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Candidates battle for votes TRANSCRIPTS: 2/17/20, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews

Guests: Rick Wilson, Rick Tyler

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: And in an apparent protest over Bill Barr`s intervention in the case as of now, Stone`s sentencing is set for Thursday.

That does it for me. You can find me always on "FIRST LOOK" at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Ari is back tomorrow night here at 6:00 P.M.

"HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Getting close. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews on Presidents Day.

The fight for the Democratic presidential nomination has now come down to man-to-man fighting. Bernie Sanders has a lead to protect now and fears Mike Bloomberg coming on. Bloomberg knows he has to beat Bernie on Super Tuesday or have to fight his way all the way back from that. How long will Biden and Warren hang on? Much as long as they do, because as long as they do, they`re hurting Bloomberg and Bernie each in their own way.

Tonight, the Democratic presidential candidates are taking their message to Nevada to the voters out there ahead of Saturday`s caucus. Nevada, which is the most diverse state of the first four contests, will prove to be a new challenge for all the candidates. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders heads into the state seeking to project the image of a frontrunner.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  As all of you know, we won the popular vote in Iowa. We won the New Hampshire primary. With your help, we`re going to win here in Nevada. We are going together to win the Democratic nomination. And together we are going to defeat Trump and transform this country.


MATTHEWS:  That`s an odd look at that camera there, the phone in the way.

Anyway, Nevada`s Culinary Workers Union now, which is the state`s most effective voter turnout machine with like 70,000 members, has declined to endorse any of the candidates. The union did, however, make clear by distribution fliers in English and Spanish, they do not support Senator Sanders and his Medicare-for-all plan. Sanders supporters were sharply critical of the union for that, and its members lashing out at them on Twitter and in emails using some crude language that I can`t repeat. It was really terrible language.

According to Nevada Independent, two top officials of the Culinary Union face threatening phone calls, emails and tweets and their personal information were shared online. In other words, they put out the person`s addresses so people can get at them or whatever to harass them. Who knows why.

In an initial statement, more than 24 hours after the attacks were publicized, Senator Sanders condemned harassment in all forms. All forms? And here`s what he told the PBS NewsHour.


SANDERS:  Obviously, that is not acceptable to me. I don`t know who these so-called supporters are. You know, we`re living in a strange world on the internet. Anybody making personal attacks against anybody else in my name is not part of our movement.


MATTHEWS:  Well, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been the subject of direct attacks from Sanders released a new ad today attacking Sanders` Twitter followers, in fact, supporters commonly known as Bernie Bros. Here is part of the Bloomberg ad.


SANDERS:  It is vitally important for those of us who hold different views to be able to engage in a civil discourse.


MATTHEWS:  I said it was getting close. In a news release labeled, Bernie`s new bro, Donald Trump, Bloomberg`s campaign manager writes, it`s shameful turn of events to see Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump deploy the very same attacks and tactics against Mike. At this point, the primary is Bernie`s to lose and ours to win. Bernie knows this. Trump knows this. That`s why they are united in the campaign against Mike.

Senator Sanders hit back by tweeting an image of Bloomberg playing golf with Trump. Meanwhile, on the campaign trail this weekend, Sanders drew nearly -- look at that. That is a crowd. 11,000 supporters out in Denver, that`s Trump-style rally there. Just five days coming up to the Saturday caucus, one long-time Nevada pollster told McClatchy News, this race is really wide open in Nevada, he`s talking about.

For more, I`m joined by Adrienne Elrod, former chief of staff to the DCCC and senior adviser to Hillary Clinton`s campaign in 2016, Eugene Robinson, of course, Columnist at The Washington Post, Jonathan Allen, NBC News Digital and National Political Reporter. Thank you, all.

I guess, where are we going with Bernie on this thing? Is it fair to say he was separate from the tough guys out there saying really awful language, chasing these top women at the Culinary Workers sort of back at their house, like here is your address. You know these nasty tricks. People play this dirty stuff once in awhile.

JONATHAN ALLEN, MSNBC DIGITAL AND NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  I mean, there`s duplicity about it. Bernie Sanders has benefited from his online supporters, help him take out candidate after candidate after candidate in his primary, whether you go after Beto O`Rourke, you go after Elizabeth Warren, they go after Pete Buttigieg.

MATTHEWS:  What is the tactic besides using bad language and scaring people?

ALLEN:  Well, I mean, in this case, you`re talking about -- it sounds like a lot of actual harassment, in previous cases, simply more of the political, trying to undermine the other candidates, trying to spread, in some cases, real information, other cases, misinformation.

But they`re very, very aggressive. And they do not reflect what you see from Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail when he says things like we should be able to engage in a civil discourse. These are very, very different things that are coming out of the Sanders campaign. By the way, that`s not unique.

MATTHEWS:  Did he say something like whoever does it kind of a general kind of a condemnation of that rather than condemnation of those people?

ALLEN:  Right. I mean, you heard some of him basically saying, no matter who does this, right? That`s a sort of Trumpian construction.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. Gene, what do you make of this? You and I have been around. There`s kind of a thing here. The nastiest thing, I read all the words, the kind of words, the worst sort of places, but we know all the words, all the awful words. They`re all thrown at these top women, terrible language. But the one I grabbed onto was giving the home addresses out. What`s the purpose of that except more --

EUGENCE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, harassment is the purpose of that. And, look, there is a somewhat different tone. Jon is right there are fervent and sometimes obnoxious supporters of all the candidates. But there is a different tone coming from that wing of the Sanders movement. And it has --

MATTHEWS:  How would you compare it to the tone of the people around him, the tough people around him, because he`s got some tough guys around him?

ROBINSON:  He`s got some tough guys.

MATTHEWS:  I know their names and I could use them. But --

ROBINSON:  But you`re not going to. But it`s sort of built on the sense of grievance, right, that, you know, he was jobbed in 2016.

MATTHEWS:  Because they had the mainstream Major NFL Football games and stuff like that.

ROBINSON:  And stuff like that, right. And he won the popular vote in Iowa but he didn`t actually win the Iowa caucuses. That was Pete Buttigieg, according to the way they count it. And the threat, the idea of the threat that, that these -- all these other establishment forces are out to take it away from Bernie.

MATTHEWS:  Is this smart for Bloomberg to jump on this?

ADRIENNE ELROD, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  It is. I mean, it`s smart, but it`s also interesting because this is the first contrast ad that he has put out on his campaign to contrast some of the --

MATTHEWS:  Well, there`s the phrase. You are so careful. I love this contrast ad. Most people would call them negative ads.

ELROD:  Democratic presidential candidate instead of Trump, right? And he chose not to go after the economy, not to go after Medicare-for-all, not to draw a contrast on the policy issues but to focus on the Bernie Bros online. I think that`s very interesting and I think that he is previewing what is to come on Wednesday night assuming that Mike Bloomberg gets on the debate stages one poll away.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. Well, he is on that stage Wednesday night, first time, new kid on the block. Everybody is going to be going after him, the new kid. Like tissue rejection from all of them, right?

ALLEN:  Absolutely. Look, they`re going to say he`s not a Democrat, he doesn`t represent the party.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Bernie doesn`t either, technically.

ALLEN:  Correct. I mean, true leading or certainly the most talked about candidates right now are the ones that don`t associate with the party and one who is the last great Republican mayor Of New York.

MATTHEWS:  All of them had the option to run on Democratic ticket any time they wanted to.

ALLEN:  Mike Bloomberg`s charge here is to start throw haymakers. He`s going to make an argument to the Democratic Party that you need to beat Donald Trump down and that he can protect the Democratic Party and that he can be its champion and that he can knock Donald Trump out. And the first thing he`s going to do is start throwing punches at these other Democrats who have been not doing anything on the debate stages for the last year.

ROBINSON:  I think so. Because you remember like all of four years ago, there was a candidate named Trump who got ganged up on on the debate stage, right, by all the Republican presidential candidates, and he punched back hard in his way, and the rest is history.

Now, I don`t know if Bloomberg is capable of that sort of performance or would try to do that sort of performance on the debate stage, but --

MATTHEWS:  He was like Robert De Niro. Are you looking at me? Are you talking to me? It`s like that kind of behavior.

ELROD:  I think all the moderates though have to be very careful about the way they approach this debate, because if they go with their gut instincts, which is likely to pile on Mike Bloomberg on his debut on the debate stage, Bernie Sanders may come out of this looking fantastic while the moderate pragmatic wing of the party is kind of disheveled.

ROBINSON:  And give Bernie this boost and gets a lead in delegates. And then where are you, trying to catch up.

MATTHEWS:  We`re all teachers at our best, so here`s a thought for a lecture. The shape of the field determines the winner. And when Jimmy Carter ran against four or five liberals back in `76, they all bunched together and siphoned each other`s votes away and he walked in as a moderate.

This time around, the opposite could happen. You`ve got four moderates in the race including Bloomberg now and then Biden hanging in there and, of course, Pete, and, of course, Elizabeth, they`re all there. We`re all familiar. We call them by their first names. We all know them well. They`re all going to be around. But one guy on the left, progressive left, he picks up the marbles, just like Jimmy Carter picked up the marbles as the moderate, right?

ALLEN:  That`s certainly the strategy for him. And he certainly tried to distance Warren. She wanted to be the progressive candidate and fight him for that a little bit.

MATTHEWS:  He won the inter murals then.

ALLEN:  And he -- yes, he won the inter murals and he sort of knocked her into that moderate lane and he cleaned up, especially after his heart attack. A lot of Bernie Sanders supporters came home after that. They said -- you heard Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talk about it in a sort of very passionate term.

So the one thing he has a problem with is if he doesn`t come into that convention with a serious number of delegates, the party is going to gang up on him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, wait, Michelle Goldberg said something here the other, which I think is true, but we`re running out of time, because I think we are getting to this. Super Tuesday is only, what, two weeks off tomorrow. This is it. This is so close to Armageddon time, reckoning time. It`s not Armageddon. How about something Gun Fight at the O.K. Corral, something or lesser (ph) than that? She said, if Bernie wins the plurality, I think she meant the popular vote, most votes cast in the primaries, the caucuses, he can`t be denied. Is that your view, can`t be denied? If he gets 38, he can`t be denied, 38 percent.

ROBINSON:  I think there will be a serious attempt to deny him if he -- but it depends on the size of the plurality, right? If he comes in, what, you mean 1,900-some delegates?

ELROD:  1,991.

MATTHEWS:  I suppose he`s at 40 percent.

ROBINSON:  So if he comes in with 1,700 delegates, is that close? It`s --

MATTHEWS:  No. But let`s start to raise all bets. Suppose he`s at 35 percent or 30 percent, everybody has got the most.

ELROD:  But I think that`s why he wanted the raw numbers to come out of the caucuses this time, because he wants to make the argument that I have the popular number, exactly.

MATTHEWS:  I`ll put this on the table up or down, can you do this? Yes or no? We can all do this. You can start. He comes in with about 30, 35 percent, which is really high for him. He`s getting about 27. Okay, let`s say he comes in at 30 percent. Does he own it? And nobody else has 30.

ROBINSON:  There`s a war over it and he does not own it. And part of the reason is that his people were on the commission that wrote the rules for this time that allowed somebody who came up with 30 percent of delegates got to do it.

MATTHEWS:  So somebody who has less than him can be the nominee.

ROBINSON:  That`s true or somebody who wasn`t even in the mix.

ALLEN:  Yes, I totally agree.

ELROD:  I don`t think that`s going to happen.

ROBINSON:  but I don`t think 30 percent is enough to guarantee him.

MATTHEWS:  Okay. By the way, any chance Hillary will be drafted?

ROBINSON:  I doubt it.

MATTHEWS:  Sherrod Brown and a --

ROBINSON:  I would not rule out anything at this point in February.

ELROD:  Guys, and we are not -- the Democrats are not going to nominate somebody on the floor of the convention who did not run for president. That is a guarantee.

MATTHEWS:  Okay. That`s a strong a view, even if they`re ready go down in total defeat.

Anyway, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, I`ve talked to him on the phone then, we`re going to have him Friday. He`s a political kingmaker out in Nevada. He warned against counting Joe Biden out of the race today. Let`s watch Harry Reid.


FMR. SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV):  I think it`s way too early to count Joe Biden out. As I`ve said here this morning several times already, Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of the country. He`s going to do well in Nevada. He`s going to do extremely well in South Carolina. So people should not be counting Joe Biden out of the race yet.


MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s really the question. This race, Gene, is not winnowing out.

ROBINSON:  No, it`s not.

MATTHEWS:  He stuck in the race. Pete Buttigieg has the right to stay, and, clearly, he`s done well. Elizabeth Warren is still in it, and, of course, Amy Klobuchar.

ROBINSON:  Amy Klobuchar is moving up --

MATTHEWS:  We`ve got a lot of people are surviving. It used to be two tickets out of this, one ticket out of that. They all still got tickets.

ROBINSON:  Right. And so --

MATTHEWS:  So that kills the chances of Bloomberg uniting the moderates.

ROBINSON:  Yes. I mean, I don`t think anybody gets out. Look, if Biden finishes third or fourth in South Carolina, I think he gets out, right, because that would --

MATTHEWS:  You were on that show, on MEET THE PRESS yesterday. I watched you there when he said, I have to do well in South Carolina.

ROBINSON:  Yes, he needs to win South Carolina. But, you know, Jim Clyburn said the other day that if the election were today, Biden would win South Carolina. And I don`t think Jim says that lightly.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think Biden had been doing a lot better if he had done this show. He hasn`t done it yet. I don`t know what that`s all about. But I`m telling you, unless you get out there and get in the arena -- and this is the arena -- you got a shot. Nobody wins the presidency by not showing up. Anyway, that`s a pretty tough shot (ph) and it was intended.

Thank you, Adrienne Elrod, thank you. Hillary is not getting into this race. Okay, thank you. Eugene Robinson and Jonathan Allen, thank you.

Coming up, former National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks out for the first time since the impeachment trial of President Trump. He`s getting ahead of his book. What he said and what he couldn`t say, that`s next.

Plus, Trump`s flagrant attacks in the rule of law carried out by Bill Barr has now led more than 2,000 former Department of Justice officials to demand Barr`s resignation. What Barr promised, by the way, in his confirmation hearing it turns out is much different than what he actually has done. Don`t you notice?

We`ve got a lot of that to get through. Stick with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Tonight, former National Security Adviser John Bolton spoke publicly for the first time since the impeachment trial, where he discussed his unpublished manuscript, which reportedly contains new details of the Trump Ukraine scandal.

According to NBC News, when Bolton was asked about Trump`s attacks, he said, I say things in the manuscript about what President Trump said to me. I hope they become public someday. He tweets but I can`t talk about it. How fair is that? He added, we`ll have to see what comes out of the censorship.

When asked if Trump`s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky was perfect, in quotes, Bolton said, you`ll love chapter 14. And when asked if he`s concerned about attacks on Alexander Vindman and Marie Yovanovitch, Bolton said, I think it`s legitimate to worry about it.

I`m joined right now by Shannon Pettypiece, Senior White House Reporter for NBC News Digital, and Joyce Vance, she`s a former federal prosecutor, of course. And joining me on the phone is NBC`s Carol Lee from Duke University, where Bolton just wrapped up his remarks.

Carol, did he say anything besides these sort of the cutesy teases?

CAROL LEE, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Well, they were a bunch of teases, as you mentioned, but also what`s really palpable, his frustration with the White House over this review of his book and the fact that he`s being silenced while the president can talk about things that he was involved in in the White House, And then, you know, like he said, there was a lot of innuendo. He said, called Ukraine the sprinkles on the sundae of his book, teasing that other things in there are far more explosive.

And then, if you want to wade into some policy, he said it was critical on everything, from Iran to North Korea. He said those are failed policies by President Trump. He said his Venezuela policy is failed. He said he`s not tough enough on Russia.

And, in fact, in the context of talking about Russia, specifically the president`s meeting in Helsinki with President Putin, he said, I was -- he said, I was willing to put up with a lot, which suggested that he was willing to -- he was not happy with the way that meeting went, and he was willing to tolerate things like that, as long as he thought he was making headway on other things.

But the big headlines were that this battle between the White House and John Bolton over his book continued. I spoke with an aide to him earlier today who said that they are now -- don`t -- aren`t sure if his book will come out on its scheduled publication date of March 17.

That looks increasingly likely. And he`s really gearing up for a fight. He said he can`t speak freely until -- he`s under a threat of legal action from the executive branch, and that he`s -- everything is caught up in this review.

MATTHEWS:  Did he confirm -- not that we need a confirmation, but did he confirm that the president made a dirty deal with Zelensky, I want the dirt on Biden, or you don`t get your arms? Did he confirm that?

LEE:  He didn`t. He didn`t. He wouldn`t go into those sorts of details.

Like, he was more kind of teasing about it and also saying -- he was teasing, you know, there`s -- it`s all in his book, and stay tuned, and at the same time saying he wanted to say more, but he couldn`t because he`s under this sort of, for lack of a better phrase, gag order while his book is under this national security review.

And the White House has said that there`s classified information in there that can`t be published and that`s what the holdup is. He disputes that and says there`s not. In fact, he repeated again tonight what his lawyer has said, which is that he didn`t even think he had to submit this book for review, but he did so out of an abundance of caution.

So he didn`t go into -- and he said he wouldn`t go into details about Ukraine and what he thought about all of that, but, you know, teased and said, tune into chapter 14 and things like that.

MATTHEWS:  How much did people pay to hear this nothing?


LEE:  Well, tickets were free, but they were first-come-first-serve basis, and there was about 1,200 people there who packed into the auditorium.

And, you know, a number of them submitted questions.


LEE:  In fact, the question they got most was, did you think the president`s call with Zelensky was perfect?

That was...


MATTHEWS:  Great. Must be amazing to pay to good money to go to the Gypsy Rose Lee of national security.


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Carol Lee, for that reporting tonight.

LEE:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I love the on-the-spot aspect of your work tonight.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Bill Barr is taking heat from a bipartisan group of former DOJ officials, 2,000 of them, after intervening in that criminal case of Roger Stone last week. By the way, that sentencing is coming up.

In a stunning move, over 2,000 alumni, if you will, of the U.S. Justice Department have issued a joint statement condemning Barr for allowing politics to influence the justice system there.

They write: "It is unheard of for the department`s top leaders to overrule line prosecutors in order to give preferential treatment to a close associate of the president."

Accusing him of -- quote -- "doing the president`s personal bidding, they say "Those actions require Mr. Barr to resign."

Notably, the signatories in this statement include Barr`s old boss the former deputy attorney general in the George Herbert Walker Bush administration Donald Ayer.

Writing in "The Atlantic," by the way, Ayer says that Barr`s actions are so extreme that -- quote -- "It is not too strong to say that Bill Barr is un- American."

Well, that`s pretty strong.

Joyce, thank you much.

Let`s go to everybody, Joyce Vance, starting with you.

What do you make of all these top officials and all kinds of officials, bipartisan group, public servants, professional prosecutors, if you will, and investigators, what do you make of all of them coming out like this, putting their names on something, this document?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  It`s unusual for...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you`re on there, Joyce. I have just learned that.

VANCE:  It`s unusual for this many prosecutors to speak with one voice, Chris.

Obviously, this is a topic that one would expect heated debate on. The letter, I understand, was the product of a lot of negotiation. But, at the end of the day, 2,000 -- and that number continues to grow as more people sign the letter -- have voiced their concern about this attorney general`s continued service.

MATTHEWS:  Who was at the head of this? And what was the straw that broke the camel`s back, if you will? Whose -- what group was behind getting the signatures together?

VANCE:  I think that there were a number of different groups of people inside DOJ, alums, as you say, former assistant U.S. attorneys, former U.S. attorneys.

If you look at the signatories on this letter, there are former FBI agents. There are people who worked as career lawyers in the department for several decades. So, it really spans, Republicans and Democrats, spread across the country geographically.

And what it highlights is the concern that DOJ is an institution that is effective because people trust it.


VANCE:  People believe that there is integrity in the decision-making process at DOJ. That`s what Bill Barr has destroyed by overriding a decision made by career prosecutors.

Their U.S. attorney signed off on the initial submission. And now, all of a sudden, one of the president`s close friends gets special treatment that no other defendant in a criminal case has received.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Shannon, what got to me, the first inkling I had that this guy was not going to be a good A.G., he was going to be the president`s Roy Cohn, is the way he presented the Mueller report.

The Mueller report had problems of its own. And Mueller had problems of his own. He`s getting older. But to showcase the way he did, like it didn`t accomplish anything, he basically -- whatever the right word is -- he took all the power away from it.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, NBC DIGITAL SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Well, it may highlight the real difficulty of being Trump`s attorney general.

And I remember, shortly before the Mueller report came out, talking to people who had worked with Bill Barr throughout his career who were really confident that he would be an independent attorney general, an honest broker.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he had been. He had been.

PETTYPIECE:  Because he had such a career, such a reputation that he had spent his life, that he had worked tirelessly to build up. And they argued, well, he`s not going to throw that away for Trump because he has no allegiances to Trump.

And then, as you point out, that quickly started to change after the Mueller report, where we started to see, well, maybe he was there to help out Trump. And now, of course, we see what`s happening now.

But I will tell you, Trump is not exactly happy with Barr now either. He`s very angry about the McCabe decision, not prosecuting McCabe, that came out on Friday. So, here you have Barr being attacked by his peers, his colleagues, the people he tried to build this reputation up with over his entire professional life, and yet still the president is dissatisfied with him, and they have a tense relationship right now.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the former Justice Department officials who wrote this letter calling for Barr`s resignation have also a message for current DOJ employees.

They`re encouraging them to report abuses, refuse to carry out political directives, and, where necessary, withdraw or resign from cases involving such misconduct.

Joyce, what do you make of that? This is sort of something -- I think the basic request is that they go to the inspector general with anything they see that -- they think that smells.

VANCE:  So, I think it`s important for the people who work at DOJ today, the career people, to understand that they have support on the outside from the alums.

But, Chris, it`s a difficult situation. For people who work in small U.S. attorneys offices across the country, it is very difficult, for instance, to go to the leadership of this Justice Department with a complaint about your U.S. attorney or your criminal chief.

So I have great empathy for the career people in the department who may face difficult decisions. My sense is that most people at Justice are doing their jobs like they have always done them. They`re keeping their heads down. They`re doing the right thing every day.

But for people who are faced with the decision that`s motivated improperly, politically, then they do need to find a way to come forward.

MATTHEWS:  This president, who is clearly running for reelection, is running basically on a platform that, I can do anything I want.


MATTHEWS:  He`s very Nixon -- not like Nixon with David Frost after he`s out of the White House, after being kicked out, but a guy who is running for reelection is saying, I can do what I want, and like Nixon said, if I do it, it`s not illegal.


MATTHEWS:  And here`s the guy saying, it doesn`t mean that I do have as president -- that I do not have as president the legal right to do it. I do.

He`s basically saying, I can do what I want, tell them to do what I want.

PETTYPIECE:  Well, and he`s surrounded by people who are making that argument to him about the broad expanse of presidential powers, including his own attorney general, who wrote a memo before he was hired as attorney general outlining this view of broad, expansive presidential power.

So he has surrounded himself by lawyers who are telling him this. And, of course, coming out of impeachment, he feels no reason to hold back. Why should he? Democrats threw their strongest constitutional weapon at him. He survived it. Between now and Election Day, the advisers around him are telling him, don`t hold back, that you have free rein, and feel like you have some liberty here.


MATTHEWS:  Well, I think the American people -- this is my little admonition -- pay attention when you vote time in November.

Whoever you`re angry at, at the moment when you go vote, think about, do you want to put a president back into office for four years who believes he`s above the law? This guy does. He believes -- Donald Trump believes -- and he said so -- I`m above the law.

Shannon Pettypiece, thank you so much. Thank you, Joyce Vance, as always.

Up next: President Trump kicked off the Daytona 500 this weekend with a ride around the track in what`s called the Beast, the presidential limo. What a show. This is like a Third World dictator or something. But it is something.

Haile Selassie might have done something like this or Mobutu Sese Seko, something like that.

Anyway, there they go. There he is, victory lap. I got acquitted. Look at me. I can go around the track.

Anyway, we`re -- you`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  I love Mondays.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Just over the weekend, after his acquittal on two articles of impeachment, President Trump spent part of his Presidents Day weekend taking literally a victory lap of sorts.

Well, it`s a victory lap, when Sunday -- there he is -- the president served as grand marshal at the Daytona 500 in Florida. He took the presidential limousine -- it`s called the Beast -- on a warmup lap around the track, while using all the trappings of the presidency to rev up his reelection effort in that critical swing state of Florida.

It`s really a national event, actually.

If the president seems unfazed in the wake of the impeachment trial, it`s part of a pattern, of course, shamelessness. From his administration`s slow response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, to the Democrats` overwhelming election victory in 2018, or the Mueller report itself, the press has repeatedly shown an uninterest in any sort of self-reflection in the face of setbacks.


QUESTION:  What lesson do we take from what happened in Puerto Rico? How do we apply the lessons we took from Puerto Rico?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success.

QUESTION:  What lesson did you learn most from looking at those results? Was there one thing that, as you kind of reviewed them, that you will change your strategy, not just for Congress, but kind of going forward?

And then just a follow-up question.

TRUMP:  Well, I think the results that I have learned and may be confirmed, I think people like me. I think people like the job I`m doing, frankly.

QUESTION:  Mueller specifically said that he did not exonerate you.

TRUMP:  So, there is no such a thing. He didn`t have the right to exonerate.


MATTHEWS:  Well, just one day after dismissing Robert Mueller`s testimony, the president had the July 25 call with Ukraine`s president set in motion, of course, his impeachment.

Bad behavior leads to bad behavior.

The president was asked last week, by the way, what he learned from impeachment. This is classic -- or unclassic.


QUESTION:  The Republicans had said they hoped you would learn a lesson from impeachment. What lesson did you learn from impeachment?

TRUMP:  That the Democrats are crooked, they have got a lot of crooked things going, that they`re vicious, that they shouldn`t have brought impeachment.

QUESTION:  Anything...


TRUMP:  And that my poll numbers are 10 points higher.



MATTHEWS:  He`s talking like he`s on a subway and there`s a street fight. It`s amazing.

For more, I`m joined by Howard Fineman, the MSNBC contributor, and Rick Tyler, Republican strategist.

Howard, the trash talk is so -- it`s so shameless. Who is it working with in this culture of ours? Because it`s working somewhere. These numbers are very even.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  The amazing thing is that Donald Trump is a "New Yorker," but he`s an outer borough "New Yorker," and he has all of the resentments...

MATTHEWS:  You talking to me?

FINEMAN:  You talking to me?

MATTHEWS:  Yes. Yes.

FINEMAN:  Resentments from somebody out there in Queens who comes to Manhattan with a chip on his shoulder.

That dynamic, that emotional dynamic, allows him to go straight into the cortexes of those people at Daytona 500. I have never seen anything like it. I have covered politics a long time.

Lee Atwater -- the late Lee Atwater used to have to instruct George H.W. on how to do it. George W. learned by living in Texas. Trump, who never lived...

MATTHEWS:  What were those things he ate?


FINEMAN:  Trump, who never lived outside of New York...

MATTHEWS:  Pork rinds.

FINEMAN:  ... has that sense of resentment.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, that resentment, Howard, is -- as you know and I...

FINEMAN:  And it`s gold. It`s gold in politics.

MATTHEWS:  We know it`s not just Midwestern or South.


MATTHEWS:  Bucks County, Pennsylvania, they just opened up a swag store out there. The line is around the block for Trump paraphernalia. These people have an attitude.


FINEMAN:  Chris, this politics was invented in New York...


FINEMAN:  ... after the riots in the `60s in New York City, after the social tumult there. The end of the subway lines was where the resentment was.

MATTHEWS:  That`s so smart, the outer boroughs.

FINEMAN:  And that`s the people that Trump appeals to.

MATTHEWS:  And I know.


RICK TYLER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  In the recent Republican primary, Trump won every single New York county, except for Manhattan.

FINEMAN:  He lost his own neighborhood.


FINEMAN:  He lost the Upper East Side, his own neighborhood.

MATTHEWS:  Did he carry Staten Island? Did he carry parts of Brooklyn? I bet he did part of Queens.


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the argument I made before the `16 election. I went along with the pollsters, because we always bless them. When they`re wrong, we bless them.

I went -- when I kept saying, I knew all about this attitude. You know about attitude. We know about it.

But they -- all the experts said there are not enough angry white people out there, white men. There are just not enough. There`s too many -- there`s more diversity in this country. The women don`t think like this, even if they live like -- with men like this.

Is there enough? Because I get the feeling there`s enough, just enough, to win for Trump, just enough.

TYLER:  Well, you asked earlier...

MATTHEWS:  I don`t know.

TYLER:  ... who buys all the stuff? And there`s resentment. And people who go to the Daytona 500.

By the way, it would have been a little more ballsy if he actually drove a stock car around, instead of putting -- that was kind of a wimpish move to ride...


MATTHEWS:  You think he should have driven about 300 miles an hour or something?


TYLER:  Well...

FINEMAN:  No, I disagree.

I think having the Beast out there was...

TYLER:  That`s wimpy. Anybody could ride in -- come on.


MATTHEWS:  I get on the -- I was on the -- Acela today coming down from New York. I went up this morning and back.

I got to tell you, they get on the train, they said, be careful, this train goes 300 miles an hour. No, it doesn`t.

TYLER:  No, it does not.


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, they said, be careful, buckle up.

I said, what, are you crazy? And there`s a post -- it`s like a buckboard.

Anyway, in his post-Senate acquittal remarks, by the way, at the White House, President Trump offered just one apology.


TRUMP:  I want to apologize to my family for having them have to go through a phony, rotten deal by some very evil and sick people.


MATTHEWS:  That`s a hell of an apology, Howard.

Anyway, compare that to President Clinton`s remarks after his acquittal on a different matter in 1999.


BILL CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did to trigger these events and the great burden they have imposed on the Congress and on the American people.


MATTHEWS:  It`s so interesting, that comparison.

TYLER:  Except that -- let me make an observation.

So, Bill Clinton did what he had done.

MATTHEWS:  He had a relationship he shouldn`t have with a younger woman at the White House, yes. And then he lied about it.

TYLER:  Right. But this is how...

MATTHEWS:  And then he lied about it.

The only part I had a problem, I think a legitimate argument with, he shouldn`t have gone into the Roosevelt Room in the White House, with all those people sitting -- like Dianne Feinstein and his Cabinet members, and use them as part of his shield.

TYLER:  Right. He did. He did.

MATTHEWS:  I think he shouldn`t have done that.

TYLER:  Right.

And Erskine Bowles was particularly hurt about it.

MATTHEWS:  And he used those people.

TYLER:  But he -- this is a pattern of behavior that he has used to survive his entire political career.

Donald Trump has used a different pattern of behavior, but it`s still a pattern of behavior, right? So he`s not -- he`s not going to apologize.

MATTHEWS:  Which is honest?

TYLER:  But I will say...

MATTHEWS:  Which is honest? Either one?

TYLER:  I don`t know. I don`t know which is honest.

But I will say, Donald Trump being acquitted in all of this is actually, in some sense, the worst thing that can happen to him, because it`s like an addict, no offense against addicts, winning the lottery.


TYLER:  It will kill you.

MATTHEWS:  Howard?


MATTHEWS:  I think -- I think it`s made his people angry and he`s going to use that anger.

FINEMAN:  He`s also using it to write his version of history. As we know, the victor`s right to history, and also autocrats` right to history. What he`s engaged in now is trying to retry for his own campaign purposes what happened over the last two or three years. And he knows that if he repeats it again and again and again, it will be the version of history, be the version of history that his voters will base their votes on.

WILSON:  (INAUDIBLE) writers write history, Howard.

FINEMAN:  No, guys writing newspaper columns.


MATTHEWS:  By the way, McClatchy newspapers chain (ph) went bankrupt, the less newspapers we have, the more Trump will be believed.

FINEMAN:  Guess who has his own media outfit? Mike Bloomberg.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. Thank you, Howard Fineman. Rick Tyler, thank you, for your expertise.

Up next, the dire hard climate change denier, of course, has made, the chief of staff to the Environmental Protection Agency, what an outrage. He`s the same person who gave that snowball, by the way, to Jim Inhofe, the senator, to prove there is no global warming going on. Boy, this is deep.

Why do you want to work for the EPA if you`re against the very purpose of the EPA unless you want to destroy it? Which is what`s going on here. No environmental protection, no climate change recognition, just this Inhofe guy here.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My ethics plan will end the corruption in our government. Corruption is massive. We will drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.


And replace it with a new government of, by and for the people. Believe me.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Then candidate Donald Trump, of course, promised to drain the swamp and end corruption in the United States government. But instead he`s filled his administration as we all know now with lobbyists. It`s particularly evident in the Environmental Protection Agency where high profile officials, including its administrators, Andrew Wheeler, have very close ties to the industry that he`s supposed to be regulating.

His predecessor, Scott Pruitt, who had sued the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma`s attorney general, quote, filled his days meeting with executives from many of the companies he regulates, all but side-stepping environmental and public health groups as "The Washington Post" put it.

And now, Wheeler`s current chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, is leading the agency to work as the top lobbyist for the mining association. Isn`t that cute? The revolving door at work. "The Washington Post" is reporting that his replacement will be Mandy Gunasekara who left the EPA last year to start a pro-Trump nonprofit where she, quote, argued on behalf of the president`s support for fossil fuels and other energy policies.

Before that she was instrumental in Trump`s exit from the Paris climate agreement and played a key role in working to scale back federal rules aimed at cutting back greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution, including replacing the Obama era clean power plan.

But before that she was at the center of one of the most ridiculous stunts on the U.S. Senate floor and that`s coming up next.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-OK):  I ask the chair, you know what this is? It`s a snowball. And that`s just from outside here. So it`s very, very cold out, very unseasonal.

So here, Mr. President, catch this. Um-hmm.

We hear the perpetual headline that 2014 is -- has been the warmest year on record. But now, the script has flipped.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe on the Senate floor four year -- five years ago making the absurd argument that global warming isn`t real because there was a snowball in his hand. In doing so, he`s conflating weather, which is measured daily, and climate which is determined by patterns over time. In fact, this day again was, in fact, the world`s hottest decade in recorded history.

That`s a fact. It`s scary, but it`s a fact. Face it.

While the person who handed Inhofe that snowball, Mandy Gunasekara, will be the Environmental Protection Agency`s next chief of staff. There she is.

I`m joined now by Bill Nye, science educator, the science guy, host of "The Science Rules" podcast.

Mr. Nye, just take sometime here to talk about. Why would anybody want to go work for the Environmental Protection Agency if they didn`t want to protect the environment? I mean, that`s a basic question.

BILL NYE, HOST, "SCIENCE RULES" PODCAST: Well, to provide reasons is one thing. She is a long-time coal advocate. Her husband has been very strong advocate for the Petroleum Institute, I believe. And so these people believe that fossil fuels, fossil fuel burning is not a problem, carbon monoxide is not a big problem.

And I just want to point out, you know, I have a lot -- I have a very close friend in Oklahoma, okay. You guys, we`ve got to turn this around. I mean, your senator Mr. Inhofe acts as though -- I don`t know if he really can`t, but he acts as though he can`t multiply.

And that is a deep concern. So here`s what`s happened, Chris. May I call you Chris?


NYE:  She was here as the director of air and radiation. She went to this organization called Energy 45, which you alluded to earlier.


NYE:  To promote Mr. Trump`s policies. But it`s I believe it`s based on Route 45 in Oklahoma. But now, she`s moving up the org chart to here to the center where she`s going to have more influence and so on.

So, the other thing I find striking about -- she and her husband, Mr. Gunasekara, is they have two kids. They have two young kids, and they`re going to inherit this earth and they are going to have to interact with their parents when their parents have been strong advocates of putting more carbon dioxide in the earth. And what they do, very common in the people that they have hired, the Environmental Protection Agency of late, including Mr. Wheeler, is confuse or try to blur the idea that carbon dioxide, although not a traditional pollutant, is a problem. Carbon dioxide is the problem.

Yes, methane is a problem. Some other greenhouse gases are the problem. But because there is so much carbon dioxide, it is the main thing that we need to address. And this whole idea --

MATTHEWS:  You mean, the stuff that kills you if you park your car in the garage and close the door?

NYE:  Well, that`s also carbon monoxide which replaces oxygen on your hemoglobin in your blood. It`s a little -- it`s not that perfect, but carbon dioxide holds in heat on the earth. And without carbon dioxide --

MATTHEWS:  Are you saying dioxide or monoxide? Are you saying monoxide --

NYE:  Monoxide is what you use to kill yourself or your rival, and dioxide is what plants transpire to breathe.

MATTHEWS:  I know, I thought I misheard you.

NYE:  Yes, well, I was trying to gently point out that carbon dioxide is not how you kill yourself, although you could, sure.

MATTHEWS:  I know. I know that, I understand. I misheard you, not misunderstood you.

Anyway, the end of 2019, the Trump administration had rolled back 95 environmental rules according to "The New York Times." 

So here`s the question. People act like we can`t fix things, we can`t change patterns. I remember L.A. when you flew out there 20, 30 years ago, it was marshy, it was yellow, it was awful. It smelled like air, you know, aviation fuel whatever all the time.

I remember the Cuyahoga River went on fire up near Cleveland. I mean, we have fixed it. Why don`t people get some hope up that we can -- the idea of sacrifice is too hard. How about the idea of hope? Can`t we instill hope in people we can do something with climate, that we can still accomplish our goals?

NYE:  So, Chris, I am so optimistic about the future. When young people are running the show, all this stuff is going to change. These people are going -- the Gunasekaras of the world are going to be throwbacks. They`re not going to be able to stay in business. Mr. Inhofe is going to be, he`s going to be a throwback, because the thing that`s striking -- you know, I always say --

MATTHEWS:  He is a throwback.

NYE:  Yes, Article 1 Section 8 Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution refers to the progress of science and useful arts. You know, we all like to talk about what the Founding Fathers had in mind. Well, they had science in mind, everybody. And carbon dioxide being put into the air by the burning of fossil fuels has been shown to make the world warmer faster than ever in earth`s history, with the exception of asteroid impacts.

So, you guys, we can fix these problems. We can innovate.

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

NYE:  Clean water, renewable electricity, access to the Internet for everybody in the world. That`s what we need. Raise the standard of women and girls, and we can change the world. Happy Presidents Day.

MATTHEWS:  I think that`s why young people are on your side, sir. Thank you so much, Bill Nye, the science guy.

We`re right back after this. Thank you.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As we get ready for the Nevada caucuses this Saturday, I`d like to invite you to listen to the next episode of my podcast. It`s called, "So you want to be president?" And this week`s episode focuses on winning campaigns that made tough calls that put candidates on the right side of history. Smart moves.

Episode 5, "Ride the Galloping Horse of History" is available right now wherever you get your podcasts. By the way, it is great.

And on Wednesday, I`m going to Las Vegas for the next Democratic debate hosted by NBC News and MSNBC. Be sure to tune in at 7:00 p.m. for HARDBALL.

The debate starts at 9:00 Eastern. I`ll be in the spin room. Maybe I`ll get Mike Bloomberg in there. The candidates are supposed to come see me. You don`t want to miss that.

And that`s HARDBALL for tonight.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.