Show: HARDBALL Date: April 9, 2018 Guest: Susan Page, Shermichael Singleton
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Raid. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington with a staggering, even historic event.
The FBI today raided the office of the lawyer to the President of the United States. Who knows what will be found there? A President so secretive, he has refused to let the public see his tax returns now stands naked to his prosecutors. All matter of paper could be in what the FBI agents grabbed today, payments to whomever, fixes of whatever relations, payments to politicians or whatever other dark figures. The "New York Times" was the first to report the story.
Meanwhile, "Vanity Fair" first to report the FBI also raided Michael Cohen`s hotel room. According to NBC, several law enforcement officials confirmed that the search of Cohen`s office was not the work of Mueller`s prosecutors. It involves a matter that the Mueller team came across, concluded it did not fall under their mandate and passed on to the U.S. attorney`s office in New York. Illegal sources -- or legal sources familiar with the nature of the search said it involved $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
Cohen said he used his personal funds to pay Daniels. President Trump told reporters last week he didn`t know about the payment. Cohen`s lawyer confirmed the news today in a statement, saying, the U.S. attorney`s office for the southern district of New York executed a series of search warrants and seized the privileged communications between my client, Michael Cohen, and his clients. I have been advised by federal prosecutors that the New York action is in part a referral by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller.
He called the action, the lawyer did, completely inappropriate and unnecessary. Trump might have reason to be nervous, however, according to "the Times." The seized records include communication between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen.
Just moments ago President Trump addressed today`s raid.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, good man. And it`s a disgraceful situation. It`s a total witch-hunt. I have been saying it for a long time. When I saw this and when I heard it, I heard it like you did. I said that is really now in a whole new level of unfairness. They raid an office of a personal attorney early in the morning. And I think it`s a disgrace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Joining me now by "New York Times" chief White House correspondent Peter Baker.
Peter, the President seems to do an all-out defense right now saying he has been wickedly attacked in a witch-hunt. There is no fairness to it. This guy, Rosenstein, who authorized this line of investigation. Obviously Bob Mueller, they are all the bad guys. They have no right doing what they are doing. This was an all-out attack on those who raided his office today.
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, you can see his anger. He is obviously very upset about this. He feels like he is being closed in on by all sorts of sides. Now, suddenly a whole new front in this legal case against him by the southern district of New York, U.S. attorney, and the FBI there.
So the frustration is very clear. But he is lashing out. And he is leaving open the idea that he is going to take action about it. He did not dispute the idea that he might fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel, even though of course Mueller is actually not involved in this. He specifically passed this off to the justice department. He specifically repeated his criticism of the attorney general, Jeff Sessions for recusing himself. And he went after Rod Rosenstein, as you said, who has authorized the special counsel. So where he goes from here is hashed to say. He left open the door to all sorts of possible options.
MATTHEWS: Well, he traced this all the way back to the hurricane itself, the very naming of Mueller to be the special counsel here. He talked about Rosenstein who gave him the job. He talked about Rosenstein who wrote the mandate for Mueller. It seems to me he also talked about it being a totally partisan operation, all Democrats or Republicans who served under President Obama. He is basically, to me, I`m asking you as a reporter, is he setting it up for what we have all considered a Saturday night massacre to come when he starts firing everybody?
BAKER: Well, he is certainly presenting the idea that this investigation is taint and corrupt and partisan. Of course, it ignores the fact that Robert Mueller is a life-long Republican. He is not known to be a partisan figure. But the President dismissed him today as somebody -- a Republican who used to work for Obama. And therefore in his mind obviously suspect, never mind that he was originally appointed by George W. Bush.
You know, he is trying to suggest to the public, or at least to his base that there is no merits to any of this investigation, that it`s all a witch-hunt in effect to get him. And you are right. That could create a predicate for him to try to make some sort of an action along the line you describe, the Nixonian Saturday night massacre comes to mind as the historical reference point.
MATTHEWS: Well, Peter, stick with us in a moment here.
The "Washington Post" has been now reporting tonight that Trump attorney Cohen is being investigated for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations, according to a person familiar with the case.
Let`s bring in one of the reporters in that story, Tom Hamburger.
Tom, thank you about this. What does it mean bank fraud, wire fraud? I know what campaign laws are. Is this a general sort of charge you use when you grant to somebody you use the mail or you use the banking system or you use the phone?
TOM HAMBURGER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. They are broad charges, as you suggested, and we don`t know what the meaning of it is specifically.
Chris, there has been a lot of speculation about the timing of the payment to Stormy Daniels, whether that could somehow be construed as a campaign contribution in kind or otherwise. And the answer is we don`t know for sure. We do know that there were -- that the search that was executed sought a wide variety of documents that the law office, Michael Cohen`s law office in central New York at 30 Rock apparently had police tape around it and that all of the computers, computer records, phone records, et cetera, were taken.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the role that Michael Cohen plays. He is not strictly a lawyer lawyer. He is more of a fixer lawyer it seems. A guy who fixes problems, makes payments to girlfriends, $130,000. That`s On the Record.
If they get in the office and find out payments to other people, McDougal, the rest, any kind of finagling or any kind of dodgy stuff with the "National Enquirer," payments in other ways to keep women quiet, payments to dark figures, payments to politicians, is all that fair game in their catch when the FBI goes in, as they did today?
HAMBURGER: Well, we can imagine since Michael Cohen has worked for the Trump organization and for Donald Trump playing the role as you suggested a moment ago, Chris, of the fixer, that there would be a wide variety of documents and a great variety of topics that could be under review here by the U.S. attorney`s office by the justice department, by the FBI. And that may explain the reaction that you described at the opening of the show of the President being very upset by this news that his personal attorney`s offices were raided today.
MATTHEWS: Tom Hamburger, amazing. Great reporting by "the Washington Post," and you, sir. Thank you.
HAMBURGER: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti and Kim Wehle, NBC investigative reporter Tom Winter as well.
Let`s go into this legal. Start with Kim right next to me.
Kim, this question of what can they use here? Anything they find?
KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, the question that would arise with this -- if this ever turned into an actual indictment and prosecution, and then they would move to keep that information out. And the judge would make rulings on that.
The issue here is really people need to understand the system worked really well here. We have the top levels of the justice department signing off on this. In the U.S. attorney`s manual, there are specific provisions that apply to searches of attorney records. We have the criminal division that has to have signed off. And we have a federal judge, a federal judge.
MATTHEWS: In this case, did Sessions do it? Did his owned attorney general approve this raid today?
WEHLE: That`s probably unclear because --
MATTHEWS: If you`re Trump, are you thinking that?
WEHLE: There is two places where this applies. One is the special prosecutor regulation, which suggests it went to Rosenstein. But then there is also a manual for U.S. attorneys, which suggests it goes to the attorney general. So we don`t know the answer to that. Certainly, the President suggested that he is more comfortable with Sessions in charge of this than Mr. Rosenstein.
MATTHEWS: Renato, I read the mandate of the special counsel. It does say any matters that arise or discovered during the course of this investigation are fair game. If I were Trump, I would be scared to death because that means anything found in that treasure trove today in Michael Cohen`s office, I presume in New York, anything in there involving the Zervos, any of these women that have made charges, any of these people paid off and silenced, any of the women who complaint that we don`t even know what the legal resolution was, we`ll know because Michael Cohen does that for a part of his living. Is all that subject to investigation of the prosecution under the mandate of Mr. Mueller?
RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It would be. But, you know, Chris, this search warrant was obtained by federal prosecutors in New York. And that creates another problem for Trump. What if he fires Mueller and this investigation continues? Because then he`s also got to try to fire the United States attorney in the southern district of New York in Manhattan. So I think he has got a very significant problem here.
This is a search warrant as was alluded to a minute ago that was signed off by his -- the head of the criminal division of the justice department and assistant attorney general who was appointed by Trump. And it was signed off by the United States attorney in the southern district of New York. So very big -- a very big problem for the Trump administration right now.
MATTHEWS: Tom, one thing we know about Trump. And whether you like him or not, voted for him or not or whatever you think we know one thing. He doesn`t want us to see his tax returns. He has never wanted us to see them. At great cost politically, he kept saying I don`t care how much heat you out putt on me, you and the press or my opponents, I`m not showing you my tax returns. So he is willing to pay high price to keep them secret.
Now we found out his attorney or one of his lawyers, his fixer or whatever you want to call, all his papers are now in the hands of the FBI, for all we know. What does that do to Trump?
TOM WINTER, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, Chris, I think the one thing that we have to keep in mind here is there is attorney-client privilege that stays in place. So while in this particular case, they can say well, we are going to look into Stormy Daniels and we are going to see if even if there is some attorney-client privilege here, that privilege does not exist if you were trying to use that privilege in order to continue a fraud or to cover up a fraud. So that doesn`t apply here.
However, if Trump was talking to Michael Cohen about, hey, this is what I want to do with this particular tax return or this is what I want to do with this particular property, if it`s not germane to the case here and not germane to the search warrant, which has everybody has told you here had to go through a very rigorous process to prove in a federal judge had to be signed off on it, that material is still protected. There is actually a privilege team that will look at this and be able to go through certain parts of the communications that is a self-contained team. They can look at any email traffic, any memos back and forth between the two. We know Trump doesn`t use email that much, so maybe there is some memos or some notes, can look at that and say, OK, some of this is important to what we have applied for the search warrant for, and some of this, hey, we can`t share with the actual prosecuting team. So there are protections that are put in place here. And this is the U.S. attorney`s manual. Part of it that we have talked about that really guides all this.
MATTHEWS: Well, Stormy Daniels is still the focus of this because we know that $130,000 was paid to her to keep quiet. We know that fact.
Now hear the question is. Suppose it turns out that the prosecutor here, the counsel, Mr. Mueller, decides he thinks that`s an in kind contribution to the Trump campaign in 2016. That it was really part of the hush (INAUDIBLE) and the reason for the hush is to help him win the election a week later. What happens then? Doesn`t it make it fair game to go after all this stuff? It`s not attorney-client anymore. These guys involved in the conspiracy together to make a secret contribution to the campaign to keep her quiet.
WEHLE: Sure. I mean, so there could be conspiracy. There could be violation of the federal election laws on the criminal side. But also --.
MATTHEWS: Does it kill the attorney-client relationship?
WEHLE: I want to make a point to that. There is a myth that the attorney- client privilege applies to any communications with an attorney. Your dad is an attorney. You talk about your bank statements. It`s covered. It`s only applicable if it`s for giving or receiving legal advice. So if they find something that says, hey, I made the $130,000 payment, just hypothetically, that is not an exchange that is for giving or receiving legal advice. It also has to be confidential. So someone is copied on that. If it`s in earshot of someone else, we know that professor likes to talk, none of that would actually be covered. And you are not even talking about the crime product exception.
MATTHEWS: Peter, if you were in that office going through and you have full rights as a lawyer, as a top journalist to go digging in the files of Mr. Cohen, what would you look for?
BAKER: Well, a journalist, that would be a journalist`s dream of course. We obviously, like to see all kinds of stuff. You would like to know more about the origins of this $130,000 payment. You would like to learn a lot more about, as you say, you know, if there are issues of taxes there. You would like to learn more about Michael Cohen`s, you know, any involvement with the Russians and so forth.
But, you know, it`s complicated. Now, all these papers are going to be access to the prosecutors. They will no doubt go through them and decide which ones do fall under, you know, their jurisdiction, which ones don`t. One thing Robert Mueller has made clear is that he is trying to focus his investigation on the Russia matter by turning this over to the regular U.S. attorney. He is saying it does not fall under his mandate.
MATTHEWS: Let`s go to the goby (ph) part of this. Anything to do with sex. Could it be that all the women that were taken care off over the years, including the ones who have come forward about his misbehavior, all that, would that be under the jurisdiction of Mr. Cohen? Would he have to deal with paying those people off?
I`m also concerned about possible dealings in New York real estate. I have been told over the years that things don`t move in New York without a little payments to certain people. It could be councilmen in privilege and someone on that level or could be that underworld figures. Real estate in New York doesn`t involve simple cleanliness. It involves getting the building up. All that stuff could be in Cohen`s file drawers.
BAKER: So, Chris, one thing I would say is bank fraud --
MATTHEWS: Peter -- I`m sorry, Tom -- Renato.
MARIOTTI: Yes. Bank fraud is where you make a false statement to a bank in order to get money or property or something like that. So what it might involve, for example, is lying to a bank to get a loan. I mean, that would be one obvious way in which Michael Cohen could get be caught up in this, if he has evidence about that. But I will tell you, the fact that communications between Trump and Cohen were seized has to be very concerning to Trump because all these regulations and rules we are talking about, Chris, stipulate that the search warrant has to be as narrow as possible. It has to be very carefully written.
MATTHEWS: Yes, just the last question. I want to get to this. I haven`t gotten to this yet. If you are Trump and you have a guy named Michael Cohen, who does stuff for you, he is basically a fixer, would he keep records of payments to women? Would he keep payments to politicians and say perhaps underworld figures? Would all that be in his file drawer that the FBI would be rooting through today?
WINTER: Well, Chris, it is Tom Winter. I mean, I think that`s one of the things that he would have to -- that would be there in some shape or form, right? Because you would have to -- $130,000 doesn`t grow on a tree. So there needs to be some sort of way to measure and memorialize bureau did that $130,000 come from.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
WINTER: Where did it go to? And if you are a federal prosecutor and you are looking -- let`s just take for instance if there are other women that received payments, part of a possible prosecution in this case as you would want to look at pattern and practice. Has this been done before? Was it done in the same manner and method? And so when you look at those ledgers that he may have, bank statements that he may have, communications that he may have, that could all be a part of a case that you would eventually bring for something if you`re just looking at possible payments to women, not going into possible other examples as far as payments that were made to other individuals that you alluded to. Again, that`s something that obviously will be a possible result of the fruit of the search warrant.
MATTHEWS: Following that, Stormy Daniels is in his accounting books somewhere. Does it say account receivable? Does it say tax write-off? Is all that information available on paper somewhere in what they grabbed today, do you think?
WINTER: I mean, I would have to assume for somebody that would be an attorney, that would be on top of Mr. Trump`s business affairs and their complicated business affairs just because he has a lot of properties. He has a lot of bank accounts that. We know from a few public documents we have gotten from the President.
So yes, if you look at all this, there would have to be some sort of memorialization you would think in certain areas that would allow investigators to kind of have a little bit of a road map here as far as where they need to go.
But the fact that he got a search warrant and the fact that he got it approved by a federal judge would tell me that they have a pretty good idea where they are looking and what they might be able to find.
MATTHEWS: Trump must be going crazy knowing this is going on.
Anyway, thank you, Tom Winter, great reporting. Thank you, Renato Mariotti, Kim Wehle, and our great Peter Baker. By the way, you too metropolitan papers. You and that other one in Washington have been doing amazing work.
BAKER: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, political reaction to the historic and staggering news today that the federal bureau of investigation has raided the office of the lawyer to the President of the United States even in this crazy time, isn`t that wild?
And my big question tonight, what files are in that office? And what will they tell us about what we know about Donald Trump, who he has gotten payments to, who have kept quiet, the whole works. It`s all up there and it may lead to the firing of Bob Mueller with within the next few hours. Who knows? The way the President was talking a few minutes ago, anything goes.
We will be right back. This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: We have a lot more to get to in tonight`s breaking news.
The FBI, as I said, has raided the office of the President`s lawyer. What are they looking for? And how exposed does this leave Trump?
Plus, the political reaction to tonight`s bombshell. This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: I think this is seismic. It`s probably one of the most significant, most seismic events in the Trump- Russia investigation.
This kind of search warrant is a profoundly significant development, one of the most important in this entire investigation over the last year-and-a- half.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Senator Richard Blumenthal, of course, from Connecticut just a short time ago calling today`s news seismic.
Anyway, with the raid of Michael Cohen`s office, the Mueller investigation just turned up the heat on Donald Trump, don`t you think? We already know that Cohen has been in Mueller`s crosshairs.
Just last week, McClatchy reported that Mueller`s investigators have been tracking down partners and that they were particularly interested in interactions involving Michael Cohen.
But over the summer, President Trump had a very clear warning for Mueller: Stay away from family and business.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
QUESTION: If Mueller was looking at your finances or your family`s finances unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?
QUESTION: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say yes. Yes. I would say yes.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, earlier this evening, President Trump was asked again if he would fire Mueller. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Why don`t I just fire Mueller? Well, I think it`s a disgrace what`s going on. We will see what happens. But I think it`s really a sad situation when you look at what happened. And many people have said, you should fire him.
Again, they found nothing. And in finding nothing, that`s a big statement. If you know the person who is in charge of the investigation, you know all about that, Deputy Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, he wrote the letter very critical of Comey.
Rod Rosenstein, who is in charge of this, signed a FISA warrant. And he also -- he also signed a letter that was essentially saying to fire James Comey. And he was right about that. He was absolutely right.
So we will see what happens. I think it`s disgraceful, and so does a lot of other people. This is a pure and simple witch-hunt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there is the president mapping out what I think is the choreography for the next Saturday Night Massacre.
Anyway, joined right now by Ron Reagan, author and radio host, Charlie Sykes, of course, contributing editor at "The Weekly Standard," David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and author of "Russian Roulette." Both are MSNBC contributors.
Let me start with David.
And I -- you and I talk all the time. If you`re in that room today, and you`re in -- you know, the lawyer for the president, he is basically his fixer. And I`m not hating the guy or anything. I`m just saying that`s what his job is, fix problems.
Wouldn`t you grab everything? All the women`s cases. You look up Zervos. You look under McDougal. You look at all the women that have made accusations about -- you would check all of that. You would check out all his real estate dealings in New York and who he had to pay off. All that stuff, it`s all sitting right there in the drawer.
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The only thing worse than having the FBI raid your office is having the FBI raid your lawyer`s office.
And Michael Cohen, as we have all discussed and we have known for years who have worked -- I have dealt with him for years. Everyone has. He is not a lawyer. He is a fixer, consigliere. He`s like Roy Cohn, who was a mentor of Donald Trump.
MATTHEWS: Somebody called me today and said he`s the guy that Trump went to when he doesn`t want any publicity. And he`s getting all the publicity in the world.
CORN: There are a lots of stories about things that Michael Cohen has fixed for Donald Trump over the years.
Now, you go in, the FBI goes in with a narrow search warrant looking for things related to bank fraud, wire fraud regarding Stormy Daniels. If they find other things, there is a process by which they can expand their investigation.
But getting to the point of the clip, you know, Donald Trump, if he fires Mueller, that doesn`t stop anything that happened today.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk about that.
CORN: This is the U.S. attorney.
MATTHEWS: Let me go with that to Charlie Sykes and then to Ron.
MATTHEWS: Charlie, the president today watched the prosecutor, the guy he doesn`t like at all, that`s Bob Mueller, light the fuse.
That fuse leads right into what`s his name`s office, Cohen`s office, Michael Cohen`s office. All that stuff is in there. It`s about to ignite against him. All the stuff he tried to keep from us in terms of his tax returns, he is very -- and I don`t blame him in a sense. New York business, I can`t even imagine what it`s like, who you have to pay to get something put up, to get one stone put on top of another.
I don`t know what it costs to move anything in New York, with the unions and who knows what in the underworld and the councilmen and the whole rest of that crapola you got to deal with in politics up there.
What do you make of it? Should he fire the guy now? Shoot the moon, fire everybody, fire all the way through Rosenstein or through Sessions, get to Mueller, get him out of there and hope he has got a better chance with another prosecutor? Nixon did it. He ended up with Jaworski. He still got thrown out.
CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, David was absolutely right when he says that the one thing scarier than having your own house and office raided is having your lawyer, particularly if it`s Michael Cohen, who really is the fixer.
He is kind of a low-rent Ray Donovan, or a Ray Donovan wannabe. But he has got everything, everything there. This is the crown jewels. And here you have Donald Trump, who really comes out of this swamp of corruption and dishonesty that we -- that for some reason we overlooked during the campaign or some people overlooked during the campaign.
And now these prosecutors have access to everything. So when you say that he`s lit the fuse, there is no question about it. This is a staggering escalation on Bob Mueller`s part.
MATTHEWS: What is the smart move if you`re Trump, fire Mueller or live with it?
SYKES: Hey, you know what? There are no smart moves for him right now, because as David was mentioning, even if he fires Mueller, this investigation goes on because it is a separate criminal investigation.
But you`re right. If you are Donald Trump, what else is your move here except to be consumed by all of this? And I think the inappropriateness, and that`s a weak word, for what happened today when he is surrounded by all the generals at his war Cabinet meeting, having a meltdown, attacking the Department of Justice, this is an indication of just how under siege this president is feeling right now.
MATTHEWS: OK, Ron, he goes home to bed tonight. He sits up tonight. He calls all his friends. And who is he going to listen to when they say don`t fire Mueller? I get the feeling all those people that say don`t fire him are gone. He got rid of that type of person.
And what he has left is the Steve Millers, et cetera, et cetera, John Bolton, bombs away types. I don`t think he`s got a lot of advice, cool it, Donald.
RON REAGAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: No, I would say not. You said it before. And it`s worth just mentioning again, I think, how extraordinary this is that the FBI has raided the law offices of the president of the United States` personal lawyer here.
God knows what they`re going to find in there. And this isn`t even the biggest scandal that Trump is facing here.
MATTHEWS: I`m with you, Ron.
REAGAN: This is sort of a sidebar porn star scandal, not the big Russia investigation.
But what I`m curious about is, depending on what they find in that office - - and you guys might have some thoughts about this -- this can circle back around, it seems to me, to the Russia investigation. Cohen was involved, my understanding, in some of the Ukraine business and all of that. And who knows what they might find in his office about Russian oligarchs who have set up shop in Trump Tower and were laundering money and doing their criminal activities from Trump Tower?
Who knows how much of that Cohen knew about and is going to be discovered in this raid?
MATTHEWS: David, our friend Joe Conason e-mailed a couple minutes ago. And he said, this is like the Ken Starr thing, in the sense that the civil case involving Paula Jones somehow metastasized and merged with the prosecution of the president, and the whole thing went wild.
This is taking a case, a civil case involving Avenatti, Michael Avenatti, David, and going after him on the money that was paid to Stormy Daniels, and whether that`s enough, they want more, whatever, they want that killed, and this whole investigation by Mueller, because Mueller`s investigation as written down by Rosenstein was anything that comes up as part of the investigation is fair game.
CORN: And here is the key point.
You can`t get out of this if you`re Donald Trump by firing Mueller. Even if you fired Mueller, the FBI investigation still goes on. The U.S. attorney investigation still goes on.
MATTHEWS: Are you talking about Mueller -- are you talking about Trump the person or what we know?
MATTHEWS: But knowing him, wouldn`t he try?
CORN: He may try, but the only way he can succeed -- he would have to fire the FBI director. Would Chris Wray...
MATTHEWS: Is it better than just sitting and dying?
CORN: I`m just telling you, it`s not about getting rid of one guy. It`s declaring war on the federal government.
MATTHEWS: Charlie Sykes, you`re a smart critic of this president. Watching him and his psyche, do you think he is the type to lay down and let this happen step by step, the fuse burning all the way to him, through his lawyer`s office and everything else, or do you see him saying, I`m going to do the best I can, I`m going to shoot the moon and start firing people?
What you think?
SYKES: Well, I`m always reluctant to try to get inside Donald Trump`s head, because that`s kind of a scary place for me.
SYKES: But you`re absolutely right. This is a president who will at least vent, at least consider punching back.
But, as David says, there is no easy way out for him. But what Donald Trump has figured out, is number one, you change the subject. You come up with distractions. And then you count on your base and supine Republicans to provide you cover.
MATTHEWS: Will he bomb Syria now, Charlie?
SYKES: Well, he woke up this morning thinking, I may need a bigger distraction. Look, I think probably we`re going to bomb Syria anyway.
MATTHEWS: I saw the scary face of John Bolton behind the president. Then I saw him in the next scene sitting next to him today. And what kind of advice do you get from Bolton? Attack.
Would any of us put it past President Trump to decide that a nice little military adventure in Syria might be a nice distraction from this? This is -- when this gets existential for Trump -- and I think we`re approaching that point now, when you`re getting Michael Cohen`s paperwork out of his office there -- he might be moved to fire Mueller.
But then the question becomes, what do the Republicans in Congress do? Because the onus is really on them. They still control Congress. If there is a Saturday Night Massacre here, do they roll over? Do they go along with Trump? Or they stand up finally?
No, they do roll over.
REAGAN: I think you`re right.
CORN: But the investigations continue. And he will have to totally eviscerate the Justice Department and the FBI. It`s not about one guy. And so that`s going to -- at this point, will any Republicans...
REAGAN: At that point, do they stand up?
MATTHEWS: You know what I think will happen?
You know what I think, Ron? I think maybe the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate, such as it is, will finally move.
Anyway, thank you, Ron.
Not the Republicans.
Anyway, thank you, Ron Reagan, Charlie Sykes, and David Corn.
Up next: reaction from the White House and the president`s allies, what we`re getting into on the big breaking story. The FBI has raided the office of the president`s fixer and longtime attorney. And as Ron Reagan and I agree, this is incredible. This isn`t Brazil. This is the United States of America.
It`s not Lula going to jail for 20 years or whatever down in Brazil. This is the president of the United States` lawyer having all his papers grabbed by the FBI.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The FBI raided the office of President Trump`s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen marks the confluence of two scandals for President Trump, Robert Mueller`s investigation into the Russian election meddling and the ongoing controversy surrounding Cohen`s $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
President Trump addressed the news at the White House a short time ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And it`s a disgrace. It`s, frankly, a real disgrace. It`s an attack on our country in a true sense. It`s an attack on what we all stand for.
So, when I saw this and when I heard it, I heard it like you did, I said that is really now in a whole new level of unfairness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: For more on the reaction inside the White House, I`m joined by Robert Costa, national political reporter for "The Washington Post."
Robert, a whole new level of unfairness. It sounds to me like he is setting himself up to act.
ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: White House officials tell me tonight that they saw that pool spray as a necessary venting session for the president to get his thoughts out there, as he has been watching television all afternoon just before he has dinner with military leaders.
He is frustrated, and his aides feel rattled. This was a curveball.
MATTHEWS: Well, this going into the president`s papers, basically, going into his fixer lawyer`s papers, this goes back several years. Anything he did in business, it`s all sitting now in the hands of the FBI. How is Trump`s psychic reaction to that?
COSTA: It`s not just about his psychic reaction. It`s about the legal reaction.
He has a limited legal team at this moment. His lawyer Ty Cobb has been spotted at the White House. But John Dowd resigned just a few weeks ago. And so they`re worried that Jay Sekulow and Ty Cobb won`t be enough for the president to handle this kind of escalation with the Mueller probe.
MATTHEWS: How does he find out what`s in that cache today? How does he know what was taken by the FBI? Can Michael Cohen tell him what he thinks was taken? How would he know?
COSTA: He knows that Cohen has been his attorney for so long, but he has been watching it all on television. And he knows that Cohen`s office over at Rockefeller Center has records going back decades.
MATTHEWS: Well, Cohen`s job is not to figure out the fine qualities of the law or different provisions of legislation. His problem and his challenge is to fix problems. We know that from his M.O.
COSTA: Exactly right. Exactly right.
MATTHEWS: His job is to pay off women, to be blunt about it. His job is to keep people quiet. It`s to get stuff put in newspapers that will never run, catch and kill.
It seems to me there is a treasure trove here for those whether reporters or lawyers trying to find out what Trump did wrong over the years, including his business relations involving New York real estate, which is always murky. Everybody knows that. And what politicians he`s had to deal with, what money he has had to pay to underworld people.
We don`t know. But it`s all apparently potentially in that trove grabbed by the bureau today.
COSTA: You got a clear insight, because when you met Michael Cohen years ago, when I started to cover him, he was always the president`s personal lawyer, personal matters.
President Trump, when he was a businessman, had a different level of lawyer, different kind of lawyer for real estate, a different kind of level lawyer for finance. Cohen was really the best friend, the attorney, the political aide, the media consultant.
MATTHEWS: So, if you put him under sodium pentathol, you would get it all, wouldn`t you?
COSTA: You would get everything going back from whenever Cohen started.
This is someone who is a confidant in Trump Tower, always there on the 26th floor.
MATTHEWS: You`re a great reporter, Robert, and I have said that 100 times. I will say it again.
But one thing you understand is humanity. How does Trump compartmentalize? Bill Clinton, with much less to worry about, would compartmentalize. And he would give his speech on health care with all the Monica stuff hanging over his head.
Can Trump do that?
COSTA: His aides say he is very frustrated tonight. They want him to compartmentalize.
And they keep telling him, the lawyers, don`t necessarily sit down with Bob Mueller, because that would escalate this even more.
And the two things they`re worried about, Chris, right now, as he thinks this all through tonight at the White House and has dinner, is, he going sit down now with Mueller for an interview? Is this going to prompt him to do that?
And is he ever consider, in the next few days, firing Bob Mueller or Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein as some kind of reaction to this situation?
MATTHEWS: Yes. I get the sense he might.
Thank you, Robert Costa, for your great reporting.
Up next: The news that FBI has raided the offices of Trump`s attorney comes at an already chaotic time for this president. His chief of staff is on the outs, and he is dealing with a major crisis in Syria.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
[19:43:02] CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, President Trump could potentially face new legal exposure after today`s FBI raid on Michael Cohen`s office. And today, he is also facing mounting challenges inside the White House and, of course, on the international stage.
As "The Washington Post" reports, Trump is more willing than ever to go it alone without the advice of his Chief of Staff John Kelly. Quote: The recurring and escalating clashes between the president and his chief of staff traced the downward arc of Kelly`s eight months in the White House. Both his credibility and his influence have been severely diminished, administration official said.
Meanwhile, the reported chemical weapons attack in Syria threatens to derail the president`s slated or stated plan to ultimately withdraw forces from that country. Trump has already taken a tougher posture towards Syria, saying there will be a big price to pay. We`ll see.
It comes as Trump`s new national security adviser -- oh my god, there he is -- John Bolton, marked his first day on job. How opportune.
Here is how the president welcomed him. Bolton one of the great hawks in history has a forcible response to Syria. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re making a decision as to what we do with respect to the horrible attack that was made near Damascus. And it will be met, and it will be met forcefully. I want to thank Ambassador John Bolton for joining us. I think he is going to be a fantastic representative of our team.
Interesting day. He picked today as his first day. So, Generals, I think he picked the right day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I don`t think the generals liked the sound of that. Anyway, that surrounds him.
Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today", Jonathan Capehart is opinion writer with "The Washington Post" and MSNBC contributor. And Shermichael Singleton is a Republican strategist.
You know, this is one hell of a soup. You`ve got the president`s lawyer, the fixer, having his office raided with god knows what stuff coming out of that, which is everything is in there, everything in that office potentially, in terms of women paid off, whatever, politics, corruption. Whatever is in there is in there.
And, of course, you`ve got no supervision in the White House anymore. Goodbye John Kelly in terms of influence and a possible war opening in Syria.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON, D.C. BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: And you`ve got negotiations a month away with North Korea. You`ve got a jittery stock market. You`ve got a trade war looming. You have crises on every front. And this incredible development today --
MATTHEWS: What is the president thinking tonight -- about none of those things probably? Thinking about his own keister?
PAGE: That`s right.
Well, he is probably thinking about this extraordinary development that the forced seizure of his records from his personal attorney by the FBI because of an investigation, and not the special counsel`s investigation. This is a separate criminal investigation.
MATTHEWS: With a search warrant. So, the president now knows the forces of the deep state or whatever it is he calls it have okayed a complete body frisk of him.
JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, look --
MATTHEWS: The one thing he never wanted us to see is tax records. Now, the whole shebang could be in this office.
CAPEHART: Right. The arguments of deep state, the arguments of witch- hunt, the argument of a witch-hunt was already dead ages and ages ago. But now, you have a situation where the president`s personal lawyer, the man as we`ve all been talking about since the news broke who knows more about Donald Trump than anybody else. Maybe even his family.
MATTHEWS: He calls him at midnight. That`s the kind of guy.
CAPEHART: Right. And so, now, the feds have gone in with the search warrant. And we need to talk more about just how extraordinary all the hoops they had to jump through just to get these search warrants. Not only did they have to have -- they have to have evidence to convince a judge, a U.S. attorney, the head of the criminal division.
This wasn`t just some decision that was made in an afternoon. This was something that took a lot of work, a lot of painstaking care to make sure that what was being done was legal and aboveboard.
MATTHEWS: Shermichael, here you have a president who wished he could have Roy Cohn or Bobby Kennedy or somebody looking out for him at A.G., and he`s got nobody looking out for him.
SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, I think he is more isolated the more this goes on. When you think about it, this is bigger than just Stormy Daniels. They had to have an insurmountable amount of evidence to get a judge to sign off on raiding the office of the personal attorney for the president. I mean, think about it, that`s never happened in any sitting president.
TRUMP: That`s what I was thinking, Shermichael. I`m around a long time with you, and I kept thinking, this is what you read about in Brazil today. But Brazil, but Lula is going away for 12 years in the middle of a campaign he is running for president down there. But not -- that`s a developing country. We don`t have presidents having their lawyers` offices raided.
SINGLETON: No, we don`t, Chris. When you think about this, Cohen has so much information on Donald Trump going back decades. This is going to give investigators an open view into the Trump world. Have they exchanged money with Russian oligarchs? Have they given out more payouts that we don`t about. I mean --
TRUMP: OK, how about wag the dog, Susan?
PAGE: You know --
MATTHEWS: I was with Barry Levinson last week. I`ve been reminded, he is the director of a film where a president in fiction decided to start a little war to cover up for hanky-panky.
PAGE: Right. And, you know, I think that`s a lot of -- a very serious charge to make against a president. But I do think --
MATTHEWS: It`s a question to raise when you have John Bolton sitting next to him.
CAPEHART: Right, and that particular president.
PAGE: You also have a situation where the president is embattled on all fronts, which you could see, to turn the sound off and watch the president in that very peculiar conversation. And he looked like he did -- when he did the fire and fury thing with North Korea where he is crossing his arms. He looks very defensive. He looks embattled.
It`s with that mindset that he goes into the meeting on Syria.
MATTHEWS: OK. Even with Reagan, you know, Jonathan, I remember Reagan I thought he started that action in Grenada to cover up for Beirut and the loss of the marine lives.
MATTHEWS: It isn`t so far-fetched, is it?
PAGE: I don`t know if it`s far-fetched. I just think it`s --
MATTHEWS: It`s an awful charge.
PAGE: It`s a very serious charge.
MATTHEWS: It`s an awful charge.
CAPEHART: I think with this president, if you can imagine it, it can possibly happen. Things that we used to think were ridiculous and could never happen, have happened.
MATTHEWS: OK. On a lower level, he does know how to play diversionary tactics. He knows how to distract.
Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. We`ll be right back with HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Well, shortly after President Trump called today`s raid on his office a disgrace, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued this stark warning to the president: If the president is thinking of using this raid to fire special counsel Mueller or otherwise interfere with the chain of command in the Russian probe, we Democrats have one simple message for him: don`t. The investigation is critical to the health of our democracy and must be allowed to continue.
I said I was waiting for the Democrats to move. They have.
More with the HARDBALL roundtable right after this.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.
Susan Page, Jonathan Capehart and Shermichael Singleton.
Shermichael, here`s your chance, Mr. Republican, to say something because it seems to me the Republican Party is in bed, so tight and tucked in with this president. They don`t criticize him. Will they?
SINGLETON: No, they`re not going to criticize.
MATTHEWS: No matter what`s going on?
SINGLETON: No, they`re not. I think these guys should stop being cowards and put the country before the party.
MATTHEWS: The GOP leaders.
SINGLETON: Chris, this guy is destroying the Republican Party and Mitch McConnell is sitting around saying absolutely nothing. Look, it`s great that Chuck Schumer says something, but he has no power or influence to do anything. Mitch McConnell has to say something and do something here because the country is dependent and relying upon him. And he is absolutely absent from this conversation.
CAPEHART: And this is why I think Chuck Schumer did what he did, but putting out --
MATTHEWS: Just now.
CAPEHART: Yes, just now, that statement, by putting out a statement, he is standing in clear contrast to the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader, Republicans who are in charge of Congress, who are supposed to be a check and balance on the executive. And they have been MIA for months.
PAGE: And they`re going to continue to be MIA until the November election. We`ll see what happens then. If you want see the president embattled, just watch Democrats take over the House.
MATTHEWS: OK, place your bets. You can make a bet. You`re an opinion guy. You can`t.
Is Trump going to do it? Is he going to shot the moon tonight to get rid of Mueller?
SINGLETON: I don`t know about tonight, but I think he is thinking about it soon. I mean, he is against a wall, Chris.
CAPEHART: Yes. I think what we`re looking at is a president of the United States who is going to fire Mueller, maybe even Rosenstein. It`s just a matter of when. We are dealing with an unconventional president.
MATTHEWS: What does your reporting tell you, Susan?
PAGE: I think he would like to. That was clear tonight. I think people are telling him --
MATTHEWS: Who is around that can still say don`t fire Mueller, you`ll be dead if you do?
PAGE: Well, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan could say it privately if not publicly.
SINGLETON: But they won`t. They won`t.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. Thank you, Susan Page, Jonathan Capehart and Shermichael Singleton.
When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Monday, April 9th, 2018.
When the FBI raids the office of a president`s lawyer, that`s news. The fact that we have to say it tells us how rabid things have gotten from those comments Trump made in the bus with Billy Bush who got fired by the way for listening to today`s stormy weather involving a trio of women, all demanding that they not be ignored either by Trump or by the public or I suppose by history.
But even in this new normal, the reality that on this day, April 9th, 2018, the offices of Michael Cohen esquire were raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for documents relating to the Stormy Daniels matter matters. How can we not see this moment as an iconic capsulation of this presidency to date? How it could not have a reverberation backward and forward this far into the Trump reign?
It tells that the bureau wants stuff on Trump that it has not been able to get otherwise, documents on payments, records of who paid what, and to whom, and who`s going to ultimately be charged for it, references to names of people Trump has had relations with, payments made on their account, payments made to all kinds of people for all kinds of services or perhaps simply for their silence. Who knows?
The fact that we have before us is that the FBI went looking today. What they were after may be nowhere near as important as what they find. As I read the mandate of the independent counsel, Mr. Mueller, whatever they find, can be used against Mr. Trump. And that means today matters. And not too far down the road could matter big.
And that`s HARDBALL today. Thanks for being with us.
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