Nunes alleges “surveillance abuses” at FBI Transcript 1/31/18 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests:
Michelle Goldberg, Eugene Scott, Maria Teresa Kumar, Matt Schlapp, Richard Trumka
Transcript:

Show: HARDBALL
Date: January 31, 2018
Guest: Michelle Goldberg, Eugene Scott, Maria Teresa Kumar, Matt Schlapp,
Richard Trumka

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: Either way, I thank you for watching. I
hope to see you tomorrow night. As for “Hardball” it, starts right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: All the President`s men? Let`s play
“Hardball.”

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Baltimore.

As the special counsel`s case against the President for obstruction of
justice grows stronger by the day, President Trump is attempting to beat
the rap before it`s too late. He and his Republican allies are preparing a
frontal assault on this country`s law enforcement institutions. The motive
is to taint the government`s investigation and there by undermine its
administration of justice.

The Trump attack hinges on a memo that Trump`s Republican minions on the
House intelligence committee voted to release on Monday. Drafted by
staffers working for the chairman of that committee, Trump supporter Devin
Nunes, it moves that a Trump associate was wrongly surveilled by the
justice department and the FBI.

But Republicans have a bigger goal in mind here. They say it shows
corruption in the FBI that is worse than Watergate. Proving that special
counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation is based on a fraud. Well, with
reports indicating the President could use this document as a pretext to
fire deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein who obviously oversees the
special counsel`s probe, a top Democrat says its release could spark a
constitutional crisis.

Well, now in an unprecedented move, the FBI is going public with their
objections. And is challenging the very content of the memo itself.
Today, they released a statement saying we have grave concerns about
material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo`s accuracy.

At 5:00 p.m. yesterday, the White House said that there are no current
plans to release the memo. However, following his state of the union
address just a few hours later, the President was caught on a how the
microphone reassuring a Republican lawmaker he had every intention of
releasing that memo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JEFF DUNCAN, (R-SC), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Let`s release the memo.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, don`t worry. 100
percent. Can you imagine?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Hundred percent.

Well, this morning the President`s top aide, chief of staff John Kelly
further suggested that its release is a foregone conclusion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: As far as the memo goes, the memo
came over. We have got our folks in the our national security lawyers in
the White House that work for me work for the President. They`re slicing
and dicing it, looking at it so we know what it means and what it
understands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see it.

KELLY: I did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you think?

KELLY: It will be released here pretty quick I think. The whole world can
see it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: According to “Washington Post,” that memo could be used as a
pretext to fire Rod Rosenstein, a move that could pave the way to remove
Robert Mueller, as well.

Well, CNN is further reporting tonight that during a White House meeting
with Rosenstein in December, President Trump wanted to know where the
special counsel`s Russia investigation was heading. And he also wanted to
know whether Rosenstein was on my team. That was the question. That`s
according to sources familiar with the meeting. Well, as we know, this
Republican-led assault on the FBI and justice department comes as the
President is under criminal investigation by those very institutions for
possible obstruction of justice.

Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House
intelligence committee, today warned that the Nunes memo could provoke a
constitutional crisis if it`s used by the President to further interfere
the ongoing federal investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The goal
is to put out a document that will set a narrative that helps the President
and that narrative is the FBI is corrupt. What they are doing is corrupt.
The whole investigation is corrupt. Mueller is corrupt. You should bring
an end to this investigation. And that is I think singly destructive and
encourages the White House to engage in conduct that could bring about a
constitutional crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joining me right now is Julia Ainsley, investigative reporter
with NBC News. Susan page, Washington bureau chief for “USA Today” and
Mieke Eoyang is a former staffer on the House intelligence committee
itself.

In that order, let`s talk about what the Republicans are up to. What is
chairman Nunes up to, Julia, here? Is he trying to destroy the prosecution
against the President?

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: It was clear he is
breaking precedent. I mean, we have seen in the past that these committees
may have oversight authority but they don`t have whistleblower authority.
And so at had point, he is trying to undermine the investigation by showing
just pieces of what led to the FISA application.

MATTHEWS: Why is he doing this?

AINSLEY: Because, Chris, he wants to show that what led to this FISA
application was just pieces that came from the dossier which has already
been undermined by Republicans because they think that Democrats were the
so source of funding for this. So they want to show that this entire
investigation hinges on un-credible material. And unfortunately, what we
have heard is that Nunes and possibly other members of Congress have been
talking to the White House as they have drafted this memo which further
raises questions about its accuracy and its bias.

MATTHEWS: Mieke, here`s the question. He is chairman of the intelligence
committee, Devin Nunes. His job, it seems to me, is to get to the bottom
of what went on with regard to the Russians in the 2016 Presidential
election and what role politicians may have played in this country
especially the President in playing along with the Russians and help them
help themselves to change the course of that election. So my question is,
what is Nunes up to? It seems like he is not trying to pursue the truth.

MIEKE EOYANG, A FORMER STAFFER ON THE HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: No, he
is not. At this point, he is just trying to protect the President, not the
office of the President but the individual person. And he is willing to
sully the reputation of the department of justice and the FBI to do that.
And his process for doing that is by cherry picking pieces of information
to make this can misleading claim that the FBI was somehow relying on this
one piece of evidence.

When you look at a FISA application, though, the FBI has to rely on all
kinds of pieces of evidence and have to verify the accuracy of them before
a judge who independently determines whether or not they are OK. So Nunes,
his piecemeal approach is really misleading.

MATTHEWS: It seems to me that I don`t know the guy that well. I`m not
impressed with him. I get the feeling he`s getting advice, supervision,
direction from the White House. What`s your sense? That he didn`t come up
with this different – he was talking about something down at the White
House. He grabbed some material last year, March last year. He went down
to the old executive office building and he grabbed some material and then
the next day he took it to the White House and made it look like he was
whistle blowing again. He has been going all over the place for the
President. Is he coming up with these little scams or who is coming up
with these escapades? He or somebody at the White House. Looks like he is
being directed.

EOYANG: Yes. I have never known Devin Nunes to be that kind of a schemer
where he will be doing these things on his own. Remember, he was on team
Trump since during the campaign. And he ran transition on national
security for the Trump administration. Displacing his predecessors, Mike
Rogers, who had been a career FBI officer before becoming a member of
Congress.

So Nunes doesn`t really understand the FBI or law enforcement. He doesn`t
necessarily understand the intelligence business. I`m not convinced that
he would choose this route if he were doing it on his own.

MATTHEWS: Well, the President`s apparent decision comes despite repeated
objections from the FBI and the justice department. NBC News has confirmed
that the “Washington Post” report that the FBI director Christopher Wray
and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein met with administration
officials at the White House this past Monday, two days ago, to plead the
case against releasing this memo.

According to a source with direct knowledge of that meeting, Rosenstein
said that the justice department wouldn`t be able to correct a memo`s
inaccuracies without disclosing sources and methods.

And Bloomberg reports that Wray said, the FBI director said that the memo
contains inaccurate information and paints a false narrative that according
to a person familiar with the matter, those warnings, however, appear to
have fallen on deaf ears.

Let me go back to Susan Page on this.

Susan, what is going on here? It`s getting almost like the old McCarthy
hearings. You have got one side prosecuting the administration. That`s
led by, of course, Bob Mueller. He is prosecuting at President. He is
investigating, looking for whether he did something with money laundering
or collusion or obstruction. We know all that.

What is the other side, the counter effort here being run by Nunes
apparently with the supervision of the White House? What`s that about?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: You know, there is this
very peculiar thing that`s happened with this. And it`s something I have
never seen before in Washington which is the justice department and the FBI
which are after all part of the Trump administration are at odds with the
White House over a matter of great importance to them. And we have got the
White House in a coalition or working with collaborating with the House
intelligence committee. And it looks like the White House is going to come
down on the side of President Trump`s interests on the side with what the
House intelligence committee wants to do, not on the side of what their own
justice department and FBI want to do.

And the interesting thing about the FBI pushback is they are not only
saying that this would compromise sources of intelligence and be damaging
in that way, they are saying this report is inaccurate. Will leave a
misimpression. It will be a lie to the American people. So this is really
something I think that is quite extraordinary. I don`t know if it`s
unprecedented. That`s dangerous to say. But it`s something I have never
seen before.

MATTHEWS: Well, in response to objections from the FBI and justice
department, chairman Nunes released a statement attacking both
institutions.

Quote “it`s no surprise to see the FBI and DOJ issue spurious objections to
allowing the American people to see information related to surveillance
abuses at these agencies. It`s clear that top officials used unverified
information in a court document to fuel a counter intelligence
investigation during an American political campaign.”

Wow. Let me go back to Julia on this. It seems to me not everything
matches history, but this use of a document, this making a big deal about
this memo is very much McCarthy tactic. I have in my hand a list here, I
have got a document. This use of a document to make it sound like they
know anything more than the argument they have made. They simply have a
bunch of staff people where tasked with coming out to attack the whole
Mueller investigation and they did so in four pages. And now it`s called a
memo, a document, like it is the declaration of independence or something.

The press is going along with it. Everybody in the press is talking about
the memo. It looks to me like theater to me. Your thoughts.

AINSLEY: Right, just because you put it on paper doesn`t make it
authoritative, it doesn`t male it accurate and doesn`t make it right to
release. We have seen that #release the memo just exploding across twitter
over social media. Ans it is something that a lot of people have gotten
behind because anyone who doesn`t want to think negatively about this
President or who obviously doesn`t think that this investigation holds any
water, they want to believe that this memo is the truth. That not
releasing it somehow holds back a truth. When in fact the FBI is saying
that its release will actually give out inaccurate information to the
public, that the FBI and justice department are not in a position where
they will be able to act after the fact. They can`t then sit there and
say, well, this is correct and this is not because then they are in the
same position that they think Nunes is in now where they would be releasing
classified information.

So they are really caught in the middle of this and really the only action
they could take is that statement that we saw today, Chris, where they are
able to warn everyone before it comes out, but afterwards, they are really
just sitting on their hands.

MATTHEWS: Mieke, back in Watergate days there was a lot of pride in the
Republican Party and that pride is surrounded any loyalty to Richard Nixon,
the President. And those people like Howard Baker and the rest of them,
they were trying to figure out what did the President know and when did he
know it. They are just involved in getting the taping system out as anyone
else. They were trying to find the truth. They weren`t taking orders from
the White House.

There is a real, it seems to me, that the division of powers in our country
and the checks and balances are not being honored here. Why is the
chairman of an intelligence committee which is supposed to be bipartisan by
its nature working for the White House?

EOYANG: It`s unclear what his motivation is and why he decided to get on
the Trump train. But it`s very clear they are putting their partisanship
over the national security interests. In fact, every single Republican on
the party according to the transcript released today voted against hearing
from the FBI about their national security concerns on this memo. And it`s
cherry picked information before they released it.

Now let`s remember 15 years ago, we went to war in Iraq because a White
House cherry picked intelligence. It highlighted the things they thought
it would make its case and they buried the things that were doubts. And we
took this nation in a disastrous war. And here again, we have career law
enforcement officials saying, hey, this is incomplete information. You are
not getting the whole story and it`s very misleading.

MATTHEWS: And Dick Cheney said things that weren`t true.

Anyway, the “Washington Post” also reported yesterday that House speaker
Paul Ryan actively backed congressman Nunes in his request for documents
from the justice department and the FBI. Ryan did so despite objections
from the FBI director Wray who was picked by the President and deputy
attorney general Rosenstein who earlier this month waged a last ditch
effort to avoid giving Republican lawmakers access to intelligence, they
considered so insensitive that it could not leave their control.

Anyway, yesterday, Ryan, the speaker also backed the release of the
documents but insists it has nothing do with the special counsel`s
investigation. It has nothing to do with Bob Mueller. Here we go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is a completely separate
matter from Bob Mueller`s investigation. And his investigation should be
allowed to take its course. There may have been malfeasance at the FBI by
certain individuals. So it is our job conducting transparent oversight of
the executive branch to get to the bottom of that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s been some reporting that the President wants to
fire deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. Do you think that would be a wise decision?

RYAN: I think Rod Rosenstein is doing a fine job. I have no reason to see
why he should do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Susan, remember George Zimmerman the stand your ground guy from
Florida who pulled a gun and killed somebody in self-defense. He said
because he said he had the right to fight anybody who approached hip. And
I get the president - that`s what the President hear and do. I know it`s a
crude reference but why is the President saying everything I`m doing here
in terms of obstruction of justice which would look like obstruction of
justice is just quote “depending myself”?
`
And here he is building it seems to me the case that the FBI and the rest
of them are all doing stuff that`s just going after themselves. They are
sort of jumping him. So he has a right to defend himself. It does seems
to me that`s the case he is making with supporters out there.

PAGE: Well, it`s certainly true that the President does not seem to
recognize the lines in terms of dealing with law enforcement agencies
including the justice department and FBI that previous Presidents have
recognized as being appropriate. He treats it as just another department
of the government of which he is in charge.

And I think these attacks that he`s been making that we have seen him and
his associates make on the FBI and the justice department are part of a
broader effort to raise questions about anyone who obviously would be
involved in bringing charges against him or a negative report about what he
has done. We have seen attacks on the news media on Mueller`s
investigation, on the FBI, on the justice department. I think it`s all an
effort to kind of lay the ground work to raise questions about whatever
damage and collusions they may or may not come up with.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s setting up a situation where if Bob Mueller comes
out with a authoritative report on obstruction of justice or a collusion
with the Russians during the campaign or something to do with laundering,
money laundering with the Russians and all three present – involve hard
evidence against the President, that the President will say this is just a
kangaroo court. I`m not going to obey it. I`m wondering whether the House
Judiciary Committee will the operate just like Nunes, the chairman of the
intelligence committee and do nothing and just let that prosecution do
nothing in terms of hurting this President.

Anyway. Thank you, Julia Ainsley. That`s a dangerous dynamo we might find
here. The conclusion of this whole thing. Susan Page, as always and Mieke
Eoyang, thank you.

Coming up, as if Trump`s war talk about North Korea last night wasn`t
frightening enough. We got word from the White House just before the
speech last night that President`s pick, his selects to be ambassador to
South Korea was yanked at the last minute. Ands now that pick, Victor Cha,
is sounding the alarm that the Trump administration strategy to give North
Korea a bloody nose will put huge numbers of Americans at risk over there.
That`s coming up next on this program.

Plus the “Hardball” roundtable and the new reporting that Trump wanted to
know whether the deputy attorney general was on his team. It`s another
example of Trump looking for total loyalty from everyone around him
especially prosecutors.

And Trump bragged about the economy and manufacturing in his speech last
night. But not everyone`s buying it. Richard Trumka, the president of
AFL-CIO joins us tonight to make the case that Trump has been bad for
working Americans.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. This is “Hardball” where
the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: An Amtrak train carrying dozens of Republican lawmakers collided
with a truck earlier today, killing at least one person. The House and
Senate Republicans were on route for their annual retreat in West Virginia
when their train hit the vehicle. No members of Congress were injured but
one of the people traveling inside that truck was killed. Another was
seriously injured.

Several lawmakers hopped off the train to help the victims. They included
Senator Jeff Flake and Congressman Brad Wenstrup both of whom rushed to
help the injured after a shooter opened fire at a Republican baseball
practice last June. They both did that, as well.

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea`s reckless
pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are
waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from ever happening.

Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite
aggression and provocation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Diplomacy seemed to be far from the president`s mind last night as he
warned about complacency and concessions.

In another ominous sign, “The Washington Post” reported that the White
House`s original choice for U.S. ambassador to South Korea is no longer
expected to be nominated after he privately expressed disagreement in late
December with the Trump administration`s North Korean policy. NBC has
confirmed that reporting.

Victor Cha served in the Bush White House and is considered a hawk on
Korea. He had been vetted for months by the White House. However, he
reportedly expressed opposition to the administration`s threat to carry out
a preventive military strike against North Korea.

In a “Washington Post” op-ed published last night, Cha wrote about the risk
to Americans living in Asia: “”To be clear, the president would be putting
at risk an American population the size of a medium-sized U.S. city, a
Pittsburgh, say, or a Cincinnati, on the assumption that a crazy and
undeterrable dictator will be rationally cowed by a demonstration of U.S.
kinetic power.”

For more, I`m joined by NBCNews.com contributor Howard Fineman and “New
York Times” columnist Michelle Goldberg.

Michelle, I want to start with you.

This idea that we would be able to get away psychologically by bloodying
the nose of the North Korean dictator and him just take it on the nose, and
not do anything about it, seems to be what Victor Cha does not find
credible.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: Right.

And what`s frightening is that Victor Cha seems alarmed about the Trump
administration`s intentions. I mean, some of what Trump said during the
State of the Union, he sounded like boilerplate. We`re going to be strong,
we`re going to a aggression with resolution, or whatever he said.

But the fact that all of this had unfolded right as the State – right
before the State of the Union, the fact that we learned that the nomination
wasn`t going forward, that Victor Cha felt like he had to come out with
this op-ed warning about the recklessness of a policy that he thinks the
administration might be pursuing or at least is taking seriously casts the
kind of hawkishness or the belligerence in the State of the Union into a
new light.

MATTHEWS: What do you think, Howard? Because I remember Cy Vance quit the
Carter team, the Carter administration because of the Desert One plan to go
into Iraq and get our who hostages back.

And I just wonder – or Iran, rather.

And I just wonder whether this is the same kind of shot across the bow by
this guy Victor Cha, saying, I`m not going to be part of something that
involves such a risk of a bloody nose strategy.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

Well, he went Cy Vance one better, and he quit before he started, because
he saw where this policy was headed.

And talking to people who obviously study this carefully and talking to
people on the Hill, they`re worried that, even though there was boilerplate
in that speech last night, as Michelle said, it was pretty aggressive
psywar going on in that speech about North Korea.

They had the defector up in the gallery who raised his crutches.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

FINEMAN: They had the parents of Otto Warmbier, who had died shortly after
having been maltreated in a North Korean prison.

And the president called North Korea depraved and he talked about
rebuilding the nuclear arsenal, et cetera,et cetera. There was a lot of
sort of war drums being pounded last night in that speech.

And it`s clear that H.R. McMaster and others inside the White House, while
they aren`t for bloody-nosing anybody in the next few days, they really
haven`t dismissed that possibility at all. And they know that to stay in
the good graces of Donald Trump, they have to not dismiss it. They have
not to go down the road that Victor Cha just went down.

MATTHEWS: Well, in his speech last night, President Trump pointed to
several invited guests, as you said, Howard, in the audience up there in
the galleries.

There was the family of Otto Warmbier, the American student imprisoned by
North Korea who died shortly after returning to America in a coma.

Trump also highlighted the story of a North Korean defector who had been
tortured by the regime and later fled south. Well, the point, according to
Trump, was to showcase the depraved character of the North Korean regime.

Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Otto`s wonderful parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, are here with us
tonight, along with Otto`s brother and sister.

You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world.

Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto`s memory with total American resolve.

In 1996, Seong-ho was a starving boy in North Korea.

Later, he was tortured by North Korean authorities after returning from a
brief visit to China.

Today he lives in Seoul, where he rescues other defectors, and broadcasts
into North Korea what the regime fears most: the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Michelle and Howard, what is the justification or the motivation
for our president to get to us to hate North Korea more than we already do?
Most of us laugh at it. We think it`s a foolish country. We know it`s
cruel.

But why does he want to raise that temperature of hatred by the American
population?

GOLDBERG: I mean, the North Korea regime certainly is cruel and depraved.

But this sort of thing, parading – parading the cruelty and torture
inflicted by the regime, it`s something similar to what you saw both before
the first Gulf War and then before the invasion of Iraq, to kind of get
people to feel emotionally invested in not just not negotiating with this
regime, not checking this regime, but overthrowing this regime.

And the North Korean defector that he had in the audience has argued that
it – he`s a Christian convert and has argued that it is the duty of
Christian converts or that it is the duty of Christians to try to overthrow
this wicked regime.

And so it seemed to me like what Trump was doing was trying to rile up his
base for a holy war.

MATTHEWS: Yes, it`s – Howard, it`s what he did. That`s what George Sr.
did, George Bush I, did to try to get us really to hate Saddam Hussein in
terms of what they did to babies in hospitals. You know those stories,
those wicked stories, probably true, to get us really enraged and support
Desert Storm.

FINEMAN: Yes. Right. It does have those echoes.

But I would say also it`s similar to those past events in that it`s also
aimed at the region and America`s stance in the region. I think the
message was also going out from the State of the Union last night to the
South Korea.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: Don`t – we know, South Korea, that you have got the Olympic
Games. We know that you`re at least temporarily looking like you want to
sit down and talk with the North Koreans. Don`t do it. Stay away from
North Korea.

And I think that was part of the message that the president was sending,
and yet another thing that Victor Cha, who decided not to become
ambassador, was going to work on. I think he was going to be much more on
the page of, let`s see what we can work out between North and South Korea.

That would not suit Donald Trump`s purposes here. He wants to try to
isolate the North and scare the North, if he possibly can, and beat the
drums, as did he last night.

MATTHEWS: Well said.

Thank you so much, as always, Howard Fineman and Michelle Goldberg, for
your reporting here.

FINEMAN: Thank you.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: yet loyalty test from President Trump. According to a
new report, Trump asked the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, if
he`s on the team or not.

It all fits into a disturbing pattern, because Trump asks everybody who is
out to prosecute him, are you on my side?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, there`s yet another report now of President Trump depending loyalty
from those around him.

According to CNN, Trump recently asked his deputy attorney general, Rod
Rosenstein, if he was “on my team” or not.

It`s all part of a pattern now with this president. In congressional
testimony last June, former FBI Director James Comey said Trump asked him
for loyalty during a one-on-one meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: The dinner was an effort to build a
relationship. In fact, he asked specifically of loyalty in the context of
asking me to stay. I remember thinking, this is a very disturbing
development, because it was very, very awkward. He was asking for
something, and I was refusing to give it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, last week, “The Washington Post” reported that Trump
summoned Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe to the Oval Office and asked how
he voted in the 2016 election.

And earlier this month, “The New York Times” reported that after Attorney
General Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe – quote – “The
president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials,
saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Mr. Trump then
asked, `Where is my Roy Cohn?`”

Well, let`s bring in the HARDBALL Roundtable.

Matt Schlapp is chairman of the American Conservative Union. Maria Teresa
Kumar is president of Voto Latino. And, of course, Eugene Scott is
political reporter for “The Washington Post.”

I want to hear all of you.

What`s your reaction to what I just said, Matt?

MATT SCHLAPP, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF POLITICAL AFFAIRS: This is de
rigueur in White Houses.

When you have political appointees, and it`s very important to know that
the attorney general, the deputy attorney general and all the other
political appointments at the Department of Justice report to the
president. They work for the executive branch. There`s not a fourth
branch of government. There are three branches.

And presidents do this all the time. Bobby Kennedy was loyal to John F.
Kennedy. As a matter of fact, presidents have picked people they`re
closely associated with as their A.G.s, because it gets into very sensitive
areas.

MATTHEWS: What about the FBI, the director and the deputy director?
Should they be loyal, loyalists, to the president, or should they be head
of the national police investigation? Should they be in charge of their
job or loyal to him?

SCHLAPP: Well, you can take an oath to the Constitution.

MATTHEWS: They have to investigate him. No, they have to investigate him
in certain circumstances.

SCHLAPP: That`s true.

MATTHEWS: Should they be loyal to him or to their job as investigators?

SCHLAPP: Everybody who works for the president takes an oath to the
Constitution. So, that`s the number one responsibility.

If you`re going to work for a president, though, it`s perfectly appropriate
in the personnel process and the interview process for those types of
questions to be asked. And I guarantee you that every president or the
people who work for those presidents asks some version of this question,
everyone.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, VOTO LATINO:
But, Chris, I think the biggest difference here is…

MATTHEWS: OK. I`m not sure.

Maria, your thoughts on that. I think times have changed.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Times have changed.

KUMAR: I think the biggest difference here is that – no, it has not.

And that is the problem. I think the president keeps trying to basically
change the line and try to identify what is right and what is wrong. And
so we keep pushing that line along with us.

Let`s be clear. Comey, when he was asked those questions, he was not
asking whether or not he wanted the job. He had the job. And the fact
that he went after McCabe and then Rosenstein for these loyalties, their
job as FBI is to be loyal to the office of the president, not the
individual.

And for him to ask those questions, that is why people are concerned,
because it does look like it was during the investigation of whether or not
there was interference by Russia. And it was during this thing, during
this investigation that`s ongoing, that he asked these questions to assure
that, if they were on his side, then they were basically going to allow to
look the other way.

Is there obstruction of justice? And it shows that he`s not done it once,
but he`s done it three times. So, therefore, there`s a pattern, and people
should be concerned.

And that is probably one of the reasons Mueller keeps bringing people in.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Gene, because we have a lot of evidence on
this president going to people, the head of the FBI and deputies of the
FBI, and not only asking for their voting records or are they with him sort
of psychologically in some way, but asking them, are you going to let
Michael Flynn off or not?

He`s not just asking generally if they`re loyal. He wants them loyal in
particular to his case, it seems. Your thoughts, Gene.

EUGENE SCOTT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Yes. And this is a problem that many
voters have noted.

Nearly 50 percent of American people, according to a “Washington Post”/ABC
poll, believe that Trump perhaps directly tried to obstruct justice
regarding this investigation. And it`s in part because of questions like
this.

So, whether or not people on the Trump train or his surrogates or people in
the White House think this is susceptible, many of the American people are
quite concerned. And that`s something that you want to be mindful of when
you`re headed into midterms and you`re trying to get people to stay with
you and your party as you go into the next political cycle.

MATTHEWS: What do you make, Matt, of the president`s right, as you see it
under the Constitution, as the chief executive to ask for help from these
prosecutors in this case, ask them to go easy on someone like Michael Flynn
or go easy on the president himself, hey, give me a break here, buddy?

Would that be OK under your theory of loyalty?

SCHLAPP: No, look, I think there`s no question that you ought….

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Would he be allowed – honestly, should the president be allowed
to say to somebody who is supposed to be a prosecutor enforcing the law, a
law enforcement official, hey, give me a break here, I picked you?

Is that OK, as you see it?

SCHLAPP: Well, is the president – if the president – I think the key
here is that the president has not been under investigation. And that`s
what the FBI controversy was all about, is there was constant reporting
that the FBI was investigating Donald Trump, and he was getting
increasingly concerned that nobody was clarifying the record.

And I think it`s a perfectly reasonable thing for a president to talk to
one of his political appointees, even somebody at DOJ. And, remember, FBI
reports through the structure at DOJ.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

SCHLAPP: And say, look, if I`m not under investigation, please clarify it.
I think that`s a perfectly acceptable thing.

MATTHEWS: But does he have a right to say, go easy on me, buddy?

SCHLAPP: He has a right to say, you should follow the law, and I did
follow the law.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, you`re not answering my question.

SCHLAPP: None of us know what these words were.

MATTHEWS: Well, he asked, did you vote for me?

SCHLAPP: I`m OK with that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And trashing him.

SCHLAPP: Let me speaking to that specifically.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

SCHLAPP: Which is, when a Republican is elected as president, it`s
perfectly appropriate for them to check to see what the politics are of the
people who work for him.

Now, President Trump has lots of Democrats working for him, including
members of his family, in the White House. And a president has every right
to know what the political affiliation is of a political appointee. That
is a canard.

MATTHEWS: During an investigation?

SCHLAPP: It doesn`t – look, Chris, when they are getting picked, right –
by the way, the president wasn`t being investigated. Let`s keep saying
this. He`s not being investigated.

MATTHEWS: OK.

KUMAR: I think the challenge with the president is that he`s constantly
showing that he has a sense of paranoia.

He`s constantly demonstrating that the only people that he wants close to
him are folks that are able to show utmost loyalty.

His company – the Trump administration – had less than 20 employees.
Why? Because they want to make sure that they`re strong and loyal to him.
And that is a problem. Because he`s not running a family business. He`s
running the United States of America.

MATTHEWS: I think the fact, Matt, that he says he wants Roy Cohn working
for him at the Justice Department tells you all we need to know about how
much he wants justice or not.

KUMAR: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, the Roundtable is sticking with us.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: – headline.

Gene, tell me something I don`t know.

EUGENE SCOTT, THE WASHINGTON POST: A pro-immigration group headed by
former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is targeting senators in 14
states trying to get them on board to pass something in favor of DACA.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much, Matt Schlapp, Maria Teresa Kumar and
Eugene Scott.

Back after this. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: House Oversight Committee Chair Trey Gowdy announced today he
plans to leave Congress at the end of this term.

In his statement, the South Carolina Republican said, I will not be filing
for re-election to Congress nor seeking any other political or elected
office. Instead, I will be returning to the justice system. Whatever
skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than Congress and I
enjoy our justice system more than our political system.

Well, it`s unclear what role he hopes to take on within the justice system,
but as of yesterday, there is a new vacancy on the Fourth Circuit Court of
Appeals which happens to cover South Carolina.

According to NBC`s count, Congressman Gowdy is the 21st House Republican to
announce his retirement ahead of the 2018 midterms.

We also learned today that long-time Democratic Congressman Bob Brady of
Philadelphia will retire at the end of this term.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump painted a rosy picture of the economy last night in his
State of the Union. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since the election, we have
created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing
alone. After years and years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing
rising wages. Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low.

Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and
small business. These changes alone are estimated to increase average
family income by more than $4,000. This in fact is our new American
moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American
dream.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, as NBC`s fact-checking team points out, his job numbers
are technically correct but Trump is overstating wage growth and taking
credit for jobs added under his predecessor, President Obama.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka who attended the State of the Union said
President Trump painted everything being great in America while optimistic
is not the reality for most working families. That may be how his friends
are living but the working men and women we represent aren`t seeing the
same America and his policies are making it worse. The truth is, many of
the things he says are undermined by the actual policies he supports.

I`m joined right now, him, Richard Trumka, head of the international –
AFLI-CIO.

Let me ask you, Mr. Trumka – is it true that manufacturing is moving back
into the United States from across the border in Mexico? That was the
picture the president gave us last night.

RICHARD TRUMKA, PRESIDENT, AFL-CIO: Actually, 93,000 jobs were outsourced
last year out of the country, the most that we`ve seen in recent years.
So, while we`re creating some manufacturing jobs, we`re seeing outsourced
jobs.

And his tax plan is going to encourage even more outsourcing by making it
tax-free for employers to create subsidiaries overseas. So, we`re going to
see more of it, not less of it. That`s unfortunate.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMKA: In addition to that, Chris, one of his big – one of his big
applause lines was that he did away with more regulations than any other
president. Unfortunately, a lot of those regulations that he did away with
protected our health and safety. Unfortunately, a lot of those regulations
that he did away with lowered our wages, took overtime away from 5 million
people, so it would lower our wages.

And what I didn`t hear last night that I really wanted to hear was what he
was going to do to raise our wages to give us more health care, to give
Americans more pensions and to make this a more stable economy. I didn`t
hear that last night.

MATTHEWS: Is he making it more dangerous to work in America?

TRUMKA: There`s no question. We lose 150 workers every single day in this
country to occupational injuries and disease.

So, what does he do? He proposes a budget that slashes the safety research
budgeting that does away with safety and health training for workers that
doesn`t require employers to record injuries anymore. A number of those
things, delays, standards that protect our health and safety like silica
standards or mine safety inspections, he delayed all of those and did away
with all of them and as a result, more work remembers going to die on the
job, not go home and be able to realize their family.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about rebuilding America. I mean, we all know the
situation of our subways and our bridges and everything, let alone modern
state-of-the-art transportation methods like they have in every other
country in the world, China, Japan, Europe, it`s everywhere.

What – the money he spent, the $1.5 trillion on the tax cut, the money
he`s talking about spending on the wall along the Rio Grande River I guess,
what`s left? Do you hear anything in last night`s speech about rebuilding
America with big-time money?

TRUMKA: We didn`t hear any kind of plan that was viable or would work.
Look, the Society of Civil Engineers say that we need over $3 trillion to
repair our old infrastructure and create new infrastructure to make us a
competitive economy out into the next century. He proposed $20 billion a
year for ten years. That`s what his proposal actually is.

Now, listen to this. He proposed $25 million to build the wall that you
talked about on the Rio Grande River.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TRUMKA: And only $20 million to take care of – to billion to of all the
roads, bridges, waterways, electrical grid and all the other infrastructure
in this country. And then if you net out his budget, all the cuts he took
to infrastructure and his budget, the figure for infrastructure is a net
figure and instead of going forward, we`ll go backwards, Chris, and spend
less money on rebuilding our infrastructure, so we`ll become less
competitive in the world.

MATTHEWS: Well, he said he was going to rebuild America. Do you think he
lied? Do you think he meant to do that or he mainly come to office – I
mean, did he come into office to cut the taxes of the rich and build the
wall or did he come into office to be president to rebuild America? Which
of the three was he putting his focus on?

TRUMKA: We found many, many instances where the campaign promises he made
do not match with the policies he`s espousing and in fact, the policies
he`s espousing go in the opposite direction. You remember he said he was
going to make China a currency manipulator on day one.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

TRUMP: We haven`t heard anything about that recently since he got into
office.

Last night, he didn`t mention anything about what he was going to do with
NAFTA or trade. That was missing from the speech.

He talked a little bit about trade in the broad sense but nothing about how
he`s going to fix it. How he`s going to make it better and how he`s going
to make trade work for working Americans. All of that was missing from the
speech last night, sadly.

MATTHEWS: Well, it was great to have you on tonight. I know you`ve got a
powerful message to get out there. I`m glad you came on the show to do it.
Richard Trumka, head of the Labor Unions of America.

When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. You`re watching
HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, January 31st, 2018.

If you step back from the actions of President Trump and his adjutants, you
can see what they`re up to. One by one, they`re picking off officials
charged with insuring that they obey the law.

I say step by step because the only an apparent difference between how this
president and Richard Nixon conduct this kind of purge is the pacing.
Nixon knocked off the attorney general, the deputy attorney general and the
special counsel all in one night. Trump is doing so overtime. First, the
FBI director, then the deputy FBI director on Monday, and now the deputy
attorney general is being targeted with the special prosecutor being the
ultimate bull`s eye.

While Nixon performed his Saturday Night Massacre, Trump is performing a
slow motion Saturday night massacre. Well, this president loves to first
give his marked men a death warrant. He shows no need for logical
causality, of course, between the accused and the crime and just as Trump
accused Barack Obama of being an illegal alien without a shred of evidence,
he now makes charges against those involved in the current investigation
against him. All that`s necessary to sell Trump`s proud supporters is a
claim itself.

James Comey, Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and now Rod Rosenstein are
all being tarred and feathered in the same summary judgment. Trump and his
people simply declare their guilt of whatever and proceed to scream
conspiracy. It`s the old Nixon technique, blame the prosecution and try
like hell to avoid being convicted, keep purging one prosecutor after
another, hoping that sooner or later, you`ll find enough stooges to save
you.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.

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