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Trump reimbursed Cohen in 2017. TRANSCRIPT: 05/16/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Stephanie Schriock, Jonathan Swan, Jackie Speier

Show: HARDBALL Date: May 16, 2018 Guest: Stephanie Schriock, Jonathan Swan, Jackie Speier

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Who paid Stormy Daniels? Trump did. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

After months of refusing to tell the truth about that $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, President Trump was today backed up against a wall on a financial statement required for federal office holders he admitted he did exactly what his accusers said he did.

In a classic example of a politician engaging in rolling disclosure, President Trump admitted the truth only when all escape routes will been blocked. For months, President Trump has denied had he anything to do with the $130,000 hush money payment top adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Well, tonight the President can no longer deny he made the payment.

In a new financial disclosure, Donald Trump has reported reimbursing his personal attorney Michael Cohen apparently for those costs. A footnote in the filing states, in the interest of transparent will not required to be disclosed as reportable liabilities, in 2016, expenses were incurred by one of Donald Trump`s attorneys Michael Cohen.

Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Mr. Cohen in 2017. It the category of value would be $100,001 to $250,000 in, that range. The White House has denied allegations of any affairs still.

And just a month ago, Trump told reporter reporters he had no idea where Cohen got the money from.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth to the allegations?

TRUMP: You have to ask Michael Cohen. Mike is my attorney and you will have to ask Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: I don`t know.


MATTHEWS: Well, Michael Cohen initially tell the "New York Times" that he had used his own personal funds to facilitate a payment, to facilitate the payment. He was paying for it. But things changed when Rudy Giuliani, Trump`s new lawyer, told Sean Hannity the President did in fact pay for it.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S LAWYER: They funneled it through a law firm. Funneled through a law firm and the President repaid it. When I heard Cohen`s retainer of $35,000, when he was doing no work for the President, I said that`s how he`s repaying it.


MATTHEWS: Well, Giuliani then made things more confusing when toe he told "The New York Times" a day after that Hannity interview that the President`s reimbursements to Mr. Cohen were roughly $460,000 in total.

In the same financial filing today, by the way, the office of government ethics disagreed with the President`s assessment that he didn`t have to disclosed the payments writing it was required to be reported the year it happened in 2016. That`s two years ago.

The acting director of the office of government ethic sent a letter to deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein flagging the filing.

Walter Schaub, the former head of the OGE tweeted this is tantamount to a criminal referral. OGE is effectively reported the President, the department of justice for potentially committing a crime.

For more, I`m joined by Natasha Bertrand, "the Atlantic" staff writer, also an MSNBC contributor, Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and MSNBC analyst and Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for "Axios."

This is an amazing development. Let`s start with you, Natasha.

For months now, the President has played a cat-and-mouse game lied basically over and over again said I don`t know who this woman is. I didn`t ever pay the $130,000. They think (ph) he had his lawyer said he sort of paid for it. Then Rudy Giuliani said, yes, it was paid for this retainer relationship. The President didn`t know about this relationship or be involved with this relationship with Stormy Daniels. And now, it just comes out in a formal document required of all public officers, the President has admitted he made the payment after all this. And his supporters will take this lying? Just taking this?

NATASHA BERTRAND, REPORTER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, the question remains of whether or not he would have ever disclosed this if Rudy Giuliani had not come out earlier and told Sean Hannity. He didn`t do it last year. And that`s exactly the reason why the head of the OGE is potentially referring him to the justice department because he did not disclose any of these payments on his 2017 form.

So if not for Giuliani coming out and telling Sean Hannity that he did make this payment, it just leaves you to wonder would it have been disclosed at all? And of course, it was disclosed but it was buried on the 45th page of this report and it was in a foot note.

MATTHEWS: You know, Jonathan, this is like, you know, in the Access Hollywood tape and he just said, by the way, if anybody asks me about this stuff, I just deny it. I deny everything. I deny it on federal reports. I denied to the public who votes for me. I deny everything until I`m caught and then I`m caught.

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: I think it`s pretty clear what`s happened here which is that there are now investigators looking into Michael Cohen in the southern district of New York. And the problem for Michael Cohen and Donald Trump is you can say whatever you want but there are records of financial transactions. And when you get forensic investigators looking through that, these are real facts. You can`t dispute these facts. So they were going to come out sometime. I believe they sent Rudy to get out in front of him and he happened to do it in a pretty ham handed way and clean up the clean-up and sort of being rolling. But that was very clearly the strategy.

MATTHEWS: But when you make up stories, Paul Butler and you keep making them up, you have to keep covering them. Like for example, when you put out the word, well, he had a line of credit with his lawyer, the lawyer paid his bills. And then later on, well, they had a retainer agreement where he gets 35k a month and that sort of covers all the women, if you will, that sort of problems he has personally. And that`s going to covered out of this draw, this 35 a month.

And then it comes out he had to file reports on all his liabilities there as a public official. Therefore, all that sort stuff that they schemed up is a reality to get him off the issue of it being a campaign violation, now they`re faced with the fact oh, I have to file a public report confirming all this. This means I`m in violation. Your thoughts?

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So the question that Robert Mueller federal prosecutors in New York and now the office of government ethics wants to know is why is this 2-year-old loan just coming out now? It should have been reported last year. The rules require reporting of any loan more than $10,000. If this is part of a willful and knowing cover-up of the Stormy Daniels investigation, that`s a federal crime.

MATTHEWS: How so? What`s the crime?

BUTLER: Failing to disclose material information on a financial disclosure form. The penalty is $50,000 fine and up to a year in a federal prison

MATTHEWS: How about a President doing it?

BUTLER: So again, today we also learned that Robert Mueller is going to follow the department of justice guidelines which suggests that a sitting President cannot be indicted. So Mueller`s remedy for any criminal violation by the President is to refer it to Congress for impeachment.

MATTHEWS: And you think that`s credible what we have heard about that that the Mueller team doesn`t believe they can indict a President while in office?

BUTLER: Well, we heard it from Rudy Giuliani. So you can guess how credible that is. But it is true that Mueller is a conservative prosecutor. This is always been the department`s guidelines. Rod Rosenstein hasn`t said a whole lot about this investigation but last month he also indicated that the President according to DOJ regs can`t be indicted, just impeached. Doesn`t mean later after he serves his term there couldn`t can be criminal consequences.

MATTHEWS: Natasha, initially a man involved in this infidelity if you might call it that, an affair with this an adult film actor, he would keep it naturally to himself. But then Trump kept it to himself and then he kept it to himself even after it was clear it was happened and there clear money was paid. All that was clear. It was just a question where they can blame somebody else for the payment. But for the affair itself and all that it`s implicitly his responsibility. So what is his justification to his voters for having lied all this time? Because the story was out there. He wasn`t covering the relationship with his wife, obviously. He was covering who to blame.

BERTRAND: Well, as we have seen, Trump has a large amount of leeway with his base. And it doesn`t seem like there is going any kind of meaningful blowback on this for him not telling the truth. I mean, he often does not tell the truth. And there`s never any kind of dip in his polls, for example. He seems to be retaining popularity just fine.

But the question I have is, were there more women? Because the discrepancy between what Giuliani said on Trump repaid Michael Cohen between 2016 and 2017 which was $470,000 is very clear because all that was on the financial disclosure form was $100,000 to $250,000. So why the discrepancy and why hasn`t Giuliani come out and explained that.

MATTHEWS: What legal expenses? Would that be a lawyer`s legal expenses? How much money we talking about here Trump paying Cohen to keep things quiet to fix things?

BUTLER: So the 130k has definitely attorney fees which is why Giuliani saying that wasn`t required to be reported. That`s just wrong because here is a thing. We have all this money, literally, millions of dollars flowing into Michael Cohen`s shady LLC. Where is the money going?

Now we hear about this other $400,000 from Rudy Giuliani. All we know is the President paid $130,000 to Stormy Daniels to buy her silence. A whole lot of money is unaccounted for. We know how it got there and don`t know where it went. For prosecutors, it`s always about follow the money.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about that, Jonathan. You have been following this. How does this overlap? I have been watching the way that the Trump -- the Bill Clinton investigation of whitewater it is worth, probably nothing, but it ended up merging into Paula Jones which merged into Lewinsky. That thing went on for four years, by the way. For all conservatives that they are complaining about a one-year investigation of a President, your investigation went four years. And nobody complained at the end of the first quarter and blew the whistle and said stop the game back then. I don`t remember anybody saying that.

But this time around they are. Let me ask you. We are going to talk about that in the next segment. Where does Mueller find his way into this? Somehow I believe had he something to do with the New York office of the U.S. attorneys going after this case in the first place. It all seems to be somewhat related.

SWAN: He referred it to them.

MATTHEWS: Yes. He referred it and they did -- on what grounds that he referred them?

SWAN: Well, I don`t know that it was part of his mandate. He`s got Rosenstein has an instruction for what he is supposed to do.

MATTHEWS: Anything that arises from this investigation is in that mandate.

SWAN: That`s true. I mean, by that definition, you could really investigate anything. So I don`t know why he referred it to them. But all I know is the people in Donald Trump`s inner circle and this has been the case for six to eight months now, if you are putting a hierarchy of concerns what they are concerned about, the Mueller investigation and Russia collusion is nowhere near Michael Cohen. And the investigation into his personal finances and the potential to go into Donald Trump`s personal finances. If you put on a hierarchy of concern or why they are going to find real hard evidence that Donald trump colluded with Russia or in the Kremlin to fur the election versus them actually gong --.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, how do they get -- how do they follow the Stormy trail to real financial corruption?

SWAN: Well, big time. If you go down did the Michael Cohen rabbit hole, you are going down a rabbit hole of somebody who has worked very closely Donald Trump for a decade. You can very easily do a little segue into the Donald Trump rabbit hole. And who know is what is in the Donald Trump rabbit hole. We have bi earthly idea.

MATTHEWS: But Cohen does.

SWAN: Cohen knows some of it. I mean, Trump had an army of lawyers. Cohen seemed to be operating in the sort of backwaters of the Donald Trump --

MATTHEWS: Well, "the Washington Post" is now reporting that Michael Cohen, mentioned here, solicited a $1 million payment from the government of Qatar in late 2016 in exchange for access to and advice about the incoming Trump administration. Cohen was rebuffed.

Paul, there you go again, the guy has got the till open. The window open, time to get your bets, time to get your fingers into the Trump crowd. And you can do it through me. My name`s Michael Cohen and my business is open for business.

BUTLER: Yes. So this again is Cohen. We are looking at gratuities. We are looking at extortion. And once again, we are looking at what he is doing with all of this money because remember, at this time, Mr. Cohen is not Mr. Money bags. He is taking a mortgage out on his house. All of these millions of dollars flowing in. They are not going into his pocket. Whose pocket are they going into?

MATTHEWS: Natasha, I want to ask you about the question. We have got a number of people looking at this whole matter here, the whole matter of Stormy Daniels. Was it an implicit campaign contribution? Because Rudy Giuliani said a couple of weeks ago, not a year ago, a couple of weeks ago that this was all happening a couple weeks before the election. We had to quiet it down. It was like the John Edwards case. We had dirty business here, a relationship, a sexual relationship. They had to keep quiet before the candidate faced the voters, right? That`s one.

Then there is the whole question of government ethics, the whole question of responsibility for reporting all these issues and not reporting them. As we have hear here, he didn`t report it for two years.

BERTRAND: Right, the head of the OGE clearly thinks that this is something that was a liability that needed to be disclosed and that`s why he presented to Rod Rosenstein at the justice department to determine whether or not there should be criminal charges filed. I mean, this is -- this is a big, big deal.

MATTHEWS: Charge all the guys that work with the President but you can`t charge the President.

BERTRAND: Right. According to what Giuliani has said and again, whether or not we take that with a grain of salt is --

SWAN: The irony Donald Trump is going to be in better shape if it turns out there`s 100 women because this will be standard operating procedure not some random event done to save the election.

MATTHEWS: That`s what Rudy is suggesting.

SWAN: Well, as I said, I think that would be helpful to Donald Trump`s case in that narrow way.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Paul. That would be the queen sacrifice. You give up the queen in the chess match so you can slightly get yourself a checkmate. And my question here is, does he admit, yes, I got women all over the place, I got affairs all over the place. I covered them up every two months on average. Therefore this wasn`t anything more that -- this was -- had no seasonal bias. It could have happened anytime of the year so it is not political. I can`t be accused of violating campaign disclosure laws.

BUTLER: That`s his line if he wants to stay out of the federal penitentiary at some point after his term or avoid impeachment. So again, they are paying off hush money to many women. That is a political problem. The legal issue if he is paying off in order to get elected President of the United States, if he`s doing that, that`s a violation of federal campaign law.

MATTHEWS: Even if it is normal violation practice by his lawyer in him to cover up his relationships?

BUTLER: Again, if you -- a loan is considered a financial contribution, if it`s not more than $5400 it`s got to be reported. If not, that`s a federal felony.

MATTHEWS: Well, That`s the latest thing it seems to be going.

Anyway, I guess you have to bet how many girlfriends he`s had and how many relationships he has covered up, how many cover-ups he has covered up and we have to say how many of his voters put up? Well, the answers probably as many as required.

Thank you Natasha Bertrand. Thank you, Paul Butler. And thank you, Jonathan Swan.

Coming up, one year in and special counsel Robert Mueller is still turning over every stone as he investigates whether Trump campaign colluded with Russia. The probe is past the point of no return. And separately today, the Senate Judiciary Committee released new details tonight on that June 26th meeting at Trump tower. We are going to find out where the investigation is heading next.

Plus, a big night for female candidates, women, as Democrats make their nominations for key House races. Can the Democrats make the 2018 elections the year of the woman?

And Trump`s pushback against the Mueller investigation may be working at least with his voters. They are buying his witch-hunt theory. But they do have one big warning for the President when it comes to Russia. Don`t fire Mueller.

Finally, let me finish tonight with an earlier moment in American history about an American who became a European princess. It`s happened before.

And this is HARDBALL where the action is.


MATTHEWS: President Trump today responded to North Korean threats to cancel that planned summit with Kim Jong-un. The regime threw the talks into doubt yesterday, of course, saying it might pull out if the United States continues to demand that it unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons. Well, today the President said he hadn`t received any information that the talks about been canceled.


TRUMP: We haven`t seen anything. We haven`t heard anything. We will see what happens.



MATTHEWS: Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that such threats by the North Korean government were to be expected given the tough negotiations going on between the two the countries.

And we will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Today, the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee released thousands of pages of testimony from Donald Trump Jr. and other participants in that infamous Trump tower meeting. Remember that, with Russians in June of 2016.

Well, as we already know, Trump Jr. told that meeting on the promise -- or took that meeting on the promise of Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton, which he thought would help his father`s campaign.

And yet, multiple times throughout his testimony, Trump Jr. denied on the record that he ever informed his father of the meeting, saying: "I never discussed it with him at all" and that "I wouldn`t have wasted his time with it."

Well, He further suggested that the president didn`t learn of the meeting until a full year later, when it was revealed publicly last summer.

"He`s aware of it now because he`s read it. It`s been in the papers."

We`re also learning that phone records show on the day Trump Jr. was actively planning that meeting, June 6, had he two conversations with someone at a blocked phone number and then a third call on June 9 just hours after the meeting took place.

When a Senate Judiciary Committee member asked who he had spoken with, Trump Jr. simply said, "I have no idea."

Separately, we already know that Corey Lewandowski told the House Intelligence Committee that Donald Trump Sr. has a blocked phone line in his primary residence. However, when Donald Trump Jr. was asked whether his father ever uses a blocked number, Donald Trump Jr. replied, "I don`t know."

Most incredibly, when asked specifically if he has ever discussed the Russia investigation with his father, as I said, Trump Jr. said, "No, not that I remember."

Well, joining me right now is Ken Dilanian, national security reporter for NBC News. And Michael Schmidt is a reporter with "The New York Times" and an MSNBC contributor. And, also, U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, she`s a Democrat and she`s on the Intelligence Committee.

Thank you all.

I have got to start with Ken on this.

I guess the hardest thing to believe is that the son, who is serving the father in his campaign and has got himself convinced he`s got some dirt on a campaign they`re well behind in at this point, about six or seven points, this could be the Hail Mary, he`s got some dirt from the Russians on Hillary Clinton, he`s about to get it full, never talks to his father about it, but does have phone calls, conversations with somebody on a blocked line.

What do we make of the credibility of that claim?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It`s incredibly hard to believe, Chris. You laid it out perfectly there.

And also his expressions of "I don`t recall" throughout this interview. He`s just not a very credible witness. But here`s the important thing.

He has locked himself into this story now because it`s a crime to lie to Congress. He wasn`t under oath. But you can`t lie to Congress. That`s his story. And if in fact this blocked number was Donald Trump, you can bet that Robert Mueller already has these phone records. He would subpoena the phone provider and figure out whose number that was.

Now, that doesn`t problem that Donald Jr. talked to his father about this, but it`s very suggestive circumstantial evidence that that in fact was Donald Trump. And the other thing that these transcripts underscored, Chris, is the extent to which Donald Trump Jr. viewed this meeting entirely through the lens of this was opposition research that he was getting from a foreign government, no ifs, ands or buts.

Rob Goldstone, the music promoter who set it up, testified that he thought it would be a smoking gun that could really derail Hillary`s candidacy. At the end of the day, it wasn`t that. But it`s clear that the Trump campaign was on record acknowledging that they were willing to accept that from a foreign government.

MATTHEWS: Well, two of the participants of that meeting, at that meeting at Trump Tower who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee appear to portray Donald Trump Jr. as eager to receive the dirt he had been promised.

According to the Russian lobbyist who was at that meeting, Jr. opened up the meeting by saying, "So, I believe you have some information for us."

When he didn`t appear to getting what he wanted, Trump Jr. probed further and said, "Ask if they have got anything on Hillary," according to another participant.

And my question, Michael Schmidt, on this stuff here, what do you sense this is all about, this meeting with the Russians? It looks tome the most clearest example, which is transparent, that they at least tried to work with the Russians in getting dirt on Hillary to help defeat her.


You have to remember, originally, the explanation for this meeting was that it was about adoption, that it was about adoption laws that had been put in place between the United States and Russia and the efforts to change that.

As we uncovered more about this story, and we actually were able to find out what they were talking about, the Trump story changed. Now, even that is in there today. There`s acknowledgements by Trump folks saying that the president did weigh in on how they responded last July when they had to deal with this publicly.

If you remember, the president was flying back from Europe.


SCHMIDT: We were pressing them for -- on questions about this, and they had to come up with an answer. Their story changed several times.

But the president was involved in this. And we know that that issue is something that Mueller is focused on himself. Was the president trying to obstruct the investigation by putting false information out there?

MATTHEWS: How did the president know about the meeting at Trump Tower if his son didn`t tell him about it? Who gave him the update, the fill-in on that whole meeting, so he can sit there and spin it with his press statement?

SCHMIDT: Well, all we know is that, at some point last year in the late spring, when the lawyers for Don Jr. were getting, preparing documents to send to Capitol Hill, the White House realized they were going to have to deal with this issue, and the president was told about that.

Now, we don`t know anything more about whether the president knew before then, but it was in the late spring that they realized that this was an issue that they were going to have to address, because the e-mails were going up to Capitol Hill and would come out at some point.

That moment happened in the middle of July, where they were forced to deal with this. And it really undercut a lot of their previous statements about how they had no links to Russia.

MATTHEWS: Well, this story keeps moving.

We just got some context from "The Washington Post"`s Robert Costa, our colleague, about what Rudy Giuliani said about Robert Mueller. We mentioned it earlier in the show, and the question of whether you can indict a sitting president.

Costa asked Giuliani himself what Mueller said face-to-face and whether the special counsel himself told him explicitly that he wouldn`t charge President Trump.

Giuliani told Costa, according to Giuliani: "I would say he was coy. He didn`t seem to want to give the answer. And one of his assistants broke in. Well, it reminded me scene in `The Godfather` with Sonny and the Godfather where he said, oh, you`re going to take care of us? We can take care of ourselves. But one of his assistants broke in and said, `Well, of course we`re bound by Justice Department policies.`"

I guess, Congresswoman, down to you on this. What`s your understanding of the Constitution here as interpreted by the Supreme Court? Can a president be prosecuted for a criminal offense like any other citizen during his term of office? Can it be done?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think so. And I think it`s called impeachment.

MATTHEWS: No, but, I mean, can he be put in jail?

SPEIER: I don`t know that he can put in jail.

MATTHEWS: Given he be given five years in prison? Can he be indicted before an American court? Or does he have to go to the court of the U.S. Congress and the Senate eventually?

SPEIER: Well, that`s where I think he has to go.

Now, it was true that President Clinton had to testify in a civil lawsuit while he was president, but he was certainly impeached, and then was not tried in the Senate.


MATTHEWS: Well, suppose Bill Clinton had said -- suppose President Clinton and his lawyer Robert Bennett had just said, no, I`m president of the United States, my client`s president of the United States, I`m not going to sit before a grand jury over some matter, Paula Jones matter, I`m not going to do it?

SPEIER: Right.

MATTHEWS: What would have been the next step under -- what would have happened?

SPEIER: Oh, I think, well, they would have compelled him to do so.



MATTHEWS: How? I don`t understand the mechanics.

SPEIER: Well, I don`t know that I necessarily understand the mechanics either.

But I think that special counsel Mueller can compel him to come and be questioned in an interview or before a grand jury. I think that can take place. I don`t know that he can actually be tried as president.

But if I could just add a little more color to these e-mails?


SPEIER: So, on June 3, he gets the e-mails from Rob Goldstone saying, we have got -- you know, we have got dirt for you.

On the 7th, the then candidate Trump is accepting the win in New Jersey in the primary. And during his speech, he makes the statement, I am going to have a lot to tell you about the Clintons. I`m going to give a major speech early next week, probably on Monday.

The meeting takes place on the 9th, and they don`t get the dirt they were looking for.

I am absolutely convinced that then candidate Trump was communicated with on the 3rd in that blocked phone call. We could have actually access if we an independent Intelligence Committee that was in fact going to subpoena that information from a telecom company. But, of course, that wasn`t the case during our investigation.

MATTHEWS: Why don`t you ask Mr. Nunes to do a revision and go out and ask for that -- phone records right now, subpoena them, and see whether father was talking to son and got the update, the heads-up from him, so he could tell the New Jersey voters he had some dirt?

SPEIER: Well, I think that the committee should reopen its investigation. There`s been so much that has come out since they prematurely closed it down.

We have had a meeting with a Cambridge Analytica employee that provided additional light on this topic that is pretty compelling.


Well, I guess you`re going to need Chairman Schiff to do that next year, because it`s not going to happen right now.

Thank you.

Michael, by the way, your new reporting has suggested the Trump campaign had advanced knowledge that Russia possessed damaging information on Hillary Clinton, you as well. We already know that Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos was told the Russians had e-mails relating to Clinton before anyone knew the DNC had been hacked.

And now we`re learning that a White House official testified in March of this year that he thought he had received an e-mail in the first half of 2016 alerting the Trump campaign that Russia had damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Furthermore, he remembered the e-mail coming from George Papadopoulos.

However, the report notes that investigators for the Senate Judiciary Committee have not found any such message.

But we did find out from the testimony by Donald Trump Jr. before the Senate committee, Judiciary Committee, that he did in fact know Mr. Papadopoulos. So, they`re not completely denying each other right now.

Where do we go from this?

SCHMIDT: Yes, what we were looking at was this testimony where this former campaign official who everyone believes is telling the truth says, hey, I remember hearing about the Papadopoulos dirt about these things.

The problem is, this sent off a search at the campaign, where they went back and looked in their e-mails for evidence of this and they couldn`t find it.

Now, Mueller was looking for similar e-mails, couldn`t find them either. So, the question is, if you`re an investigator either on Capitol Hill or for Mueller, do you believe the former campaign official, do you believe his statements that he knew something about this, or was there -- is this - - does it not exist?

And that`s something that they have to figure out. We`re at that stage in the investigation. You have to remember it`s almost two years since the FBI began looking at links between Trump`s campaign and Russia. And they`re still going down different alleys to try and figure out whether there`s a there there.

MATTHEWS: Ken, let`s end up tonight`s discussion with you and this Trump Tower meeting, because we keep going back to that meeting, back to the scene of the crime perhaps, with the interviews, the Senate committee investigation and interrogation of Donald Trump Jr., the fact that he`s denied he talked to his father about it, denied that he had a phone conversation, any phone conversation.

The whole thing looks like a cover-up now, all the way beginning with the father, the president of the United States, rewriting history of what that meeting was about.

They are very concerned about what that meeting was about and whether that showed collusion, I believe. What do you see?


And I will tell you what comes through today that I learned, is that this oligarch Aras Agalarov was really pushing this meeting, even when his own employees were telling him, hey, boss, this might be a bad idea. He wanted it to happen.

And this is the same guy -- he`s close to Putin -- who tried to broker a meeting between Putin and Trump back in 2013 and then again in 2015, we learned today from these documents.

And so the question is, why? Why is this oligarch close to Putin pushing this relationship with Donald Trump? Intelligence sources I talk to have a couple of theories. And one of them is that this could have been a dangle, Russian intelligence trying to figure out how the Trump team would react to this.

Another, though, is that this could have been an attempt to plant kompromat, because if the -- if Mike and his colleagues hadn`t exposed this meeting, or the e-mails hadn`t gone to the Hill, the Russians would know these secrets and no one else would know them. And they would have that over the Trump administration that Don Jr. had gone to a foreign government looking for dirt on his opponent.

And so that`s the way intelligence officials look at what could have been going on here, Chris.

MATTHEWS: And if they had dirt, why didn`t they give it to the Trump people? Why didn`t they give it to Manafort and the other guys and the two kids, the two sons? Why didn`t they just give it to them, Jared?

DILANIAN: Well, because that wasn`t the idea. The idea was to see how they would react, according to this theory.

You don`t send the A-team, you don`t send the FSB agents, in case they call the FBI, which they didn`t do, as it turned out.

MATTHEWS: Well, they would have them really hooked on the hook if they had given them the dirt, and had them used the dirt publicly. Then there would be no denying they got it from him.

Last word, I have to go to Jackie Speier.

Thank you, Congresswoman.

What do you think is going to happen? Do you think Trump is going to get impeached?

SPEIER: I think there`s growing evidence that he will eventually be impeached.

But I think it`s going to be dependent on what Mueller comes out with when his investigation is complete. And that`s why they`re so anxious to try and shut it down, because they know it`s getting very hot.

I think what this meeting at Trump Tower indicates is that there was the intent to conspire with the Russians. It`s like doing a breaking and entering when you can`t get anything to steal. The intent was still there to steal. And in this case, the intent was to conspire with the Russians.

MATTHEWS: Well said.

Thank you so much, Ken Dilanian, Michael Schmidt. And, thank you, Congresswoman Jackie Speier of the Intelligence Committee.

Up next: It was a big night for women in last night`s Democratic primaries, especially in Pennsylvania. Is this part of the strategy of winning back the House this November? It`s certainly going to be part of it if they do, making it the year of the woman.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The front page of "The Philadelphia Inquirer" this morning summed it up, "A Big Day" -- there it is -- "A Big Day For Women."

This is what the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, by the way, looked like there spring, not a single woman in the crowd.

And one "Inquirer" columnist called Pennsylvania "a state whose 18-member U.S. House delegation still looks like a baseball clubhouse."

Well, last night, women made major inroads. In total, eight women won primaries in U.S. House races yesterday. They include seven Democrats and one Republican. Three of the Democrats who won last night come from the Philadelphia suburbs and are expected to win easily in November. That`s a scary thing to say, but they look like great shots to win.

Stephanie Schriock is of course the president of EMILY`s List, a group that backs pro-choice Democratic women.

I guess I have to say thank you and congratulations, because you have been doing this a long time. But I stayed up late last night. I got on the computer. And I looked, I go, wow, wipeout.


MATTHEWS: Three of the -- Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, now a really good shot in the Lehigh Valley and the Allentown area.

The only loss was they lost to that guy, the money guy, Wallace over in Bucks County, but, otherwise, sweep.

What do you think happened?

STEPHANIE SCHRIOCK, PRESIDENT, EMILY`S LIST: Oh, it was a great -- I felt the same way last night, Chris. I was just thrilled.

You know, EMILY`S List has been doing this work over three decades. And I`ll tell you what. As soon as we got word about the new congressional map that was developed in Pennsylvania after the court case, which I know you have talked about on the show, we had our staff on the ground immediately.

We knew it was a huge opportunity to recruit these great women, get them staffed up, back them up. And then our independent expenditure arm, WOMEN VOTE!, went in for a number of these races.

Last night was great across the country. We had 20 women on the ballot that were endorsed by EMILY`s List last night across the country; 14 of them won. One week ago, we went 20 for 20. In Texas in March, we went five for five.


SCHRIOCK: We are seeing extraordinary energy around Democratic women candidates right now.

MATTHEWS: Energy, I think, is the word.

Anyway, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania by a thin margin in 2016. Fewer than 45,000 votes separated them.

Let me ask you -- what do you think? Go through the factors you have figured out between `16 and `18 and why the women ran, why they get out there with enough money to win, why they had good campaigns and why women and men voted for them?

SCHRIOCK: Well, you know, you brought up 2016, and it all started that election night when we have such a loss. I always say it`s the one-two punch. It was Hillary Clinton who was so prepared and qualified to be president lost and lost to that guy. That`s how a lot of us feel.

We had women instantly start calling Emily`s List wanting to run for office across the country. Millions of women marched that January 2017. And a lot of the folks then after the women`s march said what`s going to happen next. Well, I`ll tell you what happened. Those women marched right back into their communities. They started organizing and they`ve started running.

And what you saw last night is just a snapshot at what we are seeing every week now at Emily`s List. Women who found their voice, figured out that they had a community to back them up are stepping up to run. And these are smart, talented focused women with great passion.

This is how we see it at Emily`s List. How we`re going to take back the house for Democrats. We believe we have got women in positions in red and blue districts to get us those 23 sees. Emily`s list has already endorsed 37 women -- Democratic women in red to blue seats across the country and we`re not done yet.

MATTHEWS: OK, we got three of those 23 last night for sure. Thank you, Stephanie, congratulations. Stephanie Schriock.

Up next, President Trump claims that the Russia investigation is a witch hunt and his supporters are buying his -- supporters are buying it. But while many of them think the Mueller probe is a farce, there`s one red line here. They want to be careful the president not to fire Mueller, because that will make him really look guilty and they know it.

And you`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump has created a dangerous echo chamber when it comes to the Russia probe. Despite the 19 indictments that have come down from the Mueller probe, the argument that the investigation hasn`t found anything seems to be resonating with Trump voters. In a focus group in Wisconsin held by Emory University and pollster Peter Hart, Trump voters echoed many of the president`s talking points.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They call it a farce by -- created by the deep state.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe it was a witch hunt to overturn an election. He actually is there finding stuff that should be investigated on the Democratic Party`s side and all of this stuff that they say that Trump did they`re finding out that the Democrats did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s been going on for a year and a half. They`ve found nothing. They told, oh, there`s something, there`s something. We`ll find it, we`ll find it. There`s nothing.

When Hillary was secretary of state, she made a deal with uranium enrichment selling it to the Russians. That`s known. But they`re still looking for stuff.


MATTHEWS: And here`s how they described special counsel Robert Mueller.







MATTHEWS: Wow. But they had an unexpected answer when asked if Trump should fire Mueller. That`s up next with the HARDBALL roundtable.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

A focus group last night in Wisconsin, as I said, voters were asked what they would think if President Trump fired special counsel Robert Mueller, fired him. Although one Trump voter said he thought the president should fire Mueller, the others didn`t agree. Let`s watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think politically it would be a terrible idea because it gives fuel to the people that say that he did something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s hiding something and it will raise suspicion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it would draw suspicion from the public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don`t fire Mueller. It might work to his advantage.


MATTHEWS: I think we figured out that one guy.

Anyway, let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable. Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief and MSNBC political analyst. He was there watching the whole thing last night in Wisconsin. Betsy Woodruff, of course, politics reporter of "The Daily Beast" and MSNBC contributor. And Jonathan Swan is a national reporter for "Axios".

So, Phil, you were there. That one guy was a hard guy. There`s no doubt about it.


MATTHEWS: Were you surprised at the fact they said better not fire Mueller?

RUCKER: A little bit. They were -- they didn`t like the investigation. They used words like witch hunt. They agree with the president on that.

But they were in agreement with their Trump critics when it came to whether Trump should exercise what he believes to be his presidential power to fire Mueller. They thought that would be bad. It would look like he has something to hide. It would be an indication of guilt and that politically, it would not go well. And they encouraged the president to stick with this investigation until it reaches its conclusion.

MATTHEWS: Betsy, I love the way they say it`s a year and therefore, we got to end it when none of these people in out there in 1995 telling Ken Starr, better kill this four-year Whitewater investigation which is heading eventually to Monica Lewinsky by way of Paula Jones. I mean, nobody wants to shut these things off when they`re going at the other guy.

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICS REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: I for one am shocked at the double standard.


WOODRUFF: It`s really hard to fathom. That said, I think part of the reason these voters don`t think Trump should fire Mueller has to do with the fact that Trump hasn`t yet fired Mueller. They`re just agreeing with Trump on that point.

I think we can probably pretty safely guess that were Trump to fire Mueller, you`d have focus group after focus group of Trump voters saying it`s a good idea. Of course, they should have done this. Trump is a genius. Trump supporters will support him.

MATTHEWS: So, the religion of Donald Trump is not a philosophy. It`s simply do what you`re told. That`s the religion.

WOODRUFF: I think that`s correct.

MATTHEWS: Jonathan? They seem to be smart enough to know it would look like hell if he fired the guy. They know that.

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: I think that`s true. But sort of to pull back a little bit, I think it`s already clear this investigation is now a red/blue issue. And that`s exactly what happened to the Bill Clinton impeachment situation in the `90s. And that`s great for Trump.

That`s in fact Rudy Giuliani`s purpose in life at the moment is not to be a substantive lawyer for Trump. It`s to smear Mueller, to cast doubt over the investigation and harden the polarization and partisanship and to frankly rally the troops around Trump. And the bet is that by the time Mueller wraps this up and puts his report out and doesn`t indict, you know, shock and horror, and Congress has to deal with it, that the Republican Party will almost entirely rally around Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: That`s the thesis. Let`s go with this theory.

SWAN: I`m not saying that`s a thesis, but like in their -- instinctively, I think it makes perfect sense.

MATTHEWS: I`m asking the strategy, because I would say to be strategic, after we`ve gone through the "Access Hollywood" tape, it`s clear that the threshold of crap they`re willing to take is about 100 percent. They will take it all, his supporters no matter what he says about sex or lifestyle behavior or personal ethics or personal character, they don`t care as long as he`s on the right sides of their issues.

So, weren`t they smart to -- let`s talk about Stormy instead of Russia. Giuliani out there like a big magnet. Let`s talk about me, Giuliani, which is what you`re talking about and let`s talk about Stormy because that`s better than talking about treason.

RUCKER: Yes, well, you`re exactly right are.

MATTHEWS: Screwing around is better than treason. He said talk about that stuff and cover-up, because at least you`re not talking about me in bed with the Russians and how to win a presidential election. They`re already involved in it.

RUCKER: They also voted for Donald Trump and they took a chance in doing so even though they knew all of his flaws in 2016. And so, they don`t like hearing people say that he is a bad guy or you voted for the wrong guy. They want to believe in what they voted for and they`re sticking with him despite all the evidence of immorality.

MATTHEWS: But you don`t buy this thing that Rudy knows what he`s doing?

RUCKER: I think Jonathan is exactly right. Rudy is trying to muddy the waters here. He`s trying to bludgeon Mueller and really run a public relations battle than a legal battle.

WOODRUFF: The last time I talked to Rudy, he actually compared Mueller`s team to storm troopers which is extraordinary way of talking about federal law enforcement.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you.

Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.

Phil, tell me something I don`t know.

RUCKER: So, new testimony out today shows how badly President Trump wanted to meet with Putin in 2013. During that period, Ambassador McFaul told me today , only three Americans not in the government got to meet with Putin - - Rex Tillerson, Steven Seagal and Henry Kissinger. No Trump.


WOODRUFF: The two pundits that you have to read if you want to understand the president`s legal team are Jonathan Turley and Andy McCarthy. Sources tell me they read these guys religiously and take their writing really seriously. Could be good news because Turley is one of the only people who argued that the president might not face disaster if he were to sit with Mueller, totally thinks that interview could actually be a good idea.

MATTHEWS: Oh, for the president.


MATTHEWS: He could be indicted?

WOODRUFF: No, he thinks he can`t be indicted.

MATTHEWS: All right. Jonathan?

SWAN: A major rift has developed within Trump`s economic and trade team that`s become personal. Peter Navarro, the hardliner against China, and Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, we reported a couple of hours ago, it actually had a major blowup in China.

MATTHEWS: I`m rooting for Wilbur. Thank you, Phil Rucker, Betsy Woodruff and Jonathan Swan.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight before Saturday`s big royal wedding by recalling what an earlier -- when an earlier American became a princess.

If you grew up in Philadelphia, especially among Irish Catholics, it`s a classically American story of striving and success, a fairy tale really. Grace Patricia Kelly was the daughter of a local contractor who was also a famed amateur athlete. John W. Kelly won a trio of Olympic medals as a rower. Because he worked with his hands, his company was called Kelly for Brickwork, he was scratched from entry at England`s Henry royal regatta. It fell to his son to one day win its famed diamond skull.

Grace meanwhile worked to reach her own dream, to be a great American movie actress. Then at age 26, she gave up Hollywood to wed Prince Rainier of Monaco. Today, her girlhood home in Philadelphia serves as the U.S. headquarters of the Prince Albert Foundation, her family`s efforts dedicated to climate change and the world supply of fresh water.

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

ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES starts right now.


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