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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 3/22/2017

Guests: Jackie Speier, Chris Coons, Jeff Horwitz, Julia Ioffe, Glenn Thrush, April Ryan, Ken Vogel, Dan Donovan

Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews g Date: March 22, 2017 Guest: Jackie Speier, Chris Coons, Jeff Horwitz, Julia Ioffe, Glenn Thrush, April Ryan, Ken Vogel, Dan Donovan


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

President Trump is still working to escape his tweets that President Obama wiretapped him during the campaign. Today, a junior ally, House Republican Devin Nunes, said he has access to information showing Trump or some of his people were picked up in the transition period through surveillance of someone else.

Well, the bigger story here is that his information not only does not -- does nothing to confirm Trump`s actual tweets, but that the congressman`s conduct is hardly appropriate for someone chairing an investigation of Trump. He acted today more like a Trump staffer.

Well, the surveillance story released today may, in fact, be a decoy from today`s far bigger story. The Trump campaign chair, Paul Manafort, was once paid $10 million a year from a friend of Vladimir Putin. That`s $10 million a year from Putin`s buddy.

Let`s start with the news that the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, has access to information, he says, that says Donald Trump or someone connected to him came up under U.S. surveillance during -- of someone else. Well, according to Nunes, who was on President Trump`s transition team, the brand-new information he obtained alarmed him, he said. It was so alarming, he said, that he rushed to tell the president at the White House and then tell the press in two separate news conferences.

Let`s watch.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: What I saw has nothing to do with Russia and nothing to do with the Russian investigation, has everything to do with possible surveillance activities. And the president needs to know that these intelligence reports are out there, and I have a duty to tell him that.

What I`ve read bothers me, and I think it should bother the president himself and his team because I think some of it seems to be inappropriate.


QUESTION: The president was correct in what he tweeted?

NUNES: It is possible.


MATTHEWS: Well, Nunes never explained what the information is, where it is, where it came from or how it showed surveillance.

To be very clear, here`s exactly what President Trump tweeted in the early morning hours of March 4th. Pay attention to this. "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!" More of the tweeting, "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process? This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy." That would be President Obama.

According to Nunes today, this new information was collected legally and involved incidental intelligence, meaning the Trump names weren`t the target of the collection.


NUNES: It looks like it was legal collection, incidental collection, that then made itself into intelligence reports.


MATTHEWS: Well, regardless, the president today said he felt somewhat vindicated.


QUESTION: Mr. President, do you feel vindicated by Chairman Nunes? Do you feel vindicated by Chairman Nunes coming over here?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I somewhat do. I must tell you, I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, but I somewhat do.


MATTHEWS: It was only Monday that FBI director James Comey, someone who is in a position to really know, said this about the president`s tweets.


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: Well, the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff -- he`s the Democrat -- cast doubt on the motives of his chairman. Let`s watch.


SCHIFF: We have no idea where these documents came from, whether they even show what they purport to show. But even if they do, on the basis of what the chairman said, the underlying fact is still the same. There`s no evidence to support the president`s contention that he was wiretapped by his predecessor.

So I`m not sure what the point of this extraordinary process is, and I have to hope that this is not part of a broader campaign by the White House aimed to deflect from the director`s testimony earlier this week.


MATTHEWS: Well, U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier is a member of the Intelligence Committee. She`s from California. Congresswoman, thank you.

I`m just going through this day, and I have to say that it`s been driving me crazy because not a single point in Trump`s tweets of a couple weeks ago that caused all this that Saturday morning has been countered by anything that came out today.

There`s nothing in this so-called surveillance, incidental surveillance, that says anything about President Obama ordering any wiretaps, nothing in it about wiretaps, nothing it in about something happening during the campaign. On every single word in that sentence, there`s not a thing in the tweet that`s countered by what`s come out today.

What`s come out today is something to do with surveillance, something to do with incidental pickup of somebody near Trump during the transition period. And yet they`re running around the White House like they`re creating this big spooky notion that somehow they have uncovered the whole thing.

And I have to say the press hasn`t looked particularly good, either, the way they handled it down at the White House, the way they`ve sort of gone with this story because they`re easily moved, I suppose, by this.

Anyway, you`re the expert. You`re on the committee. First of all, is there anything in this thing that the chairman has come out with today that counters what the FBI director, what the NSA director said this week?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Absolutely not. And this thing, as you referred to it, is something that we haven`t seen, and it`s highly irregular to have the chairman not bring something that he might have acquired to the committee for it to be reviewed by the staff for its authenticity. And we`re an oversight committee of those various agencies, the CIA, the NSA, the entire intelligence community.

So the fact that he raced over to the White House really casts doubt on our ability to do an independent investigation of the Trump operatives in collusion with the Russians to undermine our elections. And I don`t know to what extent this is being orchestrated by the White House, or it was just tomfoolery on the part of the chairman to do this because it is -- it sabotages this effort.

MATTHEWS: You know, it hit me -- I guess I`m always political, Congresswoman, so what struck me is the likely scenario here is what happened is Nunes was trying to be honest this past week and trying to admit there was no evidence and did so. There was no evidence, he said as chairman, of any wiretapping of President Obama by the candidate at the time, Trump, very straight on that, agreeing with the Democrats, very bipartisan.

He got some heat from home, maybe some Trump people, maybe from the Trump people in Washington. He got some heat. So he goes bounding down to the White House with this new information. We don`t even know if he got it from the White House. We don`t know who -- we don`t know if it -- by the way, as a member of the committee, can you ask the chair to see what he has? Can you just call him up and say, Can I see that, Mr. Chairman?

SPEIER: Well, we do have a hearing tomorrow, and you can bet your bottom dollar that we will be asking for that. You know, the irony is, of course, during the hearing, all the Republicans wanted to talk about was the terrible leaks coming out of the intelligence community.

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes.

SPEIER: This would appear to be a leak out of the intelligence community and he`s, you know, holding it up with great fervor, holding press conference. The whole thing is way too orchestrated, and it really does disservice to our institution, the legislative branch and the independence of it.

MATTHEWS: Have you ever heard of a member of your committee getting access to something that no one else on the committee, Democrat or Republican, has? In other words, this unique possession of something that he doesn`t - - in case a he -- doesn`t have in his immediate possession, says he has to go look at, says he`s allowed to go look at it, but he doesn`t have it. He can`t show it.

There`s something very interesting about -- it`s almost a religious belief. I`ve got something I`ve seen, this apparition, and I can`t tell you how it happened, but it happened, and you got to be there when it happened. And believe me, it happened. And I have this stuff. And yet I can`t show it to you. I don`t know.

SPEIER: It`s beginning to sound more and more like Watergate, just "Deep Throats," and you know, meeting in garages. I don`t know where he met whomever he met...


SPEIER: ... or how he achieved it. The other thing that`s important to point out, however, is there is huge news today about Paul Manafort. And yet...

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

SPEIER: ... that got dismissed.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`re going to bring it up in about five minutes, Congresswoman.


MATTHEWS: What do you make of the fact of a guy making $10 million a year? That`s a lot of rubles.

SPEIER: A lot of rubles.

MATTHEWS: And to say that that -- and to say that it never happened under direct questioning -- because I saw one clip today, I`ve seen it before, George Stephanopoulos of ABC, Have you ever had any dealings with Russia? Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no.

And then they were covering it up by saying only deal with the Russian -- pro-Russian Ukrainians, who are really the pro-Russians. And then they`re denying that, Trump`s denial on the record, no connection to my people in the campaign.

Why does Paul Manafort -- how did he get the job? I`m curious about all the Russian activity. Aren`t you amazed at the frequency of the traffic back and forth to Russia, Carter Page, Roger Stone`s got buddies over there, all these people, back and forth, Jeff Sessions, all these people. (INAUDIBLE) frequent traffic.

I`ve never been to Russia. Maybe I`m just a hokie guy that doesn`t think Russia is the top of my travel list. They`re always over there, it seems. What do you make of it?

SPEIER: Well, what I make of it, and I said this during the hearing, I mean, there is a web of involvement with Russia that is unheard of among those in the White House, those in the cabinet, and those who are operatives in the Trump campaign. And I think we`ve got to connect those dots, and we`ve got to find out if the spider is, indeed, Putin.

MATTHEWS: You`re the best. Thanks so much, U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California.

In a press conference this afternoon, U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff had this to say about the activities of Chairman Nunes today. Let`s watch him.


SCHIFF: The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House because he cannot do both.

And unfortunately, I think the actions of today throw great doubt into the ability of both the chairman and the committee to conduct the investigation the way it ought to be conducted.


MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, he`s a Democrat, and Jeremy Bash. He`s former chief of staff to the CIA and Department of Defense. He`s an MSNBC national security analyst.

Senator, thank you so much. Is it the job of an oversight committee to staff the presidency? I thought it was the other way around.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: No, the whole point of oversight by the Intelligence Committees is for them to conduct a thorough bipartisan oversight. And this is a particularly important and delicate time where it is vital that the chairman and the ranking member work together, coordinate and consult with each other.

And what Chairman Nunes did today legitimately raises real questions about whether he`s primarily interested in providing a defense or a cover to the White House, or whether he`s dedicated to a bipartisan and thorough investigation of Russia`s interference in our elections.

MATTHEWS: Yes, there seemed to be a St. Bernard in the snow aspect to this. He`s rushing down to the White House to help the -- President Trump.

Well, let me ask you about the facts. The tweets, the notorious tweets of a couple weeks ago, were quite clear and quite blunt and dishonest, I thought, first of all, that President Obama ordered a wiretap, which is illegal and possibly even -- under the rules of FISA, you can`t do it.

Number two, that he did it toward Trump personally, that he did it himself, he was sick for doing it, he did it at Trump Tower and he did it during the campaign.

To me, not one of those points has been countered by this thing. It`s so far, just a thing that Mr. Nunes says he has in possession.

COONS: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Nothing challenges the story we`ve been get.

COONS: Chris, we don`t have a lot of details because Congressman Nunes hasn`t shared it either with the Senate Intelligence Committee or with the Democrats on House Intel. As you heard from Congresswoman Speier a minute ago, you can be guaranteed that tomorrow during their hearing, the House Intelligence Committee members are going to be pressing Congressman Nunes for exactly what it is that he`s seen and where it came from.

But it doesn`t, to your point, undermine the significant statement that was made by FBI Director Comey that`s also now been made by the national intelligence leadership that there is not a shred of evidence to support President Trump`s claim in a 6:00 AM tweet now several weeks ago that President Obama wiretapped now-President Trump in Trump Tower. There`s no evidence for that so far at all.

MATTHEWS: Hold on, Senator. Is this a black flag? Isn`t that what they call it? You get some phony thing out there and everybody goes chasing. Are we chasing the wrong story? Is the story not Nunes, but the story, in fact, that Manafort got 10 million bucks?

JEREMY BASH, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: And the story is, from Monday`s hearing, we`ve had counterintelligence investigations. We`ve had FBI criminal investigations of the White House. We`ve never had an FBI counterintelligence and criminal investigation of the White House. This

is unprecedented in our history, and that was the big news from Monday. The Monday hearing was a debacle for the White House...


BASH: ... not so much on the wiretapping issue, Chris, but in fact, on the revelation that they and their inner circle are under FBI investigation for basically having the Russians help them throw the election.

And so this is unprecedented. And the chairman was under tremendous pressure because he basically presided over a hearing that was a complete setback for the White House.

MATTHEWS: That`s what I thought. I thought he was under pressure from either back home, the redhots from his district, or the White House said, You want to play Mr. Neutral? We`re going to burn you.

BASH: I think they said, find us something, any port in a storm, something to get us out of this.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask the senator about this. You know, the history of the Intelligence Committee -- I think we have to sort of spruce up their image right now because this isn`t good for them. I remembered when I worked for the speaker, Speaker O`Neill, that they used to give the hot intelligence stuff to the leadership. And Tip said, I don`t want all this information. It`s all in my head, and I can`t do anything with it. I`m not allowed to say it, but I know these horrible things that are going on.

The Intelligence Committee is supposed to keep secrets. That`s their job. They`re given the information...

COONS: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: ... with the idea of -- well, explain the culture of that institution and the ethics.

COONS: That`s right. One of the important things about the Intelligence Committees in both the House and the Senate is that they are dedicated to receiving and reviewing and understanding, to authorizing and appropriating for a very significant intelligence community here in the United States.

The members of the Intelligence Committee do difficult work. They`re exposed to very high-classification secrets of the United States. But most importantly, as you mentioned a few minutes ago, Chris, they are supposed to conduct oversight, oversight of the executive branch and oversight of the intelligence community, not to end up cheering on or providing an excuse for the White House.

MATTHEWS: Do you think we need something independent? People have talked today that the Congress -- I hate to say it because I love the Congress, and I know you do, too, Senator -- that Congress can`t handle this because the ranking -- or rather, the top -- the chairman of the House committee, half the effort here has now shown himself to be a partisan buddy to the president.

COONS: This is a gravely concerning development, Chris. I still remain hopeful that it`s possible that the Senate Intelligence Committee can demonstrate its relevance for moving this investigation forward. If we have to take an off-ramp and go to a special committee or a select committee here or a commission, it will slow everything down for at least six months...

MATTHEWS: You`re so right (INAUDIBLE)

COONS: ... while that commission gets set up.

MATTHEWS: That`s what I agree. I mean, we don`t want another Iran-contra thing with Lawrence Walsh that went on for, like, nine years. We don`t want that.

BASH: And I...

MATTHEWS: Quickly. Thank you, Senator.

BASH: I also think Schiff and the Democrats should stay in the investigation. They should stay in the room, issue the subpoenas, hear the witnesses...


BASH: ... and get this going.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Always great to have you, Jeremy Bash. Thank you. U.S. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, thank you for joining us, sir.

Coming up, new questions about Trump`s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. He is back in the news. He should be front and center, this guy -- $10 million a year from this Russian guy very close to Putin. This is what people have been thinking about.

How deep does the connection run between Trump`s operation, his campaign chair, who he now says he doesn`t even know the guy? How`s that work with you? Anyway, this Russian billionaire behind this -- the goal to advance the interests of Vladimir Putin.

That`s why the 10 million bucks was crossing the table, so that Manafort would improve the politics of Russia in this country, the news business and among politicians, the very thing we`ve been talking about, trying to influence our politics with money.

Anyway, we`re going to be right back.

By the way, plus, London under attack. We`ve all been following that story today. New details tonight on that terror attack right outside the British Parliament. Four people dead now, many more injured. The police say the attacker was motivated by international terrorism. We`re going to get to that motive.

And House Republicans hope to press ahead in their Obama repeal plan tomorrow night. We`ll see if that even comes to a vote. It looks like it will. But as of tonight they don`t have the votes. They don`t have the 216, they know. Is President Trump, the self-described deal maker in chief, about to go down in defeat? Looks like it.

Finally, let me finish with "Trump watch" tonight.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Much more coming on Trump and Russia, but right now, let`s get the latest on that attack over in London today. Police say four people have been killed, including a police officer who actually was guarding the Parliament, and 40 injured in an attack that began when a driver rammed his car into a crowd near the Parliament building itself. Police say the driver then attacked a police officer outside the Parliament and was shot and killed. Police say the assailant was said to be motivated by international terrorism.

NBC`s Matt Bradley joins us now from London. Matt, does this have anything do with the Middle East, with Islam, or anything associated with -- can we see any of that aspect?

MATT BRADLEY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, the police have been reticent to actually give any real information on the identity of the attacker. Of course, they have his dead body in custody. He was killed during the attack. But they don`t want to actually reveal his identity right now, and they`ve cautioned the media not to really -- not to get too much into the identity of the attacker before they come out with more official, verifiable information.

But they did say that they are treating this as a terrorist attack and that they do believe that this is connected somehow to international terrorism. That is to say, they really do believe that this is an Islamist or a jihadi attack and they`re investigating it as such. But they`ve been doing that all afternoon.

So basically, as this rolls forward, we`re starting to hear more and more from the British government about how they just want this to be about continuity. They`re telling -- the message that Theresa May, the prime minister, delivered to this country was that, We`re going to be opening Parliament tomorrow morning. We`re going to be proceeding with business as usual.

And, as Sadiq Khan, the mayor of this city, says is part of his unofficial slogan for London, London is open, and nothing is going to scare us. And they`re going to continue to do business as usual -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: The Churchillian phrase, keep calm and carry on.

Anyway, the lights at Eiffel Tower over in Paris are dark tonight, in solidarity with the victims of the London attack. I love Europe when it gets like this, together.

Thank you, NBC`s Matt Bradley over in London.

And we will be back after this with more on the big story today, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes giving the White House a heads- up on communications collected at Trump Tower.

Anyway, plus, the hot new story from the Associated Press detailing new ties between former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and pro-Putin Russian oligarchs.

HARDBALL back after this.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, the news today from House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes comes as the top Democrat on the committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, says that evidence of the Trump campaign`s link to Russia is more than circumstantial.

Here`s Schiff late today.


CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": But you admit it`s circumstantial -- all you have right now is a circumstantial case?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Actually, no, Chuck. I can tell you that the case is more than that, and I can`t go into the particulars, but there is more than circumstantial evidence now. So, again, I think...


TODD: So, you have seen direct evidence of collusion?

SCHIFF: I don`t want to go into specifics, but I will say that there is evidence that is not circumstantial and is very much worthy of investigations.



Well, today, the Associated Press reported that Donald Trump`s former campaign chair Paul Manafort secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As part of that work -- catch this -- Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June of 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States.

According to documents obtained by the Associated Press, Manafort signed a $10 million annual contract with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska in 2006 and continued the relationship until at least 2009.

Most damning is that one of Manafort`s memos to the Russian billionaire specifically outlines how his proposals will -- quote -- "benefit the Putin government."

The news appears to contradict, I would say, Manafort`s denial last July about having no ties to Putin or his regime.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?

PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: No, there are not. That`s absurd. And, you know, there`s no basis to it.


MATTHEWS: It`s an absurd $10 million.

Anyway, the report also appears to contradict the president`s statement just last month that nobody from his campaign, including Manafort, had anything to do with Russia.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does. Now, Manafort has totally denied it. He denied it. Now, people knew that he was a consultant over in that part of the world for a while, but not for Russia.


MATTHEWS: Well, while Manafort confirmed that he did work for the Russian oligarch in question, he told NBC News today: "I did not work for the Russian government. Once again, smear and innuendo are being used to paint a false picture."

I`m joined right now by the author of that report, Jeff Horwitz of the Associated Press.

Jeff, thank you for joining us.

Tell us about this connection between this guy and Deri -- what`s his name and Trump and Putin? Put them all three together, these three characters.


So, let`s start with Oleg Deripaska and Putin. Oleg Deripaska is an aluminum magnate who survived some very bloody and contentious wars, lots of fighting, like literal fighting in Russia to dominate that industry.

And he`s known, according to the U.S. government in terms of past diplomatic cables, as somebody who`s very close to Putin, who travels with him regularly, and who is sort of one of his top lieutenants in the business world. So, that`s Oleg Deripaska and Putin.

Now, in terms of Deripaska and Manafort, Manafort was hired by Deripaska, Manafort`s firm, to represent his interests both inside -- or both in a number of former Soviet Bloc countries and also to sort of promote those interests in Washington as well.

And that`s coming directly from a contract and from memoranda, strategy memorandums -- memoranda connected to the contract. It`s very explicit. The goal is to help the Putin government and to benefit Oleg Deripaska`s personal and business interests. And separating out those things in Russia is very hard to do.

MATTHEWS: Well, Paul Manafort told you this work with the Russian oligarch -- quote -- "did not involve representing Russia`s political interests."

But according to the diplomatic cables, the Russian billionaire Manafort worked for is -- quote -- "among the two or three oligarchs that Putin turns to on a regular basis and is a more or less permanent fixture in Putin`s trips abroad."`

What I was struck by, the contract proposal from Manafort, which says, I`m going to influence politics in the United States, I`m going to influence the news business.

How much does this oligarch care about what`s written in "The Washington Post" or "The New York Times" or what politicians are up to? What`s he want from inside Washington?

HORWITZ: So, to a degree -- so, the focus of the work and sort of where Manafort was sort of focusing his efforts was going to be Ukraine, Montenegro. It was going to be Georgia, Uzbekistan, sort of former Soviet states.

That said, Manafort correctly understood that Washington`s position on politics in those countries matters. And so part of his work for Deripaska was going to be influencing American government and media and think tanks, in fact, hiring people from universities to, you know, sort of represent this case, sort of to get them on the same page as Deripaska, as it were.

MATTHEWS: But it sounds like it`s the same page as Putin. It sounds like, Jeff, that what they`re really doing, and Manafort was doing, was advancing the cause of Putin, because why would an average private citizen, even a big billionaire, care about the near empire, bringing back the countries that they want to have in the Russian sphere of influence?

That seems like a political ambition, not a business ambition.

HORWITZ: And separating out his personal and business ambitions from political is precisely -- is hard precisely because of what you`re saying.

I mean, the memo that Manafort wrote, actually a number of them, reflect that, by doing good -- by doing sort of good deeds for the Putin government, that Manafort was going to be -- I`m sorry -- that Manafort was going to be helping Deripaska endear himself to the government, and that would obviously be personally beneficial to Oleg Deripaska.

So, that connection was fairly explicit, at least in the sales pitch for this work. Now, I should stress...

MATTHEWS: Well, shouldn`t Paul -- shouldn`t Paul have registered as a foreign lobbyist, if he`s basically fighting for the interest of a government, in effect? Sounds like he`s fighting for Putin, not Deripaska.

HORWITZ: So, we have definitely -- we have definitely run across this issue before with Paul Manafort and that question.

On this sort of stuff, there definitely is some stuff that does appear to be seeking to represent the Russian government and very definitely involving Manafort`s work in Washington.

Now, I should stress, we do not know exactly what Manafort actually did under this contract. We don`t know the full scope of that work. So, it`s possible that the whole thing veered in a different direction and Manafort ultimately didn`t do these things.

But, that said, the important thing, I think, for the context of, you know, sort of the current situation and the focus on Russia is that Donald Trump`s former campaign chairman was somebody who was actively soliciting, had the contacts, had the willingness, you know, was basically doing his best to get business representing Russian interests covertly.

MATTHEWS: I have never seen a lobbyist more effective in my life. He said he was going to influence politics and influence the media, and he created a president. I mean, I would say he delivered for the Russians.

Anyway, thanks.

That`s a hell of a -- sometimes, lobbyists B.S. their way to the money. This guy looks like he delivered, Manafort.

Anyway, thank you, Jeff Horwitz, for that great scoop from the Associated Press.

I`m joined right now from Moscow from Julia Ioffe, who is staff writer with "The Atlantic."

Julia, thank you for joining us.

I get the sense that we`re watching just a page of history as it sweeps through the United States, what the Russians have been up to since the fall of the Soviet Union, with all this extractive industry, with all the oil money, with all the minerals like aluminum, all this money going into the hands of those selected by the former communists to get the wealth, that they`re using it around the world to get power.

And we`re just the latest page in that history. What do you think?

JULIA IOFFE, "THE ATLANTIC": I don`t think there`s anything unusual about a country who used to be -- that used to be a giant empire wanting to be an empire again and trying to advance its interests.

I do want to say about Paul Manafort, he`s a lobbyist. He was a lobbyists for lots of other unsavory foreign governments in the U.S., African dictators, Filipino dictators.

The problem here is that he then became Donald Trump`s campaign manager and that he didn`t declare these activities, that he didn`t register as a foreign agent. And then he lied about it repeatedly, and the Trump administration lied about it repeatedly.

The very fact that he was lobbying for the Russian government and a Russian businessman, albeit a very scary one, is not really all that newsworthy. Lots of Western companies provide consulting and image management to some really unsavory Russian actors.

The P.R. agency Ketchum, for example, did a lot of work for the Putin government when he was the prime minister from 2008 to 2012 from here in Russia trying to improve their image and their standing abroad.

And, ultimately, what I want to say, like what Jeff said before me, that we don`t know where this went. Ketchum ultimately kind of -- that contract kind of spun out, because Ketchum got really frustrated. The Putin government was not taking any of their recommendations.

In some ways, it was just bling, right? Like, it`s nice to have a Chanel purse or a Maserati as a car. It`s nice. It`s a status symbol to be able to hire a famous Western consultant, too.


Do the Russian people you talk to think that Putin`s got his hands around Trump?


You know, this is -- from the Russian point of view, I spent a few days here, and people think we are -- we have lost our minds. They don`t understand the hysteria. The Manafort story is not really registering here at all.

I think people don`t believe that the hack happened, and, if it did happen, they don`t believe that there`s a link to the Kremlin, that the Kremlin gave the orders. And they also correctly point out that Trump is a phenomenon that is uniquely American and of an American making.

And, actually, in terms of the government, I think people here are trying to keep their heads down and lay low and not to anger the Trump administration, to kind of hope that this storm in the U.S. kind of dies down and that, once Putin and Trump meet, there will be some kind of personal chemistry to get them over this hump.

MATTHEWS: I guess that`s what Trump hopes, too.

Anyway, thank you, Julia Ioffe over in Moscow.


MATTHEWS: Up next, back to our top story, as President Trump says he feels somewhat vindicated about his wiretap claim after a visit from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Isn`t that nice? The guy who -- supposedly be running the investigation and the oversight.

Well, the HARDBALL Roundtable will be here next.

You`re watching it, HARDBALL, where the action is.


Well, today`s surprise announcement by House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes did nothing to provide concrete evidence of President Trump`s factless allegation that President Obama wiretapped him at Tramp Tower -- Trump Tower.

Tramp Tower. Hmm.

Nunes did, however, muddy the waters or at least provide cover for President Trump that he so desperately needed.

I don`t think he mudded the waters at all.

But here`s what he told CNN.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: It does appear like he -- his name and people -- and others ended up into intelligence reports.

So, I mean, look, you can -- you can make what you want of it, but, you know, most people would say that is surveilling.


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump, who enlisted Chairman Nunes to serve on his executive committee during the transition, made an eerie prediction last week.


TRUMP: Wiretap covers a lot of different things. I think you`re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.


MATTHEWS: Well, Adam Schiff, who is Democratic ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, cast doubt on the impartiality of the investigation and its chairman himself.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: We could do a tremendous service to the country if we`re able to do a credible investigation and at the end of the day provide a report to the American people that has Democrats and Republicans on the same page.

But if you have a chairman who is interacting with the White House and sharing information with the White House, when people around the White House are the subject of the investigation, and doing so before sharing it with the committee, it may -- it throws a profound doubt over whether that can be done credibly.


MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by the Roundtable tonight, Glenn Thrush, White House correspondent at "The New York Times," April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio, and Ken Vogel, chief investigative political reporter for Politico.

So, let`s put it all together.

What do we do -- the three big stories tonight. Let`s start with the one that Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, came out and tried to, well, mess up the perception that Trump was not, was not under surveillance, when, in fact, what he said today has something to do with the transition period, had something to do with vaguely surveillance, had something to do with something being picked up incidentally, whereas Trump`s charge of a couple weeks ago in his tweets were very clear.

He said: President Obama wiretapped me at Trump Tower during the campaign.

I don`t think a word of that has been challenged effectively, Glenn.

GLENN THRUSH, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, we have been reporting for weeks and weeks and weeks that, you know, wiretaps may have picked up various members of Trump`s campaign at Trump Tower.

And, again, I remember -- I`m old enough to remember when the White House was sort of saying that that was an indication of an intentful wiretap. Look, the president said about his...


MATTHEWS: A sick president.

THRUSH: A sick -- that`s exactly right.

MATTHEWS: That`s what Trump said. He was sick.

THRUSH: He said he was sick and he was bad. And he put...

MATTHEWS: It was Watergate.

THRUSH: And he put it -- and Watergate. And he put it directly at President Obama.

Nothing -- I don`t remember anything in those tweets about inadvertent surveillance being picked up. So, I don`t think anything fundamentally has changed.

MATTHEWS: Why did Nunes throw this dust all over this story?

THRUSH: What else is he going to do? I think Schiff really does raise a question. This guy was on transition. He has been in communication with the White House. We heard through the reporting that one of the reasons why Nunes has been going out every day and sort of standing in the hall and talking about this, is because the White House wants him to stand up on this stuff. I think that is a very valid question that Schiff asked in terms of the --

MATTHEWS: It looked like he was marching to the tone of the president.

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: Yes. And he was marching, indeed. It makes it look tainted. It makes this investigation look very tainted. And I talked to both Democrats and Republicans and both sides of the aisle are saying that, you know, what happened to checks and balances?

MATTHEWS: Yes, good point.

RYAN: What happened to checks and balances? Check mate or checkered now?

And I talked to someone, a former intelligence official from the Obama administration, they said, and this is with President Trump, they said, you know, he does not look like an innocent man. And all of this happening now, it just makes you wonder what is going on and why did this information have to come to the White House today to the president?

MATTHEWS: Ken, also, it fits such a pattern that April just said, because first of all, Manafort was chair of the party and the convention. He was all over interview shows. Now, he doesn`t know the guy. He doesn`t know anything.

Nunes doesn`t know anybody. Doesn`t know who Roger Stone is. It`s almost like Sergeant Schultz in "Hogan`s Heroes." I don`t know nothing. Don`t know anybody. They don`t know anybody.

And if they did -- why are they hiding from these people if they don`t think those -- even the president, we saw him in a clip a moment ago, where he said Paul Manafort`s denied any connection, like he`s laying it off on him. He`s not vouching for the guy. He just said it.

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO: They completely hijacked the hearings and seems almost strategic in a way. This hearing was supposed to be about Russia`s meddling in the election and possible collusion between the Trump team and Russia that would have looked at some of these folks like Paul Manafort --

MATTHEWS: We`ll talk about that. Let`s focus on that then.

Manafort, $10 million a year from Russia.

VOGEL: That contract ended in 2009. In fact, more recently --

RYAN: But tentacles, still nonetheless.

VOGEL: Yes, I mean --


MATTHEWS: This gets back to the old Bill Clinton, depends what the definition is. When you ask about relationship, $10 million sticks there. It doesn`t go away.

VOGEL: When he stopped consulting --

MATTHEWS: He can live with that for a while. He can live with $10 million for a while.

VOGEL: Yes. Well, I mean, he didn`t have to because he immediately went to work for Viktor Yanukovych and the party of regents, another Russia aligned politician in Ukraine, funded by a pro-Russian oligarch. That work continued all the way up through 2014 and then he -- after Yanukovych fled the country, Manafort went for the work for successor party --

RYAN: You say Manafort, that`s one tentacle. And then, let`s say Flynn. Two tentacles.

MATTHEWS: By the way, I`d like to se the passports. I just want to see the visas these guys have. Look at these. Roll it out.

How many times in Russia the last couple years?

The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, they`ll tell me something I don`t know.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.

Glenn, tell me something I don`t know.

THRUSH: Well, it turns out that the reason why Donald Trump doesn`t smile very much in all his campaign photographs and all his official photographs is because he wants to look mean. And he wants to look dour and he wants to --

MATTHEWS: I heard that today from someone. How did he get that story out? Where`d that come from?

THRUSH: I wrote it.


MATTHEWS: Somebody`s reading your column to me today.

THRUSH: With my colleague --

MATTHEWS: Somebody said he wants to be Winston Churchill.

THRUSH: That`s right. You stole my punch line, man.

MATTHEWS: I attribute it to you.

THRUSH: With my colleague, Maggie Haberman. It`s true.

Trump, if you look at the pictures, it`s pretty interesting. `80s, `90s, he smiles as sort of a genial billionaire. He smiled. That`s right.

That all kind of stopped with "The Apprentice."


THRUSH: And he would go through --

MATTHEWS: That`s what they do in Hollywood, they look like they`re serious, they`re always mean, always angry --

RYAN: Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, the young man who died in chokehold by New York police, met with a White House official yesterday in order to find out what`s going on with her son`s case. But now in question, this official from the public liaison`s office, called the Department of Justice, reached into Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in an active investigation and also called another department. So, we have to find out --

MATTHEWS: It`s a federal case, right?

RYAN: Federal case.

MATTHEWS: It was loosies. Loosies. The guy gets killed for loosies.


VOGEL: Oleg Deripaska, this Russian oligarch at the center of the Paul Manafort story today from the "A.P.", he had a private equity fund that Paul Manafort was involved in to invest in properties around Eastern Europe. One of the guys who was a member of that fund, our reporting shows is suspected of having ties to the Russian GRU, the Russian intelligence service.

MATTHEWS: So it`s all tied together?

VOGEL: In this case, it does look to be that Russian intelligence --

MATTHEWS: Good work.

Anyway, thank you, Glenn Thrush. Thank you, April Ryan, as always. And thank you, Ken Vogel.

Much more ahead. This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Coming up, one of the Republicans who`s voting against the president`s plan to scrap Obamacare is coming here. The House of Representatives, by the way, is set to vote tomorrow evening, but tonight, Republicans are falling short in this big legislative test for President Trump. It looks like he`s losing.

HARDBALL back after this.



SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: President Trump, who`s tried to put his name on nearly everything in his career -- ties, steaks, water - - doesn`t want his name on this bill. Well, the president himself is here on the Hill today to sell the bill to House Republicans. Make no mistake, this is Trumpcare.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, of course, yesterday, giving a new name to the House Republican`s plan to replace Obamacare, Trumpcare.

But the first legislative test of the president`s young administration, a plan to remake the country`s health care system is in peril tonight as conservatives in their own party are still denying Trump the votes he needs to get the bill through the House which is scheduled to vote on it tomorrow evening.

However, NBC News reports the White House is currently in negotiations with the House Freedom Caucus, that`s the Tea Party people whose members are going to the White House tomorrow.

U.S. Congressman Dan Donovan of New York is the latest Republican to say he`s voting against the health care bill and joins me now.

Congressman Donovan, I notice a pattern of members of Congress on the Republican side who seem to represent regular districts, not hot right, you know, red hot districts, regular Republican districts, you and Peter King and Brian Fitzpatrick, other -- there`s not a lot of you, but they seem to have the same question.

Is that because off lot of Democrats in your district? You`re not some Utah Republican? How can you explain the fact you guy are off and they`re on?

REP. DAN DONOVAN (R), NEW YORK: Well, I think, Chris, one of the issues is I`m a Republican that represents an urban area.


DONOVAN: We care for a lot of people who are poorer, working poor families who depend on government subsidized health care. I also have a lot of people in my district, Chris, who have paid astronomical premiums, $20,000 a year, have a $6,000 deductible and no longer go to the doctor because they can`t afford the co-pays or the deductible. So, there`s a gamut of people who aren`t being helped by the proposal now in urban areas and I guess my colleagues -- I haven`t spoke to them -- but I guess my colleagues have some of the same issues.

MATTHEWS: When you look at a person who has a problem, like I have diabetes, or something like that, type 2 luckily. It`s better than the other one.

Do you sit down and say, well, this kind of person, this kind of person? Can you do it that way? Who`s going to benefit? Can you do it cost plus for each of the programs, what we have now under Obamacare, what we have now under Trumpcare, can you do it that? Can you slice it that narrowly?

DONOVAN: Well, there`s lots of groups we have to be concerned with. We have to be concerned with our elderly population, senior citizens.


DONOVAN: The current law allows insurance companies to charge elderly three times as much as they charge a young healthy person. The proposal before us allows those companies to charge up to five times as much.

There`s reports that seniors who need to fill the gap Medicare doesn`t cover or people who retire earlier or are waiting for Medicare to take place need help. And so, there`s a large majority of groups of people that need help.

I have a disabled community has reached out to me. Their concern -- my hospital system, Chris, my four biggest employers in my district, I represent Staten Island and the southern portion of Brooklyn.

My four biggest employers are my hospital systems and they care for a lot of people. They`re concerned about my community having health care access and how much money they`re going to lose with the new proposal that we`ll be voting on tomorrow.

MATTHEWS: Well, you`re taking it seriously.

Thank you, U.S. Congressman Dan Donovan of New York, that`s part Brooklyn, Bay Ridge and Staten Island.

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


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017.

What worries Donald Trump more do you think? We might ask as he heads once more to bet (ph) by tonight. What might happen in North Korea or what might be discovered about his deals with Russia? What do you think?

Well, the evidence supports the latter. Trump seems intent on shifting attention from anything that connects him and his people to Moscow. Those tweets of his that President Obama wiretapped him during the 2016 campaign were but the beginnings of Trump`s deflection campaign.

Today, he lapped up word that a friendly congressman had said that Trump or some of his people had been picked up in government surveillance during the transition period. Well, this continued campaign of distraction makes sense when you see what the "Associated Press" uncovered just today. Remember all those denials by Trump and his campaign chairman Paul Manafort that neither of them had any dealing with Russia? Remember?

Well, today, the "A.P." reported that Manafort was deep into Russia, $10 million a year deep. That`s the yearly fee he was drawing from a close Putin associate, $10 million being an awful lot more than nothing.

I`ll say it again. This Russian connection just keeps building and every time it builds and expands, you have to wonder if Trump himself isn`t worried about what`s swirling around under the covers, even more than what`s happening in Pyongyang with that murderous child and his nuclear bombs.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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