Trump says not “inclined” to release taxes. TRANSCRIPT: 4/4/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE CHRIST (D-FL): Have you had an occasion to read the Mueller
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Well, I mean, that`s how he described the attorney general position. He`s
been part of efforts to pardon…
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
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
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
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
MATTHEWS: He`s not going to let go of that.
FREDRICKSON: People have to remember that there is this DOJ rule that the
president can`t be indicted.
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
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”?
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
BUTLER: That`s a catch-22 of the Justice Department`s own basically
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
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,
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
We will be right back in a minute.
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
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
(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
(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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
EVERS: I think one of the most…
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?
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
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
COHEN: I presume that he`s not under audit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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
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.
MATTHEWS: That was the plurality.
I think Trump got like 10 in my district.
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?
We`re back after this.
(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
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
(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.
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 –
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
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
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.
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
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
That`s HARDBALL for now.
“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.
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Copyright 2019 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the