Show: HARDBALL Date: May 8, 2018 Guest: Susan Page, Chris Wilson
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Bombshell. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington tonight.
Tonight, a huge charge in the investigation of Donald Trump. Attorney Michael Avenatti has released information the Russian oligarch made a payment of a half million dollars to Trump`s fixer lawyer Michael Cohen. Avenatti says the $500,000 went into an account Cohen used to pay hush money to adult film actor, Stormy Daniels.
This story could connect the whole Trump business from Moscow to the President`s personal life. It could bring the question whether Trump has been on the hook the powerful figures in the Russian government. The very essence of the Mueller investigation.
Avenatti posted an executive summary of his research late today. His report lists a number of allegations ABC News has not yet been able to verify. But according to Avenatti, the oligarch in question, Viktor Vekselberg. Avenatti says Vekselberg deposited the money into an account which was used to repeat to pay off Stormy Daniels. Vekselberg was sanctioned last month by Trump`s treasury department.
Just four days ago, the "New York Times" reported that according to people close to the investigation, federal agents working with Mr. Mueller stopped Mr. Vekselberg a t New York area airport this year, searched his electronic devices and questioned him. They confront him after he stepped off a private plane about two months ago. Well, the Russian billionaire has not been identified as a suspect in the investigation.
But the "New York Times" has reported that Vekselberg who attended President Trump`s inauguration was also present with the December 5th dinner in Russia where for the President Trump inauguration and that 2017 dinner where Michael Flynn was among the guests of honor. NBC could not reach Cohen or his attorney for comment tonight.
For more, I`m joined my Julia Ainsley, national security and justice reporter for NBC News and Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the eastern of Michigan and Natasha Bertrand, a staff writer for the "Atlantic" and MSNBC contributor.
Julia, I want to start with you on this one. It`s from Avenatti, but it`s a bombshell because it connects a Russian oligarch paying $500,000 into a bank account, basically, which Michael Cohen was using to pay off hush money to Stormy Daniels. This is an amazing connection. Your thoughts.
JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: It`s an amazing revelation, Chris. When we first started hooking around on this I can remember a year or more than a year ago, asking people in counterintelligence, what should we be looking for? Tell me where to look. They said, follow the money. And that`s exactly what this document does.
It shows a string. It shows that Trump`s personal attorney paying hush money and then having those bank accounts replenished by foreign governments in is this case Russia. The government at the heart of the Mueller investigation. I just didn`t expect it to come from the attorney for an adult film actress who had an alleged affair with the President. That`s not where I saw this going. And it makes it really difficult because we have to piece all of this apart now figure out what exactly is true. Where this information came from. But we are not seeing the raw document those reports that Michael Avenatti is pulling all of this from. So we will be doing that in the coming days.
What it really makes me want to see now is Donald Trump`s tax returns and more o information on the Trump organization. Of course, we are able to see just a sliver of the way Trump did business by getting into his attorney`s bank account. But what about other bank accounts? What about other people who did business with Trump? People who are loyal inside his circle, were they also being repaid? Were they also doing this kind of business?
We can also be sure that Michael or that Robert Mueller knew about this payment before we did and possibly even before those raids. Because that oligarch that you point out, Chris, at the top of the show. He was stopped at some point this year. That could very well have been before this early April raids on Michael Cohen`s apartment. So we can be sure this is something that Robert Mueller already knows a lot more about than we do.
MATTHEWS: Natasha, I think -- I have been watching this case like all of us for so many months that I keep seeing the big macro-economic facts here. The Russians with all their cash. They can buy houses always over Europe. They got so much cash, these oligarchs. And you have -- all that a supply of money out there. And you have you Donald Trump`s insatiable desire for more money. Not just to expand his business and his sons businesses and to pay up debts. All this demand for cash and his own personal problems, where he has to have this regular supply of 35k a month just to pay off his problems.
Supply and demand. Trump needs cash. The Russians have it. He also has power as President. He had -- elect as a candidate. It just seems to flow into each other in a classic economic modem. Your thoughts.
NATASHA BERTRAND, REPORTER, THE ATLANTIC: Yes. And Julia`s point about this being very surprising, the fact that this revelation came from Stormy Daniels` attorney, it is pretty shocking. We did not expect this.
There are two different theories at play here. Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti seems to be implying that the payments from Vekselberg, Viktor Vekselberg, this oligarch were going to Cohen in order to reimburse him for paying Stormy Daniels off to keep quiet before the election. And in that way, the Russians were perhaps trying to make sure the Stormy payment, that the Stormy agreement would not come out before the election and therefore would --
MATTHEWS: In keeping that quiet?
BERTRAND: -- to allow Trump to win.
MATTHEWS: So it`s a part of the whole pattern?
BERTRAND: Possibly. That`s what Avenatti is asserting.
But then there is another angle to this, which is that this was simply cash for access because Vekselberg, of course, was doing business.
MATTHEWS: And he has play money, his $13 billion. He has a few bucks and change for the American President is clearly what he got for him.
Let me go to Barbara on this quest of the law. We have been hearing about bank fraud, mail fraud, all kinds of stuff. Big time stuff. We have known about the raid on Michael Cohen`s everything, his office, his accounts, his apartment, temporary hotel room, his phone, everything his laptop. Al that. Were they looking for a Russian connection there?
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: You know, I don`t know if they were looking for a Russian connection, but this is a really interesting development and certainly one that Robert Mueller likely knew about before we found out today.
But you mentioned that interview visit at the airport when the oligarch came to New York City. And it seems, perhaps, a possibility that some of the information they gathered from that visit including looking at his electronic devices is what developed the probable cause to search Michael Cohen`s office if that`s a connection there.
Some possible crimes, one is campaign finance violations because it`s illegal to accept funds from any foreign national. And so, if those funds were paid to Stormy Daniels to help Trump when the election, that could be a campaign finance violation.
MCQUADE: But we have also seen now is this very troubling pattern of lots and lots of money coming into Trump and Michael Cohen from Russian sources in cash. If they know that that is the proceeds of criminal activity, then reinvesting that money could also be the basis for money laundering charges.
MATTHEWS: Julia, let`s get back to the way people look at this case. I mean, people are so hardened to the fact that the President of the United States has had this rocky sex life, whatever you call it. All these relationships, apparently, they -- even according to Giuliani they had a regular slush fund on a regular basis to pay off these hush money cases. But now you have, it seems to me, a connection with Russia. If he needed to refill his bank account with money from Russia, that puts him on the hook.
AINSLEY: Yes. And I`m thinking back to the "Washington Post" story from last week about how the President was able to buy all these properties with cash. Remember at the time the press, the reporter open our air tries to say does that mean this money is coming from Russia, from places where it shouldn`t be? And they didn`t know that at that time.
But now being able to see, I mean, if all of this is correct, the way this bank account was replenish, not just by Russia but from other governments and from U.S. companies who wanted to pay for that access.
I think what Natasha points out is really key. Whether or not this money was a direct correlation to payment to Stormy Daniels or other people who Trump wanted to keep quiet is a little harder to prove. But what seems to be really clear is that there are governments who are able to buy influence over this President and perhaps they have been doing so for a long team.
MATTHEWS: Well, Natasha and everybody, this is the big popper of a question, you know, Vladimir Putin must have known all about this and has known about it for months. Because his oligarch over there, they all know each other. They all know -- everybody with connections to America. Every Russian has an American. And here`s this guy, Viktor Vekselberg who apparently had the money to write a check for a half million dollars to this fixer for President Trump. That`s who he is. The fixer, gets a half million bucks from this oligarch. You have to wonder Vladimir is chuckling about the fact he has got this on this President. And every meeting they have, he hasn`t.
BERTRAND: Right. And the reason why Vekselberg was flying in and out of the United States was because he was trying to pursue business deals here. And then he was sanctioned and he could no longer visit United States.
So on one of those trips, he was stopped by Mueller`s agents. And we have seen reporting that says that Mueller did actually specifically asked Vekselberg about these payments that he made to Michael Cohen.
So Mueller knows. The questions is, were these payments related to the election in terms of keeping Stormy Daniels quiet or were they related to a broader campaign for access. Of course, we have seen previous indications that the Trump campaign was trying to reassure the Russians but they would be lifting the sanction on Russia when Trump was inaugurated. So was this a part of, during the year of last year, it was so unclear, whether or not the Trump administration was going to impose new sanctions. So was this an effort by Vekselberg who has invested interest in the United States and doing business here to keep the Trump administration from imposing those sanctions. Now, clearly that didn`t work. The sanctions now keep him off U.S. soil and the part away from Mueller.
MATTHEWS: Well, for those -- to people just joining us right now, we have a bombshell story from Michael Avenatti. He has got his story out tonight, apparently a solid one that Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg who has been watched by our government already has been given a half a million dollars to Michael Cohen, the President`s fixer, which according to Avenatti was used to pay off Stormy Daniels.
Let me go to Barbara on this. Barbara, how would he get this information? It seems like he may have gotten it from Mueller. I don`t know if he got it from Mueller. And second question as a prosecutor, why would he put it out? Why would it be in Avenatti`s interest to throw this bombshell out now which would certainly going to cause in trouble?
How does Giuliani, second question, go on television one more time? Because there is a big question in the paper, would Giuliani be shut up by Trump? Because he isn`t doing the job very well.
How can he go on TV on this media tour and answer any of these questions? How can he explain an oligarch was playing for Trump`s girl problem? To put it bluntly, it`s a girl problem. What is it? Your thoughts?
MCQUADE: Well, first, I would be highly doubtful that Robert Mueller would share this information with Michael Avenatti. It is not in his interest to do so. And it is not his style to disclose those kinds of things, but who would?
Well, Michael Avenatti has been become very public in his crusade against President Trump. So anyone who has this information, people who work in banks, people have access to this information. See what Michael Avenatti is doing, support his cause, may have shared this information with him.
My guess is as we said earlier, just a sliver of what Robert Mueller knows. Why is Michael Avenatti doing it? It seems that he is putting as much pressure as he can on President Trump in his efforts to resolve his dispute between him and Stormy Daniels, so Stormy Daniels can be free to tell her story without fear of sanctions pursuant to the contract that may or may not be enforceable.
And finally, should Rudy Giuliani be out there talking about these things? You know, he said the other day he has been on this media tour. And yet he is only made it about halfway through learning the facts of the case. You know, it`s really important to learn the facts.
MATTHEWS: When he learns this one today, thanks to the media, he is going to choke on it. There is no way he can explain it. How can you disentangle the Russians paying a half million bucks to shut up to be blunt about to it, to hush up, somebody who has a story to tell about their relationship with the President of the United States?
This is -- collusion. This is a collision of stories that I didn`t expect to get tonight in the midst of this Iranian deal. We thought was the biggest story The fact that he`s killed the Iranian deal the fact that he is now facing the charge that his problem, his sexual relationship he was trying to keep quiet has been paid off by a Russian oligarch.
AINSLEY: Chris, if I can take a guess how Giuliani might try to explain this, I think that he might get back to the talking point that we heard over the weekend that $130,000 is no big deal to someone like Donald Trump. And he will say why in the world would he need foreign money to pay that off? And he will also be --
MATTHEWS: To keep it quiet out of his checkbook that way. That`s one reason.
AINSLEY: So they used it to replenish the funds. It`s not exactly clear why exact will I that coiffure was replenished at that time.
But what I think he will really have a hard time explaining away is, a, why wasn`t Trump aware of it? He is trying to say that he wasn`t aware until media reports came out? That doesn`t make sense. Why wouldn`t the President-elect be made aware of allegations like the Stormy Daniels affair? And then he will also just have a really hard time explaining, OK, if not to keep Stormy Daniels quiet then for what purpose? Why would all of this money be coming into Michael Cohen`s account, especially at the time when Donald Trump is taking public office? That I don`t know how you can explain away.
MATTHEWS: We believe Michael Cohen didn`t notify his client his boss, his client, that he is a fixer for, that a buddy are theirs in Moscow just come through with a check for a half million dollars? He wouldn`t tell him that?
BERTRAND: It`s quite unbelievable. But when I spoke to Michael Cohen`s attorney Steve Ryan (ph), very, very briefly tonight. He told me he understands what I was talking about. I asked him about the Avenatti report. He said I get --.
MATTHEWS: Does he know about it?
BERTRAND: He did know about it. He said but I would dispute it is a payment. He said it was not a payment. Now, of course when I spoke to Avenatti, he said it is absolutely incorrect to say this is not a payment.
MATTHEWS: What`s an alternative way of saying or describing a half million dollars that was given from one party to another?
BERTRAND: I don`t know because he hung up on me and told me never to talk to him again.
MATTHEWS: I love to hear your trade craft like that.
Anyway. Thank you -- you guys have all heard that probably.
Anyway, Julia Ainsley, Natasha Bertrand and Barbara McQuade.
Coming up, President Trump pulls America out of the Iran nuclear deal. We thought this was the big story all afternoon. It`s a move critics say contradiction say makes us less safe. I think so and could lead to war. Remember when Trump campaigned on no more stupid wars in the Middle East? Now the neo-cons have his ear. And that`s over with. So much for the arguments against stupid wars. He is now heading towards one perhaps.
Plus, there is real worry in the Republican Party right now that (INAUDIBLE) Don Blankenship will win tonight in West Virginia. Blankenship victory in that primary could be a boost to Democratic senate Joe Manchin in the general this November. Polls by the way close at 7:30 eastern. We will be on the air. It is 15 minutes from now. And we will give you the latest.
And a stunning fall of a political hot shot in New York State with long been Mr. Trump`s number one nemesis. What happened to New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman? And what happens now in the investigation that Schneiderman was leading?
Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. This is a big one.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: More news on the Russian investigation. On Monday, Rudy Giuliani tells CBS News that Robert Mueller has rejected a proposal from Trump`s team to allow the President to answer questions in writing. Giuliani also told the "Wall Street Journal" that Trump`s legal team hopes to decide by May 17th whether Trump should testify at all. One person close to the President`s legal preparations told the journal in an informal four-hour practice session, Mr. Trump`s lawyers were only able to walk through two questions. Given the frequent interruptions on national security matters along with many Mr. Trump`s loquaciousness.
We will be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President team in the office declined the dangers war talk of the neocon crowd. He is doing a pretty good job of him, it is heading them. In his biggest foreign policy move to date, President Trump today announced he was withdrawing the United States from the Iran nuclear deal and reinstating sanctions related to their nuclear program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was a horrible one- sided deal that should have never, ever been made. It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement. The Iran deal is defective at its core. America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail. We will not allow a regime that chants "Death to America" to gain access to the most deadly weapons on Earth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the dangers of Trump`s decisions are clear, alienating our allies, blowing up a deal that, by all accounts, is working, and, most ominously, risking some sort of conflict in the Middle East.
In fact, last week, French President Emanuel Macron told a German magazine withdrawing from the deal would have dire consequences.
Here`s Macron: "That would mean opening up Pandora`s box. It would mean war. It would mean war."
The deal was implemented to curtail, of course, Iran`s nuclear program. And for all the president`s tough talk today, he offered no evidence it wasn`t working. In fact, the IAEA, which monitors Iran`s program, said as recently as March Iran was complying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As of today, I can state that Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments. We have had access to all the sites and locations which we needed to visit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, joining me now from London is NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. Joe Cirincione is president of the Ploughshares Fund and an MSNBC national analyst. And Nayyera Haq is a former State Department official in the Obama administration.
I want to start with Joe.
There was no violation claimed by the United States. Even Trump, with his full cry of neoconism today and crazy regime talk and all the wackiness of what he had to say, never once said Iran broke the deal.
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, PRESIDENT, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: No.
MATTHEWS: So, obviously, they haven`t.
Just last week, the State Department certified that Iran is in compliance. The secretary of defense...
MATTHEWS: So, we are the one breaking the deal?
CIRINCIONE: Absolutely. We violated the deal. And now this gives Iran a way out.
They can basically leave the deal, without penalty, without consequences. They could restart their program in a matter of months. And this puts us back now, without our allies on our side, without the sanctions that we were able to put on globally. This puts us back on a path to war, right where we were in 2011 and 2013.
Nayyera, before we got this deal, thanks to Obama and John Kerry and the rest of them that put them together, Zarif and all the people around the world put it together, the Russians, the French, everybody, before this deal, people like John Bolton were out there banging the drum for war.
And we have got the quote. He actually was out there saying, we got to go bomb Iran. We have to bomb Iran, like bomb Iran, the song. Bomb Iran, bomb Iran.
Let`s take a look at him. This is John Bolton before. If you want a clue to what could come next, look at the man who President Trump recently chose to be his national security adviser.
John Bolton has been one of the loudest advocates of regime change in Iran and has endorsed a military strike against them. Let`s watch Bolton here in action.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: You have written an op-ed today in "The New York Times," and here`s the headline. It`s an eye-catcher. To stop Iran`s bomb, bomb Iran. What do you mean?
JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: That, just as Israel twice before has struck nuclear weapons programs in the hands of hostile states, I`m afraid, given the circumstances, that`s the only real option open to us now.
QUESTION: You want to bomb them? Really?
BOLTON: Well, I would rather we weren`t in this position.
But we have followed policies for close to 30 years now that have left us with no other option. There is a lot we can do, and we should do it. Our goal should be regime change in Iran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: OK, regime, real bold talk by another one of these chicken hawks, big on talk, no military experience in his life. Here we go.
And now they`re doing it again. He said the only alternative to something -- to -- well, he didn`t say there was an alternative. He said the alternative was to attack Iran. Now that there is no deal, what is to stop this character, who is now in the president`s ear, from pushing for an attack?
NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, let`s be clear. He is the brains behind this operation at this point, because Donald Trump himself is driven entirely by pettiness against Barack Obama.
HAQ: Right. He calls himself a deal-maker. There isn`t a single deal he hasn`t pulled the United States out of. And he hasn`t struck any deals in his time in office either.
MATTHEWS: He just wants to erase Barack Obama.
MATTHEWS: Like saying he`s a foreigner who snuck in the country, and then get rid of Obamacare and get rid of this.
And John Bolton is the one who has an ideology. And it`s regime change. Regime change appeared in this speech out of nowhere, when really this was a technical deal directed at stopping Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. This was never a deal intended or even presented as something that was supposed to stop Iran from all of its other nefarious activities in the region.
MATTHEWS: Of course. We all knew that at the time. The deal was about nuclear development.
Anyway, President Trump`s predecessor, Barack Obama, as said, here issued a rare statement rebuking today`s announcement as misguided.
Well, that`s understated.
Barack Obama wrote: "The reality is clear. The agreement is working. That is a view shared by our European allies, independent experts, and the current U.S. secretary of defense. I believe that the decision to put the agreement at risk without any Iranian violation of the deal is a serious mistake. Without the agreement, the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East."
In a joint statement, the leaders of England, France and Germany said: "It is with regret and concern that we take note of President Trump`s decision to withdraw. This agreement remains important for our shared security."
On the other hand, leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all publicly back President Trump`s decision.
And now let`s go to Richard Engel on this.
Richard, what do you make of this amazing -- we saw this coming. It`s been coming for a long time. But here we are breaking, in the Pottery Barn, we are breaking something that we will now have to fix.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, sometimes, news can be both anticipated and shocking at the same time.
And I think that`s what happened now. People that I have been speaking to think that there were several consequences that are going to come from this. It decreases trust in U.S. commitments. It emboldens the hard- liners in Iran. It makes conflict in the region more likely, and it surrenders the moral high ground to Iran, none of those positive outcomes.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it`s possible that they will resume their nuclear program?
ENGEL: It`s possible.
I wouldn`t say that that`s going to be their first reaction. If you heard Rouhani today, the president of Iran, who was standing by at the podium, he was ready to go with a statement -- the Trump speech was broadcast live in Iran, even though it was almost midnight, and then it switched right into Rouhani`s statement.
He said that Iran is going to stick with the deal, that it was 5 -- P5- plus-one deal, meaning the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus one, plus Germany. He said, now it`s just five. But we are going to stick with the deal. And we`re going to keep ahead and our economy is strong.
And then he added this threat. But if there is no benefit for Iran -- and the deal effectively collapses entirely -- then we could restart our industrial nuclear program, as he called it.
But I think that was really a sign to the hard-liners, because he now faces a serious problem within the country. There are many people in Iran who told him and told the people, never trust the U.S., don`t do a deal with the United States, they`re never going to commit to this deal. They will never honor it.
And now they are going to go back to Rouhani and say, we are -- we were correct.
So, if he can continue to have money coming in and have some sort of deal functioning with the other signatories of this deal, then I think he stays on. But if that starts to wither and it starts to fall apart, and the hard-liners get more and more of a voice, then you are going to see internal conflict within Iran.
You are going to see this entire structure breaking down. And I think, over time, maybe not even over a large period of time, we are going to see increased tensions and the risk of conflict in the Middle East.
MATTHEWS: Part of this looks like just Trump`s obsession with getting rid of anything that Barack Obama accomplished. It just smacks of pettiness, like getting rid of the Paris agreement, getting rid of Obamacare, getting rid of Obama in the history books.
Thank you, Richard Engel, Joe Cirincione, and Nayyera Haq.
Much more of you fellows when we come back, because we`re going to be talking about this, unfortunately, for a long time.
By the way, in West Virginia, Republicans are nervous right now that coal baron Don Blankenship -- there he is -- could pull off a win tonight in that primary, giving a big boost to Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. We will get the latest on where that race stands in a minute.
Stick with us. This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Polls have just closed in west Virginia, where we`re following a critical Republican primary.
Coal baron Don Blankenship has billed himself as Trumpier than Trump, and is looking to pull off a big win tonight. Right now, that race is to early to call.
And for the latest, let`s go to MSNBC`s Steve Kornacki. He`s at the big board for us tonight -- Steve.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris.
Polls closed, so we`re going to find out soon. And let me just take you through what we can expect here very quickly in the next 90 minutes.
If the past is prologue, probably about a third of the vote in West Virginia is going to come in, again, over the next 90 minutes. We will know in that time, is Blankenship for real? All these reports, the idea of him surging and having a chance tonight, it is based on internal polls. There is not a public poll out there that has shown it.
But Republican internal polls that have set off panic in Washington, that`s the basis. So we are going to find out in the next 90 minutes if he`s for real. Is he in the game? Is he more than in the game? Is he pulling away?
So, we`re going to keep a close eye on that. We also have polls closing in North Carolina right now, two Republican members of Congress facing potentially credible primary challenges there. Polls closing as well in Ohio. In Ohio, Jim Renacci favored to get the Republican Senate nomination to go against Sherrod Brown. We will see what happens there.
Two gubernatorial primaries in Ohio as well. Mike DeWine favored to win the Republican nomination. Richard Cordray, remember him, against Dennis Kucinich, that Democratic primary, Cordray the favorite.
And we can show you this, Chris. We have a lot of numbers coming in now in Indiana. This is for the right, the Republican nomination to oppose Joe Donnelly, Democratic senator in Indiana, a state Trump won by 20 points.
Here`s what we got. About a fifth of the vote is in. We`re calling this too early to call. We`re also saying that Mike Braun, he is leading this race right now, Mike Braun, businessman who has tried to position himself as an outsider. He`s running against Todd Rokita, Luke Messer. These are two members of Congress right here.
We are seeing Braun run up some big numbers here in Trump country in the southern part of the state, but also hold his own in each of these congressional districts. So, NBC right now says he is leading in this race.
KORNACKI: And, again, the headline, though, is West Virginia closing. So, we will keep an eye on those numbers, Chris.
MATTHEWS: You`re the great -- you`re the great one.
Thank you, Steve Kornacki.
We will be tracking the returns as they come in throughout the night, as Steve said, here on MSNBC.
Up next: the stunning fall of a political star. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had long been a thorn in President Trump`s side. Now he is facing stunning allegations that he physically assaulted women.
You are watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
A key adversary to President Trump is now out of a job. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned abruptly last night after "The New Yorker" reported allegations of physical violence from four women.
Two of Schneiderman`s accusers spoke on the record with "The New Yorker." Both were in relationships with Schneiderman and allege that he repeatedly hit them, often drinking frequently in bed, and never with their consent.
One of those women also told "The New Yorker" that Schneiderman -- quote -- "would almost always drink two bottles of wine in a night, then bring in a bottle of scotch into the bedroom. He would get absolutely plastered five nights out of seven."
Well, Schneiderman denied assaulting anyone, adding in a statement: "in the privacy of intimate relationships, I haven`t" -- are you laughing, Cornell?
MATTHEWS: "I engaged in role playing and other consensual sexual activity."
Well, one of the reporters who broke this story, Jane Mayer -- and she`s a super reporter -- spoke to my colleague Andrea Mitchell today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JANE MAYER, "THE NEW YORKER": He is basically saying that this was just role playing, it`s sort of "Fifty Shades of Grey" kind of thing, and that he had their consent.
But we spoke to the women themselves. And they said, we did not give our consent to this. They were -- they complained. They told him to stop. It was not fun for them. And it was not role playing. It was the real thing that they describe as assault.
So, you know, they said -- they stressed, there is no ambiguity in this. This isn`t "Shades of Grey." For them, simply, it`s black and white.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Schneiderman had positioned himself as a champion of the MeToo movement. In February, his office filed a civil rights lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein.
Well, "The Washington Post" reports that Schneiderman`s resignation could also have big implications for Robert Mueller`s investigation, writing: "Schneiderman is viewed as something of a backstop, the guy who could take up the case against Trump`s former campaign chairman for state crimes if Trump effectively wipes Paul Manafort`s federal slate clean."
For more, I`m joined by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," Cornell Belcher, a Democratic strategist and an MSNBC political analyst, and Chris Wilson, a Republican strategist.
Well, I understand your reaction, Cornell, but I think I`ve seen everything when I watched -- I watched Stormy Daniels on "Saturday Night Live" playing herself telling the president a storm is coming. Now, we live in a new universe, I know we do. Now, who was going to the Sir Galahad of this affair turns out to be this guy.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Yes, I mean, if you`re going to be a hero of the "Me Too" movement, perhaps you better not have this in your closet.
MATTHEWS: The Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde thing going on.
PAGE: You know, the other thing that`s amazing about this is that he had launched an investigation of, for instance, the Manhattan D.A., for not doing more about Harvey Weinstein. And now, the Manhattan D.A. is launching an investigation against him for possible criminal charges in connection with this.
MATTHEWS: Cornell, this is -- I know you won`t like to hear this as a Democratic strategist, but this sort of behavior we are hearing about today is not partisan in nature?
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: No, it`s we guys have a problem, right? And --
MATTHEWS: Well, this isn`t a New York sort of thing to this, I wouldn`t call it New York values, but Anthony Weiner. Who is the recent governor up there?
BELCHER: Spitzer. Right.
MATTHEWS: All kind of situations up there, all little different, but all problems.
BELCHER: But, look, powerful men behaving badly.
BELCHER: It`s a time old thing, and it really needs to stop.
This is -- look, this was a guy who was at the front line, right? You mentioned Spitzer. But Spitzer and Cuomo, this job, attorney general of New York is kind of a big deal on the national platform. This is how you be him the next governor of New York.
And this quick downfall, you know, good. The right thing happened. Women came out. And he`s stepping aside. And --
MATTHEWS: Why are we just learning about this now from the "New Yorker", from Ronan Farrow, Jane Mayer? Certainly lately, Ronan has established himself as a first rate journalist. But Jane`s been around for a long time, and nobody knew he had a drinking problem, knocking down two bottles of wine and going for the bourbon.
I mean, I don`t care. You notice that at the office the next day. I do not buy the fact you can hide that, Chris.
CHRIS WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think you are right.
WILSON: You`ve got the block for billions here. It`s really remarkable. And, you know, I agree with Cornell. I mean, what this does --
MATTHEWS: You are right. There is a billions aspect to this, the frontline.
WILSON: Yes, you need a hedge fund guy. But this is, it shows again the "Me Too" movement is something not the Republicans and Democrats can get righteously indignant about it. I mean, it`s something that --
MATTHEWS: -- tomorrow`s headlines.
WILSON: Yes, it`s well-deserved.
MATTHEWS: Speaking of headlines, Avenatti tonight, I`m telling you, trying to get to the Russian thing? A half million dollars from this oligarch, Vekselberg, who`s under investigation by the FBI already. They`re all going after him, Mueller (INAUDIBLE) and now, it turns out he gave him a half million dollars that may have been used to pay off Stormy Daniels. It ties everything together in one big patch of hell.
PAGE: Not everything. We need the North Korea story to be a part of Stormy Daniels.
MATTHEWS: A lot of socio-metric over lays here. It`s stunning. If I were Mueller, I`d say thank god this is getting some publicity to it. Trump was relying on Russian money for all kind of things.
PAGE: Well, and I think that we are pretty sure that Mueller knows a lot more about this than we do and he`s known about it for some time and has been pursuing it. It gives the sense that this is not a witch hunt or an empty investigation but finding really extraordinary developments.
BELCHER: And when you look at how angry he got at people for Putin`s miscall, the deference that he plays to Putin and Russians, it all makes sense now, right?
MATTHEWS: Well, explain why, because I was getting at that earlier. Putin knew all this.
BELCHER: Putin knew all this.
MATTHEWS: Who knew it`s his oligarch was given a half a million bucks.
BELCHER: Right, Putin knows all. And he`s -- and I hate to say this for an American president. I mean, Democrat or Republican, nobody seems to say it. But this guy seems to be in the pocket of the Russians.
BELCHER: And that seems to be a dangerous thing.
MATTHEWS: It is, and it`s tied into a marital embarrassment, which would normally be the case with most men, husbands or wives, but you try toy keep something secret because it`s so morally embarrassing, that you`re -- Rudy Giuliani gets out and says, no, it happens all the time we have a slush fund. That`s your queen sacrifice and (INAUDIBLE) said, oh, yes, we do this all the time, he`s always messing around, always covering it up with money.
And yes, it`s not an election violation. It has nothing to do with elections. It`s just who he is. That was his defense.
What is Rudy Giuliani go to say tomorrow morning when he shows up on "Fox and Friends," or somewhere like it, how does he explain the Russian piece of this?
WILSON: You know, the problem is I think you never sent Rudy Giuliani out into the press. Have we not learned that yet? I mean, there`s literally no amount of talking points you can put in front of him that are going to be quoted back. He`s just going to say whatever comes to his mind and my - -
MATTHEWS: What is he going to say? He`s always taken money from the Russians? This doesn`t mean anything.
WILSON: I don`t think he will say. I really thought Schneiderman would keep Stormy Daniels out of the press for a day. But Avenatti made sure that wasn`t going to happen. Journalists said to me recently the kind of thing that would have won you a Pulitzer Prize in 2008 happens four-to-five times a week now.
BELCHER: And is he going to have Giuliani? I mean, the reporting now is he`s pulling Giuliani back and not let him be out there so much.
PAGE: But when you think about the political implications, we know that among Trump supporters, the idea that he had an affair with Stormy Daniels has not cut into his core support.
MATTHEWS: No, it doesn`t.
PAGE: But if it turns out she was paid off by a fund with money provided by a Russian oligarch, maybe that makes it be a more politically devastating allegation.
MATTHEWS: As I mentioned earlier, "The Associated Press" reports the president is growing irritated by Giuliani`s off message media blitz. Two people familiar with the president`s thinking tell the "A.P." that Trump has begun questioning whether Giuliani should be side lined from television interviews.
In a phone interview with NBC`s Kirsten Welker, Mayor Giuliani disputed those reports.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
KIRSTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: There are a number of reports that the president is frustrated with you. Is the president frustrated with some of your TV appearances?
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S LAWYER: No, the president is encouraging me to do more of them. I try to keep them under control.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What under control, the president or himself?
Despite those assurances, White House aides tell "Politico" that if Rudy doesn`t change his behavior, they expect the president to fire Giuliani.
Chris, here`s the question. What good is Giuliani if he can`t talk? He`s a talker. He`s a singer. This is what he does.
WILSON: He is. But what good is he if he can`t talk? I think at some point, he`s got to be the person bringing the team together, and been a leader. And that`s what he should do, probably do a little less talking a little more leading.
MATTHEWS: But New York politicians are in constant conversation with the media. Cornell, you know that, since the days of Ed Koch, it`s constantly back and forth. How am I doing? Back and forth, you know? That`s what they do, they talk.
BELCHER: They`re not bashful, when you are serving the president, you should first do no harm. And arguably, Rudy Giuliani is doing harm.
MATTHEWS: You think, Susan?
PAGE: No, arguably.
MATTHEWS: I`m not sure, Trump seems to be unharmable. He seems to be holding about 42 percent?
BELCHER: That`s fair.
MATTHEWS: Nothing seems to -- rock solid. What you said a minute ago.
MATTHEWS: Nothing rocks his people, because they`re so angry at the political establishment, including the Mitch McConnells. We`re going to see this perhaps tonight in West Virginia. They don`t like the Republican oligarch much more than the liberals and the Democratic Party.
PAGE: Well, that`s -- I think that`s true. I think that will be tested in West Virginia and it`s true that nobody --
MATTHEWS: And in Indiana, too. Every outsider wins.
PAGE: Even the people who are insiders who have been in Congress for years are running as outsiders, right? Forget they have actually been --
MATTHEWS: They`ve thrown away their uniforms.
BELCHER: The insiders are winning their primaries. But it`s damaging for them in the general election.
MATTHEWS: OK, breaking news just in, the Avenatti story we told you about the half million dollars has been reviewed. They`ve gone over the financial documents. They appear to support -- NBC News they`ve gone over the financial, it supports Avenatti`s accounts of the transactions.
So, we got NBC News behind the Avenatti charge that a Russian oligarch, Mr. Viktor Vekselberg. I`m learning these things, Vekselberg gave Michael Cohen half million dollars. Apparently that money was funneled. There is my new word, funneled to Stormy Daniels.
A hell of a story.
PAGE: It`s incredible.
MATTHEWS: It ties it altogether.
Chris, you look mystified.
WILSON: Well --
MATTHEWS: Cornell is just chuckling. He can`t believe it.
WILSON: He won`t stop laughing.
MATTHEWS: This is Christmas morning for a Democratic strategist, because after all the arguments, you can`t -- I think Susan made the right point. You can`t say there is nothing there.
BELCHER: Right, there is clearly some "there" there. I think -- I think we will find out how far it goes. I think brace yourself. I mean, this seems bad.
MATTHEWS: OK. What about my argument a few minutes ago this is about macro-economics? Russia, overflowing with cash, they`ve made all these oligarchs have cleaned up after the communist era, so much money. They`ve got houses they don`t live in in the south of France, in London. They got money everywhere. They`re just splurging money.
Giuliani, not Giuliani, Trump needs the money. He needs it to cover up his problems. He needs for expansion of his business to cover the debt his son picked up on 666, you know?
All this -- all this need for money, supply and demand. Trump`s want money, the Russians got it. Now, the Russians got him on a hook.
BELCHER: Another argument for getting big money out of politics. I don`t know he had internationally as well. But big money had -- it`s a corrupting influence in our politics. This buying --
MATTHEWS: Trump didn`t want the money for politics. He wanted it for Trump.
BELCHER: Well, yes, but the lobbyists don`t want to give -- lobbyists are giving away money for their special interest. And Putin is buying -- is buying what he`s paying for.
MATTHEWS: He`s buying our country.
PAGE: It`s an investment.
BELCHER: It`s absolutely an investment.
MATTHEWS: Big Russian piggybank.
PAGE: I`m sure they did not expect at the time for Donald Trump to become president of the United States. But if you got that kind of money, you can make --
BELCHER: It was good and bad.
MATTHEWS: That`s the only Russian enterprise that succeed in the last 100 years is buying Trump.
The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three people will tell me something I don`t know. You are watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Well, this is not a good headline if you are EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. "The New York Times" report that senior White House aides are urging President Trump to fire Pruitt now and that the president`s enthusiasm for Pruitt may be cooling because of the ongoing cascade of alleged ethical and legal mistakes. Cascade of ethical mistakes.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the hard -- the roundtable.
Anyway, Susan, tell -- it is a hard table. Susan, tell me something I don`t know.
PAGE: Well, you know, we`re watching the West Virginia primary for whether -- for Republicans will nominate Don Blankenship who presumably will have a lot of trouble in the general. You could watch the Ohio governor`s race on the Democratic side for the same test because you have Richard Cordray running against Dennis Kucinich.
MATTHEWS: The Dennis Kucinich, who we`ve known for a long time.
PAGE: Backed by the Bernie Sanders group, Our Revolution, Richard Cordray backed by Elizabeth Warren and -- will Democrats -- will the energy of the Democrats get behind Kucinich and possibly less electable than Cordray.
BELCHER: Democrats are getting --
MATTHEWS: You`re probably rooting for Kucinich, aren`t you? I know you are.
BELCHER: Yes, he is, which means I`m not.
Democrats are getting frustrated with the -- the success of packing the courts. Demand justice and organization just starting up right now. It`s going to mobilize Democrats --
MATTHEWS: Isn`t the barn door been open too long? A hell of a lot of appellate judges -- go ahead.
WILSON: There is a lot of polling out on the Iran deal. The one that actually gives just the facts shows about 21 percent support and 21 percent oppose. Most of them read, the questions I`ve seen today, read like Obama administration talking points, which is a case that media pollsters have an ax to grind, trying to get the American people the answer they want.
MATTHEWS: What do they want?
WILSON: They don`t know, and that`s the point. They don`t know.
BELCHER: I wish I had time for a comeback.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Susan page. Thank you, Cornell Belcher and Chris Wilson. We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Tuesday, May 8th, 2018.
The big thing is he promised just the opposite. Donald Trump the candidate railed against stupid wars. We all -- even those who didn`t vote for him - - cheered that one candidate in 2016 saw the stupidity of the Iraq war, the terrible nature of this push for regime change and in every case where we didn`t like the government. We wanted someone to blow the whistle on this American arrogance.
Trump did. He railed against the Iraq War and the stupidity and arrogance that went with it. And today, he moved to kill the deal with Iran, that promised to be an alternative to the hawks pushing for an American attack on that country.
What do we expect now? Well, this we know, prior to the deal, President Obama struck with Iran, people like John Bolton were all out there pushing for an American attack on Iran`s nuclear sites. Now, that same John Bolton is sitting in the White House, directing U.S. security policy.
Does anyone not think he`s hoping that Trump will join him in his goal of a U.S. strike?
John Bolton doesn`t change -- like Dick Cheney and those like him. He`s always for the war option, always ready to cry bombs away, knowing that others will be the ones in the air and in the fields facing the enemy.
I think all of the people who voted for Trump believing he would stop this endless call for war should take notice. The president spoke today at 2:00 p.m. Eastern was not the candidate who promised so loudly and relentlessly he would stop this endless push for stupid wars.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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