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Trump: Sessions needs to end Mueller Probe. TRANSCRIPT: 07/31/2018, Hardball w Chris Matthews.

Guests: Susan Page

Show: HARDBALL Date: July 31, 2018

Guest: Susan Page

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Crime and punishment. Let's play HARDBALL.

Today, Paul Manafort, the President's campaign manager, went on trial in a federal court across the Potomac River from here. Mark it as a day in history, the man who was once Donald Trump's top kick is now facing years in a U.S. prison. The prelude of political foreplay, whatever you choose to call it, is past. For a year-and-a-half, our country has been contorted into a reality TV show. Mark this is the day we discovered that reality bites.

Good evening, I am Chris Matthews down in Washington. We are heading into round one now of what could be the dismantling of the Trump administration. The first real test for Robert Mueller special counsel investigation into Russia meddling is underway, as I said, at a courthouse just across the Potomac in Alexandria, Virginia.

Neither Russian meddling nor the 2016 election itself are expect to be part of the case yet. The defended, Paul Manafort was President Trump's former campaign manager. He is facing 18 counts of tax evasion and bank fraud. Charges that predate his time on the Trump campaign. If found guilty, Manafort could get up to ten years in prison.

He is also facing similar charges in federal court in Washington or it could be an additional 15 years behind bars. Manafort is the highest ranking campaign figure charge so far. He also seemingly has the deepest connections to Russian actors.

Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March of 2016. Starting back in 206, Manafort did political work overseas for the Russian-back President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. He made tense of millions of dollars to that work from Yanukovych.

Manafort also had business ties with Russia oligarch, Oleg Deripaska. Both these men have direct ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

More important with Mueller's investigation, Manafort took part in that infamous Trump tower meeting in June of 2016 with Russians including Kremlin connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya where he Trump campaign was promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

Joining me now is Betsy Woodruff, political reporter for "The Daily Beast." David Corn, Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones." Phil Rucker, White House bureau chief for "the Washington Post." And NBC News national security reporter Ken Dilanian who is at the courthouse right now in Virginia.

Ken, what are wearing in the opening statements? What are the main charges and what is the big defense of Paul Manafort?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Chris, the prosecutors laid out a case of greed and lies. As you said, they described how Paul Manafort made some $60 million working for this Russian-back Ukrainian oligarch but he was paid through fictious loans allegedly because he didn't want to pay taxes in a lot of his money. And they accused him of avoiding taxes on $15 million in income in order to fund his lavish lifestyle that included $10,000 suits and a $21,000 titanium watch.

And then they say the spigot dried up in 2014 when the Ukrainian oligarch was sent him to exile and went to Russia, the Ukrainian politician. And then they say Manafort started committing bank fraud by lying on loan applications and by overstating his income.

And Chris, they say this conduct went up to the time and through the time that Manafort was working for the Trump campaign. And while this is not - this trial is not about potential Russia collusion, it paints a picture of Paul Manafort coming to the Trump campaign, working for free at a time when he was broke and deeply in debt including to a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.

And they are not going to say this, in the trial but reasonable people can conclude that he was a ripe target for Russian intelligence recruitment at that time. Now we know that he was offering private briefings to this oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, while he was chairman on the Trump campaign.

Now, the real news today Chris, was the defense because the question is, you know, what was kind of defense could Manafort offer to these charges? It seems as if he is going to try to blame Rick Gates who was his right hand person who has turned states evidence and flipped and will be the living witness to testify against them. His lawyers made clear in their opening statement that they are going to say that Rick Gates was running the business, that Paul Manafort did not intend to do any of these things they say he did, And that if anybody was at fault, it was Gates. And there is also going to say that Manafort did not willfully evade taxes.

There was also one witness today, Chris. And interestingly, the prosecutions shows put on as the first witness, Tad Divine, the Democratic strategist who worked for Bernie Sanders. Tad Divine also worked for Paul Manafort in Ukraine. And the prosecution used him to sort of explaining to the jury how all this works? How it is that American political consultants end up in a foreign country consulting and making campaign ads

It was clear that Divine is an admirer of Manafort. And when I caught up with him in hallway afterwards, he said he didn't want to come and let's be said, look. I hope that Paul gets a fair trial. And I hope that I contributed effort. But it was clear that Manafort's lawyers were emphasizing that Divine is democrat, a Democratic strategist. And no mentioned of Donald Trump was made at this trial.

I think that is no accident. We are in Alexandria, Virginia which is a Democratic stronghold. They went for Hillary Clinton last time, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Ken.

One last thought, if you are Donald Trump watching what is going on over there, what is your concern because if Rick Gates has flipped against Manafort, is Trump still worried about Manafort flipping. Because he is facing all these years in federal prison, I just wondered how much - how nichian (ph) can he be? How strong can he be against - what he is facing in life.

If he has a bad jury, he think he is facing a bad jury. He is facing a lot of charges which are well documents. He sees the time he is going to serve, you know. What was the all lie going to the crime if you can't do the time? He is looking at a lot of crime. And I'm wondering, is Trump watches and say, oh, my God, don't break, Paul. What do you think Trump want at how this trial?

DILANIAN: It is a great question, Chris. I am staring at the back of Manafort's head in the courtroom thinking the same thing. Like look, what he is up against? He is facing ten years in this trial. And even if he is acquitted here, he has to go cross the river and face trial in a similar charges in D.C. which carry about a 15-year healthy.

But I actually think Manafort thinks he has shot here. He is putting on a vigorous defense. He must have spent millions of dollars on this legal team. But you are absolutely right. Donald Trump must be concerned about what he might say. After all, Paul Manafort was the only nonfamily member invited to that Trump tower meeting with those Russians who are offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. He was the chairman. He was in on some sensitive meetings with Donald Trump who doesn't use email. So there is a great possibility that he can testify about things that are very damaging to Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Ken, hang on there at the courthouse. Thank you.

I want to bring in everybody else - David, Betsy and Phil.

First David, it seems to me this is the first big test for Mueller. Mueller is all business. Everybody says brilliant. Everybody is confident. This is the first time. It is his first time at bat here.


MATTHEWS: He has to get this convictions.

CORN: I don't want to be glyph here, but it is like opening night for our production.


CORN: He has been working on this for over a year.

MATTHEWS: The curtains is up.

CORN: He has brought cases and put out very serious indictment about Russians and others. He has got several people to flip including George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn and the aforementioned Rick Gates.

But now, he has to put on a case in public before jury. And every lawyer will tell you, with juries, there is always a chance that something can go south. So this is the first time we are going to see the full breath of his preparation and his ability to bring a case forward.

MATTHEWS: Well, I got to say - the divided jury, six men and six women, eight white people, I hate to that but that is the way they always count, these juries by ethnicity. The others are minorities in some kind. So, that doesn't tell you much, but they were sent there, this is a probable democratic jury. I would say, and just to look at it, sort of -- let's start with Betsy here. You are looking at the jury, nobody is a Republican wants to face a jury in D.C. And that goes back to Watergate days. It is just not a good place.

BETSY WOODRUFF, REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: And that is true. So Virginia is comparatively --.

MATTHEWS: And they don't like big shots.

WOODRUFF: Potentially, Virginia is a comparatively slightly better jury pool to draw from compared to D.C. But this is northern Virginia. This is Alexandria. It is affluent, mal-educated area. I believe it went for Hillary Clinton. The likelihood that Manafort is going to find many political sympathizers --

MATTHEWS: it is not exactly Dixie.

WOODRUFF: Not particularly high, That's right. At the same time, no, look. It is 12 people. We don't know much about their background. And if any one of those jurors decides that they think Manafort is there on political pretenses, that he has been framed, that it is a witch hunt, then Mueller is really in deep trouble.

MATTHEWS: You know, this is a city and it seems to me there is always the question among jurors some may minority, some may not who think this is about big shots. The people they read about in the paper. The ones that don't pay taxes. Here is a guy in for tax evasion. Make $60 million bucks and tried to scathe on it.

PHIL RUCKER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And we have today, part of the presentation in the opening argument was that he had a $15,000 ostrich jacket.

MATTHEWS: What is that?

RUCKER: A jacket made out of ostrich, I don't know. I don't have one.

MATTHEWS: Don McGahn saw the watch he was wearing.

RUCKER: He has had such a lavish lifestyle based on the money that he has made.

MATTHEWS: OK. What did you think in terms of fairness?

Ken, I want to get back to you. Ken, what about, we just saw the sketch of the author and then discussed there is no photographs in the courtroom as usual. What did you make of him in the prison garb? I was amazed to see him walks in there, all the pictures we got, stock footage looking like he has got a tag, $10,000 suit, and I guess whatever that looks like. And then you see him there in the sketch looking like somebody from the pen, from the federal pen. Your thoughts.

DILANIAN: That was from the previous hearing, Chris, where he did wear his green prison jumpsuit. Today, in front of the jury, he is wearing a black jacket.

MATTHEWS: Is that with the jury?

DILANIAN: Yes, absolutely. In fairness, you don't bring a defendant like out in the prison jumpsuit in front of the jury. He gets to wear a suit, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: But, is that what he looked like in court with that green jumpsuit on?

DILANIAN: No, no, no. What I'm saying is that was from a prior hearing. Today, he wore a black suit with a grey tie. No, absolutely. Those pictures you are looking at now are from a previous hearing just in front of a judge.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, Donald has tried to distance himself from his former campaign manager, obviously. Here is Trump.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know Mr. Manafort, haven't spoken to him in a long time. But I know him. He was with the campaign as you for a very short period of time.

I tell you. I feel a little badly about it. They went back 12 years to get things that he did things 12 years ago. You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time. He works for me, what, 49 days or something? A very short period of time.


MATTHEWS: Five months. It was months by the way. However, the reality is Manafort worked in the Trump campaign for five months, that is five times four, 20 months during a pivotal period. He came out to lead the delegate corralling effort at the RNC convention. And then was promoted to campaign chairman shortly thereafter. Trump frequently praised him on the campaign trail. Let's watch that.


TRUMP: But I have fantastic people, Paul Manafort just came on, he is great.

He didn't have to do this. Like I don't have to - he didn't have to this this, but he wanted to.

And Paul Manafort has done an amazing job. He is here someplace. Where is Paul? Paul Manafort. Good. You made it.

That is Mr. Manafort, who is by the way, respected mand.


MATTHEWS: He is slipping away. I mean, I don't know this guy.

WOODRUFF: It is really curious about gymnastics that he is trying to do verbally to distance himself from Manafort. The reality is that Trump could have known extremely early on that Manafort was going to cause trouble for him. We reported almost as soon as Manafort came onboard with the campaign that he lobbied for a host of dictators, authoritarians, problematic third world bully types. You didn't have to be in the CIA to understand that this is someone who could potentially have some skeletons in his closet that might caused you trouble. But the Trump campaign didn't do that. Instead, they brought him out and treated him like a prince.

MATTHEWS: I'm sorry, go ahead. Because my feeling is they talk Russia. Here is a guy who is an expert on Russian control to Ukraine. He is the guy with all those context of the - all of (INAUDIBLE). The fact that he and Trump didn't have a little trash talk a little conversation about Russia alludes me.

CORN: Well, it was also reported that he had owed millions of dollars to Oleg Deripaska who is pursuing him at the time he joined the campaign. And so, and his connections to a former Russian military. Intelligence officer I have been reported to, and there was no betting. And the bottom - I mean, I still want to know, at the end of the day, why Manafort was invited to the Trump tower meeting?

MATTHEWS: Phil, it seems like there is money in this guy. This guy has money in his pocket. He knows something on Trump that could spring him from maybe 25 years in prison if you added up.

RUCKER: Potentially. And Rick Gates is cooperating with Muller. But Manafort was the chairman. He was in the room for meetings that Rick Gates was not at. He had more visibility into the Trump's operation into the finances of that campaign and into the finances of the Trump organization. I think then Rick Gates did. So potentially, he could have more value to Mueller and his investigators than Gates.

MATTHEWS: He could be Franky five angels (ph). He could right out of the godfather. He could be the guy, (INAUDIBLE).

Anyway. Thank you, Betsy Woodruff, David Corn, Phil Rucker and Ken Dilanian.

I mean it, Paul Manafort, looks like the guy you would want in your witness as your star witness if you are Mr. Mueller.

Coming up, President Trump doubles down on Rudy Giuliani's collusion is not a crime defense even as he insists there was no collusion. Will the American public buy that ploy?

Plus, the Trump administration is considering a hundred billion dollar tax cut for the rich, a new one. What happened to the man who promised to fight for the forgotten men?

Also, happening right now, Trump is in Florida rallying for this guy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ron loves playing with the kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Build the wall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He reads stories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then Mr. Trump said you are fired. I love that part.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is teaching Madison to talk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Make America great again.


MATTHEWS: The last Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis who is running for governor of Florida as you Donald Trump's long shadow hangs over that race. The HARDBALL roundtable will be weighing on that tonight. Trump is on Florida right now.

Finally, let me finish tonight with 3D printed plastic guns. Ready for that. That's all we need is plastic guns you can make yourself.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Remember this Trump tweet from June 13th, just one day after the historic meeting from North Korean Kim Jong-un, President Trump padded himself on the back saying quote "there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea." Well today, there is more evidence that Trump's declaration might have been premature.

Arms control experts confirmed to NBC News that U.S. intelligence shows North Korea is continuing to produce ballistic missiles and work on their missile programs as well. According to "Washington Post," the missiles are being built at the same facility where they were built. The built the first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States. Same facility. The White House is not confirmed the story On the Record as yet.

We will be right back.



RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime. It is not. Collusion is not a crime.


MATTHEWS: Collusion is not a crime according to Rudy Giuliani, attorney at law.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Trump's attorney, Giuliani, offering up a misleading line of defense yesterday saying that colluding with the foreign power is not illegal. Now President Trump is doubling down on his lawyer's approach tweeting today collusion is not a crime. But that doesn't matter, this is Trump, because there was no collusion except by crooked Hillary and the Democrats, the usual. It is an indication the presence evolving strategy maybe a deliberate ploy to rationalize any possible action he took in collaborating with Russia.

Anyway. However, as we said in the show earlier, anything the President may have done to advance the Kremlin's conspiracy could make Trump a coconspirator in a legal Russian plot. Therefore collusion, in this case, is illegal.

This comes after Giuliani raised the (INAUDIBLE) of yet another undisclosed campaign meeting about Russia only denying and say the meeting never happened, this Giuliani twisting things. Yet after his multiple denials, he later said he couldn't rule out whether the alleged meeting might have taken place. Here is Rudy going in circle.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: There is no second meeting here?

GIULIANI: It is highly unlikely, I always have to leave the option open as a lawyer in case they came across to something that I really starve (ph) on this. I feel some of the things that we feel are important.


MATTHEWS: I'm joined by Michael Schmidt, Washington correspondent for "The New York Times" and Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor.

I want to ask you a journalist question and legal question. It seems to me that the governor of the United States is now in the hands of a troika (ph). Sean Hannity, Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump. They are the people that talk to each other. They are the ones in together in this kebab to save his butt. It seems like they are the really the close, you know, that is the tongue, that is the crew, what do you think when you cover this? They talk all the time.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: They are the ones that are driving the entire thing. That Sean Hannity has a huge hand in this presidency, of course he does.

MATTHEWS: But on the defense of the president, on the charges of colluding with the Russians. They seem to be backing and forth. They are harmonizing their words. They are talking to each other every couple of hours.

SCHMIDT: What has been the President's greatest strength in his defense? FOX News. And who has led that? Sean Hannity. I mean, struck in page text messages are a quarter stone of that show. This is the FBI agent who sent these text messages that showed anti-Trump bias.

MATTHEWS: Strzok, yes.

SCHMIDT: Yes. So, why are you surprised...


MATTHEWS: I'm just trying to...

SCHMIDT: That is the best part of their offense.

MATTHEWS: I'm trying to enunciate to the best of my ability, Mr. Schmidt.

What have come to me is, this seems to be the midnight -- Churchill was -- Roosevelt once sent over Harry Hopkins over to London. He said, tell me who he speaks to after midnight.

No, I -- we know who he speaks to after midnight, right? Rudy and Sean. That's a healthy United States government.


SCHMIDT: This is a question that people in Washington have asked, that if FOX News was around during Nixon, what would have happened to Nixon? Where would public opinion have been?

MATTHEWS: With Rabbi Korff. Remember him, the last defender of Nixon? Get off his back.

SCHMIDT: Would he have been able to defend himself?

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to the law here for a second, because I think we agree on this, that there is a very unique kind of junta that runs the country right now.

This denial that collusion is a crime, well, he doesn't use your lawyerly language, because you're a lawyer.


MATTHEWS: So, Rudy is using non-lawyer language. Collusion is not a legal term.

But conspiracy is.

BUTLER: That's right.

MATTHEWS: And advancing a conspiracy is. It makes you a co-conspirator.


So if you look at the U.S. federal criminal code, there are 4,000 crimes, but you won't see something called collusion. You will see conspiracy. And it's got to be a conspiracy to break a law, like computer hacking or soliciting illegal campaign contributions or trying to subvert the election.

So when Mueller has charged collusion, the actual crime has usually been conspiracy to defraud the United States, which Jared Kushner, Don Jr. have exposure to if they knowingly accepted material support for the campaign from the Russians.

MATTHEWS: So they go to that meeting, if they had a meeting before that meeting, but they still went to that after they had deliberation over it, that makes it a lot more serious.

BUTLER: Yes. Well, it sure makes it a big deal.

MATTHEWS: It's like when their kids reloaded their guns to shoot the parents. Remember that case? I mean, there might some deliberation here when they reloaded.

Go ahead.


It's a pre-meeting. So you only have a pre-meeting if the actual media is big deal, which makes it even harder to believe that Trump Sr. didn't know about it.

MATTHEWS: Well, why is Rudy diddling around about whether there was a second meeting or not? Why is he playing that game? Do you know, Michael?

SCHMIDT: Well, the questions came up about the first meeting.


SCHMIDT: And what they're trying to do is, they're trying to get out in front as much as they can on this question. And that's what they're doing.

They think the only exposure the president has is public opinion.

MATTHEWS: So if they give it a soft landing, if they put out all the notes about there was a meeting, that, all right, the president may have known about the meeting, blah, blah, blah, they give it all away before the prosecutors bring it out, they think that's a softening up for the attack and they could get through it?

SCHMIDT: Well, what other choices do they have?

MATTHEWS: They don't have one.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Rudy Giuliani attempted to explain why he brought up the allegation of another previously undisclosed campaign meeting about Russia two or three days before the infamous Trump Tower meeting took place.

According to the story -- quote -- "Giuliani appeared to blame the maelstrom he kicked up on inquisitive 'New York Times' reporters, who he suggested had compelled him to proactively spin a potentially damaging story. Giuliani told The Daily Beast that this included the paper's star Trump reporter Maggie Haberman."

In a statement, however, Maggie Haberman told The Daily Beast, "We don't talk about sourcing and wouldn't now. But I have lost the thread of what the former mayor is talking about."

I think that's a pretty good line from your colleague there. But what this -- why is Rudy Giuliani spinning the story of two meetings, a second meeting, as well as the first meeting, and then saying, I'm not saying there was a second meeting, but I want to talk about a point, in fact, I will even tell you who's at the meeting that I can't even admit occurred?

SCHMIDT: I think that one of the things he struggles with is the fact that there are so many fronts that the president has to deal with.

There's the Cohen questions. There's the collusion questions. There's the obstruction questions. And if you're going to be the lead spokesman for all of this, you need to be very well-versed in them and be able to fight all of those questions at the same time.

MATTHEWS: So he has to spit out a story that he doesn't believe so he can show he's aware of what's coming at him?

SCHMIDT: He's under enormous amount of pressure from the president.

The president is obviously incredibly frustrated with this investigation. And Giuliani is frustrated that he thought he could come in and bring an end to this, that he could get Mueller to just say, we're done.

MATTHEWS: What's the legal term, the courtroom term for a lawyer who confuses the jury?

BUTLER: I don't know. Rudy Giuliani? A TV lawyer.

But, again, the jury pool sounds like it's a criminal matter. And we know that Robert Mueller, even if he finds evidence of a crime by Trump, is not going to indict him. He's going to write a report to Congress, and then it will be up to politicians.

And so Rudy is making a political argument. And the significance is that Trump's real lawyer, Emmet Flood, is meeting with Mueller. And from the increasing desperation by Giuliani and Trump, it sounds like Trump's real lawyer is hearing from Mueller that the investigation is now centering on Mr. Trump.

And so they have got to come out with a defense. Don't have a criminal defense, but this political defense may be effective with the Republicans in Congress.

MATTHEWS: How much it is just, what is it called, reasonable doubt? Just got to say, get the 40 percent of the country that likes Trump in their gut and just give them something to buy, like a jury that wants to acquit a guy.

SCHMIDT: They sit down, look at the calculation. The only exposure is impeachment.

And impeachment is about a vote in the House. And those votes are from the people. And if you can push public opinion, then you can control that vote. That is their only aim at this point.

MATTHEWS: Well, Giuliani also said last night that the prospect that the president will testify has become -- oh, here's a big surprise -- less likely. And he said the special counsel's probe -- that would be Mueller's -- was not legitimate.

Let's go with this.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Given some of the revelations of the last three or four weeks, we have been driven further away from the idea of answering any questions from them.

We don't think they have a legitimate investigation.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Do you think they will subpoena you? If there going to be a constitutional fight?

GIULIANI: Well, then there will be a constitutional fight. I mean, I think we win it.


MATTHEWS: Will they win it?

SCHMIDT: I don't know.

MATTHEWS: Will the president refuse to testify and the courts will back him up?

BUTLER: It would take a really long time.

One theory about why the president has not been subpoenaed, the Department of Justice has a practice that if you're a target of the investigation, they don't subpoena you.

So if President Trump has evolved from a subject, which means he's just being investigated, to someone who the investigation is centering on, they wouldn't subpoena him.

MATTHEWS: Because he wouldn't -- he would have the Fifth Amendment on the side.

BUTLER: Yes, he could -- he could take the Fifth.

But, again, their practice is, if we're going to charge you with a crime, then it's not fair for us to come in and expect you to talk to us.

MATTHEWS: If a president can't be indicted, can a president still take the Fifth, just for his own public P.R.?

BUTLER: Yes, because even under the Justice Department guidelines, he can't be indicted while sitting in office. But after he's removed from office, he could be charged with a crime.

SCHMIDT: But it's a political problem if he takes the Fifth, if it gets out that the president could not answer...

MATTHEWS: But he says it's an illegitimate investigation.

SCHMIDT: Well, then we're back to the witch-hunt.

MATTHEWS: There's so much B.S. going on here. They can say anything.

Haven't we learned that?

SCHMIDT: It's a little confusing.

MATTHEWS: I agree with Maggie Haberman. I can't -- I have lost the thread of the defense.

Amid all these developments, Trump's allies in the media -- he has some -- have been escalating their attacks on the special counsel, Mueller.

Let's watch some the Trumpians go to war against the -- well, against the prosecutors and the -- yes, the prosecutors.


LOU DOBBS, FOX NEWS: Because the special counsel is leaking left and right, behaving like nothing so much as a prosecutor. He is more, if you will -- he's on a jihad of some sort. And it's an ideologically inspired jihad.

HANNITY: So, We're now 439 days into the Trump-Russia collusion witch- hunt, and still nothing, zero evidence that Donald Trump or his campaign did anything wrong.

It's the worst example of political persecution in U.S. history.


MATTHEWS: OK. What do you make of that? Is that logic, Paul?

BUTLER: I think of the last indictment of the Russians, which said it wasn't just some vague conspiracy to subvert democracy, but, in fact, the Russians worked with unnamed Trump officials to try to get Donald Trump elected president.

So the Russians put their hand in our national political operation. Doesn't sound like a witch-hunt or politics. It sounds like national security.

MATTHEWS: Well said. Thank you, sir. I mean it. I'm glad -- I wish everybody could have that clarity, because that's the truth.

Thank you. Thank you, Paul, Paul Butler. And thank you, Michael Schmidt.

Up next: The Trump administration is working on a plan to sidestep Congress in order to give another round of big tax cuts to the richest people. Wait until you catch this.

How are the middle-class voters going to feel about yet another government giveaway to the billionaires? Remember that from Bernie? The billionaires. Did I pronounce it right, Senator?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to save the middle class.

The middle class -- the hedge fund guys didn't build this country. These are guys that just paper around, and they get lucky.

We will cut taxes for all working and middle-class households in America. I will never stop fighting for you against the Washington establishment.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

He certainly talked a good game. And nothing says you're fighting for the little guy, of course, than another big tax cut for the rich. And that's exactly what the president is up to right now.

According to "The New York Times," the Trump administration wants to bypass Congress and cut capital gains taxes, a move that would disproportionately benefit the country's highest earners.

It would amount to $100 million tax -- $100 billion dollar tax cut, according to some estimates. "The Washington Post" reports that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has not determined if the move is even legal, however.

Last year, Trump signed a $1.5 trillion tax cut. I have called it the Trump Tower tax cuts, because, as Politico noted, it has made corporate executives even richer, while yielding fewer long-term benefits for the working people.

Philip Bump writes in "The Washington Post" that president is engaged in a two-pronged political strategy. The rich get richer, the poor get distracted.

He writes that President Trump is "a blue-collar guy who lives in a gold- plated penthouse. He's the embodiment of the political pitch he makes, obsessed with cultural issues, as the policies he passes benefit his enormous wealth. Neither his wealthy nor his poorest supporters seem to care about the inherent tension in that duality any more than Trump does."

For more, I'm joined by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today."

Now, Susan, I have looked at the latest numbers. And people who are progressives or people on the left or center-left are going to be really unhappy hearing this, but 89 percent of Republicans think he's helping -- Trump is helping the working people out, so the regular income people. And 89 percent think he's helping the rich. And it doesn't seem to bother them.

Now, that's fine, except that Trump talked like the regular guy. He talked about how the people that build these little businesses and then the equity boys come in and chop-shop them and move the money around, they don't do anything. It's the guy in the garage who builds up the company. He or she should be making the money.

He talked right. He said just the right stuff, the worker bees should get the money. And now he is now talking about giving a ton of money, another $100 billion, to people that are sitting on stock coupons.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": It's really -- the just the distribution of the benefit, if he does make this change in how capital gains are taxed, is really extraordinary.

Two-thirds of the benefits would go to people who are in the top one-tenth of 1 percent of our country. It's for people who make more than $7 million a year in income.

Only 3 percent...

MATTHEWS: And who are living off stock.

PAGE: Well, who are living off -- you can you can live off stock if you're making that -- if you have that kind of money.

The benefits overwhelmingly go to the top...


MATTHEWS: So, why would the person out there who's Republican -- and let's face it, the Republican Party's not just millionaires and billionaires. There are not that many in this country. The regular person in Erie or Scranton who's making a modest income, if that, who is retired, why would they root for Trump to do stuff like this?

PAGE: Well, the economic theory is that this would free up some money to do -- to have investments that would benefit the little guy.

But that is not what economists predict would happen if you did this. What they predict would happen, it would exacerbate what we see already happening, which is the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

It's a long-term trend. It's not just a Trump trend. It started about 1980 in a serious way. But it would -- it would continue that trend and fuel it in a new way.

MATTHEWS: You know what I have discovered? There are a lot of Republican businessmen out there. They're not -- and women too -- who are not would we would consider normally, if you looked at them, bad people.

But they don't care what a horse's ass Trump performs, the way he does so with often, acts the way he talks, the language he uses, the bullying, the stuff they would never let their kids do, never do themselves. They will put up with all that embarrassment, moral embarrassment, so they get a tax cut and they get relief on regulation.

That's what they really want. And they're willing to just sit it by and watch this guy humiliate us in this world, make these ridiculous foreign policy decisions, make ridiculous comments about people, mock people, bully them, as long as they get their piece of money.

And that's a pretty sharp indictment. Some people, my -- friends of mine have said, they're the criminals, because they want the gravy from this guy. They don't -- they don't even bother defending him in society. They just want the stuff he's given them.

PAGE: Well, congressional Republicans have made a similar bargain.

Congressional Republicans generally don't challenge President Trump because he's delivering on some of the policies they care most about, like tax cuts and nominations for the Supreme Court. So that is kind of what the reasoning is.

But I talked to some Republicans on the Hill today about this proposal on the capital gains tax cut, and they say this is a bad political move for them in the midterms, that it gives Democrats a big tool to use to talk about how President Trump is not delivering for working voters, including - - and kind of exacerbating the problems that have been raised by the tariffs, by the trade war that...

MATTHEWS: A little too greedy, huh?

PAGE: Well, for people like soybean farmers in Kansas, where my -- my cousin has a soybean farm in Kansas. He's incredibly worried about this trade war with China.

Or automobile manufacturers. These are people who could get open to Democratic appeals in the midterms or maybe just get discouraged and stay home.

MATTHEWS: Well said.

Thank you so much, Susan Page, as always.

Up next: Some Republican political candidates are cozying up to Trump this summer, while some are keeping their distance. We know this. Which approach will give candidates an edge in the fast-approaching midterms? Less than 100 days, we're going to have the big vote in this country.

You're watching HARDBALL.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd like to introduce a new leader, a proud veteran my great friend ain't tough brilliant cookie. True. He's tough, he's smart and he loves Florida and he loves our country, and he's going to be your next governor, Ron DeSantis.



That was President Trump moments ago speaking of rally in support of Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis in the upcoming Republican primary for governor down there, all part of the November sweepstakes. DeSantis has made Trump a central part of his campaign.

Watch this, talk about being Trump -- more Trump and Trump watch this ad by DeSantis.


CASEY DESANTIS, WIFE OF REP. RON DESANTIS: Everyone knows my husband Ron DeSantis is endorsed by President Trump, but he's also an amazing dad. Ron loves playing with the kids.

REP. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Build the wall.

C. DESANTIS: He reads the stories.

R. DESANTIS: Then Mr. Trump said you're fired. I love that part.

C. DESANTIS: He's teaching Madison to talk.

R. DESANTIS: Make America great again.

C. DESANTIS: People say Ron's all Trump, but he is so much more.

R. DESANTIS: Big league. So good.

C. DESANTIS: I just thought you should know.


MATTHEWS: Fairly embarrassing.

DeSantis is a frequent defender of Trump on Fox News, shot up in the polls after his challenger Adam Putnam, after the president endorsed him last month. As "The New York Times'" Jonathan Martin put it, Mr. Putnam's collapse and Mr. DeSantis' rise illustrate the extraordinary clout Mr. trump now wields in his adopted party, a power so great that the president effectively is able to decide primaries with a single tweet.

Let's bring in tonight's HARDBALL roundtable to handle that. Michael Steele, former Republican -- of the RNC, he couldn't do it by a tweet, and host of the new podcast "Man of Steele". Beth Fouhy is senior politics editor at NBC News and MSNBC, and Jason Johnson is senior editor at his politics at

I want you all to take a shot at this. You know, Roosevelt thought he could get rid of people, and he couldn't do it.


MATTHEWS: He couldn't it. He just -- the people say, screw you, no, you're just president, we get to decide this stuff.

This is amazing. This guy's got to land down for this guy.

STEELE: But you know, what the difference is --

MATTHEWS: Wife's doing it, my husband's great because he's imitating everything Trump says. There's a heroic stance.

STEELE: But you know what the difference between Roosevelt and Trump, Roosevelt had to deal with party bosses and the party bosses could effectively do their thing. There was no base necessarily. Today, this is all driven by the base. That's why DeSantis is where he is, that's why he's popped up.

The test for DeSantis will be how does he translate it in general? Because that's the test ultimately for Donald Trump. So you got an endorsed at a primary, that's great, you can fire up your hard right base for that. Now, you've got to translate that into independents and center-right Democrats in a general election to make DeSantis the next governor.

MATTHEWS: Who's the Democratic nominee for governor down there?


MATTHEWS: I'm just having fun with you. I'm just asking you. It takes somebody to beat somebody.

Beth, go ahead.

BETH FOUHY, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR: So, just to your point -- the problem with that strategy though for most other candidates is it doesn't work. I mean we saw that in 2010 and 2014, Barack Obama incredibly popular with his base. At certain points, people were calling him that, you know, a cult of personality.

TRUMP: True.

FOUHY: It didn't translate. 2010, he lost the House. 2014, lost the Senate.

So it doesn't --

MATTHEWS: It worked for me.


MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

FOUHY: The fact that Trump has been so successful at it as Michael said, it's great for primaries, doesn't tell you anything about how the general is going to go.

And in Georgia, for example, President Trump got involved in that race endorsed Brian Kemp in the governor's race, probably --


MATTHEWS: Beth knows your politics. Everything you've said is true. I'm still stunned by this spiky in the polls.

Jason, why does a guy spike up for an idiot commercial like that, a ditto commercial, like the old ditto thing of Rush Limbaugh, yes? It's not exactly showing a lot of intelligence to say I can teach my kid how to make blocks in the walls, you know?

JASON JOHNSON, THEROOT.COM: Plus, I don't really know how small that is to have your wife sitting there saying he's just like Trump. I don't think it necessary plays very well --


JOHNSON: A lot of implications there.

But, here's the thing -- I mean, look, Trump is -- he's very popular with his base. It works out. I think in a case of Georgia, you know, he helped Kemp also because Cagle got in trouble with that tape that also sort of made him look bad at the local level. You know --

MATTHEWS: What tape was that?

JOHNSON: So, Cagle was caught on tape saying negative things about how he took a position on a bill just for political purposes.

FOUHY: That they went a little too crazy to sound too hard right.

JOHNSON: Yes, yes, so they kind of blow up in his face.

MATTHEWS: Well, an editorial entitled: Trump's lose the House strategy, "The Wall Street Journal" now, its editorial saying: Trump is running a campaign strategy that puts the House at maximum risk while focusing on the Senate. The latest evidence says Mr. Trump's threat to shut down the government September if he doesn't get money for his border wall.

The president tweeted again today: I don't care what the political ramifications are. A government shutdown is a very small price to pay for a safe and prosperous America.

Beth, your thoughts on that.

FOUHY: Well, that Trump -- that tweet is obviously pretty disingenuous, he cares very much about winning the House. He thinks this is the way to win the House. As we all know, it's very hard to get a president -- and whatever the president's party typically loses seats in the in the midterms. He's trying to fire up the people who got him in there, get them out to vote for vote for candidates who are not Trump this time.

It's tough, but a president with this kind of charisma, this kind of personality and this holdover his base potentially could do that. So, he's trying to replicate what he did in 2016.

MATTHEWS: Why did "The Wall Street Journal" screwing over Trump's mind?

I think they're trying to screw them up because why would a president who's facing a prosecution wanted to have the subpoena power fall into the hands of the other party? Adam Schiff will have, Jerry Nadler will have his subpoena power.

FOUHY: He's terrified.

MATTHEWS: Nixon in the middle of night when he's winning reelection in says, oh my god, I've lost the subpoena power again. Once again lost anybody to defend myself.

Anyway earlier today, my colleague Ari Melber asked former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, and she's a class act, about the new rhetoric coming from President Trump and Rudy Giuliani. The collusion is somehow not illegal.

Let's watch the former governor.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: What do you think when you see this Republican president and his allies say, even if they did collude with Russia to impact the election that's not a crime?

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: I find that extraordinarily offensive. I mean, frankly, I don't care whether it's a crime in the criminal code book or not, it is against the best interests of the United States. You do not collude.

And for a president to get up there and say you know, well, maybe I did what course, we again with -- the story has changed right along there. First, there was no collusion and, well, it doesn't matter if I did or not. It does matter and words matter.


MATTHEWS: Well, that Republican Party that she represents is dead as a --

JOHNSON: Yes, yes.


MATTHEWS: Sort of East Coast better people, forget all that.

JOHNSON: In Jersey, it's dead. In Michigan, it's dead, and a lot of places.

Look, as we all know, as they keep trying to move the footballs, they keep trying to move the goalposts, it doesn't matter if collusion is legal or not, collusion is impeachable.

MATTHEWS: It matters to me.


MATTHEWS: Advancing a criminal conspiracy led by the Russians and you're following them, you're the caboose and a Russian criminal train, I can say that illegal.

STEELE: See, and I think that to your point about conspiracy, I think that's where they now realize where Mueller is ultimately going and that is on the conspiracy piece in which the collusion thing really doesn't matter anymore.

MATTHEWS: We'll see. I disagree.

STEELE: They're playing it down. We'll see how it plays out.

MATTHEWS: I want to back to my point about the subpoena power. You know, I don't like process discussions, Beth, but they sometimes are important. The one who holds that subpoena power and it could be Adam Schiff, it could be Jerry Nadler, Democrats, they can start subpoenaing all these Trumpies starting in January 3rd next year and bringing them before -- they're under oath and put them into, you know, what he called perjury traps.

FOUHY: Of course, that's what -- that's -- that was my point I said that tweet was very disingenuous. Trump very much cares about keeping the House obviously. I don't even see why "The Wall Street Journal" suggesting this is a great way to keep the Senate. I mean, he's got a huge advantage on the Senate math.

MATTHEWS: I think they're too clever by half. I think they're trying to be cute. I think Trump wants to win every election he's in.


MATTHEWS: Because anybody be a fool in politics and I want to win.

STEELE: But see, I think there's -- if you're going to talk some strategery here, I think there's also the side that says, I don't think Trump does really care whether who has the House, because if the Dems have the House and they go down then impeachment road, guess what he does for the next 18 months after that? You talk about his base being fired in 2020?


MATTHEWS: You're saying it's better to pound Nancy Pelosi in the sand every night. Do you think that's his plan?

STEELE: That's a long term fight.

JOHNSON: I don't think -- I don't think that can work for you long term and, ultimately what he's going to run into is, look, you lose these --

STEELE: What are the Democrats going to do?

JOHNSON: You have these other issues. There's nobody -- no Republican right now and this is what they're looking at for the next 98, 99 days, no Republican wants to hear their president say, you know, political consequences be darned, right? Like that's -- that is the most dangerous thing --


MATTHEWS: He's not saying it. "The Wall Street Journal" saying he's saying that. Very cute these guys.

JOHNSON: But it's essentially his behavior and that's what they're concerned about. They need a president who is focused on policy and making them successful.

MATTHEWS: I'm going to say one thing, he wants the Senate. I'll just say that, because of he didn't get the Senate by 53 instead of 51, that means he can get through court people like Amy Barrett, you know, very pro-life. They get her through without the two pro-choice women, that would give him power if Ruth Bader Ginsburg doesn't make the five-year plan she's got.

The roundtable is sticking with us. You're watching HARDBALL.



JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: A dangerous movement undetected by many but real is now challenging and eroding a great tradition of religious freedom. There can be no doubt. It's no little matter. It must be confronted intellectually and politically and defeated.


MATTHEWS: Well, A.G. Sessions went on to praise the bravery, that's his word, of the Colorado baker, who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple. He also said having President Trump in the White House gives the Department of Justice a rare opportunity to arrest these trends.

We'll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We're back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Tell me something I don't know, Michael.

STEELE: He came into the Congress as a radical and leftist statesman. Ron Dellums passed this week and I just think his story is something when you look at today should be magnified.

MATTHEWS: He was a leader.

STEELE: Yes, was a leader.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.


FOUHY: In the long list of Democrats were thinking about running in 2020, keep an eye on Eric Swalwell, a very well-known guest, yes, guest on and then feature on MSNBC too many of our viewers.

He is in Iowa today. He is campaigning for the opponent running against Steve King. He's going back next week --

MATTHEWS: That means 26 people running for president.

FOUHY: At least, at least. And he's serious about it. He actually was born in Iowa before his father moved his family to California.

MATTHEWS: Well, I like the scoop.

STEELE: Interesting.


JOHNSON: And it's not of how far we've come. Yesterday was the funeral for Kenneth Lee. He passed away at 94. He was one of the first African- Americans to be accepted to UNC law school, which is where I got my doctorate, which you may not know is also the reason he was so successful being a civil rights lawyer, he was mentored by Thurgood Marshall who fought that case to allow the first black students to get in in 1951.

MATTHEWS: And who changed ACC basketball? Charlie Scott.

Anyway, Michael Steele, Beth Fouhy and Jason Johnson.

When we returned, let me finish tonight with plastic guns. You're watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with plastic guns. That's right, plastic guns.

Here is the president of the United States tweeting on that subject today. I'm looking into 3D plastic guns being sold to the public. I already spoke to NRA. It doesn't seem to make much sense.

Well, hopefully, looking into is Donald Trump signal that he's against having such weapons accessible to anyone with a 3D technology and the necessary blue prints. I immediately thought of the Clint Eastwood movie in which a presidential assassin played by John Malkovich assembles a plastic gun to evade the metal detector at a fundraising event.

Why would anyone want a plastic gun? Why would anyone want a gun that could make themselves -- they could make themselves, they couldn't be traced, they could be used to commit crimes with impunity?

The fact is my field of interest and knowledge is politics, not gun ballistics. But again, let's hope Donald Trump will come out against something as menacing as a plastic pistol. Let's hope that his looking into the plastic guns matter is a signal there's a limit to his embrace of the far right gun crowd.

Let's hope if Donald Trump does it, the federal courts will. Well, a judge already has.

And that's HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.