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Court filings reveal new details about Cohen. TRANSCRIPT: 12/7/2018, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews

Guests: Ted Lieu, Natasha Bertrand, Richard Blumenthal, Shermichael Singleton, Sam Stein, Adrienne Elrod

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews from Washington. 

Federal prosecutors in New York have accused the President of criminal violation of the federal campaign laws.  They say Trump directed -- that`s the word -- lawyer Michael Cohen to cover up a campaign contribution in the form of payments to two women with whom he had sexual relations. 

This comes from the southern district of New York, not Robert Mueller, not the so-called 17 Democrats the President says are working against him, not the deep state, not from a witch-hunt.  It`s from one of the two sentencing memos filed in the case of Trump`s former lawyer Michael Cohen today which are shedding new light on the President`s potential legal exposure. 

As Trump`s long-time fixer, Cohen pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance violations in making hush payments to two women on Trump`s behalf.  And now tonight`s sentencing memo makes clear that quote "with respect to both payments, Cohen acted in coordination with and at the direction of individual one."  That`s the President. 

We are also getting new insight into what Cohen has told the special counsel in the ongoing probe of potential collusion with Russia.  According to the filing from Mueller`s office, Cohen not only provided information about the Moscow real estate project, Trump tower over there that Trump pursued during the election, but also provide information about attempts by other Russian nationals to reach the Trump campaign. 

According to the memo quote "Cohen spoke with a Russian national who claimed to be a trusted person in the Russian federation who could offer the campaign -- here`s a phrase -- political synergy, another working together, Trump and Russia against Hillary.  Prosecutors say Cohen provided useful information providing certain discrete Russia-related matters according to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with company executives." 

That was Trump company executives.  That`s how Cohen got the information he has been using to try to save himself.  And Cohen also provided relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with a person connected to the White House itself after January of 2017. 

However, despite Cohen`s assistance, prosecutors in the southern district of New York still recommended a substantial term of imprisonment for Michael Cohen given the nature of his crimes. 

Also tonight, prosecutors detailed how Trump`s former campaign chair Paul Manafort lied to them repeatedly while he was supposedly cooperating with them. 

What a news night.  I`m joined right now by Ken Dilanian, reporter for NBC`s investigative unit, Julia Ainsley, a national security and justice report for NBC, Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney at Michigan.  Mimi Rocah, former U.S. assistant attorney in the southern district of New York. 

I want to start with Ken.  I want to focus on one thing first.  I want to focus on the criminal violation of the campaign laws, this effort to cover up what is really a campaign contribution of $130,000, $150,000, adding it up to cover up these affairs with these two women.  The President directed that activity, according to this memorandum today -- Ken. 

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER:  Yes, Chris.  And in fact, you know, Michael Cohen already stood up in court and said that when he pleaded guilty to these charges in the southern district of New York.  But what`s different today is that the U.S. attorney`s office, a representative of the United States of America is endorsing that view in black and white in a court filing that Cohen acted in coordination with and at the direction of individual one, Donald Trump, who had become the President of the United States. 

Now the reason I have been told it`s not accurate to call him an unindicted co-conspirator because there still is an issue of criminal intent.  The way the campaign finance law is written, prosecutors have to prove for a violation that you had an intent to violate the law.  Normally you hear ignorance of the law is no excuse.  In this case, ignorance of the law can be an excuse.  If Donald Trump was told by a lawyer hey, this payment is OK.  It`s not a violation of the campaign finance law, that would clearly be a defense. 

But the facts outlined here suggest a scheme, suggest people who knew what they were doing was wrong, particularly Cohen.  And clearly, if a President of the United States was able to be indict indicted, this is a case prosecutors would pursue, to the last document, to the last witness, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  And just to make your point, again, the prosecutors in this case in the southern district of New York, the federal prosecutors basically nominated and confirmed by this Republican Senate these people say that Michael Cohen had criminal intent.  They said he knew the law, that he had worked in politics. 

DILANIAN:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  He knew exactly this was a cover-up. 

Julia, your thoughts on that, that Cohen directed by the individual one, the President, is accused of knowing what he was doing.  It is possible or plausible to assume that the guy who told him what he was doing didn`t know it was a criminal act, the President? 

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER:  Yes, Chris, before I came out here, I saw that individual one was the number one trend of twitter, at least in this region.  And it`s because individual one is named in both of these sentencing memos we have seen tonight from the southern district and from the special counsel. 

In the Mueller memo, individual one is the owner of the company, the real estate company that Cohen worked for that would be Trump organization.  That would be Donald Trump.  And he is the one who I`m reading here would have conferred with Cohen about reaching out to the Russian government.  Then when you talk about the payments to the women that Ken was just discussing, the individual one goes on to become the President of the United States.  Pretty clear that`s Donald Trump.  And that he also worked with him, talked to him about the payments to those women. 

So in a lot of ways, it cannot be underscored that these memos really aren`t about Cohen.  I mean, they are about Cohen, but they really point to the President in a way we hadn`t seen before. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure. 

AINSLEY:  And point to this administration.  Not just the campaign, but what`s going on inside the White House. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Barbara on this because I think the language is very strong.  I was really impressed by the spirit of the prosecutors` language.  They talk about how people go door to door in politics.  They lick envelopes that.  They do all this cut work in politics in an open and transparent way, because that`s what the law and our whole democracy is about, is transparent politics. 

And this skullduggery, this middle of the night going to that magazine, getting them the catch and kill, getting them to kill the story about these affairs, all these done purposefully and deliberately and intricately to cover it up, to make it nontransparent.  They really threw the book at this.  They took this campaign violation as dead criminal activity. 

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Yes.  One of the things that a prosecutor is required to do in a sentencing memorandum is describe to the judge the nature and seriousness of the offense.  And here they describe this as a very serious offense.  The whole purpose of campaign finance laws is to provide transparency and who is paying for things and how they are being run.  And, in fact, they use the word cloud, that Michael Cohen and individual one went out of their way and took deliberate steps to cloud that transparency by making these payments to hide the truth from the public so that they could cast an informed vote. 

When we have a democracy, it`s based on the ability of voters to cast an informed vote.  And when you are hiding the truth from the American people, that then that democracy breaks down.  That`s a serious crime. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, tonight`s multiple court filings appear to indicate that President Trump himself could be facing new legal exposure, including implications in a federal crime.  The President or individual one as he is called here responded tonight with a show of confidence. 

He tweeted, this is outlandish.  Totally clears the President.  Thank you.  Well, that`s crazy talk. 

Let me go to Mimi on this.  You know what`s interesting?  How character and morality all come to play here.  That, you know, sometimes progressives play this game and sometimes conservatives play this game and Trumpites, whatever you call them.  They say first, the behavior doesn`t matter.  It`s all about whether your politics and your ideology conforms to the candidate.  It doesn`t matter who the person is. 

Here we are talking about a guy and his affairs and the way his character shows that having the affairs and his character is showing and covering up the affairs and how he use his lawyer to do it and how he use his money to do it and now it`s all about protecting his chance to hold public office.  It all integrates together.  That`s what I find fascinating.  And the prosecutors talk like that.  They hit that guy morally.  That`s the way I read that document tonight.  It wasn`t some cold secular document.  It`s saying this is what brings the toxicity into American politics, these affairs being paid off, women being paid off, power being used to snuff out the truth and not enlighten democracy, but deny the truth to democracy and the voters.  Your thoughts? 

MIMI ROCAH, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY:  Absolutely, Chris.  And look, this is a typical southern district, and frankly, you know, any U.S. attorney office type of document where you talk about the purpose of the laws and the spirit of the laws, and that`s important, as Barb said, you know, to explain to the judge in terms of sentencing.  And judge Pauley is a judge who takes those laws very seriously. 

And you know, I think it`s important to point out here that one of the -- there was a phrase used in the southern district memo about the evidence against Cohen being quote "overwhelming."  And that he didn`t cooperate out of, you know, sort of the goodness of his heart or spirit, but because he was really caught red-handed.  So for Trump to say that this clears him, we don`t know all of the evidence that is quote "overwhelming against Cohen," but I`m willing to go out on a limb here right now and say that given what the southern district has put as Ken said in black and white and writing about the President`s actions, I`m willing to bet that there is good evidence that Trump had the requisite intent to commit this crime as well. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  And I`ll go out on a limb and say this is the biggest act of self-delusion since Baghdad Bob who said they were winning the war. 

I want to bring in Ari Melber, who has been brilliant on this tonight.  He is MSNBC chief legal correspondent as well as host of "THE BEAT." 

Ari, I love the way you put it up tonight.  And I want to go back to the deeper question.  When Trump got away for a few weeks with the "Access Hollywood" tape, that everybody said was going to kill him, Reince Priebus was going to walk over it.  Smart Republicans, decent Republicans said the smell is too terrible here than to withstand and survive.  And here we have a President basically being charged by the federal district of New York up there with basically covering up a couple affairs with money and power and doing it in a way that I can get away with this crap.  This is stuff I get away with.  I get this fixer lawyer here, Cohen.  He does this crap for me.  I get a magazine that is going to buy this crap and kill it for me.  I got it all wired.  I can get away with it, just like he said in the "Access Hollywood."  I can get away with it.  I thought it was interesting the way you talked about it tonight. 

ARI MELBER, MSNBC CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, you just laid it out, Chris.  That attitude that was caught on tape was not just bragging about sexual assault, which itself is potentially felonious conduct, it was also as you just put it his belief that they let you get away with it. 

Well, that`s not how those people felt, because many of them spoke out.  That`s now knot how prosecutors in New York have deemed that conduct.  And they say Michael Cohen had the same mentality.  If you want to call it the Trump organization mentality is we will just get away with it.  The rules don`t apply. 

I mean, this was 2x4 striking Michael Cohen in the head over and over today.  And this is someone who went out there and did media leaks and tried to say he was doing both ways or he was going to do this because it was for the good of the country or he said he wasn`t taking a pardon, as if this was something for him that is sitting around in a silver platter, I mean, the privilege of that.  And this is the federal prosecutor as your panel is alluding to, saying, no it doesn`t work like that.  You are busted.  That`s why you`re in trouble.  You are busted.  That`s why you are sort of cooperating.  And it still wasn`t good enough so that`s why you should do time. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MELBER:  And that comes against another thing is going to royal the city you are in, the Manafort filing which is getting attention, although it`s partly redacted.  Chris, it says on here on page nine, we only dealt with this briefly on my hour, Paul Manafort authorized people to speak with the administration on his behalf and then lied to Mueller about it.  Paul Manafort was in contact with quote "administration officials in 2018."  Who are they?  Did they lie about it?  Are there other people inside the White House who are on the hook in these implicated crimes? 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about your interesting way of putting it together.  Street corner cop.  You said there is a good cop and the bad cop.  You basically said New York prosecutors were the bad guys.  The good guys were the Muellers crowd in Washington.  Talk about how that worked because it seemed to work against Michael Cohen. 

New York thought of him as a sleaze ball.  They basically said you are as bad as Trump.  You are as bad as Trump because you are a fixer.  You help guys like him.  You are an enabler.  You help guys like big shots get away with crap nobody should get away with, buying off women and empowering yourself at the expense of other people`s powers and dignities.  And then we are going screw you.  But down in Washington they can stay nice to you because you have been whispering in their ear down there for couple of months and they are going to be nice to you but you are going to serve time, buddy.  Looks like real-time. 

MELBER:  Yes.  I think there is a strategy here.  Number one, remember, there was all this talk from pundits about, when SDNY got involved, well, did Bob Mueller quote "hand off the case?"  No.  He never handed it off in that sense.  He referred things jurisdictionally, but he is a by the book guy that`s required.  But he never gave up strategic control which clearly was benefit as he says in court under penalty of perjury to the Russia probe. 

So Mueller is the good cop saying give us what you got, we will take it in and we will try to reward people who cooperate.  But SDNY as the bad cop saying hey, we don`t even count this as cooperation.  This is crap.  You didn`t fully cooperate.  This isn`t going to be treated under the legal jargon as technical total cooperation, which gives you the sentencing guidelines benefits.  And by the way, you only did it because you had to. 

So what does that tell us?  It sells us that you got folks who quite independent up at SDNY.  It stands for southern, but your panelist knows some people often refer to as the sovereign district of New York.  And that`s the place that produced James Comey, Mary Jo white, Rudy Giuliani, and Preet Bharara. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me more about than culture.  Rudy Giuliani was up there.  What is it about the southern district of New York that is so tough?  They certainly look Dick Tracy here.  What do they about?  They seem to be the tough guys of the federal government.  Not that deep state down here in D.C., that nonsense, the 17 Democrats.  These look, like what do they call them?  G-men.  They are going the get the bad guys. 

MELBER:  G-men. 

MATTHEWS:  Thant`s right. 

MELBER:  Well, you definitely have a pride and an attitude up there that this is the most important district.  This is the only district with its own foreign policy, just like people say that about the New York City mayor`s office is different than being the mayor of Boise, Idaho.  No disrespect to Idaho.  And so I think there is an attitude that they patrol Wall Street, they patrol world trade center, they deal with terrorism, they deal with things at a national and international level, and that feeds that attitude. 

And again, to not lose the threat, as we talk about what Mueller got out of this, he got his cooperation from Cohen.  He tells the story through the footnotes of his filing here that Michael Cohen came in and thought he was the smartest guy in the room.  Tried to volunteer a little bit in his first meeting Mueller`s team but lied about Trump tower.  And they said we already know about Trump tower Moscow.  So you just screwed yourself.  And then they brought him to next meetings.  They got him flip and turn.  So they got that out of him. 

Meanwhile, up in New York the prosecutor is saying that`s fine, but what we are doing tonight, and again, Chris, this cannot be overstated.  What we are doing tonight is stating that the sitting President directed a campaign crime because he thought it would help him win an election, which through the Electoral College, he did win.  That`s where we are. 

MATTHEWS:  That`s my lead too.  Thank you, Ari Melber. 

MELBER:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Ken. 

DILANIAN:  Why is Cohen not getting credit for cooperating with the southern district?  They say in the document because he refused to answer questions about other crimes they were investigating and past criminal conduct, which is bizarre because he seems to have fully cooperated with Robert Mueller.  But for whatever reason, he would not -- he only met with the southern district prosecutors a handful of times and he refused to answer their questions about matters that they cared very much about, and that`s why they are bringing the hammer down on him.  He is facing three and a half years in prison, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, as Ari mentioned a moment ago, we are also receiving the sentencing memo in the case of Paul Manafort who as we learned last week.  All big three tonight, allegedly broke the terms of his plea deal by lying to prosecutors as well.  In the sentencing memo on Manafort, it says that Manafort lied about his contacts with his Russian business partner whom Mueller was previously described as someone with ties to Russian intelligence.  More significant is the filing state that the evidence demonstrates that Manafort lied about his contacts with Trump administration officials which he had denied. 

Quote "for instance, in a text exchange from May 26, 2018, that`s this year, Manafort authorized a person to speak with an administration official on Manafort`s behalf.  Furthermore, review of documents recovered from a search of Manafort electronic documents demonstrates additional contacts with the administration." 

Mimi, I want to talk to you about this Russia thing and what we are learning here.  It wasn`t just the Trump tower business that was going on right through the campaign.  In other words, Trump was working for money when he was working for votes.  That`s not exactly anything but a conflict of business, but the idea that they were Russians.  This is the whole thing about the Russian campaign. 

All the time these spooky Russian figures reaching out like tentacles trying to establish relations with Trump against Hillary Clinton.  At the same time the Trump people are either grabbing on to their tentacles or trying to send their own tentacles back to Moscow.  Their both sides are trying to hook up, to use a modern term, and it`s getting out into the public information now.  Your thoughts. 

ROCAH:  Absolutely.  I mean, in some ways, we have all been focused on a sort of narrow scope of this.  You know, Russia hacked the election, hacked the emails, you know, did anyone within the Trump campaign know about that or help that.  And I think, again, we still don`t know the definitive answer to that though it`s looking more and more like the end to that question is yes from these filings. 

But I think it`s much broader than that.  It`s about -- the word synergy is really perfect, right.  It`s not collusion as much as people working and coordinating together towards a common goal, which also sounds a lot like conspiracy.  That`s pretty much the definition of conspiracy if that goal is criminal.  And here we know the goal for the Russians was criminal.  And, you know, I think there is a very good chance -- not chance, but I think the evidence is starting to pile up more and more that Trump and his team were also working towards that criminal goal, which was to swing the election in illegal ways to get a Trump tower business deal out of it and other things I think we don`t know about. 

And one point I just want to come back to what you read about Manafort`s lies.  These guy over and over and over again, they lie.  And they keep getting caught by evidence.  I mean, it shouldn`t be shocking to me because I have silent with defendants before.  I`m sure Barb has too.  They keep getting caught and then they try to change the story to fit the evidence that they are confronted with.  Manafort did it.  Cohen apparently did it.  And I think people are still doing to it this day like Stone and Corsi.  And that`s why you just can`t take things at face value that they say. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  You know, we were in catholic school about a thousand years ago, they used to have the milk bottles.  And they said the white milk bottle was clean and the black and white milkshake was the venal sin, and the dark one, you were evil.  And look at this.  And look at those three different examples we have got. 

Flynn goes completely clean this week.  He is completely (ph) going to walk.  Cohen couldn`t decide what to do.  He would give some information but not enough to get sprung.  And this other guy, Manafort is just being hard-nosed.  He is just a hard guy. 

ROCAH:  Right.  And it`s not too late for Cohen, though.  He can still cooperate with the southern district and get credit for that later. 

MATTHEWS:  What was your key on that?  I heard you earlier in the day.  What indicates to you that he is still in play here?  If he comes out with the more information against Trump, for example, does he have a chance to get a lesser sentence? 

ROCAH:  Well, I mean, clearly factually there is information that southern district is interested.  They basically said that, right, by saying that he wouldn`t cooperate on past other criminal areas, other areas which I am inferring relates to the Trump organization and other dealings, you know, not necessarily related to the campaign or maybe related to the campaign. 

You know, remember, Cohen implicated the Trump organization essentially as part of that criminal scheme.  So I think the information, he has the opportunity.  He has things that are of value to the government.  You know, the government would obviously leery of still cooperating someone who has lied, but he has enough truth also telling on his side on the Mueller side.  And there are specific mechanisms in the criminal -- federal criminal rules that allow for a defendant to get cooperation and credit after being sentenced.  So I think the opportunity is still there. 

MATTHEWS:  Mimi, you have been great all night today.  I have been watching you all night.  Thank you so much for helping our shows tonight. 

And, Julia Ainsley, of course, you guys are the pros.

And, Ken and Barbara, stick with us. 

Tonight`s bombshell report is highly explosive, of course, and incredibly damaging to the president`s claim that the special counsel`s investigation is a hoax or a witch-hunt.  This is coming out of New York.  This is a home game for him. 

The feds up in New York are going after him, accusing him of directing, which is basically directing a crime.  In fact, New York federal prosecutors believe the president of the United States did direct Michael Cohen, according to today`s paper, their memo, to direct two federal offenses by paying two women -- we know who they are, Stormy and McDougal - - for their silence about alleged affairs by, what it`s called, catch and kill. 

Again, federal prosecutors write that Cohen admitted with respect to both payments he acted in coordination -- and here`s the word -- and at the direction of Individual 1.  That`s Donald Trump. 

Additionally, the special counsel`s filing seems to undermine President Trump`s claim that he had nothing to do with Russia.  According to page four of the special counsel`s filing tonight, Michael Cohen made false and misleading statements concerning outreach to Russian officials.  Cohen had in fact conferred with Individual 1, believed to be President Trump, about contacting or -- the Russian government before reaching out to gauge Russia`s interest. 

In other words, they decided to get together, Trump and Manafort, to get together with the Russians, a meeting -- the meeting ultimately did not take place. 

Joining me right now is Congressman Ted Lieu, Democrat from California, member of the House Judiciary Committee, Natasha Bertrand, staff writer for "The Atlantic," and David Corn right here, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones." 

Congressman, thank you for joining us.

A lot of paper here tonight, but the one thing that jumped out at me is, the president of the United States, Individual 1, directed a crime. 

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA:  Thank you, Chris. 

When you look at what the prosecutors did in the Southern District of New York, they alleged that Donald Trump directed two campaign finance violations.  These are felonies.  And you can infer intent by looking at a defendant`s statements. 

So, I`m a former prosecutor.  And if you look at what Donald Trump said, he did not say, hey, I made these payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels because I thought it was perfectly fine.  He denied doing it at all.  And that`s because he knew it was illegal. 

So, right now, we have a sitting president of the United States who committed two felonies while running for president. 

MATTHEWS:  And it`s so intricate, Congressman.  If you look at the document today, the memorandum, the amount of paperwork and phony show organization creation, everything, it seems like they know that there was criminal intent here. 

LIEU:  Absolutely. 

Individual 1, who is Donald Trump, was mentioned over 20 times in these documents.  And it`s very clear Donald Trump was intimately involved with a lot of these decisions, with a lot of things that Michael Cohen was doing.  And the prosecutors are basically laying out that Michael Cohen brazenly violated the laws, and Donald Trump directed him to do so. 

MATTHEWS:  What about impeachment here?  When you look at, is this enough to bring charges?  Is this enough for hearings?  Is this enough for committee hearings by the House Judiciary Committee on this president`s behavior? 

LIEU:  So, I`m on the Judiciary Committee, and my view is that impeachment, like the power to declare war, is one of Congress` gravest responsibilities. 

It should never be our first option.  I think we need to wait for the special counsel investigation to conclude.  These were court filings that were done for sentencing purposes.  We don`t know how much special counsel Mueller knows about what`s going on with Russia and these other related activities, specifically at Donald Trump. 

We should wait for the investigation to conclude and then make a decision then. 

MATTHEWS:  When do you think that would come?  Give me a time frame right now.  Here we are right before the holidays.  Congress is going to be in the 3rd of January. 

LIEU:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  You`re ready for business pretty early.  When do you see the Judiciary Committee getting started in looking at these charges? 

LIEU:  We get subpoena power on January 3. 

There is something very telling in the Michael Cohen sentencing filing by special counsel Mueller`s office.  They state that he gave information on Russia-related matters core to their investigation.  That means special counsel Mueller understands full well that his core investigation is Russia collusion, that these other things, like obstruction of justice, perjury, campaign finance violations, they are tangential.

But he would not have said that if he did not intend to deliver on his core mission.  I think that`s going to happen some time next year. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Lieu, thank you very much for joining us this Friday night.

According to the Mueller memo just discussed, Cohen spoke with a Russian national who claimed to be a trusted person in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign -- what a phrase -- political synergy.  He is talking about collusion.  That`s another word for it. 

Prosecutors say Cohen provided useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with company executives during the campaign. 

I want to bring in David on this and Natasha, David first. 

We`re talking here about Cohen`s relationship with Trump executives, the family members, the people at the top, working on Russia stuff.  But this phrase synergy sounds to me like a synonym for collusion. 

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it could be.

They claim that that conversation didn`t lead to anything.  But the second quote that you just cited from I think is the most significant thing on the Russian front in all these filings. 

MATTHEWS:  Read it. 

CORN:  Got to take it slowly, that Cohen provided Mueller with useful information, certain discrete Russian-related matters, plural. 

So we`re not talking just the Moscow project -- tower project that we know about.  Russian-related matters core to its investigation. 

Trump keeps saying there is nothing about Russia here.  Mueller is telling us, core to our investigation. 

MATTHEWS:  Could this be the hacking? 

CORN:  I don`t know what it`s about. 

But the other part here, that Cohen obtained, because of his contact with Trump Organization executives.  So here you have the Trump Organization being tied to Russian-related matters that Mueller says are core to my investigation.

You know, Trump told us...

MATTHEWS:  Trump turned his company over to his kids. 

CORN:  Well, kids.  It could be the kids. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they`re the top people. 

CORN:  It could be Trump himself, because he was still running the company.

He`s still -- there has been no real distance there.  But during the campaign -- this all happened during the campaign -- there was something going on between the Trump Organization and Russia, or Russia-related issues, beyond the Moscow project, that we don`t know about, and it blows out of the water, which has already been blown out of water, Trump`s claims. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, who is this person?  Who is this Russian that we`re hearing about who has -- a trusted official, meaning close to Putin, who was reaching out to the Trump Organization? 

CORN:  Well, that person has not been identified.  I know that I and other reporters will be on this trying to figure this out. 

MATTHEWS:  It`s not Veselnitskaya or whatever in the tower.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  Probably not, no.

MATTHEWS:  How about the Papadopoulos connection? 

CORN:  But we see again and again and again, whether it`s Veselnitskaya, whether it`s Papadopoulos with the Maltese professor, whether it`s Carter Page talking to people, again and again, we`re coming up with dozens -- dozens or over a dozen points of contact between the Trump clan and Russia during the campaign, let alone Trump contacting Putin`s own office for help on a project that this filing says would have earned Trump hundreds of millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CORN:  That`s real money. 

MATTHEWS:  Even here. 

Let me go to Natasha now on your thoughts about the Russian piece of this tonight, because I see two leads in the paper tomorrow morning.  That`s the way I still look at things.  What`s going to be the lead? 

One is the president basically directing campaign violations at a very high level, lots of money, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars to catch and kill stories about his affairs, and now this other piece about the Russian thing, picking up information from just the Cohen memo and the Manafort memo. 

You`re getting this thing.  There are people coming in from the dark, from Moscow, who want to create with Russia and create some synergy with his campaign.  And then, of course, this financial thing that went all the way through, according to Cohen, it never stopped.  And that`s in the filing today. 

The campaign never caused the moneymaking effort on the part of the Trump people to stop. 

NATASHA BERTRAND, "THE ATLANTIC":  Yes. 

And Mueller also revealed something else really interesting about Trump`s interests in fomenting a relationship with Vladimir Putin during the campaign.  He revealed that Trump and Michael Cohen were having conversations in the fall of 2015 about reaching out to the Kremlin to try to connect Trump and Putin while Putin was in New York for the U.N. General Assembly in September of 2015. 

So that indicates that, whether or not Trump at that point was pursuing the Trump Tower Moscow deal, there seemed to have been an interest on his part to get in touch with Vladimir Putin that early on in the campaign, which is absolutely remarkable. 

He had just announced a couple of months earlier that he was running for president, and now he`s eager to meet with Vladimir Putin?  One of the first world leaders he is eager to meet with is Putin?  I mean, that just raises so many questions, in and of itself. 

And then, of course, the fact that, not two months later, you have another Russian offering to, you know, make this connection between Trump and Putin is also extremely suspicious. 

But I have to agree with David here.  I think that the most pivotal point in that Mueller filing about Michael Cohen is the fact that he has information related to the core of the investigation.  Does that have to do, for example, Michael Cohen potentially going to Prague to pay off Russian hackers, as the Steele dossier said?

Remember, the Steele dossier put Cohen at the center of these efforts of potential conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.  So I think that that right there just means that there`s so much more left to Cohen`s cooperation, even though the Southern District of New York is very unhappy with the extent to which he has cooperated with them, which may indicate that Cohen is more reluctant perhaps to throw people associated with the Trump Organization under the bus. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BERTRAND:  He does not seem to be shy about detailing the efforts between Trump and the rest of the campaign to coordinate with the Russians during 2016. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Thank you, Natasha. 

Let me go back to Ken. 

It seems to me that the wall -- was the wall too high to climb in terms of criminality?  In other words, as much as Cohen tried to help nail Trump, as much as he tried to help on the Russian front, the business end and the other contact, the synergism and all that, it wasn`t enough to make up for his own crimes, so he is still going to have the book thrown at him. 

Or is he able to climb up that wall and get out of this thing? 

(CROSSTALK)

DILANIAN:  I think it`s not about that he didn`t give them Trump, because he clearly did. 

Look, if Donald Trump wasn`t the president and was able to be indicted -- remember, Justice Department policy says you can`t indict a sitting president -- it`s pretty clear he would be the target of an investigation about illegal campaign donations related to these payments of women, based on what Cohen has given them. 

No, I think he didn`t get the deal because he refused to answer questions about his past criminal dealings.  And there`s been rumors about ties to organized crime.  Who knows why he didn`t want to answer questions about certain things.  He`s had a long and colorful business history. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

DILANIAN:  But I just want to go back to one thing that Natasha and David were just saying. 

Donald Trump, in his first presidential news conference, was asked five times whether he was aware that any campaign officials or himself personally was in touch with the Russian government, Russian officials.  And he flatly denied it. 

And this footnote that you have been referring to in this Mueller document completely refutes that.  It says that he conferred with Michael Cohen about reaching out to the Russian government.  We shouldn`t forget that.  I know we`re used to Donald Trump not telling the truth, but this is a major deal.

He adamantly denied any ties to Russia.  And these documents suggest that there were -- there was outreach to Russia, and that Michael Cohen has told the special counsel a lot about it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

How much underworld possibility is there here?  Because we talked a couple of days ago about Manafort.  And one -- somebody brilliantly said, there are things worse -- I think it was Susan Page -- there are things worse than life imprisonment. 

And if you have to deal people with Ukrainian, pro-Russian people in Ukraine, these are frightening people.  If there is a Michael connection with the mob, there are frightening possibilities to everything in your life.  Does this that make sense, Ken, because you just alluded to it? 

DILANIAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there a notion that these guys have a darker context in which they have to survive? 

DILANIAN:  Well, in terms of Manafort, I have always resisted that idea, because the Russian mob -- the Russian government, mob-protected people don`t tend to bump off Americans in the United States. 

But he may be worried about it.  You can`t discount it.  With Cohen, I think it`s a little darker situation, and we`re not clear about his past business ties and who he`s got relationships with in New York.

And I`m not discounting that that could be a motivation for him, because it`s really strange.  Like, why would you not -- you`re cooperating with Robert Mueller.  You`re telling him everything he wants to know, but you won`t answer basic questions from the Southern District of New York.  You won`t even meet with them about your past criminal history.

And they`re going to throw the book at you and put you in prison.  Why?  What is he covering up?  That`s the question.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it could be because the Southern District of New York has had a lifetime mandate to fight the mob, and it`s possible that they would like to get a kill there. 

Let me go to Barbara. 

Last thought on that.  Is there reasons you have experienced in your life as a prosecutor that there are people who are more afraid of other forces than they are of the law? 

MCQUADE:  Well, sure.  There are other things. 

Sometimes, what`s going on is, they`re protecting someone else.  There is a loved one, there is a family member or someone that they fear that they want to protect.  So, that`s the kind of thing, because it`s in Michael Cohen`s best self-interest to be fully cooperative. 

Everything he tells them, they`re not going to use against him, they`re going to use in the prosecution of other people.  So the conclusions that come to my mind are either someone he wants to protect or there is someone he fears. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said. 

Thank you, Natasha Bertrand and, of course, David Corn and Ken Dilanian and Barbara McQuade, a great power team tonight, and Ari Melber for joining us from his program, from "THE BEAT." 

Much more on today`s breaking news. 

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is going to join us next to discuss the court filing and what we learned today about Russia, about criminality, about a president who`s been -- well, he`s got his name mentioned.  He`s called Individual 1.

And according to that filing up in the Southern District of New York, he directed the criminality in that campaign violation. 

Anyway, in another big story tonight, Trump has his eye on a new attorney general whose history includes criticism of the Mueller investigation -- big surprise -- and a sweeping view of wide-ranging executive powers.  We have got the older Kavanaugh coming, I guess, for A.G.  Go figure. 

Well, I figured this one out. 

This is HARDBALL, where the action is. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We`re continuing following the breaking news tonight. 

Boy, is it big.  In three separate filings, federal prosecutors have provided a number of new bombshells.  Tonight, federal prosecutors up in New York said Trump directed lawyer Michael Cohen to cover up a campaign contribution in the form of payments to two women with whom he had sexual relations. 

We`re also getting new insight into what Cohen, Michael Cohen, has told the special counsel in the ongoing probe of potential coalition -- well, synergism with Russia, they call it.  The Russians call it that.

According to the filing from the Mueller`s office, Cohen not only provided information about the Moscow real estate project over there that Trump pursued during the election, but also provided information about attempts by other Russian nationals, trusted nationals, they`re called, to reach the campaign, and set up a sort of a synergy between the Trump and the campaign against Hillary. 

So it`s Russia and Trump against Hillary. 

Anyway, separately, prosecutors detailed how Trump`s former campaign chair Paul Manafort lied to them repeatedly while he was supposedly cooperating with them. 

For more, I`m joined by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who sits on the Judiciary Committee. 

Senator, a lot tonight. 

What do you -- how do you react to the Southern District of New York`s report that the president directed the criminal violation of the campaign laws to cover up his affairs with Susan McDougal and with Stormy Daniels? 

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT:  This sentencing memorandum, first of all, is a bombshell in showing why prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, independent of the special counsel, believe that Donald Trump committed a felony that enabled him or at least helped him to become president. 

And covering up those payments was part of what was done, part of the conspiracy in which Donald Trump is an unindicted co-conspirator.  Think of it for a moment, unindicted co-conspirator.  And the further information in this bombshell memorandum shows facts and evidence that link that conspiracy to Russian collusion with the Trump campaign and potentially obstruction of justice. 

So, the pieces of the mosaic or the puzzle are coming into place, and the walls are closing in on Donald Trump and his inner circle, including his family. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president said in that infamous "Access Hollywood" tape that he can do what he wanted to do with women because he is a celebrity, he can get away with it. 

And my question, is he right?  Or is he going get caught?  Is he caught now, because he was indicted -- he was basically charged by the federal prosecutors up in New York, not here in Washington, but up there, charged with campaign violation, and the campaign violation being payments to shut people up, to pay them off and to kill the story?

BLUMENTHAL:  There is a basic tenet of the American rule of law that no one is above it.  No one is above the rule of law.  That was the lesson of Watergate.  I hope it will be the lesson of this dark period in our history too. 

Remember that those government prosecutors who have, in effect, named Donald trump as an unindicted co-conspirator, so far unindicted, are not in this special counsel`s office.  They`re in a separate office, and they will survive any effort by the president to shut down the special counsel.

But all the more important now to ensure the independence and integrity of the special counsel, because, as the walls close in on Donald trump, he is going to be more desperate, more destructive, and potentially more damaging.  And that`s why I am going to demand of this new nominee, William Barr, as attorney general, that he commit specifically and unequivocally to protect the integrity of and the independence of the special counsel. 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, on that topic tonight, because it is emerging as a big story between now and next year, the Republicans still control the Senate with 50 -- what, 53, 54 seats.  They can get a majority vote and get this guy confirmed. 

How do you, as a Democrat stop that, if you want to do so? 

BLUMENTHAL:  I`m going to be asking tough questions, and I`m going to be demanding specific commitments, for example, that he will commit to approving any subpoenas issued by the special counsel. 

MATTHEWS:  I see. 

BLUMENTHAL:  Approve the budget, approve the indictments that may be handed down, and avoid constricting the authority of the special counsel. 

I think my Republican colleagues are going to be very, very interested in those answers.  I think they want this investigation to be completed.  And their fear is that there`s an attorney general who will, in effect, commit another Saturday Night Massacre, even if it`s a Saturday Night Massacre in slow motion, which is the danger from the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker. 

And, remember, William Barr has cast aspersions on the prosecutors in Bob Mueller`s office.  He has said that Hillary Clinton and Uranium One are worthier of investigation than collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians or obstruction of justice. 

And I want specific, definite commitments he is going to protect the special counsel.  I`m going press for legislation that will require full disclosure of any findings in evidence from the special counsel, including a report. 

And I think those kinds of commitments are absolutely necessary.  And Democrats, as well as Republicans can unite about them. 

MATTHEWS:  Before you leave tonight, I want to get your thoughts up in the Tri-State area up there in New York.

The New York -- Southern District of New York has basically pointed out, they have charged the president with directing a criminal activity, the cover-up of that campaign contribution, in great, intricate fashion, apparently, according to that memo today, about how Michael Cohen really went around to try to create the paperwork to make it look like it was something it wasn`t. 

They say that in -- that memo today, in that sentencing memo, that Michael Cohen knew what he was doing.  He is a lawyer.  He was politically sophisticated enough to know he is breaking the law, and proof of that was the way in which he was covering it up, with such intricate effort. 

Do you belief it`s possible or plausible that the president of the United States, who is directing him to do so, didn`t know he was doing so to cover up a crime? 

BLUMENTHAL:  I believe it is totally implausible that the president had no idea there was a cover-up ongoing here. 

He knew the facts, as apparently the Southern District of New York believes that he did.  It seems both impossible and implausible that he didn`t understand the motive and the criminal intent here...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BLUMENTHAL:  ... as well as the actions. 

And one more thing.  This hammer over Michael Cohen, the recommendation for additional time, I think, is a point of leverage, and we will see more coming from Michael Cohen. 

MATTHEWS:  Knowing what you know of the law, as a former attorney general of Connecticut, sir, all those years, longer than you have been a senator, much many more years, many more years, do you think that the reason the president wasn`t indicted is because he was president, and that`s it, that, otherwise, he`s guilty? 

BLUMENTHAL:  I happen to believe the president could be indicted.  I may be in a minority in that opinion.  And the trial could be postponed until after he finishes his service. 

I think that there are legal obstacles to such an indictment, and the special counsel or the Southern District of New York is going to have to convince itself and the American people and ultimately a judge that those obstacles can be surmounted. 

But the report, I think, will be extraordinarily damning whether or not there is an indictment. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, when he leaves office, he gets it done.  That`s an additional reason for your Democratic Party, sir, to find a nominee who can defeat him this next election. 

Thank you so very much, Senator Richard Blumenthal.  It`s always great to have you on. 

BLUMENTHAL:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  President Trump says there`s nothing to see in court filings tonight.  He`s clear.  He`s clean as a whistle.  There`s nothing here. 

He is Baghdad Bob.  He`s not seeing what`s happening on the front here, on the warfront. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We`re continuing to follow the big news tonight of the three separate sentencing memos regarding Trump`s former lawyer Michael Cohen and Trump`s former campaign chair Paul Manafort. 

We`re getting new insight into what Cohen has told the special counsel in the ongoing probe of potential collusion with Russia, or, as the Russians call it, synergy. 

And in Manafort`s sentencing memo, we`re learning that Manafort lied about his contacts with his Russian business partner, as well as his contacts with members of the Trump administration, when they were in office. 

But Donald Trump tonight is claiming that he`s not worried.  He tweeted: "Totally clears the president.  Thank you!"

Well, let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL Roundtable, Adrienne Elrod, former director of strategic communications for Hillary for Clinton -- Hillary -- well, Hillary for Clinton.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Hillary for America.  That was not intentional -- for America.

Shermichael Singleton, Republican political consultant, and Sam Stein, politics editor of The Daily Beast. 

Sam, let`s go to the first one.

I`m struck by Trump`s resolute denial of reality. 

SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST:  You`re struck by that? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

  (LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of it? 

STEIN:  I`m not struck by that.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, the guy that -- the prosecutors up in New York, the -- not the 17 Democrats he talks about, not the witch-hunt, not all that.  It`s not the deep state. 

STEIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Feds up in New York said, basically, he broke the campaign laws in a criminal way. 

STEIN:  Yes. 

He -- what they said definitively is, he directed his lawyer to break campaign laws.  He directed the commission of a crime. 

I am, unlike you, not struck by him denying reality.  I think he does it every day.  I think this is how he exists, is to build an alternate reality in which he is clean and innocent and above it all. 

But, at some point, facts are stubborn things.  And in this case, it is very clear that that tweet he put out is erroneous.  It`s just a lie.  He`s in some serious potential legal jeopardy here.  And what they lay out is a case in which he deliberately went out of his way to pay hush money payments to people because he knew specifically, specifically that it would have a bad campaign impact, that it`s a violation of the campaign finance laws of America. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought, Adrienne, it was very direct. 

Also, it had a lot -- as I said earlier in the program, it was almost like a sermon from the prosecutors.  People like you, who work in legitimate campaigns working for people like Hillary, working very hard all the time...

ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, HILLARY FOR AMERICA:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... in the daylight -- everybody knows what you do.  You knock on doors.  You write position papers.  You do it all.

And here`s this sneaky business of paying off these two women, know you`re violating the campaign laws.  It`s a campaign contribution.  You`re working a publisher to catch and kill

ELROD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And it`s all done intricately to avoid being caught. 

ELROD:  Yes. 

Chris, that`s what I have been thinking about a lot today, is, while we were slaving away at Hillary Clinton`s campaign writing policy papers, really focusing on the nuances of some of these health care proposals that she was putting out, these guys were in Trump Tower conspiring on how to implement the Moscow project and how to pay off some of Donald Trump`s mistresses. 

I mean, that the contrast between the two campaigns, the way we ran our campaign, the way he ran his campaign, and, of course, the motivations that he had to run for president, were so different.  And that`s what I keep thinking about today. 

MATTHEWS:  I wonder, Shermichael, the idea that winning is everything doesn`t look too good tonight. 

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  No, it doesn`t. 

And I think about John Edwards.  That was really a walk in the park in comparison to what`s going on now. 

(CROSSTALK)

SINGLETON:  I mean, look, the fact of the matter is...

MATTHEWS:  Well, Bunny paid for that.

SINGLETON:  ... we`re going into -- we`re going into January, Chris.

The president is going to have to answer for this.  Democrats are going to have oversight.  I suspect that Michael Cohen will likely be subpoenaed to come before some House committees. 

MATTHEWS:  Any of your guys on the Republican side likely to break loose?  Anybody?  Marco Rubio?  Anybody that might say, enough is enough? 

SINGLETON:  I don`t foresee that happening until there is a significant decrease in support among registered Republican voters for this president. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Speak for them, if you...

(CROSSTALK)

SINGLETON:  That`s not going to -- I don`t see that happening. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The average joe tonight hanging out with his buddies, having a beer, talking about this, yes, they got him, the New York guys got him.  They got him on campaign -- big deal. 

Is that what they`re going to say, big deal? 

SINGLETON:  You see, Chris, the issue -- we were talking about this before the break. 

The issue is, I think so many people have in some ways become desensitized to this stuff.  This is a big night, what`s going on right now.  The American people should be concerned and freaked out about what`s going on with the president of the United States and those closest around him having committed all types of crimes.

STEIN:  To the point, I think that what happened in Watergate is actually fairly informative here, which is that there were -- and you know this -- there were dead-enders, but they weren`t a small group.  They were a fairly large group of Nixonian dead-enders, up until there were tapes. 

And when the tapes came out, that was hard, tangible proof, something you could not....

MATTHEWS:  George Wallace dropped off the team and people like that.

SINGLETON:  Yes, and that -- and once you see something or hear something that cannot be refuted, that changes things. 

Right now, we have documents, we have allegations, we have testimony.  He can dismiss by saying, these are disgruntled ex-employees, these are 17 angry Democrats, this is all the media conspiring again me.

Once we actually see primary evidence, that is a game-changer.

SINGLETON:  But what is going to be that primary evidence?  And what makes you think that`s going to change the 30 to 35 percent of Republican voters?  I`m not certain.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know what struck me, again, as not a lawyer, guys?

What hit me was, New York feds are after him too.  New York state officials will be after him too.  The state governments -- Virginia`s going to go after him.  Everybody who sees crime is going to go after -- anyway, President Trump dropped some major hints this morning that he was anticipating something big coming. 

And he was right. 

Just before dawn, the president launched a preemptive strike in a series of angry tweets, many with typos and misspellings -- that proves they`re his.

Lashing out at his special counsel, Trump said, among other things: "Robert Mueller and leakin` lyin` James Comey are best friends.  Just one of many Mueller conflicts of interest."

Well, throughout his tirade, Trump singled out members of Mueller`s He attacked former intelligence officials like John Brennan and James Clapper, as well as Hillary Clinton and Justice Department officials, including his own deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.

He never gets tired of Hillary, does he?

ELROD:  No, he doesn`t.  She`s always the foil.  She`s always the one he goes to.  It`s a common thing among Republicans, by the way. 

(CROSSTALK)

SINGLETON:  Oh, it is, because when you test that with Republican voters, that -- Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi are two individuals who Republican voters...

ELROD:  Two very strong, powerful women. 

SINGLETON:  ... all come together...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That was the old Lee Atwater fog machine.

When they were afraid that Trump (sic) was going to lose the second debate to Mondale, they said, we`re going to unleash the fog machine. 

The fog machine is, forget the evidence, forget everything, just remember, what side you on? 

SINGLETON:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  What side you on?  And you just remember where you are, and you go after Trump. 

STEIN:  The problem with Trump, though, is that he`s reducing his own side.  Right?  It`s not just the...

MATTHEWS:  Is he? 

STEIN:  Yes.  Well, let me get -- he`s not just going after the Hillary Clintons of the world. 

I mean, he`s -- today, he spent time going after his old secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and calling him dumb as a rock. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did he do that? 

STEIN:  Because Rex Tillerson had said something about him earlier in the morning. 

MATTHEWS:  But dumb as a rock? 

STEIN:  It`s odd, because he appointed him as secretary of state. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It`s eighth grade.  It`s fifth grade.

(CROSSTALK)

SINGLETON:  Sam, it sounds crazy, but, for Republican voters, they look at Tillerson`s comments, and they say, you`re not loyal to the president.  The president has a right to critique you and fight back. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know you`re a Republican, Shermichael, so explain this behavior by your kindergarten class here.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Here`s the president of the United States going after his very recent secretary of state.  Let`s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  It was challenging for me, coming from the disciplined, highly processed-oriented ExxonMobil Corporation, to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn`t - - doesn`t like to read, doesn`t read briefing reports, doesn`t -- doesn`t like to get into the details of a lot of things.

And I would have to say to him: "Well, Mr. President, I understand what you want to do.  But you can`t do it that way.  It violates the law.  It violates treaty."

I think he grew tired of me being the guy every day that told him you can`t do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Nobody wants to be Trump`s hall monitor. 

Anyway, Trump responded this afternoon with a tweet calling Tillerson "Dumb as a rock" and said he couldn`t get rid of him fast enough.  "He was lazy as hell."

Nice way to treat your recent major employee. 

(LAUGHTER)

ELROD:  I mean, but, look, what we do know is that he`s exactly right. 

I remember, during the campaign, when Donald Trump, I want to say that he made it very clear he loves reading "People" magazine and the New York tabloids.  That`s what he likes to read.  He doesn`t to read like complicated policy papers.

We know that he doesn`t like to read the daily intelligence briefing.  That`s been -- those are facts we have known for a long time. 

STEIN:  I think sometimes it`s worth just stepping back and recognizing what just happened here. 

The former secretary of state said he had to stop the president from breaking the law.  That`s crazy.  I mean, that is just crazy.  And we just sort of take it because it`s, you know, every day in Trump land. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Speak for yourself. 

(LAUGHTER)

STEIN:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I brought this up because I think -- what`s noteworthy, though, is the manner in which they talk to each other about it. 

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN:  Childish, sophomore insults.  It`s nuts.

SINGLETON:  But think about the severity of this.

We`re talking about the president of the United States of America.  The expectation is that this is someone who`s objective, who is methodical, who has discernment, who approaches things from a position where they`re looking at all sides, at all issues, that they`re spending those long hours reading through the briefing papers, not someone who`s getting oral briefings.

I mean, that`s absurd to me.

ELROD:  Yes, but I don`t think we have ever thought that was happening with Donald Trump.

STEIN:  No.

SINGLETON:  But we shouldn`t stop or cease our expectation that the president...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Shermichael, more news. 

Also today, NBC News reported that the president`s outgoing chief -- he`s not really an outgoing personality, but he`s outgoing.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Chief of Staff John Kelly answered a narrow set of questions from the special counsel earlier this year, questions related to potential obstruction of justice. 

A person familiar with the matter says that Kelly was asked about a conversation he witnessed between the president and former White House counsel Don McGahn, who had spent over 30 hours testifying before the special counsel.

In that conversation, the president asked McGahn publicly refute a January story in "The New York Times" reporting that he, the president, had ordered the firing of the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

According to "New York Times," McGahn did refuse Trump`s order to fire Mueller in 2017, and he never issued any denial that he had done so.

Sam, just think about it.  The president -- talk about obstruction of justice.  He fires the FBI director who is going after him.  Then he fires the guy who is named to go after him.  And that`s not obstruction?

STEIN:  No, it`s all -- it`s all happening, like, right in front of us.  And, sometimes, we`re just like -- can`t keep track of it all.

I keep going back to the Moscow -- tower meeting that was arranged with Don Jr., which is a massive deal.  If that came -- let`s say we didn`t know about it and it came out tomorrow.  It would be cataclysmic to this White House.

MATTHEWS:  There they are.

STEIN:  But it`s now baked into the cake.  And a lot of the stuff is just baked into the cake.

ELROD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think the son is still going to pay here.

By the way, I just want to pass -- since we forget so quickly, yesterday, they buried down in Texas, College Station, they buried a former president.

I thought the public tribute, while it didn`t reflect all national opinion -- there`s a lot of populist anti-establishment attitude out there -- I thought it reflected a lot of nobility in the American government. 

I think a lot of people -- I watched those people, Joe Biden, Al Gore.  There were a lot of people paying tribute to that man that was real. 

ELROD:  Yes.  No, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  On both sides.

ELROD:  Absolutely.

And we had a true moment.  I think it was not just yesterday.  I think it was this week, where we saw both sides come together to honor such an incredible former president.  And now we have today, where it seems like all of that has been...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And the Clintons were there too.  And I thought it was a great look.  There was some nice chatty stuff going on there beforehand.  I missed it.  But it was really powerful. 

There was a -- there was a niceness there.  And then the weirdness happened. 

He comes in, and, as I said, like Reggie Van Gleason, takes off his overcoat, hands it to an attendant, like he`s God.

ELROD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And they didn`t treat him with a lot of warmth.

STEIN:  Well it just -- it felt like there was a politics where we knew we could be nasty each other.  By the end of the day, we`re sort of collectively into it, and then no longer.

MATTHEWS:  No longer.  Well, for a while anyway.

Adrienne Elrod, Shermichael Singleton, Sam Stein.

That`s HARDBALL for tonight.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES," lots more on this story coming up tonight.  This is a news bombshell.  The president directed criminal activity.

That`s starting right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END