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Trump: "I am the least racist person." TRANSCRIPT: 7/30/19,Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Claire McCaskill, Adrienne Elrod, Denny Heck


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Don`t go anywhere because one of our guests from earlier this hour is now in the hot seat.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Who can beat this guy?  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in the City of Detroit.

An hour from now, ten of the presidential candidates will compete in the second democratic debate here.  Each will be auditioning to show he or she can beat the man who continues to fan the flames of racial hostility and division in this country for his own personal and political benefit.  That`s where we begin tonight, with him.

President Trump is defending his attacks on Congressman Elijah Cummings tonight and his Baltimore district, which he described as a disgusting rat and rodent-infested mess.  At the White House today, the President also insisted the attacks were not hurting him politically.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  I think I`m helping myself because I`m pointing out the tremendous corruption that`s taken place in Baltimore and other democratic-run cities.  Those people are living in hell in Baltimore.  They`re largely African-American.  You have a large African-American population, and they really appreciate what I`m doing, and they`ve let me know it.

I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world.  When conmen (ph) who I`ve known almost all my business life, because I had to deal with him unfortunately in New York.  But I got along with him, Al Sharpton.  Now, he`s a racist.  He`s a racist.


MATTHEWS:  And while the President claims he is the least racist person in the country, a new poll today shows a majority of voters think otherwise.  The Quinnipiac poll show that 51 percent of all voters said, yes, when asked, do you think President Trump is racist.  45 percent said no.  But think of it.  A majority of Americans now say their president is a racist.

But even as the President stands by his latest broadside against an African-American lawmaker, The Washington Post reports that inside the White House, some aides privately view Trump`s attacks as a distraction or politically unhelpful.  And according to The New York Times, several White House officials agreed it was a bad move.  They privately scoffed at the idea that it was strategy rather than impulse, concluding that any political benefit he might derive from revving up his conservative largely white base could be offset by alienating more moderate voters in the suburbs of states like Wisconsin and Michigan that he needs to win his second term.

But this afternoon, President Trump was asked about the politics behind his ongoing attacks on U.S. Congressman Cummings and the City of Baltimore.


TRUMP:  There is no strategy.  I have no strategy.  There is zero strategy.  All it is I`m pointing out facts.  So there is no strategy.  It`s very simple.


MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by former Democratic Senator from Missouri, Claire McCaskill, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times, and Michael Steele, former RNC Chairman and former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland.

Michael, I have to start with you.  What are your feelings as a republican all of your life about hearing a republican president talk the way he is about people of color?

FMR. LT. GOV. MICHAEL STEELE (R-MD):  It`s disgusting.  It`s not part of our history.  It`s not what we`ve stood for.  It is not based on the founding of this party.  It`s championing of the freedom of African slaves, putting in place the mechanisms, the structures inside and outside of government to help those transition to economic opportunity here in this country.  It is not the party of Reagan.

It is not the party of Kemp, when the leader of that party says the things that this president has said about a great city, the city of our national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, the city that wears very proudly the scars of the growth of this country, the troubles that we see in inner cities in this country, but also the hope of this country.

So it is very disturbing, Chris.  But as the President noted, it`s not a strategy.  It`s how he feels.  It`s what he thinks.  And it`s his visceral response to being challenged by an African-American leader from that city.  So he paints everybody with a broad brush.  He says that no human would live in a city where Elijah Cummings was its congressman or its representative, that no one could do well there, and that`s just not the truth.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Senator McCaskill, because you have been in tough elections in a very tough state, a very divided state.  How does he -- what`s the danger of Trump doing this?  Forget the morals for about three seconds.  What`s the danger politically in his talk?

FMR. SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO):  Well, it`s hard to forget the morals.  But if you look at this just with a political calculus, Chris, I think many people are forgetting that this will drive African-American turnout across this country.  And that is one of the challenges we have is making sure that the base of our party turns out.

You know, Trump thinks this is somehow going to grow his base, that he can find more people that are in this hermetically sealed bubble of toxicity that are at his rallies.  And he has gotten rid of all the people in his cabinet that disagree with him, and the republicans in the Senate have quit speaking up.

So he now has free rein to do this stuff without anybody challenging him.  He doesn`t realize how motivational this is to so many voters.  There were voters that heard him say that and decided, I will do everything in my power to make sure I vote and get other people to vote along with me.

MATTHEWS:  Peter, let me talk to you about -- The Times is very good at covering the suburbs.  I`ve been reading it for years.  You guys know what`s going on in the counties, West Chester, Bucks County around Philadelphia.  My sense, I`ll jump you here a bit, I don`t think people want to be thinking of themselves as racist or to vote for a racist president.  I think he is going to hurt himself in the burbs.  Your thoughts?

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Well, that`s exactly what his own political advisers are worried about.  It`s not that they`re worry shed going to turn off African-American voters.  He didn`t win very many of them to begin with.  He isn`t likely to win that many in 2020.  What they worry about is that they turn off-white voters in the suburbs who may not be fully invested in him and could be turned off by the seeming ugliness of this controversy he`s engaged in.

And it`s not just, of course, the last few days.  It goes back to the attacks on the four congresswomen of color, saying that they should go back to their home countries, even though they`re from America.  You know, it creates an atmosphere that makes it harder for suburban republican voters who want to believe in the big tent version of their party to swallow this and go along with him.

And that`s what his own White House officials were saying yesterday in their meeting that we reported on, that they are worried that he will turn away the very voters he needs next year.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Michael, because I think this will be one time where he is really missing the boat politically.  Again, putting aside the obviously morality of what he`s saying and the un-Americanism of what he`s saying, is that most people when they have a racial attitude, they get mad at somebody in a car fight, you know, somebody cuts them off, they feel guilty about it.  They go, why do have I that impulse?  Why do I think like that?  I`ve got to get over that.  That`s something in the past.

Trump has no shame.  I swear, I don`t think he has the normal shame people have when they have those impulses of tribalism, racism, ethnic prejudice, however you call it.  He doesn`t seem to care morally.  I think he is different than most people.

STEELE:  Yes, and I think he is to this extent, Chris, that he sees all of this as part of the resources, the tools that he uses in a transaction.  He sees his engagement with his political opponents.  It`s another form of a transaction with them, and these are resources that he can go to, if you will, and use in that conversation.

But here is the rub.  Politics is not like a New York, you know, apartment deal.  Politics is a very personal game.  And people ultimately in the final analysis view their politics through a personal lens, which to that extent, Chris, is why in that very private moment in their car when they`re cut off by someone and they use something or say something that is racially toxic or inappropriate, there is this sense of guilt, because the society overtime has said that we are better than this.  And for this president, that`s just not part of the transaction.

MATTHEWS:  Also, I think it`s going to be hard for parents in the suburbs who raise their kids and grandkids to be better than this, to tell them when the kid says, that the 22-year-old says mom, grandma, who are you voting for?  I think it`s going to be very hard to say I`ll vote for the racist.

Anyway, the Quinnipiac poll, the one we just rated there also shows a big difference in opinion about Trump`s behavior on racial lines.  The poll shows 46 percent of white voters say he is a racist compared to 80 percent of black voters who say that.  The President was asked to respond to that number.  Here he goes.


TRUMP:  You know why?  Because the fake news doesn`t report it properly, people like you.  Fake news does not report it properly.

If the news reported it properly, of all of the things I`ve done for African-Americans, of all of the things like criminal justice reform, like opportunity zones, I think I`d do very well with the African-Americans, and I think I`m doing very well right now.


MATTHEWS:  Senator, did you hear the way he talks?  Things I`ve done for black people, like he is the patron, he is the plantation owner who was good to his people.  I mean, he doesn`t even know how to talk in the 21st century language.  What do you make of the way he talks about African- Americans?

MCCASKILL:  Well, his credibility is so -- it`s in tatters.  Everyone in America, I don`t care if they support Donald Trump or don`t, they know he has a twisted relationship with the truth.  And so when he says this stuff, you know, unfortunately, we`ve become numb to it.

But I do think, Chris, you hit on something.  You know, I think Americans are romantic about the presidency.  I think our nature is that we want to look up so our president, even if we disagree with him.  We want the Office of the Presidency to be something that we can point to to our children and say, you know, don`t you want to grow up and be president some day?

That`s what this man is destroying.  He is going as low as he can possibly go to try to regain power and to keep power in this next election.  And it is sad.  It is depressing, and I do think America will rise up and say, we don`t have to put up with this kind of trash talking by the most powerful man on the planet.

MATTHEWS:  Peter, here is a tough one.  So many times when the President does something, we say, well, that`s the bottom line, that`s it.  He`s finished.  It started with the Access Hollywood.  It started with birtherism, all this stuff we thought was awful and ethnically prejudicial and racist.  And every time he sort of skates past it with his people, they -- how does he convince his people, and he is trying to do it now with the black ministers, that his people can say to themselves, we`re not racist?

BAKER:  Yes.  Look, you know, he is a remarkable figure in American politics in that things that would naturally bring down or at least damage another president, another politician don`t seem to do that with him.  He has a different relationship with his voters, I suppose is one way to put it.

And what he`s trying to do here is clearly draw a line going into 2020 between, you know, which side of America are you on?  Are you on our side or their side?  And it`s something he has engaged within the past, both in business and in entertainment and in politics.  Remember, of course, starting in 2000, you know, I forgot the early years, he was pushing this idea that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.  He saw that as a political advantage to do that.  It took him years until he finally agreed that that wasn`t the case.

Even in entertainment, we wrote a story a couple of weeks ago about a time when he was looking for a new shtick for the fourth season of The Apprentice.  And his idea was let`s have an all white team go against an all black team and hit against each other for the whole season.  He does not mind pitting Americans against each other based on racial lines.  That`s been part of his success.

And he doesn`t see it as racism.  He sees it as just the way America, and he is more honest about it than others and everybody wants to dance around it and be politically correct.  But he is able to see past that and talk about, you know, what things really are.  And his argument, as you heard him say, is I am very good for African-Americans because of criminal justice reform and the low unemployment rate.

But it touches on something that makes people, a lot of people in America feel very uncomfortable.  They do look for presidents to try to heal wounds, not exacerbate them.  And he is willing to dive into that divide and pull people apart.

MATTHEWS:  Well, in a new interview with C-Span scheduled to air later tonight, President Trump was asked about being called a racist for his attacks on Congressman Cummings.  Here he goes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When Congressman Elijah Cummings calls you a racist, your reaction is what?

TRUMP:  Well, I think the word has really gone down a long way because everybody is called a racist now.  Her own party called Nancy Pelosi a racist two weeks ago.  The word is so overused, it`s such a disgrace.  And I can tell you, I`m the least racist person there is in the world as far as I`m concerned.  And they use it almost when they run out of things to criticize you.  They say he`s a racist, he`s a racist.

Now, in some cases, it`s true, there are people that are racist, bad people.  But with me, they have a hard time getting away with it.  And they don`t get away with it.  And if you look at what I`ve done for African- Americans between -- I mean, look at criminal justice reform.  President Obama tried so hard to get it.  He couldn`t get it.


MATTHEWS:  Michael, you were Head of the Republican Party.  And I wonder, were they more illuminated or more aware?  They couldn`t build a Republican Party based on all whiteness?  Because that`s what Trump seems to be doing, building a future Republican Party founded on the idea if we get all the white angry people, we can win presidential elections.

STEELE:  Well, the truth of it is if you have to tell me you`re not a racist, okay.  Some things are rather self-evident.  And so we should be allowed to assume and decide those things based on your words and your behavior.

Translating that into the politics of the Republican Party, it is setting up a really big problem.  All the grassroots efforts, all the programs and things that they`re putting in place right now going into the 2020 cycle could run into some very, very difficult waters in minority communities across the country.

Yes, there may be a portion of Hispanics and African-Americans, women, Asians and others who will vote for the President.  But that will be far outstripped by two things, the numbers that turn out to vote against him, and the residual sour taste in their mouths by not just Donald Trump, because this is the key thing.  This is past Donald Trump.  Everyone kind of knows him for what he is.

It is the shock, dismay and the consequences of republicans in the House and Senate who stood by with their heads in very dark places, right, not paying attention, not acknowledging, not responding to what the American people by 51 percent now say are racist behavior and rhetoric from this president.  That will have the most lasting and profound impact on the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS:  And you just heard that from Michael, Michael Steele, the recent Chairman of the Republican National Party.  It wasn`t so many years ago that they weren`t the way they are now.

I want to thank you, Senator Claire McCaskill, Peter Baker and Michael Steele.

Coming up, the next big milestone in the race for the White House tonight, Progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren go head to head here in Detroit.  For the eight others on the stage tonight, it`s a fight for survival.  This could mean the end for them.

And how will the candidates address Trump`s racist words over the weekend when they get on stage tonight and in their campaigns ahead?  NAACP Derrick Johnson joins us here tonight on HARDBALL.

Much more ahead tonight here in Detroit.  Stick with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Tonight is the second Democratic debate, which is do-or-die for many of the candidates on the stage tonight. 

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Texas Congressman Beto O`Rourke are among the candidates participating tonight.  And most eyes, will be, however, on the top two contenders, Senator Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic socialist and the progressive capitalist, who are actually friends personally.  They will be on stage together for the first time. 

Advisers tell Politico it`s more likely the candidates will face off against the more moderate candidates on stage than against each other.  And one of those moderates is Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who is making his first debate appearance tonight. 

  And then there is tomorrow`s match among former Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. 

For more, I`m joined by Adrienne Elrod, former senior adviser to the Hillary Clinton campaign, and Jonathan Allen, NBC News digital national political reporter. 

Adrienne and then Jon, my same question.

I look at the numbers.  We`re all looking at the numbers.  Bernie is losing to Elizabeth.  He fades.  Every new poll comes out, he is fading.  She is going up.  She is eating him for breakfast.  Doesn`t he have to take her on tonight? 


And, obviously, both of those campaigns have put out statements saying they`re not going to go on the attack, they`re not going to be super aggressive.  But they`re going to draw contrasts.  And that`s what I`m going to be looking for tonight. 

I think Bernie is going to try to remind his supporters, hey, listen, I`m the one who was always championing these issues, right, Medicare for all, income inequality.


ELROD:  I have been the one who is out there trying to talk about and address these issues for a long time. 

Elizabeth Warren, however, is going to remind folks, you know what?  I`m actually the one who has got a road map to getting us, to achieving these goals. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ELROD:  So, even if they`re not going at each other in terms of like a combat warfare, Kamala-Biden round one type of situation, I think you are going to see the two of them draw a very subtle contrast. 

MATTHEWS:  Jonathan, she is already doing that. 

She said again recently -- she said it to me a long time ago, and to everyone:  I`m not a socialist.  I`m a Democrat.  I believe in the market that makes the money.  We can distribute it to have a good welfare system, a good safety net, a good health system.  But we need a market, a free market, to make money, so we can have a strong economy.

It seems to me she`s already drawing the distinctions with the socialist candidate. 

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER:  It`s certainly a significant difference between the two of them. 

And as Adrienne suggests, I think you are going see some of that soft contrasts tonight.  But, really, what I`m hearing from people who support both of these candidates is that what you want to do is show what they call a bold progressive approach is the best one to beat Donald Trump. 

And I think they both believe that they have got plenty of opportunity.  They`re running second and third in the polling so far.  They have got plenty of opportunity down the road to carve out distinctions between each other, from each other to compete with each other. 

But tonight is about trying to show that a progressive approach is the right one to take against Trump.  And the first piece of that is going to battle against some of the centrists that are going to be on the stage tonight. 

You`re going see Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend mayor, who has a more moderate path in his rhetoric and certainly in some of his policies, Amy Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota, Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana. 

And I think they`re going to try to show that contrast as the first piece of proving to the American public that the left approach is the right way to go.  Of course, we will see what happens once the debate opens and sparks start flying. 


MATTHEWS:  Are you saying they`re colluding? 

ALLEN:  Collusion -- collusion is a strong word, but they have a lot of overlap in terms of the people that have supported them over a long period of time, as Adrienne said, as you have said.

MATTHEWS:  No, are they working together?

ALLEN:  They are friends.

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  You`re saying...

ALLEN:  I don`t think they`re -- I...

MATTHEWS:  John, you`re saying they have a strategy of not attacking each other.  How did that develop, if they didn`t talk with each other? 

ALLEN:  I don`t think they have to sit down and work on the strategy for it to happen.  I think they can signal that to each other. 

I think they have been signaling that to each other.  And I would be surprised if you saw very aggressive attacks against each other.  Elizabeth Warren is not going to sit there and call Bernie Sanders a flaming socialist.  She is not going to have Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump language against him. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes? 

ALLEN:  Bernie Sanders is not going to attack Elizabeth Warren as being a corporate centrist.  You`re just not going see that. 


Let`s talk about the other people that are fighting for survival. 

Adrienne, a couple of these people aren`t going have 2 percent by September. 

ELROD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  There are some struggling about zero. 

ELROD:  Mm-hmm. 

MATTHEWS:  It seems -- will they take wild shots at the front-runners tonight? 

ELROD:  Look, I think, Chris, you are going to have to see some Hail Marys tonight from candidates like.... 

MATTHEWS:  Like Swalwell last time? 

ELROD:  Like Swalwell last time.

MATTHEWS:  When he said, pass the torch to me?

ELROD:  Hopefully not that awkward.


ELROD:  But I think you will see folks like Tim Ryan, John Delaney, they`re going to have to really get out there tonight and show why they`re in this race, why they deserve to be on that third debate stage, because, of course, Chris, we know that the threshold requirements for the third debate have essentially doubled over the threshold requirements for the first two debates. 

So, right now, you do have folks like John Delaney, Tim Ryan who have not qualified yet.  I think Beto did say that he qualified.  Amy Klobuchar has announced that she has qualified for the third debate. 

But you will see some folks, I think, who have to have some viral moments to an extent tonight in order to justify staying in the race. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, according to a new Morning Consult poll, former Vice President Joe Biden maintains his lead at 33 percent among Democratic voters, with Bernie Sanders at 18 percent.  Senator Warren comes in third at 13, Harris, Kamala Harris, at 12, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 5 percent.

And both Beto O`Rourke and Senator Cory Booker are polling at 3 percent.  All other candidates received 2 percent or less. 

Jon, one of these candidates who are officeholders, who are members of the Congress or U.S. senators, don`t they face filing deadlines, where, if they don`t get back to the job they hold and compete for them, they may lose what they have already politically?

ALLEN:  Yes, I think there are two factors, Chris. 

One is when you run out of the money that keeps the campaign plane flying.  That`s one thing that gets people out of races.  And the other is if they`re embarrassing themselves, to the point where they make themselves vulnerable because they`re not doing their jobs or vulnerable because they`re showing to people in their own party that they might be primary- able in their next election. 

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in New York has got to worry about that.  She has got six years, five years until her next election, but certainly a lot of Democrats in New York would like that seat next time. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Adrienne on this question. 

The luck of the draw can embarrass everybody, including the DNC.  All the 10 candidates tonight are Caucasians.  That was an accident. 

ELROD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that going to make for an awkward night for the moderators, for the candidates, with a party that really prides itself in its diversity, as opposed to the Republican Party, which wouldn`t mind being like that, probably?

ELROD:  Yes, look, I don`t think it`s ideal in the drawings that you actually have 10 people on the stage tonight, all of them are white. 

But I do think that -- I don`t think it`s going to be that awkward.  It is just what it is.  And I do think, by the way, Chris, that race will play a major role in this debate because of Donald Trump`s comments over the past two weeks, particularly on the Squad and, of course, insulting Elijah Cummings and talking about Baltimore. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

ELROD:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you for being so tall. 

ELROD:  Thank you.  I feel very tall right now. 

MATTHEWS:  You`re so tall.

Anyway, Adrienne Elrod, thank you. 

And, Jonathan Allen, Jonathan, thank you. 

Up next:  Will John Ratcliffe do to the intel agencies what Barr did to the Justice Department, turn them into Trump operations? 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

There are new signs today that President Trump`s nominee for director of national intelligence, U.S. Congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas, may not be a slam dunk for the job -- top job overseeing the country`s intelligence agencies. 

"The Washington Post" notes that Ratcliffe has only received tepid support from key Republicans, an early indication that he might not sail smoothly to confirmation. 

According to "The Post"`s analysis, Ratcliffe has significantly less experience than former directors, who each had backgrounds in intelligence, foreign service or the military.

In contrast, Ratcliffe is a three-term congressman who served briefly as a U.S. attorney down in Texas. 

Additionally, NBC News reports that, although Ratcliffe`s Web site says he put terrorists in prison, there`s no evidence he ever persecuted -- prosecuted a terrorism case in his life. 

And during his career in Congress, Ratcliffe has distinguished himself through his attacks on the Obama administration and allegations of impropriety at the FBI and DOJ.  Here he goes. 


REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE (R-TX):  I`m of the opinion that, for the last eight years, we have survived the worst presidency of my lifetime. 

We learned today about information that, after -- in the immediate aftermath of his election, that there may have been a secret society of folks within the Department of Justice and the FBI. 

There was a direct pipeline into the DOJ, essentially from the Democratic National Committee and Fusion GPS that is troubling. 

What I do know, as a former federal prosecutor, is, it does appear that there were crimes committed during the Obama administration.

One candidate for president of the United States had commissioned and paid for the central piece of evidence being used to seek a warrant to spy on an associate of the other candidate for president of the United States.

Americans need to know this as they listen to the Democrats and socialists on the other side of the aisle as they do dramatic readings from this report. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, it`s no surprise that Ratcliffe appears to have drawn Trump`s attention because of his television appearances, according to "The Washington Post." 

Now Trump is saying it will be Ratcliffe`s job to rein in American intelligence agencies, the very thing that critics fear a partisan director might try to do. 

Here is the president on this today:


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think that John Ratcliffe is going to do an incredible job, if he gets approved.  He`s got to get approved.  But I think he will do a great job. 

I hope he gets approved.  I think we need somebody like that there.  We need somebody strong that can really rein it in, because, as I think you have all learned, the intelligence agencies have run amok.  They have run amok. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, those remarks from Trump today suggest that the president views Ratcliffe as a loyal soldier in his ongoing war against U.S. intelligence agencies. 

The question now is whether Republicans in the U.S. Senate will stand for it or whether they will finally break with the president on this issue. 

That`s coming up next.  You`re watching HARDBALL. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Congressman Ratcliffe`s partisan baggage and lack of experience has earned him a cool reception from members of the president`s own party. 

"The New York Times" reports today that, in private conversations, several Republican U.S. senators said they wanted to keep the intelligence post apolitical, and that Mr. Ratcliffe will need to show he can move beyond the die-hard conservative persona that has made him a star in the House and on FOX News. 

I`m joined right now by two people that can talk about this, Democratic Congressman Denny Heck of Washington, who is on the House Intelligence Committee.  And Elise Jordan is with "TIME" magazine. 

Congressman, why is the president picking Boo Radley to be head of national intelligence? 


REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA):  I don`t think...

MATTHEWS:  This guy is a total partisan hack.  Your thoughts? 

HECK:  Well, Chris, first of all, I think it`s important that nobody underestimate John`s native intellectual prowess.  This is a smart guy. 

But he has, in fact, two very hard questions to answer.  House members don`t have advise and consent, but if I were in the Senate, here are the two hard questions he has to answer.  Number one, how are you qualified to do this job? 

It`s important to remember that the statute that created the Office of National Intelligence specifically requires that the director have extensive experience.  Seven months on the Intelligence Committee does not constitute extensive experience. 

And the second question is, what is the evidence that he can speak truth to power?  If ever there were a position in the federal government where we know it is important for the occupant to speak truth to power to the president, it is this one. 

They must be cold-blooded, clear-eyed and dispassionate in their assessment of our national security issues and intelligence issues.  We do not need a cheerleader.  We do not need, frankly, another Bill Barr at the head of DNI, period. 

MATTHEWS:  Elise, that`s the same thing I would think.  I have been thinking it all day, which is, he got Bill Barr to take control of the Justice Department, to distort the Mueller report, and smother it up, basically, so it was -- hurtful, damage he did to it in terms of its impact when it finally came out by redacting everything. 

He had a political officer over -- covering up what is, in fact, a nonpolitical job, which is reporting the truth. 

Is he doing the same thing to our intelligence agencies by putting them under the control of a total political partisan? 

ELISE JORDAN, TIME MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, I think that this is another example of Donald Trump taking a position that used to be apolitical and a national security position that was supposed to be above politics, and he is trying to install someone who is going to tell him what he wants to hear. 

And you look at how President Trump has been upset and commenting on Fox News` programming in days of late.  He is upset he can`t program Fox News.  He certainly does not want to hear dissenting opinion from his chief intelligence officer, and that`s a big problem when you need someone with analytical rigor who indeed is going to speak truth to power. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, do you truth this guy, your colleague, to give an honest presidential briefing each day? 

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA):  So I don`t know John that well, despite the fact that I served on Intel Committee. 

In fact, quick funny story, Chris.  I got on to the elevator at the apartment building I live in late last year, and there was a fellow standing there in a suit with a congressional security pin on.  I didn`t recognize him at all.  I found myself saying, I`m sorry, I don`t know who you are.  And he said, I`m John Ratcliffe from Texas. 

So I really don`t know him that well.  I -- based on any observations I had on his performance in the Intel Committee, and thus far appears or the more of a cheerleading role than it is of a dispassionate assessment of the facts at hand.  But then again, what I think he`s been doing is auditioning for the job. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, when he made that comment the other day about the Democrats and the socialists and it was meant to be a serious inquiry, he threw out the cheapest -- one thing to call the Democratic Party the Democrat Party.  They do that instinctively.  But to refer to the Democrats as the Democrats and the socialists seems like in addition to Trump.  This guy is going to play hardball against the Democrats. 

JORDAN:  He`s debating Democrats and socialism, that isn`t exactly the kind of national security heft that one would hope to see in a person filling this position.  I just think back to the first director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, and his extensive experience in national security as an ambassador posted all across the globe.  He had just been posted in Baghdad and had been the first real ambassador posted there in the aftermath of Paul Bremer and played such an important role dealing with the intel community, the military community, and of course, his role as a diplomat. 

And I think if someone like John Negroponte, comparing them to Congressman John Ratcliffe is really a tough haul. 

HECK:  Well, Elise is spot on, because it`s not just John, Ambassador Negroponte.  Every director of national intelligence since has had far more national security and intelligence service and experience than Congressman Ratcliffe has. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think, Congressman, that he is going to pursue as DNI if he gets the job, that he`ll pursue these theories about the beginnings of the Mueller investigation? 

HECK:  I don`t think the DNI is the position from which to do that necessarily.  I think it`s more over at DOJ.  But who knows.  I think if history is prologue, that he is going to do and say whatever it is that thinks the president wants him to do.  I hate to use the tortured analogy or metaphor, but it`s kind of like asking how high when the president says jump on the way up. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, meanwhile, the first Democratic TV to capitalize on the Mueller hearings was launched today.  Let`s take a look. 


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY):  Did you actually totally exonerate the president? 


REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL):  Isn`t it fair to say that the president`s written answers show that he wasn`t always being truthful? 

MUELLER:  Generally. 

REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO):  Do you believe that you could charge the president of the United States of obstruction of justice after he left office? 


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA):  The campaign welcomed the Russian help, did they not? 


SCHIFF:  And then they lied to cover it up? 

MUELLER:  Generally, that`s true. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that ad, which was run by billionaire candidate Tom Steyer comes as a number of Democrats favoring the impeachment inquiry has gone up to 113, according to NBC News. 

Elise, isn`t it interesting that the highlight reel, which that ad was based on of the Mueller testimony packs a lot more power than watching it all day that day? 

JORDAN:  Why did it take so long to get that ad cut is the question that I would pose to Democrats when the first opening of it was Congressman Nadler and what he managed to accomplish just in the opening questioning of Robert Mueller?  And so, it`s kind of surprising to me that such an obvious video to make took a while.  But it`s great that the truth is getting out there, that Donald Trump was indeed not exonerated. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, tell me why you decided to come out for the impeachment inquiry at this point?

HECK:  So, Chris, you know, it was one thing to read the report, which I did, in fact more than once.  And it was another thing to talk with my colleagues and my constituents and to listen to their concerns.  But I cannot exaggerate to you the impact it had on me to actually sit through that hearing, hear directly from Director Mueller, have the opportunity to ask him questions, and to hear my colleagues ask him questions. 

I frankly was plunged, and I use that word advisedly, into a state of deep reflection and contemplation on all that I had heard --

MATTHEWS:  I lost you there. 

Anyway, I want to thank -- go ahead.  I want to thank Congressman Denny Heck of Washington and Elise Jordan. 

I do think this guy Ratcliffe bears a resemblance to Boo Radley of literature because being spooky is not a good reputation to have to become a spook.

Up next, Trump`s divisive racial language is almost certain to be a topic of discussion in tonight`s debate here in Detroit.  NAACP President Derrick Johnson is going to join us to talk what he`d like to hear coming from the Democrats. 

That`s next here on HARDBALL.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think I`m helping myself.  And I`ll tell you what.  The White House and myself and letters and emails and phone calls have received more phone calls than I think on any other subject of people from Baltimore and other cities corruptly run by Democrats thanking me for getting involved. 

Those people are living in hell in Baltimore.  They`re largely African American.  You have a large African American population, and they really appreciate what I`m doing. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump today continued his racially divisive rhetoric against Congressman Cummings and the city of Baltimore.  The president sees it as a winning strategy apparently for him heading into 2020.  In considering it doesn`t look like House Democrats are going to impeach him any time soon, the only way to get this president out of office will be at the ballot box next year. 

Well, tonight and tomorrow, all eyes will be on the debate stage here as voters try to figure out who has the best chance to defeat President Trump. 

For more, I`m joined now by Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP. 

Mr. President, thank you for joining us. 

You know, I`ve followed politics a long time.  And when someone of either party of any background, ethnically or racially makes a mistake and offend the community, they usually apologize and move on.  This president is doubling down, tripling down on his insults of people of color and cities where there is a large population of minorities.  He keeps doing it. 

Your thoughts?

DERRICK JOHNSON, NAACP PRESIDENT & CEO:  Well, he`s used his effectively as a distraction tactic.  Prior to the Mueller hearing, he told the four congresswomen to go back where they came from.  It dominated the media headlines during a time when the media should have been talking about the Mueller testimony and what came out that testimony. 

Following the testimony, he went back to the same type of tactic to distract and drown out the substance of realities that he was a part of a foreign nation`s interference with our election process, and Mueller said clearly that he should be prosecuted if he -- as soon as he walk out the White House, he should be prosecuted.  And we as NAACP, our delegates spoke loud, that Congress needs to start the articles of impeachment because this president has committed some serious crimes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the Democrats tonight.  Do you believe they should address Trump on this regard, on impeachment, on his racist reputation now?  Where would you like to see them put their remarks tonight in the next couple of hours? 

JOHNSON:  Well, I think the candidates who are offering themselves up for office should really focus on the policy options that they`re going to present to the American people if they are selected.  I think voters should have an opportunity to understand through all of the noise of the moment what opportunities that these candidates will present if selected as the nominee for their parties.  If I was a candidate on that stage, I`d be focused on the serious issues around health care, access to quality education, and all of the policy things that the American public is concerned about. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Mr. Johnson, in the latest Quinnipiac poll just out today, former Vice President Joe Biden has a commanding lead among African- American voters.  A majority 53 percent said they would vote for Biden.  That`s more than double the support of any of the candidates combined. 

What`s happening? 

JOHNSON:  Well, I think that`s more of a measurement of name ID.  He was a sitting vice president for eight years.  He walked into the space with a tremendous advantage.  As we begin to narrow down the field and more candidates are able to penetrate that message, we will see that to close. 

But in addition to that, that`s a nationwide poll.  The only polls that really matter are in the battleground state.  Will he be age to resonate in the early primaries such as South Carolina and many of the Deep South states?  Will other candidates, will they be able to penetrate their message? 

So, it is very early.  If you think about 2007 at the same time, no one thought President Obama had an opportunity.  So we should look at this race in that context and not assume anything so early. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, President Trump`s criticisms of conditions in Baltimore, the city of Baltimore are similar to those he made about black neighborhoods during the 2016 election.  Just after he won that election, the president credited those types of remarks with helping to diminish return of black voters.  Watch him here. 


TRUMP:  Remember the famous line, because I talk about crime.  I talk about lack of education.  I talk about no jobs. 

And I`d say what the hell do you have to lose, right?  It`s true.  And they`re smart and they picked up on it like you wouldn`t believe. 

And you know what else?  They didn`t come out to vote for Hillary.  They didn`t come out.  And that was big.  So thank you to the African-American community. 


MATTHEWS:  Do you think it`s reasonable to assume that his derogatory language about big cities across the country, many of them with large minority populations will depress the morale of the black voter so they won`t show up? 

JOHNSON:  Well, you know, it`s a scenario where we see 2016, the party that put change on the ballot and won, I don`t believe the Democratic Party put change on the ballot.  And in addition to that, if you look at the city of Detroit we had in the neighborhood of 28,000 voters who went to the polls.  And at 80 percent African-American city, which happens to be my hometown, and they didn`t vote for the top of the ticket. 

That was not about an indictment or support for Trump.  That`s the lack of attention paid to the base vote.  And for African-Americans in neither party at any given particular time really treat African-American voters with the type of focus that African-Americans should be treated with.

If African-American vote turnout is up, that means one thing.  If it`s down, it means another thing.  The real question for candidates who offered themselves up for the presidency, do you respect the black vote?  Because it will be the black vote that determines the outcome of this election. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me talk Turkey with you for just one second.  It seems one reason the vote went down although up in the city because you had an African-American president running in `12 and `08.  And in `16, you didn`t. 

Do the Democrats have to put someone of color on the ticket next year? 

JOHNSON:  Well, I don`t know if that`s the case.  I thought the Democrats need to get to the city and talk to the voters.  That did not happen in destroy.  That didn`t happen in Milwaukee until it was too late. 

Hillary Clinton did not spend enough time with black voters in major cities in these key cities. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We have to go.  Thank you so much, the head of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson. 

Stay with us.  You`re watching HARDBALL.

JOHNSON:  Thank you. 


MATTHEWS:  I`ll be back at 10:30 for post-debate coverage.