Show: HARDBALL Date: May 7, 2018 Guest: Elena Schneider, Sahil Kapur, Mimi Rocah, Richard Blumenthal
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: We wanted to bring you that update on what Jeff Sessions is up to.
That is our show. I will see you back here at 6:00 p.m. eastern tomorrow.
HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS starts now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The reckoning. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani are turning up the noise and pushing a do or die confrontation now with Robert Mueller. This morning President Trump was tweeting accusations about Robert Mueller. He said Democrats were -- actually, he said Democrats were stretching out -- Mueller did, the probe to help their party in November.
Quote "is this phony witch-hunt going to go on even longer so it wrongfully impacts the midterm elections, which is what the Democrats always intended us?" The President tweeting.
He also said there is no obstruction. It`s called fighting back. He labeled Mueller`s team the 13 angry Democrats in-charge of the Russian witch hasn`t. Actually, technical point here, Robert Mueller is a registered Republican. And as he has done in the past, President Trump teased he has damaging information about Mueller`s investigators. Just wait until the courts get to see our unrevealed conflicts of interest. That`s Trump again. He didn`t explain what he was talking about, of course.
Meanwhile, Trump`s newest lawyer Rudy Giuliani continue in his media blitz this weekend taking a hardline tone against Mueller`s investigation. Giuliani told NBC last night that Mueller and his investigators were being heavy-handed and were setting the President up for perjury.
Well, during two separate interviews this week, Giuliani also has sailed (ph) the probe itself. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Let`s talk about the Mueller investigation. The President tweet again on Friday that he wants to speak with Mueller, answer his questions. So are you prepared to make that happen?
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S LAWYER: Not after the way they have acted.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What is the danger in answering Robert Mueller --?
GIULIANI: Because they are trying to trap -- you couldn`t put a lawyer on this show who wants to keep his law license to tell you he should testify.
It kind of gives the American people a glimpse of what we have to deal with day in and day out with the abuses not so much of Bob Mueller, but of the people who work for him. I mean, they are way over the top. When you look at the questions they profound, what do you think? What do you feel? It`s like come on in and commit perjury.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. He is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Betsy Woodruff is politics reporter for "Daily Beast" and an MSNBC contributor. And Paul Butler is a former federal prosecutor and an MSNBC analyst as well.
Always start with the center on this question. Is Rudy Giuliani being clever like a FOX? Is he raising the noise level and keeping the Stormy story all over the news 24/7 now, to distract the subject, distract everybody from the Russian probe which is the real lethal danger the President is facing? Or is he just doing it wrong? Because he is supposed to put this story behind the President. And he is putting it out at front every night and pushing it forward.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: I think he is doing the President a disservice. Whether he means it as a distraction, he has certainly put the President in a very, very precarious position politically as well as legally. He has directly contradicted him. And his denials of reimbursement. He has in effect joined him more closely with Michael Cohen.
BLUMENTHAL: In a bed of quicksand. It`s a legal quicksand for him. And there is no such thing as a perjury trap unless Bob Mueller would violate department of justice --
MATTHEWS: What is perjury trap?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, a perjury trap is ordinarily, speaking as a former prosecutor where you call a witness into an interview or the grand jury without any real evidence on him and literally ask him questions that are designed to trap him in a contradiction so he can be charged with perjury. All the President of the United States has to do is to tell the truth. That`s all he has to do.
MATTHEWS: What do you think Ken Starr was doing with the President -- let me go to the prosecutor on this, Paul. What do you think President Clinton was facing when Ken Starr put him in the box and out of nowhere goes from Paula Jones to Monica Lewinsky? And we all saw the face of the President, like most people, what? I didn`t know that was coming. And he denied it.
PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So, again, this was negotiated is what President Trump should do. Usually the grand jury, you`re the witness in there by yourself with the prosecutor. The deal with Clinton was that his defense attorney could be there and the questioning was limited. I`m sure that Mueller be willing to do something like that with Trump, but Trump is afraid because he knows the truth will implicate him.
Again, the question for Bill Clinton was relatively simple, did you have a sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. And Clinton got kind of cute with it. Again, if you are before the grand jury, you have to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We know Donald Trump has a really difficult time with that.
MATTHEWS: Betsy, the PR part, the political part, I should say. I know the legal question raising the noise level, which is what Rudy is doing it`s what we are talking about all weekend. "Saturday Night Live," you know, what`s her name, stormy Daniels on "Saturday Night Live" playing herself. I`ve never seen it. It`s a travesty.
Anybody who is like 20 years old now thinks this is American democracy, the last 20 years. We wouldn`t have gotten this far. And this is American democracy. It`s crazy time. But it`s raising the noise level. Is that helping Trump because we are not talking about Russia, which is what would bring him down?
BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: I don`t think us talking about Russia is going to be what may or may not bring the President down. The reality is that Mueller is doing his own work. He is going to do it regardless of whether or not we cover it or talk about it or what is happening in the outside noise.
The outside noise doesn`t matter to Mueller. What Mueller is working on is his own project. That said, I think we cannot overstate the dramatic-ness with which the President`s legal team has changed in the last week.
Not only Giuliani sort of coming of age and doing so much TV all day, every day. But additionally another lawyer started at the White House I believe on Wednesday named Emmett Flood. Emmett flood is taking over for Ty Cobb. Now Ty Cobb was the guy who was very amicable towards Mueller. He supported Mueller in many ways. He would say positive things about the Mueller probe to the President.
Cobb is now on his way out. And the guy who is replacing him, Emmett Flood, is somebody who is seen as a much tougher, much more aggressive and much less likely to support the idea of having the President sit down.
MATTHEWS: I want to ask you about what I think. We have been talking about it all day with the prediction (ph) trying to figure out what Rudy is up to if he is up to anything logical.
He says in answering George Stephanopoulos. George did a great job. He was like pushing him a lot of points on ABC. And he finally said -- George asked him a great question. Is this the only case basically where he paid off somebody to keep quiet? And he said well, there may have been others, yes. Well, he didn`t have to say there may have been others. He could say I don`t know. But he didn`t to seem a little bit (ph).
Is that the defense? This was not an election-related decision to pay her off 130, to be blunt about it, it was something that he does all the time. And whenever there is a relationship they have to cover up. They have to hush up. They pay some money out of this regular draw he has of $35,000 a month. That seemed to be Giuliani defense to protect him against the charge. That this payoff was related to an election, therefore an FCC violation. What do you think?
BLUMENTHAL: The defense would be it was personal, not political.
MATTHEWS: And we do it all the time. Will that work?
BLUMENTHAL: And it isn`t the first time.
BLUMENTHAL: And I have to keep my former mistresses quiet to protect me against my wife.
MATTHEWS: Right. Will that work in court?
BLUMENTHAL: It will not work in court.
MATTHEWS: Why not?
BLUMENTHAL: In my view. I think even before we reach that point we will have a reckoning to take your opening very, very seriously, because I think that Giuliani interview indicated that a subpoena to the President of the United States is increasingly necessary and indeed unavoidable. I think we are going to have a confrontation, even before that point is reached in court.
MATTHEWS: Well, today, Rudy Giuliani told "the Wall Street Journal" that the President`s legal team hopes to decide whether President Trump should testify by May 17th. By the way, that`s five Davis the Iran decision. This weekend, Giuliani told Trump -- said Trump could defy a subpoena from Robert Mueller. Well, let`s get to your point, senator. Let`s watch Rudy denying the necessary here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: What happens if Robert Mueller subpoenas the President? Will you comply?
GIULIANI: Well, we don`t have to. He is the President of the United States. We can assert the same privilege as over Presidents have.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you confident the President will not take the fifth in this case?
GIULIANI: Oh, how can I ever be confident of that? When I`m facing a situation with the President and all the other lawyers are, in which every lawyer in America thinks he would be a fool to testify, I have got a client who wants to testify. Please, don`t -- he said it yesterday. And you know Jay and I said to ourselves, my goodness, you know, I hope we get a chance to tell him the risk that he is taking. So he may testify.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: To the senator`s point, Paul, what about the risk of defying a subpoena? Nixon couldn`t defy. The Supreme Court came down against him, 8-0. They said you have to testify. You have to give over the tapes which brought him down. Bill Clinton, his attorney Robert Bennett, they decide they had to respond to the danger of the subpoena, the threat of the subpoena. So what is this lawyer, Rudy Giuliani think that he can defy a subpoena?
BUTLER: So their argument is that the Paula Jones case was about a civil matter. This is a criminal matter. And the Nixon case was about evidence as opposed to testimony. At the end of the day, that will not persuade the Supreme Court. It may go all the way up there, which would take a long time. You think if they really want --
MATTHEWS: Not as long -- three or four months.
BUTLER: Yes. But at the end of the day, the Supreme Court is going to say you are President Trump, not king Trump. No man is above the law.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, senator, because this is a tricky question. I`m looking at it this way. People around here think John Roberts in the end will say you have to honor the subpoena. That hey may be a conservative, but he is an institutionalist. But you never can figure out Anthony Kennedy. You might figure Alido, I don`t know. Some of the real conservatives like Clarence. There is Thomas. What do you think the court would do?
BLUMENTHAL: I think the court would --.
MATTHEWS: Would it break unanimously?
BLUMENTHAL: I can`t say it will be unanimous, but all of the legal reasoning and principles that led to the court unanimously saying to Richard Nixon you must provide those tapes will --.
MATTHEWS: That was a more liberal court.
BLUMENTHAL: It was a more liberal court. But remember, this is about law enforcement.
BUTLER: It`s about the construction of our constitution. It`s about whether our constitutional design prevents despotic President from abusing his power to prevent him from being investigated and brought to justice.
MATTHEWS: I think that`s how I end the show with that question here later.
Gentlemen and Besty, will the Trump people accept the fact that he defies the subpoena? Would they stick with the 47 percent stick with him? Do we think?
WOODRUFF: I think without a doubt. I think they would say the deep state has tried to subpoena President Trump and he needs to keep fighting.
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s the moment of truth. I will call it at the end of the show. This is big casino.
Anyway, the prospect of President Trump pleading the fifth to Mueller raises significant political risks, thanks in part to his own past comments. Here he was, the President, in September of 2016 talking about Hillary Clinton campaign aides. Let`s watch that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Her staffers taking the Fifth Amendment. How about that? They have five people taking the Fifth Amendment like you see on the mob, right? You see the mob takes the fifth. If you are innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, he talks like a guy on the street corner. What are you doing? You taking the fifth, you know? You have the coat open, the big tie. And he is talk like he might know some of those guys. What do you think of that? He says -- we all grew up with the idea, Fifth Amendment. Remember Joe McCarthy, Fifth Amendment communist? If you take the Fifth Amendment, you are a commie.
BLUMENTHAL: And we have to begin the conversation --
MATTHEWS: Not that he was right, of course, but that was the slur.
BLUMENTHAL: With we have to begin this conversation as good lawyers do by saying everybody is entitled to the Fifth Amendment and a judge will instruct a jury no adverse inference from it.
MATTHEWS: Yes. There is.
BLUMENTHAL: But the American public knows that it is -- for the President of the United States to take the Fifth Amendment is a staggering admission of criminal liability. It would be earth shattering for the President of the United States.
MATTHEWS: Would you advise Trump to take the fifth if you were back practicing?
BLUMENTHAL: I would advise him not to take the Fifth Amendment.
MATTHEWS: Would you advise him not to tell the truth?
BLUMENTHAL: And I would advise him to tell the truth.
MATTHEWS: Even if it brings him down on Russia and the rest of it?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, he presumably thinks he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
MATTHEWS: OK. Mr. President, did you ever talk to anybody in your campaign about talking to the Russians? Did you ever? What does he say? I never talked to Papadopoulos. I never talk to Manafort about the Russians. I never talked to my kids about the Russians. I never talked to Roger Stone about the Russian.
BUTLER: And that`s the point, Chris. The question would be did you conspire with the Russians to subvert our democracy. And his answer would be I can`t say because it would incriminate me. If I told the truth, it would incriminate me. What does that say?
MATTHEWS: Well, a friend of mine, a lawyer in Philly, who has been involved with politics for his whole life once told me if you are not running for office again, take the fifth. What do you think of that, Paul, that advice to a client?
BUTLER: Yes. So as a defense attorney, anyone who has a competent lawyer would advise President Trump to take the fifth. Again, he has got one posture as the subject of a major criminal investigation.
BUTLER: But another posture as the President of the United States, the presumed leader of the free world.
MATTHEWS: But if he lies he won`t be President.
BUTLER: Well, that`s up to Congress. Again, that`s anybody`s guess.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, anyway, I think it`s big -- it`s the reckoning is coming. I think what you said, senator, the fact that Rudy Giuliani is out there saying don`t testify, even if you are subpoenaed. I think that`s the heart of the question. Is it a monarchy or is it a constitutional republic?
Anyway. Thank you, Senator Richard Blumenthal as always, and as always of Connecticut. And thank you, Betsy Woodruff. Thank you for being here as the reporter on the thing. We have a reporter, a politician and we have a prosecutor, Paul Butler. Thank you.
Coming up, Rudy Giuliani continued his assault about the Stormy Daniels. As I said, he is out there muddying the water about what Trump knew about the hush money payment and when he knew it. He really did mudded up again yesterday. Rudy says he got everything straightened out. But for Rudy and Trump, the credibility gap is what you think it is, not good.
Plus, how much damage has Trump brought to the political situation in this country? It`s to the point where John McCain is reportedly telling friends he doesn`t want the President coming to his funeral.
President historian Jon Meacham talks about these dark days in American politics with us tonight.
And some Republicans running in primaries are still trying to out-trump Trump. But now there is worry inside the GOP that one of those candidates West Virginia`s cold baron Don Blankenship (ph) could end up the winner tomorrow night making it somewhat easier for Joe Manchin to get reelected.
Finally, let me finish with Trump watch. You won`t like it.
This is HARDBALL where the action. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Well, God help us. President Trump is ready the make an announcement on the Iran nuclear deal. This afternoon the President tweeted I will be announcing my decision on the Iran deal tomorrow from the White House at 2:00 p.m. Trump has until Saturday technically to decide whether to extend sanctions related to Iran under the Obama deal.
Well, earlier today President Trump berated former secretary of state John Kerry, attacking him for reaching out to world leaders in an attempt to salvage the accord. Trump tweeted the United States does not need John Kerry`s possibly illegal shadow diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran deal. He is the one who created this mess in the first place. That`s Trump.
We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just tell me what do you need for this to all go away?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A resignation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I solved North and South Korea. Why can`t I solve us?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sorry, Donald, it`s too late for that. I know you don`t believe in climate change. But a storm`s a-coming, baby.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What do you think of that ever happening in your life?
Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was of course "Saturday Night Live" with Stormy Daniels playing herself, Stormy Daniels. And while she was the talk of late night, Rudy Giuliani also made plenty of noise this weekend, adding to the confusion surrounding the Daniels controversy.
Days after launching a blustery media campaign, Rudy Giuliani appeared on FOX News to try and clarify what the President knew or did not know about the $130,000 in hush money paid to stormy Daniels. Instead, he said he still doesn`t have all the facts straight. Let`s watch Rudy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you misspeak or did people not interpret what you were saying? Were you talking about the facts or were you talking about the law, Mr. Mayor?
GIULIANI: I`m talking about the law and the conclusion. The facts I`m still learning. This is, you know, 1.2 million documents. I have been in the case for two weeks, virtually one day in comparison to other people. So I`m not an expert on the facts yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I don`t know what to say about Jeanine Pirro, who I used to think was really great.
And her investigations of cases involving spousal abuse were fantastic on that stuff. I don`t know what she is doing.
Anyway, the next day, Rudy Giuliani left open the possibility that Michael Cohen may have made hush payments to other women. This is an amazing acknowledgment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Did Michael Cohen make payments to other women for the president?
GIULIANI: I have no knowledge of that. But I would think, if it were necessary, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But yes.
Meanwhile, Politico reports the president has been grope -- griping -- not groping -- "griping to his associates that Rudy Giuliani has failed to shut down the Stormy Daniels hush money saga."
That`s according to White House aides.
The report adds that the president -- quote -- "has expressed frustration that Giuliani`s media appearances are raising more questions than they`re answering." Aides -- quote -- "expect the president to fire Giuliani if his behavior doesn`t change."
For more, I`m joined by Sam Stein, politics editor at The Daily Beast and an MSNBC News contributor, and Mimi Rocah, who is a former federal prosecutor.
I`m going to go Mimi on this just on, what is Rudy up to? Is he up to something that we`re -- is he clever like a fox? Why would -- why did he say there may have been other cases where there is cover-up money paid, hush money paid to women to cover up relations they had with this president? Why would he do that?
MIMI ROCAH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think the strategy is this.
He is trying to say that there this a slush fund of money that Trump gave to Cohen or authorized to Cohen, and Cohen used it to deal with problems as they came up, including women problems. And that would give Trump some deniability about knowing what the payment was for.
So I know you have this money. I know you use it to deal with problems, but I don`t know exactly what kind of problems and I don`t know if it really was during the campaign.
So he is trying to distance Trump from that payment. The problem with that is, first of all, as we know, politically and to the public, the story keeps changing. It looks really bad. There is a credibility problem. But also, under the law, there is a saying that you can`t stick your head in the sand and, therefore, you know, be free of whatever crime you`re being charged with.
He can`t just say, I didn`t know what was going on, you know, I closed my eyes, stuck my head in the sand.
Here, it`s really plausible that he did know what was going on, either in this individual payment or in multiple payments.
MATTHEWS: Well, if he always paid off women for past relationships as a norm, an M.O., as they say in the law, does that deny the fact that he did it in this case because he is facing an election before the American people the next week?
Does it somehow -- if he just says, I do this all the time, it has nothing to do with an election -- Sam...
MATTHEWS: About the public reaction.
I mean, the public, if you like Trump, 47 percent would say, yes, he always does this. He`s had affairs with women. He always does pay off these people.
SAM STEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: OK, sure. OK. Let`s grant them this.
MATTHEWS: It`s a queen`s sacrifice. It`s an amazing defense.
STEIN: There is a logical hole here, though.
STEIN: That no one is pointing out.
How does Michael Cohen know who to pay? At some point, Trump has to say, please take care of this woman.
MATTHEWS: Well, they threaten them.
STEIN: So everyone who comes with a threat gets paid? That`s a stupid system. That makes no sense logically. Obviously, at some point in their weird concocted excuse, Michael Cohen has to be approached by Trump.
Trump has to tell Michael Cohen, hey, I need you to take care of this.
MATTHEWS: So, Lady X couldn`t just call up and say give me $50,000?
STEIN: Well, if that`s the case, then this is free money.
MATTHEWS: That`s really smart.
STEIN: Also, let me just say this. Rudy went out and said, essentially, I spoke first and found out the facts later.
STEIN: Sometimes, you have to step back and wonder what`s going on here. He literally he admitted that he spoke without...
MATTHEWS: Mimi, he also had -- we`re talking a gentleman here -- well, maybe a gentleman is too nice the word -- President Trump, who is notorious at not paying bills.
He just likes to delay the payment as long as possible and maybe get out of paying the thing and just move on to other people to do business with, different other people, and other vendors.
So, in this case, why would he write a check for $130,000 or authorize that so easily without even a conversation, in fact, even saying yes? He claims he never said, yes, pay the woman in question, Stormy Daniels.
ROCAH: Right. And that`s the kind of evidence that prosecutors and investigators are looking for right now and may already have if it exists through the search of Cohen`s office.
They`re looking for communications and other kinds of documentation that show that, despite what Trump says now, he did indeed know. And also, if what Giuliani is say -- and it`s a big if -- is correct, that there were other payments to other women, where did that money come from, right?
Because Cohen now -- we have heard some conflicting stories. But Cohen said he took $130,000, took a home finance loan, which I don`t know if that`s going to turn out to be accurate or not, and there may be some possibility of fraud in that loan, if he did indeed.
MATTHEWS: I mean, you have to say -- I have heard people going to the Super Bowl on homed-financed money. It can`t really be a punishable crime, is it? Do people actually go to jail because they use money to go to a Super Bowl that they were supposed to use to fix the garage or whatever, the rec room?
ROCAH: I hadn`t heard that.
MATTHEWS: Well, come on. You have heard...
MATTHEWS: Come on.
ROCAH: But not standing alone...
MATTHEWS: Yes, go ahead.
ROCAH: Not standing alone, but -- standing alone meaning if that was the only thing he did. But if it`s part of a bigger scheme, and you lie on a loan application, and the point is that, if there are lots of other women being paid, where is that money coming from?
I mean, as you say, this is -- Donald Trump is the man...
MATTHEWS: Well, $35,000 a month, a regular flow of trouble. It`s a slush fund.
ROCAH: He won`t pay his legal bills. He is not paying off women.
MATTHEWS: I have watched politics for so many decades, and I have never really -- I know you`re supposed to obey the finance rules, and you should.
But I have never heard of them being treated as felonies. How does it become a felony because he didn`t record properly the payment because it was actually a campaign payment?
I saw it happen. Look, it happened with John Edwards. The jury couldn`t decide. We get these cases. I just -- isn`t there a reasonable doubt there that it was not really for the campaign, that you could find one out of 12 jurors that would say?
STEIN: And that is what their -- Giuliani`s point is essentially this had nothing to do with the campaign. It was about protecting the reputation of the family. It was about making sure that Melania wasn`t hurt.
MATTHEWS: Yes, let me...
STEIN: But that is defied by this notion of both the timing of when it happened, the fact that it was so far removed from when the actual affair took place, allegedly, and also the fact that there is a slush fund involving other women.
I mean, these two things can`t possibly coexist. Trump could not -- Trump had to have known that a payment was being made. She would not -- how would Stormy Daniels have known to go to Michael Cohen, say, this happened five years ago, I`m not coming out, I know Trump has no involvement in this, no knowledge of this, but I know that you control the slush fund, and, therefore, you should...
MATTHEWS: You make a strong point.
Alan Dershowitz, who has formally -- informally been counseling the president, was asked about the mayor`s strategy on Sunday. That`s yesterday.
This is moving fast. Here is what Dershowitz said:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Is this legal strategy that Mr. Giuliani is pursuing here, has this been well-thought-out over the last few days?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, ATTORNEY: No, I don`t think so. I think this was a very bad week for the Trump team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Why don`t we ask one lawyer how good the other lawyer is?
Ask Dershowitz how well the other lawyer is. I`m telling you.
I`m sorry, Mimi, I would take that with a grain of salt. I think, if he were the lawyer defending it, he would be very good at it. Your thoughts? Has Trump got -- what is the worst thing that could happen to Donald Trump in this whole Stormy Daniels mess? He is embarrassed? Not really, because he keeps getting mulligans from the cultural right, the religious right in this country and Republicans generally.
They don`t even seem to mind to say this happens all the time with him. That doesn`t seem to hurt them -- hurt him politically. So what is the legal threat to this president that might cause him to be indicted or face impeachment or what?
Or is it just malarkey, just stuff, and it`s going to be a problem for Michael Cohen, he is going away for 20 years, but not the president?
ROCAH: Well, what`s interesting, Chris, is part of why Giuliani came out and their story keeps changing is in reaction to Michael Cohen also having come out a little bit and said, you know, this is -- Giuliani`s messing this up. He doesn`t have this right.
And then Trump came out and said, OK, Giuliani doesn`t have it right. We`re going to fix this.
So, I think they are running scared from Michael Cohen, because he knows the truth. He`s the other person in this whole scenario who knows the truth. And that`s who maybe prosecutors are going to talk to. And they`re digging through the evidence.
And, look, we don`t know all the crimes right now because we don`t know all the evidence. But it does look like there is potential criminal -- some kind of campaign finance. There is potential bank fraud. I think we don`t know yet about the source of the money.
MATTHEWS: With Michael Cohen. But what about Trump? You think Trump might be guilty of something here, in this case?
ROCAH: Well, it`s going to really depend on his level of knowledge.
ROCAH: And that will come from either Michael Cohen talking and/or through communications that investigators get in that search.
I will say that the Southern District of New York in the brief that they filed in response to the TRO that Cohen filed, there was a whole section that was blacked out.
MATTHEWS: OK, TRO?
ROCAH: Temporary restraining order. Sorry.
MATTHEWS: OK. Great.
STEIN: Back in the Cohen case, the Southern District filed a brief.
And there was a whole section that was blacked out about why they were able to get a search warrant.
MATTHEWS: Yes. That`s what we all want to go.
ROCAH: Yes. That`s going to be very telling.
MATTHEWS: Because they weren`t storm troopers. They were doing their job after they had a warrant to go there.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
By the way, I have to say to both of you, I think Ben Stiller`s performance as Michael Cohen is as good as Alec Baldwin`s of the president. It is so - - the swagger, the kind of haunted look, the whole thing. He`s got -- he even looks like the guy.
Thank you, Sam Stein. Thank you, Mimi Rocah.
ROCAH: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next: a guide for surviving the Trump presidency. Presidential historian Jon Meacham is coming here. His new book takes a look at how our country has survived even the most divisive eras. A lot of information in this book about we how we got this far without Trump. Now we have got to figure out to get further with him.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to be strong. We have to take our country back. We have to run the country properly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was then candidate Donald Trump promising voters that he was going to take our country back.
Well, the 2016 presidential campaign and the Trump presidency have marked a divisive time in American politics, to the point where "Washington Post" columnist Dan Balz in an op-ed on the changing story over Stormy Daniels asked readers -- quote -- "Does it bother anyone that President Trump has been caught lying? Does it bother anyone that this is not new? Does it bother anyone that the president has been shown to be a liar?"
But, as presidential historian Jon Meacham writes in new book, "The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, this isn`t the first time America has gone through a chaotic period like this.
He writes that: "Today, the alienated are being mobilized afresh by changing demography, by broadening conceptions of identity, and by an economy that prizes information age brains over manufacturing brawn."
He points that: "History shows us that we are frequently vulnerable to fear, bitterness and strife. The good news is that we have come through such darkness before."
I`m joined right now by Jon Meacham, author of "The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels." He is also a presidential historian, of course, and an MSNBC contributor.
So, Trump is out there rallying, blowing the bugle for tribal separation and division. Is that part of our history, that kind of thing?
JON MEACHAM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. Sure, absolutely.
In 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan was reborn, had probably five million members in states ranging from Oregon to Indiana, Colorado. And the entire argument, it was one to white working-class and middle-class folks, saying that immigrants were coming and taking their jobs. They were changing the culture, and that we, the white man of America, had to stand against him, and against this mode.
There was a Klan governor of Georgia, a man named Clifford Walker, who gave a speech calling for, get this, building a wall of steel to keep people out.
And that was about the white -- the definition of white was not including Catholics, was not including Jewish people, right?
MATTHEWS: It was pretty Protestant white notion, right?
It was the forerunner to what was the Thurman vote in `48, the Wallace vote in `68. You know, we forget, Wallace got 13.5 percent in 1968, carried what, I think four states, didn`t he?
And so Trump -- it`s hard to use the word apotheosis in the same sentence with Donald Trump, but in many ways, he is the culmination of a long historical journey that goes back to Reconstruction and even earlier, obviously.
We were a slaveholding nation, for God`s sake. The Constitution takes cognizance of slavery itself.
MATTHEWS: What I didn`t know until you wrote it in this wonderful book -- because I have learned a lot by reading this book, Jon -- is that after the Civil War, the Confederates, the ones who lost the military battle of the Civil War, they had a political plan, which is deny suffrage to blacks, deny them real citizenship, have on the record a policy of white supremacy, period, that they even liked that term.
They called it white supremacy.
MEACHAM: Yes. The phrase lost cause was coined in January 1866, so not even a year after Appomattox.
And the argument was by a guy named Edward Alfred Pollard, who was sort of the first architect of the Southern strategy, if you will, that we now call it, writes that the war is over. The shooting war is over, but this is now what he called a war of ideas.
MATTHEWS: How is this different than Trump today? Trump basically writes off African-Americans by saying the first African-American president was basically an illegal immigrant. He snuck in the country. He is really from Kenya.
He then went after all the people who come here to get jobs who are Mexicans and other Latin Americans as rapists. Then he goes after the Muslims who live here, and a lot of them live here, and they`re all terrorists.
How is that different than the way it was done right after the Civil War by the Klan?
MEACHAM: I don`t think it is. This is an ancient American strain, and it`s a big strain.
The American soul, as I think of it, has room for Dr. King, but it also has room for the Klan. And any given era is determined by which side wins out. And it`s usually a struggle, as you know in your bones. It gets to about - - the winning side is about 52 or 53 percent.
MATTHEWS: Close call.
MEACHAM: Yes, it`s always a close call. It`s always a close call.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about -- we only have a couple minutes here, in fact a minute.
In his profile, a profile now on Senator John McCain, who is currently fighting brain cancer, we know about that, "The New York Times" reports that: "The current plan for his funeral is for Vice President Pence to attend the service to be held in Washington`s National Cathedral, but not President Trump, with whom Mr. McCain has had a rocky relationship."
We`re getting the word he doesn`t -- he is already -- he is still alive. He is still with us, but he doesn`t want Trump there.
MATTHEWS: What does that say about our country? There is a picture of them together.
What does it say about a president of the United States basically being persona non grata by a U.S. senator?
MEACHAM: That we`re in a Hobbesian state of nature right now, where it is a war of all against all.
Trump, during the campaign, remember, maligned, I guess is the word, Senator McCain`s war record, saying, I prefer my heroes who don`t get shot down.
MEACHAM: And so I admire Senator McCain for not being falsely hypocritical, even in death.
He doesn`t like the guy. He doesn`t want him there. Here is the great thing that Jonathan`s piece and the other reporting seems to show, that two of the people who will eulogize Senator McCain in the fullness of time are the two men to whom he lost the presidency of the United States.
And that tells you everything about a sense of country and of duty. These aren`t perfect guys. They`re driven by appetite and ambition. But enough of the time, they get it right that they have led us to a better place. And that`s what we all have to try to do right now.
MATTHEWS: Well, I must say about Donald Trump vs. John McCain, John McCain was shot down over Hanoi, taking -- he was bombing right in over the lake. I have seen the statue that the communists built of him over there.
And I don`t think Donald Trump really risked actually being shot down over Hanoi, because he said his biggest challenge was to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. That was his Vietnam, as he put it.
It`s really amazing to dare to compare yourself to John McCain in terms of heroic terms.
Jon Meacham, you have done it again, "The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels," a great book with so much history in there about our -- what we have always thought and valued.
Up next, Don Blankenship is surging ahead -- catch this -- in tomorrow`s West Virginia primary. It has Republicans in panic mode. Blankenship says he`s Trumpier than Trump. Look at this guy.
But even the president is actively campaigning against him. He is too Trump for Trump. Are the Republicans headed for a repeat of Alabama, another loser?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The party of triumph -- or the party of Trump has another crisis on its hand, this times thanks to a candidate who`s has declared himself Trumpier than Trump.
"Politico" reports that there is a growing concern among Republicans that Don Blankenship, a bombastic coal baron who has spent time in prison for irregularities in keeping the mine safe, is surging ahead of Tuesday`s West Virginia Senate primary, and a last-minute campaign is under way to try and stop the guy.
The West Virginia race is the highest profile of three critical primaries tomorrow night with other races in Ohio and Indiana. In recent weeks, Blankenship has made headlines by launching Trump-style personal attacks against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the family of his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON BLANKENSHIP (R), WEST VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people. While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich. In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars. The war to drain the swamp and create jobs for West Virginia people has begun. I will beat Joe Manchin and ditch cocaine Mitch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, today -- this is how bad it`s gotten.
Today, Trump weighed in on the race, tweeting Don Blankenship currently running for Senate can`t win the general election in your state, no way. Remember Alabama?
Well, Blankenship fired back at a town hall today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLANKENSHIP: It`s really sad that the pressure on the president and the misinformation and the untruths that he has been given would cause him to suggest that you vote for two guys that have failed you, because I will not fail you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He also told West Virginians only he can out-Trump Trump. Let`s listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLANKENSHIP: While West Virginia really loves Trump, it`s his policies that they love. I`m basically Trumpier than Trump when it comes to those policies, but I`m a much more mild-mannered and much more in line in terms of the social issues in West Virginia than even President Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in the HARDBALL round table. Eugene Robinson is a columnist for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor. Elana Schneider is campaign reporter for "Politico" and Sahil Kapur is national political reporter for "Bloomberg Politics".
What I see there is a guy like selling Carvel ice cream or the local Ford dealership, the guy that really shouldn`t be on television, but he owns the company so he does the ads. I thought that was the strangest ad. I don`t know if he is going to win in West Virginia.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, the whole thing is really strange. If you`re too Trumpy for Trump, who are you? What are you? I mean, that`s --
MATTHEWS: China person --
MATTHEWS: China person --
ROBINSON: China people.
MATTHEWS: He is trying to clean up China people.
ROBINSON: China people. It`s crazy. This is a three-way race, and as you know, anything can happen --
MATTHEWS: They`re all close to 20.
ROBINSON: Exactly. Anything can happen in a three-way race.
MATTHEWS: Well, one guy is surging, Elena. I always thought trying to pick up these newspapers, I used to try to pick them all the time, I always thought, who is -- where they stood before the election and who was surging. It was real simple. And this guy is surging and they`re close which suggests he might well win the nomination to go against Joe Manchin.
ELENA SCHNEIDER, CAMPAIGN REPORTER, POLITICO: He`s got momentum heading into --
MATTHEWS: But Manchin would probably beat him, wouldn`t he?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, he`s won statewide five times. So, he`d be in a great position, but a position that than any of the other candidates.
MATTHEWS: So, why interest Republicans doing what I think the Democrats are poised to do sometimes, commit hara-kiri? Why do they want to do that?
SCHNEIDER: Well, they`re in a bit of a murder-suicide going on between Patrick Morrissey and Evan Jenkins who are the two other Republicans who are running. They`ve been beating up on each other for so long that --
MATTHEWS: They ignored him.
SCHNEIDER: Surge up the middle.
MATTHEWS: Sahil, they`ve tried to put him down by ignoring his appropriateness for the office. But maybe the people are really enraged in West Virginia want somebody who isn`t appropriate for the office.
SAHIL KAPUR, BLOOMBERG NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. I mean, they`re -- the public polling in this race is really sparse. We don`t know what`s going to happen, but Republicans are clearly concerned and not to, you know, sound the alarm and to urge people, starting with the president himself, to urge West Virginians to come out and reject Blankenship.
There`s a throw line here, if you look at the kind of appeal that the scorched earth almost burn it down attitude has among Republican voters. President Trump took advantage of it in 2016, Roy Moore took advantage of it in Alabama. Don Blankenship is trying to claim that same thing. There is no ideological policy or policy throw line --
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go back to history. Richard Murdoch in Indiana, who knocked off Richard Lugar got beaten by Donnelly, a Democrat. Let`s see. Todd Akin, the other rape candidate, what do you think? The two rape candidates.
And then we had Christine O`Donnell, the witch candidate, who wasn`t a witch and now, we had --
ROBINSON: She is not a witch.
MATTHEWS: And then we had Sharron Angle, the one who wanted Second Amendment remedies like don`t shoot the policy you don`t like.
KAPUR: Right. There is a long rich history of Republicans shooting themselves in the foot by nominating unelectable candidates. Now, the problem here is that West Virginians were also told that Donald Trump could never possibly win. And they voted for him and he won. It`s hard to convince and it`s hard for the man who defied that exact phenomenon to convince these same voters that, no, you have to believe me many this time.
MATTHEWS: Well, is he identified with mine disasters?
ROBINSON: Well, exactly.
MATTHEWS: That`s a bad identity.
ROBINSON: Look, I think that would be a negative, right, in West Virginia.
MATTHEWS: Twenty-eight to 29 guys were killed in the mine and he owned it.
ROBINSON: And you got convicted for it.
MATTHEWS: He went to --
SCHNEIDER: To jail.
MATTHEWS: He went to the pen for that.
ROBINSON: However, if you accept that nationwide, Republicans and Democrats, Donald Trump`s floor is something like 35 percent.
ROBINSON: It`s not out of the realm of possibility that you could get 35 percent for a Trumpier Trump in West Virginia, right? Among Republicans in West Virginia. That`s not that much of a stretch.
MATTHEWS: You know, I think of D.C. where we had Marion Barry who was extremely popular with poor people here. And the more the government went after him, catching him with dope and everything, the more people that rallied to him. So, maybe it`s one of those weird parallels when you`re really down and out like the West Virginians always feel is down and out that they feel that they`ve got get even with the boss.
But here is the boss. I`m sorry. But here`s the boss of the mine who`s running. I don`t know.
SCHNEIDER: They`re also hearing the most from Blankenship. He`s outspent both candidates on television and that`s also --
MATTHEWS: What do you think of his ad copy there? What do you think of the way he behaved there, that monotone?
SCHNEIDER: It`s --
MATTHEWS: Bartels and James.
KAPUR: He is Trump without the charisma it seems. Without the charisma.
ROBINSON: Who knows what works these days? Who knows what works on television? I don`t know.
MATTHEWS: But there is an element of Trump to his voters that is fun. This guy is not fun. Who wants to put up with him on television for six or 12 years? Maybe they don`t want to watch television.
Anyway, the round table is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.
MATTHEWS: Well, tonight, "Vanity Fair" is reporting that long-time Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen is in a difficult spot. The report which just broke in the last few minutes says Cohen is consumed by lawyers since the raid of his office, and quotes Cohen who says, I`d die for my wife and my kids, and this is all ruining their lives. The report also notes that Cohen`s friends told him that Trump chiding Giuliani was a signal that the president was looking out for Cohen. Wow. That`s what he needs and I guess is always getting.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.
Gene, tell me something I don`t know.
ROBINSON: The National Urban League is out with this annual state of America black report. This year, the focus is on the dearth of African- Americans in high-tech jobs, in Silicon Valley. It`s 5 percent or less.
MATTHEWS: I heard Charles Blow talk about that last week. That`s a challenge.
SCHNEIDER: We have another special election headache building for Republicans in Ohio. There is a primary there to replace Pat Tiberi, and some of the candidates -- or one of the candidates that`s running Republicans believe would put in another southwestern Pennsylvania situation in which she would be unelectable in August, and they`re really concerned about losing an election in a place where Trump won by 10 points.
MATTHEWS: Pattern is there.
KAPUR: The biggest story of his presidency that nobody is talking about is that Trump has confirmed a modern record of 15 appeals court judges who are dyed in the wool Federalist Society type of conservatives. They want to drastically restrict what kind of kinds of powers the federal government can assert under the Constitution. To progressives, that means a long term rolling back of abortion rights, women`s rights, voting rights.
MATTHEWS: They`re in office now.
KAPUR: They`re in office now. They`ve been confirmed. All of them are in their 40s and 50s with lifetime appointments. They`ll be shaping the law for generations to come.
MATTHEWS: That`s powerful news.
Eugene Robinson, Elena Schneider and Sahil Kapur, that`s great stuff. We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Monday, May 7th, 2018.
I think after several months of speculation about the Trump role in the Russian conspiracy, we are approaching the moment of truth, a reckoning of whether this president accepts constitutional rule or not. It will come when the Supreme Court declares that Donald Trump, like Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton before him must bow to a subpoena to deliver himself to give testimony under oath.
I suspect this will be the moment of truth, as I said, the reckoning of what this whole matter has been about. Does this president respect rule of law or doesn`t he? So, all that happens or doesn`t happen over the next several months will end up with this moment.
If Trump decides that he will get hurt if he testifies and therefore should not, we should all be vigilant, totally alert to what happens next. We need all of us, right, left and what`s left at the center, at that moment to decide what we think about the importance of adhering to the American Constitution. More to the point, when we think of an elected official, in this case our highest official who refuses to adhere to the Constitution, he took an oath under God to protect.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
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