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Trump accuses Democrats, FBI of "treason." TRANSCRIPT: 3/29/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: David Cicilline, David Corn, Zerlina Maxwell, David Jolly, EliStokols, Ashley Pratte

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  So keep it locked right here, including right now because HARDBALL with Chris Matthews is up next.


Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Attorney General Bill Barr says that the report will be released, he believe, two weeks from now, just two weeks, thereby, meaning, the democrats demand for transparency on the Special Counsel`s findings.  In a letter to the House and Senate and Judiciary Committees, Barr writes, we are preparing the report for release, making the redactions that are required, adding the Special Counsel is assisting us in this process.

Well, Barr also reveals the report it`s nearly 400 pages long, not 300 pages that we reported yesterday, 400 pages.  And this comes amid new signs that the Attorney General`s four-page summary was not enough for the American people, clearly.

A new poll by NPR in the PBS News Hour shows that 75 percent of Americans, three-quarters of us, say the Special Counsel`s full report should be made public.

Based on what people have already heard, however, of Mueller`s findings, only 36 percent say they think the President is now clear of wrong doing.  That`s about a third.  A majority, however, 56 percent say questions still exist.  So most Americans want to know a lot more about what happened in that report.

In his letter to Congress today, the Attorney General also said the reports have mischaracterized the four-page summary that he released last Sunday.  He says, my march 24th letter was not -- did not purport to be an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel`s investigational report.  According to Barr, it was a summary of its principal conclusions, principal conclusions.  But there`s a serious snag even in that argument because Mueller left a matter of obstruction of justice open to judgment.  Mueller did not decide on obstruction.  Attorney General Barr did.

I`m joined right now by Rhode Island Congressman Dave Cicilline who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, Julia Ainsley, NBC News National Security and Justice Reporter, David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief for Mother Jones, and Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney.

Barbara, I want to talk to you about the language here.  What did you read in this report, the new one, the letter, the second letter from Barr?  What`s he up to here?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Yes.  It seems like a bit of a do over that he doesn`t like the public messaging about what`s happening and it appears not to have satisfied the public or Congress to say, here`s my summary and you`ll get it in a matter of weeks.  One, it appears that he is pushing to get disclosed a little bit faster and also clarifying what he meant that it was only a summary of the principal findings and that there is more to come.

The part that stood out to me was when he talked about the things that need to be redacted, like grand jury material and other things.  But he also talked about executive privilege.  He said, while President Trump has said he`s not going to assert any executive privilege, look at this, he has deferred to me, Attorney General Barr, to review this for executive privilege.  It`s a very strange thing that the investigator is also the same one who is representing the interest of the president in pairing out the executive privilege material.  So that`s a strange piece and I wonder how widely he will remove information, how much redaction there will be on account of executive privilege.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Congressman Cicilline.  How much do you want?  I mean, what would make you happy in two weeks in terms of transparency here?

DAVID CICILLINE (D), R.I.:  Well, we`d like by April 2nd the full report without redactions.  Congress has the right to see the full contents of the report to the extent there are classified materials or sources of methods that need to be protected.  A Congress reviews classified documents all the time.  We take an oath when we`re sworn into office to protect classified and confidential information.  So we want to see the report in its entirety, of course, absent, the grand jury proceedings which will require court order.

But the Attorney General should be working with the members of Congress to get a court order so that we can see all the contents of the report, all the supporting materials.  And then if there have to be some redactions before it can be released publicly, fine.  But we want to see that report immediately.  That`s what has happened in the past, that`s what should happen now.  The American people, even a majority of republicans believe the report should be made public in its entirety.

MATTHEWS:  Julia, what`s struck me about there is a snag, he said that his four-page letter last Sunday, it seems like a year ago, four or five days ago, basically just talked about the conclusions, what he called the bottom line.  But the problem with that is it wasn`t the bottom line.  The bottom line of the Special Counsel was, I haven`t been able to decide on obstruction of justice.  There`s a case for and a case against it.  Something`s going on here.


MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think it`s allergy season, but even in here.  But what do you make of that?  Because that`s not -- he wasn`t honest.  Barr wasn`t saying, I`m just reporting on what Mueller just said.  No.  He decided to exonerate the President on obstruction, not Mueller.

AINSLEY:  Well, what he`s trying to do is he`s obviously -- he doesn`t have blinders on.  He knows the public criticism here.  And so he`s, I`m just giving you -- I guess, in journalism, we would call the top line.  Like if we were going to read a 400-page report and we had to put something out quickly quickly for public consumption, we would do broad stroke things.

The problem he has is at the bottom line ultimately became Barr`s, because he had to make that decision.  And from what I understand --

MATTHEWS:  Did he have to or could he have given it to the Congressman who sought [ph] through this?

AINSLEY:  Well, true, that it came to him -- it was unexpected that it came to him undecided.  You`re right.  He did not have to make that decision.  But what he says here, and I`ve got it in front of me, is that that letter did not purport to be an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel`s investigations.  So he`s trying to say, don`t blame me if you don`t have all the answers.

MATTHEWS:  And let`s go back to what Barbara raised as an expert here.  And I go to David on this because you`ve been studying this whole Russian kabob for years now.  Is this Attorney General who got his job because he basically said, I agree with the President on the broad sweep of power the executive enjoys, right, and he has this power.  And here he is in his letter again saying, I will work the President in deciding what`s executive privilege.  That`s the job of the White House counsel.  That`s not the job of the Attorney General that represents the President.

CICILLINE:  It is.  I mean, Bill Barr is taking a very expansive view of his own role in this.  He has decided on the obstruction issue that maybe in the report that it was Robert Mueller`s intention that I can`t decide or maybe I don`t have the authority to decide whether the President could be indicted on a question [ph] of obstruction.  That maybe is something for Congress, not for the Attorney General.  And now, the issue of executive privilege, it really does seem to me that that`s a privilege that belongs to the President.

Now, it`s true that Barr works for the President but Attorney General has always been an odd position.  You work for the President but you oversee the investigative powers of the federal government, and sometimes that takes you into the White House or people who know the President.  So it doesn`t look like he`s playing even Steven if he`s going to make those decisions.

But I would say, and I know that the Congress wants this report by August 2nd - April 2nd, I think if they can get this out with minimal redactions within two weeks, that`s probably a win for the public.  But the key word is minimal.  There`s a lot you can -- if you look at those four things and then all the things that they have say, they have to look at for redactions, you can see half the report being redacted if he sticks to this.  It depends how they apply this.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, despite the Attorney General`s timetable, we`re talking about two weeks from now, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York, is sticking to his demand, the report be delivered in its full by Next Tuesday of the April 2nd.  And now, there`s also a talking issue with Barr`s redaction, saying, rather than spend valuable time and resources trying to keep certain portions of this report from the Congress, he, that would be Barr, should work with us to request a court order to release any and all grand jury information of the House Judiciary Committee as has occurred in every similar investigation in the past.

Congressman Cicilline, here`s the question.  We`re all going to look at this report in two weeks, and if we see a lot of black covered over whole pages, I mean, just -- it will all be on the nightly news, over this program, it won`t look like transparency.  It will look like cover up.

CICILLINE:  Right.  Well, I mean -- and don`t forget, Mr. Barr -- it already looks like a cover up.  Mr. Barr gives us four parts of partial statements of a 400-page document in an effort to shape the narrative and he auditioned for this by basically arguing that a President can`t be charged with obstruction because he`s in charge of the Department of Justice.  And he delivers on that promise in 48 hours.

So there is already a lot of suspicion about this.  And if reporters release that completely redacted, I think the American people will stand for it.  Certainly, Congress won`t.  We need full report disclosed immediately to us so we can begin our work and then we`ll work with the Attorney General to be sure that we have access to the grand jury proceedings and to redact whatever is not appropriate to released to the public.

But we have the ability to see classified materials, and materials that involve sources and methods.  We can do that in a classified setting.  Members of Congress ought to see this full report immediately and we`re going to fight hard to make sure that happens.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here`s the President late today reacting to the news from Barr on the release of Mueller`s report.


REPORTER:  The Attorney General said today that he intends to release the Mueller report in full to Congress and then the public.  Do you agree with that decision?  Do you want the White House to take a look over at the --

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  I have great confidence in the Attorney General.  And if that`s what he`d like to do, I gave nothing to hide.  This was a hoax.  This was a witch hunt.  I have absolutely nothing to hide.  And I think a lot of things are coming out with respect to the other side.  But I have a lot of confidence in the Attorney General.


MATTHEWS:  Julia, what do you think he`s going to hide?  What`s your suspicion here, because you`re just pointing something in the paper, in the letter?

AINSLEY:  There`s some good news and bad news.  For people who want more transparency, the bad news is this phrase, peripheral third parties, because the Attorney General thinks that people who are somehow kind of on the fringe of this investigation shouldn`t have their reputations damaged.  But who do we count on as the fringe?  Is it Jared Kushner?  Is it Donald Trump Jr.?  A lot of people would consider them very central in the cast of characters.

The good news, however, is the line that he says that there are no plans plans to let the White House review this for privilege, because he has taken the President`s public comments to say that it`s all in Barr`s hands to mean that literally.  So I think we can take some assurances that what we read, if it`s much of anything, at least has not been scrubbed by the White House but it has been scrubbed or put together under Barr, who believes very strongly in this --

MATTHEWS:  And remember, we are skeptical people in this country, and I`m glad we are, Barbara.  But here`s the question.  If you start saying individual one and that kind of legal ease, and you refer to somebody meeting in Trump Tower in June of 2016, we`re going to know who these people are, and you can`t redact their names up to kazoo, and we`re going to be able to figure this out as we look at the context, I believe, don`t you think?

MCQUADE:  Well, yes, if only the names are redacted.  But as we just saw recently in the redactions of the Michael Cohen search warrant, it could be that entire pages are redacted.  And if that`s the case, we won`t have the context to be able to figure out what`s going on.

I think the Congressman`s suggestion is a really good place to start, which is to turn over the entire report to Congress where we don`t have those concerns about privacy interests and grand jury interest and classified information with a court order, as we saw in the Watergate matter and other matters with Special Counsels.  A court order can permit the disclosure of even grand jury information to Congress when it has an overriding interest to the secrecy protections of 6E [ph].

So I think that would be a very good place to start and then maybe the public sees a redacted version of that.

MATTHEWS:  Julia, do you think we`re going to get something here?  Go ahead, Congressman.

CICILLINE:  I would just say one thing we have to really be careful about.  In this letter, Barr seems to suggest somehow the President has deferred to him on the invocation of executive privilege.  If by that, he means he thinks he is going to get to look through the report and invoke executive privilege.  He`s sadly mistaken.  He doesn`t have right to invoke.  That belongs to the executive.  That belongs to the President.  He needs to invoke it.  And we should be very careful that he`s not going to attempt to use that to scrub this report with a lot of damaging information.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, that`s incredibly.  That`s -- I know that law.  It has to be the president who personally, as Chief Executive, seeks the executive privilege.  Why wouldn`t Barr know that?  This is primitive information here.  Wouldn`t he know that, that he can`t reserve the right for this, he doesn`t have power of attorney here for presidents?

CICILLINE:  Right.  I think he does know that.  I think he is acting in a way that he was hired to act.  He was acting in a way to protect this president.  He auditioned for this job, he committed to a certain view of the evidence before he was sworn in and I think he`s delivering on that, which is why I think we have to be very, very clear, the full report must be made available to Congress immediately.

MATTHEWS:  Julia, the big question there is what didn`t he prosecute.  What didn`t he say was deserving of a charge?  We know there were all kinds of meetings involving --

AINSLEY:  Mueller.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, all kinds of meetings involving Trump people with the Russians.  What`s stopped him from charging that as collusion or advancing a conspiracy by the Russians?  Because he does say that we have to believe in this report the Russians were conspiring to hurt our electoral process.

AINSLEY:  And so there were multiple efforts by the Russians and they seem to know exactly how those efforts looked.  And I think that`s where a lot of these 400-pages go, I would expect.  But the way Mueller defines it because there isn`t a statute for collusion, as he defines it as coordination and conspiracy.  And I don`t think it`s that he just didn`t turn over enough stones.  This was a very thorough investigation, 2,800 subpoenas, 22 months, he did not find evidence of a that.

And I think we should underline that.  I think we should take some confidence in that.

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MOTHER JONES:  But I would add to that.  There`re two issues here.  One is where the crimes were committed.  The other one is whether there was wrongdoing.  They`re not always the same thing.

MATTHEWS:  What would be wrongdoing to you?

CORN:  Wrong doing would be signaling to the Russians we don`t mind if you do something.  We don`t know what you`re doing but we`ll have a meeting with you, you have dirt for us --

MATTHEWS:  And, in fact, we`ll deny your doing.

CORN:  -- and then getting out in public when you know that they want to do something --

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, I want to ask you, Congressman, because in the end --


CORN:  Half a point.  What we`re waiting to see is to what degree Mueller examined that and put those sort of findings in the report.  So it`s not just crime or no crime, here`s how the wrongdoing is happening.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, you heard it.  Can you get on this and say what could be something that`s really wrong, even impeachable, if not criminal?

CICILLINE:  Well, I think if you watch Chairman Schiff go through the evidence and he said it may not bother the republicans that members of the Trump campaign met with Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, that they delivered polling data, that they lied about that meeting.  Those are all things which evidence certainly wrongdoing.  It may not rise to a level of a crime that could be charged and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

But this report, I expect, will detail lots of things that we would all condemn, want to prevent, discourage people from doing in terms of facilitating, encouraging or not discouraging or not reporting a foreign adversary attacking our democracy.

MATTHEWS:  I think it would affect the voter, don`t you, Congressman, if they knew all this was going on while they were going to the voting booth in 2016, if call this crap would come out back then and the average Joe and Jane say, wait a minute.  Are we voting for this independent person or somebody who`s working hand in glove with the Russians?  Different question, different identity.

Thank you, that`s Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island.  Julia Ainsley, thank so much for coming on a Friday night, which you do every night.  Come on, this is so much work for you.  David Corn, my friend, Barbara McQuade.  David book is going to be coming out, Russian Roulette, again, with a lot of --

CORN:  It`s a few months from now.  It`s coming.  It`s coming.

MATTHEWS:  You`re the expert.  You`re the expert.

Coming up, the conspiracy theorist-in-chief, that would the President, he`s at it again.


TRUMP:  With all of the current and former officials who paid for, promoted and perpetuated the single greatest hoax in the history of politics in our country, they have to be -- I`m sorry.  They have to be accountable.


MATTHEWS:  Well, trump`s performance last night showed us what we have in store for the next two years, don`t you think?

And with friends like these, President Trump pulled the rug out from under his own education center, Secretary Betsy DeVos, after she announced plans to eliminate federal funding for the Special Olympics yesterday.  Trump said he had overridden her and will fund it after all.  Isn`t he a nice guy and she`s so bad?  As Betsy DeVos, predecessor under President Obama put it, it must be -- it sounds like -- what sounds like when you -- that must be the sound of a bus going over you.  We`ve got a lot more on that one tonight.  People that work for Trump are his Pratt boys.  Stay with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

As we have seen this week, the president isn`t just congratulating himself for escaping criminal charges in the wake of the attorney general`s summary.  He`s out there condemning the fact there was an investigation at all. 

He seized on the dearth of information about Mueller`s findings to date to push his own narrative about a deep state conspiracy. 

Speaking at a campaign rally in Michigan last night, the president whipped up the crowd with vindictive rhetoric and the promise of revenge against a vast array of enemies. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The collusion delusion is over.  The Russia witch-hunt was a plan by those who lost the election to try and illegally regain power by framing innocent Americans, many of them -- they suffered -- with an elaborate hoax. 

Sick.  Sick.  These are sick people.  They spied on me.  They spied on our campaign.  The Democrats have to now decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous bullshit.  Their fraud has been exposed and the credibility of those who pushed this hoax is forever broken.  And they have now got big problems. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, there`s a word I don`t think Lincoln every used.

But, anyway, as "The New York Times" put it: "It was a calculated show of outrage by a president who has decided to seize on the Russia investigation to frame his ordeal as a conspiracy by his rivals to delegitimize him."

Joining me right now is Zerlina Maxwell, director of progressive programming for SiriusXM, and David Jolly, former Republican congressman from Florida who is no longer affiliated with that party. 

Zerlina, let`s talk about P.R., messaging.  Why is he -- what`s he up to the next couple of days, and has already been up to for four or five days that he won`t be able to do perhaps in two or three weeks?  Your thoughts?

ZERLINA MAXWELL, SIRIUSXM RADIO:  Well, I look at this situation almost like the track and field runner that`s running down the homestretch, and they put their arms over their head, and then they`re crossed at the finish line. 

I feel like this feels like a premature victory lap.  And I say that, Chris, because the president doesn`t -- or apparently doesn`t know what`s in this report.  We have four pages of 64 words, neatly parsed.  And they don`t say what the president is articulating. 

It doesn`t say that Mueller found no collusion.  It says it did not establish that there was a crime committed that could be prosecuted, Chris.  So I think the American public for the past week has been spinning, along with the White House. 

And this has been an intentional P.R. strategy.  And, frankly, it worked.  But, this afternoon, Bill Barr, obviously, for whatever reason -- and we don`t know all that went on in the background, but clearly wanted to come out and clarify that his report was not to stand in place of the Mueller report. 

And I think that Donald Trump maybe did not get that memo. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, David, I think Zerlina`s caught me with the idea of visual of the president of the United States, this particular one, running a 100- yard dash.  I don`t think that would be his -- his event.


MATTHEWS:  It might be something out else.  Riding on a golf cart, I think, is his event.


MATTHEWS:  But what do you -- what do you think about the timing here?  I do think it`s a timing issue. 

Remember how George W. declared he was president, and then they had to go back over it for months into the recount?  He seemed like, well, he`s he`s the guy who belongs in the catbird seat, and this poor guy Al Gore is just a whiner. 


MATTHEWS:  Just because he established early on, I won, this stuff works. 

JOLLY:  I think we`re going to hear a lot more of it. 

First, let`s establish, because it`s a day that ends in Y, the president`s behavior when it comes to his political adversaries is boorish, disgusting, and unbecoming of a president, the rhetoric he uses. 

That being said, I think what he is doing right now, he`s on this, what I call a vindication and victimization tour.  He`s going out to his base saying, see, I told you, the swamp and the elites are out to get me.  I`m fighting for you. 

It`s his very selfish version of what you hear from politicians, Washington is broken.  In Trump`s mind, it`s broken because they`re out to get him. 

And I think, for those who oppose the president, the wiser course here is not to play on his field.  Don`t take the bait.  Yes, let`s demand transparency from Bill Barr.  Let`s even see if Barr is covering up something.  Don`t take his bait on this collusion fight. 

Let`s focus on the fact that Donald Trump tried to take away health care, he`s putting kids in cages, and he`s passing tax bills that favor the wealthy, because we know that those are the issues that matter more at the ballot box.  Fight on that field.  Don`t take the president`s bait in this case.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think you can shift that 14 or 15 percent that is going to decide the next election away from this sense that they, the resenters, have been the victims? 

You can shift that perception they have that they have been screwed by the liberal establishment, the Democrat and Republican establishment, and they put Trump in there for that reason, to screw back at them?

You think you can change that topic with them? 


JOLLY:  I don`t think you can.  Look, the grievance politics of Donald Trump will always be there.  It`s the very core of his base. 

The question is, are there enough within that constituency for Donald Trump to get reelected?  And I think what we saw last November is, the answer is no, that when you start to focus in on the issues -- and, remarkably, look, in media -- and I`m guilty of this as well -- we talk a lot about Russia. 

But what we saw is, voters vote based on health care and taxes and immigration and other issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, on multiple occasions this week, the president accused his opponents of treason.  Let`s watch that. 


TRUMP:  There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things, against our country.

It was treason.  It was really treason.  If the Republican Party had done this to the Democrats, if we had done this to President Obama, you would have had 100 people in jail right now and it would be treason.  It would be considered treason, and they`d be in jail for the rest of their lives. 

So we can never allow this treasonous -- these treasonous acts to happen to another president.  This was attempted takeover of our government. 


MATTHEWS:  Did you see the tyrannical aspect?  First of all, he goes to his FBI director back in the first months he`s in office and says, I want personal loyalty.  We know the history of that, personal loyalty from U.S. attorney general. 

And now he is saying any attack on him by the press, by his political opponents, by anybody is treasonous, as if he is the state, he is the country.

MAXWELL:  Oh, he definitely envies dictators.  He envies that style of leadership.  He wants to be the one and only person.

I mean, Chris, he said at the convention, "I alone can fix it."  So this is consistent for Trump. 

But I want to point out that he does something very strategic, because he understands the media.  And I`m giving him credit here.  The one thing he gets is how the media works, how headlines work. 

And so I remember, Chris, when Steve Bannon joined the campaign in 2016, and Hillary Clinton did a speech talking about the so-called alt-right and about white nationalism, and Donald Trump that same day called Hillary Clinton a racist. 

And so the headlines were, candidates trade barbs over racism, right?

MATTHEWS:  What, she is racist against -- I mean, how can a white person be a racist against white people?  I don`t figure that one out.

MAXWELL:  That`s a really good question.  But it doesn`t matter in terms of the substance. 

The point is, is that Donald Trump essentially uses the words and phrases and descriptions of the opponents that are attacking him. 

So, I have not personally said anything that Donald Trump has done is treasonous, but that language, even Steve Bannon actually described some of the behavior that way in "Fire and Fury." 

And so I think this is actually a strategic move by the president to use this word early, so that future headlines are simply, candidates trade accusations of treason, when, instead, what we really should be focusing on is the thing David Corn was talking about in the last segment, which is those behaviors that may not rise to the level of a crime that you could prove in court, but that may be unpatriotic and disloyal to the country and the Constitution and the oath he swore. 


Let me go back to David,. 

I think there`s -- this will get me in trouble.  But I think Nancy Pelosi is probably the smartest politician in Washington, and her only rival is probably Trump in his wiliness, crazy as a fox, but as wily.

Now, she`s decided months ago, well before this report came out this past weekend, don`t focus on impeachment, get away from it.  Let -- talk about health care issues, like you were saying, and other key issues to the Democratic constituency. 

And Trump`s thinking, you know what?  I saw this back -- and then why did she do that?  Because she saw what happened to Bill Clinton.  They impeached him and he came out looking like a -- not a million bucks, but he looked really good afterwards.  And the Republicans looked terrible for impeaching him. 

Could Trump trying to be doing that same thing, saying, I want the Democrats to pay the way the Republicans paid for going after Clinton, that he`s figured this out?  Turn it on them.  Make them look as stinky pie as the Republicans did back in `98. 

Your thoughts? 

JOLLY:  Yes, he certainly is, which is why I think Nancy Pelosi -- and I have questioned her decisions in the past, but she has made exactly the right decisions, based on the political calculation. 

I do think, in terms of the institution, the speaker has an obligation to visit whether or not Trump being named in the Southern District of New York in a case already entered into judgment demands an impeachment investigation.  That`s not to say he should be impeached. 

But setting aside that institutional argument, Nancy Pelosi is making exactly the right political calculation.  And when Donald Trump throws out allegations of treason, don`t take the bait.  What it shows is, the president is constitutionally and historically incompetent.  And it speaks to a sociopathy that suggests that this is a man who always has to play the victim. 

It is how he keeps going each day and how he keeps his base in line. 

MATTHEWS:  David Jolly, great to have you on the show tonight. 

JOLLY:  Thanks, Chris. 

Thank you, Zerlina Maxwell.

MATTHEWS:  All the time, I watch you on other shows.  You`re both great. 

Up next:  President Trump`s once again threatening to shut down America`s southern border, unless Mexico, the government of Mexico, stops all undocumented immigrants from trying to enter the U.S.  I`m going to talk to Jacob Soboroff about what`s going on down there.  He knows the story. 

We`re back in a minute. 



TRUMP:  We are going to either have a border, or we`re not. 

And when they lose control of the border on the Mexico side, we just close the border.  And we have a very powerful border.

Look, if they come over here, we`re going to apprehend them and we are going to close the border.  That`s not really been done to the extent that I`m doing it, because I mean it.  And I will close it for a long time. 

And, as far as trade is concerned, that`s OK, because Mexico, frankly, has done very well with trade and the United States. 

I`m telling you right now we will close the damn border. 



MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Trump has made a habit of threatening to shut down the border, without actually doing it so far.  Well, this week, faced with a DHS report that over 75,000 migrants crossed the border in February, the highest in 12 years, the president`s threatened to close the border once again, but this time he put a date on it, next week.

In a series of tweets, Trump wrote: "If Mexico doesn`t immediately stop all illegal immigration coming into the U.S. through our southern border, I will be closing it, the border, or large sections the border, next week."

While in Florida, the president was asked if he was serious about the threat. 


QUESTION:  Would you close the border to trade?

TRUMP:  It could be to all trade.  Mexico is making absolutely a fortune with the United States.

Mexico, they make so much money from the United States and so many other things, so many other assets.  They have to grab it and they have to stop it. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, according to "The Washington Post," closing ports of entry would wreak economic havoc, costing nearly $2 billion in commerce between the U.S. and Mexico.

Sources have told NBC News that officials in the White House have pushed back against the idea of closing the borders, noting it would hurt commerce and lead to legal challenges. 

For more, I`m joined by MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff, who has done extensive reporting on the border.

Jacob, you`re my expert.  You`re the audience`s expert now.  What is different about what`s going on right down there now that might justify something being done, not closing the border, but something? 

JACOB SOBOROFF, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, and we should be really clear, Chris.

Like during the Obama administration, we are seeing a legitimate surge of families coming to the southern border.  And those numbers are at record highs.  The numbers who cross the border, people crossing the southern border, are not at record highs, but the groups of families that are coming in are at record highs. 

But the idea that the president is pushing, which is that closing ports of entry would solve that problem, or at least help alleviate that problem, is just not accurate, if you talk to people who deal with migrants that are crossing the border every single day.

Not only would it stop legitimate trade and travel from coming through the ports of entry, but it would do what this administration is already doing, stop people from legally claiming asylum at the ports, and further exacerbate the problem, because these folks would move towards the places that are having the most trouble right now. 

And that is in between ports of entry.  So the idea that closing the ports would help is -- it`s bizarre, quite frankly.  It`s only going to make the problem worse. 

MATTHEWS:  I was reading the paper the other day about people, because we`re so overloaded in our retention areas down there, which are awful to look at and certainly to live in, that there`s such an overcrowding down there, that they`re letting people who are applying for migrant status, for basically asylum, to just come into the country without even kind of any restraint. 

Is that what`s going on now?

SOBOROFF:  That`s certainly the line that they like to push.  And they use this phrase catch and release. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it true?

SOBOROFF:  Yes, it is possible to come into this country and get released by the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection. 

It`s not that they don`t know who you are.  They obviously take that information into account.  And you go through an initial credible fear hearing once you cross the border.  But you`re not going to go into ICE detention.

What this administration wants to do, quite frankly -- and the secretary of homeland security asked Congress for this in a letter just today -- is the ability to indefinitely detain migrant families who are coming to the country to seek asylum until their immigration hearings are done. 

And, again, quite frankly, people who deal with these migrants say that that is an inhumane way to deal with people who are coming to the country to legitimately seek asylum.  But that`s what the administration wanted to do during zero tolerance.  That`s why they separated families at the border, in order to try to force that change into the asylum process. 

It didn`t work then, and I don`t think it`s going to work now. 

MATTHEWS:  What would a normal president be doing right now about this surge, Democrat or Republican?

SOBOROFF:  The Obama administration did have a surge.

And they were forced to confront a really unpleasant situation, thousands of unaccompanied migrant children coming into the country who were detained in situations like we saw down at the Texas border in McAllen, under those Mylar blankets.  And you have to figure out what to do with the children. 

In this case, it`s get them into the custody of Health and Human Services, if they`re unaccompanied, and make sure that they have enough space for those children.  With families, it`s a different situation.  And, again, the administration wants to turn around unaccompanied migrant children, put them back into Mexico, instead of allow them to stay in this country and go through their asylum proceedings. 

It`s a matter of resources, Chris.  If you had enough immigration judges, if you had enough CBP officials to process the asylum claims at the ports of entry, you would not be seeing the number of people crossing in between ports of entry that you are seeing today. 

All you have to do is look at the numbers.  That`s just a fact. 

MATTHEWS:  Jacob, you`re great.  Thank you, Jacob Soboroff, reporting for us from Los Angeles, but he`s the border expert. 

Up next:  President Trump says he had to override his people, his people, to restore federal funding for the Special Olympics. 

He threw somebody under the bus.  It`s not the first time he`s done it or blindsided a Cabinet member with a 180 on a controversial issue, leading to confusion over who actually does speak for this administration day to day.  Who`s talking?

More after this.



QUESTION:  I`m glad you`re education secretary.  Are you?




DEVOS:  Yes.  Most days, I am. 


MATTHEWS:  Most days.  Not this week. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was Education Secretary Betsy DeVos earlier today in Washington.  It was a tough week for her, as she defended the Trump administration`s plan to eliminate all federal funding for the Special Olympics, all of it, every dollar.

And, yesterday, she faced a grilling from Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP:  Can I ask you, did you personally approve -- just I think yes or no will do -- the $18 million cut of the funding for Special Olympics?

DEVOS:  No, I didn`t personally get involved in that.

DURBIN:  Well, I want to tell you, whoever came up with -- whoever came up with that idea at OMB gets a Special Olympic gold medal for insensitivity. 

DEVOS:  Let`s not use disabled children in a twisted way for your political narrative.  It`s -- that is just disgusting.  And it`s shameful.



Anyway, a few hours later, President Trump seemingly pulled the rug out from her, his own secretary of education, with this major 180.


TRUMP:  The Special Olympics will be funded.  I heard about it this morning.  I have overridden my people.  We`re funding the Special Olympics.



MATTHEWS: "I`m overriding my people."

In a statement released just minutes after the president spoke, DeVos came back with this.  Watch this line.

  "I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye to eye on this issue and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant." 


"This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years."

She stuck it back at him. 

But President Trump`s blindsiding of DeVos is far from his most egregious treatment of a Cabinet official.

And all that`s coming up next. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Trump may have undercut Education Secretary Betsy DeVos by reversing course this week on cuts -- all the cut to Special Olympics.  he zeroed it out it originally.  But DeVos is far from the first Cabinet official President Trump has thrown under the bus. 

You may remember when the former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters the U.S. was in direct communication with North Korea back in September of `17.  The very next day, the president tweeted: "I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful secretary of state, that he`s wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.  Save your energy, Rex.  We will do what has to be done" -- like he`s a dog.  Hey, Rex.

For more, I`m joined by Eli Stokols, White House reporter for "The L.A. Times," and Ashley Pratte is a conservative commentator. 

This isn`t nice to DeVos.  Whatever you think of -- unions hate her, but it`s not very nice. 

ELI STOKOLS, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES":  Well, I mean, Trump has sort of had a skeptical view of DeVos for a while now. 

He`s nicknamed her to aides.  He talks behind her back.

MATTHEWS:  What`s her nickname?

STOKOLS:  Ditzy DeVos is what he`s called her. 


STOKOLS:  But he has a hard time also sort of allowing officials to do stuff. 

I mean, he`s out there.  He didn`t want Rex to do the negotiating, because he wanted to do it.  He didn`t want to let the FAA announce the -- they were grounding the Boeing planes, because he wanted to do it.  He didn`t -- there`s a report today, he didn`t allow the troops in the field in Syria who say they erased the ISIS caliphate to take credit.  He ran out and announced it. 

So he`s not -- in terms of having a Cabinet and empowering people, he`s never done that.  He is the one who wants to take credit.  And he`s very quick to get upset with people when they do things that generally come back to him via television. 

When people make news that`s negative, which is what happened in this case, he comes out and says, oh, no, I`m overriding that person. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I`m thinking about who`s really responsible for the initial statement, they`re going to get rid of all funding, every one of the 18 million dollars, for Special Olympics. 

That`s usually an OMB decision.


MATTHEWS:  The pod person in charge of that pod, which covers education, makes these decisions at OMB.  Their Cabinet secretary is told, OK, make the cuts. 

And I just wonder whether DeVos -- maybe she was un-smart enough to do it.  I don`t know who made the call.  But somebody said, among the cuts, cut out one of the most popular programs in the country.

PRATTE:  Zero line, like no funding.

MATTHEWS:  Zero, no.  Make it official.

PRATTE:  And she came out too.  And she said, well, I didn`t do this, and - - well, who did? 

Someone in the White House did, which means Trump in some way knew that this was happening.  They would not send their secretary of education, I don`t believe -- I mean, then again, it is this White House -- out there to defend something that the public would be in complete outrage over, and to say something like that. 

But, to me, this is just a tyrannical form of governance.


MATTHEWS:  OK.  You`re onto something.

He has to be seen as the boss.

PRATTE:  He has to be the leader.  He has to be the one on the world stage making all of these decisions.  No one can be smarter than him. 

And when we think about it, Chris, on the campaign trail, he said, I`m going to hire the very best people.

What have we seen?  I don`t think we have seen the very best.  We have seen people who he undermines.  And I think that`s a dangerous way to govern.  He has a complete lack of confidence in those that he hires.  And that should give us, as Americans, a very, I think, troubling picture of what is going on in government. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you didn`t vote for Trump?

PRATTE:  No, I did not.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I love that. 


MATTHEWS:  I think I heard a theme yet.

PRATTE:  I`m a never-Trump Republican, proudly, proudly.

MATTHEWS:  I`m just kidding you on a Friday night.

Let me ask you about what he`s also doing, this man against the machine, this image he does.  He`s very good at this iconic imagery.  I`m not just a Republican.  I`m against all government.  I`m against all these people around me.  They`re all bunch of apparatchiks, functionaries.  I`m the one you got to look to.

Is that part of his signaling that the state is against him, the deep state, that she is just another one of those functionaries out to get me, but I`m the one that`s going to save you? 

STOKOLS:  Well, there`s something to that. 

I mean, there`s something of a self-fulfilling prophecy to all of the Trump political experience in this presidency, where you are creating these crises by your own behavior.  You`re basically lying all the time, so the media is always fact-checking you.  And then you say, the media sure is negative about me.  There must -- the media must be biased. 

That`s the kind of thing we see from this president all the time.

MATTHEWS:  He`s trolling us.

STOKOLS:  Well, yes. 

And so, in this case, when you have no process in the White House, you have a lot of things that happen that aren`t -- they wouldn`t happen in a in a better functioning White House.  And the president sort of benefits from this, because there are always these crises.

And then he comes out, creates the crises, and then says he`s going to solve it.  So whether it`s imposing tariffs, starting a trade war, that, whenever he gets a deal, he will say, look, I fixed it, or separating families at the border, and then saying, OK, now we`re not doing that, look, I fixed it. 

I mean, this is -- he`s claiming last night at this rally in Michigan that he`s getting -- that he`s going to do the funding for the Great Lakes cleanup, that he`s doing all these things, the Special Olympics. 

I mean, the funding has always been there.  But he actually said last night, don`t let any of the Democrats take the credit for funding this thing.  They have wanted to do it for a long time.  They haven`t done it. 

That`s the inverse of what`s true.  They have actually been doing it for a long time.  And he`s just trying to take the credit.

MATTHEWS:  NBC News learned this week the president instructed his administration to support a federal court decision that would basically destroy the Affordable Care Act, over the objections of Vice President Pence, the secretary of Health and Human Services.  And even his attorney general, Bill Barr, was out there on this one.

Axios reports the president`s behavior of overriding staff is standard operating procedure for Trump -- quote -- "President Trump has constantly and publicly tormented his Fed chair, Jay Powell.  Ditto Jeff Sessions, when he was attorney general.  Ditto the intelligence community."

Ashley, he wants -- these people must really get mad at him at night.  I mean, I imagine them going home at night, talking to their spouses about this, except in the case of Kellyanne Conway.

PRATTE:  Well, look at Kellyanne Conway, right, yes.

MATTHEWS:  But I just imagine what these -- that guy did it to you again.  Why don`t you quit? 

PRATTE:  Yes, it`s an abusive relationship in some of these situations.

I do not understand why some of these people would stake their entire career on this White House.  I mean, I can`t make sense of that.  Now, to another extent, though, I mean, we can go through the list here, John Kelly, Sarah Sanders, Rex Tillerson, Mike Pence, his own vice president. 

He does whatever he wants, and he does not care who is in his way, because no one is, in his opinion.  And, again, it`s a dangerous way to govern, but his supporters eat it up.  They think everybody is in his way, and he is enemy number one of the media, public, everything.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Ashley, you`re a political strategist.  What happens when he dumps Mike Pence, his V.P., for Nikki Haley, because he`s facing a woman candidate?

PRATTE:  Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS:  You think that`s loyalty there?

PRATTE:  So, no.

And I don`t know -- in my opinion, it would not be smart of her to be on that ticket.  And everyone always says, well, she`s so savvy in how she handles this.  And she was one who came out very unscathed in this administration, which is pretty neat, in my opinion.


PRATTE:  However, she goes against Trump in any way, or she forges her own path, he will throw her to the curb. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

PRATTE:  So, the fact that Mike Pence has stayed, I mean, he`s got to ride or die there.

MATTHEWS:  We will see.

I think this president is quick enough with loyalty to drop Pence like a bad habit and put in somebody who is going to get him Pennsylvania or Wisconsin.

Anyway, you like, Eli Stokols.  You know a lot, Ashley too.  A lot of political attitude too.

Up next: disturbing new details about the killing of journalist -- this is really a gory story here -- Khashoggi.  We`re getting new details from David Ignatius about this.  It`s really frightening stuff. 

But if you -- stick around.  It`s important to know.


MATTHEWS:  There`s some really disturbing new details about the killing of "The Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

It`s contained in a report just posted by his colleague David Ignatius.  "The Washington Post" reports there`s evidence now that his killers had first hoped to take him back to Saudi Arabia.  It comes from a Saudi transcript of the audio recording of the killing itself. 

"You`re coming back with us," the leader of the Saudi killers demands.

"No, I have people outside waiting for me," Khashoggi insists.

"You`re coming," the killing team leader says.

When a bag is then placed over Khashoggi`s head, he calls out: "I can`t breathe.  I have asthma.  Don`t do this."

Well, that is how it ended.  That is what was done to a journalist who dared speak out for freedom in his home country. 

The "Post" article contains still more chilling details -- quote -- "After his death, the transcript describes a buzzing noise, perhaps from an electric saw, as his body was cut into pieces."

Well, this was all just six months ago.  And what has been the Trump administration response to it all?  Well, one is the business-as-usual meeting here in Washington yesterday between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Saudi Prince Khalid bin Salman.  Khalid is the younger brother of bin Salman, who most people consider to be responsible for Khashoggi`s death. 

That`s Mohammed bin Salman. 

"The Post" reports it was Khalid himself who lured Khashoggi into that Saudi consulate in Turkey, where the murderers were waiting for him. 

As for further assurance that life goes on between our two countries, the United States last night confirmed that Energy Secretary Rick Perry has authorized the export of nuclear energy technology and services to Saudi Arabia. 

Meanwhile, Mohammed bin Salman enjoys life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

And that`s HARDBALL for now.

Congressman up next, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez sits down with Chris Hayes for an exclusive interview on her Green New Deal, domestic policy and much more. 

That starts right now.