much more ahead. Stick with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXANDER ACOSTA, U.S. SECRETARY OF LABOR: At the end of the day, Mr. Epstein went to jail. Epstein was incarcerated. He registered as a sex offender. The world was put on notice that he was a sex offender, and the victims received restitution.
REP. KATHERINE CLARK (D-MA): Thirteen months in county jail, 12 hours a day work release, you consider that justice for the molestation of these girls?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta defending the lenient plea deal he struck with Jeffrey Epstein when he was U.S. attorney in Florida, a deal that spared the accused sex trafficker from being federally indicted in 2007.
Acosta has now joined a list of -- a long list of administration officials who have been scrutinized for questionable ethics, many of whom have left their jobs under a cloud. You`re looking at pictures of them now.
Now "The Washington Post" reports that, according to current and former officials of Trump world, there was no substantial vetting done on Acosta until after Trump decided to nominate him -- in other words, they picked him, and then they checked him out -- despite the fact some details of Acosta`s deal with Epstein -- or Epstein -- were known at the time of his confirmation hearing.
Eight Democratic senators, by the way, to keep this even-steven here, still voted for their Republican colleagues to confirm him -- with them.
And, today, Senator Amy Klobuchar was among the first of the Democratic presidential counties to call for Acosta to resign following Epstein`s indictment yesterday.
Criticizing the leniency of Epstein`s 2007 plea deal, Senator Klobuchar tweeted: "Since when do underage girl sex ring traffickers get to go to their office every day while they serve their time? I didn`t vote for former Florida U.S. attorney Acosta to begin with, and he should step down."
Joining me right now is the senator herself, Senator Amy Klobuchar.
What does this look like to you?
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes.
MATTHEWS: How did Acosta come to give this guy this sweetheart deal, where he could go to work every day, treat him like he committed a small crime, with mitigating circumstances? What were the -- why would he do this?
KLOBUCHAR: When I was a prosecutor, you always -- every day, you go to work with a mission, that you`re going to do your job without fear or favor, that it doesn`t matter if it`s a white-collar defendant, if someone breaks into an office with a crowbar or they do it on a computer. It`s still a crime.
In this case, you have got an incredibly wealthy guy who was preying on kids, preying on young girls. And that`s why, Chris, this was so wrong. And let me -- it`s wrong on several levels, one, that there wasn`t this thorough investigation to get the right sentence and to get this done and not let him off and go to work every day.
But, secondly, a federal judge has already said it was wrong because the victims were not consulted about the sentence. This was pled out.
KLOBUCHAR: You can have plea agreements, but the victims have to be told about it, whether it`s in state law or federal law.
And that`s where this is just completely wrong to me.
MATTHEWS: It`s so sneaky. But why -- there is sex -- there are requirements -- there are requirements, you say, as a prosecutor, for victims. They have rights.
And, sometimes, they may not agree with the sentence, but you have to tell them about it. And we would have several meetings with people in my office. We had victim -- many, many people that worked in this area -- so they would talk it through with the victim, why we had to do a plea agreement, if we had to, what happened in a trial.
It`s a big part of your job, is to explain this to victims, because they have to have trust in our system, no matter what the outcome is.
That being said, we know this outcome wasn`t right. This was a sex trafficking ring. These -- and, by the way, sometimes people refer to young victims like this as prostitutes. These are young kids. And we have worked very hard -- I led the bill on the human trafficking -- to make sure we look at these kids as the victims that they are, and they get help and services.
And then that`s the only way you can go after the pimps and the guys that are using them and are running the sex...
MATTHEWS: Fourteen-year-old girls.
KLOBUCHAR: That`s what it was. And it was just wrong.
MATTHEWS: And he was saying, go get your friends to come here?
KLOBUCHAR: He was up -- in that way, he was running a ring. He was getting them to recruit people. He was grooming them. He was giving them a ton of money and saying, help.
And, of course, a lot of times, these young girls are afraid to come forward. They think they`re going get in trouble. They don`t want to have anyone know what they`re doing. And that`s why they should be treated as victims.
In this case, he gave them a cheap deal, does it in secret, doesn`t tell the victims. And that is the problem with this. He didn`t do his job without fear or favor.
MATTHEWS: Let`s go to the motive of the secretary of labor. You voted against confirmation of this guy. So you look good on this. The eight Democrats who voted for him must be wondering why they did it.
Well, let me ask you about -- I want to ask you about...
KLOBUCHAR: Well, a lot of this, we have heard later. Right?
I didn`t vote for him, but -- and I was concerned about this at the time. Senator Kaine had asked questions.
But, remember, some of this has came out later, including the court found that he hadn`t told the victims.
MATTHEWS: Why would the current secretary of labor let him off? What is the motive here?
KLOBUCHAR: I have no idea. And that`s what...
MATTHEWS: This thing about -- this crazy conspiracy notion that somehow Epstein was working as a spy for the United States` interests?
KLOBUCHAR: I got to -- when I had my old job as prosecutor, every time you had a famous person or you had someone with money, you would constantly be getting called from people that knew you, saying, hey, remember, we had a 35-year-old who beat up someone at a Vikings game.
And people kept calling me and saying, be careful with the kid.
I`m like, he`s not a kid. And I would never call our prosecutors and tell them about these calls, because you are supposed to allow your prosecutors to do their job, no matter who someone`s connected to and who they know. And that`s my concern about what happened here.
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s just like Trump. Well, that`s -- you have just described Trump`s behavior with Michael Flynn.
KLOBUCHAR: That`s right. He was always...
MATTHEWS: You see he calls up Comey, the head of the FBI, and says, be nice to my buddy.
KLOBUCHAR: That`s what -- you have to allow the law and lawyers to do their job.
MATTHEWS: I got to ask you about something.
MATTHEWS: You have been in all these debates. I don`t know anybody like you in these debates. You have been through them all, so you know what it`s like.
You going to have another one coming up at the end of this month.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, columnist Richard Cohen, he`s a liberal, but he`s kind of a tough guy, writes in "The Washington Post" today that: "The field of the presidential candidates are pushing too far left to win a general election next November."
He says: "The candidates are campaigning in an America of their own imagination, a bit to the left of Sweden and as radically unified -- or racially unified as one of the old Coke commercials. They pander to the extremes of the early caucus and primary states, thinking they can seduce the middle later on down the road."
Now, that`s what I agree -- actually think is going on. I think everybody`s playing to Iowa, where you have a lot of activists, people on the progressive side, progressive left in some cases.
They`re all aiming at that target.
MATTHEWS: And especially on things like -- people like reparations, on things like banning private health insurance, things like that.
Well, first of all, I still think there is more that unifies us and much more important than when you look at someone like Donald Trump.
But second thing, I am not running for chair of the Democratic National Committee. I`m running for president of the United States. And the way you run a campaign...
MATTHEWS: Are you center-left or left?
KLOBUCHAR: I am a proven progressive, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Biden says he is center-left.
KLOBUCHAR: I`m someone that has passed 100 bills.
MATTHEWS: Well, what is -- come on. You`re not willing to say.
KLOBUCHAR: No, I will tell you where I am.
KLOBUCHAR: On health care, I think we have to have a public option.
KLOBUCHAR: We have got to move to universal health care. But, no, I`m not going to kick half of America off their insurance in four years, which is what that bill says.
KLOBUCHAR: I believe we have to greatly expand access to college.
I think the best way to do it is with Pell Grants and to make sure the money isn`t going to the rich kids, that it`s going to everyone else that needs help.
So I have some differences with my colleagues on this, and I`m going to continue to make that clear, because the way you win is by looking people in the eye and telling them the truth and building a coalition that doesn`t just win the primary, but wins the general election and allows you to govern.
MATTHEWS: That`s right. You know what? I like -- well, I don`t matter. I`m just hear asking you questions.
MATTHEWS: But I like what you said.
Anyway, thank you, Senator Amy Klobuchar, actually speaking a lot of common sense. We`re not hearing a lot of that.
Up next: retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath.
KLOBUCHAR: Another Amy.
MATTHEWS: That`s a good name.
KLOBUCHAR: It`s exciting.
MATTHEWS: I`m in love with Amy, right, the old song -- had her sights on Mitch McConnell`s seat. Boy, that`s going to be one tough rigmarole there, rhubarb, as they say in baseball.
Can a moderate Democrat take on a take-no-prisoners campaigner like McConnell in a state that went for Trump by almost 30 points? And can she win? We will ask her. We will ask her how she`s going to do it after this.
Don`t go anywhere.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): First time in my memory I agree with Nancy Pelosi. I am indeed the Grim Reaper when it comes to the socialist agenda that they have been ginning up over in the House with overwhelming Democratic support and sending it over to America.
And, yes, as long as I`m the majority leader of the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was, of course, the inimitable Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky last month proudly embracing the nickname the Grim Reaper.
Whether it was blocking President Obama`s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland during an election year in 2016, only to change his tune about President Trump if he gets another pick, or his refusal to take up House bills addressing the fate of dreamers, providing new election security measures, and his emphasis on ramming through conservative judicial nominees, turning the Senate into a legislative graveyard, McConnell has made construction -- or obstruction, rather, the name of his game.
And now a retired Marine fighter pilot has set her sights on taking down the longtime Republican leader next year. Democrat Amy McGrath, who narrowly lost a House race in Kentucky last year, announced she is running for McConnell`s Senate seat next year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMY MCGRATH (D), KENTUCKY SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Everything that`s wrong in Washington had to start someplace. How did it come to this, that, even within our own families, we can`t talk to each other about the leaders of our country anymore without anger and blame?
Well, it started with this man, who was elected a lifetime ago and who has, bit by bit, year by year, turned Washington into something we all despise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, McGrath will have to win the Democratic nomination of course, first, but, today, McConnell weighed in on the race already. Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCONNELL: Well, you know, unlike a lot of my members -- I won`t name any names -- I actually enjoy campaigns.
As you know, I have had a few of them, and it will be a spirited race, particularly since I have become leader of my party in the Senate. I have noticed I get more attention than I used to, and I look forward to the contest and laying out our differences to the people of Kentucky.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel and Senate candidate Amy McGrath joins me now.
Colonel, thank you for joining us. It`s great to have you on.
And one thing I right up front agree with you about. It`s not just the judicial nominees, where he killed Merrick Garland. He said, I`m not even going to allow hearings on the guy, not even allow hearings on him, let alone confirm him, and saying, I will go ahead and push Trump`s nominee for the court next year, 2020, if he has one, if he has an opportunity.
But I know that Trump ran on one thing, one of the things besides no more stupid wars. He said he was going to do infrastructure. He was going to rebuild this country, from -- all the way from Penn State`s to New York to L.A. -- out to the L.A. train station out -- LAX airport too, right across the country. McConnell killed that.
He just said, we`re not going to do infrastructure. Your thoughts?
MCGRATH: That`s right. That`s right.
And he also said -- a lot of Kentuckians voted for President Trump because President Trump said he was going to drain the swamp. He was going to bring back jobs. He was going to do some reasonable things, like get down prescription drug prices, which is so important for Kentucky. And Senator McConnell has stopped that too.
MATTHEWS: What do you think of Trump?
MCGRATH: Well, you know, I understand why voters in Kentucky voted for him, just as I said, the promises that he made. And many Kentuckians really dislike both political parties.
MCGRATH: And they voted for somebody who they thought would shake things up, who was an outsider. And so I get that. I really do.
MATTHEWS: Would you ever vote for Trump?
MCGRATH: I`m very concerned about President Trump and his policy by tweet.
As a military officer -- and this is -- I have lived my life in the national security realm -- I don`t think I could vote for Donald Trump, because, you know, for one, I`m not a fan of a president or a commander in chief wrapping his arms around any dictator. That`s very important to me.
MCGRATH: And, also, I don`t like the -- I really don`t like the fact that he disparages our allies.
You know, Chris, these are folks who I lived in tents with overseas and fought in three combat tours. And I just -- I can`t -- I can`t be a part of that.
MATTHEWS: What was it like being one of the first women to get up there? You`re a Marine fighter pilot. You`re in combat. What was that combat like? Just -- I have never been in combat. What was it like?
MCGRATH: Well, you know, we train really hard before we go to combat, and so that, when we go to combat, we`re ready to execute.
And so a lot of it is -- it`s that old adage of sort of 90 percent sheer boredom and 10 percent sheer terror. You know, when you`re in that 10 percent time, you`re on, you`re executing, but you know what you`re doing.
And I think that`s one of the wonderful things about the professionalism of our United States military. We are a professional force, and we know what we`re doing.
MATTHEWS: Well, in my best, I try to think about people on post right now, some hellish place in Afghanistan, way out there, with the Taliban all around you, and you`re out there all by yourself fighting for your country, wondering if it cares about you.
What was it like for you that way?
MCGRATH: Well, I think that Afghanistan, I am very concerned, because, you know, I feel like this is a sort of forgotten war.
I got married in 2009, and my husband and I both immediately deployed to Afghanistan. He was in Kabul, and I was down in Helmand Province. And, you know, we did sort of our honeymoon there.
MCGRATH: And it`s -- sometimes, it felt like America has forgotten that we have troops there. And I`m worried about that.
MATTHEWS: Great to have you on.
Amy McGrath, good luck in this race. Politics is rough. You look like you can handle it, though. You have been worse -- you have been in worse places.
MCGRATH: Well, I`m a Marine.
MATTHEWS: Take on Mitch McConnell. Take on Mitch McConnell. We will all be watching you and cheering for you.
Thank you so much, Amy McGrath.
MATTHEWS: Up next: From frank assessments to flat-out insults, the latest tiff between the White House and the United Kingdom highlights what international diplomacy looks like in the age of Trump.
Pompous fool, that`s what he called the British ambassador.
We`re back after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Instead of toning down the rhetoric with our country`s number one ally, President Trump is continuing his attacks on Britain. In a series of tweets this morning, the president referred to U.K. Ambassador Kim Darroch as the wacky ambassador that is, quote, not someone we are thrilled with. A very stupid guy.
It sounds like Alec Baldwin sometimes. Trump says he doesn`t know the ambassador, but has been told he is a pompous fool.
Well, this comes in response to those leaked diplomatic memos from the British ambassador where he called the president inept, insecure, incompetent. According to "The Daily Mail" newspaper, Darroch told officials in London, when dealing with President Trump, you need to make your point simple, even blunt. Writing in an early memo that the president may even be indebted to, I love this phrase, dodgy Russians.
The president yesterday said he would cut ties with the ambassador and even disinvited Darroch from last night`s dinner with the emir of Qatar. The State Department says it`s still working with the ambassador for now.
(BEEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN ORTAGUS, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We will continue to deal with all accredited individuals until we get any further guidance from the White House or the president, which we, of course, will abide by the president`s direction.
REPORTER: So you have not received any instruction from the White House to cut contacts with the embassy or the ambassador?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the British government says it is investigating how the leak occurred, but defended their ambassador saying they expect our ambassadors to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of politics in their country.
Also in today`s morning tweets, President Trump again went after Britain`s outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May in how she handled Brexit. Trump tweeted, "I told Theresa May how to do that deal, but she went her own foolish way, was unable to get it done, a disaster.
Well, late today, British foreign minister who is also running to replace Theresa May responded to the president`s attack on the ambassador and the prime minister, and that`s coming up next.
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MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump`s latest attacks on the British ambassador and prime minister are not sitting well across the Atlantic. British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt, who was himself actually running to replace Prime Minister Theresa May fired back at President Trump today.
He tweeted: Donald Trump, friends speak frankly, so I will. These comments are disrespectful and wrong to our prime minister and my country. Your diplomats give their private opinions to Secretary Pompeo, and so do ours. You said the U.K. /U.S. alliance was the greatest in history, and I agree, but allies need to treat each other with respect as Theresa May has always done with the ambassadors that are appointed by the U.K. And if I become PM, our ambassador stays.
For more, I`m joined by Simon Marks, president and chief correspondent for "Feature Story News", and Charlie Sykes, editor-in-chief of "The Bulwark".
I want to start with Charlie on this. Is Trump playing to his crowd on this, the old Popeye Doyle number, I`d rather be a lamppost in New York than the president of France? That awful chauvinism. Is that what he is playing here?
CHARLIE SYKES, THE BULWARK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Yes, in part, but he is also playing to his insecure narcissist ego. The ambassador is just doing his job and then the president stepped forward and confirmed every single word that the ambassador had reported.
SIMON MARKS, FEATURE STORY NEWS, PRESIDENT & CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Seriously. Seriously, if you wanted to prove you weren`t inept or insecure, would you really have spent two days on Twitter describing the very non-wacky British ambassador to the United States as wacky?
MATTHEWS: You know the ambassador? You said to me during a break he is not wacky and he is not pompous.
MARKS: He is not wacky. He is not pompous. He is not foolish. He has bent over backwards the last two and a half years and before that when Barack Obama was president not to speak out publicly and to inject himself politically into the debate here.
And what happens? He gets railroaded and taken down by a president who wants to demand as much fealty now from the diplomatic corps.
MATTHEWS: Who would believe this? Give me Inspector Clouseau thing. Who would leak a dispatched cable going back to the foreign office?
MARKS: Well, I think you to ask who benefits?
MATTHEWS: I want to know. Tell me who benefits.
MARKS: The people who benefit in British politics are the people that want to see an avowed Brexiter, someone in favor of getting out of the European Union from the embassy here.
MATTHEWS: Boris Johnson.
MARKS: He has created a bit of difficulty for Boris over this, because Boris Johnson now is being asked -- well, Kim Darroch will stay if Jeremy Hunt becomes prime minister. Will he if you become prime minister?
MATTHEWS: Oh, Charlie, who benefits?
SYKES: No question about it, the Nigel Farage crowd, the pro-Brexit crowd. They never got along with this ambassador. They think of him as a Europhile.
But, you know, one thing that does not benefit is U.S./U.K. relations. I mean, here is the president who probably ought to understand that every single ambassador of a major country has probably said something similar. Everything that he reported back about Donald Trump is pretty much conventional wisdom. This would be universal.
He could have shrugged it off. Instead, he personally escalated it with an attack on the sitting prime minister of Great Britain. So there is certainly the diplomatic -- the diplomatic relationship between our closest ally did not benefit from this foolishness.
MATTHEWS: Well, the British ambassador isn`t the only British official who has criticized our president. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has gone multiple rounds with President Trump, most recently condemning the president`s state visit to the U.K. last month.
President Trump fired back to him calling the London mayor a stone-cold loser. Let me ask you. Suppose a British ambassador had cabled back delightful president, very even tempered, always makes sense, a very coherent policy, he would look like he would be fired.
MARKS: He certainly wouldn`t be doing his job, would he? And I think Charlie is absolutely right. If you peeked into the diplomatic cables of a whole host of ambassadors serving in this country, they surely are sending exactly the same kind of reflections back to their capitals.
There is a chilling message in all of this, though, to the diplomatic corps here and to American ambassadors serving overseas, that if you`re going politicize these positions and these relationships, you`re actually putting the business of serious diplomacy in real jeopardy.
MATTHEWS: Charlie, you write a perfumed dispatch back to London if you had to on this president? I mean, how would you clean up the act for the cable? I don`t even know if it`s possible.
SYKES: No, you can`t. And that`s why it makes this so silly, this ambassador was doing his job just like the ambassador from Germany and France and Japan and the Koreas are doing their jobs. And, you know, Donald Trump should understand this, but he has surrounded himself. He has created this bubble that reflects his own narcissism.
And I think you`ve seen that played out over the last couple of days, that every country knows you kiss up to the president. You praise the president. You speak in blunt, simple terms to this president, and you never, ever, ever allow any reality that not everybody thinks of him as the orange god king to intrude into the diplomacy.
MATTHEWS: I got to say something. The British embassy in this town has been wonderful for decades. They have the best sort of nice little receptions. They`re incredibly pro-American, helpful. And they`re just generous people.
And I`ve loved the embassies every chance I`ve got to go over there.
MARKS: And they`ve opened their doors to senior members of the Trump administration who have been regular visitors there.
One other point, Chris. Lost in this furor, the revelation over the last 24 hours that the British government`s point person on Brexit in the White House is now Ivanka Trump. She is the person the British government. What could go wrong?
MATTHEWS: Ah, the Romanovs. Speaking of royal families, we got one.
Thank you, Simon Marks. Thank you, Charlie Sykes.
Up next, Trump talks about environmental leadership while leading the country towards an environmental catastrophe.
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MATTHEWS: Somebody apparently told Donald Trump that people do care about the planet burning up. Now, it`s hard to imagine that a leader who grew up hearing about Nero, the emperor who fiddled while Rome burned, needed someone to tell him that letting the earth itself go up in smoke might be bad politics. But again, patiently he did.
From the East Room of the White House yesterday, Donald Trump touted what he calls his administration`s environmental leadership.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From day one, my administration has made it a top priority to ensure that America has among the very cleanest air and cleanest water on the planet. We want the cleanest air. We want crystal clean water, and that`s what we`re doing. And that`s what we`re working on so hard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But, of course, all of this is nonsense. What Trump said is weirdly and totally dishonest, coming from a president who has since day one questioned the science behind climate change and has relentlessly slashed away environmental regulations.
What he did on Monday is what he did when caught red-handed. He denied the obvious truth. Here was Trump back in October.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I`m not denying climate change, but it could very well go back. You know, we`re talking about over millions of years.
INTERVIEWER: Well, that`s denying it.
TRUMP: They say that we had hurricanes that were far worse than what we just had with Michael.
INTERVIEWER: Who says that? "They say"?
TRUMP: People said. People say that in the --
INTERVIEWER: What about the scientists who say it`s worse than ever?
TRUMP: You have to show me the scientists, because they have a very big political agenda.
INTERVIEWER: I can`t bring them in.
TRUMP: Scientists also have a political agenda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, to no one`s surprise, yesterday`s speech espousing himself as an environmental Johnny Appleseed was not Trump`s idea. It was something his ballyhoo boys cooked up. It was a way to take the nasty edge off his climate denying.
As "The New York Times" reports, reviewing new polling data, consultants working for President Trump`s 2020 campaign discovered an unsurprising obstacle to winning support from two key demographic groups, millennials and suburban women, and that obstacle was the record on environment.
His PR managers are right about having a problem here. Just look at his record.
He withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. He hid studies showing the dangers of climate change. He stripped references of climate change from an international agreement on Arctic policy.
He pulled back federal regulations on carbon emissions from coal-powered plants. He has made a policy of putting former industry executives and lobbyists in positions where they could undercut environmental regulations.
So, an hour-long speech from Americans should hardly persuade Americans that Trump is suddenly interested in saving the planet from what practically every scientist in the world says is coming, all the faster because of the man we have in the White House.
And that`s HARDBALL for now.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts now.
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