Robert Mueller concludes investigation. TRANSCRIPT: 3/22/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Michael Schmidt; Natasha Bertrand; Paul Butler; Joaquin Castro; JoeNeguse, Joe Neguse, Charlie Sykes, Ted Lieu, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Daniel R.Alonso, Shannon Pettypiece

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  And what comes next, involves our Congress and our public and involves you.  So, stay tuned, stay involved and thank you for watching our special coverage here tonight on THE BEAT.  I will be part of more special coverage of the Mueller report, including this Sunday.  I`m learning here, 9:00 P.M. Eastern, it`s official, a special on the weekend.

But don`t go anywhere because Chris Matthews, takes over our continuing breaking coverage now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Mueller has landed.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.  The investigation is over.  And according to a Senior DOJ Official, there will be no further indictments.  That means no charges against the President, his children or associates after all those meetings with the Russians.  Not only that but the Special Counsel completed its report and signed off on it without ever directly interviewing the President of the United States about collusion or obstruction of justice.

After two years of looking into President Trump, his campaign at the Kremlin`s unprecedented interference in the 2016 election, Special Counsel Mueller has now delivered his findings to the Justice Department.  And today, at 5:00 P.M., word came from the Justice Department, that they notified Congress that the Russian probe is officially over, leaving the fate of Mueller`s report in the hands of Attorney General William Barr.

In his letter, Barr`s letter to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, Barr`s stated simply that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has concluded his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters.  Barr said, I am reviewing the report and anticipate that I may be in a position to advise you of the Special Counsels principal conclusions as soon as this weekend.

Separately, this is Barr again, I intend to consult with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Special Counsel Mueller to determine what other information from the report can be released to Congress and to the public.  Well, there are major questions left to answer tonight, big questions and calls from Congress for Robert Mueller to answer them.

We have the best reporters possible tonight.  Joining us now, our NBC Ken Dilanian, The Atlantic`s, Natasha Bertrand, and Former Federal Prosecutor, Paul Butler.  Also joining me by phone, The New York Times`s Michael Schmidt.

Ken, my biggest question, and I`m going to have this along until somebody answers it.  How can the President be pointed to as leading collusion with Russia, aiding a Russians conspiracy to interfere with our election, if none of his henchman, none of his children, none of his associates have been indicted?  At best, there was RICO situation where he was giving orders to people to do stuff with the Russians.  If none of them were indicted, how can he be blamed?  I`m just questioning.  That`s my big one.

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER:  Chris, I think the answer is he cannot be in a criminal sense.  You`re right to question that because we know that under Justice Department doctrine, the President can`t be indicted.  So we can consider the possibility that Mueller is accusing him of impeachable offenses that would normally be crimes in this report.  But the point you just raised argues against that.  Trump can`t conspire with himself.  If he was conspiring with it the Russians, he would have had to have some help at least with Roger Stone.  That was sort of the last leg of the triangle.  And when he didn`t charge Stone conspiracy, that told us something.  It told us that they didn`t have it.

Now, I`m waiting to see what`s in this report, will they accuse Trump of misjudgment, of negligence, of allowing himself and his campaign to be manipulated by a Russian covert operation.  What happen after he was warned by the FBI?  What`s steps did he take during his campaign?  Did he open himself up to this?  And that`s all very bad but it`s not crimes, Chris.  They have not charge anybody in the Trump [INAUDIBLE].

MATTHEWS:  Well, let`s see.   Let`s -- maybe we can help here.  If you are a member of Congress or you think he missed the boat here, because we know about the meeting at Trump Tower June of `16.  We know about the meeting at a cigar bar with Kilimnik.  We know, my guy, we know but all those meetings with in Kislyak at the Republican Convention in Cleveland.  All of these dots we`re to believe don`t connect.

DILANIAN:  Well, that`s the conclusion in front of us, Chris.  I mean, all that stuff was suggestive.  It didn`t prove anything.  And, in fact, the Trump Tower meeting at my reporting tells me was a bust.  They didn`t actually hand over any incriminating information.  What it showed is that Don Trump Jr. was willing to accept help.  But we saw no evidence.  They actually accepted help, hacked emails or sort of analytical stuff from all that stuff.  It never panned out, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Second question, I`ve got to stick with you, my colleague, why was there never an interrogation of this President?  We were told for weeks by experts, you cannot deal with an obstruction of justice charge or investigation without getting the motive.  You do not get the motive unless you hear from the person himself who`s being targeted, a subject of the investigation.  How can they let Trump off the hook?

So far tonight, we have no reason to believe Trump is going to be charged by rhetoric in the document itself, the Mueller report, that he will not be charged with obstruction or of collusion without ever having to sit down with the Special Counsel Mueller and answer his damn questions.  How can that happen?

DILANIAN:  That is a great question.  The Special Counsel talked to Bill Clinton, FBI interviewed Hillary Clinton but Donald Trump would not sit down with him.  My conclusion, Chris, is that President transmitted to Mueller that he would take the 5th.  He would never talk to him.  And therefore, Mueller decided it wasn`t worth the subpoena fight that would delay the investigation and his report for months to go down that road, knowing he would lose.  You don`t have to testify against yourself.  And if at the end of the day, President Trump was just going to assert his 5th amendment rights and never sit down with Mueller, which if you`re his lawyer, that`s you would advice him to do.  Then why delay the investigation?

But you could argue, he should have done it anyway.  Mueller should have sent the subpoena to stand on principal, to show he took that extra step.  He chose not to do that.

MATTHEWS:  Michael Schmidt, your reporting on those two questions, why no indictment of the people around the President for collusion, if there is collusion?  Bob Mueller believes there was collusion.  And secondly, why no interview?  Why no questioning of the President?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Well, in terms of the charges and stuff like that, there are a lot of parts of Mueller that have lived on and will live on in other U.S. Attorney`s Offices in the eastern seaboard, basically, from New York to Washington.  So there are still things that are being investigated here.

I think you sort of have to look at Mueller and his report as a sort of midway point as these things go forward.  And I`m just --

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  Again, stop there.  His job is to go to the collusion question.  That`s why he got paid all these months.  That`s why he had this huge team.  They were to look into the collusion matter.  He can`t pass that off to somebody else, can he?

SCHMIDT:  I don`t know.  Those are very complex investigations.  They take a very long period of time.  And Mueller has cast a shadow over the President.  And there had been -- the President certainly would want this to be wrapped up as soon as possible.  But I don`t know.  I mean, w don`t know what Mueller found.  We don`t know what Barr is going to tell us about that stuff.  So I`m not sure.  We can make a judgment that they didn`t find collusion or they didn`t this or didn`t find that.  I just think that there are still a lot more to play out.  And we have to look at the results of what Barr discloses.

MATTHEWS:  Let me got Natasha in this question.  You`ve been reporting great on this stuff.  My question is, why dump this at 5:00, close of business on a Friday?  That`s when you dump stuff you`re not proud of.  That`s when you sneak something through the media.  5:00 in the afternoon, close of business, Friday for something we`ve been waiting for two years and they`ve been working apparently on this report, closing up this report for months, maybe since August, some of the writing.  And now, they drop it at 5:00 in the afternoon and we`re left with a question mark, where is the collusion report, where is the obstruction report, and how come he never interviewed the big guy ever?  Your thoughts?

NATASHA BERTRAND, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC:  This is a pattern that we`ve seen from the Special Counsel since the beginning, right?  I mean, he`s dropped indictments on Friday.  So I wouldn`t necessarily read too much into that aspect of it.  But you`re absolutely right.  I mean, the fact that Mueller is not recommending further indictments here is a surprise.  But at the same time, we don`t know what the report says.

Now, he might have found evidence of behavior that was perhaps unseemly or behavior that was wrong, that did not rise to the level of criminal activity.  There`s a lot of this that is nuanced and perhaps couched in the language of a counterintelligence investigation that does not rise to the level of criminal activity.

But there`s so much we still don`t know, right?  I mean, we still don`t know, for example, one big question, why was Alfa Bank paying the Trump organization server during the election?  We never came to a conclusion about that.  What about Michael Cohen in Prague?  There are reports that his phone was there.  What about that?  What about all the meetings that Jared Kushner had with the Russians at Trump Tower during the transition period?  Why did Mike Flynn lie about the sanctions phone call?  I mean, all of these things might actually be addressed.

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you think we`ll get those answers in this report?  Do you think we`ll actually get those non-indictment answers, if you don`t indict the President because you believe you can`t?  You don`t indict any of the people around him.  First of all, how can you blame the President, even in any regard, if you`re not going to say, his henchmen carried out his orders?  I mean, I don`t get it.

BERTRAND:  Well, that`s the big question, as to what -- that`s the big question, as to what extent will Mueller get into conduct that`s not criminally chargeable, right?  And that is what people are kind of concerned about, is that we might never know the answers to the questions because Mueller is going to stick to why he decided to prosecute and why he didn`t decide to prosecute.

MATTHEWS:  But, we didn`t want -- a lot of people did not want that done with regard to Hillary, those weeks before the 2016 election.  If you`re going to indict, indict, others, shut up.  I mean, that`s a different stick [ph].

Let me go to Paul Butler who knows this stuff.  Paul, you and I have talked.  You`ve been instructing me on this about the nature of a possible RICO charge, the President overseeing a number of his henchmen, his people, his kids all involved with the Russians.  My question to you is how come nobody has been indicted, and if not.  Because we`re told by a DOJ official in the background, there`s not going to be indictments in this report.  How can we say the President was a ring leader of something that nobody did wrong with?

PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, Chris, I think the answers to those questions are contained in the Mueller report.  So when a federal prosecutor doesn`t extend the investigation and elects not to bring charges, she writes as lengthy memo explaining the reason why.  So we can be confident that the Mueller report contains a detailed analysis of why charges weren`t brought against people like the President and Donald Trump Jr.  The question is whether Barr will release that information to the Congress and to the American people.

The department has another policy that suggests that if charges aren`t brought, then the reason should not be made public.  So if, for example, Barr knows from the Mueller report of high crimes and misdemeanors by the President and Mueller says that the only reason he didn`t indict is because of the DOJ policy against indicting a sitting President, Barr could sit on that information, citing that other DOJ policy --

MATTHEWS:  How can the President be responsible for high crimes and misdemeanors if none of his people are responsible for breaking the law?

BUTLER:  So the other part of the Justice Department policy is unless they are confident that they could get a jury to convict, they don`t bring charges.  That`s higher than the legal standard of probable cause.  So it may be that they think that there`s sufficient evidence to charge people with crimes.  But if they don`t think they could get the conviction, they wouldn`t prosecute.  And that information, that analysis will also be contained.

MATTHEWS:  Come on, Paul.  A D.C. jury wouldn`t convict in these sets of circumstances, all this information about meetings with the Russians and what it would look like to an average, common sense juror.  And you don`t think they thought they could get a conviction?

BUTLER:  For issues like obstruction of justice, as firing the firing the Attorney General -- well, as firing the FBI director, does that count as obstruction of justice?  Those are complicated legal questions.  And they may, in fact, be complicated questions for jury.  I think that Mueller probably could have gotten a D.C. jury to indict or to convict based on some of the evidence that we already know.

MATTHEWS:  Okay.  I was thinking more of the collusion stuff.  Let me -- thank you, Paul.  We`ll be back to you.

I want to go to Michael Schmidt.  You write the big foot articles for The New York Times` front page.  What is the impact of tonight`s news and tomorrow in Sunday`s papers and the Sunday shows with regard, put it together with Nancy Pelosi said no impeachment on the table right now.  Well, this put -- keep it off the table, put it back on or what, because I`m curious.  The big story of 2019 was impeachment.  Is it still a big story of 2019, the impeachment inquiry?

SCHMIDT:  It all depends on what Mueller has found and what is relayed to Congress.  If it`s relayed to Congress that the President broke the law, then this will head in a certain direction, I am sure, and that will push the democrats on impeachment and their base will really want to do something.  If Barr says he didn`t find anything there, he`ll be under pressure from the democrats to release as much information from the investigation as possible so they can, quote on quote, check his homework and see if the investigators truly followed the facts and were not impeded by politics.

But we, today, can`t make that assessment until we know what Mueller concluded.  And there`s some indication we`ll find out this weekend, maybe some early summary of that.  Barr was saying that he was going to brief the Hill as early as this weekend about this.  And we`ll just have to see how far he goes.

MATTHEWS:  Michael, let`s use your powers of deduction.  If there was a criminal conspiracy to advance the Russian interference in our elections in 2016 led by the President, all of his people would be involved.  Many of them would be involved.  We know it could have been Flynn, it could be Manafort, it could be certainly Roger Stone, Rick Gates, all his family members, especially those who met with the Russians.  How can you blame the President for being a ring leader, a RICO type leader of a crime if none of his henchmen are worth indicting?  And they were not indicted today and were told by the DOJ they will not be indicted.  How can you build the case in your own mind that there`s still a case for collusion against the President?

SCHMIDT:  I`m not sure.  You present some very logical reasons there why that may not exist, and a case like that may not exist.  I think what you`re forgetting about is the issue of obstruction while there were a lot of questions about Russia.

MATTHEWS:  I`m not forgetting it.  That`s another question.  But go ahead.

SCHMIDT:  Look, while there`s a lot of questions about Russia, there`s many more about obstruction and about actions he took when he was in office.  And if you look at the questions that Mueller wanted to ask the President, there were far more about obstruction than anything else.  And he never answered those questions.  But Mueller continued to investigate.  And that`s where he spent a lot of time talking to current and former White House officials to understand the President`s motivations as he tried to gain control of the inquiry.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SCHMIDT:  And I think that`s the other bucket here that sometimes people forget about but where the President may have the most exposure.

MATTHEWS:  Well, yes, I can see the President announcing in two or three weeks.  I split the double header.  I get off collusion.  All they got me on is this argument of obstruction.  By the way, I`m allowed to obstruct when I`m innocent.  I can hear the political argument right now.  Michael Schmidt, yes, go ahead.

SCHMIDT:  Well, he already started saying that today a bit.  There was sort of a hint to that in his Fox Business interview that he did with Maria Bartiromo.  He`s basically saying, well, this was a fake investigation, fake issue, the Russia thing was a whole hoax and I had to protect myself from that.  You could see that argument forming in what he was saying today.

MATTHEWS:  And 88 percent of the republican people out there, voters support Trump, they`ll support him on that obstruction.

Collusion has always been the name of the game.  I think you know more.  Thank you, Michael Schmidt, a fabulous reporter of The New York Times.

In a joint statement, by the way, late tonight, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer, said the following.  Attorney General Barr must give President Trump and his lawyers -- must not give President Trump, his lawyers or any staff any sneak preview, that`s their phrase, sneak preview of Special Counsel Mueller`s findings or evidence and the White House must not be allowed to interfere in decisions about what parts of those findings or evidence are made public.  The American people have a right to the truth.  The watchword is transparency.  Well, that was strong.

Joining me right now is U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro who sits on the House Intelligence Committee.  Congressman, you`re a politician.  I just want to know what you think of the political impact of this somewhat unsatisfactory bit of news we had tonight, which is nothing about collusion, really, except no indictments on collusion of the people around the President, nothing really on obstruction of justice, there`s not going to be any interview of the President by the Special Counsel.  What do you make of that set of news?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), T.X.:  Yes.  I guess a few things, Chris.  I mean, obviously, the country has been waiting for this report for a long time.  It`s owed to the American people.  So I believe the acting Attorney General shouldn`t make any changes to it, deletions, additions, should just let the American people see it for themselves and make their own decision.

But there`re basically three buckets here that we`re talking about.  Collusion, as you`ve been talking about, obstruction of justice and then any kind of business crimes, money laundering, insurance fraud, anything like that.  Let me deal with the last two.

I think that in that report, I would suspect that if there`re obstruction of justice findings, that Bob Mueller will say, Congress has to deal with that part.  Based on what I heard Michael Cohen talk about in his interviews with the Intelligence Committee, I believe that the Southern District is probably looking or is looking at some of Mr. Trump`s business dealings.  So that`s those two buckets.

The third one is the collusion question.  And I can`t say for sure what they found on that.  Obviously, they`re not going to go forward and do indictments on the President because it`s DOJ policy or it`s been DOJ policy in the past or any of the people around him, but we don`t know whether that means they have no suspicion or no evidence of indictments and simply didn`t think they had enough evidence to convict.  We just don`t know until we see the report.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about impeachment now?  These last couple of hours have changed a lot of views, I would expect.  Does this make it more or less likely that the Congress will conduct a formal impeachment process, including perhaps indicting or rather subpoenaing Mr. Mueller himself and make him sit on the stand under oath and tell us everything he decided or didn`t decide to do?

CASTRO:  Well, I do think that the Congress and the American people should hear from Bob Mueller directly about the investigation, how he went about it and so forth.  I think the important piece for the Congress will be -- or the most important piece will be obstruction of justice piece and what the Mueller report lays out in terms of its findings with respect to that.

MATTHEWS:  How about under oath?  Would you put the Special Counsel under oath?

CASTRO:  Sure.  And I suspect that as a lifelong prosecutor and so forth, somebody that served in the Justice Department, I don`t that he would have a problem testifying under oath.

MATTHEWS:  Do you hope that the Special Counsel will, at some point in the next few days, either in the written report, which is now in the hands of the Attorney General, will clarify what he discovered about this President and the Russians?

CASTOR:  Yes, I hope so.  I think everybody hopes so, republicans, democrats, liberals, conservatives.  Look, our elections were interfered with in 2016 and we know that there were Russian agents who were part of that.  And a big question throughout the last two years or so has been whether and how much any Americans helped achieve that.  So, yes, I think everybody wants to know the answer to that.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas.  Thank you, sir.

While waiting the report early this morning, the President laid down his last line of defense.  This is critical, I think.  Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There was no collusion, there was no obstruction.  Everybody knows it.  It`s all a big hoax.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, no collusion is a big lead there.

Joining me right now is Democratic Congressman Joe Neguse of Colorado who sits on the House Judiciary Committee.  I`m going back to your question.  How can there be a charge here or a claim of collusion?  Formally, the term is advancing a Russian conspiracy to interfere and screw with our elections, basically.  How can that be laid, that -- that blame, that accusation, be laid against the president by Mueller, if he`s not getting any of Trump`s people here? 

REP. JOE NEGUSE (D), COLORADO:  So, thank you for having me, Chris. 

I have been listening to the questions you have been raising.  I think they`re important ones.  But I think it`s hard to speculate until we have actually seen the report.

MATTHEWS:  I`m asking.  I`m not speculating.  Why didn`t he -- why didn`t he indict? 

We were told by a DOJ official tonight there will be no indictments.  That means no indictments about collusion.  Doesn`t that startle you, with -- after all these meetings? 

NEGUSE:  I suspect that the underlying rationale -- and I would hope that the underlying rationale is detailed in the report. 

It`s why the Judiciary chairman -- and you heard from Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer.  They`re ultimately making clear that they believe the report should be released to the public and that the underlying findings and evidence should be transmitted to the relevant committees in the Congress, including the Judiciary Committee. 

I mean, that`s why it`s important to get this report, so that we can understand the rationale behind decisions to prosecute and decisions not to prosecute.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you`re being very patient.  I`m not patient.  I`m not patient here, because we have waiting for this thing for two years. 

It comes out on a Friday at 5:00 at night.  Excuse me.  That`s the dumping ground, when you dump it at 5:00 -- at close of business on a Friday. 

By the way, does it bother you that the president of the United States, who is the target of this whole inquiry, was never interviewed?

NEGUSE:  Again, I want to read the report, so I understand better precisely why he wasn`t interviewed.

And I would like to understand the special counsel`s rationale for not issuing a subpoena and so forth.  Some folks, again, have speculated as to why that is.  But I would like to see the report, so that we can ultimately get a better sense of why that was the case.

MATTHEWS:  Well, if I were Bob Bennett, who was Bill Clinton`s lawyer, and if I were Bill Clinton, I would sure as hell say, you mean a president doesn`t have to respond to a subpoena? 

You mean a president can skip town and not ask for -- when Bill was put in that booth, he was forced to talk on the tape, talk all about Monica Lewinsky, all on the tape, before that grand jury.

He had to do all that.  You mean he could have gotten out of it, the way Trump`s getting out of it?  That`s what you`re assuming here. 

NEGUSE:  Again, I -- I hear you, Chris. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It`s doable.  A president can just say, excuse me, I`m not coming. 

NEGUSE:  I think it`s hard to make a judgment call without seeing the report and the findings and the underlying evidence. 

And let me just say, I think it`s important that we not lose sight of where we are, and how far we have come, after a-22 month investigation, 37 indictments, multiple guilty pleas, a conviction, including multiple advisers to the president, people like Michael Flynn and others. 

So let`s -- context matters.  I think right now the focus should be getting the report.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but nobody has been -- nobody around the president has been indicted ever since this two years began about collusion, which is the heart of the inquiry.  Nobody has faced justice on collusion yet.

(CROSSTALK)

NEGUSE:  I think a couple of folks have raised the point -- and I think it`s a salient one -- that we also can`t lose sight of the obstruction of justice piece of this, and the reality that that was a big component of the special counsel`s work. 

And so, again, I would like to see the report and the findings become public.  I think the American public deserve to know the truth. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you`re right.  I think, unfortunately, though, in the way politics works in 2019, it`s the Democratic Caucus which will be interested in that obstruction of justice question, whereas the Republicans are going to wink at that baby. 

They`re going to say he was innocent, of course he defended himself.  They`re going to buy the Trump line.  Aren`t you afraid of that? 

NEGUSE:  I hope that`s not the case. 

I mean, I think it`s going to depend on the evidence that comes out.  And it`s why I know I sound like a broken record, but, look, it matters.

MATTHEWS:  You`re an optimistic guy.  You`re an optimistic guy.  The Republicans are waiting for the evidence.  That is astounding.  You really believe that? 

NEGUSE:  Well, let me -- let me say this, Chris, because, again, it`s -- context matters.  History matters. 

The last time that a special counsel was appointed under this statute was with respect to the Waco incident in 1993.  And back then, the -- so this notion made by some that the report should be made public with redactions, and that the attorney general should only release a summary of findings and so forth, is just not consistent with the law. 

It`s not consistent with past practice.  Release the report to the American public.  Transmit the evidence to the relevant committees in the House, so that we can engage in our important constitutional oversight duties.

MATTHEWS:  Well, thank you, Congressman Joe Neguse, who is being very judicious tonight from Colorado. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Still with me is Ken Dilanian, Natasha Bertrand, and Paul Butler.

Let me go back to Ken, because you have been watching my interrogative -- my interrogatives here, my questioning of people, because I am a bit unsettled by the fact that all of this investigation has yielded so far no indictments about collusion. 

DILANIAN:  You are asking all the right questions, Chris. 

But there`s another way to look at this whole collusion question, which is, so there wasn`t a criminal conspiracy.  That`s obvious.  There are no conspiracy charges.  But Natasha mentioned the counterintelligence aspect of this.

What that means is that the FBI launched an investigation into the question of, is Donald Trump compromised by a foreign adversary, by Russia?  And often the answer to that question is not a criminal charge. 

If you`re a senior government official, and you have an affair with a Chinese spy, you don`t get charged criminally with espionage.  You get fired and you lose your security clearance. 

What if the Mueller report finds that the Trump campaign were dupes to a Russian covert operation to manipulate our election, and they allowed themselves, by their willingness to take meetings with Russians and accept dirt from the Russians, they allowed themselves to be manipulated by a very sophisticated Russian operation?

That would be a scandal that may well be impeachable, depending on the facts.  We have to wait and see.  Just because there wasn`t a crime doesn`t mean there isn`t a scandal. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it isn`t all passive.  The evidence we have so far is not entirely passive.

We know that his kid went to Trump Tower to get dirt on Hillary.  That is not a passive action. 

DILANIAN:  That`s right. 

MATTHEWS:  He wasn`t waiting for it to be put over his transom.  He went to the meeting. 

DILANIAN:  That`s right. 

MATTHEWS:  We know that there was a meeting -- we know that there`s meetings with -- lots of them with Kislyak.  We know that the Russian -- the Republican -- I shouldn`t say that -- the Republican platform for 2016 was changed according to the purposes of the Russian government. 

We know all this. 

DILANIAN:  Right. 

So what we can conclude, though, from the absence of any criminal charges related to that is that it didn`t rise to the level of a criminal conspiracy, but we can`t conclude that the Trump campaign was blameless. 

MATTHEWS:  So, if somebody was paid off for -- with whatever form of payment, whatever currency, to change the Republican platform on Ukraine, that wouldn`t be a crime? 

DILANIAN:  No, of course it would.  But I don`t think that fact pattern exists.  That would be bribery straight up, right?

So the question is, was there improper influence, which may not be a crime, especially when you`re talking about a foreign adversary. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

DILANIAN:  But, remember, the FBI warned the Trump campaign that the Russians were circling.

The question is, what do they do with that warning?  Apparently nothing, because they allowed themselves to be manipulated and used and turned against the democracy, essentially.  And the details that, we think, are in the Mueller report.

And, Chris, this letter actually gives us a clue, this letter from Barr, that the Mueller report is perhaps more detailed than we thought, because he talks about giving the baseline information of declinations to the Judiciary Committee.

And then, in the next paragraph, he says, but there`s this other information that I`m going to discuss with my lawyers about whether we can make this public.

Well, the other information, that`s the stuff we really want to see, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Paul on this, because you`re the lawyer here and the professor. 

What about -- what -- the things that are missing, the dog -- as Sherlock Holmes would say, the dog that didn`t bark here, there are all kinds of laws about denial of people`s public service, that you engage in purposes beyond those of your appointment or your elective official position.  And you`re doing stuff really for someone else.  You`re denying public service -- services to the public here. 

If you`re over there fobbing for the -- for the Russians, isn`t that a crime?

BUTLER:  I think it very well might be a crime, but then it depends on the facts. 

And, so, we can look at Mueller as being a very efficient and productive prosecutor, but also called a somewhat conservative one.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BUTLER:  So, 199 criminal charges, 37 people charge individually, and seven guilty pleas or convictions, every single person who Mueller has charged, he`s gotten, with the exception of Roger Stone, who hasn`t had his day in court yet. 

And so what that means is, he only brings cases when he has unimpeachable evidence that he knows he can win.  And it may be that, for people who haven`t been charged, he didn`t feel he had that quality of evidence. 

But, very quickly to Ken`s point, President Trump is far from out of the woods.  So the president appears to have made a number of misleading statements about Trump Tower Moscow when he was a candidate for president of the United States. 

Now, it`s not a crime for a candidate for office to lie.  At the same time, the Russians knew he was lying.  And so he may have been compromised in a way that has important national security implications and that could also lead to his impeachment and removal from office.

MATTHEWS:  Natasha, what changed at 5:00 Eastern time tonight?  What`s different now than it was two, three hours ago? 

BERTRAND:  We know that Mueller`s investigation is over.  We don`t know that the investigation is over, right? 

So, the House will continue to investigate things like Deutsche Bank.  They are probably going to subpoena Mueller, according to Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. 

And I think that the biggest lingering question now is, is Trump compromised by the Russians?  Because there`s really nothing else that logically explains his behavior, his deference towards Vladimir Putin. 

That is the biggest lingering question, I think, that Schiff wants answered particularly.  He`s already said that that is one of the biggest things that he wants to investigate. 

And I think that we are also losing sight of the fact that Trump`s submitted written answers to Mueller.  So were there any consistencies in those answers that perhaps Mueller wanted to charge him with, but couldn`t because he`s a sitting president? 

So these are questions that I think the report might answer.  I mean, we really don`t know at this point.  But you would expect it to.  I mean, there`s just so much out there that we don`t know. 

But I think the biggest question is, what explains the president`s behavior towards Vladimir Putin?  What explains his behavior throughout the course of the campaign?  Is he compromised by the fact that he was looking into doing a Trump Tower Moscow?  And does that explain the behavior of everyone around him during the campaign? 

I think that, just because there were no indictments related directly to conspiracy, "his henchmen" -- quote, unquote -- as you call them, were indicted. 

MATTHEWS:  Not for collusion.

BERTRAND:  Perhaps not about that main conspiracy question.

MATTHEWS:  Not yet, yes.

BERTRAND:  Not for collusion, but the purpose of it was to get information, presumably, to flip them against the president, to get information about what happened during the campaign.

Whether or not that information rises to the level of criminal activity, apparently, Mueller didn`t think so.  But we`re probably going to learn a lot more as the days -- as the days go on. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Ken Dilanian.  And thank you, Natasha Bertrand and Paul Butler.

Moments ago, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer weighed in on the report and warned President Trump and his lawyers not to interfere with the release of it.  Let`s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER:  Now that special counsel Mueller has submitted his report to the attorney general, it`s imperative for Mr. Barr to make the full report public and provide its underlying documentation and findings to Congress. 

Attorney General Barr must not give President Trump, his lawyers or his staff any sneak preview of special counsel Mueller`s findings or evidence.  And the White House must not be allowed to interfere in decisions about what parts of those findings or evidence should be made public.

The watchword is transparency.  The president himself has called, without qualification, for the report to be made public.  There is no reason God`s green earth why Attorney General Barr should do any less.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I want to bring U.S. Congressman Ted Lieu of California, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee and joins me by phone.

Congressman, what do you think is the thinking behind the leadership in both houses on the Democratic side about not having the president get a sneak preview?  That was their term.

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

Let me first say that today is a historic, proud day for America.  Despite multiple attempts by the president to stop this investigation, Robert Mueller and his team were able to complete it. 

And the fact that he kept his job, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein kept his job, I think, shows the strength, the vitality of our institutions.  So let`s not lose sight of that. 

In terms of the report, the American public and Congress should see the entire report.  If it`s classified, if the report is classified, Congress should see it.  And we should not have any interference from the White House before we see the full report. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, back to my question, what`s the concern about the president getting a look before the rest of the country does at this report? 

LIEU:  The concern would be that they would tamper with it, that they would put pressure on Attorney General Bill Barr to not release certain portions or to redact certain portions of the report.  And that would be unacceptable.

MATTHEWS:  What do you -- you said this report was a conclusion.

But my question is, it wasn`t really conclusive, because they never interviewed under oath the president.  And we were told for weeks by experts in prosecution you have to get to motive when it comes to obstruction.  You have to figure out what the person says who is being investigated. 

And we have never gotten an on-the-record, under-oath interview -- interrogation, I think is a better word for it -- of the president, ever. 

LIEU:  That is correct. 

I`m a former prosecutor.  It would have been really great if Donald Trump was courageous enough to do an interview.  But he`s not required to, as a target of an investigation.  He could simply clam up and not say anything, if he wanted to do.

So there was no legal formal requirement that he had to submit...

MATTHEWS:  Why did Bill Clinton accept -- why did Bill Clinton have to be taped before the American people about Monica?  He had to go through that humiliation of being asked all about it on television, basically, for all of us to see.  And this president skips town. 

LIEU:  Bill Clinton could have asserted his Fifth Amendment rights.  He did not have to do that.  He chose to do it. 

I would have hoped Donald Trump would have chosen to testify the way that Bill Clinton did.  But he didn`t have to do it, legally. 

MATTHEWS:  What`s the next step?  I mean, you have got the Congress decides on impeachment.  The speaker has said it`s off the table. 

Is it back on the table or still off the table?  Where`s impeachment?  It`s now March, late March.  Is it something that`s going to come up in the next couple months or not? 

(CROSSTALK)

LIEU:  Right. 

So, the mission of special counsel Mueller is fairly narrow, right?  He`s looking at whether he can get enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone committed a federal crime.  The committees in Congress have a much broader mission. 

We want to know, did Donald Trump, his family or his associates commit any crime, whether or not it was related to Russia?  Second, did they engage in any ethical misconduct, whether or not it rose to levels of a crime?  And, third, how do we keep this from happening again and how do we explain this to the American people?

So, our investigations are going to continue.  Based on what we find, we will have a conversation with the American people and decide, should we go forward or not with impeachment?  But we don`t have enough of a record to decide that question yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what`s winning right now, the case for impeachment or the case against it?  What`s winning as of tonight?

LIEU:  I don`t think we have enough facts to go forward with impeachment.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you so much. 

LIEU:  We, first off, would need to see the entire report from Mueller as well.

MATTHEWS:  It`s great to -- I always want you on, Congressman Ted Lieu of California. 

LIEU:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  I`m going to bring in now Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois.  He sits on both the House Intelligence Committee and the Oversight Committee, led by, of course, Elijah Cummings. 

Let me ask you this, Congressman.  You`re smiling.  I don`t know why anybody is smiling tonight, but let me ask you this. 

My two questions tonight, if there`s collusion on the part of the president, how come none of his people, his family, his henchmen, none of his associates, none of them have been indicted, and there`s not going to be any more indictments? 

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D), ILLINOIS:  Well, we don`t know that there was collusion by the president.  But we need to see the report to understand why he decided not to charge. 

I mean, theoretically, it`s possible, although unlikely, that he may have thought that the charges may have risen to the level of an indictable crime with regard to the president, but he could not charge him in this regard...

MATTHEWS:  What about his people?

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  ... and nobody else was involved, and, theoretically, others weren`t involved.

MATTHEWS:  Well, nobody has charged that president personally went out and organized this whole thing all by himself, that if he was involved with collusion with the Russians, he had his people involved at doing it for him.

No indictments of any of his people, not of his kids, nobody, no indictments.

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  One -- right.

One evidence of -- piece of evidence of collusion that I thought was pretty striking was the meeting between Mr. Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik in that cigar bar in New York...

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  ... where he passed private polling data to Mr. Kilimnik, who was thought to be an agent or connected to the Russian intelligence services.

In fact, Mr. Manafort lied about this in the proceedings in which he was recently sentenced.  And I`m just curious, what did Mr. Mueller say about this particular episode?  And did it get passed off to someone else to investigate?

One other thing I just want to mention very briefly, Chris -- and I know you`re focused on this collusion issue, but I would just like to know...

MATTHEWS:  Because that`s why we had a special counsel. 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Yes. 

I think that, with regard to this collusion issue, I would like to know what Mr. Mueller thought he could not pursue on his own, but he needed assistance from other investigative agencies or other U.S. attorneys, who are also continuing their investigations. 

In other words, I`m just curious whether, in this report -- and I think that the American people must see this report, by the way -- whether this was a midterm report or a final thesis. 

In other words, did he basically farm out the rest of the investigation to other U.S. attorneys to complete the investigation?

MATTHEWS:  We will see.  Good thought. 

Thank you so much, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Thank you, sir.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you for joining us.

Stay with as.

Much more coming up on tonight`s breaking news.  Special counsel Mueller has concluded -- this is his final report -- and submitted it to the U.S. attorney general, William Barr.  We will see what Barr does with it.  Apparently, over the weekend, he is going to feed some morsels to the members of Congress. 

We will be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

More on tonight`s big story tonight.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has concluded his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.  NBC News reports there will be no further indictments, no more indictments.  The report is now in the hands of Attorney General Barr.  Barr has notified members of Congress he may be able to brief them on some of these morsels, he says the big stuff, over the weekend.

For more, I`m joined by Shannon Pettypiece, White House reporter for Bloomberg News.  Daniel Alonso is a former federal prosecutor, Malcolm Nance, author of "The Plot to Destroy Democracy." 

I want to start with you, Malcolm. 

What`s your reaction to this whole thing, since 5:00, when you heard, no indictments, no interview with the president?

MALCOLM NANCE, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  It`s the no indictments part that gets me, because there`s one indictment, one indictment which I thought was critical to the entire matter. 

That was the indictment for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, because, if there`s going to be a bridge between Roger Stone and the Trump White House, well, it`s one thing for Mike Pompeo to come out and say that they are a non-state intelligence agency. 

It`s another thing to bring the criminal indictment against them, the way that they did against the Internet Research Agency. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

NANCE:  So, whether it`s out there somewhere or whether it`s going to be handed off to the Eastern District of New York to be processed later -- of Virginia to be processed later, I don`t know. 

But that should have happened.

MATTHEWS:  In the narrative we have all covered now, everybody watching pretty much, Roger Stone knew ahead of time about the e-mail dump on Podesta, the DNC, the whole thing.  Nobody can tell the future.  He had an inside. 

And that`s -- you were suggesting that could have been the direction of a conspiracy.

NANCE:  Sure. 

But this investigation is a counterintelligence investigation.  I recall two years ago saying that means spy hunt.

MATTHEWS:  We`re looking for spies.

NANCE:  The FBI spy hunters are doing it.

Unless it`s a very specific individual who has handed over intelligence to a foreign power, who was an actual paid spy of a foreign power, those things don`t get adjudicated the way that you would think, all right?

This is an investigation of the president of the United States and his immediate staff who may have conspired...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

NANCE:  ... with a foreign power.  And this report may spell it all out and leave it for the Congress to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I agree with that.  It`s always possible.

Let me ask you, Daniel, about this.  If you`re in a -- we understand, the reporting is right now, the president sitting outside on the terrace of Mar-a-Lago, probably an ideal setting, sitting there with his family or whatever. 

Should they feel that they just -- they just skipped justice, that they got away with everything? 

DANIEL R. ALONSO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  No.

I mean, there -- we just don`t know that.  I mean, they don`t know.  They probably know more than we do, frankly.

MATTHEWS:  All those meetings with the Russians, and they`re going to walk, they`re going to go scot-free? 

ALONSO:  Yes, I think -- I think, frankly, that probably is right. 

If there are no indictments on the so-called collusion question, it shows that all these set of stars that we have been looking at for all these months maybe don`t make a constellation like we might have thought.

MATTHEWS:  But what about the fact that the special counsel has given up on interviewing the president, who I have been told by people like yourselves, you got to get the motive, you got to interrogate the guy? 

ALONSO:  Well, let me disagree a little bit with the people that have told you that.

In the typical criminal investigation, you don`t investigate -- you don`t get to interview the target, even in the typical obstruction investigation.  Yes, you need to know what his or her intent was.  But you learn that through other sources. 

Now, in a corruption investigation or an investigation of a high-level public official, time was when they would not dare take the Fifth.  That`s not something thing that they would do, because they would get so much public condemnation for doing it. 

I think that`s changed.  I have been noticing that in recent years, that they tend to do it and sort of say, well, look, that`s my right. 

MATTHEWS:  But if they`re running for office again, they tend not to do it. 

ALONSO:  It all depends. 

But I think that they can -- they can make a plausible argument, as I think the president`s lawyers have made here, that he has the right to not...

MATTHEWS:  By just saying it`s an impeachment -- I`m sorry -- it`s a perjury trap.  Just keep saying that over and over again. 

ALONSO:  Well, that -- but it`s not a perjury trap just because you`re interviewing somebody. 

Obviously, when you interview somebody, you`re looking for the truth...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Are the kids clear?

ALONSO:  Of the conspiracy piece?  I would say likely.

Of anything else, I would guess...

MATTHEWS:  What about New York? 

ALONSO:  I think the Southern District is very much investigating the Trump Organization. 

Let me go to Shannon. 

Shannon, let`s try to go back to when we started here.  Robert Mueller was named by Rosenstein to investigate possible collusion by the president advancing a Russian conspiracy to interfere with our elections. 

We don`t have anything on that tonight, except we don`t have any indictments of his people in regard to that particular inquiry. 

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS:  Well, we don`t have any -- right.

An indictment means there was criminal activity.  It does not rule out that there was questionable activity, things that the public might find distasteful that anyone involved in that campaign might want to do. 

But the president`s lawyers and the lawyers of the people involved in this have been saying all along that, yes, maybe there`s questionable activity or things that are unsavory, but was a crime broken?  What crime is collusion? 

And people have mentioned conspiracy.  Well, that`s a very hard crime to prove and to establish.  It`s not necessarily illegal to give information to a Russian spy, if you don`t know it`s a Russian spy, per se, or you`re not sure, they can`t prove that you knew that, unless it`s classified information. 

So, internal polling data, you can share that with someone posing as a Russian professor, and that`s not necessarily a crime.  So I think there`s a lot we don`t know.  And I think just ruling out the indictments does not rule out that there could be things in this report that the public would find very distasteful. 

MATTHEWS:  The only last question to you is, the Democrats -- we follow politics here at HARDBALL -- have been riding this camel through a lot of miles through the desert, waiting for an explosive report that would decide whether the president did something impeachable or not with regard to Russian collusion or obstruction of justice. 

Isn`t there a sense of disillusion here?  There`s no -- that clarity has not yet come to bear?

PETTYPIECE:  I mean, we have been seeing the Democrats trying to hedge this in recent days and weeks, trying to talk about how it`s not just about Russian interference in the election, it`s about any foreign interference in the election, trying to put -- to talk about the other investigations they have into this administration. 

The Democrats have seemed very aware that they need to diversify their impeachment portfolio.

MATTHEWS:  I know that, because they`re partisan politicians.  I understand that completely, but you have to get some Republican buy-in to get anything like an impeachment effort.  You got to get some buy-in. 

PETTYPIECE:  Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  And I don`t know if tonight`s news is going to add that -- add to that case.

Thank you. 

PETTYPIECE:  Right.  Well, I think we still...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  Your thoughts? 

PETTYPIECE:  We still don`t know so much of this.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much.  Well said.

Thank you, Shannon Pettypiece, as always.  Daniel Alonso, thank you, sir. 

Thank you, Malcolm. 

I thought you would be more -- spitting more fire tonight, Malcolm. 

PETTYPIECE:  Thank you. 

NANCE:  I have one last thing to say. 

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead. 

NANCE:  That document, that report could be an impeachment document, I mean, could be itself an indictment of the president.  We just don`t know.  It`s too early to say.

MATTHEWS:  Will we know this weekend?

NANCE:  Who knows? 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much.

Much more on the breaking news tonight.  It`s huge.  Robert Mueller has completed -- completed -- that`s the word -- his investigation. 

We`re back after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Great graphics. 

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL. 

At the end of the special counsel investigation tonight at 5:00 Eastern, the focus now, of course, shifts to the attorney general, and, of course, to the Congress and what this report might mean for the fate of Donald Trump`s presidency. 

For more, I have got a great panel to close the show with tonight, David Corn, my friend, of course, Joy -- all my friends tonight -- Joy Reid, Charlie Sykes, Michael Beschloss. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  This is an all-star team. 

So I`m going to step back a bit.  I have expressed my skepticism about where this is going because of no indictments of the people around the president, none of his henchmen, about collusion itself. 

I`m going to talk with Charlie on that. 

Charlie, you`re probably the most conservative guy on the panel right now.  So let`s start with you.

Charlie, what do you think the right wing will say tomorrow morning, when they`re having coffee in their little dinettes around the country and as they talk to each other Saturday night?  Will they say, he got away with it?

CHARLIE SYKES, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE BULWARK:  Yes, they are. 

They`re going to -- they`re going to spike the football.  They`re going to claim vindication.  And it`s all premature. 

Look, I don`t think that the president`s critic should be as disappointed as they sound tonight.  And I don`t think that the spin that the president has been vindicated is actually too -- again, we don`t know what is in that report. 

And, keep in mind, as Ken mentioned earlier, something might not be a crime, but it can be a scandal.  Being compromised might not be an indictable offense, but it might be impeachable.  Lying to the American people...

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that?  Come on, Charlie.

SYKES:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Do you really believe that...

SYKES:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... that you can impeach a guy because of scandalous behavior, but not criminal behavior? 

SYKES:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  High crimes and misdemeanors in the Constitution, high crimes.

SYKES:  Right. 

Well, and especially because we know that the president cannot be indicted under Justice Department guidelines.  So, yes, that`s a political judgment.  And there are things that you can do within the law that constitute an abuse of power.  And I`m not saying that`s actually going to happen. 

But, again, let`s go back to the fact that, right now, we`re in this giant spin room, but we do not know what is in that report.  And, also, this report is not the only investigation.  You still have the SDNY.  You still have the congressional investigation.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  But this is about collusion. 

SYKES:  You still have New York investigation.

MATTHEWS:  This is primarily...

SYKES:  He`s...

(CROSSTALK)

SYKES:  ... not out of the woods yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me -- I agreed with all that, but, if I were Trump, I would be having a happy dinner tonight.

SYKES:  Yes, he is.

MATTHEWS:  Because he did the blade of the guillotine tonight. 

Joy, your thoughts? 

JOY REID, HOST, "AM JOY":  Right.  And I think -- I have just been talking to some Republican sources.

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with Charlie or me?

REID:  I agree more with you, in the sense that I have been talking to Republican sources who are saying that the mood in Trump world is, they`re high-fiving, because the idea that they didn`t see any indictments here means, in...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No kids indicted.

REID:  Right, that, in their mind, they`re through the collusion piece of it after this.  And so, in their mind it cleared -- they will -- the talking points tomorrow will be, Donald Trump has been cleared of any collusion, the Russia investigation is a bust.

Now, the other question, I think, that a lot of people should legitimately be asking is, how much are we prepared to trust William Barr?  Because William Barr shows himself...

MATTHEWS:  About -- about hiding it?

REID:  He shows himself to be an absolute just defender of the president, in the Devin Nunes school. 

So I don`t know that I 100 percent trust...

MATTHEWS:  He`s that bad?  He`s that bad? 

REID:  I don`t know that I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That`s terrible.

REID:  OK, maybe in the guy who preceded him school.

Do we trust that he is going to release a summary that is a complete and full and accurate representation of what is in that report?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you.  Let me ask you.

REID:  We may never see what`s in the report or really know what`s in it.  He may bury it. 

MATTHEWS:  Can he -- in terms of burying things, if the president says no collusion -- I can just see it on "Saturday Night Live" -- no collusion. 

REID:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Alec Baldwin.

If he says that, and that turns out to be the case, they don`t have a criminal case against him for advancing a Russian conspiracy, OK, can he then say, corollary, since I was innocent of the investigation focus, therefore, I was right to defend myself, therefore, there`s no obstruction of justice?

REID:  Well, he will say that.

MATTHEWS:  There`s no justice -- can he get away with that with his Republicans? 

REID:  I mean, with his base, yes, and with the Republican Party, because, remember, the only thing the Republican Party -- their prime directive, protect Trump, because Trump is the Republican Party now. 

MATTHEWS:  So, it will give him the benefit of the doubt?

REID:  The sort of worship him is what the party is about.  It`s what the party is organized around. 

If there`s nothing in there that is a complete and clear indictment of the president, they will all rally around him, they will refuse to act.

And the Democrats, without a clear...

MATTHEWS:  That`s a useful anthem, by the way. 

REID:  Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Because it`s true in every regard, in every regard.

REID:  That`s what they will do.  They are just the rear guard.  It is the politburo at this point.  They`re not going to anything unless...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I say phalanx.  That`s my Roman term for it, the phalanx.

REID:  That`s a nicer way to put it.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to David on this, because you have been following this year.  You have been writing about the Russia -- your book is great on this. 

What does this do in terms of -- none of the kids, none of the henchmen have been indicted.  How can the president be guilty of being a ringleader, if nobody around him committed a crime vis-a-vis collusion? 

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  You know, I think we fell into a trap, that the only issue out there was criminal collusion, which isn`t even a defined legal concept. 

We have a situation in which Trump ran for president, he did collude with Putin`s office to try to advance a business deal, and lied to the public about it.  His top three advisers, Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner, met with a Russian emissary to try to get a secret Kremlin plot to help Trump going, then lied about it. 

Manafort met with a Russian intelligence associate and talked about a secret Russian peace plan that would help the Kremlin, did this at the behest of a Putin-friendly oligarch, and then lied about it. 

And, of course, the big lie, Trump spent the whole campaign saying the Russians were not attacking the election to help him, when they were, when he was briefed it was happening. 

So we have fallen into a trap of focusing on this issue of criminal collusion, when we see time and again that he was doing things that were scandalous, as Joy and others have pointed out.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  I agree, except we have a prosecutor.  Prosecutors go after crime. 

That`s all I`m saying.

CORN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Michael, I want you in here.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  But this is bigger than crimes, is what I`m saying. 

REID:  Yes, it should be.  It should be, David.  If we had a sane Republican Party, it would be.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We will see if it`s impeachable.  It`s an argument.  That`s all. 

Tonight, we don`t have the fact.

Michael, no indictments tonight, that`s my big question, no indictments.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  No indictments, that would have been a lot more of a powerful statement. 

But I would say a couple of things, Chris.  Number one, let`s wait a couple of days to find out what`s really in the report, going beyond the criminal aspect of it. 

And the other thing is, if this doesn`t change, this is the first time in 230 years that a lot of Americans think that our last presidential election may have been decided by a hostile foreign power. 

And this is also the first president in 230 years -- George Washington was inaugurated 230 years ago next month -- in which a lot of Americans are suspicious that Donald Trump is acting on behalf of the Russians and has a secret relationship there. 

The report may shed light on that, it may not.  You`re going to have a Democratic House during the next year-and-a-half working very hard to answer those questions. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the threshold for impeachment, given all that we know now?  Is it scandal?  Is it is it playing patsy with -- loosey-goosey with the Russians, that may not be criminal, but you`re working with the bad guys out to do us bad? 

Is that impeachable by high crimes and misdemeanors? 

BESCHLOSS:  As you remember, Gerald Ford said that the standard for impeachment in the House is whatever the House says it is. 

REID:  Yes, it should. 

CORN:  Betrayal.

REID:  And the thing is, is it shows the insanity of the current moment that, for the average Republican in Congress, that should be enough.

What you just heard Michael Beschloss just say, what David Corn just said, the idea that a president of the United States would willingly take the help of a hostile foreign power to get himself elected, so that he could make money, something as mundane and crass as that, or for whatever other reason, he`s in bed with America`s adversary, that should be enough.

MATTHEWS:  That argument was made to Robert Mueller, and he didn`t indict.

I like your argument.

REID:  No, but it should be enough for the Republicans on impeachment. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

REID:  Impeachment is a separate political process. 

The idea that they don`t care, the idea that they don`t mind, it`s shocking to me.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it will?  Do you think it will, Joy?  Do you think it will turn Republican heads?

REID:  But -- no.  Current Republicans, this party is a cult of personality.  And, shockingly enough and just depressingly enough, they don`t care. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it shows that Robert Mueller is not a politician.  He`s an investigator with very narrow guidelines. 

BESCHLOSS:  Correct, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Apparently looking at the law very narrowly.

BESCHLOSS:  Correct.

MATTHEWS:  And not looking for a larger sort of cultural frightening aspect that the president of the United States and all the people around him were having all those meetings with Russians, and doing what they wanted done, because why did we change the Republican platform? 

Why did all this happen?  Why was the president so gung-ho pro-Moscow all these years now?

REID:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Corn.  Thank you, Joy Reid.  Thank you, Charlie Sykes.  And my friend, Michael Beschloss, thank you, sir.

That`s HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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