Russia probe "an illegal investigation." TRANSCRIPT: 9/3/2018, Hardball w Chris Matthews.

Guests: Shannon Pettypiece, Dana Milbank

Show: HARDBALL Date: September 3, 2018 Guest: Shannon Pettypiece, Dana Milbank

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Trump`s people. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington, and welcome to the HARDBALL Labor Day show. And for purposes of this holiday, we`re calling it "The Real Characters of Trump World."

President Donald Trump campaigned on his star factor as the host of the reality show "The Apprentice." And that mindset has followed him all the way into his presidency, where there`s never a slow news day and every action he takes falls somewhere under "unprecedented."

For the next hour, we`re going to look at the cast of characters of Trump`s reality show presidency. There are the villains; the sycophants, of course; the flippers; and the would-be celebrities, of course. And some of them are heading to prison, and others are helping to put former allies in prison. There`s been back-biting, social climbing, conspiracies, and yes, relentless drama.

And one sideshow came full circle when Omarosa Manigault-Newman, who played the villain on "The Apprentice" and later a White House aide, came out with a new tell-all book. Omarosa`s strategy on "The Apprentice" was to mirror Trump`s own behavior. Here she is on Season One.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OMAROSA MANIGAULT-NEWMAN, CONTESTANT ON "THE APPRENTICE": Heidi was fantastic, and I will tell you that I haven`t always been a fan of Heidi. I haven`t always thought that she was professional, nor does she have much class or finesse.

DONALD TRUMP, HOST OF "THE APPRENTICE": That`s the worst compliment I`ve ever heard.

HEIDI BRESSLER, CONTESTANT ON "THE APPRENTICE": (INAUDIBLE).

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: But I`ve been very candid with Heidi. (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS) But in this instance -

TRUMP: No, I`m not so sure.

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Her energy -

TRUMP: That may be the worst thing I`ve heard.

BRESSLER: (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: I think that`s the worst thing I`ve ever heard. That`s the worst compliment I`ve ever heard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Omarosa used her book tour to keep her story relevant by making news in every interview. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m asking for - a couple of hours ago, Omarosa, if you have any other recordings, you wouldn`t share them here. Do you got some?

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Oh, I have plenty.

MATTHEWS: Anything Mueller would like to see? Robert Mueller?

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: If his office calls again, we -

MATTHEWS: Which would be (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS) the investigation by Mueller?

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Absolutely Anything that they want, I will certainly cooperate.

MATTHEWS: Do you think Trump should be impeached?

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: At this point, yes.

KATY TUR, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: You were instructed, according to your book, to bring up the e-mails every point you could at the end of 2016?

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: That`s correct.

TUR: Hillary Clinton`s e-mails?

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Yes, that was our talker.

TUR: Did Donald Trump know about those e-mails before they came out?

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Absolutely. It`s interesting that he`s trying to silence me, so what is he trying to hide?

He thought, you know, that I could be disposed of, but Donald Trump is wrong.

However, I would say this. If you see me in a fight with a bear, pray for the bear.

Everything that`s in my book Unhinged, everything that you see that`s in quotes, is verifiable, it`s documented, and it`s corroborated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And when others tried to refute her, Omarosa had the tapes to back up her claims. Here`s her recording of Chief of Staff John Kelly firing her in the situation room.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think it`s important to understand that if we make this a friendly departure, we can all be, you know, you can look at your time here in the White House as a year of service to the nation. And then you can go on without any type of difficulty in the future relative to your reputation.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, then after former Trump campaign aide Katrina Pierson said she was never part of the conversation about whether Trump used the "n" word on "The Apprentice," Omarosa released a tape of that very conversation about Trump to "CBS This Morning." Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATRINA PIERSON, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: I`m trying to find out at least what context is was used in to help maybe try to figure out a way to spin it.

FEMALE CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Patton then described a conversation she had with then-candidate Trump about making the slur.

PIERSON: I said, "Well, sir, can you think of any time that this might have happened?" And he said no.

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Well, that`s not true, so -

PIERSON: (INAUDIBLE) he goes, "How do you think I should handle it?" And I told him about what you just said, Omarosa, which is, "Well, it depends on what scenario you`re talking about." And he said, "Why don`t you just go ahead and put it to bed?" He said - no, he said it. He is embarrassed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Omarosa also released audio of Trump`s daughter-in-law, Laura Trump, offering her, Omarosa, a job on the 2020 campaign in exchange for her staying quiet about her time at the White House.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LAURA TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S DAUGHTER-IN-LAW: It sounds a little like, obviously, that there are some things you`ve got in the back pocket to pull out. Clearly, if you come on board the campaign, like, we can`t have - we got to -

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Oh, God, no.

TRUMP: Everything, everybody positive, right?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

I`m joined now by Shannon Pettypiece, White House reporter for Bloomberg News; Jason Johnson, politics editors at theroot.com; Betsy Woodruff, politics reporter at the Daily Beast; and Dana Milbank, political columnist with the Washington Post. Also, Jonathan Allen, national reporter for NBC News Digital. What a cast to talk about. What a cast, I must say that.

Shannon, she seems to be the first person to stride onto the stage, and I mean the stage, who has the same abilities for TV, the game that Trump plays so well, that he has.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, case in point, having audio, what makes for good TV? Audio, tapes, visuals. She understood that. It`s a basic thing, but President Trump, the ultimate producer, she is also an ultimate producer. You know, knows how to present herself on TV, knows how to get attention with a tape recording.

And I think there`s a lot that`s been said about Omarosa, but I think she has highlighted a very crucial flaw in Trump. That he has a hard time seeing who his friends are and who his enemies are. She was obviously making these tape recordings for a long time. He obviously thought she was someone he could trust and has, of course, been proven wrong.

MATTHEWS: And he built her up, Jason. He made this - he stepped back and glowed at her performances on "The Apprentice." You can see that.

JASON JOHNSON, THEROOT.COM POLITICS EDITOR: Kept bringing her through, did the Omarosa ultimate merger and dating show for her. I mean, he created this monster, for lack of a better word. But I have to -

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) if you want to be literary.

JOHNSON: Yes, (INAUDIBLE). But here`s the thing that`s also fascinating. You could teach a masters class on her book rollout. I have never seen anyone - and we`ve seen books come out of White Houses before - who managed to do like 72 straight hours of press and drop one little nugget of information on every single show she went on. This is dangerous for national security, but it`s a brilliant rollout on her behalf.

MATTHEWS: And I think it`s a fall rollout (INAUDIBLE) and it`s still going (INAUDIBLE) I mean -

BETSY WOODRUFF, DAILY BEAST POLITICS REPORTER: I think that`s true. One thing that`s important to remember with Omarosa is that she very much was pure showman.

During her time in the White House, White House officials told us repeatedly that she just wasn`t moving the ball forward on many important issues. And in fact, there was nearly a crisis in the (INAUDIBLE) after the first African-American History Month of Trump`s presidency, because Omarosa was supposed to have a leadership role in setting up events, making things happen. And the night before, certain White House officials realized that there were a number of people who hadn`t been invited, who hadn`t been looped in. So, it was almost a minor crisis.

And there`s a host of examples of situations like that, where Omarosa, instead of accomplishing jobs she was supposed to get done with, was - seems to be focused more on being in the room for certain meetings. And, of course, the fallout of that is she had recordings from being in the room for those meetings, with tectonic consequences.

PETTYPIECE: And yet - and weirdly, too, she was perceived by a lot of White House aides as being incompetent, but I was also told that Trump always -

MATTHEWS: Incompetent in what?

PETTYPIECE: Her job.

MATTHEWS: Her job?

JOHNSON: Well, I literally asked her that question at a conference last year, and she couldn`t really explain it. That`s part of how you get in trouble.

PETTYPIECE: Such a Trump thing, yeah.

DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST POLITICAL COLUMNIST: The same - the president might have the same answer when asked about his job and moving the ball forward. There`s a certain cosmic justice in the whole thing here. The president came in, and who`s he going to staff his administration with? The usual suspects who have absolutely no interest in it. What he did was he built his staff in his own model. May not be trustworthy, may be a little fast and loose with the truth. Questions about loyalty, but brilliant showmen.

So, this works to an extent when they`re all working in the same direction. But what you`re seeing now with a Michael Cohen, with an Omarosa, is they have prodigious talents if they`re used against you.

MATTHEWS: They sure are. Anyway, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen took center stage this year after he implicated the president paid hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal during the 2016 election. I like those references to adult film actress, and - anyway, Playboy. The whole thing, this is so Trump.

Anyway, Cohen had released a secret recording made of himself and the president discussing a possible payment to McDougal. Let`s listen to this tape recording.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David. You know, so that (INAUDIBLE) right away. I`m actually (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS) and I`ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with something that - yes. And it`s all the stuff, all the stuff. Because here, you never know when that company, never know - he gets in.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right.

COHEN: Correct. So, I`m all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it, and when it comes times for the financing, which will be (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE).

COHEN: Well (INAUDIBLE) no, no, no, no, no. I`ve got it. No, no, no.

TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE)

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Cohen isn`t a new figure in Trump World, of course. In a tape from 2015 that was released by NPR this year, he made an astonishing claim to a reporter asking about allegations by Trump`s first wife Ivana in a 1989 deposition that Trump raped her. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

COHEN: You`re talking about Donald Trump. You`re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can`t rape your spouse.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Ivana said in 2015 that "the story is totally without merit." Well, Cohen then threatened the reporter.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

COHEN: Mark my words for it. I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we`re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don`t have. And I will come after you, Daily Beast, and everybody else that you possibly know. Do not even think about going to where I know you`re planning on going.

So, I`m warning you, tread very fucking lightly because when I`m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. Do you understand me? Don`t think you can hide behind your pen because it`s not going to happen.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: John, did you understand me? Did you understand me? (LAUGHS) That is mob talk, and that is definitely back room, in the back room with the rubber hose, don`t mess with me stuff. That`s not the somewhat sympathetic figure we see walking to and from the courthouse these days.

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS DIGITAL NATIONAL REPORTER: He`s a lovely, calm gentleman. I think Hollywood actors are going to be fighting each other to play Michael Cohen in the movie version of all this someday. I mean, this character is unbelievable. You see no, you know, shame and contrition in the courtroom the other day. Again, talking like a mob enforcer. Not a fixer or a lawyer, but like an enforcer.

What`s fascinating, though, about the recording of Trump, which seems to implicate a lot of other people, you know, or at least bring them in. David Pecker, you know, the other lawyers of the Trump operation. What`s amazing about the tape is that that is what you would expect the FBI to get if they had had a wire tap authorized. And this is Michael Cohen implicating himself.

You have to wonder about two things. Number one, you know, how little he trusts Donald Trump to begin with. And number two, you know, sort of how dumb he is to do that in terms of the potential for that to become a huge legal liability for himself in the future, as we have seen it did.

MATTHEWS: How many mob movies have we seen? I`ve seen a lot, where they always check to see if you`re wired. Trump never checked to see if these guys are wired, and these guys, they`re wired when they go in to see him.

MILBANK: Yeah, I know. And we say this over and over again, but it does have that sort of a mob feel, like they should all have, you know, certain nicknames that should be passed around.

MATTHEWS: Mikey the Rat.

MILBANK: And everybody has their price for a certain amount. It appears to be loyalty. You have the president, you know, talking about "John Dean the Rat." You have him talking about, you know, flipping. Flipping should be a crime.

WOODRUFF: (INAUDIBLE) Alphonso Capone?

JOHNSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, I thought it would be Tessio as the smart move. It was Clemenza. I mean, the one that comes to you is the traitor. I mean, it`s all fitting in here, Jason.

JOHNSON: I don`t understand - see, this is why I don`t understand why anyone went to GoFundMe for this guy. Right? Like, why are people coming to his defense now? But yeah -

PETTYPIECE: (INAUDIBLE).

MILBANK: I want to see more of it. I (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS).

JOHNSON: When he`s clearly for the better, yes. But I also think the other thing is important, and this speaks to the culture of this administration in general. You notice also that his logic, his logic was, oh, you can`t do that to your wife. That speaks to that sort of overall misogyny in this administration. And like, you know -

MATTHEWS: Who said that, by the way? Who was that?

JOHNSON: That was Michael Cohen. He`s like, definition, you can`t rape your wife. Ask John Wayne Bobbitt; you can. I mean, it just - it speaks not only to the violence, the misogyny, but also just the rage that seems to flow through every member of this administration.

MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile, former campaign manager Paul Manafort has been a major target of the Mueller investigation. Though Manafort was in charge of Trump`s campaign during the pivotal months spanning the end of the Republican primary season through the Republican national convention, the president has attempted to diminish that role. Let`s watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad. When you look at what`s going on there, I think it`s a very sad day for our country. He worked for me for a very short period of time, and you know what? He happens to be a very good person. And I think it`s very sad, what they`ve done to Paul Manafort. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, before joining the Trump campaign, Manafort had extensive political and financial ties to Russia. Of course we know that. He also attended that Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer to get dirt on Hillary Clinton and played a role in softening the Republican Party platform on aiding Ukraine against Russia. All helpful to Moscow.

Well, during the campaign, however, Manafort denied that the Trump campaign had anything relationship with Russia. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MSNBC ANCHOR: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you, or your campaign, and Putin and his regime?

PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: No, sir, that`s absurd, and, you know, there`s no basis to it.

This is an absurd attempt by the Clinton campaign to try and get the focus off of what the real issue is.

They`re pretty desperate pretty quickly, is all I have to say on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What do you make of this guy? Lately, Trump`s going back to him, Shannon. He`s showing tremendous empathy for the guy like, I`ve not harmed anybody.

PETTYPIECE: And Trump doesn`t - like most things with Trump, you don`t have to say anything. You could just be quiet. You know, you don`t have to step into this. Trump goes out of his way, even on Twitter, to defend Paul Manafort. There seems to be a pretty growing consensus, I don`t have any fact that this is the case, but an assumption of a Paul Manafort pardon coming at some point. There seems to be a growing assumption of that.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

PETTYPIECE: And yeah, he also likes to portray Paul Manafort as someone who was barely involved in the campaign, which is a classic move. Everyone who gets caught up in some legal issue, they`re now, all of a sudden, someone who he barely knew.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, but, you know, Betsy, he also did that with Flynn for a while, remember? He was sort of teasing him, offering him - I`m really sad for the guy. Then he stopped and stuff. He`s still working on Manafort.

WOODRUFF: Well, what`s interesting about the Flynn situation is that he has been working with Mueller`s team for months and months now. And the date of his sentencing keeps getting moved forward. Now, there hasn`t been public reporting as to what exactly Flynn is hoping Mueller will find out, but it`s generated a ton of speculation. And I imagine some stress in the White House, that this person who was deeply involved in the president`s campaign, deeply involved in those consequential early few days of his presidency, has been quietly talking with Mueller for months.

MATTHEWS: So many concerns if you`re Trump. Anyway, the panel staying with us for this hour.

And up next, this guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You know, you`re really beautiful.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: This may be the best of all.

Oh, you dirty boy, you! Oh! Donald, I thought you were a gentleman!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, he is an actor, and we`re watching that today, too. Well, anyway, that`s the president`s lawyer during happier days. Our panel weighs in on Rudy Giuliani next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Rudy Giuliani was once known as America`s mayor, America`s mayor. But this year, he took on a different role as Trump`s TV defense lawyer.

He started off his public campaign in defense of the president by openly admitting that Trump repaid that money that was funneled through a law firm to Stormy Daniels.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Having something to do with paying some Stormy Daniels woman $130,000, I mean, which is going to turn out to be perfectly legal.

That money was not campaign money. Sorry. I`m giving you a fact now that you don`t know. It`s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": So, they funneled it through the law firm?

GIULIANI: Funneled it through the law firm, and then the president repaid it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Giuliani`s defense of Michael Cohen evolved, of course, as talk of Cohen turning against the president grew louder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: Imagine if that came out on October 25, 2016. Cohen didn`t even his ask. Cohen didn`t ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.

Michael Cohen, I think, would tell you he`s got nothing incriminating with the president. And really they should stop going after him. They`re torturing the guy.

I don`t see how he has any credibility. This is basically if you had a trial -- and there won`t be a trial here -- but if you had a trial, you would say, well, which lie do you want to pick? There`s nobody that I know that knows him that hasn`t warned me that, if his back is up against the wall, he will lie like crazy, because he`s lied all his life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Rudy`s defense of the president also shifted from first saying that there was no collusion to arguing that collusion isn`t a crime.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: This started as collusion with the Russians. No.

Now they go to obstruction of justice, collusion among the players. What they`re really trying to do is trap him into perjury. And we`re not suckers.

The whole investigation is totally illegitimate. He believes if he gets the chance to explain it, people will understand no collusion with the Russians, no obstruction of justice.

They have to just come to grips with the fact they are investigating an innocent man. And you can do that forever, because you`re never going to find any evidence. So, somebody has got to put an end to this.

He did not collude. There`s no evidence he colluded. But in the alternative, collusion is not a crime.

And when you tell me that he should testify because he`s going to the time the truth and he shouldn`t worry, well, that`s so silly, because it`s somebody`s version of the truth, not the truth. He didn`t have a conversation...

(CROSSTALK)

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Truth is truth. I don`t mean to go like...

GIULIANI: No, it isn`t truth. Truth isn`t truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with our panel.

Jonathan, I hate to say this, but I think he gives criminal law a bad name.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I can think of the worst criminal lawyers that will say anything in defense of a guilty defendant, anything. And this guy has proven he can outdo any of them.

ALLEN: Well, Chris, I think we should stop considering Rudy Giuliani as a lawyer for purposes of defending Donald Trump or really any other purposes.

This is not somebody -- this is somebody who has done as much to make the case that Donald Trump could be implicated in crimes as he has to take away from it. He goes on and says this isn`t -- you know, this isn`t campaign money.

Well, that`s not actually good for Donald Trump`s case here. Rudy Giuliani has, you know, done the job he`s been asked to, much like many other Trump aides have, which is to go out and say things for the president that are not true, absurd, things that can be disproven immediately and sometimes things that evolve and can later be disproven.

We have seen -- between the president and Giuliani and all the other people who`ve represented the president, the story about the hush money payments just change from, there were no hush money payments, the president didn`t know about the hush money payments, he didn`t know about them until later on, all of a sudden, he knows about them beforehand.

It is basically a distraction, a P.R. distraction from what`s actually going on here, which is that there`s serious legal jeopardy for a lot of people around the president of the United States. We don`t know whether or not the president can be indicted. We may find out.

MATTHEWS: Shannon?

PETTYPIECE: Well, and I think Rudy is intentionally making this a distraction and public relations campaign, because he believes that this is not going to be a criminal case, this is going to be about impeachment.

And so, if he can...

MATTHEWS: Therefore, truth isn`t truth.

PETTYPIECE: Right, and muddy the waters. If he can muddy the waters, if he can confuse people at home who don`t follow this all the time, if he can create confusion, create a shadow of a doubt, and solidify Trump`s base, and give them talking points to help defend the president, that`s his job.

That`s what he is here to do. And you can say a lot of things about Rudy Giuliani, but through his career, he has known how to manipulate the media, how to manipulate public perception, how to set a public relations trap for people. So people who know him say don`t count him out on that count, on managing a public relations crisis.

MATTHEWS: Jason, does this mean that the prosecution here, Mueller, is going to need a tape, like they needed -- Jaworski needed a tape against Nixon?

Because I get the sense that -- if you can say truth isn`t truth, what you`re really arguing is, if you`re willing to believe my side of the argument, I will say anything.

JOHNSON: They`re going to need a lot more evidence than what we know of now.

And that`s probably why they`re taking as long as they need to take. You can`t -- unless you get a direct e-mail that says, Trump, for sure, we can prove he knew about the meeting, unless you can get some direct commentary from the president or an e-mail that confirms it, yes, that`s what Mueller is going to need.

But I think the problem sort of politically that you hear from Giuliani and a lot of these people, the sort of argument, well, first, it was collusion, collusion`s not a crime, it`s like in "The Fugitive." He`s like, I didn`t kill my wife, but if I did, it was an accident.

That doesn`t work, right? You would still end up going to jail. You would still end up committing a crime.

MATTHEWS: But he didn`t kill his wife.

JOHNSON: Well, of course he didn`t.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That`s critical.

JOHNSON: But that`s the critical thing. We don`t know if that is the case.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The one-armed man did it.

JOHNSON: Yes. Exactly.

MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, another reliable defender of the president this year was California Republican Representative Devin Nunes.

I love this guy`s name.

Known for his midnight run to the White House to view reports that he said unmasked members of the Trump transition team, he then went back to the same White House the next day with the news he got from the White House the night before, and he announced his findings, and he briefed the president on what he got from his own White House.

This is incredible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: I have seen intelligence reports that clearly show that the president-elect and his team were, I guess, at least monitored and disseminated out in intelligence.

What I saw has nothing to do with Russia and nothing to do with the Russia investigation, has everything to do with possible surveillance activities. And the president needs to know that this -- these intelligence reports are out there. And I have a duty to tell him that.

I felt like I had a duty and an obligation to tell him, because, as you know, he`s been taking a lot of heat in the news media.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, this year, Nunes continued to do whatever he could to discredit the Russia investigation itself.

He attacked the intelligence community and falsely claimed that the Russia investigation itself started solely because of that Christopher Steele dossier.

He also threatened to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray for not turning over documents he wanted from the Mueller probe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NUNES: I think the American people understand that the FBI should not go to secret courts using information that was paid for by the Democrats to open up investigations and get warrants on people of the other political party. That`s the type of stuff that happens in banana republics.

So there`s clear evidence of collusion with the Russians. It just happens to be with the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee that the news media fails to talk about or fails to even investigate.

The more they throw at you, the more you know to keep digging, because you`re getting really, really close.

Our committee continues to look at conspiracy. We`re looking at obstruction. We`re looking at misleading Congress.

We will have a plan to hold in contempt and to impeach.

I`m not worried about vindication, because I sleep well at night because I have been telling the truth the entire time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: This guy talks like one of the old Soviets, you know, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. They will say anything that serves the purposes of their cause, political cause.

MILBANK: Yes. And the irony is, he`s the chair of the Intelligence Committee, because Nunes and intelligence are an oxymoron, based on his performance...

MATTHEWS: That`s uppercase I.

(LAUGHTER)

MILBANK: ... over the recent years.

And then he has to recuse himself because of that performance on the White House lawn, but he continues to meddle in the investigation and throwing himself at it.

In a way, it`s nice that we have paired him here with Giuliani. You have Giuliani doing the crazy uncle routine. You have got Nunes doing an Inspector Clouseau over here, and all of it is to just throw up a whole lot of dust, so that nobody can keep track...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But nobody thinks this guy will get defeated for reelection. He`s got -- he`s probably got 90 percent of his people in the district all behind Trump, and, therefore, he`s right in line with him.

WOODRUFF: That`s right. He`s in a safe Republican district. He`s unlikely to be going anywhere.

One piece of the Nunes saga that`s just especially eye-popping is that he spent weeks and weeks sort of bashing the Justice Department for not turning over a certain stack of documents that he really wanted to see. And he said, these documents were going to blow wide open the Hillary Clinton conspiracies that going on. Absolutely essential that the American people saw these documents.

And then when the DOJ finally acquiesced and turned over these documents, made them available to Nunes, he didn`t actually read them.

MATTHEWS: Huh.

WOODRUFF: He had his staff read them, but he himself, despite making a host of television cable news appearance talking about how intrigued he was by the material in these documents, how it was going to change everything, when he got the documents, didn`t look at them.

(CROSSTALK)

PETTYPIECE: And we never heard about them again.

WOODRUFF: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Jon.

Jon, your thought.

ALLEN: I was just going to say, if Nunes wasn`t protected by the speech or debate clause in the Constitution as a member of Congress, you would be looking at him as a potential co-conspirator in any Russian collusion.

This is crazy, what -- the lengths that he has gone to, including his little -- actually, his midnight run to the White House that we have been talking about to grab their stuff and then report back to them.

All of this stuff has been in furtherance of an effort to help the president, to -- I don`t think it`s a distraction. I mean, to some extent, there`s a conspiracy theory that is going on within members of the Congress who are like super Trump supporters.

But I think they really, truly at some level believe and have to believe that what you saw in action, law enforcement in action, where you have coordinated agencies working together on an investigation of certain members of the Trump orbit, they look at that and they think that that`s a conspiracy. But that`s actually just how law enforcement works.

MATTHEWS: It`s an embarrassment. The guy`s an embarrassment.

Up next: The Trump reality show character whose media blitz earlier this year was so strange, one anchor asked him if he`d been drinking. He really did. I mean, she really did.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Former Trump adviser Roger Stone, who`s a self-proclaimed dirty trickster, could be under scrutiny in the Russia investigation, particularly for his August 2016 tweet warning that it would soon be "Podesta`s time in the barrel."

A couple weeks later, WikiLeaks published John Podesta`s e-mails. Stone has spent the past year discrediting the probe, of course. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I never had any advanced knowledge of the content, the source, or the exact timing of the WikiLeaks disclosures. I never predicted that John Podesta`s e-mails would be hacked. I predicted that his business activities would come under scrutiny.

This entire narrative is based on a false premise from our politicized intelligence agencies that Julian Assange is a Russian agent. No, he isn`t. He`s a courageous journalist who has an incredible track record for accuracy and authenticity.

I`m not involved in any collusion, coordination, or conspiracy with the Russians or anyone else. And there`s no evidence to the contrary.

I received nothing from WikiLeaks or from the Russians. I passed nothing on to Donald Trump or the Trump campaign. We have been through this ad nauseam. It is a wild goose chase.

I think, if they bring a case against me, it will be a fabricated case, and there`s no circumstances whatsoever, Ed, in which I will testify against the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, of course, when he came out with that little teaser that John Podesta with the DNC was about to be facing his time in a barrel -- in other words, he`s going to have his unpleasantness coming upon him -- and then, of course, a couple weeks later, all the hacking came out.

And then he`s tried to be -- I think it`s kind of cute there, Jason, in his denials. I didn`t have an exact time. I didn`t do this.

If you listen to him the way he sort of dissembled there, he didn`t exact denying that he knew something.

JOHNSON: Oh, exactly.

I mean, he`s just dancing. He`s soft-shoeing around everything, because if and when he gets dragged in -- and there will -- and there will be additional investigations into him, he can say, well, I never said that I didn`t know anything. I just said I didn`t know at 4:15 p.m. on this particular day.

MATTHEWS: Like Bill Clinton said, I didn`t have sexual relations.

JOHNSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: Something like that.

JOHNSON: Exactly. I wasn`t aware of these kinds of things.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

JOHNSON: And what this speaks to, though, is all of this dissembling, it`s what makes your regular people look at this administration and look at this clown car of people that Trump has brought into the White House and say, why don`t any of these people sound honest to me? None of them do.

PETTYPIECE: And there`s a real sense that Roger is in some serious legal peril.

MATTHEWS: Don`t you think? I sense that too.

PETTYPIECE: There`s a grand jury that has heard from -- not just an interview with Mueller, a grand jury that has been convened who has heard from a number, everyone from Roger`s former assistant, to his driver, to old friends.

MATTHEWS: Where is he in trouble?

PETTYPIECE: So, obviously, I don`t know. I don`t think anyone knows what the legal jeopardy could be. And maybe the grand jury will not vote to charge him with anything.

But the fact they have a grand jury who has been interviewing just a number of people all over Roger`s universe shows that there is definitely something that investigators are focusing in, on some sort of criminal activity they`re focusing in on. And maybe they won`t find anything, but there`s some jeopardy right now.

MATTHEWS: It`s like driving around in a red sports car past a state trooper, right? You`re just inviting being stopped, right?

MILBANK: Well, I think so.

MATTHEWS: But Roger Stone just behaves -- he calls himself a dirty trickster. He dances and he dresses with a...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... or whatever, his fancy clothes. He just serenades you with the things that there`s trouble here somewhere, right?

MILBANK: He`s been a flamboyant character for decades.

MATTHEWS: Right.

MILBANK: And I don`t -- it`s not necessarily -- what they`re looking for may have nothing...

MATTHEWS: There`s a madras jacket. There`s a comeback.

(CROSSTALK)

MILBANK: Beautiful.

It may have nothing to do with what we`re all seeing in all these remarks. Think about it. This is a guy, he`s a regular on "Alex Jones," I mean, even more than people typically in the Trump orbit.

And he`s too explosive to be brought into the White House or any official role there. But I think even to a greater extent than other officials, he`s operating on a whole level of dishonesty. I wouldn`t even try to parse the statement.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, on March 5, former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg was served with a subpoena from Robert Mueller.

Instead of working to produce the documents the special counsel requested, Nunberg spent his day defying Mueller, on live cable television telling reporters he didn`t want to cooperate with Mueller as to implicate Roger Stone. He didn`t want to get in trouble with Stone. The situation quickly devolved. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: I`m not going to cooperate when they want me to have -- when they want me to come in to a grand jury for them to insinuate that Roger Stone was colluding with Julian Assange.

Roger is my mentor. Roger`s like family to me. I`m not going to do it. The president`s right. It`s a witch-hunt. I`m not going to cooperate. Why do I have to spend 80 hours going over my e-mails?

I think it would be really, really funny if they wanted to arrest me because I don`t want to spend 80 hours going over e-mails I had with Steve Bannon and Roger Stone. Trump may have very well done something during the election. I don`t know what it is. I could be wrong, by the way.

Do you think I would communicate with Carter Page?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN: I`m guessing...

NUNBERG: Carter Page is a scumbag. Carter Page was colluding with the Russians.

I`m not going to jail. Come on, Ari. You think I`m going to jail?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN: Talking to you, I have smelled alcohol on your breath.

NUNBERG: Well, I have not had a drink.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Wow.

Well, at the end of the day, Nunberg decided to cooperate with the subpoena.

Betsy, lots showing there -- being accused of having a few pops before an airtime, that`s new for a while. That`s a new one.

WOODRUFF: It was maybe -- it was maybe the Trumpiest 24 hours of cable news, when Nunberg took all three networks by storm, basically spent the entire day bouncing from studio to studio to studio talking about how he wasn`t going to comply.

But then, thanks to one of the guests on Ari Melber`s show, he changed his mind. And, within about 48 hours, he was telling Mueller all sorts of information, and finding e-mails, and, you know, had sort of cleaned up his act.

What`s interesting is since then, at least based on Roger Stone`s Instagram, it appears the two men have had a falling out. Roger Stone recently posted a picture of a pile of excrement and said revealed, a new photo of Sam Nunberg. It`s not a very charitable thing to put on your Instagram.

(CROSSTALK)

WOODRUFF: It`s part of the job.

MATTHEWS: I think Patton Moynihan`s been proven right. We`re defining deviancy downward.

Anyway, coming up, the coffee boy and the pop star. They`ve both become key figures in the Russia investigation. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos was once dismissed by another campaign aide as nothing more than a coffee boy. Well, last year, Papadopoulos pled guilty to lying to the special counsel about contact he had with a suspected Russian agent who allegedly told him the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Prosecutors said in August that Papadopoulos didn`t provide substantial assistance to the Russia investigation, in fact, much of the information he did provide came only after the government confronted him with information it had obtained already on its own.

We`re back with our panel.

This guy Papadopoulos, Jonathan, take over for me on Papadopoulos. He is one of the minor characters but certainly part of this story.

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS DIGITAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I mean, to some extent he`s a gadfly in Trump orbit, but I`m sure all the people close to the president, of all the president against Donald Trump that has tried to distance himself, saying I wasn`t close to this guy, it`s probably truest of George Papadopoulos. Obviously not true of Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort --

MATTHEWS: But we saw his picture at that big meeting which was proof he does exist, he was if the room, he was more than a Kato Kaelin character. He wasn`t just hanging around. He had some role.

ALLEN: This is the key, Chris. Like as any good reporter knows and as any good investigator knows, talk to the assistants, talk to the coffee boys. Everybody`s got some piece of information. In this case George Papadopoulos had pretty important information for Robert Mueller.

MATTHEWS: Another unlikely character in the Russia investigation is Russian pop star Emin Agalarov. In 2013, Donald Trump filmed a cameo that an Emin music video while in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant which Emin and his oligarch father partnered in. What`s he doing over there?

Earlier this summer, Emin released a satirical music video featuring, quote, surveillance footage, so-called, of a look-alike Trump with beauty pageant contestants in a hotel room. That`s troublesome. The video also features Emin slipping cash to Stormy Daniels. There he is.

The Agalarovs also helped set that up infamous meeting in Trump tower in 2016, the one we all talk about. Emin also addressed that meeting in his interview with Vice News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EMIN AGALAROV, RUSSIAN POP STAR: I said, listen, there are some people that want to meet you, they obviously want something that could potentially help resolve things that you could be interested in or maybe not. If you could spare five minutes of your time, I`d be grateful. If not, no problem. Obviously, Don Jr. being Don Jr. said, of course, I`ll do it if you`re asking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Oh, my god. How do you get so Russiaphiled? Why is this president so intrigued and interlocked and messed up with so many Russian characters --

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: It`s not just Russia. It`s so many characters, full stop. And I think this is what we were talking about earlier, the notion that the usual suspects haven`t come in here.

So, you`ve got the Russian pop star. You`ve got the Playboy model. You`ve got the porn star. You`ve got the lawyer who was dealing with cab medallions in New York. You`ve got crazy Uncle Rudy. You`ve got the guy from the Meineke muffler shop with an important job in the administration.

MATTHEWS: Who`s that?

MILBANK: There`s the cabana boy at HUD, in the Department of Agriculture. And the idea is they`re interchangeable. One will pop up for a while and fade away, oh, Michael Cohen`s back. It`s a reality show cast of characters that are ever interchangeable.

MATTHEWS: These are the people that Trump is of. He comes from that world. He`s not just going to it.

JASON JOHNSON, THEROOT.COM: He brought this with him. It`s clue. Did they do it in Trump Tower with a candlestick and a Russian mobster porn star, whatever, like that`s what these people who are involved. And this guy in particular, this goes to Omarosa, this goes to his whole administration, he`s not careful who he spends time with. This guy is like a Michael Buble mixed with Jersey Shore pop star maniac who`s been running around the country spending money like crazy, who knows what he could be talking about?

And when your friends make joke videos about Kim Jong-un erasing your image from hanging around with prostitutes, those aren`t good friends to have.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, imagine if you`re Robert Mueller and these are your witnesses. These are people that are going to help to put your case together. And when people attack -- oh, Sam Nunberg`s not a very trustworthy witness or Michael Cohen, there aren`t any trustworthy witnesses. You`re not going to find the pope in this cast of characters. So, that`s what --

MATTHEWS: Is that Trump`s game, only hang out with sleaze?

PETTYPIECE: By choice or circumstance. I don`t know.

MATTHEWS: Coming up, the reality star of the year. You might be surprised. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Are President Trump`s tweets considered official White House statements?

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is the president of the United States. So, they`re considered official statements by the president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was former, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer telling reporters last year that President Trump`s tweets are in fact presidential statements.

In the past few weeks alone, the president has made official statements on topics that even he admits are not presidential such as calling Omarosa a crazed crying lowlife and a dog, and openly saying that he doesn`t care what the political ramifications of a government shutdown are. Trump told football players to be happy, be cool instead of protesting, attacked one of the most respected athletes in the country, LeBron James, and incorrectly blamed the California wildfires on bad environmental laws.

He`s targeted the news media multiple times, noting that the problem is when you complain, you just give them more publicity, but I`ll complain anyway, he says. And he`s spent a lot of time attempting to diminish the credibility of Russia investigation writing, the good news is your favorite president did nothing wrong.

Well, we`re back with our panel.

I`m going to start right at the end with Betsy, work all the way through.

What do you make of the big guy? What do you make of his ability to stay up there doing this stuff?

WOODRUFF: What`s really interesting is that these tweets sometimes come in waves, depending both on the time of day of course -- we know that early in the morning, as he`s gotten further into his presidency, his aides have done less to rein in his Twitter habits. So, he`s seen more of these early morning tweet storms that are just the result of him having unstructured time.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s when he reads the paper in the morning, when he gets the headlines.

WOODRUFF: I think that could be it.

MATTHEWS: Jason, you`re up. We`ve got to move.

JOHNSON: Yes, it`s amazing why no one has just taken this phone from him at this particular point, because we`ve stopped worrying about him starting a war with Twitter and started focusing on the fact he damages our economy. He damages investigations. He could harm elections with 142 characters.

MATTHEWS: Look at the market.

JOHNSON: The market`s fine for now. But the market`s not fine in South Africa. The market`s not fine in other countries.

MATTHEWS: Well, he`s worried about the white settlers -- the things he worries about. Go ahead.

PETTYPIECE: A former Trump adviser told me that Twitter Trump is like a jealous mistress that it`s a way for him to get everything out that he has and the aides feel that he can get it out in the morning and then go to work productively and focus on what he needs to do. But even his supporters, the number one thing they say is I love him, I love him, but I wish he`d stop tweeting.

MATTHEWS: Wow, let me go to Jonathan next.

Jonathan, your thoughts about the big guy.

ALLEN: The president so much prioritizes being an entertainer and being able to drive news cycles I think that`s what he wants. You know, the end result of this will be someday historians will look back at the collected papers of Donald J. Trump will be a lot more interesting than those of Millard Fillmore.

MATTHEWS: Wow. Dana?

MILBANK: I`ve heard a defender of the president say he`s part 10-year-old and part statesman and the problem is the 10-year-old wakes up early.

MATTHEWS: I`ll tell you what he does that seems to be new. And I`m not sure it`s good. He dominates the moment. I mean, any moment is king to him. There is no past. There is no future. There is no consequence. Listen to me.

WOODRUFF: This goes back to his time as a New York real estate developer when he invested a huge amount of energy in courting the tabloids. He learned pretty early on if he was commenting on whatever the story of the day was, he would be able to make headlines, he`d be able to be on the news. He did the same thing on his regular 6:00 a.m. weekly appearances on "Fox and Friends".

Instead of trying to push the things that he believed in or his convictions, he just sounded off on whatever the day`s shiny object was, and he`s carried that into his time at the White House.

MILBANK: Except it`s starting to feel like that burden is overwhelming a bit, that you can only jump on so many chainsaws.

MATTHEWS: Really? I used to think you could wear out your welcome but I don`t know if he`s in that business.

JOHNSON: I don`t think that`s ever going to happen. When it comes to politics I don`t think disgust or rage or offense can ever be exhausted. As long he keeps tweeting, you`re going to have people who like him. There`s going to be Democrats who hate him.

MATTHEWS: I bet you go to new press secretaries and new members of Congress who die for any publicity they can get. They can`t get on any local television affiliate. They can`t get even radio play with their little beepers, their actualities. They`re dying to be noticed. And this guy`s constantly noticed.

PETTYPIECE: Right. Well, and to Betsy`s point, yes, he`ll comment on the news of the day but he also becomes the news of the day by whatever he tweets. We all have reporters working at 6:00 a.m. now who are there to write the tweet of the day story.

MATTHEWS: Oh, he is president. The panel`s staying with us. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Shannon Pettypiece, Jason Johnson, Betsy Woodruff, Dana Milbank, and Jonathan Allen.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. Happy Labor Day to everyone.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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