Show: HARDBALL Date: February 8, 2019 Guest: Glenn Kirschner, David Ignatius, Eric Swalwell, Susan Page, Gregory Meeks
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: We are going to see a lot of news coming out on this weeks.
That does it for me. I will mention to you, if you are around tonight, I will be guest hosting "THE LAST WORD" in for Lawrence O`Donnell at 10:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.
But don`t go anywhere now. "HARDBALL" is up next.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Blackmail. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington where President and his allies under siege on multiple fronts have launched new counterattacks. On Capitol Hill acting attorney gen general Matt Whitaker battled with Democrats refusing to say anything good about special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation.
At the White House the President refused to punish Saudi Arabia for its murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But first, a bomb shell story pitting pro-Trump ally David Pecker of the "National Enquirer" against Jeff Bezos` of the "Washington Post."
On Thursday, Bezos, who also owns Amazon, accused American median corporate, the parent company of "the National Enquirer" of extortion and blackmail. This comes after the "National Enquirer" last month published a front-page expose on Mr. Bezos and his mistress which include a personal text messages and photographs.
Shortly after publication, Mr. Bezos hired a team to find out how the tabloid got hold off those text messages and photographs. In a blog post published on medium.com yesterday, Bezos writes that the tabloids editor Dylan Howard threatened to publish additional photos unless Bezos called off his investigation and made specific false public statement to the press that there was no basis for claiming that AMI had a political agenda.
Well, this story can be seen as yet another battle in a larger war between Trump allies and his critics. In a statement AMI says it active lawfully and claim that was merely engaged in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters.
While the company has acknowledged are using the practice known as catch and kill to help then candidate Donald Trump keep two women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, from publicizing their claims that they had affairs with the President.
Well, throughout the campaign, AMI acted as a PR wing, you might say, of the Trump campaign, promoting the candidate and savaging his opponents.
For more I`m joined now by Glenn Kirschner, former federal prosecutor, Lachlan Markay, investigative reporter for the "National Beast" or the "Daily Beast" and Eli Stokols, of course, "L.A. Times" White House reporter and Katie Phang, MSNBC legal contributor. Thank you all.
This is like L.A. confidential but it is in the middle off a huge political fight.
Lachlan, give us just the basic of the blackmail story.
LACHLAN MARKAY, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: So we reported last week that Jeff Bezos had opened and personally funding the investigation into how these texts messages ended up in the "National Enquirer."
MATTHEWS: And photographs.
MARKAY: And photographs. And there were a lot of personal details, movement by movement accuracy as one source described it to me in this initial story. So he is trying to figure out how this happened. He tasks his long-time personal security consultant, the man named Gavin Debecker (ph).
MATTHEWS: I know Gavin Debecker (ph).
MARKAY: Yes, he is a storied person in this field, this personal security protection field. And he has determined with a pretty high degree of accuracy that he believes that these were political motivations behind this leak and behind the publication of these text messages. We have sources telling us --.
MATTHEWS: What did he mean by political?
MARKAY: Well, there --.
MATTHEWS: Why would Jeff Bezos state that the AMI "National Enquirer" publisher was out to get him for political purposes?
MARKAY: Well, of course, the "National Enquirer" and David Pecker have long-standing ties to President Donald Trump which resulted, of course, in a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors late last year. They admitted to using their publication to help -- try to help win Donald Trump the presidency. So, you know, it`s no secret that these are high profile allies of the President. They also started looking at the brother of the actual mistress in this case, a man Michael Sanchez who also has some very interesting connections to prominent people in Donald Trump --.
MATTHEWS: Well, he is the brother of the alleged mistress?
MARKAY: That`s correct. And he is actually long-time friends and business associates with folks like Roger Stone, Carter Page. Some, you know, some names that anyone following the news these days would probably know.
MATTHEWS: Now, just to all the straight story about the politics in this thing. Everybody knows the "Washington Post" used to be a liberal newspaper but now it is sort of middle of the road but it is tough on Trump. The President doesn`t like them, right? He doesn`t like Bezos. He doesn`t like his newspaper, right?
MARKAY: Yes. I mean, his tweet about the initial "National Enquirer" story called Jeff Bezos is Jeff Bozo and was sort of prematurely dancing on his grave. So the President was thrilled at this. He is obviously not a big fan of "Washington Post" and by extension, he is not a big fan of Jeff Bezos.
MATTHEWS: Let me go ti Katie on this.
Katie, talk about the "National Enquirer." I didn`t know about this until recently, but all journalism is not aimed at getting the story out. Some of this so-called journalism is named at we will get dirt and then we will sell you the secrecy. In other words, we will get rid of it if you pay us. That is blackmail but they call it catch and kill. Your thoughts. What do we know about this email of the "National Enquirer?"
KATIE PHANG, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. So Chris, to quote illustrious Omar Little, when you come at the king, you best not miss. And that is exactly what is happening now. Jeff Bezos as the king is basically calling out AMI in their traditional sense of how they do journalism at "the National Enquirer." It is the catch and kill. It is let me pay you for the rights of your life story. Allow the Karen McDougal situation with Donald Trump.
Let me get your story or let me extort you for money so I don`t run nasty things about you. But frankly, is it really extortion? While there`s a federal crime, Chris, that is defined by basically threatening to expose somebody and destroy your reputation in-exchange for something of value.
In the traditional of senses, we think about you give me money, I won`t run the story. But here is that the idea that if you admit that there wasn`t political angle to this whole story, then would you basically be giving something of value and that`s left to be seen. But that none prosecution agreement that Lachlan just talked about from the southern district of New York is weighing heavily on AMI tonight.
MATTHEWS: Let me get (INAUDIBLE). Let me go to Glenn in the law here. If you blackmail someone -- this is like L.A. confidants, as the old 1920s and `30s stuff from San Francisco and L.A. private eyes get hired. Take a picture of a guy with his girlfriend to put it bluntly. Threaten him. Give him -- if you give me 50K in two weeks, I won`t run the story. I won`t give to you wife. I mean, this is classic.
GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Chris, in ten words or less, the law of extortion. Chris, a $1,000 or I break your thumb, right. That`s it. It`s threatening harm to somebody to obtain a thing of value.
It seems to me what we have here is a threat of harm. Now harm doesn`t have to physical harm, it can be harm to one`s reputation which we have here because AMI was threatening to expose these indelicate pictures and text messages of Bezos, right, in exchange for a thing of value.
What value were they trying to get? Well, they were trying to ironically catch and kill stories that apparently Bezos and the "Washington Post" were trying to investigate and perhaps report. I see this as classic extortion.
Katie is right. There are a lot of bells and whistles on the federal extortion laws. But at its core this is extortion.
MATTHEWS: And what was - what were they afraid? They wanted to stop Bezos from investigating with the help of Gavin Debecker (ph). What were they looking for? What was Bezos looking for on AMI?
KIRSCHNER: That`s the big ticket question because why did AMI and Pecker sort of respond so maniacally. It seems like they are desperately fearful of something. What that something is? Is it really just about, well, some of their stories are politically motivated? Well, right. So I think that really is the $64,000 question.
MATTHEWS: Well today, the President remained uncharacteristically silent about the Bezos allegations. White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley was asked by reporters if the President was aware of the allegation. Here`s what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Is the President aware of the Bezos situation? What is the White House reaction?
HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I`m not sure if he`s aware of it. And year not going to get into something between Jeff Bezos and a tabloid magazine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump has not been shy, of course, about sharing his opinion about the "Washington Post" and its owner. In January, days after the Enquirer broke its Bezos` story, the President tweeted, so sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor who is reporting I understand is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon "Washington Post." Hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better more responsible hands.
I got to tell you, Eli, he is comparing the "Washington Post" with some pretty (INAUDIBLE) newspaper with the "National Enquirer." I can`t stop laughing. Although Trump says, it`s insane. Who believes this rap?
ELI STOKOLS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It`s a long way beyond parity at this point that Donald Trump is actually been out there saying that the "National Enquirer" deserves the Pulitzer prize and he is ragging on the "Washington Post." And has for, you know, this is unprecedented (ph).
MATTHEWS: This is the Jack Kennedy living quietly in Poland kind of stuff. You know, I do go to the checkout counter. Look at this stuff.
STOKOLS: But don`t forget -- it`s not just the Post`s coverage, it is the fact that Bezos is the richest guy in the world. And that is something that rankles Donald Trump. This is the guy who measures his success in money, in building the size of his buildings in success. And so, Bezos has always gotten under his skin. And I think, you know, there are a lot of questions being asked.
Obviously, the President didn`t comment on this today. He was getting a physical. He was going back and forth to the helicopter. We have seen him that. He have seen him often answer a lot of questions. He didn`t do that today. Was he tired after the physical? Maybe. Did he want to avoid these questions? Possibly.
I think what Glenn is talking about is really the key question here and it is why was "the National Enquirer" so sensitive about what they might find about how they obtained those texts?
MATTHEWS: We are going to get to two ideas. The one, of course, is the political connect. We are going to get to his Saudi thing in the bloc because I think they would not want it out about why they are putting out these propaganda documents for the Saudi government without any explanation of who is paying for them. The warned.
Anyway, a source familiar with the matter tells NBC News that federal prosecutors are looking into whether AMI, that`s the "National Enquirer" owner, violated its non-prosecution agreement with the southern district of New York as has resolve the conduct alleged by Bezos.
In December, AMI signed the agreement in exchange for providing information about its role and the payment to playboy model, of course, Karen McDougal, who claimed she had an affair with Trump prior this presidency, which Trump denies.
Well, however, the agreement stipulated that AMI shall commit no crime whatever and they should AMI commit any crime subsequent to this date of signing this immunity agreement, they should thereafter be subject to prosecution.
Glen, your area here. It seems at minimum, immunity clause agreement should say, you know, commit anymore crimes. I mean, if they are involved in extortion and/or blackmail here, I would think that would violate the agreement
KIRSCHNER: Yes. And Ami really blew it here. They barely could make it three weeks, never mind three years without committing another crime.
And here is the problem for AMI. This case, this extortion charge may not have to be court and be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. All they are really go having to do, the prosecutors to show they violated the non- prosecution agreement is prove it probably by a preponderance of the evidence, 51 percent.
It sounds a lot like what is going in the federal court in D.C. where Manafort is being proved to have lied and violated his plea agreement. So this is not going to bode well for AMI.
MATTHEWS: You know, Katie, it`s not your fault you are reporting this stuff. But it seems like President Trump came to office with this rogue gallery (ph) of all those world we wouldn`t know about. We wouldn`t know somebody named Pecker at AMI who cover, who does catch and kill crap. We wouldn`t know about or Stormy McDaniel or Karen McDougal. We would know about Manafort and Roger Stone. This horrible rose gallery of people, the world he comes from, Roy Cohn world. It is horrible. And now we are watching. We are basically doing L.A. confidential in the White House. This kind of Crapola (ph) story we have to cover here. Your thoughts.
PHANG: Well, Chris, it is but for the hubris of Donald Trump. We wouldn`t know about all of the hidden secrets behind those curtains. And the reality for Donald Trump is you surround yourself with people like that, you are obviously going to be implicated by guilt, is that association by guilt.
But really, think about why is it that AMI, which is by virtue, by all accounts an extension of Donald Trump and his surrogates. Why would AMI actually coordinate its theory of defense in terms of legal liability with Jeff Bezos, with exactly is what Donald Trump tweeted about just a few weeks ago?
Donald Trump said that the shareholders of Amazon should know about how bad Jeff Bezos a guy is. And that`s exactly what AMI said interestingly when they told Jeff Bezos` legal team that it was OK to be able to do all these stories and run these stories legally.
You know, what is an interesting twist, Chris, is the following. The deputy general counsel for AMI, he worked at Amazon for nine years. You would think that the deputy general counsel at AMI would have a pretty good idea how Jeff Bezos operates. And so, I think they have underestimated Jeff Bezos and his reactions at this time.
MATTHEWS: And Lachlan, here is a possible, I have been trying to figure out motive. This at times what I do. I try to figure out why people do what they do. Why would Pecker, the head of AMI, owner of the "National Enquirer," want to get back in the good graces of the President of the United States? Well, he signed an immune (ph) agreement which basically he is part of the states witnessing program. He is part of the trouble Trump`s in. Because he told them stuff they wanted in exchange for freedom.
MATTHEWS: So he wants to now having basically (INAUDIBLE) the President. He want to get back in his good graces. So he unleashes his dogs, his photographers, et cetera, then perhaps the brother of Bezos` girlfriend and puts it all together and he goes to war so he can win the graces of the President back, the god grace. What do you think? What other motive is there at this point?
MARKAY: Yes. That`s certainly, you know, what a lot of folks in Jeff Bezos` orbit steam to suspect. You know, the President doesn`t like snitches. I don`t know he has used that exact word. But he said, you know, it should be illegal for people to flip in exchange for prosecution.
You know, he obviously -- Michael Cohen, he is not Michael Cohen`s biggest fan these days. So you know, that is something that obviously really gets under his skin. And if you are David Pecker, I mean, that`s potentially a very beneficial and lucrative person to have on your side and to have distance between him and the President right now for the first in a very many years. I would imagine in his position, you would want to repair that relationship.
MATTHEWS: Wow. And we have to replace this President or at least have somebody to challenge him in the next year. So here we go again.
Glenn Kirschner, thank you. It`s too bad we need you so often.
Lachlan Markay, thank you, sir.
And Eli, our buddy here, thank you.
And Katie Phang, thank you for your insight on this.
Coming up another possible motivation. My favorite right now for the Enquirer`s war with Bezos, this whole battle. Why the owner of the "Washington Post" believes David Pecker`s ties to the Saudis hit a sensitive nerve. Why is the "National Enquirer" the best friend in this country the Saudi Arabian government has including its crown prince and murder of Khashoggi? A combative hearing today, by the way. The man in- charge of overseeing the Russian investigation, acting attorney general Matt Whitaker, bottom line, he wouldn`t defend the investigation Mueller`s leading. He wouldn`t say one good word about Robert Mueller for fear of what the boss man might say.
Plus, a late breaking story out Virginia, it gets worst. A second woman has now accused lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault saying, worse than just assault, it is rape, saying he rapped her while in college at Duke 19 years ago.
We got a lot to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The alliance between President Trump and Dave Pecker, head of AMI and the "National Enquirer" isn`t the only motive Jeff Bezos suggests for Pecker`s alleged blackmail. In his post yesterday, Bezos suggests Pecker`s ties to Saudi Arabia could also be a factor. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seem to hit a particularly sensitive nerve, he wrote.
According to the "New York Times," pecker brought one of Saudi crown prince`s Mohammed bin Salman`s advisors to an oval office meeting President Trump last year all while Pecker quote "was considering expanding his media and events business in to Saudi Arabia.
Well, last Pecker also published a 97-page propaganda spread that voted to praising Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Remember, by the way, this is the same crown prince that our own CIA concluded order the butchering of "Washington Post" reporter Jamal Khashoggi last year. The United Nations by the way came to that same conclusion in this report just yesterday, that he is guilty. The crown prince did it. The White House remains the lone defender of the crown prince after refusing to meet yesterday`s - actually today`s deadline set by Congress to determine if the Saudis were responsible for Khashoggi`s murder and butchering.
I`m joined right now by Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and David Ignatius, foreign correspondent for "The Washington Post."
Congressman, thank you for coming on this Friday.
This story has so many twists and turns. But the idea of AMI "The National Enquirer," its owner, David Pecker, and having some alliance with Khashoggi`s crowd over there, the crown prince`s crowd, is really disturbing.
And when you think, why would a company that is based upon making money, "The National Enquirer" -- whatever other purpose could it have -- to go around the country at every bookstore -- not just bookstore, but every Hudson`s or street corner kiosk has a -- almost a 100-page glossy propaganda piece saluting the new kingdom of wonderful Saudi Arabia.
Why would anybody do that for free, and they won`t say where they got the money to do it? Your thoughts?
REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: Chris, you`re absolutely right.
Follow the money. And what does Saudi Arabia have a lot of? Money. And why do you want to look and do business in Saudi Arabia and to protect? Money.
I would say that, if you would look at some of those dots where the dollars are coming from, and even look at the financial scenario or the financial situation that Pecker has, you would see that he may need money.
When I think about it -- just think about the president, for example -- when the American banks stop lending him money, the two places where he was going to get money was through Russia and Saudi Arabia. And so why wouldn`t his good friend Mr. Pecker, who was buying up stories to keep certain things out of the paper, not go to where? Saudi Arabia in this instance.
I would dare say that we need to look at what took place and try to follow that money line. And then you may get your answer.
MATTHEWS: There`s also another piece of this.
I mean, I read "The Post" every morning. I love the paper, always have. And I have to tell you, I notice that it does care about the fact that one of its columnists, one of the paper`s columnists, Jamal Khashoggi, was killed and butchered pretty much in day -- public daylight.
He was done so pretty obviously at the -- at the consulate in Turkey. And they just don`t -- they don`t seem to have to worry about it. They act like they could get away with it beforehand. They act like they can get away with after-hand -- afterwards, because they have to figure -- they have figured out this president.
This president will not give them any trouble over it.
MEEKS: Well, you`re absolutely right.
Virtually every country in the world, with the exception of the United States president, has put the blood -- had the blood on the hands of MBS, except for this president. The U.N. has. Every country has.
And so there`s a big question mark as to why this president does not come out solidly with the rest of the world, because all of our intelligence agencies also puts the gun or the knife in the hands of MBS.
Only one person that doesn`t, the president of the United States.
MATTHEWS: Well, in the past, President Trump, as you said, Congressman, has been very vocal in his support of the crown prince, the probable killer of Khashoggi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I spoke with the crown prince yesterday. And he strongly said that he had nothing to do with this. This was at a lower level.
The CIA has looked at it. They have studied it a lot. They have nothing definitive. And the fact is, maybe he did, maybe he didn`t.
Whether he did or whether he didn`t, he denies it vehemently. We have an ally that said they did not commit at the top level, the crown prince, the king, they did not commit this atrocity.
We are with Saudi Arabia. We`re staying with Saudi Arabia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: David Ignatius, you could go into any prison in the United States and find people and ask them whether they committed the crime that put them in there, and they will tell you they didn`t do it.
But no reporter is going to come out and say, I just talk to the criminal and he said he didn`t do it. It sounds stupid for the president to keep saying that he said he didn`t do it. He said he didn`t do it.
DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": He keeps asserting Mohammed bin Salman`s innocence. There`s a process going on in the kingdom to get to the bottom of this.
From the beginning, I think the thing that people in the U.S. who want a strong U.S.-Saudi relationship have said is, the Saudis have to show us that this -- something like this can never happen again.
And that`s what I would like to hear President Trump say. We want to be clear that Mohammed bin Salman has changed systems, is taking responsibility for what he`s done, that there`s accountability.
And that hasn`t happened.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me -- that wouldn`t -- that wouldn`t work for me, but I don`t think it would work for your paper even, I mean, the idea of, I won`t kill anybody again. He can`t kill this guy again.
But let me ask you about this. What`s -- what`s the axis? We have AMI, the notorious "National Enquirer," which is basically a sleaze mag. You know what it is. It deals in scum. And you have the Saudi Arabian government, and you have President Trump. What ties them all together?
IGNATIUS: So, one thing that ties them together is Saudi Arabia, as you suggest.
David Pecker, the head of AMI, has been trying to do business with Saudi Arabia, has been particularly close to the circle around MBS, the crown prince. You described this 97-page puff piece that they produced about the new kingdom.
He brought people wanting to do business in Saudi Arabia into the White House. At the same time, he`s Donald Trump`s friend and media adviser. So the fear...
MATTHEWS: David Pecker is, yes.
IGNATIUS: My boss, our "Washington Post" owner, Jeff Bezos, said in his statement last night about all this that he is concerned about the Saudi ties to both Pecker and to the White House.
He says -- this is still to be explained, but there`s obviously reason for concern.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, the president shows no interest in observing any kind of deadline, not the congressional deadline of 120 days, which came to a deadline today. He basically says, I don`t have to observe it, just like that. He doesn`t care.
And I think that what is happening, this is not just -- sometimes, people say, well, Democrats are only going against the president on this issue. This is Democrats. This is Republicans. This is the Senate. This is the House.
We are all concerned about what has taken place. And we have all listened to what our intelligence have come up with. In fact, in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, we`re going to do a hearing soon, bringing our intelligence agencies in, so that we can get some of the information that they have on the record and get it out, so that the American people can clearly see what did in fact take place with the killing of "The Washington Post" reporter.
So, look, this president, to me, in his State of the Union speech, he rightfully talked about Nicolas Maduro from Venezuela and some of the things that he had done there.
MATTHEWS: Yes. MEEKS: Well, he should have also talked about MBS and what has been taking place there, and the guy that he`s got to have a summit with, Kim Jong-un, who is another guy who`s killed a lot of folks and oppresses his people.
He should have talked about all of them.
MATTHEWS: Well, thank you so much, Congressman Meeks, for coming on tonight, on Friday night.
And thank you, David Ignatius. I`m a huge fan of your wisdom. Thank you so much for coming on.
Your newspaper, by the way, has been fabulous on this. I love the fact that they have stuck behind the columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and they have stuck for -- and they don`t walk away. It`s like "The Searchers" in the great old movie. Don`t quit the case.
IGNATIUS: He was -- he was our friend and colleague.
And the fact that the paper has stuck by him and is insisting on accountability, I think, is something that we`re all really proud of.
MATTHEWS: And we`re going to stick with you on that.
Up next: friction on Capitol Hill, as Trump`s handpicked nominee for attorney general, of course, a temporary attorney general, and the man overseeing the Russia investigation right now gets grilled by Congress.
Lots of friction and fireworks up there today. Hear what he had to say, or refused to say. I don`t think he said anything about Trump and Mueller, except he would not say an iota of credibility -- he wouldn`t give an iota of credibility to Robert Mueller, because he`s got to go back and talk to the boss -- well, the boss man.
Right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: In your capacity as acting attorney general, have you ever been asked to approve any requests or action to be taken by the special counsel?
MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up. And so...
I see that your five minutes is up. And so...
WHITAKER: I`m -- we -- we -- we -- I am -- I`m here voluntarily.
I -- we have agreed to five-minute rounds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What`s he, an egg timer? Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was the man who`s been overseeing the Mueller investigation, acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker sparring there with House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler.
The question on the minds of many Democrats right now, has he, Whitaker, the acting A.G., talked to President Trump about the special counsel`s probe? Whitaker said the answer was no and made clear he wouldn`t discuss his interactions with the president, but insisted he hasn`t taken any actions to interfere with it.
Here we go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHITAKER: We have followed the special counsel`s regulations to a T.
There has been no events, no decision that has required me to take any action. And I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel`s investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Despite his reluctance to discuss his interactions with the president, Democrats grilled Whitaker on a host of issues today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: In your final week, keep your hands off the Mueller investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you overseeing a witch-hunt?
WHITAKER: Congressman, it would be inappropriate for me to talk about an ongoing investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to know whether you talked to President Trump at all about the Southern District of New York`s case involving Michael Cohen.
WHITAKER: Congresswoman, as I have mentioned several times today, I am not going to discuss my private conversations with the president of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, yes or no, did you...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Congressman Eric Swalwell pressed Whitaker on his views about the special counsel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Can you say right now, Mr. President, Bob Mueller is honest and not conflicted?
WHITAKER: Congressman, I`m not a puppet to repeat what you`re saying.
SWALWELL: Are you able to say it, or do you not believe it?
WHITAKER: I have answered your question as to what I believe about the special counsel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Congressman, thank you very much.
Eric Swalwell joins us right now from the Hill.
Congressman, did you get a sense that he was afraid to say anything good about Mueller?
SWALWELL: I did.
And good evening, Chris.
I got the sense that this was a man who very much wanted to please Donald Trump, the only person who he really, I think, considered important in this hearing, as he knew Trump would be watching.
But, also, I got the sense that he was afraid as to what would happen to him if he didn`t give the right questions.
My colleague David Cicilline pressed him a little bit on the press reporting that Trump had lashed out at him when the Michael Cohen indictments had come out. And he got really nervous and was very evasive.
And I just get the sense, this guy, like so many of them, they`re afraid of Trump.
But I asked him the simple question, is Mueller honest? He said yes. I said, is Mueller conflicted? Donald Trump tweets all the time that he`s conflicted. And he said he didn`t believe him to be.
And then I said, well, can you just say right now for the president to see, because we knew he would be watching, Mr. President, Mueller`s honest and he`s not conflicted?
And, again, you could tell that made him nervous. And so I saw that pattern all day long.
MATTHEWS: I don`t hear anybody saying anything against Mueller in this town, where it`s brutal, the way people go after each other.
There`s something about him that does...
SWALWELL: He`s a saint.
MATTHEWS: Yes, it`s -- I think the president is afraid of that. And I think good Republicans are recognizing that now.
What do you -- I watched a good bit of it today. And it was rancorous, as you might expect, lots of friction -- friction, some fireworks.
The hearing didn`t seem to get anything from this guy. He was -- you know, it was almost like a prevent defense. He went out there and said, OK, I may -- not going to look good today, but I`m not going to blow it.
That seemed to be his strategy.
SWALWELL: I saw that he was willing to tell us things that made him look good. And anything that could have made him look bad is where he started to put up those walls of, well, we don`t talk about that because that`s Department of Justice policy.
I did get something, I thought, interesting from him. I asked him why last week did he say that the investigation was nearly complete...
SWALWELL: ... and if that was the same way that Mueller would characterize it.
And he said, no, that`s not the same way Mueller would characterize it, but he promised that the investigation would follow the evidence.
And so the question of course, is, well how would Mueller characterize it? And why are you saying something different?
MATTHEWS: And what was the answer? I mean, because a lot of us in the press, as you know, and the media jumped on that, thinking, oh, my God, this is coming in February, the end of the whole thing.
And now that seems like that was just his speculation, right? That`s what he`s saying now.
SWALWELL: I think wishful thinking, really, Chris, because we have learned just yesterday from the Manafort filings that we saw in the transcript there that there`s a lot more work that Mueller`s team is doing.
There`s a lot more redactions on extremely sensitive information, as the prosecutor defined it yesterday in court. I don`t believe this investigation is anywhere close to being done.
MATTHEWS: What about Roger Stone`s basement, all that stuff down in Fort Lauderdale? I mean, everybody seems to have whole basements filled of tapes and e-mails.
And I never seen these libraries these key people have of trouble, basically.
SWALWELL: We just -- we just want them to be able to follow that evidence.
And today was really a damage assessment of the rule of law, because it`s had a wrecking ball taken to it for the last two years. And you can imagine why Mr. Whitaker might have been surprised that these types of questions were coming, because, for two years, he and his colleagues were protected by Republicans, who didn`t want to ask questions like this.
And you saw my Republican colleagues. So many of them, I think, are still just coming to the realization that they`re in the minority. And the reason they`re in the minority, I believe, was because they weren`t willing to put these types of checks and screws to the administration, when all these abuses were going on.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the power of the Democratic-controlled House is enough now to be an added reason to have some faith that this administration, meaning this president and the new incoming attorney general, Bill Barr, will let Mueller release his report...
MATTHEWS: ... unscathed and unredacted?
SWALWELL: Yes. We`re going to see that report, Chris.
Hell or high water, we`re going to see it, because the American people gave us the power to do so. And so I`m not worried about that at all.
But one other thing that people should know, because Republicans are now saying, oh, you guys are just going to do these investigations, while we did these investigations this week, the first time we have had oversight in two years, we also had a hearing on the Voting Rights Act, we had a hearing on infrastructure, and we had a hearing, the first one in eight years, on background checks.
So we can walk and chew gum. And it`s going to be a new Congress that people are going to start to see over the next two years.
MATTHEWS: I`m going to note that with glee at the end of the show tonight. I do think that Congress has been very busy in its oversight role and its legislative role already in this short time.
Thank you, U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell of California.
SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thanks.
MATTHEWS: Up next: a restrained decision from the Supreme Court on abortion rights. Find out which conservative member sided with the liberal judges for a 5-4 decision, for a pro-choice decision -- right after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
A surprising defender of Roe v. Wade leads the U.S. Supreme Court today. Yesterday, the court blocked a Louisiana law that women`s groups said would leave just one doctor in the whole state able to legally perform an abortion for the approximately 10,000 women in Louisiana who seek abortions each year.
Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed to the court by George W. Bush, sided with the court`s four liberals in a 5-4 vote to block the anti-abortion law.
The newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh, as expected, voted with the other conservatives.
Coming up: breaking news tonight in Virginia: A second woman is accusing Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual violence. Her allegation that he raped her and his response -- next.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We have breaking news tonight in the ongoing political crisis in Virginia. Tonight, a second woman stepped forward accusing Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault.
A statement from her lawyer says the accuser, Meredith Watson, was raped by Justin Fairfax in the year 2000 while they were both students at Duke University.
It goes on to add: "Additionally, we have statements from former classmates corroborating that Ms. Watson immediately told friends that Mr. Fairfax had raped her."
The statement also calls on Fairfax to resign.
Fairfax responded to the accusation tonight, saying: "I deny this latest unsubstantiated allegation. It is demonstrably false. I have never forced myself on anyone, ever. I demand a full investigation into these unsubstantiated and false allegations."
Well, Fairfax has repeatedly denied an earlier allegation made by Dr. Vanessa Tyson, who says Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2004 during the Democratic Convention up in Boston.
I`m joined right now by NBC`s Geoff Bennett, who`s been covering this story in Richmond, and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today."
Geoff, I don`t think you`re ever going to get out of Richmond. This story is terrible. It`s disturbing. It`s worse every day.
What`s happening, the latest tonight, this Friday night?
GEOFF BENNETT, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Chris, I tell you what.
Up until an hour ago, when this second accuser came forward, this political crisis, this spiraling political prices, had really hit a holding pattern. There was a sense that there was safety in numbers.
Because all three top Democratic officials in this state, because all three of them were politically compromised in different ways, there was less external pressure on any one of them to resign.
But that has all changed now, with Meredith Watson coming forward, alleging that Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax raped her when they were both undergrads at Duke University in 2000.
He categorically, vehemently denies that allegation, just as he denied the first allegation. But that has done little to calm the chorus of calls from now Democrats who are demanding that he step down. There are presidential candidates, Democratic members of Congress, even Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic governor of this commonwealth, all saying that Justin Fairfax has to step aside right now -- Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, the conundrum here for him -- and I don`t know if he`s guilty or not, but it looks bad -- is, if he quits, he`s admitting guilt of a rape charge, isn`t he? Isn`t he putting himself -- wouldn`t he be putting himself in that situation, if he admits he did it, if he did do it?
And you`re -- and that is -- that is precisely why the governor, Ralph Northam, said he didn`t want to step down because of his own allegation, that blackface controversy.
BENNETT: The thinking was, for him to step down, that would be an admission of wrongdoing.
He has been telling people all along that he wants more time to clear his name. And, strangely, he may now have that time seeing as how both of his would-be successors, particularly Justin Fairfax, are now dealing with scandals of their own, Chris
MATTHEWS: Well, the calls for Justin Fairfax to resign are already pouring in tonight, as Geoff said.
At least three Democratic 2020 contenders, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, have called on Fairfax to quit.
As Geoff mentioned, former Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia wrote on Twitter: "The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible."
Well, that was a hell of a statement, credible.
"It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia as lieutenant governor. I call for his immediate resignation."
And a Democrat in the Virginia House of Delegates, Patrick Hope, tweeted today: "On Monday, I will be introducing articles of impeachment for Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, if he has not resigned before then."
Susan, questions of statute of limitations and all that aside, rape, I mean, this is a charge -- I just checked that. That carries life imprisonment. We`re talking about -- we`re not talking misconduct, assault. Now we`re talking rape.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Yes. Well, it`s an incredibly serious charge. It makes blackface look like a lesser offense, as offensive as it is.
And there`s something -- we have learned something about treating these accusations in the era of MeToo. What do you look for? You look for evidence. You look for, did the woman involved tell anyone about it?
MATTHEWS: Contemporary corroboration, yes.
PAGE: And do other women come forward?
Because one of the things that has put men who have been hit by the MeToo movement is, when multiple women come forward with a consistent story, that has a lot of force.
Here are two women who have no apparent connection -- we don`t know of any connection between these two women -- telling consistent stories in different locations several years apart.
Now, the lieutenant governor says it`s demonstrably untrue. And if he has evidence that it`s untrue, then he has a right to put that forward. But this looks very serious.
MATTHEWS: Geoff, the political implications are pretty obvious.
Terry McAuliffe, who is going to run for president, many of us believe, and may well be a factor in this fight for the presidency next year, the nomination, certainly, he wants to separate himself entirely. He wants to be clean hands on this.
But the speed with which the other Democratic front-runners, people like Kirsten Gillibrand and the rest of them, and Booker and Warren, they`re making very...
MATTHEWS: They don`t want to look like they have got a separate standard for a Democrat.
BENNETT: Right. You`re right about that.
They have to. Democrats have enforced a zero tolerance policy when it comes to misconduct in their ranks, whether it has to do with allegations of bigotry or racism or sexual misconduct, because they don`t want to look hypocritical when they criticize President Trump for his perceived shortcomings on those issues.
And it`s also true that women and people of color are a crucial part of the Democratic base.
So, for all of those reasons, and because Virginia is a swing state too, and, of course, they will have to come through here at some point to campaign, for all of those reasons, that`s why it`s a much easier decision for these front-runners, these Democratic potential -- Democratic presidential candidates, to make when they say that Fairfax has to step down, Chris.
MATTHEWS: In the hardball world of politics, I`m looking at these cases. I look at Al Franken. I look at all of them.
Is the message from Northam this week, if you`re charged, and you feel you`re innocent, or even if you feel like what you did is really exceptional to your life generally, hang in there a couple days, and see what happens?
Because he may survive.
PAGE: Well, if Northam had stepped down at the point everyone said, oh, he must step down, he`d be -- have stepped down by now, and we`d have an entirely different political crisis.
MATTHEWS: Well, we would have a governor, Fairfax...
PAGE: That`s right.
MATTHEWS: ... who would be under the same scrutiny.
PAGE: Now we have become very familiar with the laws of succession and Virginia over the past week.
If the lieutenant governor steps down, the governor gets to appoint a new lieutenant governor. And you could set up a situation where that person conceivably ends up succeeding him to the governorship himself down the road, if he isn`t -- forced out.
MATTHEWS: Like Jerry Ford.
PAGE: Like Jerry Ford.
MATTHEWS: This is unbelievable.
Thank you, Geoff Bennett, for this Friday night reporting.
This is getting worse, and it`s spiraling into worse and worse.
Thank you so much, Geoff Bennett. Great reporting, as always. Thank you, sir.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Susan.
Up next: Troupe is -- Trump -- troupe.
Trump is experiencing the unpleasant collision tonight of divided government. He -- all he had to do was watch that House committee today, the House Judiciary, and he`s going to see how unpleasant 1990 -- well, 2019 and 2020 are going to be.
Stay with us.
MATTHEWS: Elections matter.
People who got out and voted last November proved this in historic fashion. They knocked the Republicans out of one-party control. They opened up the government to the kind of partisan oversight that any democratic government needs, if only to stay clean of corruption.
It`s not surprising that the man living at the White House isn`t happy with this development. Hardly a month after Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, President Trump is seeing what a divided government looks like. And he doesn`t like its looks.
This week began with the House Intelligence Committee voting to send more than 50 unredacted Russia-related transcripts to special counsel Robert Mueller. This never would have happened if this committee was still chaired by Devin Nunes, the Republican who did cartwheels serving the interests of this president, including notoriously going down to the White House one night, just to race back to the White House the next morning with something he had gotten the night before at the White House.
I have called that the midnight ride of Devin Nunes for a reason.
On Wednesday this week, while President Trump was spending his time attacking Democrats for investigating his ties with Russia, Democrats in the House were embarking on their oversight of the president and his policies.
It kicked off with a bang, with House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings taking Republicans to task for voter suppression. Next up, they were finding out what the trouble was with Jared Kushner`s security clearance. And then the House Judiciary panel looked into how background checks can ensure that dangerous individuals can be prohibited from being able to obtain firearms.
By the way, it`s the first time, the first hearing the committee has held a hearing on gun safety in eight years.
And then the House was scrutinizing the administration`s child separation policy at the border. And, today, the Judiciary Committee, which holds jurisdiction over impeachment, grilled Acting Attorney General Whitaker, Matt Whitaker, on, among other things, his dealings with the Robert Mueller probe of the president.
With Democrats back at the front, it`s not always going to be pretty, but, if they do their job right, it will be important. This country has been riding too long on one wheel.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END