Show: HARDBALL Date: February 9, 2018 Guest: Betsy Woodruff, Miriam Rocah, Ira Shapiro, Alfonso Aguilar, Anne Gearan, Eric Swalwell
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Weird night in the West Wing. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Tonight, as we meet the mood in the office of the American presidency, it is grim and chaotic. The "New York Times" is reporting the chief of staff is offering to resign. The communications chief is in danger. And the White House secretary is gone all together. President Trump publicly addressed the growing west wing scandal for the first time today, defending the former aide who has been accused by two ex-wives of violent behavior.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We certainly wish him well. It`s a obviously tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him.
But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he is also very sad. Now, he also, as you probably know, he says he is innocent. And I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he`s innocent. So you will have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well. Did a very good job while he was at the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, notice what President Trump never mentioned. There is not one single word about either of the women accusing Rob Porter of abuse. And one of his ex-wives Jennifer Willoughby was on the "Today" show this morning. She recounted one violent episode. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JENNIFER WILLOUGHBY, ROB PORTER`S EX-WIFE: We had been fighting, and Rob followed me to the shower and pulled me out of the shower to continue the rage and then immediately saw how scared I was and recognized what he was doing and released it, but that was a moment when I realized he didn`t have control.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You got a restraining order against him. So you feared some physical violence?
WILLOUGHBY: It was a temporary protective order after an incident where had he punched in the door of our home during our separation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Porter has called the allegations against him by his two ex-wives outrageous and false.
Meanwhile, according to NBC News, President Donald Trump frustrated by his staff`s handling of the abuse allegations against Rob Porter is increasingly venting about chief of staff John Kelly and speculating about potential replacements according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
Well, "the New York Times," you could also, among the people the President called to express dissatisfaction according to those close to him was none other than Reince Priebus. In an interview Hugh Hewitt today, Priebus denied that account saying the President has never complained to me about general Kelly.
Well, the President`s anger isn`t just directed at Kelly. NBC reporting he is also frustrated over communications director Hope Hicks` role in the Porter controversy. Hicks is reportedly in a relationship with Rob Porter. And also tonight, "the New York Times" is reporting that Kelly told White House officials he is willing to step down over his handling of the Porter news. Sources tell NBC News he has not made a formal offer to resign.
For more in all this, I`m joined by NBC News chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson, "Washington Post" bureau chief Phil Rucker, he is the White House bureau chief and Jason Johnson who is politics editor the at "the Root."
Halle, I have been waiting for hours to hear from you about this, just the sense that you can only get when you are near something. And is there a sense with the chief offering to resign, the communications chief in danger, the secretary gone, what is the feeling and the noise, the chatter level and the mood over there now?
HALLIE JACKSON, NBCS NEWS WHITE HOUSE CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: A lot of slammed doors, a lot of serious faces, Chris, is what we saw for most of the afternoon.
And let me just go back a couple of steps because you put that up headline from the "New York Times" that the White House chief of staff John Kelly said he is willing to resign. Let me tell you that Kelly O`Donnell just heard from the chief of staff which was twice and this is from the horse`s mouth, from, John Kelly himself saying no. He did not offer to resign. And when she pushed him, he said again, I just said no. So that is an On the Record denial that he has offered to resign.
Now, I will tell you when I spoke with a source close to the chief of staff, I was told, listen. He is always willing to resign and that jibes with what John Kelly had ever since he came into office which is that he serves at the pleasure of the President. A second source saying if the President were saying, hey, I don`t want you to serve anymore. John Kelly has been in the military. He knows how the structure and how the command system works. That is something he would obviously listen to.
I`m told he is feeling irritated right now. That is his mood because he feels dogged by this continued questions about the fallout from the Porter scandal. As one person put it, he feels like, hey, he has answered a lot of questions about this. Why does he still keep getting questions about how he handle this when he feels that he has put it to rest looking to move past this.
You talk about the vibe, it was an interesting - it has been interesting few hours here because remember, yes, the press secretary is on a preplanned day off. We saw a lot of sort of huddling of aides behind closed doors. Doors that aren`t normally closed for this long period of time. At points, had you aides who sit just outside the offices turning up the volume on the TV screens outside to perhaps it seem to mask private conversations happening inside those offices.
So clearly, there was some crisis control, some damage control happening as we have seen, John Kelly in and out of an area where reporters can go inside the west wing, hold up for press and that is where NBC News had the opportunity to talk with him a couple of times. And he clarified the timeline of when he found out. He said he was first aware of investigations he said broadly, that something was up in November. But he said literally all he heard, and I`m paraphrasing here, was that there something being looked into. He said he didn`t find out that the allegations were true he says until Tuesday night. And he said within 40 minutes, Rob Porter was gone.
That raises some questions though because the timeline is little confusing. Tuesday night, remember, is when the White House put out a statement saying from John Kelly that Rob Porter was a man of true integrity. So there are still some questions that we are working to drill down now. But the bottom line seems to be, Chris, people at this White House knew about what was going on with Rob Porter. These allegations against him. We have one White House staffer says, yes, Don McGahn knew that she still the White House counsel about a year ago. And so that is sort of where this conversation has been going today. But again, he asked about the mood. Definitely one of those Friday nights where you are like all right.
MATTHEWS: That`s right.
Let`s talk about it as if it were a normal President and a normal White House staff. I know that is hell of a leap. But let`s try that.
President of the United States expects his chief of staff, whoever it is, to deal with these kinds of situations, to deal with personnel to know what the FBI reporting and their full field investigation has come through with when they go out and study these people find out all about them. They go door to door, every place you have ever lived. It is a thorough investigation by the FBI.
According to all the reporting I have seen, the FBI was doing its job as long as a year ago, they were getting indication that there was violence in these ex-marriages - former marriages. And wasn`t that enough, that information enough to be brought to the attention of the chief of staff?
JACKSON: I assume you are directing that question to me, Chris.
JACKSON: What I can tell you, yes, is that there is indications that this came to light in the fall, that there was word that this was happening, that these allegation --.
MATTHEWS: It took nine months to get the information to the chief of staff.
JACKSON: That is what John Kelly told us tonight himself. That in November he discovered he was told briefed he said about the investigation, but did not get briefed on specs. Now, is it possible that the chief -- that the council Don McGahn his office knew about that earlier? Yes. And our reporting indicates that perhaps as much as last January, last year, he was being told about this. There is an open question of whether that trickled up to the top levels.
MATTHEWS: I have been reading a lot of these reports with the timeline, Hallie. And I`m getting backing to last January this information reached the FBI.
And by the way, I want to -- let`s go to Phil Rucker on this, White House bureau chief for "the Post." Is there a problem here with the White House being incapable intellectually or emotionally of accepting fact from the FBI? That`s their job to do background checks.
John Kelly doesn`t go knocking on doors to say how a guy treated previous spouses. The FBI does. You have to rely on the FBI. Are they accepting the truth of the FBI at this White House, sir?
PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, the problem, Chris, is that there`s no clear accountability here. There`s no clear timeline. That what we have are shifting statements, evolving timelines. This morning chief of staff John Kelly was in a senior staff meeting at the White House, a private meeting where he told aides that he wanted them to go tell their colleagues to tell the lower level staffers at the White House that he had taken decisive action within 40 minutes of learning of these allegations about Rob Porter. That does not match the public record. It does not match the statements that we have seen coming out of this White House where there was a concert strategic attempt to try to protect Rob Porter, the staff secretary up until that came out.
MATTHEWS: Is general Kelly leading a cover-up?
RUCKER: Well, I don`t know. I think he would serve himself that he would come out and answer some of these questions deliberately and thoughtfully and really be transparent about what he and what White House council Don McGahn and others in the White House knew, when they knew it, when did they notify the President, what were the conversations with Porter. We still don`t know, for example, whether Porter resigned and his resignation was accepted or was Porter fired and terminated? We have had conflicting accounts from the White House on that point.
MATTHEWS: You know, again, Jason, you put the shoe on the other foot and you go, suppose Barack Obama had something -- I constantly go back and check this. Suppose he was involved with any of this stuff with the adult dancer, whatever, imagine if somebody in his top staff had been accused of this, you know, On the Record with police records and restraining orders and the top person in charge of controlling all his paperwork and everything and then it looked like his people covered up for it.
JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THE ROOT: It would be -- inexcusable. I mean, he would be pilloried. People would be screaming for his impeachment.
What galls me about this is general Kelly talking to the American public and talking to journalists like we are supposed to believe he is a dunce. This is a smart man. This is a guy who cleaned up a lot of things in the White House. For us to believe that he didn`t know for nine months and then suddenly decided to take action once he saw pictures, that`s the most unbelievable part of the story. It is a cover-up.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Hallie about the culture - talk about it. Because you know the culture there. Is it so much a he culture that they can`t deal with a her question. Because I thought Katy Tur was excellent this afternoon. She said all I hear is he is and no hers in the account of the White House of what went down here.
JACKSON: So I think that there is a couple of pieces to that, Chris. I think number one, when you look at the President`s statement today and again, you know, I stick to the sort of the realm of the facts on hand, the fact on hand are that the President did not bring up the women who have accused Rob Porter of domestic violence both physical and verbal abuse.
MATTHEWS: Even with pronouns.
JACKSON: I would contrast that.
MATTHEWS: No pronouns.
JACKSON: Let me contrast that too with what the vice President said to Lester Holt today in that exclusive sit down in North Korea. Because the vice President said things like domestic violence is not tolerated in this White House and should not be tolerated in this country.
MATTHEWS: Let`s watch -- you queued. Let`s go to the interview (INAUDIBLE) you just said, vice President Pence said he didn`t know about the allegations against Porter, the secretary - the White House secretary until he heard about the resignation. So here he is. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was appalled when I learned of the allegations against Rob Porter. The time that he resigned is when I first became aware of the allegations of domestic abuse, and there`s no tolerance in this White House and no place in America for domestic abuse. That being said, I think the White House has acknowledged that they could have handled it better. Lester, when he I return to Washington, D.C., I`m going to look into the matter and I`ll share my counsel with the President directly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Hallie, one of our colleagues out there with the Times - actually "the Post," she said how come the vice President is always about a foot outside the loop? I mean, he keeps this decent, this wonderful little respectful distance from the bad stuff going on and he can always come in a couple days later and say yes, when I find out more about this, I will react. How does he do this? How is he keep outside? His office if you look at the west wing floor plan is really two doors from the President`s oval office. How does he do this?
JACKSON: Right. He obviously spends a lot of time over the executive office building, too. Listen. Mike Pence is the number two guy in this administration. He is the person that the President can`t fire, right, when you look at all of this. And I do think it is illuminative to look at the vice President`s response to what has happened.
You mentioned Ashley saying directly to him, why do you always seem to be out of the loop on some of these issues? I do think when the vice President says to Lester I`m going to go back and give the President my council directly, don`t underestimate that. Because the vice president is somebody who talks to the President and who has his ear and who more importantly talks to people here in Washington, allies on the hill, allies in the conservative community, allies in the donor community, as well.
I think when you ask about culture, there`s one other point here, Chris, which is the President - and this illustrates his comments about Porter today. You have seen some critics seized on this in particular. The President has repeatedly now shown a pattern of a propensity to side with his allies and not accusers. So you look at the Rob Porter case. You look at what happens. It`s an apples and oranges. But with Roy Moore, the President saying Roy Moore denied it, sort of siding with him. This dates back to, as our research pulled Mike Tyson back in the early `90s.
MATTHEWS: Roger Ailes, as well.
JACKSON: Right. Bill O`Reilly is another one.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Let me thank you for that.
And by the ways, I know you went up to the Eagles parade yesterday. I`m so glad you represented us there. Sort of 700,000 people there.
JACKSON: Forgive me the day off. But it was totally worth it.
MATTHEWS: Well, you sacrificed for your country. Thank you so much giving up a day.
I want to go to Phil Rucker of the "Post" on this.
Phil, what about your colleague getting that amazing conversation going with the vice President? How come you`re always a foot beyond the loop of reality?
RUCKER: She is brilliant, Ashley Parker. You know, I wish she were here in Washington because she would be teaming up with us to cover all of this White House drama. She does it better than anybody else. But she is out there in South Korea trying to keep the vice President accountable.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. What a great colleague are you.
Meanwhile, the White House staff drama played on in a reality game show. Omarosa Manigault rose to fame, of course, on Trump`s reality show "the Apprentice" before working in the White House briefly. She once said this about her former boss, Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OMAROSA MANIGAULT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Every critic, every detractor will have to bow down top President Trump. It`s everyone who has ever doubted Donald, whoever disagreed, whoever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: In a world. Anyway, that (INAUDIBLE). That was her then. Here she is now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should we be worried oh.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don`t say that. Because we are worried but I need to you say no, it`s going to be OK.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it`s going to not be OK. It`s not.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So bad.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you vote for him again?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God no. Never. In a million years, never.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: God from biblical epic down to soap opera. But she is now going to turned a 180 on this guy.
JOHNSON: I would say live comes at you fast, right. A year ago he was the greatest guy on the planet.
Look. Omarosa personally nice person but she is trying to sell books, OK. All of this now he is the most dangerous person on the face of the planet, now he is concern, you weren`t concerned if you still had a job there you wouldn`t be concerned. And guess what, if you are really concerned about what Donald Trump might do as President, you can go find Robert Mueller. I`m sure he would like to have a conversation with you.
MATTHEWS: Anyway. It`s something.
Anyway, we had to end that segment on sort of a comic relief. Anyway, it is a seriously grim night at the White House. Thanks. We heard Hallie Jackson. And what a night it`s been at the White House.
Anyway, thank you Phil Rucker, "the Washington Post" and Jason Johnson of "the Root."
Coming up, Donald Trump tries launches yet another smoke bomb on the Russia probe, even as the Democrats close another one, a smoke bombs to fisle (ph) and so what happening as Watergate reporters Woodward and Bernstein, right, we are on the precipice of another Saturday night massacre. The expert have spoken. That`s ahead.
Plus if the Republican Party now the is it now hitting a values deficit? The GOP has long sold itself as the party of fiscal discipline, family values and law and order. But recent moves call into serious question their commitment on all three counts.
And Steve Bannon says Trump`s base is starting to question account President`s commitments to building his famous wall on the Rio Grande. And one Trump promised Mexico would pay for it. Remember all that?
Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. He won`t like this.
It`s Friday night and this is "Hardball" where the action is.
MATTHEWS: According to a new report, President Trump has abandoned a practice followed by past seven, the past seven U.S. Presidents. "The Washington Post" reports that Trump rarely if ever reads the President`s daily brief. A document that lays out the most pressing information collected by U.S. intelligence agencies. Instead, the President relies on an oral briefing one source says that reading the dense document does not fit in with Trump`s style of learning. Experts like former CIA director Leon Panetta warn by not reading the full briefing Trump could miss important context on intelligence issues and that can put the country in a more vulnerable position.
In the past, Trump has downplayed the importance of a daily intelligence briefing. Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You know, I`m like a smart person. I don`t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years. Could be eight years, but eight years. I don`t need that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I like the look on Mike Wallace`s face when the President of the United States, I`m a smart person.
We will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We begin tonight talking about the chaos in the West Wing of the White House, of course.
Meanwhile, President Trump and his defenders have continued their attempts to cast doubt on the very integrity of the Russian probe. And it seems that the more allegations they make, the faster those allegations are debunked.
And now Trump has targeted the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democratic Senator Mark Warner, in an effort to discredit the investigation he`s leading with his Republican colleague Richard Burr, who has impressed me very much these months.
It began last night, when FOX News reported that Warner has communicated with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch in an attempt last march to make contact with Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer behind the dossier.
The report faced immediate pushback, however,from Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who tweeted: "Senator Warner fully disclosed this to the committee four months. It has had zero impact on our work."
Well, despite that, President Trump seized on the news anyway, writing this last night: "Wow, Senator Mark Warner got caught having extensive contact with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch. Warner did not want a paper trail on a private meeting in London he requested with Steele of fraudulent dossier fame. All tied into crooked Hillary."
This is the president of the United States.
This comes as we await news from the White House on the release of the Democratic rebuttal to the so-called Nunes memo. The president has until tomorrow tonight to agree or object to releasing it. He will probably do it midnight tonight.
Meanwhile, the number three official at the Department of Justice is stepping down. Rachel Brand had been a potentially key figure in the ongoing Russia probe because she was next in line of succession after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who currently oversees the special counsel`s probe.
I`m joined right now by Miriam Rocah, former special prosecutor. David Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC analyst. And Betsy Woodruff is a reporter with The Washington -- with The Daily Beast, of course.
Anyway, well, let me start with David on this, because you are an aficionado of this stuff of wacky ideological behavior on the right. The president seems like every day he gets up and tries to find a smoke bomb, something he can throw over toward the Russia probe, confuse his supporters and actually muddle everything up.
And he never seems to succeed. They don`t last. They fizzle in a couple of hours. But he keeps throwing these smoke bombs.
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they -- I would even call them a stink bomb.
But they do work to a certain degree. For the last two, three weeks, what have we been talking about? Not so much the investigations, but the Nunes memo, which is a deflection and distraction. We have talked about this before.
MATTHEWS: Probably written by the White House.
CORN: And they just move from thing to thing to thing. It`s been one plate of spaghetti after the next.
Now, in the past week, we have heard about Russian attempts to meddle in the 201 midterm elections. We have seen the head of the CIA meeting with Russian intelligence chiefs. There`s a lot going on that we`re not talking about as much because we`re following all the craziness.
MATTHEWS: I try to keep my eye through the smoke.
CORN: But one last point there.
MATTHEWS: Because it`s still a question, what did the Russians do, what role did the Trump crowd do in helping them, and what`s happening right now in 2018?
Let me go to Betsy.
BETSY WOODRUFF, THE DAILY BEAST: Let`s remember what`s really curious about the substance of this criticism of Mark Warner. The president criticized Mark Warner for being in communication with someone who knew Christopher Steele and potentially talking about going to London to meet him.
Meanwhile, two staffers for Devin Nunes actually went to London in search of Christopher Steele. My colleague Spencer Ackerman and I were the first to break the news that one of those staffers was Kash Patel, who was instrumental in writing Nunes` controversial memo.
So, you can`t have it both ways. Right?
MATTHEWS: Who has close ties with the West Wing, obviously.
WOODRUFF: Exactly. Exactly.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Miriam Rocah on this and the whole question, what do we make of the fact the number three person -- I don`t know -- everybody thought it was important today. I hear she`s getting a job with Wal-Mart.
The important thing is, she`s not going to be there, I suppose, Rachel Brand, to take the job if something happens because the president fires or pushes out Rosenstein.
Your thoughts on the importance of this?
MIRIAM ROCAH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think we have to be careful about reading too much into it too quickly, because, look, she had been at the Department of Justice for a long time. She had only been in the AAG position for nine months, but she has been there a long time.
People leave the government for private sector jobs. Is it possible that this got sort of expedited because she wasn`t looking forward to possibly being in this extremely political, controversial role? Definitely.
But -- you know, and that would be a sad consequence of what Trump is doing to the Department of Justice, what he`s been trying to do.
MATTHEWS: How does he replace her? What are his rights to replace her?
ROCAH: Well, I think he can appoint someone, an acting, for a while, but eventually that person would have to be confirmed, which would probably be a pretty tough confirmation hearing right now for him.
MATTHEWS: And so if they didn`t get confirmed, what -- would he have power if he fired Rosenstein? Or would the bureaucracy kick up the next person? Who would take over if he didn`t get something confirmed -- someone confirmed from the Senate?
ROCAH: I think there`s a lot of debate about this right now, about what kicks in. But my understanding is, there is sort of a line of succession that is written in the regulations right now or by order of previous...
MATTHEWS: David, who becomes in charge? Because this is important.
MATTHEWS: Who is going to be the boss of Robert Mueller when he comes through with his reporting either late this year or early next year? Who is the going to be the one who receives it? It`s not to be Rachel Brand. It`s going to be Rosenstein, unless he gets fired or pushed out.
CORN: Well, right now, it`s actually not clear. She`s right.
We called the Justice Department, we at "Mother Jones," this afternoon. And they said it goes to the solicitor general.
But there are some memos out there that people are pointing to that shows that U.S. attorneys will get ahead of her -- or him in the line of succession.
MATTHEWS: If we have a Saturday night massacre, what will happen?
CORN: We don`t know who it goes to in terms of being in charge of this investigation.
WOODRUFF: It`s possible the president...
MATTHEWS: OK. He could fire Sessions tomorrow. He could fire Sessions, he could fire Rosenstein, he could fire anybody that comes in to replace Brand, and then he can ultimately find a way to fire Mueller.
We know he could find a way to do it.
WOODRUFF: It`s possible the president could appoint someone else who is Senate-confirmed to step into Rachel`s spot, and that would give that person significant power.
Another piece about this...
MATTHEWS: You mean any U.S. attorney?
CORN: It could be.
WOODRUFF: If the U.S. attorney is Senate-confirmed or someone -- the HHS secretary.
The other piece about this about Rachel stepping down that I think is actually really significant is, it`s long been known in conservative Washington legal circles that she Rachel was someone who could be a strong contender for a federal judgeship.
I had even heard her mentioned as a potential Supreme Court nominee. Rachel is not dump. She`s a very highly intelligent lawyer. And you don`t have to be particularly sophisticated to understand that people in the Trump administration get their reputations torched.
MATTHEWS: While you`re on, I want to know what you think about this Nunes memo, the fact that that sort of died as an interesting -- these days. It`s a boring thing. I think it was cooked up by the White House anyway, like anything Nunes does.
The fact that the Democrats have something to come out here. So, what are they going to come out with? Is Trump going to approve it like at midnight tonight? That would be the normal way to do the garbage dump.
WOODRUFF: What I can tell you that I have learned is that the Democrats` memo actually quotes the FISA warrant application that FBI agents put together.
It`s really unusual to see text from one of those FISA applications. That`s some of the most classified material in government. Now, a big question for when or if this memo comes out is, will those lines from the FISA application be redacted or won`t they?
Additionally, I can tell you...
MATTHEWS: Well, what`s the importance of that?
WOODRUFF: Well, if they`re there, then we will know a lot more about how exactly the FBI asked for authorization to surveil Carter Page.
MATTHEWS: Well, this hit job against Senator Warner we talked about is the latest of a series of specious allegations made against the institutions that are carrying out investigations of Russian meddling in our election.
Despite the fact that the president has cheered them on, each charge has been more quickly debunked than the last. Last Friday, for example, the so-called Nunes memo we mentioned alleged wrongful surveillance of Carter Page. However, subsequent reporting revealed numerous flaws in the memo, and Democrats expect their rebuttal, which may come out this weekend, to put those allegations to rest.
Anyway, on Wednesday, Senator Ron Johnson incorrectly claimed that a text message showed that President Obama was personally involved in the FBI`s investigation of Hillary Clinton`s e-mails.
However, the timeline suggests otherwise. And "The Wall Street Journal," among other outlets, debunked that claim within hours. "The Wall Street Journal" put that to bed.
And now Senator Dianne Feinstein is also refuting the allegations made in a criminal referral against Christopher Steele in which Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee claim that the former British intelligence officer lied to the FBI about his contacts with journalists.
Feinstein points out that the criminal referral fails to identify when, if ever, Mr. Steele was asked about and provided a materially false statement about his press contacts. Tellingly, it also fails to explain any circumstance which would have required Mr. Steele to seek the FBI`s permission to speak to the press.
David, I hate going into the weeds on this. I think the whole strategy of the White House -- and it`s been good. I have seen it in the polls. It`s working. If you get people in enough crazy charges against this probe, you will get something like an equilibrium. Do you believe it or not?
And yet none of the charges hold up. It`s just they keep shooting them out there.
Well, you`re right. That`s the point. They don`t need to win. They don`t need to get these referrals. They don`t need to convince us with the Nunes memo. They just need to muddy up the waters and make it seem like this is all about politics.
Today, the House Intelligence Committee released the transcript of the meeting they had earlier in the week about the Democratic memo. The most important thing to me in that was that you had Democrats saying, you know, you guys are -- to the Republicans, you haven`t subpoenaed one piece of information.
You have witnesses coming in. You`re taking them at their word. You`re not coming in with follow-up interviews or subpoenaing them for information.
So these investigations, at least on the House side, are really bogus at this point in time, and instead of focusing on that and the bad job they`re doing, we`re getting drawn into one mini-fake scandal a day.
Miriam, it`s great to have you on because you`re a prosecutor.
And my belief is that if you have a criminal defendant who is guilty, and you`re a defendant -- defense attorney, and you know the man or woman is guilty, you know it, it`s obvious, you throw up a lot of nonsensical stuff in defense of the person.
You suggest possible theories. You suggest alibis, just hoping you will find one juror that will say, yes, I guess there`s something to that. I guess that`s reasonable doubt.
It seems to me that`s the game that the president`s defendants are following. We got a guilty defendant. So, we have got throw up a lot of stuff in the air, a lot of flak in the air so that somebody will say, yes, that sounds vaguely clear, especially somebody who is not paying attention.
Your thoughts? What is his defense?
ROCAH: Yes. I think you`re exactly right.
I mean, I don`t -- the defense is not that he didn`t do anything. The defense is whatever he can throw up. And, you know, prosecutors when they bring cases to juries in federal court like to say, you know, keep your eye on the ball to the jury. Use your common sense. You don`t throw that out the door.
And I think if we could say that to the American people now, we would say they`re just trying to distract you from what`s really going on here.
And he is fighting this like he`s a private citizen who is being sued or going on a criminal -- being put on a criminal trial. And so what he`s doing to defend that, by throwing all this stuff up, is doing damage to these institutions in a way -- because he`s not a private -- he`s not a private citizen. He`s the president.
And so when he puts on this defense this way, he`s doing damage in a way that other people can`t do. And it`s very dangerous.
MATTHEWS: You mean he`s obstructing justice?
ROCAH: I mean, he`s damaging the institutions, the credibility of the Department of Justice and the FBI, you know, institutions that we need to rely on every day to keep our country safe.
And he just -- he doesn`t care the consequence of the accusations he makes.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Miriam Rocah, for coming. You`re a great person to have on the show on this particular -- and it is a national security question, the situation we face right now. The Russians got involved with our elections. We`d like to know if any Americans played ball with them. That`s a simple question.
We should get the answer to it. And those who don`t want us to get the answer to it are not friends of this country.
David Corn, thank you.
Betsy Woodruff, thank you.
Up next: the party vs. its values. Republicans used to back fiscal responsibility and family values of course law and order. The party seems to have turned on all those guiding principles lately. Is President Trump to blame?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
After roughly a year of President Trump now -- it`s been a year -- the Republican Party`s metamorphosis is nearly complete. The Republican Party used to be the marriage of the old conservative party for small government, less taxes, less spending, with the party of the evangelicals, traditional family values. Of course, it`s been a great marriage for them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We Republicans have been blessed with grassroots supporters who are committed to the ideals of individual freedom, family values, free enterprise, and a strong America.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let the other side ridicule family values. I`m talking about work, responsibility, loving thy neighbor.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We discovered that we are is more important than what we have and we know we must renew our values to restore our country.
BOB DOLE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let the people to be to keep as much of what they earn as the government can strain with all its might not to take.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We are fiscal conservatives. What that means is, we believe government should not live beyond its means.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Well, back in 1998, Newt Gingrich slammed President Clinton for degrading, as he put, the Oval Office, writing in a conservative weekly publication -- quote -- "The institution of the presidency has been degraded to the point that it is viewed as the rough equivalent of `the Jerry Springer Show.`"
This is Newt talking.
"A level of disrespect and decadence that should appall every American."
God, he`s good at it, isn`t he?
Thirty years later, that same party has given up on all of those values, instead choosing to give President Trump a pass.
Let`s listen to them do it.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Evangelicals did not vote for Donald Trump based on his moral qualifications, but based upon what he said he was going to do and who he was surrounding himself with.
We kind gave him, all right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Anyway, the party of Nixon, Reagan and Goldwater now includes people like Roy Moore and a Nazi sympathizer actually running for Congress out in Illinois.
So, what happened? We will ask our Roundtable next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I ran for office because I was very critical of President Obama`s trillion dollar deficits. Now we have Republicans hand in hand with Democrats offering us trillion dollar deficits. I can`t in all good honesty and all good faith just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That`s, of course, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul last night blasting his own party`s flip-flop on deficit spending, abandoning fiscal responsibility is just part of the Republican Party`s evolution away from what they were once had as its core values.
"Washington Post" columnist Jennifer Rubin writes today that the core mission of the GOP is now to defend abusers, noting that the GOP at every turn has enabled and encouraged Trump by refusing to exercise oversight, joining in the disinformation campaign, declining to censure him and/or attacking the media. Just as White House Chief of Staff John Kelly says Rob Porter is a man of great integrity, Republicans praise Trump as a successful president an admiral leader of their party.
So what`s happened to the Republican Party?
Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable: Ira Shapiro, author of "Broken: Can the Senate Save Itself & the Country?" A beautiful book. Alfonso Aguilar is president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, and Anne Gearan is White House correspondent for "The Washington Post."
Ira, what do you make of the Republican Party`s fickleness, its ability to say especially this fellow Tony Perkins, who I`ve known a long time, an evangelical minister, oh, we`re going to give him a mulligan on his behavior. Well, Clinton never got a mulligan, at least not for his misbehavior.
IRA SHAPIRO, AUTHOR, "BROKEN: CAN THE SENATE SAVE ITSELF & THE COUNTRY?": Yes. Chris, first of all, there is some real consistency in the Republican principles. They`re always for tax cuts. And they`re always for paying for them by cutting domestic programs.
SHAPIRO: They`re only fiscally responsible when the Democrats are in power. So this consistency is there.
MATTHEWS: They never say deficit unless they have a Democratic president.
SHAPIRO: Well, take Rand Paul for a minute. I thought he made a great speech there, but he also just voted for the tax cut. That`s where most of the money went. The -- what they did on spending is nothing compared to the tax cut.
On the family values -- go ahead.
MATTHEWS: We got news breaking in here. Now from the "Washington Post," a second White House aide has now resigned amid past domestic abuse allegations which he denies. "The Washington Post" story writes the abrupt departure of speechwriter David Sorenson comes after his former wife claimed that he was violent and emotionally abusive during their turbulent 2-1/2-year marriage allegations he denied. Sorensen said he was the victim of domestic violence in their marriage.
Sorenson`s resignation comes two days after another administration official staff secretary Rob Porter departed after two ex-wives said he physically abused them.
Anne, you`ve covered this. I go back to the question of the FBI. The one thing you know is that to work in the federal government for Peace Corps volunteer especially in the West Wing of the White House in contact physically with the president, you can walk in the door, that you have to be checked out.
Why didn`t the White House know all this stuff about violent behavior of these two officials?
ANNE GEARAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, if this current case is like the first one, they did know. They had the FBI material at hand. The chief of staff and others would have had that material. The White House chief counsel would have had that material.
The question is what did they do with it and did they consider it in any way a disqualifying event that this guy had been accused of beating up his wife. Apparently not.
MATTHEWS: Well, I would think that the felonies would qualify, because assault and battery.
More breaking news from the White House concerning the Democratic rebuttal to the so-called Nunes memo. In a letter to the House Intelligence Committee, White House counsel Don McGahn writes that the president will not declassify the rebuttal.
Quote: Although the president`s inclined to declassify the memorandum because it contains numerous properly classified he`s unable to do so at this time. He says the committee may submit draft of the memo for the White House to consider.
Well, that`s even handed, isn`t it? Alfonse? Alfonso?
ALFONSO AGUILAR, PRESIDENT, LATINO PARTNERSHIP FOR CONSERVATIVE PRINCIPLES: Look, I think that`s a terrible idea. I mean, he made public the decided to make public the Republican memo, the Nunes memo. You know, the American people want to know. We already saw the Nunes memo. Now, we wanted to see the Democratic memo, so the American people can judge for themselves.
It looks very partisan. It looks terrible for the White House.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the Republican Party`s 90 percent support for Trump? The latest numbers are astounding. The old line was Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line. They have really fallen in line for this guy.
I mean, the top people voted with him on tax bill, all of them, including Rand Paul, including the two women who were reasonable people like Murkowski and Collins, who usually hold back. I think they all voted.
AGUILAR: I think it`s hard to be conservative in the era of Trump. I ended up not supporting the president. I said look, he is who he is. I don`t like his personality. I don`t like the things that he says or offensive or his tweets.
For the good of the country, I have to look at his policies. I have to say since he became president, I support most of his policies.
MATTHEWS: Does the end justify the means?
AGUILAR: Look, it`s Washington. Arts -- you know, politics.
MATTHEWS: I`m only asking my question. Does the end justify the means? He`s the means.
AGUILAR: No, but I think.
MATTHEWS: You just said no.
AGUILAR: No, but it`s an unfair question. If you think I`m supporting a policy, it doesn`t mean I`m supporting Trump the man.
MATTHEWS: But he`s your means to getting your policy. You admit it.
AGUILAR: Yes, but he`s got three years to go. What are you saying? That I should oppose Trump at every single turn? If I agree with his policy, I`m going to say I like Trump. For example on immigration --
MATTHEWS: Is he a good role model for young people?
AGUILAR: No, he`s done damage to the White House just like Bill Clinton did damage to the White House.
SHAPIRO: But I think, Chris, there is an underlying rationale on the family values part. The only thing that many of the family values voters care about really is the abortion issue. And so, this other stuff doesn`t matter as much to them as that issue and the Supreme Court justice issue. And so I think they care about that.
MATTHEWS: They care about other things, by the way.
AGUILAR: Well, I hope.
AGUILAR: Tony Perkins and social conservatives. Many social conservatives don`t like the way Trump behaves. When you look at his agenda, he`s been more conservative than other Republican presidents appointing conservative judge, expanding Mexico City policy. He`s done many things that other Republican presidents --
MATTHEWS: Two of my mom`s sisters were nuns who spent their live -- their entire lives living in poverty, teaching kids. They had other issues besides life. I wouldn`t generalize about people --
SHAPIRIO: Religious freedom.
MATTHEWS: They vote Democrats actually.
GEARAN: Certainly there are issues beyond abortion that social conservatives care about intensely. But many of these things that have come just in the last week should come as no surprise, right? The bargain that social conservatives made early on in backing Trump was a bargain made in full knowledge whether you believed his denial or not that he was accused of grabbing women, right, and bragging about it?
And a number of other statements that he made during the campaign that showed him to be sort of constitutionally out of step with much of what they believe. And they backed him anyway -- in fact, have been among his most enduring and loyal core supporters to this day. And there is a reason for that. They`re getting what they want.
MATTHEWS: Women conservatives of all stripes going to give Barack Obama and his family some credit for having a really excellent role model for the American people -- everything about him, a good father, good husband, maybe he spent too much time with his family, not enough time hanging around with politicians I would say, but everything he`s done, clean record, not money grubber, everything he`s done is to do good for the country.
And no conservative says you know what? He`s a liberal. He`s African- American. Maybe I have a different background than him but, boy, he`s been a clean representative.
AGUILAR: I don`t know about that. I think there are conservatives who are willing to accept that. I mean --
MATTHEWS: Silence they defend this mulligan president on everything he does. When are they going to be consistent about their values?
AGUILAR: Four more years to go with this president. He is the president of the United States. For the good of the country, we can`t just oppose him at every single term.
MATTHEWS: So, we must think of the future? Ha.
AGUILAR: We have to accept --
MATTHEWS: History doesn`t think kindly.
Any more, more breaking news. President Trump will not declassify the Democratic rebuttal of the Nunes memo.
Joining us here on the phone is NBC News intelligence reporter Ken.
Ken, this is a shocker, Ken Dilanian, because you`re the expert on this. Why in the world is the president saying I`m going to keep it secret as Alfonso pointed out, Americans don`t like secrets.
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE REPORTER (via telephone): I`m actually not very shocked by this, Chris. It was very clear that the Democrats included some sensitive information in this memo to make the point that all the information did not come from the Christopher Steele dossier. And some of it apparently is troubling some intelligence law enforcement officials. They want to work with Congress to maybe change the language of the memo so it can still be released make the same points but leaving out some of these more sensitive information.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that`s the president`s reason or his excuse?
DILANIAN: Well, I`m sure there are things that are embarrassing for them and that they`d also like to use the redaction process to get rid of that. But, you know, the Democrats are going to fight hard. It`s part of a push and pull. When you`re dealing with highly classified information, you know, often times, this is often how it plays out. We saw this with the Senate investigation, the CIA torture took two years to declassify that report. So, I`m not surprised if there`s last minute negotiation here.
MATTHEWS: We can expect ranking member Adam Schiff from California and the intelligence committee there to issue a new version of a memo next week. And that will set the clock ticking again. Is that right?
DILANIAN: Yes, that`s our understanding. Really the executive branch holds a lot of cards here. Congress sort of has to defer to them when they say there`s some secrets we need to withhold. They`re going to work with them. And also, the Democrats really don`t have that much leverage. They need Republican help to force the release of this over the president`s objection.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thanks so much, Ken Dilanian, our expert on the security matters.
That`s -- let go back -- Alfonso, Ira and Anne. Some people pointed out the Republican Party even without Trump has lost some of its core principles. Republicans have been very concerned as I have been growing up with deficits. I worry how much the government can borrow, how much before of it pushes interest rates up and taxes young couples to pay off bonds for older owners. How long can we keep doing that?
Apparently Republicans already don`t care about that anymore. There`s no interest in the Republican Party about deficits.
SHAPIRO: Only under a Republican president, Chris. The next Democratic president comes in, they`ll be very concerned about deficits. Indeed, Paul Ryan will be very concerned about.
MATTHEWS: It`s over a trillion dollars now. When are they going to start being worried?
AGUILAR: Is Obama concerned about deficits?
SHAPIRO: No, no, but, Chris, Paul Ryan has already said the next thing we have to do is get at Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.
MATTHEWS: He`s cut the entitlements.
SHAPIRO: He`s got a plan.
MATTHEWS: I know.
AGUILAR: But to a point that you care about, I didn`t like that spending bill. I agreed in general with Rand Paul. But, you know, how do you govern in Washington these days when Washington is so polarized and when you have the 60-vote rule in the Senate? Perhaps, this is the only way to actually legislate. It`s not beautiful but they pass something.
MATTHEWS: The news keeps coming. We`ve got U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thank you for joining us by phone. What do you make of the fact the president`s sitting on this Democratic memo?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA (via telephone): Good evening, Chris. I`m reflexively skeptical as one should be with the president around this investigation.
It looks obstructive but I`m willing to give the Department of Justice the benefit of the doubt and hear from them if they come in on Tuesday and explain to us what their concerns are and that those concerns are not from any pressure that the president has put on them. If they are legitimate, we should still release the memo that corrects the record but is free from any political omissions or edits that the president may want to have.
MATTHEWS: What do you think about the timing? Here he is pulling the plug on this thing after the nightly news. Probably after a lot of the first editions of the papers tomorrow morning, probably going to miss a lot of the press coverage by the way they timed this.
This is the old garbage dump time of the week -- midnight -- heading toward midnight on a Friday night. That`s when you tell people what you don`t want them to hear. What do you make of that, Congressman?
SWALWELL: Well, in Congress, we are now in the position where we must demand that of it be this way to the public. You know, Devin Nunes was the one who move for this to become public. So, he should be the first person if these political edits to stand on the House floor on Tuesday and say to colleagues to release it because it`s now back in our court. But we should hear from the department first, but I do suspect knowing this president that he may have tried to put political pressure on the Department of Justice.
MATTHEWS: Can I trick you into telling me what the most important thing is we should read or expect to come from this memo or you can`t tell us?
SWALWELL: Well, I can tell that you it shows the arsenal of evidence that went into surveilling Carter Page that was independent of the Steele investigation. It puts I think a very accurate timeline and it shows and elevates the seriousness of what Russia was doing and why we should have been so concerned who they were working for.
MATTHEWS: Anne, respond to the congressman. I think that is what people want to know, that this whole thing that was trumped up literally -- trumped up -- that somehow the only reason they looked into the Russian situation was because of what Christopher Steele did for the Democrats.
GEARAN: Yes, I mean, as Congressman Swalwell said, the Democratic memo was supposed to give a longer timeline, showed the interest in Carter Page that predated that will episode. And why he in particular was of concern. He was of concern before this whole thing happened.
GEARAN: Right, exactly.
So why was that? And you know, the thing that the Trump campaign and now Trump administration has never liked is the obvious question that comes next is what were they doing hanging out with this guy? Why was he a foreign policy adviser if he had these known problems? And why once Carter Page himself knew that there was a problem afoot and potentially knew that he was under investigation, like or surveillance, why did he himself not come forward.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, let me ask you about the fact that this memo, the Democratic memo responding to the Nunes memo would clarify the reason that the FBI looked and surveilled basically Carter Page. Anything else we expect to hear as the final version comes out again next week? The revised version of the Democratic memo? What else can we expect to learn?
SWALWELL: Well, it was mostly to restore -- fairly restore the credibility of the FBI because they sought to you know really poison the investigation. This memo of theirs needed an antidote. The FBI`s credibility needed an antidote. And so, that`s what it did.
But, Chris, we did something they weren`t willing to do. We asked the department to review our memo before it went out. And so, if this was the department saying they have concerns, that`s legitimate. We should be open to addressing them.
But I really -- knowing this president and the way he`s put pressure on individuals of that department, I have a lot of questions about what his role was in making this decision.
MATTHEWS: There`s a big story that broke later today which is you`re going to separate the two staffs on the House Intelligence Committee by a wall. Is that because you don`t trust the Republican staff members on the committee that they`re working with the White House?
SWALWELL: No, we think that would be terrible decision. This committee has always worked in an open manner. It`s been a bipartisan committee. This is something that we understand is being done at the urging of the chairman.
And we hope that`s not the case. And hell, Chris, if we take back the House, you can expect us having a tear down that wall party, so we can go back to bipartisanship.
MATTHEWS: So you think they`re up to something, they`re hiding from you?
SWALWELL: No, I think it`s just that their consistent nature of wanting to not bring us in on this investigation and continue to pursue their own I think obstructive behavior and actions. And so, it`s unfortunate but it`s not how our committee`s ever worked in the past and hopefully, this is only for the next ten months.
MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense the White House has failed to work effectively with the FBI to the point they don`t even trust the full field investigations on their own employees that they haven`t acted on that information brought to them?
SWALWELL: You know, my colleague Sean Maloney who was a staff secretary for Bill Clinton, he sent and referred over to our oversight committee concerns about not just Mr. Porter but it`s been reported 30 to 40 individuals who --
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you, Congressman.
We`re getting a lot from him. I want to hear more from Eric Swalwell and what he had to say there about what they learned.
Thank, Ira Shapiro. Thank you, Alfonso Aguilar. And, of course, Anne Gearan, thank you for coming. Anne, you`re amazing.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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