Trump calls NYT report “fake news” Transcript 1/26/18 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests:
Jonathan Swan, George Will, Pete Buttigieg, Sabrina Siddiqui
Transcript:

Show: HARDBALL
Date: January 26, 2018
Guest: Jonathan Swan, George Will, Pete Buttigieg, Sabrina Siddiqui

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: You`re fired! Let`s play “Hardball.”

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

When in doubt, Donald Trump does what he does best.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You`re fired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: NBC News has confirmed the bombshell “New York Times” reporting
that President Trump ordered the firing last June of Robert S. Mueller, but
ultimately backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign
rather than carry out the directive.

Well, according to “The New York Times,” quote “Mr. Mueller learned about
the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and
former senior White House officials in his inquiry into whether the
President obstructed justice.

Before heading home from Davos this morning, President Trump disputed the
report.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, why did you fire Robert Mueller? Why
would you want to fire Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: Fake news, folks. Fake news. Typical “New York Times” fake story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, for the record, the report has been confirmed by NBC News,
“the Washington Post,” CNN, “the Wall Street Journal,” even FOX News. And
it does raise troubling questions. Is it obstruction or at least part of a
pattern of obstruction to do what he did? And where are Republicans?
Hasn`t the President crossed a line here?

Well, it is (INAUDIBLE). Will Trump try to do it again? If he was willing
to fire Mueller before, why not now when it appears the investigation,
Mueller is sniffing closer and closer to Trump himself. And then there`s
the question of honesty. Have we forgotten that one? If the reporting by
multiple news organizations now is true, then President Trump wasn`t
telling the truth, was he, when he said this last August?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President you thought about or considered leading
to the dismissal of the special counsel. Is there anything Bob Mueller
could do that would send you in that direction?

TRUMP: I haven`t given at any thought. I have been reading about it from
you people. You say, I`m going to dismiss him. No, I`m not dismissing
anybody. I mean, I want them to get on with the task.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Michael Schmidt is the one who broke that story last night
for the Times. He is “the New York Times” reporter and MSNBC national
security contributor. Paul Butler is a former federal prosecutor and MSNBC
analyst Jennifer Rubin, of course, an opinion writer for “the Washington
Post,” also a political analyst.

Michael, give us a sense of the tick-tock when Trump fired and did he
effectively by his lights fire Mueller who might be prosecuting him.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It` is June, a month after
Mueller`s appointed, a month after Comey was fired. And that had blown up
in their faces. He goes to McGahn and he says look, I think that Mueller
has these conflict of interest issues including the fact that he was a
member at one of my golf clubs and had a membership dispute. And you can
call the U.S. firm and you get rid of them. And this was very concerning,
obviously, to McGahn who did not want to do through on this. He was going
to put his job on the line to try and stop it.

MATTHEWS: You know, those of us who read about Richard Nixon read it many
times or ever he would make orders like go blow up the Brookings
Institution or go break in to the Republican headquarters and make it look
like a Democrat job. I mean, he would say Democrat, now democratic too.

Is this one of those cases where the President actually gave an order,
wanted it carried out, wanted Mueller gone and somewhere along the line in
the next couple hours McGahn got the word back to him no. How did that
work?

SCHMIDT: I think it may have played out over several days as the President
pestered him over several days to try and get him to do this. And McGahn
made it clear to Priebus and to Bannon that he was not willing - that he
was willing to resign over this and the President ultimately backed down
off of this.

There`s a long-standing thought amongst folks at the White House that if
you can distract the President for a certain amount of time, he will find
something to fixate his attention on.

MATTHEWS: Do you think - as your reporting, given this new reporting that
Trump ordered Mueller`s firing last June, let`s look at the events leading
up to it.

January 27th at a private dinner at the White House, President Trump tells
James Comey I need loyalty, I expect loyalty. That`s according to Comey.

February 14th also according to Comey, President Trump tells the FBI
director I hope you can see or way clear to letting this go, to letting
Flynn go.

March 22nd, Trump asked CIA director Mike Pompeo and director of national
intelligence Dan Coats to intervene with Comey to get them to drop the
Flynn probe all together. That was first reported by “the Washington
Post.”

Also that March, last March, according to “The New York Times,” Donald
Trump quote “erupted in anger when Jeff Sessions recused himself from the
Russian investigation. He tells numerous White House officials he needs
his attorney general to protect him.”

Then on May 9th, Trump fires Comey. The next day he tells Lester Holt, the
decision had to do with the Russian investigation.

There we go – Jennifer?

JENNIFER RUBIN, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. He has tried
over and over again to decapitate this investigation. What he doesn`t
realize, of course, is you could fire all these people and the
investigation would still go on. That`s a misnomer in his own mind. But
he clearly has tried again and again to interfere, to obstruct and what you
are seeing is a pattern.

No one of these is perhaps sufficient for a prosecutor or even the American
public. But when you see a persistent pattern time and time again and in
the same vein. Remember, he tried to kind of feel out McCabe, as well,
Andrew McCabe, yelled at him that his wife had been receiving campaign
donations.

MATTHEWS: Yelled at him.

RUBIN: Right. Peeved with him. You know, then he wants him fired.
Christopher Wray won`t do it. He wants lots of people fired. And it is
just quite for who is going to do it. Remember, he didn`t have the nerve
to fire Comey face-to-face. He sent his body man to do it and give him the
note.

MATTHEWS: Well let me get this straight because Paul, there`s such a
Watergate echo here. Nixon fired Archibald Koch, then he got Leon
Jaworski. So he thought Cox was his worst enemy. Admittedly, Cox may have
had - he certainly had a political background which was Democrat, but
clearly Trump seems to think, I want check back with Michael on this, he
seems to think his worst enemy is Bob Mueller.

PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Trump`s worst enemy is Donald
Trump. So Michael`s reporting has teed up, excuse me, a question that
Mueller will ask Trump that could lead to Trump`s removal from office.

The question is, Robert Mueller to Trump, did you try to get me fired. If
Trump answers no, that`s perjury. He is going down. If he answers yes,
that`s obstruction or at least strong corroboration of his criminal intent
to impede the investigation.

MATTHEWS: Michael, let`s talk about the reporting here because I love the
background. Does Trump, Donald Trump the man, fear Bob Mueller the man?

SCHMIDT: I think that he recognizes that Mueller is an existential threat
to his presidency. And that not only is this something about Russian
collusion and questions of ties between his campaign and Russia, but it is
also something that is focused squarely on his time in office. The
interactions with McGahn, the efforts to influence Sessions, why he fired
Comey. He is incredibly frustrated with the Russia question but he also
realizes there`s all of these matters about his time in office that are
being examined.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk more about Trump the way he looks at life. And
people always project. Now, here`s Donald Trump who has talks about
Mexican judges being out to get him because it has something to do with
Mexico potentially. And then he thinks McCabe is it out get him because
his wife was a Democrat and got help from McAuliffe organization down in
Richmond. So he is always assuming somebody is up to something for their
own interests, always. What does he think Bob Mueller`s interest is? Why
would think, let me just suggest the possible motive here, he may think
that Bob Mueller looks the FBI? He believes in the FBI as an institution
like the Peace Corps or the marines or something, the Catholic Church or
something he really believes in as a starling reality that needs to be
protected.

And here is a President fired Comey, who fired the head of the FBI because
he is actually doing his job and he says damn it, I`m stepping in here. Is
that what he sees in Mueller?

SCHMIDT: I think that he thinks that Mueller and Comey are very good
friends and that Mueller is here to avenge what happened to Comey.

MATTHEWS: So it`s Shakespearean.

SCHMIDT: They worked together, they know each other, they like each but
they are not best friends. They are not as close as the President –

MATTHEWS: So this isn`t a vendetta.

SCHMIDT: No. And I don`t think anybody would think Bob Mueller would lead
an investigation to help one of his friends who got fired.

MATTHEWS: How do you see it?

BUTLER: To be fair, no one would want one of the country`s best
prosecutors, Robert Mueller and 16 of his ace prosecutor friends and the
world`s best law enforcement agency, the FBI, looking at everything that
you have ever done.

MATTHEWS: So is sane on the part of Trump this time?

RUBIN: Well, it is sane, yes.

MATTHEWS: It is sanity. It is not paranoia. They are coming to get the
truth and the truth is not going to set Trump free.

BUTLER: Trump should be more worried about obstruction. I think he just
doesn`t understand the law. He is clearly worried about money laundering
and his financial transactions. So that`s a red line that I think a line
in the sand that Mueller crosses that, then I think all bets are off.

MATTHEWS: Jennifer?

RUBIN: Yes. That`s exactly where I was going. He went through this
experience in March with Comey where he blew the world up. And people were
screaming that this was potentially obstruction. He learned nothing from
that obviously or he didn`t believe it or he doesn`t think this is a crime
or no one told him he couldn`t do this.

And remember the way he keeps kind of dropping these phrases into his
various speeches. I can do anything I want with the justice department. I
choose not to. I can do anything I want. He thinks that these people
personally work for him. He sees them as loyal to him as the person. And
so, when they behave this way, off with their heads.

MATTHEWS: This wasn`t election, it was an acquisition.

Anyway, according to “The New York Times” reporting, President Trump argued
Mueller had three conflicts of interest. Well, one a dispute years ago
over fees at Trump national golf club that prompted Mr. Mueller to resign
his membership. Two, Mueller had most recently worked for the law firm
that previously represented the President`s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Three, Mueller had been interviewed to return as FBI director the day
before he was appointed special counsel.

I mean, these are like what? These don`t seem important. I mean, why did
the President, he is the President, think he had to come up with these
please crumbs of excuse? Why didn`t he just say, I don`t like the guy`s
looks and just say I want to get rid of him?

SCHMIDT: Well, I think he realizes certainly after the Comey firing that
he needs to have a good rationalization.

MATTHEWS: But this is a joke.

SCHMIDT: This doesn`t get you there. And I don`t think any legal expert
will tell you that`s strong enough to get someone disqualify rom running an
investigation. I think he was grasping for anything at the time and those
are the best things he could come up.

MATTHEWS: Well, Trump started a fire. Mueller happened in July - June
last year. Why is this coming out now?

Well Bill Kristol, a conspiracy kind of guy himself, he wrote who obviously
leaked this? Probably White House council Don McGahn himself, perhaps with
Trump`s lawyer, Ty Cobb. Why now? It`s perfect. Its effect will
presumably be a negative reaction to firing Mueller which may well mean
Trump recently returned to the idea. And this is a desperate effort by
McGahn to stop McGahn.

So this is – according to this, and I don`t know how it squares with your
trade craft, but somehow the people on the inside said they put this out
somehow to you guys at the times and ultimately and everybody who
reconstructed the story, they did it so they could prevent Trump from doing
what he tried to do before again. What is that sound like to you?

SCHMIDT: That makes it sound like our jobs are a lot easier than they are.

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE)

SCHMIDT: We are just sitting there in at phone rings and they give it to
us and then we go.

MATTHEWS: You`re the bird feeder.

SCHMIDT: Yes. No, it`s much more difficult than that.

MATTHEWS: That doesn`t square with your reporting.

BUTLER: Well, my conspiracy theory is that it`s a trial balloon to see
what if at this point Trump does fire Mueller –?

MATTHEWS: By who? Who put up the balloon?

BUTLER: The Republicans had not had the outrage on my man`s report that I
would have liked.

MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. Who do you think – who is trying this balloon
from your theory?

BUTLER: Well, Trump or some of his people who want do see. I don`t know.

MATTHEWS: I think straight reporting and straight Oh Kim`s razor (ph)
here. What do you think happened? I think Trump tried to fire Mueller.
That`s what I think.

RUBIN: My only other suggestion is that McGahn wants to say I`m innocent.
I didn`t obstruct justice. I tried to do the right thing.

MATTHEWS: Just a little comic relief, let`s go to FOX News. And I don`t
like media criticism. I mean, it is always leveled at all. So here we go.

But last night when the news broke, your paper held it to about 9:30 to get
the facts final straight. Trump`s most loyal defendant Sean Hannity not a
bad guy sometimes but lately I don`t know, seemed to be over taken by
events as he tried to respond live over the course confident hour as the
reality sunk in. He couldn`t take the truth. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Now, tonight, for example, they are trying
to change the story. At this hour, “The New York Times” is trying to
distract you. Our sources and I have checked in with many of them, they
are not confirming that tonight. And the President`s attorney dismissed
the story and says no, no comment, we are not going there. And how many
times has “The New York Times” and others gotten it wrong?

All right. So we have sources tonight just confirming to Ed Henry that
yes, maybe Donald Trump wanted to fire the special counsel for conflict.
Does he not have the right to raise those questions? You know, we will
deal with this tomorrow night.

We have a shocking video of the day to bring you by the way. This footage
comes to us from Arizona where you see the red SUV, high speed police
chase?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. I`m sorry. What a diversion tactic. That`s what we
they have been doing all through the saga whenever the story gets hot and
close to this President`s heart, they drag us into some other crazy – by
the way, couldn`t even come up with a white bronco chase, and a red bronco.

RUBIN: You know, there`s a legal expression, (INAUDIBLE). The thing
speaks for itself. I have nothing to add to that performance.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of FOX taking on your truth?

SCHMIDT: I`m going to decline to comment.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, I think it`s one of those big stories. I do think
there is simplicity in life. It`s always simple in the end politics. It
is not – it`s called self-interest. Trump wants to save himself. He
didn`t understand the law probably. He thought probably the Logan Act was
more effective than it has been over the years. He may have thought it was
actually going to be enforced against him and all of a sudden he got scared
and all of the sudden the obstruction started.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Schmidt. You are unbelievable. You are Bob
Woodward and Bernstein, the combined. Paul Butler and Jennifer Ruben,
thank you for joining us.

Coming up, we are going to take a closer look back at last June and what
was going on when Trump learned that firing and ordered the firing of
special counsel Robert Mueller. Sorry, Sean. That`s ahead.

Plus Trump`s scarecrow in the field. Congressman Devin Nunes, that`s what
I`m calling him, a scarecrow, is supposed to be leading the investigation
into the Russian meddling right, instead trying to chase attention away
from Trump`s Russia connections. That`s what they always does.

And Jeb Bush is sounding the alarm about 2018. He says Trump`s character
will drag the Republicans down in the midterm elections this November.

And with the news that Trump ordered the firing of the special counsel last
June, the party`s chances aren`t likely to improve. I don`t think so.

Finally, let me finish tonight with the Democrats` attempt to recapture
their gloried past by picking Bobby Kennedy`s grandson to give the
democratic state of the union. Three cheers for that.

This is “Hardball” where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, one big question is the Russia investigation moves closer
to the President is what will Republicans do if special counsel Mueller
refers impeachable offenses to the department of justice and the Congress.

In an interview on CNBC, President Trump talked about unity among
Republicans. Let`s listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Paul Ryan called meet other day. He said I have to tell you, Mr.
President. I have been here for a long time and I have been part of the
Republican Party. And I have been watching it for a long time. For many
decades I have never seen the Republican Party unified like it is under
your presidency. And that was Paul Ryan. And I thought that was a very
nice statement. Very nice statement. And I think Mitch McConnell actually
feels the same way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow. We`ll be right back with a deeper look at what was
happening last June when Trump ordered the White House counsel to fire
Robert Mueller.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to “Hardball.”

President Trump`s order to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last June
which was not ultimately carried out coincided with the first reports that
the Mueller probe was looking into whether the President had obstructed
justice. So they are connected. This all began when Trump abruptly fired
former FBI director James Comey on May 9th of last year, that`s May of last
year when he fired Comey. A move that led to the appointment of Robert
Mueller on May 17th. So all that happened in May.

It wasn`t long, however, before the AP, “the Associated Press” reported in
early June that Mueller quote “may expand his inquiry to investigate the
roles of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general in the firing
of FBI director James Comey.”

Then, in his testimony on June 8, Comey himself bolstered the case for an
obstruction inquiry when he said, among other things, that he believed he
was fired because of the Russian investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: It`s my judgment that I was fired
because of the Russia investigation. I was fired in some way to change –
or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being
conducted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the first indication that President Trump might attempt to
fire Mueller came four days later, when the president`s friend and CEO of
the conservative media site Newsmax said this on PBS:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, PBS: Is President Trump prepared to let the special counsel
pursue his investigation?

CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX: Well, I think he`s considering perhaps
terminating the special counsel. I think he`s weighing that option.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was clinical. He`s weighing the option of
terminating the special counsel.

Then came a major turning point in the probe on June 14. “The Washington
Post” revealed that the special counsel was in fact investigating the
president for possible obstruction of justice.

The president himself even acknowledged that development, tweeting the next
day that: “I am being investigated for firing the FBI director. Witch-
hunt.”

It was around this time, according to “The New York Times,” that the
president began to argue for Mueller`s firing.

Joining me right now is Julia Ainsley, who is of course investigative
reporter for NBC News, and Jonathan Swan is national political reporter
with Axios.

So, put the context together, so we try to all recall last June the
developments. They moved quickly, firing of Comey, going after Mueller,
ordering the firing of Mueller. It all seems – as I have been arguing
throughout the show so far, it is logical. You`re looking at a guy making
steps, using his office to protect himself from prosecution.

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Right.

He thought and he still kind of thinks that there is an insurgency against
him that is coming from the Justice Department and from the FBI. And as
that pressure was heating last June, Chris, he wanted to see what he could
do about it, and he wanted to fire Mueller.

And I think what is also important is to flash-forward one month from
there, where he wanted to fire Jeff Sessions, because he realized he
couldn`t do this. So, he wanted to fire the man who recused himself and
allowed Mueller to…

MATTHEWS: These are urges. This is like, in a dictatorship, when you –
Stalin or somebody – I don`t want to say he`s Stalin – is purging and
killing people.

By the way, let me ask you this, Jonathan, because you try to follow it,
and back to you on this.

Either there`s a deep state, a deep, amorphous, India-like, complicated,
many, many people involved, all kinds of cultural stuff going on, or
there`s one guy out to get you. And if this deep cultural, deep state
thing they believe in, where all these bureaucrats spend decades getting
Republicans, why bother knocking off the top guy?

It`s one or the other? Either you got one person who had a vendetta
against you, Mueller, or you have got this amorphous mass of bureaucratic
people all out to get you. Which does he believe?

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: Well, Trump always personalizes everything. He
always goes after the person.

But he had many conversations with people like Steve Bannon when he was in
the White House about this very issue, exactly the point that you
mentioned, because Steve Bannon would say to him things like, OK, so you
fire Mueller. What happens next? Or you fire Rod Rosenstein. Who
replaces him? Rachel Brand. OK, you fire her and then what happens?

You keep going down the list. And what Steve Bannon would say to Trump,
according to Steve Bannon, is that you can fire the head of the FBI, but
you can`t fire the institution.

So you have these institutions, and Washington is a city of institutions.

MATTHEWS: But why did he fire Mueller, against the advice of Mueller –
advice of Bannon?

SWAN: Well, he didn`t fire Mueller, obviously.

MATTHEWS: He ordered it.

SWAN: He wanted to.

MATTHEWS: He ordered it, according to “The New York Times.”

SWAN: I still don`t think we know why he didn`t.

And, obviously, the reason being posited is that McGahn threatened to
resign. I think the reason he hasn`t to date is largely because of Ty
Cobb, who came in and has been a restraining influence on the president,
does have a long-term…

MATTHEWS: The guy with the handlebar mustache.

SWAN: Big curly mustache, long-term relationship with Mueller, and really
tried to turn Trump…

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What do you make of this? Is it the deep state, this farrago,
this frightening Sargasso Sea of power and trouble beneath the surface, or
has he got a personal enemy in Bob Mueller?

AINSLEY: I think he`s been wanting to go after that sea that you talk
about.

That`s why he gets focused on things like the wiretapping of Trump Tower
and the unmasking and all of these things that he picks up on. And it just
builds into these crazy tweets.

But that`s exactly why they brought in Ty Cobb. They needed someone who is
a lawyer within the White House who could handle this specifically.

MATTHEWS: OK.

A look at the president`s Twitter feed last June – we`re talking about
what happened last June, when he did order the firing, makes it very clear
that the Russian probe was on his mind at the time he attempted to fire
Mueller.

Among his tweets, the president said – quote – “They made up a phony
collusion with the Russian story, found zero proof, so now they go for
obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice.”

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I love the way he talks. He talks like he thinks like he`s a
tweeter. He thinks in tweets.

SWAN: The irony is like, you know, you have a contemporaneous view into
his brain. It`s like when they bring him in for questioning, he goes, oh,
no, I wasn`t thinking about this. Actually, yes, you tweeted about it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is he going to talk like that when he`s under oath? Nice.

AINSLEY: Sad.

MATTHEWS: Sad.

AINSLEY: Exclamation point.

MATTHEWS: I mean, it`s strange.

But, anyway, Trump`s lawyer said to “USA Today” misleading statement in
August. He put out the word afterwards, I never was doing this. How do we
put that together? It was a lie.

AINSLEY: That`s right. John Dowd, who came in right around the time, he
started speaking more for the Trump legal team, because Jay Sekulow had
been thought to really be doing a botched job of that.

So, John Dowd comes in. He makes this very categorical statement, more so
than Trump or any of the other White House representatives ever did, by
saying that he never considered firing Bob Mueller.

So, now you go back and you look at everything and you say, what can we
believe and then also was this held so closely that Dowd didn`t even know?
Are there people in this White House who don`t even know the things that
run through the consideration in the president`s head?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Who tells Huckabee Sanders to say it didn`t happen? Does Trump
just – do they just assume that`s what the message is?

SWAN: Well, here`s the thing. Look…

MATTHEWS: He did order the firing.

SWAN: “The New York Times,” like any responsible media outlet, gives
advance notice: We are going to write this story.

And if this really was categorically untrue, where are the White House
denials in the original story? Where is the vehement denial from Don
McGahn that this ever happened? Where are the on-the-record statements?
They don`t exist.

MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile, “The Wall Street Journal” is reporting tonight,
for what it`s worth, that Trump`s legal team is studying a 1990s era court
ruling in an effort to delay, limit, or avoid a possible interview and
questioning between the president and the special counsel.

If they can avoid – this is again against crosscurrents of truth or lying.
The president said, yes, I will take it under oath. I will answer all the
questions under oath.

And then they start looking for some precedent to protect him from having
to answer any questions.

AINSLEY: Well, what is crazy, Chris, is we keep saying, of course the
president has to talk, because no president would see it to be politically
feasible to plead the Fifth or to pull out this `90s-era precedent.

But Trump has already been able to go against things that were just sort of
political tradition and he does it every day. And he`s still there. He`s
still the man in the White House.

MATTHEWS: He said, by the way, I can shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue.

Is that true, Jonathan, metaphorically? Can he get away with anything with
his 39 percent?

SWAN: Oh, for 35 percent, sure. Look at all the things he`s gotten away
with so far. What else do you want, Chris? What do you want?

MATTHEWS: All this bad publicity last week with Stormy, and it`s all a
mulligan, and the whole thing is…

AINSLEY: That wasn`t even the most important story.

(CROSSTALK)

SWAN: Five-star family. I mean, where do you want to go with this?

MATTHEWS: It`s unlimited power.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What`s his plan?

Because you`re – the gleam in your eye. Here`s what I think he plans to
do. Run for reelection with about 39 percent, destroy his opponent
personally, give him nicknames or give her nicknames, destroy her, dump all
over the person as a person, and hoping he can get back up to mid-40s.

SWAN: I think he`s going to – I have always thought he`s going to run for
reelection.

And the only data point – people keep speculating that he won`t. The only
data point is before he dispatched one of his ambassadors, Trump said I
want you back in 2019 to help me with the reelect. So, he`s thinking about
it.

MATTHEWS: He`s planning ahead. I agree.

Thank you, Julia Ainsley.

Are you on this? Do you want to make a bet he`s back again next time,
2020?

AINSLEY: This is why I like covering the Justice Department, not politics.

MATTHEWS: OK. All right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You`re entitled to take a pass.

Julia Ainsley, great reporter. Jonathan Swan, great stuff coming from him.

Up next, as we learn more about Trump ordering the firing of Robert Mueller
last June, the Republicans, led by this guy – you want a friend like this
guy Devin Nunes. This guy is the scarecrow. He will defend anything.
He`s out there – he`s firing up the fog machine.

And this time – actually, he got caught. Nobody believes what he`s
putting out.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

David – well, Devin Nunes has never really recused himself from the House
Intelligence Committee investigation into Russia`s role in the 2016
election. He`s the chairman of the committee.

Still sitting atop one of the House`s most powerful committees, Nunes from
California continues to use his position to serve Donald Trump`s personal
interests.

While President Trump has not yet fired Mr. Mueller, it does seem like
Congressman Nunes is intent on doing the president`s work for him. This
time, Nunes and his Republican cohort are touting a shocking new memo which
they wrote that allegedly outlines how the government abused secret
surveillance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are four pages of a memorandum prepared by the
Intelligence Committee that will shock the conscience of this country when
it comes to the horrific abuses that occurred during the last
administration and that I believe continue to pose a threat to Donald
Trump`s presidency.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: When the people of America see the four
pages and then the additional documents, what they`re going to see is we
have a problem in the FISA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s hard for me to imagine anyone reading this memo
and just shrugging their shoulders and say, oh, it`s no big deal. I assure
you that most people will not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Revenge of the nerds here.

It`s become a pattern of sorts for Congressman Nunes, who seems to believe
that, if at first you don`t succeed, try again. Last spring, he accused
the Obama administration of unmasking Trump associates who had been picked
up by surveillance. The information was given to the congressman by the
White House, and he got it at the White House. Then he ran back to the
White House the next day to say, guess what I found?

He found it at the White House. A total joke.

According to NBC News, a review of the surveillance material flagged by
Nunes shows no inappropriate action. That`s not all he`s doing.

As head of the committee, he`s also launched two new probes, one into the
Uranium One deal and the second into Hillary Clinton, of course, private e-
mail server.

For more, I`m joined by David Corn, Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones
and an MSNBC contributor.

Thank you so much, David.

And I just want to give you some time here. I`m going to get out of your
way. I want you to explain how the scarecrow operates. All he seems to
want to do is scare away the press, the media from the people, the people
in the center-right. There`s no hope on the right, far right.

Don`t pay any attention to this investigation of the Russian involvement by
the president or the Russian involvement in our campaigns for president.
Don`t pay any attention. Don`t think about these other weird things we got
to you talk about.

That seems to be what he`s up to.

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It`s deflect and distract again and
again and again.

And I`m not saying that there`s – that there may not be a problem with
surveillance. It could well be that an application put in for a super
secret warrant was put in inappropriately.

But the question you have to ask yourself, Chris, is, is that a bigger deal
than Putin and Russia undermining our own election? I hear none of these
guys getting upset about that, because that does taint the president and
that raises problems for them.


So, instead, it`s unmasking, it`s the leak of classified administration.
They go up against – oh, you`re the FBI, sinister, dark force, deep state.
They were conspiring with the Clinton campaign, even though they released
that information right before the election. But they were still conspiring
with the Clinton campaign to get Donald Trump from the get-go.

They just throw one thing after the other. It`s like spaghetti against the
wall. Don`t look at what`s really happening. It`s a guy – it`s a guy
juggling monkeys. That`s what it is.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Look, you`re pretty clear on there. Let`s go through the
history.

We spent forever talking about something called Whitewater with the
Clintons that ended up being nothing. We ended up going – having how many
hours of hearings on Benghazi, on the so-called e-mails? End and end –
they had all the resources of the U.S. Congress to investigate that. They
come up with nothing.

So, now they`re trying to find something else to focus on that will come up
with nothing, because they`re afraid this thing about the president will
come up with something.

I think that`s what they`re afraid of, not that it`s a waste of time, but,
at the end of it, Bob Mueller is going to get his prey. He`s going to go
what he`s looking for. He`s going to find obstruction. He`s going to find
collusion. He`s going to find possibly money laundering. And they`re
scared to death of that, because that will bring down this administration.

CORN: But whether he does or doesn`t, on the way there, Congress does have
responsibilities of its own. There are two congressional investigations,
actually more than two, and yet they`re not paying any attention to that.

MATTHEWS: You`re so tutorial about this.

But you know what this Nunes did.

CORN: I know.

MATTHEWS: He went down to the Old Executive Office Building and got some
dirt.

CORN: Of course. Of course. Yes.

MATTHEWS: And came back the next morning to the West Wing of the White
House, and delivered what he got from his own people.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: When the intelligence community last year put out its final
assessment of the Russian operation, it said one of its goals was to sow
chaos and discord in America.

What is Nunes and the others doing? They are trying to do exactly the same
thing, make it confused and chaotic, so people don`t know what to think.
They are actually, in a way, whether they believe it or not, in league with
Vladimir Putin to confuse us about what to look at.

Don`t look at this. Don`t look at that. Look at the guy juggling monkeys
over there. Look at me. I`m juggling monkeys. It`s turning into a
circus.

MATTHEWS: But so many of these Republicans in the Congress are all doing
their parts in the circus.

CORN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Is somebody – is there a ringmaster? Who says, you,Nunes, you
do this, you over here do this, you do this? You, Darrell Issa, do this.

All these guys seemed to have their assigned roles. Who is doing the
assignment?

CORN: I don`t know if there`s a central brain in the middle of all this.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: I think they`re all trying different things. Jim Jordan has been
out there, another congressman, talking about the FBI being this deep state
conspiracy.

Nunes is focusing on the four…

MATTHEWS: Mark Meadows.

CORN: On a four-page memo, Chris. It has four pages. We know what that
means. And so – but they`re all like throwing…

MATTHEWS: What does it mean?

CORN: It means that there`s four pages.

MATTHEWS: No, that`s McCarthy stuff.

I have here in this hand. No, I have here in this hand.

CORN: Single-spaced or double-spaced, I want to know.

MATTHEWS: I have here in my hand these…

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: David Corn, your clarity has been very helpful.

Up next: The news that Trump ordered the firing of Robert Mueller
underscores a big problem for Republicans. They have got a midterm
election coming up in November, 10 months from now, and Trump`s character
could drag them all down. That`s the warning we all read today in “USA
Today” from Jeb Bush.

We are going to get to that from the Roundtable.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The news that President Trump ordered the firing of special counsel Robert
Mueller back in June of last year creates yet another headache for
Republicans looking to fend off a blue wave, if you will, coming this
November, in the midterms.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is now sounding an alarm across the
country, warning Republicans they`re in for a beating if they can`t
distance themself from the person of this president. In an interview with
“USA Today,” Governor Bush lambasted Trump`s erratic leadership style,
obsession with Twitter, and what he calls racist comments, telling the
newspaper, quote, the character of the guy and the turnover and the
fighting and just the constant chaos around his presidency that is self-
inflicted has made it hard for him. Well, I want the president to succeed.
I don`t think he will succeed if he copies on this path.

Bush went on to add if the election is nationalized and it`s not about the
economy, then we`ll lose.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable tonight. Pete Buttigieg is the
Democratic mayor of South Bend, Indiana. George F. Will, of course, is a
national columnist with the “Washington Post”. And Sabrina Siddiqui is
political reporter for “The Guardian”.

I want you all – I`ll start with George because you know Jeb well. What
do you think he hopes to accomplish with this rather strong shot across the
bow?

GEORGE F. WILL, NATIONAL COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST : I`m not sure had
he an agenda. Someone asked him questions. He agreed to an interview.
But the persona that he says is dangerous, the presidential persona, is the
same one he had in 2016 and he won the election.

A lot of people voted for him not in spite of but because of the persona.
So I think that that won`t itself be crippling. You work for the man who
obviously stayed all politics is local. Not necessarily. If the economy`s
doing well, if the country`s at peace, if people are inured to the behavior
of the president by then, if it`s become both spectacular and boring at the
same time, which it might have been, wouldn`t worry about.

Remember, Chris, a week ago people in this town were saying gosh, will a
two-day shutdown in January have a big ripple effect in November? Over the
weekend in January.

MATTHEWS: OK. It`s the old (INAUDIBLE) Don`t go by these current polls.

WILL: Yes.

MATTHEWS: It seems to me there`s three rings in the circus. There`s the
economy which is looking good. There`s the personality of this president
which is erratic and dangerous and then there is the investigation by
Robert Mueller, all three of them are going to matter over the next couple
of years.

Mayor, what`s going to matter between now and November? Which of the three
rings will be the most? The personality, the economy, or this
investigation?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), SOUTH BEND, INDIANA: I think the economy but not
in the sense of the top line numbers. Look at 2016. We had a so-called
economic –

MATTHEWS: You have a broadcaster`s voice, do you know that?.

BUTTIEGIEG: Thanks.

MATTHEWS: That`s a good thing to have.

BUTTIEGIEG: I`m going to stick to my day job if they let me.

But, you know, we had an economic anxiety election allegedly under
conditions of full employment. It`s about things that are a lot deeper
than just the top line economic numbers and those same things that are
roiling under the surface in 2016 are roiling under the surface in 2018 at
least where I come from in the Industrial Midwest.

MATTHEWS: So, the manufacturing guys are still worried.

BUTTIGIEG: Of course. Yes, how could you not be.

MATTHEWS: Sabrina?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, look, I think
that ultimately, when you`re looking at Republicans` prospects in 2018, the
calculation they`re making it one that they need this president`s signature
in order to enact their agenda and in order to have something to run on.
So, a tax reform, they didn`t want to be on the wrong side of the president
because that is the single legislative accomplishment that they have one
year into his presidency.

And then there`s also the fact that the Republican base is still
overwhelming behind this president. Now, that`s a short-term gain, of
course, where they`re hoping to boost turnout in November. The long-term
ramification that I think what Jeb Bush was speaking to you will not expand
your electorate to include people of color, single women and a lot of the
groups that have felt alienated by this party because of a lot of
incendiary rhetoric we`ve heard from this president.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think we`re getting a big turnout of women running for office
this year. Do you expect a big turnout by women at the polls this
November? A big turnout?

SIDDIQUI: I think there`s certainly some indication if you look at some of
the results in Alabama, it`s a special election, you don`t want to take
away too many implications. But there`s a left base now activated and a
lot of women tend to lean Democratic. But then there`s also I think men of
color who obviously made a difference in a lot of elections. And so,
that`s a very interesting line you`re going to probably see play a very
important role.

MATTHEWS: This is the oldest argument. I did work in politics for years.
I`ve always argued that you need an opposition message. It`s not good
enough to just bet against the bank or bet against city hall. Do the
Democrats have a message, do they need one for `18?

WILL: Remember what the Israeli diplomat thought about the Palestinians,
they never miss an opportunity for missing an opportunity. And the
Democrats I think are laying the groundwork to lose another election.

MATTHEWS: You think they could lose the House again?

WILL: Yes, I think they could. I`m not saying they will, but yes, if they
go into this election and they talk only about immigration and say a
single-payer plan becomes sort of a litmus test, then if they run on the
slogan if you like your health care plan, you certainly can`t keep it, I`m
not sure that`s a winner.

MATTHEWS: Mayor, what do you think about the people at the local level?
Will they get out this time, the Democrats?

BUTTIGIEG: I think so. Yes. I think, you know, Most Democrats are very
motivated, especially with this –

MATTHEWS: Is Donnelly going to get re-elected out there?

BUTTIGIEG: I think so. Yes. He`s got an amazing combination, discipline,
timing and luck. It was one thing we were talking about how he would
survive Hillary`s midterm. It`s another thing altogether right now. But I
agree, it`s certainly within our powers as a party to blow this opportunity
if we don`t focus on what`s –

MATTHEWS: I tell you one change. The suburban women are going to vote
against Trump this time. They`re going to go completely against him. I
really think that will be different and a lot of men in the burbs.

The roundtable is sticking with us. Up next, we`re going to get three big
scoops. We talk about all weekend perhaps.

You`re watching HARDBALL. That`s a long time, as George points out. And
HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, a few minutes ago, president Trump arrived back at the
White House. He talked Davos, of course, but not Mueller. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(INAUDIBLE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: Davos was really great. Our
country`s doing great. A lot of money is coming into our country. We have
many, many people from Davos bringing their money over here. I think it
was a very, very successful trip. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s our president. We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Mayor Pete, tell me something I don`t know, from South Bend, Indiana.

BUTTIGIEG: The reason I`m in D.C. is we had the U.S. Conference of Mayors
kicked off a new task force in automation. For the last three days, I`ve
been with elected officials from both parties from around the country. The
word Russia was not uttered once.

MATTHEWS: Automation was.

BUTTIGIEG: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Are we going to be replaced? Can mayors be replaced?

BUTTIGIEG: I like to think they can`t automate the job of mayor. If
there`s a way, somebody will find it.

MATTHEWS: George Will.

WILL: You probably know that pitchers and catchers report in 19 days and
you probably know that Rutherford B. Hayes was the first president to have
a telephone. You may not know that what`s coming from Mr. Trump will be
tariffs on steel in the name of national security and the WTO will probably
knock that down and we`ll be that much closer to a trade war.

MATTHEWS: Wow, that will help in a couple places.

Sabrina?

SIDDIQUI: A poll commissioned by a major Democratic political group found
that in battleground states, even the most red leaning areas Republican be
voters hold Republicans in Congress as low esteem as they do Democrats,
which is troubling for a Republican turnout in November. It also means
you`re going to get a lot more candidates like Roy Moore, some of these
fringe candidates who`ve been more on the mainstream.

MATTHEWS: Well, nobody likes anybody.

Anyway, thank you, Mayor Buttigieg, from South Bend. A wonderful place.
And thank you, George F. Will. And thank you, Sabrina Siddiqui.

When we return, let me finish tonight with the Democrats pick to give their
response to the State of the Union. They picked Joe Kennedy. They`re
going back to the basics.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a big news out from the Democratic
leadership in Congress.

Its selection of Robert Kennedy`s grandson for the party`s State of the
Union response shows the Democrats are wanting to touch base with their
gloried past. Picking Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III is a reach
to recapture the wide progressive unity that brought excitement and power
and magic, of course, to the new frontier politics of the 1960s, and
invoking the name and the blood of the Kennedy family itself, the
Democratic leaders of the House and Senate are exhuming the scenes along
the railroad tracks in June of 1968 when Robert Kennedy was carried to
Arlington Cemetery. No one still alive forgets the faces of African-
Americans singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” on the platform of
Baltimore`s union station or the poor white families along the route their
hands raised in affectionate salute.

Bobby Kennedy personified that Democratic unity more than any leader has
since and explained why his grandson has been chosen to raise again the old
banner as the two parties did in announcing that young Kennedy from
Massachusetts for good paying manufacturing jobs and for expanding
opportunities known for that and calling the young lawmaker a relentless
fighter for working Americans. It`s a return of the tribute his
grandfather paid Democrats back at the `64 convention.

Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT KENNEDY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: No matter what talent an individual
possesses, what energy he might have, no matter how much integrity and
honesty he might have, if he is by himself and particularly a political
figure, he can accomplish very little. But if he is sustained as President
Kennedy was by the Democratic Party all over the United States dedicated to
the same things that he was attempting to accomplish, you can accomplish a
great deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Robert Kennedy believes in that coalition, campaigning in the
`68 Indiana presidential primary, he rode in a controvertible through Gary,
Indiana, seated between Richard Hatcher, the city`s first African-American
mayor and Tony Zale, the former middleweight champion. He wanted his
message to be both stark and personal. Quote, I proved I can really be a
leader of a broad spectrum, I can be a bridge between blacks and whites
without stepping back from my positions.

What made Robert Kennedy so unique as the grate progressive columnist Jack
Newfield once wrote, was that he felt the same empathy for white working
men and women that he felt for blacks, Latinos and Native Americans. He
thought of cops, waitresses, construction workers and firefighters, all as
his people.

Bobby Kennedy was the kind of leader we like today. By picking his
impressive grandson to speak this coming Tuesday night, the Democrats are
saying what they see coming in their future. And starting this Tuesday
night, the Democrats hope to win back Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
They could be going back to their basics to do it. They`re out to match
the brand name Trump with one that`s proven itself over the decades,
Kennedy.

“Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit”, ten weeks on the “New York Times”
bestseller list. You can get a copy this week on Amazon, Barnes & Noble,
or your local bookstores. Please do so.

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

“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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