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Trump accuses Dems TRANSCRIPT: 2/21/20, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews

Guests: Pete Buttigieg, Harry Reid, Gabe Debenedetti, Seema Mehta, Larry Pfeiffer, Natasha Bertrand, David Frum

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: You are looking at a live shot of our election headquarters here at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York.

And we will be busy tomorrow. I`ll be part of our special coverage in the Nevada caucus. That`s tomorrow, Saturday. And HARDBALL with Chris Matthews is next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Trump lowers his intelligence. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews out the Las Vegas strip ahead of tomorrow`s Nevada caucuses.

After Wednesday`s bloodbath of a debate, the candidates continue to attacking each other in stark and alarming terms today, warning pf an electoral disaster in November against Donald Trump.

And speaking of the president, he`s also here in Vegas. He continues to go to war with his intel chiefs publicly refuting their warning to Congress that Russia is up to the old tricks again in 2020, trying to help Trump get re-elected. Trump fired his top intel official for giving that warning.

Later in this hour, I`ll be talking to one of the candidates trying to stop Bernie Sanders in the primaries and Donald Trump in November. Pete Buttigieg is joins me here live.

I`ll also speak to the man who knows more about -- more than anyone about the Nevada politics, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He`s got a lot to say today about both Bernie Sanders and the chance of a brokered convention this summer.

We begin tonight with the aftermath of the explosive New York Times report that in a briefing last week, U.S. intelligence officials warned House lawmakers that Russia is meddling in the 2020 election to help get President Trump re-elected.

Today in a rally here in Las Vegas, however, Trump argued the Democrats were the ones pushing this story of Russian interference.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was told a week ago, they said, you know, they`re trying to start a rumor. It`s disinformation. That`s the only thing they`re good at. They`re not good at anything else and get nothing done. Do nothing Democrats, they`re -- that Putin wants to make sure I get elected. Listen to this.

So doesn`t he want to see who the Democrat is going to be? Wouldn`t he rather have, let`s say, Bernie. Wouldn`t they rather have Bernie, who honeymooned in Moscow?


MATTHEWS: In fact, the February 13th briefing was attended by members of both parties. And The New York Times noted, as it did, the briefing included information that Russia intends to interfere in the Democratic primaries this year as well.

A short time after the president spoke, The Washington Post reported that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had been briefed that Russians were interfering to help him in the primaries. Sanders acknowledged he has been briefed about a month ago on that point. Let`s watch.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Intelligence Community has been very clear about it. Whether Trump recognizes it or not or acknowledges it or not, they did interfere in 2016. The Intelligence Community is telling us they are interfering in this campaign right now, in 2020.

And what I say to Mr. Putin, if elected president, trust me, you are not going to be interfering in American elections.


MATTHEWS: Well, that`s very different than Trump who seems to be encouraging it all the time.

Meanwhile, NBC News has confirmed that Trump`s anger that lawmakers were even briefed on the threat led to the ouster of acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, whose term was supposed to expire on March 12th. The report notes that after the February 13th briefing, Trump erupted at Maguire in the Oval Office demanding to know why lawmakers were briefed on the U.S. Russian intelligence operation. In fact, one former official told NBC, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, quote, is nearing a meltdown. In fact, today`s Maguire`s principal deputy, Andrew Holman, announced he is stepping down.

President Trump has already tapped Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist, a toady, with no intelligence experience to temporarily run the office of DNI.

For more, I`m joined by Natasha Betrand, Politico National Security Correspondent, let`s see, Larry Pfeiffer, former CIA chief of staff, and David Frum, Senior Editor for The Atlantic and former George W. Bush speechwriter.

Larry, tell us about this. What are the implications of this? What more do we know about the fact that the Russians are trying to help Trump again, in fact, they are interfering in the primaries to the benefit of Bernie Sanders, for whatever reason to screw things up, probably to make the Democrats more vulnerable? Who knows what? But what do you make of all this coming out and the fact that we`re all getting briefed on it this week?

LARRY PFEIFFER, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, Chris, break the glass, set off the sirens, call the firefighters from the nearby county, the Russians are coming. I`m not surprised. This is something Bob Mueller told us in his hearing on Capitol Hill. The Russians have been coming after us. They`ve been doing it since before 2016. They did it in 2016, they did it in 2018, they`re doing it in 2020.

Their goal is to be disruptive. They want to mess with us. They will have favored candidates. Clearly, they see Donald Trump`s time as president as being beneficial to Russian national interests. So, of course, they are showing a preference.

The fact that they`re helping Bernie Sanders as well, according to the recent reporting, shows that they`re equal opportunity players. They`re going to mess around wherever they can mess around because they want to find those divisions that exist in America and they want to exploit them.

MATTHEWS: Do they want us to have a clown as president?

PFEIFFER: They want us to have a president who is going to have policies that will ultimately work to Russian benefit. So those policies include policies that break up alliances, that remove America from regions of the world where we`re doing, you know, God`s work. And if that means, you know, supporting Donald Trump, then that`s what they`re trying to do.

MATTHEWS: Natasha, the incredible thing about Trump is he doesn`t seem to deny it. He acts like the toady of Moscow. He denies they are doing anything wrong now. He still denies they did anything against the country in 2016. He covers it up and represses the news again and again, all the while, and seemingly pulling our troops out of Syria, kissing up to Putin. Everything he does seems to be helping Putin. It`s just in broad daylight, the whole thing, except for the truth.

NATASHA BERTRAND, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, Chris. So the dangerous thing here, obviously, from the national security perspective is in part the fact that the president, of course, won`t acknowledge that this Russian interference is taking place and that he`s continuing to politicize Russia`s interference in the election, framing it as an issue where, you know, if the Democrats leaked this, it will hurt me rather than this is something we need to take very seriously from a national security point of view to preserve the integrity of our elections.

Now, we know, of course, that this is not a partisan issue that the Russians are allegedly trying to help Bernie Sanders`s campaign. Now, whether that`s in order to sow chaos or whether it`s in order to boost someone that they view as a weak opponent to the president, we don`t know, because we still don`t have that underlying intelligence that tells us exactly what they`re doing, right?

I mean, this is also a big question is how are the Russians interfering here? Is this a potential hack and dump operation, is this a social media operation? That is something that the committees, to our knowledge, still don`t know. And they`re trying to get that information out of the Intel Community. But with intel officials kind of self-censoring at this point and trying to walk on egg shells and prevent kind of the most damning information from getting to Republican allies of the president, and therefore, to the president, we may never find out. And that, of course, should worry voters going into to the 2020 election.

MATTHEWS: Well, just a question again. He used the word, rumor. It`s not a rumor. It`s been reported by the DNI. It comes right from the briefing he got the other day. How does he get away with calling the own information he gets from his top intelligence people rumors?

BERTRAND: Well, this is exactly why he has removed acting DNI Joe Maguire, because Joe Maguire, of course, began to essentially speak the truth. He started to tell his officials to go to Congress and say, look, give them a briefing on what`s actually happening here.

Trump now has installed this loyalist, Rick Grenell, who will not -- is known to be fair as a Russian hawk in his past, but was promoting the WikiLeaks exposures during 2016, et cetera. So this is not someone who is necessarily going to push back strongly on Trump`s instinct to downplay those.

MATTHEWS: David, let`s talk about the philosophy at work here. Because you know and I know back after World War II, even Ho Chi Minh modeled his declaration of independence on our own, from Jefferson`s writing. This has always been the country the world that people want to be like, the good people want to be like when they come out a university somewhere. They go back to their home country and they say, let`s make it like America, let`s have real elections, let`s have parties, let`s have free speech, let`s have free press, that`s always the goal.

Is that what the real jealousy of Putin is all about? He has a lame state with a gas station and a big military, that`s about it, and he can`t make anything, so he`s so jealous of our democracy and our traditions and our culture, which is a hell of a lot more dynamic than his, I must say, that he has to screw us up? Is that what this is all about, just smearing us by saying we can`t run straight elections?

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC": I can`t get inside Putin`s head, obviously. But I would point attention to a more practical problem that Putin has, which is it`s estimated about half the wealth that Russia has generated since Putin came to power has been stolen and removed outside the country. And it`s hidden in various ways. But if it`s outside Russia, it is potentially findable.

There have been efforts by some in Congress to tighten some disclosures, to make it harder, for example, to buy real estate in Miami through dummy corporations, to have know your client rules. And that is an immediate threat to the welfare and wellbeing of Putin and his inner circle.

So candidates, and this one of the reasons that Putin disliked Hillary Clinton, that`s why, I think, he would be most afraid of Elizabeth Warren, among the Democrats, have made global financial cleanup an important priority, and that is a threat to Putin`s livelihood.

I think one other thing needs to be --

MATTHEWS: Are you saying he`s primarily a -- he`s basically kleptocrat, he is basically a thief, people around him are all thieves. And one of his primary goal is to loot Russia?

FRUM: That has been his primary accomplishment as president, is to steal half of the country`s mobile wealth.

All through today, people in the administration have been talking to journalists from whom they hope to get a sympathetic hearing, saying, look, Trump was only upset because Maguire stepped outside channels. Trump was saying why is he telling Congress this when he didn`t tell me, As if this is a mere matter of protocol.

It`s important to bear in mind that The New York Times reported in April of 2019 that back then, more than -- almost a year ago that the then national -- sorry, the director of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen wanted to talk to the president and was scolded (ph) by Chief of Staff Mulvaney, do not talk with the president about election security, it makes him go up in smoke.

Trump is in the dark because he demands to be in the dark. And he`s surrounding himself with people who understand the price of keeping their jobs is not to talk to him, not to talk to the government and not to talk to the Congress about the integrity of the elections.

MATTHEWS: So now he has to keep -- therefore, he can keep saying these are rumors because no one has actually sat in the room and told me about it.

Anyway, last week`s briefing that the Congress got, including Adam Schiff and others and Devin Nunes, the intelligence top elected security official gave them that briefing. The Washington Post reports that Trump learned about Pierson`s remarks. That`s what gave the briefing from Devin Nunes, and, of course, his guy, the Intelligence Committee`s ranking Republican and Trump`s personal operative and a staunch Trump ally. Trump`s suspicions of the Intelligence Community have often been fueled by Mr. Nunes himself.

Politico reports today that Kash Patel, a former top National Security Council official, also played a key role as a Hill staffer in helping Republicans discredit the Russian probe is now, guess what, a senior adviser for now acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell. Patel had previously served as a top staffer Nunes on the Intelligence Committee.

Natasha, this name, Kash Patel, is another one with murky figures, like Roger Stone, that keeps popping up in the world of Trump. Well, who is he? He worked for Nunes. He seemed to be -- had something to do with the midnight ride that Nunes took down to the EOB and came back with stuff to take back to the White House the next morning, and now he`s working for Grenell, this boob they have running National Intelligence for the president.

BERTRAND: Yes. So Kash Patel was a really senior top staffer to Devin Nunes on the House Intel Committee. And he was really responsible for a lot of the work that Devin Nunes did with regard to questioning the origins of the Russia investigation, questioning surveillance -- alleged surveillance of the Trump campaign, Trump himself, by the FBI in 2016, pushing this theory that, you know, the Obama administration, quote/unquote, unmasked certain people within the Trump campaign that appeared in intercepts, intelligence intercepts.

So this is someone who broadly has been obviously extremely skeptical of the underlying intelligence that informed the idea that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in order to help Trump win. This is someone who worked hand in glove with Devin Nunes during his kind of three-year crusade to try to undermine the Russia investigation.

Now, of course, he went to the NSC, he worked there as a counterterrorism official for a few years and he`s now been transferred over to ODNI. And I will note obviously that he was mentioned during the impeachment testimony because Fiona Hill, the former Russia adviser on NSC, testified that he was actually so close to the president that the president actually at one point felt that he was the top Ukraine person on NSC, kind of feeding him information on that. So he pops up in many different areas.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Larry briefly. It looks like -- what`s the future look like of our national intelligence agencies? It seems like Trump wants a bunch of toadies in there, like Grenell. He wants to make sure they don`t tell him the truth, that they basically are there to deny the truth and to serve his partisan interests.

PFEIFFER: So, you know, I`m obviously concerned. What you want at the top of the Intelligence Community are people steeped in national security, people who have an understanding of intelligence. You don`t want people who come in with preconceived notions and then cherry-pick intelligence in order to solidify that preconceived notion.

The other thing I worry about is this is now the second acting leader in a row, it`s the third leader in less than a year and if the president is to be believed, we may have fourth leader in short order.

The community is a very complex organism. It involves 17 different departments and agencies spread across the United States government. The DNI himself is, by statute, not the strongest individual. He`s not as strongest cabinet secretary. So he has to be somebody that can persuade and cajole and coordinate the activities of a bunch of different organizations. That is very difficult to do when you have people spending two to three months in that chair. So that obviously has me worried.

I would say though the community is very large. Thousands of people, all of them dedicated to the mission of providing the truth to policymakers, regardless of what those policymakers think.

MATTHEWS: Well, once again, the president has decided to take personal advantage rather than national interest in mind. And now, we have a national intelligence community basically that`s now been set up at least temporarily to protect him and not the country.

Thank you, Natasha Bertrand, thank you, Larry Pfeiffer and David Frum tonight.

Coming up, we have two very special guests tonight who have a lot to say about tomorrow`s Nevada caucuses. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a force and certainly the big force in Nevada politics for decades. He joins me here. Does he think that Bernie Sanders is unstoppable?

And what would a Sanders nomination mean for Democratic Senate candidates?

Plus, Pete Buttigieg joins me live here right now. He is leading in the delegate camp. By the way, Pete Buttigieg is winning so far. But he faces a major test tomorrow, of course.

We`ve got much more to get to here in Nevada out here on this strip of Vegas. Stay with us.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

By this time tomorrow night, we`ll probably know who won the Nevada caucuses. Today, the candidates are canvassing the state, each making their case to the voters, of course.

Michael Bloomberg, the newcomer, who isn`t on tomorrow`s ballot here in Nevada, is conceding he didn`t do so well in Wednesday`s debate here, is already focused on what happens next.

Bloomberg sat down with the Reverend Al Sharpton for an exclusive interview that is set the air this weekend on MSNBC.

Here`s a bit.


AL SHARPTON, HOST, "POLITICS NATION": You tell me, what did you feel about your performance? And what can we look forward to?


Blame nobody but me. In the end, I get advice from people, but it`s up to me to decide what to do. What I found, they were all yelling at each other, and they weren`t focusing on Donald trump, which is what we should be focusing on in the Democratic Party.

And I didn`t have a chance to really say what I wanted to say. Have another debate coming up on Tuesday.

SHARPTON: They brought up NDA, stop and frisk. Are you going to release the NDAs? I mean...

BLOOMBERG: I will talk about it between now and then.

SHARPTON: So you may do something different? You`re not going to say?

BLOOMBERG: Said I will talk about it between now and then.

I want to keep you in suspense.


MATTHEWS: Well, short after that interview with the Reverend Al, Bloomberg announced that three women who work for his company would be released from their nondisclosure agreements.

Well, as the Democrats continue to fight it out for delegates, former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid addressed the possibility of a brokered convention, telling "The Washington Post": "I do not think that anybody, Bernie Sanders or anyone else, should simply get the nomination because they have 30 percent of the delegates and no one else has that many."

I`m going to talk to Harry Reid, perhaps Nevada`s most influential political figure, about that and much more after this short break.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



TRUMP: We got a new one, mini-Mike. How did he do in the debate in the other night?

Mini-Mike! Here`s a box, Mike. Here, Mike. Mini-Mike, he was a beauty. What happened? How about that Pocahontas screaming at him?



TRUMP: She forgot. She forgot that she lied about her own heritage.

Biden is very angry. He gets angrier and angrier and angrier. And Bernie, his screaming, going crazy.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, President Trump, who was here today going after the Democrats during a midday rally here hosted earlier today right here in Las Vegas. We`re on the Strip right now in Las Vegas.

Politico is reporting, by the way, that Republicans are watching the surge of Bernie Sanders with glee, eager to tie all Democratic candidates to socialism.

According to Politico -- quote -- "Republicans up and down the ballot are already casting their Democratic rivals as socialist puppets who would remake the economy in Sanders` collectivist vision."

Well, former Speaker of the House Republican Paul Ryan told Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia that it is terrifying, he said, that Sanders could become the nominee.


PAUL RYAN (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: So, I think he`s -- he`s clearly the favorite, whoever he runs up against.

As an American, frankly -- and, look, I`m a conservative, so everybody knows my story. As an American, it`s kind of scary to me that Bernie Sanders could be the nominee of the other major party in this country, a socialist. That`s, to me, kind of scary.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by former Nevada Senator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Thank you so much, Senator.

There`s so much to talk to you about. Let`s talk about the big stuff nationally.

There`s a lot of talk, especially from Bernie Sanders, about big stuff being done, I mean, really big stuff, and getting it through the U.S. Senate, like Medicare for all. From the time you`re born until the time you die, you get all the benefits of Medicare.

Student loan repaid, all repaid, free college tuition for state universities. When it comes to getting 50 or 60 votes in the Senate that we have today, what are the chances?

HARRY REID (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, I think that it`s not now.

It`s whenever we -- the legislative body. It is really hard to get things passed. And when you do something that`s really hard, that`s why I have come out months ago that Medicare for all just won`t work.

I have said it won`t work. It takes away insurance from my 70,000 culinary workers here in Las Vegas and all unions around the country. Medicare for all will not work. And, anyway, it wouldn`t pass the Congress.

MATTHEWS: Do you take -- just to get a simple fact of parliamentary rule, because everybody talks so loosely about it, if you`re going to create a new program like Medicare for all, or student loan repayment, or free college tuitions in every state university, does that take 60 votes in the Senate or 50?

REID: It takes 60 votes.

However, remember, that`s only talk. We have never had a major program, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, it doesn`t matter what it is. The president has to be part of the program. If the president isn`t in favor of it, we`re not going to have any major changes. I don`t care who the president is.

MATTHEWS: So, you have to have the president, and you have to have, what, a majority?

REID: No, you have to have -- always in the Senate, you have to have 60, although, Chris, I have said -- and I believe this -- with what the Republicans have done and my friend Mitch McConnell with the Senate, it`s not a question anymore if the filibuster is going to be gone.

It`s when it is going to be gone. You cannot have a democracy where it takes 60 votes on everything.


REID: So -- but that`s not the end of the world. We still have a bicameral legislature. We have six-year terms.

So having the House like the Senate isn`t going to be all that bad.

MATTHEWS: Senator Sanders was the only candidate Wednesday night who said the person with the most delegates should be the Democratic nominee, even if they don`t receive the majority of delegates required to cinch the nomination.

Here he goes.


CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Should the person with the most delegates at the end of this primary season be the nominee, even if they are short of a majority?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So I think that the will of the people should prevail, yes.

The person who has the most votes should become the nominee.

TODD: All right, thank you, guys.


MATTHEWS: Well, the rules currently state that, if no one gets enough delegates, it would go to a second ballot, where superdelegates wound be able to vote.

It`s the opposite position that Sanders had taken ahead of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where he argued that, even though Hillary Clinton had the most pledged delegates, the superdelegates should support him instead.

Here he goes.


SANDERS: The case we`re going to make to the superdelegates is, everybody at the Democratic National Convention is going to want to defeat Donald Trump.

And I should point out to all of the Democratic delegates going to Philadelphia, in every instance, we beat Trump by far larger margins than does Hillary Clinton.

So, if the delegates to the Democratic National Convention want to make sure -- and we better make sure -- that we defeat Trump and defeat him badly, we are the campaign to do that.

We`re going to the convention.


SANDERS: Absolutely.


MATTHEWS: So here`s the hot question.

If you get Bernie Sanders or anybody with like 35 percent of delegates, and there`s 65 percent mixed up among all the other delegates, should he get the nomination on the first ballot?

REID: Chris, that`s not a hard question for me.

I have said for weeks now you can`t have somebody with 32 percent of the vote think they`re going to be the nominee. What about the other 68 percent? If you`re going to be the nominee, play by the rules, get a majority. That`s what I believe.

MATTHEWS: What is going on right now with all of the moderates running? Aren`t they all dividing it up? All the non-Bernie -- to be blunt, the non- Bernie candidates are dividing up that vote.

REID: Chris, it`s too early.

We are going to have candidates start dropping out now. Some of them are already running out of money. We don`t have to force them out. They will drop out on their own.

MATTHEWS: I`m worried about that, because this seems to be the year nobody`s dropping out.

I mean, the winnowing -- Amy Klobuchar, is she going to drop out? Is Buttigieg going to drop out?

REID: I think you are going to find, within the next month, people are going to start dropping out, because they`re running out of money.

You cannot run a presidential campaign on a shoestring.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Bloomberg.

I`m watching -- we`re on the Strip here tonight. And it`s beautiful. I have never seen more people walking, by the way. I wonder if they`re making money here. Everybody is walking up and down the Strip here.

There`s billboards, the biggest billboard I think I have ever seen, going after the president, President Trump, because he can`t get his wall built. It`s falling down. How much he`s lost in the casino business. It rips him on every single thing.

What do you think about the money that Mike Bloomberg is throwing into this race?

REID: Well, here`s how I feel about Mike Bloomberg.

I`m a big -- I have always been opposed to Citizens United, since the Supreme Court decided that money can come from anywhere in the campaign. Always been against that.

However, anything that Bloomberg is doing is not illegal. It`s not unethical. And I`m glad that he`s focused on getting rid of Trump. And I can never be too critical of Bloomberg, because he`s -- no one in the country has done more on guns and climate than Mike Bloomberg.

MATTHEWS: Would you be happy if he were the nominee?

REID: Well, he would be a good president, but he`s a long, long way from being that.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he`s handled himself as a candidate all right this week in the debates out here?

REID: Well, you know, it`s a new venue for him. And it was the first time around, and it was hard for him.

MATTHEWS: Well, they didn`t make it easy on him, did they?


MATTHEWS: What did she call him, horse -- horse -- never mind. I`m going to get into it.

No more questions.

Senator, it`s great to have you on. Thank you so much.

REID: Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS: It`s to great you have welcoming out here.

Thank you so much, Senator Harry Reid.

Still ahead: It`s down to the wire here in Nevada, and the gloves are off. We got all the cliches tonight. We`re going to the caucuses tomorrow.

So, who`s landing punches? And how could it change things tomorrow next on HARDBALL?

And coming up later, Pete Buttigieg joins me here live.

Stick with us.

REID: Oh, that`s good.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

One day before the Nevada caucuses, the campaign for the Democratic nomination is getting increasingly heated. Though Mike Bloomberg isn`t on the ballot here in Nevada, his billboards, his TV advertisements, his public statements are very present here. Bloomberg is going after Bernie Sanders for his past votes on gun rights, for example, a tactic Hillary Clinton used in 2016, after the March for Our Lives co-founders endorsed Sanders yesterday.

Bloomberg tweeted a thread titled, "The NRA put Bernie Sanders in Congress and other inconvenient facts," writing that, "If the NRA has corrupted Washington, Bernie is among the corrupt."

In an interview with "60 Minutes," Sanders argued that Bloomberg won`t be able to handle Trump in the debates.


ANDERSON COOPER, "60 MINUTES": Were you surprised by how unprepared he seemed for some very basic, obvious questions at the debate in Nevada?


And if that`s what happened in a Democratic debate, I think it`s quite likely that Trump will chew him up and spit him out.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Gabe Debenedetti, national correspondent for the "New York Magazine," and Seema Mehta, a political reporter for "The L.A. Times."

A couple of thoughts here.

First of all, Bernie seems to -- let`s go to Bloomberg first. I`m sorry.

Bloomberg, start it. He`s apparently dealing with three of the NDAs.


MATTHEWS: How do you think that`s going to work?

MEHTA: I don`t think that`s going to be enough.

I mean, I think that it gives the other Democratic candidates so much ground to be like, why aren`t you letting them all speak, especially post- MeToo.

MATTHEWS: Do we know how many it all was?

MEHTA: We don`t actually know the full universe.

And he sort of referred to the idea, ah, I made some jokes that people don`t like.

But we don`t know what that means. So I think that this gives the -- his rivals plenty of room to keep on attacking him on this issue.

MATTHEWS: Well, we might find out those three-word jokes. We will find out the whole...

MEHTA: Right.

MATTHEWS: But we won`t find out what we don`t know.

MEHTA: If the women agree.


MATTHEWS: What we don`t know, we don`t know.

GABE DEBENEDETTI, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE": And purely politically speaking, this also gives Warren an opportunity to say, hey, I actually got results on this.

Her whole thing going into the debate earlier this week was, I`m going to treat Bloomberg like I would treat Trump.


DEBENEDETTI: And she`s going to now be able to say, I pressured him into making this very significant change, after he essentially said, there`s no way I`m going to do this.

Again, this is going to be a drip, drip, drip purely in terms of other campaigns saying -- putting pressure on him for the coming weeks.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about this. I didn`t think of this, but this is great.

It looks like Bernie will win out here, just based on the polling. So number two means a lot. If Biden gets two, he`s back in the business. He will do OK in South Carolina next week, I guess, dynamically.

If Elizabeth Warren wins out here, my God, she might be back in the game.

MEHTA: Right.

And I think we caught up with the debate. I mean, she went into that debate knowing that she really had to shake things up.

MATTHEWS: Do or die.

MEHTA: Exactly. And she accomplished it.

I mean, she came fully prepared to take him on.

MATTHEWS: How do we know she won? How do we know she won?

MEHTA: I don`t know that she won, but I think everyone is talking about the idea that she made in Bloomberg -- she put him on the ropes.

I mean, he was struggling every time...

MATTHEWS: Here we go.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren, as you mentioned, has made a pointed attempt to differentiate herself from her progressive -- progressive competitor Bernie Sanders. Here she goes.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Democrats want to beat Donald Trump.

They`re nervous about a narrow vision that just doesn`t speak to the Americans who see real problems and want to see real change.

But they are also worried about gambling on a revolution that won`t bring along a majority of this country.

It is -- I am a Democrat through and through. I have rock-solid values and I know how to get things done.

I don`t want to be president just yell at people. I want to be president to change things. That`s why I`m going there.


MATTHEWS: So, could it be that she`s angling already to be the nominee out of the second ballot?

Meaning, if you want a Democrat, Bernie`s not a Democrat, she is. Bloomberg is not a Democrat. She is. If you want a compromise candidate who the progressives will accept, she`s that candidate. She`s the most progressive, along with Bernie, running.

DEBENEDETTI: Everything that you`re saying is certainly true about the way that she is now, in these last few days, before her candidacy.

But I would argue it`s not about the second ballot at a convention. It`s about right now. Many people have thought that she`s trying to just replace Bernie in this race. But what she`s clearly trying to do, if you look at what she`s talking about and the people that she`s targeting, she`s trying to be the alternative to Bernie right now.

It`s not all about just moderates vs. progressives right now. She`s trying to say to the people who were looking at Biden, were looking at Buttigieg, were looking at Klobuchar, well, listen, if you want someone who the whole party can get behind, maybe I`m going to be that person.

That`s why she...

MATTHEWS: That`s what I`m saying.

But you`re moving it up faster.

DEBENEDETTI: All I`m saying is she -- that`s absolutely what you`re saying, and it`s what she`s saying too.

If she`s able to do well here in Nevada, let`s say she come in second...

MATTHEWS: Is there a space between Bernie on the social -- Democratic socialist left, if you will, and the more moderate people, beginning with Biden and Amy and Buttigieg?

Is there a space to sneak in there and say, you want to go a little left, let`s not go too far left?

MEHTA: Right. I think that`s exactly the mark she is trying to hit, and especially for moderates who are afraid of Bernie Sanders being the nominee.

She`s like, OK, if you`re not down on Biden, if Biden is still too shaky for you, I`m an alternative that keeps Bernie off the ticket.

DEBENEDETTI: But I don`t think she sees it as sneaking in there.

I think what she says is, she`s taking everything slightly to Bernie`s right, I guess, and then encompassing the entire party.

MATTHEWS: She`s also -- she shakes off this -- the label socialist.


MATTHEWS: And she doesn`t have the -- I don`t think she has comments about Maduro and Castro and all these other things that Bernie`s going to have to pay for at some point in the general election.


MEHTA: Right.

And I think it`s her mannerisms too. She doesn`t come across as Bernie does. Bernie`s out there yelling and shaking his hands. And she comes across as more sort of polished.

MATTHEWS: You mean waving both arms in the air and red-faced?


MEHTA: Right.

DEBENEDETTI: And, by the way, the reason that we know that this is working, at least in the short run, with her supporters, is that she`s raised more money in the last few hours than she has over many, many months on...


MATTHEWS: Because of what happened Wednesday night.

MEHTA: Right.

DEBENEDETTI: Absolutely.

So there`s clearly an attempt to spin this...


MATTHEWS: I think she`s fighting to get back in the game. And I think we`re going to get a scorecard tomorrow night..

If Biden wins number two tomorrow night, he looks good for South Carolina.


MATTHEWS: If she`s number two, she`s back in the national race.


MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Gabe Debenedetti -- why do I have so much -- Debenedetti. It`s an easy race. Thank you. But I think that`s Tony Bennett`s name anyway. And, Seema Mehta, thank you both.

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg joins us next.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People are still making up their minds.




BUTTIGIEG: Everything depends on making sure that we reach them. Not everybody`s been following this whole thing for an entire year, right?

Some folks are just tuning in. And you might be the last person that a voter hears from before they make their decision going in.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was former mayor of South Bend Pete Buttigieg speaking to his staff here in Las Vegas ahead of tomorrow`s caucus.

Buttigieg currently the delegate leader nationally, ahead of two other -- by two, actually, two delegates, over Bernie Sanders. He is just up by two.

After strong showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire, the RealClearPolitics average of Nevada polls has the former mayor virtually tied for third with Elizabeth Warren. There he is. Sanders holds a -- Sanders, of course, holds a double-digit lead over everyone.

Joining me right now is Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Mayor, thank you for joining us.

I guess everybody watching the Democratic fight sees the same picture. They see one guy going up on the left, a self-declared socialist, Democratic socialist on the left, maybe climbing to 25 to 30, maybe, and then you see four moderates all dividing up the rest of the pizza pie.

That`s the problem. He`s got three slices of the eight-piece pizza pie, and you guys are fighting it over the other -- other five pieces. And that`s the problem.

How do you get the -- how do you get three to match his three, with three other people fighting with you?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, that`s where we have got to come together.

And I would encourage voters who don`t believe that Bernie Sanders is the right answer to look at their options.

I am the only candidate who has beaten him at anything so far in the voting that`s gone on this year. And we need to get our act together, or we could wake up in about 10 days and find that either Bernie has an insurmountable lead, or our only choices have been narrowed down to Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg, neither of whom, I think, speaks to where most of the party is right now, wanting real, bold, progressive change, and interested not in letting the party get bought out, nor in burning it all down, but, rather, bringing the American majority together.

I mean, the extraordinary thing about the moment we`re living in right now is that most Americans want what we want, higher wages, accountability for corporations, action on climate, doing something about gun violence.

Our job is to gather that majority together to win the nomination, but also to make sure that we defeat Donald Trump because this is our only chance.

MATTHEWS: I think that Bernie hasn`t got much of a vetting.

I just read today he`s finally -- a lot of this is just going to come out in the next six months, that he was basically on Castro`s side against Jack Kennedy. He said he was physically sick when he heard Kennedy speaking against a communist -- a communist in Cuba.

I just wonder about that kind of ideological pedigree. Once it`s fully vetted, has it got even a chance at the convention? What will happen when people really understand where he`s been coming from ideologically? I`m talking about Sanders.

This stuff`s coming out again today.

BUTTIGIEG: Look, most Americans and, for that matter, most Democrats don`t identify with a socialist who thinks that capitalism is the root of all evil.

Capitalism has all kinds of failures, which is why we need a strong Democrat ready to ensure that we hold corporations accountable, support labor unions, raise wages.

But when you take it all the way to one side, and when you have a my-way- or-the-highway way kind of politics, that`s how you see things happening like the way that Bernie has found himself crosswise with the largest -- one of the largest labor organizations, the Culinary Union here in Nevada...


BUTTIGIEG: ... going through some vicious attacks from some of his supporters, demonstrating the kind of division that lies in wait for us day after day if he is the nominee.

And the thing is, we don`t have to. We can put forward a strong, bold progressive, an actual Democrat who also has demonstrated the ability to draw independents and even some Republicans into the fold, which is exactly what we`re going to need in order to defeat Donald Trump.

And we must defeat Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Well, now he`s saying today that those -- those dirty things that were said about the leaders of the Culinary Union were said by the Russians. He`s trying to blame it on the Russians, all that dirty talk, horrendous attack on these leaders, he said the Russians probably did it.

I couldn`t believe it, but he said it today. The Russians did it.

What do you make of that dodge?

BUTTIGIEG: Look, a lot of the -- a lot of the frustrating behavior by his supporters isn`t just online. It`s in person.

And, at a certain point, you got to ask what leadership is drawing out of people. I believe leadership is about how you motivate people to treat other people.

And one of the things we`re proud of in this campaign is how we have been able to create a sense of belonging. I get that no candidate controls all of their supporters. But look at the pattern here. Look at the tone.

And, as toxic and divisive as our politics have become today, I think the time has come to seek a leader who will strike a different tone. Sometimes, folks ask me why I don`t wave my arms around more, why I`m not louder.

I`m very passionate about the issues that affect this country. But I also think that most Democrats, most Americans are looking for a president that you could see on the news and actually feel your blood pressure go down a little bit, instead of up through the roof.

We have got to bring together the American people to deal with these big issues and harness the advantage of living in a moment where the American people are with us, even on issues where our party used to be on defense, like immigration and guns.

This is the time to galvanize and not polarize that American majority.

MATTHEWS: What do you think of Trump saying you`re a good debater?

BUTTIGIEG: You know, I`m not going to be taking a lot of debate advice or any other kind of advice from this president.

I am determined to defeat him. And it`s going to be important to have the best candidate moving forward who can do it. I`m going to be ready to confront this president on everything from the way that he has treated troops and talked about traumatic brain injury, to the way he`s tried to cloak himself in the language of religion, despite his own behavior, to the fact that he`s turned his back on communities like mine that are actually full of the so-called, what he likes to pretend to care about, the forgotten people.

We need a candidate who can go toe to toe with this president, but not somebody trying to play his game. And that`s where I worry about Mike Bloomberg. We can`t just create some equal and opposite version and expect that to work either, because people are going to go for the real thing.

We need something completely different. And that`s what my campaign is offering.

MATTHEWS: What do you think makes Mike Bloomberg like Donald Trump? You say they`re similar.

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think there`s a theory out there that says, OK, let`s put up one New York billionaire against another New York billionaire.

But I don`t want us to spend the next few months arguing over who created a more toxic environment for women or any of the other weaknesses that were on such striking display on the debate stage.

Let me be clear. Mike Bloomberg is politically nothing like Donald Trump, but he`s also not like what most Democrats believe in, somebody who opposed Barack Obama, somebody who opposed increases in the minimum wage.

Here we have three mayors who were on the stage last night -- or the other night at the debate. I`m the only one who`s actually been a Democratic mayor.

And I think that`s what Democrats are looking for, somebody who has been consistent in standing for the values of this party, but also ready to do it in a way that can invite independents and some crossover Republicans into the coalition that will beat Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the person running for the Democratic nomination for president, whether it`s Bloomberg or it`s Bernie Sanders, should declare themselves to be a member of the Democratic Party? Should they at least do that?

Nobody has brought the obvious question up. If you`re not a Democrat, why do you expect to be nominated by the Democratic -- shouldn`t they have to say either that they can`t register that way in their state, just simply make a public statement, I am a member of the Democratic Party? Shouldn`t they have to do that?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, that seems appropriate to me.

But, at this point, that`s academic. We are just a few days away. We have got Nevada, then South Carolina, and then Super Tuesday. And if we don`t get our act together, those of us who believe that we need to do something different than nominate either Bernie Sanders or Mike Bloomberg are just a few days away from waking up, and those are our only options.

That`s why I`m asking for support. It`s why I`m asking everybody who shares our vision to go to and help us fund this thing, because I don`t have billions of dollars to reach into and be all over the airwaves.

But it`s also the vision that I believe is where most voters, most Democrats, and ultimately most Americans are.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Pete Buttigieg, recent mayor. It`s been great to have you on. And thank you. Thank you.

BUTTIGIEG: Same here. Thanks for having us.

MATTHEWS: Everybody has been watching tonight.

We`re live in Vegas, where we are just hours away from the start of the Nevada caucuses tomorrow.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Well, that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

I will be back tomorrow here in Las Vegas at 2:00 Eastern time. And then stay with MSNBC throughout the day for special live coverage of the Nevada caucuses, as we break down the incoming results from this crucial third test of the primary season.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.