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Dep. A.G. Rosenstein leaving D.O.J. TRANSCRIPT: 1/9/2019, Hardball w. Chris Matthews.

Guests: Donna Edwards, David Jolly, Eric Swalwell, Matthew Axelrod, Adam Smith

Show: HARDBALL Date: January 9, 2019 Guest: Donna Edwards, David Jolly, Eric Swalwell, Matthew Axelrod, Adam Smith


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That`s our show. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Primetime loser. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

The President tonight has nowhere to go and nothing to say. He walked out of a meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer refusing to even budge on his demand they fund his border wall, saying he has nothing more to say.

Rudy Giuliani, his lawyer, meanwhile, told Reuters today that President Trump is done taking questions from special counsel Robert Mueller and he has told him so.

Well, these where things stand in our country tonight. Our President is acting like a spoiled child who when losing the game says it`s my ball and I`m going home.

We will begin with that dramatic oval office confrontation late this afternoon between Trump and the Democratic leaders of the Congress. The latest round in negotiations of the wall ended acrimoniously after less than a quarter of an hour, less than 15 minutes today. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer described the moment of collapse.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Unfortunately, the President just got up and walked out. He asked speaker Pelosi will you agree to my wall. She said no and he just got up and said then we have nothing to discuss and just walked out. He asked speaker Pelosi, will you agree to my wall? She said, no. And he just got up and said then we have nothing to discuss and he just walked down. Again we saw a temper tantrum. He said it was a waste of his time. That is sad and unfortunate.


MATTHEWS: Well, the President did little to challenge that description, writing on twitter, just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy. A total waste of time. I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve border security that includes a wall or steel barrier. Nancy said no. I said bye-bye. Nothing else works.

What is this, a McLaughlin (ph) group?

Well, as the shutdown stretch to its 19th day, both sides are dug in, vice president Mike Pence disputed Schumer`s characterization of the meeting, however, and argue Democrats weren`t in good faith.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He walked in to the room and passed out candy. It is true. He left the room today because speaker Nancy Pelosi said that even if he gave her what she wanted, she would never agree to the border security priorities that we have on the table and that was unacceptable.


MATTHEWS: I think you heard him right, in fact I know you did. He was talking about the President of the United States handing out candy, we are told it was M&Ms at the meeting.

Back at the Capitol, House speaker Nancy Pelosi pointed her finger at the president.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: We have been having conversations with him but you cannot come to a conclusion if the President of the United States says my way or the highway, there`s nothing to negotiate, either agree with me or it`s over. It wasn`t even high stakes negotiation. It was a petulant President of the United States.


MATTHEWS: Well hours earlier, President Trump went to the capitol to strengthen Senate Republican`s spines for keeping the government close.


TRUMP: I think we are going to win. We need - listen. We need border security. Very simple.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long do you plan to let the shutdown last, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Whatever it takes.


MATTHEWS: Well, the collapse in talks comes just one day after the President made a nationally televised prime time pitch for the border wall. His performance want him, believe it or not, and a smaller audience than the Democrats got in their response. His office address offered no new arguments for the wall, instead focusing on grim assertions about what it cast or he cast as a national security crisis at the border.

As I said, preliminary vote ratings last night gave the President`s speech that was followed by Pelosi and Schumer. Those people got higher ratings than the President himself for his performance.

The "New York Times" reports that privately Trump dismissed the need for speech writing this.

In an off-the-record lunch with television anchors hours before his TV address, Trump made clear in blunt terms that he was not inclined to give a speech or go to Texas this Thursday but was talked into it by his PR advisers according to two people briefed on the discussion.

Quote "it`s not going to change a dam thing but I`m still going to do it," Trump said, of the border visit.

Well, this is one Trump prediction that fact checkers are unlikely to disagree with.

I`m joined right now Donna Edwards, a former Democratic congresswoman from Maryland, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for the "New York Times" and David Jolly is a former Republican congressman from Florida who is no longer affiliated with his former party, the Republicans.

Peter, how would you describe at a history book what is going on right now? A President of the United States who says I`m going to build the wall or I`m going to shut down the government in perpetuity, apparently. A speaker of the House speaking for the Democrats saying building a wall is an immortality. It`s gotten that iconic. That, you know, lack of give on either side which is bringing the government to a halt. And also the President saying with regard to the Russian investigation, I`m not talking to the prosecutor. No, no, no is the answer -- the President`s answers to all questions.

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well look, it`s a high stakes moment for the President and for the speaker in fact. I mean, I think you actually summed it up. Both sides have now locked themselves into positions that don`t easily give to any kind of compromise. If wall is immoral and it`s immoral whether it`s a billion dollars or $5 billion or any amount of money. And if it`s absolutely vital to the security of our country, and otherwise, blood is going to flow, then cutting in half the money isn`t really satisfying answer for the President either. So they are both locked-in to this position where there`s not an easy middle ground anymore.

Now what that might lead us to is this idea of the national emergency. The President has talk about that. He again said today he might opt for that. That would be where he would declare that he can unilaterally move money around to construct the wall under national emergency powers that have previously been given to the President by Congress. There will be a fight about this. This will go to court and it will be, you know, raising the stakes of this fight even further.

MATTHEWS: Do you think this is one of those old, the expression, don`t throw me in the brier (ph) patch, don`t make me do this. I wonder whether Trump wants to be forced into this extreme measure of declaring national emergency because that allows the government to open up again. It allows him to meet the objections or claims and screamings of Rush Limbaugh and it gets him some money from the army to build the wall, at least until the court says no.

BAKER: Yes, I think that`s right. I think this is maybe the way out because otherwise it`s hard to see how they reopen the government without some sort of middle ground. And you know, it may not be allowed by the courts. It maybe that he has ultimately told he can`t do this or maybe he will be. But either way, you are right, he gets to tell his base, look how hard I`m fighting for you. I`m calling this as an emergency. I`m doing everything possible to protect this country. And if the courts were to stop him, that would be one more, you know, point to make to his supporters, look what they are trying to do to stop me.

MATTHEWS: Donna Edwards, you know, so often we sit around this table anywhere where people are thinking and say he can`t fire the attorney general, he can`t fire the defense secretary. It is the same person around to me. He can`t fire his chief of staff, he can`t, he can`t, he can`t. Who says he can`t declare a national emergency and just go ahead and do it and have a big court fight?

DONNA EDWARDS (D), FORMER MARYLAND CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, I think he believes obviously that he can declare a national emergency. There will be a court fight.

But here`s where I have believed that this is going to end. This week paychecks are supposed to go out to 800,000 workers. They are not going to get them. Small businesses are effected. You have gone through on this show all of the things that there impacted. Those things are being felt by the senators and the representatives in those states. They will be hearing from folks when they go home over the weekend. This is not sustainable.

And so I think the President has run into a rabbit hole. Congressional Republicans are sitting on top of it but they all got to get off and you know what`s on the table? The Senate bill, $1.3 billion for border security. Something that passed the U.S. Senate. That is still on the table. And so it is not actually even right for Republicans to say that Democrats haven`t offered anything. It`s sitting there and it`s waiting in the Senate.

MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump`s visit Capitol Hill this afternoon came amid reports, at least, of growing cracks in GOP support over this shutdown.

House Democrats, meanwhile, increased pressure on the Senate voting late today to fund the treasury department and the IRS, although that bill is dead on arrival in the Senate. Five Republican senators, Colorado`s Cory Gardner, Maine`s Susan Collins, North Carolina`s Thom Tillis, Alaska`s Lisa Murkowski and West Virginia`s Shelly Moore Capito have all spoken out in favor of ending this shutdown. There their pictures are.

After today`s lunch with the Senate Republicans, President Trump insisted, however, that Republicans remain solid and united.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any Republicans today in that meeting tell you that they want you to pursue a different track? That they want to reopen the government?

TRUMP: We talked about a couple talked about - you know, a couple, talked about strategy, but they are with us all the way. The Republicans are totally unified.


MATTHEWS: Well, senator Murkowski told reporters she did in fact challenge the President.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I did suggest that there was some separation in terms of how long the shutdown would continue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were you happy with how the meeting went?

MURKOWSKI: The meeting with the President?


MURKOWSKI: I wish that we had a little more clear direction as to how we are going to get there.


MATTHEWS: This is a tough one for your former party, David, because it seems to me the way I set it up iconically (ph) and Peter agree with me. You have a guy who says if you don`t have a wall, you are not a Trump or you are not a Republican. Even Lindsey Graham says if he doesn`t get the wall, he is going down. At the same time, if you are a democrat, you are basically with Pelosi, sees the wall as an equal iconically important thing to them saying if you build this wall, it`s an attack on Hispanics and attack in all kinds of goodness in this country. It`s a very bad signal for the country. We can`t do that.

What do you do if you are Republican? You have to choose between Pelosi and Trump?

DAVID JOLLY (R), FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: Well, I think those senators you are hearing from have been given some breathing room. And Mitch McConnell is ultimately going to protect them because Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump has struck a deal. McConnell not going to allow a vote. So Tillis and Murkowski and others can say they wish they would have a vote, but McConnell is not going to bring it up.

But look, I don`t think Donald Trump gives in because he does have the most to lose. As Lindsey Graham said, you pointed out, Chris, it could be the end of his presidency if he gives in on this issue. He can`t go into 2020 without his base which is why, to Peter`s point about the national emergency, here`s why I think Donald Trump ultimately and it could be very soon, declares it. . It is not just about saying I`m going to build the wall by myself. I don`t need Congress. He can turn around and restore pay for our coast guardsmen and coast guardswomen. He can restore USDA food processing and the food inspections. He can be the guy that actually has higher approval rating in the United States Congress historically and say you know what, this is exactly why I came, is to break this whole thing down and to fix it.

And if it means taking hits for being an autocrat, at least I`m going to reopen government and I`m going to be the empathetic figure that solves this. And then what do Democrats do? Then they are just challenging the President on taking extra constitutional authority. They can`t actually challenge him on the merits of reopening the government.

MATTHEWS: I think that`s so smart.

Let me get back to Peter. I go back to my - I know it is probably insensitive. It is the old thing about the briar patch as an old Disney thing, but it seems to me an interesting metaphor. Is Trump really saying when he told somebody yesterday at the White House luncheon for reporters and anchor people that this wasn`t something he wanted to do, holding a speech last night. Going down to the border and all this PR and pomp and circumstance is just PR as far as he is concerned. Is he really setting himself up to declare a national emergency and go a bit autocratic here, a bit tyrannical?

BAKER: Well - yes, it does seem like he has not bought into this idea that he can bring the public along and exert enough pressure on Congress to bend on it, you know. And it doesn`t seem to be today 24 hours later any evidence that last night`s speech did change anything. HE might have been right. Of course, undercutting it by telling the anchors in advance that he didn`t think it was going to be a successful strategy probably, doesn`t make it a successful strategy. But we will see what happens.

He is going to McAllen, Texas tomorrow. Look at the border and it is a photo-op, of course. It will heighten pressure on this and we will see whether or not that change the dynamics. But I think you are right. I think we might be heading towards this declaration of a national emergency. And he has got to take his chances on the courts.

MATTHEWS: And that to me like, Donna, you know television. You have been on a lot lately. I got to tell you something. This President is very good at the theatrics. You might call it the craziness of these rallies he holds. He knows to talk back and forth. He is interactive. He was terrible last night. There was no interactivity. He was staring in there looking at the prompter, a little bit off, I noticed. About of inches off. It wasn`t theatrically stage right. He got nothing out of last night. And the fact that Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were not TV people especially beat him out in the ratings must kill him.

EDWARDS: Well, it probably does. But the thing is, I mean, the President never is good at reading what he doesn`t believe and so he is reading a statement. He clearly doesn`t believe it. You know that he wants to get in there and say something else and he couldn`t do it.

And so I think that the break that you are seeing is when you see senators like Shelly Moore Capito from West Virginia, she is not usually on those lists. That`s what we are going to start seeing over the next several of days.

MATTHEWS: Well, thanks to Senator Byrd a few years ago. There was so many federal employees in West Virginia.

Thank you very much, Donna Edwards who knows her stuff.

Thank you, Peter Baker. Thank you, David Jolly.

JOLLY: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Coming up, Rudy Giuliani told Reuters today, today, that Trump is done taking questions from special counsel Robert Mueller. No must (ph). It is over. He won`t answer - they are going to have to subpoena the gut. So the President`s lawyer has reportedly predict the Mueller`s finding will have to be quote "horrific." The Findings of the Trump -- the Mueller report which can is coming out in two months now apparently is going to be horrific, but this President will not respond to questions.

Plus what is the crisis the Trump administration is trying to push right now? And what will happen if they the President does decide to declare a national emergency? I`m thinking he will. We are going to ask the chairman of the congressional armed served committee what he will do if Trump declares a national emergency, grabs $5 billion from the defense budget to build a wall.

And vice president Pence is thanking Rush Limbaugh now for bringing the country`s attention to Trump`s top agenda issue, the immigration issue. We are going to have the audio of that craziness coming up.

Finally, let me finish tonight with a President surrounded by wall of his own imagination.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Rudy Giuliani today told Reuters that President Trump`s legal team has issued a final rebuff to the special counsel, telling Robert Mueller before Christmas that the U.S. President will not answer any more questions in the probe.

As Giuliani told Reuters as far as we are concerned, everything is over. Well, that means that Mueller must now either make do with the President`s written answers submitted back in November or resort to a subpoena to ask any follow-ups.

It comes as the "Washington Post" reports in a story breaking just minutes ago that a beefed-up White House legal team is gearing up to prevent President Trump`s confidential discussions with top advisors from being disclosed to House Democratic investigators and reveal in the special counsel`s long awaited report.

According to the "Washington Post," the White House would try or could try to invoke executive privilege to keep portions of Mueller`s report from getting to Congress and the public.

Meanwhile "Vanity Fair" reported yesterday that Rudy Giuliani recently told a friend that he expects Mueller`s report to be quote "horrific," close quote.

I`m joined right now by Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell who sits on the House intelligence committee.

Sir, what do you make of this? They are going to go executive privilege? By that definition, we are just talking during the break. That means anything to do with obstruction of justice is off the table, by definition. Is anything that President Trump said anybody works with is off the table?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Right. And no Congress ever would be able to obstruct justice. And no Congress would ever be able to hold them accountable, basically for the history books when you read the archives when it is, you know, made available.

MATTHEWS: So anything Nixon said the HR hold them and about using the FBI, the CIA to get the FBI out of the action wouldn`t have been counted.

SWALWELL: Richard Nixon would still be in office if this stood up.


SWALWELL: He would have served, you know, four more years.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s ask if what about the couple big news (INAUDIBLE). Here Rudy Giuliani saying no must (ph). No more answers. In other words no live interviews with the President. Zero.

SWALWELL: That is not how somebody representing an innocent man would be talking. And if the President wanted to cooperate in the interest of a country who was attacked by a foreign adversary, he would say it would take wild horses to stop me from coming forward in talking about Mueller. But, as we saw recently, with more and more evidence this week coming out that his campaign chairman was seeking to work with the Russians, he`s not going to talk.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about that unscramble that.

All along, we have been looking for, like, you know, arms reaching from Moscow, all kinds of arms, lawyers, people we never heard of before, all connected to Putin reaching into the Trump campaign, trying to make deals, meetings everywhere, meetings in Prague, meetings at the Trump Tower.

Also, we have all kinds of weird people -- and a lot of our weird people -- coming from the Trump crowd trying to reach into the pockets of Putin.


MATTHEWS: Do you see in this latest connection this thing about the -- what we just heard now, do you think that Manafort connection, where he`s giving them poll data from the campaign, the Russians?

SWALWELL: They wanted to work with America`s enemies. And they never turned down meetings. They kept offering more, even the president standing at a press conference saying, Russia, you will be rewarded if you further hack Hillary Clinton.

They were eager to work with the Russians. They took meetings. Also, Natalia Veselnitskaya, we just learned she was charged with a crime. She was a Russian spy that the president`s son met with while Russia was attacking us.

These guys never said no to the Russians, because they welcomed their help.

MATTHEWS: What would the Russians want to know about our poll data that campaigns hold, lots of information, which states are going where? Would they want that for?

SWALWELL: Yes, I believe to weaponize that information, so that, as they do their social media attacks on Twitter and Facebook and through YouTube, they would know where the better targets are.

I can`t think of any other reason that they would...


MATTHEWS: So they would go out after the African-American vote and say, here, we can turn them off to Hillary a little bit here?

SWALWELL: That`s right, because anything else, they can just read in "The New York Times." Why would they need internal polling information?

MATTHEWS: Are you more inclined to see collusion now, after these latest reports today?

SWALWELL: Well, I saw collusion from the very beginning, when they were so eager to work with the Russians. But I think this is just more and more color for collusion.

MATTHEWS: Would it be an article? I ask this for everybody, because it`s coming, I think, as soon as tomorrow.

If this president declares a national emergency, and grabs $4 billion or $5 billion from the defense budget, and throws it for that wall, would that be an article of impeachment? Is that a high crime?

SWALWELL: I don`t think so. I think it`s reckless. We would fight him in court.

But, again, I don`t want to be reckless with impeachment. If we go for that extraordinary remedy, I want us to have really an airtight case, bipartisan buy-in, and the American people to know what is at stake.

MATTHEWS: How do you stop him from doing it, if you want to stop him?

SWALWELL: Well, you go to court and say that he hasn`t made the case that`s required.

MATTHEWS: And you have standing? Congress...


SWALWELL: Yes. The Congress would have standing.

And we would vote in the House to do that.

MATTHEWS: Let`s see all this happen. It looks like it`s going to.

Thank you, U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Meanwhile, in an exclusive report tonight, NBC News is reporting that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had overseen the special counsel`s probe, will leave the Justice Department after Mueller is finished with his investigation.

That`s according to a source close to Rosenstein, who says, he intends to stay on until Mueller`s investigative and prosecutorial work is done, adding, that would mean Rosenstein would remain until early March.

Well, that`s an estimation. And while Rosenstein has been a frequent target of Trump`s attacks, administration official say he is not being forced out by the White House.

I`m joined right now Matthew Axelrod, the former principal associate deputy attorney general who served under Sally Yates.

Thank you so much for joining us, Mr. Axelrod.

Help us out here. Who`s in charge if Rosenstein leaves? Who`s overseeing the investigation by Robert Mueller?

MATTHEW AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, that`s the right question, Chris, because the short answer is, we don`t really know.

Bill Barr has been nominated to be the next attorney general of the United States. His confirmation hearings are next week. And so you -- normally, if he were confirmed, he would oversee the probe. The regulations provide that it`s the attorney general who supervises a special counsel.

The wrinkle here is that Bill Barr sent a 20-page memo about the Mueller probe to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, which has raised questions about whether, once confirmed and if confirmed, Mr. Barr would need to recuse from oversight of the Mueller probe.

MATTHEWS: Do you have any sense of why Mr. Rosenstein would know that the probe is going to be over by March? Would he have been given a heads-up by the Mueller people?

AXELROD: Yes, look, that`s possible. But I think -- I would say two things, Chris.

I would say, first, I think the only person who knows when the Mueller probe is going to end his special counsel Mueller. And, frankly, he may not even know, because investigations develop in unexpected ways.

I will give you an example, which is that, until today, my understanding is -- and still I believe, as of today -- the interview transcripts from the House Intelligence Committee have not been provided to the Mueller team, because the former chairman, Devin Nunes, wouldn`t provide them.

The current chair, Adam Schiff, is going to provide them, or maybe has already provided them. It`s going to take time for them to look through those transcripts and assess what follow-up investigative work needs to happen.

So I think -- look, I think it`s hard to predict when this thing is going to end. You will remember that Ty Cobb, the president`s lawyer at the time, famously predicted that the Mueller probe would end by the end of 2017.

Here we are in 2019, and it`s not over yet. So, I wouldn`t -- I wouldn`t make any bold predictions about when it`s going to end.

MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump`s nominees for attorney general, William Barr did met with -- or meet with lawmakers and Capitol Hill just today.

And though Barr has been critical of the Mueller probe, Senator Lindsey Graham says that Barr told him he wouldn`t suppress Mueller`s final report.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I asked Mr. Barr directly, do you think Bob -- Mr. Mueller is on a witch-hunt? He said no. Do you think he would be fair to the president and the country as a whole?

And do you see any reason for Mr. Mueller`s investigation to be stopped. He said no. When the report is handled -- handed over to you, what do you intend to do with it? Go through the process of what I can share with the Congress and the public, erring on the side of transparency.


MATTHEWS: Mr. Axelrod, you know the process. And we known through history that presidents can do things that look awful, but get away with it.

Nixon finally did get rid of his special counsel, Archibald Cox, by getting Robert Bork to do it. The solicitor general finally did it, but everybody else he fired them.

What happens if the president and Whitaker, the acting attorney general, simply say -- or Barr, when he gets the job, if he does -- you know what, I`m going to put that report from Robert Mueller in the bottom drawer, and I`m going to turn the key and leave it there?

What`s to stop the attorney general, acting or permanent, from doing just that, under the law?

AXELROD: Yes. Yes, yes, well, a couple of things.

I think what would likely play out then would be that the Democrats in the House would subpoena the report from the Justice Department, and then there would be litigation in court, and it would get fought out there.

But I have got to say -- and I was -- I`m glad to hear what Senator Graham said, that Mr. Barr`s approach would be -- and we will see what Mr. Barr himself says during his hearings next week -- but I think he really needs to commit to let -- letting the Mueller probe complete its work unimpeded, and then providing the results, whatever eventual report there is, providing that report to Congress and to the American people.

I think that`s what everyone is expecting and needs to happen for the rule of law.

MATTHEWS: One last question. It`s in my head. It`s been here for a while. I hear other people`s heads are also bopping with this possibility.

This president has a lot of legal challenges facing him. He also has something to lever with. If he offers to give up the office of president, can he get out scot-free from all these investigations and possible indictments for his family and everybody, especially himself?

AXELROD: Yes, look, I have heard people speculate about that too, Chris.

And I would say that that is an unlikely possibility, I think, for a number of reasons. I think there are -- I just -- I just -- I don`t see that being in this president`s DNA to seek or to...

MATTHEWS: To walk?

AXELROD: ... want some sort of arrangement like that.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, I do think he wants to protect his family, but I`m not sure either.

Thank you very much, Matthew Axelrod, for your expertise.

Up next: President Trump said, he doesn`t reach a deal with Democrats, he might declare a national emergency and get the military, as I said, to build that wall down there.

The chairman of the congressional Armed Services Committee is going to answer that question when he comes here in a moment, Adam Smith from Washington state.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump is doubling down on his threat to declare a national emergency to build his border wall if Democrats don`t negotiate with him.

After leaving out any mention of the national emergency in his Oval Office address last night, the president today said it`s still on the table.


QUESTION: Why not declare a national emergency?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I may do that at some point.

If Chuck and Nancy, who I`m meeting with, I believe, in a little while, if they don`t agree to the fact that our country is -- really got problems with crime, with drugs, with a lot of other things that come through our southern border -- I don`t know why it`s good politically.

You know, I don`t care politically. I`m doing what`s right for the country. But I will tell you, it`s a very bad political issue for the Democrats.


MATTHEWS: Well, some Republican lawmakers have said they don`t think it`s a good political issue for the military to pick up the tab for the president`s border wall.


REP. MAC THORNBERRY (R), TEXAS: You should not take money from the Department of Defense or anybody else to do the job that Homeland Security should be doing.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I think they should be used very judiciously. I`m not prepared to endorse that right now.

QUESTION: Are you glad that he didn`t declare a national emergency, or were you looking for him to do something like that?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: No, I`m glad. I think that`s -- that is a last resort.


MATTHEWS: Well, for more, I`m joined by the chairman of the congressional Armed Services Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of the state of Washington.

Mr. Chairman, thank you.

What would you do if the president declares tomorrow from the border that he`s going to take $4 billion or $5 billion from the Defense Department and spend it on the wall?


One, we would sue. A lot of different people would be involved in that, because, if you look at the law that he`s referencing, it`s a 1976 law. I don`t think this falls under the heading of a national emergency, as defined in that law. I think it would clearly be an illegal act, and we`d sue.

Second, on the Armed Services Committee, we would advance legislation to block him from doing it. Now, obviously, the problem with that is whatever we passed would have to get through the Senate and be signed by the president. So it would really probably play out in the courts.

MATTHEWS: He says, we face a threat of drugs coming across the border. That`s the big one that grabs most people, drugs. What can we do about it?

Is this like the swine flu thing that the president declared a national mercy over? Can he claim that?

SMITH: Well, I mean, he can claim that.

But, look, border security is important. Democrats are all acknowledging that. A wall is the exact wrong way to go about doing it, as most border people will tell you. And we have invested massive amounts of money in border security, so much so that the number of unauthorized entries into the country are at historic lows.

We have fewer undocumented people in the country. We have invested in Border Patrol agents. We have built a wall where it makes sense. The president`s fixated on the wall, instead of focusing on what would really work for border security.

MATTHEWS: There`s a lot of people who would like to see this, this blockade basically of U.S. government activity end.


MATTHEWS: Like, there`s all kinds of ideas. A lot of people -- I argued last night most people coming to this country are not coming here to do evil. They are coming here to do well. They`re trying to get a job.

And they hear there might be a job in Chicago or Philly or somewhere, and they`re going for it. That`s why they come to the country. They get the word from a cousin, there`s a job opening at this restaurant, there is job opening at this gas station. You got to get up here.

Should we allow guest workers? Is that a compromise?

SMITH: Absolutely.

That`s the larger problem, is the legal immigration system in this country is broken. And under President Trump`s leadership, he`s made it more difficult. He`s trying to block immigrants in every conceivable way.

Yes, we need comprehensive immigration reform to make the legal immigration system better.

MATTHEWS: You would include possible a guest-worker program?

SMITH: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this thing. You say that you would sue if the president of the United States took $4 billion or $5 billion from defense and spent it on the wall.

There is nothing else you can do legislatively? That`s it?

SMITH: Well, like I said, we can do it legislatively.

But I can also count. And the Republicans control the Senate. And the president has to sign anything that we do legislatively.

MATTHEWS: That`s true.

Well, let`s take a look at something I think is a little bit sad and ridiculous. Nearly 800,000 government employees don`t know when they`re going to see their next paycheck, which is supposed to come this Friday, but won`t, including more than 8,000 members of the Coast Guard`s civilian work force.

According to "The Washington Post" tonight, the Coast Guard published a list of suggestions to help them make it through the financial strain of the shutdown. The recommendations include having a garage sale, getting a baby-sitting job, a dog-walking job, or becoming a personal shopper.

What do you make of that? This is advice to actual federal employees.

SMITH: This is something we -- 800,000 people are suffering. The people that they`re supposed to be serving are suffering.

And they`re suffering over a legislative policy dispute. And what the president doesn`t -- I have had things that have been important to me that I have worked on for a decade to try to get passed. That`s all this is, is a legislative policy dispute.

You should not shut the government down over it. You should have a vote. And if you don`t have the votes, you don`t have the votes. Then take your case to the American people, win the next election, and go forward.

But to shut down the government every time you have a disagreement over where we`re spending money, that`s a recipe for suffering and chaos. And these people are suffering. And the president just blows right past that.

And I think your illustration shows how ridiculous it is.

MATTHEWS: It`s a sad illustration and a ridiculous one.

Thank you, U.S. Congressman Adam Smith, chairman of the Armed Services Committee of the House of Representatives.

Up next: The vice president of the United States thanks Rush Limbaugh, old Rushbo, for the -- quote -- "key role" he`s played in the Trump administration.

Who`s he working -- who`s the veep working for this week? Is he a Dittohead?

You`re watching HARDBALL.



SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If we undercut the president, that`s the end of his presidency and the end of our party and we deserve to be punished if we give in now.


MATTHEWS: If we give in on a wall.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, reminding the president and his fellow Republicans what they`re up against. Three weeks ago, Senate Republicans overwhelmingly supported a move to fund the government without extra money for the wall, a move that the president seemingly approved of until Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter objected to it. Since then, there`s been little daylight between the president and his far right friends.

Today, Vice President Pence, for example, took some time to call Rush Limbaugh up and thank him for his support. Let`s listen.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We couldn`t be more grateful for your voice on the airwaves of America every day. Everything we`ve accomplished over the last two years, rebuilding our military, reviving our economy, setting a record for conservatives appointed to our courts, America`s growing at home, we`re standing tall on the world stage. You`ve played a key role in that.

And, Rush, we don`t thank you enough. But thank you for all that you`ve meant to this movement and the progress we`ve made in this country."


MATTHEWS: I think that was a bishop talking to his pope.

Anyway, we`re joined right now by the HARDBALL roundtable. Jason Johnson is politics editor at Ruth Marcus, "Washington Post" deputy editorial page editor. And George F. Will, syndicated columnist.

George, I want to ask you about the Republican Party. Who`s the boss?


MATTHEWS: Not Limbaugh?

WILL: Well, sort of marionette or sock puppet. No, it`s Trump`s party thoroughly.

MATTHEWS: Who`s the organ grinder and who`s the monkey?

WILL: What difference does it make?


MATTHEWS: Ruth Marcus, tend to your columnist here.


I think -- you know, we`re used to the vice president lavishing up praise, fulsome praise on the president. It was remarkable to see him attending to Rush Limbaugh with the same excessive devotion. And I think that was pretty telling --

WILL: Joe Arpaio also.

MATTHEWS: I think fulsome means -- not really genuine.


MARCUS: Well, excessive, lavish praise.

MATTHEWS: Why does kissing up to be blunt about it, and crude about it, to Rush Limbaugh? He has an audience of about 10 million people. He`s a big one. But he`s not a big chunk of 330 million people.

JOHNSON: Because for being a vice president, for being a heart beat away from the presidency, Mike Pence has mastered being obsequious and genuflecting to basically anyone that he sat after. And it`s pathetic and it`s sad, but that`s how it`s always been.

He`s been that way to President Trump. He`s been that way to anybody else. But here`s the thing --

MATTHEWS: You mean he has the soul of a vice president.

JOHNSON: Exactly, exactly. What lack of soul he still has.

MARCUS: Spine.

JOHNSON: Lack of spine and soul.

The catch is, though, Rush Limbaugh is about as trustworthy as president Trump. He is criticized the president before. Just because you`re on the air kissing his butt now saying thank you --

MATTHEWS: You mean, when you`re at the barber shop at 12:00 in the afternoon, you don`t get asked please turn on Rush Limbaugh?

JOHNSON: No, no.

MATTHEWS: And meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made a public show of solidarity with the president only this afternoon.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We`re all behind the president. We think the border security issue is extremely important to the country. Thank you for your leadership.



MATTHEWS: George, when do you think it will crack if it does the next several weeks? It`s got to crack, this solidarity behind the president on keeping the government closed?

WILL: Not if the president declares his national emergency. This is a good time for all of us to reread the steel seizure cases in 1952. And Robert Jackson`s -- Justice Jackson`s very nuanced description of how the implied and inherent powers of the presidency varied.

But you also have to read the 1976 National Emergencies Act when Congress did what it does best, which is promiscuously give away power to the executive.

Remember, this president has imposed steel and aluminum tariffs, including on metals coming to this country from military allies in the name of national security. It`s all perfectly legal because all presidents are cloaked with enormous powers that Congress under both parties have promiscuously given away.

MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense that he`s working his way these days toward this, that he didn`t want to give a speech last night, he doesn`t want to go down to Texas tomorrow. It`s sort of that brier patch. Don`t throw me in the brier patch. Don`t make me stop this car. Remember that line?

Daddy always said, don`t make me stop the car, because then I`m going to do what I have to do.

JOHNSON: I think he may pull this off. I mean, look, the (INAUDIBLE) is already there. The money is there. You can grab the money. We just have to have the secretary of defense to call for it.

The problem is it`s going to be a big ugly legal battle. And I said all along --

MATTHEWS: How does that hurt him to be trying to get the wall?

JOHNSON: It doesn`t hurt him among constituents. It may hurt Republicans in some border states.


JOHNSON: You got to remember, Texas is the second leading state for federal employees. They are suffering right now.

MATTHEWS: Ruth, what do you think about this? Your newspaper, editorialize to this, "The Washington Post", what happens when this happens? When he says national emergency, George, and I`m going to use the expanded power of the presidency under the constitution, implied or not, under the statutory authority of 1976, I`m going for it, watch me, kids?

MARCUS: I think that one thing that would be said is, boy, if it`s an emergency, you might have declared it an emergency earlier because the fact that you`re only declaring it an emergency because you can`t get a deal with Congress, somewhat undercuts your emergency argument.

MATTHEWS: You had this over two years.

Anyway, finally, "The Daily Kos", a strongly progressive website on the left just released a new straw poll of 2020 presidential Democratic candidates. It shows a competitive race out there with nearly 35,000 votes counted. Elizabeth Warren, who announced her exploratory committee in December, is leading the pack with 22 percent. Former Texas congressman, Beto O`Rourke, he`s at 15 in second place. Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris and fourth place with 14.

The poll is good news for the former Texas Congressman who lost a Senate bid last November to Ted Cruz. Four people close to Beto O`Rourke, by the way, tell "Politico" that he`s leaning towards the running.

Ruth on this, I think it`s early but I think Elizabeth Warren has done the right thing. Fast breaks work.

MARCUS: I -- it was smart for her to -- was not smart for her to initially handle the DNA test the way it was handled. But it was not smart for Hillary Clinton to handle the emails the way they were originally handled. But Elizabeth Warren is proving herself, at least so far, to be a little more nimble than Hillary Clinton. She`s taken on the questions and answering the questions.


MATTHEWS: I love that.

Johnson, she`s not issuing a video the way Secretary Clinton did. She put a video, which is very classy but it doesn`t give you a chance to let people grab at you and ask questions, and this is what Warren did this weekend. There are people pestering with the DNA stuff. It made her look like, OK, I`ll take it on.

JOHNSON: Right. Good questions. And guess what? At the end of the day, we`re not making the decision. It`s Iowa voters who are making the decision.

MATTHEWS: That`s a special group of people to start.

JOHNSON: Exactly, exactly.

So they`re going to have 15 visits from her and maybe only eight or nine from Kamala Harris, eight or nine for Joe Biden. She`s getting in and getting in their minds. So, when the flood of other people start showing up and march, she would have already established a brand in that state. It`s been a brilliant strategy by her so far.

MATTHEWS: Is there a profile they should be looking for, George, or they just have to see who`s the best candidate? Is there a profile person? Is there somebody who should be on the left, somebody people who should be a woman, should be in minority, should be a split second, is there profile answer right now?

WILL: Yes, I think it`s someone who can compete in the Midwest, who can compete particularly in the three states that produced our current president, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan and someone who can particularly compete in Pennsylvania because after the midterm results, Pennsylvania looks very difficult for the Republicans to carry in 2020 and without that, it`s very difficult to 270 Republican electoral votes.

MATTHEWS: Backing up, I talked to a guy who knows all that in Pennsylvania yesterday, who told me that -- actually, I heard from a conservative as well, that the white conservative vote too, be blunt about it, men and women is shrinking and the millennial vote is growing, and Democrats are getting smart about digital and identifying voters, and if Trump has to run again, if he does run again, he`s got to be smarter than the first time.

MARCUS: He is going to have a bigger challenge. We thought he had a big challenge the first time. He managed to find his way through the needle. I think the eye of that needle is getting even smaller for him.

MATTHEWS: Lou Barletta, Mr. Anti-Illegal Immigrant, if you want to put it nicely, lost to Bobby Casey badly in Pennsylvania.

JOHNSON: Yes, you can`t make those same arguments. And the fundamentals that Trump has are not going to be strong. All those states voted for Democrats for governor. He`s going to have to make a message than I`m not Hillary Clinton. He`s going to have to make a message saying, I made America better for four years.

MATTHEWS: Part of his pitch was I`m not Hillary Clinton.

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

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with a roundtable.

Jason, tell me something I don`t know.

JOHNSON: Chris, I`m sure you know 1.5 million former felons are registering to vote in the state of Florida. What you may not know is demographically and voting-wise, they break down in a similar way to the rest of Florida. It may not end up making a difference in election in two years.

MATTHEWS: How do they get registered? Just automatically?

JOHNSON: You are now able to go register like a registered voter --

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, Ruth.

MARCUS: The newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh, had his first opinion today. It was, as these things are supposed to be, a snoozer, unanimous about arbitration. But watch that space. I think it could be that Justice Kavanaugh will surprise and maybe even disappoint some of the conservatives.

MATTHEWS: Another Souter?

MARCUS: Not another Souter by any means but maybe more of a Roberts than a Gorsuch or Thomas.

MATTHEWS: George, your thoughts?

WILL: Amid all the loose talk about a constitutional crisis today, which we`re not in, it`s worth remembering on this date in 1861, a ship trying to enter Charleston Harbor was fired upon, generally thought to be the first shots of the civil war, and this is probably the big day in the liturgical calendar of the Matthews family because this is Richard Nixon`s birthday.

MATTHEWS: Well, those two big days.

Anyway, thank you, George. I can`t react to that.

Coming up, Jason Johnson -- both lost causes, by the way. Thank you, Ruth Marcus, George F. Will and Jason Johnson.

When we return, let me finish tonight with a president surrounded by a wall of his own imagination.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with our president.

I think he`s at the end of his rope. From here on out, it`s going to have to be him against all the forces of the U.S. government, the Democratic Party, the media, and perhaps the courts.

His defiance came through on two powerful points, one, the Mueller probe. The president will not answer anymore questions. No questions in person, no questions of any kind beyond what he did in that take-home late last year. And from here on out, his answers to the special counsel will consist obviously of zero, nothing, nada.

Well, this means this historic investigation is going to end perhaps in the next few months without any direct in-person questioning of the president. Mueller will be able to say that he gave the president an opportunity to defend his actions with Russian and in the instances of possible obstruction of justice. But Mr. Trump chose not to accept it.

Two, another picture of Trump in defiance, the wall. There he was late today in the White House Situation Room huffing his way to the door after failing to get any Democratic buy-in on his wall along the Mexican border. Whatever else this walk-out will produce, and has already produced, a Democratic argument that they came down to the White House, only to have the president storm out of the room and leave them sitting there.

So, twice in a day we get word from Trump world. You want to investigate me? Go into it yourself. I`m not answering anymore of your questions.

You want the United States government up and running, then give me my wall.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.