Moore: abuse allegations a "political maneuver" Transcript 11/14/17Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Sabrina Siddiqui, Paul Singer, Hakeem Jeffries, Betsy Woodruff, Michael Schmidt, Barbara McQuade, Kyle Whitmire; Heidi Przybyla; John Brabender

Show: HARDBALL Date: November 14, 2017 Guest: Sabrina Siddiqui, Paul Singer, Hakeem Jeffries, Betsy Woodruff, Michael Schmidt, Barbara McQuade, Kyle Whitmire; Heidi Przybyla; John Brabender

Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews.

In San Francisco, as Roy Moore continues to hammer his support from potential fellow Republican colleagues, a new more powerful voice that has weighed in. United states attorney general and former senior senator from Alabama, Jeff Sessions joined a number of his former colleagues in saying he has no reason to doubt the women who have accused U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct allegations Moore denies. Here`s the attorney general.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I took the liberty of reviewing federal crimes against children, particularly those dealing with sexual or physical abuse. As you well know, Leigh Corfman, Wendy Miller, Debby Watson Gibson and Beverly Young Nelson, these young women have accused this individual, Judge Moore, who is running for a federal office, the United States Senate, of child sexual activity. Do you believe these young women?

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I am -- have no reason to doubt these young women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Powerful statement there. Yesterday another woman Beverly Young Nelson came forward to accuse Moore of sexual assaulting her when she was 16. Roy Moore has adamantly denied the allegation, has said he does not even know nelson. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: The people of Alabama know me. They know my character. They know what I have stood for in the political world for over 40 years. And I can tell you without hesitation, this is absolutely false. I never did what she said I did. I don`t even know the woman. I don`t know anything about her. I don`t even know where the restaurant is or was. If you look at this situation, you will see that because I`m 11 points or 10 or 11 points ahead, this race being 28 days off, this is a political maneuver.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, maybe they should confront each other. That would be good.

Anyway, as of now 15 senators are called on Moore to withdraw from the race. Five have withheld comment. And a majority have qualified their remarks by saying if the allegations are true, Moore should step aside. Because it`s too late to remove Moore from the ballot, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that he had spoken to the President and he was exploring, catch this, all options. That was his phrase. Let`s watch McConnell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: There`s no question that there`s a deep concern here. Roy Moore should step aside. The women who have come forward are entirely credible. He is obviously not fit to be in the United States Senate. And we have looked at all the options to try to prevent that from happening. Obviously this close to the election. It`s a very complicated matter. And I think once the President and his team get back we will have further discussions about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was for boding.

Anyway, this comes in the wake of two explosive reports from the New Yorker magazine and a.l.com which allege that quote "Gadsden locals say Moore`s predatory behavior at a mall, restaurants not a secret." But both the magazine and newspapers spoke to more than a dozen people who had quote "heard over the years that Moore had been banned from the mall," this is shopping mall, because he repeatedly badge the teenager girls and quote "locals were troubled by Roy Moore`s interactions with teen girls at the Gadsden mall."

Well, the individuals were not speaking from direct knowledge. The "New Yorker" requested a comment from the Moore campaign but the request went unanswered.

Anyway, MSNBC was able to speak with the former employee of that mall. Let`s listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was another employee there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another employee.

GREG LEGATE, WORKED AT MALL: Said don`t forget Roy Moore. And I said what about Roy Moore? And he said he is banned. And the police officer, security guard said he is banned from the mall. If you see him -- he didn`t say he was banned. He said if you see him, let me know. I will take care of it. And I questioned why, and the police officer would not tell me. After he left, I asked my manager and he said he had been bothering the girls in the mall. And at the mall at that time was the place in town CNBC.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile, Moore`s Democratic challenger Doug Jones spoke to reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: We are going to stay with Jeff in our lane and we are going to talk about the issues that we continue to talk about. They are going to have to make their own judgments about Roy Moore. They are going to have to make their own judgments about Doug Jones. I`m applying for a job. He is applying for a job. And that`s the way people of Alabama need to look at this. Who would I hire to represent me in the United States Senate?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[19:05:02] MATTHEWS: Well, that was pretty smart.

Anyway, this evening NBC News reports that according to FEC filings, the RNC has pulled out of a joint fund raising agreement with Roy Moore.

For more, I`m joined by Kyle Whitmire, state political columnist with the Alabama Media Group, Heidi Przybyla, White House reporter for "USA Today" and MSNBC political analyst John Brabender, Republican strategist.

What do we make, Kyle, of this new tape recording that have been emerged. Somebody has called it in, reported to the press and say robocalls or recorded voice. It looks to me like they are trying to start some real trouble in terms of the media there. What do you make of this?

KYLE WHITMIRE, STATE POLITICAL COLUMNIST, ALABAMA MEDIA GROUP: Yes, this seems to be dirty tricks to discredit "the Washington Post" here in Alabama. It`s a robo-dialer that news station here in Alabama, WKRG, is reporting about right now. It claims to be from someone named Bernie Bernstein, swallow that one if you can.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

WHITMIRE: Who is calling from the "Washington Post" to pay $5,000 to $7,000 to women who have claims that they are not really going to investigate, but they are going to report. And then they give an email address where you can send those claims into. Of course it`s a bogus email address. It bounces back. Marty Barren from the "Washington Post" has already put out a statement saying that this is fraudulent. And this is not how they do business. And media throughout Alabama are explaining to people, no, this is not how national media work. They do not pay for stories the way you might see tabloids do.

MATTHEWS: I want everybody to listen now as we have got the robocall. Listen to this now. And everybody watching will know what game is being played here. (INAUDIBLE), regional prejudice, anti-media prejudice, this is playing pulling out all the stops to misinform the listener to this robocall. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, this is Bernie Bernstein, I`m a reporter for the "Washington Post." I`m calling to find our if anyone at this address is a female 54 to 57 years old, willing to make damaging remarks about candidate Roy Moore for a reward of between $5,000 to $7,000. We will not be fully investigating these claims, however, we will report --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Heidi, you and I are friends long enough to watch these things. I mean, this looks like the dirtiest, sleaziest, stupidest trick that got somebody with I guess somebody try to do a New York accent, a tone with Jewish name, the whole works, and somebody willing to buy dirty stuff without any investigation. It is so over the top or under the top. I don`t know. I guess they are aiming at the lowest common denominator, a person who would buy this crap. Your thoughts?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, USA TODAY: It`s so completely obvious. They are hitting all of the trigger points both of the base in terms of ethic prejudice, in terms of prejudice against the media, that the media is -- this is all just a hit job. And, actually, making every single point that Roy Moore is trying to make about this, setting up the idea that this is all a paid hit job by also including in there the fact that these women might be even paid to make up these stories.

So it`s almost as if it comes -- or could come directly from his supporters trying to set this up as, yes, a really dirty trick. And who knows who is going to fall for it?

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s look at it this way. John, I want to talk to you about hard politics. Does Mr. Moore have any alternative but to fight this out and hold his ground, stone wall against the charges and get elected and do what he can from there? Is this the only thing he can do? If he quits now, he admits guilt in all the charges. Is he doing basically what he has to do just in his own personal interest?

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I`m going to say negative things about Roy Moore and I`m not even getting $5,000. I mean, the truth of the matter is, when there is one accuser, I thought everybody had to be cautious. We got five credible accusers. And I think the tipping point for me was when Roy Moore said to my understanding yes, I dated some of those teenagers when I was in my 30s, but I made sure I got the approval of their mother.

To me if you`re 30 and need approval from somebody`s mother to date them, there`s probably something wrong with that to begin with. Sure, he can do that. But if he believes in the values, all he is doing the letting the Democrats win this seat. Another obstruction is going to Washington to hurt the agenda of Republican trying to do. He can fight this probably better as a non-candidate than as a candidate. And this is the going to live with him the entire time if he does indeed get elected. And it`s only going to get worse. So if he truly wants to prove that he is innocent of these charges, I would strongly recommend he get off the ticket and the ballot and to go defend himself.

MATTHEWS: I`m wondering if that`s really the case.

Anyway, Kyle, let me ask you this about this. What role does Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and former senior senator about that? What does the fact that he will not defend this guy mean to the people of Alabama?

WHITMIRE: Yes, absolutely. Two things. Jeff Sessions is probably the most popular public official in the state of Alabama or from the state of Alabama. Can`t quite explain that myself, but it`s true. And much of his following overlaps with much of Roy Moore`s following. This maybe not a complete one to one comparison, but it`s a significant overlap. And if anyone is on the fence about believing this, they now have someone that they see, that they know, they trust, saying that, yes, they should take these allegations seriously.

And you put that next to the sort of flailing about that we are seeing from the Moore campaign with whether these auto dialers are from them or from someone allied with them, who knows? But, you know, today Kayla Moore is sharing -- I know fake news has become a loaded term now. But she`s sharing stuff on her Facebook page saying that the old hickory restaurant didn`t even exist. And there`s clearly, like, advertisements in the Gadsden newspaper showing that stuff exists. So it just shows the desperation they are seeing.

And when you see someone like -- for Alabamans to see someone like Jeff Sessions giving credibility or lending credibility to these accuser and saying he believes his accusers or at least doesn`t have reason to doubt them, yes, that`s going to impact Alabamans, especially tomorrow when there is a steering committee of the Alabama state Republican Party that is meeting to try to figure out how to make heads or tails of this situation.

[19:11:34] MATTHEWS: Heidi, what strikes me here in all these accusations is that they are all delivered by people who have nothing to gain except that they believe something like this should be stopped, that he should be stopped. And but the one that grabbed me was this one today about the mall. And the fact that employees of a shopping mall which had a couple high end stores in it, had a movie theater, sounds like a nice place for teenagers to hang out, as they do in most malls, that this guy would be banned, that he would be so notorious in his menacing of these young girls that he would be banned.

I mean, this is -- the fact that everybody would know, we don`t let Roy Moore around here anymore. I mean, he wouldn`t be banned from the U.S. Senate, but would be banned from this shopping mall. It just - it really cuts to a new level I think than just horrible, even felonious behavior, that it would be notoriously felonious behavior.

PRZYBYLA: They almost had -- it`s like they almost had a neighborhood watch out on Roy Moore. And yet he ascended to all these high positions and no one spoke out.

But Chris, I think this is also a moment in which we as a nation are also getting an education just on the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and also the temerity of many of the victims to ever speak out. Because if you talk to some of these women now who were being interviewed, they are saying that it wasn`t until the other stories came out, that initial story on Leigh Corfman and also just the climate that we are in right now with Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, and all of these women who essentially went before them to tell their stories that they found the strength to come out and share their stories as well. Because the truth is that in the past, just like Roy Moore signed in that yearbook, many of these women did have the community to fear, that people wouldn`t believe them, and that there would be a backlash, and counterattacks, dirty campaign to tarnish their reputations. So to your point, nothing at all to gain.

MATTHEWS: Well. Anyway, earlier today, House speaker Paul Ryan finally emerged. He urged Moore to end his campaign and retiring Senator Jeff Flake out in Arizona said he would vote to expel Moore from the Senate if he got in there. Should he win this special election. Let`s watch the vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: He should step aside. Number one, the allegations are credible. Number two, he should -- if he cares about the values and the people he claims to care about then he should step aside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If Roy Moore wins would you be open to voting to expel him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I would.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: John Brabender, you are the political guy here. What do you make of this election? I do want to be honest and really put all the factors in play here. On one reason, I think that the Moore people think they can still pull this out besides their lead so far in the polls is the abortion rights issue, which is very strong and culturally conservative evangelical state. They go after and apparently, Moore is reminding everybody that Doug Jones is pro-choice, he is for abortion rights. Can that turn this election?

BRABENDER: Yes, I mean, it`s --

MATTHEWS: That values question.

BRABENDER: It`s a good question, does being pro-choice Trump somebody who has a completely different problem that a lot of people would find the seriousness in that as well. But I think we may find that out on Election Day.

But I do think you have to acknowledge that Republicans from leadership on down have been, you know, united behind condemning the behavior and standing up for the credibility of the women that have come forward. And I think that that`s helpful for the Republican brand to show they are not going to worry more about this election than they are about what`s right and wrong. And I think it was the right thing to do.

[19:15:10] MATTHEWS: Well said, John. I also think it`s interesting that Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate down there for Senate is pushing the issue of a job application. He is saying it`s not a judgment over values or even party identity, it is about who do you want to employ as your U.S. senator? It`s obviously the best chance he has to make that the issue, the who, not the what.

Kyle Whitmire, as always, thank you, sir. Heidi Przybyla and John Brabender.

Coming up, attorney general Jeff Sessions says he wasn`t lying when he testified he didn`t know anyone in the Trump campaign who had contact with the Russians. He just didn`t remember. So why did he remember shooting down George Popodupolous idea of having Trump meet Putin as he claims. That`s ahead.

Plus, the department of justice is considering wanted to recommend special counsel of at least they say they are AG saying that to investigate the uranium deal, the one the right wing wants you to think is the biggest scandal since the Rosenberg`s. Is Trump using that use the justice department to punish his political robust. What do you think? Where he said before he went to Asia, he was frustrated, that was his word, he couldn`t sick the department of justice on Hillary Clinton. The round table has come here tonight with much more on Roy Moore.

Finally, let me finish tonight from California where I`m met with the dangerous last campaign waged here in 1968.

And this is "Hardball" where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:17:31] MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump is en route to Washington following this 12-day five country-trip through Asia. Despite a war when a bilateral meeting, Mr. Trump is returning to the White House pretty much empty handed. He failed to secure any new trade agreements with the country he visited. And either China or Russia grid of pose any new sanctions on North Korea. Of course, if you asked President Trump, the trip was a dramatic success. Let`s hear him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It was red carpet like nobody I think has probably ever received.

I have made a lot of friends at the highest level. Whether it`s China and the incredible -- the incredible opening they gave us, people really have never seen anything like it. And Japan likewise. It was a tremendous rollout. And South Korea, as you know, we made a speech. I believe seldom has there been the opportunity to speak for somebody from the outside world in that hall. And coming to the Philippines was terrific and coming to Vietnam was terrific. Vietnam treated us incredibly, as did the Philippines. We just could not have been treated nicer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It`s like he is talking about the opening of a new golf course.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back to HARDBALL.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee today, for the first time since the revelations from two former Trump campaign aides raised serious questions about the truthfulness of Sessions` past statements.

At the center of the attorney general`s testimony today was his assertion last month that he was not aware of any campaign surrogates communicating with Russians.

Now, here`s what Sessions said in October.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: You don`t believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians? Is that what you`re saying?

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I did not, and I`m not aware of anyone else that did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, since making that statement, the unsealed plea deal of George Papadopoulos and the testimony of Carter Page show that Sessions was indeed told of campaign communications with Russians.

Specifically, Sessions presided over that now famous March campaign meeting where Papadopoulos revealed that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then candidate Trump and President Putin himself.

Well, Sessions said today that he now recalls that meeting, but only after hearing about it in news reports.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: I do now recall that -- the March 2016 meeting at the Trump hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting.

After reading his account and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government, for that matter.

But I did not recall this event, which occurred 18 months before my testimony of a few weeks ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Sessions also said he did not recall being informed that Carter Page planned to go to Moscow, despite the fact that Page testified that he told Sessions in advance of the trip.

Sessions got heated on that point when pressed by Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. Let`s watch that moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: At that meeting, Carter Page told you that the that he was going to Moscow in a few days. Is that right?

SESSIONS: Yes.

JEFFRIES: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFRIES: Thank you. Thank you.

SESSIONS: And he said it was a brief meeting as he was walking out the door. I don`t recall that conversation. But I`m not able to dispute it.

JEFFRIES: Understood.

Reclaiming my time -- I have got limited time available.

SESSIONS: That does not -- does that establish a -- some sort of improper contact with Russians?

JEFFRIES: I think you understand -- I think you understand...

SESSIONS: He`s not Russian either, you know.

JEFFRIES: You understand, sir, I get to ask the questions. You provide the answers. In this capacity, you`re no longer in the United States Senate.

SESSIONS: I made no response to him, didn`t acknowledge it, and you`re accusing me of lying about that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, throughout the hearing, Sessions maintained that his story had not changed, and that he did not lie to Congress in his past testimonies.

Joining me now is the Democratic congressman, Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who was in that hearing, and you just heard him there in that dialogue. And, by the way, Betsy Woodruff joins us. She is with The Daily Beast.

Congressman Jeffries, I haven`t met you before, but I want to -- you -- you`re an attorney. And I wanted to ask you. And you have worked as a clerk to a federal judge.

I -- about the law. This is a question of law. If you keep saying you forgot, you forgot, you forgot, does that save you from a perjury indictment?

JEFFRIES: Well, it absolutely does not.

And I pointed out in the first part of any questioning of Jeff Sessions that he, himself, made the point in October of 2016 that, when Hillary Clinton said "I don`t remember" over 35 times, that, if that was intentional, that itself could constitute the crime of perjury.

Now, it turns out that Jeff Sessions earlier this year testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, said "I don`t recall" approximately 30 times, same thing before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, repeatedly said "I don`t recall" at least 25 times.

So, it was a classic case over and over and over again of selective amnesia when convenient. It`s clear, Chris, that he has been less than truthful on multiple occasions when testifying before Congress about contacts between himself, the Trump campaign and Russia. And that`s a serious thing.

MATTHEWS: Did you notice anything sort of ethnic about his attitude in answering your questions, something that rattled him; he seemed disturbed that it was you asking the questions? Did you sense anything there?

JEFFRIES: Well, not necessarily. But I do think that he seemed a little agitated that I referenced his own words in a speech that he gave when justifying his vote to remove Bill Clinton from office on the charge of perjury.

And Jeff Sessions referenced, during his Senate floor speech, the fact that, when he was a U.S. attorney, he prosecuted a young police officer who failed to provide accurate testimony during a deposition, even though that young police officer subsequently corrected the record.

Now, Chris, I pointed out simply that he has repeatedly done the same exact thing. And Sessions said that Bill Clinton should be held to a standard that is the same as that young police officer. Seems to me reasonable that the attorney general of the United States of America should be held to the standard that Jeff Sessions held that young police officer to when he ruined his life and prosecuted him for perjury.

MATTHEWS: Are you concerned about his hiring standards at Justice, his lack of diversity?

JEFFRIES: Well, that`s reason to be concerned.

Cedric Richmond, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, had a very thorough question-and-answer session with the attorney general. And in response to a question from Congressman Richmond about his senior staff, the attorney general indicated that he had absolutely no diversity as it relates to African-Americans in his senior ranks.

And given all of the important issues under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice, including the criminal justice system, voter suppression, the upholding of civil rights laws in an era of increased hate crimes, it would seem to me to be reasonable that the DOJ should reflect the gorgeous mosaic of the United States of America, and it does not.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, sir.

Anyway, the congressman -- as you mentioned, when confronted with specific questions about Russia and the campaigns, Sessions repeatedly said he could not recall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: I had no recollection of this meeting until I saw these news reports.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Did anyone else at that meeting, including then candidate Trump, react in any way to what Mr. Papadopoulos had represented?

SESSIONS: I don`t recall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you discuss your meetings with Ambassador Kislyak with Mr. Flynn?

SESSIONS: I do not recall and don`t believe I communicated any of that information?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did anybody ever forward to you a communication from Mr. Papadopoulos?

SESSIONS: I don`t recall it. I don`t recall ever being made aware of that before.

I don`t recall it.

I do not recall such a conversation.

I don`t recall.

JEFFRIES: In your testimony today, you have stated "I don`t recall" at least 20 times. Is that fair to say?

SESSIONS: I have no idea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Betsy, Betsy Woodruff, thanks for joining us.

Give us a sense of how that plays, do you think, with people who read news stories in print where they read "I don`t recall" again and again. Do people believe that?

I mean, it`s always possible that there`s so much going on in a campaign, you don`t remember things. But it does seem selective that he only remembers stuff when recalled to his attention, and only when he is forced to. It`s called -- as you know, in journalism, it`s called rolling disclosure. You admit what`s been proven already, nothing more.

BETSY WOODRUFF, THE DAILY BEAST: Right, exactly, something we`re used to with the entire Trump administration.

I think the biggest issue for Sessions with the way the testimony went today is that he had not just significant failure to recollect all sorts of details about what happened on the campaign, but then he came forward with a certain new piece of information that he now says came to mind, you know, namely, the fact that he said he told Papadopoulos not to talk to the Russian government or to any other foreign government.

That`s a new piece of information that Sessions says he now has been able to remember, despite not being able to remember a host of other basic facts that journalists and members of Congress have been pressing him on.

So, even if it`s possible, even if it`s the case that the attorney general is being completely forthright and that his memory was jogged by all these news reports, it goes without saying that this creates significant credibility problems for him in Congress and, you know, with people reading about, about the way that he talks about how this whole campaign and the Russia connections have played out.

MATTHEWS: You know, I want to add to that a little bit. And you can jump in.

I think that, if I were a guy from -- a senator or -- from Alabama and I was a regular American lawmaker, and all the sudden, at a meeting in a presidential campaign, somebody, I mean, Carter Page, who I don`t know, starts talking, I`m about going to Moscow, you know, why are you telling me that?

And somebody else is talking about meetings with Russians about maybe some dirt on Hillary, you would remember that stuff. It just jumps out at you. It`s so exotic. It`s not the stuff politicians talk about. They don`t talk about Russians all the time.

It`s -- I don`t want to sound like a nationalist completely here. But it`s unusual to have political campaign conversations about a country on the other side of the world, as if it`s normal and forgettable.

Anyway, Hakeem Jeffries, thank you, sir, for please -- for coming on, and, Betsy Woodruff, as always.

Up next: The Justice Department says it`s considering whether or not to appoint -- well, they say they are. I just don`t believe they`re serious about a special counsel to investigate nothing. Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with the uranium deal, except in a very kind of institutional way. And, by the way, it was legally done.

Anyway, what about Trump? We will see what he`s up to. I think he`s pushing Sessions. He said he`s very frustrated, in fact, that the Department of Justice isn`t going after Clinton, because he wants it to, and that`s why they should be doing it, because he wants them to. He doesn`t understand our Constitution.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: You know, it is -- it`s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because you would be in jail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump campaigned in part on a promise to pursue a criminal probe against his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

And late yesterday came the news that the Justice Department may be looking into whether a special counsel should be set up. It came in response to a question or a request from Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to lawmakers -- quote -- "The attorney general has directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate certain issues raised in your letters."

Well, that would include -- quote -- "whether any matters merit the appointment of a special counsel."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who once told reporters -- or senators, we do not punish political enemies in America seemed somewhat reluctant on that matter today.

Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: Frankly, I appreciate yesterday`s letter saying you were considering appointing a special counsel that you sent to us.

But my concern is, we sent you a letter three-and-a-half months ago asking for a second special counsel. And if you`re now just considering it, I -- what`s it going to take to get a special counsel?

SESSIONS: And we will use the proper standards. And that`s what I -- only thing I can tell you, Mr. Jordan.

JORDAN: Well, I appreciate...

(CROSSTALK)

SESSIONS: You can have your idea. But some time, we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standard that requires a special counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, as the Republicans pushing hard for a special counsel, the attorney general`s boss, President Trump, he`s also on the case. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You know, the saddest thing is that, because I`m the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I`m not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I`m not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing, and I`m very frustrated by it.

I`m not really involved with the Justice Department. I would like to let it run itself. But, honestly, they should be looking at the Democrats, they should be looking at Podesta and all of that dishonesty. They should be looking at a lot of things. And a lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m joining right now with Michael Schmidt of "The New York Times" and former U.S. attorney Barbara McQuade.

Michael, do you get a sense that the attorney general is just trying to keep his job here by slow-walking this thing and turning it over to the bureaucrats?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, he certainly appeased the president, at least for now.

This is something the president really wants. If he had a special counsel to point to on the other side and say, look, there`s a special counsel investigating Democrats, then it would distract from the problem that is engulfing his presidency, which is Robert Mueller.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SCHMIDT: The Russia investigation has intensified in recent weeks. There`s been charges. And it clearly is a distraction to him. And this would sort of offset that.

MATTHEWS: Barbara, what would you investigate, if you were a prosecutor in the federal Justice Department, and you had to -- you`re told, now investigate this decision by this inter-Cabinet task force? They approved the uranium deal. They agreed to it. They all signed it at the Cabinet level.

What would be the crime you would be looking at? What would be the body of the crime to investigate? It was all done transparently and correct -- and by the correct procedures.

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I believe that the theory that I have heard is that there`s some sort of bribery count, that some thought that Hillary Clinton approved this deal in exchange for a large donation of the Clinton Fund.

But bribery has a five-year statute of limitations. And this all occurred seven years ago. So, I think it would be difficult even to begin to investigate something, when so much time has passed. There`s a reason we have a statute of limitations. It`s because evidence gets stale.

But I imagine one could attempt to interview all of the people involved. But it seems to me that we are tasking senior federal prosecutors on a fool`s errand.

MATTHEWS: Well, don`t you have to initially establish the fact that Hillary Clinton put her hand to a document, that she had some briefing on the subject, had some involvement in the decision to approve that sale?

MCQUADE: Yes. You know, if it is a bribery theory, then you would have to show that, in exchange for anything of value, this donation, she committed some sort of official act.

So, that official act would have to be some act to have been taken to approve this deal. And I don`t know that there`s any evidence of that.

MATTHEWS: I don`t see anything here.

I`m sorry to be so short, but I think this is a closed case.

Thank you, Michael Steele. Thank you, Barbara McQuade.

Up next: the controversy surrounding Roy Moore again. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he has no reason to doubt Moore`s accusers. Well, that comes amid new reports that the Alabama Senate candidate used to troll -- that`s a great word for a grownup -- troll the local mall looking to pick up teenage girls.

That was his reputation. It`s why he was banned from the Gadsden mall.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Although the controversy surrounding Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore has roiled congressional Republicans, President Trump has largely avoided weighing in on the topic. He`s been in Asia, of course, since the news of the allegations against Moore broke last week.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the president believes Moore will do the right thing and step aside if the allegations are true. That`s what Sarah Sanders said.

Well, when pressed by reporters on Air Force One on Saturday, the president said: I`m dealing with the president of China, the president of Russia. I haven`t been able to devote very much time to this.

Well, Trump returns from Asia this evening. "The Associated Press" reports today that while his trip allowed him to leave domestic affairs behind. Now, quote: he must grapple with the uncertain fate of his tax cut plan, face the threat of a government shutdown, and decide whether to cut ties with Moore, the Republican candidate in Alabama special Senate race.

Well, let`s bring in the HARDBALL round table: Sabrina Siddiqui, a political reporter with "The Guardian", Jonathan Capehart is opinion writer with the "Washington Post," and the Paul Singer is Washington correspondent for "USA Today".

Sabrina, this -- I do get the sense the president is keeping the wide option out there like the football quarterback, he`s got an option out there of whether to drop this guy like a bad habit.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: I think that the president wants to avoid any of the political fallout that might be associated with turning against Roy Moore. You`ll recall that the president already expressed regret for having backed Moore`s opponent in the primary, Luther Strange. And he knows that prominent conservative media figures have stuck behind Moore as well as his own base.

So, the question is, does he publicly call on Moore to step aside or does he do so privately and try to avoid the publicity associated with it, and does he encourage Jeff Sessions who he has been no fan of in the Justice Department, to consider entering the race? And I think that`s the key question is, which direction Trump will go in.

MATTHEWS: Jonathan Capehart, are your views of the options he still has on the table?

JONATHAN CAPEHART, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think whatever option the president utilizes is going to be a hot mess. He -- his base, as Sabrina said, loves Roy Moore. The president wanted to support Roy Moore against Luther Strange and went against his gut.

And the other thing is, the president hates losing. So I don`t know what the president`s going to do, how he`s going to say it. He is going to have to address the Roy Moore issue. He needs to have a Republican in that Alabama Senate seat if his tax plan and any of his other legislative items are going to get passed.

And so, you know, between the allegations against Roy Moore, the sexual assault allegations against Roy Moore, the president is in a bouillon base of trouble. And the only -- I have no idea what he`s going to do, when he`s going to do it, and what he`s going to say. But again, Chris, whatever he says, it`s going to be a hot mess.

MATTHEWS: Paul Singer, if he does succeed by toughing it out, we`ve had experiences in both parties where people tough it out. Clarence Thomas toughed it out. I mean, I think about -- Clinton toughed it out with Monica. There`s such a thing in politics, it`s just putting your -- and just doing it, and say, I don`t care how bad it gets, I`m going to stick to this, stick to my story, rub it into the other side and hit them back hard.

But if he does that, if this guy win it is special election, if he is, in fact, seated in the U.S. Senate, I said this on Bill Maher the other night, they`re stuck with a Republican notion of an age of whatever, of 14, that they`re defending this guy`s behavior.

PAUL SINGER, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: Right. And there is every suggestion from the Senate leadership, including Mitch McConnell that they will immediately launch an ethics investigation against him if he ever takes that seat.

Keep in mind that in the House of Representatives, there`s a limit on -- statute of limitations on ethics complaints. They can only go back about six years. But in the Senate, there is no statute of limitations on ethics complaint. They could launch an ethics complaint against Senator Roy Moore the day he is sworn into the Senate.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SINGER: And the question, how long will that take and what does it do to the legislative agenda if you have one guy sitting outside the bubble?

MATTHEWS: Wait a minute -- what`s that do to a -- I know, it`s hard to tell you, it is Freddy Kruger president we have, it`s hard how many lives he has, but what happens if he says, I want you to vote for this guy up to election day four weeks from today and the people follow him, they say, I`ll do what the president tells me to do and the next thing you know the guy is examined and found to be a sleaze ball? I mean, how does Trump deal with that?

SINGER: I doubt Trump is going to say anything to say you should vote for the guy. He may not say don`t vote for him. He may not say anything. I suspect he`s waiting for Steve Bannon to go out front and say, you know what, this is the wrong guy.

MATTHEWS: I`ve heard that, according to "The Daily Beast", Steve Bannon, the aforementioned, who has backed Moore in the face of this allegations, may be having second thoughts.

According to sources close to Bannon, the Breitbart CEO`s, quote, uncomfortable with the charges of sexual harassment and child molestation that have been leveled at Moore. But he wasn`t convinced that the initial flood of on the record testimony was anything more than a hit job.

What do you make of this, Sabrina?

SIDDIQUI: Well, this is sort of emblematic of the post-Trump era, where you have these unvetted candidates who used to be part of the fringe and, frankly, now are within the Republican mainstream. You mentioned people, Chris, who have toughed it out in the past, like Clarence Thomas, and Bill Clinton.

You know who else toughed it out? The accusations of sexual assault? President Trump himself. And I think that`s another elephant in the room that`s bound to be raised if and when he weighs in on Roy Moore and his fate.

And the fact of the matter is it didn`t matter at the ballot box that Trump himself had been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual assault, and it remains to be seen if it will matter when it comes to Roy Moore. But I think you`re going to see more and more of what used to be unacceptable in politics no longer have bearing on the outcome of a race.

And that`s the trend that`s been unleashed, also by Republicans having supported the president despite the many statements that he had made that they had claimed were disqualifying.

MATTHEWS: Jonathan, this is the first time I`ve seen a schism between President Trump and the senators, it`s clear they`re not comfortable. This is the first time they`ve openly opposed him, even though 80 percent of their people back home like the guy.

What do you make of -- why is this the issue that`s broken McConnell away from him, that`s broken Ted Cruz away from him, Paul Ryan away from him? Why now?

CAPEHART: Because -- well now, because we have charges -- allegations of child molestation, excuse me, one, and two, the power of the story is that the four women in the "Washington Post" story that set all of this off, they went on the record. This was not a story about unnamed victims.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CAPEHART: They put their names out there. And so it made it difficult for people on Capitol Hill to turn away. But Chris, I have to tell you, I am not entirely confident that if Roy Moore does indeed become the next senator from Alabama, that the Senate is actually or Congress is actually going to do anything about it, because these folks are living in fear of the people who will have sent Roy Moore to the Senate.

MATTHEWS: OK, I agree with you. I think two-thirds expulsion vote is a wild card. Anyway, I`m not sure it`s going to be. Anyway, the round table is sticking with us. And up next, these three will give me three scoops. We`ll be talking about it forever, maybe.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: It`s going to be some historic drama here tomorrow. One of our HARDBALL guests will be Vince DiPierro, the man who caught Robert F. Kennedy when he was shot and mortally wounded. Vince was a 19-year-old waiter when he found himself in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, catching one bullet through his own shirt sleeve before grabbing Kennedy and keeping him from falling.

I met Mr. DiPierro at an event last night in Santa Monica for my book "Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit". He`ll be our guest here tomorrow on HARDBALL.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with a HARDBALL round table.

Sabrina, tell me something I don`t know.

SIDDIQUI: When Roy Moore was on Alabama`s Supreme Court, he challenged a law that was designed to protect rape victims on more than one occasion, argued that alleged sex offenders should be allowed to use the personal lives of their accusers against them in an attempt to discredit them.

MATTHEWS: Wonderful.

Jonathan?

CAPHEHART: Chris, our departed late friend, Gwen Ifill, who died a year ago today, her alma mater in Boston, Simmons College, is going to name one of its schools after her. It`s going to be the Gwen Ifill College of Media, Arts and Humanities.

MATTHEWS: I love Simmons and I loved her. Thank you.

Paul?

SINGER: The series of sexual harassment complaints at the EEOC have been trending down parts over the past ten years or so. They`re likely to trend back up with the Harvey Weinstein in the news. We have been seeing more and more traffic on their Website for people who may be filing complaints in the near future.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Sabrina Siddiqui, with all that news and it was big news tonight. Jonathan Capehart and Paul Singer.

When we return, let me finish tonight from California, with the dangerous last campaign waged here in 1968.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the dangerous last campaign waged here in California in 1968.

When Robert Kennedy announced for president that March, the day before St. Patrick`s Day, Richard Nixon was watching on television, having lost to Kennedy`s brother in 1960 and having lived through his assassination three Novembers later, Nixon had a dark foreboding. Quote: We have just seen some terrible forces unleashed, he said, looking at the blank TV screen. Quote: Something bad is going to come of this. God knows where this is going to end. Bobby himself knew the dangers. His brother had been shot to death in what he could only bring himself to call the events of November 1963.

He knew the enemies that he himself had created in the years he had had battling organized crime figures and in fighting segregationists. And yet there he wrote in open cars, on flatbed trucks, giving himself to the people, standing for the overlooked, challenging the Vietnam War. In the end, he left the earth a revered champion for the overlooked, the opponent of the unjust war.

I`ve tried harder than ever in my life to capture him, the man so many of us treasure in "Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit".

Tomorrow night here on HARDBALL, the man who caught him when he fell that horrible night in Los Angeles.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2017 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.