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New immigration policy targets legal immigrants. TRANSCRIPT: 8/13/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Juanita Tolliver, Jonathan Swan, Susan Page, Paul Butler, VanessaGrigoriadis, James Warren



SETH MEYERS, LATE NIGHT HOST:  The president`s Tweets are so insane the news can`t even show them now.  It`s gotten to the point where when he talks to reporters, they`re going to have to blur out his entire face.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Only a slight stretch, we don`t show some of those lying Tweets.

That does it for THE BEAT.  "HARDBALL" starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Send them back.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Send them back.  Until recently, that was the message Donald Trump and his legions were sending to the four progressive women of color serving in the U.S. Congress.  Now, it`s to the world.  The president once said his only priority is stopping illegal immigration.  Well, now his administration is taking unprecedented steps to make it harder for legal immigrants to stay in the country legally.

Yesterday, the administration rolled out a new rule making it harder for low income legal immigrants to receive food stamps or any other forms of public assistance that they would be allowed to stay here if they ever took any of that assistance.  In an interview with NPR this morning, acting Citizenship and Immigration Director, Ken Cuccinelli, defended this new rule, offering an amendment to the words of Emma Lazarus` words etched on the Statue of Liberty.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus` words etched on the Statue of Liberty, give me your tired, your poor, are also part of the American ethos?

KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES:  They certainly are, give me your tired and your poor who can stand on your own two feet and who will not become a public charge.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Cuccinelli would only argue that all immigrants who can pull themselves up by their bootstraps are welcome.

This afternoon, President Trump defended Cuccinelli and the new administration policy when asked if he thinks those welcoming words should be changed.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  Well, I don`t think it`s fair to have the American taxpayer -- you know, it`s about America first, I don`t think it`s fair to have the American taxpayer pay for people to come into the United States.

So what we`ve done is introduce what took place many, many years ago at our founding, virtually.  That we are just reinstituting it, and I think it`s long overdue.


MATTHEWS:  Well, NBC News reports that, quote, the rule change would require immigrants applying for a change in immigration status, like a green card or those seeking to come here to prove that they are unlikely to ever need public assistance and can bar immigrants who had received assistance above a certain threshold from even being approved.

Washington Post Columnist Eugene Robinson points out that that rule will also change the composition of those let into the country, writing, the new rule would dramatically reduce legal, I repeat, legal immigration from low income countries, not just coincidentally, I`m sure.  This means fewer black and brown people would be granted resident status.

In an interview with the Hill T.V. late today, Cuccinelli defended his remarks, saying the rule change was about self-sufficiency.


CUCCINELLI:  This is a part and parcel of America`s immigration history.  We want people to come here.  We`re the most generous nation in the history of the world when it comes to immigration and having open arms, but we do expect people to stand on their own two feet to care for themselves.


MATTHEWS:  For more I`m joined by Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, Jonathan Swan, National Political Reporter for Axios, Michael Steele, former RNC Chair, Juanita Tolliver, Campaign Director at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Juanita, I want you to start.  What does this smell like to you?

JUANITA TOLLIVER, CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR AMERICAN ACTION PROGRESS ACTION FUND:  I mean, it`s just plain and simple.  Immigrants, if you want the American dream, get it before you come here.

MATTHEWS:  Come with money?

TOLLIVER:  Come with money, come with education, oftentimes, come with pale light skin, right?  I think this is just --

MATTHEWS:  Tell me how figured out part about the skin part.

TOLLIVER:  I mean, Trump has said repeatedly, one, African nations are shit hole countries but he`d welcome anyone from Norway, right?  The evidence is there and this is just another policy that is founded racism from the Trump administration.

MATTHEWS:  Jonathan?


MATTHEWS:  You`re from Australia.  How do you read this?  How do you hear this yourself as a person when you hear these --

SWAN:  I mean, the Trump --

MATTHEWS:  -- needy people.

SWAN:  It`s not like they`ve been particularly subtle about this.  I mean, this has been Stephen Miller`s singular obsession for two-and-a-half years, this particular regulation.  The law itself has been on the books since 1880s.  It`s never actually been properly clarified.  There`s been debates about it at separate times.

MATTHEWS:  What does it say?

SWAN:  It talks about a public charge, about people basically causing a charge to the taxpayer.  But it was never properly articulated in regulation.

Now, they`re using this opportunity, Stephen Miller saw this as an opportunity in his mind to dramatically reduce the number of legal immigrants and to change the type of legal immigrants that come into this country.

And it actually fits in with what they`ve been talking about.  They don`t want people who are poor and low school.

MATTHEWS:  But the notion we have, the sort of the notion -- the picture we have of our country, people on Ellis Island, kind of poor-looking, right?  There is the Italian wave, the Jewish wave, the German wave, the Irish wave, all the different generations of waves all coming with basically maybe a bag full of clothes, maybe.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY:  So the American dream, you come here, you`re poor, you don`t have any advantages, you work hard.

MATTHEWS:  The German wave.

PAGE:  You succeed, you get rich.  It`s not that you come here and get richer.  You come here rich and get richer.

So this is -- I think Jonathan is right, it`s not subtle.  It`s also not surprising because Donald Trump has talked for a long time wanting to go to a merit-based system, Congress has been a merit-based, meaning you get points for being better educated for having more money.  Congress has been completely uninterested in doing that.  He is now trying to do that administratively.

MATTHEWS:  You know, before the Kennedys came along who had some sense, they were elite, but they had some sense of what it was like to be immigrants, some sense.  And they changed the law.  It wasn`t a quota system.  It wasn`t Northern Europeans.  It wasn`t -- they used the law it used to be if you have a lot of people like Germans, a lot of English people, then you can get a lot of English and a lot of Germans in, which makes it very hard for Jews and Italians and everybody else to get into the country.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIR:  That`s true.  And to Jonathan`s point, this particular aspect of the law has been in place.  They are now, you can say, weaponizing it and making it a real part of --


STEELE:  Well, I think it`s largely to your point about how the president has already articulated his view of who should come into the country.

But here is the other side of that coin.  This message resonates with a lot of people out there with this idea that you come here to then automatically go on the dole, to automatically get something from the country.


STEELE:  So from that particular perspective of the narrative, this works.  This resonates with a lot more people than you may think who agree that, you know, you mean you got on a plane and flew to the United States, and now you`re on public assistance?  Wait a minute.  How does that work?

TOLLIVER:  How hypocritical is that when not so long ago?

STEELE:  I`m just saying how the narrative and the politics works on this.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Michael, let`s get to this (INAUDIBLE).  If you bring grandma here, say you get here on your own, and you want to bring your mother, your uncle, your aunt or whatever, do you take care of them?  I mean, in part, I think it`s proper.

STEELE:  The presumption would be that you would take care of them.  But what this ruling would say that you need to show us you will take care of them.  Because if the idea is that you`re going to bring grandma here and she`s going to suddenly get a check from the government, guess what`s going to be denied, or better yet, if she is already here and falls on hard times.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s do one more point on that.

SWAN:  The very important context here, really cannot underline this enough, I spent all day talking to the Trump administration for the last two-and-a-half years.  Forget the wall.  Stephen miller doesn`t care about the wall that much.  This was his number one priority, this regulation.

MATTHEWS:  Chain migration?

SWAN:  He believes that this will dramatically reduce the number of legal immigrants.  It`s a big deal.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about that because you talk about brown people, you`re talking about Latinos, Latinas coming here.  The message from Trump from the beginning when he tried to be pure, I`m not against legal immigration from the south, from Guatemala, Honduras, wherever, Belize, I`m not against Mexicans coming here for a better life.  They just should do it legally.  And now the word is out, don`t bother.  Because if you`re poor or you`re from Mexico and you come here looking for a job, you are going to be poor.

TOLLIVER:  Or on top of that, if you`re here legally, now you`ll be penalized.  You followed the rules, you did everything in the process correctly.  But now, it will be held against you if you seek support for food, for medical care, for housing.  And that`s going to lead a lot of problem in the Latin communities and others.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it looks like a betrayal to me.  To move the move to tamp down on legal immigration comes a week after the massacre in El Paso where the gunman parroted the president`s own words calling illegal immigration across the southern border a Hispanic invasion.

Asked about that at the White House last week, President Trump reiterated his views on immigration.


TRUMP:  I think illegal immigration is a terrible thing for this country.  I think you have to come here legally.  Ideally, you have to come in through merit.  We need people coming in because we have many companies coming into our country.  They`re pouring in.  I believe we have to have legal immigration, not illegal immigration.


MATTHEWS:  We have to have legal immigration.

Back in 2016, during what was built as an immigration policy speech, then candidate Trump argued that an immigration system based on merit was about serving American needs.


TRUMP:  We take anybody, come on in, anybody.  Just come on in.  Not anymore.  Remember, under a Trump administration, it`s called America first.  To choose immigrants based on merit, merit, skill and proficiency, doesn`t that sound nice?


MATTHEWS:  You know, there is a real value system here.  You know, everybody in the left loves meritocracies, the better educated, the better and all that crap.

Now, Trump seems to be saying the same thing.  If you`ve got technical skills, you`ve merited preference, you`re a better person, you`re sort of morally merited.  He makes you sound like you`re a better person because you have technical skills.  How many of you don`t have technical skills but you want to go to America?

STEEL:  But here`s the rub with this policy.  To Jonathan`s point, when you read it and flesh it all the way out, that individual who comes here on merit, who has the job that`s doing him very well or her very well loses that job, and then for a year or two years is now on public assistance, they`re up for green card renewal.

Under this current system, the way it`s read, when they apply and they put in there that they took government assistance, whatever, for two years, they could technically be thrown out.  So how much does this merit part really weigh?  Do they get a pass?

MATTHEWS:  Let`s go to the idea that maybe Trump is --

PAGE:  Let`s remember that immigrants serve American interests when they are not so skilled.  Who fills a lot of the jobs in America that we need?  Who provides young people who are in the workforce helping older Americans who are looking at --

MATTHEWS:  Let`s go to that question.  Business needs two kinds of workers.  Let`s face it, high-tech businesses, Silicon Valley, they`re looking for any kind engineering background, anything like that, they can programmers, we know all that.  That`s one need.

But as I was talking to a guy at a fish store the other day, he said, who wants to work at a smelly fish store?  Somebody who`s from Jamaica is just desperate for a job, and it`s a minimum wage job.  And they really happy to get that job.

TOLLIVER:  Exactly right.

STEELE:  (INAUDIBLE) that you just ate this weekend?


MATTHEWS:  What about the chicken place that we`re talking about that`s (INAUDIBLE)?  So there is different kinds of economic deeds.  So when he says what`s good for America is an open question.

PAGE:  Yes.  But immigration is his prime directive, right?  What was the first issue that Donald Trump talked about when he announced for president?  It was immigration and especially opposing immigration for Mexico.

When Donald Trump gets into trouble, his reflex is to go back to immigration as an issue, that he believes and that he is comfortable with that he knows his base will support him on.

MATTHEWS:  Well, today`s comments from Ken Cuccinelli are nothing new from the longtime immigration hard-liner.  Now you know how he got his job at this administration.

When he was tapped as acting director in June of this year, Politico reported on the former Virginia attorney general`s history on immigration.  As a Virginia State lawmaker, Cuccinelli backed changes to the Constitution of his state to restrict -- or commonwealth to restrict birthright citizenship and sought to deny unemployment benefits to workers who didn`t speak English.  He issued a legal opinion as state attorney general that authorized law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone stopped by police.

So this guy, you know you apply for a job with this guy, do the job before you get it.

TOLLIVER:  All the evidence is there.  We know where this is coming from.  We clearly have a sense of Cuccinelli`s history.  Again, I can`t let go of the hypocrisy at which he can tout this as a good policy knowing that it probably would have impacted his Italian and Irish ancestors who immigrated here all those years.

MATTHEWS:  Well, my grandparents came from other countries and they wouldn`t have come with many skills.  One came in as a chauffeur.  The other came in as a mother`s helper.  I`m not sure they would have passed muster with this crowd.  What do you think, Michael?

STEELE:  Well, no, I think you`re right, it wouldn`t pass muster.  But here is the other side of that rub, is where is the Congress going to come down on this when they get back to Washington?  How do they even then begin to speak about this in the context to the very examples that you`ve given, because we know that`s not how the world rolls.  You just don`t have people coming out of MIT versions from their home country to the United States.  There`s --

MATTHEWS:  If it was so great, they might not have left.

STEELE:  Right, exactly.  So the question becomes, for all the skill sets that are required to get the job done in this country, why are you going limit it?  Why are you going cut it off so you can only achieve at this level when you know the vast majority of the work is going to be done by that person working in a chicken factory?

PAGE:  Do you think Congress will do anything?  I assume Congress will do nothing.

STEELE:  I assume Congress won`t do anything about it either.  That`s why Trump is making this play right now because he knows he`s going to have a runway on this issue and the Congress on the right is going to be afraid to say anything about it and the Congress on the left is too disjointed.

MATTHEWS:  I just wish the Congress on the left and center-left would issue again the chance of having a comprehensive and immigration bill in the president`s face, in Mitch McConnell`s face.

STEELE:  Pass it in the House.

MATTHEWS:  And then they could say, go ahead, you make our day.  Pass this in the Senate or stop talking.

My guests are sticking around.

Coming up next, plastic straws and wind turbines.  To shore up his base, President Trump dials up the culture wars ahead of the 2020 fight.

Plus, Trump refused to back off on pushing a Clinton-themed conspiracy nonsense on the death of Jeffrey Epstein.  And where, by the way, the case against Epstein headed right now?  You know, he`s dead but there is more case coming.

And is Trump about to come to the rescue of one of his former celebrity apprentice contestants?  You bet.  The president appears to be on the verge of committing (ph) the prison sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, we call him B-Rod here.

Much more ahead.  Stay with us.



LOU DOBBS, FOX NEWS HOST:  His base is expecting a wall, expecting illegal immigration to be stopped.

This president forgets who his base is and listen to some of these folks advising him on illegal immigration, the wall and gun control and jobs and visas and American worker, it`s going to be a dandy of an election.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Fox Business Host and unofficial Trump adviser, Lou Dobbs, last night warning the president not to appear soft on the issues most important to his base.  The president has been signaling he will run as far right as possible, of course, rather than risk losing a single vote from his base.

According to The Washington Post, that means dialing up the culture wars.  Quote, Trump is deliberately amplifying public tensions by seizing on divisive topics to energize his base, according to campaign aides and White House advisers.  The president is following much of the same strategy he pursued in 2016, inserting himself into the issues, his supporters are already discussing, using blunt us against them language without regard to nuance or political correctitude.

At the heart of Trump`s cultural message, fault lines like guns, immigration and race.


TRUMP:  The Democratic Party is now being led by four left wing extremists who reject everything that we hold dear.  They want virtual immunity for illegal aliens who have committed horrible crimes and murder.

The homicide rate in Baltimore is significantly higher than El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala.  I believe it`s higher than -- give me a place that you think is pretty bad.  Give me a place.  The guy says Afghanistan.  I believe it`s higher than Afghanistan.

Virtually, every top Democrat also now supports late-term abortion.  It`s not only late-term abortion, it`s killing the baby after the baby is born.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with Susan Page, Jonathan Swan, Michael Steele and Juanita Tolliver, there we heard the critic air (ph) of the President.  I have a theory that he`s not going to give an inch on immigration.


MATTHEWS:  He`s not going to give an inch on guns, because he wants the last right-wing voter to go with him, and he can`t afford to give any of them up to win the election.

TOLLIVER:  You know, you`re exactly right.  You know, honestly as the person of color, I`m bracing myself for hearing this drum beat for the next 18 months.  Like this is, this is a lot and he`s not going to back down, he`s going to continue to escalate this, we saw it with his attacks on the squad, we saw it with his disgusting racist language from the moment he descended the escalator in 2015.  What I think needs to be dealt with though is the fact that his racist statements and everything that he`s saying right now has a negative impact and yields dangerous violence.

MATTHEWS:  Where does he pick up Susan, because I think he has pushed this way too far, I think suburban white women are not going to like signing on to a guy who is clearly racist, or seems racist.  I think men may stick with him, I think the big cities are going to vote much more heartily against him than they did looking at him coming, now they see him here, it`s much more frightening to vote in higher numbers.  He`s got to make up for that, he can`t just bring the same vote out he had in 2016.

PAGE:  But, you know, to think about this, what if the economy continues to be pretty good, or really good.  And this recovery continues, could he appeal to a share of the Hispanic vote, I think he probably could, could he get back some Republican -- some moderate Republicans including suburban women who don`t like the way he behaves, but they very much like the direction, the economy, and jobs and what`s happening with the stock market.  That is it seems to me a one scenario that would make it possible for him.

MATTHEWS:  So talking about --

TOLLIVER:  But he`s not talking about that.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about -- Michael you`re former RNC Chair, who is somebody that sat in the bushes and didn`t vote for him last time will vote this time?  Who was waiting for something better from Trump than when he promised (INAUDIBLE).

STEELE:  It`s not question of waiting for something better, you have to keep in the context.  One, their disdain for Hillary Clinton in 2016 kept a lot of people off the playground, two, when they looked at Trump they were like oh really I don`t think so.  But now to your point, about the economy those are people who feel the economy is doing well for them, maybe it is, maybe it isn`t we don`t know but they feel that.  And that is to Susan`s point can be a huge draw for the president, it is the card that he won`t play to your point.

TOLLIVER:  He`s not playing it.

STEELE:  He didn`t talk about it in 2018, a lot of Republicans wanted to talk about it, Democrats talked about healthcare and Trump played the caravan card.  And paid the price for it.  I think where you`re going to see the President come down, is he is going to keep playing with the means that he`s got going right now, on race and immigration and then knowing that people feel good about where the economy is.

The first quarter of next year is very important, because if the down term begins in that quarter that means by the time you get to this point next year, it is going to be a lot of scrambling on the Trump team, because they got to make that space up, somewhere the votes that they don`t have right now.

MATTHEWS:  Well I think this guy spent $2 billion in advertisement that they claim for the economic improvement.

STEELE:  Yes, no, of course he is.


MATTHEWS:  There`s a new issue about it, there`s no issue out there too small for Trump to weigh on.  You know, an ongoing environmental debate of the use of plastic straws, the President has made it clear he is against, what his campaign calls liberal paper straws.  Boy I`m learning this crap everyday, this is something I didn`t even know about.

His campaign has started selling plastic straws, stamped with Trumps name on them.  The campaign tells, to why supposed that they have earned more than $670,000 in selling them.  Susan, this is obviously, this is like freedom fries, one of those weird cultural things, screw the climate change talk, there`s a whole bunch intellectuals and pencil necks and all -- this makes the statement right?

PAGE:  It seems to me this is not --

MATTHEWS:  This is the (INAUDIBLE) way of saying we don`t care about you people.

PAGE:  I think this is not as powerful a wedge issue as race and immigration, maybe I`m underestimating the power of the straw point --

SWAN:  I mean forget the way, like Trump, their campaign is -- you got to remember, the -- I mean you guys were all here, I covered it day to day, their last campaign wasn`t a campaign, it really wasn`t, Trump won despite barely having a campaign.

It sort of started to kick into gear in the summer of 2016, they`ve actually got a pretty powerful campaigner and they sure as heck have a very powerful fund raising machine.  Low dollar donors, they`re sucking in money, they can have an absolute ton of money, they`re selling products like this and getting -- I mean I get the text messages would offering these straws

MATTHEWS:  Do they have a plan --


MATTHEWS:  Speaking of message, because I have (INAUDIBLE), Reagan ran on Morning in America, which was brilliant, it made everybody feel good they - -

SWAN:  You know, what they running (INAUDIBLE) like the texts, invasion.

MATTHEWS:  So it`s all going to be negative?

SWAN:  Well I mean I just -- based on what I get from the messaging it`s mostly the immigrations, I mean this is the hardcore --

MATTHEWS:  And let`s talk about the other (INAUDIBLE) here.  Vice President Joe Biden still leads the pack of Democratic presidential contenders, but a series of recent gaffes which we all know about might weaken Biden`s standings.  According to the New York Times, some of his advisers said an interview is that they were privately, no wait, we`re not privately, they said it to the news at this rate.  But his recent gaffe spree would become cemented to the larger narrative of the presidential race.  Juanita, I like it when people say private, don`t tell anybody.

TOLLIVER:  No one talking to the press right?

MATTHEWS:  Tell "The New York Times".  What do you think?

TOLLIVER:  I think one, I think it`s the gaffes are being a little overplayed, but they are important because we must remember that he served under Obama who would not be afforded this type of leeway if he was repeatedly making mistakes on (INAUDIBLE) like this.

MATTHEWS:  Here it go.

TOLLIVER:  So I think it comes down to impact, how has this impacted in the next series of polls, how many voters are going to move away from selecting him as their number one pick as a result of these gaffes.  I`m not sure it`s going to be much.

MATTHEWS:  You know -- you know, I`d say if -- or Biden, I think about it all the time, what I`d say if I were Biden.

STEELE:  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  Something that says, yes, I got a lot mileage on me, but I know the directions now.


MATTHEWS:  I know how to get there.


MATTHEWS:  It make me a designated driver, I`m going to get there.

STEELE:  I think that`s Biden`s.

MATTHEWS:  He`s got to play on his mileage, because he`s got a lot of miles on him.

STEELE:  He`s got a lot of miles, he`s been in the Senate since he was 29.  And I think the country knows him.  The core constituencies of the Democratic Party know him that`s why he`s sitting it, you know, plus 15, 20 points ahead of everybody else, I think the gaffes are baked in, I don`t know how you see it when you cover the campaigns or stuff.  But I just think that a lot of voters right there just don`t really see that as a weight for him as much as maybe as the established order and some of the special interest.

SWAN:  I would say that Trump people have been surprised at how resilient his polling, Biden`s polling has been particularly after his first debate performance was a catastrophe in almost everyone`s eyes.  And his polling barely moved.

MATTHEWS:  It`s like the stock market, if you`re a moderate, where else are you going to put your money?

SWAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Well I mean moderate.

SWAN:  It`s hard to think that people`s minds are being -- are changing about Joe Biden at this point.

TOLLIVER:  Well let`s also remember --


MATTHEWS:  We`re going to cut off guys, I`m sorry.

PAGE:  Yes.  So I think that it`s a problem for Biden actually.  It has been surprising that his polling hasn`t eroded given the amount of trouble he has had, the amount of negative press, but every time he makes a gaffe like this, it reminds us that he makes gaffes which he`s always done, it also reminds us that he`s 76 years old.  And if Cory Booker made these gaffes it would not raise questions about his age, and his vigor, but when Joe Biden does, it does, and he keeps making them and it`s hard to imagine he will stop making them.

STEELE:  Yes, I see your point Susan, I just don`t -- I don`t feel that on the street, I just don`t feel that from folks when I talk about Joe Biden and the gaffes they laugh, they`re like yes it`s Joe.

MATTHEWS:  I knew we`d be having this conversation, maybe --


TOLLIVER:  Again let`s --


MATTHEWS:  Thank you, there`s only one guy running in that moderate lane right now enough.  You know, if Kamala Harris goes into that lane, or, you know, Amy Klobuchar somebody jumps on that lane with them, then you`ll have some competition, but right now I think it`s center left, it gets left and it works for him numerically, anyway thank you.

TOLLIVER:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you Juanita, of course Juanita Tolliver, Jonathan, Susan, Michael.

Up next the latest on the investigation into the death of Jeffrey Epstein including an FBI raid on his private Caribbean Island, there it is.  And President Trump today defending conspiracy nonsense tying Epstein`s death, where do you think to the Clintons.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Attorney General Bill Barr has directed the Bureau of Prisons to temporarily reassign the warden of the facility where Jeffrey Epstein died until an investigation into his death is completed.  The two guards assigned to watch Epstein were also placed on leave.  Well, the announcement come -- it came hours after President Trump defended his decision to retweet an absurd conspiracy theory about the death of Epstein.


TRUMP:  Yes, he`s a very highly respected conservative pundit.  He is a big Trump fan.  That was a retweet.  That wasn`t from me.  That was from him, the retweet, which is what it was, a retweet, was from somebody that`s a very respected conservative pundit.  So I think that was fine, yes.


MATTHEWS:  Well, he`s talking about this weekend where the President, himself there, retweeted a false conspiracy theory that implied that former President Bill Clinton was somehow connected to Epstein`s death.  Take that for what it`s worth, which is nothing.  When asked explicitly if he believed that President Clinton was involved, the President equivocated.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you really think the Clintons are involved in Jeffrey Epstein`s death?

TRUMP:  I have no idea.


MATTHEWS:  "I have no idea" that is awful.  Anyway, meanwhile, the investigation continues as FBI -- the FBI confirms they conducted a raid on Epstein`s home and private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  While Epstein may be gone of course, he`s passed away, investigators are reportedly looking into the role a socialite friend of Epstein`s played in his crimes.  According to multiple Epstein accusers, Ghislaine Maxwell helped to enable his crimes, all the trafficking stuff with younger girls.

For more, I`m joined by Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and Vanessa Grigoriadis, Vanity Fair contributing editor.  Thank you both for joining, Vanessa, thank you.

Vanessa --


MATTHEWS:  -- hold on for second.  I want to ask Paul a couple of these legal questions up front.  First of all, the political question.  Where does the President get the chutzpah to just say to throw out Bill Clinton and try to trash his name into this mess?

PAUL BUTLER, FMR FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  You know, I think Donald Trump is trying to deflect.  If Bill Clinton has exposure then so does Donald Trump.  Bill Clinton`s social lies with Epstein.  So did Donald Trump.  Bill Clinton was on the private plane, so was Donald Trump.  The fact is that Mr. Epstein took his own life.  He died while he was in the custody of the Trump administration.  Bill Barr directs the Bureau of Prisons, and they allowed, in so ways that facilitated Mr. Epstein`s suicide.  Now was that - -

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s not fair.  What do you mean facilitated?

BUTLER:  Well again, they were on notice that he wanted to take his own life.  He was on suicide watch.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you make of pulling back, not having the guards there?  What did pull back not -- had doing the half hour checking of him, make sure he had a cellmate who could watch him.  What do you make of all that?

BUTLER:  So at minimum, it was negligence.  What the investigation by the inspector general, the Justice Department and the FBI will look at, is what`s it knowing and intentional.  Again, you know that suicide is the leading cause of death of people who are in prison.  We also know that Mr. Epstein tried to take his own life earlier.  The decision about whether he should be taken off a suicide watch is one that is made by a medical professional.  Here it seems like the jailers made that decision, again, at minimum negligence.  At worse, something much more sinister.

MATTHEWS:  In a statement (INAUDIBLE) U.S. Attorney General -- what do you mean by sinister on course?

BUTLER:  Well again, you know, obviously there are concerns that Mr. Epstein had information, very valuable information.  He was going to get --

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but your saying do you think there was foul play there?

BUTLER:  You know, I think that`s a question that has to be asked.  I think the answer is probably not, again understanding that --

MATTHEWS:  Would an autopsy answer that question?

BUTLER:  An autopsy might not -- it would show cause of death.  Again, it`s -- yes, we know that Mr. Epstein didn`t have a whole lot of options.  The only way that he might have not spent the rest of his life in prison is if he had incriminating information on people high up.  Again, that was his only --


BUTLER:  Well, ou know, the documents that were released on Friday named names, including people who were on the plane a lot.  You know --

MATTHEWS:  No -- could you -- one of the issues you have a there, Paul is that, if somebody benefitted by his death, somebody killed him.  That`s a hell of a leap.

BUTLER:  Or again -- no necessarily.  They could -- they knew that he wanted to kill himself.  Again, when you`re in the custody of federal officials and you want to kill yourself, they`re supposed to not let that happen there.  There ways that they could --

MATTHEWS:  There`s a middle ground here.  OK, thank you.  In a statement in Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman sort to reassure Epstein`s accusers, writing, "To those brave young women who have already come forward and to the many others who have yet to do so, we remain committed to standing for you, and our investigation of the conduct charged in the indictment which included a conspiracy count remains ongoing".  That`s the prosecutor.

One person who remains of interest is Epstein`s mysterious friend Ghislaine Maxwell who according to a growing number of women was the prime organizer of Epstein`s three times daily massages if you call him that.  And that she acted as recruiter and pay master for the girls who came to Epstein`s Palm Beach mansion.  Vanessa, tell us what we know about the role of his partner, if you will, this woman.

GRIGORIADIS:  Well, Ghislaine was everything to him.  I mean first of all, she comes from a huge family in England, and she had a massive rolodex.  So she was able to introduce him to everybody in society.  So it was his money but her contacts.  He never would have met Prince Andrew without her.  So she was, you know, in a lot of ways his entree.  But she also was completely in love with him, and she was willing to do anything that he wanted her to do, including, you know, recruit these young women, which he was -- I spoke with somebody who said she was quite glib about it.  She said, you know, yes, of course, this is what I do.  And in some ways he must have made her feel like it was her fault for not being enough for him, that she was then go get them.

MATTHEWS:  Just to talk about the law here, because that`s what we`re talking about, the continuing investigation, the age of consent in Florida is 18.  These were girls younger than that age.  She must have known she was breaking the law by being a procurer for him, wouldn`t she?

GRIGORIADIS:  Well one would assume, yes.  But I think that she thought they were above the law.  I don`t think she ever thought it was going to end up like this.

MATTHEWS:  Where is she?

GRIGORIADIS:  Well, if I knew that, I would might have a large reward.  I don`t think that the feds know where she is.  That`s what "The Washington Post" has reported.  I heard she might 400 pounds and living in Florida.

MATTHEWS:  I heard that.  Yes, I have no idea what it should do.

GRIGORIADIS:  You know, he was extremely thin.  So the idea that she would be that heavyset was amusing to some people.  She -- a colleague of mine found some public records listings her Teaneck, New Jersey.  You know, we don`t know.  I mean it is possible they lost track of her.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I have to good over to Paul, because, you and I know politics in this town, and you`re a lawyer and you specialize in the law.  But one thing culturally that goes on in politics that I find really dismaying.  Politicians need money.  A lot of them aren`t that wealthy.  They live on their salaries.  (INAUDIBLE) they`re not crying.  But they love travel in private planes.  They have to get around for their professional and political reasons.  They become so-called friends with the wrong freaking people, and these people are frightening and they want something from.  They want the prestige of hanging around a politician, and these relationships are awful, the names that have come out.  I don`t want to use their names tonight.  But the names, why do these people know a guy like this guy Epstein?  Why do they even want to know him?

BUTLER:  Because a lot of times the most valuable asset that politicians have is access, access to their power that they exercise presumably on behalf of the American people.  But then they end up sometimes giving that access to sleazy characters like Epstein who was running this vast criminal conspiracy.  And the fact is that other people participated.  Somebody had to train these girls.  Somebody had to recruit these girls.  And along with Epstein, they coerced these girls into sexual trafficking, even though Epstein has left this earth on his own terms, these other co-conspirators should be brought to justice.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Thank you Paul Butler as always.  Vanessa Griggdorias, thank you so much.

Up next, this president talked about they commute deprive that of the prison sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.  Trump says a lot of people think his 14-year corruption sentence was unbelievably unfair.  We`ll see.  You`re watching HARDBALL.



DONALD TRUMP, THEN-REALITY TV STAR:  Well, he is in a really tough position, in all fairness. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Absolutely, yes, yes. 

TRUMP:  Because I think Rod is a tough guy. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He is a great guy, a great guy. 

TRUMP:  But he is in this horrible position where he`s really sort of got to be nice. 


TRUMP:  I mean, he can`t come out like a ranting, raving lunatic and attack Darryl because some day in the not too distant future, maybe one of your fans is sitting on a jury. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was "Celebrity Apprentice" host Donald Trump then talking about the tough position of contestant Rod Blagojevich back in 2010.  According to NBC News, the former Illinois governor was in the midst of a lengthy media tour at that point to try to rehabilitate his image after he was caught on tape trying to sell off the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois that Barack Obama had vacated when he was elected president.

His time, Blagojevich`s time on "Celebrity Apprentice" was short-lived, however, after he botched a Harry Potter-related presentation. 


TRUMP:  Your Harry Potter facts were not accurate.  Who did the research? 

ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR:  There was not a specific direction who did the research on Harry Potter. 

TRUMP:  You went to Orlando to learn about Harry Potter.  Nobody else did.  So wouldn`t you have been the one to know the product and learn the product? 

BLAGOJEVICH:  I feel like I knew the product.  In fact, I wrote a lot of the text.  You know, I talked about the different houses and I was the one who said houses and classes interchangeably because I was trying to be more explicit so people can get a concept of it.  But it`s Slytherin and it`s Hufflepuff and it`s Ravenclaw. 

TRUMP:  Governor, I have great respect for you.  I have great respect for your tenacity, for the fact that you just don`t give up. 

But, Rod, you`re fired. 

I feel badly for him.  He tried.  It`s pretty sad. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, it appears that Trump still feels badly for Blagojevich.  And that`s up next on HARDBALL. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Last week, President Trump said he was considering commuting the rest of former Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich`s sentence.  Well, Blagojevich has served seven years of his 14-year sentence.  Blagojevich`s conviction involved, quote, three separate shakedown attempts, one involving a children`s hospital, one involving a racetrack, and one involving Barack Obama`s Senate seat, which was caught on tape trying to sell. 

Trump told reporters that he has been in jail for seven years over a phone call where nothing happens.  He shouldn`t have said what he said, but it was Blagojevich.  Anyway, I should think that way have been -- it was braggadocio.  I guess many politicians have done it.  I`m not one of them, by the way, Trump said, that have said a lot worse over telephone. 

Well, the next day, four Illinois House Republicans put out a statement opposing his commutations, stating: It`s important that we take a strong stand against pay-to-play politics, especially in Illinois, where four of our last eight governors have gone to federal prison for public corruption. 

Fox News reported that on Thursday, Blagojevich made it to processing for his discharge from prison.  However, a commutation was put on hold after a Trump administration official became concerned about opposition to the idea. 

And that night, Trump tweeted White House staff is continuing to review of this matter. 

Well, I`m joined by Jim Warren who knows this stuff about Chicago, former managing editor of "The Chicago Tribune", executive editor of the "NewsGuard". 

Jim, it`s great to have you back on. 


MATTHEWS:  Tell us -- first of all, what`s your sense of the gravity of the crimes committed by the former governor and the sentence he got of 14 years.  Put it together. 

WARREN:  Yes, I think they were very serious.  It was clear public corruption for those who don`t remember, it was caught all on FBI wiretaps.  You mentioned the main three.  The most high profile is trying to monetize the Obama Senate seat. 

Also, you listen on tape time and time again as he tried to get 2,500 grand out of a head of children`s hospital and return and raise the state reimbursement rates for pediatric specialist and then get 100 grand out of a racetrack owner regarding some legislation of interest to them. 

So, I would say serious.  But 14 years?  I don`t think.  There are a lot of guys who commit attempted robbery, attempted bank robbery who get out a lot less time than that.  A very tough Republican law and order judge, James Zagel, terrific guy, hammered him in the sentencing. 

But I think Trump ultimately is right about commutation, but wrong on the reasons.  These are all crimes. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Talked to the former governor after he was charged in 2009.  Here it goes. 


MATTHEWS:  So basically, as your bottom line, it`s OK to trade the president`s Senate seat for a job for you in the private sector. 


MATTHEWS:  A job for you in the cabinet.  Is that your belief that that`s fair? 

BLAGOJEVICH:  I`m not saying that at all.  I`m saying the decision that I made --

MATTHEWS:  Well, why don`t you say it one way or another?  You asked not (ph) to put in writing.  Is it honest or not what you did? 

BLAGOJEVICH:  It`s the sort of thing you ask your lawyer about? 

MATTHEWS:  Are you an innocent man? 

BLAGOJEVICH:  Very much.  So I never, ever intended to sell the Senate seat for financial gain.  When the prosecutor said he was stopping a crime before it happened, that prosecutor mutilated the truth.  I was conducting politics to get the most done for the people of Illinois. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, that`s the problem.  We`ve just gone in a circle here, Governor. 


MATTHEWS:  We`ve just gone in a circle. 


MATTHEWS:  Because you said you did nothing wrong, but two minutes ago you said, you didn`t know if it was wrong or not. 

BLAGOJEVICH:  I never reached a decision to do anything along those lines. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let`s hear what the jury thinks. 


MATTHEWS:  That was a HARDBALL conversation, Jim.  What do you make of that?  He didn`t know that it was criminal then he said I know it wasn`t criminal.  What is it? 

WARREN:  Yes, it also reminds me of some of the commonalities with Trump, and not just appearing on his show.  They both love the limelight, they eschewed policy, they love the media, but also, were given to both deceiving people, attempting to deceive them like he tried to deceive you and self-deception. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you do business in Chicago at any time in modern history without pay-to-play?  I`ve heard stories about the mayor`s car will be around in a half hour.  You better have the $25,000 check ready for the next fundraiser.  Don`t you have to pay to be treated well in Chicago politics? 

WARREN:  Oh, yes, I think by and large, that`s reality.  I mean, you mentioned the business about politicians` love of money in the Epstein segment. 


WARREN:  But when the FBI wiretaps catch you trying to get 25 grand out of the head of the children`s hospital, that`s more than pay-to-play, although it`s interesting.  His second -- you may not remember, but his second in his reelection in 2006, there was all this pay-to-play stuff out there, and the public didn`t care.  They reelected him. 


WARREN:  We in the press were outraged.  The voters weren`t. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think Trump is up to here?  Is he trying to win this so the working class, ethnic vote?  What`s he up to here?

WARREN:  Yes.  OK, so let`s speculate.  So he gets out of the federal prison in Colorado and very quickly gets a book deal, probably a talk radio gig and also starts appearing on Fox News Channel and other conservative places as the Democrat from the blue state and evil Chicago who supports Donald Trump. 

What does that get you?  You had Reverend Jackson and his convicted felonious son Jesse Jr. who sent letters to the White House and apparently caught the attention of at least Jared Kushner.  So, there is the notion that maybe in an African-American community, very sensitive to notions of criminal injustice, this might play. 

But for those Republicans in Illinois who are trying to get back a couple of seats they lost in the suburbs, they are gagging at the motion of having to defend Trump on this. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Jim Warren.  You`re the best on this.  By the way, it reminds me of the way you sing the song, it sounds like the Buddy Cianci story.  Get out of prison and become a talk show host.

Anyway, up next, a window into the soul of Donald Trump.  You can`t miss this.  Stick around for this baby. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  I want to leave you tonight with yet another window into the soul of the man now sitting in the Oval Office.  We all know, we sure do, what President Trump tweets and says.  It`s all in the public record on which historians are bound to one day give a powerful verdict. 

But there is also the person Donald Trump and how he deals with people who decide to get close to him, but all too soon wish they hadn`t.  Here`s what Trump said near the end of his inaugural year as president about people he hires. 


TRUMP:  There are those that are saying it`s one of the finest group of people ever assembled as a candidate -- as a cabinet.  And I happen to agree with that.  We have an extraordinary group of people around this table.  This is a tremendous amount of talent. 


MATTHEWS:  For that kind of applause for the people he picks doesn`t last long.  When you get in trouble or do something Trump doesn`t like, he drops you like a hot potato. 


TRUMP:  I know Mr. Manafort.  I haven`t spoken to him in a long time, but I know him.  He was with the campaign, as you know, for a very short period of time. 

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Do you remember George Papadopoulos during that March meeting? 

TRUMP:  I don`t remember much about that meeting.  It was a very unimportant meeting.  It took place so long time.  I don`t remember much about it. 

I don`t know Matt Whitaker.  Matt Whitaker works for Jeff sessions. 


MATTHEWS:  And here is his tweet on the man who served for years as his personal lawyer and fixer, quote: If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest you don`t retain the services of Michael Cohen. 

But Michael Cohen got no worse than the usual Trump kiss-off to someone no longer useful.  Quote: I hardly even knew the guy.  Vicious, but not smart.  Dumb as a rock.  Lazy as hell.  A low level staffer.  Totally incapable. 

Got the point?  Message to future Trump job applicants: don`t do the crime if you can`t do the time. 

Well, this Friday, we`re going to talk to some of those former White House staffers including Anthony Scaramucci, Omarosa Manigault Newman.  That`s all this Friday.  What a night. 

This is HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.