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Mueller indicts 13 Russians. TRANSCRIPT: 2/16/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Susan Page, David Jolly, Ken Vogel, Yamiche Alcindor, Chuck Rosenberg, Mieke Eoyang, John Sipher

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 16, 2018 Guest: Susan Page, David Jolly, Ken Vogel, Yamiche Alcindor, Chuck Rosenberg, Mieke Eoyang, John Sipher


Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

We begin tonight with a bombshell news out of special counsel Robert Mueller`s probe of Russian interference. Putting in black and white something President Trump has denied for more than a year that a group of Russians interfered in the 2016 election to help his campaign and hurt Hillary Clinton`s. It came in a federal grand jury indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian companies.

According to the Mueller indictment, the defendants` operations included supporting the Presidential campaign of then candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton. Among the charges, conspiracy to defraud the United States, the indictment provides a comprehensive blueprint of that conspiracy, detailing exactly how the Russians conducted information warfare against this country starting back in 2014. Those methods were described today by the justice department official who oversees the special counsel`s probe, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.


ROB ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States. They used stolen or fictitious American identities, fraudulent bank accounts and false identification documents. The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans advocating for and against particular candidates. They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans. The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities, promote political campaigns and stage political rallies. According to indictment, the Americans did not know they were communicating with Russians.


MATTHEWS: Well, the 37-page indictment alleges that the Russian influence operation was more expansive than we previously knew and that it even involved intelligence gathering here on U.S. soil. The indictment alleges that while posing as Americans, these Russians obtained information from unwitting U.S. citizens in one case, for instance, the defendants and their co-conspirators learned from a real U.S. person that they should focus their activities on purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida. And while this particular indictment does not allege that members of the Trump campaign actively participated in the conspiracy, it shows that some unknowingly talked to Russians who posed as U.S. citizens.

Well, despite the development from the probe, it`s unlikely the Russians indicted today will be extradited to face trial. However, by asserting a conspiracy took place and laws were broken, special counsel Robert Mueller has now established the underlying crime of this investigation, the underlying crime.

Joining me right now is Ken Dilanian, investigator reporter with NBC News, Chuck Rosenburg is an MSNBC contributor, a former U.S. attorney and former senior FBI official, Mieke Eoyang is a former staff director to the House intelligence committee and John Sipher is a former CIA officer.

Let me go to our friend, Ken. Underlying crime. You know, it`s often said in these conspiracies since the cover-up, not the crime. But in this case, we have a crime.

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Right. And that`s important for two reasons, Chris. One, Mueller has established a complex conspiracy at the heart of this Russian interference campaign and he has laid out a road map for how that happened on the Russian side.

But now, what that means is that anybody in the Trump team or any American who helped that conspiracy by what`s called an overt act can be charged as parts of it, even if that overt act wasn`t a crime, wasn`t technically illegal. But Chuck Rosenberg can correct me if I`m wrong, but that`s my understanding of conspiracy law.

As long as they agreed, they knew about this agreement to interfere in the election and to violate American law, the actual act whatever they did does not necessarily have to be a crime. Number two, a lot of people say how can Trump obstruct justice if there`s no underlying crime. Well now, Mueller laid out the offenses which is a conspiracy to defraud the United States and also to violate U.S. election law, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go to Chuck on that. The question I have is didn`t we all know beginning by late summer of 2016, there was Russian efforts to meddle in our campaigns?

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: We knew it but didn`t know it in this extraordinary.

MATTHEWS: But in other words, the Trump people would know that they were helping the Russians. They were helping the Russians doing something they were already doing.

ROSENBERG: Well, that`s right. But this is an extraordinary level of detail. And, you know, kudos to the investigators and prosecutors who put this together. There`s a lot of work that goes into indictment like this.

MATTHEWS: Which struck me, Chuck, and you all know this more than I know, there`s so much more to this investigation by the Mueller operation than we know about here on television, what we try to cover in the daily newspapers. The fact they were able to gather all this information on these different, more than a dozen Russians and Russian interests, organizations. This was all going on and no one was ready for this in terms. Nobody said on Thursday, this is coming on Friday. There`s a lot going on there.

ROSENBERG: There is a lot. They are running silent and they are running deep. And every now and then the sub surfaces. But you saw this in the Manafort indictment as well. An extra level of financial detail. Here, an extraordinary level of detail concerning social media platforms, stolen identifications and the like. This is a very, very good team. I wouldn`t want to be on the wrong side of it.

MATTHEWS: John, tell us about from your expertise about being able to gather all this stuff from social media, all the rallies being held in different places that I didn`t know were happening. Hillary in a cage and all this crazy stuff going on. And they have been able to track it all down.

JOHN SIPHER, FORMER SENIOR CIA OFFICER: The Russians have been doing this type of active measures as kind of political and information warfare against us for many, many years. But the advantage they had this time, there`s a number of advantages. But one of them is the ability to weaponize social media and use these type of things to create bots that can amplify divisive material and push it out. They showed real skill here. And one thing we didn`t know before is that they were also coming to the states to add to this and set up events.

MATTHEWS: How can - look. We in this country like most are every conscious of accents, for example. If somebody comes in with a Russian accent which pretty strong accent, how come they weren`t picked up? You show up at a political meeting, a guy was talking with the Russian accent. Didn`t anybody pick up on this?

SIPHER: Chris, maybe you are so senior now and you don`t get on the street anymore. But if you walk on the street, there`s lots of accents out there on the street.

MATTHEWS: But Russian.

SIPHER: There`s lots of Russians here, as well. It`s a good question. And you know, it depends what level these operatives were, you know. The Russians are very, very good at this. They have a lot of people who speak languages very well. They train them very well. If you watch "the Americans," you know that they --.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I do watch it.

Anyway, the indictment alleges that to fund their massive influence campaign on social media, the Russian defendants and co-conspirators also used the Social Security numbers and dates of births of real U.S. persons and also created false means of identification including fake driver`s licenses. Furthermore, they established various Russian bank accounts and credit cards often registered in the names of fictitious U.S. personas to pay for their activities and in some cases these Russian operatives paid real Americans to unwittingly participate in their schemes and planning a pro-Trump rally in Florida, example, defendants and co-conspirators asked one U.S. person to build a cage as I mentioned on a flatbed truck and another U.S. person to wear a costume portraying secretary Clinton in a prison uniform. Defendants and their co-conspirators paid the individuals to complete the requests, Meike, you jump in on this.

I mean, they are telling me, people are cooperating with these Russians and they don`t know they are working with I should propaganda, with stuff that certainly out to undermine our democracy. What did people think they were doing?

MIEKE EOYANG, FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE STAFF DIRECTOR: So what you have in a country like this is a wide range of political opinions. And what the Russians here are trying to do are boosting the most divisive of those political --.

MATTHEWS: So that`s why they push a Jill Stein candidacy without any hopes of her winning.

EOYANG: That`s right. And they were also targeting minority groups to try and depress turnout, to try convince them not to vote in the election. They were trying to make us more divided.

MATTHEWS: That works, by the way, because we get the message when minorities don`t vote, there`s something wrong in our system.

EOYANG: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: We take that to heart.

Anyway, it wasn`t long before President Trump attempted to claim that the indictments somehow cleared him of wrongdoing.

Quote "Russia starred their anti-U.S. campaign in 2014 long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong. No collusion."

Trump also released an official White House statement saying we cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord and rancor to be successful. It`s time we stopped the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations and farfetched theories which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors like Russia. We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy."

This is from the guy who claimed that the President of the United States was an illegal alien and then it was snuck in from Africa under be false pretenses. I mean, discord, disunity the name of his game.

Anyway, let me ask you about how did Trump for months, in fact, ever since we started talking about Russian involvement has said it`s a Democratic hoax. There is no Russian involvement. And he convinced, you know, pretty much half his party, Republicans there was no Russian involvement because he was afraid people tell me, the people who do psycho-bible, he was afraid that if he admitted any Russian involvement, he was admitting they threw the election to him. That there was an identity there. If they are involved, they throw it to him. How does he get out of it now? Anybody any thoughts?

ROSENBERG: Well, the notion Chris that this vindicates him is crazy. Here`s why. I mean, it is just an indictment. An indictment is only charge people. So if you look at the sections here, there`s an introduction and there is an object of the conspiracy section, there is what is called the manner and means lays out the A to Z. There`s to vindication section in this indictment. Nobody`s clears as a result.

MATTHEWS: We are going to take a break now.

Right now, President Trump is visiting Broward health north hospital where victims of Wednesday`s shooting, school shooting are being treated. There he is. Let`s see if he speaks to the reporters in that corridor.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have done an incredible job. The doctor was amazing. We saw numerous people and incredible recovery. Incredible. And first responders, everybody. The job they have done sin credible. And I want to congratulate them. Incredible job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you see the victims, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Yes, I did. I did indeed. And it`s very sad something like that could happen. But the job the doctors did, the nurses, the hospital, first responders, law enforcement, really incredible. The speed that they got the victims over to the hospital is like -- one case 20 minutes, in one case 19 minutes from the time of the shots. It`s an incredible thing. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More gun laws need to be changed, Mr. President?

MATTHEWS: That`s, of course, President Trump and first lady Melania Trump at the hospital meeting with the victims of the shooting this week.

Let`s get back to the question. What can you extrapolate from this indictment today of the 16 Russian interests and individuals? Does it say that`s -- let me go back to Ken on this, underlying crime, it establishes an underlying crime for any further indictments of people who cooperated one way or the other with this. What does it tell? Is there any tease in this is to what`s coming?

DILANIAN: Well, we know that from the fact that there was a guilty plea of a man named Richard Pinedo, somebody that no one had heard of him until today, that there is every potential that Robert Mueller has other cooperators. And absolutely, he is continuing to investigate this question of whether anybody wittingly on the Trump campaign or other Americans willingly colluded with this effort.

I just want to go back to that picture of Donald Trump, though. He was acting very Presidential there, comforting the nation at a time of crisis. But it`s such a great contrast to the way he is not acting Presidential in responding to an attack on our country by a foreign government because that`s what this is.

And instead of explaining to the American public what we are going to do about it, how we are going to respond, he is viewing it entirely through the lens of how it affects him as a potential defendant presumably in this case. So he is talking about, you know, the fact that it shows there`s no collusion and it vindicates him. The fact it repudiates what he has been saying for months which is that Russia investigation is a hoax and that there was no Russian meddling, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Meike on that. Same point. It seems like he has been so sensitive to any mention of the Russians, that anybody in his cabinet is afraid to mention it, it`s somewhat, you know, it is almost like a mob kind of thing, don`t mention that to the boss, don`t say Russian to him.

EOYANG: Right. It`s very clearly a deep emotional thing for him. He is very concerned that when you look at this indictment and the breadth of operation that was undertaken here by the Russians, you have to wonder if he himself is concerned that he couldn`t win without the Russians and he couldn`t win again without their help. And maybe that is why --.

MATTHEWS: What gives you the sense of magnitude like that? That they were able to move thousands of votes?

EOYANG: That they were able --.

MATTHEWS: No, these gimmicks they pulled, the dirty tricks and the cage and the person imitating Hillary and this social media. How much draw was that? Any way we can decide?

EOYANG: I think it`s hard to know. It is a very sophisticated influence campaign. It is not like we are saying that they actually got into the voting machines. But given the narrowness of the margin in particular in just three states, it`s hard to know especially when you are talking about a combination of depressing votes in minority communities, trying to divert people to third parties, which we know that those often third party candidates got enough votes have the votes come back to major party candidate who could have made a difference.

I think that there are some real questions here. But it`s very hard for Trump to continue to say these are just regular Russians given who has been indicted here. This guy (INAUDIBLE) is actually a very close associate of Vladimir Putin, someone the President is constantly praising.. But this guy is one of Putin`s favorite oligarchs and he was the one who is funding and directing this operation.

MATTHEWS: To what effect? What`s his interest? Some rich Russian. Why does he care about screwing up our election?

EOYANG: Well, so he is basically that Vladimir Putin`s dirty tricks guy. He is like the guy who Putin goes to when he is looking for difficult things to do.

MATTHEWS: OK. The way we are getting here, John, is that somewhere in the summer of 2016, they went from let`s screw this thing up and humiliate American democracy because they are envious of it. We are the model of the world with democracy. And now, maybe we can win with this guy Trump. He is like an oligarch. That`s from with him. So somewhere they changed, right, according to this indictment.

SIPHER: Well, certainly early on, it depends which narrative you follow. There`s a narrative from the Steele dossier that suggests they were working with Trump people prior to that point and helping them in the primaries as well as the election. However, it was more clear what we have seen from the intelligence community and not also from the justice department, for example, that is they were working to help Mr. Trump by the summer of 2016. And that is very clear.


ROSENBERG: And by the way, remember, the central tenet of the Steele dossier was what Russians were interfering in our election. And now you have 37 pages of an indictment that say precisely that.

MATTHEWS: It`s looking good.

In addition to targeting Hillary Clinton, the indictment alleges the effort also aimed to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and to support Bernie Sanders. Well, the Russian operation was also tied to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote or vote in the 2016 presidential election or to vote for a third party U.S. Presidential candidate like Jill Stein. You were making that point, Mieke.

EOYANG: That`s right. And I think it`s really difficult in our system, you know, the way the electoral college works to have people diverted off the two-party system. Now, you can question whether or not that is the best system, but it is the system that we have.

MATTHEWS: Well, it kills the mandate for the winner.

EOYANG: That`s correct.

MATTHEWS: Because it is diverse. It`s diffused.

Anyway, thank you NBC`s Ken Dilanian. Sir, you are not here but you are always here in spirit. Thank you Chuck Rosenberg, Mieke Eoyang and John Sipher.

Coming up, reaction from the Trump White House today`s news is like the moment Barack Obama produced his full length birth certificate. Now that Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russian for election interference, Trump can no longer dismiss the Russian probe as a Democrat hoax or fake news. It`s real, Mr. Trump. It happened. And Mueller thinks he can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. All about it. That`s what the prosecution is about. That`s the indictment and that`s ahead.

Plus, Trump`s denials helped fuel the Republican fog machine. And a lot of Republicans have followed Trump`s lead, refusing to admit that Russia interfered to help Trump in 2016. Are they still going to deny that tonight?

Also tonight, the President is in Florida, as we saw, in the community of Parkland, Florida is calling out for help and an end to the kind of gun violence we saw this week.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. He won`t like it because he is not doing anything on the Russian front or on the gun front. Nothing.

This is "Hardball" where the action is.


MATTHEWS: So now that Robert Mueller has answered the question about Russian election interference once and for all, top Democrats want President Trump to finally enact those sanctions against Russia that Congress overwhelmingly passed.

Well, today, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer issued a statement saying given these indictments President Trump should implement the sanctions Congress passed immediately. The indictments are also a reminder that Russia will continue to try to interfere in our democracy. The administration needs to be far more vigilante in protecting the 2018 elections and alert the American republic anytime the Russians attempt to interfere.

Well, those sanctions passed both houses by Congress of Congress a combined vote of 517-5. How was that?

We will be right back after this.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Special counsel Robert Mueller`s indictments today outline a vast Russian conspiracy to help Donald Trump win the presidential election.

And while none of those indicted will likely face trial and an American judge, rather, this indictment will stand as the most comprehensive documentation of how far Russia went to help Trump.

Well, President Trump has always been skeptical, of course, publicly. "The Washington Post" reports that: "When Donald Trump finally acknowledged publicly that Russians had hacked Democratic e-mails and interfered in the 2016 presidential election, the then president-elect immediately regretted admitting it. He confided to advisers that he did not believe the intelligence."

Well, today`s news knocks down one of President Trumps` arguments about Russian interference.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it, every committee. I have been in office now for 11 months. For 11 months, they have had this phony cloud over this administration, over our government. And it has hurt our government. It does hurt our government.

It`s a Democrat hoax that was brought up as an excuse for losing an election that, frankly, the Democrats should have won.

The whole Russian thing is what it`s turned out to be. This was the Democrats coming up with an excuse for losing an election. They didn`t know what to say, so they made up the whole Russia hoax.

No, Russia did not help me. OK? Russia.


TRUMP: I call it the Russian hoax. One of the great hoaxes. Actually, that`s the thing. I was thinking about it. That`s the thing that the Democrats did best. Honestly, it`s the thing they did best. They did a rotten job of running, but to convince people about this hoax, that was probably the thing that they did best, but it is one great hoax.

No, Russia, did not help me. That, I can tell you, OK?

We didn`t win because of Russia. We won because of you. Have you seen any Russians in West Virginia or Ohio or Pennsylvania? They`re trying to cheat you out of the leadership you want with a fake story that is demeaning to all of us.


MATTHEWS: Well, that`s great showmanship, but let`s talk about the facts.

Former CIA Director John Brennan tweeted: "DOJ statements and indictments reveal the extent and motivations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Claims of a hoax is in tatters. My take, implausible that Russian actions did not influence the views and votes of at least some Americans."

And today a source tells Bloomberg News that the special counsel has not concluded their investigation into whether President Donald Trump or any of his associates helped Russia interfere in the 2016 election.

For more, I`m joined by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," and former U.S. Congressman Dave Jolly.

First of all, let me -- I just want to give a personal observation. I hang out with a lot of people, a lot of progressives. And I have -- and they complain. They`re pretty good complainers. And they can whine.

And I have never heard any of them say they lost the election because of the Russians. They understood the campaign didn`t reach the right voters in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ohio. They know that. Some of them, like Lanny Davis, will blame Comey.


MATTHEWS: Of course, because he did something rather dramatic -- 11 days before the election, he announced Hillary Clinton is still under investigation. Of course that hurt, dramatically.

So, I will just take that off the table here.

But Trump, I`m told, almost like a mobster, if you`re in his Cabinet and say the word Russian, he goes ballistic, because any mention of Russian involvement, he takes as a statement the Russians gave it to him.

PAGE: A question of his legitimacy as president.


PAGE: And yet while he`s hailing some of these findings today as exoneration, which is at least premature, what this does is show that it`s not -- he can no longer call it a hoax.

And when he says, did you see any Russians in Ohio or Pennsylvania?

MATTHEWS: Well, they should have.


PAGE: The answer would be yes. Yes. Now we know they were there.

MATTHEWS: We just heard from the experts. They know how to West Virginian.

PAGE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: They can fake the accents.

PAGE: And, in fact, this shows a degree of sophistication and a timeline that is much bigger than what we thought.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go to Dave Jolly.

Figuring out American politics is hard enough for us to do here. But sitting over in Moscow trying to figure it out, I wonder how these people were able to, go get Jill Stein. Waste some liberal votes and minority votes on Jill Stein, so they won`t vote for Hillary.

The Jill Stein voter was not going to vote for Trump, but probably would have voted for Hillary. Pretty smart. Get them to vote for Jill Stein, that kind of thing.

African-American voters that don`t vote could have voted probably for Hillary. That`s a reasonable assumption. Get them not to vote.

They know what they`re doing.


Look, there are two stories today. One is, we finally saw the very significant complexity of this organization, the deep detail. But, Chris, we also saw on plain display the demonstrated erosion of the presidency under Donald Trump.

And what I mean by is in his reaction. He responded today more like a defendant than he did the leader of the country. Right? He blamed Obama, saying it started in `14. He said they didn`t impact the win, he won fair and square. And he said there was no collusion.

Any other president today would have expelled Russian diplomats, would have imposed sanctions, would have coordinated with the secretary of state, DHS, and the attorney general and spoken with one voice on the world stage in response to what was filed today.

This president can`t do it because Bob Mueller`s on his doorstep. And what he showed today was the weakness he has created in the office of the presidency under his administration.

MATTHEWS: Well, are you saying he`s too self-centered, too narcissistic, or he`s simply aware that they`re coming for him?

JOLLY: Well, I think it could be both. Right?

But for the country -- and this is where it`s grave. It`s almost more grave than what Russia actually tried to do. The grave matter here is that we have a leader of the country, a president, who is not responding to this.

And, in fact, what we also saw today was the confrontation, the adversarial relationship between his own Department of Justice and the president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: The irony thing -- the irony here is I think what you point out, that the president, in defending against the Russians` involvement, he`s sort of siding with them. It`s a weird thing.

Why would anybody say, you know, I`m with them, they didn`t get involved in this thing at all?

JOLLY: He`s saying it didn`t matter too much, right?



PAGE: Yes.

And he has previously said that he believed Putin, when Putin told him that he didn`t meddle, that he was inclined to believe him. When he said that...

MATTHEWS: Can he keep it up?

PAGE: I think it gets harder and harder.

And I have to -- I actually think this very much strengthens the position that the special counsel is in. You can`t say -- the special counsel -- these indictments go to the fundamental charge that he was tasked to do, which is to investigate Russian meddling.

He`s investigated. He`s found this incredible network of meddling. And now he has kind of a stronger basis on which to go and look at collusion, the e-mails. This didn`t deal with the hacking of the e-mails. And the issue of obstruction of justice.

MATTHEWS: I thought it`s fascinating, both of you, first, Susan, the fact that I`m learning all the time, like most of the producers here, learning about the fact that -- the fact that once you have established, which they can do through these indictments and convictions, even in absentia, an underlying crime, then any actions by the -- sophisticated or not, any actions taken by Carter Page or Manafort or any of these people, Rick Gates, any of them, may involve collusion they don`t even want to know about, because that`s, in other words, supporting something, or obstruction of justice and covering it up.


PAGE: And it gives him a huge tool to use in trying to get people, to force people to talk to him, to make deals with him, and to tell him what really happened.

MATTHEWS: I have a sense, David, that we`re going to see more. We`re seeing people being lined up.


MATTHEWS: People are being turned, being threatened with long-term imprisonment, I mean, serious imprisonment of 10 or 20 years.

JOLLY: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: And those people are not going to do this for Donald Trump. There`s no love there. There was a deal. It`s transactional.

JOLLY: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead. Your thinking.

JOLLY: Look, the president and the RNC today say, this proves no collusion. It does not. It doesn`t allege collusion, but it doesn`t exonerate anyone of collusion.

And we can`t overlook tonight, given all the details we now have, the contacts that Flynn had, the contacts that Trump Jr. and Kushner had in the Trump Tower, the contacts that Papadopoulos had. All of that is relevant to this investigation, and more relevant now that Mueller has indicted these Russians.

MATTHEWS: We sure as hell know what the Russians are doing in those rooms.

JOLLY: That`s exactly right. That`s exactly right.

MATTHEWS: Every time one of the Americans talked to a Russian, we know what exactly what the Russians were up to, because all the way from the oligarchs and Putin on down, they were out to screw up our elections.

Every meeting they had was, guess why we`re here, right?

JOLLY: That`s exactly right.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the politics, which you and I focus on most.

Right now, I checked the latest polling on this. It`s pretty recent -- 49 percent of Republicans don`t believe the Russians did anything to involve themselves, anything to get involved in our election in 2016. Is that going to change?

PAGE: So, this has become yet another issue that people see very much through their partisanship, through their partisan filter.


PAGE: But I guess I do think that, as you get past the allegations or sources say or there`s one source that this news organization has that alleges this or that, when you actually go to the legal process, where there are indictments and perhaps trials, that that becomes more persuasive even for people who are inclined to want to believe one side or the other.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Rod Rosenstein doesn`t strike me as a political type.

And I mean that positively. He looks to me like a government servant.

David, I watched him tonight. He didn`t do it with any relish or zeal or political joy. He came out and very deliberately came out with the facts.

JOLLY: He did. You`re right.

But he did something interesting. And I heard it maybe a little bit differently. He did say there is no evidence in this indictment, within those brackets, in this indictment, no evidence that it affected the election, no evidence in this indictment of collusion, of coordination.

And I actually think he did that...

MATTHEWS: Is that to keep Trump off his back?

JOLLY: It`s to keep his job, absolutely. That`s what I heard him saying.

MATTHEWS: Yes. It`s the way I heard it too. And you have got good ears, sir. Thank you.

This guy wants to stay around a few more months.


Anyway, thank you.

JOLLY: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Congressman -- former U.S. Congressman David Jolly.


MATTHEWS: And I`m glad you are a former congressman, because then you can come on and talk to us candidly like this.

JOLLY: You got it.

MATTHEWS: Susan is always candid.

Up next: Will this latest development rattle Trump? I think that`s the big story. Will he try to use it to claim he`s exonerated? I don`t think it`s going to work.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is. This is bad news for Trump today.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump`s denials of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election has fueled the Republican smokescreen around the Russian investigation itself. And Republicans seem to be buying -- or had been -- the president`s argument.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that nearly half, 49 percent, of Republicans don`t believe that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election. In other words, clean hands, they did nothing.

Mueller`s indictments today outlined definitive efforts, however, to interfere in the elections. So, can Republicans keep on refusing to admit that Russia did what they did in 2016, with this elaborate new evidence?

Tonight, the president`s meeting with law enforcement officials, of course, and lawmakers in Broward County, Florida. As we wait for that, we are going to talk about this.

So, let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable, Ken Vogel right here, political reporter for "The New York Times," Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the "PBS NewsHour," and Jason Johnson, politics editor of The Root.

In that order, tell us, will this news be new to people? Will it impact their thinking about the whole Russian role?

KEN VOGEL, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I don`t think it will right now, because Republicans have worked so hard to discredit the Mueller investigation, discredit the FBI.

And polls show that that`s working, that Republicans believe that this is some kind of biased witch-hunt.


MATTHEWS: That the Russians didn`t do nothing. Do they really believe that? They say they do.

VOGEL: They couple those two things together.

But I think, historically, and as we move on, this document, this indictment will help...

MATTHEWS: OK, Sergeant Schultz? I don`t know nothing. I don`t know nothing.

How long can the Republicans say, I don`t know nothing about the Russians` involving in our elections last time?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, "PBS NEWSHOUR": I don`t think that they can anymore.

I think Republicans now can no longer just use the narrative that says, oh, Russia, this whole thing is made up. We don`t know really what`s going on.

They have laid out in 37 pages exactly what went on. So they can no longer say that they didn`t know. And, by the way, we were just watching President Trump say, did you see any Russians in West Virginia?

Well, the FBI said, here are all the states that they visited. So, yes, there were Russians in those states.

MATTHEWS: I still -- oh, this sounds very chauvinistic. But how did Boris and Natasha go bopping around these states and have nobody notice that they`re showing up.


MATTHEWS: Maybe they have perfect -- what do you call it, idiomatic American accents. I don`t know how they did it.

JOHNSON: Well, that`s what I`m thinking.

Like, I watch "The Americans." And they trained for years like this. Right? Like, I don`t think you can walk into West Virginia and Georgia and just hide your accent. People are going to figure it out.

MATTHEWS: I can`t hide my Philly accent in West Virginia.


JOHNSON: I don`t think it`s possible.

But here`s what I think. We`re just going to see -- and we have heard this before -- the narrative is just going to shift. Right?

Remember, it was no collusion happened. Then it was, well, collusion`s not illegal. Well, it used to be, the Russians didn`t have any involvement. And now they are going to say, well, it wouldn`t have made a difference.

MATTHEWS: The goal line posts keep changing.

JOHNSON: Moving goalposts.


VOGEL: Although I don`t think they`re done with no collusion. I think that you already see Republicans thinking through this.


MATTHEWS: Oh, no, I agree with that.

But you notice how Trump would give in on President Obama`s birth certificate, and then he would sort of pull back, and then he would sort of would fade out and then, on a boring day in October, he would say, oh, yes, this is all bullshit.


MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. You can`t say that.


VOGEL: I think part of this indictment is actually an effort to definitively show that there were Russian efforts to meddle in the election.


VOGEL: And maybe it`s a message to Donald Trump, as well as, I think, like I said, historically.


MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the serious strategic question.

Most countries would be focused less on a guy named Trump and his narcissism, and be focused on, we really do value democracy. America really -- since the Greeks, we really started this democracy. We believe in it. It isn`t completely perfect in terms of the franchise. Not everybody votes, but you`re allowed to vote.

And I just wonder, is this going to affect people and the way they look at the next election? When they go down to the voting booth and they leave the kid off or on the way to work and they go to -- are they thinking now, I`m voting, but is somebody else playing a hand in this thing?


MATTHEWS: Yamiche?

ALCINDOR: I think that`s going to also impact how people interact on social media.

You`re going to wonder, where are you getting your information from? Hopefully, people will then say, OK, I`m not just going to read the headlines on Facebook, but I`m actually going to go out and look for things, because the Russians were not just helping Donald Trump.

In this indictment, we learned that they were learning -- they were also looking at and Bernie Sanders and saying, hey, we should help him. And then they were trying to hurt Ted Cruz. So, this is a little bit larger than Donald Trump.

I think, in the midterms, you are going to say, oh, I really like this senator, I don`t like this senator. So, you start thinking at home, OK, well, why am I voting for this person? Is it because my friend on Facebook told me to vote for him or because I actually know what`s going on?

MATTHEWS: By the way, I should apologize for that word, B.S. I usually say B.S. I said the full word this time. I didn`t mean to.

But I am a little concerned about this, to say the least. It does seem strange. We have the school shootings. And I will talk about that at the end. A president who won`t do anything about the AR-15. It`s out there. Nothing about these weapons in hands of teenaged kids, which is totally legal, nothing about that.


MATTHEWS: Nothing really about the Russian interference, not a word against it.

It is B.S. I shouldn`t have said the full word.

Your thoughts, Jason?

JOHNSON: Well, that`s the thing.

We have both domestic and international concerns. And our president doesn`t seem to care, or our president consistently wants to deny these things.

And, look, we have the head of the CIA. They have said, hey, the Russians are planning on doing what they can in the 2018 election.


JOHNSON: And what concerns me long-term is not phishing -- you know, a phishing e-mail that goes to some blue-haired lady in the middle of Ohio for a state Senate race.

I`m concerned if they start targeting political senators.


JOHNSON: They can look at committees. It`s not that hard.

They can say, hey...


MATTHEWS: By the way, there`s a blue-haired lady in Ohio right now who heard you just say that.

JOHNSON: Who is going to be very unhappy with me, I know.



MATTHEWS: You better apologize for that.

ALCINDOR: But they`re going to able to...

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

ALCINDOR: But they can look at purple districts and say this is where we should put our efforts. They can watch cable news or they can be reading the same books that you have political science students reading over the country to say this is the places we need to be focused on.

They know the issues of America, race is something. Immigration is something. Wages.

MATTHEWS: We`ve got buttons.

ALCINDOR: Very clear buttons that Russia can press.

MATTHEWS: By the way, Ken, you know, it won`t be their last one, I think it`s a fairly good bet, and I think about this all the time, that 2018 is going to be close in the House. I`m not sure the Democrats are going to walk away with this, not within ten or so either way. I think -- I also think that unless they get a message which had help.

But I think the 2020 election is going to be close. I don`t think Trump`s an easy guy to beat if he runs again. I don`t see a strong Democratic contender emerging yet. If the Russians push a few buttons, they can affect the election again.

KEN VOGEL, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, with all this stuff, it`s difficult to determine definitely. Like, did they make an impact in this state or that state?


VOGEL: Frankly, I thought some of the stuff was rather unsophisticated. They had to travel to West Virginia to find out what were purple states. Like when you say, you can find that stuff online. That said, the fact they were willing to spend this much and put together this kind of sophisticated effort and that they`re willing to do so again when an election is very close, you just don`t know at the margins how much something like this could affect the result.

JOHNSON: And I`ve got to say this at the end. What we also have rumors, we`ve got 13 indictments against people in Russia. Remember last year we had nine Russian diplomats magically disappear? Clearly, someone over there might be concerned about the impact of us investigating this issue, as well. I don`t think the fact that we have found 13 now that Mueller wants to indict is the end of this. I think there will be a lot more people.

MATTHEWS: I think as pointed out by Ken Dilanian and others, what`s going on is establishing an underlying crime. Anything henceforth is going to be conspiracy to obstruct or to collude.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump is in Florida this evening visiting victims of Wednesday`s school shooting in Parkland that left a community calling out for help and an end to the kind of gun violence we saw this week. And as we saw earlier this hour, the president said it`s very sad something like that could happen. But he also ignored a question about gun control laws.

We`re back with our HARDBALL roundtable, Ken, Jason, Yamiche.

You know, a lot of talk about mental illness although I`ve been thinking ahead about this trial of this young guy. I don`t think he`s going to be disqualified from facing criminal charges and possibly capital punishment. So, just speculating there, I don`t think anybody thinks you`re off the hook by saying emotional or mental illness, is somehow just an act of god kind of stuff. It just happens.

No, Jason, I don`t think people are going to buy that in the courtroom. And so therefore, it`s about the gun.


MATTHEWS: I think.

JOHNSON: Right. It`s like ovens don`t kill people. People -- look, we all know it`s the guns. It doesn`t have to do with mental illness. If we get anywhere into this territory of saying that any mental illness prevents you from getting a gun, I`m sorry, if a woman who has been abused gets away from her husband and suffering from depression and wants a gun to protect herself, I want her to be able to protect herself. I don`t think that mental illness --

MATTHEWS: At least get hold of a frying pan, some kind of weapon, to save yourself.

JOHNSON: So, you know, at the end of the day, I think it`s a red herring. I think it`s an excuse. I think we have to talk about the guns. We have to talk -- I know it is frightening for people to consider how people get radicalized.

This kid isn`t just angry. We need to look at the roots of this and figure out what gives you attitude to engage in this behavior even before you get the gun.

MATTHEWS: We restrict so many things. We restrict pain killer. We restrict booze. We restrict a lot of things.

We restrict cigarettes. You can`t have a cigarette, you know? All it can do is hurt himself or herself. But we have all kinds of laws about what you can`t do.

We have restrictions on voting. You have to keep registered. You have to go to the TOP to get a special thing in places like Pennsylvania if you`re not a driver. All kinds of restrictions on our rights except for guns.

ALCINDOR: Yes, and I`ve been talking to gun advocates who say, well, I don`t really care about whether or not you can restrict bump stocks, which of course is the thing that makes guns essentially turns them into more automatic weapons, lets them fire more runs. But there`s this idea, once you start taking away one right, people get worried about --

MATTHEWS: Who told them that?

ALCINDOR: It sounds like an NRA line, frankly.

MATTHEWS: They tell us we can only drive 65 miles an hour in an interstate. Oh, next, they`re going to make us drive 45 miles. No, we`re used to restrictions in our life. We`re used to it.

ALCINDOR: I want to do thought, that we have this mental health conversation usually talking about white men. And that`s something that you can`t really take away from this conversation and the idea that he was also the leader of this white national group is saying yes, he was one of us. That`s a part of this. That doesn`t mean he went out and targeted people because they were white.

MATTHEWS: But you know the history when the Panthers were out there armed and dangerous, posing with rifles, the other community got a little concerned, a little more pro gun control. Remember? You were too young.

ALCINDOR: Yes, I remember that.

VOGEL: I`ve read about it.

MATTHEWS: You read about it.


MATTHEWS: It was the `60s.

VOGEL: The grassroots of the Republican Party and then the conservative movement.

MATTHEWS: The Black Panthers.


JOHNSON: Not the ones on movies.

VOGEL: More generally is mobilize around this issue and they`re going to fight any politician who would propose stringent efforts at gun control. Any efforts at gun control including ones seen as more minor like the bump stocks because they see it as a stepping stone.

MATTHEWS: Who`s telling them that?

VOGEL: I mean, the NRA is. But the fact is --

MATTHEWS: But if the NRA said the opposite, like why did, this is so boring, I`ve said it a million types, you can`t buy a Tommy gun. I was reading about Al Capone and St. Valentine`s murders back then with Bugs Malone or Moran or whatever it was. The fact is, they had Tommy guns and people said mobsters have Tommy guns, we`re going to take them away. No more Tommy guns.

So, where was the NRA back then?

ALCINDOR: But we also had --

VOGEL: It wasn`t as powerful and as effective at mobilizing voters. The fact that the nr app is pushing this message is not enough. There has to be a receptive audience. There is in this country particularly in some of these purple states where we see competitive Senate elections coming up. That is a road map you can look at to determine the concourse of this debate.

MATTHEWS: I look at North Dakota, and I look at -- Claire McCaskill has been courageous here and Bob Casey. They`re up for re-election and drawing a line on these weapons that nobody needs to hunt with or for target practice or anything else. These are guns for rapid killing of people.

ALCINDOR: But they`re people that really see this as part of the culture. I`ve been on the phone with people who say don`t touch my gun. This is a sad that they need to figure it out. Of course, we can add to that the FBI seems to have missed or admitted today they missed following up on a tip. That gives a lot of people.

MATTHEWS: What are they supposed to do with the guy? Restraining order? I mean, what are you going to do?

ALCINDOR: What it is it gives a lot of people an excuse to point and say, well, the FBI should do their job better.

MATTHEWS: Imagine a Jack Rich (ph) Society where anybody has got an emotional problem gets picked up and put away in Guantanamo. What else are they going to do with you? You hold them until they let them go and then the guy can do what he wants to do?

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: We`re waiting President Trump to make a quick appearance at the Broward County sheriff`s headquarters down in Ft. Lauderdale. When we come back, the HARDBALL roundtable is going to tell us three things I don`t know.

Back after this.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Ken, tell me something I don`t know.

VOGEL: Well, on this indictment that Mueller handed down today, there were no charges for --

MATTHEWS: Handed out, I love that stuff.

VOGEL: There were no charges for violating campaign finance law, rather, there was a charge for conspiring to prevent the enforcement of campaign finance law. But we learned that the Federal Election Commission had actually been investigating this very troll farm and some of these officials sending letters to them, highly unusual step last year. And we understand that there may have been some coordination between the FEC and DOJ.

ALCINDOR: You probably know about this. But a former Playboy playmate says she had a nine-month affair with President Trump. "The National Enquirer" paid her $82,000 for the story but never ran it. It goes to the idea President Trump was cheating on Melania two years into their marriage.

MATTHEWS: Something called grab and catch and hold.

VOGEL: Catch and release.

JOHNSON: Catch and kill.

MATTHEWS: You don`t use.

Go ahead, Jason.

JOHNSON: So, you know, in the midst of scandals, a lot of times, you like to say in politics, well, at least keep the trains running on time. Well, that`s going to be a problem in this administration. Railroad officials today went to Congress and said, look, it`s going to take us another two years to implement the kind of air brakes for safety to prevent some of the tragedies we`ve been having and it`s even longer process because they lost the head of the division.

MATTHEWS: Ken Vogel, Yamiche Alcindor and Jason Johnson.

Back after this.


MATTHEWS: -- February 16th, 2018.

We find ourselves this Friday night a country under assault, but with a leader refusing to take action. Our Justice Department today found that nationals of the Russian federation interfered in our 2016 election. Yet the president himself remains unmoved by the evidence of this historic assault on our democracy. His reaction today was to focus on his own defense, deny his own collaboration in this assault. He`s incapable of considering the country`s defense.

As to the assault on the home front, that on the classrooms and halls of our teenagers, he`s also unable to perform. He remains protective of the AR-15 being run again and again into our schools. This neutrality by the country`s commander in chief serves as a guarantee on the AR-15`s future.

Why not purchase the weapon that is in many states as easy to buy as it is to shoot. The same can be said for the Russians, with an American commander refusing to defend his country, what stops Vladimir Putin from engaging again this election year in what the online thugs pulled off in 2016? Two years ago, Russians supported Donald Trump for president and disparaged Hillary Clinton as the Mueller indictments cites, they created bogus Internet postings, posted online as an American political activists and fraudulently purchased advertisements, all with the strategic goal of sowing discord in our country.

Shooting up our schools and killing our kids is another way one can say of sowing discord, so is having a president unwilling to stop even the Kremlin or the next killer now casing out his old high school.

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

"ALL IN" starts right now.