CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Article one. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Article one to impeach Richard Nixon was that the President counselled witnesses to provide false or misleading statements. That was 1974. Tonight, there`s new reporting that President Donald J. Trump did just that. If that reporting (INAUDIBLE) proves true, it is corroborate evidence that President Trump did in fact commit a crime.
"Buzz Feed" news is reporting that President of the United States directed his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to knowingly lie to Congress in order to cover up Trump`s ongoing efforts during the 2016 campaign to build a Trump tower in Moscow. Just as important that Mueller has proof.
According to two federal law enforcement officials familiar with the Mueller investigation quote "the special counsel`s office learned about Trump`s directive from Cohen or for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump organization and internal company emails, text messages and a cash of other documents.
NBC News has yet to confirm "Buzz Feed`s" reporting.
Rudy Giuliani, the president`s lawyer told NBC News quote "any suggestion from any source that the President counselled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false. Today`s claims are just more made-up lies born of Michael Cohen`s malice and desperation in an effort to reduce his sentence."
Well, directing someone to lie under oath is a crime, of course. And if proven is potentially impeachable.
For more I`m joined by U.S. congressman Eric Swalwell, Democrat from California and member of the House judiciary and intelligence committees, Shannon Pettypiece "Bloomberg News" White House reporter, Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney and senior FBI official and MSNBC contributor and Donny Deutsche, chairman of Emeritus od Deutsche incorporated.
I want to go to Donny on this. Tell us -- you are friends with Cohen. Tell me about Michael`s sort of feeling about the pressure he is under now that his story`s out, his story that President told him to lie to Congress.
DONNY DEUTSCH, CHAIRMAN EMERITUS, DEUTSCH INC.: I spoke to him today. He, actually, has some surgery today and I spoke to him from the recovery room. And his response was look. Obviously, I asked as anybody else would and he said look, out of respect to Mr. Mueller`s investigation I can`t talk about this. He did point out that this came from two top law enforcement officials.
I also think people are going, so they don`t get disappointed February 7th, he is not going to be able to get into anything having to do with the Mueller Russia investigation in front of Congress. So I don`t think that Michael is going to be able to corroborate this in front of Congress either.
The other thing is very important to remember, I know this is the story that is a huge story. But at the same time, he is continuing to go after his father his father-in-law. And that is a second obstruction of justice. And I have seen it real-time.
I was on the phone with Michael the other night the first time it happened and he was panicked. He was like he is going after my father-in-law. Are my children next? He said you have no idea what this man is capable,
I actually saw the reaction to the obstruction of justice in real time where he said I don`t know if I`m going to testify. I don`t think I`m going to testify and I think he needed Elijah Cummings to come out the next day and calm him down a bit. So we are seeing obstruction of justice coming from two different angles to Michael Cohen and we are seeing history.
MATTHEWS: You know, I`m thinking of the scene in "Godfather II" when (INAUDIBLE) bother called over from Sicily because they are going to kill the guy. (INAUDIBLE) brother and kill himself. Is that what it`s about? Being a family member and threat thing family member, this case the father in law did cause the witness?
DEUTSCH: You know, Chris, he used the same exact analogy to me. It is exactly analogy used and any "Godfather" fan knows it well. They brings in the brother from Sicily. He is sitting right there. And of course, he changes his testimony.
We get so numb with all the heinous things that this President does. Let`s think about this for a second. There is a man who is going to testify U.S. citizen in front of Congress. And the President is publicly, publicly threatening sending warnings to a man`s family member. Are his children next? I don`t care. Republican, Democrat. If you are a U.S. citizen, that to me with all the atrocities at Trump we have watched him waddle through, this is top of the list as far as I`m concerned.
MATTHEWS: He is your friend. Did he give you a sense of his commitment? Will he testify before the Congress?
DEUTSCH: I believe strongly he will. But I have to tell you, you know, he was thrown and like I said, that was with obstruction of justice in real time. I got a front-row seat to it.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Chuck Rosenberg.
Chuck, the President has unique screw yard tactic like bully in his (INAUDIBLE) to find a weakness in the other guy. Now, he is saying he has got the (INAUDIBLE). But let`s talk about this obstruction case. A President tells somebody to lie to Congress. Talk about the law.
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Matter of law pretty simple. That is supporting perjury and whether it`s under oath or not. Whether it is oral or written, whether it is in front of Congress or the FBI, that`s a crime. And prosecutors know how to charge that. It`s not hard.
MATTHEWS: Talk about the evidence here. According to the report of "Buzz Feed," there`s all kinds of evidence -- email, there is all kind of documents, the cash of them, there is a couple of other people involved. It`s not just word of Michael Cohen.
ROSENBERG: More could be. I mean, as matter of law perjury requires a witnesses and something else. But as a matter of practice and the congressman knows this well because he was a prosecutor. You want to corroborate your witnesses however you ask can in as many ways as you can as long as it`s truthful and accurate. And so documents, emails, tapes, all that stuff corroborates, in theory, Michael Cohen.
MATTHEWS: Well, it is he said, he said.
ROSENBERG: Right. And you wouldn`t bring a he said, he said case. It doesn`t work, right? You need other stuff. And it sounds like if the reporting is accurate that you have other stuff.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about his materiality here. How material is this to the role of the president of the United States? That he to cover up a business deal, told one of his people to lie about it, is that relevant to his role as head of state? Tell me how.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes. This is Watergate plus, right. Watergate was more of a domestic issue. Rule of law at stake. The Articles involved, contempt of Congress, obstruction of justice and abuse of power.
Here, if you step back and ask why did the Presidents direct Michael Cohen to lie, if that is what he did, it`s to cover up a relationship that he had with Russia that is still ongoing today where what we value, democracy, human rights, rule of law, that`s at stake. So that is an outside threat as well as a rule of law inside threat. And I think that is, you know, what`s most concerning to me.
MATTHEWS: To me, it`s always been a question of collusion with the Russians. All kinds of weird entanglements, 101 we are counting it and counting right now between the Trump people and the Russians and obstruction of justice. I wonder if this is one of those cases where it`s an over law. Because if he was covering up his business dealings so that he can cover up the fact that he was talking nice about Mr. Putin all those times to keep a business deal warm, that is a real problem in our country - - as a country,
SWALWELL: Yes. That that is evidence of collusion. That is an entanglement with a country that is not our friend. And I think some of the best evidence, if you are looking at, is there a quit pro quo? The quo really started to heat up after the Helsinki conference, right. Since Helsinki where, you know, the interpreter`s notes were essentially taken away, no other witnesses in the room, he has pulled us out of Syria, he has tried to take us out of NATO and he is easing sanctions against someone who is involved in the Mueller investigation, Deripaska.
MATTHEWS: You are a member of the judiciary. Do you believe the President right now has been an agent of the Russians?
SWALWELL: Yes, I think there is more evidence than it isn`t.
MATTHEWS: An agent?
SWALWELL: Yes. And I think all the arrows point in that direction. I haven`t seen a single piece of evidence that he`s not.
MATTHEWS: An agent like in the 1940s where you had people who are (INAUDIBLE)? Like that? In other words working for a foreign power?
SWALWELL: He is working on behalf of the Russians, yes.
MATTHEWS: OK. As I mentioned throughout the campaign in 2016, Donald Trump denied having any business interests in Russia. However, according to two law enforcement sources quoted in the "Buzz Feed" piece, Trump was actively engaged in talks of building a Trump tower over Moscow. The sources tell "Buzz Feed" that Trump had quote "at least 10 face-to-face meetings with Michael Cohen about the Moscow deal during the campaign and told Cohen to make a meeting happen in order to help the negotiations."
The President wanted to meet with Putin. It`s mesmerizing, Shannon. During the Presidential campaign this guy wants to be seen sitting down to do business with a man most people American see as an adversary.
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, it can speak to the facts that he never thought he was going to win.
PETTYPIECE: That he was a businessman.
MATTHEWS: Well, this wouldn`t help.
PETTYPIECE: Well, right. He was a businessman running a business. Russians buy up his apartments in the United States. They have been talking for years about doing a Trump tower Moscow. This is not something they cooked up all of a sudden. Had he lost with the Trump organization still want to do a Trump tower in Moscow? Probably. Would Russians still be buying Trump apartments?
So if he is on the campaign trail attacking Russia, what does that do then when he is not President and to the do business with Russia as businessman? I think it kind of t shows the mind-set that he had at the same.
MATTHEWS: Let me got to Donny on this. Because I have always -- a lot of my friends on the left and I deal with a lot of people on the left, they have a sense of the pettiness of Donald Trump, not just they don`t like the guy, they don`t like his posy. They think he is petty. They think he does everything for money. That everything in the campaign was basically a PR campaign to build up his business potential when he loses. That it was all about that Trump tower. Everything about being pro-Russian wasn`t about a grand deal which (INAUDIBLE), maybe I`m romantic, that would be some deal east, west, against the south, against the terrorists in the Middle East. Where are you on that question? Is he always interested in money day to day? And can Michael confirm that?
DEUTSCH: Donald Trump is sleazy real estate deal. It is always about the money. Michael once said to me at the beginning of the campaign, Donald say, this is going to be the biggest infomercial that we have ever did. That to the previous point, Donald think that he would never win.
And I have always said from the beginning of this, follow the money. Donald Trump went bust in the early 90s. He could not borrow money from banks. It was coming from Russia, as you unfold this. And even once he is out of office, and the U.S. attorney continue to pick a pot in Trump organization, you are going to see money laundering. You are going to see a criminal enterprise. People in New York knew. Look. Real estate guys are slippery to begin with but he was the bottom of the bottom of the barrel. And so there is nothing. Take a look at what a criminal would can do. Take as low as it can go and that`s Donald J. Trump.
MATTHEWS: What`s his motive for the campaign?
DEUTSCH: It is really, really simple. Well, two things. First of all, there is the heroin of the attention but it is, at the same time, just think about it, you run for President for 24/7 for 18 months you are out there. And even if you go back to this Russia thing, once again, he loses this Trump tower Moscow, he is a hundred times more of an international figure than he ever was.
You know, before "the Apprentice," he was basically just a guy doing pizza hut commercials. And even with "the Apprentice," he was basically a reality star. You run for president. You are on the national stage for 18 months. And by the way, saying some nice things about Russia, where does that open up outside of the western world for your business? Follow the money.
MATTHEWS: Wow. William Barr, President Trump`s nominee for AG was asked if it would be a crime for the President to direct someone to lie and here is what he told senator, Amy Klobuchar, Democrat from Minnesota and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina in his confirmation hearing this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: You wrote on page one that a President persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?
WILLIAM BARR, TRUMP`S NOMINEE FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL: That -- yes. Well, any person who persuades another -- yes.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. You also said a President or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?
KLOBUCHAR: And on page two you said that President deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an obstruction. Is that correct?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: So if there was some reason to believe the President tried to coach somebody not to testify or testify falsely, that could be obstruction of justice?
BARR: Yes, under obstruction statute, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What do you make of that, Chuck? I mean, there`s his guy saying if he does this, if "Buzz Feed`s" right with his story, he is a criminal?
ROSENBERG: There is no other answer. And this is straight-forward criminal law. There are complicated questions about the President`s authority to maybe pardon somebody or to fire someone. And whether that could be a crime, suborning perjury, that`s easy. That`s a crime. NO question. It is the only answer he could give.
MATTHEWS: Chuck? I mean, congressman?
SWALWELL: Yes. And also, the evidence that he did this, you know, Chuck was talking about corroboration, it is independently confirmed by evidence that we had in our intelligence committee investigation that he told Hope Hicks at times to lie and what he did with James Comey, saying, can you make this go away?
This is just the way the guy acts. And it is you question, is he an agent for Russia? We should not assume that he is faithful only to Russia. I think there are other countries he has business dealings with that he would work in behalf with like --.
MATTHEWS: Donny, if there`s money that moves this guy and he was going to make $300 million on a tower over there and he is going to make a -- what do you call that? The top of the room? The best room -- penthouse to Putin, talk about entanglement.
PETTYPIECE: Right. Well, you know, and Donny raises an interesting point. That in New York his reputation was like a quote-unquote "sleazy real estate man." There is a lot of people in the New York real estate scene who would say that.
Prosecutors in New York knew that, too. For years and years and years, Donald Trump was big fish. He was someone that they knew had questionable history with business. They never got to him. Now they have an in. They never really had an in before. So you could argue that now through Michael Cohen, through all these payments through Stormy Daniels, it has given them potentially an in to dig in to his organization that they want to go in to.
MATTHEWS: Donny, it is great to have you on the show. And I have watched in all other shows. I`m going to take advantage of you being here. Tell me about Donald Trump. If he gets impeached but not convicted? Say that happens. What`s he going to do? Is he going to get to run for re- election? Is he going to run into exile?
DEUTSCH: This is the scary part. This is where it ends. He is going to tell people to take to the streets. That is his last move. He owns 50, 60 - however many voters with the 30 percent. He is going to say they are trying to take your President away. Don`t let them do it. We are going to the streets. We are going to create a civil war and then take it one step further than that then he is going to monetize and say and I`m starting the Trump revolutionary network. You can join for $6 a month subscription.
MATTHEWS: He is going to form a third party. He is not like that.
DEUTSCH: Well, I think he will say he will. He will say I have more power outside the government now. Your government is -- this is a deep state. I`m starting the Trump revolutionary party. I don`t need to run for office. We are not going to run for office again and I`m going to have my megaphone. Follow me down the street. My first rally is in Arkansas.
DEUTSCH: We are heading to a civil war. Whatever we think this man is capable of, he is capable of more.
MATTHEWS: And that`s what I think in a perverse way, he is going to find a way to take Speaker Pelosi`s denial of him for the podium on the scheduled night at state of the union and say the deep states running this country with the Democrats, they are the enemy. I`m not the government. I`m still the opposition. I`m the good guy. I can see him twisting that way. Boy, it`s a scary prognosis you have given us, Donny. But thanks for coming on.
U.S. congressman Eric Swalwell of California, thank you.
Shannon Pettypiece, Chuck Rosenberg and Donny Deutsch.
Coming up this bombshell report form "Buzz Feed" we got tonight as Democrats on capitol talking impeachment. Why not? It`s obstruction of justice if proven. One member of the Judiciary Committee says hearings need to start now. And he, Ted Lieu, joins us in a minute. Stay with us.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The bombshell "Buzz Feed" new report that President Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, if true, would be the most concrete threat to Trump`s presidency to date. Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee Adam Schiff vowed to investigate the allegations.
In a statement Schiff wrote our committee is already working to secure additional witness testimony and documents related to the Trump tower Moscow deal and other investigative matters.
The chairman of the House judiciary committee Jerry Nadler of New York issued a similar call. In a tweet Nadler wrote, we know that the President has engaged in long pattern of obstruction, directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime. The House judiciary committee`s job is to get to the bottom of it and we will do that work.
Other Democrats went step further. Here is Texas congressman, Joaquin Castro.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: If this report is true, if the president directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, then that`s a clear case of participating in perjury and obstruction of justice, and he should resign. But, if he doesn`t resign, he should be impeached.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Any impeachment proceedings would originate in the House of Representatives in the Judiciary Committee.
By the way, in May of 1974, that committee, Judiciary, began hearings into the impeachment of Richard Nixon, passing the first article of impeachment on July 27, citing obstruction of justice.
I`m joined right now by Congressman Ted Lieu, Democrat from California, and a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
Congressman, I`m sure you have looked back at the record and the language of obstruction of justice, tampering with witnesses, counseling them to lie to anyone that Congress or the federal judiciary is a crime, and apparently impeachable. Your thoughts?
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Chris, for your question.
I`m a former prosecutor. And let me first say that Donald Trump, like any other American, is entitled to the presumption of innocence. I hope these allegations are not true, because, if they are, it means that the sitting president of the United States committed a felony.
That`s why the House Judiciary Committee will start our own investigation. We will hold hearings and get to the bottom of this serious matter.
MATTHEWS: Talk about the sequence. You can hold hearings any time you want. I just checked it historically.
In 1974, it was the House, by resolution, asked the Judiciary Committee to take up the matter of impeachment. Do you need the resolution of the full House to investigate possible impeachment action?
LIEU: No, we don`t.
And before we even get to the question impeachment, we have to first lay a record as to whether these allegations are true or false. Right now, we have got a news article. We have got to have witnesses come in under oath. We`re going to subpoena documents, review all the evidence.
And we can have those hearings well in advance of any impeachment proceedings, if they were to occur.
MATTHEWS: Well, congressional Republicans remains mostly silent, sir.
"The Washington Post" reports several Republicans on Capitol Hill sought to deflect questions. Ohio Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said that Mueller`s investigation is a place to sift all this out and said it`s important for the investigation to continue unimpeded.
Do you have to wait for Mueller, sir?
LIEU: We do not.
And, also, I am troubled by attorney general nominee William Barr`s testimony, where he suggested that he could hide all or parts of special counsel Mueller`s report. And that`s why Congress, a co-equal branch of government, has an independent duty to conduct our own investigation, subpoena witnesses and documents, and then let the American people know what we find.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know the game they`re playing. They`re saying you can`t impeach the president. And, by the way, if you can`t impeach him, you can`t talk about him in a report, because all the report does is talk about what is indictable.
So, it`s sort of left him out, hasn`t it, by definition, the way that the former or future attorney general is talking?
LIEU: In fact, one way to read William Barr`s testimony is that none of the report will be made public, because his view is that a sitting president cannot be indicted, even though that`s nowhere in the Constitution.
And if there`s no indictment, then you can`t really have anybody see all the negative information that Robert Mueller has found, including if the president committed a variety of crimes.
MATTHEWS: One of the things I didn`t like about Jerry Ford way back then - - I was much younger, of course -- when he pardoned Nixon.
I know a lot of people thought -- even the Kennedy Center up at Harvard thought, well, maybe it was a profile in courage because it got the mess off the front pages for a year.
But let me tell you, people like me wanted to know what Nixon had done. We wanted to know exactly what had happened. And we felt that the pardon eliminated our chance of ever finding out exactly what Nixon did under oath, that he`d have to come up and testify, that all the people around him would have to testify, and we would finally figure out the end of this horrible scandal.
Do you believe we will travel this all the way to the final -- will we know in a year or so what Trump did in all these regards? Will we?
LIEU: I believe one reason Democrats won last November wasn`t just being that we ran on health care and investing in great jobs and infrastructure, but also that we were going to act as a co-equal and separate branch of government and get to the truth.
So Democrats will subpoena the report if Barr tries to hide it, assuming he is confirmed. And we will make sure the American people know the truth, regardless of whether it exonerates Donald Trump or finds him guilty.
MATTHEWS: Well, one way he may try to hide the truth -- I`m talking about the president of the United States -- is to use witness tampering.
Now, he put out today in a tweet that he`s going after these -- wants to be on the lookout for possible damage he can do to Michael Cohen`s father-in- law, who had some legal problems a while back.
And he basically -- like in "The Godfather," he`s threatening the relative. And it`s weirdly funny, but it is weirdly awful too. Here`s a guy who must have seen "The Godfather," like most guys have seen it, and knows that`s a felon in itself. You can`t threaten a guy by saying, I`m going to knock off your brother-in-law or your sister or anybody, your -- I`m going to prosecute your father-in-law.
What do you make of that? Can he keep the witness from appearing before the Oversight Committee?
LIEU: One thing that prosecutors look for is, we look for something called consciousness of guilt, which is, what would a guilty person do that an innocent person would not?
So Donald Trump has had a lot of time now to respond to these allegations, and has he denied them personally? No, he has not. Instead, he tries to intimidate the key witness behind these allegations, and that is, in and of itself, a possible felony.
Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen`s attorney, clearly believes that Donald Trump is trying to intimidate Michael Cohen. And just because the president does it so brazenly doesn`t mean that it also is not a crime.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much for leading into our next segment. Thank you, Congressman Ted Lieu of California.
We`re going to talk about that very question coming up right now.
Does the BuzzFeed report, if true, what are the legal implications for Trump and his family? Because the kids might get involved in this trouble. This is serious business, covering this up, this whole business dealing with the Trump Tower in Moscow.
Covering it up may end up being illegal for some family members.
We will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
While campaigning for president in 2016, Donald Trump was also trying to cut a deal to build a Trump Tower over in Moscow. He was also publicly praising Vladimir Putin, not by coincidence, and promising a better relationship with Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would get along with Russia. And I will get along with Putin. He will respect us.
That`s what we want. We`re not looking for trouble.
I believe we will have a very good relationship with Russia. I believe that I will have a very good relationship with Putin.
I don`t like the way Obama treats Putin.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR: This is a person that kills journalists, political allies -- I mean, political opponents, and...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Invades countries.
SCARBOROUGH: And invades countries. Obviously, that would be a concern, would it not?
TRUMP: He`s running his country. And at least he`s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.
I think Putin has been a very strong leader for Russia. I mean, he`s been a lot stronger than our leader. That, I can tell you.
Wouldn`t it be nice if actually we could get along with Russia?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: All the time he`s trying to get in cahoots with Putin to build that hotel.
Now, according to the report from BuzzFeed News, it appears to president directed his longtime fixer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about those negotiations for the potential Trump Tower in Russia.
What are the potential legal ramifications of all that?
I`m joined by Kim Wehle, a former assistant U.S. attorney, and Greg Brower, a former FBI senior official.
So, in that order, what does this mean legally? Where`s it going?
KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: The question of that -- well, suborning perjury?
Well, I mean, legally, it is a crime. It`s a straight-up crime. It`s not one that requires climbing into someone`s head, like obstruction of justice, to determine how -- what he was thinking. So it`s something that can be easily proven.
The bigger question is whether Mueller would actually indict the president. I think at this point the answer has to be no in that regard.
WEHLE: And so -- well, because we got...
MATTHEWS: Oh, you can`t indict him.
WEHLE: Well, I think you probably could, as a constitutional matter. I teach constitutional law.
But I think we have that OLC memo. I think Barr made it really clear he`s a rule of law guy. He`s going to...
MATTHEWS: Well, here`s the conundrum. I was raising this before with a member of Congress, Ted Lieu, member of the Judiciary.
What happens if Trump -- I`m sorry -- whether Mueller believes all that, what you just said, and said, I can indict a president? OK. That`s sort of the way it is.
But there`s also this other sort of orthodoxy out there, if you can`t indict somebody, shut up about it. Therefore, he doesn`t say anything in his report about Trump`s behavior in regard to all this mess and scandal.
WEHLE: Well, the report -- I mean, I worked on Whitewater.
And there was this -- under the statute, you had to -- Ken had to produce a very long report. That`s not the case under these regulations. There is no report that...
MATTHEWS: Oh, it`s possible, in other words, that members of Congress, who have got impeachment on their mind, Greg, will not have any information from Mueller, by that theory, any information.
GREG BROWER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, the good news for the president potentially is, because of the OLC opinions Kim referenced, a sitting president cannot be indicted.
The bad news is that, unlike any other target of an investigation, who, if not indicted, Congress doesn`t care about, Congress will care a lot about finding out what Mueller found, even if he felt he couldn`t indict the president.
MATTHEWS: And how would they find that? How would they get it?
BROWER: Well, they`re -- unlike -- they`re likely going to simply demand the report, the confidential report that the special counsel gives to the attorney general, and perhaps even call Robert Mueller up to testify.
MATTHEWS: How about William Barr, the new A.G., next A.G.? Can he stop all this and kill the whole thing?
It sounds like he`s keeping that option.
BROWER: He was noncommittal in the hearing, to be sure. And I wouldn`t expect him to be -- to make it commitment at this point.
WEHLE: Well, he said he`d let him finish. He said he`d let him finish the investigation.
BROWER: That`s true.
WEHLE: And he could actually amend the regulations. These are internal DOJ regulations. It`s not a statute.
MATTHEWS: He said in the testimony we just showed that he believes this is obstruction, this is illegal, what he just saw there, suborning perjury.
WEHLE: Yes. Right.
I mean, it`s a straight -- you can`t -- and this is a core constitutional power of Congress to investigate. That`s part of its legislative power. And so here we have got the president of the United States potentially telling someone to lie to a coordinate branch of government.
I have thought a lot about this. And I think, even despite the OLC memorandum, despite all of this, if this were ever to get up before the Supreme Court of the United States -- I used to work with Brett Kavanaugh - - I think it would be very difficult for them to say, listen, we`re all boxed in, there`s no way that Congress can get this information, there`s no way that the executive branch could prosecute.
I think there would have to be -- just like executive privilege, for example, there would have to be a sense of balance here. We have got to figure out...
MATTHEWS: You mean the Supreme Court follows the election returns, basically, the old line. They know how much the public wants to know what happened.
WEHLE: Well, they`re institutionalists.
They -- I mean, the framers wanted checks and balances. And if we have got a situation where it`s a checkmate, there`s no place to actually make this public it`s a problem.
MATTHEWS: Criminal motive here, Greg. Why did the president tell, if he did -- according to this report, he did -- tell Michael Cohen, his lawyer/fixer, to lie about his business dealings in Russia?
They`re not illegal. They looked -- they looked unsavory that he`s doing this during a presidential campaign, but?
BROWER: Well, I think a couple reasons, unsavory, as you point out.
And we don`t know that they`re not illegal. There could have been Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations being committed. We just don`t know enough yet.
There clearly was a reason that, if the reporting is true, that the president didn`t want the Congress and the public to know the extent, the true extent of his dealings in Russia.
MATTHEWS: I can think of why politically he wouldn`t want us to know, because all the time he`s throwing -- blowing kisses over to Moscow to Putin.
It begin -- it might begin to look like he reason is doing that is to warm up a business deal.
WEHLE: Well, I mean, he signed his letter of intent. There are signatures on the letter of intent the day that there was a Republican for -- presidential debate. And then we had all of the clips you`re showing, pro- Putin, pro-Putin, pro-Putin.
WEHLE: And it stopped around the time of the Trump Tower deal in Moscow, when the DNC`s people made -- made the hacking public.
MATTHEWS: You guys use the word exposure in criminal law.
Here`s one. According to BuzzFeed, the president`s son Don Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the Trump Tower Moscow plan from Michael Cohen.
But, in his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the young Don Jr. said he knew very little about the deal and was only peripherally aware about it.
BROWER: Yes, I think...
MATTHEWS: Is he in trouble on this?
The key to all of this, I think, is whether or not the reporting is correct, in that there`s actual corroborating evidence, it`s not just Michael Cohen`s testimony, but there are other witnesses, perhaps documentary evidence, that corroborate what Michael Cohen apparently will say to Congress.
MATTHEWS: Well, what about the kid?
BROWER: Well, again, it depends on what that evidence suggests or indicates about him and others.
WEHLE: It`s also so lawyered. Peripherally -- peripherally involved, that`s a very carefully crafted answer that you could easily dodge.
I think Congress could put him back in the box and say, listen, we want to know what you mean by that and pin him down or he...
MATTHEWS: Would a judge say he was lying if he said peripherally involved, and he was the son and the future owner of the whole enterprise?
WEHLE: Well, it would be a jury that would make that determination. It`s hard to say, without knowing what the evidence is.
MATTHEWS: All right, anyway -- anyway, Kim Wehle, thank you. And, Greg Brower, thanks so much.
Up next: Some Republican still in the Senate came down hard on President Bill Clinton when he was accused of a similar offense of obstruction 20 years ago. Will they be just as hard on President Trump if this BuzzFeed report is true?
Isn`t it wonderful to catch people like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham having to be consistent in how they treated Bill Clinton and be consistent now with the same charge? Won`t it be interesting to watch?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Don`t cheat in a lawsuit by manipulating the testimony of others. Don`t send public officials and friends to tell your lies before a federal grand jury to avoid your legal responsibilities.
Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.
If you believe he`s a perjurer, that he obstructed justice in a civil rights lawsuit, the question is not, should he stay? What if he stays?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Senator Lindsey Graham back in 1999 arguing for the impeachment President Bill Clinton -- he was still in the House -- citing the presence direction to Monica Lewinsky to lie about their relationship.
Senator Mitch McConnell made a similar point during a closed session of Clinton`s impeachment trial, noting that -- quote -- "He obstructed justice by encouraging Ms. Lewinsky to give false testimony. He was interested in saving his hide, not truth and justice. If we have no truth and we have no justice, then we have no nation of laws."
That was Mitch McConnell back then.
As Philip Bump pointed out in "The Washington Post" today, 14 of today`s current U.S. senators voted to hold Bill Clinton accountable for obstruction of justice.
If this new BuzzFeed report that the president directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress is true, will Republicans hold President Trump to the same standards that they held Bill Clinton?
Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL Roundtable.
Annie Karni is a White House reporter for "The New York Times." Jonathan Capehart, of course, and Jennifer Rubin are both opinion writers for "The Washington Post."
Annie -- you first, Annie. I think the question is consistency. Do we expect it?
ANNIE KARNI, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, first of all, if this story turns out to be true, it carries serious implications for the president.
That being said, it`s a different time now. It`s a much more partisan time. And I think politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, have a way of being able to make a, well, that was then and this is now argument.
So I think that consistency -- obviously, these clips will be played a lot if they change their position.
MATTHEWS: They`re hypocritical, by nature.
KARNI: But "I see it differently now from where I sit now" is something that politicians do.
MATTHEWS: That`s hypocritical. Anyway, I`m sorry. You`re being very nice about it and genteel, but I think they`re being hypocritical.
MATTHEWS: And breaking just moments ago, by the way, a spokesman for the special counsel -- that`s Mueller`s office -- just put out a statement in response to the BuzzFeed report, saying: "BuzzFeed`s description of specific statements to the special counsel`s office and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office regarding Mr. Cohen`s congressional testimony are not accurate."
Jonathan, I`m not sure how to -- how do you read that, if you read that as a complete denial of the story that Michael Cohen was told to lie to Congress by this president. I`m not sure it`s a denial. I have to weed through it.
JONATHAN CAPEHART, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, I have read the statement now about five or six times.
And two words jump out at me, description and accurate. They`re not saying it`s false. They`re saying it`s not -- overall...
MATTHEWS: One of the oldest flackery lines in history.
CAPEHART: Right. They`re not accurate.
MATTHEWS: The report is inaccurate.
CAPEHART: And the description of what was said -- now, maybe I`m being overly lawyer-like and not being a lawyer.
MATTHEWS: So are they. So are they.
CAPEHART: But those were two things that jumped out at me.
And the interesting thing will be, how do the two BuzzFeed reporters respond? How do they report on this statement? How do they interpret it?
MATTHEWS: Jennifer, one question I have right off the bat is, why are they responding? Mueller responds to nada, hasn`t responded to anything in a year.
JENNIFER RUBIN, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": That is the biggest question, I think. And I can`t figure out a good answer to that.
Now, in addition to what Jonathan saw, what I see is denial that these things were told to the special prosecutor`s office, to this office.
So perhaps they occurred. Perhaps they were told to a different set of prosecutors, i.e., the Southern District, but not to this office.
But why he would go to this length to deny a story, when, as you say, there have been so many other misinformation, misstatements, and the special counsel has never done that, is very hard to pierce and figure out what is going through his mind and why he would go to that extreme on this statement.
MATTHEWS: Annie, your thoughts, your reporting?
KARNI: It just popped, so I haven`t done any reporting since I have been sitting right here.
But the statement certainly raises more questions than it answers, especially the strangeness of the spokesman that never speaks, which is the Mueller spokesman, issuing a statement, is very strange.
MATTHEWS: OK. We have another party that is trying to shut up this witness, trying to shut up this whole story. And his name is Donald Trump.
And, "Godfather II"-like, he`s scaring the witness into not talking by saying, I may go up to your father-in-law. It does remind me of Pentangeli`s brother coming back from Sicily. I`m sorry.
RUBIN: It does, right. Great scene, by the way.
But, yes, why would he bring this up, I mean, and in public? It`s so bizarre and so atrocious, that -- and that`s sort of the pattern of Donald Trump. If he did this in private, it would be a horror scandal. He does it in public, so people are sort of inured to it and kind of take it for granted.
I don`t know that the special counsel...
MATTHEWS: Is this the behavior of an innocent man, that he says, I don`t want the truth, I don`t want you talking?
RUBIN: And watch your father-in-law while you`re at it, yes.
CAPEHART: And he does it consistently.
This is not the first time he`s gone after Cohen`s father-in-law. He did it on -- with Jeanine Pirro when he called into her show. And he`s done it once before that.
So he`s making -- it`s a consistent pattern here, that he`s trying to put Cohen`s father in rhetorical crossfires.
MATTHEWS: Is he vulnerable?
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to -- let me to go Annie on this, because Trump has the schoolyard bully`s technique. If he senses anything about your look, your height, anything about you, he gets after it, your low energy, you`re little or anything you do, whatever.
In this case, he thinks that -- he thinks Mr. Cohen is worried about his father-in-law, because that means he`s worrying about the marriage, he is worrying about his wife, worrying about the whole family, not just the father-in-law.
But I thought the father`s legal business was behind him for many years. It`s over.
KARNI: Yes, I mean, you`re right that Cohen is someone that Trump knows really well. So he would know if the family is a vulnerability here. He can push on that bruise.
But this is -- the tweets today at Cohen are kind of in line with him pushing the limit of witness tampering that he`s done and that we have seen this gray area in the past, him commanding Sessions to end the special counsel`s investigation.
And it goes right up to that line a lot in terms of, is this witness tampering, or is this just spouting off on Twitter?
MATTHEWS: So this seems to be the big story of the week. I think we had a big story earlier in the week, but as this week goes, as so many weeks lately, every day the story -- the day gets topped the next day by a bigger story.
And this one, I get the feeling that this is the one is going to drive the House impeachment committee.
MATTHEWS: Jerry Nadler is already moving.
RUBIN: If it`s true. If it`s true.
MATTHEWS: I mean, on hearings.
RUBIN: They`re surely going to have hearings.
And I think this points to, I think, a very important point, which is if they can find something concrete, discrete, easily explained to the American people, that will have much more power than a very complicated tale of -- that takes lots of Russian names to explain it.
So perhaps this is too good to be checked, as they say, on this story, but they are going to be looking for these discrete acts which are easily explained and which Republicans in the past have been on record about.
MATTHEWS: It would be great.
Let`s bring in Ken Dilanian on that one. He`s available. Here he is.
Ken, what do you know about this new story?
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, the special counsel`s office has issued an unprecedented statement disputing a part of the BuzzFeed article.
I want to read it to you: "BuzzFeed`s description" -- this is from Peter Carr, Mueller`s so much -- "BuzzFeed`s description of specific statements to the special counsel`s office and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office regarding Mr. Cohen`s congressional testimony are not accurate."
I cannot remember a statement like that coming from Mueller`s office about any news report, pro or con, in the history of the special counsel`s office.
Chris, now, let`s be clear. They`re not disputing the idea that Michael Cohen is testifying, is saying that Trump asked him to lie. What they`re disputing is that there is all this corroborating evidence that they seized from the Trump Organization, which was a key facet of the BuzzFeed article and one of the things that lent it credibility, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Is that to protect their own integrity, that they had custodial -- they had custody of those documents and they don`t want the word to get that somebody`s got to them, because that meant somebody put them out?
Is that what they`re really concerned -- by the way, not accurate is an old term of art for flacks. It doesn`t mean it`s not true. It means that, in certain iotas, it wasn`t quite true.
But it doesn`t deny, as you say, the thrust of the article. Your thoughts?
DILANIAN: No, no, but it does...
MATTHEWS: The flackery involved here.
DILANIAN: But they are disputing, Chris -- I read this as the special counsel is disputing that they have obtained evidence from the Trump Organization, e-mails, documents and testimony saying that Donald Trump asked Michael Cohen to lie.
And, when you think about it, that was always -- I have been saying this on the air today -- that is a little hard to believe, that people would put that in writing, in text messages, in e-mails, oh, Trump wants Cohen to lie to Congress.
That`s -- that is what the article suggested. That was the hardest part of it to believe. But it`s also the thing that led -- that suggested that it was corroborated, and it`s not just the word of Michael Cohen, an admitted liar and a soon-to-be convicted felon, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Ken Dilanian, who was available to us tonight. Thank you, sir.
I have to say that I am -- this doesn`t change the story for me yet. Not accurate is an old term of art. We all know that.
KARNI: I get it. It opens more questions than it answers.
But one thing to see is, one story, one huge story happened today. So far, it`s standing out there by itself. No one else confirmed it yet. And yet it took -- within hours, Democrats were calling that, if this is true, the president should be impeached.
MATTHEWS: Every one of them.
KARNI: It`s going to be -- just it`s a reminder of how hard it`s going to be for Nancy Pelosi, who claims she wants to hold off impeachment when the Mueller report comes out, that there`s just -- they`re ready to go.
And, if she wants to hold it up, it`s going to be very difficult for her.
MATTHEWS: Well, she has to at some point. She has to hold it up, because they have to have the report first. I think that`s fair.
MATTHEWS: The Roundtable is sticking with us.
And up next, these three will Tell Me Something I Don`t Know.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We`re 28 days into the government shutdown, and Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi don`t seem any closer to making a deal to reopen our government.
And late tonight, Trump tweeted: "I will be making a major announcement concerning the humanitarian crisis on our southern border and the shutdown tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 p.m. live from the White House.
Well that`s Trump.
When is this going to end, Annie?
KARNI: I wish I knew. No one knows. It`s Friday of another week has passed. The sides are no closer than they were last Friday, potentially even worse. There`s no talks.
The only end that I`m hearing talk about is a declaration of a national emergency. I don`t know necessarily think that`s what he`s doing tomorrow. If you notice, the tweet said humanitarian crisis. It didn`t say national emergency.
MATTHEWS: How about a stochastic variable coming in here, Jonathan, something from outside the box, something that has nothing to do with either of these personalities we`re dealing with?
RUBIN: Well, we hope it`s not something serious.
I mean, people are talking about a disaster or some kind of horrible...
MATTHEWS: Yes, it will be, probably.
How about the air traffic controllers walking off and saying, we can`t do this without...
RUBIN: Well, that, I think, is probably the most realistic scenario.
Now, they`re not legally allowed to do it. They`re not allowed to have a wildcat strike, but they`re already not appearing in very great numbers. The sick-out rate is going up.
So at the point at which perhaps the Super Bowl airport is threatened with a shutdown, maybe that would get Donald Trump...
MATTHEWS: Maybe Mitch McConnell wake up and play broker here and come up with some new effort on border enforcement that Democrats can agree with that isn`t a wall.
CAPEHART: But that -- but that would require the president to go along.
We`re in this mess because the president put out a deal, and then snatched it back.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, maybe Rush Limbaugh will retire.
Anyway, thank you, Annie Karni, Jonathan Capehart, and Jennifer Rubin.
Coming up next, my thoughts on the shortest road and the surest road to impeachment.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Let Me Finish tonight with the way today`s story of presidential obstruction of justice fits into history.
If Donald Trump told his lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen to lie to the Congress, we have a perfect match to what Richard Nixon was impeached for. It was right there in article one.
The question from the beginning of the current scandal is whether the truth is, what happened, the guilt of the president for a particular deed, will be enough to move the Congress politically.
Will you get a majority of the House of Representatives and two-thirds of the U.S. Senate to vote to remove him from office?
Well, that last part is important because, if the House impeaches and the Senate fails to convict with a two-thirds vote, the verdict of history is that Trump would be acquitted. That`s the word, acquitted, which just might be enough to win him reelection and belittle the whole exercise.
Richard Nixon knew he was going to be impeached and convicted. That`s why he quit, because the Democrats and enough Republicans were behaving as if they really weren`t that happy about doing it. They looked grave when they voted for those articles of impeachment in the House Judiciary Committee.
They -- and that included the Democrats -- looked like they were doing what needed to be done, not something that they relished doing. There was no cheering.
And that`s the way the Democrats and any Republicans that could be scared up would need to do it this time.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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