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Trump attorney under criminal investigation. 04/13/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Valerie Plame, Jonathan Lemire, Caitlin Huey-Burns, Shelby Holliday, Joaquin Castro, Jim Himes

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 13, 2018 Guest: Valerie Plame, Jonathan Lemire, Caitlin Huey-Burns, Shelby Holliday, Joaquin Castro, Jim Himes

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Who do we pardon next? Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.

It feels like we are finally at a tipping point. The walls are closing in on President Trump. His personal lawyer is under criminal investigation. He is considering firing deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein who he blames for the mess he is in. And James Comey new book landed like a bomb on the doorstep of the White House last night.

Undeterred by the risk of obstructing the special counsel probe, he appears ready to protect those who are willing to remain loyal to him as opposed to the rule of law. In a surprise move, he issued a pardon to the former top aide to vice President Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby who is convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in 2007.

Speaking before the pardon this morning, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway insisted that the move was not intended to send a message. However, she did draw a clear parallel to Robert Mueller suggesting Libby was the victim of an overzealous special counsel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Critics would suggest that this is sending a message that it is OK to lie under oath and to obstruct justice. Is the President sending that message by pardoning Scooter Libby?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: The President is not sending that message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What message is he sending I guess?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is he pardoning Scooter Libby?

CONWAY: Well, I can`t confirm that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The President maintains he was right.

CONWAY: But you know, many people think that Scooter Libby was the victim of a special counsel gone amok.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Right. Around the same time we learn that the President`s personal lawyer Michael Cohen is under criminal investigation, criminal investigation for federal crimes that he may have committed in his personal dealings. Well, the news has revealed - was revealed during a hearing held Friday over Cohen`s efforts to prevent the government from using materials seized in Monday`s raid on his office, hotel room and apartment and everything else. By the way, we are going to get to that.

And late today, "The New York Times" also reported that President Trump called Cohen to check in on his longtime aide so they chatted today. The Times reports the two are trying to figure out what was seized. The paper further reports Mr. Trump`s advisers have concluded that the Cohen investigation is quote "a greater and more imminent threat to the President than even the special counsel`s investigation." Wow.

It adds that the President`s increasingly isolated and mounting a response and that some of his own aides were reluctant to advise him about a response for fear of being dragged into a criminal investigation themselves.

For more, I`m on the phone with "the New York Times" reporter Michael Schmidt who broke the story. Also with us tonight is Ashley Parker, White House reporter for "the Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor. Philip Bump, political reporter also with the "Washington Post" and Jennifer Rodgers, former assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York. That`s a good place to be from tonight to know what you are talking about.

Let me go to Michael Schmidt. What are you able to report tonight about the President`s sort of psychological condition right now? Is he able to take this hammering in the threat of who knows what in that wild bag of stuff that the U.S. attorneys now have gotten their hands from Mr. Cohen`s office?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES (on the phone): Thanks for having me, Chris.

The largest issue to understand here is that for the President and his advisers, they see the New York investigation has far more problematic. They understand the contours of the special counsel`s investigation. They think there`s no there there. They have understood what Mueller is looking at, the issues related to Russia and obstruction. I think they are fine.

They are far more concerned about a New York issue. What is it that was taken from Cohen`s office? What is it that the authorities have now? Why is it they went with such aggressive move to execute a search warrant, such extraordinary thing to do to the President`s lawyer? That is what they are fixated on.

To understand where the President is to understand he has a small legal team that`s down to just Jay Sekulow. His lawyer that some of them (INAUDIBLE) John Dowd recently quit. They are trying to rebuild the team as they figure out what`s going on.

MATTHEWS: Well, what we know, I think we know about Michael Cohen`s role with Donald Trump is he goes to Mr. Cohen for secret things involving him personally, embarrassing relationships he has had. People he wants to quiet, to shut up, to put it bluntly. And he will use whatever means he can to accomplish that goal. What legal vulnerability does that place the President in? Because -- is it because he is afraid Michael Cohen might it be facing serious charges and therefore, will flip?

SCHMIDT: Well, that`s what we don`t know and that`s what the President`s lawyers don`t know. What it is they have about the Presidential relationship with Cohen, what does it show? What is it that Cohen was helping the President do? Was it campaign finance issues where Cohen was helping get money to women to silence them before the election? Is that something that ties back to the President? Is it things about business matters? Is it stuff about Cohen`s issues with medallion taxi authority that he had in New York City?

That`s the thing the President doesn`t understand. Why is it that the deputy attorney general overseeing this investigation felt that what was in Michael Cohen`s office was so important that they could go to a federal judge and get special authority to essentially break down the door.

MATTHEWS: Can you report on a connection between what you just told us, the fear that the President shares now with Michael Cohen because of the criminal perhaps legal vulnerability of Cohen in addition to his own which used to get him flipping against the President on anything, anything that might be helpful to the prosecution in Washington, and this surprise pardon of Scooter Libby? I`m sure there`s other motives for pardoning him today but the timing of this looks like he is signaling to Michael Cohen particularly look, relax, I can pardon you. I can let you keep your law license. You will not face any criminal charges, you will not be a felon because I have the power of the pardon.

SCHMIDT: Well, what we don`t know is what is it that the President talked to Cohen about today? If you talk to legal experts any defense lawyer they say witnesses, subjects in an investigation should not talk to each other. The government does not like that. It looks like they are coordinating, getting their stories together. So why is it that the President goes to such an extreme thing to call Michael Cohen today to do that?

The President knows it`s something he should not do. He got into trouble for this about trying to talk to Don McGahn about what Don McGahn talked to the special counsel about. And once again, he feels that it was OK to go ahead with that.

MATTHEWS: Michael hold on. I got to go to Jennifer Rodgers. She worked in the southern district of New York, U.S. prosecutors there.

What do you think it`s all about? What`s it look like?

JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, you know, it`s unclear what they are finding in the documents that they seized when they hopefully will look at them again on Monday.

MATTHEWS: But we know of the documents. There`s the Karen McDougal case. There is the Stormy Daniels case.

RODGERS: Right.

MATTHEWS: There is the "National Enquirer" matter.

RODGERS: And we got a little bit more from the papers filed today about the temporary restraining order. Some of it was redacted. What was un- redacted where they mentioned financial crimes and other crimes related to Cohen`s businesses. They did not mention campaign finance crimes. Although, again, that part may have been blacked out. So it looks like they had a fairly targeted universe of things related to Michael Cohen and his businesses. They are going to review those things. It`s unclear, of course, whether or not Trump is related to any of those matters that they are looking into. But it looks like they will be charging Michael Cohen. And then, of course, if he cooperates that opens up a whole new potential.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, there was about something at lawyers. Your words like, wire fraud, bank fraud. It sounds federal, it is sounds scary, it sounds like big felonies.

RODGERS: They are. Wire fraud, mail fraud, these are all 20-year maximum counts for each one. You know, we never end up getting that but they do stack up to a lot of time. So these are very serious crimes. You are losing his law license is the least of it if he ends up charged of these crimes in federal court.

MATTHEWS: Ashley, what you have got today? This story seems to be at the point, we are talking about this almost a psychological condition of a President. And I have to tell you, I have wondered at his ability to handle it so far. But all this is buffeting up against him one time now with New York. Where does he worry when he goes to sleep tonight? What he is -- how does he prioritize things to worry about?

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: That`s a good question.

Our understanding is the President is incredibly frustrated and angry about a number of these issues, the raid on Michael Cohen on Monday caught him by surprise. And in many ways he hasn`t sort of explicitly said this, but there was a sense that was the red line that had been crossed. And people in the President`s orbit, and I have to be clear, there certainly are still some people cautioning him on a shake-up of the justice department, but you started hearing from a lot more people who start to agree with him and fed that more aggressive instinct of his to say, you know, this is a step too far. This is unacceptable. Imagine if this happened to Hillary Clinton with her lawyer. You really do need to do something.

And you know, of course the Comey book coming out is something that is also going to infuriate him. You saw that in his tweets. And that is something that is not going away. The book hasn`t even actually come out yet. There`s going to be a publicity tour this weekend and into next week. So on a lot of fronts, he sort of under assault, under siege, and with that all, he has had to compartmentalize and make, you know, a very important decision on Syria that will likely be hearing about later tonight or later this weekend.

MATTHEWS: Ashley, according to watching Huckabee Sanders today, his spokesman, I get the feeling he is most concerned about the fact that he can`t win the battle with PR this coming week. That this will be Comey` week.

PARKER: Well, I will say that the President`s tweets this morning sort of drove just as much news on Comey`s book as Comey`s own revelations. But that is largely true. This is someone who just sort of the mere fact of Comey`s continued existence continues to irritate the President. Comey seems well aware of that. It feels like there`s nuggets and anecdotes in that book specifically designed to needle the President. And they are just getting rolled out on television and in interviews in a very savvy way for sort of maximum impact to drive President Trump crazy.

MATTHEWS: Phil, what is he still trying to hide? You were at the hearing today. What are the lawyers for the President still trying to hide from the New York -- U.S. prosecutors?

PHILIP BUMP, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: So essentially, what they were trying to do today is two things. They were trying to make their case what should happen before of this evidence is reviewed is either they, Cohen`s attorney themselves get to clear which things are privilege under attorney/client privilege.

MATTHEWS: And I understand that`s only conversations between client and lawyer on how to defend him. In other words, legal discussions. Legal strategies.

BUMP: Yes, exactly. There are all sorts of boundaries to it.

MATTHEWS: It is not about how to hide the money or how to make the payments.

BUMP: That`s excluded, right. But then there was also this conversation today about who his clients actually are and one of the things the judge got frustrated with today is that Cohen`s attorneys were unable to say who his Cohen`s clients were. And even after they were given two different recesses to go back and figured this answer out, they were unable to do so. So they were commanded to give that information Monday morning at 10:00 a.m. and the judge (ph) who went so far to say that it needs to substantiate. They need to have some sort of evidence saying this person is a client of Cohen`s and here is the proof for it. And obviously, the rationale is the government can`t move forward with divvying up who is covered by attorney/client privilege or not until they know who the clients are. So all of this, as the prosecutor said, is just a new delay tactic, it seems.

MATTHEWS: And more, a fly - even Scooter Libby was indicted by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, remember that? He was appointed by then deputy attorney General James Comey who investigated the Bush administration`s role in leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame. Plame`s husband, Yosef Wilson, had questioned the administration`s rationale for declaring war in Iraq, of course. And special counsel Fitzgerald had concluded that Libby had lied about his role in leaking Plame`s identity to reporters.

I`m joined by Valerie Plame herself, the former CIA operative whose identity was leaked. She is also an author.

Valerie, I didn`t think we would be back together professionally, but it`s nice to see you. This is to me.

VALERIE PLAME, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Back again.

MATTHEWS: I know. It`s extraordinary. Scooter Libby was guilty as hell. He lied under oath. I remember the whole conversation coming out with Tim Russert and about me and all that stuff. And he was covering for Cheney. That`s how you pronounce his name. And now this President pardons him as some sort of exhibit to show he has the power of the pardon as far as I can figure. That`s what this is about. What is your sense of why you would pardon this guy after all these years?

PLAME: Yes, Chris, here we are again talking about Scooter Libby. Fact is though this is not about me, it`s definitely not about Scooter Libby. It is -- this was a matter settled in the past but it is very important to Donald Trump`s future. I think the that the he has got a very small audience that he is doing this for and that would include Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner and, of course, his lawyer that you were just talking about Cohen.

Exactly. That you can -- if you are convicted of crimes of a national security nature, don`t worry about it. Trump will take care of it. As we know, Trump values loyalty above all else. That`s what he asked for when he had his sit down dinner with Comey. And we are seeing this roll out. And it`s really -- it`s quite shameful.

MATTHEWS: I think the whole thing is shameful because you and I know that the history of the Iraq war was wrong. There were lies told especially by Cheney about nuclear weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein that were not true. So he knew they were not true. Scooter covered for him. Then they went after the whole trying to deny anybody that be tried to interfere with their whole plan.

And my question, why -- here`s a political question. Donald Trump ran against stupid wars. He ran against the neo-cons. He ran against the Scooter Libbys and the John Boltons, the whole crowd of them that got us into that war in Iraq because he said to the working people of this country, to hear that families that have given us these soldiers to go over and get maimed and killed. You were the ones who were given us the people to fight these wars. And the people out there, and the working people, and said no more stupid wars. And now as Trump comes back and he pardons one of the main people behind the war, one of the criminals behind this thing. To me it`s an awful statement to the people that voted for him. I will get to this but what do you think?

PLAME: Chris, I think you are absolutely right. But I don`t think in this moment, the public is generally interested in re-litigating the past. It`s about looking right now what Donald Trump is up to and exactly why. And I`ll tell you, I am looking at this not in a personal way, but in fact, looking, using what my career was with the CIA. I`m trying to analyze this. What is he hiding? What is he up to? Why is he doing this now? I think the timing, it is not-coincidence. And furthermore, doesn`t he have more important things to do like think about Syria, for instance?

MATTHEWS: I`m with you. I still remember though. I`m not going to forget how they talked us into this war with 4,000 Americans dead, 100,000 other people dead because of their thinking that they could justify this war of theirs.

Anyway, thank you, Valerie. Say hello to Joe. It is very nice of you to come on the show.

We have got breaking news. It keeps coming in. McClatchy is reporting right now that special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that Trump`s personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen secretly made a late summer trip to Prague during the 2016 Presidential campaign according to two sources familiar with the matter. Confirmation of the trip was confirm from part of the Steele dossier. That Cohen strategize in Prague with a powerful Kremlin figure about Russian meddling in the U.S. election and would be one of the most significant developments of the investigation thus far. McClatchy reporter Peter Stone broke that story in just now.

Peter, put it together in terms of this whole puzzle of Russian collusion.

PETER STONE, REPORTER, MCCLATCHY (on the phone): Well, the confirmation that Cohen was in Prague is pretty important because he has conveniently denied for months that he took a trip there in the summer of 2016, late summer as the Steele dossier alleged. We don`t have the timing precisely right. That`s not been confirmed yet but it does certainly undercut his, you know, his comments going back months. And it does bolster the chief -- a chief contention in the Steele dossier that there was a meeting, an important meeting with Russians there.

Now, we don`t know yet that the Russians he discussed in the dossier, (INAUDIBLE), who is a powerful legislator and an ally of Putin was at the meeting as the dossier alleged. We have not confirmed that part yet. There are other parts unconfirmed. But it does appear to be, you know, a significant breakthrough for the Mueller probe as they look at potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much.

Let me go to -- is Michael Schmidt still on? Michael, what`s your reaction to this?

Let me go to Jennifer on this, the legality of this question. You know, we were talking about this whole question of Scooter Libby and this pardon offer. What`s it say to the people who are out there keeping information away from the prosecutor right now who might want to flip now?

RODGERS: Well, it`s troubling obviously because they are trying to develop these witnesses and already have developed witnesses in Rick Gates and Michael Flynn. So if he were to pardon them, all of a sudden, you know, what`s going to happen with those witnesses? It seems to be clearly a message to them given the timing that they don`t need to worry about it. It`s questionable though whether it`s an obstruction in and of itself. I mean, he is clearly incidentally interfering with the investigation. Do you have to prove intent to show it was actually obstruction?

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Ashley on this thing.

Ashley, this question of the dossier looking more profoundly accurate now. The fact that elements in it now will, what did or didn`t happen in the hotel which has always grab attention, but the more question how that authoritative was this document that was presented to the government about the role that Trump played in Russian relations.

PARKER: Well, that`s the thing about the dossier which is when you put aside all the fair criticisms of it, that it was funded by, you know, its opposition research by political opponents of the President, that it does have this one very eye-popping and scandalous detail about the hotel room, that so far there seems to be no evidence to prove that to be true.

This McClatchy report, you know, this would not be the first detail from that dossier that would actually turn out to be true and to be borne out. So despite the dossier`s roots, despite the fact that not everything in there is true, a number of details have already been proven true. And this just seems to add yet another and add to that heft.

MATTHEWS: Well, doesn`t Mr. Cohen, the President`s fixer lawyer had to explain what else he might have been doing in Prague besides meeting with that Russian figure? I mean, it seems to me that this is a home run for the people of Prague. Let me go to Phil on this.

BUMP: Yes - no. I agree. I mean, this is -- there are a lot of allegations are in the dossier involving Carter Page (INAUDIBLE). This is Michael Cohen who is extremely close to President Trump. And this was a very concrete allegation that was made about Michael Cohen being in Prague.

MATTHEWS: But he denied it.

BUMP: He denied - yes.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me show you this.

BUMP: -- his passport.

MATTHEWS: Well, when the Steele dossier was first released in January of 2017, Michael Cohen, as you said, adamantly denied the allegation he was ever in Prague. (INAUDIBLE). In fact, he tweeted a photograph from his passport saying I have never been to Prague in my life, fake news.

But, as McClatchy reports tonight, "Investigators have traced evidence that Cohen entered through the Czech Republic through Germany, apparently during August or early September of 2016, as the ex-spy reported." He wouldn`t have needed a passport for such a trip, because both countries operate with open borders.

BUMP: Yes, I mean, this is -- this is -- this was also at the time that the dossier came out one of the several things that was used as an effort to undermine the dossier, to say, well, look at this. They said that he was in Prague. And that`s clearly not true, so, therefore, we can`t assume any of this is true.

Not only that, but the allegation that he was there meeting with a Russian -- obviously, that he was there in Prague, that substantiates part of the dossier is significant. If there is -- if Mueller has any hint that he was meeting with Russians there, that is -- it`s really hard at that point to view you this, the dossier completely, much less this particular aspect of it, as anything less than hugely significant to the investigation.

MATTHEWS: And Trump`s strategy, which anybody would follow, which is find the weakest point in the dossier and challenge it, the hotel room accusation, which sounds outrageous. So, you say, that didn`t happen, therefore, don`t believe the dossier.

BUMP: Right.

And it seemed to us, observing the Trump team, that they saw this as an easy thing to be able to rebut. And so they seized upon it. I`m blown away. I spent a lot of time reading the dossier. I spent -- hearing it on the show is the first time I heard about it.

This is a very significant development, if the is actually accurate.

MATTHEWS: Ashley, your last thought on this dossier development tonight.

PARKER: Well, I think the key thing is it also shows to you why -- there were questions, why did the feds, you know, break down Michael Cohen`s door? Why did they raid his home, his hotel room and his office?

And this just shows that he has been untruthful in the past. And they had reason to believe he will be untruthful again. And there`s probably a lot more to discover as they start to go through what they seized.

MATTHEWS: Peter Stone, I want you to finish up your reporting here.

Tell me what you think the impact of this information is, that he did go, not needing a passport, coming through Germany, that he actually did show up, meeting apparently with a Russian figure, as charged in the dossier?

STONE: Well, again, we don`t have the confirmation yet that he met with a Russian there, but it lends a lot of credence to the allegations in the dossier, the major fact that Cohen spent so much time and so much energy denying the whole idea of a Prague meeting, denying any collusion with Russians.

This is a -- seriously undercuts his credibility. And, you know, I think it strengthens the argument, strengthens the evidence for potential collusion, and that there will be a lot more focus on, you know, trying to confirm the other parts of in, that a top Russian legislator...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, a tradecraft question. How do you know he was there? How do you document it.?

STONE: How do we know he`s there?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STONE: We have sources who have tracked it, and we trust our sources.

MATTHEWS: Do you have any documentary proof? Or is it witness documentation, witness evidence?

STONE: We have sources who have told us that they have traced it, and it`s credible.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Peter Stone.

STONE: And that the special prosecutor has evidence of it.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Peter.

STONE: That`s it.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much, Peter Stone with McClatchy, with a breaking story tonight, that turns out Michael Cohen was busy over there in Prague on behalf Trump, perhaps, it looks like, but clearly contradicting what he claimed before he had denied ever being there on a mission with regard to meeting with the Russians during the 2016 campaign.

Now it`s been reported that he was in fact in Prague. That`s a big development tonight.

Thank you, Peter Stone, as I said, for that breaking stone from McClatchy.

And thank you, of course, to our other guests tonight, Ashley Parker, Philip Bump, both from "The Post," and Jennifer Rodgers, formerly with the U.S. attorney`s office in Southern New York.

Coming up: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller investigation, is telling friends he`s preparing to be fired. Do you believe it? And if Trump goes ahead and fires Rosenstein, Mueller could be next, of course.

But, tonight, Democrats say, if either one is fired, that`s grounds for impeachment. Some Democrats, and big ones, believe that. And that`s ahead.

Plus: Jim Comey is under attack by the president, of course, the White House and the Republican Party. Has Comey`s new tell-all book pushed Trump past the tipping point?

And the HARDBALL Roundtable tonight is here with three things about the Russia investigation you might not know already.

Finally, Let Me Finish tonight with Trump watch. Won`t like this one.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Coming up later in the show, the other big story of the day, the explosive new excerpts from former FBI Director James Comey`s new book.

And this Sunday, I will host a special documentary about Comey offering an in-depth look at the man who continue to loom over the Russian investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS (voice-over): A war of words senior dominating the headlines. On one side, a hotly anticipated tell-all book. On the other, a president`s tweetstorm.

As a prosecutor and director of the FBI, James Comey says he held himself to the highest standard of integrity, only to be attacked by a president and by both sides of the aisle. Now he is finally responding in his own words and on his own terms.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: "HEADLINERS: JAMES COMEY" airs this Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC. You don`t want to miss it.

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s get to that story that just broke, that special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that Trump`s personally attorney Michael Cohen secretly made a late summer trip to Prague during the 2016 campaign. That`s according to McClatchy news service and two sources familiar with the matter.

U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro is a Texas Democrat and a member of the House Intelligence Committee. He joins us by phone.

Congressman Castro, this is a case where there was alleged actions by Michael Cohen, the president`s fixer, lawyer, whatever you call him. He did this kind of stuff, secret stuff for the president. And one of the things alleged, that he had something to do with working with the hackers over in London, over in Europe, the Russians.

How do you put it together?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: This is -- I just got off a plane in San Antonio and I saw the news.

And if it`s true, if Bob Mueller has found this out and confirmed it, it is a big liability for Michael Cohen. He has denied all along and certainly did not tell the House Intelligence Committee that he traveled to Prague, completely denied any kind of incident like that.

So there is legal liability for him if this is true.

MATTHEWS: What do you see here in collusion terms, Russian collusion with the president?

CASTRO: Well, it seems like a key element like this, if he was dishonest about that, then really their story very much starts to fall apart.

And it means that there`s a lot more digging that needs to be done. Hopefully, Bob Mueller is doing it. But it also speaks to the fact that the House Intelligence Committee should not have shut down its investigation, and really needs to reopen it.

And, hopefully, the Senate can continue on this trail.

MATTHEWS: Do you any hope that when Nunes, the chairman of your committee, finds out that there was a meeting in Prague and perhaps involving the Russians and support -- financial support of their hacking, it could go all the way, with the dossier suggesting that, do you believe that that would mean Nunes would actually become chairman in fact, not just in theory, and actually would do something with this story?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Would he reopen -- would he actually -- do you have any hope? In percentage terms, between zero and 100 percent, what chance do you think Nunes will reopen the investigation of the Russian collusion based on now this evidence that there was such collusion?

CASTRO: I would put it at about 10 percent.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CASTRO: Unfortunately, Devin -- most rational, reasonable people would absolutely do that, but Devin, unfortunately, has not conducted his investigation or himself in that way.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I think he`s become a toady. That`s my words, not yours.

Thank you, Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Let`s bring in David Corn, our friend, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC political analyst.

David, paint the context of this now. McClatchy has got this story. They apparently got it from the U.S. prosecutor, from the special counsel, Mr. Mueller`s office. They do have some evidence now that there was in fact a contradiction from what Mr. Cohen had said, I was never in Prague during this time. Now they have evidence that he was.

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: If this proves to be true, it`s a stunning investment, Chris.

If you go back to the Christopher David Steele memos, which is where the whole Michael Cohen-Prague angle began, you know, the memos alleged that Cohen went to Prague and had connections with Russians in a way to coordinate Russian involvement in the campaign.

Now, I`m not saying these allegations are true. But they are very, very explosive, if someone that close to Trump had any connection with Russians and any involvement with the intervention.

Now, Michael Cohen has told me and has stated publicly that he was not in Prague, this is all a complete lie. So if it turns out he was in Prague, well, then the next step is, again, if this is true, well, then what was he doing there, and are his other denials as empty as the Prague one?

MATTHEWS: So the president`s on the phone today with Michael Cohen. And this story`s breaking tonight, this evening on this show right in this hour, that he was over there at a time he claimed he wasn`t there, and possibly was involved in doing what he`s alleged he did not do, get together with the Russians, a Russian over there.

What did the president talk on the phone with this guy about today? This is an amazing conversation between the president and a guy who has this state`s evidence to use against him if he decides to flip.

CORN: I mean, Chris, it seems like their phone call could have lasted three hours. They could be talking about Stormy Daniels, about recordings Michael Cohen has, about payments now we know that Mike Cohen made about other mistresses, not necessarily for Trump, but for Elliott Broidy, one of his fellow RNC fund-raisers.

I mean, there`s so much going on in the last week. And to think that Cohen is at the center of it...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why did he trust Michael Cohen? Why would he trust Michael Cohen, who, I don`t know his personality -- I assume it`s a nice guy to get along with.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN: No, no, no, no, no.

MATTHEWS: He`s not a nice guy?

CORN: He`s not a nice guy.

MATTHEWS: Well, why does he trust -- why is trusting him with all these dirty secrets?

CORN: Well, he`s a pit bull who said that he would take a bullet for Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: OK.

CORN: Which would indicate to me he might be willing to lie for him.

He`s basically the Roy Cohn, who used to be a tough New York mob lawyer, who used to be Donald Trump`s mentor when Trump was younger.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, how about if he is -- is he the -- I wouldn`t want to soil the name of Scooter Libby that bad, badly. But this is a message?

Since I have you on, is the pardoning -- and that`s a serious thing, the pardoning of Scooter Libby. After all these years, dragging this guy`s story back from the days of the war in Iraq, pardoning this guy, who kept a secret for Cheney, is this to reward -- say, here`s a reward for you, Michael Cohen, if you keep my secrets?

CORN: Well, Scooter Libby was convicted of lying to FBI agents and obstructing justice.

And so Donald Trump is sending a message here that that`s an offense that doesn`t bother him, and he did it, as you noted, to protect Vice President Dick Cheney.

MATTHEWS: I know that.

CORN: That`s why he lied.

And so the example of Scooter Libby is very, very relevant to what`s happening now. And it`s hard not to see it as a message being sent by Trump top everybody else, not just Michael Cohen, that obstructing justice in the name of protecting your boss is not such a bad thing.

MATTHEWS: So well done. Thank you, David Corn.

And your book is -- "Russian Roulette" is the name of your book about this whole thing.

Let`s bring in Congressman Jim Himes, also of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman Himes, what do you make of the fact that there is now a factual argument? This isn`t about theory or interpretation. The guy was either in Prague that time that -- people don`t go to Prague every weekend. He was in Prague at a time he said he wasn`t there. He was there, according to Mueller`s investigation.

What`s that tell you about the dossier and its credibility and what trouble that Trump is in, now that his fixer has been nailed?

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Yes, it`s a great question, Chris.

I will tell you, it raises two other questions, and then it makes a very obvious point. Question number one, what was said in Prague with Michael Cohen? Who did he meet with? What was said? What was the purpose of that trip?

Number two, which is even more interesting, is, why did he need to lie about it? Because, again, now, let`s -- let me be clear. Like everybody else, I`m just reading the story, and I don`t know the background.

But if in fact there is proof that he was in Prague, why did he need to lie to everybody, including committees of Congress, about the fact that he was there?

And then, Chris, here`s the interesting thing. You know, I have sat for six months now hearing the defenders of the president build their entire case around the idea that the Steele dossier, you know, what Carter Page calls the dodgy dossier, which the president negates as having any bearing on reality, their whole point has been to attack this dossier.

Well, if it turns out that, in fact, this individual was in Prague, that`s actually a verification of one of the key charges in the dossier. And I would point out further that really it`s the one thing that have held up and said, well, look, it`s not true because Michael Cohen said he wasn`t there and he showed his passport.

So, the whole case built around the idea that the FISA warrant, the investigation, by the way, which wasn`t true -- I was at the Department of Justice today -- is built on the fact that this dossier is inaccurate. That entire case falls apart.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Rod Rosenstein. There`s still talk that he might get bounced, fired this weekend.

If that`s the case, would you be for impeachment hearings?

HIMES: Well, Chris, I will tell you what.

I have been thinking a lot about this in the last 48 hours. And I would say. If Rosenstein is fired, with the intention -- and it all kind of comes together right now, right, the pardon of Scooter Libby, a guy that I`m pretty sure the president has never heard of until...

MATTHEWS: Yes. He`s a name. You`re right. He`s a name. He`s a neocon favorite, though. He`s a neocon pinup boy.

(CROSSTALK)

HIMES: Right.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

HIMES: But we know how Trump used to feel about the Iraq War, and nobody did much more than Scooter Libby did to promote that Iraq War.

MATTHEWS: That`s for sure.

HIMES: And now, all of a sudden, the guy gets pardoned?

I mean, this is a message, right? But...

MATTHEWS: Well, didn`t you see that coming when he hired Bolton?

My God, it`s the whole neocon crowd coming back, in total violation of the campaign that he ran on against stupid wars and these neocon wars like with Iraq. And then he brings -- they`re all coming back together like a conga line.

It`s unbelievable.

HIMES: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, I`m with you, Congressman. It`s an awful political betrayal of even the people who thought there was something to the Trump campaign.

HIMES: So, Chris, what`s important here...

(CROSSTALK)

HIMES: What`s important here, look, if he fires Rosenstein with the intention of ending this probe, that is, in my opinion -- and I`m not even a lawyer, but, in my opinion, that`s very clear obstruction of justice.

But what is absolutely priority number one, two, and three if that happens is reconstituting, through congressional action -- we`re going to having to call Chuck Grassley and, you know, the Republicans who have been tut- tutting and saying that ending this investigation is political suicide, it ends the president`s presidency.

This will be the moment when Congress needs to come together and say, hey, without prejudice, we are reconstituting this investigation, because, regardless, the American people need to know the truth. And the only way we`re going to know the truth is if that investigation...

MATTHEWS: Are you saying it`s going to take for that wall to fall, for Rosenstein to be fired, for these Republican leaders to actually get their act together to protect the special counsel?

HIMES: Well, you know, the bill that would protect the special counsel is moving through committee over on the Senate side.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HIMES: But I would tell you this. As one member of Congress, I would tell you, it is not in a veto-proof position right now.

And so, you know, this would be a moment of accounting for an awful lot of legislators. Are you going to -- even though your primary voters at home may not like you standing against the president, are you going to stand up for the rule of law in the United States, or are you going to let this president end an investigation?

MATTHEWS: Congressman, maybe it`s cruel to say, but I think the Republican leadership is more like Chairman Nunes than not.

Thank you so much, Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut.

We`re going to continue to follow the breaking story of McClatchy, that Robert Mueller has evidence that Trump`s lawyer Michael Cohen was in Prague during the 2016 election, apparently available to deal with the Russians.

Much more after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Following a series of bombshell developments in the special counsel`s probe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is now bracing for the worst apparently. Rosenstein who oversees the investigation of the president and is under fire by the president this week for personally approving the FBI`s raid on Michael Cohen`s office up in New York. That raid reportedly sent Trump into meltdown according to "The New York Times."

However, despite mounting indications that the president may soon fire him, NBC News is reporting that Rosenstein has struck a stoic and right just tone in private conversations he`s had this week about the fate of his job. In those conversations, he repeated the phrase "here I stand" in reference to Martin Luther`s famous quote. Here I stand, I can do no other.

One source who spoke to Rosenstein said he seem fully aware he may soon lose his job and was at peace with the possibility, confident he had done his job with integrity.

With the special counsel of expected to issue a portion of his findings on an accelerated time table, the firing of Rosenstein could bolster an obstruction case against the president. However, such a move could also stop the probe in its tracks.

Joining us now right is Katie Phang, MSNBC legal analyst, Nick Confessore, political reporter at "the New York Times" and an MSNBC political contributor, and Jason Johnson, politics editor for "The Root". He`s also an MSNBC political analyst.

So, all three of you, I`ve been using at metaphor the Titanic, that would be the Trump administration and Trump personally, this pretty ship with one smokestack that wasn`t real, by the way. Not even god could sink the ship heading off into the North Atlantic. And there`s iceberg waiting for it, a little bit of it showing above the surface of the water. Huge iceberg.

And what proves that metaphor is that every once in awhile we hear 13 Russians indicted. They know something about the Prague meeting. There seems to be so much power beneath the surface of this iceberg that it just keeps growing. The New York action this week, none of us thought about that last week. We didn`t know about -- everything keeps emerging.

What do you know, Katie Phang? You`re the lawyer and you`re -- this seems to be huge and now they`ve got the Prague thing that totally disabuses of the idea that somehow this dossier is not for real.

KATIE PHANG, TRIAL ATTORNEY: The iceberg has the marquee name of Bob Mueller on it, right? Robert Mueller.

What`s happening here is obstruction of justice requires corrupt intent. It`s not just I did what I could do if I was the president of the United States, is that I do it with the intent to make sure I wasn`t exposed and when you see something like Trump getting triggered the way that he did after that raid on Monday with Michael Cohen, you have to ask yourself, what is so essential about Michael Cohen.

And now we hear Cohen lied about being in Prague. So, Cohen is now a known proven liar. And we know evidence has been seized from Cohen`s office that could implicate the president.

Now, we hear that maybe Rod Rosenstein, here I stand, it`s like the guys willing to take a bullet just like Michael Cohen said he would. And so, if Rod Rosenstein is gone, how much more proof do you need the president of the United States is attempting to obstruct Mueller`s investigation? I think you have a huge building up case and it`s not going to be up for debate. It`s going to be uncontroverted evidence that President Trump had something going on with the Russians.

MATTHEWS: Now to the non-lawyers, we see this very simply. We see a bunch of people that could be flipped by Mueller, people that Trump does business with, seedy characters, a lot of people with criminal possibilities, vulnerabilities, exposures as they say in the legal world. All you have to do if you`re Mueller is go mining these guys, looking for what they did wrong to get them to flip and turn evidence against Trump.

And now, we have the possibility that he was dealing with the Russians over in Prague. If that happened, if, if, if, talk about bringing the whole collusion case back to the surface.

NICK CONFESSORE, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: OK, look, the good ship Trump was never meant to go up against a criminal investigation. It was meant to sail up and down the Hudson River and anchor off Palm Beach. This is a real estate developer who has worked in a somewhat shadowy business.

He kept Cohen around to kind of push people on contracts and figure out problems and be a fixer. It was never meant to be exposed to a criminal investigation and hardened federal prosecutors and investigators. And above all, it was never supposed to be the fact that somebody would come in and take all of Cohen`s -- his diaries, his passports, his documents.

MATTHEWS: His tablet, his safe.

CONFESSORE: It`s just a really big deal to have all that exposed, because it was never meant to go to them.

MATTHEWS: Jason, he kept this guy in New York and never brought him down to New York to get through a Senate confirmation hearings. He wants them for that. Somebody tells one of my favorite phone callers tells me he was a guy who wasn`t there for any other reason except to deal with the problematic stuff that Trump had to deal with, it could be women, whatever.

And he wasn`t supposed to get any publicity. He didn`t want to go to a big law firm and get publicity. This was the guy to keep the secrets. Now all the secrets are in the bin of the special prosecutor or the New York prosecutors.

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THE ROOT: Right. Here`s what makes it even more dangerous, Chris. Now, if it`s confirmed that he was actually doing dealings with Russia in Prague, that connects can possible criminal behavior on the part of Donald Trump the businessperson, with possible collusion behavior on the part of Donald Trump the president of the United States. That is the nexus that he never wanted to bring together.

You know, Cohen is basically his Doug Stamper from "House of Cards", right? He did all the dirty stuff.

MATTHEWS: Michael Kelly`s character, yes. Go ahead.

JOHNSON: And so, you know, now that this guy is exposed yes, will Cohen be loyal? Probably to a certain point. When you do this kind of work, you do keep tapes of everything, because you know at some point, it may just come down to you.

So, Trump is in a precarious position, in his past life, his current life as a public official and the real question is going to be, which is always come down to, Chris, when is Congress going to act to protect the agents engaged in this investigation because the president is going to try and shut this down very quickly.

MATTHEWS: We`ll see, the weekend`s on us.

Jason Johnson, Nick Confessore and Katie Phang.

Up next, the HARDBALL round table is coming around with a look at James Comey`s explosive new book.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL B

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

James Comey`s a new memoir paints a devastating portrait of President Trump in unsparing detail you must say. In an interview with "Good Morning, America," Comey spoke candidly about his most sensitive exchanges with the president, including the scene at Trump Tower when he and other officials briefed the Trump transition team on Russian election interference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: President-elect Trump`s first question was to confirm that it had no impact on election. And then the conversation to my surprise moved into a PR conversation, about how the Trump team would position this and what they could say about this.

They actually started talking about drafting a press release with us still sitting there. And the reason that was so striking to me is that`s just not done that the intelligence community does intelligence. The White House does PR and spin.

No one to my recollection asked so what -- what`s coming next from the Russians? How might we stop it? What`s the future look like? It was all what can we say about what they did and how it affects the election that we just had.

(END VIDOE CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Jonathan Lemire is White House reporter for "The Associated Press", Caitlin Huey-Burns is political reporter from "Real Clear Politics", and Shelby Holliday is a political reporter with the "Wall Street Journal."

Let me start with all three of your picks. I want to do this like dunking for apples. What did you find in that book? Here it is, by the way. We have one copy here at MSNBC, which we`re sharing with all the programs. I`m not allowed to take it out of the building.

But there it is.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: I mean, that exchange is important, the idea that the president and his team made no effort to try to figure out what happened with the election interference and how to prevent it going forward.

MATTHEWS: Yes, how do you explain -- how does Comey explain that?

LEMIRE: I mean, he said he was mystified by it. Instead they talked about public relations. And then the president, after the rest of the intelligence officials left the room, they talked about the salacious charges in the dossier. And that would be a theme. Three or four different times the president brought up unprompted what happened in that Moscow hotel room.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but that`s the part of Trump that I do understand. That`s the thing that any husband would want to deny.

LEMIRE: Well, Comey --

MATTHEWS: It sounds all of. It`s almost at the edge, with Trump, you can only say almost, unbelievable.

LEMIRE: Comey makes the point he says that Trump said to him it, hey, I want you to deny this. I want you to investigate this.

MATTHEWS: Well, that seems reasonable.

LEMIRE: Well, except Comey says, like, well, if that`s the case, it`s hard to investigate something you say doesn`t happen, and the idea that it would attract more attention by investigating it.

MATTHEWS: Caitlin, what grabs you in the book?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: What`s interesting is I think the reaction from Democrats looking at this book. Remember, before Comey was fired, he was denigrate by Democrats who thought he had swayed the election.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

HUEY-BURNS: You do have excerpts or bits that show that have enough for Democrats to look at and say, look, I told you. Then have you Republicans reacting to some of the more salacious things he talks about here.

So, if I were Trump, I would let the two sides kind of hammer it out and then move forward.

MATTHEWS: In other words, let Comey hang fire.

HUEY-BURNS: Right. Politically, he is very open about how he grappled with his decisions in the final moments of the campaign, too. He goes back and he`s brutally honest what he did with Hillary Clinton`s e-mails and he didn`t want an illegitimate president to become the president without the public knowing what she was going through but he assumed all along she would be the president.

So, it does put that key moment into perspective, but it is also something that Republicans are latching on to as well as the hands passing.

MATTHEWS: I can`t wait to hear arguments among progressives and everybody else thinking, well, we like Comey tonight, we like this guy tonight.

Anyway, Jonathan Lemire, thank you. We don`t have much time. Caitlin Huey-Burns and Shelby Holliday, I`m meeting everybody, I only get to talk over the phone anyway.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: A reminder to tune into MSNBC this Sunday night. I`ll be hosting a documentary about former FBI Director James Comey. It airs this Sunday as I said at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on MSNBC. What a night for him.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END