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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 3/20/2017

Guests: John Brabender, Susan Hennessey, Charlie Dent, John Brabender, Susan Page, David Ignatius, Chris Himes

Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews Date: March 20, 2017 Guest: John Brabender, Susan Hennessey, Charlie Dent, John Brabender, Susan Page, David Ignatius, Chris Himes

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Investigation of a president.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington

Blockbuster news tonight, double-barreled headlines, both very bad for President Trump. First, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is actively probing Trump`s possible coordination with Russia to influence the 2016 election campaign.

Here`s Director James Comey as he delivers the bombshell.


JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government`s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia`s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.


MATTHEWS: Criminal investigation of a president. Director Comey said the investigation has been open since last July and is in its early stages. He said he has no timetable as to when it will be completed.

The second headline today came when Director Comey smashed Donald Trump`s claim that President Obama had placed a wiretap on him. He said the FBI has found zero evidence to corroborate such a claim.


COMEY: With respect to the president`s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets. And we have looked carefully inside the FBI.


MATTHEWS: Well, so much for Donald Trump`s attempt to distract from the FBI investigation with his tweets on wiretapping. With that, Director Comey killed Trump`s distraction from the real story at hand here. But the FBI is, in fact, now investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and a foreign adversary, Russia.

The FBI investigation of Trump represents a major blow to the president, of course, who just this morning said stories about his links to Russia are, quote, "fake news and everyone knows it." He further said that, quote, "The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign."

Well, joining me right now is Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today." And David Ignatius is a columnist for "The Washington Post."

Susan, this story is -- well, in two regards, the first regard is there is a criminal investigation of the president of the United States and all his people and all the names, as has been suspected, but now it`s real.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": And not since Watergate have we had allegations that are this serious. We`ve had other times the FBI has investigated people close to the president, the Scooter Libby case, Iran-contra, Monica Lewinsky. But this is -- these charges are more serious. And the fact that the FBI director was willing to go out there and say in remarkably direct language, more direct language than we expected to hear today, that this investigation is going on is extraordinary.

MATTHEWS: And also to say that, as a fact, as a bottom line, dotting the I`s and crossing the T`s, there is no evidence of any wiretapping ordered by President Obama.

DAVID IGNATIUS, "WASHINGTON POST": Comey directly rebuked President Trump in his allegations against President Obama. The other witnesses appearing, Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, rebuked Trump for his comments about the British spy agency, the GCHQ.

I felt that today was a turning point. I think we now enter a different period in this story. It`s going to take a long time. I think there`s going to be a lot of partisan noise, but I think it`s much harder for Donald Trump to try to change the subject, distract. And you could see on the faces of the Republicans they know the only way to get out from under this cloud is when the investigation ends.

MATTHEWS: And Susan, there was something -- I want to get right into this whole question of the investigation, but there was something that seems wrong. A lot of people watching this probably would say it`s seemed wrong for a long time. And I agree with them around the edges.

But there was something wrong with the meeting with Merkel on Friday. There was something wrong in her face about him, that there`s something being done wrong by the president of the United States, by the person who is the president of the United States, the misbehavior, the outrageous attacks without substance.

And then today, as you said, Admiral Rogers, the head of the NSA, and of course, the FBI director, both saying, You`re hurting our agencies. You`re hurting our relationships with other countries with these ridiculous charges, these crazy high school charges.

PAGE: And of course, could his relationship with intelligence agencies, on whom he`s going to rely, be any worse?


MATTHEWS: ... he gets briefed by Comey.

PAGE: What is he going to do when there`s a real crisis on a substantive issue and the president needs to work with and trust and have mutual trust with the intelligence agencies? That`s going to be tough to see.

You know, you talked about the meeting with Merkel. Adam Schiff is the head Democrat...

MATTHEWS: He was great today!

PAGE: ... was laying out the quid pro quo, and one of it involved NATO, the idea that the Republicans would back off emphasizing the Russian invasion of -- incursion into Ukraine and instead push for NATO allies need to pay more, which is, of course, precisely what President Trump did in the past few days.

MATTHEWS: Look at this. This is the opening statement by the ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff of California, on the Intelligence Committee. He cited the accounts of Christopher Steele, the British intelligence agency - - agent who put together that now infamous or famous or notorious, whatever you want -- it`s certainly infamous as far as Trump`s concerned -- dossier that was made public in January.

The congressman described a deal he says may have been struck between the Trump campaign and Russia in the months of July and August of last year. Here he is.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: We do know this. The months of July and August 2016 appear to have been pivotal. It was at this time the Russians began using the information they had stolen to help Donald Trump and harm Hillary Clinton. And so the question is why, in early July, Carter Page, someone candidate Trump identified as one of his national security advisers, travels to Moscow on a trip approved by the Trump campaign.

According to Christopher Steele, a British -- a former British intelligence officer, who is reportedly held in high regard by U.S. intelligence -- Russian sources tell him that Page has also had a secret meeting with Igor Sechen, CEO of the Russian gas giant Rosneft. Sechen is reported to be a former KGB agent and close friend of Putin`s.

Also according to Steele`s Russian sources, the campaign is offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton, which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability like Wikileaks. The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump administration policy that de- emphasizes Russia`s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fair share, policies which, even as recently as the president`s meeting last week with Angela Merkel, have now presciently come to pass.


MATTHEWS: This is so strong. And the way he laid it out, the congressman -- he`s the ranking Democrat, of course -- but he laid it out point by point in a way that interlocks. But this evidence about Rosneft and offering up about 20 percent, a one fifth share of the profits, it`s so direct.

PAGE: And of course, one of the fundamental questions we`ve had...


MATTHEWS: Carter Page.

PAGE: ... is -- no relation. One of the questions that`s been -- is still unanswered is exactly what`s at the core. What was the motivation if President Trump -- for President Trump`s attitude toward Russia and his very friendly attitude toward Vladimir Putin? I don`t think we know the answer to that yet, but I do think that is the question that`s at the core of this investigation.

MATTHEWS: Well, you mean the answer could be he wanted to make money if he lost the election?

PAGE: Or -- I don`t know what the answer could be. The answer could be any number of things you could speculate about. But there`s something -- there`s some reason that Donald Trump has taken a friendlier attitude toward Russia in general and Vladimir Putin in particular than any Republican or really any Democrat or Republican in U.S. politics.

MATTHEWS: What do the spies thing, David? What do people think around the agencies, what Trump was up to?

IGNATIUS: Well, I think, first, there`s been a genuine sense of shock at the attacks that Trump has made on the intelligence community going back to before the election, the incredible remark likening them to Nazis.

We should just note Adam Schiff did an extraordinary job today in presenting evidence, but these were allegations, what we were just hearing. This is the dossier that was compiled by Christopher Steele, an ex-British spy. Adam Schiff got a chance to read that into the record. But these are still unproven allegations. One of the most interesting things to me...

MATTHEWS: But they fit with the evidence, the...


MATTHEWS: ... that we know. The meetings by Page...

IGNATIUS: It`s really important, I think, to remember that to establish, to document the things that Adam Schiff laid out as allegations is a process of many months. And we don`t know whether those things are true or not. We tried very hard as a news organization to pin down those allegations for months, and we had difficulty. So it`s just a cautionary note. It`s really an interesting aspect...

MATTHEWS: But it`s enough for Director Comey to have a criminal investigation.

IGNATIUS: Comey has a criminal investigation. Comey has -- each of the things that Adam Schiff laid out as possibilities, Comey`s going to find the answer. And he`s going to find all -- he`s going to establish all the things that are part of a criminal case. Was there criminal intent? Who met with whom? How was it financed, all the -- but it`s just going to -- it`s going to take a long time.

Note that Trump`s best defense now is to go back, ironically, to what James Clapper said. I mean, James Clapper, the man that Trump has been denouncing regularly, said that he does not...


MATTHEWS: ... and it`s two months old, unfortunately. In his briefing today, White House press secretary did what you said. Sean Spicer said former members of the Obama administration who had said they had no evidence at that time of any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. But of course, that was before they left the White House. Let`s watch.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Following this testimony, it`s clear that nothing has changed. Senior Obama intelligence officials have gone on record to confirm that there`s no evidence of a Trump/Russia collusion. The Obama CIA director said so. Obama`s director of national intelligence said so. And we take them at their word. Investigating it and having proof of it are two different things.


MATTHEWS: Well, in response, a spokesman for the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said in a statement today, quote, "James Clapper has been clear that while he was not aware of any conclusive intelligence related to collusion between the Trump campaign officials and Russians prior to leaving the government, he cannot account for intelligence or evidence that may have been gathered since the inauguration on January 20th."

By the way, Spicer also said the president stands by his statement that he had no knowledge of any campaign contact with Russia during the election and downplayed the role Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort played in the campaign. Here`s Spicer again.


QUESTION: Now that we know that there is an ongoing investigation by the FBI, does the president stand by his comments that he`s not aware of any contacts that his campaign associates had with Russia during the election?

SPICER: Yes. I`m not aware of any at this time, but even General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign. And then, obviously, there`s been discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a limited role for a very limited amount of time.

QUESTION: Are you saying then that the president is aware of contacts that Manafort...

SPICER: No, no, nothing that hasn`t been previously discussed.

QUESTION: Has anyone from the White House up to the president been interviewed by the FBI as part of this investigation?

SPICER: Not that I`m aware of.


MATTHEWS: Well, Manafort, whose name was mentioned in the hearing today, issued a statement today. Quote, "I have never spoken with any Russian government officials or anyone who claimed to have been involved in the attack. I am disappointed that anyone would give credence to allegations made by individuals with clear political motives in a blatant attempt to discredit me and the legitimacy of the election of President Trump." What was the attack?

PAGE: I think -- he must have meant the attack on Ukraine, do you think?

IGNATIUS: There was a discussion of changes in Ukraine policy...

PAGE: But you know what that briefing was? That`s a little taste of what`s going to happen at the White House now for months and months. You just ask one of the previous White Houses that has had an FBI investigation going on, the questions that come up over and over again, your inability to answer them. It saps your energy...


MATTHEWS: ... member of the committee here.

IGNATIUS: Any attempt now to distract, to you know...

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes.

IGNATIUS: ... risks now -- there`s an investigation -- risks becoming an obstruction of that investigation. It`s a different ball game.

MATTHEWS: You mean if Spicer tries to...

IGNATIUS: I mean that...

MATTHEWS: ... play dodgeball here?

IGNATIUS: ... the hundreds of people in the government...

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m thinking of Baghdad Bob the whole time he`s talking. How can you possibly believe this guy?

Anyway, joining us now is U.S. Congressman Himes of Connecticut, who serves on the House Intelligence -- Mr. Himes, thank you for joining us.

You were very active in the hearing today. And I just wondered about the historic impact. I mean, I`ve been watching this for a while, as you have. It seems to me a blockbuster. Now we know that the FBI is studying it for criminal possibilities, the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians. And number two today, he put out the fact that there was no effort -- there are no active -- there was nothing to this charge by Trump that President Obama wiretapped Donald Trump, that there`s nothing to that.

So let`s get back to this question of Russia. How convinced are you that there was Russian collusion with the Trump campaign?

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, "convinced" is a strong word leveled at somebody who`s just begun an investigation. I mean, I think, you know, no one, not Director Comey or Admiral Rogers or the chairman or the ranking member or anybody, should be saying that they`re convinced one way or the other.

Look, the FBI, we learned today, has an investigation into -- the words that Director Comey used -- links and coordination. That`s a pretty big deal. And you know, hopefully, it`s done thoroughly.

On our side, we`re doing the same thing, gathering evidence, but you know, look, the news today suggests that we`re not on some wild goose chase, that there is enough there to cause the FBI to devote what will be an enormous number of resources in a very challenging environment to an investigation.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the value of the dossier. Now, there was - - obviously, there`s some material in there that`s a bit X-rated, so we`re not going to focus on that in a dossier put together by Christopher Steele and MIX -- and MI6 -- MI6. What do you make of its value?

HIMES: Well, it`s a little hard to say this early, but I will say this. You know, since that dossier came out, the facts that we have gathered since then lend credibility to some of the allegations. And again, there`s a lot of allegations in that dossier, so I hesitate to characterize. But the facts that have come out have not said that that work, that that dossier, is just an utter work of fiction, that it`s wrong.

Some of the facts that we have gathered said, look, there seems to be an aura of credibility around some of the charges in that dossier, some of which are very, very serious.

MATTHEWS: What jumps at me are a couple things. First of all, the Rosneft thing, where they were offering a 19 percent share in their company if the Trump people would somehow relieve them of sanctions, or something like that. What did you make of that interplay?

HIMES: Well, you know, again, that`s one of the things...

MATTHEWS: That sounds real. It sounds Russian to me.

HIMES: You know, there`s a lot going on there. You know, I would put that in the category of -- and it came up briefly in the hearing today. I would put that in the category of a house getting purchased for $40 million by Donald Trump, and then relieved, he sells it to the Russians for a $60 million profit in a very brief period of time when housing is not doing particularly well in this country. You could read that as, My gosh, $60 million just changed hands. Or maybe there`s a more innocent explanation.

Again, we`re at a point right now where we can`t say that was an obvious -- or the Rosneft thing or anything else was an obvious crime. But it certainly raises serious questions.

MATTHEWS: Let me give you the second one. Roger Stone puts out the word that he knows something`s coming, that John Podesta, the chair of the Hillary Clinton campaign, is going to spend his time in the barrel, as he put it. A couple weeks later, it comes out, all the e-mails address (ph), everything about embarrassing John Podesta. That ability to predict I think is not psychic on his part.

What do you think it is? How did he know that there was trouble abrew for Podesta?

HIMES: Not only did he predict, but he since admitted that he was in conversations with Guccifer, and actually praised this Gufficer, a clear agent of the Russian government. And I believe he admitted to being in contact in some way, shape or form with Wikileaks, another cutout or proxy for the Russian government.

MATTHEWS: Well, what`s it tell you? What`s it tell you?

HIMES: Well, it tells me that there are some really serious questions to be asked and that Roger Stone needs to come before the committee, as does Paul Manafort and any number of other associates of the Trump campaign, to come before the committee and explain these things.

MATTHEWS: What would surprise you more, that beyond all this smoke, there was no fire, or that there was fire? Right now. Which way are you leaning?

HIMES: Well...

MATTHEWS: Is there something there, plausibly there? Is it still plausible there`s nothing there? Is that plausible, there`s nothing to this right now.

HIMES: You know, it`s -- of course, it`s possible. And again, I`m not going to prejudge the investigation...

MATTHEWS: No, plausible. Is it plausible there`s nothing to all this? I`ve never seen a presidential candidate or an American that I`ve heard ever of who`s had so many dealings directly or indirectly with the Russians. Why do the Russians -- why does it keep coming up again and again? Why does -- why does Trump even know Paul Manafort? Why does he know Carter Page? Why is he even involved with Roger -- well, Roger Stone`s (INAUDIBLE) a question.

But why are all these characters all back and forthing to Moscow? What`s it about?

HIMES: Of course, it`s plausible, and there`s a whole other set of questions like the ones you just asked about, why is it that President Trump will attack everyone and anyone? He`ll attack Meryl Streep and Chuck Schumer...


HIMES: ... the cast of "Hamilton" and he`ll attack everybody, but he will not level any sort of criticism at Vladimir Putin or the Russians, no matter if they violate a nuclear missile treaty, no matter if they, you know, kill political opponents, if they invade Crimea. This is a guy who at 3:00 in the morning will criticize everyone and anyone and...

MATTHEWS: How many times have you -- Congressman, how many times have you been to Russia?

HIMES: You know, I`ve never been to Russia. I`ve been to Ukraine.

MATTHEWS: That`s a perfect example. I just guessed at that. Most Americans don`t go trooping off to -- we go to Paris, France, we go to England, we go to Rome. We may go somewhere in South America. We don`t go to Russia that much! This is weird!

And if anybody`s listening now, take note of the fact there`s a lot of traffic in the Trump world to Moscow. What is that about? Let`s figure that one out.

HIMES: Chris, there`s nothing inherently wrong with going to Russia. But I will tell you something...

MATTHEWS: There is something weird about the pattern, however. There`s a weird pattern here, OK?

HIMES: I`ve run five campaigns, and in the five campaigns I`ve run, I`ve never had a single campaign operative who had any connection whatsoever with Russia.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

HIMES: Of course, with the president`s campaign, there are a bizarre number of connections and...

MATTHEWS: It`s a long way away to be doing regular business.


HIMES: ... dishonesty about the nature of those connections.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, Trump has a -- we`ll see. I think Trump has some weird affinity for the East.

Anyway, thank you, Jim Himes, Congressman, and from Connecticut.

HIMES: Thank, Chris.

MATTHEWS: And Susan Page, as always, and David Ignatius, who knows this world.

We have much more ahead throughout this hour, by the way, big breaking story coming up, the FBI confirming an investigation of the collusion between Trump associates and Russia.

And up next, the other bombshell of the day. Comey says there`s no evidence -- get this word -- period to support Trump`s claim President Obama had him wiretapped. Period!

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, NBC News has learned that President Trump`s daughter Ivanka will be taking a new role in the West Wing of the White House.

Ivanka won`t have an official title or take a salary, but she will get an office on the second floor of the West Wing. And a source familiar with her plan says her goal is to create positive value. The source says she`s in consultation with the Office of Government Ethics and White House attorneys.

Ivanka`s husband, Jared Kushner, is already one of the president`s closest advisers.

I`m telling you, they`re the Romanovs. It`s the whole family.

We will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It didn`t happen.

FBI Director James Comey refuted the tweets from President Trump that asserted, without evidence, that Barack Obama had wiretapped him at Trump Tower.

Here`s how the director swatted it down.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Director Comey, was the president`s statement that Obama had his wires tapped in Trump Tower a true statement?

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: With respect to the president`s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets. And we have looked carefully inside the FBI.

The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all its components. The department has no information that supports those tweets.


MATTHEWS: No information.

Director Comey went on to explain that a president cannot order a wiretap.


COMEY: There is a statutory framework in the United States under which courts grant permission for electronic surveillance, either in a criminal case or a national security case, based on a showing of probable cause, carefully overseen.

It`s a rigorous, rigorous process that involves all three branches of government. And it`s one we have lived with since the late 1970s. That`s how it works.

SCHIFF: So, President Obama could not unilaterally order a wiretap of anyone?

COMEY: No president could.


MATTHEWS: Meanwhile, NSA Director Michael Rogers reacted to the conspiracy theory floated by a FOX News contributor and then cited by the Trump White House that President Trump -- President Obama, rather, might have used British intelligence to spy on Donald Trump.

Let`s watch that.


SCHIFF: Have you seen any evidence that anyone else in the Obama administration made such a request?


And, again, my view is the same as Director Comey. I have seen nothing on the NSA side that we engaged in any such activity, nor that anyone ever asked us to engage in such activity.


MATTHEWS: So, was today the final nail in the coffin for President Trump`s discredited claim?

U.S. Congressman Charlie Dent is a Republican from Pennsylvania. And Eugene Robinson is a columnist for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst.

Congressman Dent, you have asked for the president to retract this. Should he apologize now that it`s clear that he had no truth whatsoever to his charge that the president, the former president, had him wiretapped?

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, look, of course he...

MATTHEWS: Should he apologize? After all, he smeared the former president.


DENT: Yes. Well, look, yes he should retract.

And if I were in his shoes -- I would apologize if I were in his shoes, absolutely.

Look, I think probably the bigger apology should be to the British. They`re one of our best partners in the intelligence community. They`re part of the 5 I`s. We have no better partner when it comes to intelligence than the British. And I think that`s probably as big an issue to me as what he said about the president.

MATTHEWS: Do you think there`s any wiggle room? I see Spicer at the White House, who plays Baghdad Bob these days, and will defend anything.

But I have a hard time figuring out where his wiggle room is. How can he still say he`s sitting on evidence? This is Trump talking. I`m sitting on evidence that President Obama -- well, his latest phrase is surveilled me.

What do we make of that? Why does he keep holding on to that promise that, someday, at the time of my choosing, I will -- of course he did this with President Obama`s birth certificate. You know, I don`t like the word often, but he did lie about that. He made that up.

DENT: Well, look, it is entirely possible that somebody within President Trump`s universe at the time, you know, Michael Flynn, for example, could have been picked up on some surveillance of the Russian ambassador.

So, clearly, the Russians could be monitored or surveilled. And if somebody was close to the president or then-candidate Trump got picked up, that`s -- that could happen incidentally. So, yes, that`s true.

But I have not heard of any evidence or proof that anybody from President Trump on down was a target of the investigation. I don`t know if the FBI director addressed that today, who other than the president might be a target. But I haven`t heard anything to suggest that the president was a target of any investigation, certainly by President Obama.

MATTHEWS: I want Gene Robinson in here.

But, first, the NSA director, Mike Rogers, to finish your point there, refuted the White House claims about British intelligence helping President Obama spy. There never any spying on Trump.

But here he is refuting it. Let`s watch. This is Mike Rogers.


SCHIFF: Now, the British allies, our British allies, have called the president`s suggestion that they wiretapped him for Obama nonsense and utterly ridiculous.

Would you agree?

ROGERS: Yes, sir.

SCHIFF: Does it do damage to our relationship with one of our closest intelligence partners for the president to make a baseless claim, that the British participated in a conspiracy against him?

ROGERS: I think it clearly frustrates a key ally of ours.

SCHIFF: It certainly wouldn`t endear the British intelligence services to continue working with us, would it?

ROGERS: I believe that the relationship is strong enough, this is something we will be able to deal with.

SCHIFF: But it`s not helpful?

ROGERS: Yes, sir.


MATTHEWS: Gene, you`re a big picture guy. And I say that with great appreciation.


MATTHEWS: I have noticed something. And you have been critical of this president, and always on good ground.

Lately, I swear, there`s something getting deranged about this, the behavior with Angela Merkel, who`s a grownup...


MATTHEWS: ... with Theresa May, the prime minister of Britain, and now the chancellor of Germany, and now this attack, basically, to try to use our British allies.

We`re going after everything solid we have in the world we have built over -- ever since World War II.

ROBINSON: Yes. And there`s no recognition of that.

It`s as if he doesn`t care. He just doesn`t care about these relationships.

MATTHEWS: The only person he likes is Vladimir Putin.

ROBINSON: He doesn`t care about the sort of Western international order.


ROBINSON: He doesn`t care about knocking over the -- upsetting the apple cart or knocking everything down.

Yes, as long as -- he just says things that he views in the moment as helping his cause and helping his side. And so they come up with this ridiculous accusation about the GCHQ, which is...


MATTHEWS: He called President Obama -- one thing President Obama is not -- he`s too cool for school sometimes. I would even say that. He sometimes is aloof. I know all those charges. He played golf many -- although those guys have no room to talk about golf.

But he`s not sick.


MATTHEWS: Why would he say the president was sick enough to bug him?

ROBINSON: Well, because, clearly, this really annoys him. This whole Russia thing really annoys him.

MATTHEWS: Is it annoying him, or it scares him?

ROBINSON: Well, does it scare him or does it annoy him, right?

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask Congressman Dent.

ROBINSON: Does it bruise his ego, or does it worry him about what might be found out?

MATTHEWS: Congressman Dent, you`re too young to have been through Watergate. And this is not Watergate, certainly not yet, by any evidence we have yet.

But the charges are serious. The investigation is about serious stuff. I mean, if there was collaboration, collusion by a political campaign with Russians, an adversarial nation, that helped him win the election, that`s historic. That`s bigger than Teapot Dome or Watergate or anything else, if it`s true. We just don`t know if it`s true.

But where do you sense this is going among your colleagues, among the Eastern Republicans that are left, the moderate Republicans still in the business? What do they think is going on?

DENT: Well, I think -- well, I think our members are concerned more about the White House`s position on Russia than anything else, that Russia`s interests are antithetical to those of the United States and the West.

You know, Russia wants to break up NATO. They want to unravel the E.U. They want to undermine democratic institutions in our country and in other countries in Europe. And they want to diminish American power and influence anywhere they can.

I mean, the European Union was a 70-plus-year peace project. I mean, with all the faults of the E.U., with all the bureaucracy in Brussels, we`re much better off with it than without it.

And I think we have to get the policy right on Russia. So, I can`t understand the kind comments about Putin. They`re not warranted. And so I guess that`s where there`s a bit of a bewilderment, I think, on behalf of some of my colleagues in the House on Russia generally.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, U.S. Congressman Charles Dent of Pennsylvania.

Thank you, Eugene Robinson from "The Washington Post."

Good thinking there.

Up next, reaction from the White House to this huge day of bad news of testimony on Capitol Hill, no evidence there was a wiretap at all, period, and the FBI director confirming an investigation into collusion is under way involving the Russians and the Trump people. This is serious business, this as Trump is holding a rally tonight in Louisville out in Kentucky. We`re going to monitor that event and see if anything real happens out there, especially on this issue of what Comey said today.

It`s very hard for Trump to hide from what Comey said today.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Take no for an answer, and realize that the people -- while you can have an investigation, it doesn`t necessarily mean that you have to jump to the conclusion that, aha, it must be about the collusion between those two things.


MATTHEWS: Well, welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer today saying that the FBI wasn`t necessarily looking into collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, even though Director Comey of the FBI specifically said that was included in their investigation.

His testimony, by the way, Comey`s, renewed the call from many Democrats for President Trump to walk back his claim accusing President Obama of wiretapping him.

But, despite the lack of evidence, Spicer continued to play Baghdad Bob. There he is. Remember that?



MATTHEWS: Information minister who continued to deny the invasion, even as U.S. tanks rolled in behind him.

Anyway, the White House press secretary insisted that more information on the alleged surveillance could come to light, and this isn`t the real story.

Well, the real concern, according to Spicer, are those leaks within the White House. Here he goes.


SPICER: We are at the -- we are still at the beginning phase of a look as to what kind of surveillance occurred and why, and that there`s a question about what leaks occurred.


MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by Republican strategist John Brabender and MSNBC national security analyst Jeremy Bash.

It seems to be that -- well, I always think Spicer is operating under orders. I think that`s fair. He`s not makes this stuff up. It`s Trump`s line. And Trump`s line is, the real evil here is not the -- the fact that there`s an investigation now going on in the FBI about what role the Trump crowd played with the Russians and the fact that the FBI has completely shot down the argument Trump made that President Obama had him wiretapped, and also Admiral Rogers confirmed that -- or actually corroborated that.

It`s that there was leaks.

Now, John Brabender, you know that nobody out in the real world gives a damn about who`s leaking what, because that`s how we, as people, find out what`s going on usually. Somebody leaks. That`s how we get the information. Our government puts out press releases when they feel like it. But leakers get you the news a lot faster.

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, obviously, there`s some advantage for him to start talking about that part of the investigation.

MATTHEWS: Well, what`s the advantage?

BRABENDER: The advantage is, they`re not talking about the other parts of the investigation.

MATTHEWS: Do you think there is an investigation of leaks? I don`t think there is.

BRABENDER: Well, there should be if there isn`t.

MATTHEWS: But there ain`t. I don`t think there is.

BRABENDER: Honestly, the part that nobody is talking about -- and they should be -- when the average person hears investigation because Russia played in our elections, what they want to know is their vote counted.

The one thing we did find out today is that, if you voted to Trump, it went to Trump.

MATTHEWS: They didn`t get involved in the machinery.


BRABENDER: You didn`t do all that.

So, now the argument...

MATTHEWS: But didn`t we know that?

BRABENDER: Well, we do know that.

MATTHEWS: When did we not know that?

BRABENDER: Well, let`s concede that. So...

MATTHEWS: Then why are we saying this? You know this is just bluff.

BRABENDER: Now, wait a minute.

MATTHEWS: There`s never been a charge by anybody that Russians got into the election count.

BRABENDER: But I`m saying, ruling that out, I think, was critical.

MATTHEWS: It`s been ruled out.

BRABENDER: It`s been ruled out officially today.

MATTHEWS: You`re trying to make it a news story.


BRABENDER: So, now...

MATTHEWS: This is...


BRABENDER: ... the whole argument isn`t, did they...

MATTHEWS: This is agitprop.

BRABENDER: ... really impact the results of the election? They didn`t. It`s, did they have relationships with people?

MATTHEWS: OK. We`re watching the guy out here, the president. We will see what he does -- has to say tonight.

What`s he going to say tonight, though, John? Can you predict. What he`s going to -- he`s going to trash Comey, I guess. He can`t fire Comey without cause, apparently. So, Comey`s FBI director for a few years, whether he likes it or not.


I mean, look, if I was advising the president, I would say, talk about your agenda. Get back to what you have already accomplished, what you are going to accomplish. I think the big mistake is, he keeps coming back to a story that is not positive to him.

MATTHEWS: He was tweeting this morning.

BRABENDER: It makes no sense to me. I`m very public they should do an intervention. No more tweeting. It doesn`t help his cause. It was a great tool during the campaign. It`s a terrible tool as a sitting president.

MATTHEWS: OK. Who`s going to walk into his bedroom and tell him he can`t tweet anymore?

BRABENDER: Well, and that`s always the problem, then, is that...



BRABENDER: ... there isn`t somebody that can walk in and say to this president, I disagree, but I`m on your team and I`m doing it for you.

He needs people around him like that.

MATTHEWS: It`s tough to do interventions.

JEREMY BASH, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, look, this could not have gone worse, I think, for the White House today, because on...


MATTHEWS: What`s worse for them, the fact he`s being investigated by the FBI or his argument that Obama...

BRABENDER: Wait a minute. He`s not being investigated.

MATTHEWS: No, his crowd are.

BASH: But that his inner circle is.

First, on the wiretapping issue...

MATTHEWS: Too close for comfort, I would say.

BASH: On the wiretapping issue, Comey could have said, we have given everything to the committees over to you to disclose if you want whether the president was telling the truth.

No, he actually took the president head on. And, second, on the investigation, he could have easily said, we`re not going to confirm or deny the existence of. He went much further. He did confirm the existence of. And that opens the door for the Intelligence Committees to look at this.

MATTHEWS: Is there any -- is there any Republican -- I don`t think there`s a Republican Party right now that makes sense.

Is there any way that Trump can beat this? Can he put everything out? You say -- you said, it`s not Trump. It`s just people around him.

Why doesn`t he out them all? Why doesn`t he say, I don`t know what this guy was doing? I was always suspicious about what Manafort was doing. That`s why he left the campaign. I don`t know what Carter Page was doing. We left him get a three-day weekend leave. I don`t know why Flynn took the money for giving the speech over there or going to that dinner.

He just could come out and say, point by point, these guys were doing their own little bootlegging operation, whatever it was, and I`m not part of it.

Why doesn`t he do that?

BRABENDER: Well, first all, let`s be clear. We say the inner circle, Roger Stone, Manafort, Page, Flynn, they`re all out. They were all pushed out in some way. Is that correct? They`re not part of the administration.

JEREMY BASH, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The chairman of the campaign and the national security adviser and the top foreign policy spokesperson.


BASH: They are part of the president`s inner circle. They helped get him elected. He`s in that White House because of them.

BRABENDER: But if you`re worried about what they may know that could hurt you, you`re not going to push them out. That`s number.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. Thank you. You do know this more than -- Brabender, you are so much smarter than the game you play here. You know that Trump has a problem here.

BRABENDER: No, I`m going to say number two --

MATTHEWS: You said you can`t get rid of these guys unless they know so much.


BRABENDER: I`m going to stand up for Hillary Clinton.

BASH: Throwing his inner circle under the bus after they`re caught dead to rights talking to Russians is not saying that he`s clean. It shows actually the extent of the problem here and unless he comes out and clarifies it or his ministers --

MATTHEWS: This is so Nixonian, because people say, why didn`t Nixon just burn the tapes and admit everything? Because he was so involved with the intrigue, so much of this stuff he was involved with. It was too late to get out.

BRABENDER: What the FBI said today we`re investigating just like they said we are Hillary Clinton and then later said, we found them. So --

MATTHEWS: We`re going to give you an hour documentary --


BRABENDER: Let`s see, maybe the same thing will happen here.

MATTHEWS: John Brabender for Hillary. Anyway, Jeremy Bash. Thank you, gentlemen.

Still ahead, our special national security roundtable is coming here and talk about the news today, the double barrel of news, none of it good for Trump. We`ll talk about the wiretap that didn`t happen, we`re going to talk about the investigation that`s real into the Trump team and the Russians.

You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.



JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: They were unusually loud in their intervention. It`s almost as if they didn`t care that we knew what they were doing or that they wanted us to see what they were doing. It was very noisy.


MATTHEWS: Wow. He`s talking about the Russians, I think.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was more from FBI Director James Comey`s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee today referring to the Russians` interference. In other words, in the interference in our election, they wanted us to know about it in some weird way. We`re going to hear from Malcolm on that.

Comey also warned that the Russians would be back. This was powerful.


COMEY: They`ll be back in 2020. They may be back in 2018. And one of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful, because they introduced chaos and division and discord and sowed doubt about the nature of this amazing country of ours and our democratic process.


MATTHEWS: Well, the director confirmed previous concerns about why the Russians wanted to disrupt our electoral system.


COMEY: Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flip side of that coin was he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much. Yes, they don`t like NATO. They think NATO encircles them and threatens them.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Would they like to see sanctions on Ukraine go away?


SCHIFF: Would they have a preference for a candidate who expressed open administration for Putin?

COMEY: I hope you`ll reformulate the question. Mr. Putin would like people who like him.


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump is on stage in Louisville, Kentucky, tonight. We`re going to listen to see what he has to say. Right now, he`s reliving his election victory. We`ll let you know if he addresses Comey`s testimony from today.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL round table.

Evelyn Farkas is former senior adviser to the supreme allied commander in Europe and an NBC News and MSNBC national security analyst, of course. And Malcolm Nance is, of course, an MSNBC terrorism analyst. And Susan Hennessey is a fellow with the National Security and Government Studies at the Brookings Institution.

Well, let me just react to y`all, and I think reacted what you had to say. So, Evelyn, what did you think of today? I was stunned by the statement about Vladimir Putin hating -- he said it a couple times -- hating Hillary Clinton. If I were Hillary Clinton watching, I`d say, what about you buster? I think he had an attitude there.

But the strong statement about the investigation is under way as to a possible criminality by the Trump crowd and the fact that Trump`s claim that he was wiretapped by the former president is nothing. There`s nothing there. These are strong statements.

EVELYN FARKAS, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, so first of all, I`m not surprised at anything today because I was one of the crazy people running around even in the summer saying there`s a lot of smoke here, people. You know, where are the fire trucks? So I`m not surprised. I will --

MATTHEWS: You mean about the Russian involvement or about the Trump involvement?

FARKAS: About the Trump involvement and certainly not about the Russian involvement. I mean, I know how the Russians operate. And that`s where I want to edit something that Comey said, because he said the Russians are going to come back. No, no, no. They never left. The Russians are still here.

MATTHEWS: But this is the first election they`ve really got their hands in, though, right?

FARKAS: Right. But we don`t know. They`re in the systems. They probably got information from the RNC, you know, from maybe the Trump campaign.

MATTHEWS: That came out today.

Yes, Malcolm, you`ve been following this for awhile now.


MATTHEWS: What struck you today about these two bombshells?

NANCE: I think the most important thing that struck me today because people have been characterizing this all day as Democrats having one position on this and the Republicans having a completely different alternate version of this, going after leaks and the Democrats putting out this timeline.

But I saw three entirely different groups aligning today. Democrats, the press, and the entirety of the U.S. intelligence community as represented by these two chiefs were all saying one story that the Russians had attacked the United States. They had verified all of that by the questioning of Comey and Admiral Rogers. And then there was this other story about, you know, are leaks bad and should they be prosecuted?

MATTHEWS: Let me fight you on that. I don`t think that was an alternative. That was an attempt to distract because these guys did not actually say they challenged this. One guy did. They were laying down, I thought. They looked defeated.

NANCE: You`re absolutely right. But if -- you know, I saw clips of another news channel which has an alternate point of view and they were hammering the leaks. Russia Today was hammering the leaks.

MATTHEWS: That wasn`t denying the Russian role nor denying the Trump role with the Russians really.

NANCE: You`re absolutely right.

MATTHEWS: So, let`s think about something else --

NANCE: But it is that alternate reality.


MATTHEWS: Susan, what do you think?

HENNESSEY: Even though I agree with Evelyn that there was nothing particularly surprising, it`s still --

MATTHEWS: You people are cynics. I`m shocked. Didn`t it surprise you the FBI director said criminal investigation of a president?


HENNESSEY: That is remarkable. The other thing that really was remarkable about --

MATTHEWS: This is Mark Felt coming out from the Watergate days, you know, in real time.

NANCE: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Not waiting for years later to leak it to Bob Woodward.

HENNESSEY: But distinct from that, Comey was testifying today like a man who had a very serious investigation that he did not want to jeopardize.

FARKAS: Right.

HENNESSEY: I think the most significant sort of story or takeaway here was how careful he was being in terms of the way he was phrasing questions.

MATTHEWS: How about when Roger Stone`s name was mentioned and Paul Manafort`s name? I wish I could read minds. It seemed like, oh, you mean the guys in my investigation?

NANCE: The key intelligence indicator about that, if you were to actually go through all of that testimony, you could create a black hole of what he`s not talking about.


NANCE: No comment.

MATTHEWS: OK, Malcolm, there`s a difference between saying I don`t want to talk about that or I can`t talk about that. People said there`s a distinction of what he was saying. If he said, I can`t talk about that, it was in a case.

NANCE: Right.

MATTHEWS: If it was, I don`t want to talk about that, it was a general statement.

The round table is sticking with us and up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the round table.

Evelyn, tell me something I don`t know.

FARKAS: We`re going to see more robust action in Iraq and Syria because this administration thinks that the threat is radical Islamic terrorists and you`ve got to bomb them from behind the wall.

NANCE: Well, despite the fact that we`re going to be talking about tomorrow the president of the United States and his senior staff may have been unwitting or witting assets of Russian intelligence in order to throw an election, we still have to worry about North Korea and nuclear weapons.

HENNESSEY: My prediction is that Donald Trump is not nearly finished with damage control over his comments about GCHQ. Those kinds of acquisitions against our closest intelligence ally, if he thinks he`s going to wait out the news cycle on that one, I think he`s going to be disappointed.

MATTHEWS: I`ll tell you something I don`t like, which I don`t like the confluence of this story we`re covering tonight in the North Korean situation and Donald Trump, unlike all three in the same porridge.

Anyway, Evelyn Farkas, Malcolm Nance and Susan Hennessey.

We`ll be right back after this.


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump`s on stage in Louisville. No surprise here. Nothing so far in the big news of the day from FBI Director Jim Comey.

Stay with MSNBC for a complete coverage throughout the night.

Back after this.


MATTHEWS: Let me say a word about Jimmy Breslin who died over the weekend. And I think we would have loved this time, right now I mean, tonight, with the double-barrel headlines bashing away reporters and columnists and yes, those of us on television, trying to figure what it all means, the mix of irony and predictability and I told you so.

The columnist needs that mix to be here, a recipe of what made a good column, it had to be both weird and familiar and it had to be news, you know, a bit bizarre, but also brought back to the surface some ancient truth.

So, Breslin wrote about the death of John F. Kennedy from the point of view whose honor it was that Sunday afternoon to dig the president`s grave. And so, we have the headlines tonight, I think, I know Jimmy Breslin would love to raise after, to find the angle that no one else had come across. Who was the grave digger in this story of how the Russians screwed with our democracy last year or in the probe of who in the Trump team may have been in cahoots with them? Could it be the average voter out there who thought the 2016 campaign was on the level?

Back when Speaker Tip O`Neil was retiring and I was looking for a future in print, the guy who got the grave digger story walked me up Manhattan Avenue, I think it was Sixth Avenue, dogging me to go ahead with my ambition to be a newspaper columnist, which I did. "Get a column," he nudged me. "You`ll stand up straight." He`s on the way to introducing me to a top New York editor vouching for me big time.

Jimmy Breslin, like all the big ones, Bob Woodward, George Will, Maureen Dowd, Peggy Noonan, Bill Sapphire, Mary McGrory, Mike Barnicle, was fearless, lest of all, competition, lest of all that.

Jimmy, to you, to Ronnie, to all of the grave diggers out there, we`re going to miss him. We`re going to miss him.


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