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Remembering the 9/11 attacks. TRANSCRIPT: 9/11/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Ben Rhodes; Jill Colvin; Leon Panetta; Juanita Tolliver, JohnBrabender, Eric Swalwell, Ayesha Rascoe, Joyce Vance

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  So who fires Trump.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Donald Trump`s chaotic presidency recalls the words of the great Yogi Berra, we`re lost but we`re making good time.  Every hour, the president races from one crisis to the next then back, from Iran`s nuclear efforts to North Korea`s nuclear weapons, from trade brinkmanship with China to backing Boris Johnson`s Brexit.  He fires one national security adviser, John Bolton, one night while he secretly schmoozes with an old one, H.R. McMaster, on other nights.

For a president with nothing good to say about those south of the border, he behaves most of all like a Mexican jumping bean.  What`s up, who`s in, who`s out, who`s he got in the loop, who`s he freezing out and who decides?  Well, I guess he does.  Who else on this planet would be sending perfumed mash notes to Kim Jong-un while cold shouldering Justin Trudeau, to be Putin`s puppy dog while suffering hissy fits in envy of France`s President Macron?  It`s Trump, all right, making these staccato decisions.  Who else, what sane leader would be making such decisions?

And today, on the 18th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks, a reminder of a crucial function of a national security adviser, President Trump spent the lion share of his day today bad mouthing now former adviser John Bolton.

A day after forcing him out via tweet, the president criticized Bolton for his hawkish approach to foreign policy, which Trump knew well before he even hired him.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  He`s somebody that I actually had a very good relationship with, but he wasn`t getting along with people in the administration that I consider very important.

John wasn`t in line with what we were doing.  And actually, in some cases, he thought it was too tough what we were doing, Mr. Tough Guy.


MATTHEWS:  Well, President Trump began his day with a series of tweets complaining about a poll showing him losing to his Democratic opponents, bashing the media and bragging about last night`s Republican victory in North Carolina`s special election.

Well, speaking of the Pentagon today, the president`s 9/11 comments included remarks about his failed peace talks with the Taliban.


TRUMP:  We had peace talks scheduled a few days ago.  I called them off when I learned that they had killed a great American soldier from Puerto Rico and 11 other innocent people.


MATTHEWS:  Well, disagreement over those talks was reportedly a major factor in Bolton`s departure.  One White House official told NBC News that Afghanistan broke open the bottom of a bag in a relationship that had been eroding.

In the Oval Office this afternoon, Trump blasted Bolton over his reference to the Libyan model to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.


TRUMP:  It set us back, and frankly, he wanted to do things not necessarily tougher than me.  You know, John is known as a tough guy.  He`s so tough he got us into Iraq.  We were setback very badly when John Bolton talked about the Libyan model and he made a mistake.

And as soon as he mentioned that, the Libyan model, what a disaster.  Take a look at what happened with Gaddafi with the Libyan model.  And he`s using that to make a deal with North Korea?  And I don`t blame Kim Jong-un for what he said after that, and he wanted nothing to do with John Bolton.  And that`s not a question of being tough.  That`s a question of being not smart to say something like that.


MATTHEWS:  Well, that trash talking was a big part of his day.  John Bolton, by the way, responded to the president`s comments in a text to NBC News, saying, I`ll have my say in due course, of course.

Well, I`m joined right now by Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for the Associated Press, and Ben Rhodes, former Deputy National Security Adviser to President Obama.

Ben, what do you make of this, I mean, this question today?  He acts like, as he sits there in the White House, in the Oval Office with reporters all around him, like he`s running a little business called the presidency of the United States, and it`s all his.  He has no real structure, no advisers, no national security adviser, and it`s all him.

BEN RHODES, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  I mean, Chris, because I was a deputy national security adviser for eight years.  I worked for three of those people who were in that office.  They coordinate a massive apparatus of the United States government, the military, the State Department, the intelligence community, ongoing diplomatic negotiations.

The dysfunction of having that drastic turnover that he`s had in that position and these massive shifts in how he looks at foreign policy is making people around the world wonder where does the U.S. stand?  In the clip you played, he`s attacking Bolton for something Bolton said like over a year ago.  If this was such a problem for Donald Trump, why was Bolton in this job?  And the problem with this --

MATTHEWS:  Why would he hire a super hawk and neo-con who did push us into Iraq, who did fight for that position?  Why did he hire him if he says, no more both stupid wars?  It`s chaotic.

RHODES:  Well, look, and John Bolton gave him the foreign policy that he had said he wanted.  We pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement, we got more (INAUDIBLE) with the Chinese, right?  So there are pieces of the Bolton agenda that he liked.

But here`s the problem, Trump has told us for some time now his unpredictability is how he does business.  Well, look at the record.  Iran is resuming its nuclear program.  North Korea is still building their nuclear weapons.  The China trade war has escalated with no end in sight.  We have this authoritarian trend around the world and democracy and our democratic allies don`t know where the United States stands.  So he doesn`t have anything to show.

And I think where he is he knows he needs to make some deal somewhere to show some results before he heads into an election year, and John Bolton was standing in the way of those deals, whether it`s Afghanistan or North Korea or potentially even Iran.  And so now he`s going to try something different.

MATTHEWS:  You know, right now, because we`re in media, the media does a lot of preparation for days like 9/11, and there`s a lot of recognition of that anniversary, the marking of that.  And it`s a solemn day.  It is.  It`s just as you`ve seen it in a way people go through the day.  And the president acts like a bull in a china shop today, like that never happened, like he`s going to engage in this stupid war, this bullying exercise to trash John Bolton he fired at midnight.

JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS:  It is so jarring when you wake up in the morning on September 11th and pullout your phone and look at Twitter and the president is blasting members of the Fed as bone heads and complaining about everything that he`s watching as he flips through the television channels.

I want to make that the president is somebody who grew up in New York.  He talked today in a speech he gave about the fact he could see, he claimed, the second plane hitting the south tower, claiming that he`d gone down there to help.

MATTHEWS:  Did he?

COLVIN:  There`s evidence that he was resent there.  Reporters saw him.  He was interviewed by a news outlet.  It`s unclear if he was actually helping, if he was just going to survey the site.  For somebody to have gone through that, the way that New Yorkers experienced just makes it all the more jarring.

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk about -- let`s talk about this bullying.  Why does he have to trash -- I know it`s a set of question, because you can smile because you know how much we all know what he`s up to.  He fires Bolton because Bolton was willing to resign.  So he wants to make sure it`s official.  He kicked him out the backdoor.  And now, he`s afraid that Bolton is going to come back at him.

RHODES:  Bolton is going to come back at him.  But, look, Chris, part of what`s going on here, right, is all of the main initiatives of his foreign policy are flailing.  And now, he`s seeking to shift all the blame for that onto John Bolton, right?  I mean, it`s Barack Obama one day, it`s John Bolton the next.  He finds people to blame.

But what we see now, Chris, is he has been president for almost three years.  It`s on him.  People can see the results of the approaches that he`s taken.  And so he`s just constantly looking to shift blame.  Right now, it`s Bolton.

Bolton will fire back at him.  He likes that fight.  He likes that give- and-take.  But you know what, that`s the reality show.  In the real world, in the actual reality, what are we going to do to deal with the fact that the Iranians have restarted their nuclear program?  What are we going to do about it?

MATTHEWS:  Okay.  What`s really wrong with Trump besides his mind and all, the person and all, the personality and wackiness?  You cover him a lot (ph).  Is it that he thinks a business deal, I want to buy that building, I don`t want to buy that building, I don`t have to buy that building, he`d walk away.  But foreign policy, you can`t walk away from china, you can`t walk away from North Korea, you can`t walk away from Iran or the Middle East or Netanyahu.  All these people -- it`s not like a business deal.  You can`t say, I`m not going to do it.  You`ve got to do it, you`ve got to deal with people.  Does he not get that?

COLVIN:  I mean, look, this is a president who basically hired his national security adviser because he saw him on T.V. and like watching on television.  He`s somebody who likes to surround himself by these people.

MATTHEWS:  What`s he ever done?  What`s Trump done?  What has Trump accomplished in any of these deals?  No, there are no deals.

COLVIN:  For him -- I mean, the way he sees it is that if he can build personal relationships with these leaders, then he`ll be able to create moments like what we saw in North Korea where he became the first sitting president to step over that line and step into North Korea.  And he sees those as victories in themselves.

RHODES:  And that`s exactly the problem, Chris.  North Korea --

MATTHEWS:  We have basketball players that have done this before.

RHODES:  Well, North Korea keeps building nuclear weapons.  There is no actual deal.  It`s just -- it`s photo-op, right?  And so he sees foreign policy as spectacle, as the people around him, as the photo-ops he can get with people.

MATTHEWS:  Is that the deal, to put on a show?  Is that it?

RHODES:  And every other leader has figured this out.  And they`re taking advantage of the chaos.  The Iranians say, okay, we`ll just resume our nuclear program because you pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and want to have this show.  We`ll do that.  The Chinese say, oh, you want a trade war?  Well, we`ll slap tariffs on you, we`ll squeeze you and we`ll go around the world and pick-off all your allies and make trade with them.

Everybody else is taking advantage of the chaos United States of America essentially withdrawing from its global leadership position with a president who doesn`t want to dig in to understand these issues, does not have a consistent world view.  He picked John Bolton because he was belligerent, because he would be confrontational to Iran.  John Bolton came in, pulled out of the Iran deal.  Now --

MATTHEWS:  I think he did because Sheldon Adelson told him to do it.

RHODES:  Well -- and now, suddenly, we hear Trump is asking for a meeting with the Iranians.  It makes no sense to what he`s going to do.

MATTHEWS:  And he went to meet with Rouhani in the U.N. general assembly.  Yes, thank you.  Who knows what`s going on crazy land.  Thank you, Jill Colvin, and thank you, Ben Rhodes.  Great to have you both.

The New York Times reports that Bolton`s dismissal leaves President Trump as his own national security adviser.  Think of that.  Bolton`s -- here`s a quote from The Times, Bolton`s exit the west wing on Tuesday removes one of the last constraints on Mr. Trump`s sense of the possible and world affairs.

Joining me right now is former CIA Director and former Secretary of Defense, former everything, Leon Panetta.  Mr. Panetta, thank you for joining us.

This is a rock `em, sock `em crazy moment.  This president is like one of those guys who used to work in 17th and Penn with all the musical instruments.  They have the drum and the horn they`re blowing.  He wants to play all the instruments.  What`s going on?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR:  Well, whatever is going on is not good for this country because we`re living in a very dangerous world and this is a president who`s now gone through three national security advisers.  He`s somebody who has a national security council that is dysfunctional, that doesn`t work.  There`s no deputies meetings, there`s no principle meetings.

And in the end, after three years of being in office, this president has not accomplished any major foreign policy objective.  And the result is that we have a very dangerous world as a consequence.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the behavior of this presidency and this almost cartoonish decision that he had to say that Alabama was exposed to the hurricane, to Dorian.  And even to the point of having his Chief of Staff, Mulvaney, while he thought he had his head screwed on, telling Wilbur Ross over commerce and those people there to lie and say that, in fact, Alabama was vulnerable to the hurricane.  This is abuse of his authority.  He`s like a third world guy.

PANETTA:  Well, the problem, Chris, you know, most presidents that I`ve served under and that I worked for, those presidents have advisers around that president who are basically telling the president, you know, when you approach an issue, this is what you should do, this is what you shouldn`t do.

I mean, most presidents really do relish having advisers who may say things that the president doesn`t agree with.  This president is not surrounded by any advisers who are willing to not only challenge him but to discipline how he behaves.  I mean, the chief of staff in this situation, rather than being somebody like, you know, a doggy running after a bone should be standing up and saying, Mr. President, the last thing you should do is call the secretary of commerce and ask them to change what science tells us was a reality.  That`s the role of a chief of staff.

And so if you don`t have people like that around the president, then this president is going to basically operate by his own instincts.  And what we`re learning is that his instincts stink.

MATTHEWS:  He`s also -- Mr. Panetta, he`s also sending signals on how to behave.  I remember Mike Dukakis once said that the fish rots from the head because the leader sets the course for how things are done.  The word seems to be in the White House, the vice president`s office, all around Washington, to foreign diplomats, if you want to win the love of this president, spend money in his resorts.

Air Force officers deciding they`re going to go out of their way to stop a off in the right place in Scotland so they can expend some federal taxpayer money to make him feel that there`s pocket money being made in the White House.  Your thoughts.

PANETTA:  Well, you know, again, this is a presidency that distorts the priorities that the president should be focusing on.  I mean, we`ve got the series of flash points around the world.  What are we going to do with Iran?  We`ve got Iran now basically enriching nuclear fuel.  Afghanistan, a failed effort at trying to work out a deal with the Taliban, North Korea, failed summitry, Russia basically doing their own thing in terms of being aggressive, China, we`re in a trade war.  These are the things you ought to be focusing on.  Instead what they`re looking at is how do we continue to make money for the Trump operation?

And to have the military be part of that possibility here with the Air Force, being -- landing near Turnberry and then having people go to Turnberry to stay.  I mean, that`s something that ought to be clearly investigated as to whether or not it violates laws.  But more importantly it creates a perception that the Pentagon is actually trying to cater to the president of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Leon Panetta, for reminding us on how a president should speak and behave.  Thank you, sir, very much.

Coming up, Speaker Nancy Pelosi visibly angry about the Republicans` lack of action on gun legislation.  Watch her here.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  Don`t ask me what we haven`t done.  We have done it.  And if you are (INAUDIBLE) the patience, it`s because people are dying while Senator McConnell hasn`t acted.  Why don`t you ask him if he has any regrets for all the people who died because he hasn`t acted.


MATTHEWS:  Well, here is Mitch McConnell and he defiantly says nothing is going to happen on guns until Trump says so.  And while a Republican Senator says there`s not even a hint of what Trump might support, which is probably nothing.

Plus, breaking news, a source tells NBC News tonight that the Manhattan District Attorney`s Office is looking into whether the Trump organization falsified business records in paying off porn star Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal and that Trump`s former fixer, Michael Cohen, is ready to testify and help this investigation.  This is real, it`s hot and it`s dirty, and this could be interesting.

We`ve got more much tonight to get to.  Stick with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s been more than a month now since 31 people were murdered in El Paso, Texas, and in Dayton, Ohio.  In late August, of course, seven were murdered during a shooting rampage in Odessa, Texas.  And today, we`re nowhere closer to knowing what President Trump is going to do about this scourge of gun violence that still plagues our country.

And earlier today, he did reassure Americans that he`s working on, his word, something.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We`re seeing if we can come up with something that`s acceptable to everybody. 

It`s a subject that`s been going on for decades.  Decades, we have been talking about it.  So we`re looking at background checks.  And we`re looking at putting everything together in a unified way, so that we can have something that`s meaningful.  At the same time, all of us want to protect our great Second Amendment. 



Well, NBC News reports that he`s working with a bipartisan group of senators, who were told to expect something from the White House by tomorrow.  That`s Thursday.  But they say the president didn`t specifically signal what he would actually support. 

Additionally, according to "The Washington Post," the White House dispatched today to debrief Republican senators yesterday on similar talking points with zero indication again yesterday of what Trump would actually do or be willing to do. 

One Republican senator told "The Washington Post" -- quote -- "There was no hint as to where the president is going to come down."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to do anything without the president`s sign-off. 


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  My members know the very simple fact that, to make a law, you have to have a presidential signature.  Until that happens, all of this is theatrics. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who Has already sent two pieces of bipartisan gun legislation to the senate majority leader, ripped McConnell for his action. 


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  Lives are at stake.  Senator McConnell is standing in the way. 

We passed our bill in February.  Members had events all over the country to ask him to bring up the bill.  Don`t ask me what we haven`t done.  We have done it. 

And if you are annoyed with my impatience, it`s because people are dying, while Senator McConnell hasn`t acted.  Why don`t you go ask him if he has any regrets for all the people who died because he hasn`t acted?


MATTHEWS:  Well, her members aren`t waiting for President Trump or Mitch McConnell. 

Late last night, the House Judiciary Committee moved three bills to the House floor.  The bills ban high-capacity magazines, of course, for firearms -- there`s of no use, except to kill a lot of people -- to give incentives to states for red flag laws to look at people who mentally shouldn`t have the guns.  It also ban sales to people convicted of hate crimes. 

Good for them. 

For more, I`m joined by Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Ayesha Rascoe, NPR White House reporter.

Thank you, Congressman, for this.

I get the feeling that Trump is worried.  Can you give me the analysis, what`s going on with him, because he -- I was amazed that five, six weeks after the shootings, the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, he`s daring to say the word background checks again, like he`s still afraid of the suburbs. 

What do you think? 

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA):  Chris, good evening. 

He is worried.  He should be worried, because he only cares about public opinion.  And the public opinion has dramatically changed on this issue in just the last few years. 

However, VICE News just broke a story.  Liz Landers, one of the reporters, says that Michael Williams is a lawyer for the American  Suppressor Association who is now in the White House advising the president on guns. 

The people around him are from the gun industry.  He cares a lot about where the money comes from, $30 million from the NRA.  That is also very persuasive.  I don`t think he`s going to do anything.  I think he`s too beholden to the NRA, and that`s very, very sad. 

MATTHEWS:  What`s the Suppressor Association?  What the hell is that? 

SWALWELL:  They represent gun silencers, so they represent...


SWALWELL:  ... the device that would silence a firearm.

And the Republicans, they actually, after a mass shooting last Congress, tried to put legislation forward that would make it more widely assessable.  That`s where they are on this issue. 

So, we just have to keep the drumbeat going and show the frustration that Speaker Pelosi showed, which is that we cannot wait.  And it`s time for Mitch McConnell not to wait for the president, but to put forth legislation, particularly on background checks.

MATTHEWS:  Guys, I forgot that people need silencers on their guns to defend themselves in their homes. 

SWALWELL:  That`s right.   

MATTHEWS:  You need a silencer to shoot deer.  The only reason to have a silencer is to commit crimes. 

SWALWELL:  Yes.  That`s right, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Ayesha.


And this is one of those things where the White House is clearly being pulled in a whole bunch of different directions.  But the White House is making a big show of bringing a lot of people in, saying they`re talking to all these different voices and that they want to see what everyone can agree on.

Of course, the issue is that Congress...

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  Since when does everybody have to agree on something? 

RASCOE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  If you say that, then the NRA has to sign on. 

RASCOE:  Well, that`s the issue, because the Congress is saying, what is the president going to do?  We can`t do anything until he gets in line. 

MATTHEWS:  Leader?  Who is the leader?

OK.  Let me ask you about this issue, because this is a cutting issue.  And I want to go back to the congressman after you.

The NRA wins these political fights because they have got people that will vote on the gun issue and only the gun issue.  They don`t worry about climate change or the economy or anything.  They vote on their gun rights, the Second Amendment rights.  That`s all they care about. 

Can you get suburban women and men to start voting with the same intensity on the gun safety issue on that front? 

RASCOE:  That`s the real question. 

It did seem like, during the midterms, that there were people that really ran very hard on enacting more measures for gun control, and that they were successful. 

But the question is whether that would actually play in a presidential year, when you`re going to have huge amounts of people.  I mean, Trump is going to be able to turn out his base. 

MATTHEWS:  So many issues.  Yes. 

RASCOE:  And so -- and that idea of taking away your guns is a very powerful message that the president and the White House is very aware of, and that he uses against his opponents. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, during yesterday`s House -- that was well said, I think.

Yesterday`s House Judiciary Committee marked up gun legislation.  Georgia Democrat Lucy McBath, whose son was murdered at a gas station seven years ago, called on her colleagues to do something.  This a personal plea.

Let`s watch.


REP. LUCY MCBATH (D-GA):  Nearly 100 people every single day die in this country as a result of gun violence.  And, yes, I will never let you forget that my son Jordan was one of them. 

I know the pain of losing a child to gun violence and that anyone in this room, anyone in this country should ever be faced with that pain.  And for every single day that we fall into not taking action, mothers and fathers across this country will live through the same nightmare that I did. 

It is our responsibility to prevent this suffering, to bring an end to this constant heartbreak. 


MATTHEWS:  That was one of the -- her child was killed, by the way, by somebody who didn`t like the noise, the loudness of her radio -- his radio in the car.

Anyway, Republicans who oppose the legislation warned that passage of gun laws are an infringement of Second Amendment rights, while not addressing the root causes of violence.  That`s what they say. 

Here goes. 


REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX):  Today, we have more politicians, encouraging jealousy, covetousness, and we have divided the country.  And it needs to stop. That will do more than any of these bills. 

REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA):  What we have before us tonight is another attempt to make people feel good without helping a thing. 

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH):  We all want to stop gun violence.  We all know these terrible, evil things that happened are just that, terrible and evil. 

But doing it -- trying to do something what -- that this bill seeks to do in this manner is so fundamentally wrong. 


MATTHEWS:  You know, you would think, Congressman, they`re talking about -- or your side was talking about collecting everybody`s rifles.

You`re talking about a background check to keep people who shouldn`t have guns from getting them.  Why do these people -- is this the slippery slope argument?  What is their argument with all this stuff about how this isn`t going to work? 

Of course if you keep the gun out of a dangerous hand, it`s a good thing.  It`s a safety measure.  Your thoughts? 

SWALWELL:  No one wants to take a gun from a law-abiding individual. 

So, shoot for sport, go to -- take your kids out to go hunting, protect yourself with a shotgun in your house, but keep the most dangerous weapons for the most dangerous people. 

The views you just played from my Republican colleagues, those are the views of a going-extinct species.  What you did not see behind or in front of Lucy McBath as she was speaking -- and she`s the ultimate mom who`s demanding action -- she ran for Congress on this issue -- were other moms, dozens of moms in the audience who are demanding action.

And, politically, in 2018, because they joined the students in the Giffords group and the Brady group and Everytown, we beat 17 NRA-endorsed members of Congress. 

So you should fear the moms and all of the groups with them today more than you should fear the NRA. 

MATTHEWS:  It seems, Ayesha -- I`m now asking you to play political consultant -- that for this to become an issue, where the safety issue actually wins or stands a chance, the Democratic nominee for president, whoever it is, he or she, has got to address this president in the debates next fall right, before the election and say -- challenge him right there.

Because, otherwise, it`s only going to be the NRA that keeps the issue alive on their side.  Everybody else will be talking about climate, the economy, all kinds of -- incarceration rates, all that stuff.  Meanwhile, the NRA stays focused on protecting our gun rights. 

RASCOE:  Well, Democrats could definitely challenge President Trump and to say what they exactly are going to do.

They have a bill that passed the House.  And so they have to say, this is what we`re going to do.  And why won`t you act? 

Right now, the president seems to be betting that maybe if they don`t take action, or if he can just kind of say, the Democrats, I tried to do something, but we just couldn`t come together.


MATTHEWS:  Oh, he will do the mental health thing. 

RASCOE:  Yes, or say that it`s mental health.

And a lot of those talking points from those Republicans, you hear some of that from the White House.  We want to do something that doesn`t just make people feel good.  We want to do something that will really change things. 

So that`s -- those are the arguments that they`re making. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think he gave it away, guys, Congressman, especially when he said, I want something that everyone can agree on. 

Well, the NRA is not going to agree on anything.  What, are you kidding me? 

It`s great to have you back, Congressman, any time.

SWALWELL:  Thank you.  You too.  My pleasure. 

Thanks, Ayesha.


MATTHEWS:  Congressman Eric Swalwell of California and Ayesha Rascoe, thank you both. 

Up next: some breaking news.  Prosecutors with the Manhattan DA`s office have interviewed Michael Cohen.  There he is.  His former fixer, the president`s fixer, is part of their investigation into whether the Trump organization falsified business records when they paid off Stormy and they paid off McDougal, the two women they paid off after those relationships. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

This is dirty.  It`s going to be interesting. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We have some breaking news tonight right now involving Trump`s former lawyer Michael Cohen. 

NBC News is reporting now that, according to a source familiar with the situation, Michael Cohen has signed a proffer agreement with the Manhattan district attorney`s office, and that that agreement stipulates that he will cooperate in their investigation of the Trump Organization. 

According to a source, the DA`s prosecutors, who met with Cohen in prison late last month, are investigating whether the president`s company falsified business records. 

And, last February, Cohen shared several checks -- there they are -- signed by the president and other company executives to reimburse him for the payoff he made to silence Stormy Daniels on Trump`s behalf.  We know all about that story.

Cohen testified that the reimbursements he received were disguised by the president and his company as payments for routine legal fees. 


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP:  The payments were designed to be paid over the course of 12 months.  And it was declared to be a retainer for services that would be provided for the year of 2017. 

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD):  Was there a retainer agreement? 

COHEN:  There is no retainer agreement.

CUMMINGS:  Based on your conversations with him, is there any doubt in your mind that President Trump knew exactly what he was paying for? 

COHEN:  There is no doubt in my mind. 


MATTHEWS:  Right now, I`m joined by Joyce Vance, former federal prosecutor.

Let`s talk about Michael Cohen`s cooperation here.  He has sort of a point of view, it`s fair to say, about Trump and what he thinks of Trump and what they did together, sneaky, dirty, et cetera, et cetera, the payoffs. 

Where could there be a criminal violation here by the president in regard to how he paid off Stormy Daniels? 

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  So it`s early times in this investigation, Chris.

But what prosecutors seem to be focusing on is the idea that there would have been false business records that would have been submitted.  Normally, that`s a misdemeanor.  But if you submit false business records in an effort to conceal up another crime, here presumably a federal crime involving campaign finance fraud, then it becomes a felony, and you`re -- and you`re really in hot water.

MATTHEWS:  Because no one, it seems to me, would write into an accounting document for the IRS or anyone else paid off porn star for a night in wherever, wherever the hotel was.

It doesn`t seem you would ever put that kind of record together.  So, you come up with something like, what, entertainment costs?  I mean, what would you do?  How would you file that kind of information?  This is a lot of money we`re talking about here.  It is a quarter million he paid off to -- in fact, he paid up to almost $400,000. 

He packed it up there, as they say, to pay tax costs and everything else to make Michael Cohen happy. 

VANCE:  Right.

By the time they paid Cohen the $130,000 payment for the payoff money had turned into $400,000.  And what we`re hearing in this testimony is that there was an effort to convert that into legal fees, and that that was likely how Trump`s organization recorded it in business records, as legal fees, when, in fact, it wasn`t legal fees.  It was hush money. 

So that would be the gravamen of the offense. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here he is as sort of the tail end in many ways.  If we do have impeachment, I`m wrong.  But if this is the tail end of this whole operation of going after Trump, it seems to me that the Manhattan DA -- that`s a political office, that`s an elective office -- Cy Vance, the son of a former secretary of state -- of course, we all know Cyrus Vance.

This case could be a big case, if you`re taking the president of the United States down into a criminal matter.  The questions I have, I guess, as a non-lawyer, what`s the penalty for this kind of case? 

VANCE:  So that really depends on how it`s ultimately structured. 

If they were able to make some sort of a tax charge here, which we don`t know -- we don`t know if they have tax records -- we could be looking at a lengthy violation for a felony.  It`s certainly not a misdemeanor. 

The felony crime is a serious one.  It carries a lot of collateral consequences, but most significantly is the threat that there is jail time involved.  And any amount of jail time in the state system in New York would be very unpleasant for the president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about Michael Cohen.

Can he get good time out of this?  Can he get relief on his own sentence if he plays ball with the DA`s office? 

VANCE:  You know, Michael Cohen is in custody on federal prison.  It`s not unheard of for federal prosecutors to agree to give someone who`s in their custody good time or, rather, time off of their sentence, in exchange for work with state prosecutors or local prosecutors. 

But it`s not usual.  I would expect that to happen more if Cohen`s cooperation had been with federal prosecutors.  And, of course, we know the origin of this investigation that`s happening out of DA Vance`s office is the fact that federal prosecutors in Manhattan terminated any further investigation into the allegations that were raised by Cohen, whether that was campaign fraud or a look into the Trump Organization in July.

Then, suddenly, we learn prosecutors from Cy Vance`s office took the trip up to Otisville a couple of hours from Manhattan a month later in August.  So it seems that the two are related in that way. 

Whether Cohen`s getting credit in the federal system, I think, looks unlikely at this point. 

MATTHEWS:  I`m so glad we have you on this short notice tonight with this story breaking so late today.  Joyce Vance, thank you for your expertise tonight, just as a witness to this whole saga.

It`s amazing if what it all ends up, after all these months of following the bad behavior of this president and his people who worked with him in the bad behavior, like Michael Cohen, ends up in a case in the New York district attorney`s office.  Wow. 

Up next:  A new poll shows President -- Democrat -- actually, Democrats beating Trump.  Almost of them are repeating him.

  His response?  It`s fake news. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I saw some fake polls put out by the fake news media. 

You see these phony polls, that`s another form of fake news.  You know, it`s called suppression.  They suppress the feelings.  They`re called suppression polls. 

You know, polls are fake just like everything else. 



President Trump has a long history of calling polls he doesn`t like fake.  Today, he went after the latest "Washington Post"/ABC poll, calling it a phony suppression poll.  The poll shows all the top Democratic presidential candidates beating Trump.  Well, look at them all. 

Among registered voters, Biden is ahead of Trump by 15 points, with Bernie Sanders ahead by nine.  Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris both ahead by seven.  Look at them, all the leaders ahead of them. 

Trump tweeted: If it weren`t for the never ending fake news about me, and with all that I have done, I would be leading the partners of the lamestream media by 20 points.  Sorry, but true.

He also claimed, quote, I haven`t started campaigning yet.  He hasn`t?  Well, that`s news. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Trump said today that he hasn`t started campaigning for president yet.  Oh, yes, but he filed his reelection paperwork on the same day he was inaugurated, back in `17.  He also mentioned his 2020 campaign multiple times during rallies all this summer. 

Let`s watch him not campaigning. 


TRUMP:  I stand before you to officially launch my campaign for a second term. 

We`re actually here today to officially launch our campaign to win the great state of New Hampshire in 2020. 

The 2020 election is about one thing.  It`s about you.  We begin our campaign with the best record, the best results, the best agenda and the only positive vision for our nation`s future. 


MATTHEWS:  I`m joined by Juanita Tolliver, campaign director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and John Brabender, Republican strategist.

John, you`re great to come on and talk about this but these polls suck.  These are terrible. 

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Look, Vegas had Cleveland Browns five and a half points favorite.  On Sunday, they lost by 30 points. 

You know, the point of the matter is, stuff this far-out in a ballot test does not matter because it`s really -- it`s really the president against mythical people --

MATTHEWS:  So, if Trump by 15 -- you`re telling me if Trump was ahead he wouldn`t be bragging? 

BRABENDER:  I think it would be great.  I believe that.



BRABENDER:  But what I`m saying is, I do believe the Democratic primary polls are relatively accurate.  A general election poll where we`re going to have two more World Series before people even vote, they don`t know who these Democrats really are at this point, they`re not defined.  I think that they`re mythical. 

TOLLIVER:  I mean, I`ll give it to you, a quarter of the electorate is not plugged in or more is not plugged into the race just yet.  But the fact that Trump is polling so poorly atop -- with the top five Democratic candidates I think is reflective of the tone of the country given the negative trend and the economy fact that Americans are willing to blame Trump for that. 

BRABENDER:  But you guys are like Charlie Brown with the football. 


MATTHEWS:  I`m just asking, doesn`t this (INAUDIBLE) is a negative.  The fact that all five leaders are --


BRABENDER:  Let`s be fair.  Every poll in 2016 was very much like this poll.  I will say this, though, the real secret to look at these things is the in the cross taps.  That`s --

MATTHEWS:  So, explain.  For the first time, please explain the word -- 

TOLLIVER:  Cross taps, OK.

MATTHEWS:  Cross taps.  You tell me.

BRABENDER:  OK, it`s all the demographic and segmentation stuff, where they live, their ages and breaking down, you know, whether they have a college degree or not. 

MATTHEWS:  White women in the burbs are turning against Trump. 

BRABENDER:  That`s the one thing when I look at this thing he`s actually winning among men, but the gender gap is a little bit on steroids right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it #metoo?  Is it guns?  What are the issues that are driving away from white women?

BRABENDER:  Here`s what I think and the president said, look, with everything I accomplished, if you really polled right, this should be great.  But what I think the president has to understand is, accomplishments is only part of the story in an executive position.  They actually also want to like, respect and feel comfortable with that president. 

So, sometimes process stands on top of his own message and takes away what he wants to be talking about and I think that`s something that they --

TOLLIVER:  You think process takes away what he wants to talk about versus Trump taking way what he should be talking about. 

BRABENDER:  Well, and I`m saying that president doing that.  For example, I always said a candidate, why are you talking about polls anyhow?  That`s not your job.  That`s the job of people that work on campaigns for you. 

I don`t think he has to be talking about polls. 

TOLLIVER:  But he is because he lives and dies by this.  It means so much to him.

BRABENDER:  I don`t agree with that.

TOLLIVER:  His ego is so weak that he will move as he did today on September 11th of days, he`s going to make it about himself and polls. 

BRABENDER:  Here`s the thing, the president did it his way, and he won in 2016.  And that the lesson there is, well, I`m going to do it the same way.  However, what I believe is for example the tweeting he does, it goes to a group of people who either are already supportive of him or never going to vote for him --


MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about tomorrow night because I`m going to move ahead.  I`m going to be in the spin room trying to get the right questions and right people tomorrow night, in other words when they`re vulnerable. 

Here`s the question, Biden is ahead.  He doesn`t get much ahead.  He gets about a third of the vote roughly all the time.  He only gets a third.  Does that once somebody on the left moves up and knocks out the other person on the left, if Elizabeth knocks out Bernie, for example, does that mean he`s in trouble? 

BRABENDER:  I do.  I think that his numbers, first of all, are creeping down.  Elizabeth Warren`s are coming up.  And I think where they`re going to -- I think where the Democrats are going to come, they`re going to say Elizabeth Warren is a better general election candidate than Bernie Sanders.  And I think at some point, you`re going to see a lot --

MATTHEWS:  Who`s winning it?  Looking at the numbers we`re looking at right now.

TOLLIVER:  Elizabeth Warren is coming into this with a surge in money, in polling, in just energy.  And people are going to latch onto this and she can leverage tomorrow morning to really differentiate herself from the field. 

MATTHEWS:  What`s stopping Kamala Harris with the black vote?  There`s something going on.

TOLLIVER:  I don`t think it`s what stopping Kamala Harris with the black vote.  It`s a reality and a resetting in the summit, like her team admitted there was a summer slump, they`re coming out of it.  If she wants to be successful tonight, it`s going to be important for her to drill down what her message is and communicating that succinctly and positively. 

MATTHEWS:  Does she have a positive message? 

TOLLIVER:  Absolutely.  She has a positive message. 

MATTHEWS:  What is it?

TOLLIVER:  She`s fighting for Americans.  She`s fighting every single day. 

MATTHEWS:  What separates her from the other candidates? 

TOLLIVER:  I think what separates Kamala from the other candidates, one is the historic nature of her candidacy in and of itself, and two, she`s going to reach a demographic that I think needs to be reached in --


MATTHEWS:  OK, look at me.  You know what I`m asking these questions because I`m stunned at the fact she hasn`t caught on yet. 

John, are you surprised of Kamala not catching on? 

BRABENDER:  Well, not only catching on.  She has actually dropped significantly from after the first debate.  And I will tell you people don`t always give you second chances when there`s these many candidates.  And so, she better have a heck of a debate either tomorrow night or sometimes --  

MATTHEWS:  But if she -- here`s the catch-22.  If she attacks Biden, she`s back in the old corner again.  Who`s going to attack who tomorrow night?  Who`s going to go on the offense?

TOLLIVER:  I feel like Biden is going to try to go after Warren because that`s the person who`s surging most.  So, let`s watch that dynamic.  But here`s the thing --

MATTHEWS:  You think so?  Was that smart?

BRABENDER:  I don`t.  I think what Biden is going to do is play the why are we attacking each other, this is about taking back America and our policies, this is shameful, and I think he`s going to shut it down because I don`t think he wants to be a punching bag. 

TOLLIVER:  Well, it`s not about him wanting to be a punching bag, but the thing is, if he goes after Warren, he`s also going to get hit by Sanders, because we saw how they were in the July debate.  Sanders and Warren were complementary.  They both were tag-teaming on the progressive lane.

BRABENDER:  But there`s a reason for that.

MATTHEWS:  Elizabeth Warren has been ingenious.

TOLLIVER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Because she loves -- there`s a term in politics I learned years ago, loves someone to death.  She`s saying how great Bernie is, he`s wonderful, we agree on everything, I`m just younger and I`m going to beat him. 

BRABENDER:  Yes.  No, you know, the why is eventually I`m going to have a tough conversation with Bernie about why you have to get out and support me and I can`t --

TOLLIVER:  We`ll see what that -- 


MATTHEWS:  Well, according to new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll, Democrats say they`d rather nominate the candidate most likely to win than the candidates closest to them on the issue.  Voters will also want to get another look at the policy proposal. 

A new poll of independents, by the way, shows the more think the Democratic candidate`s politics would send the country in the wrong direction. 

What about this one?  I don`t know if people think strategically, do you think they do when you say, who are you for?  OK, but who you think will win, therefore you`re for that person over the person you like?  Don`t people say at this point in the election, I`m going with who I like?  But now they`re saying I`m not going with whom I like, I`m going to who I think can beat Trump.  Is that fair?

TOLLIVER:  It`s got to have a balance.  Of course, beating Trump is the number one goal of Democrats this election cycle.  What Americans have the opportunity to do in this primary is say, who motivates me, who inspires me, who`s going to we able to fight for me and be able to make that primary decision.

MATTHEWS:  Who gets the independents? 

TOLLIVER:  I think one -- let`s be real.  Independents had said in that same poll, 49 percent of independents said, no matter what, they`re definitely voting against Trump.  So, I don`t think it`s about who gets independents in the general.

MATTHEWS:  So, it doesn`t matter. 

TOLLIVER:  I think it matters because, of course, you`re going to have appeal broadly. 

MATTHEWS:  Who`s got the best chance to beat Trump?

TOLLIVER:  Come on, we`ve seen the polls, all five of the top candidates have the best chance of beating Trump. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me who.  Who`s got the best chance?  Who`s got the best chance? 

TOLLIVER:  At her upward trajectory, I`m looking at Elizabeth Warren very closely. 

MATTHEWS:  You think Elizabeth Warren has got the best chance to beat Trump?

BRABENDER:  I honestly don`t know that.  I do think this -- 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, come on, you do.

BRABENDER:  I do think once -- 

TOLLIVER:  Look at (INAUDIBLE) come on.

BRABENDER:  It doesn`t matter.  I think once the Democrats say it`s not Biden, he`s done.  And so I think that`s the real thing to watch. 

The other thing to love about Democrats in these debates, they attack differently than Republicans do.  They always start by saying, you know, Joe, you`re a very good friend of mine and I respect you a lot, but now, I`m going to kick you in the groin. 


MATTHEWS:  Do you know what Democrats do?  They shoot their wounded.  That`s what they do.

I`ve watched this for years.


MATTHEWS:  I know you hate it, but it`s so true. 

TOLLIVER:  That`s rough.

MATTHEWS:  Juanita Tolliver, thank you.  John Brabender, but you know.

Tomorrow night is the third Democratic debate in the primary season down in Houston.  Our special coverage begins at 11:00 p.m. afterwards.  I`ll be in the spin room with all the wounded perhaps.

Up next, on the somber anniversary of 9/11, I`m going to show the heroic first responders.  We have to regularly. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  There was something about powerful about 9/11, of course, that we must never forget.  It was the courage of first responders.  Remember that firefighter heading up the stairs of the World Trade Towers with everyone racing down?  It`s my job, he said. 

Hundreds offered up their lives that day to save others.  And let`s remember too our feelings about those first responders, the cheers that went up on New York street, street corners in the weeks thereafter, to the passing fire trucks.

And more than that the proud sense of country we felt, so many of us, knowing he had those among us who would race to their duty on such a day.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.