Show: HARDBALL Date: February 7, 2019 Guest: Raja Krishnamoorthi, Asawin Suebsaeng, Pete Buttigieg, Donna Edwards, Derrick Johnson
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Divided government bites. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
We have a lot of news coming up this hour including President Trump again lashing out at House investigations in the Russia while his acting attorney general goes to war with another congressional committee. And we are getting new details on exactly how Robert Mueller discovered key elements in his investigation of the Russian conspiracy, that`s according to a newly released transcript of the closed door hearing in Paul Manafort`s criminal case.
And late today, a major breaking story about billionaire "Washington Post` publisher Jeff Bezos who is accusing the "National Enquirer" of blackmail more and I`m serious. More on that explosive story in a moment.
We begin with how the Democrat ramping up their oversight of the President and his administration. Less than 24 hours after President Trump`s warning shot over investigations, Democrats up the ante, with the House intelligence committee outlining a new investigation that will go beyond Russia and into the President`s finances, related to Russia or other foreign entities.
Today, the President targeted the committee`s Democratic chairman writing, so now Congressman Adam Schiff announces, after having found zero Russian can collusion, he is going to go looking at every aspect of my life, both financial and personal even though there is no reason to be doing so, never happened before. Unlimited Presidential harassment.
The President went on to add, the Democrats and their committees are going nuts. The Republicans never did this to President Obama. There would be no time left to run the government.
Meanwhile, Trump`s acting attorney general Matt Whitaker has threatened to walk from his scheduled testimony tomorrow before he House judiciary committee. That after the committee voted to authorize the subpoena if Whitaker refused to show up or even answer questions they have got. The department of justice demanded a written promised from the committee, however, that Whitaker won`t be subpoenaed today or during his testimony tomorrow.
In a statement, Whittaker said based upon today`s action, it is imperative the committee`s true intention is not to discuss the great work of the department of justice but to create a public spectacle. Political theater is not the purpose of an oversight hearing and I will not allow that to be the case. Well, that the acting attorney general.
And just a short while ago, Chairman Nadler of the Judiciary Committee responded to Whittaker`s demand noting that if he shows up quote "to the extent that you believe you are unable to fully respond to any specific question, we are prepared to handle your concerns on a case-by-case basis both during and after tomorrow`s hearing. Wow.
I`m joined now Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi who is a Democrat from Illinois and a member of the House intelligence committee. Benjamin Wittes is editor-in-chief of Lawfare and NBC News law analyst and Natasha Bertrand, of course, staff writer for "The Atlanta."
Thank you all. This is amazing. What`s going on? Congressman, is the acting attorney general going to show up tomorrow before the committee or not?
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I hope so. You know, he said that he would appear voluntarily and there would be no need for a subpoena. So hopefully he shows up tomorrow.
MATTHEWS: But is this thing about executive privilege? To me, the only reason you want to talk to him is you want to know, what does he talk to Mueller about? What`s he know about Mueller? What authorities he is pushing on Mueller? And what`s he hearing from the President about what he is supposed to do with Mueller? Will he answer any of questions?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I`m not going - I`m part of the judiciary committee but I`m sure that they are going to ask him about oversight of the Mueller investigation, whether he is going to allow it to proceed unimpeded.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I think as he wrote previously in an op-ed, he looks on it - he is disparaged the Mueller investigation in the past. So it`s really unclear how he can be an honest broker about it.
MATTHEWS: Ben, what is going here with executive privilege, this whole question? I`m not going to show up if you ask tough questions. And this is a divided government. We have got Democrats in power now. They have got the power of the subpoena. Something Richard Nixon was always afraid of when the Democrats had it. And now they have done it again against this Republican president.
BENJAMIN WITTES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, LAWFARE: So that`s exactly the answer to the question, right. This is both branches of government behaving exactly as you would expect them to under these circumstances. Democrats in control of the House are trying to use that to get answers to some pretty serious questions.
And the justice department is not thrilled about the idea of having the acting attorney general answer questions about his personal communications with the President of the United States. So you have this showdown where the two, you know, rams lock horns and one group says we reserve the right to subpoena you if you don`t answer our questions and here are the questions we are going to ask you.
And the other side says if you don`t promise you are not going to subpoena me, I`m not showing up and we will see tomorrow who blinks.
MATTHEWS: Well, the one truly trusted figure this whole discussion, Natasha, is Robert Mueller, the special counsel. He is unscathed. Nobody questions. He is like Ralph nadir of old. He is the guy you got to trust. Now, the question is he going to get his report before the public and before the Congress or not? And I think that`s why they would know, members of Congress want to know and that is why we would subpoena him. Isn`t the question, has he cut a deal with the president? Is he going to hold it back in some ways? Is he going to redact a lot of it? He is going to play games. Your thoughts?
NATASHA BERTRAND, REPORTER, THE ATLANTIC: That is the big question, Chris. That`s why so many Democrats were weary of supporting Bill Barr`s nomination in the first place because Bill Barr has criticized elements of the Mueller investigation. He has said that Mueller has over reached in his investigation into whether or not the President obstructed justice or if there is a portion of the report on his attempts to derail the Russia investigation, then how is Bill Barr going to receive that? Is he going to redact it? Is he going to withhold it completely and can the Democrats then in the Houses subpoena that information from the justice department?
But of course, you know, Bill Barr`s nomination has been very controversial on the left because he has not committed or he did not commit in his nomination, in his confirmation hearings to release that full report. And we don`t even know, I think it is worth remembering, we don`t even know if this is going to be an actual report. We don`t know what form this is going to take. But obviously his communications with the President about all of this and I think that`s why Democrats were interested to hear from Whitaker.
His communications with the President about Mueller, his news on the special counsel probe, about things like recusal are very, very important. And the idea that Whitaker is not willing and at the 11th hour, told Democrats he is not willing to go sit for discussions and for a hearing about hid discussions with the President is very telling. Because I think we can all be assured that it`s very unlikely that the President would have appointed Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general and now Bill Barr as the full attorney general if he did not receive some kind of assurances or he didn`t have at least a conversation with both of them about recusal and about the Mueller probe.
MATTHEWS: Well, one Democrat on the Intel committee of the House (INAUDIBLE) of California told "Axios`" Jonathan Swan, the committee plans the deep dive now saying quote "we are going to take on an MRI, you know, one of those x-ray machines phasing to any Russian financing that the Trump organization and the President may have had.
Let`s bring in Jonathan Swan right now, "Axios`" national political reporter.
This is driving the President insane. He always said I don`t want the Mueller investigation to go into my finances. And now the new chair of the House intelligence where who the President has been mocking now for two years personally making fun of his name, Schiff, making him sound like the other SH word and he has been terrible, the guy. And now he fears the guy is coming back with him with a vengeance and my question to you is how hot is this going to get -- Jonathan?
JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: I think it`s not over stating to say that this is potentially the most threatening fight of the Trump presidency so far. Trump drew a very clear red line with the "New York Times" earlier in the administration saying that if Mueller approached his business affairs, his personal finances, it would be out of bounds. And now the Democrats on the House intelligence committee are explicitly saying that.
What they are most interested in are these extraordinary series of cash purchases that President Trump made then Donald Trump private citizen made in the decade before he ran for President.
The "Washington Post" did a story last year that I think deserved a lot more attention than it got. They reported that the President - again, Donald Trump spent -- the Trump organization spent some $400 million in cash to buy properties around the world. This is very unusual. It`s not how real estate is typically done. Usually it`s leveraged with debt. And in fact, Donald Trump called earlier in his career has called himself the king of debt. So it was out of character for him.
So Eric Swalwell told me this last night, and Adam Schiff has said this publicly, they are going to put a microscope over how they got the money and that`s going to be a trail they follow with real determination. They have also hired some people on the committee who have expertise I`m told in tracing money flows through complex money transactions.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, Congressman Raja, I have to tell you this is what I have been thinking for months. You know in the movie in yesterday when they went over to Japan for years to get money. Then the movies didn`t make any money so then they go to the American Indian tribes. You know, they are American for money. They go around for all -- and now I hear if you are going to do anything in real estate in this country, he can go to Russia. That`s the only where there is all these, you know, oligarchs with lots of cash. They want to loan (ph). They want to get rid of it. They have been looting that country since 1991 and they want to have a place to make some money, more money with -- Donald Trump.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I think you have to follow the rubbles (ph). I think, you know, in this particular case the President did draw a red line. We don`t know if Mueller crossed that red line. We just don`t know. That`s why it is all the more important --.
MATTHEWS: Do you think Deutsche bank was a pass through for the Russians? Or was that money for 666 shows up and I`m just thinking all this cash, Donald Trump can repay it?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I can`t comment on the specifics but for sure Deutsche bank is all over the news as to being a conduit for various oligarchs who want to get money into the west, transforming black money into white money.
MATTHEWS: This guy, Adam Schiff, has the bit in his teeth. He is not going to limit himself to mandates prescribe Robert Mueller. He is going after this guy`s finances.
WITTES: So that last point that you made is an extremely important one. People think of the Robert Mueller investigation as this roving all our questions of about Donald Trump. One thing we have learned about Robert Mueller over the last two years is that he is extremely limited, self- limited, mostly, he very careful about own jurisdiction and staying within his lane. And that means that a huge amount of stuff that we think of when we think of Trump, we think of the ethical questions, we think of the legal questions about trump are actually outside the Robert Mueller lane because he is being a good boy and staying in his lane. That means there`s a lot of space for the southern district of New York, there is a lot of space for the New York attorney general`s office and there is a lot of space for congressional investigator whose, as you say, have a bit in their mouth.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Because he has been mocking this guy. I mean, human nature tells me that Schiff is going to get serious with this.
Anyway, President Trump says Republicans didn`t harass President Obama with just six days after the 2010 midterms when Republicans regain the House.
"Politico" report, the incoming House oversight chair, Darrel Issa promised hundreds of hearings. Saying I want seven hearing as week times 40 weeks.
Congressman, how dare this president and his crowd say don`t harass a President. He was chasing him to Hawaii saying I have got some investigators down there coming up with good stuff to prove he was an illegal alien, you know.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: And what was Benghazi all about, right? I mean, look, this is very serious. And we have to come to a reckoning with what happened in 2016. Chairman Schiff is considered to have, you know, one of the highest - he is held in very high regard in Congress because he does things by the book and that`s what he`s going to do here and I`m very confident that we are going to let the chips fall where they may. We are going to investigate and see what happens after that. But - you know, if the President thinks harassment equals oversight, well, you know, I`m sorry a to say we are going to be, you know, doing our duty in the oversight.
MATTHEWS: Question to you at the bottom of all of this. If the president - it has turned out that the Russians had a hook in this president, the oligarchs, should he be removed from office?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: If they had a hook into --.
MATTHEWS: Himself into what he does in terms of U.S./Russian relations. That he has not the freedom of our commander-in-chief, that he is in fact working for the Russians because of what he owes them, what pictures they have, whatever power they have over him?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think that crosses the red line. I think that would probably go to impeachment.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to Jonathan on this report here. Tell us about where this goes, this question about the money and where it`s leading. Follow the money.
SWAN: Well, where it will go is as a matter of policy, the House intelligence committee will try get people from the Trump organization to voluntarily testify and they may or may not do that.
My understanding from talking to people who are close to the president, is you that when they start to encroach on the Trump organization (INAUDIBLE), delve into it, they are going to sit on them because they see that is an issue that -- again the President drew that red line. That`s somewhere that they are not going to let them go. So then you get into litigation. You get into a court fight. You get into something that becomes very, very ugly and ultimately, it becomes a political contest.
The Trump people are going to be arguing that Adam Schiff has exceeded his duties and his bounds and that this is a witch hunt and Democrats will argue that they are doing their oversight. So again, I think it`s going to end up in the courts. And I think it is going to get very ugly pretty quickly.
MATTHEWS: What right does this President in the constitution draw a red line and say you can`t ask about my money? Where is that written, congressman? I`m not familiar with that.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: There`s no red line such as that. And you know, Chairman Richie Neal (ph) is initiating hearing in the ways and means committee to get access to the President`s tax returns. And the reason is that we are all - I mean, there`s a big question about why the President is handling himself the way he is handling himself. And I think a lot of the answers are in his personal finances and how they are entangled with foreign actors.
MATTHEWS: Well, everybody watching right now, this is a (INAUDIBLE) fraction. If you voted Democrat in the last November election, it matters. And you are watching it right now.
The Democrats control the House. They have the power to subpoena. They control the committees of Intel and judiciary and oversight and it`s all going to matter in the weeks and months ahead. It is important that you voted. Thank you.
Congressman Krishnamoorthi, thank you very much, of Illinois.
Natasha Bertrand, Jonathan Swan for raising with the latest news.
And Ben Wittes, thank you sticking with us tonight.
Coming up, a bombshell story out of late night. Jeff Bezos, the billionaire owner of Amazon and the "Washington Post" is accusing the "National Enquirer" of blackmailing him. That`s next. Stay with us. This story will be easy to follow. I`m just hearing about it.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We have breaking news tonight on the "National Enquirer" in the billionaire owner of Amazon and the "Washington Post," Jeff Bezos.
Tonight, tonight, Bezos published a personal account accusing the "National Enquirer" of blackmail, of extortion. This comes after Bezos announced he was divorcing his wife last month.
"The national Enquirer" published the story on that same day alleging that Bezos had an affair and published personal text and images of Bezos and the woman involved. Shortly afterwards, Bezos launch an investigation into how those texts and photos were leaked to AMI. In a blog post tonight on medium, Bezos includes that he says is in an email exchange with lawyers for AMI, the parent company of the "National Enquirer," Bezos claims that in those emails the "National Enquirer" threatened to release more damaging images unless Bezos ended his investigation of them. NBC News has reached out to both AMI and Amazon but they have not responded.
Additionally MSNBC has not seen copies of the letters themselves.
Back with now is Ben Wittes and joining me now is Asawin Suebsaeng, White House reporter for "the Daily Beast" of course and Dylan Byers, NBC News` own senior media reporter. He joins by phone.
Dylan, just start with the beginning and tell us what this is about.
DYLAN BYERS, NBC NEWS SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Sure.
Well, it`s quite extraordinary, Chris. What you have here is, you have the wealthiest man in the world accusing the country`s most notorious tabloid of both blackmail and extortion. And those are his words.
And rather than being what he says is held hostage to that kind of debased journalism, he`s instead going out and trying to expose "The National Enquirer," expose its chairman, David Pecker, for what they`re trying to do to him, and, basically, effectively saying, come at me with everything you got. I will expose you.
He`s also, by the way, Chris, we should note, implying, at the very least, that part of the motivation for "The National Enquirer" in going after Jeff Bezos had to do with "The Washington Post," his ownership of "The Washington Post," and "The Washington Post"`s coverage of both Trump and its unwillingness to give up the attention that`s being paid to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
So he`s implying a political motive there in terms of who it was that wanted to go after him, who it was that wanted to expose the extramarital affair he was having that ultimately resulted in the end of his 25-year marriage.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the M.O., Asawin.
It seems to me, if you believe all this from the point of view of Jeff Bezos, that he`s being extorted, blackmailed, and he`s doing it -- they`re doing it because he`s been an honest publisher of a newspaper. They have been giving honest coverage of what`s been going on with AMI and "The National Enquirer," and, of course, this president.
ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, THE DAILY BEAST: Mm-hmm.
MATTHEWS: But, also, they seemed to have retaliated against him for investing any how the leak occurred of those pictures which were embarrassing to him.
SUEBSAENG: Correct. And we were...
MATTHEWS: There are so many lines of this war.
SUEBSAENG: Right. Absolutely. And it actually gets way more convoluted than that.
We were the first to report, at TheDailyBeast.com, last week that Jeff Bezos has personally funded and launched an investigation into how these text messages ended up in "The National Enquirer," which is effectively a pro-Trump Organization.
They acted as basically a media enforcer arm of the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. And they...
MATTHEWS: He used a really smart security guy too, Gavin de Becker.
MATTHEWS: I have been reading that guy for years. He`s good.
SUEBSAENG: He`s also been for a while Jeff Bezos` personal security guy.
So he tasked Gavin de Becker with figuring out how this got into "The National Enquirer." And they narrowed it down to a list, a short list of suspects that ended up being basically only Michael Sanchez, who is the brother of Lauren Sanchez, who was Jeff Bezos` mistress.
And Michael Sanchez just so happens to be an associate, both personally and professionally, of certain peripheral Trump world figures, such as Roger Stone and Carter Page.
MATTHEWS: So, what would be the motive here of getting that material, that embarrassing material, about Bezos and his affair, alleged affair, to "The National Enquirer"? Who would want to get the dirt in the press?
SUEBSAENG: Well, theories that have been kicked around by Gavin de Becker and his team, Jeff Bezos` investigators, is that there was a possible political motivation to this.
I`m not sure if they know exactly what it is yet, but....
MATTHEWS: You mean it`s a war they were willing to launch against the mainstream press, basically?
SUEBSAENG: Specifically "The Washington Post" and Jeff Bezos. Again, these are just theories. I don`t know if anything`s conclusive yet, but certainly people that Michael Sanchez, who was the suspected leaker on this, and people he`s associated with, are very friendly...
MATTHEWS: What was his motive? What was his motive of leaking? I don`t know how he got these so-called -- these texts or pictures, whatever.
SUEBSAENG: Well, he`s -- he just happens to be the brother of Jeff Bezos` mistress. So that is one possible avenue.
MATTHEWS: Well, why would he want to -- why would that be a motive for releasing the relationship -- the relationship itself?
SUEBSAENG: Well, again, via my reporting, it`s not 100 percent clear yet.
All that we know is that Bezos` people suspect that he is the prime suspect and that he is very publicly a very pro-Trump person and has a relationship with "The National Enquirer."
MATTHEWS: Well, it looks like a limited TV series.
You go ahead. It looks like a limited TV series right here, Dylan Byers. And the good guy is obviously the one who released the information, because we in the world like to know what happens. We want to know what people are up to.
And Bezos has made the smart move of putting out at least his account of the truth. Your thoughts, Dylan?
I just want to say, look -- and we should note at the top we don`t know exactly what the motive is. We don`t know who was behind this.
But, looking at what Jeff Bezos just published online, it is clear that he thinks, that his team thinks that there are two people -- there are two parties that would want to go after him, would want to besmirch his reputation and that of "The Washington Post."
And Bezos clearly in that letter implicates both President Trump, as well as what he describes as people who would be upset with the coverage of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. To me, that reads as an indictment of Saudi Arabia or somebody who`s trying to do a favor for Saudi Arabia.
So I think it`s actually quite clear in Bezos` letter who they believe is behind all this.
MATTHEWS: Well, Dylan, I`m going to speak about that at the end of the program tonight, because I do care about that case, about the Khashoggi -- and the way he was killed and butchered by apparently the Saudi Arabians.
But what -- who would have an interest with them? Who would be in bed with the Saudis on this one?
MATTHEWS: Protecting them from what looks like premeditated and horrible murder of a journalist? Who would want to defend that?
BYERS: It`s a fantastic -- it`s a fantastic question.
And I think, if there`s an answer to it, whatever that answer is, obviously, offends all good moral judgment.
That`s probably one of the most frustrating aspects of this, is that, while Jeff Bezos goes out and lays bare these letters, lays bare what he describes as the extortion and the blackmail, he does not come to a specific accusation in terms of what he believes those political motivations are.
Rather, he sort of floats them out there for us to have these ultimately inconclusive conversations.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about this kind of blackmail, Ben.
Tell us about -- you`re using -- it`s been using -- it was in the earliest days of the private eyes in San Francisco and L.A., you know, the old mystery stories, taking a picture of somebody in flagrante with his girlfriend. This is -- this is the way crime stories develop.
In this case, the good guy, it seems to me, is the one who exposes it.
So I want to tip my hat to Jeff Bezos about this. The most important thing he said in that article -- and I don`t have the exact text in front of me - - is that, if I don`t expose what happened to me here, if I don`t stand up to this, what about all the other people? Who, if not me, is going to have the power to do this?
MATTHEWS: Who aren`t billionaires.
WITTES: Who aren`t billionaires.
Now, a couple years ago, I did a study of online sextortion with a couple colleagues. And we actually found out who the average victim of this sort of thing is. And it`s teenagers. These are teenagers who go online. Somebody gets a picture of them, and they get extorted into producing pornography in incredibly brutal ways.
It`s a -- in the FBI, they call it sextortion. It`s incredibly common.
MATTHEWS: And they`re afraid of being embarrassed in front of their friends, their parents.
WITTES: Their churches, their schools.
And they do horrible, degrading things over very long periods of time.
MATTHEWS: And they`re hooked.
WITTES: They basically become sex slaves for...
MATTHEWS: They`re hooked.
WITTES: Because it is very hard to do what Jeff Bezos just did and just out yourself and say, hey, somebody has something on me, and I am not going to comply with the demands. I`m just going to out myself.
So, yes, he`s a billionaire. He`s the kind of billionaire who can hire professional security. He can hire -- he owns a newspaper. He`s got the ability to speak for himself. That`s a really empowered position. It`s still hard to do what he did today.
And I think he deserves a lot of credit.
MATTHEWS: Dylan, when you commit a crime, you create a vulnerability for yourself. I don`t care who you are. Nobody gets -- most people don`t think they`re going to -- well, they don`t get away with it.
The fact that AMI, "The National Enquirer," would engage in such a salient -- would take a shot like this -- here`s a way to bring this guy, we got some dirt on him, old-time sordid stuff, even this guy will break from this and do what we want him to do.
Tell us about that thinking that went into that, if this is what happened here.
Well, what I would say, Chris, is that, if you look at the sort of track record that AMI has had, if you even look at what David Pecker has acknowledged about the sort of catch-and-kill stories he did in regards to President Trump, I would say that this is not by any means a one-off.
This is the business that tabloids like "The National Enquirer" are in. And that mind-set, while it`s so hard, I think, for most people to understand, that is the mind-set that governs tabloids like "The National Enquirer." It is the mind-set that keeps them in business.
And I think one of the reasons that so many people, like Ben said, are tipping the hat to Jeff Bezos in this instance is because they feel like he`s exposing an aspect of American journalism which we don`t always talk about in the mainstream media, but an aspect of American journalism that is incredibly sordid, that is incredibly harmful to the lives of so many people, that sort of preys upon the American penchant for gossip and mudslinging.
And I agree with Ben. A tip of the hat to him for that.
MATTHEWS: Merchants of dirt. Awful.
Anyway, thank you, Ben Wittes.
Thank you, Asawin, Asawin Suebsaeng. It`s great to have you on, on this weird occasion. And we you got you, like, off a fire pole tonight. Thanks for coming in.
SUEBSAENG: Any time.
MATTHEWS: And thank you, Dylan Byers, our own, for this.
Up next: What is going on in Virginia? More chaos is surfacing by the day. This is one after another. This is the dominoes of hell.
Anyway, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, he is joining us. He`s the youngest candidate exploring a presidential run. He joins us to discuss that and more. He will here in a minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND, INDIANA: I think we need bold ideas. We need a different perspective. And I think it`s not a bad thing to come from a different generation.
Our generation is the one that provided most of the troops after 9/11. We`re the generation that grew up with school shootings as the norm. We`re the generation that`s going to pay the bill for some of these tax policies right now. And we`re the ones that are going to be living through the impacts of climate change that are accelerating as we speak.
QUESTION: That`s right.
BUTTIGIEG: So if you`re thinking about what the world`s going to look like in 2054, which is when I will be the current age of the current president, you just have a different sense of urgency around some of these issues, because they`re not somebody else`s problem. They`re personal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is currently exploring a run for president in 2020. If elected, the Democrat would be the youngest president history, as well as the first openly gay person to hold the office.
Mayor Buttigieg joins me right now.
Well, you look at -- look at this environment. Look at this wonderful swirl of fun you`re walking into. We have everything going on right now, Mr. Mayor, I mean, Jeff Bezos saying he`s being blackmailed, extorted about an affair, the same old stuff that "L.A. Confidential" was about 100 years ago.
What do you think of the environment right now -- right now? And why would you walk into a -- put yourself on a pedestal being a candidate right now?
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, blackmail, blackface, there are a whole bunch of horrors going on right now.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, you put that together.
BUTTIGIEG: And, unfortunately, this is what we see a lot of the time when we tune into what`s going on in our politics.
Some of these are things that we have to contend with. There`s no -- I don`t know what`s going on with the blackmail situation, other than that I think it reflects what happens when a mob mentality continues to reach the highest levels of our business and political worlds.
I do know that, when it comes to the issues that we have been facing in a fresh way in this country around race and the relationship between a racist past and racism in the present, that there`s no way to work through some of these issues but the hard way.
And that`s all right. We should be willing to face these challenges.
MATTHEWS: It does seem that, once you move up -- and you would go from mayor to presidential candidate -- that the level of scrutiny just changes dramatically.
I don`t think people are ever ready for it, because you could be a senator with something a little bit embarrassing going on in your life on a regular basis, but you will be OK probably.
You announce for president, all of a sudden, everybody`s watching. You know, I have seen careers changed on the downward spiral rather quickly.
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, I mean, scrutiny comes to anybody in that arena, and especially for my generation.
I think everybody has made an ass of themselves at some point, but when you`re my age or younger, chances are somebody was there to put it on social media too.
At the same time, as a mayor, you`re accustomed to a different kind of scrutiny, which is backyard scrutiny. When we make a decision, from the most parochial-seeming parks and recreation tweak, to major consequential decisions around economic development or policing or some of the other most sensitive issues of our time, somebody will stop you on the street.
Somebody will stop you at the grocery. Somebody will hold you accountable for how your decision affected them. And I wish our national politics had a bit more of that character.
BUTTIGIEG: I think all politics is local, especially national politics. They affect people in their everyday lives.
And I think the reality-based world of local government and mayors is something we could do well to have a little more of on the national stage.
MATTHEWS: You`re -- you`re an openly gay gentlemen. You`re married.
You know, it`s interesting. My first book I ever read about politics -- and I loved the book -- was about a senator from out West who shot himself to death because he was going to be outed, "Advise and Consent," one of the great political novels.
I mean, we`re living in a better time, I think, in some ways, don`t you think?
If you pick up my book "Shortest Way Home," which will be coming out next week, you will find a much happier ending, which is that I got married to a wonderful husband, and he`s a big part of my life. And he`s right at my side as we go into this political process.
But I don`t think that means that the struggle is over for equality. Yes, thank goodness marriage equality has come to the land, but right here in Indiana, we don`t even have hate crimes legislation. It`s still perfectly legal in many parts of our country to fire somebody because of who they love.
And, obviously, a president who felt comfortable faking a disability to get out of military service when it was his time -- when it was his turn to serve feels comfortable using Twitter to endanger the careers of trans military members today.
MATTHEWS: Mayor, you have been on this show before. I want you back again.
But now`s your chance. You`re on the stage. You`re standing about 10 feet from Donald Trump. I want you to tell him to his face, as if he were there, why you should be president and not him.
BUTTIGIEG: The one thing I have to say to the president is, it`s not about you.
It`s about people in communities like South Bend who are looking for real answers and real results. I have more experience in government than the current president. I have more executive experience even than the vice president.
And it might not be a bad idea to have somebody who actually lives a middle-class lifestyle in a Midwestern neighborhood to be working on some of these issues, somebody who actually cares about things, as you said in the intro, like climate change, not because they`re talking points or because of how they play into the political game in Washington, but because they`re personal, because people like me have a personal stake in where this country is headed.
MATTHEWS: It would be great to see in the jamboree that`s coming, Mr. Mayor. It`s going to be a big crowd, and you`re going to be right in the middle of it.
Thank you so much.
BUTTIGIEG: Thanks for having me.
MATTHEWS: The mayor of South Bend Indiana, Pete Buttigieg.
Up next: the latest in the ever-growing field of Democratic presidential candidates. Can they take the heat? We`re going to see. Can they withstand the intense scrutiny we`re seeing?
Everybody`s got something coming at them right now. Two of them are already struggling at the front.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
There they are.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The Democratic race to take on President Trump in 2020 is heating up. Five Democrats have formally declared their run for the White House.
And according to "Politico", former Vice President Joe Biden closing in on his decision. Quote: In recent weeks, the former vice president and long time Democratic senator has spoken with former congressional colleagues about he sees his chances in 2020, his timing for entering the races and what it would take for him to compete in a crowded Democratic primary.
The Democratic field will get even more crowded this weekend when two big- name Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar officially announce their candidacies. Both would enter the race in a brutal political atmosphere.
Senator Warren continues to apologize for how she`s identified herself in the past.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I had a good conversation last week with Chief Baker, who is chief of the Cherokee Tribes, and I told Chief Baker that I am sorry, that I extended confusion about tribal citizenship and tribal sovereignty and for harm caused. I am also sorry for not being more mindful of this decades ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: As for Senator Klobuchar, "The Huffington Post" reports the senator is struggling right now to find people to work in her campaign in part because of how they say she treats her staff. In response, a spokesperson for Klobuchar says she loves her staff and that many of them have worked with her for years. As we wait their official announcement this weekend, a rising star in the Democratic Party said she`s not closing the door on a potential 2020 run.
That`s up next. Stick with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STACEY ABRAMS (D), FORMER GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: We may come from different sides of the political aisle, but our joint commitment to the ideals of this nation cannot be negotiable. Our most urgent work is to realize American`s dreams of today and tomorrow, to carve a path for independence and prosperity that can last a lifetime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Stacey Abrams, everybody knows, giving the Democratic response in the State of the Union, after losing a tight race for governor, like a point she lost by down in Georgia.
Abrams received a lot of praise for that address she gave that has had some reporters, actually supporters out there saying she should be running for president.
As "The New York Times" reports, Ms. Abrams`s ability to articulate an uncompromising liberal message while also blending themes of unity and togetherness impressed both ardent leftists and Democrats more toward the political center, a rare combination in such polarizing times.
In interview today, Abrams left the door open for a potential run for the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, everybody is already getting ready for 2020 and a lot of people are talking you up as a potential candidate. Is there any chance you`re thinking about throwing your hat in the ring?
ABRAMS: As I said, I`m thinking about everything. I gave myself a deadline until the end of March to make a decision about what I`m going to do next. And that means I think of all things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by former Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland, and Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP.
Great duo to come on. I`m telling you Beto by lost about two points and she lost by 1.4 and they`re being talked about for president. What`s going on?
FORMER REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: Well, I`m a big friend and fan of Stacey Abrams and I just think both the way that she spoke after the State of the Union message and whatever she decides to do and she spoke like a senator, she spoke like a president, she spoke like a governor. It`s her choice.
MATTHEWS: Well, it is her choice. What would you say?
EDWARDS: You know what? I don`t know. I mean that, you know, whenever you run for office, it has to be what you`re passionate about, what you want to do. You have to feel it in your gut and I think Stacey`s going to check hers and then apparently we`re all going to find out again in March.
MATTHEWS: I think she wants be to governor.
DERRICK JOHNSON, CEO & PRESIDENT, NAACP: You know, Stacey and I, we`ve been friends for over 25 years. She`s a Mississippi native and I can honestly say she`s one of the most intelligent person I know. She was sharp when we were both in undergrad, she`s sharp now, And with her strategic mind, let`s wait to see what happens.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the Democratic fight right now? We got -- these stories are growing, they`re not going away. Warren`s problem with this saying -- now it came out than when she`s applying for the Texas bar back in `84, she called herself an American Indian, handwritten. Clearly, people say, well, that might have been an affirmative action effort, it maybe something, what it is, but it`s not true.
What do you make of it?
EDWARDS: Yes. You know, when I look at Senator Warren, she hasn`t come up with a cogent explanation that she can put all of this behind her. But I think each one of these candidates has a thing, and they`re going to be attacked and attacked quickly. And the question is, who gets attacked, who gets up and then can prove they`re the ones who can take on Donald Trump. Because if they think they`re being charged now, wait until --
MATTHEWS: How do you sell -- Bobby Kennedy used to say, hang a lantern on your problem because they`re going to point to it anyways. She must as well start with it, you know? How does she hang a lantern on this problem of her identity?
JOHNSON: Well, you know, this is going to pester her until she come up with a clear answer. But the value proposition of Elizabeth Warren is around economic security. I think more people are concerned about that than the past racial identity or ethnic identity that she`s struggling with.
If she can penetrate through that, and she gets her economic message, I think we can all benefit from that.
MATTHEWS: That`s well said.
Let me ask you about that -- let`s get out of Virginia. Across the river from here, the controversies plaguing the top three Democrats in Virginia`s statehouse are causing the National Democratic Party to wrestle with what they want to be as a party, to define themselves. Will the condemnations and calls for the resignation of Governor Ralph Northam went swift -- they were swift, in response have not been this quick, not been quite this quick for Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax who`s African-American and Attorney General Mark Herring who`s also a Democrat.
Tonight, U.S. Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was asked by Chuck Todd how she thinks the situation in Virginia should be handled.
(BEIGN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: This is such an important question because it`s not always just about who did what, but it`s how our leadership really deals with the things that they have done. And so, what I think when we see a crisis of confidence with some of the folks in Virginia, it`s the way they are handling these issues. It`s -- are we using this as a moment to model what evolution on race looks like? And if you`re squandering that moment, then you will have a crisis of confidence in your electorate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Isn`t the problem here -- both of you know this, that people only engage what I call rolling disclosure. They only tell you what they did wrong when their caught. They never give you a break and say I made stupid decision. I made blackface and my fraternity is a bunch of bad guys. They got me to do it or whatever.
I don`t know the defense. I don`t know if there is one.
JOHNSON: You`re absolutely correct. You know, welcome to the South, welcome to the confederacy, welcome to the 1980s and school segregation. Because of Brown versus Board of Education, you had many white parents pull their children out of public education. They set up private segregated academies.
MATTHEWS: Christian academies.
JOHNSON: Christian academies, right?
MATTHEWS: They`re so nice.
JOHNSON: And as a result of that, there was very little to no empathy for African-Americans and also, it was OK, it was condoned to put on Klan outfits and get in blackface. You know, it`s going to be interesting when yearbooks become public.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Here`s my question, and that`s why I like working in the diverse business and television is the most diverse because it`s on TV and my work for many years in this kind of setting.
If you`ve got African-Americans that table with you, you`re not going to put on blackface. It would be so obviously embarrassing to everybody, why would you do it? But if you`re in an all white setting, you`re goofing off. I don`t know. I`ve never been involved in that cultural setting.
EDWARDS: Well, it`s what I described as casual racism, the think that it`s just kind of accepted, it`s the joke, it`s the parody, the parties the photos. And there may be some in the room who say, I don`t think that`s a really good idea, but nobody says it out loud and it`s accepted.
And so, here, you`re being fast forward. But I look at these guys, these guys were all born after Brown versus Board of Education. They came out of high school in the year of our bicentennial. They were in school at a time when Bill Cosby was on television.
There is really no excuse for this. These are post-Brown babies.
MATTHEWS: I know. This after the anti-lynching laws were finally passed. These guys are posing with the KKK members. It`s not Hugo Black or Bobby Byrd days.
Anyway, Donna Edwards, it`s great to have you. Mr. President, thank you.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Derrick Johnson of NAACP.
Up next, the president more comfortable sitting cozily with ruthless dictators and caring about a murdered journalists. You know who that is.
MATTHEWS: A hundred and twenty-eight days ago, a columnist for the "Washington Post," one of this country`s great newspapers was killed and carved into pieces by henchman of Saudi Arabia. And today, a United Nations investigation declared that the evidence shows Jamal Khashoggi was the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of Saudi Arabia.
To cover its treachery, the U.N. investigator declared today. Saudi officials have been denying access to the scene of the crime, and refusing to say where Mr. Khashoggi`s remains are. For four months, the killers have gotten away with it. They include the men our CIA believes was the kingpin of the crime, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, MBS, the man who effectively runs Saudi Arabia.
What are we as Americans face here as our mayoral imperative? At minimum, it is not to let the murderers walk away from this human butchering as free and respected figures. If MBS was the mastermind, he needs face the world`s judgment. Is this what our president wants?
All evidence suggests Trump wants nothing. The people who planned this grotesquery did it fully suspecting they could kill and slaughter a journalist knowing that the American president wouldn`t so much as raise his voice for fear it would upset his pathetically stupid scheme to lure Saudi Arabia into alliance with Israel.
Were we govern by a normal leader right now, we would be siding with the victim and going after the killer. Instead, we are led here by a president more comfortable sitting cozily with ruthless dictators than with caring about what was done to truth-telling journalists.
As an earlier American journalist Walter Cronkite used to say: And that`s the way it is.
And that`s HARDBALL for now.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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