Show: HARDBALL Date: April 20, 2018 Guest: Ginger Gibson, Adolfo Franco, Margaret Carlson, Tim O`Brien
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: I wrote it down. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
James Comey`s memos from about his conversations with President Trump are out there now for all to see. They document in real-time the accounts the former FBI director gave in his public testimony under oath and his recently published book.
The justice department turned over the Comey memos last night ironically under the threat of subpoena by House Republicans. Well, those memos which represent key evidence the ongoing criminal investigation of the President were promptly leaked to the press.
Among other things, the memos back up Comey`s assertion that the President never once asked him about protecting the country from Russian interference. What they do show is that the President was obsessed with the most salacious allegation in the dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
In one exchange in the oval office, the President denied any impropriety but appeared to suggest he had talked about, catch this, he had talked about prostitutes with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They chatted about the topic on one or more occasions.
Anyway, Comey documented that. The President said the hookers thing is nonsense but that Putin had told him we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world. They actually had that conversation according to the President. Comey notes that the President did not say when Putin told him this. And I don`t recall - well, the rest is redacted.
In last night`s interview with Rachel, Comey said he took that claim seriously.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: He told you that he had had a personal conversation with President Putin about hookers?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Yes.
MADDOW: Did you believe him or did you think he was speaking hyperbolically?
COMEY: Didn`t seem to be speaking hyperbolically.
MADDOW: Do we otherwise know that the President had had personal conversations with Vladimir Putin at that point?
COMEY: I can`t recall. I think there was public reporting that he had spoken to Vladimir Putin as sort of a welcome -- congratulations on taking office thing at that point. I`m not suggesting they talked about how beautiful the hookers were in Russia, but I do know there was at least one publicly reported conversation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump reportedly told Comey on a phone call that he quote "was bringing a personal lawsuit against Christopher Steele."
While the most salacious allegation of the dossier have not been verified publicly, Comey`s memos appear to lend some credibility to Steele`s reporting. In an apparent reference to the dossier, Comey says he told former chief of staff Reince Priebus that quote "portions of the material were corroborated by other intelligence." That`s the phrase and the verbatim.
Meanwhile, President Trump is today attempting to say at that time Comey memos somehow vindicate him. Quote "James Comey memos just out and show clearly that there was no collusion and no obstruction." That`s Trump`s word.
Of course, nothing in the documents remotely supports any such claim. Also breaking late today, "the Washington Post" is tonight reporting that attorney general Jeff Sessions recently told the White House he might have to leave his job as attorney general if President Trump fired his deputy, his deputy Rod Rosenstein who oversees the investigation into Russian interference. Sessions made his position known in a phone call to White House counsel Donald McGahn last week.
Well, "the Washington Post" Matt Zapotosky is on the phone with me.
Matt, tell me about this interesting claim, if he goes, I go.
MATT ZAPOTOSKY, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, it`s a little bit like that. Maybe just short of that. So after the fed raided Michael Cohen`s and hotel room, Donald Trump was upset. And directed most of his anger at Rod Rosenstein. Of course, firing Rod Rosenstein could have big implications for the Mueller probe. Rod Rosenstein supervises Mueller because Jeff Sessions is recused. And it was an open question like what would Sessions do if his top deputy got fired. And now we have a hinted the answer. He told the White House council Don McGahn, he would at least have to consider leaving, almost like a protest resignation. This was not a resignation like an out now resignation threat. I want to make that clear. But that he would have to consider that if President Trump fired Rosenstein.
MATTHEWS: Well, he was putting it on scale, wasn`t he? He was saying one of the things you have to consider is I may walk.
ZAPOTOSKY: Yes. He was putting the idea out into the ether, like putting that on the mind of Don McGahn. Now, I don`t have reporting to indicate what President Trump knew about that and if he knew about that, what he thought. But Jeff Sessions clearly did want to put this, you know, in Don McGahn`s mind.
MATTHEWS: Well, the weird thing is, Matt, is that the President seems to be for months now sort of urging or pushing Sessions to quit. He doesn`t like the guy. He doesn`t think he has been a team player. And now this guy, Jeff Sessions, has the nerve to say, you don`t like me, OK, I`m walking perhaps if from you go fire Rosenstein because he is doing his job and you are protecting yourself but not the country, something like that.
ZAPOTOSKY: Yes. I have seen some people suggesting, well, hey, this would be great. This would be a two for one for President Trump. But have to keep in mind that President Trump didn`t ultimately accept Jeff Sessions` resignation when is he offered awhile back. In some ways he was backed down by this conservative groundswell of support for Jeff Sessions.
And also look, if they all go, if there`s a massacre at the justice department, that would really put President Trump`s presidency in jeopardy. So I don`t know that he would necessarily view this as great, I`ll fire Rosenstein and get Sessions as a bonus.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, President Nixon decided an earlier example of Presidential trouble wanted to get rid Archibald Cox who was really a Kennedy guy. And I understand why he was against him because he is coming at him. But then Elliott Richardson who is a Republican quit. That made Nixon look like the bad guy. And it was all downhill from that will Saturday night massacre on ward.
Matt Zapotosky, great reporting. We appreciate that.
That`s the breaking story right now in "the Washington Post" tonight.
I`m joined right now by Michael Schmidt, a reporter for the "New York Times" and an MSNBC contributor. Paul Butler is a former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst, Shannon Pettypiece with me tonight is a White House report for "Bloomberg". Jennifer Rubin is an opinion writer for the "Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor.
We got a great persons lined here. Let me talk starting with Michael across the room there. Of course, this panorama that seems like one room. It is not really. It is a couple of rooms.
Michael, first of all, your comment what you just heard from Matt Zapotosky at "the Post."
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean this is this interesting thing that hung over the administration for over a year now. What does the President really want to do with Sessions and Rosenstein? Wanted to get rid of Sessions when Mueller was appointed. Has talked about getting rid of Rosenstein, has talked about Mueller. The President has put an enormous amount of time and effort into these questions. And ultimately, he hasn`t done anything which is interesting. He has gone ahead and done things with Rex Tillerson. He has cleaned out his Veterans affairs secretary.
But on the justice department, he understands how big of an issue it would be if he were to do something there. And clearly, Sessions here is sending a sign back to the White House that this is not a good idea for the President.
MATTHEWS: You know, one thought I have is that the Republican Party of today as opposed to the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln`s time is centered in the south, Deep South you could argue. And Trump is a guy from New York, always someone in alien territory, the conservatives. No matter how much he is dominating affairs right now. He is not part of that southern base of the party where Sessions really is.
Let me ask you about this other question. In so many of these cases criminal cases involving sexual misconduct, whatever, the person who keeps notes owns the day into the future. If you write contemporary notes or you call up your mother, your sister, your best friend and you do something On the Record in real time, that can carries tremendous credibility x many years or months later when it comes to a national trial or courtroom trial.
The fact that James Comey has kept almost John Dean-like records of what happened between him and all those conversations with the President, how can the President walk away from that now and deny the truth and credibility of these records?
SCHMIDT: Well, we have seen what the President did. He has able to sort of dismiss things and move through them in ways that other politicians haven`t. Look, I think most people have already made up their mind where they are on Donald Trump and how they feel about him. So I`m not sure how much these memos change that or whatever.
I mean, at the end of the day, these are memos that Bob Mueller has. These are the basis for his obstruction investigation. He has already interviewed Comey. He has gone through with them. And it will be Mueller`s findings, whatever Mueller sees in it that is really the true outcome. We give so much time to the public view of this, and obviously, that`s important. But at the end of the day, it sits on Bob Mueller`s desk.
MATTHEWS: Is there an attorney or investigator or a team of attorneys that Mueller has had as tasked to look at the golden showers story, the two prostitutes involved in the Ritz-Carlton over there, that somebody certainly in the dossier says engaged in that behavior with Trump present?
It looks like that keeps popping up in these memo notes from Comey tonight. They are there. Does that mean Mueller`s taking that seriously enough to try to figure out, is that something that Vladimir Putin has had on Trump?
SCHMIDT: Well, we know that this is something that the FBI was looking at as far as back as January of 2017. They had the dossier. They were looking at the allegations. They were trying to find out whether they had merit or not. The interesting thing about Comey`s memos that came out the other day is that in there is information that shows that other parts of the dossier believed to be the less salacious parts of the dossier had been corroborated by other intelligence agencies. So this means the dossier --
SCHMIDT: This means the dossier had gone out to other parts of the government that had looked at it and compared it to intelligence that they had. Now, no one in the government has ever said that yes, we know there is a video like this but they are saying on the other issues on Russian meddling in the election, in what was going on inside of Russia the United States had intelligence that backed it up. That is one of the reasons why the FBI under Comey gave the dossier so much potential credibility and were looking into it.
MATTHEWS: You know, this is as a strange presidency, Shannon. Let`s just say that. The fact that this kind of allegation sits against the guy.
But here`s a President with three aliases, David Dennison in the nondisclosure thing, John Barron where he was bragging - he wants to get on the "Forbes" list and this other guy, John Miller, he has got another name.
Prints like dragnet in the old days. Aliases. Presidents aren`t supposed to have. George Washington didn`t have aliases. That`s who he was. And now to have this question now about this behavior of these two sex workers, nobody I think assumes he called somebody into the room to do something like that. But if he is engaging, allowing them to come in, who knows what`s going to happen. I have no idea how to speculate on this except that the President keeps going back denying it. They always say the bad guy returns to the scene of the crime. He keeps going back and telling Comey.
Is this an attempt to convince Comey he is a good guy and wouldn`t do something like this? Because that seems what he is trying to be doing? I wouldn`t do anything like that.
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: I know most people think if you keep bringing up, if you keep denying it, you must have some guilt you`re trying to get around.
But Trump does have a pattern of latching on to things and repeating them over and over again. The inauguration crowd size for one of them, the Clinton emails, things he latches on to that he can`t see to get past. And maybe this could just be one of these things he has latched on to and brings up over and over and obsesses about. But I mean, to speak to the weirdness of this remark in here, that he discussed this with Putin.
MATTHEWS: How do you put that together? Let me go to Paul on this. You are in a courtroom and somebody refers to the fact they had a previous conversation about sex workers to be a little more anti-septic here. Sex workers, they are calling them hookers, blah, blah, blah. Is that tough guy talk with Vladimir, I mean, or is it a reference to the fact that they did at one point talk about what was accounted for or alleged in the dossier? Does that suggest?
PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: To be having a conversation about sex workers it sure sounds like Putin and Trump were boys. They were dudes which, of course, Trump has denied. But that doesn`t seem to be the kind of thing you talk about someone how just met especially one world leader to another.
So when we look at the Comey memos, what we have is corroboration, contemporary corroboration which is what prosecutors love because it`s very compelling evidence. We heard that Trump asked for the loyalty pledge, check, that`s in the memo. We had heard that Trump asked Comey if he could see his way clear to helping out his boy, Mike Flynn, check. That`s in the memo. And again this obsession with sex workers.
Everything that has been investigated in the dossier seems to be coming true. You reported, Chris, that Reince Priebus asked Comey why are you telling Trump about the stuff in the dossier and Comey replied because it`s been corroborated. Not everything but a lot has been.
MATTHEWS: According to the Comey memos just out last night, the President defended himself from allegations of what took place in the Moscow hotel room. Trump reportedly told Comey he hadn`t stayed overnight in Russia during the Miss Universe trip. The memo also shows the President appeared to downplay the amount of time he spent at the hotel reportedly telling Comey that he returned only to get his things because they departed for New York by plane that same night.
However, here is a big word, however, it appears Trump`s story is completely at odds with the account of his former bodyguard, Keith Schiller, who accompanied him on that trip. As NBC News reported last November, Schiller told the House intelligence committee that Trump went to bed alone. That`s an interesting phrase. Additionally, Schiller testified that he stood outside Trump`s hotel room for a time and then went to bed.
There`s also documentary evidence that says Trump spent a night in Moscow (INAUDIBLE). And here`s a photograph taken by an NBC producer showing Trump at an event at the venue of the Miss Universe pageant on Friday, catch this, the day before the event. So he had to stay overnight to be there the next day. The next day on Saturday afternoon, Trump sat down for an interview with an NBC News reporter. So he was there Friday, he was there Saturday. One could argue I think this is called, what is it called?
JENNIFER RUBIN, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Deductive reasoning?
MATTHEWS: Something like that. He was there through the night.
RUBIN: Yes. And why would he lie about that if there was nothing to this.
MATTHEWS: Circumstantial evidence. If there`s snow on the ground, it must have snowed.
RUBIN: So that is bizarre. One think to, go back to Paul`s comment for a moment, one of the things that makes this interesting is not only that this is contemporaneous corroboration but it is so detailed. The parts that aren`t directly relating to the dossier are so believable. He talks about a jigsaw puzzle conversation where he talks about guess what, the Electoral College, winning the vote. So all of it rings with such clarity and such truth and the minute detail is really rather remarkable.
What`s also interesting is Trump didn`t deny it today. He just came up with this cock and bull story that it somehow exonerated him. If he was lying Comey, then he would have denied it. But apparently he is conceding what he wrote down is true.
MATTHEWS: Michael, I want you to do something for me. Tell me if you had to explain to an editor why this matters. Why does the, you know, the two women sex workers and what allegedly happened in the room with him which is obviously a focus of people`s interest, human interest for better or worse, what`s the relevance of that to the larger question whether the President colluded with the Russians?
SCHMIDT: Well, it`s a larger question whether Russia has some type of leverage over Trump. Can they come to him and say hey, look, you know, we have this thing. We would like you to do x, unless, whatever. Essentially it`s a blackmail issue.
MATTHEWS: But he wasn`t running for President in 2013 I`m sorry. They had it in their archives.
SCHMIDT: Correct. But he was President in January of 2017.
PETTYPIECE: I mean, to Michael`s point, what you see in the memos how this bothered him to the point you were making earlier. So if this is something that really bothered him that he wanted cleared up, then maybe that could say that it is something the Russians could have used for leverage if this existed, you know this is something --
MATTHEWS: Even imagining it is brand-new territory for most people on the planet.
Anyway, meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee today filed a lawsuit against the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks and the Russian government alleged that they engaged in the conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign causing damage to the Democratic Party.
As NBC News points that the lawsuit could force the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks to reveal internal communications about the hack through the legal discovery process.
Well, "the Washington Post" reports that the maneuver follows the same playbook the DNC used during the Watergate era. In that case, the DNC`s 1974 lawsuit was ultimately successful yielding a $750,000 settlement from the Nixon campaign.
Paul, two years later, I didn`t realize they were that late in the game either. It`s not a late hit. Even two years later, you can nail the other side.
BUTLER: You can. So for serious crimes, the statute of limitations is longer for serious civil infractions. But long is the operative word here. So this civil process is going to take a long time. Whereas we keep emphasizing, Chris, by prosecutorial standards Mueller is going really quickly. This investigation is speeding ahead way quicker than most important federal criminal investigations occur.
So whatever import it is for the American people to know about Trump and his alleged collusion possible collusion or obstruction of justice, we`ll learn about that from Mueller much quicker than from the civil lawsuit.
MATTHEWS: And we will learn what Rudy Giuliani later in the show tonight will be able to do to shorten this investigation if he can do anything.
Anyway, our guests will stay with us.
Coming up now that Rudy Giuliani is joining Trump`s legal team. He has already telling the boss what he wants to hear. Rudy says the Mueller investigation should be wrapped up within a week or two. Rudy and the Trump. We will have some history to remember this by. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, you dirty boy you, oh, oh. Donald, I thought you were a gentleman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can`t say I didn`t try.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So Rudy and Trump have worked together before. We will get to Rudy to the rescue next.
Plus, isn`t that unbelievable? Anyway, a former reporter for "Forbes" magazine says Donald Trump created a fake persona and called himself John Barron, one of his aliases, to lie about his wealth all attempt to con his way into the list of richest Americans. The tapes of that incredible phone call tonight. It`s all incredible.
And back to Trump versus Comey with the roundtable. Who won the week? Who do you think? Comey may be a self-promoter but doesn`t look like a liar.
Finally, let me finish tonight with something new and unexpected in American politics.
This is HARDBALL, it is all unexpected, where the action is.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Well, catch this.
North Korea announced late today that it has suspended nuclear and long- range missile tests, has suspended them. The country also says that it plans to shut down a nuclear test site.
The announcement comes just days before North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is set to hold talks with his South Korean counterpart.
The South Korean president said earlier this week that the North Koreans will -- are willing to discuss the denuclearization, and that country, North Korea, will not insist on American troops being withdrawn from South Korea at the 38th Parallel as part of any peace deal.
These are impressive concessions.
President Trump responded to the news a short time ago, tweeting: "This is very good news for North Korea and the world. Big progress. Look forward to our summit."
We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, you`re really beautiful. A woman that looks like that has to have her own special scent.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Oh, thank you. Maybe -- maybe you could tell me what you think of this scent.
TRUMP: Hmm. I like that.
GIULIANI: This may be the best of all.
Oh, you dirty boy, you. Oh, oh. Donald, I thought you were a gentleman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was, himself, Donald Trump, and his new lawyer Rudy Giuliani during happier times in 2000. Giuliani, a former U.S. attorney in Manhattan, has frequently boasted of his ties to the FBI.
And, yesterday, he made clear what his mandate will be, telling "The New York Post": "I don`t know yet what`s outstanding. But I don`t think it`s going to take more than a week or two to get a resolution," a week or two to end this thing. "They`re almost there. I`m going to ask Mueller, what do you need to wrap it up?"
According to Michael Schmidt`s reporting in "The New York Times": "Some close to the president believe Trump could try to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Mr. Giuliani in the coming months, although Mr. Giuliani would face an extremely difficult confirmation hearing in the Senate."
That`s all in quotes from "The Times."
We`re back with Michael Schmidt himself, along Paul Butler, Shannon Pettypiece, and Jennifer Rubin.
We`re holding over our panel, starting with you, Michael.
Tell me, how does this fit with the latest stuff tonight that Jeff Sessions was thinking of walking if Trump fired Rod Rosenstein?
SCHMIDT: I`m not sure how much it relates to that, to the Sessions at the Justice Department, who is going to be at the Justice Department.
But what is going on behind the scenes is that the Trump folks think they are OK with Mueller and that they just sort of need to wrap up the end here. Trump does not want to sit for an interview, but realizes that he certainly has to do that to bring an end to this.
So they`re going to bring in Giuliani to negotiate the end, to go to Mueller and say, look, let`s get this thing wrapped up.
The problem is, is that if there`s a big difference of opinion or idea of what`s going on here. If the Trump folks think there`s no problem here, but Mueller thinks there`s significant issues, I don`t think this thing is going to be wrapped up so quickly in such a fashion like that.
But the Trump folks think that the Mueller stuff is far less of a threat than what`s going on in New York and that Rudy can bring an end to it.
MATTHEWS: Paul, how do you negotiate the end of a criminal investigation? I mean, it seems to me unbelievable. Like, Lawrence Walsh, this thing went on with the Iran-Contra for like nine years.
I think that may be extreme, but how can a lawyer come in from outside and say, all right, get together here, Mr. Mueller, Mr. President, let`s shorten this thing up here?
How do you shorten it? Because, obviously, Trump doesn`t want any more investigation. And it looks to me like Mr. Mueller would like to have as much investigation as he can get away with, keep it going until he finds something really interesting perhaps.
He wouldn`t want it? Why would -- how can Giuliani and say, I`m blowing the whistle on you guys, we`re going to stop this thing? That doesn`t make any sense.
BUTLER: Because he is not a good criminal defense lawyer.
BUTLER: Chris, there are 100 white-collar criminal defense attorneys in D.C. who are experienced in high-profile, complex criminal investigations.
Rudy Giuliani is not one of those people. He`s a has-been who was never all that great in the first place, which is why he could make this outrageous statement that he can bring the investigation to an end. Trust me, he cannot do that.
There are trials scheduled for September and October of this year.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of it?
PETTYPIECE: Yes. I think the key to...
MATTHEWS: That`s a hell of an offer. I`m going to shorten this thing up, brother.
PETTYPIECE: I think the key to that statement is, well, I don`t know what`s outstanding, as in, I don`t know anything about this case at this point, but I think I can wrap it up in a couple weeks.
MATTHEWS: What about this guy, this character Ty Cobb? He said, this war was going to be over last Thanksgiving.
MATTHEWS: And Trump`s been absorbing and swallowing this stuff for months.
PETTYPIECE: But if the argument -- well, I would just say the argument that the Trump lawyers make is, listen, we have given you all these documents. You have interviewed every witness. What more do you need, especially on the obstruction?
MATTHEWS: More on the business end, first of all.
PETTYPIECE: What more do you need from us? So, what are you asking? What`s the outstanding request?
Because, right now, they`re saying there aren`t any outstanding requests right now for documents or for witnesses.
But this is all nonsense. This is either Rudy and the other lawyers trying to settle Trump down, because Rudy is coming in, you don`t have to fire Rosenstein. you don`t have to do anything rash.
It`s, just like you said, trying to assure him of something that can`t be assured, last year, when they said it was coming to an end.
Also, Rudy is going through his third divorce. Maybe he needs more exposure on TV. Maybe this is a favor for Rudy.
MATTHEWS: Oh, who knows. Let`s not get into that.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Paul.
BUTLER: In a purely strategic sense for the president, it might not actually be a bad idea to fire Rosenstein.
And, as you say, the president would get two for one, if Sessions would actually resign. I think the breaking news is actually that Sessions might have some integrity. Who knew?
But if Rosenstein goes, then Trump gets to -- it`s better than firing Mueller, because Trump then gets to install Mueller`s boss, who can say, you can`t expand the investigation, you can`t look at taxes, you can`t look at any kind of personal financial transactions.
The only people who would hold him in check is the congressional Republicans. And would they call his bluff? I kind of don`t think so.
PETTYPIECE: Well, once again, if you get rid of Sessions, you don`t have to worry about Rosenstein, you don`t have to worry about Mueller, because you get an attorney general in there who is not recused, who can clip Mueller`s wings if he wants to.
You don`t have to have a deputy attorney general in there. You just need an attorney general in there who is not recused.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s back to Rudy Giuliani.
Michael -- Michael, tell me about Rudy Giuliani and his strength.
Apparently, he does know the interstices of the U.S. office, the special prosecutor -- rather, the U.S. attorney in New York. He worked there. He headed it up.
He apparently would have claim to sort of connections. People have accused him of having something to do with Comey`s decision 11 days out from the 2016 election because he said on my show, here on the show, we talked about what was his heads-up. How did he know that something was coming up in terms of Hillary getting in more exposure with the e-mails from her -- from Huma Abedin and her husband, Anthony Weiner?
Somehow, Rudy seemed to know about that. How did he find out about it, Michael?
SCHMIDT: Well, that`s been a question. That was something that the FBI was actually looking at even before Comey left. What did Rudy Giuliani know before the election? Why was it that he sort of foreshadowed this move by Comey?
Was he simply throwing things out there, or was there actually leaks coming out of the New York office? If you go back and look at Comey`s decision- making around the e-mail decision, one of the concerns Comey had was going to get a warrant in New York which they thought they needed from a judge to look at the Huma Abedin, Anthony Weiner e-mails.
And they were afraid, if they did that, that it would leak, and that Comey thought he had to own that decision. I do not have evidence that Rudy Giuliani was by any means in Comey`s head on anything like that or that was something that Comey was worried about.
But the New York office is notoriously a leaky one. In terms of Giuliani, though, I think there`s an important point. A few weeks ago, after John Dowd quit the team because he concluded the president wasn`t listening to him, we quoted a longtime legal expert named Roger Cossack who said that Trump was looking for someone that had the silver bullet, that was not going to necessarily tell him what he should hear, but what he wanted to hear.
And if you sort of line that up with Giuliani, who says, look, I know how to bring an end to it, it sort of looks like perhaps a silver bullet.
MATTHEWS: You know, everybody, I thank you all for coming on this Friday night, because what`s begun to -- it`s begun to look like it`s one of the repertory companies, where everybody changes parts during the run of the show.
And here`s Giuliani back, not as consigliere, but some kind of inside guy that is going to help him with the U.S. office. And Kimba Wood coming back from all those years, Judge Kimba Wood, who had the baby-sitter problem back in the Clinton era, all -- like, there`s only 20 people running the country, the nomenklatura of this country, and they just shift roles every once in awhile?
RUBIN: It`s the cast.
MATTHEWS: It`s the cast. I`m sorry. It`s a repertory company. It shouldn`t be that way. It should be a democracy.
Anyway, thank you to our panel, Michael Schmidt, Paul Butler, Shannon Pettypiece, and Jennifer Rubin.
Up next: A reporter says that Trump posed as a man named John Barron in order to con his way onto the list of America`s richest people.
That`s just one of the Trump`s aliases. Isn`t it amazing? Also known as, also known as David Dennison. Remember that from the nondisclosure? And this guy, John Miller, they`re all him. We will get to the incredible audio coming up straight ahead.
You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, then candidate Donald Trump often touted his business success as proof he would be able to run the country well.
But as investigative journalist Jonathan Greenberg revealed in "The Washington Post" today, Trump repeatedly couldn`t his way onto the "Forbes" 400 list of the richest people in the country in the early `80s, even posing as an employee from the Trump Organization named John Barron to talk up Trump`s so-called wealth.
Here is John Barron telling Greenberg that Trump`s net worth was higher than what "Forbes" had previously reported.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JONATHAN GREENBERG, REPORTER: OK. What`s your first name, by the way?
"JOHN BARRON," POSSIBLE ALIAS OF DONALD TRUMP: John.
BARRON: John Barron.
Well, let me tell you what the deal is, just so you understand.
BARRON: Mr. Trump -- first of all, most of the assets have been consolidated to Mr. Trump, because you have down Fred Trump.
And I would like to talk to you off the record, if I can, just to make your thing easier.
Somebody had mentioned that you had asked about that or somebody had. And it`s been pretty well consolidated. OK?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Greenberg notes that, at the time, he pushed back on Trump`s claims about his net worth, but didn`t realize how much he inflated his own numbers.
Greenberg points out that: "This was a model Trump would use for the rest of his career, telling a lie so cosmic that people believed that some kernel of it had to be true. The tactic landed him a place he hadn`t earned on the `Forbes` list of richest people and let the future accolades, press coverage and deals that eventually paved the path toward the presidency."
I`m joined right now by Bloomberg View columnist Tim O`Brien. He`s also author of "TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald."
Trump sued him, Mr. O`Brien, for libel after he reported a relatively low estimate of Trump`s net worth.
I don`t know if that`s libelous, Tim, but thank you for coming on.
TIM O`BRIEN, BLOOMBERG VIEW: It`s good to be here, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I was joshing earlier. I don`t know how it`s described, because you can`t joke about it.
We have a president of the United States with at least three aliases. As I pointed out, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, I don`t think they had aliases. And it goes with the whole bizarre -- they don`t have accusations about whatever happened in Moscow hotel rooms either.
There`s a -- what do you call it, not a dark side, sort of a different side to Trump where he operates almost like a con artist.
O`BRIEN: Well, it`s not almost like a con artist.
Donald Trump is a con artist. And he`s been, I think, pulling a long con on the American public for decades. A lot of what he`s doing now in the White House, Chris, is very similar to what he did during his business career, which is to create this -- or try to create this aura around himself of being incredibly smart, incredibly wealthy, incredibly strategic, and a great performer.
And it`s all an artifice, for the most part. He -- and I think the things that he`s most insecure about tend to be the things he brags the most about. He repeatedly brags about his intellect. "I`m a very smart guy. I went to Wharton, OK?"
He brags about his attractiveness to women. "I`m a very attractive man. Women call me on the time."
And then, of course, his wealth. "I`m a very rich guy. I`m worth $10 billion."
MATTHEWS: What difference does it make whether he has hundreds of thousands -- hundreds of millions of dollars or X-many billions? What does that calibration do for him?
O`BRIEN: Well, I think it`s twofold. I think, first and foremost, he`s always seen is the Forbes 400 list as a kind of pecking order. It`s very important to his own sense of himself that he be considered a billionaire. And I think that that`s just part of the strange amalgamation of him being both egomaniacal and wildly insecure all at the same time.
Secondly, he got good business traction off of that. You know, the more media attention he got when he bragged about his wealth and the more that the media played along with that game, the more it kept him in the news and also became a calling card for him to use at banks. But I think the thing to remember here, as well is that to a certain extent, the media was complicit in that because you didn`t have to be a rocket science to do digging into his numbers.
When I was at "The New York Times," I spent about a month taking a hard look at some of these Forbes numbers over the years for my book and for reporting for "The Times". And you could see on the face of it a lot of it seemed at best specious.
MATTHEWS: Well, if he`s a mountebank, if he makes stuff up, why do people do business with him in New York? If he never paid bills, you hear the stories of him just holding people up, giving them nothing, stiffing them.
O`BRIEN: His contractors, his business partners, his attorneys and no one, none of the top tier families in the New York real estate business and frankly top tier real estate developers around the country ever considered Donald Trump to be a top tier real estate developer.
O`BRIEN: And that`s just --
MATTHEWS: So, guys like Mort Zuckerman didn`t do business with him, right? I mean, the big guys.
O`BRIEN: That`s correct.
MATTHEWS: Tim, what a story you`ve got. Trouble is it didn`t make any difference to the American people. They were the latest ones to go for it. Maybe it will some day.
Up next -- thanks for coming on, Tim.
O`BRIEN: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, who won the week? Trump or Comey? We`ll have a little contest on here and we`re going to hear differing views, believe it or not, a little argument.
The president and his former FBI director doing battle, this time thanks to the newly released Comey memos just out last night. Who has come out on top? I would say the guy with the memos is doing OK.
We`re going to bring that up with the roundtable. You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I also was worried that I was meeting alone with the president to talk about things that were relating to him and to the FBI`s core responsibilities and given the nature of the person, as I understood the president-elect, he might not tell the truth about those if it ever became an issue. So I needed a written record.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Oh, that`s with Rachel last night. That was former FBI Director James Comey on why he kept memos of his interactions with President Trump.
Well, we know now. House Republicans repeatedly pushed for the release of those memos ironically. President Trump last night claimed victory, saying they showed no collusion and no obstruction. "The Washington Post" says sharing Comey`s version of events may have backfired on the president.
He writes, simply put, the memos confirm Trump did try to exert a level of control over his FBI director over an ongoing investigation into his and his crony`s conduct. There`s no way to argue this is vindicating for Trump. The opposite is true.
Let`s bring the HARDBALL tonight, this Friday. Ginger Gibson is political correspondent for "Reuters", Adolfo Franco is Republican strategist and RNC surrogate, that`s an interesting word. And Margaret Carlson is columnist for "The Daily Beast."
I love "The Daily Beast". Let`s talk about you, sir, Adolfo.
ADOLFO FRANCO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes.
MATTHEWS: Explain. How did -- who won this week?
FRANCO: Oh, the president, there`s no question the president is vindicated. And I`m quite serious. This is just a big yawn. But beyond the big yawn, there are a couple things that I think have come through in these memos.
First of all --
MATTHEWS: Why did you yawn?
FRANCO: Because it doesn`t say anything other than we`ve said all along. There`s no collusion.
MATTHEWS: Yes, everything Comey said before is verified.
FRANCO: There`s no collusion.
MATTHEWS: There wasn`t a conversation about collusion.
FRANCO: You`re not under investigation -- I think he would have brought it up. You`re not under investigation. The president simply says, why can`t you tell the American people what you`re telling me?
And then lastly, you just saw Comey himself. Before he even met with the president, he already had suspicions and prejudices against the president. So, whatever he was going to write was going to be self-serving. At the end of the day, I don`t think anybody in America except here in Washington is paying attention to this and if everyone thought --
MATTHEWS: Where do you think his book will be on the bestseller list next week?
FRANCO: Best seller? "Fire and Fury" now? No one is even talking about that --
MATTHEWS: I`m asking, where do you think Comey`s book be on the bestseller list next week?
FRANCO: I think it will be on the bestseller list for a short period of time.
MATTHEWS: OK, Margaret --
FRANCO: And I think it`s a discredited book.
MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: The book will be number one on the bestseller list. It turns out James Comey is a very good writer. He`s lost -- what he lost this week a little bit was his not moral authority but he is now more like us, first of all, he`s a writer selling books and he`s also not unbiased anymore. We now see.
MATTHEWS: Margaret is being too nice. I want to ask you about truth. I don`t think Comey is perfect. He`s stupid to talk about the hands and the face and the tie. You know what? Nobody`s accused him of lying. Trump engages in a world where he makes up alternative reality.
GINGER GIBSON, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: And the book is an homage to the truth, even when you don`t want to tell the truth, it is a book about telling the truth. I read it from the perspective of a reporter who feels that`s what I`m called to do is tell the truth all the time. So for that reason, he found a lot of that really interesting.
It struck me at points in time especially when he talks about his early cases. But I think what we have to measure, maybe we can measure this on Trump`s perspective. Trumps thinks anytime anyone is talking about you, you`re winning.
So, Comey on that front is winning. People are talking about him. They`re not talking about taxes, the economy, the jobless rate. They`re not talking about what Trump has done to create jobs and not going to talk about North Korea in the same way because we`re talking about Comey.
I think --
CARLSON: Can I finish one thing, Chris, which is that when somebody said you get into a cage match with a dancing bear. And you`re going to lose a little bit. And that`s the luster that came off Comey this week the way it did when Marco Rubio talked about Trump`s hands and orange hair it, didn`t hurt Trump, it hurt Rubio, because you get pulled down.
MATTHEWS: OK, (INAUDIBLE) topics. We`re talking about the two women in -- alleged women in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow back in `13. You think that`s good for Trump we`re talking about that again?
FRANCO: But, look, if that`s all they have, everybody knows Donald Trump. We`ve had the "Access Hollywood" tape.
MATTHEWS: So, what does that tell you?
FRANCO: It tells me this is a story for two or three days. Fact of the matter is, most people are concerned about the economy, about their taxes.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe Comey`s records? Do you believe his memos?
FRANCO: Well, I don`t believe him. You`re asking about
MATTHEWS: You don`t believe his memos?
FRANCO: Well, I believe this -- I believe the memos vindicate the president in this regard --
MATTHEWS: No, you`re missing my point. Do you believe his account of his meetings with the president?
FRANCO: I think they were carefully written thinking ahead that he would have a problem.
MATTHEWS: Were they accurate?
FRANCO: No, they`re not accurate.
MATTHEWS: They`re not accurate?
MATTHEWS: He walked out of the room and five minutes later wrote something that didn`t happen?
FRANCO: I`ll tell you why they`re not accurate. You talked about truth telling, there`s been an inspector general investigation. Now, let`s see if this guy is one of the leakers. He says in it --
MATTHEWS: I`m talking about the conversation with the president?
FRANCO: He says I`m a leaker, I`m against it --
MATTHEWS: OK, you`re doing --
FRANCO: No, no, I`m not doing that.
FRANCO: Defending McCabe --
CARLSON: You`re saying Comey is a leaker --
MATTHEWS: Adolfo, you pivoted from my question. Did he tell the truth in his memos?
FRANCO: What do you mean? "The Wall Street Journal" says --
CARLSON: It`s no big thing we spent the week talking about Stormy Daniels and what might have happened at the Ritz-Carlton in Russia because Comey might be a leaker?
MATTHEWS: I`ll tell you one thing, stormy was not in that hotel room.
The roundtable is staying with us. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: A program note. On Sunday, that`s this Sunday, I`ll host a special documentary about former Trump national security adviser, Michael Flynn. That`s Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right hear on MSNBC.
He was the first -- he was, of course, the first sign of really bad trouble for Trump.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.
Adolfo, tell me something that I don`t know.
FRANCO: I`ll tell you that only 25 percent of the American people know there are three branches of government. And only a third know there are nine superior court justices.
Last night when you were sort of taking jabs at the president, I think the president is doing a great job by telling the American people we actually are not at peace with Korea and we have an armistice. I think the president is doing a good job on helping the American people with facts.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, you`ll get a call five minutes later from the president.
Ginger Gibson, thank you. Adolfo Franco, speaking for the president, and Margaret Carlson -- Margaret, next time, you`re giving me the look. I don`t have time.
CARLSON: Adolfo. Really? Do better next time.
FRANCO: It`s true. It`s true.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with something unexpected, something new, in other words, in American politics. It`s the young people out there carrying the cause against gun violence, who now offer hope.
Today, students from over 2,000 schools across the country left their classrooms to make themselves heard. There they are. The protest was intentionally planned for today, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School mass shooting. It was on April 20th, 1999, that 12 students and a teacher were killed. Up until then, the deadliest school shooting in history. That record, of course, has been broken with a vengeance.
According to the "Washington Post," more than 208,000 children at 212 schools have been exposed to gun violence since Columbine. The freedom to speak out and to pursue our lives free of oppression and gun violence are critical rights in any free society. Americans need to make noise, to make sure our rights don`t get taken from us. Don`t you think?
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES starts right now.
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