HARDBALL March 15, 2018 Guest: Karine Jean-Pierre, John Whitbeck, Chuck Rosenberg; Betsy Woodruff; Mimi Rocah
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That is our show. I will be back live 6:00 p.m. eastern tomorrow. But don`t go anywhere because HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS starts now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Mueller at the White House gates. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Tonight the investigation led by Robert Mueller has approached the White House gates. "The New York Times" reports that Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump organization to turn over documents including some related to Russia. According to the report, it is the first known instance of the special counsel demanding documents directly related to President Trump`s businesses, bringing the investigation closer to the President.
While the scope of Mueller`s order is unclear, the subpoena could relate to two areas of the probe that might ultimately lead to Trump`s impeachment. Potential financial improprieties related to Russia and possible collusion during the campaign. Mueller subpoenaed Trump`s business records could lead to a historic reckoning. It comes after the President warned the special counsel last summer that any investigation of his personal finances would cross a red line.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Mueller was looking at your finances, or your family`s finances unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say yes. I would say yes.
SCHMIDT: If he was outside that lane, would that mean he would have to go?
TRUMP: No, I think that`s a violation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Today`s development comes after multiple outlets reported the special counsel is digging into the influence of foreign money on Trump`s political activities as well as his business dealings before he launched his campaign. Just last week, a witness who has been questioned by Mueller`s prosecutors former campaign adviser is Sam Nunberg said he believes the special counsel already has evidence of possible illegalities which he thinks are related to the Trump organization.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: They probably have something on Trump, Trump did something pretty bad I would assume.
MELBER: What do they have?
NUNBERG: I don`t know. I have no idea but they have something.
MELBER: Do you think they were more interested in Trump related to the hacking which occurred and stolen mails or in relation to all the social media?
NUNBERG: I think they were interested in something with his business.
MELBER: You feel they were asking you more about potential crimes related to the Trump organization than related to the Trump campaign?
NUNBERG: That`s what I felt, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, responding to the news of the subpoena, the Trump organization released a statement saying since July of 2017, we have advised the public that the Trump organization is fully cooperative with all investigations including the special counsel and is responding to their requests, adding this is old news.
Well, joining me right now is one of the authors of that "New York Times" report, Michael Schmidt, Chuck Rosenberg is an MSNBC contributor and former U.S. attorney and senior FBI official, Betsy Woodruff, is an MSNBC contributor who covers the Russia probe for the "Daily Beast," and Mimi Rocha is a former federal prosecutor.
Thank you all. It is great to have you all for a big night. Thanks to you Michael. And what are they looking for?
SCHMIDT: Well, they are looking for things related to Russia, looking at obviously these are business documents. This is the business. And if you obviously know, the Trump organization was not where the campaign was run out of it. There`s nothing it could have done in regards to obstruction so what is it that they are so interested in? What is it? And obviously, we don`t have a copy of it. We know there were a lot of search terms that were in the subpoena. So now the folks at Trump org are going have to go through and look through the emails and look through their documents and see what`s responsive.
At the end of the day, the President`s lawyers said this investigation was going to be over at the end of last year. Here we are in March, Trump organization is dealing with the subpoena. This is obviously going to go on for at least several more months if not longer.
MATTHEWS: You know, Chuck, this has always seemed to me or not always, for weeks now, the Mueller probe struck me like the iceberg in the titanic. So much below the water level you don`t see when you hit it. It is just there. And every once in a-while they showed their breadth and depth of what they are up to. Now they are going for the President`s business records through his organization. You know, as Michael said it, they probably doesn`t deal with obstruction but it may deal with collusion. It may well deal with money laundering, whatever, or campaign gifts from abroad funneled through the organization.
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER SENIOR FBI OFFICIAL: And not unusual. So Michael is exactly right. Look. Subpoenas are extraordinarily ordinary, Chris. Prosecutors issue them all the time. And when they do, they tend to be very broad. Meaning, I don`t want to come back and give you subpoena after subpoena after subpoena. I want to ask one time for everything I want and need over a long range of dates with a lot of search terms and then you are compelled to give it to me. That`s the way it works.
MATTHEWS: What will be the response for the lawyers? Can they fight this or they face contempt?
ROSENBERG: Well, they could theoretically move to quash it. That`s the words that we use in court when the other side doesn`t like a subpoena. But subpoenas are routine and ordinary and it would be unusual, highly unusual for a judge to grant a motion to quash a business records subpoena. This is typical business.
MATTHEWS: Betsy, this is what Trump doesn`t want.
BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: He doesn`t want it. He calls a fishing expedition, a witch hunt, whatever, because he knows he has been in business for a long time and there is probably a happy hunting ground out there of places where prosecutors could go and look for trouble.
WOODRUFF: And to be fair, that would be the case for just about anyone who was a real estate developer New York City in the 1990s. It was a dirty messy business for all the folks who are working in that space, Trump obviously would not be an exception to that rule. The idea of Mueller going through anyone`s finances would make anyone, of course, nervous.
That said, the really big question about this development we are seeing tonight is how the President responds to it. He indicated previously in the interview with you and your colleague that he thought this would be crossing a red line. At the same time though we know the President is very fond of making threats and then not following through on them. The Iran deal is still in place. The women who accused the President of sexual impropriety most haven`t been sued by the President for libel or defamation.
MATTHEWS: So you think he won`t fire Mueller in his seat (ph).
WOODRUFF: I don`t think so. I don`t think so. The fact that the Trump org are saying its old news, is probably a good sign for Mueller.
MATTHEWS: Well, the Times reports that Mueller that is the special counsel, is asking witnesses about the President`s attempt to build a Trump tower in Moscow, a deal that reportedly fell through just before the Iowa caucuses. Well, despite the fact that Trump was pursuing that deal during his campaign for President, Trump repeatedly say he stayed away from Russia and had no relationship with Russia whatsoever. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, OK?
I don`t have any deals in Russia.
I have no relationship to Russia whatsoever.
I have nothing to do with Russia. I have no investments in Russia. None whatsoever.
I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we have stayed away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, those assertions by the Presidents there were later revealed to be not true. In fact, four months into his campaign, Trump even signed a letter of intent between the Trump organization and a Russian developer for that project.
Let me go to Mimi Rocah on this. Tell me about the way the laws could have been broken here. I mean, it seems to me the Trump family, and I can sign them all to this particular description, they don`t know how to separate business from politics. It`s always two-fisted, they are always going in for both and they don`t ever separate the money potential from the public affairs you might call it. Your thoughts.
MIMI ROCAH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Right. So in terms of what the criminal violation could possibly be, I think there`s two really different avenues. One is as you pointed out, President Trump for, you know, a good period of time was continuing to say that he had no dealings in Russia. And we know that not to be true now. And so did he lie on his financial disclosure forms? Did he fail to disclose any kind of dealings that he did have?
That would be one kind of possible criminal exposure albeit more minor than the other possible one which is that Mueller may now be drawing a line between what we`ve been calling collusion. I like to insist that we use the word conspiracy though because that`s the actual criminal statute that Mueller is looking at. Is Mueller drawing a line between possible conspiracy when it comes to the election and Trump`s business dealings? And it seems to me if this is where Mueller is going, then he is at least exploring the possibility that those two things are now coming together. Not in a way that Trump wants them to come together.
MATTHEWS: Well, he was pursuing his development in Moscow, that Trump tower over there in 2015. Trump bragged in radio interview he had met with Russia oligarchs during his previous trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I really loved my weekend, I called it my weekend in Moscow. But I was with the top level people, both oligarchs and generals and top of the government people. I can`t go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people. And the relationship was extraordinary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: However, Trump`s now indicted former campaign chairman Paul Manafort later denied THAT Trump had no financial relationships with Russian oligarchs in an interview in 2016.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So to be clear, Mr. Trump has no financial relationships with any Russian oligarchs?
PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: That`s what he said. I -- that`s what I said -- that`s obviously what our position is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Let me start with Mike on this. It seems to me that there`s a point in which the -- all the people around Trump realize don`t admit to anything Russian whether it was the Logan act violation potential, somehow it include starting with Flynn months ago, maybe a year ago. I got the sense that they were all somehow told in their souls don`t say you did anything with Russia. Do you notice that pattern? Explain.
SCHMIDT: Well --.
MATTHEWS: What do you say to that defense --?
SCHMIDT: This is the central question of the Trump story. Does Trump and the folks around him not tell the truth because there is something to hide or is it because that`s just simply who they are? And we may never know that.
MATTHEWS: They think they have something to hide.
SCHMIDT: Or they think they have something to hide. If you can answer that question, I think you can provide a lot of clarity to this. I think what we see here is the problem that people that are under investigation of special counsel have. The special counsel has to turn over every rock and look at everything.
SCHMIDT: Because they don`t want to close up shop and say oh, and something of that -- that`s what we missed. And that`s the problem. That every part of Donald Trump`s life is could be looked at here. And I can understand why he`s not comfortable with that.
MATTHEWS: Well, nobody would. I have never seen a special counsel say, well, I`m tired of this. I`m tired of this. It is I`m not going to do it anymore. They go until they can prove basically the guy is innocent.
ROSENBERG: Well, you go until you either can make a case or you realize you can`t. And Michael is right. They have an obligation to look and look hard. By the way, this is what prosecutors do. This is what agents, Chris, and they do this every day in every courthouse around the country. So there is nothing unusual here. It`s not like the cubs winning the World Series. This is what happens.
MATTHEWS: OK, Chuck, just for a second. Because I know in your career, you know what it`s like to imagine what the target is thinking tonight because you are going after people. That`s what you do in the FBI and prosecution.
When you think about Trump tonight, what`s he worried about? What`s your speculation about what he is worried? Is he worried about some old business fiddle he did two or three years ago in Russia? Is he worried about some family member that wasn`t smart enough to keep business away from politics? What`s he worried about? Because I`m not sure he personally may have done anything wrong. I don`t know that yet.
ROSENBERG: And none of us know that yet, Chris. And so, he may be worried about all those things. I think it`s little unfair for me to speculate about what he is worried about, but I can tell you this. If he did nothing wrong, Mueller is the guy he would want to look into his stuff. And if he did something wrong, anything wrong, Mueller is the last guy he would want.
MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. There`s a middle grade here. How about Michael Flynn when he admit, I`m thinking, you know, look what that woman in New Jersey did, think she was doing what the govern wanted her to do, all right. The governor walked. She went with the pen, OK. So I do think there`s a middle ground there thinking. But what do you think Michael Flynn did? What do you think Manafort`s done? What do you think some of these whacky out to the edge people did without mentioning their names? But we know them all. These Kato Caitlin (ph) characters, all floating around, Nunberg and Carter Page and Roger? All these people floating around. How does Trump know what they did?
ROSENBERG: Well, we know some of what they did. Part of the iceberg, right, is above the surface of the water. You know, I actually looked that up, Chris. It`s about 10 percent above and 90 percent below. That`s a typical iceberg. That`s probably about the ratio we have here.
MATTHEWS: By the way, what below is what took the titanic down. But go ahead.
ROSENBERG: And what below may be a lot more interesting that`s what`s above. But we have some of it now. We have allegations about what Manafort did and Flynn and Papadopoulos and others have admitted to what they have done. And so, you are right, there are other characters who are out there. And maybe that is what the President have heard of.
MATTHEWS: Betsy, this is a reporter`s question. Where is this heading right now based upon Michael Schmidt`s amazing once again done it, he is showing a subpoena being delivered to the corporation which Trump heads about business dealings including business dealings with Russia. He is at the gates with this.
WOODRUFF: Right. And that`s the reason that the President`s attorneys are so concerned about him sitting down for an interview with Mueller and his team is because just from watching that footage that you showed of the President saying over and over again, that he had never had any sort of business interactions with Russians. It`s clear that Trump is very fluent and comfortable saying things that are not true over and over.
MATTHEWS: What was Miss Universe if it wasn`t a business transaction?
WOODRUFF: Well, exactly. What was this multipage document about potentially having a Trump tower in Moscow if it wasn`t --?
MATTHEWS: And what about Papadopoulos getting sent on an errand over there?
WOODRUFF: Exactly. The fact that Trump and the people closest to him said that there was nothing there when there was something there, is the reason the President`s lawyers are so worried about him sitting down with Mueller under oath in a situation where if he says something that`s not true, he breaks the law.
MATTHEWS: Did he know that Roger Stone knew what was copping from the Russian hacking?
SCHMIDT: I mean, that`s --.
MATTHEWS: Did Trump know this?
SCHMIDT: I mean, I don`t know this. Mueller may know. That`s a central question is what did the President know? And this has come in interviews with folks. What did the President know about the hacking? Why is it that he went out publicly and said to the Russians, if you can, please go hack Hillary Clinton`s email.
MATTHEWS: You know, I think he is almost like the opposite of a prosecutor. He has to have a big thing on the wall like the opposite of the FBI with all the charts of arrows coming at him, all these crazy people he has dealt with in the last year or two, these people, they are just trouble with their own criminal exposures as you guys say.
Anyway. Thank you, Michael Schmidt. Congratulations! A big piece in the "New York Times" which we used as our lead tonight appropriately so.
Chuck Rosenberg, always great. Betsy, always great and Mimi Rocha, thank you so much for your expertise.
Coming up, is today`s news going to make Trump even more jumpy? That`s the word for it. Will he make more staff change I the White House as a way to create a kind of bouquet of firings that would allow him to include in that bouquet, the firing of Jeff Sessions? That` what a lot of people think. He wants to fire so many people so fast, that when he fires Jeff Sessions it will look sort of kosher.
Anyway, Trump needs to replace the attorney general if he wants to fire Robert Mueller and that is the bottom line. And he does want to get rid of Mueller.
And today`s subpoena may well cross Trump`s own red line, remember that one? Don`t touch my business. That`s ahead.
Plus, the Stormy Daniels scandal is getting closer to Trump. And now a second attorney from the Trump organization (INAUDIBLE) is involved in an attempt to silence, to shut up the adult film actor.
And later caught on tape, Trump boasted to big money donors that he made up information, this is like last night about trade in a meeting with Canada`s prime minister. He admitted making up stuff when he was talking to Trudeau despite not knowing whether it was true or not. And that is something now known about our current President worldwide. He makes up stuff and then brags about it. Why would any other world leader not know that now and still take him seriously?
Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: There was a devastating accident today near Florida International University down in Miami today. A pedestrian walkway collapsed on to a seven-lane highway, look at it there, this afternoon. Officials say several people were killed, at least ten others were injured. Two of them critically.
Authorities say eight vehicles were crushed when the 950-ton structure suddenly gave way landing onto the roadway below. Officials at the scene say that they are drilling holes in debris and still searching for survivors.
By the way, there`s got to be an investigation how this kind of happened. These kind of things, this kind of civil engineering does not fail in this country not like this.
We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have gotten to know a lot of people over the last year. You know, I have been in Washington for a little bit more than a year, where some people have been here 30, 40 years.
I have gotten to know great people. So, there will always be change, but very little. It was a very false story. It was very -- a very exaggerated, a very exaggerated and false story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Donald Trump defended his administration this morning against reports of a looming staff shakeup, though it`s not clear exactly which story he was refuting, since there have been so many over the last 24 hours.
Even FOX News reported a number of key Cabinet members and staffers could soon be gone. It`s a topic Trump has teased himself about several times over the past week. Let`s watch him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have gotten to know a lot of people very well over the last year. And I`m really at a point where we`re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.
QUESTION: And you would like to see some change in the people around you. Does that include your attorney general, Jeff Sessions, or other of your Cabinet secretaries?
TRUMP: No, I don`t really talk about that. I just said that the White House has tremendous energy. It has tremendous spirit.
It is a great place to be working. Many, many people want every single job. 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, no Cabinet member has been on the receiving end of his wrath more than Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Yesterday, "Vanity Fair"`s Gabe Sherman reported: "According to two Republicans in regular contact with the White House, there have been talks that Trump could replace Sessions with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who would not be recused from overseeing the Russia probe," of course.
The Associated Press also reported "Trump has privately mused" -- I love that word -- "about firing Sessions."
Well, NBC has not confirmed either of those reports.
For more on the White House chaos, I`m joined by Charlie Sykes, contributor editor at "The Weekly Standard," and Eddie Glaude, chairman of the Center for African-American Studies at Princeton.
Both are MSNBC contributors.
Let me start with Charlie on this and the buzz about this thing.
And it seems, in commonsense terms, if you can apply them to the president, he`s got Mueller coming right at the White House gates now, coming, subpoenaing him for all his business records.
I mean, he must be really thinking, hey, good, this guy means it. And he`s not going away for months, if not years. He`s coming to get me any way he can.
It seems like we`re going to get more firings just to keep things moving. Your thoughts?
CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Yes.
I mean, all of his White House chaos is because that`s the way Donald Trump wants it. He`s the chaos president. He likes this.
I think he`s trying to create a safe space for himself where he won`t have aides and Cabinet members who will tell him, Mr. President, you can`t do that, or, Mr. President, you are wrong. He wants to surround himself with people who will confirm his bias, maybe an attorney general who will protect him and defend him.
You know, on one level, it has been a chaotic White House. But on the other level, at least up until now, we have had grownups in the room who have retrained him, stopped him from doing things that were impulsive. We don`t even know all the things that he has not done, as crazy as it`s been over the last year.
I think he`s moving to liberate himself from all of that. You know, let Trump be Trump. The distraction is also there and may be part of the agenda. But my sense is that Donald Trump kind of wants to be the kind of White House that he wants it to be.
MATTHEWS: I don`t know what to say.
Eddie, I have to tell you, maybe this is too below a Princeton professor, but I have to -- look at the guy. He looks like he`s getting too much sun. He doesn`t even have somebody to say, get in out of the sun when he goes on these weekends down there in Florida.
Anyway, seriously, it does seem like he may want to the tighten up some of the hatches. He can`t defend himself automatically or quickly against Mueller. But it seems like he wants to tighten up other aspects of his life, like who is working for him.
EDDIE GLAUDE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think that`s true.
I think he`s -- I think -- I think Donald Trump is feeling the pressure. He`s panicking, because Mueller is moving closer and closer to him and to his family, the people he loves.
And I think Charlie`s absolutely right. We -- when Trump was inaugurated, and he entered the White House, people were saying that there would be adults in the room. They talked about Tillerson. They talked about Reince Priebus. They talked about McMaster. They talked about General Mattis. They talked about Gary Cohn.
Well, a large number of those folks are gone. And that`s all we have left is General Mattis. And he`s been interestingly silent.
And what we have and what we`re going to get in response to this, I think, is a gaggle of folks who have who have -- who are ideological zealots, who are going to confirm what Trump wants. And I think there are going to be folks who lack competence and who have no ethical constraints.
So, we`re going to see cascading chaos and we`re going to see deepening incompetence. And that doesn`t bode well for the country, Chris. It doesn`t bode well at all.
MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump`s incoming director of National Economic Council is CNBC contributor Larry Kudlow. Trump offered him the job over the phone last night -- Tuesday night, rather.
According to Kudlow, the president was apparently watching television at the time and saw a picture of Kudlow while the two of them were speaking on the phone.
Here`s what Kudlow said Trump told him then. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KUDLOW, CNBC: It was out. I didn`t know that. I wasn`t watching TV this morning. And the president called.
And he said, "It`s out," because I don`t think he was intending to put it out until tomorrow or Friday. And I said, "Oh."
And he said, "You`re on -- you`re on the air." And he said, "I`m looking at a picture of you," and he said, "Very handsome."
That`s so Trumpian.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, it`s not the first time a person`s appearance has been a factor in White House staffing matters.
According to "The Washington Post," during the transition, "Several of Trump`s associates said that they thought that John Bolton`s brush-like moustache was one of the factors that handicapped him in the sweepstakes for secretary of state. Several Trump associates say he was drawn to Mitt Romney and later to Tillerson by their `central casting quality.`"
And here`s what Trump has said himself about people`s looks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We are going to appoint "Mad Dog" Mattis as our secretary of defense.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: They say he`s the closest thing to General George Patton that we have, and it`s about time.
Indiana`s unemployment rate -- and this is the primary reason I wanted him, other than he looks very good.
And I watch this lightweight Rubio, total lightweight, and little mouth on him, bing, bing, bing. He has really large ears, the biggest ears I have ever seen.
When you looked at that horrible woman last night, you said, I don`t think so.
I just don`t think she has a presidential look. And you need a presidential look. You have to get the job done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, Charlie, this is a hot potato to throw to any other guy, but what do you make of this? I don`t know what to make.
You`re going to get, Eddie, the same question.
What do you make of this guy? He sounds like he`s my -- he`s like Bert Parks in the Miss America contest 24/7. His job is to look at people and decide. Your thoughts, Charlie. You have got the hot potato on this one.
First of all, remember, he used to run the Miss Universe contest. But as I listening to that, I`m thinking, has this guy ever looked in a mirror, honestly?
SYKES: I mean, really, has Donald Trump -- does Donald Trump look in a mirror and he goes, yes, that`s a good look, my hair`s looking fantastic, the orange tan is beautiful, you know, I look like a president of the United States?
But, you know, look, we all know people in our lives who judge people on the basis of looks. They are shallow people. And Donald Trump is a shallow person. And Eddie is absolutely right. This is why he likes to surround himself with sycophantic toadies who he thinks look the part. And a lot of them actually do.
MATTHEWS: Did you ever see "rMD-BO_"Zoolander," the movie, "Zoolander," Ben Stiller`s movie?
MATTHEWS: Eddie, I think you have seen it, too.
MATTHEWS: It`s about a guy who -- he`s a big model, and Ben Stiller plays him. And he has different looks, like blue steel, different looks. Trump does those looks once in awhile, I`ll tell you.
MATTHEWS: Your thoughts? Eddie, your thoughts about looks-ism in this -- by the way, let`s just talk about something more serious.
I`m scared to death of John Bolton being secretary -- being national security adviser.
GLAUDE: Oh, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: I don`t care what other people think. To me, he`s Mr. War. He`s Daddy Warbucks. We`re going to war. There isn`t a country he doesn`t want us to invade in the Middle East or regime change or what else. Your thoughts? Scary.
GLAUDE: I agree absolutely. I agree absolutely.
I`m afraid of a lot of folks. Could you imagine Scott Pruitt over DOJ? But, anyway, I think in terms of -- in terms of this politics of celebrity, Chris, we can talk about Trump paying attention to looks, but what we`re thinking, we have elected a guy who ran "The Apprentice."
And so what it is, is the politics of celebrity. And we have this fancy term in the academy called simulacre. And simulacre is that the representation of the thing is more important than the thing.
And so we`re just dealing with image. We`re dealing with representation. We`re not dealing with the substance of things. So, Trump actually represents, I think, that fact of the culture. We are awash in the surface of things. We are kind of bound by the superficial.
And so the fact that he`s picking Cabinet members, identifying allies by their looks kind of reflects where we are as a country and as a society.
MATTHEWS: I guess he wants a trophy Cabinet.
By the way, what academy are you talking about? I heard the reference there.
GLAUDE: Oh, I was talking about -- you know, in the academy, those of us who work in universities and...
MATTHEWS: Oh, I meant -- in the academic world. Oh, yes. I`m sorry, I missed. I missed the -- I thought it was an uppercase A.
Anyway, thank you, Charlie Sykes. Thank you, Eddie Glaude.
Up next: The Stormy Daniels controversy appears to be getting closer to the president. New reporting out today shows another Trump Organization lawyer was involved in paying off the adult film actor. There she is.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
There`s another big story linking the Trump Organization to one of the scandals now plaguing the president. Newly released court documents show that a top lawyer for the Trump Organization, rMD-BO_Jill Martin, signed legal papers related to the effort to silence or squash adult film actor Stormy Daniels.
The documents were signed just last month and are related to a $130,000 hush money payment, an agreement that made -- was made to Daniels by Trump`s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, shortly before the 2016 election.
In a statement, the Trump Organization said -- told NBC News, in fact, that it "is not representing anyone" and that Martin had been acting in her own individual capacity, until another lawyer received permission to take part in the case.
It added, "The company has had no involvement in the matter."
Well, Cohen has maintained the use of his own personal funds that spent -- that`s what he spent, his own money, to facilitate the payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
Well, back in February, he told NBC News -- quote -- "Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign has a party" -- or "was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment either directly or indirectly."
The White House has denied allegations of a relationship between the president and Stormy Daniels.
For more, I`m joined by Katie Phang, MSNBC legal analyst.
Katie, there seems to be a lot of volunteer action out there.
MATTHEWS: Lawyers from all over willing to open up their checkbooks and write big checks, $130,000, or find the money to get to the person, in this case, Stormy Daniels, and willing to sign contracts, nondisclosure contracts.
And now we have this latest word of somebody else jumping in on the Trump team again without apparently any orders coming from Trump himself. How do we sell this? How do we buy it?
KATIE PHANG, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, don`t look at me. I may be a lawyer, but I`m not stroking you a check anytime soon. So, that`s OK.
But this is a real problem. You have a whole kind of slew of crazy renegade lawyers running around from the Trump Organization or -- and/or representing Donald Trump that are doing exactly what you just said.
Chris, they`re signing documents, they`re entering into binding -- perhaps binding -- settlement agreements. And what`s crazy about Jill Martin is, the fact that the Trump Organization has taken the position that she was doing something on her own signifies that they don`t really know what their lawyers are doing?
But here`s the thing. If she`s using Trump Organization e-mail addresses, like Michael Cohen has done, and if we find out that she`s actually using her Trump Organization address, and she`s doing all of these things on behalf of Essential Consultants, LLC, then whatever happened to Michael Cohen?
So, you have a lot of allegedly unauthorized action that is going on. But we all know that that`s not true. No one is doing anything that works for the Trump Organization that the Trump Organization does not know about.
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s the question I have asked when I hear about a contract that has a form on it, like contracts have, where it had a name for David Dennison. That`s supposed to be Trump. I don`t know what it means to have a name -- to sign somebody else`s name, like in, what`s his name, the guy in "Mad Men," where had the name, his phony name, living his whole life.
But if you sign somebody else`s name to something, well, why would he even be put on that contract if he was trying to keep himself secret? And who gave the authorization to Michael Cohen who put this Dennis Dennison, who was really Donald Trump`s name on the document, without Donald Trump`s permission to use his alias?
PHANG: Yes, so here`s the thing.
You are allowed to use an alias. And there`s a side agreement that is attached to the settlement agreement that basically clarifies, who is Stormy Daniels, her real name, who is David Dennison, et cetera.
But here`s the thing. If you want to know the answer to that question, Chris, who gave Michael Cohen authorization, then you need look at the e- mail correspondence between whom? Michael Cohen and Donald Trump.
And so that`s why the BuzzFeed evidence preservation letter that was just served on Stormy Daniels, I guess, yesterday basically in the litigation that Michael Cohen brought against BuzzFeed alleging defamation of his character because of the Steele dossier, is important, because what that means is Stormy Daniels now has to preserve any photos, texts, correspondence, any proof of payment.
And if she`s compelled to testify at deposition, well, guess what? You`re going to end up having a huge, huge battle in court, because no one from Trump or the Trump Organization is going to want her to testify in terms of a valid subpoena to testify at a deposition.
MATTHEWS: Who do you think is going to win that fight in court?
PHANG: Oh, BuzzFeed is going to win.
Now, it might be a limited scope in terms of deposition and a limited scope in terms of documents that are turned over, but BuzzFeed will win that legal battle.
Meanwhile, Daniels sat down with CBS` "60 Minutes" last week. The network has not confirmed an airdate yet, but says that plans to air the interview are in the works.
"The New York Times" reported earlier this week that the interview would be subject to legal scrutiny, noting that it "raised the prospect that personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, would seek an injunction stripping" -- or "stopping CBS from airing the segment."
Here`s something I don`t understand. And maybe it`s just my curiosity about how people make money off situations.
What could -- why would she give away her story, ticktock, as we say in journalism, details, all the gory details of the affair, if it happened, why would she give it away on a news show? Why wouldn`t she sell it to some "Hard Copy" or some show that -- or make it into a miniseries or something where there would be real money or a big magazine?
Why would she give it to a legitimate news show like "60 Minutes"? I don`t get it.
PHANG: She claims as an ability in wanting to get the truth out to the public. That`s the reason why she never sued for money damages. That`s the reason why she sued for a declaratory action in California court to determine whether or not that hush agreement actually stands.
And that`s the reason she`s doing it via "60 Minutes." And there`s no way that "60 Minutes" is going to be legally barred by Trump from going forward with that special.
MATTHEWS: Do you think she will tell the story on "60 Minutes"?
PHANG: Oh, I think she will tell the story.
PHANG: No, she will tell the story. It will be aired.
MATTHEWS: Katie Phang, you know this story. Thanks so much for joining us again on the legal and the other aspects of this, the -- I must say, the dramatic aspects.
MATTHEWS: Up next: President Trump is caught on tape bragging about making up facts during his talks with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, Justin Trudeau.
In the same freewheeling speech, the president also says Democrat Conor Lamb won because he`s just like Trump, just like him.
It reminds me of the old thing from high school, heads, I win, tails, you lose.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
From any other president, this would be a stunning admission caught on tape in a fund-raising speech given to Republican donors just yesterday. President Trump admitted he made up stuff when talking to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trump bragged that he had no idea what he was talking about when he said the United States runs a trade deficit with Canada.
NBC News obtained audio of those remarks.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Trudeau came to see me. He`s a good guy, Justin. He said no, no, we have no trade deficit with you. We have none. Donald, please.
Nice guy, good looking guy, comes in. Donald, we have no trade deficit. He`s very proud because everybody else we`re getting killed with our -- so he`s (INAUDIBLE). I said, wrong, Justin, you do. I didn`t even know. Josh, I had no idea. I just said you`re wrong. You know why? Because we`re so stupid.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: One of these politicians, whether they`re Mitt Romney or Barack Obama or this guy, the president, learned there are people in the room with phones who pick up everything they say at these fundraising rooms.
Anyway, this morning, Donald Trump doubled down tweeting, we do have a trade deficit with Canada as we do with almost all countries. Some of them massive.
Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada, a very good guy, doesn`t like saying that Canada has a surplus versus the United States. Negotiating. But they do. And they also -- almost all do. That`s how I know.
That`s a tweet. Hard to read it out loud.
"PolitiFact" calls the president`s commence dubious. It writes, the United States actually had a trade surplus with Canada. Canada, for the past two years, has brought bought more from the United States than the United States has bought from Canada. Well, those weren`t the only classic comments from the president last night.
Next, what Trump said about the Democrat who just won in Pennsylvania? That`s next with the HARDBALL roundtable.
MATTHEWS: On top of joking about stuff when talking to the Canadian prime minister, President Trump also told the crowd of Republican donors that Democrat Conor Lamb who just won in Pennsylvania`s 18th congressional district ran a pretty smart race.
Listen to the president.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: The young man last night that ran, he said, oh, I`m like Trump. He said, I -- you know, Second Amendment, everything. I love the tax cuts. Everything. You wouldn`t have known. I mean, it`s pretty smart race actually. But he ran and he ran on that basis.
He ran on a campaign and said very nice things about me. I kept saying, is he a Republican? He sounded like a Republican to me.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That`s spin city.
Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Karine Jean-Pierre, senior advisor, national spokesperson for moveon.org, John Whitbeck, who`s chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, and Howard Fineman is contributor for NBCNews.com.
I want to start with Howard just to get the ball rolling here. Why is he doing this? Why is he saying I lie to the prime minister of Canada? Probably our best friend in the world, Canada. We`ve never had a border fight with them or anything. What`s this about?
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, other presidents --
MATTHEWS: Not a long time.
FINEMAN: OK. Other presidents have not -- have bent the truth or outright lied. This is the first guy I can recall who is not only done it, but bragged about his own ignorance on something.
And why does he do it? Because he can. Because he`s Donald Trump and he has such contempt for the whole system, based on facts, based on argument, based on policy, based on institutions, based on the whole world, we know he`s going to say, you know what? I don`t even have to care whether it`s true. I can make it all up and still be a better president than anybody else. That`s what he`s thinking.
MATTHEWS: John, You hear what he`s saying about your guy, he`s calling him a liar.
JOHN WHITBECK, VIRGINIA REPUBLICAN PARTY: This wouldn`t be the first time a liberal called Donald Trump a liar.
MATTHEWS: Oh, a liberal. You`re calling Howard a liberal? I don`t know that.
WHITBECK: We`ve seen this before. We`ve seen this before. This president does everything unorthodox. And the American people saw it in 2016. Come on.
MATTHEWS: -- word for lying, Jean-Pierre, Karine? Karine? Lying is now unorthodox.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, MOVEON.ORG: Here`s the problem, though. When the president of the United States lies all the time, can`t put a sentence together without lying, it hurts the credibility of the office. Not just him, the office, the country. And if he`s lying to our allies, what is he going to do when he finally, if this happened, meets with Kim Jong-un, with adversaries, the lying is a problem.
FINEMAN: The lying would actually indicate that he had some idea or that he cared either possibly or negatively, whether he was telling the truth. What he says is I don`t care if I`m telling the truth.
MATTHEWS: I know.
FINEMAN: I don`t care. Don`t you find that more than unorthodox and at least a little bit troubling?
WHITBECK: I`ll tell you what, we have a $17 billion trade deficit in goods and services make it up at the border. But I`ll tell you --
MATTHEWS: The Canadian border?
WHITBECK: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: So, "PolitiFact" is wrong on that.
WHITBECK: Well, "PolitiFact" is frequently wrong about the president. Let me tell you something.
MATTHEWS: So, you`re putting it on the record we have a trade deficit with Canada?
WHITBECK: $17 billion in goods coming forward. They do sell more goods to us than we do to them.
FINEMAN: But that`s beside the point.
The point is he didn`t care whether he was right or not.
FINEMAN: If he`s accidently -- by the way, he`s wrong but if he was accidentally right, it`s only accidentally because he said to these people in Missouri that he didn`t care whether he knew what the facts were. I mean, that --
JEAN-PIERRE: He was proud of it. He was proud he was lying.
FINEMAN: It`s like watching a 6-year-old trying to drive an 18-wheeler. His feet don`t reach the pedals and he can`t see over the dashboard.
MATTHEWS: John, what do you making about Conor Lamb being the most Trump- like? Because I know that Conor Lamb was very pro-labor. All the labor guys were with him. He`s also at least on the law, pro-choice. I`m trying to think where he and Trump are together. What was that about?
WHITBECK: Well, a great example is guns. I mean, he talked about -- he was for reasonable background checks.
MATTHEWS: Is that where Trump is?
JEAN-PIERRE: That`s not where Trump is.
WHITBECK: Trump does not believe in --
MATTHEWS: You can`t tell where Trump is.
JEAN-PIERRE: Trump doesn`t even know where he is.
WHITBECK: Conor Lamb made into the right of Donald Trump on guns right now.
JEAN-PIERRE: Conor Lamb said he wanted universal background collect.
WHITBECK: He said no new restrictions on guns.
JEAN-PIERRE: He`s with NRA, that`s where Trump is.
WHITBECK: I`m going to throw Nancy Pelosi under the bus.
JEAN-PIERRE: That has nothing to do with anything. It`s not part, the reason he won was the messaging. He talked about health care.
WHITBECK: Yes, rejecting the resistance agenda. Absolutely, running on the MAGA agenda.
JEAN-PIERRE: He talked about things that Republicans don`t want to do Medicare, Medicaid. Your tax plan did not work. It did not working.
FINEMAN: Calling on my expertise as a Pittsburgher and a guy who followed the campaign closely and somebody.
WHITBECK: Your hometown, right?
FINEMAN: Yes, and somebody who talked to Conor --
MATTHEWS: He`s big with the Penguins.
FINEMAN: And talked with Conor Lamb a couple hours ago, I asked him, are you a Trump guy? He said absolutely not. I`m a Pennsylvania Democrat.
And also when Donald Trump said in Missouri, he said nice things about me and he supported -- he campaigned on my tax cuts. That`s not true. That is just not true.
What Conor Lamb did is said I`m a western Pennsylvania pragmatic guy. Yes, I value the Second Amendment. Yes, I`m culturally traditional. Yes, I`m for tariffs but I`m also pro-union, pro-Social Security, Medicare.
The trick he pulled off was that he grabbed back the cultural traditionalism of the Democratic Party plus the unions.
MATTHEWS: OK, the roundtable sticking with us. Up next, these people will tell me something I don`t know. Right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
Karine, tell me something I don`t know.
JEAN-PIERRE: Well, Wells Fargo seems to getting closer to the epicenter of the gun fight because they are basically making money off the gun industry. They are one of the main bankers for the NRA. And in April 24th, they are having their shareholders meeting and there`s probably going to be a lot of people coming up to them and wondering what`s going on there.
MATTHEWS: About time. Howard?
I`m sorry, John`s next.
WHITBECK: OK. Hey, in 2011, a Republican won in Anthony Weiner`s district. And that real deep blue district and no Republicans went around saying there was going to be a giant red tsunami.
MATTHEWS: Who was this person.
WHITBECK: I don`t remember his name. The businessman.
MATTHEWS: In Brooklyn.
WHITBECK: Absolutely right. And giant red tsunami was never mentioned by the Republicans.
FINEMAN: Speaking of Conor Lamb, I spoke to him before the show and asked him why there`s so many military people running on the Democratic side, 25 or 30 candidates, including lots in the Marines like Conor. And he said, it`s not just the patriotism, it`s not the service, it`s that the military shows the ideal of inclusion and performance-based judgment that the whole society should follow. He learned that in the marines. And that`s the pattern he wants to follow.
MATTHEWS: I like the pattern.
Thank you, Karine Jean-Pierre, John Whitbeck, welcome, tough group here, isn`t it? Howard, thank you for being the expert here on the issue we fought over.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Thursday, March 15th, 2018.
I think of Donald Trump as the Titanic and Robert Mueller as the iceberg. The Titanic is luxurious, sort of like a Mar-a-Lago. Its rooms are large and beautifully appointed. There`s a stateliness to the state rooms, a bit of Ralph Lauren up in first class. Mahogany and green, I`d imagine the framed pictures of fox hunts on mornings. Aristocrats are welcome here.
Out there in the cold distance likes the iceberg. It appears small, nonthreatening. Here on the HMS Trump, the music plays, the on deck sports continue. All appears warm, calm, triumphant. Someone dares to whisper, not even god himself can sink this ship.
But out there in the night, something causes the great ship to shudder. What was that terrible grinding sound the passengers wonder? What was the tearing at the hull?
Well, tonight we got the word that the ship and iceberg have made contact. It`s now a matter of time whether the great ship stays afloat or as we sang at camp goes to the bottom of it. Something tells me when it comes to escaping disaster on the HMS Trump, it`s not going to be women and children first.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now,
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