Weinstein sentencing TRANSCRIPT: 2/24/20, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews

Guests: Bill de Blasio, Susan Page, Donna Edwards, Kristen Hawn, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Joel Payne

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That`s one update.

I`ll be back here at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. "HARDBALL" is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  To Bernie or not to Bernie. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews back in Washington.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has big momentum now after a commanding win in Saturday`s Nevada caucus. Now with just five days until the South Carolina primary, Sanders is looking to build an even bigger lead as the race heads to Super Tuesday, a week from tomorrow, while his moderate rivals try to elbow each other out.

And tonight, there is a new NBC poll showing a tight race between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders down in South Carolina, much more on that in a moment.

Before we get into tonight`s news, I want to say something quite and personal. As I watched the one-sided results of Saturday`s Democratic caucus in Nevada, I reached for a historical analogy and used a bad one. I was wrong to refer to an event from the last days or actually the first days of World War II.

Senator Sanders, I`m sorry for comparing anything from that tragic era in which so many suffered, especially the Jewish people to an elected result, in which you were a well-deserved winner. This is going to be a hard fought heated campaign of ideas. In the days and weeks and months ahead, I will strive to do a better job myself of elevating the political discussion.

Congratulations, by the way, to you, Senator Sanders, and to your supporters on a tremendous win down in Nevada.

As I mention, there is a new NBC News/Marist poll of likely Democratic voters in South Carolina tonight that shows Joe Biden leading at 27 percent. He`s fallen at 23 percent. That`s a four-point difference, which is within, this is an amazing poll, six-point margin of error. So I don`t know how we know what`s going on down there.

By the way, billionaire Tom Steyer is third down there at 15 percent followed by Pete Buttigieg at 9, Elizabeth Warren at 8, Amy Klobuchar at 5 percent.

Among African-Americans, this is interesting, Biden still holds a double- digit lead, at 35 percent, that`s in South Carolina, with Senator Sanders at 20 percent and Steyer at 19 percent, very close, and the rest in single digits again. Biden is expecting to get a big boost later this week.

This is one of the leaders of the country that really has something to say, some real clout. South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, the majority whip of the Democratic House, he`s apparently going to endorse the vice president. They`ve been friends for years.

Right now, the wind is at Sanders` back nationally, however, after his Nevada landslide. He got more than double the support of his next rival, who was Joe Biden. Actually, 20 percent looks a lot better than the teens, doesn`t it?

Anyway, Sanders big win is forced (ph) what The Washington Post calls a reckoning for the Democratic Party. This is from The Post. Democrats are entering a season of open warfare of whether Sanders is equipped to beat Trump and what could be a brutal general election. That`s The Washington Post. And Sanders`s rivals are sharpening their attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Sanders believes in an inflexible ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And he`s got great supporters. I don`t disagree with that. But we have to be able to win and win Senate seats as well.

I don`t think he can beat Donald Trump and keep a Democratic Senate, get a Democratic Senate and keep a Democratic House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What a massive rally last night in Texas, one of 14 states voting on Super Tuesday. Senator Sanders said his coalition will propel him to victory come November.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That is the establishment`s nightmare, that people are standing up for justice. That is what this campaign is about, and that`s why we`re going to beat Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, more right now, I`m joined by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has endorsed Senator Sanders, Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for NBC Today, and former Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who is also a Contributing Columnist for The Washington Post.

Mayor de Blasio, big mo, something we learned from George Herbert Walker Bush. How does it look right now? Do you think you`ve got it locked?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-New York City, NY):  Chris, there`s a long way to go. But I assure you, if there is any candidate, you`d rather be Bernie Sanders than anyone else right now. Amazing victory in Nevada, but even more important, he formed a multiracial, multigenerational coalition.

It`s quite clear. He`s turning out Latino voters in an amazing way. He was right on Joe Biden`s heels with black voters in Nevada, obviously immense energy with younger voters, progressive voters, and now, the poll you just put out for South Carolina, which was supposed to be a walk for Joe Biden is now neck and neck. I mean, something powerful is going on here.

And I think what the establishment is missing, Chris, is they don`t understand that voting is emotional. People have to feel something. Bernie is tapping into something and getting the kind of turnout and energy that I think is going to be transcendent, not just in South Carolina, in California, Texas, North Carolina. This is what we need to beat Donald Trump.

And I actually think the establishment should look at 2016 and say, wait a minute, we didn`t have that in 2016. We lost Democratic voters to Trump. We lost a lot of people who stayed home, people of color, younger voters, progressive voters. Bernie can bring all that back and give us a pathway to victory.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what`s the connection between -- I know a lot of rank and file culinary workers voted for Bernie this Saturday even though their union was holding back and saying, we`re not making an endorsement because of the issue of the healthcare plan they`ve already won by contract.

And then there`s you, you`re not a kid, you`re a grown up. Tell me what you`ve got in common with those kids who have an honest concern like we did about the war back in the 60s. They have an issue about student loans, about tuition being too expensive, they have generational concerns. How do you as, an adult, grow in or connect with that?

DE BLASIO:  I have kids.

MATTHEWS:  You said it`s multigenerational.

DE BLASIO:  It`s multigenerational. I have kids. I have a 22-year-old and 25-year-old. Climate change, let`s start right there. I believe that Bernie and his embrace of the Green New Deal and the forcefulness with which he talks about climate change and will act on it is a way to address the existential threat that matters most to me because this is what will determine the lives of my children.

It`s very easy for me to feel strongly that a guy who has been a consistent progressive his whole life actually stands for something, Chris. No one doubts he is the real thing. What you see is what you get with Bernie Sanders, and is drawing people into the political process.

Look, in 2008, it was Barack Obama who brought young people in, who brought African-Americans out in record numbers. That`s how we had the opportunity to win in 2008. We`re going to have the same opportunity in 2020 to beat Trump if that kind of passion and energy, if a movement, really, is our campaign, not business as usual.

The American people do not want a status quo, and I feel this as a parent, where you have to wonder if the next generation is going to be worse off than your own generation. That`s what most Americans think right now. And Bernie clearly speaks to the profound change that people want. I think it`s across the spectrum.

MATTHEWS:  Mayor, hang out for a second. I want to bring Susan Page. You write this -- I will just like remind people what you do. You write the main story for the front page of a newspaper that shows up in your hotel room every morning all across the country in USA Today. Do people want a change, a revolutionary or radical change from the past or do they just want, as I say, a designated driver, just somebody -- a Democrat to get them home safe?

SUSAN PAGE, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY:  Well, if they wanted a designated driver, I think Joe Biden would be doing better than he`s done in this race. But the question I think Democrats are having with Bernie Sanders now is, is he Donald Trump in that he`ll strike a chord and actually get to the White House or is he McGovern who is going to lead the Democrats to a catastrophic election returns in November? And I think it`s hard to know.

You see him generating a lot of enthusiasm, as the mayor was saying. He`s got a core of support. He did show breadth of support this time around. But he`s also a Democratic socialist who supports Medicare-for-all, who speaks fondly of Castro`s reforms in Cuba. Those are things that may be a hard sell with parts of the electorate that Democrats may need.

MATTHEWS:  He talks about -- excuse me. He talks about enlarging the voter pool, to bring young people in, people that haven`t voted for years, people that don`t really like the way this country has been running the last 30, 40 years. That is a real hard sell because the people that tend to go to church tend to go to church. The ones who tend to vote tend to vote, right? How do you change that dramatically between now and November? Get them registered, get them to vote, new people?

FMR. REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D-MD):  Well, I mean, I think one of the things that we saw with Barack Obama`s candidacy is that even the young people who were showing up at the polls, there were many more of them had shown up before. So, I mean, I do think it`s possible for the top of the ticket to really motivate that.

I don`t know that we`ve really seen that yet in these three contests because voter turnout has been, you know, slightly higher --

MATTHEWS:  It was not good in Iowa, it was good in New Hampshire.

EDWARDS:  -- but not over the top, right? And so I don`t know that yet. But what we do know is that it`s really going to take not just sort of voting against someone, but something and someone to vote for. And if somebody wants to beat Bernie Sanders, then they`re going to need to come out and beat him and not just scare people away from him and hope that that`s going to be what --

MATTHEWS:  Well, it`s going to be a nasty election, negative in both directions, I think.

Today, the Biden campaign released a digital ad in South Carolina accusing Senator Sanders of trying to undermine President Obama with a 2012 primary challenge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When we rally together to defend our president and all the progress he made, they had his back. He had his back. And you had his back. But back in Washington, there was one guy with another plan.

SANDERS:  I think it would be a good idea if President Obama faces some primary opposition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bernie Sanders was seriously thinking about challenging our first African-American president in a primary. When it comes to building on President Obama`s legacy, Bernie Sanders just can`t be trusted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, Mayor?

DE BLASIO:  I think that`s a little desperate, Chris. Look, talk about what we need to do to build on President Obama`s legacy, well, of course, we have to defeat Donald Trump. We have to build the kind of grassroots coalition that President Obama built and believe, and I think Donna is right, that we can bring in young people. We can turnout more people of color. We can change the electoral map. It just happened in Nevada. I think it can happen all over the country.

But on top of that, the vision that people in this party have right now, this part is evolving constantly. Things like Medicare-for-all represent what a vast number of Democrats want. They want to make sure there`s universal healthcare. You can quibble over details. They want to make sure people actually get healthcare when they need it. They want to make sure there is an aggressive approach to climate change. This party right now wants to take what we`ve done in the past and go far beyond because right now, people are hurting in this country.

And, look, how can we beat by Donald Trump who actually in 2016 ran to Hillary`s left some of the time, got people feeling like he was the guy who was going to take on the elites. Obviously, that was a snow job. Bernie is the real thing. And I think what`s going to happen is that everyday people, including a lot of those voters who strayed to Trump, are going to say, okay, this guy is actually on the side of working people. He actually means it. And they`re going to be moved by that. We cannot afford to put up a candidate who cannot move people emotionally to vote. And I think that`s the lesson of 2016.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the fracture field on the moderate side continues to split the vote among the moderate candidates this year after a surprising third place in New Hampshire, for example, Amy Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota, finished 6th in Nevada. But she told reporters she`s not going anywhere.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When you look at the actual number of people who have cast a vote, I have the third biggest number. So why would I get out? That`s not even a close call for me.

And I think why would you have a call for the two women to get out when you have two billionaires in the race?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, NBC News reports that Klobuchar`s campaign has a new delicate strategy ahead of Super Tuesday, quote, focusing on smaller states that are less frequently visited by the other candidates. Nobody wants that are less liberal and less diverse.

Donna, you know what`s different when we`re talking about the establishment -- I`ll accept the fact that maybe I`m part of the establishment now, I`ll accept that. It used to be when you went to the Democratic events, and I`ve been sneaking into them since `64 or `68 rather -- `64 in Atlantic City. They always had these pictures of FDR, and then they had Truman, and then they had Kennedy, right, and Johnson, and then, I guess, Obama.

Today, we don`t even salute the Democratic world back to the most recent Democratic president. There is none of this ancestor worship or whatever you want to call it. But that whole idea, tradition, legacy, we`ve done it before, we`ll do it again, that seems to be all -- we`re going to start over again, as the mayor said, it`s a revolution, it`s new, we`re going to do stuff. What`s going on? It`s a separation from the past.

EDWARDS:  Well, first of all, I don`t think we`ve gotten to the convention to know that, and to have Democrats embracing all of our past heroes. And hopefully, we can add a couple heroines in there as well.

MATTHEWS:  Eleanor Roosevelt.

EDWARDS:  Right. But -- Hillary Clinton. But I do think that it`s going to be really important to have what I describe as an ideological consolidation of the party. I mean, we used to talk about geographic consolidations. I think this is not going to be the year for that, that whoever gets the top of the ticket is going to have to figure out how to bridge that ideological divide. And I`m not really sure --

MATTHEWS:  That is the argument. I don`t know if I agree with you.

Susan, do you think Bernie Sanders would pick a non-progressive for a running mate, a non-progressive, somebody -- a moderate, known as a moderate?

PAGE:  I guess the honest answer is who knows.

MATTHEWS:  What are you doing here?

Mayor, I have to ask you. You`re part of this coalition up there. Do you think Bernie will pick a fellow person like himself on the progressive left or go with somebody in the middle and balance things out?

DE BLASIO:  Look, it`s way too early. I could only say I think he`s been really consistent.

MATTHEWS:  No, no. A minute ago, you say you`re riding high. You`re going to win this thing.

DE BLASIO:  No. Look, he`s very consistent in his values. So, Chris, my personal view, I haven`t asked him. My personal view is he would choose a progressive.

But I think the important point to your previous question, look, look at Bernie`s work in Vermont, as mayor in Burlington, a senator from Vermont, where he worked with Republicans, worked with independents. Look at his work with John McCain to pass legislation to reform veterans administration and help our veterans. Don`t paint Bernie with too simple a brush. He is a solid, consistent progressive that believes in something.

But I think you`ve seen this over the years, Chris. Sometimes folks who actually have an ideology are much easier to work with across the aisle because you know where you stand. I believe watching Bernie --

MATTHEWS:  How did you know that? You know that. That`s actually true.

DE BLASIO:  Yes, I`ve seen his relationships with other senators up close. I think he will work to bring this party together.

By the way, in Philadelphia at the convention last time, Bernie did everything you would ask a candidate to do in deferring to Hillary Clinton, calling for acclimation, showing respect for her. I think that more moderate Democrats will do the same for Bernie. I think the hype here of the ideological division has to be looked at in the prism of if someone clearly wins, and right now, that is Bernie Sanders, then everyone gets to a simple to a place. We`ve got to get rid of Donald Trump and we could put some differences aside.

And if you actually look at the things that have been voted on in the U.S. Senate, a vast majority of Democrats would agree on those things and I think we can get together.

MATTHEWS:  My friend, Mr. Mayor, you said something nobody is smart enough to say in a long time, and he did say it. The ideological leader, whether it`s Franklin Roosevelt or it`s -- not Donald Trump, he`s not an ideologue. I don`t know what he is. If it`s Ronald Reagan, for example, Tip O`Neal. You can negotiate from a principled position and everybody follows you because they believe in your principle. You have the street cred to be able to say, let`s deal her, we`ve got to deal here. It`s the end of the line. We`ve got to make a deal. And that person has such cred because they are leader of a principled position.

You`re right. I never heard anybody else say that. I think that you`re obviously so right. Thank you.

DE BLASIO:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Because I agree with you.

Anyway, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, and thank you, Susan Page, and thank you, Donna Edwards.

Coming up, Senator Sanders is coming under fire today from Democrats and Republicans for these comments on Fidel Castro.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS:  It`s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know, when Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing even though Fidel Castro did it me?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST:  There`s a lot of dissidents who were imprisoned in Cuba.

SANDERS:  That`s right, and we condemned that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Sanders is pushing back on the criticism over those comments today, and that`s coming up next.

Plus, President Trump attempts to silence the Intelligence Community, and unsettling information ought to be withheld or denied, like Trump`s national security adviser denying that Russia is trying to help Trump get re-elected. Here he goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT O`BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  Look, who knows what happened over at the House and the Intelligence Committee. But I haven`t seen any evidence that Russia is doing anything to attempt to get President Trump re-elected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  See no evil.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Senator Sanders` growing lead in the fight here is causing concern among some congressional Democrats, who worry that he is the nominee -- as the nominee, he could hurt the party`s chances of winning back the U.S. Senate this November and maybe even keep them from keeping the majority in the House.

Some Democrats are telling NBC News -- quote -- "that having Sanders at the top of the ticket could drive away suburban voters who favored Democrats in the midterm elections in the nation`s small number of closely divided districts and put potential Senate seats out of reach in GOP-leaning states."

U.S. Congressman James Clyburn, the third ranking Democrat in the House, echoed those concerns over the weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC):  If you look at how well we did the last time, and look at the congressional districts, these were not liberal or what you might call progressive districts. These were basically moderate and conservative districts that we did well in.

And in those districts, it`s going to be tough to hold onto these jobs if you have to make the case for accepting a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Democrats captured the House majority in 2018 with a net gain of 41 seats, including 31 districts won by Trump in 2016. That`s quite a pickup.

Sanders dismissed those concerns, telling reporters: "We`re going to have to get young people more involved in the political process and expand minority voting. And I think we have the campaign to do that."

Well, Republicans are eager to get every single Democrat to the socialist - - to tie -- I think there is a verb missing there -- everybody to the socialist label.

Take a look at how they plan to do it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So, if Bernie Sanders is the nominee, you could be closer to speaker.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA):  Yes, but it`s not because if Bernie Sanders is the nominee. It`s because what they embrace. They embrace Bernie Sanders` policy. They embrace socialism. They`re just embarrassed of Bernie.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by Joel Payne, Democratic strategist and former director of the -- of paid media for Hillary for America. And Kristen Hawn, who is Democratic strategist as well and a former communications director for Blue Dog Democrats.

So, let`s start with you on this.

KRISTEN HAWN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  If you take suburbanites, it`s always a -- it`s a code.

HAWN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  It generally means white. It generally means upper middle-class or middle-upper-middle-class. It means people have jobs, life insurance, and pay decent amount of taxes, who don`t want to pay more taxes, want to keep their health insurance and have a job.

HAWN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  How does Bernie grab those votes? Isn`t that the challenge?

HAWN:  It`s the challenge, because, and -- I was listening to the mayor before.

I just -- I`m really struggle to see how Bernie Sanders -- I get the momentum and I get that he`s a change candidate. I don`t agree with the fact that -- I don`t know how, somehow, Mayor Buttigieg, a gay married man, being a serious candidate for president isn`t also a monumental...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But better in the burbs maybe.

HAWN:  Right.

But I`m struggling to see how these voters -- because we did see them...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Voting for a gay candidate isn`t going to hurt you financially.

HAWN:  It`s not going to hurt you financially.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, these are different cultural...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think the suburbs is ready for a gay leader.

HAWN:  They are.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HAWN:  But they`re doing well. And we had to make the case in the midterms -- and we saw people like in these districts, the Justice Dems came in -- it`s a spinoff from the Bernie organization from a while back -- and tried to primary a lot of these sitting members too, and lost, by and large, a lot of these primaries.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HAWN:  So, I just -- I don`t see how they`re going to...

(CROSSTALK)

HAWN:  ... all of a sudden be OK with a socialist, you know?

MATTHEWS:  Let`s go to the voter here, because I think a lot of voters in midterms, like `18 or `14 or whatever, they will vote for a Democrat who`s promising national health insurance, Medicare for all, whatever the label.

It`s the same thing. And they`re offering it. And they say, I want that, I want that. That`s good. And then the Republican runs in the presidential election and says, I`m not going to let your taxes go up. Oh, I will vote for that too.

So they may want both.

JOEL PAYNE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Yes, look...

MATTHEWS:  They want the Republican advantage financially, but they also want the social programs the Democrats are for. So, every year, they flip, and they try to -- I think I will get both.

So that may explain why voters flip back and forth.

PAYNE:  Look, there are always competing voter interests.

I mean, look, I also worked the 2008 campaign with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, who I worked for, and I remember when it was toxic to talk about Obamacare.

So these things change over elections. Elections are dynamic. They`re supposed -- primaries are supposed to be messy. They`re laboratories.

Here`s the thing about Sanders. I think establishment Democrats have to start looking towards the future and stop looking towards the past. I am an establishment Democrat. I have worked for Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, John Edwards.

I can see a path to Bernie Sanders building a winning coalition. I`m not saying he`s absolutely going to do it. I`m saying there is a way that Bernie Sanders can stitch together a winning coalition.

MATTHEWS:  What is the yellow brick road? what is the road?

PAYNE:  I think expanding the Latino vote, which he did in Nevada. He drubbed those other candidates in Nevada. It`s expanding African- American...

MATTHEWS:  He can them to register and vote in higher numbers? In higher numbers?

PAYNE:  It`s expanding African-American -- look and see what he`s going to do in California.

And, again, I`m not a -- let me be very clear. I`m not a Bernie surrogate. I`m unaffiliated in this primary. But I think Democrats have to kind of get their head out of the clouds a little bit here and start to see that there`s a candidate that can be a movement candidate...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  To be totally brutal, how do you get the haves and the have-nots to vote for the same candidate?

(LAUGHTER)

HAWN:  I mean, I think it`s a mixture of the issues, right?

I mean, you have to be aspirational. That`s one thing we do know.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HAWN:  You have to talk about what -- how people are hurting. We can see that too.

And Trump only talks about how people were hurting.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

PAYNE:  And, by the way, that`s what Bernie does, all of that.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s go.

Well, the Democrats` midterm victory that was big, where everybody talks about 2018. In part, it was because they increased support among white- college educated women in the burbs. According to a recent "Washington Post"/ABC poll, Sanders does the worst among those women in hypothetical matchups against President Trump, the worst.

Sanders leads Trump by just two points, within a margin of error, in that community, in that category. Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg, Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden all beat President Trump by 10 points or more among that women.

We have said this before. White women in the burbs, it`s another category, this time around, I thought they would be turned off by Trump`s indecency, just his attitude towards women, his language, his -- what do you call it, his louche behavior, you know?

  PAYNE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And I don`t know whether that`s enough to carry the day.

PAYNE:  I think Democrats would be loath to build a strategy around we`re going to get these sometimes Trumpers and we`re going to get these independents, who are already kind of predisposed to Trump because of economics, those folks, we went after for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and they didn`t go our way.

I don`t know if you build a strategy around them. Most establishment Democrats want to go middle in. We should go progressive out. We should try to build around a progressive that you can sell to moderates.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let`s go something that doesn`t -- departs a bit from our usual political conversation.

During his interview with "60 Minutes" last night, Senator Sanders authorized -- or criticized the authoritarian nature of Cuba, the authoritarian nature of that country, but complimented some of Fidel Castro`s educational accomplishments.

Here he goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We`re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba.

But you got -- it`s unfair to simply say everything is bad. When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing, even though Fidel Castro did it?

ANDERSON COOPER, "60 MINUTES":  A lot of dissidents in prison didn`t.

SANDERS:  That`s right. And we condemn that.

Unlike Donald Trump, let`s be clear. You want to -- I do not think that Kim Jong-un is a good friend. I don`t trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin, not a great friend of mine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the comments were sharply criticized in South Florida, which is home to hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles, of course.

Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel -- help me out -- Mucarsel-Powell, who flipped a heavily Cuban American Republican district in 2018, tweeted: "As the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban Americans, I find Senator Bernie Sanders` comments on Castro`s Cuba absolutely unacceptable."

In response, the communications director for the Sanders campaign told "The New York Times" -- quote -- "Senator Sanders has clearly and consistently criticized Fidel Castro`s authoritarianism and condemned his human rights abuses. He`s simply echoing President Obama`s acknowledgment that Cuba made progress, especially in education."

Of course, the Castro record begins with a lot of firing squads and stuff like that. This is just it. This guy and the lack of political freedom down there, you have to -- that`s a big hurdle, when you start saying he`s done some good stuff.

HAWN:  You can`t. And you saw swift and harsh rebuke of what -- of what he said last night by leaders in Florida specifically.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HAWN:  If you look at Florida, you have somebody like Donna Shalala.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they lost their country. They lost their country.

(CROSSTALK)

HAWN:  Yes.

You have Stephanie Murphy, who`s a Democrat down there, and she -- she`s a Vietnamese immigrant herself. It`s just not something that we...

MATTHEWS:  Again, it`s generational. The younger Cuban Americans do not have this same degree of passion.

PAYNE:  Even as someone who is open to Bernie Sanders, that`s problematic.

His domestic policy agenda and the -- quote, unquote -- "socialism," that not problematic. Defending Medicare for all, that`s not problematic. Those comments are problematic. And that`s what the senator`s campaign has to clean up, and they have to figure out a good answer around.

HAWN:  That`s what the Trump campaign will use.

MATTHEWS:  We will see.

The man`s genuine, and he`s consistent. I will let Bernie speak for himself. The guy knows what he believes.

Anyway. Thank you, Joel Payne. Thank you, Kristen Hawn.

Up next, we are really -- are we really going to do all we can to prevent outside interference in America`s elections or not? What does it mean that Trump was more upset that our intelligence agencies briefed the U.S. Congress on Russian interference than he was with Russia doing the interference?

Figure that one out.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

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MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump`s response to news of Russian interference in the 2020 election is sending an alarming message to the U.S. intelligence community. This began when Congress received a classified briefing that the Kremlin has a preference for Trump, while also intending to help Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries.

Trump not only said he disbelieved that Russia would help him, but in a stunning reprisal, he ousted his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, for telling him this stuff, telling Congress.

"The Washington Post" reports of Maguire`s ouster that: "Trump`s tendency to shoot the messenger puts the people working for him in a precarious position. According to three former intelligence officials, Trump`s violent reactions could encourage his advisers to withhold unsettling information."

Most ominously, one former official said: "Some people believe that president can`t be trusted with this politically sensitive information anymore."

And now Trump`s national security adviser is questioning what the House Intelligence Committee was reportedly told in that classified briefing.

Yesterday, Robert O`Brien said he`s willing to believe that Russia would aid Bernie Sanders, but hasn`t seen anything to suggest, guess what, that Russia is helping Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS:  How is Russia interfering in the 2020 election?

ROBERT O`BRIEN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  Well, there are these reports that they want Bernie Sanders to get elected president. That`s no surprise. He honeymooned in Moscow.

I haven`t seen any intelligence that Russia is doing anything to attempt to get President Trump reelected. Why would they want him reelected? That doesn`t make any sense to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Maguire`s ouster comes as the president readies a so- called hit list, do you like that phrase, of officials he wants to purge from the U.S. government.

That`s coming up next.

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MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

After removing Joseph Maguire from the country`s top intelligence job, President Trump chose a political loyalist, Richard Grenell, to replace him.

And now we`re learning there could be more politically motivated shakeups to come. Axios is reporting, for example, that the Trump White House has assembled detailed lists -- wonderful -- lists of disloyal government officials to oust and trusted pro-Trump people to replace them with.

Aides say the president`s crossed a psychological line regarding what he calls the deep state. He feels his government, from Justice to State to Defense to Homeland Security, is filled with snakes. That`s the word.

I`m joined right now by Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, and Charlie Sykes, editor at large at The Bulwark.

Thank you, gentlemen.

Congressman, I don`t know. It`s very Nixonian, but the fact is, you usually don`t get rid of your intel people, your G-2, because they`re the ones that allow you not to fly blind.

If you don`t know what`s going on the world, you could really get in real trouble. You don`t know when the revolutions are coming. You don`t know who`s a good leader, who`s hated, who`s about to be toppled. You really don`t know what you`re doing.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL):  That`s right.

And he says that there are snakes in his administration. I agree that the White House is a snake pit, but you don`t go around getting rid of truth- tellers.

You don`t fire Maguire just because he told the truth about what`s happening with potentially 2020 election interference. I think that the viewers of this program probably already understand that the director of national intelligence was formed back in -- after the failures of understand that the director of national intelligence was formed back in -- after the failures of 9/11 and the weapons of mass destruction debacle with regard to Iraq.

And the American people wanted their intelligence community to come together and have people -- 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  -- who could get it right. And if we don`t get it right, we`re going to have similar failures in the future and that`s absolutely not the direction the American people want.

MATTHEWS:  Charlie, you know, that was a good point by the congressman. Get rid of the stove-piping, it was called, where each agency had its own little source of information and kept it to themselves. We didn`t know what was going on before 9/11.

And we knew more than we acted on, but we didn`t know enough. And now, we got a president who doesn`t want the stove pipe to point to him. He doesn`t want to get the information. This is an astounding fact.

CHARLIE SYKES, THE BULWARK, EDITOR-AT-LARGE:  It`s astounding, and it`s dangerous. This is not about bureaucratic infighting. This is really about national security. You have the president who is bending intelligence agencies about not protecting us or our country or our elections or our national security, but protecting him and protecting him from inconvenient information. So, you know, to turn paranoia into a personnel policy, you know, is something that ought to be of tremendous concern.

I`m really glad you`re spending time on this because I almost get a sense we are numbed, that this has become normalized. But think about a president who`s telling the intelligence agencies that if you tell me anything I don`t want to hear or if you tell the American people threats that they face that is inconvenient to me, I`m going to sack you and I`m going to surround myself with loyalists regardless of their qualifications, regardless of their background because all that matters is loyalty. Not effectiveness, not patriotism, but rank comical loyalty to him.

MATTHEWS:  I keep thinking, Congressman, of that wonderful memo that said, al Qaeda to attack within the United States within like a week before 9/11. Anyway, nobody acted on it.

Anyway, Trump`s national security advisor said the only person questioning the analyst that Russia would like to see Trump re-elected. One current intelligence official told NBC News that the briefing the Congress, this was two weeks ago, overstated the extent to which there is intelligence showing a Russian preference for Trump.

Congressman, what do you make of that? I mean, is it -- when we hear that we`re briefed, members of Congress are briefed, the Kremlin, Russia`s Putin want Trump. Is that the same as they attempt to intervene in the election process to make sure he is?

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  I have to be careful here. I don`t want to comment on the actual briefing and the details of what was said. But what I can say is based on everything that we know about the published reports, there are two conclusions everyone in the intelligence community that has come to us and reported to the public has said.

One, the Russians did interfere in 2016 to advantage Trump. And two, they`re interfering and they plan to interfere again in 2020. And my colleagues on the other side of the aisle don`t seem to fully buy into either of those conclusions right now. And that is what`s deeply disturbing in the aftermath.

MATTHEWS:  But they will. I`m watching this. It sounds like "Fox and Friends" has taken over everything now.

They`re saying, yes, but I do believe they`re helping Bernie Sanders. I mean, because on a honeymoon, went on the sister cities thing. But the fact is, that they`re going to say, off of the same sheet of intelligence, where it`s bad for Bernie or they`ll say that, but at the same sheet has Trump involved, they won`t even admit that.

So, how do they get half information? Your thoughts?

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  You know, the national security advisor is making a Trumpesque comment when he politicizes his assessment of the intelligence. But what`s very interesting as you know is that Bernie actually, you know, told the Russians to stay away from him. And he doesn`t want their help.

I would like to hear the president of the United States say the same. And we haven`t heard that.

MATTHEWS:  I don`t think we`re going to hear that. But thank you so much. That`s a good challenge. Go ahead, Mr. President. So, you don`t want the Russian`s help. It would be good start.

Anyway, thank you, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and Charlie Sykes.

Up next, a major milestone in the #metoo movement as a jury convicts Harvey Weinstein of two counts of sexual assault, a verdict that could put him behind bars for up to 25 years.

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MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was found guilty today of sexual assault in a New York court. In a milestone moment for the #metoo movement which took off after reports in 2017 of dozens allegations of against the powerful Hollywood producer. There he is in the picture.

The jury convicted Weinstein of a criminal sexual act in the first degree in the case of Miriam Haley who testified that Weinstein forced a sex act on her. Weinstein was also convicted of third degree rape in the case of Jessica Mann who testified that Weinstein raped her in a New York hotel in 2013, but they found him not guilty of first degree rape, which would require physical force or threat of immediate harm in the case.

He was also found not guilty on predatory assault which required proof of a pattern of sexual assault and relied on testimony from Annabelle Sciorra, whose allegations against Weinstein were too old to be prosecuted on their own.

In a press conference today, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance emphasized the bravery of the women who spoke out against Weinstein.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CYRUS R. VANCE, NY COUNTY DISRICT ATTORNEY:  This is the new landscape for survivors of sexual assault in America, I believe, and this is a new day. It`s a new day because Harvey Weinstein has finally been held accountable for crimes he committed. To the survivors of Harvey Weinstein, I owe and we all owe an immense debt to you who had the courage beyond measure to speak your story to the world.

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MATTHEWS:  Well, after the verdict today, Weinstein was handcuffed and remanded to jail. He was originally supposed to go to Rikers Island, but his spokesperson told NBC News tonight he was instead transferred to Bellevue Hospital in New York City. That`s in Manhattan. NBC does not know why he was diverted.

Weinstein faces between 5 and 25 years in prison now and will be sentenced on March 11th. He maintains his innocence, of course, and his lawyers say that they`ll appeal the court`s decision today. However, he faces additional charges of assault in Los Angeles pending that trial.

I`m joined right now by Katie Phang, who`s an NBC legal contributor, and Ron Allen, correspondent for NBC.

Ron, it`s a grim day, I guess, but it`s a good day in many ways. Tell me -- what was it like covering this case? What -- the historic significance of it must have been there.

RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS REPORTER:  It felt like a huge big day outside the courtroom today, Chris. It was a day that people thought would never come because going into this trial, the expectation was he might be acquitted, because these were complicated cases, the most complicating factor is that both women accusers have maintained relationships with Weinstein after the criminal act happened. And so, that made their stories and relationships with him more complicated.

But the prosecution was able to put forward testimony from six different women who essentially told the same story. And the weight of that obviously convinced the jury that Weinstein was a predator. Now, he is a convicted sex offender. He is at Bellevue for some kind of medical care. His attorneys made the point he has a litany of medical issues when they were arguing that he should not be sent to prison.

But he`s on his way to Rikers Island at some point, which is a notorious prison as you know here in New York.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ALLEN:  And the expectation, the hope by people in the #metoo movement activist, is that he`s in prison for a very long time to come.

MATTHEWS:  It`s not a good place to be for a sex offense, Ron.

Let me go to Katie Phang on that.

This -- the future is pretty grim for this guy. I`m just wanting -- big shots don`t seem to go always to jail. Most Americans figured that poor people go to jail. This guy -- I think there`s a sort of reversal of fortune here at work, people say finally a big shot goes.

Your thoughts, Katie, watching these trials?

KATIE PHANG, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes, it`s an incredible result. Harvey Weinstein was the genesis, kind of the face iconically for the #metoo movement. We do know that somebody like Bill Cosby was already convicted as well.

But everybody was waiting to see what happen to Harvey Weinstein. He`s had 80-plus accusers that have come forward and had the bravery and the courage to bring their stories to life.

You had mentioned, though, Chris, no matter what happens on March 11th in New York with Judge James Burke, whether he gets 5 years or 25 years, Harvey Weinstein is 67 years old. So, any significant prison sentence will be a very difficult one from him, but then L.A. is interested in Harvey Weinstein. Four felonies are pending against him there, he`s facing up to 28 years in prison in California, and they`re just waiting for the sentencing to be over before they extradite him to California from New York.

MATTHEWS:  You know, the thing you always worry about if you want justice is the people who are getting into trouble with his level of power and money will have the best lawyers, up against the local -- you know, publicly paid district attorneys and people like that, prosecutors, how did that work this time, Katie? How did the goods guys win?

PHANG:  So, you should never underestimate the power of a good prosecutor. I always say that government lawyers are some of the best law firms in the world. But the reality is the credit goes to the victims themselves. These victims came forward about incidents that occurred back in 2006 and 2013, and they were fearful of being discredited because this trial really wasn`t focused on a woman dragged into a dark alley and being sexually assaulted. These were women that were manipulated by Harvey Weinstein, that were cowed into submission and to silence because of his power, because of his wealth. And he had an exceptional, criminal defense team that started with Benjamin Brafman at the very beginning.

But the reality is that this New York district attorney`s office decided to take a chance to be able to bring charges. Now, perhaps some people would say, though, Chris, that their game plan failed by calling Annabella Sciorra. She was being used to bolster the predatory sexual assault charges for which the jury did not find him guilty, but at the end of the day, the actual sentence of five to 25 years is nothing to sneer at. It`s significant time for somebody like Harvey Weinstein, and I am confident that the judge will launch him when it comes to sentencing on March 11th.

MATTHEWS:  Hey, Ron, did you get a sense there was deal making in the jury room?

ALLEN:  No, not really. I mean, they deliberated over five days. They did come back Friday with -- saying that they were hung on the sexual predator charge, and -- but by saying that, we knew they had apparently found him guilty of the one of the underlying charges. And, of course, now we know it was two. So, obviously, there is some back and forth and some very emotional time in the jury room.

Weinstein seemed stunned by the outcome of all this. His lawyer said he was sitting there saying, I`m innocent, how is this happening in America? But it was a -- it was a very strong message that was sent to him because again, there`s -- these cases, then there`s Los Angeles. There are more women out there who may still come forward.

The D.A. here in New York and elsewhere, they`re still looking at cases. There are cases they`re looking at in London as well. So, here`s he may be spending the rest of his life if not in prison, in court, trying to stay out of prison.

It`s a really big day for the #metoo movement. It`s a really big day for all the survivors of his attacks, his alleged attacks, and it`s a big day for people who hope that victims of sexual assault will be heard, believed and taken seriously and there`s the expectation or hope that things will really change in the criminal justice system.

MATTHEWS:  An historic day all around.

Thank you so much, Katie Phang. Thank you, my colleague, Ron Allen, of NBC News.

We`re back in a minute. You`re watching HARDBALL.

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MATTHEWS:  Democratic presidential candidates will debate tomorrow night in Charleston, South Carolina, ahead of that state`s primary this Saturday. Seven candidates will take the stage tomorrow night. Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer.

It will be the 10th debate of the Democratic primary cycle, and the last debate before Super Tuesday primaries on March 3rd. And this will be the second time Mike Bloomberg takes the stage even though he is not competing in that state. South Carolina is the final chance for Democrats that didn`t excel in the first three races to prove themselves to voters and pick up the delegates needed to continue their campaigns.

I`ll be back in the spin room at 7:00 p.m. for HARDBALL and back for post- debate coverage with the candidates.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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