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GOP lawmakers take wait-and-see approach. TRANSCRIPT: 8/22/2018, Hardball w Chris Matthews.

Guests: Anita Kumar, Jennifer Rubin, Seth Waxman, Barbara McQuade, Robert Costa

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 22, 2018 Guest: Anita Kumar, Jennifer Rubin, Seth Waxman, Barbara McQuade, Robert Costa

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Cohen, Manafort, and Trump. Let`s play Hardball.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews from Washington.

As night falls on the East Coast tonight, President Trump is treading water in a sea of criminality. On every side of him, his former campaign manager and his former lawyer/fixer facing multiple counts of felony. His entire circle, from his former NASA Security Adviser to several campaign aides to his own children can see - you can see on them faces of anguish, fearful of how much worse this thing`s going to get.

And yet, the man in the middle of this whirlpool issues tweets - noises, really - signaling his absolute confidence. The big question is, when will the ridiculous of Trump World give way to the hopeless? Here`s how the president tried to brush off yesterday`s news.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Where is the collusion? You know, they`re still looking for collusion. Where is the collusion? Find some collusion.


MATTHEWS: Well, yesterday`s bombshell of a guilty claim, seems like Cohen is going to help Mueller find that collusion. Here`s his personal lawyer, Lanny Davis.


LANNY DAVIS, ATTORNEY: I can tell you that Mr. Cohen has knowledge on certain subjects that should be of interest to the special counsel. Knowledge about the computer crime of hacking, and whether or not Mr. Trump knew ahead of time about the crime and even cheered it on.

I can tell you it`s my observation that what he knows, that he witnessed, will be of interest to the special counsel. That`s my opinion. We`ll see.

FEMALE MSNBC HOST: You`re saying Michael Cohen knew that the President of the United States knew about hacking during the campaign?

DAVIS: So, I can`t go beyond saying that it`s my observation that this topic will be of interest to the special counsel. He has statements that he can make along those lines, but I can`t go beyond that.


MATTHEWS: Well, sources close to the president told Politico that Tuesday, that was one of the darkest days of his presidency, and the guilty pleas, quote, "...could lend new credence to the Muller probe, even after the president`s allies spent months undercutting public faith in the investigation." Well, according to the New York Times, advisers were left scrambling to rebut Cohen`s allegations. One source told the Times, "...they could not come up with something to explain away Mr. Cohen`s admission beyond calling him a liar." Well, today Sarah Sanders insisted, despite Cohen`s claims, that the president did nothing wrong.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him. Again, I`m not going to get into the back-and- forth details. I can tell you, as the president has stated on numerous occasions, he did nothing wrong.

Again, I think that`s a ridiculous accusation. The president, in this matter, has done nothing wrong, and there are no charges against him. But what I can tell you is what the president has stated a number of times: He did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him. Just because Michael Cohen has made a deal doesn`t mean anything with regards to the president.

The president has done nothing wrong. There are no charges against him. There is no collusion.


MATTHEWS: Well, Rudy Giuliani told Robert Costa of the Washington Post that he had spoken to the president about yesterday`s events, and they both believe that Mueller, quote, "might be at the end now. He has to be winding down." This is Rudy talking. "What else is there?" And again, this is Rudy talk. Hard to believe.

Barring that, one source close to President Trump told John Roberts of Fox News, "Remember, the president cannot be indicted." For more, I`m joined by Jennifer Rubin, opinion writer for the Washington Post; Seth Waxman, former federal prosecutor; Barbara McQuade, former U.S. Attorney; and Robert Costa, national political reporter for the Washington Post and host of "Washington Week" on PBS. Thank you all.

I want to start with the bigger questions right now. It seems to me, Seth, that the only thing protecting this president from a criminal indictment is the fact that he`s president right now, and he will be for the rest of his four-year term. Who knows what comes later?

SETH WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yeah, I agree. I mean, if this was an average citizen engaging in this kind of conduct, you`d think that he`d be a co-conspirator named in those charges along with Mr. Cohen. So, you know, the president sits in a unique position. There`s many people that hold the opinion that he can`t be indicted as a sitting president. I tend to fall into that category. But, you know, we`ll get to see how that plays out ultimately, potentially, in impeachment proceedings.

MATTHEWS: Barbara, so most Americans, they wonder, they say, "No one`s above the law." That`s part of our national belief system. In this case, it seems like the president is above the law until he`s not president. How do you read it?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yeah, I think that`s right, and I think that`s what our constitution says. I agree with Seth that I think a president cannot be indicted, but he can be impeached and he can be charged later. And I think this is a very serious violation...

MATTHEWS: So you agree with Brett Kavanaugh. So you agree with Brett Kavanaugh, the guy that`s nominated for the Supreme Court, that the president shouldn`t be harbored or bothered by a criminal investigation or an indictment. He said not even an investigation.

MCQUADE: Well, I don`t know that I agree that that`s the correct answer, but I agree that that is DoJ policy. And I think Robert Mueller is going to follow it.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you - well, let me go to what comes next here, Jennifer, and that question is: What comes next? This guy hasn`t, quote, "technically" agreed to give away everything in order to get a light sentence, but he`s still facing five or so years. That`s not the greatest deal in the world. I think they can give him a juicier offer, a lighter sentence. What happens when he comes out now and says more about the Russian collusion piece of this, which Lanny Davis, his lawyer, says there`s something big there.

JENNIFER RUBIN, WASHINGTON POST OPINION WRITER: Although there is nothing that resembles any cooperation agreement, it is, I think, implicit in the deal. First of all, the prosecutors can bring additional charges. That`s not precluded. He doesn`t want that happening. Of course he wants the lightest sentence possible. He wants that sentencing that...

MATTHEWS: He wants a year and a half at Allenwood.

RUBIN: Correct. So, he has all the incentive in the world. He is going to be cooperating.

MATTHEWS: He wants his little weightlifting and his white-collar crowd to hang around with.

RUBIN: Yeah, there you go. And what`s more, since he has pled guilty, he doesn`t have much of a Fifth Amendment right to refuse. He`s got to testify. Now, I think he`s going to do so cooperatively. I don`t think he`s going to have to be subpoenaed or anything like that.

But, listen, he was there for the women. He was there for the money. He was there going back years and years with Trump in terms of his business operation and the Russians. And he tells us, or Lanny would have us believe, that he was there during the campaign and has some knowledge about the hacking before or after or during. And that is the closure.

By the way, this no collusion thing, of course, is wrong. We have the June 2016 meeting, which is collusion. His son, son-in-law, his campaign manager...

MATTHEWS: Yeah, we saw that meeting. Anyway, they wouldn`t admit they were there. They admit they basically were there to deal with the Russians to get dirt. Anyway, that was their purpose. And then, of course Rudy says, "But we didn`t get what we wanted!"

Anyway, earlier today President Trump tweeted, "Michael Cohen pled guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!" Throwing in Obama there again.

During an interview with Fox, he seemed to confess to campaign violations while trying to deny it. Let`s watch his mixed up argument here. This is Rudy.


AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX NEWS REPORTER: Did you know about the payment?

TRUMP: Later on I knew, later on. But you have to understand, these are - what he did and they were taken out of campaign finance, that`s the big thing. That`s a much bigger thing, did they come out of the campaign? They didn`t come out of the campaign. They came from me, and I tweeted about it. You know, I put - I don`t know if you know, but I tweeted about the payments. But they didn`t come out of campaign.

In fact, my first question when I heard about it was, "Did they come out of the campaign?" Because that could be a little dicey. And they didn`t come out of the campaign, and that`s big. But they weren`t - that`s not - it`s not even a campaign violation.


MATTHEWS: Barbara, this is backing and filling, but to get to the president`s defense, he`s saying basically, this is another (INAUDIBLE), the idea that, you know, ultimately a person who`s rich can violate what they want, the campaign advertising, whenever they want. That`s the way it works in a Rockefellerian system. But Trump seems to be saying, as long as I ultimately paid the $130 for Stormy Daniels, the $150 for Karen McDougal, if I was the ultimate payee, no matter what was the paperwork problem, I`m not guilty of any serious crime. Is he right or wrong?

MCQUADE: No, he`s wrong. Buckley v. Valeo and other campaign finance cases divide the world of campaign finance into expenditures and contributions. President Trump is focused on expenditures.

MATTHEWS: I know, but he`s the candidate.

MCQUADE: He`s focusing on expenditures. The charges in the document that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to relate to contributions, and Buckley v. Valeo upheld limits on contributions. There are two charges. One, that Michael Cohen exceeded the limits on...

MATTHEWS: No, there`s no limit on a candidate spending how much they want to spend.

MCQUADE: But it was Michael Cohen...

MATTHEWS: There`s no constitutional limit on that, Barbara. Any candidate that wants to spend all they want for their campaign for office, they can do that, right?

MCQUADE: Sure, but they still have to disclose it on their documents if they`re doing that. The bigger picture here is that...

MATTHEWS: So it`s a disclosure issue only? That`s what I`m trying to get to. Is this a - Dershowitz and others are saying this is not a felony situation, this is a paperwork issue. It`s technical, but as long as it`s you ultimately paying, constitutionally you`re entitled to spend all you want on your own campaign. That`s their argument. What do you make of it?

MCQUADE: You have to disclose who made the payment, and two, you look at motive and intent in a case like this. The intent here was not, as in the Obama situation, a clerical error, failure to file paperwork on time, in a timely manner. This was an intent to mislead by hiding the nature of the payment. And so, this is the kind of case that gets prosecuted.

MATTHEWS: Robert, I would think that this president would argue, and I think he is arguing there with the Fox reporter there in the - outside the Oval Office there, on the little sun deck there. I can defend his argument will be the ultimate Buckley v. Valeo argument, which is you can spend all of your own money, and maybe there`s a paperwork problem on the pass- through, but it was my money and it`s legal. It`s constitutional. Isn`t that his argument now? I thought I heard it.

ROBERT COSTA, WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: That is the argument. The challenge they`re going to face, Chris, is that you have this...

MATTHEWS: So, what`s the president`s thinking here?

COSTA: The president`s thinking is, having talked to Giuliani and White House officials today, is that he can try to shrug this off legally, politically, as something that`s not a campaign violation. But they face the challenge that Cohen has already admitted in court, in federal court on Tuesday, that he did commit a violation, that he did break the law, pled guilty. And so, that`s the reality. And then, there`s the argument they make.

MATTHEWS: Well, if the president`s lawyer admits the guilt of a felony - a couple of them, in fact - for the $130 and $150, admits it was really a campaign expenditure and it wasn`t filed properly, it was concealment. If he - they say that that makes the client guilty, if the lawyer says he`s guilty.

COSTA: They`re going to really mount a credibility war against Cohen in the coming weeks. Pay attention to that, because Giuliani said he`s going to call on Cohen to release all the tapes, all the tapes Cohen had in conversations with reporters, private exchanges, to try to see if Cohen said anything that goes against what he just pled guilty to.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Seth for this legal question. What do you make of what I was just talking about with Barbara? How guilty is the president? Is it a paperwork issue, or did he really commit a felony, a serious felony here?

WAXMAN: Yeah, I think there`s a basis for a serious felony. The campaign finance law determines criminality at the moment of the contribution. So, when Michael Cohen makes that contribution, that`s the crime at that moment. If you were to allow candidates to then backfill or, you know...


WAXMAN: Remedy the problem after the fact, then you could basically upend all campaign finance law by just saying, oh, my corporation did it, or that was an over-limit. That was just really...

MATTHEWS: (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS) Don`t you have to argue the intention there?


MATTHEWS: That Cohen was intending to pay for that money and not get the money from Trump?

WAXMAN: Yeah, and he`s saying that.

RUBIN: Right.

WAXMAN: He`s admitting under oath that...

MATTHEWS: That it was his payment.

WAXMAN: Correct.

RUBIN: And he procured another payment from a corporation, which is illegal. That was the second charge. And although Trump says, "I knew about it after the fact," we know from the tapes that he knew about it contemporaneously, or before.

So, if it was all legal, if he could do this, why was he having money paid from AMI? Why was he having his lawyer pay it? Why did they set up a dummy company? If it was all perfectly legal, he should have just paid the money.

MATTHEWS: I want to get to the Horse Whisperer here. Robert, what do you make of this? I mean, when we left, we went to home from work last night, all my producers and I, all came how thinking, this is a very, very bad day for the president.

Two things happened. The guy who ran his campaign for many months, looks like he`s facing hard time. It just looks like it. And I don`t have any particular animus to the guy, I just think he`s facing a large amount of criminal time because he`s going to go to Washington, D.C., for another court hearing with a thousand documents being thrown down. This guy is in serious - he`s 69 years old. He may never get out. This is something, you have to feel a little bit for this guy.

And then you`ve got, of course, Michael Cohen, who is so close in with this president, they were like locked together in the biggest secrets in the world. Women, all kinds of payoffs, all persons that we`ve never heard about. And now, this guy is facing - he`s at least going to Allenwood, someplace like that for a couple of years.

What`s the president feel about his own situation? Does he have any sympathy for these guys or what? What can you tell?

COSTA: I just filed my story for tomorrow`s paper about all this. You`ve got the White House today, Chris, it`s like the eye of a political hurricane. They`re trying to project calm, but they know they`re surrounded by this political storm.

They try to have him have a friendly face in Ainsley Earhardt, a journalist from Fox News, his favorite show, "Fox and Friends," come for an interview. They put him on the phone with Shinz? Abe, the Japanese prime minister. They had him do a gallows humor tweet about Michael Cohen. Anything but a political (INAUDIBLE) there.

But they don`t think it`s that at the White House, that this is going to last. Giuliani calling from Scotland, talking to the president, says maybe Mueller`s wrapping up if he`s wrapping up Manafort. But there`s no evidence to really back that up. There`s a lot of confidence, but not a lot of evidence that their confidence really is going to play out.

MATTHEWS: So they don`t think it adds up. In other words, it`s not like all the compartments are flooded on the Titanic. He doesn`t think like that. It`s just another day. Is that the way they look at it? I can get through the day, that means I can survive. Is that the way they look at it, marginalize that, or they don`t see it adding up?

COSTA: Chris, it`s a different White House than it was a year ago with Bannon and Priebus and then Rob Porter and Hope Hicks there. They`re all gone. This is a General Kelly, Kellyanne Conway White House. This is a White House that`s with now Bill Shine. It`s a TV White House, the president talking to Giuliani.


COSTA: It`s a different mindset. It`s not as political, as charged internally as it once was.

MATTHEWS: It sounds like the wartime (INAUDIBLE). Thank you, Jennifer Rubin. Thank you, Seth Waxman. Thank you, Barbara McQuade and Robert Costa.

Coming up, as legal threats against the president mount, and they do, where are the Republicans in Congress? We`re going to play for you all the sound from Republican leaders` reacting to yesterday`s news. Hint: It`s a very short tape. These people are amazing. They`re regimental in their defense.

Plus, director and activist Rob Reiner`s coming here tonight to join us to discuss what the Democrats ought to do. Shouldn`t it be a threat of impeachment right now or not? And more on the criminality that surrounds this president.

His first two congressional supporters, by the way, have now been indicted on corruption charges. You don`t want to be first with Trump. And when in doubt, who does Trump blame? President Obama, of course. What a weird reaction.

Finally, let me finish tonight with the historic action Monday night, two nights ago, at the University of North Carolina. It`s about the end of a long, long legacy.

This is "Hardball," where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball."

Michael Cohen has now said in federal court that he committed a crime at the direction of President Trump himself. There are now only two things protecting the president from becoming an indicted co-conspirator. The first is his elected four-year term as president. The other is the rigidity of the nearly 90% of Republican voters who support him, and elected Republicans are continuing to stand by him for that reason.

The New York Times reports that yesterday brought a one-two punch for the president, noting, "...even the president`s staunchest defenders acknowledged privately that the legal setbacks he suffered within minutes of each other could open fissures among Republicans on Capitol Hill and expose Mr. Trump to the possibility of impeachment." But today, many Republicans had only tepid condemnations.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: These are serious charges, and they can`t be ignored.

QUESTION: Do you think this opens up the president to being indicted while sitting in office?

HATCH: No, I don`t, because I don`t think he can be indicted while sitting in my office. But we will just have to see where this all works out.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I don`t think we know all the facts.

QUESTION: So, you are not concerned?

CORNYN: No, that`s not what I said. That`s what you say.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: It`s very, very unfortunate. It`s very serious. I want to see this go through our judicial system. That is what has been happening. And we will see it through.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It`s not a good day for the president. I mean, you got an accusation by his former lawyer that he did conspired to violate campaign finance laws.

I don`t know the intricacies of campaign finance law. That`s not a good day.


MATTHEWS: Well, the only people who are coming out against the president are those who are leaving the battlefield. Today, they seemed resigned to the developments.

Let`s listen to them.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I have been here 11-and-a-half years, and this is -- I don`t think I have witnessed anything like I have witnessed over the last year-and-a-half.

I`m sure there`s going to be other revelations that come up. And I think we ought to just let the process work.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I think this one is serious. And I`m not suggesting any outcome here, but this is serious, obviously.


MATTHEWS: Well, so far, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn`t spoken a word on the issue.

And NBC`s "First Read" reported that House Speaker Paul Ryan`s office said only in a statement: "We are aware of Mr. Cohen`s guilty plea to those serious charges. We will need more information than is currently available at this point."

What more information do Republicans need to start calling for an investigation?

For more, I`m joined by Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Ryan Costello.

I want to start with Congressman Costello.

What is your party -- is it rigor mortis? What is it that stops them from speaking about the obvious? The president has just had his lawyer/fixer point the finger at him under oath and said he directed me to break the campaign laws and secretly spend $130,000 and $150,000 to the shut up his girlfriends?

I mean, to be blunt about it, that`s what this is about. And they don`t have any comment on this? If this was Barack Obama, it would be unseemly, what they would say about him. And you know it.


REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Certainly, if it was Barack Obama, I think you probably would have heard a little bit different message from some of the Republicans that you played.

But at the same point in time, those senators who aren`t retiring did indicate that it was a very serious issue. And it is a serious issue.

But I get back to the comment that you made in the previous segment with Barbara. Is this a Buckley vs. Valeo issue? Or is there something deeper to this? The president using his own money is markedly different from some of the other things that Mueller is investigating.

So I think that the playing field here remains to be seen in terms of how damaging what happened yesterday was in terms of what Cohen implicated the president in.

I think the real message is...

MATTHEWS: But Cohen implicated himself too.

I mean, Cohen is going down with the ship. He basically said, I did what the president wanted me to do. I concealed the payment of $130,000 and $150,000. I made the payments, hoping to be compensated, but I did break the law.


MATTHEWS: And he told me to do it.

He didn`t say and tell everybody...


COSTELLO: Totally agree with you, Chris.


COSTELLO: I totally agree with you.

But I think what -- to Lanny Davis` point, the real issue here is what comes next. And that was my point, is, politically, what comes next, I think, is going to be more perilous then what happened yesterday with Mr. Cohen.

MATTHEWS: Well, what happens if Mr. Cohen comes out and says, we had many conversations about Russian aid, we had a lot of conversations about the hacking of the DNC and that information and how we all knew about it ahead of time, and the president knew about it ahead of time, which sounds to me like collusion, sir, because why would you know what the Russians were going to do with the DNC unless you had something to do with the Russians?

COSTELLO: I totally agree with you. I totally agree with you.

And that`s why I think having an affair with two women and paying them off, maybe not out of your pocket right away, but reimbursing your lawyer after he did it, that`s -- that`s one issue. I`m not so sure that Republicans read that evidence and say, you know what, we should impeach the president over that.

Frankly, I`m not sure Democrats want to do that either. I don`t think Democrats are out there talking about impeachment today. And I think, if they do, it`s a double-edged sword for them.

But when we start talking about Russian interference, Russian collusion, things that Cohen might have known that the president may or may not have known, that`s where I think -- if it gets into that territory, then I think you`re going to start seeing a different discussion on Capitol Hill amongst Republicans.


MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Well, meanwhile, NBC News reports that Democrats have began preparing an emergency plan if President Trump were to fire special counsel Mueller, noting that Democrats would demand a floor vote on a bill retroactively protecting our and protecting his materials.

Well, the number two Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said, it`s not about what Democrats would do.

Let`s watch Dick.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: The question is, in the ranks of Republicans in the United States Senate, is there a Howard Baker? Is there are person who will step up and say, this is it, I`m going to join with the Democrats in protesting what I consider to be an action inconsistent with the laws and rule of law in the United States?


MATTHEWS: Senator, what do you think of your party? What`s your party, should it be doing? Should it be going for impeachment? And what should the Republicans be doing about what is emerging here as a real problem of criminality all around the president?

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: First thing we should be doing is to make sure that the Mueller investigation can go forward.



MATTHEWS: How can you do that with the majority on the other side?

WHITEHOUSE: We can continue to put pressure on them to bring that bill up. I think that, after yesterday`s events, they`re going to feel that pressure in a different way.

It`s already bipartisan. Mitch hasn`t wanted to bring it up. But I`m not sure how long that`s going to last.

The second thing is, we have got to resume pressure on investigations. We have had some good work in the Judiciary Committee, nowhere near enough. I will compliment Lindsey Graham, who in the subcommittee has done some particularly good work. But we have got a lot to do.

And there`s a really basic question out there that ought to be easy to answer, which is, have somebody go out who we can, both sides, trust and give us a quick report on what all of the relations are between Russian financial interests and the Trump Organization.

MATTHEWS: Well, isn`t that what Mueller is doing? Isn`t that what Mueller is doing?


WHITEHOUSE: No, no, for congressional investigative purposes.

We have got our own right to do this.


WHITEHOUSE: And we have a connection with Mueller.

MATTHEWS: Do you have any doubt that this president would fire everybody in the Justice Department to save himself and his family, when it comes to it?

Do you think he will let them indict his kids, his son-in-law, the whole shebang?

WHITEHOUSE: He`s not going to be able to.

MATTHEWS: He can`t stop...


WHITEHOUSE: One of the good things about Rosenstein is that he has now spread this investigation into five different elements of the Department of Justice.

So it`s not a thing you can just fire Mueller and unroot. You would have to go into the Eastern District of Virginity. You would have to go into the National Security Division. You would have to into the main criminal division main at main Justice. You have to do Mueller.


MATTHEWS: But firing Rosenstein wouldn`t do that?


MATTHEWS: He`s about it. He`s talked about getting rid of Jeff Sessions.

WHITEHOUSE: But those investigations are still undergoing there, presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys.

MATTHEWS: He says he can take over the investigator.

What do you mean, Senator? He`s -- the president just the other day said, I can take over this entire investigative if I want to, me.

WHITEHOUSE: He probably couldn`t get into the Department of Justice if he tried that. He`d be leaving behind an empty White House counsel office, with everybody fleeing for their reputations, if he tried that.

MATTHEWS: They wouldn`t back him? They wouldn`t back him up?


WHITEHOUSE: That`s tweet nonsense.

MATTHEWS: I have got to go back to the senator -- the congressman.

And, Congressman Costello, thank you for coming on tonight.

Let me ask you. What -- do you really think your Republican Party, which is marching in lockstep for 90 -- 90 percent right now in the rank and file, the people out there, do you think the senators and the members of the House, like Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, do you think they`re ever going to come out against this president, no matter what goes on, ever?

COSTELLO: If it gets into -- at this point, with what happened yesterday, I don`t think that we have crossed the Rubicon.

But I do think that, if we start getting in -- if what -- if the Russia- type stuff comes into play with what Michael Cohen says, then I think it becomes different.

I do. I will say this to you. The president`s press conference with Vladimir Putin, I heard more members voice more concerns and were more bothered by that than anything else previously that the president did.

You have to remember, since the president was sworn in, we have been tap- dancing and trying to avoid presidential land mines every single day. At this moment in time, I think, more than anything else, what we have now avoided is the Freedom Caucus attempt to impeach Rosenstein.

If you will recall, when we left for recess in August, there was an attempt by the Freedom Caucus to put on the floor and force an impeachment vote. I don`t think at this point in time anyone in the Republican Conference has an appetite for that.

And certainly sort of the ideological center of the caucus -- I`m probably not in the center of that -- I`m probably more centered than that -- but the point is, no one`s at this point in time going to say that this is not a legitimate investigation.

MATTHEWS: You know what? I have said something. I have got to ask you on this, because I`m fascinated with it, because I have heard people that I really respect on the Republican Party, in foreign policy especially, said something like that.

Do you -- do you believe -- when you think about your colleagues and yourself, when you watch that display by the president, where he seemed to take the side with the Russians and their values against American values and American interests, right there on that stage in front of -- was that closest to -- the closest to impeachable you have seen in this president`s behavior?

COSTELLO: I would -- I would say that was the most disturbing thing that I have ever seen a president participate in.

Impeachable is -- look, you know as well as I do impeachment is a political process, and you need all the evidence in front of you, and you need to evaluate it.


COSTELLO: Him -- some of the things he intimates -- and, look, you saw right there in the interview that he`s had -- he`s going to have on with the FOX journalist tomorrow.

He repeats himself over and over and over and over, and then he uses the term but, and then he says the same thing. And then he jumps back.

It`s a -- it`s a verbal gymnastics. And it`s very jumbled. And it`s hard to -- he can say two different things within four sentences.


COSTELLO: And you don`t know which way he said it.

But that press conference was him saying, you know, the intelligence community concluded one thing, but Vladimir Putin said something different, so who knows who to believe.

Well, that`s not how our country works. And that I think is something that a lot of Republicans took issue with.

MATTHEWS: I`m with you. I`m with you. That`s exactly my assessment. And I`m not a Republican. And I have heard that from people I really respect at the very top of the Republican foreign policy establishment.

They considered that meeting and what he said afterwards a disaster.

Thank you, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island, and Congressman Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania.

Up next: Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are wrestling with a new conundrum, how to handle a Supreme Court nominee put forward by an unindicted co- conspirator sitting in the Oval Office. Should yesterday`s events put the kibosh on Kavanaugh`s nomination?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D), ILLINOIS: There`s a lot of legislation we have to pass, judges we have to confirm. And I just don`t think that engaging in speculation is the way to go.

And, certainly, I think impeachment talk is something that is not something that we should be engaging in right now.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois saying now is not the time for Congress to be discussing potential impeachment against Trump.

Well, the question comes as the president`s former lawyer, of course, Michael Cohen says that Trump directed him, he said under oath, to direct - - to commit felonies on the president`s behalf. Pretty serious stuff. Criminal stuff. Felonious stuff.

How should Democrats handle this news?

For that, I`m joined by Rob Reiner, actor, director and activist.

Rob, I have been following you for years publicly and privately. You study the issues. Of all the people who look at this system from the outside, you are about the best informed.

OK, what should the Republicans be doing? Let`s start. Where are the Howard Bakers? Where are the people that are going to stand up on this thing?

ROB REINER, DIRECTOR/ACTIVIST: Well, they`re not there yet, and -- but you and I are about the same age, Chris.

And remember back to Watergate. It`s pretty much parallel to what you`re seeing now. There are little tiny whispers here and there. You got a Corker, a Ben Sasse, a Jeff Flake. You got a couple of people talking.

But nobody`s really making the move until -- in Nixon`s case, until the tapes came out. You -- then you saw flip, a complete flip.

But you got to remember -- and it took a long time. It took almost two years. And you got to remember that, even when Nixon, presented with the tapes and actually resigned office, he left office with about a 25 percent, 26 percent approval rating.

There was still a chunk of the country that would not abandon him. And I think you will always see that group behind Trump. So you`re never going to penetrate that.

The thing that`s going to get the Republicans nervous is if the Democrats take back the House and take back it -- in a significant way. I`m talking about 40, 50, 60 seats. They`re going to really start getting nervous, because then the Democrats have subpoena power. They start having hearings in public, people under oath.

And you`re going to see a lot of these Republicans start to move. Then, on top of that, you will have Mueller`s report comes out. And I`m -- I will - - dollars to doughnuts, whatever expression you want to use, it`s going to be the truckload. It`s going to be really -- you think this is bad, what`s happened the last couple of days, with Cohen and Manafort?

It`s child`s play compared to what`s going to come at Trump. And then you will see everybody jump ship.

And I -- my gut instinct is that Trump won`t make it past -- make it through his first term.

MATTHEWS: Well, you have confidence, because, in 1973-`74, from the Sunday Night Massacre all the way through the tape, the June 23 tape, it was based on evidence, a piece of tape that showed Nixon basically running the cover- up.

Do you believe the Republican Party today, the way they have been -- sort of been coached not to believe in objective truth, up until this week, when Rudy Giuliani said truth isn`t truth to Chuck Todd on Sunday, do you think they might beyond -- be beyond evidentiary arguments?

REINER: Well, they`re beyond the smoking gun big bomb that drops in the middle of the Capitol, where they see -- the evidentiary arguments, they had a little bit right now.

They have Cohen talking about committing a crime and connecting the president to that crime. So that`s a little bit of evidence. They can wishy-wash around it as much as they want.

But when big, big evidence, like obstruction of justice, conspiring with an enemy power to influence an election, those are big things. And when that evidence starts to come, then I think you will see them start to change, because that 25 percent will never, ever leave the president.

But you need more. You need at least 40 percent for them to stick around.


Let`s talk Democrats now. You`re Jerry Nadler. You`re about to be chairman, it looks like, if the Democrats win the House. You`re the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. You`re the next Peter Rodino.

What should you say in the next few months? Anything?

REINER: I wouldn`t -- I mean, the word, the I-word, you know, it`s been thrown around a lot more in the last couple of days.

And there`s certainly enough to impeach the president right now, because it`s a -- it`s a political maneuver. But I would say that you have to first -- you shouldn`t be talking about that now. First things first.

Get the House back. Have the hearings. Go through it methodically. See what Mueller comes with. And if all of that, the aggregate of all of that, then you can -- you can talk about starting impeachment proceedings.

MATTHEWS: And then we will have President Pence.

Anyway, thank you, Rob Reiner.


MATTHEWS: Who knows?

Anyway, up next: Democrat -- thanks for coming on.

Democrats are looking to capitalize on the culture of criminality surrounding Trump, after the first and second members of Congress to endorse Trump, by the way, have already been indicted on criminal charges, his earliest supporters, and now Trump himself is implicated in the campaign finance violations.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



The list of people surrounding President Trump facing criminal charges right now continues to mount.

Donald Trump`s campaign chair Paul Manafort was found guilty yesterday on eight counts of bank and tax fraud.

His deputy Rick Gates pleaded guilty to similar charges.

His longtime lawyer and fixer, if you will, Michael Cohen pled guilty yesterday to campaign violations, eight of them including other charges.

His first national security advisor Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

His campaign adviser George Papadopoulos also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

His first congressional endorser, U.S. Congressman Chris Collins of New York, is charged with insider trading and lying to the FBI.

His second congressional endorser, Congressman Duncan Hunter, and his wife were charged yesterday with misusing his campaign funds.

Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable now that we`ve set this delightful table.

Anita Kumar, White House correspondent for McClatchy, Sam Stein, politics editor for "The Daily Beast", and Jeremy Peters for "The New York Times".

Thank you all.

Well, you know I used to get like to compare Mueller`s investigation to the iceberg percent of its underwater it`s dangerous as hell and I compared Trump to the Titanic, the unsinkable ship, four stacks only three work, and he`s coming along, how many compartments can flood on the Titanic before it goes down? That`s -- it went after not I guess flooded.

How long can this guy stay afloat? Anita?


MATTHEWS: It`s my metaphor, do what you want.

KUMAR: I mean that was quite a list that you had there.

MATTHEWS: They were metaphoric. They were real.

KUMAR: And obviously, some of those investigations are separate issues. But it does go to the whole president Trump said he drained the swamp and here we are with a whole slew of indictments and all sorts of things that people are going to have to be dealing with the next couple months during the midterms.

How do Republicans go out there and sell this to their voters?

MATTHEWS: Do they effective owners today? Are they more concerned about this woman being killed out there in Iowa today by the undocumented immigrant and then they are than all of us? I wonder in this tribal politics we`re in today, Sam, if anything sticks to this guy in his crowd.

SAM STEIN, POLITICS EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: So, I -- there`s no way to know exactly who`s affecting more by what issue. But I think you`re absolutely right that everything is defined by tribal politics and so, to your first question, how much more water can he take on.

Honestly, the only question that needs to be asked is when do Republicans decide that sticking with him is not on their political self-interest and that`s when the tide turns. You can make the case that we really won`t get to that point until after the midterm election.

MATTHEWS: Orrin Hatch won`t even shake him off and he`s leaving the Senate in Utah which is a pretty clean state.

STEIN: Yes, I don`t think --

MATTHEWS: Jeremy, why don`t they shake him off, they`re leaving a lot of these guys? Paul Ryan is leaving.

JEREMY PETERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And they`re leaving, and then presuming that the Republicans lose the House, you`re left with a smaller or more pro-Trump Republican conference. So I don`t see them leaving him at all.

I think that, you know --

MATTHEWS: You mean, Kevin McCarthy their presume next leader doesn`t want to mess, even if he`s going to be a minority leader?

PETERS: No, I don`t think so.

MATTHEWS: Well, as I mentioned Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of California and his wife were indicted yesterday. They`re accused of spending more than a quarter million dollars in campaign funds on themselves. According to the 47-page grand jury indictments, some of the expenses included more than $14,000 for family vacation to Italy. More than $6,000 for their children`s private school tuition, disguising a family dental bill as a charitable contribution to Smiles for Life. Purchasing shorts at a golf pro club, and describing the purchase of golf balls for the veteran`s service organization that Wounded Warriors Project.

You know, it`s so chintzy.

KUMAR: You know, the Republicans have no one to blame of themselves. They knew something might be coming. There was a warning around this, and they --

MATTHEWS: About Duncan Hunter?

KUMAR: Yes and they kept him in, and said he was the nominee, he`s on the ballot he can`t get off the ballot now and so they might lose a seat.

MATTHEWS: All right. Sam, you know like I pretty much you know, that you can spend campaign money on just about anything but yourself.


MATTHEWS: It`s the Garden of Eden. You can`t eat the apple. That`s the only thing you can`t do.

STEIN: Go out to fancy dinner.


STEIN: Gifts, whatever, just do not spend it on yourself, and he just come -- he didn`t violate the rule. He laughed at it.

MATTHEWS: His staff --

STEIN: Ran over it.

MATTHEWS: I think his staff ratted him out, I don`t want to say ratted him out, exposed him because they were watching him do this.

STEIN: And some of the stuff that he`s accused of is obviously shameless, but it`s also grotesque. I mean to disguise a payment for golf balls as a contribution to the Wounded Warriors Project is morally bankrupt thing to do.

PETERS: Well, the stink of corruption now wafting over the Republican Party is a real concern going into the midterm elections because people remember 2006, right? They like to think of that as an election on -- a referendum on Bush, on the war. But remember, it was Abramoff, it was Scooter Libby, it was a Mark Foley.

And that contributed to the sense that, you know what? This party is just broken. Get them out. And I know there`s a lot of concern that that could happen again to the Republicans.

MATTHEWS: Well, you gave me a whole bag of different crimes there. Mark Foley was the problem for the pages.


MATTHEWS: And, of course, Scooter Libby was plagia (ph) -- not plagia -- perjury, and the other guy was grab at the money I guess. But is that all corruption?

PETERS: I mean, it shows corruption. It shows ethical. It`s the swamp, right? And this president was supposed to come in and drain the swamp. And it`s been anything but that.

MATTHEWS: You get a sense that, since you`ve covered the White House, Anita, the family is not above all this, grabbing a piece of the action, you know, the hotels, down on Pennsylvania Avenue, checking in all the Arab, (INAUDIBLE) that come to town, they want to show a little smile with the president. They`re no against that, grubbing some money upfront.

KUMAR: They`re against keeping the businesses and keeping the money coming in. Now, they would argue, oh, well, there`s no law against that. If what happened --

MATTHEWS: Trump made $80 million last year while he`s at the White House.


MATTHEWS: I mean, I don`t know if it`s evilly gotten but he did it.

KUMAR: Yes, I mean, they`re continuing to bring in the money and they say that they can do that. And they can do that.

MATTHEWS: Why are they free of problems with the working class people that voted for him?

STEIN: Again, this is (INAUDIBLE). I was watching the rally last night in West Virginia. And it`s just remarkable and it was just remarkable. Hours after all these legal problems surfaced, after Congressman Hunter`s ethical problems surfaced, the chants that they have were "drain the swamp" and "lock her up".

MATTHEWS: Lock her up.

STEIN: And it`s you wonder, do these people recognize the surrounding realities, or do they just not care about it? And I don`t think we actually know the answer to that. Are they living in a cocoon where they don`t read this stuff, or doesn`t (INAUDIBLE), or they just say, you know what, we don`t really care, we like the guy?

PETERS: They believe the president. There`s no crime. He said there`s no crime.

MATTHEWS: As long as he shares our resentment against the big shots, we`re with him.

STEIN: He`s the big shot, right.



MATTHEWS: That`s weird. We can make through that. Why does he talk like a regular guy when he`s not?

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: More reminders today that hackers are still trying to mess with our election. The DNC says it successfully fought off a recent attempt to hack into its database. Meanwhile, Microsoft says it took down several web pages designed to trick visitors into thinking they are looking at the sites of conservative think tanks. And Facebook, Google and Twitter have all removed hundreds of fake accounts linked to Russia and Iran.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Anita, tell me something I don`t know tonight.

KUMAR: Sure. People close to President Trump, they`re looking at all this politics coming up in the next couple months, are saying that they have figured out one third of the people at Trump rallies are not Republican voters. So they like Trump but they may not like Republicans and those are the people that he`s targeting to try to get them to vote for Republicans in the midterms.

MATTHEWS: I hear you.

STEIN: All right, this week, Trump --

MATTHEWS: He wants to win those red state Senate seats. Yes.

STEIN: So, this week, Trump tweeted about John Dean from Wisconsin called him a rat. Everyone`s wondering, why did you start tweeting about John Dean? What I discovered through reporting is that it`s not so much about John Dean as it is an admiration for Richard Nixon.

The two of them actually first met up and I got this from Roger Stone himself, in George Steinbrenner`s box at Yankee Stadium in the mid `80s during which they discussed Watergate.

MATTHEWS: Roy Cohn, Richard Nixon, the whole gang --

STEIN: Right.



PETERS: So, the nerves are fraying in the Republican Party to an extent that you know unlike what we saw with Charlottesville, unlike what we saw in Helsinki, name any crisis self-inflicted that that Trump has wrought on on himself. I was talking to somebody very early Trump supporter, true believer today, who said he was with donors recently, these are guys who liked and wanted to support Trump. They`ve been looking the other way, and they finally started to say more and more over the last few weeks and especially after yesterday, enough. I just can`t do it anymore. I don`t like the guy.

MATTHEWS: I like what Ryan Costello said tonight. It was Russia, selling on our side and our values to the bad guys. It must really get the people who are deeply conservative and everybody I think.

Anita Kumar, thank you, and Sam Stein. And thank you, Jeremy Peters.

When we return let me finish the night with the Silent Sam Statue down at Chapel Hill and what happened to that on Monday night. This is a big story in the South.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with what happened on Monday night at the University of North Carolina.

Students and others tore down a statue commemorating those who fought for and suffered for the Confederacy known as Silent Sam, who`d been standing there on that beautiful Carolina campus for over a century.

There`s something wrenching when something like this goes on in a place you love and hold warm memories of, as I certainly do as a long-ago grad student at Chapel Hill. That`s southern part of heaven.

I remember the campus rhythms of the `60s back then, the intense meetings against the Vietnam War and the weekly vigils along Franklin Street. And slavery and Jim Crow were moral evils, pure and simple, so is any notion of white supremacy. If that`s your lost cause, it`s time for it to go to be truly gone with the wind.

Change, even when it`s symbolic, comes hard. There is nothing more difficult and dangerous or more doubtful of success, Machiavelli wrote, than an attempt to introduce a new order of things.

Well, as someone who loves Carolina and knows that school a lot, I find joy but also pride and both the courage of those 19th century soldiers who died in most cases out of regional loyalty but also the courage of those young people the 21st century who have proven themselves so ready to lead their people forward.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.



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