The war over Mueller. TRANSCRIPT: 3/28/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: John Brabender, Claire McCaskill, Carlos Curbelo, Phil Rucker;Joyce Vance; Tim O`Brien, Elizabeth Warren

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  The Trump/Putin game.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Today`s opening day of the Major League Baseball season, of course.  And I`m struck actually with a historic question.  Did Donald Trump or didn`t he play ball with Vladimir Putin beginning with the 2016 election?  It`s a simple question.  Was Trump responding again and again to Putin`s push to bring down Hillary Clinton?  And was all that stuff he was throwing out there, the meeting to get dirt on her, the public calls to Moscow for her emails, the change in the republican platform to support Russia`s position Ukraine, the talk of easing sanctions, was it all Trump saying again and again to Putin, you keep up what you`re doing and I`ll make it worth your while?

We`re not going to get a lot of the answers until the full Mueller report is released.  We learned actually that the report tell us more than 300 pages, pages that could go well beyond the principal conclusions that the Attorney General gave us in his four-page summary.  Until then, we`re not going to know all the intrigue, all that Mueller`s investigators actually found out.

Now, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee believes finding the answers to those questions whether Trump played ball with Putin is not only a justified mission but a vital question for this country.  Offering out one indisputable fact after another today, Congressman Adam Schiff castigated his republican colleagues for questioning his aggressive push for the truth about Trump`s backroom machinations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), C.A.:  My colleagues may think it`s okay that the Russians offered dirt on a democratic candidate for president as part of what was described as the Russian government`s effort to help the Trump campaign.  You might think it`s okay.

You might think it`s okay that their only disappointment after that meeting was that the dirt they received on Hillary Clinton wasn`t better.

You might think it`s okay that the campaign chairman of a presidential campaign would offer information about that campaign to a Russian oligarch in exchange for money or debt forgiveness.  You might think that`s okay, I don`t.  I don`t think it`s okay.  I think it`s immoral, I think it`s unethical, I think it`s unpatriotic and, yes, I think it`s corrupt and evidence of collusion.  But I do not think that conduct, criminal or not, is okay.

And the day we do think that`s okay is the day we will look back and say that is the day America lost its way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That may be Adam Schiff`s finest moment so far.

To the Congressman`s point, Max Frankel today wrote The New York Times op- ed that Trump`s unseemly relationship with Russia is hiding right there in plain sight.  Quote, there was no need for a detailed electoral collusion between a Trump campaign Vladimir Putin`s oligarchy because they had an overarching deal, the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy.  Frankel writes as Robert Mueller surely discovered in tracking down these dealings, the promise of policy changes was not in itself illegal.

I`m joined now by Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor, Tim O`Brien is Executive Editor of Bloomberg Opinion, and Phil Rucker is the White House Bureau Chief at The Washington Post.

I want to start with Phil.  There to be -- I know we`ve all been overwhelmed by the Mueller report four-page summary from Barr that there was no crime that he can find by a reasonable doubt.  But, my God, imagine if the history books are closed on this and it says, Trump had a lot of dealings back and forth with the Russian oligarchs and Putin, he was after a lot of dirt from them, that he was offering up a lot -- a much better U.S. policy, on sanctions, on everything else.  He`s going to back them on their grab of Ukraine and all that, a grab for Ukraine, and all that now.  But they couldn`t prove criminality and that was the end of the conversation.

It seems to me that politicians in the Democratic Party and some of the Republican Party are saying, wait a minute, do I agree with Adam Schiff who says, is this okay that a President dealing back [ph] and they were playing ball, these are the American phrase, you do this, I`ll do that.  Your thoughts.  Is this story over because you can`t prove an actual crime in the courts?

PHIL RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, the story is not over, Chris, because what we have Mueller, according to the letter from Bill Barr, saying that he couldn`t give enough evidence to prove a conspiracy or to charge a crime here.  But that doesn`t mean that no evidence exists.  And, in fact, in that 300-page report, we can surmise there must be some details Mueller is going to share about what he and his investigators uncovered.  And that`s why the democrats in Congress had been so adamant about seeing the report themselves and not relying only on the Attorney General`s four-page summary of the report.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s a great question tonight.  I think it`s more -- it`s a legal question, it`s also a political question, because the job of Mueller was to dig up the facts, find out what the Russians did, to interrupt in our elections, screwing then basically us and our democracy and also to find out if any Americans, particularly the President, were helpful to them or encouraging to them.  It seems that that`s a pretty big question.  And it`s answered in 300-plus pages.  I wonder if that is a big risk that the democrats and the others in Congress should be looking at before they make any judgment about this president.  Your thoughts.

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  We have to see the report before we can make any reliable judgments.  And there`s a nuance, Chris.  We`re told that the report is some 300 pages.  We don`t know how much of that Mueller`s analysis and how much of that is exhibit.  So it could be that Mueller has written very little and that it contains a lot of exhibits.  It could be that this is 300 pages of analysis and that there are exhibits beyond that.  We`ll have to wait and see.

But Phil makes an important point, which is that there is this universe of criminality, of conspiracy.  And our criminal justice system is only designed to make the decision about whether someone should be indicted and face prison for criminal conduct.  It doesn`t give them a blessing if a decision made is not to indict them.  In fact, for many people, they can be subjected to a civil lawsuit or some other kind of regulatory activity, even if what they`ve done isn`t criminal, same for a president except his congressional oversight.

MATTHEWS:  I just wonder if anybody on earth think it was okay to have your kid, in this case, the President`s son and namesake, head over to the Trump Tower and looked for dirt on Hillary Clinton, if it was okay to go meet them in all these other places to get dirt and ask for emails and all this stuff and then to change republican platform, according to the Russians interest?

Anyway, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued this message today to the Attorney General Bill Barr, when asked if she is ready to accept his four- page summary of Mueller`s report.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), C.A.:  I have said and I`ll say it again.  No, thank you, Mr. Attorney General.  We do not need your interpretation.  Show us the report and we can draw our own conclusions.  We don`t need you interpreting for us.  It was condescending, it was arrogant and it wasn`t the right thing to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Now, it appears increasingly unlikely that Barr will comply with congressional demands to see Robert Mueller`s full un-redacted report.

According to NBC News tonight, House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler spoke with Attorney General Barr last night and, quote, Barr all but refused to give Nadler an un-redacted copy.  He wouldn`t even give it to the Chairman even.  And Barr also refused to commit to asking a judge to release grand jury information to the Congress.  So the next step could be a subpoena.

I want to go to Tim on this and the questions.  Sometimes you miss the forest for the trees.  And I think it`s focused on legal details, and they`re important, obviously.  But it seems to me the question of impeachment and whether the President has abused his office, whether he was abusing the political process to get to that office, to win the presidency is the big one in broad daylight.  And I`ve said this for a long time, and I think this is true about obstruction too.  Firing Comey, intimidating Comey, asking for a break for Flynn, all those steps were pretty obvious what he was up to, getting rid of Sessions, humiliating Sessions because he recused himself.  All these steps to get in the way of actually law enforcement and true justice were so obvious.  I wonder if we`re looking for something we found months ago.  Your thoughts, Tim.

TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG OPINION:  Well, I think some of the questions that greeted the President when he was campaigning and after he won the election, Chris, are still there.  I primarily am interested in financial conflicts of interest that involve deals in Russia, the Middle East, China and around the United States.  And those don`t go way because a law enforcement official has said certain actions that the President, his family and members of his administration engaged in didn`t rise to a criminal offense.

That still doesn`t obviate issues that touch on ethics, conflicts of interest and potentially the President creating policymaking favors in order to fatten his own wallet.  Those existed when he came into office.  They continue to exist today and they`re right for exploration.  And, in fact, as we know well, there are other jurisdictions that are looking at those issues, including the Southern District of New York, the State Attorney General`s Office in New York, as well as State`s Attorney Generals elsewhere.  So I think this is an issue that`s going to continue to be and should be probed.  And then, obviously, Adam Schiff and other members of Congress sit atop five committees that are exploring these things.

So, no, I don`t think there`s any doubt that there are issues there that still needed to be probed.  I think what we`re in the midst of right now is a profound battle to spin what Bill Barr`s letter meant and to give it a closed door effect that I don`t think, personally, as journalist, it should have right now.  I think if the President says he`s been completely exonerated and as the White House says, he`s been completely exonerated, the easiest tool to use is to show that to the American public is to this report come out and let people see what`s in it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Let me go to Phil on that, the question of perception in this weekend, you know, how they do all these things.  You know how the weekend cycle works, the fact that they dumped this on a Friday night so they could skip all the commerce [ph] who write on Thursday with their deadlines and all these old tricks they pulled.  This coming weekend, beginning tomorrow, we got the first week to absorb this.  Trump could win the first weekend simply because we haven`t seen the report.

RUCKER:  And he`s absolutely won the first week.  But like the other guest said, this is not over.  And there`s a lot more information that the public is going to learn about this and Trump and his allies are in danger right now of sort of calling a game before it`s over and becoming embarrassed by negative information that --

MATTHEWS:  Do you hear that from them?  Are they worried that they`re setting themselves up for the full truth hurting them?

RUCKER:  They don`t acknowledge there`s a worry.  But I will say, if there is a 300-page report, there`s likely to be something that`s unflattering to the President, and then those 300 pages that could come out and embarrass him.  And so this is a concern politically for them.

MATTHEWS:  The revision has begun.  The President is now saying that Russia didn`t want him to be the president, saying they would have been better off with Hillary Clinton.  Watch him.  This is nonsense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  I hope we really get along well with them.  But they would have been a lot better off with Hillary Clinton as president.  Russia, if they were at all for me -- and by the way, if you look at all of those things, they were sort of for and against both, not just one way.  But you look at all the different things.  Russia would much rather have Hillary than Donald Trump.  I can tell you that right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that hot dogging in the end zone, which I think is illegal in the NFL right now, the complete hotdog, his pointer is nonsense.  Trump`s claim contradicts U.S. intelligence that showed that Russia had a clear preference for Trump in the campaign.  Putin also said himself last spring that he wanted Trump, Putin did, not Clinton.  Let`s watch Vladimir.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA PRESIDENT:  Yes, I did.  Yes, I did because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s embarrassing.  Let me go to Joyce on this question.  There`s a couple of patterns here that our mob like.  First of all, the President throughout the campaign saying that anybody who told the truth was a rat.  I mean, he sounds like an old gangster movie from the `20s.  I mean, a president would be interested, I would think, at least theoretically, in the truth being told.  Here, if you tell the truth, you`re a rat, a dirty rat, like James Cagney.  You`re a dirty rat.  He talks like that.

And today, just before our program, Ari Melber had a guest that came on and said, looks like Roger Stone is going to get a pardon.  So pardons and calling people rats, if that`s not public intimidation to interrupt the law, to abuse or an act to obstruct justice, I don`t know what it is.  And it keeps going on and on, and especially this lying about Putin again.  It is a lie.

VANCE:  This is the man who`s in charge of the federal justice system, he`s in charge of federal law enforcement.  And he takes the most animus stance towards law enforcement.  He`s against flipping, what he calls flipping.  He`s against what he calls rats.  Those are legitimate law enforcement tools.  That`s the way law enforcement gets to the truth and engages in accountability for people who have violated criminal laws.  And here, we have the President who`s so familiar and so comfortable with the language of criminals and has so much difficulty with the language of the rule of law and the search for truth that law enforcement engages in every day under his direction.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Vladimir Putin was closer to the truth that Trump is. He said said he was rooting for Trump and it was obvious they were playing ball together to anyone who`s paid attention.

Thank you so much, Joyce Vance, again and again.  Thank you, Tim O`Brien, for your expertise on this guy we`re talking about, the President.  And, Phil Rucker, a great reporter for The Washington Post.

Coming up, Elizabeth Warren plays HARDBALL.  She`s coming here in a minute.  That`s on tape.  But recently, she was here.  The Massachusetts Senator and 2020 presidential candidate joins me to talk about the Mueller report, Trump`s kill shot on Obamacare, which he`s refreshed with the courts the other day, and the prospect of facing her, facing Donald Trump.  I asked her about what would it be like to stand up to the guy across the stage?

Plus, President Trump is in Michigan tonight getting ready for his favorite past time.  It`s isn`t baseball.  It`s a rally to fire up his base.  Are we going to hear more treason charges against the democrats?

We`ve got a lot to get through tonight.  Stick with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I really look forward to campaigning.  It`s just a little bit early.  Just like Elizabeth Warren.  I hit her too hard, too early and now it looks like she`s finished.  I wish she would have been in the race and, frankly, I would have loved to have run against her.  But I would say she`s probably finished.  But they have plenty left.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Elizabeth Warren seems to get under President Trump`s skin like no other candidate in the race.  Senator Warren was the first major democrat to jump in to the 2020 contest to replace Donald Trump.  She`s also pushed some of the boldest and most progressive policies of anyone in the field, including a wealth tax for the richest American families, Medicare for all, breaking up big tech companies, like Amazon and Facebook.  She has just announced a plan to break up some of the country`s largest corporate agricultural business as well, writing corporate consolidations that`s choking family farms.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts joins us right now.  Thank you so much.  I`ve got to get to some of the news and then we`ll get to agriculture.  The first big news stories, 300 -page Mueller report.  Should that be subpoenaed by the Congress?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), M.A.:  Look, the report needs to be made public.  Congress can subpoena and however we do it, the report needs to be made public.  That`s all there is to say.

MATTHEWS:  Okay.  Apart from the legalities, which Mr. Mueller engaged in investigating, let`s talk about the whole picture of guide here over the last couple of years of Trump and the Russians.  Do you believe, looking at all that you`ve seen in the last couple of years, was he playing ball with Putin?

WARREN:  You know, it`s crazy for us to be talking about that though without the Mueller report in front of us.  The whole point is here`s this 300-page report, a 22-month investigation, $25 million, put the report out there, put it with the rest of the information we have and then we`ll all have a better idea.

The idea that somehow we`re going to hide this thing, no.  Just put the information out there.  If, as the Attorney General says, the conclusions have been drawn, there`s nothing to hide, then what`s the problem letting the American people see it?

MATTHEWS:  Well, based upon all we have seen though in the public light, things like the meeting at the Trump Tower to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, the call by the President as a candidate to get dirt, to get the emails from Russia, all the meetings, all that, does that suggest to you there was a back and forth going on, but Putin wanted to help (sic) Hillary, Trump wanted to help him do that?

WARREN:  Look, it looks like pieces in the puzzle. 

But, like I said, you need the Mueller report.  You need all of the pieces.  Lay it out in front of us.  Let the American people see it all.  There should be nothing hidden here. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about a big one.  You`re going after the big corporations.  You`re very much a Teddy Roosevelt trustbuster, if you will. 

WARREN:  Yes, my favorite president. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, a good Republican.

Well, that makes sense.  You`re going after agriculture. 

WARREN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me how big agribusiness hurts the small farmer, which is of lure in this country, the small farmer.  We all love that small person out there, the family out on the plains.  We love them.  How`s this hurt them? 

WARREN:  So, understand, a generation ago, 37 cents out of every food dollar went into the farmer`s pocket.  Today, it`s 15 cents out of every food dollar. 

So what`s happened to the rest of it?  It`s that a handful of giant corporations have figured out how to grow bigger, how to take more of the profits for themselves, how to cut out the competition, and how to put the squeeze on small and medium-sized farms. 

They have done it through mergers, which I have opposed, like the Monsanto- Bayer merger, which now is going to reduce the number of places that farmers can buy seed from and the variety of seeds that are available.  And you`re going to have less competition in setting the price for those seeds. 

It also works in terms of vertical integration.  So, right now, in the poultry industry, for example, Perdue and other big producers have figured out they will run every bit from fertilizing the eggs all the way to the end in getting the chickens slaughtered and packed up.  They figured out which parts are profitable, and they take those for the giant corporations. 

And they leave the farmers something called contract farming, where all of the risk is on the farmers, and the ability to make profits has been squeezed almost to nothing. 

Family farms are important.  Medium-sized farms are important.  Competition in farming is important.  But the only way we do that is if we have enforcement of the antitrust laws. 

(CROSSTALK)

WARREN:  You know, for me, Chris, this is the same issue I keep talking about.  Washington works great for giant corporations.  Just not working for anybody else. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe this is why Trump, the president, is afraid of you the most, because he gives you nicknames, he chases after you.  He was doing it again last night, because you have drawn a line.

You are for the market. 

WARREN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But you want the market to be refined in the public interest.  You`re not happy with the word socialist.  Tell me about that distinction. 

You had lunch today with a very major figure now in the Democratic Party, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.  What would be the difference between you and the way that she very comfortably accepts the term socialist, Democratic socialist -- or socialist Democrat?

(CROSSTALK)

WARREN:  What we actually talked about today are the things where we think we need to make big change in this country.

This wasn`t, for us, about a conversation about political labels.  It was a conversation about how we make this country work better, not just for a thin slice at the top, how we make it work for everyone.  And that`s true when we`re talking about child care, when we`re talking about a wealth tax, when we`re talking about an America that right now is working great for the rich and the powerful. 

It`s working great for those who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers.  But this is our moment, our chance to be bold, our chance to say that we can truly, from the grassroots up, build a movement that makes markets, makes this country work better for everyone. 

It`s not that hard.  We pass a wealth tax -- just to pick that one -- 2 percent on the biggest fortunes in this country, and you know what we can do?  We can do universal child care, universal pre-K, zero to 5, all our kids, and still have $2 trillion left over, money to reduce the student loan debt burden, money to put into housing, money that we can use as a down payment on a green deal.

That`s how we build a future, not just for those at the top, but build a future for everyone.

MATTHEWS:  Are you looking forward to a debate like this with the president, with Donald Trump?

WARREN:  Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS:  This very debate?

WARREN:  Oh, yes.  Oh, yes.  You bet.  Yes.

People across this country get it.  They understand what`s not working for them.  I see this.  I have now done 40-plus town halls, fenced with people.  I have taken nearly 200 open, public questions.  I have done long selfie lines.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WARREN:  People understand what`s not working in this country, and they are fired up and ready to make change. 

And the way we do that is, we point out what`s wrong, exactly what`s broken.  Let`s be specific about it, where big corporations are squeezing people.  This is how we fix it.  And this is how we`re building the grassroots movement to make that happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, at least he`s not calling you pencil neck.  He seems to be afraid of you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you.  You know what I`m talking about.  Thank you very much, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. 

Up next:  It looks like nobody was more surprised by Trump labeling the GOP as the party of health care than Republicans.  And now they`re left scrambling to come up with a plan.  They got nothing.  They have nothing to live up to the president`s promise, empty-handed, guys.

We will be back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER:  What we do have a problem with, one, that the Democrats wrote a bill that`s unconstitutional. 

Democrats promised us, if you like your health care, you could keep it.  We found that to be true.  We saw premiums have now risen, when they said they would go down. 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, Obamacare has been an absolute disaster.  If we win on Obamacare, it will be terminated in the courts.  And we will see what happens. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Close your eyes, and you would think we were back in 2010, nine years ago, when Republicans were actually winning on the health care issue.  But, since then, the public`s backing of the Affordable Care Act has grown significantly, with now a majority now supporting Obamacare.  It`s a fact. 

Republicans in Congress have voted close to 70 times, however, to try to repeal it.  And now Donald Trump wants to give it another -- well, he wants to get rid of it again.  He`s going for the kill shot, this time in the courts. 

Not all Republicans are pleased with this big development.  One Republican senator told Politico: "We need a plan.  And right now, we don`t have one.  I`m not going to just throw this out to the whims of our creativity."

Another person close to the president told Politico: "Trump knows that he made a mistake, but he`s dug in now."

Vice President Mike Pence`s chief of staff, Marc Short, told Katy Tur of this network that a plan was in the works. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATY TUR, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  What is the plan that the White House will have to replace it and not -- so that 20 million Americans are not suddenly without health insurance? 

MARC SHORT, CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE:  You should you should rest assured that 20 million Americans will certainly not be without health insurance.  There`s going to be plenty of time for us to come forward with -- with more detail.  And I think you will see the health and human services secretary do that in the coming months. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s a promise President Trump has made again and again. 

Let`s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  We`re going to take care of everybody.  But we`re going to end up with a great plan that costs much less money for the people and much less money for the country. 

We will have health care.  It`s going to happen.  As soon as we get to taxes, we work on the health care.  We`re going to happen.  We`re coming closer, closer.  I think now we have a plan that`s going to be great. 

We are coming out with so many health care plans that are so much better than anything you have ever seen before. 

And if the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we will have a plan that`s far better than Obamacare. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by former Senator Claire McCaskill, Missouri -- Democrat from Missouri, and former U.S. Congressman Carlos Curbelo, Republican from Florida. 

So, a couple questions, but the big one up front, Senator, is how do you have protections for people with preexisting conditions, diabetes, et cetera, and they can health care at a reasonable price, when you don`t have a plan? 

CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  Well, you said it, Chris.  They have got nothing.

I think the biggest fraud and hoax of the last decade in American politics was the notion that the Republican Party had a way to bring down health care costs and also keep insurance companies off the back of the American people by protecting preexisting conditions.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MCCASKILL:  They have said repeal and replace for a decade.  They have never had a replace plan that did any of the things they have promised.

And I will tell you what`s really interesting to watch.  President Trump has now dumped this on Mitch McConnell`s lap.  And it`s like that game hot potato.  Everybody`s trying to throw the potato around.  And they`re trying to throw it back to the White House.

So I think it`s important for the Democrats in Congress to say every day, where is the president`s health care plan?  Because you know what?  They do not have one that will work for the American people.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, what does the Republican Party do if the courts do, if the Supreme Court does -- it`s a Republican Supreme Court basically -- if now, without the tax in it, without the sanction if you don`t pay into it, what happens if they do strike it down as unconstitutional?

Isn`t your party, the Republican Party, stuck empty-handed, with nothing for the people, 20 million people?

CARLOS CURBELO (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  In that case, the only path forward, Chris, would be a bipartisan compromise on health care.

And in the 115th Congress, there were Republicans and Democrats in the Senate trying to craft an agreement.  But that`s the only potential plan.  I can assure you that congressional Republicans are not excited by this last statement by the president on health care. 

I remind you that the president, just a couple years ago, had a big celebration at the White House, when the House did pass a repeal and replace measure, only to call it a mean bill a couple weeks later. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CURBELO:  So I don`t think there`s a lot of trust between congressional Republicans and the White House.

And I can assure you that no one is excited about this latest escapade.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Senator, back in the `30s, I heard a tape of it, of FDR, the great Democratic president. 

He once said, the Republicans always say, we`re going to do everything that Democrats do, and it`s not going to cost you a nickel.  It was great. 

And now they are saying, we`re going to give you health care, preexisting condition, coverage for your kids up to age the 26, without a nickel, without even a program. 

It`s "The Music Man."  It`s nothing.

MCCASKILL:  Yes. 

The sad thing about this is, almost from day one, when you do a big change in the health care system, like we did with the ACA, there were things that needed to be fixed and tweaked. 

But Mitch McConnell knew he had a political two-by-four.  And he -- as usual, all he cares about is getting Republicans elected, not the underlying policy.  So he didn`t want to work with us to fix some of the things that can be and still could be fixed in the ACA, because they were so determined to make Obamacare the bad guy. 

Well, and here`s the other thing that really irritates me about what`s being said today.  They said, well, there`s no hurry here.  That shows you how out of touch they are. 

There are millions of Americans that will go to bed tonight worried because of what`s being said in Washington about health care, people that are worried that there will be caps on their policies, again, people that are worried that their children who are getting ready to go off their policies aren`t going to find a place they can get the affordable insurance that they can get now under the ACA, worried that they aren`t going to be able to get covered because they have been sick before.

If they are going to, in fact, put something else in place, they owe it to the American people to do it tomorrow, not to play around with this politically, and pretend that they have got a plan, when they`re not willing to show it to the people.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Carlos, it seems to me we have watched politics for years.  And one thing has been pretty static is that women voters tend to care about health care more than men.  They`re more astute about it generally, because they generally in the household worry more about it.  Just a fact there. 

They`re the caretakers.  They`re the stewards of health care in the family.  They watch the -- what insurance covers and what it doesn`t cover.  Men are sort of somewhat oblivious sometimes to what`s going on.  This is a fact. 

And you keep losing elections, Republicans, because the women swamp you in the numbers.  Doesn`t the Republican Caucus, led by smart people like McCarthy and sometimes Mitch, understand you`re giving up the majority voter, which is the woman, on this issue?  It`s a killer issue, health care. 

CURBELO:  Well, just look at the 2018 elections, Chris.  Democrats used health care.  It was the most prominent issue in all their ads, and that delivered them a 40-seat win in the U.S. House of Representatives.

And it was a lot of suburban women that did abandon Republicans.  Now, the Republican Party has delivered on health care in the past.  I remind everyone that it`s thanks to congressional Republicans and the Bush administration that seniors in this country have a prescription drug benefit. 

The difference between then and now is that the Bush administration and the congressional leaders of the time had a plan.  They tried to approach Democrats.  They worked with some Democrats.  There is no plan today.  There wasn`t a plan in the 115th Congress, the last Congress, when Republicans started the effort to repeal and replace the ACA. 

So that`s the big difference.  There`s no plan.  So, for now, this is just a gift to congressional Democrats, because Republicans were already clobbered in the 2018 election because of the health care issue. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said.

Anyone, on his way to Michigan tonight, President Trump announced he would reverse his administration`s proposal to the kill money for the Special Olympics.  Let`s watch this switcheroo. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  The Special Olympics will be funded.  I heard about it this morning.  I have overridden my people.  We`re funding the Special Olympics. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Claire McCaskill, I think the president heard the public`s reaction to killing the program that benefits so many especially young Americans who have challenges. 

MCCASKILL:  Yes, if he just heard about it this morning, that`s a head- scratcher, right, because this has been out there for certainly a couple of days now. 

And I really think the other thing that`s interesting about this is, he doesn`t -- he`s not reversing anything.  They have submitted a budget to Congress.  And Congress is going to ignore the cuts to Special Olympics.  They were never -- I mean, my former colleague Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri who`s the head of the Appropriations Committee in the Senate that will determine this, said yesterday there`s no way he was going to cut funding for Special Olympics. 

So this is a congressional decision.  The president doesn`t have the power to do this.  But, once again, he wants to make it look like that it`s all about him, even when it`s about a whole lot of young people who have a special opportunity through the Special Olympics that should be supported by every level of government. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said.

Thank you so much, Senator, former Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri and former Congressman Carlos Curbelo of Florida. 

Up next:  President Trump has vindication on his mind as he hits the road tonight, revenge.  His victory lap is being interrupted by his revenge thinking. 

And there`s new reporting out tonight on the White House strategy of weaponizing the Mueller report on the campaign trail.  I guess he likes Robert Mueller now for a couple days. 

That`s coming up next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Tonight, President Ford -- President Trump -- actually Gerry Ford came from Grand Rapids.  President Trump is out there tonight taking a victory lap on the Mueller report, or at least Attorney General William Barr`s four-page summary of it. 

Well, the president again accused the FBI and Democrats of treason.  Well, he did it last night.  Let`s watch him tonight. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Just in case Hillary Clinton lost, they wanted an insurance policy against me and what we were playing out until recently was the insurance policy.  They wanted to do a subversion.  It was treason.  It was really treason.

If the Republican Party had done this to the Democrats, if we had done this to President Obama, you`d have 100 people in jail right now and it would be treason.  It would be considered treason and they`d be in jail for the rest of their lives. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That`s his word, treason.  By the way, that was last night.  "The Atlantic" reports that Trump`s allies want to make Mueller`s findings a core piece of coming up in 2020 and the campaign messaging.  Quote: Trump allies see Barr`s letter, the four-page letter, as a kind of Swiss army knife, a tool useful in all kinds of situations.  Not only is it exculpatory, they say, but also implicitly rebukes the press for its coverage of the Russia investigation, inoculating Trump from any future scandals that reporters might unearth.

As I said, President Trump is speaking to supporters in Michigan now and his exoneration message is on full display as he goes after the deep state, he calls it, and his political opponent.  That`s all coming up next here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump is speaking right now in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  And from the start, he had one message, revenge. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The Russia witch hunt was a plan by those who lost the election to try and illegally regain power by framing innocent Americans -- many of them, they suffered -- with an elaborate hoax.  Today, our movement and our can country are thriving.  Their fraud has been exposed and the credibility of those who push this hoax is forever broken.  And they`ve now got big problems. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I`m joined now by Jason Johnson, politics editor for theroot.com, and John Brabender, Republican strategist.

John, I`ll start with you.  I`ve never heard these words in modern American politics -- treason, traitor, hoax.  The language is a language of a third world country where your opponent goes to jail, the winner puts him to jail, and the loser says it was rigged. 

It`s third world talk.  This is Venezuela talk.  I`m sorry. 

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Look, I`m going to defend the president.

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, go for it.

BRABENDER:  In fairness, the words he said about himself, agent of Russia, I mean, all these things the last couple of years.  He is acting like a man who was wrongly accused and wants to get -- 

MATTHEWS:  You think he wasn`t playing ball with Putin all those months?  Come on.

BRABENDER:  I`m going to give you a good example.  Everybody said the Russians had their polling data.  That meant nothing because --

MATTHEWS:  They gave it to the Russians. 

(CROSSTALK)

BRABENDER:  For what reason?  The Russians could have done their own poll. 

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICAL EDITOR, THEROOT.COM:  They`re having the meetings, they`re lying about the meetings.  He`s saying, Russian, please come and take --  

MATTHEWS:  He`s saying Putin was for Hillary.

JOHNSON:  Yes, every single thing that president was saying showed he had some sort of -- if it didn`t work as collusion it`s only because his phone wasn`t working that day. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, explain to me the politics of this.

Going after the guys with the hats on.  I got family members, I know all about this, the people with the hats, the MAGA hats.  It`s all there.

But what about vengeance?  Is this going to insight them to vote in 2020? 

BRABENDER:  I don`t think it`s vengeance.  I think what he`s doing is he`s putting a stake in the heart of the issue the Democrats wanted to run on in 2020. 

MATTHEWS:  Like they`re vampires? 

BRABENDER:  No.  What the Republicans want to run on are two things.  Look at the economy and look at, we`re getting sand kick in our face anymore, and look how they want to make us into --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here he goes after the guy called pencil neck.  He`s still good the nicknames.  He went after intelligence chair Adam Schiff of California, here he goes personal again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Little pencil neck Adam Schiff.  I saw him today.  Well, we don`t really know.  There could still have been some Russia collusion. 

Sick.  Sick.  These are sick people.  And there has to be accountability because it`s all lies and they know it`s all lies. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It`s tonight, Jason.  He went after not just calling pens, that was a term he used for intellectuals, I know all of that.  But he makes it physical.  He says he has the thinnest neck.  I mean, this is eighth grade, this is school yard stuff. 

JOHNSON:  This is what the president always does.  What amazes is, you know, look, he`s such a paper tiger.  I mean, you know, when Joe Biden says I`ll take you behind the bleachers and punch you, he might do it. 

MATTHEWS:  That`s not be good for the country, two 78-year-old guys pounding each other. 

JOHNSON:  The race would be fascinating.  But the truth of the matter is that sort of bravado, that sort of violence, that sort of gins up his audience. 

But I`ve got to say, because this is absolutely incorrect.  There is not one Democrat running on impeachment.  The Democrats won 2018 --

(CROSSTALK)

BRABENDER:  The only reason they even want the report is to see if they can cherrypick anything out of -- 

JOHNSON:  That`s going to happen regardless. 

(CROSSTALK)

BRABENDER:  The talking how the president does, where is he today?  Michigan.  He`s got to win Michigan or Pennsylvania.  These are -- 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Republican is very strong in Michigan.  In fact, winning there.  He`s not winning in Pennsylvania, you know well.  But what`s his strategy in Michigan?  Why did he go there tonight?  Trade?

BRABENDER:  Well, I think a lot of it had to do with trade.  Certainly, but he`s got to be in Michigan, they`re going to contest in Pennsylvania as well, and the reason is why this Mueller thing mattered is he can still see what they tried to do in Washington to us reformers. 

JOHNSON:  It`s not going to change anyone`s mind.  The Democrats are going to run on economy, corruption and health care, are all things he continues to give to them on a regular basis. 

BRABENDER:  What it looks like now is that the Washington elitists went after a president who tried to change thins.-

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We`re losing in the time fight here. 

BRABENDER:  I`m just telling you, the president now has his message because he can say, look, what they tried to do to me because I did everything for you.  And, oh, by the way, they`ve all become --

MATTHEWS:  How high can get?  Can he get about 46? 

BRABENDER:  The polls don`t matter -- 

MATTHEWS:  I mean, we`re talking about election eve, how can he get in this country?  Can he past 45 percent this president? 

BRABENDER:  It doesn`t matter. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He`s going to pencil neck his opponents.  That`s his strategy.  He`s only going to run a negative campaign. 

BRABENDER:  These things don`t matter anymore. 

JOHNSON:  All of these states, that blue wall went back blue in 2018.  He`s going to have to do more than just show up in Michigan.  He`s going to have to have a strong economy and a message other than school yard names. 

(CROSSTALK)

BRABENDER:  He does have a lot of things.  He does have a strong economy and if you nominated one of your social Democrats, who are never going to play in Michigan --

JOHNSON:  Democrats are going to be running on other social issues. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know he`s got the issues, I`m not going to tell him but I know what they are.  He can win Pennsylvania, he can.  He can go after the socialist tag, whatever it is for suburbs, because it`s not about ideology to a suburbanite.  A suburbanite maybe, husband and wife both make 150.  They`re coming after us.  They`re not going after the billionaires and the millionaires.  That`s how people hear the word "socialism."

Anyway, thank you, Jason Johnson.  Thank you, John Brabender.

Up next, Devin Nunes rides again.  You got to wait to this thing.  This guy`s unashamed.  Trump`s top congressional ally acolyte really wants to investigate the investigators, or as he sees them, the president`s enemies.  You got to catch it.  This guy is no Paul Revere.

Back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We`re weeks away from getting a look inside that 300-page Mueller report and Trump allies already out there trying to undercut it. 

In service to the president, Devin Nunes wants to attack the FBI for how it originated the probe into Trump`s Russian dealings. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA:  My major concern now is, is that the FBI and DOJ falsely claimed this investigation didn`t begin until late July.  We now know for certain that`s not true.  We are prepared and are now drafting a criminal referral.  We think it will grab everybody that we need to grab to make sure there`s a proper investigation done, or at least our referral over to DOJ. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You remember Nunes, of course.  He`s a Republican congressman from California`s Central Valley.  According to the president, he`s the great American hero. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  They tried to destroy that man because he spoke up for good and just and all of the things that you have to speak up for.  But most people don`t have the courage to do it.  He will be some day hailed as a great American hero for what he did. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well., everyone else remembers Nunes for his notorious midnight ride of two years ago when he raced down to the White House one night and returned to the same White House the next morning with what he called hot stuff against the FBI that he later claimed he picked up from what he called secret sources. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NUNES:  What I saw has nothing to do with Russia and nothing to do with the Russia investigation, has everything to do with possible surveillance activities and the president needs to know these intelligence reports are out there and I have a duty to tell him that. 

REPORTER:  Did this come from the White House?  Did this information -- 

NUNES:  As you know, we have to keep our sources and methods very, very quiet. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But once exposed, the congressman is down and back ride to the Trump White House made him seem like the president`s gopher. 

Here was an elected official, a member of another branch of government acting like a courier for the man in the White House.  This wasn`t Paul Revere signaling one if by land, two if by sea.  It was Devin Nunes saying, I work for Trump, and now he`s out riding again. 

The California congressman wants a new investigation into whether the investigators did anything wrong in looking into the Trump operation.  Here again, instead of doing his job of overseeing the executive branch, this congressman is out attacking the investigators themselves.  All with the purpose of giving this president the total exoneration he covets. 

That`s HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. 

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