Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 8/25/17 Mueller narrows focus in Flynn inquiry

Guests: Eli Stokols, Eric Swalwell, Nick Johnston, Priscilla Alvarez, Brian Murphy, Caroline Randall Williams, Gianno Caldwell, Ron Reagan

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 25, 2017

Guest: Eli Stokols, Eric Swalwell, Nick Johnston, Priscilla Alvarez, Brian Murphy, Caroline Randall Williams, Gianno Caldwell, Ron Reagan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Stormy weather, stormy politics. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

As Hurricane Harvey barrels towards Texas tonight, there`s a trifecta of new reports on the probe into possible Russian -- or possible Trump collusion between the Trump administration and its campaign and Russia.

NBC News reports special counsel Robert Mueller issued grand jury subpoenas in recent days to public relations executives who worked with Paul Manafort. It`s the first public indication that the investigation is beginning to compel witness testimony before the grand jury.

Also this afternoon, "The Wall Street Journal" reported that Mueller is, quote, "examining what role, if any, former national security adviser Michael Flynn may have played in a private effort to obtain Hillary Clinton`s e-mails from Russian hackers."

Well, that effort to work with hackers was led to -- was led by a long-time Republican activist who described Flynn as an ally, according to "The Journal."

And then there was this "Washington Post" report today about concern within the CIA. According to "The Post," CIA director Mike Pompeo has taken a special interest in an agency unit that is closely tied to the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, requiring the counter-intelligence center or mission center to report directly to him.

Officials at the center have, in turn, kept a watchful eye on Pompeo himself, who has repeatedly played down Russia`s interference in the 2016 the election and demonstrated a willingness to engage in political skirmishes on behalf of President Trump.

Well, "The Post" reports that while Pompeo hasn`t interfered with the unit`s work, there is concern about what he will do if the CIA uncovers new potentially damaging information about the president. One U.S. official told "The Post," People have to watch him. It`s almost as if he can`t resist the impulse to be political.

For more on all this, I`m joined by NBC News national security reporter Ken Dilanian, U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell of California -- he`s a member of the House Intelligence Committee -- MSNBC national security and analyst Malcolm Nance and "The "Wall Street Journal`s" Eli Stokols.

In that order, what do we make of the fact that Counsel Mueller and his people now are apparently issuing subpoenas, but they`re basically going after -- let`s start with this. Manafort, who always looked like the low- hanging fruit here, Ken -- it doesn`t surprise me that they`re moving faster on him because of all his, let`s put it this way, commercial entanglements with all elements of the Russian hierarchy.

KEN DILANIAN, NBC INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: It doesn`t surprise me, either, Chris. And what this is at bottom is an effort to get -- to get behind why Paul Manafort was paid $17 million by a Russian-backed Ukrainian political party. And this was a lobbying campaign that went on between 2012 and 2014.

A group of Washington PR firms were paid millions of dollars to lobby the U.S. government on behalf of this Ukrainian regime. And they didn`t register as foreign lobbyists at the time. They`ve subsequently done so. Manafort has subsequently done so.

Now Mueller wants to know, you know, who got paid, what did they do, what was Manafort`s role? But he`s not just asking, he`s compelling their testimony before a grand jury. And as you know, when you go before a grand jury, you can`t lie. If you lie, you go to jail.

MATTHEWS: Congressman, what do have you on this on the committee? What do you know Manafort`s role here? What is it? What are they looking at him for?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: We know that he was a central figure at one of the most intense periods of Russia`s interference. So Chris, he presided as the chairman when the convention took place. He was a part of the team that allowed Carter Page to travel over to Moscow. He was in that June 9 meeting, and he had prior ties personally, financially and politically to Russia.

So this shows that progress is being made. But Chris, it also shows that these investigations take a very, very long time, especially when you`re dealing with such complex financial transactions and communications.

MATTHEWS: Eli, what do you got on him? Because (INAUDIBLE) low-hanging fruit because from the beginning of this sort of inquest, which began months ago, we`ve wondered about why did -- first of all, why did Trump pick Manafort, a man whose all his relationships seem to be Russian? What was that bent about? What did he expect to get from a guy that had all these entangling relationships, except he wanted them?

ELI STOKOLS, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well--

MATTHEWS: He wanted a guy around who had all this going on in Russia.

STOKOLS: I think at the -- and our reporting is that during the campaign, the campaign was kind of in a fraught place. A friend of his, a friend of President Trump told him, Hey, I got a guy. I know somebody. He`ll be good at this. He`ll help stabilize the campaign, and brought him in. It`s unclear whether or not the president was actually aware of all of Paul Manafort`s foreign entanglements, but it`s pretty clear at this point that he is a top target of this probe.

And you`ve seen the president, you know, over several months, as this has gone on, distance himself from a lot of people, including Paul Manafort. They never had a close personal relationship. And he has said many times, Oh, he was a guy who worked for me. He wasn`t there that long.

MATTHEWS: Malcolm, give me your full sense of your instinct on this, your way -- I have sort of an instinct, too, but it`s not as professional as yours -- about Manafort. He just seems like the kind of guy who would be involved in a lot of intrigue, not everything you want to put out on the table, you know, a bit like that. That`s just my hunch.

MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, he has a history at this. And you know, he worked for the -- you know, the dictators` lobby.

But I think what Mueller and his team are doing is very, very smart. They are throwing a circle around Manafort`s financial past. And they`re going to either determine one of two things. Either he was working with the Kremlin as a Kremlin asset, or he was just really a poor choice -- businessman who had a poor choice of clients.

But there by issuing these subpoenas, they are going to -- they`re going to squeeze everyone that`s ever worked for him, and they`re going to determine whether there`s documents, statements or processes that are missing there to make him talk.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know how everybody in Russia always has an American? I`ve heard about this for years. They`ve got an American they work through. Can you imagine Putin when he hears that Trump, one of the candidates for president, and not Hillary Clinton, has brought Manafort aboard as his chairman. He must go, Wow! I`ve hit the Irish sweepstakes here. I`ve got one of the guys I deal with is now the top guy -- well, he looked like the top guy for a few months there -- in the whole campaign for Trump.

Is it just serendipity here? What do you think?

SWALWELL: And he also had General Flynn.

MATTHEWS: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Ken. I mean--

DILANIAN: You -- you`re raising the fundamental question here, which is we know Paul Manafort is in pretty serious legal jeopardy, right? He`s got all these financial entanglements. The noose is closing on him.

The question is why -- what is that -- what`s the relevance of that to the question of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia? Is there a connection here? Why was Manafort brought into the campaign? Do his Russian entanglements in his business past bear on the question of Trump campaign collusion with Russia? That we don`t know yet, but that`s where this is all going.

MATTHEWS: Well, if you`re Trump, you must wonder, Did I start this or did the Russians start this? At some point, you go, Wait a minute. I thought I just met -- you know how Russians do. You meet a pretty girl on the subway platform, and all of a sudden, you`re having a relationship, and it turns out she`s a spy and you`re a fool.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: I mean, i -- you`re shaking your head, Malcolm, but I think that`s Russian tradecraft.

DILANIAN: Well, I think what we have here is the fundamental question that everyone must answer before they do anything is, is this a Russian operation? Was this a large scale long-term operation in which they tap their asset, Paul Manafort, to come out and try to manipulate this? And I think that`s where this is going.

MATTHEWS: Well, as I mentioned earlier, according to "The Wall Street Journal" again, Mueller`s team is looking into Michael Flynn`s role with an effort to work with hackers to obtain Hillary Clinton`s deleted e-mails. In fact, last July, President Trump openly called on Russia to find those e-mails. He was open with us. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Congressman, this is like in plain sight here. Here`s the guy, a candidate for president, saying, Go out and get what you can on my opponent. But you`re not supposed to get help from overseas. You can have, you know, Democrats abroad and the Republicans abroad, I suppose, but you can`t have foreign powers helping you in a campaign. It`s illegal. And there he was asking for an illegal act by the Russians.

SWALWELL: That`s right. So when you combine this with the June 9 e-mail, the Trump campaign certainly was willing and eager to receive information from the Russians. This Peter Smith individual, unfortunately, he`s deceased. We won`t learn any more about whether he was working with Michael Flynn. He invoked--

MATTHEWS: He committed suicide.

SWALWELL: -- Michael Flynn. And he invoked General Flynn. And again, if the Russians were placing bets, they didn`t just place on bet on Paul Manafort. There were a number of people in Donald Trump`s inner circle who had prior relationships with the Russians.

And General Flynn, as you know, received money from "Russia Today" and sat next to Vladimir Putin, a huge insult to the United States. So there are a number of efforts that the Russians at least were making. And the question remains, did the Trump campaign take them up on it and work with them?

MATTHEWS: This is a "Journal" story. Tell us what you know.

STOKOLS: Yes, so my colleague, Shane Harris, has been out front on this story, and he actually talked to this Republican operative, Peter Smith.

MATTHEWS: He was 81 years old and he committed suicide recently.

STOKOLS: Just days after he spoke to Shane and told him about what he had done and basically acknowledged that, you know, he was out there soliciting from hackers these 33,000 e-mails that they thought were out there that they assumed--

MATTHEWS: Did they ever get them?

STOKOLS: -- were in Russian hands. That`s unclear. But he would go tell people, I`m working with Mike Flynn. I can get these to the Trump campaign. That`s what happened.

He commits suicide after confirming that story, and now there`s obvious questions -- you can understand the attention being paid to Flynn because Mueller wants to know if Flynn was working with him.

MATTHEWS: Ken, you first, then Malcolm. What do we know about that? What do we know about Flynn? What do we know about this guy, Smith, who committed suicide, who may have been able to get something from the Russians, but certainly went looking to the Russians, I guess at the behest of the candidate, who said he wanted somebody to do it. Get me what they got on Hillary.

DILANIAN: This is one of the most incredible and bizarre stories in this whole Russia saga, right? And my hat`s off to Shane Harris for bringing this story. I mean, Peter Smith was very serious about this. He had a whole operation, right? And so to the extent -- if Mike Flynn is found to have participated in this in any way, it`s going to be a serious problem for Mike Flynn and for the Trump campaign.

MATTHEWS: Why, legally?

DILANIAN: I think so. I mean, you know, there`s a legal theory that if you receive something of value from a foreign government, that`s an illegal campaign contribution. Now, some information -- there`s a question about whether that`s something of value. But clearly--

MATTHEWS: Well, I can tell you--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- the world I`ve worked in, they pay for that. It`s called a commodity. That`s (INAUDIBLE) it`s called oppo.

Malcolm, your thoughts about the evidence we have that this was something going on? Because when a president comes out publicly and sort of with bragaddocio says, OK, Russians, come on. Give me something you got on Hillary. Why don`t you hack into her e-mails? I mean, I don`t know if he was thinking about breaking the law, but he certainly didn`t act like he thought he was breaking the law.

NANCE: Well, you have to remember Mike Flynn was the former director of defense intelligence. He had access to a lot of systems and plans and processes that brought large quantities of information right to his desk every day. You know, when I was working at NSA, we had a little sign in our division, and it said, Gentlemen don`t read other gentlemen`s e-mails - - dot, dot, dot -- or e-mail, dot, dot, dot -- except for us.

I think Mike Flynn may have brought that dictum to the campaign to where he had multiple teams of dirty tricksters whose job it was, was to get any dirt, any information. And when he saw these things being dangled in front of him, instead of viewing it from a counterintelligence purpose of not touching Russian assets, he may have gone for it. We don`t know yet.

MATTHEWS: Well, speaking of getting the information and trying to get more, the CIA director, Mike Pompeo -- he`s a very close political ally of the president, even though he`s head of the agency now. He`s played down the Russian hacking story himself, saying it`s something Moscow`s done before, no big deal. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Russia intervene in our election?

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: Of course, and the one before that and the one before that. They`ve been at this a hell of a long time, and I don`t think they have any intention of backing off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, according to "The Washington Post," Pompeo spends more time at the White House than his recent CIA predecessors and is seen as more willing to engage in policy battles, I guess, on their behalf. When asked about Russian election interference, Pompeo often becomes testy and then recites talking points.

And quote, "Earlier this year, he and other officials were enlisted to make calls" -- catch this -- "to news organizations speaking on condition of anonymity to dispute a `New York Times` article about contacts between Russians and individuals tied to the Trump campaign. And recently, Pompeo even defended the president`s response to Charlottesville." Let`s watch that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POMPEO: I think the president was, frankly, pretty unambiguous about what his Justice Department is going to do, the way he views how utterly inappropriate it is for this hatred and bigotry. I think the president`s remarks were very clear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Eli, you have as to wonder since the president, this president, Trump, has put the arm on a number of people -- Coats, he put the arm on others, certainly he put the arm on James Comey before he fired him, Hey, help me out in this investigation. Quash this baby.

You got to wonder what his conversations are like with Pompeo, who heads the -- really, the counter-intelligence effort in the CIA that would be usually responsible for getting more information to show this relationship between the Trump people and the Russians, and yet you have to wonder how vigorous he is in overseeing that.

STOKOLS: Right. There`s obvious -- there`s ample evidence that this president expects loyalty, that he asks for it, and we know from the Comey situation that it was Comey`s refusal to say, I`m loyal to you, I`ll let the investigation go -- that`s what cost Jim Comey his job.

And so Pompeo is still there. We don`t know about their, you know, personal conversations, their private conversations, but you know, you can read between the lines because you do see the way Pompeo is out there answering these questions.

MATTHEWS: Congressman, you worked with Mr. Pompeo on the same committee. And let`s give (ph) it fair. Do you have full confidence that he will be a public servant here and bring all evidence he can -- there is, in terms of any further development on the intel regarding the Trump campaign and this relationship, such as it was, with the Russians? Will he be aggressive in doing that job, or will he be the president`s guy? Which one?

SWALWELL: Chris, I like Mike Pompeo. I think he`s a bright guy. He`s served our country. And I have found so far that the committee has had great cooperation with the agency. So it does trouble me to read this. I think it`s something we should learn more about.

But frankly, Chris, in this situation, with the Russian investigation, I`m mostly worried about the principal and not the deputies. I`m worried about the way the president has been acting and the way he`s been bullying and obstructing people. We just learned this week that he was calling senators who had written legislation to make sure Mueller would stay in place, trying to get them to back off of that. He seems to be the lead here. So if people are following his lead, that`s because the principal is acting inappropriately.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe in calling Thom Tillis -- and who`s in cooperation now with Chris Coons, a Democrat, in trying to protect the special counsel, Bob Mueller, from getting fired by the president, the fact that he put his arm on him, trying to get him to not support that legislation, not to co-sponsor it? Do you think that`s an aspect of obstruction?

SWALWELL: He`s certainly made witnesses now out of these individuals, and it`s not a way that an innocent person would act, Chris. Innocent people cooperate with investigators and they want to get the investigation over with as soon as possible. He`s actually working against himself because his obstruction has delayed the committee`s investigations. And it continues, I think, to delay the FBI and the Department of Justice`s investigation. That`s not how an innocent person would conduct himself.

MATTHEWS: Well, thanks so much for joining us, Ken Dilanian, sir, as well, who`s our colleague here. U.S. Congressmen Eric Swalwell, thank you, sir, for that, especially the last part. Malcolm Nance, as always, and Eli Stokols, my colleague right here on "The Wall Street Journal" which has done such a bang-up job here.

Coming up, much more on tonight`s late-breaking news on the Russian investigation. NBC News is reporting that more subpoenas have been issued by Mueller. Plus "The Wall Street Journal," as I said, is reporting that Mueller`s also investigating what role, if any, Michael Flynn played in seeking Clinton`s e-mails from the Russian hackers. He didn`t even know they had them, but he tried to get it from them.

Plus, President Trump braces for an important test of his presidency as a massive Category 4 hurricane bears down on the Gulf Coast, likely becoming the most powerful storm to slam the U.S. in more than a decade. We`re going to have a live report out of Texas tonight.

And a top member of the president`s team breaks his silence, saying the White House, quote, "can and must do better" in condemning hate groups. How will Trump respond to that?

Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." He won`t like it.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, obviously, the other major story we`re following tonight, Hurricane Harvey is now a massive Category 4 storm. I`m joined right now by NBC News correspondent Catie Beck, who`s in Corpus Christi, where the storm is expected to make landfall.

Catie, let me ask you this. Where are we on this, to number four? What`s that tell us?

CATIE BECK, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, things are going to get progressively worse. They have been getting worse all day. We`ve been seeing conditions, rain and wind, and now we`re seeing downed trees. There`s over 30,000 people at Corpus Christi alone without power, including our hotel room where we`re staying. The hotel is without power at this time.

So they`re expecting a storm surge that could be between 6 and 12 feet. They`re expecting winds now to be 130 miles an hour. So the devastation is going to be considerable for the state of Texas. And they are bracing for what is coming.

It`s supposed to be making landfall around 1:00 AM, and that is going to be when we`re going to see the conditions at the height. Bit right now, I think a lot of people are taking cover and trying to brace themselves for what`s going to come.

MATTHEWS: Compare it to -- Catie, compare it to Katrina, if you can, in violence, power?

BECK: Well, I`ll tell you -- yes, I will tell you at this point, we`re not seeing Katrina`s strength. But what I`ll tell you is that there are some eerie similarities. We`re driving through these neighborhoods and seeing all of these boarded up, with spray-painted numbers on the windows and the doors, you know, to indicate how many people are inside, if they`re men, if they`re women, of they`re children. That is reminiscent of Katrina.

And sort of the eerie stillness of it all. There`s no one driving. There`s no one in the downtown. There`s no one anywhere. I mean, people have heeded this warning by this point, and they know what`s coming.

MATTHEWS: Take care, Catie Beck, who`s on the scene. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: There were people in that rally and I looked the night before, if you look, they were people protesting very quietly, the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. You had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL, that was, of course, President Trump nearly two weeks ago now defending the alt-right protesters in Charlottesville. Many of them were neo-Nazis and white supremacists. We know all that now. Trump doubled down on that defense when he asked to clarify. Let`s watch that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you putting what you`re calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?

TRUMP: I`m not putting anybody on the moral plane.

I do think there is blame, yes, I think there`s blame on both sides on both sides. You look at -- you look at both sides, I think there`s blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it and you don`t have any doubt about it either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, during his combative interaction here with the press, the President was flanked by Secretary Chao, Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Transportation and the Director of National Economic Policy, Gary Cohn. The two were asked to address the President`s comments, and both declined thereafter. Let`s watch them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a woman of color and Gary, you as a Jewish man, what do you think about the Nazi support for President Trump and his reaction to it.

ELAINE CHAO, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: Well, the President has already said in his statement, it is intolerable, we are a country of tolerance and it is a hateful behavior and it is not who we are as Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does it bother either if you to see Nazis supporting this administration?

CHAO: We are talking about infrastructure today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m talking about Nazis.

CHAO: I`m talking about infrastructure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As Secretary Chow said, we are here to take questions about an infrastructure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well today, ten days later, Director Cohn finally address the issue telling the Financial Times, "I believe this administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups. Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK." Well, today NBC confirmed Gary Cohn drafted a letter of resignation, but never submitted it.

For more, I`m joined by former Democratic Senator from California, Barbara Boxer and Yamiche Alcindor, National Reporter for The New York Times and an MSNBC Contributor. Barbara Boxer, it`s great to have you back, you won like, five straight elections out there, you know your politics. You know, I`m going to ask --

BARBARA BOXER, FORMER DEMOCRATIC SENATOR: Eleven, eleven straight elections.

MATTHEWS: OK, well, you know, including the House but the Senate statewide. You know, I think that this issue of Nazis and the inability the President getting tongue tied and being unable, to me it`s far more important in his world and politically than in your legitimate arguments over statues, we will argue about statues forever and people have different views and they probably know bad guys on that debate, but there are bad guys, I`d say 90 percent to ten at least on the Nazi thing. Nobody -- we found out that 9 percent of Americans are accepting of the idea we have basically alt right, neo-Nazis around. They don`t mind that at all. In fact`s that`s who they are. But, why do you think that Gary Cohn has stuck with it and then finally came out with this timing of finally ten days later saying, the President needs to get it right and he hasn`t gotten it right yet.

BOXER: You know, each person going to follow his or her conscience, and I have to say, if I was standing there, and I heard the President give cover to hate groups, to white supremacists, to Nazis, as an American, and happen to be a Jewish American, I would have gotten probably out of the -- out of the T.V. shot. I would have thought deeply, I would prepare something to say.

I`ve walked out of meetings. I write about it in my book. I wrote the book The Art Of Tough and I talk about actually going on a foreign trip, being in Morocco and sitting there and hearing the Moroccan talk about Jews in a way that was so appalling, that I gave a look over to Tony Coelho who was then leading the trip and we walked out all of us, the whole delegation.

You cannot be silent. Look, better late than never and next to Steve Mnuchin, he looks like a profile in courage. But the truth is, we cannot be silent. We`ve lived through that before as Jews and you must, you must speak up, you must.

MATTHEWS: Elaine Chao was also there, she comes from Taiwan. And I -- well you may -- let`s talk the facts here. Do we know that Cohn was ready to walk?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: That`s what the reporting says. The reporting says, there was (INAUDIBLE) both that The New York Times and other places that he was ready to walk. But, I think that this is in also some -- in some way Gary Cohn looking at the long view of whether or not his legacy is going to be intact after he lives this administration. So he`s really in this game or he`s trying to say, I`m really opposed to this. But I need to stay in the -- in the administration because I need to do good here. And that`s the dance of a lot of Republicans are playing.

MATTHEWS: You know, I make judgments about people that they sometimes very positive for no good reason. I like Cohn and I don`t even know the guy. I`ve watched him just a few times and then I say, he seemed like a normal person compared to some of these people all around the Trump crowd right now. And he looks like a grown up, suddenly he looks like a grown up, he looks like the guy who`s made -- has had a regular life. He`s made regular big-time decisions. He`s not a bad guy at all. And I looking, how does he stand there and put up with that guff from the President? Anyway, your thoughts on that again.

BOXER: Yes, what I want to say is you are right, he is a normal guy. But he is standing behind a President who is not normal. Now, I`ve served with five Presidents, three Republicans, starting with Ronald Reagan, two Democrats, and I have never seen a President give cover to hate groups. And, therefore, if you are standing there, those are the very moments that you need to be heard.

But again, eventually, he said something. Good. But I will tell you, those are those moments when you`re tested as a human being, and the way I am looking at it is, right now, I could talk to you about this forever, I`m acting to go after the politicians who are sitting silently by, and I am volunteering my political --

MATTHEWS: How many -- how many people? Look, how -- tell me how people can contact you. Here`s your chance.

BOXER: Yes. barbaraboxer.com. We`re taking on these guys who were sitting there, and rolling their eyes and giving cover to Donald Trump. He doesn`t deserve the cover.

ALCINDOR: But I think -- can I just quickly also say that I think a part of the reason why he`s coming on saying this, is because the Republicans are about to come back to D.C., and they`re about to start talking about tax reform, they`re about to start talking about healthcare, and they`re going to be pivoting in a way that going to be remarkable for most people. But I think that they going to be successful on pivoting, and I think that there are people in the administration, especially people of color and Jewish people who are very bothered by this. Well, Gary Cohn is still staying on this administration which means he still supporting Donald Trump, essentially.

MATTHEWS: Fast thing stuff and important stuff. Thank you, former Senator Barbara Boxer, and Yamichi Alcindor, barbaraboxer.com.

MATTHEWS: Up next, Hurricane Harvey is a category four now, hurricane with winds of 130 miles per hour. Look at the pictures you`re going to see tonight. If you are lucky of just to see this picture, the reality is very tough down there in Texas, heading towards New Orleans. How is the administration prepared to deal with this? Or we going to have one on these crazy things we had with terrible things we had with Katrina? Let`s see how the President handles this one. We`ll be back and we`re going to talk to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in a few moment. And this is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well anyway, Hurricane Harvey is a category four right now. It`s expected to hit Texas. And that the (INAUDIBLE) with major winds, historic rain fall potentially others with catastrophic flooding. NBC`s Gabe Gutierrez is in Corpus Christy right now. Gabe, there you are. Oh my god, take over, Sir.

GABE GUTIERREZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Chris, well this is rapidly (INAUDIBLE) it`s really getting bad in the last hour or so. The wind and the rain, as you can see is pounding this area, Corpus Christi and around surrounding area, more than 30,000 homes and businesses are already without power. The Governor has declared state of emergency in 30 counties herein Texas. Earlier today, we`re out in evacuation zone. One evacuation center alone, seven people got on buses heading from Corpus Christi to San Antonio. Authorities here expect a very long night. The local police say that they`re only taking emergency calls that are life-threatening over the next few hours. We`re actually going to go inside in just a short time because worst of it is expected overnight after 8:00. Landfall is expected near Corpus Christi right around midnight or 1:00. But again, breaking news, in the last two minutes, Hurricane Harvey is now a category four storm, with sustained winds up to 130 miles an hour.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Gary, straight on site reporting. Take care of yourself. I see you leaning against the wind there. Well, this is what President Trump`s first major national or national disaster. And as the Washington Post points out, storms like this can define Presidencies. Well said. Homelands Security Adviser Tom Bossert has -- was asked about the President`s leadership skills in yesterday`s -- or actually, today`s White House briefing, let`s watch him in action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM BOSSERT, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: This is right up President Trump`s alley. When we go in and brief him on the preparations for this hurricane, he is acutely focused on making sure that -- and just the right thing, by the way, that the American people in the storm`s path have what they need. His questions weren`t about the geopolitical issues or about large political consequences. His questions were about, are they doing what it takes to help the people that are going to be affected by the storm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well the President left early this afternoon for Camp David, where he`s monitoring the storm, I`m told. Anyway, we`re joined right now by Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans. The city expected to feel the effects of Hurricane Harvey. Mayor, it`s great to have you. Your city has been through terrible times with Katrina and the clean-up afterward and the rebuilding, that`s been so successful. What are your feelings, and what do you see coming now in the next several hours and days?

MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU, NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: Well, what it just so refreshing is that you know, next Tuesday is the -- is the anniversary of Katrina, so we feel this. And first of all our thoughts and our prayers go out to our fellow Americans in Texas because this is a very big -- this is a very dangerous storm. And as the National Weather Service said, it`s going to have catastrophic effects not just from wind, but primarily from the flooding and the rain. And I think it`s going to be really hard on them. So you know, our thoughts and prayers go out to them. We want to do everything we can to help them. And then, you know, we don`t -- we`re not sure what`s going to happen after this storm you know, hits land. It could back up into the golf, it could dissipate, we`re just not sure right now.

MATTHEWS: The images that I`ll never forget from last time, of course I was standing for a long time afterwards, looking at clean-up, and the mess, and the (INAUDIBLE), and the lost housing and everything, where this coastguard helicopters hovering over housed along the water`s edge with -- putting down ropes and bringing people up by basket. It was so dangerous. Are we going to see something leak that again? That horrific sight of helicopters hovering over buildings?

LANDRIEU: Well, it`s hard to know. You know, one of the things we keep reminding people is that Katrina was an engineering failure because the levy is broken. It was a flooding event. Every storm brings something different. If this is a rain event or a wind event, the consequences could be different. I can say this, our emergency preparedness in this country today is far better than it was. And I know the entire country has been leaning forward. FEMA has been doing a great job. They`ve been in touch with our Governor. We`ve been in communication with them. They`ve been in communication with Texas. And they`re leaning really forward. But this is a major event and sometimes the events can overwhelm you really quickly and the response has to be very quick. And hopefully, they are poised and ready to go. But it`s going to be a tough consequence that we`re going to see unfold in the next couple of hours?

MATTHEWS: Compare the new FEMA Director Brock Long with Michael Brown, who was the Arabian horse race expert that whatever the W put in there.

LANDRIEU: Well, you know Mike Brown wasn`t appropriate for that particular office, but since then, through David Paulison and of course Craig Fugate and now Brock and a whole bunch of other people, FEMA and the state (INAUDIBLE) have done a much, much better job of being prepared. And I had an opportunity to meet with Brock the other day with our Governor, the seem to be leaning forward and we appreciate that. The bottom line is there can`t be any politics in storm recovery or storm response. It just can`t be that way. And our guys are professional now. We are all in communication. It really matters because it really is a matter of life safety.

And of course, it requires citizens to assist as well. So we`re hoping for the best in Texas and Louisiana. We`re preparing for whatever might come out of that because, after two to three days from now, we don`t really know what`s going to happen because these storms are unpredictable. And the best thing to do is to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.

MATTHEWS: You know, politics is a lot about public spirit. It`s the job of the leader to keep people up, keep the morale up. What`s the feeling there? Because you went through so much with Katrina, you know, the dirty water the smell, the bed, the health conditions that led to the lost housing, the 9th ward. I think this whole country felt that when you guys went through down there. is the -- is the city able to take it again, another banging and like this, another hammering?

LANDRIEU: Well, it`s always -- it`s always hard. This particular week for us is always a difficult time and you know we just have to be as ready as we possibly can. But it wouldn`t be accurate to say we`re not earn concerned about it. But again, we have to prepare, the -- a big different kind of event, potential flooding concerns us tremendously especially because of these rain bands that the National Weather Service continues to talk about. Pumping capacity concerns us, all of those things, but you have to be ready. You have to be prepared. Have you to have a plan. And there`s got to be good command and control.

And so far, there`s a lot leaning forward going on. But let me just say this, a hurricane, a category 4 is a big, big storm. It`s very dangerous, it can be very harmful and there can be bad consequences from it. So again, we just hope for the best for our friends in Texas and then, hopefully as this thing either backs up or dies, it will -- it will do it slow -- you know, quicker rather than slower and sooner rather than later.

MATTHEWS: Major -- Mayor Mitch Landrieu, great to have you out here. You are a great man to be covering this, and handling this and leading your city through it.

LANDRIEU: Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS: Up next, breaking news tonight. The Special Counsel Bob Mueller`s Russian probe is picking up speed right now. More on the investigation coming up next and they`re getting serious now. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, we`re back with tonight`s major story, it`s the Russian investigation again, it`s getting serous. We now know that special counsel Bob Mueller is looking into whether former national security adviser Michael Flynn may have played a role in trying to obtain e-mails from Russian hackers.

And another indication of the Mueller investigation is getting steam, NBC News is reporting that Mueller is now issuing subpoenas to former PR associates of, guess who, Paul Manafort, the first public indication, that the investigation is beginning to compel witness testimony through subpoenas before the grand jury.

Let`s bring in the roundtable, the HARDBALL roundtable. Nick Johnston is editor at "Axios", Priscilla Alvarez is politics editor at "The Atlantic", and Brian Murphy is Washington correspondent for "McClatchy".

Let`s go from your end, Brian, this, you know, sometimes you think Trump is paranoid, I don`t think he`s paranoid at all about this. I think he has reason to fear. He is up against sixteen of the best lawyers in the country. He`s got Bob Mueller there loaded for bear and the guy is very systematic. He`s done his due diligence, et cetera, et cetera. Now, he`s going to the subpoenas, the weapon, he`s weaponizing his power and he is commanding -- testimony commanding it before a grand jury.

Let`s start with Manafort. What`s he got?

BRIAN MURPHY, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: Well, it does seem to be the one thing that Trump gets upset about. You know, he --

MATTHEWS: Wouldn`t you? Sixteen prosecutors coming at you.

MURPHY: It seems to be the one thing that -- you know, he called Thom Tillis after the Mueller bill was introduced, according to reports, he called Bob Corker. It was at the heart of the conversation that he had with Mitch McConnell. It does seem to be the one thing that --

MATTHEWS: He called Dan Coates, he called James Comey. He calls everybody, please, please, please, quash this investigation.

MURPHY: Right. And he`s not happy that the Senate is not doing enough to keep this investigation from him. So, it does seem to be the one thing that animates him in these conversations.

MATTHEWS: We go right through this. It seems to me now the subpoena is being, it`s going to leak. I know grand juries aren`t supposed to. It`s going to leak and you will find out what he`s got. He has to present it.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, POLITICS EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Yes, absolutely. And the other important thing and the noble thing about this, right, is that this investigation is not going away, and I think today sort of demonstrates that at its fullest. And this is coming at a really important time. We are going into September, where we`re talking debt ceiling, tax reform. Trump is about to start, you know, going around the country to talk about his tax plan.

So, even the timing of this, at this point and like you said, we`re probably going to hear more about this in the coming days. It`s notable. It`s something that we might hear from Trump over Twitter about.

MATTHEWS: So, what do you think the biggest story this administration will be looking at now this stuff that Priscilla was talking about that may never happen or Russian investigation?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think that`s the biggest story there is.

NICK JOHNSTON, EDITOR, AXIOS: Right, get used to these stories every Friday. These things are going to come out every time. It`s like pulling the threads on a sweater that`s coming unloose.

MATTHEWS: You know why we go live on this show every night? Because around 6:30, we hear from you guys.

ALVAREZ: Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS: And it always seems to pop. In the old days, they`ll hold it until midnight. Now, these stories are put online in the evening right away.

JOHNSTON: And this is exactly how you build a case as a prosecutor like Mueller. You go and you find one person, that person you learn a couple of things, and you go and follow those threads, you go the next person and you subpoena the PR people.

MATTHEWS: OK, what is he going to get out of Manafort?

JOHNSTON: Oh, wow. I mean, who knows what he`s getting out of Manafort? Manafort is the one I think at the center of that, who was doing the deals with the Ukrainians involved with all these relationships I think at the center of this web. That`s why, remember, the FBI raided his house.

MATTHEWS: So, let me go back to Brian. This thing, what started? Have you figured out the chicken or the egg question? Did the Russians secretly bring Trump in like they do in the all the movies and everything and my experience with them?

They know how to bring you and they find the weakness, they find something you want. All of a sudden, they`re running the show. You thought you were running the show. It`s the Russians always running the show.

MURPHY: It certainly seems that everybody has a connection. You know, when you think they brought in this man Paul Manafort to run this campaign.

MATTHEWS: Yes, why do you think Manafort to run a campaign? He`s the Russian`s guy.

MURPHY: You now, Carter Page.

MATTHEWS: Russian guy, Roger Stone. They`re all Russian-connected.

MURPHY: Mike Flynn, every single person seems to have had a connection to Russia, that can`t be an accident.

MATTHEWS: Well, Priscilla, can that be an accident? Is this serendipity, Trump keeps bumping into Russian-connected people?

ALVAREZ: I mean, look, I think what we know about the way that Trump campaign sort of operated during the election was that he is surrounding himself around people that ended up having connections to Russia. And, you know, people would comment and say, hey, I know a guy, he can help with X, Y, Z. And so, that`s sort of how we start mounting all of this information we know right now.

MATTHEWS: What I know with the Russians is they have an American. I said this before in the show. It could be Dwayne Andrews back in the old days when I was in politics. And that guy is the guy they use. You know, Gorbachev would have Dwayne Andrews, and each one of these guys says their American. In this case, their American is Manafort. Their American becomes Michael Flynn.

JOHNSTON: That`s exactly the question to figure out. Now, is Manafort just a guy who happened to be in the middle of this? Or is there that connection, that collusion that sets all of these dice falling?

MATTHEWS: Well, he made 17 million bucks in -- that`s a lot of money. I know it`s a lot of rubles. I mean, he made a lot of money in Moscow, I would say that he is driven by that, just guessing.

ALVAREZ: Well, the other thing is that Manafort, we were talking about the meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., right? I mean, we were talking how they had that meeting in 2016. So, he definitely keeps coming up.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think when Trump found out of all these connections with Russia, he didn`t just blow the whistle and say, I`m getting new people, I don`t want all these entanglements with the oligarchs, all these people, I get too much confusion in my life, I don`t want a relationship with Russia? Or, positively, will somebody find out the stuff the Russians got on Hillary, give it to me? He wanted to deal with the Russians.

MURPHY: I think he wanted to win.

MATTHEWS: Yes, and use the Russians.

MURPHY: I mean, I think -- and if dirt on Hillary Clinton was a path forward in winning, I think he was fine with that. He dealt with Russians in his past businesses. I don`t think it`s -- you know --

JOHNSTON: Exactly right.

MATTHEWS: Miss Universe.

JOHNSTON: The prism of a guy who is a real estate developer. This guy wants to talk, let`s talk. Why not?

MATTHEWS: The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, they`re going to tell me -- three will tell me something I don`t know.

We`ll be right back. This is HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, Harvey now a category four hurricane now is bearing down on Texas.

Let`s go back to NBC News correspondent Catie Beck who joins us from Corpus Christi, Texas.

There you are. Catie, what`s the word? It`s four. Is it going to go higher or what? Where are we at here?

BECK: Well, it certainly feels like that from where -- we are inside an SUV right now. And there are four of us with a ton of gear and this car is like -- it`s almost rocking like a boat. These winds are definitely intensifying as Harvey makes closer to landfall, which we`re told is gong to be around 1:00 a.m.

Now, a category 4, that means winds could be between 130 and 160. The storm surges again between six and 12 feet. Folks here are definitely not out on the roads. There are no visible people anywhere. The downtown of Corpus Christi sort of looks like a ghost town.

But as you can outside, the conditions definitely strengthened from the last time we spoke and continue to intensify as the storm makes landfall. The bad news is that once it makes landfall, there`s a lot more to come.

This storm is going to stall and linger and hang over Texas for the next three or four days and the rainfall and significant flooding is really what`s going to be a problem after that. Right now, we`re seeing massive power outages, thousands without power here. Our hotel being one of the places without power.

So, these folks are going to be in this situation I think for some time, especially as the flooding starts to really set in tomorrow.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Catie Beck, who`s down in Corpus Christi, Texas.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Nick, tell me someone I don`t know.

JOHNSTON: The debt limit could be a bigger deal than the government shutdown. I wouldn`t say that normally, but after the president`s tweets blaming Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan for not solving the debt already, that`s now --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Which is going to mean us not paying our bills, going deadbeat.

JOHNSTON: The debt limit, that`s the big thing. If you look at, they always happen at the same time --

MATTHEWS: What screws the dollar and everything else?

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSTON: The debt limit is one, where I caught my friends who did this during the Obama administration.

MATTHEWS: It matters to people, the money market --

JOHNSTON: Exactly. Worse than the financial crisis.

MATTHEWS: Priscilla?

ALVAREZ: All right. Today, the Republican National Committee met in Nashville for their summer gathering and they voted on a resolution condemning white supremacists, so we have called --

MATTHEWS: Is that a tough call for them?

ALVAREZ: Look, we had called 146 state GOP chairs and committee members to talk about, to ask them, do you agree with Trump`s response to Charlottesville? We were met with silence. Only seven of them were critical of the president`s response. Today, they all approved a resolution condemning neo Nazis --

MATTHEWS: If progressives were smart, they`d stick on that issue and get away from the statues. The statues is always going to be a fight over region and everything else and history. The Nazi one is a winner. Big surprise.

Go ahead, you`re next.

MURPHY: I attended a town hall in North Carolina. Patrick McHenry, the acting whip, had to tell constituents that the Trump they see on TV and television is not the Trump he sees behind the scenes. Trump does have a grasp of policy, does have a grasp of --

MATTHEWS: Yes, but what you see on television is president of the United States.

MURPHY: He had to convince his constituents that that`s not the real Trump.

MATTHEWS: If you could see as I do. You know, this is true of so many politicians. A lot of -- most politicians are pretty good one on one. But that`s not their job. They got to be out there, you know? It doesn`t do them any good to say he`s not that bad in person. He`s president.

Nick Johnston, thank you, Priscilla Alvarez and Brian Murphy.

When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. He won`t like it. Please come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Friday, August 25th, 2017.

The special counsel probing the Trump Russian connection is gaining speed. You heard it here tonight. After weeks of prep work and due diligence, the special counsel`s operation has reached the point now of compelling evidence under oath before a grand jury, the power of subpoena in other words is being weaponized.

Mueller`s looking into two areas. NBC News is reporting that Mueller has issued grand jury subpoenas in recent days to PR executives who worked for Paul Manafort, who is Trump`s presidential campaign chairman. As I said, this is the first news we`ve gotten that the special counsel is beginning to compel witness testimony before the grand jury.

Mueller`s looking at something else. Whether Michael Flynn had a hand in asking the Russians, asking the Russians to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton, specifically, did he ask or oversee the asking of Russians to provide them with the former secretary of state`s e-mails. If so, he was asking a foreign government to make an in kind campaign contribution to the Trump campaign, which is against the law. You can`t deliver opposition research, which is a valuable commodity, to an American candidate, again, it`s against the law.

So, as I said, the Mueller team is making serious progress, approaching with a growing power of evidence and the political wind at its back.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN" with -- stay with MSNBC tonight for continuing coverage of Hurricane Harvey.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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