Show: HARDBALL Date: January 14, 2019 Guest: Annie Linskey, Nadeam Elshami, Jackie Speier; Greg Brower
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Mission from Moscow. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Tonight, we are witnessing something entirely unprecedented in this country`s history. For the first time a sitting American President has come under scrutiny for being an agent of a hostile foreign power. It now appears that the FBI suspected that Trump`s firing of James Comey was to protect Russia and its activities in the 2016 election. That Trump`s possible obstruction of justice in asking the FBI director could itself have been a collusion with Russia.
According to "The New York Times" quote "law enforcement officials became so concerned by the President`s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.
Specifically, investigators wanted to know whether the President`s actions were quote "a possible threat to national security." And whether quote "Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow`s influence."
On Sunday came another bombshell story. This one from "The Washington Post." revealing how quote "President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin."
Both the Times and the Post exposes are highly damaging, obviously, to the President, as he tries to escape the historic reckoning that may soon come from special counsel Robert Mueller.
When asked point blank this weekend about "The New York Times" story, Trump didn`t deny being an agent of Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it`s the most insulting thing I have ever been asked. I think it`s the most insulting article I have ever had written. And if you read the article, you would see that they found absolutely nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Trump`s failure to give a direct answer to that fundamental question even raised alarm among his allies.
According to the Associated Press quote "White House aides expressed regret that the President did not more clearly and forcefully deny being a Russian agent."
It was clear by early today, however, that Trump had to give a direct answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, yes or no, have you or are you now, have you ever worked for Russia? Yes or no.
TRUMP: I never worked for Russia. And you know that answer better than anybody. I never worked for Russia. Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it`s a disgrace that you even asked that question because it`s a whole big fat hoax. It`s just a hoax.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Michael Schmidt who broke that story for "The New York Times" this weekend. Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS News Hour and Greg Brower is a former senior FBI official and former federal prosecutor.
Michael, an amazing story. And the question here is national security interests, the FBI agents, not politicians, but FBI agents, were looking into whether this President was working for the Russians. What was their concern?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Here`s why this matters. Our collective understanding of this from the beginning has been the President facing a criminal obstruction investigation. The FBI, we now know a year-and-a half ago, was not comfortable with his relationship with Russia. They could not understand why he fired Comey. They thought there was something more there. There was enough to take the extraordinary historic step, a historic step to actually open this investigation into the President`s ties to a foreign adversary.
They were so unnerved in the aftermath of the Comey firing. They didn`t understand what he was doing. They didn`t understand what he was saying. And it led them to this point.
Now, what we don`t know is what Mueller did with it. But what we do know, Mueller and Harris` investigation, we do know as recently as November, he wanted the President to answer Russia questions. So did the President, who responded in writing, actually provide answers to a counterintelligence investigation of himself that he didn`t even know about?
MATTHEWS: Well, as "The New York Times" reports and your report, there were clear occasions where the President linked his decision to fire Comey to the Russian investigation and did so publicly. When deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein drafted a letter to justify Comey`s firing, which did not include any mention of the Russia probe quote "Mr. Trump directed Mr. Rosenstein to mention the Russian investigation anyway."
There was Trump`s now infamous interview with Lester Holt of NBC. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: This Russia thing.
Well then the day after Comey`s firing, the President ousted - hosted Russian diplomats in the oval office and told the Russian visitors quote "I faced great pressure because of Russia." That`s taken off.
So why did Trump want the world, including Moscow, to know he was trying to kill the probe into Russia`s 2016 mischief? I want to go -- follow up with you, Michael, in this. That`s what grabbed me in the story, this constant effort by Trump to tell the world, anybody who is listening, hey, I wanted to stop the Russia investigation. Why did he want anybody -- did he want Russia to know he was stopping the Russia investigation? That`s what it smells like.
SCHMIDT: That was part of the investigation. We learned of this --
MATTHEWS: Is that why the FBI jumped on him? They think, wait a minute. Why is he blasting out the news that this was for Russia?
SCHMIDT: Correct. Was the President trying to fire Comey as a way of slowing interfering with the investigation, the larger investigation into Russia`s meddling in the election, to help Russia? That, the FBI`s general counsel testified on Capitol Hill, was the national security concern of the firing. They saw the firing as a counterintelligence issue, an intelligence issue. Not just a criminal thing, not just, hey, let`s make a case. It`s like, hey, let`s use all the authorities and powers that we have to figure out whether the President is tied to Russia and firing Comey to stop the investigation.
MATTHEWS: You know what grabs me in this reporting? That we thought a long way for months now, more than a year, that the investigation by the FBI is whether Trump was protecting himself through obstruction of justice. Now comes the report that he was obstructing justice to protect the Russian role in the 2016 election. He was working for Moscow. That`s what stunning about this.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWS HOUR: What`s stunning about this, and Mike, as someone who is your former colleague, this was a remarkable, remarkable report. Something that`s going to go down in history.
When I was reading it on Friday around the table with other reporters, our mouths dropped because you are like, oh, my God, the FBI is as alarmed as you think Americans are. For months now, or maybe now for years, you had people say we really don`t feel comfortable with the way President Trump deals with Putin, that Helsinki summit where I was in the room when the President was talking about whether or not he believes Russia over U.S. counterintelligence, and he basically took Russia`s side. People sat back and thought this is a moment. Why is the President not standing up to Vladimir Putin? Now we know all the things that maybe people thought, immigration, people of experts, other people thought, that the FBI itself, the place that`s supposed to be dealing with this the most, they were as alarmed as everyone else. And that to me is remarkable.
MATTHEWS: Greg, the question is, by most people on all sides of this fight, why didn`t he deny it?
GREG BROWER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It would have been awfully easy to say no or of course not or anything like that. It`s hard to understand why he couldn`t deny it. And I think what`s important about the reporting is that it, according to the reporting, it confirms at least senior FBI agents did think there was enough to predicate an investigation. And presumably, the lawyers across the street at DOJ agreed or at some point later, at least, agreed. We just don`t know when we won`t find out until the Mueller findings are made public, exactly what happens in response to the development that Michael and Adam and others reported on.
MATTHEWS: You know, I was thinking that all along, we put these things, and everybody who is a journalist here knows, we are putting these in two kettles. One was one bucket or kettle, whatever you want to call it, was the question of collusion. The other question was did he obstruct justice?
What I get from your reporting, which is so stunning about it, is it was a continuum. He was working for the Russians helping and they are back and forth during the campaign, if it`s all true. And second, he was working for the Russians and covering up their role in the campaign, as the second phase. It was all part of one continuous effort of the FBI investigating the Russian role in 2016 and coming upon the role played potentially by the President in that work.
In other words, it was like back when they picked up Nixon, back with dealing with (INAUDIBLE) when the `68 election. They picked it up by they were bugging the South Vietnamese and they picked up Nixon. They weren`t bugging Nixon, but they caught Nixon dealing with the South Vietnamese. I think that`s a pretty good parallel, actually.
SCHMIDT: If you are a counterintelligence agent at the FBI and you started this investigation, you worked on it, how do you see the President`s most recent comments? How did you see Helsinki? How did you see the comments about Afghanistan that lined up with the Kremlin`s talking points about why the USSR invaded, you know, invaded Afghanistan? How do you walk away from an investigation like that when the President continues to say things like that?
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California. I`m going to ask you a big question. You are on the intelligence committee. I got to tell you. I didn`t start. I had a pretty open attitude about a couple things Trump was saying on the campaign. I wasn`t necessarily against him personally. I thought there was real problems, but let`s put that aside.
I thought maybe, maybe, what this guy was going to do is cut a big bargain, a grand bargain with Moscow, dealing with, of course, fundamentally or essentially with Syria, and work out some deal in the Middle East that really was going to be history making. That would be a motive for a lot of this.
But this motive in backing Russia on every account, as Michael Schmidt just pointed out, how else do we account for his toadying (ph), his kowtowing to Putin except that Putin has got something on him or they got something together? How else do you account for it?
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It`s kompromat (ph). That`s what it is. And I would say that we have to go back to the comments made by the Trump boys earlier, where they said we don`t need U.S. banks. We get all the money we need from Russia.
There are lots of clues that have sprinkled along this path that added together probably had something to do with the opening of this counterintelligence investigation. I think we don`t know the half of it. And we are just trying to grasp at various elements. But for them to -- for the FBI to start a counterintelligence investigation in the first three or four months of the Trump presidency is pretty remarkable. So I think that they must have something that we don`t know about.
MATTHEWS: What was your reaction when you read the times story. I get to the Post story in a minute. When you read about this whole question, the FBI agents going after Trump because they thought he was part of the Russian effort in 2016, trying to help them cover it up? What did you think when you read that?
SPEIER: Well, frankly, I thought there`s something here that I don`t know about. I think that it`s either you have got a useful idiot or you have got an unwitting participant or agent here. But for Trump, it all comes done to money. And I`m convinced that it had to do with the fact that he had so many of his condos that were purchased by Russians, hundreds of them, there were so many of the LLCs that we believe have Russian addressed. So the combination of all of that, these comments by his sons, I think that all will come together in a nice big fat package at some point.
MATTHEWS: Well, today, Donald Trump, the President, is responding to the revelation he was investigated as an agent by the FBI, by blasting the FBI as quote "dirty cops." This is James Cagney stuff. You dirty rats. He says they are just out to get him. Here we go. Here is the President doing his street corner response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The people doing that investigation were people that have been caught, that are known scoundrels. I guess you could say they are dirty cops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, it follows an avalanche of attacks the President offered up on twitter this weekend, all attempting to scapegoat the FBI. However, as we have seen since the outset of this investigation, Trump has used one excuse after another to deflect blame and discredit the work of real law enforcement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I call it the Russian hoax. One of the great hoaxes.
It`s a Democrat hoax that was brought up as an excuse for losing an election.
It is incredible the deep state where they don`t even look at her. Isn`t it incredible?
It is a witch hunt. If you look at the FBI statements with Strzok and his lover, Lisa Page.
You look at Brennan, you look at Clapper, you look at Hayden.
I think Bruce Orr (ph) is a disgrace.
Some of the people at the top were rotten apples. James Comey was one of them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: During the course of the election?
TRUMP: Look. How many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse.
I have nothing to do with Russia.
They are investigating something that never happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Yamiche, let`s talk about being human beings. An American, most Americans, I think, are patriotic in different ways and different ways they express it. If you`re accused of being a foreign agent against this country, your reaction would be, I would think, personal. And you would begin to say, let me explain to people who are actually listening to me, I was trying to cut a deal with the Russians. I wasn`t going to be knee jerk. We started the cold war. I didn`t want to do all the diplomatic professors were doing. I thought we are falling back in the trap with the cold war.
So I was trying to work a little nice. I was trying to a couple things. Trying to explain, if he is innocent, but his defense has been, screw you. His defense has been to trash the people going after him, including all kinds of government bureaucrats and good FBI agents. He doesn`t act in a way, it seems to me, most normal -- I want to get to Greg on this, but most normal people do if they are accused.
ALCINDOR: I think you also have to remember that this was a President who ran on being a law and order President. He says that he calls himself a nationalist because he says that`s a patriotic term. He also said that his campaign slogan was make America great again. And his whole idea was about how much he love America.
I would think that he could - he would think that we would offer that as someone who understands media and messaging and saying I love America. This is what I believe. Instead, it took him more than 24 hours to say I don`t work for Russia. That`s pretty remarkable. And it`s telling that even people inside the White House were saying you need to get this answer right, and when we put you out on the White House lawn this morning, you better answer that question in a very definitive way, which is what he did.
MATTHEWS: There was a great movie many years ago called "No Way Out" with Kevin Costner. At the end of the movie, he turns out to be the agent. He is speaking in fluent Russia. I sometimes think we are getting near that, you know. He is going to just start talking to us in Russian, yelling at us.
I mean, why does he speak -- you have dealt with defendants. Is there a normal way a defendant behaves when they are innocent? Have you ever met one that was innocent?
BROWER: Well, that`s a good question. Most aren`t, of course, in criminal cases. But it is one thing, of course, Chris, as you mentioned, for the President to criticize the men and women of the FBI and DOJ the way he has. But what he is in effect doing oftentimes is criticizing his own appointees. Chris Wray, his director of the FBI and Rod Rosenstein is the deputy attorney general.
BROWER: Look. They have been part of much of most of this investigation, at least in recent months. And so it makes no sense at all for him to criticize them. But what`s striking about that criticism, it`s not surprising at this point, but what`s striking is that we hear nothing from Capitol Hill. We hear nothing from otherwise very, very supportive members of Congress, supportive of the FBI and DOJ and of law enforcement generally, criticizing the criticism that the President has levied against those public servants. It makes no sense.
MATTHEWS: Yes. The last time I remember that happening, when George Bush senior who just passed away defended the FBI because, and he quit the NRA for a while because they called them Jack eluded (ph) thugs, right.
BROWER: Right. Yes.
MATTHEWS: I haven`t heard much, too. The Republicans should be for law enforcement, I think.
Anyway, the U.S. congressman Jackie Speier, thank you for joining us.
Michael Schmidt, congratulations as a journalist. Another huge story.
Yamiche Alcindor, it is always great to have your analysis.
And Greg Brower, thank you for the legal aspects.
Coming up, the other explosive Russian report. This could be just as big. I mean, "the Washington Post" is reporting President Trump hid details, hid the details of all of these five meetings with Vladimir Putin from his own staff. He confiscated notes from his interpreter after one meeting and told him not to tell any other government official.
This is the President of the United States. Don`t tell anyone else in my government what he and Putin talked about.
So what did happen behind the closed doors between Trump and the Russian, with him and Putin? We are going to get to that, and that is one hell of a story. So stick with us. That`s coming up.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Twenty-four hours after Friday`s bombshell "New York Times" story, "The Washington Post" dropped its own explosive reporting. According to government officials, President Trump sought to hide details of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin from his own staff and other government officials.
U.S. officials told "The Post" that -- quote -- "There is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump`s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years."
Trump reportedly went to drama dramatic lengths. He took up possession of notes from a translator after a meeting with Putin in Hamburg, Germany. And he ordered another to keep the details of the meetings private.
Trump`s actions effectively stifled his administration`s ability to understand what exactly he and Putin talked about. According to the Associated Press, President Trump has been irked, by the way, by the reporting by "The Times" and "The Post." Who wouldn`t be?
Well, today, he pushed back on the "Post" story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s a lot of fake news. That was a very good meeting. It was actually a very successful meeting. And I have those meetings with everybody. I just know nothing about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, neither do we.
And for more, I`m joined by Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, and Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for the Associated Press.
Ambassador, tell us what normally happens when two top chiefs of state get together representing their governments. What happens normally when they meet, even if they`re sitting in a side room somewhere?
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: So, normally -- and, remember, I worked three years at the White House with President Obama before becoming ambassador, so I was in a lot of those meetings.
You have a couple of advisers, usually the national security adviser, usually the chief Russia person. That was my job. And, oftentimes, your chief Russia adviser takes the notes and records a memcom, a memorandum of communication, that will then be distributed to other senior members in the government, so that they know what happened.
And then you usually have an interpreter. Remember, that interpreter`s job is to interpret the conversation. I think there`s a lot of misunderstanding about what they do. I know both of them that work for the president now.
Their job is not to take notes to hand off to somebody else. So, even if we did get their notes, it wouldn`t be a real -- a transcript of what happened.
MATTHEWS: So, this president doesn`t like having a notetaker there, right?
MCFAUL: And it`s shocking. I don`t understand how it serves the national interests.
You know, his job, he`s not just representing President Trump. He`s representing the United States of America. His job is to advance our national interests. And to do that, you have to let the rest of your team know what you`re saying, so that when his secretary of defense meets with his counterpart, he knows what the two presidents said.
I just do not understand the logic, if we`re talking about advancing American national interests.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you find distinctive about Trump in regard to this "Post" story that he didn`t -- he wanted the notes for himself? What do you make of that, whatever the notes they were, whether they were from the interpreter, just cursory notes, as the person was translating different sentences and trying to remember the full sentence or whatever?
Why would he want to grab that for himself, whether from the interpreter or from a notetaker? Why did he take them for himself? What would be the motive?
MCFAUL: The motive, of course, would be to not let the rest of his government know what he was talking about.
And here`s the other big thing that I think is important context about President Trump. His administration has a pretty good policy towards Russia. I actually support most of it. They`re tough on Russia. They have sanctions. They have bolstered NATO. They support Ukraine.
But there`s one guy in the administration that doesn`t sign up for it. That`s the president of the United States. And time and time again, they will take a tough action, and he himself will not support it. That suggests there`s a big disconnect between what the president wants to do with Putin and what the rest of his government wants to do.
MATTHEWS: Well, you`re a diplomat skilled at interpreting people`s motives. The president could have grand motives, which I thought he did for a while there, that he was going to try to cut a grand deal with the East, East-West against the South, dealing with terrorism.
We have heard about that for decades, that somehow, instead of the East against the West, it`s going to be the East and West against the South, against the terrorists, against the aspiring powers in the South, like -- like -- well, we know who they are, the terrorists.
MATTHEWS: And yet now people say on this show a few moments ago it was all about money.
Where are you on that? What is Trump`s motive for siding with Putin?
MCFAUL: Well, first, to the point you made earlier, Chris, I agree that, if there was concrete achievements from these secretive meetings, and we got a breakthrough with the Russians for things that were good for us, I would support it.
The truth is, he hasn`t had a successful meeting with Vladimir Putin. He`s had no successes with the Russians. He`s had a lot of setbacks, things that I think are not in America`s national interests. And that suggests he`s doing something else.
And I don`t know. I want to be clear. There`s lots of circumstantial evidence about the money they took in 2008, and maybe he`s beholden. I don`t want to connect those dots until I know the evidence, and that`s why we need Mr. Mueller to finish his job.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it`s kompromat? Do you think it`s the dossier and the hotel room?
MCFAUL: I honestly don`t know. I do know that that`s the way Putin does his business. He gives money to people for free, and then creates leverage.
And he gathers kompromat on all kinds of people, in Russia, in other countries. If you stay at the Ritz-Carlton, everything that happens in the Ritz-Carlton goes to the Kremlin. That, I know for sure. I just don`t know what he has on President Trump.
Well, "The Washington Post" is also reporting now that, in July of 2018, several Trump administration officials were unable to get a reliable readout of what was discussed in a bilateral summit between Putin and Trump in Helsinki. President Trump and Putin met for two hours in private with only their translators or interpreters present.
Hours after that meeting, with Putin by his side, President Trump seemed to buy Putin`s assurances that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election. Let`s watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin -- would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?
TRUMP: My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me, and some others. They said they think it`s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it`s not Russia. I will say this. I don`t see any reason why it would be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He sounds like a defense attorney, and his client is Russia. Of course your defense -- your client always says, I didn`t do it.
And he says, my client said he didn`t do it, and I believe him, and his client being Moscow.
JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS:rMD-BO_ What was striking about Helsinki is that he was given the opportunity to ask who he believed, whether he believed Vladimir Putin or his own U.S. intelligence agents...
MATTHEWS: Or Dan Coats.
LEMIRE: ... all of whom say Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
MATTHEWS: And he was DNI at the time. He was director of national intelligence at the time.
(CROSSTALK) LEMIRE: That`s right. Exactly right.
And did so to help President Trump. And he did not answer the question. In fact, he sided with Vladimir Putin. And since then, since that meeting, that two-hour private meeting, which not only the media didn`t receive any kind of readout on, members -- members of the president`s own administration don`t know what was discussed.
MATTHEWS: Is it your sense, as a reporter -- and you`re AP, which is absolute straight stuff -- and you go by day-to-day accumulation of information.
Does the information add up to that he`s working for the Russians?
LEMIRE: I mean, it`s impossible to know that right now.
But it certainly raises a lot of questions, as does this terrific reporting by "The Washington"...
MATTHEWS: What`s an alternative explanation for his behavior that he`s not working for the Russians?
LEMIRE: I will offer what the White House says.
They say that this administration that we know was beset by leaks, including of foreign leader calls, highly sensitive calls, one with the president of Mexico, one with the president of Australia. Those all found their way into the media.
MATTHEWS: That`s Kellyanne`s cover.
LEMIRE: And they`re saying -- they`re saying that the president, because he`s fearful of that, particularly with someone like Vladimir Putin, where he knows there`s a lot of scrutiny on that meeting, therefore, he took these steps to prevent it.
MATTHEWS: So, he doesn`t trust his interpreter?
LEMIRE: He doesn`t trust -- I think he doesn`t trust many people in his administration.
He feels like he`s been burned by leaks repeatedly, and he`s trying to cut down on that. That is -- that is your charitable answer for Trump.
MATTHEWS: OK. So, test on this, does he do it with every other leader? When he meets with Theresa May or he meets with Macron or he is meeting with Justin Trudeau, in every case, he grabs the notes and hides them in his pocket?
LEMIRE: The leaks have certainly slowed down. What we don`t know...
MATTHEWS: No, I`m asking, does he grab the notes in every meeting, or just with Putin?
LEMIRE: What we don`t know is if he takes those extreme steps with the other leaders.
MATTHEWS: Well, I would like to find that reporting out.
MATTHEWS: That would be my test case.
Thank you, U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul, as always, sir.
And, Jonathan Lemire, you`re writing the story here
Up next: Trump`s hand-picked nominee for attorney general, William Barr, will have his first confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow.
What can we expect if Barr gets confirmed? And will he do with the Mueller report what Trump did with his notes to Putin? They know how to hide stuff, don`t they?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
When special counsel Robert Mueller finishes his investigation -- we don`t know when -- it will be attorney general of the United States who ultimately decides whether to send it to Congress.
Tomorrow, President Trump`s pick for that job, William Barr, will head to Capitol Hill for his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And according to prepared remarks, Barr is expected to tell senators -- quote -- "It is vitally important that the special counsel" -- that would be Robert Mueller -- "be allowed to complete his investigation."
However, Democrats will likely question Barr about his past criticism of the Mueller investigation. In an unsolicited 19-page memo Barr sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last year, Barr wrote -- quote -- "Mueller should not be permitted to demand that the president submit to interrogation about alleged obstruction. Well, apart from whether Mueller has a strong enough factual basis for doing so, Mueller`s obstruction theory is fatally misconceived."
That`s William Barr talking.
So will Barr do to the Mueller report what Trump reportedly did with the notes from his Putin meeting, ditch them?
Democratic Senator Chris Coons sits on the Judiciary Committee, and joins us now.
Thank you so much for racing from that train tonight, Senator. And thank you.
MATTHEWS: I don`t know. I`m getting very skeptical about whether -- rather, wondering how far the president and his people will go.
The president has apparently squirreled away the notes of all his meetings with Putin. He doesn`t want even his own officials in his administration to know what he talked about.
I wonder, are you worried about William Barr and whether he will in fact deliver the Robert Mueller report to the public and to the Congress?
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I am, Chris.
I`m looking forward to tomorrow`s confirmation hearing. I had a chance to meet with William Barr last week and to ask him a number of the questions I`m going to repeat tomorrow on the record in a confirmation hearing.
I have an editorial that`s just gone up in "The Washington Post" that repeats the context and why this isn`t a normal time. I`m encouraged that President Trump has nominated someone who previously served as attorney general and who has got a lot of experience in the Department of Justice.
But when William Barr served as attorney general more than 25 years ago, we didn`t have a president who was under investigation and whose personal attorney and campaign manager and national security adviser had either pled guilty to or been convicted of a variety of crimes involving lying to the government.
So I`m going to be pressing William Barr tomorrow to allow the Mueller investigation to go to its logical conclusion, to release the report to the Congress and the public, to submit to the ethics officials in the Department of Justice to see whether he should recuse himself, given that 19-page tryout memo you just referenced, and to get some clarity from him about whether he would defend and follow the Special Counsel Integrity and Independence Act that Senator Lindsey Graham and Thom Tillis has reintroduced, along with Senator Booker and myself.
MATTHEWS: Are you going to try to get from him the commitment that Elliot Richardson gave to Ted Kennedy, that he would resign...
MATTHEWS: ... if forced to fire -- forced to fire Mueller?
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the weekend news.
COONS: Yes, that`s important precedent to remind folks about, the Saturday Night Massacre back during the Watergate investigation, where President Nixon ordered Elliot Richardson to fire the special prosecutor.
He refused, and he resigned instead in protest. That followed a confirmation hearing where Elliot Richardson was asked exactly that question. If pressed to interfere or intervene with the investigation or to fire the special prosecutor, will you resign in protest?
Elliot Richardson said yes, and he followed that commitment. That`s exactly the sort of exchange I expect...
COONS: ... that we will be having tomorrow on the Judiciary Committee with William Barr.
MATTHEWS: And, by the way, in reference to that, Nixon had the honor and the respect for institutions to honor that deal. I`m not sure Trump will.
COONS: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: But let me ask you about this weekend`s news.
"The New York Times" reported over the weekend that the FBI suspected that the president wasn`t just covering up, he wasn`t just obstructing justice to protect himself, but in furtherance of a Soviet or Russian -- a Russian conspiracy.
In other words, he was acting to protect them from exposure for what they did in the 2016 election. That`s astounding.
COONS: It is astounding.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of that charge, that he was, in fact, an agent?
COONS: Well, Chris, that`s exactly why I think we need to have Robert Mueller`s investigation proceed to its logical conclusion, and then have those results shared with Congress and the public.
I don`t know whether those allegations are well-founded or whether they aren`t. There certainly has been some troubling, disturbing, unprecedented actions by our president, in refusing to accept the conclusions of the intelligence community, of resisting efforts by senators, both Republican and Democrat, to pass sanctions against Russia after the 2016 elections, conducting himself in an unusual way in that Helsinki summit with President Putin.
There are certainly concerning signs. But I don`t have concrete evidence of this. And that`s exactly why a well-respected Republican senior law enforcement leader like Robert Mueller has been empowered to conduct this special investigation and needs to be allowed to do it and reach its natural conclusion.
MATTHEWS: You know, I`m thinking about the difference between the modern- day Democratic Party, which has cleaned up its act from the dirty old days of the big city machines.
The Democratic Party is almost like a suburban party in many ways now. The Republican Party picked up on all the bad behaviors of the big Democratic machines of 50, 60 years ago. Have you noticed?
Like, you guys are going to actually let William Barr have a fair hearing. You`re actually talking to him. You may well confirm him in a bipartisan way. You might do that.
Mitch McConnell, operating in the dirty old ways of the old machines, he wouldn`t even give Merrick Garland a chance, wouldn`t talk to him, for a member of the Supreme Court.
COONS: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: You guys are operating like gentlemen, to use an old term. Do you notice?
COONS: I have noticed.
MATTHEWS: You`re actually going to consider this guy.
And explain. Why are you guys being decent, when the Republicans are indecent? Just a thought.
COONS: Well, I will also say, Chris, one of the places that Mitch McConnell is absent is in any conversation about how to end the shutdown.
We`re in day 24 of a government shutdown. And if President Trump will reopen the government, I think we could make progress on border security. But I will remind you, the majority leader is nowhere to be found in these negotiations, and I think he bears some real responsibility in helping move forward a resolution to this impasse.
I`m hearing from folks up and down my home state of Delaware, whether they`re federal law enforcement officers who are serving without pay, who I called and asked about morale and operational effectiveness, to farmers and folks concerned about food safety, about where the Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration is in terms of protecting our public health or supporting our agriculture community.
COONS: We have got a lot of impacts from the shutdown, and I think Mitch McConnell should step forward and take his responsible role and help negotiate a resolution and get President Trump to reopen the government.
MATTHEWS: Thanks so much, Chris Coons, who represents a state that has a lot of agriculture in the south and big city thinking in the north.
Anyway, thank you, sir, from Delaware.
COONS: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next: With the shutdown stretching into its fourth week, Democrats in control of the House now, and Robert Mueller apparently wrapping up his investigation, is Trump`s already rocky presidency about to get a lot rockier? Could -- could be.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The latest explosive reports from "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" raised troubling questions about the extent of President Trump`s ties with Russia. And added to what is an increasingly turbulent time for the president, he faces a potential onslaught of investigations from the newly controlled Democratic House, while Robert Mueller`s special counsel investigation is ongoing.
"The New York Times`" Peter baker summed up the forces confronting the president, noting, quote, Trump faces the prospect of an all-out political war for survival that may make the still unresolved partial government shutdown pale by comparison.
I`m joined right now by the HARDBALL roundtable, Annie Linskey, national political reporter for "The Washington Post", Michael Steele is former RNC director, actually, chairman, and Nadeam Elshami is former chief of staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
What great jobs you`ve all had, and survived them all. Thank you. Recently of "The Globe".
You know, I wonder about Trump sometimes being Donald Trump. I mean, he`s a person, he has to go to bed at night, eat, and everything else, and whatever we all do. How does he get through it reading a newspaper article says he`s a foreign agent of the enemy?
ANNIE LINSKEY, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: He didn`t get through it well. We saw over the weekend this onslaught of tweets from Trump saying I`m all alone in the White House. So, you know, this is not something he wants to be talking about very obviously as he was eager to talk to anybody around him about literally anything else.
MATTHEWS: He`s accused of being a traitor. I mean, just put it down. He`s working as an agent of a foreign government, which is not our friend. Maybe not like they were with Stalin`s days, but they`re not our friend.
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: They`re not our friend. The more Trump speaks about how much of a nonstory this is, I harken back to Mitt Romney in that debate where he made it very clear who the enemy was and where you could find him.
STEELE: And so, it stands in stark relief right now to your point that the president wants to talk about anything else but this. But the thing about Donald Trump is, is that he cannot answer the question when he knows it`s a lie. So, that Fox interview when Judge Pirro asked him, were you or are you an agent, he went everywhere else around it --
MATTHEWS: Explain why he can`t answer the question?
STEELE: Because for him, the truth is there. He knows it`s right there. So to avert having to say, well, we do business, he talked about --
MATTHEWS: I want to try this on you. I think people wouldn`t be angry about it. Their feelings would be hurt. As Americans, are you accusing me of betraying my country? I would have the Billy Budd answer in Melville. Maybe not the right answer, but act like I was accused of being a traitor. He doesn`t act like that.
NADEAM ELSHAMI, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO NANCY PELOSI: He`s extremely frustrated with the way he gives an answer. It`s even beyond that. He`s frustrated that the question is even being asked. He`s frustrated that reporters are actually digging into stories. He`s frustrated that Democrats are going to be conducting the oversight.
Look, it`s going to come to a point when this president is going to have to face the American people, is going to have to face the Democratic Congress, and answer the questions. They`re going to be digging. They`re going to be digging professionally at everything that deals with Russia.
But these stories, there`s so many things they could be looking at. The problem I think for Democrats now is to be able to corral all this information and decide.
MATTHEWS: Coherent. Meanwhile, with the partial government shutdown now the longest in history, the longest days, President Trump doubled down on blaming the Democrats for the standoff. That`s useful. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only. The Democrats will not fund border security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But a new series of polls from Quinnipiac, "The Washington Post," and CNN show the American public faults the president over Democrats by a wide margin. Rarely do you see polls, guys, that are so consistent. Low to mid 50s blame the Republicans and Trump. Low 30s generally blame the Democrats. Pretty consistent.
And, over the weekend, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham offered an exit strategy of sorts for the president.
(BEGI VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug. See if we can get a deal. If we can`t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off. See if he can do it by himself through the emergency powers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s Barney Fife speaking there.
Anyway, President Trump was asked about Graham`s proposal this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: That was a suggestion that Lindsey made, but I did reject it. I`m not interested. I want to get it solved. I don`t want to just delay it. I want to get it solved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I don`t understand Lindsey. I always liked him, but I don`t understand the boot licking with this guy. And this latest proposal -- oh, wait three weeks and then blow it up. What kind of proposal is that?
STEELE: Well, all of this, all of this affirms for every American who is paying a scintilla of attention there is no national emergency at the border because if there were, you`re not going to propose a three-week delay. You`re not going to say, if you`re the president of the United States, well, I may delay. I may --
MATTHEWS: He knows Fox isn`t covering this horrific crisis. Even Fox isn`t covering it.
STEELE: It`s like the caravan after the election. The caravan went away.
LINSKEY: Also, the government keeps reopening, parts of it keep reopening. People realize, oh, my gosh, people might not get their tax returns back, you know, golly, that gets reopened immediately. Then the mortgage issue, that mortgages might not be processed. Well, that somehow gets reopened. You wonder if there`s going to be a slow trickle.
MATTHEWS: Nadeam, you`re a man of government, you worked for Pelosi. I used to be a man of government, too. Doesn`t it distress you to know people are so uninterested in the government shutdown unless you work for the government?
ELSHAMI: Yes, just exactly right. But it`s nuts. It`s nuts to the point of Republicans in the House and the Senate want to talk to Democrats in the House and Senate, and they can`t find a willing partner with this president. And, you know, where do they go? They could sit there and negotiate all they want. You know, Mitch McConnell threw up his hands.
MATTHEWS: Let`s be tough here. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, again, is as hard and tough as Trump. Her iconic statement, it would be an immorality to build this wall, set up a counter, a marker against Trump he can`t deal with. It isn`t that we`re not ready to talk, Mr. President. It`s, I`m not going to do this thing.
The roundtable is sticking with us. Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.
MATTHEWS: Here`s a bombshell. Breaking news just now: House Minority Leader, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, just told reporters on camera that the GOP steering committee voted unanimously to remove Congressman Steve King of Iowa from all committees. He`s not -- he`s useless now.
What do you make, Annie?
LINSKEY: Wow, that`s incredible. I definitely had not think that they would actually take that stuff and do it, but --
MATTHEWS: He`s now been basically cut off as a successful important congressman.
STEELE: It`s well-deserved. Long overdue, now apply that standard to the guy sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
MATTHEWS: Supremacy, nationalism is one thing.
STEELE: Right. But the guy down at 1600, President Trump declared himself a nationalist. You can put white in front of it, you can put Baptist in front of it. Nationalism is nationalism. Apply the same standard.
ELSHAMI: I think that what the standards that need to be applied is to the Republicans on the Hill. They`re going to say the emperor has no clothes. It`s going to get to a point here where they`re going to say enough is enough, and so far, they haven`t done that.
MATTHEWS: You know why the Democrats do well? Because they actually have people in the room, of all backgrounds, and they don`t make stupid comments because they know who`s in the room with them. Republicans are in the room with people where they don`t have diversity to keep them aware of who the hell they`re talking to.
Anyway, thank you, Annie Linskey. Thank you, Michael Steele.
And, Nadeam Elshami, thank you, sir, for joining us. A pro, a real strategist. A real Democrat, not some guy who drove for somebody once. He was a top aide to Nancy Pelosi.
By the way, we`ve got a big guest tomorrow night. Bill Maher is coming here. His HBO show has been on off for a few months so, you know, he`s going to have a lot to say. Bill Maher -- look at that guy. Nobody draws a bigger audience that that fellow we`re looking at. He didn`t too happy there.
When we return, let me finish tonight with the astounding situation we`re actually in right now. A president questioned about being a foreign agent.
Stick with us. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a strangeness of having a president being asked if he`s working for the Russians.
The questions astounding and so is the basis for it. We`re talking about loyalty. We`re talking about the president of the United States being asked if he`s serving a foreign master. In this case, a master most Americans now see as menacing.
What do we as Americans think of this spectacle? Do we think -- do we believe that Donald Trump worked to cover up Moscow`s role in the 2016 election? Do you believe he had a hand in it in the first place, the Russian effort to tilt the election to him?
It goes further. Do we believe that Trump, the president of the United States, absconded with notes from his meeting with the Russian president in order to cover up secret collaboration between them, to mask the nature of earlier meetings? Do we put it all together believe that the American people chose through the Electoral College a Manchurian candidate, a mole working for our Russian adversaries?
Well, this is a startling charge. Not just another increment in intriguing storyline, just a tidbit of evidence in a cookie crumb trail. We`re talking about questioning the loyalty of a president and from now on must be guilty or innocent. There is something in between, someone will have to tell me what it is.
And that`s HARDBALL, it really is for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END