Show: HARDBALL Date: March 7, 2018 Guest: Neal Katyal, David Jolly, Jeff Mason, Karine Jean-Pierre, Alfonso Franco
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That does it for me.
Two programming notes, one I will be guest hosting for Rachel Maddow tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, if you are watching news. And I will be here back at 6:00 p.m. tomorrow. The "Last Word" also has a special guest tonight, Stormy Daniels` lawyer. "Hardball" starts now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Home alone? Let`s play "Hardball."
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
A lawsuit by a porn star and a threat of trade war. Just another day at the White House. Meanwhile, the west wing is becoming emptier by the day.
The latest departure top economic advisor Gary Cohn means the loss of someone seen by many as one of the chief moderating forces in the west wing. According to NBC News, a source close to Cohn said the decision to resign was abrupt. And entirely due to irreconcilable differences based on Trump`s tariff plan.
The White House said today the President will sign that tariff plan by the end of this week. Both Democrats and Republicans have warned of the risk of a trade war. "Axios" reports Cohn considered the tariff announcement a personal embarrassment. Quote "he had boasted to his Wall Street and Hamptons buddies that he had kept the President on the right track -- on trade."
Well, there`s growing alarm right now of a potential brain drain at the White House, coordinating to the "Associated Press." Cohn`s departure has sparked internal fears of an even larger exodus. The President tried to preempt those concerns yesterday. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The White House has tremendous energy, has tremendous spirit. It is a great place to be working. Many, many people want every single job. And I read where, gee, maybe people don`t want to work for Trump. But believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House.
Yes, there will be people, I`m not going to be specific, but there will be people that change. They always change. Sometimes they want to go out and do something else. But they all want to be in the White House. So many people want to come in. I have a choice of anybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I have a choice of anyone to work here. On Capitol Hill today, there was bipartisan concern, however, as I said about Cohn`s departure. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you feel about Gary Cohn leaving the White House and its effect on trade and tariffs?
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), MAJORITY WHIP: Well, I`m concerned that who the President will turn to for advice. I think Mr. Cohn was outstanding public servant and somebody obviously how about had the credentials and experience to help the President to decide what the policies of the government should be.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: The White House getting hollowed out and the number of people capable of doing things, doing real things whether you agree or disagree ideologically is getting smaller and smaller.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the President`s spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders challenged that. Here, she told reporters there are a number of very accomplished smart, capable people around the President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are so many people leaving this administration?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, this administration is -- has had a historic first year. We are going to continue to do great things. This is an intense place as every White House. And it`s not abnormal that you would have people come and go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Going for the back dad bob title there.
Anyway, indeed, something historically has gone abnormal is going on about the number of senior people leaving the White House this early on.
For more, I`m joined by "Washington Post" White House reporter Ashley Parker. "The New York Times" chief White House correspondent Peter Baker, "Washington Post" columnist, Eugene Robinson, and David Jolly, a former U.S. congressman from Florida.
But we need to begin tonight with some breaking news. Again, some breaking news, from this time "The New York Times." The "New York Times" is reporting that President Trump spoke to witnesses about matters they discussed with special counsel Robert Mueller. They reported quote "the special counsel in the Russian investigation has learned of two conversations in recent months in which President Trump asked key witnesses about matters they discussed with investigators," according to three people familiar with the encounters.
The first instance involved White House counsel Don McGahn and the second involved former chief of staff Reince Priebus. As the "Times" reports, legal experts said Mr. Trump`s contact with those men most likely did not rise to the level of witness tampering but witnesses and lawyers who learned about the conversations viewed them as potentially a problem and shared them with Mr. Mueller.
We are joined now by phone by "New York Times" reporter Michael Schmidt who broke that story.
Mike, thank you so much for this. This is odd in the sense that I do you as a non-lawyer that this looks like the wrong thing to do. You shouldn`t be talking to people who have just talked to the prosecutor because it suggests you are riding helicopter on these people.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES (on the phone): Number one rule in investigations is don`t talk to witnesses, don`t talk to prosecutes and leave that alone. And the President has largely disregarded that advice from his lawyers. It`s particularly interesting because the President got into so much trouble for trying to talk to Comey about this (INAUDIBLE) and that was disclosed (INAUDIBLE). So this is sort of head scratching for a lot of people who are watching it.
MATTHEWS: What does this tell us about the intensity factors in the White House in terms of the President trying to check on what`s coming at him?
SCHMIDT: You know, I think the President just can`t help himself. He is curious guy. And he wants to know as much as he can. And you know, he wants to, you know, try and find out as much as he can about the Mueller investigation. And you know, obviously anyone in his situation would be curious in that way. But the problem is that it creates this appearance that doesn`t look good to Mueller because it looks like, why is he doing this. And you know it`s something that.
MATTHEWS: Can you report on what the President asked his colleagues and what he asked of Priebus? What he asked McGahn?
MATTHEWS: Yes. He asked Priebus how it went. Priebus discussed some of the topics that had come up and said that they had been cordial and nice to him. The President went into a rant about the Russia investigation. And the matters related to McGahn weren`t related to a January meeting he had done on how Trump had asked McGahn last summer to fire Mueller. And Trump said -- had told Rob Porter that the White House needs to get out the word that the story wasn`t true. McGahn needs to put out a statement out that it was false. And this - you know, McGahn found out about this and later had a conversation with the President in which the President said to him, look this didn`t happen. And McGahn said yes, it did. And there was this back and forth between the two of them.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. Thank you, Mike Schmidt from joining us, the "New York Times" for breaking that story to us while we got it from you. Well, we got it from you, anyway.
Let me go to Ashley Parker right now. This seems to be a new. I want to get to this question, the sort of the crazy empty house at the White House where everybody seems to be leaving. But this question where the President is now denying he told McGahn to fire Comey.
ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, it seems like in reading that article which again is not my story, but is that he pushed, the President denied that to McGahn and McGahn sort of gently reminded the President that actually, sir, you did ask me to do this. And this gets to sort of a central problem the President has which is, he often when he is saying something in the moment, he says what he wishes it to be. And then he seems toes genuinely believe it. So some people would say he was lying to McGahn, other people would say he was sort of simply misremembering. But it makes him a very unreliable narrator and someone who is incredibly hard to deal with. It is obviously a problem for him in the Mueller probe. It is one of his -- the reasons his lawyers are incredibly (INAUDIBLE) to ask him, testify go before them and certainly as something verbal rather than written questions. But it is also a reason you are seeing this exodus in the White House which is that he is difficult to deal with and people are finally saying I have had enough.
MATTHEWS: I guess, Peter Baker, the question is how do you restrain somebody who can`t remember that you restrained them or why restraining him last time if he doesn`t have a sort of conscious memory of what he has told people to do, how can they think that they can influence what he does?
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. A very challenging client for any lawyer, of course. Michael was right and Ashley is right that this is one thing that lawyers make clear to their clients, don`t talk to witnesses even if you have nothing but benign intent and do nothing wrong, it can easily be misinterpreted.
I remember, and Chris you remember this, too, going back to the Bill Clinton era when had the Monica Lewinsky case and he comes back from his deposition, Apollo Jones case, and calls in (INAUDIBLE) his secretary and leads her through a series of false stories saying you were always with us, right. The door was always open, right. And that was later used against him as an example of obstruction of justice. So that`s why the Presidents shouldn`t be talking to lawyers - I`m sorry, shouldn`t be talking to witnesses. And I think that that`s the kind of thing that Mueller is going to look into as he tries to build a case, whatever the case he is building.
MATTHEWS: And now, Bill Clinton the President at the time was trying to convince Betty, who is his wonderful assistant, more than a secretary. She was a major professional figuring in that White House in the government that somehow she being in the adjoining room was somehow in the same room and tried to change to conflate as the right wing loves to do in all occasions, conflate to circumstances.
Thank you for that he memory. I guess it is a bad memory but it is an important memory.
Let me go to Gene on this question. I don`t know whether the New York people we talked to the last couple days or because they really value Gary Cohn. They just look up to him. Hero is a leader of a major financial house, Goldman Sachs. And he is a heavyweight up there.
But in Washington, he is another employee. He was hired by the President, another one of those guys like I`m sorry, like Don Regan who got an inflated idea who he was. He thought he was prime minister down there and the president in that case, Reagan, was some sort of, you know, old time sort of hanging around Hindenburg type that really didn`t matter anymore. And he learned that he was not in fact in charge.
Does this President need these people that think of themselves that as important? Does Trump need Gary Cohn or people like him around him?
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, he doesn`t seem to want them. I mean, look, if you have - you hire the former President of Goldman Sachs, pretty important job, as your chief economic adviser, then you know, I think he expects you to follow his advice on fundamental things. Things are fundamental to him.
MATTHEWS: But Trump trumpet to the world he was a protectionist. When Gary Cohn arrived he knew he was going to work voluntarily for a protectionism and then he is like (INAUDIBLE), I can`t believe protectionism is going on here. Well, it is and it was.
ROBINSON: You know, Cohn is making I think perhaps made the mistake. People treat this man as if he is a 2-year-old, right. And he can be humored and you make excuses for this. But he can be led in that of this direction and this and that.
He is not a 2-year-old. He is, you know, he is as views as a grown man who has been like this all his life. And knows exactly what he is doing. So you know, again, going back to the first story, talking to the witnesses, he knows he is not supposed to talk to witnesses but I guess he figures that people will say Trump will be Trump. Well, you know, Trump will indeed be Trump.
MATTHEWS: Well, he is our President right now.
David Jolly, somebody may go to the White House thinking they can put the President of the United States in a playpen, you know, and pacify him and keep him there while they run the place themselves. The President puts his staff people in playpens. They stay where they are put. And they don`t think the job is making up, they got to walk.
Gary Cohn didn`t think the job was big enough for him. Well, Trump thought it was big enough for him. Well, Trump thought it was big enough for him and he was unsatisfied. Is this a 10 percent of whatever, are we making a bigger story, everybody is making this into a huge story. All the major papers say there is a problem with Trump in the traffic, people coming in and out of the White House is too swift, it`s not healthy. Is it nor not important?
DAVID JOLLY (R), FORMER FLORIDA REPRESENTATIVE: No, this is a big story and here is why. The country needs experts around had President whether you agree with their ideology or not. When it comes to the economy and national security, we need people smarter than the current President advising him.
But look, they are leaving for one reason, and it`s Donald Trump. There`s an old axiom in a lot of industries as true in politics. You never leave a good job but you do leave a bad boss. Donald Trump has continued to show that he is incapable of approaching the seriousness of this office. He pedals in a certain amount of chaos. And frankly we have become conditioned to accept the mediocrity. Cohn left for the reason a lot of others did. If you have got a shot at protecting a shred of your reputation, you leave this White House now.
MATTHEWS: Well, with Gary Cohn out, an economic nationalist like Peter Navarro seemed to be on the rice in the White House. A former professor, Navarro was an advisor to Trump with his 2016 campaign. In fact in June of that year, he appeared on "Hardball" along with ALF-CIO President Richard Trumka where he offered this bizarre defense of his candidate Donald Trump. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump is -- has a platform that you guys are dreaming about. He is taking every step.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s a fraud.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The AFL-CIO has recommended for a President to take. And you are --.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s a fraud.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that may be but we`re going to find out.
MATTHEWS: That may be.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your workers don`t believe he`s a fraud. They believe that he is the guy.
MATTHEWS: You just said it may be that Trump`s a fraud. What did you mean by that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m just saying - well, here`s what I mean. Trumka says he is a fraud. I say, well, we are going find out. My view is your workers don`t think he is a fraud. I don`t think he is a fraud which is why I`m supporting him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that was a strange -- Ashley, that was a strange kind of defense of your candidate saying he may be a fraud. I don`t know. I mean, he may be a fraud.
The other day, what`s his name, Nunberg said that Roger Stone may lie. I don`t know he may lie once in a-while. I mean, these people`s defense of each other is very narrow and simply in terms of loyalty but not in terms of qualifications or even sort of basic professional morality.
PARKER: Sure. In this White House, the tone starts at the top. And the President demands absolute loyalty. So you are right. You do see that. And there are sort of weak defenses of one another. And then that`s not even taking into account all the ways people are publicly knifing each other.
But there is a sense among a lot of people in the White House that they are not actually that loyal to Trump personally. And he is sort of this vehicle or vessel for them to try to move their opinions. And as is with the case in Gary, when they are unsuccessful they will leave. But that is a bit of the damning with same praise you see from people who don`t totally always respect the boss.
MATTHEWS: Peter Baker, that would suggest why we are getting great reporting out of the White House. They don`t really respect the guy. I mean, usually, where I worked in politics, you had your manifest responsibility was to have a moral commitment to the boss, you believed in the person. You worked for them for that reason. And that was the only reason you worked for them. And you didn`t have (INAUDIBLE). They weren`t replaceable parts, these bosses.
I don`t understand how people think about this President as somebody who happens to work with them but doesn`t deserve their respect or loyalty but ratted out pre day to the press. I mean, I`m not knocking you guys` sources, but they seem to be prolific. They are everywhere.
BAKER: Yes, you make a good point. There are definitely people in the White House who believe strongly in President Trump, believes strongly in his agenda, believe strongly in his presidency. But it is true that a number of people in the west wing, you know, are more jaundiced about him. More, you know, they roll their eyes at night with friends and their colleagues just like his critics do. And you are right. They tend to talk outside of school a little bit about what they are encountering because they are frustrated.
They may be there because they believe in his agenda but not in him. And may there because they believe that they are helping the country get through a difficult time. But you are right, not everybody there is a complete loyalist.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to David, because you have been a politician. Have you ever had people working for you that you thought when you were a congressman were really just there out of career ambition, that no love or affection for you or even honor for you? Did you have anybody like that around you?
JOLLY: Well, no. If you saw it, you smoked it out. And respectfully to Peter`s point, I think he is being very generous to a lot of White House staff. I think they are there largely a number of underqualified people there out of their owned enlightened self-interest. The only people who truly believe in his agenda are the Steven Millers of the world. And those are exactly the wrong people that we want in this White House.
MATTHEWS: Well, that makes it a happy hunting ground for journalists.
ROBINSON: It does. And you have never had a leakier administration.
MATTHEWS: What does it tell you about the quality of the administration? Nobody is --.
ROBINSON: No. I mean, there were a lot of mediocrities in the White House. I mean, there are a lot mediocrities.
MATTHEWS: This is a rough jury. I have to respect. I do respect this jury. And it is tough and it is coming in in I would say in a guilty attitude. They are guilty.
Anyway, thank you, Ashley Parker. Thank you, Michael Schmidt as always. He is not here but he was on the phone. I thought he was on a ship to shore phone there, by the way or anyway. I want to thank Peter Baker, and of course, Eugene Robinson and David Jolly.
Coming up, the legal battle between adult film star, we are saying it nicely, Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump. She says the nondisclosure agreement she signed with Trump`s attorney isn`t valid because the President didn`t sign it. Does Trump and his attorney have a fighting chance to keep her quiet? Well, that`s ahead.
Plus, more new details about the Russian investigation, brand new stuff, as Robert Mueller`s investigators digging into secret meetings between Trump allies in the say shell out in the Indian ocean he met with the Russians. The Russians, the United Arab Emirates and the Trumps threat of a trade war has opened up a gaming rift between the President and many Republicans. And it could smother over the economic message they hoped would cut their losses in this year`s midterm elections. The happy talk about the tax cut, isn`t so happy right now.
Finally, let me finish tonight with something that happened 50 years ago next week.
This is "Hardball" where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, attorney general Jeff Sessions traveled to California today to formally announce that the Trump administration is suing California over its immigration policies. In a speech to California law enforcement officials, Sessions blasted the state`s so-called sanctuary laws saying that it made it possible or impossible for federal agents to do their jobs and crack down on illegal immigration. Sessions said the laws are being pushed by radical extremist who want open borders.
California governor Jerry Brown responded this afternoon accusing the attorney general, catch this, of trying to apiece his boss, President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: This is completely unprecedented. For the chief law enforcement of the United States to come out here and engage in a political stunt, make wild accusations, many of which are based on outright lies, that`s unusual. I do think this is pure red meat for the base. And I would assume but this is pure speculation, that Jeff thinks that Donald will be happier with him. And I`m sure Donald will be tweeting his joy at this particular performance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Jerry Brown, still amazingly state-of-the-art.
We will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
As if the internal White House drama were not enough, adult film actor Stormy Daniels is suing President Trump. The porn star, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is asking a Los Angeles court to void an agreement she signed to not disclose what she says were her intimate relations with Donald Trump because, while she and Trump`s lawyers signed it, Trump didn`t sign the contract.
During an interview on "Today," Daniels lawyer explained why she`s taking this action. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: In light of the amount of misinformation that`s out there, some of which has been disseminated by Mr. Cohen and others, she believes it`s important that the public learn the truth about what happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Trump`s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has previously said that President Trump vehemently denies the allegations.
And the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, reiterated that point earlier today. Let`s hear her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration. And anything beyond that, I would refer you to the president`s outside counsel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the civil suit, a copy of which first obtained by NBC News, says that Daniels had a relationship with President Trump from 2006 to 2007.
It then alleges that, years later, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump and his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pressured her -- that would be Stormy Daniels -- into signing a nondisclosure agreement or hush agreement for $130,000 and a guarantee that she would not share any texts, photos or information about the alleged relationship.
Mr. Cohen has previously said that he used his own personal funds to an facilitate the payment of that $130,000 to Daniels, and neither the Trump Organization nor the campaign of Trump`s was party to the transaction.
He also says he was never reimbursed for that payment. Anyway, a copy of the nondisclosure agreement appears as evidence in the lawsuit. While President Trump is not named in the document, the suit alleges that Stormy Daniels and Trump entered into the agreement under pseudonyms, Daniels as Peggy Peterson, Trump as -- catch this name -- David Dennison. That`s a boring name.
Anyway, the signature line for Dennison on the -- you can see there is blank. He didn`t sign it. Michael Cohen has not responded to a request for comment on this latest lawsuit.
Trump`s outside lawyer, John Dowd -- we know him -- has also declined to comment.
For more, I`m joined by Katie Phang, MSNBC legal analyst from Miami.
Katie, you have got a big question here. What`s this all about? Who is going to win? rMDNM_rMD-BO_ KATIE PHANG, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So, as a legal perspective, Stormy Daniels has a little bit of an uphill battle.
California law does stand for the proposition that just because you haven`t signed an agreement, Chris, that doesn`t mean that it is still not enforceable if the parties have performed under the terms of that agreement.
So, what do I mean by that? Why did Stormy Daniels get $130,000 and why did she take that money if it wasn`t to keep her silent? And so the reality is, is she going to prevail in court? Well, you know what? Michael Cohen seems to think not. Michael Cohen has run to a private arbitrator, has gotten a preliminary temporary injunction against Stormy Daniels, keeping her from speaking out.
But, really, Stormy Daniels has actually taken the high road in this, Chris. By actually going to the court and seeking a declaration as to whether or not that agreement is enforceable, she`s asking the judge to basically set the playing field for any potential litigation between her, Donald Trump and Michael Cohen.
MATTHEWS: I didn`t realize the power of this nondisclosure until I heard today that one of the provisions was that if she speak out of turn, if she did talk about the alleged affair with the president back in, what, 2006 or whatever, 2007, that she would have to make a payment of $1 million -- I sound like Austin Powers -- a million dollars every time she says anything.
PHANG: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: Is that a familiar feature of these nondisclosures, that kind of penalty?
PHANG: It is. It is called a liquidated damages provision.
It was negotiated, bargained for in that contract. And it does say each breach, not just in total, Chris, but for each breach of this disclosure agreement or nondisclosure agreement, Donald Trump could actually get $1 million from Stormy Daniels and he would get his $130,000 back.
But as you duly noted at the beginning of the segment, actually, it`s Michael Cohen`s money, which then begs the next question, why is Michael Cohen spending $130,000 of his own money if it wasn`t to affect the outcome potentially of the election that we just had?
MATTHEWS: Have you seen any contract like this executed, where they have really charged someone who violated it because they said something to a talk show host? They have really been penalized and it`s been enforced for like a million dollars? Has that ever happened? I guess I would have heard about it.
But you know what? Really, it`s the collectibility factor. Right? Is Stormy really collectible a million dollars for alleged breach? The answer is no.
And then the other thing is this. Michael Cohen himself is running around talking about this. He himself is violating the confidentiality of this agreement. And so really it seems like everybody involved here has unclean hands in one way or another.
Last question, why is she doing this? Why is she filing to get out of the contract? What could she get out of this? I keep thinking, OK, she goes on "60 Minutes" or another big talk show.
How much money can you get? Have you thought that -- I don`t even know -- nobody around here seems to know what kind of money is involved. Does she do a miniseries on it? How much can you exploit out of this thing if it happened or it didn`t happen?
PHANG: I guess it depends how salacious is your interest in this, Chris, I guess.
She could maybe do a tell-all that gets her maybe a couple hundred grand, maybe a million bucks. But, listen, Donald Trump is kind of a force majeure right now. He`s kind of somebody that everybody`s interested in.
So, maybe people want to know about his proclivities. I would pass. But maybe that`s something she`s interested in sharing.
MATTHEWS: It doesn`t seem to interest many people, especially on the cultural right. You would have thought they would have been up in arms.
And I still say if -- he never would, but if Barack Obama had been involved in something this seedy, they would be jumping up and down in joy on the right. They would be attacking him as a sleazeball, instead of giving this guy a bye, just a bye, anyway -- a mulligan, if you want to...
MATTHEWS: Yes, I can say.
Anyway, Katie Phang, thank you for that excellent report.
Up next: Special counsel Robert Mueller has a new cooperating witness in the Russian probe. And he could have lots of info on secret meetings between the Trump team and the Russians offshore. Interesting where they agreed to meet, the Russians and the Trump people, way, way, way far from here, where nobody would be have caught them doing it. But they did catch them.
HARDBALL is coming back with more action.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
"The New York Times" reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller has secured the cooperation of another witness in the unfolding Russia probe. George Nader is a Lebanese American businessman and adviser to the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates.
And his meetings with the Trump transition team have drawn scrutiny about potential financial impropriety.
According to "The Times," "Mueller appears to be examining the influence of foreign money on Mr. Trump`s activities and has asked witnesses about the possibility that that adviser, George Nader, funneled money from the Emirates to the president`s political efforts."
Well, but perhaps more significant than that is that Nader might be able to shed new light on a meeting that he attended in the Seychelles, a remote chain of islands -- there it is -- in the Indian Ocean just before Trump`s inauguration in January of 2017.
It was there in the Seychelles that Erik Prince, the founder of the private security company Blackwater and an informal adviser to the Trump transition, met with Nader and the crown prince of the UAE.
But according to "The Times," they were also joined by a Russian oligarch named Kirill Dmitriev who UAE officials reportedly saw as a conduit to the Russian government. Prince has told the House Intelligence Committee that the meeting was related to his private business and he was not representing the Trump transition.
But "The New York Times" reports that Emirati officials had a very different impression of that meeting -- quote -- "At the meeting, Emirati officials believed Mr. Prince was speaking for the Trump transition team and a Russian fund manager, Kirill Dmitriev, represented Mr. Putin, according to several people familiar with that meeting in the Seychelles."
I`m joined right now by Jeremy Bash, former CIA chief of staff and an MSNBC national security analyst, and Neal Katyal is a former U.S. acting solicitor general.
First, I want to start with Jeremy on this meeting.
Walks like a duck, talks like a duck. What`s this meeting with a Russian right before the inauguration way out in the Seychelles?
JEREMY BASH, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It appears to be another secret Trump-Putin back channel, Chris. It appears to be an effort by Russian oligarchs close to Putin to find individuals who are close in to the Trump team.
And don`t forget, Erik Prince, in addition to being the founder of Blackwater, is also the brother of one of Trump`s Cabinet members, Betsy DeVos.
MATTHEWS: Well, who did the president get connected with first, Erik Prince or Betsy DeVos? What`s the chicken, what`s the egg there? I`m just curious about the relationship.
BASH: Betsy DeVos has been a fund-raiser for Republican causes for many years.
But Erik Prince was clearly holding himself out as someone who could provide access to the Trump inner circle. And that is probably what piqued the interest of this Russian confidant of Vladimir Putin.
MATTHEWS: And what do you think the Russians would be talking to Trump`s people about, with Erik Prince about? What would be the topic? Do we know?
BASH: It could have been about big policy issues like sanctions.
It could have been about coordinating on counterterrorism operations. Prince was involved with a lot of counterterrorism partners of the United States. It could have been about business. We just don`t know.
But it`s interesting that Bob Mueller got a grand jury subpoena, a cooperating witness. He arrested someone or held someone at Dulles Airport.
MATTHEWS: David Nader.
BASH: George Nader.
MATTHEWS: George Nader.
BASH: This individual who was at the meeting, who brokered the meeting. And Bob Mueller is very interested in what was discussed.
MATTHEWS: Last question on this count.
Do we know whether George Nader, the Lebanese American business guy who was in the Seychelles at the meeting, do we know if he was there present as the Russians were dealing with the Trump guy? Do we know he was overhearing the conversation about what they were talking about?
BASH: There were reports in "The New York Times" that he attended the meeting, yes.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, according to "The Times," George Nader had once worked as a consultant to Prince`s security firm, Blackwater.
Anyway, despite having done business together, the transcript of Prince`s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee shows he did not disclose that George Nader was present at the meeting in the Seychelles.
In fact, Congressman Adam Schiff asked specifically, "Did you meet anyone else in the Seychelles from your company or any other associates there?"
And Erik Prince said "No."
Well, that is suspicious.
Let me go to Neal on this thing.
Neal, what do you make of this case and thinking what Mueller`s up to and fishing way offshore to a meeting in the Seychelles right before the inauguration?
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: Yes, so I think Jeremy is absolutely right in saying, look, there`s evidence here that there`s some sort of Russian thing going on.
It kind of -- it further illustrates the narrative that like rule number with Trump is, there`s always a Russian. And this is just yet another Russian that we haven`t heard of before. It furthers the collusion, conspiracy piece that one has been looking into, that Mueller has been looking into.
But there`s a separate whole piece of this story, which is the UAE and whether or not they might have influenced the election. It`s a federal crime. Section 3121 says for a foreign national interfere with, to give money to a U.S. campaign.
And there`s allegations in that "New York Times" article that says that, oh, the UAE might have been doing that. So, that`s something Mueller is going to be looking at. And I think it`s important to read that story in light of what you just reported a few minutes ago, the "New York Times" story by Michael Schmidt, about Trump actually coaching witnesses or saying, hey, what did Mueller ask you about and so on?
MATTHEWS: By the way, talk about the law there. What`s the law say about doing -- debriefing people after they have been interviewed by the people with Mueller? What`s the legal status of that kind of conversation?
KATYAL: Let me tell you, Chris, it is one of the most dangerous things do you. As a lawyer, as a defense lawyer, you would always tell your client, do not talk to witnesses because you will get accused of witness tampering.
Whether or not you did or not, there`s an intent standard and so on. But it looks so bad. And, basically, you have got Donald Trump acting like a two- bit criminal here and saying to witnesses like Priebus, hey, what did you say? Were you nice to me and so on?
That is horrible. I`m a defense lawyer. I love a challenge. I represented bin Laden`s driver. And let me tell you, Bin Laden`s driver acted with far more integrity in every stage in the investigation than Donald Trump has so far.
And this is just the published report of what we know. If you`re Mueller, you`re looking at this and you`re saying, oh, heavens me, what is this guy up to? What is he hiding?
And let me tell you one other thing, one last thing, which is, Mueller already knew this. I guarantee you, 100 percent, he didn`t have to wait for "The New York Times" half-an-hour ago, that is, Priebus` lawyer, Bill Burck, is an excellent lawyer.
And I`m sure Priebus told his lawyer exactly what happened in the Oval Office. And the very first thing Burck did was pick up the phone and call Mueller and say, here is what happened.
MATTHEWS: Well, here`s two questions from me. What was Trump -- if Trump was talking to these people like McGahn, who had talked to the investigators, would he try to find out which direction they were going in?
And why does it seem like he`s tampering if he talks to them after their testimony?
KATYAL: Well, because it`s not -- there`s no -- it would be a fiction to think, oh, it`s like a one-time thing where you go in and that`s it.
There`s often repeated interactions between a witness and law enforcement.
MATTHEWS: So he could be seen as coaching them for future testimony.
KATYAL: Exactly. Exactly.
MATTHEWS: Last question.
BASH: It looks like they`re getting their stories straight. And not only that, but he was coaching McGahn to say...
MATTHEWS: Like the Menendez brothers with the phones hooked up together? Remember that story, that he taped together the phones and they were talking to each other? Go ahead.
And it looks like also that he was coaching McGahn to say, hey, remember, I never told you fire Bob Mueller. And McGahn had to say, boss, actually, you did tell me to fire Bob Mueller.
MATTHEWS: What does that tell you?
BASH: Well, it shows that the president was not even telling the truth to his own guy, and his guy had to correct him.
And it shows that the president did want to fire Bob Mueller.
MATTHEWS: Why did he tell him that, to get a different testimony out of him?
BASH: It`s possible.
MATTHEWS: As you recall, I never told you to do this?
BASH: Exactly. And to say publicly that you have got to cover me.
MATTHEWS: So, he`s scripting the guy.
MATTHEWS: Yes, go ahead.
KATYAL: And Jeremy is absolutely right.
And, look, maybe it doesn`t rise to the level of formal crime of witness tampering. But we`re talking about, heavens forbid, the president of the United States in the Oval Office doing these kinds of shenanigans.
Whether it`s a crime or not, it is the most incredible poor judgment imaginable.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, nobody`s shocked.
Anyway, Jeremy Bash, thank you, sir. Thank you, Neal Katyal.
Up next, the White House threat of a trade war has sparked a real war between Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress. They don`t like this. They`re worried Trump`s latest move could undercut their economic message and cripple them. They want to talk tax cut from now to November. And now, he`s talking trade.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump has tried to dismiss the chaos engulfing his White House by saying he likes conflict. Well, now, he`s got plenty of that. Trump`s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports led to the resignation of his top economic guy Gary Cohn. And now, it`s put Trump at war with his own party. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: There`s a high level of concern about interfering with what appears to be an economy that`s taking off in every respect. I think the best way to characterize where I am and where our members are is we are urging caution that this develop into something much more dramatic that could send the economy in the wrong direction.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Every now and then, we`re just going to have a different approach in how we should tackle problems. But it should be acknowledged that there is a problem that needs to be addressed here. We just want to make sure it`s done in a prudent way that`s more surgical so we can limit unintended consequences.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: To the working class voters that`s who elected Republicans in 2016, that`s who we need to be responsive to. And so, my hope is that either this doesn`t get implemented or it gets implemented in a fairly small way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Anyway, "The New York Times" reports the plan is revving up Republican doubts about Trump. And than it could have big implications for the midterm elections writing Republicans are banking that a robust economy they can attribute to their tax cuts and regulatory roll backs to overcome the deep disapproval of Mr. Trump personally as he exhibits in multiple problems. Anyway, they don`t want to do anything that could threaten economic gains. That`s clear as it could be.
Meanwhile, "Politico" reports that the proposal is allowing Democrats to hug Trump just when Republicans have been trying to position the opposing party as detrimental to Trump`s economy.
Anyway, vulnerable Democratic incumbents from the Rust Belt have rushed to praise Trump for taking action that could help industries in their states.
So, will Trump`s conflict with the Republicans doom his party`s hope this November providing unexpected and unintended boost to a blue wave?
We`re going to tackle that next with the roundtable.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The battle between President Trump and congressional Republicans couldn`t come at a worse time as two polls out today paint a grim picture for their party`s prospects this November. Catch this, a new Monmouth University polls shows Democrats holding a nine-point advantage in the so-called generic congressional ballot, in other words, are you going to vote for Republican or Democrat? Fifty percent for Democrats, 41 for Republicans.
The Quinnipiac University poll has pretty much the same, has Democrats leading by 10 points, 48-38. So, that`s by the way of likely voters. These are important votes.
Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Jeff Mason is White House correspondent for "Reuters", Karine Jean-Pierre is senior adviser for moveon.org, and Adolfo Franco is a Republican strategist or RNC surrogate.
Well, let`s just talk about the two things that Republicans from I can tell, from my limited inside view of the Republican Party, which is OK, want to run on tax cuts, you can start with this. Running on tax cuts because it`s a good positive for everybody. Everybody gets a different piece of the pie, different slices, some big, some small. But everybody gets something.
So, they were going to run on that and they didn`t want to talk about anything else. Along comes Trump, he wants to burp out something that causes confusion to get whatever off he has to get off. And he starts talking about trade. Is that the plan?
ADOLFO FRANCO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, you got to remember, I don`t think he`s just burping something off.
MATTHEWS: Well, why did he do it? Why did he do it?
FRANCO: Wasn`t this a centerpiece of his campaign?
MATTHEWS: I know but not now.
FRANCO: What do you mean not now?
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, you`re right.
FRANCO: Now is a perfect time to do what I think he has done very successfully in other settings.
MATTHEWS: He caught his entire leadership off board.
FRANCO: Well, he caught his leadership off guard on guns, on immigration, on other issues in the past. You know, today, already the White House is talking about carve-outs. Today, there`s Mr. Kushner in Mexico. This is part of the president`s first of all plan.
MATTHEWS: OK. You know -- Karine, do you know who likes it? Sherrod Brown, Bobby Casey, Joe Manchin.
JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Bernie Sanders.
MATTHEWS: Democrats are jumping on this because they said this is what we`re going to do for the workers in those states for a long time.
KARINE JEAN-PIRRE, SENIOR ADVISER, MOVEON.ORG: Well, they`re allowed to do whatever it is they want that`s going to help them. More power to them. But I --
MATTHEWS: You don`t agree with them?
JEAN-PIRRE: No. Look, here`s what I`ll say: in 2016, Bernie Sanders won West Virginia on a progressive economic message by 51 percent in the primary. It resonated. What did he talk about? He talked about health care for everyone, he talked about raising the minimum wage.
JEAN-PIERRE: So, there is a way to talk about the economy that Democrats are not doing a good enough job about it in a holistic economic plan way which we`re not doing that, just about a small sector of the population.
MATTHEWS: Yes, they`re not Democrats. Why should Republicans talk like Democrats?
JEAN-PIERRE: No, I`m talking about Democrats.
MATTHEWS: Well, I agree with that.
JEAN-PIERRE: -- talk about it in a way that resonates. That`s what I`m talking about.
FRANCO: We debated this a lot on television during the campaign. Bernie Sanders constantly talked about trade, constantly. That was a centerpiece.
And wait, and Hillary Clinton backed away from TPP.
MATTHEWS: What`s difference between Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Pat Buchanan on trade?
FRANCO: I think there is very little difference but in this respect, President Trump has run a populist, non-conventional agenda on this. I think this has been consistent. But I think the bottom line is, this suggestion quickly that somehow he`s isolated, the secretary of treasury is still there. Gary Cohn is going to have a job in the administration.
MATTHEWS: Jeff, the perception and the talk, the chat here and everywhere else, I`ve been sort of pushing back on it is that this is this guy`s home alone. All the big brains had left him. That he`s in trouble because he doesn`t have smart people around him. Was that a good story? Is that a true story?
MASON: I don`t think he`s home alone. I mean, certainly, he`s lost a lot of important people.
MATTHEWS: He`s still got Mad Dog Mattis around him. He still got Mnuchin around him.
MASON: Indeed. But he`s lost an addition to Gary, the fact that Hope Hicks was living. She may not have been a policy person, but she was a huge, huge influence in his administration. But I`d like to go back to.
MATTHEWS: Wouldn`t you better off if you`re getting rid of a guy that doesn`t agree with him? Gary Cohn doesn`t agree with him.
MASON: Well, you know what, he said the other day, he said he likes having conflict and people give different views. The proof of that will be when we see who does he appoint to take over for Gary Cohn? Does he like to continue having that chaos or not?
MATTHEWS: What happens when your party loses 30 seats in the House?
FRANCO: Not going to lose 30 seats in the House. What happened to the blue wave yesterday?
MATTHEWS: We`ll talk in November.
JEAN-PIERRE: It`s Texas.
MATTHEWS: The roundtable is staying with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with a wild roundtable.
Jeff, tell me something -- you guys are tough and you two disagree which is right. Keep doing it.
MASON: All right. Tomorrow at the White House, there`s going to be a meeting between H.R. McMaster, another person people thought may be moving out with his counterpart from South Korea. That could kick off potential - -
MATTHEWS: Are we going somewhere?
MASON: That could kick off the process of potentially having talks between the U.S. and North Korea.
MATTHEWS: So the Olympics helped?
MASON: The president thinks so. He was praising North Korea --
MATTHEWS: Wow. Without Dennis Rodman.
JEAN-PIERRE: Well, Puerto Rico estimates that there will be an additional 200,000 more Puerto Ricans from Puerto Rico residing in the mainland by the end of this year.
MATTHEWS: Because of the hell out there.
JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, because of the hurricane and what`s going on. I think the thing that I wanted to add to that was what happens after November is we`re going to start talking about 2020. If you look where they`re going, they all go and --
MATTHEWS: Are they going north or south? New York or Florida?
JEAN-PIERRE: Moving to Florida. And let`s not forget, Donald Trump --
FRANCO: To everyone`s surprise, the president tomorrow will announce the tariffs and carve-outs and more surprisingly, he will announce his Gary Cohn`s replacement will be Kevin Schwartz (ph) or Larry Kudlow, another free trader back --
MATTHEWS: I`m a big fan. I like Larry Kudlow.
Anyway, thank you, Jeff Mason, Karine Jean-Pierre, and Adolfo Franco. I love these international names.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this.
Fifty years ago next week, Robert Kennedy declared his candidacy for president. He did so hardly four years after his brother John had been assassinated. One of those who feared for his life was his other brother Ted who argued against his running.
He was not the only one. Richard Nixon watched Kennedy`s announcement with foreboding. Quote: We`ve just seen terrible forces unleashed, he said, still watching at blank TV screen. Something bad is going to come of this. God knows where this is going to lead.
Nixon who maintained an outsider`s connection with the country`s nervous system knew the way the Kennedys stirred the country for them and against them. There were those in the country rear guard segregationists, organized crime figures, communists, hard right as well as hard left who hated Jack but always hated Bobby more. Bobby refused to show fear. He challenged students using deferments to avoid Vietnam while the poor kids got drafted.
When Dr. Martin Luther King was shot, Kennedy bravely went into an African- American neighborhood when the people refused to follow him and told the people the dread news. Right to the end, he demanded the gun owners out in Oregon, for example, join him in keeping weapons from the hands of the criminals and mentally disturbed.
And week after week, Bobby Kennedy waded into the crowds of his supporters, exposing himself, risking his life in his determination to end a war that was destroying his country. Always do what you`re afraid to do, it was his motto and he honored it to the end.
"Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit", please get on Amazon right now or Barnes & Noble, get to your local bookstore and read this book that tells so much that we believe especially now.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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