Show: HARDBALL Date: April 10, 2018 Guest: Jonathan Swan, Anita Kumar, Charlie Dent, Mieke Eoyang
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Will he fire Mueller? Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Tonight with his personal attorney firmly in the sights of federal prosecutors, President Trump appears to be readying himself for a dramatic confrontation with special counsel Robert Mueller. As multiple news organizations have now reported the FBI yesterday conducted raids of Michael Cohen`s office, his home and his hotel room and he seized his computer, his phone and financial records as well as his correspondence with Donald Trump. The move has sent the President into a rage making a volatile, already volatile situation worse. In an ominous press briefing today it, Sarah Huckabee Sanders today said multiple times that the President does have the power to fire Robert Mueller.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the President believe he has the power to fire special counsel Robert Mueller?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly believes he has the power to do so. I know a number of individuals in the legal community including at the department of justice said he has the power to do so but I don`t have any further announcements.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have said it is Rod Rosenstein oversees the special al and only he has the power.
SANDERS: Again, we have been advised the President certainly has the power to make that decision. I can`t go anything beyond that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: The "New York Times" is now reporting that during the raid of Cohen`s office quote "the FBI agents were looking for records about payments to two women who claimed they had affairs with Mr. Trump. And information related to the publisher of the "National Enquirer`s" role in silencing one of the women. That includes Cohen`s payment to Stormy Daniels as well as the payment made by the parent company of the "National Enquirer" to former Playboy model, Karen McDougal.
NBC News reports tonight that Daniels is now cooperating, well, this is big news, with federal prosecutors. So Stormy Daniels is working with the feds.
The search warrants were sought. And executed by FBI agents and federal prosecutors in New York in coordination with Mueller`s team. To obtain them, however, prosecutors not only convinced a judge there was probable cause that Cohen possessed evidence of a crime, they also got the approval of deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein who personally signed off on the decision.
Well, despite all this, the President yesterday denounced the raid and assailed the special counsel`s probe in an attempt to obscure the facts. He characterized the legal search as a break in. He perversely called the special council`s probe an attack on our country. And referring to the investigation in an apparent moment of candor, he said he wanted to keep it down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I just heard that 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. I have wanted to keep it down. It`s frankly a real disgrace. It`s an attack on our country in a true sense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, in defending the President today, Sarah Sanders said that Trump believes the investigation has gone too far.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, talking about the raid on Michael Cohen`s office, the President said it`s an attack on our country. It`s an attack on what we all stand for. In what way is an FBI raid on Michael Cohen`s office an attack on our country?
SANDERS: I think that the President has been clear that he thinks that this has gone too far and beyond that, I don`t have anything to add. But I would refer you back to the President`s comments.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Joining me right now is Michael Schmidt, reporter for "The New York Times" and an MSNBC contributor, Heidi Przybyla is a national political correspondent at NBC News, Chuck Rosenberg, of course, former U.S. attorney, former senior FBI official and an MSNBC contributor, and Paul Butler is a former U.S. attorney and MSNBC legal analyst.
In that order, I want to work (INAUDIBLE) here. What do you make of Huckabee Sanders saying is obviously speaking for the President that he has the right to fire Mueller, the man who is prosecuting him, investigating him?
Well, we know, its front of minds for the President and I think the President.
MATTHEWS: It`s what? Front of mind?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It is front of mind for the President. This is something that he has talked about for almost a year now since the day Mueller was appointed. You now have this incredibly aggressive move.
I think that sometimes in this era, we get numb to what`s going on. The justice department got a judge to sign off on this to go in to the President`s lawyer`s office to take these documents. That is -- they have to have a real reason to do that. This is not just sending out a subpoena to satisfy there wasn`t a crime, it is not just asking someone questions in an interview. It`s going to the heart of the things that Donald Trump has said he`s most concerned about. This red line that he put up with Mueller.
MATTHEWS: And Heidi, good to see you. Here is the question. Why they afraid he was destroying property, destroying evidence?
HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That apparently had to be part of the calculation. From everything that I have read and from all the experts that I have talked to, this had to be a really high bar to go ahead and raid a lawyer and the lawyer for the President of the United States. So they want had to believe that there was probable cause potentially, that there was a crime committed and that there was evidence that they would obtain in this raid.
MATTHEWS: What would the crime be regarding Stormy Daniels or Karen McDougal, either payment for silence.
PRZYBYLA: And campaign finance.
MATTHEWS: Which would be a crime?
PRZYBYLA: Well, campaign finance violations.
MATTHEWS: Campaign contributions.
PRZYBYLA: Right. Now there is a higher bar there, right? Just the fact that it was 12 days before the election alone isn`t enough evidence. But there could be more evidence that they obtained there. Also, the question of what Trump knew because they went in there and they didn`t just, Chris, take documents that might relate to Stormy Daniels. They took business records from the Trump organization. Remember, we don`t know what they are going to uncover because Michael Cohen was also involved, for example, in the Moscow tower deal related to Russia. So this could open up a thicket of additional information that comes out in all these documents they sized.
MATTHEWS: Chuck, the old phrase, unstoppable force, meaning an immoveable object, the President says you are not going to touch my business affairs, he is.
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, he is. And he has --.
MATTHEWS: And the feds are.
ROSENBERG: Well, he, Bob Mueller or the U.S. attorney in Manhattan has the legal authority to do so. I think that`s a really important point here, Chris. I don`t want to lose that point. This is done pursuant to law. This is done pursuant to the requirements of the fourth amendment to the constitution which says that to take this stuff, you need probable cause.
But you need more than that. Heidi`s right. Administratively you have to go to the very top of the department of justice and you have to have a federal judge agree that you have probable cause.
MATTHEWS: Isn`t there the prosecutorial discretion.
MATTHEWS: Just to take the President`s side for a moment. If you were controlling Mueller, he would say limit your investigation to Russia and you isn`t got nothing, do you? Now, obviously Mueller is not looking at it that way.
ROSENBERG: So prosecutorial discretion is important but it`s too early for prosecutorial discretion. First you gather the facts, then you determine whether or not someone should had prosecuted and for what they ought to be prosecuted. So yes, but you don`t exercise that discretion normally in the middle of is it your investigation.
MATTHEWS: Would you investigate everything about the President? Is that what`s going on here?
ROSENBERG: As long as you have legitimate leads, right, it`s predicated on factual information, yes, you go ahead and you investigate the President.
MATTHEWS: Paul, you are in here. Let me get to the big question. This is the President talking through his spokesperson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders that he has the right to the fire Mueller. Mueller is proceeding ahead, you know, like a juggernaut. He is going -- I have said before he seems like an iceberg. You don`t know how big he is underneath the water. They charge, they indict 13 Russians out of nowhere then they go all over the place. You will never know where is going to pop up. Now he pops up in these offices in New York, taking all the computer, the phone, he goes to the hotel room, he goes to the house. I mean, it is a complete clean-up job of anything to do with his sort of secret lawyer, the lawyer that we all believe Trump uses for private matter. Not all legal. Not any of them illegal for sure but the quiet stuff. And he has now got it all -- Paul.
PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, so Rod Rosenstein didn`t take the loyalty pledge. James Comey didn`t take at loyalty at this time pledge. Michael Cohen took the loyalty pledge possibly to the extent of committing crimes on behalf of his client, the President of the United States. And so what Mueller is looking at now is anything dirty that Cohen has ever done.
We know his tactic. We know his strategy, Chris. He likes to get people to plead guilty and then turn them against the President of the United States. So again, I think he is looking ultimately at trying to flip Cohen. There`s an attorney client privilege issue but Cohen is kind of like Roy Cohn. He is kind of like Mr. Fix it. And if he is doing things not on behalf of lawyer, not representing him as a lawyer but trying to help him with his business, that`s not protected by the privilege. The other thing that is not protected by the privilege is trying to evade criminal activity by your client.
MATTHEWS: "The New York Times" reports Mr. Trump`s advisers have spent the last 24 hours trying to convince the President not to the making an impulsive decision that could put him in more legal jeopardy. However, the President continued to vent his frustrations on twitter this morning, calling the probe a total witch hunt and also claiming that attorney/client privilege is dead.
Well, let me go to Michael, not to be sex and strings about the time. You guys don`t need it. But it`s not a witch hunt. How many people now face a serious indictment? How many people are cooperating? There`s an awful lot of crime around the President. It may not all involve or any of it involve necessarily collusion with the Russians but there`s an awful lot of people with problems willing to sell themselves out and save themselves and nail Trump.
SCHMIDT: Well, two things. One, by this going up to New York and not being run out of Mueller`s offers, the executing of the search warrant, it sort of gives a little more legitimacy to the process. It`s not just Bob Mueller and these out of control Democrats that that are biased and out to get the President. Now these are line prosecutors in New York that have gone ahead and done this.
The other thing is that with the special counsel you are talking about all these different things. They have the resources to look at all these different things. The President is this big public target. Lots of things come in. They hear a lot of things. They do a lot of interviews. There`s a lot of subpoenas. And the last thing they want to do is close up their investigation some day and have missed something. So you turn over every rock.
MATTHEWS: You know how you have a sit-com and somebody like Ted Danson ends up on another show, you know, and a new show called a spinoff. We have a spinoff investigation here now thanks to yesterday. It`s not part of the Mueller investigation. It`s another part. It`s related to it. It comes from because it was in some way triggered by Mueller but it`s now the prosecutors in New York.
PRZYBYLA: It`s not just a spinoff. But there could potentially be a strategy here, Chris in, terms of removing this from any reach from the executive branch, right? So now we are seeing some of these investigations farmed out to state attorneys who are outside the reach of the executive. And we are seeing this at the same time that the rhetoric, you just saw from Sarah Huckabee Sanders and we are seeing it also on the hill, Chris, from Republicans now talking about potentially getting at Mueller possibly Rosenstein.
MATTHEWS: I just heard in my ear. It is how it works through the ear here.
Michael Schmidt you have got a story running at "Des Moines Times" that the President tried to fire Mueller in December.
SCHMIDT: Yes. There was a story in December about a subpoena that had gone to Deutsche bank that said that -- that was the initial report said it was directed at the President and his business dealings. The President did not like there idea. And this is gets at this issue of the red line, the looking into his finances and seriously considered firing Mueller at that point. It didn`t get to that point because they were able to figure out the President`s lawyers that the story was wrong, there was some discussion with Mueller`s office (INAUDIBLE). But it just shows how when the President thought that Mueller had gone beyond that line, he was willing to do this or certainly willing to seriously consider it. Now, you have to understand though, the President has talked a lot in the past year about firing Mueller. And sometimes his aides have ignored him, sometimes they have slow walked him. In the case of --.
MATTHEWS: Who does he fire first?
Let me go to Chuck on that. How can he do this? Does he have to get rid of Sessions and put in a recess appointment? Does he have to get someone else in the agency? This passed must over the Senate?
ROSENBERG: Here`s how I think it would work, Chris. The President as head of the executive branch has enormous powers. One of his powers arguably would be to repeal the special counsel regulations. Once they are repealed, he could either fire Mueller or order someone to fire Mueller. It`s not entirely clear what the path is.
MATTHEWS: How does he repeal it?
ROSENBERG: It`s not a statute, it`s a regulation. And as the head of the executive branch, he has authority to repeal or promulgate regulations. That`s the argument. Can he do it? I think the answer is yes.
BUTLER: And you know, Chris --.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
BUTLER: People say it would be a constitutional crisis if he does that. It wouldn`t be a constitutional crisis because the remedy is clearly spelled out. Impeachment. It would be a political crisis, however, because it would be up to the Republicans who control the House to act. And if I`m advising Trump as his lawyer, I might say call their bluff.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you, Paul, that you are on here. Let`s talk this in terms of the smart move for Trump. Let`s assume you are his lawyer right now. It looks to me like this iceberg coming at his titanic is going to get him eventually because it just keeps looking and looking and looking for ways in which he may have broken the law. It is like that. And maybe it`s all legitimate within the prosecutorial discretion that within the mandate after the special counsel to find anyplace that later on can turn up as a criminal violation of this President.
The odds are having come out of New York real estate and being Donald Trump they will find something. If you`re Trump, what do you do knowing that?
BUTLER: I mean, you have your lawyer. First of all, you get a lawyer you. Get a good criminal defense lawyer and you have him make the case to Mueller that this investigation centers around collusion. And unless Mueller comes up with evidence that Trump himself conspired to steal the election, then anything else is he off the table or some kind of clear allegations of obstruction of justice. Or frankly, I don`t even think we would see obstruction charges without really clear evidence of collusion against account President. That`s the President`s best case to make that he wasn`t involved with the Russians directly in trying to steal the election. Again, if Mueller has evidence of that, then all bets are off for the President.
MATTHEWS: Chuck, I still agree with Paul on that. I think to win this case for the American people, that means the center, not the hard right but the center and the left which you already have much of the left on impeachment. To win the case you have to show he involved himself with the Russians because that is the heart of this case. You can`t just find we couldn`t find anything on collusion but we found this other stuff. I don`t think that will pass muster. Politically, what`s your belief?
ROSENBERG: Right. So I think you are right politically. But moreover, I`m going to defer to you politically, Chris, because I don`t know politics the way you do. Legally that`s not the case. Legally if they -- first of all.
MATTHEWS: I asked the political question because the House representatives needs 218 to impeach.
MATTHEWS: You need 67 senators or 68 to convict and remove from office. That`s a high -- we are talking about a high barrier.
ROSENBERG: That`s a very high barrier. That is the only resolution would be impeachment meaning if we decide you can`t charge a sitting President and I think by the way that`s probably true, then politically you are absolutely right. If you can charge a sitting President, then in my mind the question is a legal one and not a political one.
MATTHEWS: Heidi? Where are we at?
PRZYBYLA: The timing is interesting is really --.
MATTHEWS: What does Mueller need to win to put it lightly here, put it bluntly, what does he need to win in history that this whole thing was purposeful?
PRZYBYLA: Look at his history in the prosecuting previous cases like Enron. There were waves of charges. And the first wave of charges in the Enron case were obstruction of justice. I think all along, we have all said that that is the low hanging fruit especially when he`s bringing in people like Hope Hicks who were on that plane drafting inaccurate statements, that is the easiest, the collusion that could go on for many, many more months and maybe years.
MATTHEWS: Do you think Michael, we are getting near at end of the segment. Are you thinking the fact that Trump was thinking of firing him in December, that is in your reporting for tomorrow morning, do you think that possibly Mueller is somewhat gaming this, and I don`t mean it negatively, pushing Trump because he thinks he is a bad customer, pushing him as hard as he can thinking he might spring loose and fire him and therefore, make the case for obstruction big-time.
SCHMIDT: No, I don`t think so. I don`t think he needs to. The President seems to inflict himself in different ways without the help of others. If you look at all of these questions, why was Mueller appointed, what is Mueller looking at, much of it including the President`s own political problems outside of Mueller come back to things he did himself. And were not existential things that came at him.
MATTHEWS: Can`t put it better then.
Michael Schmidt, Heidi Przybyla, Chuck Rosenberg and Paul Butler.
Coming up today, the White House press secretary said they believe at the White House the President has the power to fire Robert Mueller who is prosecuting him. And what happens if Trump does it? What do Republican dozen then? They say Mueller`s not in danger but Trump is clearly thinking about firing him. We got that reporting, thought about doing it in December and even close allies are warning him the President not to do it. But who is going to stop Trump now? John Kelly? Give me a break.
Plus the raid on Trump`s attorney`s office comes as the President is considering a military strike on Syria. That strike could come as early as tonight. And as Trump decides what to do in Syria, he is dealing with more staff exits and investigation hanging right over his head now.
And the raid yesterday on Michael Cohen is just the latest example of the smell of scandal surrounding Trump and his administration and it starts at the top.
Finally let me finish tonight with Trump watch.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: In light of that FBI raid on Trump`s lawyer`s office, Sarah Huckabee Sanders today was asked a very pointed question about the future of the Trump presidency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Next question.
With all of this turmoil, particularly this last week, has the president at any time thought about stepping down before or now?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, and I think that`s an absolutely ridiculous question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That was April Ryan with a great question.
We will be right back with more on the news we`re learning tonight, that Trump sought to fire Robert Mueller in December.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Trump openly musing about whether he should fire special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating him.
Trump`s refusal to rule out the possibility has some inside the White House worried that he could take drastic action. And his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said Trump believes he has the power to fire the guy.
And just minutes ago, "The New York Times" reported that Trump sought to fire Mueller as recently as December, after Mueller subpoenaed documents from Deutsche Bank. Remember that?
Former New Jersey governor and one-time Trump transition chief, Chris Christie, said the president is aware of the consequences.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: I think the president is really angry about this and expressed that yesterday. I think he does understand it. But I think there`s lots of people who are concerned that, you know, his reaction to this may overcome what he`s been told.
QUESTION: And if he pulls the trigger?
CHRISTIE: Well, it`s a big problem. It`s a big problem. And I have told him that. You can`t fire the special counsel. You just can`t.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: "You just can`t."
But some of the president`s Republican allies on Capitol Hill warned of the political perils of such an action.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: I have confidence in Mueller. The president ought to have confidence in Mueller. And I think, to answer your question, it would be suicide for the president to want to talk about firing Mueller.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I`m not concerned that he will fire Mueller. I don`t think he will fire Rosenstein. I can`t think of any reason to do it. I`m confident that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency. And he`s not going do that.
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I think the president is too smart to fire Mr. Mueller. If he did, it wouldn`t end the investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Charlie Dent.
Mr. Dent, thank you for this.
What is the feeling among members of the House you talk to on your side of the aisle, the Republican side, about Trump`s situation? He knows what he`s done wrong. He may not know how illegal some of the things he did were wrong, but he knows much more than Lindsey Graham or Charlie Grassley or anything -- Chuck Grassley knows. He knows what he has done.
He knows what he faces from Mueller. So I don`t really care what anybody else says, except, what will they do if he fires Mueller?
REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, I will tell you what. At least the Republican colleagues I have been speaking with think it would be a devastating mistake for the president to fire Director Mueller under any circumstances.
I think most of us recognize this would it be the equivalent of a Saturday Nation Massacre, an Archibald Cox moment, if you will. It would be politically paralyzing, even more so than we already are, debilitating.
And I just don`t know how he would be able to function, because that would consume everything, the firing of Mueller. So, I think he has to trust Director Mueller and let him do his work. He`s a man of honor and integrity.
And if you`re -- as Trey Gowdy had said, if you believe you have done nothing wrong, act like it.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe Trump believes he`s done nothing wrong in his business affairs?
DENT: Oh, I have no idea what the president believes. I really don`t.
All I can say is that it seems to me that this issue is even more serious now than it was two days ago. I can`t imagine that DOJ and the FBI would on a whim enter into the office and the home of the personal attorney of the president of the United States.
MATTHEWS: Well, you`re saying two different things.
Let me ask you this. Explain why Trump will never let anybody see his tax returns, why he keeps coming up with this fib of his, lie, that he`s being audited. He took a lot of heat in `16 in the election, and he would never let anybody see his tax returns.
MATTHEWS: And now it seems to me that you`re saying you trust him, you don`t think he`s done anything wrong, has nothing to hide.
DENT: No, no, I didn`t say that. I said that -- no, Chris, I said he should trust Mueller to do the investigation. I didn`t say -- that`s what I said.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but Mueller`s coming at him. He`s got something to hide. And Mueller is going to find it. And then he`s dead. Right?
DENT: Well, look, if you`re asking me, should the president release his tax returns, of course. I think he should. He should be much more transparent than he has been.
And we`re going to end up -- I`m sure that Director Mueller is going to find out what he needs to know. So, I can`t understand why the president had has been reluctant to release it.
DENT: I suspect he is concerned about financial entanglements. And I`m sure it will be politically embarrassing. That`s why he`s not releasing the tax returns.
MATTHEWS: There`s things we know, Congressman. We know that his lawyer Michael Cohen paid $130,000 to Stormy Daniels to keep quiet.
We know that -- now we know there was money paid to the owners of "The National Enquirer" to buy and kill the story of Karen McDougal.
I`m not God, talking about the morality of this. I`m just talking the legality. There are questions about whether these constitute implicit campaign contributions by those involved, particularly Mr. Cohen, to the campaign of Donald Trump, and therefore should have been filed under the FEC laws.
DENT: That`s a fair question. We`re back to the John Edwards matter.
And I will tell you, I can`t understand. I think Mr. Cohen has a real problem here. If the president is to be believed, he seemed to indicate that he had no awareness of Michael Cohen entering into this agreement with Ms. Daniels.
DENT: Which strikes me as very unusual.
How can you enter into an agreement on behalf of your client if your client is not aware of it? And is the agreement binding? I think this is a huge problem, particularly for Mr. Cohen in that matter, but also obviously for the president.
MATTHEWS: There`s also the pattern here, what they call the M.O. in criminal justice. The president`s tendency is to use his enormous wealth to cover up problems. And it`s certainly logical. Of course, if he had a problem that he didn`t want anybody to know about a week before the election in 2016 involving Ms. Daniels, he would pay her some amount of money.
He didn`t want everybody to know about Karen McDougal, so he paid "The National Enquirer" -- people at "The National Enquirer" -- buy the story and kill it.
If that`s his practice, it seems to me you want to know a lot of stuff in those papers of Michael Cohen. What else is in his documents, what else is in his fuel drawers, is in his phone, in his house, in his hotel room, in his office?
All that stuff is now in the hands of the special -- of the U.S. prosecutors in New York. Isn`t that something for him to be afraid of?
Look, all those questions you just asked, well, that`s exactly what it appears that DOJ and the FBI are trying to get answers to right now. They`re going in there. They`re going to be asking those questions about who paid the $130,000, was there a reimbursement, you know, what did the president know, when did he know it?
You know this is all what they`re after.
Well, why doesn`t Trump fire Mueller, if he can, put in there somebody who has passed muster with the U.S. Senate, who promises to narrow the scope of this investigation to Russian collusion, period? Why doesn`t he do that?
DENT: Well, again...
MATTHEWS: I`m being devil`s advocate. But I don`t know why he doesn`t figure out a way out of this thing.
He`s smart, isn`t he? Isn`t the president smart?
DENT: Well, look, politically, I just can`t see any good coming of firing Director Mueller, even if he says, I`m going to replace him with somebody who will be better.
I -- look, this investigation -- as one of your previous guests stated, this investigation is going to go on with or without Mueller. Firing Mueller would be, I think, a politically catastrophic error for the president.
I don`t know if it`s a legally catastrophic one. But, politically, it would be devastating. And I think, at a point like, this is where our leaders in the House and the Senate have to have that kind of a conversation with the president about not doing anything that would be so detrimental to the country.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the speaker of the House should tell the president that, don`t fire Mueller?
DENT: Well, that`s what they get paid the big bucks for. Somebody is going to have to deliver that message sooner or later.
Somebody is going to have to man up and do it, because just -- if we -- because we have legislation waiting here, too -- it`s the Tillis-Coons bill -- that would essentially protect the special prosecutor. We can...
MATTHEWS: Have you told Paul Ryan to tell the president that?
DENT: No, but I think I`m getting ready to, if I`m to believe what I`m hearing. It seems...
MATTHEWS: You could do it now.
MATTHEWS: Charlie, you can do it right now. Tell the speaker to tell the president, don`t fire Mueller.
DENT: I may have a conversation with him this week about that.
MATTHEWS: Well, report back if you do.
Thank you, U.S. Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania.
Up next: The FBI raid on Trump`s lawyer`s office comes as the president is grappling with an international crisis, of course. What is Trump`s mind- set as he debates a possible military strike soon on Syria?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Here we are talking about Syria. We`re talking about a lot of serious things with the greatest fighting force ever. And I have this witch-hunt constantly going on for over 12 months now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Surrounded by his generals and national security staff, that was quite a scene last night. The president complained to them that the Mueller investigation continued to hang over his head. It was a striking scene, as I said.
Look at that table with all those people, all those high-ranking field rank, generals and admirals.
As the president fumed about his personal legal troubles, he faced one of his most significant foreign policy decisions to date, how to respond to a purported chemical attack by the Syrian regime.
Bashar al-Assad`s government denied involvement. Well, last night, Trump seemed to indicate military action was imminent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And we`re taking 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. We can`t let atrocities like we all witnessed -- and you can see that and it`s horrible -- we can`t let that happen.
QUESTION: What are your options?
QUESTION: Thank you.
TRUMP: We have a lot of options militarily. And we will be letting you know pretty soon.
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MATTHEWS: Well, today, the president`s spokesperson said he was canceling a trip to Latin America this week.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: "The president will remain in the United States to oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world."
For more, I`m joined right now by Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for Axios, and rMD-BO_Mieke Eoyang, vice president for the National Security Program at the think tank Third Way.
Well, here`s the tricky question. Is this a wag the dog situation? Is he likely to be more militant, more hawkish to shift the headlines? I noticed the headlines today are about two-thirds Syria, despite the incredible news story yesterday that the FBI has broken in -- or entered the offices of his attorney.
And yet it is the main story. The main story in the major papers right now is right now not Syria. It`s going into the offices of Michael Cohen to look for stuff on Trump. Is he going to try to rejigger those headlines? You know the guy.
JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: If Trump was strategically trying to distract from that, I don`t know that he would have opened up that session yesterday and talked about the Mueller thing and the Cohen thing and made it the blanket news coverage for that evening.
I also think the other data point is, look, Trump is very contradictory on Syria. He has very contradictory impulses. He`s wanted to withdraw for months. He`s been telling them, we need to get out. We`re wasting our time.
MATTHEWS: No stupid wars.
SWAN: Stupid wars. Wasting our money. Wasting our lives.
But every time he sees the images, it has a different effect on him, these images of these children. And this is what happened last year with the strike. And I don`t remember there being something wag-the-doggish at this moment.
MATTHEWS: rMD-BO_Mieke, what do you see as the connection between the two? We know this president is impulsive. We acts impulsive. He looks impulsive. He talks it. He talks like this is really bugging him, hanging on me at the time I should be talking to you guys to the brass. I should be talking to the generals and admirals. Instead, I`m talking to lawyers.
Something`s got to give here.
MIEKE EOYANG, FORMER STAFF DIRECTOR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Right.
So, I think that Jonathan is right. He is very contradictory in this, right? He wants to get out of Syria. But, at the same time, he wants to lash out. And now he`s got this new national security adviser, John Bolton, who is very hawkish and who has never met a military intervention that he doesn`t like, who is going to be whispering in his ear, encouraging him to go.
MATTHEWS: He`s more likely to go against Syria than he is to go against Mueller.
EOYANG: But at the same time...
MATTHEWS: Will you answer that question?
MATTHEWS: Which is he more likely to strike, East or West?
EOYANG: I think that that`s a real question.
I think he feels Mueller is the really -- the bigger threat to him. So, if he`s going to do something, he would try and shut down the investigation.
MATTHEWS: You made the point. If he`s still fight -- he can fight Syria, but he has still got Mueller coming at him.
EOYANG: Right. And fighting Syria is going to piss off Putin.
SWAN: Two-front war.
EOYANG: Right. That brings him into direct conflict with the Russians, because they`re the ones backing Assad, who is the one who may have set off these chemical weapons.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think it`s awful, because I think there`s a suspicion. I think Lawrence O`Donnell talked about it last night of wag the dog.
We know what wag the dog means. It means shift attention overseas to cover up a domestic personal embarrassment or scandal. It`s been done.
SWAN: It`s absurd, because he`s putting attention on the Mueller stuff, like, explicitly. I just don`t understand that argument.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about how he does business. Tell me. You`re the expert.
SWAN: I`m not the expert.
MATTHEWS: You`re chuckling here. You are the expert.
MATTHEWS: How does Trump deal with -- can he compartmentalize the way Bill Clinton could?
SWAN: No. He`s got no capacity to do that.
And this has been preoccupying him. I spoke to people last night. They said they were very worried. They hadn`t seen him this angry in the whole time they have been working for him.
This -- every time Mueller crosses a line that it tends to encroach on his business affairs, it does escalate...
MATTHEWS: Because he was a New York businessman. How can he defend all that?
By the way, when he puts his head on the pillow tonight and last night, what was dreaming -- what was he worrying about? Was he worrying about Mueller or worried about Bashar al Assad?
SWAN: You will need better sources than me. You will need better sources than me. That`s pillow talk, I wasn`t there.
MATTHEWS: This is "Axios". You guys are specialists.
SWAN: I have no idea what was in his head before he hit the pillow, he was incredibly agitated, making phone calls and talking about this guy crossing the lines.
MATTHEWS: OK. Up your game, I want to hear about pillow talk.
Thank you, Jonathan Swan -- just kidding -- and Mika Eoyang. Thank your for expertise.
Up next, more on tonight`s late breaking news that Trump sought to fire special counsel Robert Mueller in December. He reportedly told aides that the investigation had to be shut down. That`s what he said. Well, what`s he going to do now?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
As we said earlier in the show, "The New York Times" is reporting tonight and tomorrow morning that Donald Trump wanted to fire Mueller in December in an effort to shut down the Russia probe.
This is the second reported instance of the president trying to fire Mueller following an attempt in June of last year.
According to "The New York Times," the president furious over news reports about a new round of subpoenas from the office of the special counsel told advises are in no uncertain terms that Mr. Mueller`s investigation had to be shut down. And that report comes the same day that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Trump has the power and right to fire Mueller.
For more, I`m joined by Anita Kumar, White House correspondent with McClatchy newspapers, Cornell Belcher, Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst, and Michael Steele, former RNC chair, also an MSNBC political analyst.
Anita, right down the road here, this is a roundtable. I don`t know what`s going to happen, because I don`t see it through. I have watched a lot of crime shows whether it`s -- whatever it is, where the criminal knows everything that he or she did. They know it all.
Trump knows pretty much all that he`s done. He doesn`t know what`s necessarily illegal, how bad it is. But he`s done a lot of stuff. Here`s a guy looking for everything who is not stopping at anything. There`s no red lines for Mueller.
What do you do? It seems like a Shakespearean conundrum, to take up arms against a sea of troubles and opposing to end them. I mean, this is Hamlet stuff. Is he going to fight for his life or not?
ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: Well, I mean, this is the second incident we`ve heard, right, where he`s talking about this. And so, you know, it appears if the "New York Times" quoted eight people saying he was looking at this. So, it does appear serious.
Remember, this is the guy who said, this is the president who said the red line for him was his businesses.
KUMAR: And so, this incident has to deal with his businesses when Mueller went after subpoenas on his business. And so, he always said, look, how close he`s kept his businesses, right? He still owns them. He didn`t want to --
MATTHEWS: He won`t let us see his tax returns.
KUMAR: He won`t let us see his tax returns. He won`t part with his businesses. He`s still profiting from his businesses.
MATTHEWS: Cornell, one of his businesses, and I don`t mean this too derisively, but it`s true, is Stormy Daniels. They got a $130,000 business deal because she isn`t supposed to talk. He`s got another one apparently indirectly with Karen McDougal which is the "National Enquirer" should pay for her story but never print it. This is all part of the reporting as to why they went into Michael Cohen`s office to get that stuff.
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right, he is clearly hiding something, right? You don`t go to all this trouble trying to hide something. You clearly have Republicans going out on a limb, like Dent who said it`s catastrophic. You know, Graham who talked about it`s being the beginning of the end for him.
Clearly, Republicans are trying to send the signal here.
MATTHEWS: They don`t know what he`s done. It`s easy for them to say come clean, Mr. President.
BELCHER: Well, no, but clearly something`s going on he doesn`t want the special prosecutor to get to. So, I think he actually is going to sooner or later fire him. He`s going to call Speaker Ryan and Mitch McConnell`s bluff on this because he clearly does not want this to come out.
MATTHEWS: Michael, what would you do if you were Trump? You got all the problems he had, would you fire this guy Mueller, or would you take -- just let the course of history proceed and kick out of office at some point?
BELCHER: He wouldn`t be in that trouble.
MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: A, he wouldn`t be in that trouble. B, if I knew that there was an inkling of connecting dots that I don`t want connected, I`d do exactly what the president is doing. I`d go out and I`d make the case, I`d lay down the predicate for firing ultimately firing.
Now, the thing about this, he doesn`t have to fire directly. He can fire indirectly. This is a bank shot through Rosenstein, through the attorney general. He will find that the perfect way to do this so that he can go back and say, I didn`t fire him. This guy fired him.
So, that`s the bank shot he`s looking for despite his --
MATTHEWS: What`s he waiting for, Michael?
STEELE: Well, he`s waiting for the right lineup I think to do that. I think also the problem he`s having, who does -- who replaces these individuals? Because the pressure and scrutiny on that person whether it`s a Rod Rosenstein figure or an attorney general figure, you know --
MATTHEWS: There`s the conundrum again, guys. He puts a man or woman, Republican, Democrat, independent, civil servant, he puts them in and the first thing on his mind, can I trust this person not to explore the possibilities that Mueller is going into, Anita.
MATTHEWS: Remember the conversation he had -- anyway, breaking news now, "The Associated Press" is reporting that President Trump still fuming after the raid on his attorney`s office has privately pondered firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and publicly mused about firing special counsel Robert Mueller. So, here we are --
KUMAR: Here we are. I guess it`s true.
MATTHEWS: As we`re talking, he`s thinking about doing something.
KUMAR: Right. But I agree, he is calling the Congress`s bluff, because, look, if Congress wanted to protect the special counsel, they could have already done so. They have the bill. They`re not doing anything with it.
If they wanted to go after the president in all sorts of ethical issues, the House Oversight Committee is looking into things, the committee chairman won`t subpoena records. So, they`re not serious about some of these investigations. So, why not?
MATTHEWS: Cornell, why doesn`t he make his move now that he`s got a Republican House that`s not going to impeach him?
BELCHER: Well --
MATTHEWS: And bring it all the way ahead, have a summary judgment and say basically to the special counsel, if have you got anything on collusion, if you don`t, you`re out of here.
BELCHER: Chris, I think there`s a reason why you see so many House Democrats and Senate Republicans and House Republicans saying this is catastrophic. This is catastrophic politically, right, not legally, but midterms, right?
And you have 55 percent majority of Republicans even saying, you shouldn`t fire and you have college educated white women in the suburbs breaking away from the president this way, it would be -- it would be not a blue wave, it would be a typhoon he fires him.
MATTHEWS: Why does he keep say disgrace, disgrace, disgrace, that was his key. It was like a Woody Allen movie. He had one word and he keeps saying it over and over, disgrace. He`s priming the pump now for a firing.
STEELE: Of course. That`s what he`s been doing probably since that December, you know, backing him off the ledge of firing Rosenstein or the special counsel at that time. He has been using these words and these phrases that indicate A, his frustration, and B, his intent.
And I think that right now, he is at -- particularly having cleared out a lot of folks inside the West Wing, where he`s kind of on his own now and doing --
MATTHEWS: Sure is.
STEELE: Doing it the way he wants to do it, he doesn`t see anyone who can stop him. And to your point about the Republicans, this is their "come to Jesus" moment, because if I`m in the leadership, I`m going to put that bill on the floor and get it passed because if they don`t, then it`s going to be hard as hell for them not to stand with this president and then go into an election this November and say to the American people --
MATTHEWS: OK. Mr. Republican, I`m going to stick you with this. We`ve had these come to Jesus moments before. I remember that -- Billy Bush got fired. This president sailed right through and the Republican arty was totally with him.
So, when is this coming to Jesus coming.
STEELE: No, no, I agree. They`re going to be with him. But will the voters take that?
MATTHEWS: OK. The roundtable is sticking with us. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: A program note, this Sunday, I`m going to host a special documentary on former FBI Director James Comey. What a time to hit with this. "HEADLINERS: JAMES COMEY" airs this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on MSNBC. Got to watch it. This guy`s in the news and he`s got a book coming.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We are back with the roundtable.
Anita, tell me something I don`t know.
KUMAR: Sure. We hear so often that the Trump base still with him. We found some cracks in the base. We talked to -- at McClatchy, we talked to over two dozen people across the country from all kinds of states where they`re saying they`re upset these diehard Trump supporters that were with him from day one aren`t getting any of these jobs in the states. Federal jobs in the states.
MATTHEWS: The soybean problem.
KUMAR: It`s the opposite of drain the swamp or something.
MATTHEWS: Great. Thank you, Anita Kumar. Dance with the one who brung you.
Cornell Belcher and Michael Steele.
When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. It`s a wild one. We`ll be back.
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Tuesday, April 10th, 2018.
In East Africa, they call them the WaBenzi. They`re the big shot government officials who drive around in their Mercedes-Benzes.
Here in Washington, they`re called the Trump people -- they fly first class, they find great housing at ridiculously low cost and some demand motorcade escorts guarded by security.
Weren`t these the characters who were going to drain the swamp? The late Yasser Arafat had a deal where to get an interview with him, you had to reserve a whole floor of hotel rooms so a relative of his, got a chunk every time some Western news organization hit Ramallah.
Well, today, we have international leaders all coming to Washington and staying at Trump`s hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. What better way to upgrade your goodwill with the U.S. president than letting him know where you`re staying.
And who is that Trump Organization big shot who just wrote the president of Panama demanding better service from that government?
The Trump people are like that. They take big jobs in government. But instead of acting like government servants, they spend government money jazzing up their offices, taking trips to Morocco by way of Paris, or was that to Paris by way of Morocco?
Didn`t Trump run against these deep state boys who think they own this country? How do we end up with the American version of those East African guys riding around in their Benzes?
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
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