Trump to sign spending deal. TRANSCRIPT: 2/14/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Ted Lieu, Greg Brower, Tim Ryan

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  And that's not all before we go.  We are going to tell you tomorrow is Bob Mueller's first day operating under this new boss, the new attorney general.  And I'm going to speak tomorrow on THE BEAT to a prosecutor who had a senior job working directly for Bob Mueller and a U.S. senator and retired four-star general.  We have a lot tomorrow. 

That does it for tonight.  I'm Ari Melber.  You are watching THE BEAT with Ari Melber. 

Up next is Chris Matthews' HARDBALL. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Trump breaks the glass.  Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I'm Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Tonight, facing a historic defeat by the Congress, President Trump is breaking the glass and pulling the fire alarm.  The President will sign a border security bill that gives him but a fraction of what he wants for his wall.  But to get the billions more, he wants the President plans to declare that a national emergency exists on the southern border. 

The House will vote on a bill that keep the government open later tonight.  The senate pass this afternoon by a vote of 83-16.  But before a single vote was cast, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell broke the news of the President's plans. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER:  I have just had an opportunity to speak with President Trump and I would say to all of my colleagues is, let me tell you, he is prepared to sign the bill.  He will also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time.  And I have indicated to him that I'm going to prepare - I'm going to support the national emergency declaration. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the bill to keep the government open provides $1.4 billion for 55 miles of new fencing.  Well short of the $5.7 billion the President wants.  According to Reuters, source familiar with the plan said that would get money for the wall.  Quote "the White House had identified $2.7 billion in funds previously appropriated by Congress that could be redirected to barrier funding as part of the national emergency. 

In a joint statement, House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer responded quote "declaring the national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that the President broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall.  But Congress will defend our constitutional authorities." 

Well, it is not just Democrats who are objecting the Trump's declaration of the national emergency.  In recent weeks members of the President's own part a have warned of the consequences. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA:  I don't think he should do that.  I think it's a bad precedent. 

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA:  We have got to be very careful about endorsing raw uses of executive power. 

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN:  This would be another erosion of congressional authority in this particular area. 

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA:  The real concern that I have is the precedent that this then sets. 

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE:  I think that's dubious from a constitutional perspective and we hope that the President will not go that route. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I'm joined by Joy Reid, host of "A.M.  JOY," at MSNBC, Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for "Axios," Charlie Sykes, editor-in- chief in the Bull Work and Paul Butler is a former federal prosecutor. 

Joy, I'm going to you first.  What do you hear when he is breaking the glass?  He is going national emergency shooting the moon.  He says I can't get what I want from Congress.  They are the appropriators.  They control the first springs (ph).  To hell with them.  I'm declaring a national emergency.  I'm going to go steal the money from forest fires or whatever I can find it.  Your thoughts?  . 

JOY ANN REID, MSNBC HOST, A.M. JOY:  Well, I mean, you know, as soon as I heard about this, this is a lot of us that jump on the phone with Republican sources and what I'm hearing back, Chris, is that it's pretty straight forward.  The people that Donald Trump fears will take away support from him if he gets on jam, people like Ann Coulter, people like Lou Dobbs, even Sean Hannity had already gone out publicly and said that the deal that he was going to sign and he was always going to sign because they were definitely not going to shut the government down again, that it's not enough.  And that what he had don was not good enough.  And so what you now have is a President who fears looking weak, he fears being attacked by the Ann Coulter's and the Lou Dobbs' of the world.  And so, he has decided to make a demonstration.  A demonstration of his filthy to his promises to build the wall across the southern border.  He is going to go all out because he feels that he has to. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me - let me be clear here.  Ann coulter has is a fire branch.  She knows how to make noise.  He has guys I think walking around Wall Street carrying her books like machine guns.  They are thrilled to be reading that stuff.  But she doesn't even have a job. 

Why is she so scary?  I mean, literally, she is not on the air.  She can't reach millions of people when she wants to.  How is the mere thought of her tweeting something scare the bejesus of the President of the United States?  Because that seems to be, he was calming down Hannity, he was calming down Laura Ingraham, working a little bit with Dobbs.  Is he afraid mostly of Ann Coulter?  Is that what's come to, the President of the United States being led around by somebody who sells books basically? 

REID:  And Chris, he has Bill Shine working in the White House.  He has the former executive producer of Hannity's show.  Good friend with Sean Hannity and somebody who ran FOX News literally working for him.  So it is pretty extraordinary that a President who can tell his base we are already building a wall and get them to switch their chance from build the wall to finfish the wall and get them to buy in to that doesn't feel in his own, you know, it doesn't have a sense of his own strength that he doesn't feel he can defy this media crowd.  He just thinks he has to show them that he is doing the most. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Charlie, tomorrow morning people puck up the paper.  I know, the old school about that.  They are going to read headline President declares national emergency by midnight probably, tonight because Ann Coulter rang the bell, he broke the glass. 

CHARLIE SYKES, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD:  well, look.  This is a president who is terrified of anger in his base.  And I think he is concern.  I can imagine him being on the phone with Lou Dobbs and you know, San Hannity going to tell him, we are going to have to do this but I will do this but I will do this other thing. 

Look.  Republicans were this close to getting out of it.  This is a worst- case nightmare scenario for them.  This is reckless.  It is dangerous.  It is counterproductive.  This sets a damaging precedent.  Conservatives should know this.  I think lot of them understand what could happen with a Democratic President who could do this on climate change, who could do this on guns, who could do this on healthcare.  It is a constitutional disaster and it nearly changes the political dynamic going forward. 

So think about what the President did.  Because he is afraid of losing this news cycle to hacks like Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs and Ann Coulter, he has set a precedent that will haunt the Republican Party for decades if not for generations. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the chairman of the House judiciary committee Jerry Nadler of New York said in a statement I will fully support the enactment of a joint resolution to terminate the President's emergency declaration and intend to pursue all that are available legal options.  Judiciary committee will also use its authority to hold the administration to account and determine the supposed legal basis for the President's actions. 

Jonathan, the news here.  Tell me the steps that led the President to say I'm going to ring the bell, a national emergency like we are fighting missiles in Cuba or something.  What? 

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS:  So I think what people need to understand is just how long this has been in the works.  Last summer, Trump said to Mick Mulvaney who is then his budget director I need you to find me money for this wall.  He could already see and they could already see they weren't going to get what they wanted through Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  So not from the Mexicans and not from the Congress, so he goes to Mick Mulvaney.  They go dig to embezzle some money for him.

  SWAN:  So OMB staff have been sifting through obscure pots of money for more than six months now.  And it is important to understand how the thinking about they have a spectrum.  There's easy money at this end and there's really hot money at this end which is politically and legally fought.  There's not that much ease a money. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, $2.7 billion - we are hearing 2.7. 

SWAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And that is lot of wall.  OK. 

SWAN:  And Trump has told about 23 billion, Chris.  That's the number Trump talks about, 23 billion MATTHEWS: 

MATTHEWS:  Where does he find that? 

SWAN:  Exactly. 

SYKES:  Well, if it comes from the military, you know, he is going to have a public relations outcry. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Paul, we have got this thing we are thought on maybe by 9th grade about check and balances. 

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  The Congress controls the purse strings.  It is an old time thing, post-strings.  But they control where the money comes from and where it goes.  Are they going to lay down on this? 

BUTLER:  No.  You know, Chris, there are so many legal issues here.  This is like a jobs program for constitutional lawyers.  First of all, is there actually a national emergency?  Emergency sounds like an unforeseen crisis.  As you say, this is been something that we have known about for years.  And in fact, in the last ten years undocumented border crossings have gone down. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUTLER:  But the main issue is where does the money come from?  So when the President declares a national emergency, he unleashes all these other laws that Congress has provided.  The President can have this power if there is some crisis.  But those - the money has to be tied to one of the specific laws.  So it's not clear which of those emergency powers correlates to giving the President the right to take money the Congress has allocated to the military and use that to build a wall. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Let me go to the politics.  Joy, this -- the Democrats are not going to like this.  We heard from Jerry Nadler who are up in New York where you are.  I assume from center over to the left, the Democratic Party is not going to like it.  Are the Republicans going to show bone here basically and stop this?  Some spine? 

REID:  No.  Because, you know, Mitch McConnell has the same imperative as Donald Trump.  He is up for reelection in 2020.  He can see Matt Bevan in his rearview mirror.  If Bevin who is one state wide in Kentucky decides to give himself an upgrade like Rick Scott did in Florida.  He has got a problem.   And so, they have all got a go along with this. 

I can't imagine that inside of their Republican hearts, they really believe this is a good idea.  Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, got up today and she said go ahead and do it because a President with different values, as she said might believe climate change or gun violence is a national emergency.  You have now opened the door. 

Look.  The reality is, Chris, Harry Truman tried to declare national emergency and seize a steel mill and he was told no by the court and there was a war going on.  It was during the Korean War.  It's not as if Presidents can even get away with it in that situation.  And that thing before the national emergency's act. 

The reality is Congress is going to act.  The power of the first reside in the House of Representatives so Nancy Pelosi will take the action that the speaker has a right to do.  It's going to leave Mitch McConnell and the supposedly constitutional conservatives like Ted Cruz in a real awkward position when they are arguing that a President can start to use these confiscatory powers, vast powers to seize money.  And this is going to unfold the same weekend people are watching "60 Minutes" where Andrew McCabe, the former deputy FBI director is saying I was sitting across from a man who just won a presidency potentially with the help of a foreign power.  You want to invest that guy with the power to confiscate --. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

REID:  I don't think that is a good idea. 

MATTHEWS:  That's coming out in HARDBALL tonight. 

Thanks for promoting us.  It is coming out, the whole question (INAUDIBLE). 

I want to you, Charlie, about.  You know, I wonder sometimes the party has change minds so that the Democrats for the segregation party for two damn many years, right up into '60s and the stay that way in the south.  And Republicans are going to picked that up with this southern strategy of Nixon in 1968.  So they change parties and dance once with in a while. 

But limited government is a fundamental Republican principal.  It is orthodoxy.  You know, you can't go after guns.  And part of it among moderate Republicans is abortion rights too.  You can't have a government that big to really ban abortion.  And I subscribed it myself.  I believe I don't want a government capable of doing all the things people want done sometimes because that's a terrible country to live in.  It is coming in society.  How can they give a President this kind of authority? 

SYKES:  They can't.  And that is why this maybe a slightly different vote.  I mean, the default setting is they are going to cave in to the President because they don't want to get crossways with Donald Trump.  But this is a fundamental principal for Republicans if they don't vote overturn this, then they really effectively surrender in the party of limited government.  And you know, the genius of this law is that the Senate will have to have an up or down vote.  That is one of the nightmare factors. 

But if the House passes, the resolution (ph) of this, then Mitch McConnell has a certain amount of time under the law.  So all of these guys are go having to go On the Record.  The other big problem is the one you alluded to.  You know, when people begin to find out where the money came from, I mean, that is a ticking time bomb. 

MATTHEWS:  But why did Mitch McConnell play toddy again today?  Why didn't he just say Mr. President, I'm not going to support this is a national emergency.  I don't like people crossing the border illegally.  But hey have been doing it for years.  This is not an emergency. 

SWAN:  He wants to keep the government open.  He is willing to do just about --. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this part of the deal? 

SWAN:  Just to get through the day. 

MATTHEWS:  He couldn't close the government down --. 

SWAN:  My understanding is there was no ultimatum today when Mitch McConnell spoke to the President.  The President wanted to know whether there was any language in this bill that would prevent him from doing an emergency.  That was any language in this bill that would prevent him from doing an emergency.  That was important to the President.  But Mitch McConnell did not lay down an ultimatum. 

BUTLER:  You know, historically, Congress has not been all that active in terms of regulating these orders.  There are 30 national emergencies going on right now.  They are supposed to expire a year and then Congress is supposed to consider them every six months.  Congress never does that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that's a sad fact.  Just last week, by the way, Texas Republican senator, John Cornyn, who was deputy whip a couple of months ago who has said what happened .  Here was his warning, feeble as it was. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I think it's a dangerous step, one because precedent it sets.  Two, the President's going to get sued and it won't succeed in accomplishing his goal and third, because I think Ms. Pelosi may well introduce her resolution of disapproval that will pass the House and come over here and divide Republicans.  So to me, strikes me as a not good strategy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There is one of the few civil minded Republicans these days.  Today, House speaker Pelosi, by the way, did not commit actually to filing a legal challenge but said she is reviewing options, Charlie. 

SYKES:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I think she is - she has got to take this on. 

SYKES:  She will and then of course there's the litigation in courts. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is got standing to --? 

SYKES:  That's the question. 

BUTLER:  It's not clear.  So if Trump takes property, private property, that's imminent domain.  So that's a lawsuit.  But there's a real questions about who does have standing? 

SYKES:  Yes.  This is with imminent domain.  You are talking about the party of limited government.  You also the government of private property.  The amount of private property that will have to be seized under an emergency order. 

You know, the Supreme Court said a major president when Harry Truman tried to seized those (INAUDIBLE), the worst case scenario for Republicans conservatives is if they win on this and the court establish a precedent giving the President this kind of power to override Congress and take --

MATTHEWS:  Nancy Pelosi did say something today.  And Joy, I will get back to you on this.  You raised the point.  And I'm talking about the end of the show.  She says what happens if we get a Democrat in there, a progressive activist President who says, you know, yes, we got a second amendment in the constitution, but I'm going to declare a national emergency.  We are going to start picking up the guns somewhere, you know.  We start getting really aggressive on gun safety?  Really aggressive. 

SWAN:  John Favreau who was President Obama's speech writer, two or three weeks ago, he said I look forward to the day when, you know, the progressive President declare as climate emergency, declares a gun epidemic emergency, you know, you could list the issues, health care emergency.  I mean, again, this gets to the point of precedent and there were conservative --. 

MATTHEWS:  You got to turn up your air conditioning at sun up.  I mean, I can see a lot of grand green ideas coming out but they are going to be challenged. 

SWAN:  There are conservative lawyers who are very close to White House counsel who were concerned about this and will put in sending this message to the White House.  This is something that is being discussed. 

MATTHEWS:  Joy, let's talk about the politics, who is left, right, the whole thing.  Democrats fought like hell to get the House back.  He had the biggest landslide I believe in off year midterm lections' ever.  They got to use it. 

REID:  Yes.  Absolutely.  And you have already seen Democrats use that power to rebuke funding for the war in Yemen.  Again, taking back an article one power.  Who should be determining what wars we are in? 

Nancy Pelosi says, you know what, in the constitution it says the House of Representatives.  And I think Charlie Sykes makes a very important point.  You want to elect Beto O'Rourke to john Cornyn's Senate seat when he retires, start seizing land.  Because the majority of the privately held land that you would have to take in order to build a wall is in Texas.  If you go to Arizona, you are talking about native-American tribes who have said they're already going to court if they try to talk their land.  The public land Donald Trump controls through the government is in California. 

So you are talking about now playing out this wall strategy that plays well on FOX News.  How is that going to play when the state that gets the biggest pain, that get the most private land seizure that puts all American ranchers in court against the federal government in Texas, go ahead and do that, you will elect Beto O'Rourke. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I don't think land reforms does too well on this country. 

Thank you so much, Jonathan Swan. 

Thank you, Joy.  As always, Joy Reid, my colleague. 

Thank you, Charlie Sykes. 

Thank you, Paul Butler. 

Up next, we are going to the hard of the matter.  We are going down at the border.  We are going to see what's this Trump emergency all about.  What is really happening at the border?  We are going to California Mexican border.  Is it really by any definition an emergency? 

And Republicans were outraged when President Obama used executive orders to get what he wanted.  How is this not an even bigger overreach of executive power? 

Plus a bomb shell claim, this would have been our lead tonight, former FBI director, Andrew McCabe, he says in a new book the high level meetings were held about removing this President, this president, you are looking at him, under the 25th amendment because of incapacity, like mental capacity.  They were trying to figure out which cabinet members would to dump this guy.  That's how serious to God when they began to think Trump was an agent of Russia of Russia. 

We got a big show for you, tonight.  Stick with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

According to NBC News, President Trump has been briefed on a plan that would allow him to use funds from the Army Corps of Engineers, taking billions from disaster areas in California and Puerto Rico, and redirecting them to help build his wall. 

Specifically, the emergency would allow the president dip into the $2.4 billion allocated to projects in California, including flood prevention and protection projects. 

Earlier this week, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an order, however, calling back all 360 members of the National Guard who were deployed to the border with Mexico, redeploying many of them to help with wildfire prevention.  The governor called the Trump emergency a manufactured crisis.

NBC's Gadi Schwartz joins us now from San Diego.

Gadi, you're there.  We're not.  Is there a crisis? 

GADI SCHWARTZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, that's what we have been asking people all along the border. 

We have traveled from one side of the California-Mexico border to the other.  That's the question we have posed.  And, for the most part, the overwhelming response is, there is no crisis out here from people that live along the border. 

However, California is a little bit different.  They say that life seems pretty normal out here.  They haven't seen necessarily an uptick in activity, at least most of the people that we have talked to.  However, they do say that they're used to seeing a fence, they're used to seeing a wall.

And you have got to remember that most of California is covered by a fence.  So this is something that they have seen for over a decade.  If you ask leaders in small places, or even in places like San Diego, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors says there is a crisis because of an uptick in people that are crossing as part of the migrant caravan or coming over to claim asylum. 

They're saying that things started to get really hairy back in October, when the federal government ended a program that basically took care of migrants after they were released, after they were processed and then released. 

And when that program ended, all of a sudden, migrants were just being released after they were processed onto the streets of San Diego.  The county board of supervisors is now saying that's going to cost them about $5 million in things like medical care, things like transportation, things like shelter, food, those kind of things. 

So they are actually considering suing the Trump administration.  And we're going to have to see how that plays out in court -- Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about that wall -- or that fence behind you.  Does that -- is that a formidable obstacle for people, as it is right now? 

SCHWARTZ:  Well, so there's a lot to talk about here, this fence right here and then there's another fence over on the ridge that you can see.

This fence, this is no longer necessarily a darling of the Border Patrol.  The Border Patrol says that this is a pretty easily breachable fence.  In fact, you can do it with some sort of saw or some type of implement that you can get at your local Home Depot.  And you can cut through this mesh wire in about a minute, minute-and-a-half. 

However, what you see up there, that is the wall, the fence-wall that they want to build, and that is a whole different structure.  They say that is much more -- much more difficult to penetrate.  And so here in San Diego, a lot of this, this part of the border is actually protected by two fences. 

That's the primary fence over on the right, and then this right here, with the concertina wire, this is the secondary fence.  What they're hoping to do is, they're hoping to replace all of this secondary fence right here, this mesh fence, with the bollard-style fencing that you see over there. 

So that's the first fence, and then right here would be the second fence, and this fence would be 30-feet-tall -- Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess the question is the crisis word and whether this should be a national emergency.

Do the people down there see an uptick to the point where you might say, my God, this can't be legislated normally, they can't be debating this in Congress, this has to be done by almost fiat by the president, an all- powerful president?

SCHWARTZ:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And my question, is that justified by what you learn down there?

SCHWARTZ:  From the people that live in this area, no, not necessarily. 

But they will say that -- for example, there's a guy that lives down here.  It's a ranch.  This is what's called Smuggler's Gulch.  This was a notorious gulch where, for centuries, people would smuggle things from Mexico into the United States. 

He says that there's no crisis.  But he says that's because his idea of a crisis is what they saw in the 1990s, early 2000s, where there would be thousands and thousands of people crossing this particular gulch every single day, right through his yard. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SCHWARTZ:  I asked him ,what's changed?  Why isn't this a crisis anymore?  And he says, it's because of -- because of this fence. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, I remember seeing those on NBC cameras for years, people crossing the border like that. 

Let's take a look. 

Our colleague Chris Hayes just interviewed former U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke of Texas.  Let's look at the interview, because it's about this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETO O'ROURKE (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  It's hard to make a rational case for an emergency declaration or troops on the border or any amount of additional border walls or border fencing or steel slats, even if it's not $5.5 billion, even if it's only 1.25.

The border has never been as safe and secure as it is now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I want to thank Chris Hayes for that little clip.  It'll be on tonight at 8:00.  The whole show is going to be about it, a big show tonight on MSNBC.

And, Gadi Schwartz, thanks for your on-site reporting, very accurate, I think.  Thank you.

Our next hour, MSNBC' Chris Hayes is going to live -- be live from El Paso, Texas, joined by Gadi and other correspondents for an unprecedented look at what's really happening along our southern border.

And he will have much more of that interview, by the way, with former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke, like, are you running for president?

But up next: a stunning revelation from former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.  This stuff is incredible.  This would normally be our number one topic.  The president incapable of serving as president?  That's what they were thinking about at the FBI, utilizing perhaps the 25th Amendment?  This was going on?

We're back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

There's news today that Justice Department officials considering whether -- considered whether Donald Trump's should be removed from the presidency under the 25th Amendment.  Do you believe it? 

It's one of many revelations emerging from a bombshell new book by former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.  A longtime career official, McCabe served as the number two at the FBI, until the spring of 2017, when he was abruptly elevated to the top job upon the firing by President Trump of Director James Comey. 

And now, in an interview airing this coming weekend on "60 Minutes," McCabe describes the panic following Trump's decision.  And during those eight days in May of '17, between Comey's firing and the appointment of Robert Mueller, McCabe says that Justice Department officials were so concerned with the president's actions, that they discussed ways to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

And that amendment says the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet can declare -- quote -- "that the president's unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."

McCabe told CBS that he took steps to safeguard the FBI's Russia investigation, revealing that he opened the obstruction probe and the counterintelligence of the president.

Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  How long was it after that, that you decided to start the obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations involving the president? 

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR:  I think the next day I met with the team investigating the Russia cases.  And I asked the team to go back and conduct an assessment to determine, where are we with these efforts and what steps do we need to take going forward?

I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground, in an indelible fashion, that, were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace. 

QUESTION:  You feared that they would be made to go away?

(CROSSTALK)

MCCABE:  That's exactly right. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I'm joined right now by Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, and Greg Brower, former U.S. attorney and former senior FBI official.

Congressman, this is a Frederick Forsyth novel or something like it.  I don't know how you talk about it. 

Three steps.  First of all, the FBI thinks the president might be a Russian agent.  Then the president fires Comey, the director of the FBI, to protect himself.  Third step, these guys are talking 25th Amendment.  They're talking about which Cabinet members could they get to who might vote to remove him from office. 

This is scary information we're getting now, sir.

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA:  Thank you, Chris, for your question. 

Let me first say that, today, we had the funeral services for two American heroes, John Dingell and Walter Jones.  My prayers and our prayers are with their family and friends.

Regarding your question, it is alarming, what Andrew McCabe is saying.  But, at the same time, I'm not all that surprised, because they're looking at the same thing we're all looking at, at the time.  You had a president that was acting bizarrely towards Russia, who had fired Comey in what looked like obstruction of justice, and the president kept making false statements on a daily basis. 

It's not as if the 25th Amendment wasn't something that lots of people are talking about.  And it's been a hashtag for quite a long time. 

MATTHEWS:  Greg, your thoughts about this, to me, unbelievable situation, where top career people are saying, wait a minute, we got a president who might be working for Moscow?  And then he goes and fires the FBI director who's investigating him on that issue.

And they go, wait a minute.  Is this president out of control?  And they were talking about getting a majority of the Cabinet members to yank him as incapable of serving as president. 

Your thoughts?  Your memories? 

GREG BROWER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Yes, Chris, it's interesting.  It's complicated. 

And I will tell you, in my experience with working -- in working with Andy McCabe, he was a very smart, very dedicated, very meticulous FBI agent. 

And so I think his version of events needs to be taken seriously.  But, of course, the story -- as the story goes, this was a conversation that took place across the street, as we say, at the Department of Justice headquarters, not at the FBI, and it involved, as McCabe is telling it, senior FBI officials -- or senior DOJ officials, none of whom seem to be corroborating his version of events. 

And so it's going to take some further reporting and further explaining by Mr. McCabe to sort of expose exactly who was there, what was said, and what the impact, if any, was.

MATTHEWS:  What's your memory of the firing of McCabe -- firing of Comey and how it resonated through the FBI and the Justice Department at the time it happened?

BROWER:  Well, it was a shock.  There's no doubt about it. 

And there was a certain amount of confusion as to what might happen next, what could happen next.  It was a very unsettled period of time. 

But I would also say, though, that it was not something that the FBI was going through in a vacuum.  The FBI works very, very closely, as you know, with main Justice, and in fact reports to the deputy attorney general.

So, as unsettled as things were, it was, for the most part, in my memory, a joint effort between the buildings as to how to manage the crisis and how to deal with the aftermath.

MATTHEWS:  Well, in an excerpt from the book -- it was published today, McCabe's book -- in "The Atlantic" magazine, McCabe describes a phone call he received from the president on an unsecure line the day after Comey was fired by Trump .

McCabe writes that Trump said: "I received hundreds of messages from FBI people how happy they are that I fired him."  According to McCabe, however, the reality was: "You would see small groups gathering in hallways, some people even crying.  The overwhelming majority liked and admired Director Comey."

McCabe adds that the president was upset that Comey was allowed to fly home from California on a government plane after he had fired him -- quote -- "The president flew off the handle, saying: 'That's not right.  I don't approve of that.'"

Well, then the president asked about McCabe's wife, who had lost a race for Congress two years earlier.  McCabe writes that Trump said: "Yes, that must have been really tough, to lose, to be a loser."

Congressman, I don't know.  We're going to find out more.  But I trust McCabe on this.  He did -- he heard -- he is in conversations talking about the 25th Amendment, the president being incapable of being president.

LIEU:  If you read the Department of Justice statement and response from McCabe, it's very carefully worded.

It looks to me like one of those non-denial denials.  And Rod Rosenstein doesn't deny saying those words about the 25th Amendment.  What they're saying is, Rosenstein believed he had no basis for it.

That's -- that's different.  And, in addition, McCabe had written down contemporaneous memos of his conversations with the president. 

And, by the way, that phone call itself was inappropriate, because Trump should not be calling McCabe, trying to see if McCabe would somehow justify his firing of Comey, because his firing of Comey itself could be a crime.  And it seemed like he was trying to influence McCabe to somehow say he was OK with what he did.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so, Congressman Lieu.

And I was right behind you, the pew behind you at that unbelievable funeral for John -- John Dingell today.  Thank you for mentioning that tonight.

LIEU:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  After the Justice Department's inspector general found that McCabe lacked candor during an internal investigation, McCabe was ultimately fired just days before he became eligible for his retirement benefits. 

And now McCabe's decision to go public with his story is eliciting a new round of criticism from President Trump.

Trump tweeted this morning that: "Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a poor little angel, when in fact he was a big part of the crooked Hillary scandal and the Russia hoax, a puppet for leaking James Comey.  Inspector general report on McCabe was devastating."

He went on to say -- this is the president tweeting -- "McCabe is a disgrace to the FBI and a disgrace our country."

Vicious stuff, Greg, vicious stuff from the president. 

BROWER:  Yes.  I -- as I said, in my experience with McCabe, he was a very dedicated agent, who did his best to do his job as best he could. 

I will tell you that the -- these continuing attacks by the president on DOJ and the FBI are bizarre, to say the least. 

And one other thing that he mentioned in a tweet earlier today was, he referenced several of FBI senior brass being fired or forced to leave as a result of misconduct. 

Let me just try to set the record straight and remind everybody that, unfortunately for him, McCabe was the only senior FBI official fired over the last couple of years.  He was the only one.  There was no mass firing or effort, successful effort by DOJ or the White House to force anybody else out.  It was just McCabe.

And so this narrative that we see coming from the right that somehow there's been this massive housecleaning at the FBI based upon misconduct with respect to the Clinton investigation and/or the Russia investigation, it's just not true. 

MATTHEWS:  Greg Brower, it's great to have you on for your expertise and integrity.  Thank you so much. 

Up next: much more on tonight's breaking news.  The president will sign that border deal, but will also declare a national emergency tonight, a move that will almost certainly be challenged in court. 

Stick with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump's decision to declare a national emergency over the wall brings up questions over whether it's within his constitutional authority. 

During a previous administration, a number of Republicans criticized President Obama for executive overreach.  Let's watch that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THEN-SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA:  It's an unbelievable overreach.  A matter of tremendous import and it's an affront to the legislative process. 

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO:  His actions violated the rule of law in the United States Constitution.  You don't take my word for it.  We got all kinds of law professors who say what he did was unlawful.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS:  This administration has been the most lawless administration we've ever seen and this president routinely disregards the law, disregards the Constitution, disregards the Congress. 

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA:  We did not elect a dictator.  We elected a president. 

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER:  It's on presidents to consider the long-term consequences of partisan power grabs and a rise above the kind of partisan temptations that tend to emerge. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that's not all.  You'll never guess what Donald Trump said about President Obama back in 2014.  That's coming up.  Lots of hypocrisy here tonight on display, coming up on HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

More on that breaking news tonight.  President Trump is planning to declare a national emergency after he was unable to get the border wall funding he wanted from the Congress.  In 2014, by the way, Trump tweeted that Republicans must not allow President Obama to subvert the Constitution of the United States for his own benefit just because he's unable to negotiate with Congress.  That's the very words of this president.

I'm joined right now by Ohio Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan, and Eugene Robinson, columnist with "The Washington Post". 

I want to start with Gene because you're a man of amazing breadth of experience.  This malarkey, this president said don't ever exceed what legislated by Congress, it's appropriated, you go out the money but they make the decisions. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST:  That's right.

MATTHEWS:  If anybody like Obama or anything else, they were the bad guy.

ROBINSON:  Yes, right.  But we live in an era where what you said before apparently doesn't matter at all and so he'll go ahead and do it because it's expedient, because he doesn't know what else to do basically.  He couldn't negotiate a deal. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  He had plenty of opportunity to do so.  He had two years, when he had total -- Republicans had total control of the House and the Senate and the White House and he couldn't get his wall.  Then he decided, tried to get it from Democrats at the House, that was not smart, and finally -- and he couldn't do that.  So, it's an emergency --

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask, Congressman Ryan, who's a smart guy, to try to explain the behavior of both parties.  Now, Pelosi, the speaker, who's been winning like, I mean, she's a got a hell of a winning streak the last couple of weeks, I'm not sure if she's going to do anything. 

First question to him, will she take action here and stop this president in his tracks for exceeding his authority as president?  Will she? 

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH), APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE:  I don't know if she will.  She may, but for sure this is going to get gummed up in the courts, which is ultimately what's going to happen here, and I think the way to look at this, Chris, is that he's got to protect his right flank.  He got beat up the last time he was talking about signing this bill and the compromise that we had four or five weeks ago, and then they got blasted on social media and by the right wing talk show circuits and he backpedalled.

And this is a way for him to say, look, I'm taking decisive action, I'm doing the national emergency.  It's going to get gummed up in the courts at some point and whether Speaker Pelosi does that or not, I don't know but that's his kind of insurance policy to tell the right who's doing something strong and bold to try to get the wall. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the Republican Party that's been around since Lincoln and before that?  What happened to that party that used to believe -- well, limited government, we don't believe the president should be a king.  We're very much used to complain about Roosevelt and Kennedy and Johnson, all the imperial presidents.  And along comes this guy and they just salute? 

RYAN:  I've never seen anything like it.  Talk about Republicans getting in line.  I just can't imagine.

You played the clips.  Hypocrisy is the order of the day today in American politics.  I don't know what we're going to do about it other than highlight it.  But the reality is, I think that's what the American people are sick of. 

It's like -- wait a minute, you guys were against budget deficits, just like three months ago and now, all the sudden -- I mean, it's insane.  Whether it's the national debt or the annual deficits or executive power -- they've been all over the board, which I think it's an opportunity for Democrats to provide a little consistency and stability in the political world.

ROBINSON:  Well, one other thing that Democrats can do, one thing that Nancy Pelosi can do is bring up her resolution of disapproval of this emergency declaration which presumably would pass the House and then the Senate would have to bring it up.  They don't have a choice.  And so, then, Republicans would have to -- who inveighed against Obama and all his executive actions have to go on record and say, OK, this is OK now, or it's not? 

MATTHEWS:  It's really embarrassing because, Congressman, you pointed out that Republicans used to believe in fiscal responsibility and now they just passed a trillion and a half dollar tax cut.  And, by the way, I want to know, there's a small number of people that benefitted from that.  So, it wasn't like a popular crusade to do it, and they got away with it. 

Again, the Republican leadership said, fine, that's great.  Let's go have a signing ceremony.  It does seems like why we're electing senators in the Republican side?  What role do they play?  I think they're just there to salute like robots. 

And the Democrats will, I'm hoping the Democrats challenge this president.  Gene said they might. 

RYAN:  Well, they've abdicated their duty.  But my hope is that we can turn a page on this to some extent.  We have a responsibility obviously as created by Article 1 of the Constitution and providing oversight and checks to the executive branch.  We certainly do have a lot of responsibility, but I hope we as Democrats get back on these economic messages. 

We just had a report come out where there are 400 people, the top wealthiest 400 people in America have more wealth than the bottom 150 million people.  That's the message for Democrats.  That economy is not working for people. 

And we got to get back on this economic message because people are suffering.  We saw it with the shutdown.  Federal workers who had stable jobs compared to most couldn't miss one paycheck and things were starting to unravel.  They're going in a food line to try to get food for their families.  We've got to get back on the economic message because that's a winner for us with the income inequality and the levels we have today.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that's why we have the people at the top have those gated -- gates around their houses so that people can't see how much they've got. 

Anyway, while the president's approval rating dropped to 37 percent during the government shutdown, it has shot back up to 44 this week according to Gallup. 

By the way, Gene, I do take pride on my ability to predict.  I've been saying all week that we'd go to 44.  For whatever reason, for whatever reason, his crowd expands like an accordion, squeezes and has wide again -- widened itself again because they like that show he put on in the State of the Union. 

ROBINSON:  Yes, they probably did.  I mean, I actually thought that the State of the Union, I agree, the State of the Union would do him political good, for a couple of reasons.  One big reason is his graphic section on abortion, which I think reminded the pro-life community that he is at least nominally, at least in terms of his rhetoric, pro-life, and sort of re- galvanize that issue along with Governor Northam's comments and other things going on around abortion. 

I thought that alone would give him a but of a boost and maybe the rest of the speech gave him a boost too.  But, of course, as we've seen, he has a range.  It's only 34 for 47.  It bounces up and down.

MATTHEWS:  But 44 is enough to be in fighting shape. 

Congressman, what about this election coming up in 2020?  It looks to me if he can hold mid-40s and knock the block off whoever who's running against, it's always been his strategy.  He's never going to be a popular president, he's going to be mid-40s and then go to war, making fun with nicknames, whatever else, intimidation tactics.  Is there anybody in your party that can stand toe to toe to this guy and get more than 50 percent against him? 

That's a tough question.  But I give to you, sir. 

RYAN:  I appreciate it, Chris. 

I think -- I think we have a couple.  And again, I think it's going to be staying on the economic message.  The economy's going to have lot to do with this next election.  I think on the social and cultural issues, I think both sides are split.

And obviously, any candidate we nominate is going to be strong on these issues with regard to criminal justice reform, women's choice, immigration, all of those issues that are very, very important issues.  It's going to be won in the Great Lake states again.  It's going to come down to Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio.  How do we do in western PA? 

And that's where I think this economic message comes in.  We've got to be a party of economics.  And if the economy softens those people are going to be looking to come back home to the Democrats and we better have an agenda for them to come back home. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, if it does -- well, that's not good for the country.  We hope it doesn't, but I think you're right. 

Anyway, the congressman, his name is Tim Ryan from Ohio.  And Eugene Robinson from "The Washington Post."

Be sure to tune in for Chris Hayes' coming up special report right now at 8:00 on the border, for more of his exclusive interview with Beto O'Rourke.  I don't know whether Beto's going to announce tonight or not.  He might. 

Back in a moment.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  The president's been out there yelling about an emergency on the southern border.  He speaks of violent people pouring into the country, threatening to harm us.  Well, how about this?  Is it violence he opposes?  Really? 

Because if it is violence, why has he done nothing about the violent shooting deaths that plague this country?  Think about it.  If Donald J. Trump hates violence so much that he wants to build a wall against it, why does he show so little interest in the gun violence that seems endemic in this country? 

When Speaker Nancy Pelosi first got wind of Trump's national emergency declaration, she issued a warning of her own.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  When you talk about a national emergency?  Let's talk about today, the one-year anniversary of another manifestation of the epidemic of gun violence in America.  That's a national emergency.  Why don't you declare that emergency, Mr. President? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Pelosi used the opportunity to remind the country of the enemy within.  This country's raging gun violence which no other -- no other in the world, country, no other country in the world can match.  But her immediate point was if you give one president power like this, another will come along and use it in ways you cannot imagine.  The way to address gun safety is through debate, compromise and respect for the Constitution.

That's HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now with a special report live from the border.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END