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Mueller examining Trump's tweets in obstruction. TRANSCRIPT: 7/26/2018, Hardball w Chris Matthews.

Guests: Vivian Salama, Gabe Debenedetti, Eric Swalwell

Show: HARDBALL Date: July 26, 2018 Guest: Vivian Salama, Gabe Debenedetti, Eric Swalwell

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Obstruction in plain sight. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Could Donald Trump`s tweeting cost him his presidency? Could Robert Mueller find that Trump`s relentless threatening and bullying of possible witnesses constitutes criminal obstruction of justice? Does the fact that Trump does so, so outrageously and in broad daylight constitute any kind of defense? Is this all Trump`s lawyer has to got to defend him that he obstructs in plain sight?

Good evening, I am Chris Matthews in Washington.

While Robert Mueller`s team is investigating numerous incidents that occurred privately, behind closed doors, there are also actions that the President has taken in plain sight that could bolster a potential obstruction case.

Early today, "The New York Times" is reporting a quote "Mueller is scrutinizing tweets and negative statements from the President about attorney general Jeff Sessions and the former FBI director James Comey, according to three people briefed on the matter. Mueller is examining whether the actions add up to attempts to obstruct the investigation by both intimidating witnesses and pressuring senior law enforcement officials to tamp down the inquiry."

Reacting to the development, Trump lawyer, Rudy Giuliani was dismissive. Telling the "New York Times," if you are going to obstruct justice, you do it quietly and secretly, not in public.

However, the Times reveals that privately, some of the lawyers have expressed concern that Mr. Mueller will stitch together several episodes encounters and pieces of evidence like the tweets to build a case.

Specifically quote "the fact that they are scrutinizing his actions under a section of the United States code titled tampering with a witness, victim or informant raised concerns for his lawyers about Mr. Trump`s exposure in the investigation."

The report also makes clear that the special counsel still wants to question the President.

However, as "Bloomberg" report this week, Trump is demanding that he isn`t asked questions about obstruction of justice under a proposal of the President`s legal team submitted to Mueller.

Joining me right now is Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for the "New York Times," Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He seats on the House intelligence committee. And Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney.

Thank you all.

Let`s start with Peter.

Peter, the "New York Times`" report is fascinating. Because it points out that just because you do something in public doesn`t mean it is legal or make him innocent. You can do all sides of people -- kill people in public and it is still murder. Your thoughts.

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, it is striking that, you know, the things that President Trump has said on twitter and said public interviews, said, you know, out loud, had they been in secret memos, they are on earth by subpoenas and revealed by investigator, people would say aha, this is interesting. This is evidence perhaps of a perhaps a conduct or pattern of conduct that might be questionable or even criminal.

The fact that he says it out loud has kind of desensitized the whole thing. Everybody is kind of got used to it. That is the way he operate. There is nothing hidden here. He is very up front about what he thinks about Jeff Sessions. He is very upfront about what he thinks about Comey.

So it is interesting that Robert Mueller is now taking look at this and trying to weave it together and see how it all fits into a pattern. No single tweet. No single statement, maybe, you know, of itself obstruction. And the question is whether if you add it all up, does that add up to simplify which witness tampering or some other impeding of this investigation.

MATTHEWS: Joyce, your view on this. The fact that he has done things like saying demanding what we have all heard about. And so became public demanding the loyalty of James Comey before he fired. Demanding that he go light or let Michael Flynn, that`s the security director, off the hook or he said tell the public I`m not being targeted here.

All of those demands we subsequently learning he is doing, they could be potentially be, well, I`m asking you, obstruction of justice.

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Peter is exactly right. Trump doing it in broad daylight has desensitized the public. But that desensitization won`t carry over to Bob Mueller. He will look at Trump`s conduct. He will look at his state of mind. And then within this very specific statutory framework that exists under law, he will decide whether there is enough evidence to prove some sort of obstruction.

And that is why all of this conduct matters, Chris. These tweets are perhaps a window into Trump`s state of mind, if there are tweets that can be attributed to him personally, they run through this course of conduct from the firing of Jim Comey to the efforts to humiliate Jeff Sessions and to resigning on through the false explanation for the Trump tower`s meeting. That entire course of conduct. So yes, Mueller will definitely try to stitch all of this together and see if obstruction emerges at the end.

MATTHEWS: Does the fact that he tweets at dawn, apparently he reads the paper and then starts tweeting. It is done impulsively and out of passion. Does that add to the question of motive?

VANCE: You know, I think it does. I think what happens here is you get a sense of his true state of mind and that`s the most difficult part of an obstruction case. Because the government has to prove that you acted with an intent to keep a witness from showing up to testify or with an intent to destroy evidence or any of the other numbers of types of conduct that are prohibited.

So to the extent, you know, it is usually the eyes that are the windows to the soul, here with the President, it is his tweets.

MATTHEWS: Let me get congressman Swalwell.

It seems to me watching this, and we are all have been watching this in plain sight, these tweets which go to everybody. He is constantly -- pounding the attorney general. How come you have recused yourself? It is almost like take charge the case and get me out of it. It just seems like he is constantly pounding Jeff Sessions to interview on his behalf, pull back he investigation and yank Robert Mueller out of his seat.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: And there is no twitter/client privilege in the law. So that is not going to save him. And you know, I have heard this before when I was a prosecutor of who would be so stupid to say something, you know, that everyone could see.

MATTHEWS: That is Rudy, by the way, is saying.

SWALWELL: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Rudy says he must be innocent of these charges because he did them openly.

SWALWELL: Yes. The President are not feeling with road scholars. They are filled with people who make a lot of mistakes that we are able to find. But right now, I think he feels embolden because he doesn`t --.

MATTHEWS: I know road scholars.

SWALWELL: He doesn`t anyone in Congress who stand a enough to him. And do, I think he feels embolden to keep moving forward because ultimately this goes to the Judiciary Committee and when you look at that land of misfit toys and the people who are there, during everything they can to be his fixers in Congress. He thinks, well, I am not going to pay a penalty because they are not going to hold me accountable. That changes in November. So I think the American people want to check on this president. They see him as a wrecking ball and they just want to be protected.

MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile in the Cohen case, "the New York Times," here again, is reporting that the audio tap of the President`s conversation with Cohen shows the President telling his fixer lawyer, that would be Cohen, to pay in cash to silenced Playboy model Karen McDougal. Let`s listen again to that clip which was provided to CNN by Cohen Lawyer, Lanny Davis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I`m all over that. And I spoke to Allen about. When it comes trying to the financing which will be --.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Listen, what financing? We`ll have to pay --

COHEN: No, no. I got it. No, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: No, no, no. Anyway, Trump`s legal team has advance an interpretation. I love the way they ae talking, if what it said on the tape and the transcript they circulate. As the Times reports, in the White House version, that would the Trump version as per Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump told Mr. Cohen, don`t pay in cash. And then says, check. You can`t hear the word don`t, by the way.

But According to the Times, Mr. Trump`s team manufactured a dialogue to make if more favorable for their client. Repeated screenings of the tape do not clearly reveal Mr. Trump saying the words don`t pay with, an omission that would entirely change the meaning of his comment.

Let me go back to Peter Baker of the Times.

Peter, you guys did a study a very - a due diligence study of the tape. You can`t find the word don`t. It looks to me like that transcript they put out was Nixonian. Nixon didn`t want the tapes out. Nixon put out a transcript.

Do they have a little guide book at the White House, do what Nixon did. It seems to me there are pattern -- Peter.

BAKER: Yes. It is a lot like the Helsinki thing. Just a week or so, where he said he meant wouldn`t rather than would, right. It is don`t pay in cash or pay it in cash. These are fairly important distinctions. And the question is, you know, a tape that is not 100 percent, you know, clear. But as we have listened to it again and again, we don`t hear the word don`t. Pretty important distinction. We will see whether the special counsel hears the same way. And whether or not --.

MATTHEWS: What did you make of the fact that Rudy Giuliani in behalf of Trump and obviously they have talked about this, decided not to release. They say they had access to the same tape. They refused to release the tape. They released a transcript which they typed up themselves.

BAKER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I mean, that is what Nixon did. Remember the judge get a solution. We are going to let the judge. I mean, anything but let the evidence out. It seems like the White House doesn`t want us to see the evidence which is the tape.

BAKER: Transcripts, of course, are always controlled by the person who does the transcribing. And any tape can be, you know, modified in a way that make it sound like something that really isn`t what is being said, right. And so, that is why the original tape is the most important piece of evidence in any circumstance like this. And why any defendant, anybody on the receiving end of an investigation like President Trump is would prefer to control the information as it comes out and present it in most favorable light.

MATTHEWS: Well, there is another significant development in that Michael Cohen investigation. The "Wall Street Journal" today reported that Allen Weisselberg, a long-time financial gatekeeper for President Trump has been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in the criminal probe. As the chief financial officer of the Trump organizations Weisselberg was once described by a person close to the company as the most senior person in the Trump organization that is not a Trump. And for years, prepared Mr. Trump`s tax returns according to one former Trump`s organization employee. Weisselberg has always been in the news recently because Michael Cohen mentioned his name in the conversation he recorded with Trump in September 2016 when he discussed a payment to silence playboy model, Karen McDougal. Here is that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: I need to open up a company regarding for the transfer of all the bad info regarding our friend, David --

TRUMP: Give it to me.

COHEN: I have spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with funding -- yes. And it is all the stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Joyce on that. Do you think they have got the tax returns? I mean, they are going after the guy that prepared the tax returns. It seems to me they are close to have the documents. Your thoughts.

VANCE: First thing you get is a prosecutor in a white collar case like this is the tax return. Now, they got the accountants who can explain them. It is starting to look a little bit like the Al Capone case, right.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

VANCE: When the bookkeeper can come in and say, I gave them money and this is how they used it. This could be a very important witness for the southern district of New York case.

MATTHEWS: This is with a great attorney and professor of tax law, Lord Kaplan did for Bobby Kennedy at the IRS back then. They went after the bad guys, the mafia with this kind of work.

Let me ask you one legal question. If Trump was talking about corporate money, Trump corporation money and Weisselberg handles that. If that money was being used to pay off somebody on the eve of election. That would seem to be more like (INAUDIBLE) case. It is not his own contribution he is paying the campaign expense, it is not his own contribution under (INAUDIBLE), he is allowed to that. It is corporate money. Talk about that, judge.

VANCE: So, it sounds like you don`t really need to have anyone explain the law to you here. I mean, this is a well-established that kind of lying that says that you can`t tangibly exchange corporate money with your personal money because that becomes income to use. So Trump could have theoretically open himself up to a whole species of tax crimes if this money is being intermingled and not reported. That is independent of any campaign finance law violations that might be lurking here.

MATTHEWS: I just want to know why bring his in chief financial officer of his corporation to help with some personal cash matter.

SWALWELL: If we are arguing over cash or check, he has us in the direction he wants us in because we are not focused on the bigger picture which is that the president of the United States was a shadowy operator. He has a fixer. That is not how any honorable President would act, Republican or Democrat. And so, I think we should take an MRI --.

MATTHEWS: Do you think this would surprise his people?

SWALWELL: Probably not. But I think he needs an MRI to his finances, his campaigns and his personal dealings. Otherwise, we don`t know who he is drawing us closer to.

MATTHEWS: Peter Baker, (INAUDIBLE) we are going to get to this in the next segment, but the manner in which way this guy gets away with his behavior, it comes to the president here with three marriages, no. We can used - get used to that. He said what he did on the "Access Hollywood" tape, the way he talks. All this stuff. It is how you are avoiding getting sexually transmitted disease. Is that what is - his Vietnam? I mean, any one of these would have staggered any other politician running for any office and yet Trump walks through it.

BAKER: Well, he does. And part of the way I think he walks through it is he doesn`t look back. He is not ashamed of it. He doesn`t express regret or remorse. He doesn`t act like he has done anything wrong. He, in fact, you know, returns fire. It is all about the fake media, it is all about the witch hunt, prosecutors, it is all about the loser Democrats. And he doesn`t sort of like, you know, exhibit the way most politicians in both parties have in the past when they have caught doing something that would be something controversial or offensive. He doesn`t take it back. He doesn`t act as if he has done anything wrong. So I think it is that brazen approach moving forward has worked for him so far. But he has never had anybody like Bob Mueller on his tail before. And we will have to see where that ends up.

MATTHEWS: And we will see how his confrontation goes with the law.

Anyway, thank you Peter Baker, U.S. congressman Eric Swalwell of California, and Joyce Vance.

Coming up, could another President get away with what Donald Trump does all the time. He is banning reporters from press events, threatens security clearance to take away security clearances of his critics. He attacks his own justice department. And at what point does America say enough, buddy.

Also, with just 100 days into the Midterm, Trump is in the Midwest today where in some states his approval is under water. Can he settle the unease among voters his party needs in November.

And the deadline to reunite migrant families is only hours away now. More than 700 families still don`t know when or if they will see their loved ones again. The HARDBALL roundtable weighs in on that.

Plus, Ivanka and Jarred, the Romanoff (ph) family members are digging in to the one whole. They are not headed back to New York any time soon. Well, think what we think of that.

And finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. You won`t like it.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We have been warned for months now, of course, that Russia might strike again before the up coming Midterm election in this country this November. Now, we are learning of the first documented attempt by Russia to do just that.

The "Daily Beast" is tonight reporting that according to their forensic analysis quote "the Russian intelligence agency behind the 2016 election cyber attacks has targeted senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri as she began her 2018 reelection campaign in earnest this last August. Senator McCaskill said in the stamen tonight, while this attack was not successful, it is outrageous that they think they can get away with this. I will not be intimidated. I have said it before and will say it again, Putin is a thug and a bully.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: If President Obama did what President Trump did in Helsinki, I would be peeling you off the capitol ceiling. Please.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It is good line. Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was New Jersey Democratic senator, Bob Menendez at yesterday`s senate foreign relations hearing, expressing a sentiment that could apply to many of President Trump`s recent or any actions.

Yesterday, the White House banned a CNN reporter from a press event because according to the White House she was too persistent in her questioning of the President. I would never get in there. I`m always persistent.

Earlier in the day, the President took steps to yank security clearances from former intelligence officials who have criticized his behavior toward Russia and over an act of political retribution. He has attacked his own justice department. Yesterday, in official statement, his national security advisor called the legitimate investigation by Robert Mueller, a witch hunt. They are all saying it now,

Meanwhile, President Trump has praised North Korea`s Kim Jong-un. And he threatened military action against Iran, warning that they will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. He`s like the Phantom of the Opera.

It`s the kind of behavior that would earn any other president universal condemnation. However, Trump`s Republican allies continue to stand by their man.

For more, I`m joined by author political commentator Ron Reagan, Michael Steele, of course, former chairman of the RNC.

Gentlemen, thank you for this.

I mean, this going to be hitting a barn door with a beach ball and a paddle. I don`t know how you can get -- why -- if -- I will say this about Barack Obama, who I did respect a lot, admired a lot.

If he had three marriages, he talked about women like the president we have now talked about women in "Access Hollywood," if he had done anything any time Trump does anything, he would have been keelhauled or whatever. He wouldn`t be there.

Ron Reagan.

RON REAGAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, you are absolutely right.

No previous president could have gotten away with even a 10th of the things that Donald Trump has. But the reason I think is that his base, which is about a third of the electorate or so, they don`t -- they really aren`t in touch with reality.

And the most important thing to them is, I think, they -- he seems to hate the same people that they hate. And that includes all three of us, by the way. If you`re angry about something Donald Trump did, Donald Trump must be doing something right, as far as they`re concerned. It`s really the real Trump derangement syndrome.

That`s not with us. It`s with them.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take one small particle of Donald Trump`s M.O.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

MATTHEWS: My Vietnam, he told Howard Stern, was avoiding sexually transmitted diseases during Vietnam.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That was his -- I mean, is that a campaign pitch? Who does that impress?

STEELE: Yes, I don`t know how many people you will win over with that.

But it is a creative argument, I guess. Look, I think -- I think Ron`s got it right. I mean, the bottom line is, Trump is in the safe space because he has a base that is with him regardless and, again, don`t like the same people he doesn`t like.

And that safe space includes a Congress, House and Senate, that is not disposed to do anything to disrupt that flow, because they themselves are afraid of that base. So when they`re looking at their congressional districts and they`re seeing 70 to 90 percent approval for the president, they`re not going to get...

(CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: OK. Let me challenge this.

Ron, you said he hates what they hate. OK. Your father said...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: No, no. OK.

You said -- your father -- I hate to use your father, but it`s a great example. He was a popular, successful president. He said that Gorbachev, the head of the then Soviet Union, trust, but verify.

Trump says to Putin, can I sit on your lap?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I mean, I`m sorry. There`s a difference.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: If you think about Trump`s base -- and we`re talking about Trump`s base. And that`s really in a way what is driving all this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But they don`t like Putin, his base.

REAGAN: No, they do like Putin.

If you look at the polls...

STEELE: Look at the polling.

REAGAN: ... Putin`s popularity has gone way up.

I swear to you that, if it were left just up to Donald Trump`s base, they would elect Vladimir Putin as president of the United States over virtually anybody with a D after their name. And I`m not kidding you, if it was just Trump`s base.

MATTHEWS: Well, what comes first, their love of Putin or Trump`s love of Putin?

REAGAN: Well, I think it goes hand in hand. If Trump seems to love Putin, then they will love Putin too.

MATTHEWS: Well, how about Kim Jong-un, that guy? I mean, how far can you stretch the fact, if you like Trump, you go along with all of his crap?

And it is crap. And I don`t -- I don`t understand. There`s something here we haven`t gotten to. How`s this guy get to Simon says? If he says it, then it`s true? This has never been true before.

STEELE: I think a real good reason for that and the answer to the question goes to the fact that they still see him as the guy who`s fighting, at the core, for the things that they want to see done.

They`re pushing back on the people that they feel they been wronged by in the establishment of the party. They`re pushing back. They stay with him because he`s putting forward an agenda that they like.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about women.

There are three guys, but just a little projection here, right? Here`s a guy that we know paid off one porn star $150,000.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: He`s now -- he is paying off another one indirectly through "The National Enquirer" another $150,000.

He`s doing it on tape.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: We`re seeing this kind of guy, the sleaze going on, engaging in these kind of extramarital affairs, and then paying them off to keep them quiet.

And he doesn`t pay a price of one point in the polls.

STEELE: Well, ask those 52 percent of educated white women who voted for him in 2016 why they did, because that`s exactly what happened.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Remember, in our religion, we call it a dispensation?

How does he get this dispensation. What bishop says, you can eat meat on Friday, you can skip church today?

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: But the bishop who does that, the congregation likes, even though that`s not the normal...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Ron, who gave him a dispensation where he gets to do anything he wants to, and everybody else is held accountable?

The husbands of these women who like him and put up with him, they don`t get the dispensation for this kind of stuff, obviously.

REAGAN: How about the fathers of the teenage girls, the teenage beauty contestants where he bragged on radio about sneaking into their dressing rooms in order to see them naked?

Imagine if Barack Obama had been caught on tape saying something about that. Imagine what FOX News would be doing about that.

MATTHEWS: I`m thinking of Groucho Marx for some reason.

Anyway, meanwhile, according to "The New York Times," Trump`s tax cut, which is supposed to be a winning issue for elected Republicans in 2013, is pushing the federal deficit to a trillion dollars.

Ron, I remember not a million years ago that Republicans were for free trade. They believed trade was to the benefit of everyone. They did have a sense of fiscal responsibility. They at least talked it. This guy doesn`t even talk the talk.

He doesn`t even do it. He does whatever he wants, and they don`t care.

REAGAN: No, they don`t care.

I mean, listen to some of his speeches at these rallies, this sort of incoherent gibberish, these word salads, that are just these stock phrases. There`s still shouting "Lock her up" at these at these rallies.

These are not people who are terribly thoughtful.

MATTHEWS: Who is the "her?" Does it matter anymore? Does it even matter anymore who the "her" is?

STEELE: No.

REAGAN: No.

STEELE: Insert name here.

REAGAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I have -- well, let`s see. There`s no limit to this, you say, Ron.

REAGAN: No.

MATTHEWS: This is the news for people who are progressives and independents, that there`s nothing that Trump can do. He can shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue, literally -- well, not literally -- figuratively, and they will still love him.

REAGAN: It is going to get worse. It is going to get worse. Mark my words. It will get worse and worse.

STEELE: But let`s also look at why that is.

And that`s because, right now, the Democrats are not offering a strong alternative voice to compete against this narrative.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That`s my favorite question. Who`s the leader of the Democratic Party?

STEELE: Who is the leader?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I know. We will get to that in the next two years. We will get to that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: By the way, I think everybody`s going out for a second beer right now after listening to you, Ron Reagan.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: They`re not too happy with the world we have described.

In other words, the guy they think is awful can get away with being even awfuler.

REAGAN: It`s true.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Ron Reagan. We have to do this once in a while, this palette cleaner.

Thank you, Michael Steele.

STEELE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Up next: Some of Trump`s policies are creating headwinds for Republicans heading into 2018 midterm. He`s costing some people some problems.

Will his base turn out to support him, despite his controversial trade war and his own going bromance for Vladimir Putin? I think we`re already there.

Anyway, this is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. .

We`re roughly 100 days out now from the midterm elections in November. And the president is acting nervous.

Just in the past few days, he`s reversed himself on a number of issues. He delayed his invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin until 2019. He backed down on his demand for border wall money, about $5 billion, in the upcoming funding bill. And he promised to bail out farmers hurt by his tariff war.

Well, tonight, Trump traveled to two Midwestern states, where he tried to convince voters that his tough talk on tariffs, for example, will work out. It could be a tough sell.

In Iowa, for example, prices for soybeans, pork and other major farm goods have tumbled. According to The Morning Consult poll, as of June, 50 percent of Iowa voters disapprove of the president`s performance now.

And just yesterday, a new NBC/Marist poll showed President Trump underwater, well below 50 in three Midwestern states; 36 percent of voters in both Michigan and Wisconsin approve of the president -- that is all -- while 38 percent of voters in Minnesota approve. So not exactly 50 percent.

For more, I`m joined by Jason Johnson, politics editor at TheRoot.com.

So, some of those states, like Michigan, Wisconsin, he carried them. He carried Iowa.

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.

MATTHEWS: He`s not doing so well right now.

Who`s telling Trump that you got to fix this thing with tariffs, you got a problem? Just an example there, you`re hurting real people with real product.

JOHNSON: It`s probably the governors, right?

Like, Scott Walker`s probably calling through every single person and saying, look, if you want me to keep this job, if you want me to keep doing what I`m doing in this state by pushing your policies and some voter suppression, you`re going to need to do something about this.

He`s -- he`s killing these guys at the local level, because even though Trump can go to a rally and have 20,000 people show up and cheer, he is dragging down the Republicans in that state, who can`t explain his policies. And that`s what`s hurting him across the Midwest.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I have been saying for a long time the Democrats need a leader to beat Trump. They don`t need a leader on this stuff.

JOHNSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: Tell me why it`s different than having to have an opponent.

JOHNSON: Well, so here`s the thing.

Trump -- if you`re going against Donald Trump, all you need is somebody who can fight with him directly.

But his policies, right, his policies are more dangerous than him. His policies...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You mean all politics is local?

JOHNSON: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: All politics is local.

MATTHEWS: It hits people where they are.

JOHNSON: Exactly. It hits people where they are.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They can vote no. They don`t have to vote for somebody else. They just vote against Trump.

JOHNSON: Exactly.

They will vote against his policies. They will vote against his against the guys who like his policies.

Third shifts, right? I call some friends in Indiana. I called some friends in Ohio. Third shifts of steel mills are getting shut down over this, OK. Even if...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What is that, the graveyard, 11:00 to 7:00, 11:00 to 7:00?

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: Yes, that`s the graveyard.

That`s the, I got to pay for my kids` tuition in the fall shift. And it`s happening because of these steel tariffs. So even if he`s got this $12 billion to help the farmers, if the steel tariffs keep going, that`s going to damage steelworkers and everybody who works with steelworkers across the Midwest.

MATTHEWS: How long does he have to get a readjustment, where he can prove that he did the right thing, he squeezed these other countries into readjusting?

Does he got a couple months?

JOHNSON: I don`t think he`s got that long.

MATTHEWS: It`s July. It will be August in a week.

JOHNSON: He`s basically got maybe until Labor Day.

MATTHEWS: Ohio Governor John Kasich, no fan of the president -- he`s a Republican, but no fan of Trump -- slammed President Trump`s $12 billion bailout of farmers as terrible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: He`s resorted to more farm welfare.

Farmers don`t want aide. They want trade. That`s what they want. Now it`s been compounded by actually furthering the debt of this country, spending as much as $12 billion, providing aid to make up for the damage that`s been done by the continuing tariffs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Governor Kasich later suggested the aid package was akin to buying off -- or buying the votes of farmers.

What do you make of that?

JOHNSON: Well, it`s true. It`s true.

And the problem is, Mike DeWine is a big Trump supporter. Ohio`s Republican Party is a very pro-Trump party. But if this policy can`t be explained, and if people in Northeast Ohio and Southern Ohio are being hurt by these policies, Kasich can say what he wants now, but they can`t explain this.

They can`t justify it.

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s tough.

JOHNSON: Yes, he`s tough.

And, also, he`s still well loved. He`s the guy who sort of stood up to him, even if he sort of distanced from the party. The president can`t find a way to say, adding these tariffs, and lowering your prices now, and making it difficult for you heading into the fall, when it`s time to do harvest season, when you got to buy school clothes, can`t explain it.

MATTHEWS: How does he get away with saying, I`m not demanding the wall right now, because the wall is a big part of his anti-immigration line?

JOHNSON: Because all he`s got to do is say, it`s going to get made.

Remember, Trump`s been lying by saying that the wall was already starting to be built, right, when we all know it hasn`t. The wall has always been symbolic. It`s symbolic about people who are worried about immigration, people who are racist, people who just feel that they need to do something about illegal immigration.

So, he can back off from this now. As long as he resurrects it at some point, he will be fine with his base.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Jason Johnson. An exuberant performance.

Up next: President Trump is shouting no collusion from the rooftops, but holding back on obstruction. Does this uncustomary restraint mean he`s worried about it? You bet he -- he won`t take any questions about obstruction.

Plus, today, there`s a headline about reigniting migrant families with their children. Will the Trump administration be able to get those families back together in time? And how much damage has already been done?

I would say a lot.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

Women in the suburbs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tweeting is like a typewriter.

When I put it out, you put it immediately on your show. They`re well- crafted. I was always a good student. I`m, like, a person that does well with that kind of thing.

And I doubt I would be here if it weren`t for social media, to be honest with you.

When somebody says something about me, I`m able to go bing, bing, bing, and I take care of it. The other way, I would never be able to get the word out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: How did Bartiromo get him to talk like that?

I`m a really good student. I can -- I`m well-crafted.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump`s nonstop Twitter feed has been a staple, of course, of his life and presidency. He`s called it a direct line to the people.

However, as "The New York Times" reported, those public comments are now being -- are now causing Trump`s lawyers serious concern.

Robert Mueller is investigating whether some of the president`s tweets were part of an effort to intimidate witnesses or seek to end the whole investigation by Robert Mueller.

For more, I`m joined by the HARDBALL Roundtable.

And Vivian Salama is White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal." Gabe Debenedetti is national correspondent for the "New York Magazine." Ruth Marcus, of course, is deputy editorial page editor for "The Washington Post."

I want to start with Vivian.

Rudy Giuliani`s defense of Trump is, it can`t be against the law because he does it so openly. He tweets it.

VIVIAN SALAMA, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, you said it was...

MATTHEWS: The threats.

SALAMA: ... a staple of his presidency.

It`s the bane of the -- of the existence of his lawyers. That`s for sure.

And this is the problem right now is we`re talking about obstruction of justice and whether Twitter is a factor in Muller`s consideration. When we`re talking about firing Comey, you have people on both sides coming out and saying, was there justification for it? Was that obstruction of justice? Is that a criminal offense? Is that impeachable?

With Twitter, the problem is that no one can really control the president and so, he has the potential to go rogue, and when it comes to legal matters, this is obviously something that concerns his lawyers where it can be so sensitive and one word can completely just trigger any kind of suspicion that the president was acting intentionally. And so, it`s a very sensitive thing.

MATTHEWS: What I like about is it`s impulsive. He gets up at 6:30 and reads the papers and starts tweeting. It`s him.

Ruth?

RUTH MARCUS, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, you know, the lawyers have this phrase excited utterance and it makes it more admissible in court. His tweets -- bing, bing, bing -- are his excited utterances.

MATTHEWS: What did you get in the LSATs? What? A hundred or what? To pull this stuff out. It`s so impressive.

MARCUS: I would like to say on television, my LSAT score really high.

MATTHEWS: I assume that they were. Go ahead. And you came out with that, what you call? What was the phrase, the legal term you said?

MARCUS: Excited utterance.

MATTHEWS: Well, tell me about excited utterance.

MARCUS: So, but I`m excited to tell you about obstruction of justice because it would be probably unprecedented for a prosecutor to make a case solely on -- obstruction case based solely on Twitter. We`ve never seen that, but that`s not what I think Mueller would be thinking about here if you were to argue --

MATTHEWS: Can we start with a couple of --

MARCUS: It`s a tapestry, right?

MATTHEWS: I agree.

MARCUS: It`s a tweets plus, and it`s -- the other thing. Without the other thing, the tweets aren`t criminal.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What about -- just take the case so we nail this done. The stuff he says about Jeff Sessions. You recused yourself, I hate you for it. I want you out of here.

While you still there, can`t you do it again? Can`t you take control of this case and throw it out the window? Can`t you protect me? Can`t you do it, Jeff?

He`s doing all the time. He`s intimidating the guy.

GABE DEBENEDETTI, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Right.

MATTHEWS: An overall charge of justice in his case.

DEBENEDETTI: Right. A lot of the argument that we seem to be hearing from the White House and from people associated with it these days is this has all been reported, this is old news, therefore it can`t be part of the legal case. Well, I`m not the lawyer on this panel, but I`m pretty sure that`s not how the law works. It doesn`t have to be behind closed doors and secret for years in order for it to be illegal.

So, if you`re pressuring someone whether it`s on Twitter or whether it`s behind closed doors that is later reported in public, yes, I don`t think Mueller is going to really care which is which. And you know, in this report today, you saw the White House lawyers or people close to the White House saying essentially, well, we`re worried that Mueller is going to try and stitch it all together and build a narrative -- that`s called building a case, that`s how the stuff work.

MARCUS: You don`t have to go to law school to have that exactly right.

DEBENEDETTI: Exactly.

MARCUS: Yes, that`s called building a case.

MATTHEWS: Thank you from LSAT genius.

Today is the deadline, it`s a deadline, by the way. This is serious business for Trump administration to reunite those migrant families that were separated under the president`s zero tolerance crackdown.

According to most recent updates, the administration was able to reunite just about 1,400 children, 700 remain separate, 700. However roughly 400 families can`t be reunited because the parents have already been deported or willingly left the country without their kids. According to court documents filed by the ACLU, there have been roughly cases of parents being misled by the government into signing away their rights to reunification.

What do you make it? Actually, they didn`t know this, they signed away their children.

DEBENEDETTI: Well, there are reports, of course, though that these people didn`t know in many cases that that`s what they were doing and I think what we have to take from all this, of course --

MATTHEWS: Who got the children, the custody of the children? That`s foster families?

DEBENEDETTI: Either that or some non-profit?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- state?

DEBENEDETTI: Yes, absolutely or nonprofits that were taking charge of these families. But I think the overall story here of course has to remain on the hundreds of children that are not with their parents right now, or not with their families and the reality is that this is another example of how the administration has it completely botched this, because you still have agencies that aren`t talking to each other. And they set this deadline, they`re still missing this deadline for hundreds of families.

MATTHEWS: Let me throw the ball in the air. Suppose there had not been anybody blowing the whistle on this, suppose it hadn`t been stopped, they are going through with their plans, separation, detention, it seems to me they never really had a plan if they`d had complete control of their plan, they`ve never had a plan to reunite.

SALAMA: Well, that`s the problem and also that they had to have any kind of sweeping policy in this case where every single case on a case-by-case basis offers very unique circumstances. And so, this is what they`re realizing now and having to go through the process, it`s taking a very long time. And these court deadlines obviously not helping the situation and making things that has stakes much higher where they say, well, this child came in with adult supervision, guardians, but not the parents, and the parents might be in this state or this child came alone and they`re saying that a lot of children came with smugglers.

MATTHEWS: Why does somebody tell the president with zero tolerance, this was going to happen? Ruth? Nobody told him.

MARCUS: Because their argument was, well, this will help deter and they check out --

MATTHEWS: Without all the other consequences considered?

MARCUS: Anybody should have known the consequences. They didn`t plan for the consequences. This is not an administration, I think it`s fair to say, known for its careful planning. This was uncareful planning with children involved.

MATTHEWS: Speaking of families now to the Romanovs again. On his swing for the Midwest today, President Trump was joined by his senior adviser Ivanka Trump.

Earlier today, "Axios" reported that the president`s daughter, that would be Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner don`t plan on heading home to New York anytime soon. Friends of the couple tell the news site that they now preparing to stay in D.C. as long as the president does, meaning they`ll outlast almost everyone in the West Wing.

Ruth --

MARCUS: Well --

MATTHEWS: The Romanovs are ruling as always. He`s the expert on the Middle East. She`s an expert on prison or whatever. It`s unbelievable.

MARCUS: No, she`s the expert on families and caring about families and women. And so you can see the really good implications and effects of that --

MATTHEWS: Why are they given all this power? I mean, Hillary Clinton was a graduate of Yale Law, whatever you thought of the way she handled health care, she had the prerequisite to take it, the responsibility. These people are just family members.

MARCUS: Trump Organization is a family business. This is a family business. It`s always been a family business. They have no business being in the White House, but he doesn`t know that, he doesn`t care.

MATTHEWS: Well, he may care when he get indictments of his son, a couple of his sons, you know?

DEBENEDETTI: Yes, but, this is, you know --

MATTHEWS: For the Trump Tower dealing and stuff like that with the Russians.

DEBENEDETTI: But this is another reflection, of course, of the fact that the White House has struggles to get mainline Republicans in to work for them, at least at the top level. So, you know, I`m not going to pretend to speak to the motivations internally of Ivanka and Jared Kushner, but the reality is that he has struggled to get senior advisors and, you know, we should dispel with this fiction at this point if we haven`t already that they`re moderating forces in any way. They do make him feel comfortable.

SALAMA: But most importantly, yes, exactly. Ivanka Trump most importantly is an expert in Donald Trump, and I think that most of his advisors agree. First of all, she stepped into the role that the traditionally the first lady does, where she travels with him a lot, she holds --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So, Trump is like an NBA star whose only feel comfortable if he has entourage. Is that what it is?

SALAMA: He`s close with his family. He`s close with his children and he`s kind of cut out from some of them and she`s the one person who kind of keeps him level headed.

MATTHEWS: Here`s my theory: a lot of this is going to come to a head. We`ll have a reckoning when one of his family members is indicted. I think that`s the serious business. Then he has to decide whether to pardon or to let one of his kids be hauled out to jail.

The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Tonight, sources tell NBC News that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was blindsided by President Trump`s tweet threatening large sanctions against Turkey for detaining an American pastor. Secretary Pompeo has been involved in delicate negotiations trying to get Andrew Craig Brunson released. The pastor has been in jail for 18 months on what the U.S. claims are false charges connected to a failed coup against Turkey`s President Erdogan.

This is not the first time in recent days that Pompeo has been surprised by White House tweets on foreign policy. Two State Department officials confirm NBC News that he wasn`t aware Trump invited put into his summit in D.C. Do you believe that?

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL.

Vivian, tell me something I don`t know.

SALAMA: Donald Trump`s favorite subject: economic growth. Tomorrow, second quarter GDP coming out, the economists agree that it`s going to be a good one. That figures can be anywhere from 4 percent to maybe even as high as 5 percent.

But a lot of that is boosted by pre-emptive activity on tariffs, so let`s see what happens --

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) if that happens, too.

SALAMA: Let`s see what happens.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Gabe.

DEBENEDETTI: Well, while all of us have been focused on D.C., there`s been a trio of western Democratic governors who`ve been really amping up their 2020 activity. John Hickenlooper from Colorado who recently went to Iowa. He`s in New Hampshire tonight meeting with state party leaders. Jay Inslee from Washington was in Iowa recently.

And the most 2020 of them all, Steve Bullock from Montana is in New Hampshire next month, and I`ve recently been told that he`s going to Iowa later this week. He`ll be in Dubuque tomorrow and the back --

MATTHEWS: I like to cut of his jib, we`ll see.

DEBENEDETTI: In the backdrop, Democrats have never nominated a western.

MATTHEWS: Twenty-five candidates it looks like. Susan?

MARCUS: Vivian scooped me and I`m not -- I`m not nimble enough to come up with alternative. President Trump is going to take a lot of credit for these good numbers, don`t believe him. He`s -- a lot of people who bought things because they`re worried about his tariffs and a lot of false growth from tax cuts juicing the economy. That it`s going to then slow down. Don`t buy it.

MATTHEWS: Here`s the thing with the economy booming like it is now, at least in GDP terms and low employment rates among minorities and all that good news, he`s still in the low 40s, and what`s he going to be we have our -- we have a recession in two years?

MARCUS: Yes, and by the way, wages flat.

MATTHEWS: I know.

Well, anyway, thank you. Can I see my prompter? Thank you, Vivian Salama and Gabe Debenedetti.

DEBENEDETTI: There you go.

MATTHEWS: Ruth Marcus, with a high IQ.

When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. Your parents are watching. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch" Thursday, July 26, 2018.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has reported to be investigating the president`s tweets now as part of an effort to obstruct justice. President Trump`s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani retorts the tweets cannot be part of an obstruction of justice case because they are public acts. Quote: If you`re going to obstruct justice, Giuliani said, you do it quietly and secretly, not in public.

Really?

We all and that includes Rudy know that President Trump is quite willing to carry out often what others try to hide in broad daylight. It is, to use a crime-fighting term, his M.O., his known method of operation. What others dare not, he dares not only to do with the broadcast, making a racket this part of Trump`s weaponry, it`s his way of striking fear and rivals and underlings alike.

It makes clear sense that Robert Mueller`s team is looking at Trump`s tweets, his almost daily fuselage lot of misleading statements, public attacks, possible pardon offers to potential witnesses. Talk about a pattern of obstruction, it`s all been part of a broad effort from the beginning to interfere with the investigation.

There was this intimidation of FBI Director James Comey. Trump`s pushing Comey to profess his personal loyalty to him. He`s pushing Comey to let his national security director Michael Flynn off the hook. Then his demanded Comey announced publicly the he Donald Trump was not under investigation. Finally, his firing of Comey for not playing ball.

Want more? How about Trump`s continual threats and intimidation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions? His haranguing of him to get Sessions to end his recusal of himself in the Mueller probe. He`s demanded Sessions take charge of the probe personally so that he can presumably do Trump`s bidding or get fired himself.

As "The Times" reports today, such behavior could fit under the U.S. Criminal Code which outlaws tampering with a witness, victim or an informant -- in other words, obstruction of justice.

Rudy Giuliani`s defense that all this behaviors innocent because it was done in public is nothing more than they confessed on his part that this fits his president`s outrageous method of operation generally. This is how he runs his presidency. Whenever someone tries to limit his power, he throws them out of the way.

He fired his first chief of staff for this reason, now he threatens to fire his new one. He`s fired Secretary of State Tillerson and his second national security director McMaster as if he were changing ties. He negotiated with Russian boss Putin is if he were an autocrat just like Putin.

Claiming that his client is innocent because he`s accused behavior fits this M.O. is a joke. It`s no wonder that Giuliani says the president refuses to be questioned by this special counsel about obstruction of justice. It`s the one area where his actions are so well-known, they require so little detective work. Tweeting maybe Trump`s impulsive choice of weapon, that doesn`t exempt it from the law.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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