Trump says not “inclined” to release taxes. TRANSCRIPT: 4/4/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests:
Jimmy Gomez, Austin Evers, Nicholas Nehamas, Jill Colvin, Michael Schmidt; Caroline Frederickson; Paul Butler
Transcript:

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  The silent truth.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

 

Good evening.  I`m Chris Mathews from Washington, where we`re getting news

even now from inside the Mueller operation.  Last night, The New York Times

revealed that members of the Special Counsel`s team have told associates

they believed that Attorney General William Barr, quote, failed to

adequately portray the findings of their inquiry, which were more troubling

for President Trump than Barr indicated.

 

Well, today, NBC News is following up on that bombshell, reporting on the

simmering tensions between some of Robert Mueller`s investigators and the

Justice Department, a rip that has now exploded in the public view.

 

NBC`s reporting also goes further into the substance of the heart of that

dispute.  An official has spoken to member`s of Mueller`s team says, they

described the evidence on obstruction as compelling and said it includes

more information that has been made public, specifically they believe the

evidence that Trump sought to impede the investigation is stronger than

Barr suggested.

 

According to NBC, there`s also bad news for the President when it comes to

Russian interference in the 2016 election, quote, some on the Special

Counsel`s team say Mueller`s findings paint a picture of a campaign whose

members were manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation.

 

While both of those stories made clear that this reporting comes from

associates of the investigators and that Mueller`s team did not leak any

information itself, however, it raises the question, what is it that so

troubles Mueller`s investigators right now that they`re now breaking their

silence?  Why would members of such a tight-lipped operation suddenly

become less guarded and possibly even want this information to go public?

 

As The Washington Post points out, the fact some have been confiding to in

recent days to associates is a sign of the level of their distress.

 

I`m joined right now by Ken Dilanian, of course, who reported that story

for NBC News.  Paul Butler is a former federal prosecutor.  Caroline

Frederickson is the President of the American Constitution Society.  And

Michael Schmidt is the Washington Correspondent for The New York Times, who

joins me by phone.

 

Michael, basic question here because Trump is dumping – or I said Rudy

Giuliani is dumping all over the Mueller team saying that they are terrible

democrats and they`re a sneaky poo and all that other stuff.  Did they want

to get these stories out or were they just talking to their associates? 

What do we know about their motives?

 

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Well, we

know that these were people that were frustrated.  And that`s what sort of

began all of this.  The interesting thing about Giuliani`s comments is that

where does the President and his lawyers have to have it?  The President

has described the Mueller report as beautiful and it`s completely

exonerating him.  But now that there are signs that it may not be as good,

they are shifting here, and that`s interesting.  The bypass [ph] is

different.

 

The question will be does this impact whether Trump will allow the report

to be made public.  Does this give him second thoughts?  Because he has

been insistent from the beginning that – or he at least said publicly that

he wants it to become public.  But now that that could be troubling for

him, does that complicate that and make it more difficult?

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask that.  I think the word, alarming, appeared in

one of the reports.  So what do you make about – what`s your sense of the

mega tonnage of the bad news in the report itself and the final report that

we haven`t seen yet about the President?  How bad is it for him?

 

SCHMIDT:  Well, I think from our reporting and what we wrote today, our

understanding is that it`s certainly worse than what Barr portrayed.  And

Barr did not really put a lot of meat on the bone.  He cleared the

President and said that Mueller couldn`t come to a determination.  And

that`s the unusual thing, where Mueller couldn`t say yes or no about

whether there was indeed obstruction.  So that`s a kind of a thing that we

usually don`t coming out at the [INAUDIBLE].  It`s usually, hey, you either

broke the law or you didn`t.  And in this instance, we got a different

picture of that.

 

So our understanding is that whatever is in the report is not as favorable

certainly as the President has stated.  The President has said that the

report exonerates him.  And that is not what the the folks inside the

Special Counsel`s office believe.

 

MATTHEWS:  Okay, last question to you.  You have assessed this all the time

as a reporter.  How much do these people have been talking to associates

and, therefore, we`ve gotten the story through your reporting?  How much of

that does represent majority opinion on the Mueller team or minority team,

the team that was unsatisfied with the way it got out generally?

 

SCHMIDT:  I think these are – there is – there are folks that feel this

way on the team.  What we do know, and we did report today, is that Mueller

did not go to the Justice Department and say he wanted these summaries out. 

He has not expressed that himself about the summaries and about the issue

of trying to get more out when the report was initially handed in.

 

But, apparently, that`s where some of the frustrations are.  The

frustrations are with the fact that when Barr cast the die on this and Barr

made his declaration and announced that he was clearing the President,

there was not a larger sense of what the investigation had found.  And

that`s the root of the problem.

 

MATTHEWS:  Michael Schmidt, great reporting as always.  Thank you for

breaking that story.

 

Let me go to Ken Dilanian.  We`ll get to the biggest substance of this. 

One of the substantive things is the reporting today, your reporting in

NBC, is that one of the things in the report of Mueller, the real report,

not this four-page job, the real thing has stuff in there about our

presidential candidate in this country, not mine personally, but the one

who won the electoral college was, Donald Trump was manipulated by Russian

intelligence.  That`s pretty strong stuff.

 

KEN DILANIAN, MSNBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER:  Right.  The Mueller

team, as I understand, is not frustrated with the fact that Barr went out

and said Mueller found no collusion, no conspiracy, no criminal conspiracy,

because that`s true.  That`s what he found.  But what they are telling

associates is that there is a lot more than that in the report that`s going

to lay out a narrative about contacts with Russians, about the team

potentially being that manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence

operation to the point where they were dupes.

 

And let`s remember, Donald Trump was warned by the FBI that the Russians

were circling.  And did he ignore that warning?  Maybe we`ll find out from

this report.  Basically, the message that I got was, look, there`s a lot

more in this report short of a criminal conspiracy that will concern the

American people.

 

MATTHEWS:  Caroline, what do you think about this?  Because we have new

bits of news tonight we announced in the beginning.  The first thing was

this manipulation, the second was obstruction.  There`s stuff there too.

 

CAROLINE FREDERICKSON, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CONSTITUTION SOCIETY:  Well, I

mean, I think it just makes it absolutely clear why Congress needs to see

this report.  I think as an American citizen and voter, I`d like to know

what has happened with our election and to see that the team was obviously

really deeply concerned about the impact that the Russians had on the Trump

team.  We need to know how that happened, know who is involved and what the

possibility is of them doing it again.

 

MATTHEWS:  Because this is also counterintelligence as well as criminal.

 

Anyway, NBC News also reports that some of the Special Counsel`s office did

not want the Attorney General to settle the open question whether the

President obstructed justice or not.  According to a U.S. official who

spoke in the Mueller`s investigators, at least one faction of the Mueller

team within the office says, their intent was to leave the legal question

open for Congress and the public to examine the evidence.  However, it`s

not clear how Mueller himself feels about the matter.

 

What do you make of – I mean, here we are.  It read to me like, well,

mezza, mezza, you guys decide.

 

PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Yes.  So we know that Robert

Mueller ran the criminal division of the Justice Department.  He knows how

to make tough decisions in criminal cases.  The way that the Attorney

General puts it now is almost like Robert Mueller said to Barr, this is too

hard of a judgment for me to make.  Can you please do my homework for me?

 

Surely, that`s not what Mueller intended.  He probably wanted the

determination to go to Congress so that it could make the decision about

whether it meets the standard, the high standard of high crimes and

misdemeanors.  So maybe it doesn`t rise to the level of proof beyond a

reasonable doubt.  Maybe that`s why Mueller couldn`t bring a criminal case. 

But he was concerned there might be evidence of impeachment, in part

because we know that there is evidence of obstruction here.

 

MATTHEWS:  How do we settle this now, right now?  Can anybody here tell me

how he can sell the question, what did Mueller want?  He turns it over by

the law, he follows the law and turns it over to Barr.  Caroline?

 

FREDERICKSON:  He should testify.  I think Mueller should testify.

 

MATTHEWS:  Did you want to go directly to Congress or did you want this guy

who works for President to put out a four-page quickie?

 

FREDERICKSON:  I think the only way can know is to hear from Mueller

himself.

 

DILANIAN:  I also think the report will reflect what happened on

obstruction to solve this big mystery.  Why did Mueller punt?  One of the

things we`re reporting is that there was a division of opinion within the

office.

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it`s said in your reporting.  And that division is?

 

DILANIAN:  Well, some people thought there was a provable case and some

people thought there wasn`t a criminal intent.

 

MATTHEWS:  We`re on the point.  But you have more in your report.  You

said, this is a question which anybody now can figure out the problem.  A

lot of this intent on the part of the President of pushing Comey on Michael

Flynn, pushing for a loyalty oath, getting rid of Comey, all these

decisions, getting rid eventually of Sessions, his, A.G., all this looks

like in the self interest of the President.  But also the President has a

lot of power under his executive branch, Article 2.  He`s president.  The

whole executive branch responds to him.  So I think what I have been able

to figure out is Mueller is going, wait a minute.  How can I give

impeachable evidence when I think maybe the President could or has this

power even he was using it for pure political purposes?

 

BUTLER:  Well, we know that the Attorney General shares the President

extreme views about how much power the executive office –

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But what about Mueller?  What does Mueller think?

 

BUTLER:  We don`t know what Mueller thinks on that issue.  We know Mueller

has compiled substantial evidence that the President obstructed justice,

that`s why he was not able to exonerate.  And we know now from these

reports that Mueller`s associates are extremely alarmed.  It was one thing

when it was the democrats who were saying that the Attorney General was

acting more like a partisan lawyer for Trump than like the Attorney

General.  But now, Mueller`s own team believes that as well.

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, everybody is partisan to some extent.  I mean, that`s why

Eddie Rendell, the former D.A. of Philly, if you know him, and I know he`s

governor, D.A., mayor, he once said to me, sometimes you just have to throw

the case to the jury because there`re points of view, not just ethnically

or whatever, age differences or gender differences, all kinds, in this

case, partisan differences, people think differently looking at it from

different directions.  So maybe Mueller was saying what you were saying,

even from the jury.

 

BUTLER:  Yes, the jury in this case will be the Congress of the United

States.

 

MATTHEWS:  Leave it to the jury.  That`s how we do it.

 

Anyway, according to The Washington Post, the Special Counsel`s team also

drafted their own summaries for different section sections of the report,

which they assumed would be made public.  But one official says, those

summaries could have been released immediately.  Quote, it was done in a

way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary.  And the

work would have spoken for itself.  As we know, Barr did not release any of

those summaries, any of them.

 

Now, The New York Times is explaining why.  They report that the Justice

Department quickly determined that Mueller`s summaries contained sensitive

information that must remain confidential, according to them.  Well,

reacting to the news today, a Justice Department spokesperson cited the

disclaimers included within Mueller`s report saying, every page of the

confidential report provided to Attorney General Barr was marked may

contain material protected under the law, and therefore, could not be

publicly released.

 

All day long in this network, we show commercials for pharmaceuticals.  And

included in them are these incredible warnings that maybe there are side

effects.  That doesn`t mean don`t sell the pills.

 

DILANIAN:  Great analogy.

 

MATTHEWS:  You sell the pills.

 

DILANIAN:  And I think these guys know it because they worked at the

Justice Department.  That`s a very common warning to have on a document. 

It doesn`t mean that every page had grand jury information on it,

especially because they wrote these summaries in a way that they could be

made public, we were told.

 

FREDERICKON:  Actually, and from what we understand, there is very little

grand jury evidence in the obstruction part of the report anyway.  So it`s

unclear what would be the problem in that area of the report.

 

BUTLER:  [INAUDIBLE] there it is.  How do we know about this day in

[INAUDIBLE] in the Clintons, Ken Starr Investigation?  Because Mr. Starr

went to the court and asked if he could have an exception so that the grand

jury material can be released.  That`s what special prosecutors do.  That`s

up to Mr. Barr.  When he refuses to do that, again, he is acting more like

a partisan advocate for Trump than he is like the Attorney General of the

United States.

 

MATTHEWS:  Following up there, Paul, what about the fact that he says we

have these disclaimers at the bottom of the page, like paid for by the DNC

or something?  How come they are doing that unless they are intending not

to release the report?

 

BUTLER:  Scrub is the word he is using.  And so the exceptions that he is

saying or as if it`s about grand jury or national intelligence or a third

party, then it doesn`t come in.  Again, he could end up scrubbing so much

that a 400-page report ends up being almost like his four-page summary.

 

MATTHEWS:  I want recap tonight here.  There is so much news tonight.  Last

night, we heard there is disgruntlement at least among the Mueller people

that they did not get their report adequately conveyed to the American

people and that skimpy little four-page report or letter, I guess I should

call it, from Attorney General Barr.  Then we found out today that it had

to with counterintelligence matters, that the Russians were basically

manipulating the Trump campaign throughout the 2016 campaign.  That`s a

serious bit business [ph] and there are real cases to be made and a big

case to be made for obstruction of justice of justice by this president. 

All that is in the report.  All that has been concealed by what Barr did.

 

Anyway, the counterintelligence investigation was a central part of the

Russia probe, of course.  However, at least one top intelligence official,

in fact, the person in charge of counterintelligence, the CIA – actually,

the FBI Director hasn`t even read the report.  Here is FBI Director Chris

Wray.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

CHARLIE CHRIST (D-FL):  Have you had an occasion to read the Mueller

report?

 

CHRIS WRAY, DIRECTOR, FBI:  I have not.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s quite a little conversation with Charlie Christ

there, Congressman of Florida.

 

How can the – if this was conducted to gain information for

counterintelligence purposes to find out what ruskies are up to in this

country, maybe they should look at the Chinese too, but there`s a lot going

on.

 

DILANIAN:  They are.

 

MATTHEWS:  Why didn`t it go to the Head of Intelligence, the FBI Director?

 

DILANIAN:  I think it`s a little misleading.  He has certainly been briefed

on what the FBI has found in the counterintelligence aspect of this

investigation.  And I wish the Congressman followed up and asked him that

question.  But the Mueller report itself has been closely held to a small

group of people.

 

MATTHEWS:  But the FBI Director?

 

DILANIAN:  Well, he`ll read it eventually.  But, I mean, it`s – I`ve –

 

MATTHEWS:  Has it been given to him.  I want to know whether he`s given

access.  If he called up and said, can I see the report, would they say no?

 

DILANIAN:  I have no doubt though that he knows exactly what –

 

MATTHEWS:  How about the CIA Director?  If you think that was the – Paul,

that was the reason to create these documents to give them to the pros so

they`d know what to do so we can be careful with the Russians.

 

BUTLER:  Yes.  So the criminal stuff is supervised by Mueller.  He is

supposed to conduct that investigation.  The problem with the national

security is there is no independent investigator for that.  So the person

who makes the ultimate calls there is the President of the United States. 

It`s just not contemplated by this statute.  That will be a situation in

which the President himself would be questioned on the issue of his loyalty

to the country.

 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Ken, Paul and Caroline are sticking with us to talk about

what happens next.  We`re going to the next page.  Where is this leading

tomorrow, the next day, this week?  Is William Barr more interested in the

rule of law, good question, or protecting his boss, Donald Trump?  That`s

tension for you.

 

And what about Trump`s taxes?  The President says he`s not inclined to

release his returns.  But it`s not up to him.  And what happens if that

fight and the other investigations go all the way to the Supreme Court? 

I want to know how that nine-group is going to vote.

 

Plus, what`s going on at Mar-a-Lago?  What`s going on in there?  People are

paying for access to the President.  Federal investigators are now after a

Chinese national who was able to get into Trump`s resort.  It`s a national

kissing booth down there.  You`re paying your way to hang around with the

President.  It`s like a Mickey Mouse bar, sports bar.

 

We`ve got a lot to get to tonight.  Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

 

The bombshell reports of tension between Special Counsel Investigators and

William Barr himself have only increased the pressure on the Attorney

General to come clean with the full un-redacted Mueller report, something

Barr says he`s not willing to do.

 

Well, in light to the revelations, democrats are now even more resolute, of

course, of pursuing the full report.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  The Mueller report will be released.  It`s a

question of, to us, it is inevitable, to them, it is inconceivable.

 

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA):  We are seeking the truth, the whole truth and

nothing but the truth.  And it is our intention to have the Mueller report

made public completely.  And I think this cat and mouse game that`s being

played by the White House is pretty transparent.

 

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA):  We will go to the court if necessary.  We will

issue subpoenas if necessary to make sure that we do have access to the

grand jury material.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, democrats are now step closer to their goal after the

House Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to grant Chairman Jerry Nadler

the power to subpoena the Mueller report.  And today, the Chairman, Nadler,

responded to the allegation that Barr withheld the Special Counsel`s own

summaries from the public instead of releasing – instead releasing his own

interpretation.

 

In a letter to Barr, Nadler writes: “You have already provided

interpretation of the special counsel`s conclusions in a fashion that

appears to minimize the implications of the report as to the president. 

Releasing the summaries without delay would begin to allow the American

people to judge the facts for themselves.”

 

That`s Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

 

Barr`s set to deliver a previously scheduled testimony next week before the

House Appropriations Committee, which is really not related to this.  He

will surely, however, be questioned about the special counsel report, but

how he responds is anybody`s guess right now.

 

What is known as that Barr`s reputation as an attorney and a professional

is on the line.

 

Back with me now is Ken Dilanian, Paul Butler, and Caroline Fredrickson.

 

Paul, we know Bill Barr.  He`s been around a long time.  He fits into what

you might call the Washington establishment on the Republican side, but

really establishment.  And he`s an attorney.

 

BUTLER:  Yes. 

 

MATTHEWS:  As an attorney and as a member of that impressed, self-

impressed, but impressed, doesn`t he have a lot not to look like a toady

here? 

 

BUTLER:  Well, you would hope. 

 

But, again, he thinks that this is consistent with his own ideas about

executive power.  And so he would not want to charge the president with

obstruction of justice, because, again, based on his extreme ideas, he

doesn`t think that, when the president does things that are part of his

responsibility, that that could be considered obstruction of justice,

including firing the FBI director.

 

Again, these are far outside the mainstream, extremist views.  They are

shared by President Trump and by the right-wing judges he`s appointing, but

most legal scholars and prosecutors don`t agree.

 

MATTHEWS:  But he wasn`t asked to judge this.  The special counsel

operation was to judge it.  He was just there to convey it.  How does he

justify saying, I`m stepping in the middle here, I`m going to say it goes

no further, whatever charges are in that Mueller report?

 

BUTLER:  Well, we know, in June 2017, President Trump reached out to

William Barr to ask him to be his defense attorney in the Russian

investigation.  So Barr turn that down. 

 

But, basically, he has assumed that same duty now that he`s attorney

general.  Again, he was hired, Barr was, by the president because Trump

fired Sessions because Sessions famously wouldn`t protect him from the

Russian investigation.  He got what – Trump hired Barr, and Barr has not

disappointed in that regard. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you, I think about this all the time with Giuliani

and people like that. 

 

Whatever we think of Trump, he will be gone, in six years at least.  He

will be gone.  We have a two-term limit.  That`s a fact that, so far. 

 

So the people who want to be around in Washington later, who want to show

up at the Chevy Chase Country Club, or want to be at the Metropolitan Club,

or wanted to be, whatever, hang around town, be seen on the street, they

have reputations to uphold.

 

They will be here after Trump.  Isn`t Bill Barr one of them?

 

FREDRICKSON:  Well, I have to say I find it perplexing, although, if you do

– picking up on what Paul was talking about, I mean, this is a man who has

actually auditioned for this job. 

 

He wrote that 19-page memo.

 

MATTHEWS:  So he cares more about loving Trump and his views?

 

FREDRICKSON:  He wrote a 19-page memo that said the president basically

cannot obstruct justice. 

 

MATTHEWS:  By definition.

 

FREDRICKSON:  By definition.

 

He`s called the attorney general the president`s lawyer.

 

MATTHEWS:  That`s Nixon talk.

 

FREDRICKSON:  Absolutely.

 

Well, I mean, that`s how he described the attorney general position.  He`s

been part of efforts to pardon…

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

MATTHEWS:  What kind of comment is this?  It`s biblical.

 

FREDRICKSON:  He helped get the Iran-Contra people pardoned.

 

He got – he helped whitewash the Irangate in Bush I.  And now he`s back. 

I just think the idea that he`s some kind of – just a white shoe firm D.C.

establishment type ignores that history of the extreme views. 

 

MATTHEWS:  You`re right, because he looks like such a mandarin.  He looks

like a classic Washington guy at the big desk out in front of the boss who

protects the boss, a mandarin.

 

Anyway, the attorney general has come under criticism for how little

information he shared in that little four-pager of his.

 

“The New York Times” reports that, according to officials familiar with the

attorney general`s thinking, he and his aides limited the details they

revealed because they were worried about wading into political territory. 

Mr. Barr and his advisers expressed concern that if they inquired –

included derogatory information about Mr. Trump, while clearing him, they

would face a storm of criticism.

 

Ken, go ahead, but let`s talk about this.  It`s all going to happen the

week after next.  He testifies Tuesday.  He says he will release some form

of this 400-page report by Mueller by the week after, basically.  He says

mid-April.

 

DILANIAN:  He may have been concerned about releasing derogatory

information, but it`s going to get released when this report comes out. 

 

And it`s remarkable that he agreed to essentially make this decision on

obstruction, having written the memo that you described, instead of pushing

it back to Mueller.  That`s the big mystery of this whole thing, is why did

Mueller punt on that?

 

And, hopefully, we`re going to find out.  But we are getting signals from

the Justice Department that they do want to make this public.  They`re not

stupid.  They know there`s a demand, even among Republicans, that the

public needs to see the investigation that they paid millions of dollars

for.  They need answers.  And they`re going to put it out, I think.

 

BUTLER:  But the concern is that the public probably won`t get to see the

full report.  And it`s Barr who will decide how much the public gets to

see.

 

And, again, the concern there is, he`s apt to scrub it until there`s almost

no more.  And where he will act like a Washington lawyer, time is on his

side.  So, if this goes to court, and if it`s a debate between – or court

case between the Congress and Barr about how much of the report gets to be

seen, Barr is going to win that, because it`s going to take a long time for

the courts to resolve that issue.

 

MATTHEWS:  So, even if it`s a joke, and we see on the top of “The New York

Times” or one of the papers the next day a big blacked-out page with like

two words left on it, if it is that much of a joke, will the public except

that?

 

DILANIAN:  Of course they won`t.  No, it`s not going to happen. 

 

Look, Barr has already done the president a huge favor by shaping the

narrative with that cursory legal conclusion that essentially the

president`s criminally absolved.

 

But now he`s got to put out the details.  And that`s going to be a

political conversation, not a legal conversation. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, by the way, the president is hanging on those words, like

a life preserver. 

 

He`s out in the ocean with a turbulent – all the water going around, all

the waves.  And he`s holding on to that life preserver.  It says, Barr says

you`re clear. 

 

DILANIAN:  Exactly. 

 

MATTHEWS:  He`s not going to let go of that.

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

DILANIAN:  No.

 

FREDRICKSON:  People have to remember that there is this DOJ rule that the

president can`t be indicted. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  

 

FREDRICKSON:  And we also have this interest in releasing this information.

 

There`s also a rule that you`re not supposed to release information about

somebody who`s not indicted that`s harmful to their reputation.  Those two

rules work in exact opposite.  You can – this makes the president above

the law. 

 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

 

FREDRICKSON:  We have to have that information out in the public. 

 

MATTHEWS:  You follow up here.  Is your thought – here`s my way of saying

it.  Remember “Catch-22”? 

 

FREDRICKSON:  Mm-hmm.

 

MATTHEWS:  The catch-22 of our Constitution right now is a president, under

guidelines of the Justice Department, cannot be prosecuted.  OK? 

 

And also the guidelines are since Comey don`t put out dirt on anybody

unless you are going to prosecute them.  So if you can`t prosecute a guy,

meaning the president, and you also can`t put out dirt on them if you don`t

prosecute them, you can`t do nothing. 

 

So why was there a Mueller report? 

 

FREDRICKSON:  Exactly.  Well, the whole point…

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, thank you, because I was trying to make your point.

 

BUTLER:  Well, but the good news is, that`s not a catch-22 of the

Constitution.

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

BUTLER:  That`s a catch-22 of the Justice Department`s own basically

employee handbook.

 

And so, in the interest of justice, that catch-22 can easily be overcome by

Mueller and Barr releasing the entire report, so that Congress can fulfill

its constitutional responsibility of oversight, of checks and balances. 

 

If we have a president who`s acting like a despot, it`s up to Congress to

step in.

 

DILANIAN:  Which is exactly what happened in Watergate. 

 

The Jaworski report went over to the House impeachment inquiry.  And it

could happen here. 

 

MATTHEWS:  And, in the end, we have our democracy.  And maybe, in the end,

the elected officials are going to have to do this.  And they probably

aren`t going to do it, but maybe they – they damn well should look at it. 

 

I think we all agree.  They ought to keep thinking and keep digging. 

 

Thank you, Ken Dilanian.  And thank you, Paul Butler.  And thank you,

Caroline Fredrickson. 

 

Up next:  House Democrats are flexing their newfound investigatory muscles

with inquiries into Trump`s inaugural committee, his taxes and his use of

executive authority.  They`re all going to the court eventually, however. 

 

How`s the administration responding to this aggressive oversight?  And if

you said with transparency and accountability, guess again.  We will talk

again.

 

We will be right back in a minute. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

 

House Democrats ratcheted up their investigations into President Trump in a

major way Wednesday.  The House Judiciary Committee authorized a subpoena

for the entire 400-page Mueller report.  The House Oversight Committee

chairman, Elijah Cummings, said he would subpoena an accounting firm tied

to the president for 10 years of financial records, his.

 

And the Ways and Means Committee sent a letter to the IRS requesting six

years of Trump`s personal and business taxes and asked of his personal

returns whether a such return is or was ever under any type of examination

or audit.  That`s an open question.

 

Committee Chairman Richard Neal, Ways and Means, was asked what comes next

if the administration fails to comply. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. RICHARD NEAL (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  We intend to do follow-up within a

10-day period that was prescribed in the letter and the overture that we

made. 

 

And then I think there are a series of other options going forward that we

will explore that we have already begun to – begun to think about.

 

QUESTION:  Are you considering subpoenas? 

 

NEAL:  Well, that is something that we would have to consider down the

road, but I won`t – I don`t want to kind of, at this stage, answer really

what-if questions. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, late today, President Trump was asked about the role of

the IRS in the Ways and Means request. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

QUESTION:  Have you asked the commissioner of the IRS not to disclose to

the House Ways and Means Committee your tax returns?

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  They will speak to my

lawyers.  They will speak to the attorney general speak.

 

QUESTION:  Will you direct the IRS to do that?

 

TRUMP:  They will speak to my lawyers.  And they will speak to the attorney

general. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  From more, I`m joined by Democratic Congressman Jimmy Gomez of

California, who serves on both the House Ways and Means Committee and the

Oversight Committee, and Austin Evers, the executive director of the

nonprofit American Oversight.

 

Congressman, you sit on Ways and Means.  Why – where does it stand right

now?  Because the law is so clear.  The 1924 law says that your committee,

Ways and Means, has the right, and the president – actually, the IRS has

the responsibility.  You shall provide the tax returns.

 

REP. JIMMY GOMEZ (D), CALIFORNIA:  Right.

 

MATTHEWS:  What`s the complication here? 

 

GOMEZ:  There`s no complication. 

 

If they actually follow the law, they would turn over the tax returns. 

It`s very, very clear.  And in the history of Congress, not one request has

been denied.  So if there is a denial and – to the Ways and Means

Committee chairman, then that means that the White House probably got

involved.  Either Steve Mnuchin, the White House administration, somebody

told them not to do it. 

 

MATTHEWS:  And what do you make of that?  Because the law doesn`t say the

president shall provide the IRS returns, the tax – it says the IRS shall

do it.

 

GOMEZ:  Correct.

 

And it`s very clear.  But one of the things we have learned about this

administration, especially Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, anybody associated

with them, I question them all.

 

MATTHEWS:  Are they all toadies?

 

GOMEZ:  They are.  They all delay, dodge and lie for this president to

protect him.

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you got the evidence there.

 

The battle over Trump`s taxes will almost certainly wind up in court.  “The

Washington Post” reports that, according to two administration officials –

quote – “Privately, Trump has told White House advisers that he does not

plan to hand over his tax returns to Congress and that he would fight the

issue to the Supreme Court, hoping to stall it until after the 2020

elections.”

 

I don`t think Trump wants to see his tax returns.  And I mean in the worst

way.  There`s some – for him to hide this like this for all these years,

there`s something really nasty in there, I think.

 

AUSTIN EVERS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN OVERSIGHT:  It certainly seems

that way, although the president does seem to have a penchant for acting

guilty all the time. 

 

But when it comes to this statute, it`s not the president who`s turning

them over.  It is the IRS, as you pointed out.  He doesn`t really have the

control.  And, at the end of the day, it`s going to be the people at the

IRS, the career civil servants and the people who will have to answer to

history, but also this Congress, who are going to have to decide whether

they want to go down standing in the way of Congress` oversight role for

this president or stand up for the Constitution. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here`s a legal question.  I don`t know if anybody can

answer this, but it seems to me it`s not a question he said, she said, or 

he said, he said, or anything.  This is a question about the law.  It`s not

that Congress wants the documents.  They have a statutory right to them. 

 

EVERS:  It`s not just that.

 

It`s that this statute is actually used all the time.  People think that

there`s not much precedent.  It`s that it`s so clearly written that it`s

never been challenged.  Just recently, with the Lois Lerner investigation.,

committees on both sides of the Hill obtained reams of 6103 protected

taxpayer information, and they published it. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

 

EVERS:  This is used all the time.

 

What the president wants is a standard that no other American gets. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to you, Congressman, about the court.  We have a 5-4

Republican Supreme Court.  Now, they`re supposed to be nonpartisan, but

yes.

 

GOMEZ:  Yes. 

 

MATTHEWS:  All these fights, whether it`s getting the Mueller report

unredacted, to getting the information about who they`re giving clearances

to, like Ivanka and Jared and all that stuff going on in the White House,

everything, and tax returns, all comes down to, if it goes to the courts

this year, by the end of the year, do you trust the Supreme Court to give

us a nonpartisan constitutional response?

 

GOMEZ:  I hope they do. 

 

But one of – our job, as a co-equal branch of government, is to ask the

questions and to follow the answers to wherever they may lead.  And that`s

what we`re doing.  We`re being responsible stewards of this branch of

government, to check the White House. 

 

And I think that if we ask the right questions, we will get the right

answers.

 

MATTHEWS:  People – the president – why did I make that mistake? 

 

The president – the people are very different.  He says nobody cares. 

What`s your response to your people at home? 

 

GOMEZ:  Oh, everybody cares. 

 

Poll after poll shows that people care about what this White House does. 

They have cared since he started running for president, when he didn`t

release his tax returns, when he lied that he was under audit, which I

believe he actually lied that he was under audit. 

 

So we`re going to push him.  And the American people want him to be held

accountable.  If not, we wouldn`t have taken back the House.

 

MATTHEWS:  Austin? 

 

EVERS:  I think one of the most…

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

MATTHEWS:  People that watch this show care, I can tell you.  I walk around

with people.  They ask me about it.  People do want these tax returns. 

 

EVERS:  I think people think he`s got something to hide. 

 

And I think one of the most important things is not just that Congress ask

the questions, but that the courts ask the questions.  This administration

loses all the time, because, when courts get involved, they make you

articulate your arguments.  And this administration takes absurd positions,

and they lose. 

 

And even this Supreme Court, I think, will look to history. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Mueller has got them?  Do you think he`s got them? 

 

EVERS:  Do you think Mueller has got them? 

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

 

EVERS:  The tax returns?

 

MATTHEWS:  He`s got two years.  Do you think he got the tax returns? 

 

EVERS:  I think the Mueller team knows a lot about the Trump Organization`s

finances. 

 

And talk about another thing Congress needs to see and, frankly, has a

right to get. 

 

MATTHEWS:  So, how is this going to end, Congressman?  You`re on Ways and

Means.  Are you confident?

 

Anyway, in response to the Ways and Means request, President Trump just

said an IRS audit was preventing the release of his tax returns, a claim he

repeatedly made as a presidential candidate.

 

Here he is again.  Let`s watch.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  Well, what we`re working on that now.  I have very big returns, as

you know, and I have everything all approved and very beautiful.  And we

will be working on that over the next period of time. 

 

You don`t learn much from tax returns, but I would love to give the tax

returns.  But I can`t do it until I`m finished with the audit.

 

It`s under audit.  I will release them when the audit is completed.  You

don`t release your returns until the audit to complete.  When the others

complete, I will do it. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, in February, Congressman Gomez, who is with us right now,

asked the president`s former fixer Michael Cohen about the president`s

refusal to release his tax returns. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

GOMEZ:  Can you give us any insight into what the real reason is that the

president has refused to release his tax returns? 

 

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP:  Statements that he

had said to me is that what he didn`t want was to have an entire group of

think tanks that are tax experts run through his tax return and start

ripping it to pieces, and then he will end up in an audit, until ultimately

have taxable consequences, penalties and so on. 

 

GOMEZ:  So, could you presume from that statement that he wasn`t under

audit? 

 

COHEN:  I presume that he`s not under audit. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

MATTHEWS:  So, it`s another catch-22, Congressman.  I can`t release my tax

returns because that will get me under audit.  Oh, by the way, I`m under

audit, and I can`t release my tax returns. 

 

GOMEZ:  Oh, well, that`s this president. 

 

He speaks from both sides of his mouth, right?  And what was brilliant is

that he was – Cohen was just talking, just kind of riffing, and then

admitted – he let out some information that gave us insight, that he was

never under audit. 

 

So that`s why it`s really important for the Oversight Committee, but also

Ways and Means, to get our hands on these tax returns.  And that`s what

we`re doing , is laying the groundwork to make sure that we can ask for

them.

 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, your state carried for Hillary Clinton last time by

four-and-a-half million dollars – four-and-a-half million votes. 

 

GOMEZ:  Yes.

 

MATTHEWS:  That was the plurality. 

 

GOMEZ:  Yes. 

 

I think Trump got like 10 in my district. 

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

MATTHEWS:  I don`t think you can do more than that.  Probably will, though.

 

Congressman Jimmy Gomez of California, the L.A. area, in fact, L.A. itself,

and Austin Evers, thank you. 

 

Up next: growing concerns about security at Trump`s winter White House.  It

sounds official.  Should Mar-a-Lago staff, and not the Secret Service,

continue to be the gatekeepers while the president is in residence?

 

Apparently not.

 

We`re back after this.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The president of China is

coming to Florida.  We are having a meeting, a big meeting, at Mar-a-Lago,

the Southern White House, which it actually is. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

 

The president likes to refer to Mar-a-Lago, his private Palm Beach club, as

the winter White House.  As “The Washington Post” points out, presidents

used to vacation in seclusion and screening their visitors was relatively

simple.  But Trump`s decision to use Mar-a-Lago as both the presidential

retreat and a money-making resort has added vast new complications for the

Secret Service.

 

That was especially evident, of course, this weekend when the Chinese

national was arrested for trying to enter the club with a thumb drive

containing malicious software. 

 

Here`s what the president said yesterday when he was asked if he was

concerned that the Chinese may be trying to spy on him. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  No, I`m not concerned at all.  I have – we have very good control. 

We extremely good – it`s getting better and cyber, frankly what we are

doing with cyber is a story in itself.  No, I think that was just a fluke

situation. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, now, “The Miami Herald” is reporting that federal

authorities are investigating possible Chinese intelligence operations

targeting President Donald Trump and his private Palm Beach club.  They

know that the probe was turbo-charged after this weekend`s incident. 

 

And tonight we are learning more about that woman arrested in Mar-a-Lago

who has been described by federal prosecutors as posing an extreme risk of

flight.  We`ll have more on that coming up next here. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

 

“The Miami Herald” has new details tonight on the arrest of Yujing Zhang. 

According to a recording of a hearing early this week, she identified

herself as an investor and a consultant for a Shanghai private equity firm

who appears to have amassed considerably wealth.  She told a magistrate

judge down in Florida that she owns a $1.3 million house in China and

drives a BMW, and what use that is to anybody. 

 

But a federal prosecutor said that Zhang posed an extreme risk of flight

from the U.S. if she is released from custody. 

 

I`m joined right now by Nicholas Nehamas, investigative reporter from the

“Miami Herald”, who`s been reporting on the issues at Mar-a-Lago.  And Jill

Colvin, White House reporter for “The Associated Press”.

 

Thank you both. 

 

Nicholas, thank you for this.  What about the woman who showed up and first

of all said she couldn`t speak English and it was not clear what her

mission was.  Was she a tourist?  Was she a spy?  What do we know? 

 

NICHOLAS NEHAMAS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, MIAMI HERALD:  Well, we know that

she is apparently a very sophisticated person.  The judge actually remarked

at this initial appearance on Monday that the questions she was asking were

incredibly well reasoned for a defendant.  Now, she was speaking through a

mandarin interpreter and it`s unclear to what degree she speaks English.

 

But as you said, she is wealthy.  She appears to be intelligent and she

tried to get into Mar-a-Lago.  Why?  We still don`t know. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about the equipment, electronic equipment she had.  Was

she up to no good because of the nature of the equipment?  Is that a lead

for the investigators, for the police? 

 

NEHAMAS:  Well, I mean, investigators are treating this as a potential case

of espionage.  They described the thumb ware she had as malicious malware,

and also noted that she had four cell phones, a laptop, an external hard

drive.  It`s a lot of equipment for a trip to use the pool at Mar-a-Lago,

as she at one point has said to have claimed she was there for. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Everything but a swimsuit, which was strange. 

 

NEHAMAS:  Yes, no swimsuit.

 

MATTHEWS:  Because apparently she was not telling the truth. 

 

Anyway, while attention has been focused on the malware brought in to Mar-

a-Lago by Zhang, “The Washington Post” reporting she may be connected to a

group of people who used Mar-a-Lago to peddle claims of access to the

United States power.  According to court documents, Zhang told a club

receptionist, she was there to see her Chinese friend, Charles, and attend

a United Nations friendship event, those were her words. 

 

A group with a very similar name promotes events with U.S. politicians and

it`s run by a man who goes by the name of Dr. Charles.  “The Washington

Post” reports that he has become a central figure in the Chinese effort to

get close to Trump and influential Republicans.  So, Zhang could really

thought he had a ticket to an event at the club. 

 

So, your thoughts about this?  It seems that we have a weird place.  Like

Casa Blanca last time, somewhere between here and there where you can go in

and get through security because you are spending money, you get access to

the president, you got to overhear him at dinner and here somebody that

comes in, does – you may not even speak English, but found her way in

thinking, the word was out, you can get to Trump here. 

 

JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS:  Oh, yes.  I mean, it

is such an unusual situation.  I think that we all forget just how

incredible it is that the president still attends and runs a private club

where people – this is not a big conspiracy – 

 

MATTHEWS:  You can imagine – 

 

(CROSSTALK0

 

COLVIN:  – people every day paying money, paying hundreds of thousands of

dollars for access, $200,000, for the price of admission, plus fees, plus

tickets to annual events.  It is very clear.  I mean, this could be

connected to this scheme we know about where Chinese business people are

paying money for access to the club.  But every member of Mar-a-Lago has

the ability to do that.  They get tickets to the events like New Year`s Eve

celebration, various banquets, where people can pay to mingle not just with

the president, but the president`s advisers, with his family members,

people who have influence with him. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Nicholas, does the president know about this Mr. Charles? 

 

NEHAMAS:  Well, that`s not clear.  We know he thinks this is a fluke, but

what`s really interesting is that “The Herald” reported that there has been

should investigation going on for at least several months, looking at

possible Chinese espionage operations in south Florida.  This incident has,

you know, put that investigation into overdrive, but this is something that

the feds down here have been concerned about for a while. 

 

MATTHEWS:  The problem with the word fluke is, if it was just this weekend,

the White House for years someone flies a plane and lands on the south

lawn.  These things happen, but there`s this pattern of somebody selling

access down there.  There is that literature in Chinese and mandarin all

over in Chinese proper, and he`s selling to people who have the money, like

her, come on over and I will get you in the door. 

 

COLVIN:  Yes, and what`s so interesting is that we heard and there have

been reporting that both in Mar-a-Lago and some other RNC-run events,

they`ve actually noticed that there were more Chinese nationals, people who

didn`t speak much English, who were around the president and we have been

writing now for years about the concerns with security access to Mar-a-

Lago.  I`ve written extensively about even cautions that members of the

White House staff took to try to figure out who was around him, you know,

what shape he was trying to sell sort of what loony idea, their pet project

to the president.  Scanning lists of a attendees who might, you know, cause

a red flag, trying to sit next to the president to keep an ear and an eye

on who was going up to him, trying to talk them, say, what did you talk to

him about and keep an ear on all of this. 

 

This is a situation that people have been warning about for years.  This is

not at all surprising that this is bubbling up. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Nicholas, along those lines, it seems to me that for years,

minority groups in this country, poor people, people who don`t have much

power in the establishment use money to get access to power.  You overstep

the pact fact that you don`t have enough people to have some influence

inside. 

 

These Chinese people here are not out to protect themselves.  They seem

like they are aggressive.  They want to get stuff to help beat us in the

world economically. 

 

NEHAMAS:  Well, I mean, many of the people coming to visit the president

are business people and they`re looking for a competitive advantage in

which in this case is being able to say, hey, I met the president of the

United States.  Here`s the proof.  I got a photo.  You know, he backed my

business, whether that`s true or not.  I mean, it`s surely not true. 

 

But they can take it back to their home country and, you know, it`s all

worth remembering that everything we are talking about, none of it would

have come out if Robert Kraft had not been arrested or – I`m sorry –

charged for soliciting prostitution down here in Palm Beach County.  I

mean, that is what led to the uncovering of this entire potential Chinese

influence and espionage operation.  It`s really quite head spinning. 

 

MATTHEWS:  It`s amazing how things stick together.

 

Anyway, thank you, Nicholas Nehamas and Jill Colvin.  Thank you.  Both of

you great tonight. 

 

Up next, well – how will William Barr bar us from the truth?  It`s a

pretty good name.  It`s Dickensian, bar, barring us from the truth.

 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

 

(COMMERCIAAL BREAK)

 

MATTHEWS:  In the last 24 hours, we`ve had some significant news out of the

Mueller investigation.  Last night, we had the breaking news that some of

the special counsel`s investigators believe that four-page letter put out

by Attorney General William Barr withheld alarming evidence against

President Trump, alarming. 

 

And today, we had further reporting that revealed that some members of the

Mueller team believe Barr should not have cleared Trump on obstruction of

justice, that the evidence was stronger here, than the attorney general

relayed in his letter.  We also had additional reporting that some of

Mueller`s investigators believed members of Trump`s 2016 campaign while not

engaged knowingly in a Moscow conspiracy were nonetheless manipulated by

what was a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation. 

 

All these news reports that some Mueller investigators that A.G. Barr

buried alarming evidence in his four-page letter, that perhaps the same

Mueller investigators saw the evidence and said the evidence Barr left out

shows the president engaged in obstruction of justice, that the Trump

presidential campaign was manipulated by Russian intelligence, it all

paints a picture that the American people and future candidates really need

to see. 

 

President Trump and his totties can speak petulantly and relentlessly about

fake news and unfair partisanship, but the only facts we get from the

stonewall of White House flackery is carried by public servants who are not

sit quietly and by journalists who will carry their truth into the grace of

public light. 

 

That`s HARDBALL for now.

 

“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now. 

 

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

BE UPDATED.

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