CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The silent truth. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Mathews from Washington, where we`re getting news even now from inside the Mueller operation. Last night, The New York Times revealed that members of the Special Counsel`s team have told associates they believed that Attorney General William Barr, quote, failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry, which were more troubling for President Trump than Barr indicated.
Well, today, NBC News is following up on that bombshell, reporting on the simmering tensions between some of Robert Mueller`s investigators and the Justice Department, a rip that has now exploded in the public view.
NBC`s reporting also goes further into the substance of the heart of that dispute. An official has spoken to member`s of Mueller`s team says, they described the evidence on obstruction as compelling and said it includes more information that has been made public, specifically they believe the evidence that Trump sought to impede the investigation is stronger than Barr suggested.
According to NBC, there`s also bad news for the President when it comes to Russian interference in the 2016 election, quote, some on the Special Counsel`s team say Mueller`s findings paint a picture of a campaign whose members were manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation.
While both of those stories made clear that this reporting comes from associates of the investigators and that Mueller`s team did not leak any information itself, however, it raises the question, what is it that so troubles Mueller`s investigators right now that they`re now breaking their silence? Why would members of such a tight-lipped operation suddenly become less guarded and possibly even want this information to go public?
As The Washington Post points out, the fact some have been confiding to in recent days to associates is a sign of the level of their distress.
I`m joined right now by Ken Dilanian, of course, who reported that story for NBC News. Paul Butler is a former federal prosecutor. Caroline Frederickson is the President of the American Constitution Society. And Michael Schmidt is the Washington Correspondent for The New York Times, who joins me by phone.
Michael, basic question here because Trump is dumping -- or I said Rudy Giuliani is dumping all over the Mueller team saying that they are terrible democrats and they`re a sneaky poo and all that other stuff. Did they want to get these stories out or were they just talking to their associates? What do we know about their motives?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, we know that these were people that were frustrated. And that`s what sort of began all of this. The interesting thing about Giuliani`s comments is that where does the President and his lawyers have to have it? The President has described the Mueller report as beautiful and it`s completely exonerating him. But now that there are signs that it may not be as good, they are shifting here, and that`s interesting. The bypass [ph] is different.
The question will be does this impact whether Trump will allow the report to be made public. Does this give him second thoughts? Because he has been insistent from the beginning that -- or he at least said publicly that he wants it to become public. But now that that could be troubling for him, does that complicate that and make it more difficult?
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask that. I think the word, alarming, appeared in one of the reports. So what do you make about -- what`s your sense of the mega tonnage of the bad news in the report itself and the final report that we haven`t seen yet about the President? How bad is it for him?
SCHMIDT: Well, I think from our reporting and what we wrote today, our understanding is that it`s certainly worse than what Barr portrayed. And Barr did not really put a lot of meat on the bone. He cleared the President and said that Mueller couldn`t come to a determination. And that`s the unusual thing, where Mueller couldn`t say yes or no about whether there was indeed obstruction. So that`s a kind of a thing that we usually don`t coming out at the [INAUDIBLE]. It`s usually, hey, you either broke the law or you didn`t. And in this instance, we got a different picture of that.
So our understanding is that whatever is in the report is not as favorable certainly as the President has stated. The President has said that the report exonerates him. And that is not what the the folks inside the Special Counsel`s office believe.
MATTHEWS: Okay, last question to you. You have assessed this all the time as a reporter. How much do these people have been talking to associates and, therefore, we`ve gotten the story through your reporting? How much of that does represent majority opinion on the Mueller team or minority team, the team that was unsatisfied with the way it got out generally?
SCHMIDT: I think these are -- there is -- there are folks that feel this way on the team. What we do know, and we did report today, is that Mueller did not go to the Justice Department and say he wanted these summaries out. He has not expressed that himself about the summaries and about the issue of trying to get more out when the report was initially handed in.
But, apparently, that`s where some of the frustrations are. The frustrations are with the fact that when Barr cast the die on this and Barr made his declaration and announced that he was clearing the President, there was not a larger sense of what the investigation had found. And that`s the root of the problem.
MATTHEWS: Michael Schmidt, great reporting as always. Thank you for breaking that story.
Let me go to Ken Dilanian. We`ll get to the biggest substance of this. One of the substantive things is the reporting today, your reporting in NBC, is that one of the things in the report of Mueller, the real report, not this four-page job, the real thing has stuff in there about our presidential candidate in this country, not mine personally, but the one who won the electoral college was, Donald Trump was manipulated by Russian intelligence. That`s pretty strong stuff.
KEN DILANIAN, MSNBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Right. The Mueller team, as I understand, is not frustrated with the fact that Barr went out and said Mueller found no collusion, no conspiracy, no criminal conspiracy, because that`s true. That`s what he found. But what they are telling associates is that there is a lot more than that in the report that`s going to lay out a narrative about contacts with Russians, about the team potentially being that manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation to the point where they were dupes.
And let`s remember, Donald Trump was warned by the FBI that the Russians were circling. And did he ignore that warning? Maybe we`ll find out from this report. Basically, the message that I got was, look, there`s a lot more in this report short of a criminal conspiracy that will concern the American people.
MATTHEWS: Caroline, what do you think about this? Because we have new bits of news tonight we announced in the beginning. The first thing was this manipulation, the second was obstruction. There`s stuff there too.
CAROLINE FREDERICKSON, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CONSTITUTION SOCIETY: Well, I mean, I think it just makes it absolutely clear why Congress needs to see this report. I think as an American citizen and voter, I`d like to know what has happened with our election and to see that the team was obviously really deeply concerned about the impact that the Russians had on the Trump team. We need to know how that happened, know who is involved and what the possibility is of them doing it again.
MATTHEWS: Because this is also counterintelligence as well as criminal.
Anyway, NBC News also reports that some of the Special Counsel`s office did not want the Attorney General to settle the open question whether the President obstructed justice or not. According to a U.S. official who spoke in the Mueller`s investigators, at least one faction of the Mueller team within the office says, their intent was to leave the legal question open for Congress and the public to examine the evidence. However, it`s not clear how Mueller himself feels about the matter.
What do you make of -- I mean, here we are. It read to me like, well, mezza, mezza, you guys decide.
PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. So we know that Robert Mueller ran the criminal division of the Justice Department. He knows how to make tough decisions in criminal cases. The way that the Attorney General puts it now is almost like Robert Mueller said to Barr, this is too hard of a judgment for me to make. Can you please do my homework for me?
Surely, that`s not what Mueller intended. He probably wanted the determination to go to Congress so that it could make the decision about whether it meets the standard, the high standard of high crimes and misdemeanors. So maybe it doesn`t rise to the level of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Maybe that`s why Mueller couldn`t bring a criminal case. But he was concerned there might be evidence of impeachment, in part because we know that there is evidence of obstruction here.
MATTHEWS: How do we settle this now, right now? Can anybody here tell me how he can sell the question, what did Mueller want? He turns it over by the law, he follows the law and turns it over to Barr. Caroline?
FREDERICKSON: He should testify. I think Mueller should testify.
MATTHEWS: Did you want to go directly to Congress or did you want this guy who works for President to put out a four-page quickie?
FREDERICKSON: I think the only way can know is to hear from Mueller himself.
DILANIAN: I also think the report will reflect what happened on obstruction to solve this big mystery. Why did Mueller punt? One of the things we`re reporting is that there was a division of opinion within the office.
MATTHEWS: Yes, it`s said in your reporting. And that division is?
DILANIAN: Well, some people thought there was a provable case and some people thought there wasn`t a criminal intent.
MATTHEWS: We`re on the point. But you have more in your report. You said, this is a question which anybody now can figure out the problem. A lot of this intent on the part of the President of pushing Comey on Michael Flynn, pushing for a loyalty oath, getting rid of Comey, all these decisions, getting rid eventually of Sessions, his, A.G., all this looks like in the self interest of the President. But also the President has a lot of power under his executive branch, Article 2. He`s president. The whole executive branch responds to him. So I think what I have been able to figure out is Mueller is going, wait a minute. How can I give impeachable evidence when I think maybe the President could or has this power even he was using it for pure political purposes?
BUTLER: Well, we know that the Attorney General shares the President extreme views about how much power the executive office --
MATTHEWS: Yes. But what about Mueller? What does Mueller think?
BUTLER: We don`t know what Mueller thinks on that issue. We know Mueller has compiled substantial evidence that the President obstructed justice, that`s why he was not able to exonerate. And we know now from these reports that Mueller`s associates are extremely alarmed. It was one thing when it was the democrats who were saying that the Attorney General was acting more like a partisan lawyer for Trump than like the Attorney General. But now, Mueller`s own team believes that as well.
MATTHEWS: Well, everybody is partisan to some extent. I mean, that`s why Eddie Rendell, the former D.A. of Philly, if you know him, and I know he`s governor, D.A., mayor, he once said to me, sometimes you just have to throw the case to the jury because there`re points of view, not just ethnically or whatever, age differences or gender differences, all kinds, in this case, partisan differences, people think differently looking at it from different directions. So maybe Mueller was saying what you were saying, even from the jury.
BUTLER: Yes, the jury in this case will be the Congress of the United States.
MATTHEWS: Leave it to the jury. That`s how we do it.
Anyway, according to The Washington Post, the Special Counsel`s team also drafted their own summaries for different section sections of the report, which they assumed would be made public. But one official says, those summaries could have been released immediately. Quote, it was done in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary. And the work would have spoken for itself. As we know, Barr did not release any of those summaries, any of them.
Now, The New York Times is explaining why. They report that the Justice Department quickly determined that Mueller`s summaries contained sensitive information that must remain confidential, according to them. Well, reacting to the news today, a Justice Department spokesperson cited the disclaimers included within Mueller`s report saying, every page of the confidential report provided to Attorney General Barr was marked may contain material protected under the law, and therefore, could not be publicly released.
All day long in this network, we show commercials for pharmaceuticals. And included in them are these incredible warnings that maybe there are side effects. That doesn`t mean don`t sell the pills.
DILANIAN: Great analogy.
MATTHEWS: You sell the pills.
DILANIAN: And I think these guys know it because they worked at the Justice Department. That`s a very common warning to have on a document. It doesn`t mean that every page had grand jury information on it, especially because they wrote these summaries in a way that they could be made public, we were told.
FREDERICKON: Actually, and from what we understand, there is very little grand jury evidence in the obstruction part of the report anyway. So it`s unclear what would be the problem in that area of the report.
BUTLER: [INAUDIBLE] there it is. How do we know about this day in [INAUDIBLE] in the Clintons, Ken Starr Investigation? Because Mr. Starr went to the court and asked if he could have an exception so that the grand jury material can be released. That`s what special prosecutors do. That`s up to Mr. Barr. When he refuses to do that, again, he is acting more like a partisan advocate for Trump than he is like the Attorney General of the United States.
MATTHEWS: Following up there, Paul, what about the fact that he says we have these disclaimers at the bottom of the page, like paid for by the DNC or something? How come they are doing that unless they are intending not to release the report?
BUTLER: Scrub is the word he is using. And so the exceptions that he is saying or as if it`s about grand jury or national intelligence or a third party, then it doesn`t come in. Again, he could end up scrubbing so much that a 400-page report ends up being almost like his four-page summary.
MATTHEWS: I want recap tonight here. There is so much news tonight. Last night, we heard there is disgruntlement at least among the Mueller people that they did not get their report adequately conveyed to the American people and that skimpy little four-page report or letter, I guess I should call it, from Attorney General Barr. Then we found out today that it had to with counterintelligence matters, that the Russians were basically manipulating the Trump campaign throughout the 2016 campaign. That`s a serious bit business [ph] and there are real cases to be made and a big case to be made for obstruction of justice of justice by this president. All that is in the report. All that has been concealed by what Barr did.
Anyway, the counterintelligence investigation was a central part of the Russia probe, of course. However, at least one top intelligence official, in fact, the person in charge of counterintelligence, the CIA -- actually, the FBI Director hasn`t even read the report. Here is FBI Director Chris Wray.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE CHRIST (D-FL): Have you had an occasion to read the Mueller report?
CHRIS WRAY, DIRECTOR, FBI: I have not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s quite a little conversation with Charlie Christ there, Congressman of Florida.
How can the -- if this was conducted to gain information for counterintelligence purposes to find out what ruskies are up to in this country, maybe they should look at the Chinese too, but there`s a lot going on.
DILANIAN: They are.
MATTHEWS: Why didn`t it go to the Head of Intelligence, the FBI Director?
DILANIAN: I think it`s a little misleading. He has certainly been briefed on what the FBI has found in the counterintelligence aspect of this investigation. And I wish the Congressman followed up and asked him that question. But the Mueller report itself has been closely held to a small group of people.
MATTHEWS: But the FBI Director?
DILANIAN: Well, he`ll read it eventually. But, I mean, it`s -- I`ve --
MATTHEWS: Has it been given to him. I want to know whether he`s given access. If he called up and said, can I see the report, would they say no?
DILANIAN: I have no doubt though that he knows exactly what --
MATTHEWS: How about the CIA Director? If you think that was the -- Paul, that was the reason to create these documents to give them to the pros so they`d know what to do so we can be careful with the Russians.
BUTLER: Yes. So the criminal stuff is supervised by Mueller. He is supposed to conduct that investigation. The problem with the national security is there is no independent investigator for that. So the person who makes the ultimate calls there is the President of the United States. It`s just not contemplated by this statute. That will be a situation in which the President himself would be questioned on the issue of his loyalty to the country.
MATTHEWS: Wow. Ken, Paul and Caroline are sticking with us to talk about what happens next. We`re going to the next page. Where is this leading tomorrow, the next day, this week? Is William Barr more interested in the rule of law, good question, or protecting his boss, Donald Trump? That`s tension for you.
And what about Trump`s taxes? The President says he`s not inclined to release his returns. But it`s not up to him. And what happens if that fight and the other investigations go all the way to the Supreme Court? I want to know how that nine-group is going to vote.
Plus, what`s going on at Mar-a-Lago? What`s going on in there? People are paying for access to the President. Federal investigators are now after a Chinese national who was able to get into Trump`s resort. It`s a national kissing booth down there. You`re paying your way to hang around with the President. It`s like a Mickey Mouse bar, sports bar.
We`ve got a lot to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The bombshell reports of tension between Special Counsel Investigators and William Barr himself have only increased the pressure on the Attorney General to come clean with the full un-redacted Mueller report, something Barr says he`s not willing to do.
Well, in light to the revelations, democrats are now even more resolute, of course, of pursuing the full report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The Mueller report will be released. It`s a question of, to us, it is inevitable, to them, it is inconceivable.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): We are seeking the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And it is our intention to have the Mueller report made public completely. And I think this cat and mouse game that`s being played by the White House is pretty transparent.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We will go to the court if necessary. We will issue subpoenas if necessary to make sure that we do have access to the grand jury material.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, democrats are now step closer to their goal after the House Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to grant Chairman Jerry Nadler the power to subpoena the Mueller report. And today, the Chairman, Nadler, responded to the allegation that Barr withheld the Special Counsel`s own summaries from the public instead of releasing -- instead releasing his own interpretation.
In a letter to Barr, Nadler writes: "You have already provided interpretation of the special counsel`s conclusions in a fashion that appears to minimize the implications of the report as to the president. Releasing the summaries without delay would begin to allow the American people to judge the facts for themselves."
That`s Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Barr`s set to deliver a previously scheduled testimony next week before the House Appropriations Committee, which is really not related to this. He will surely, however, be questioned about the special counsel report, but how he responds is anybody`s guess right now.
What is known as that Barr`s reputation as an attorney and a professional is on the line.
Back with me now is Ken Dilanian, Paul Butler, and Caroline Fredrickson.
Paul, we know Bill Barr. He`s been around a long time. He fits into what you might call the Washington establishment on the Republican side, but really establishment. And he`s an attorney.
MATTHEWS: As an attorney and as a member of that impressed, self- impressed, but impressed, doesn`t he have a lot not to look like a toady here?
BUTLER: Well, you would hope.
But, again, he thinks that this is consistent with his own ideas about executive power. And so he would not want to charge the president with obstruction of justice, because, again, based on his extreme ideas, he doesn`t think that, when the president does things that are part of his responsibility, that that could be considered obstruction of justice, including firing the FBI director.
Again, these are far outside the mainstream, extremist views. They are shared by President Trump and by the right-wing judges he`s appointing, but most legal scholars and prosecutors don`t agree.
MATTHEWS: But he wasn`t asked to judge this. The special counsel operation was to judge it. He was just there to convey it. How does he justify saying, I`m stepping in the middle here, I`m going to say it goes no further, whatever charges are in that Mueller report?
BUTLER: Well, we know, in June 2017, President Trump reached out to William Barr to ask him to be his defense attorney in the Russian investigation. So Barr turn that down.
But, basically, he has assumed that same duty now that he`s attorney general. Again, he was hired, Barr was, by the president because Trump fired Sessions because Sessions famously wouldn`t protect him from the Russian investigation. He got what -- Trump hired Barr, and Barr has not disappointed in that regard.
MATTHEWS: Let me tell you, I think about this all the time with Giuliani and people like that.
Whatever we think of Trump, he will be gone, in six years at least. He will be gone. We have a two-term limit. That`s a fact that, so far.
So the people who want to be around in Washington later, who want to show up at the Chevy Chase Country Club, or want to be at the Metropolitan Club, or wanted to be, whatever, hang around town, be seen on the street, they have reputations to uphold.
They will be here after Trump. Isn`t Bill Barr one of them?
FREDRICKSON: Well, I have to say I find it perplexing, although, if you do -- picking up on what Paul was talking about, I mean, this is a man who has actually auditioned for this job.
He wrote that 19-page memo.
MATTHEWS: So he cares more about loving Trump and his views?
FREDRICKSON: He wrote a 19-page memo that said the president basically cannot obstruct justice.
MATTHEWS: By definition.
FREDRICKSON: By definition.
He`s called the attorney general the president`s lawyer.
MATTHEWS: That`s Nixon talk.
Well, I mean, that`s how he described the attorney general position. He`s been part of efforts to pardon...
MATTHEWS: What kind of comment is this? It`s biblical.
FREDRICKSON: He helped get the Iran-Contra people pardoned.
He got -- he helped whitewash the Irangate in Bush I. And now he`s back. I just think the idea that he`s some kind of -- just a white shoe firm D.C. establishment type ignores that history of the extreme views.
MATTHEWS: You`re right, because he looks like such a mandarin. He looks like a classic Washington guy at the big desk out in front of the boss who protects the boss, a mandarin.
Anyway, the attorney general has come under criticism for how little information he shared in that little four-pager of his.
"The New York Times" reports that, according to officials familiar with the attorney general`s thinking, he and his aides limited the details they revealed because they were worried about wading into political territory. Mr. Barr and his advisers expressed concern that if they inquired -- included derogatory information about Mr. Trump, while clearing him, they would face a storm of criticism.
Ken, go ahead, but let`s talk about this. It`s all going to happen the week after next. He testifies Tuesday. He says he will release some form of this 400-page report by Mueller by the week after, basically. He says mid-April.
DILANIAN: He may have been concerned about releasing derogatory information, but it`s going to get released when this report comes out.
And it`s remarkable that he agreed to essentially make this decision on obstruction, having written the memo that you described, instead of pushing it back to Mueller. That`s the big mystery of this whole thing, is why did Mueller punt on that?
And, hopefully, we`re going to find out. But we are getting signals from the Justice Department that they do want to make this public. They`re not stupid. They know there`s a demand, even among Republicans, that the public needs to see the investigation that they paid millions of dollars for. They need answers. And they`re going to put it out, I think.
BUTLER: But the concern is that the public probably won`t get to see the full report. And it`s Barr who will decide how much the public gets to see.
And, again, the concern there is, he`s apt to scrub it until there`s almost no more. And where he will act like a Washington lawyer, time is on his side. So, if this goes to court, and if it`s a debate between -- or court case between the Congress and Barr about how much of the report gets to be seen, Barr is going to win that, because it`s going to take a long time for the courts to resolve that issue.
MATTHEWS: So, even if it`s a joke, and we see on the top of "The New York Times" or one of the papers the next day a big blacked-out page with like two words left on it, if it is that much of a joke, will the public except that?
DILANIAN: Of course they won`t. No, it`s not going to happen.
Look, Barr has already done the president a huge favor by shaping the narrative with that cursory legal conclusion that essentially the president`s criminally absolved.
But now he`s got to put out the details. And that`s going to be a political conversation, not a legal conversation.
MATTHEWS: Well, by the way, the president is hanging on those words, like a life preserver.
He`s out in the ocean with a turbulent -- all the water going around, all the waves. And he`s holding on to that life preserver. It says, Barr says you`re clear.
MATTHEWS: He`s not going to let go of that.
FREDRICKSON: People have to remember that there is this DOJ rule that the president can`t be indicted.
FREDRICKSON: And we also have this interest in releasing this information.
There`s also a rule that you`re not supposed to release information about somebody who`s not indicted that`s harmful to their reputation. Those two rules work in exact opposite. You can -- this makes the president above the law.
FREDRICKSON: We have to have that information out in the public.
MATTHEWS: You follow up here. Is your thought -- here`s my way of saying it. Remember "Catch-22"?
MATTHEWS: The catch-22 of our Constitution right now is a president, under guidelines of the Justice Department, cannot be prosecuted. OK?
And also the guidelines are since Comey don`t put out dirt on anybody unless you are going to prosecute them. So if you can`t prosecute a guy, meaning the president, and you also can`t put out dirt on them if you don`t prosecute them, you can`t do nothing.
So why was there a Mueller report?
FREDRICKSON: Exactly. Well, the whole point...
MATTHEWS: Well, thank you, because I was trying to make your point.
BUTLER: Well, but the good news is, that`s not a catch-22 of the Constitution.
BUTLER: That`s a catch-22 of the Justice Department`s own basically employee handbook.
And so, in the interest of justice, that catch-22 can easily be overcome by Mueller and Barr releasing the entire report, so that Congress can fulfill its constitutional responsibility of oversight, of checks and balances.
If we have a president who`s acting like a despot, it`s up to Congress to step in.
DILANIAN: Which is exactly what happened in Watergate.
The Jaworski report went over to the House impeachment inquiry. And it could happen here.
MATTHEWS: And, in the end, we have our democracy. And maybe, in the end, the elected officials are going to have to do this. And they probably aren`t going to do it, but maybe they -- they damn well should look at it.
I think we all agree. They ought to keep thinking and keep digging.
Thank you, Ken Dilanian. And thank you, Paul Butler. And thank you, Caroline Fredrickson.
Up next: House Democrats are flexing their newfound investigatory muscles with inquiries into Trump`s inaugural committee, his taxes and his use of executive authority. They`re all going to the court eventually, however.
How`s the administration responding to this aggressive oversight? And if you said with transparency and accountability, guess again. We will talk again.
We will be right back in a minute.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
House Democrats ratcheted up their investigations into President Trump in a major way Wednesday. The House Judiciary Committee authorized a subpoena for the entire 400-page Mueller report. The House Oversight Committee chairman, Elijah Cummings, said he would subpoena an accounting firm tied to the president for 10 years of financial records, his.
And the Ways and Means Committee sent a letter to the IRS requesting six years of Trump`s personal and business taxes and asked of his personal returns whether a such return is or was ever under any type of examination or audit. That`s an open question.
Committee Chairman Richard Neal, Ways and Means, was asked what comes next if the administration fails to comply.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RICHARD NEAL (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We intend to do follow-up within a 10-day period that was prescribed in the letter and the overture that we made.
And then I think there are a series of other options going forward that we will explore that we have already begun to -- begun to think about.
QUESTION: Are you considering subpoenas?
NEAL: Well, that is something that we would have to consider down the road, but I won`t -- I don`t want to kind of, at this stage, answer really what-if questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, late today, President Trump was asked about the role of the IRS in the Ways and Means request.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Have you asked the commissioner of the IRS not to disclose to the House Ways and Means Committee your tax returns?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They will speak to my lawyers. They will speak to the attorney general speak.
QUESTION: Will you direct the IRS to do that?
TRUMP: They will speak to my lawyers. And they will speak to the attorney general.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: From more, I`m joined by Democratic Congressman Jimmy Gomez of California, who serves on both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Oversight Committee, and Austin Evers, the executive director of the nonprofit American Oversight.
Congressman, you sit on Ways and Means. Why -- where does it stand right now? Because the law is so clear. The 1924 law says that your committee, Ways and Means, has the right, and the president -- actually, the IRS has the responsibility. You shall provide the tax returns.
REP. JIMMY GOMEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: Right.
MATTHEWS: What`s the complication here?
GOMEZ: There`s no complication.
If they actually follow the law, they would turn over the tax returns. It`s very, very clear. And in the history of Congress, not one request has been denied. So if there is a denial and -- to the Ways and Means Committee chairman, then that means that the White House probably got involved. Either Steve Mnuchin, the White House administration, somebody told them not to do it.
MATTHEWS: And what do you make of that? Because the law doesn`t say the president shall provide the IRS returns, the tax -- it says the IRS shall do it.
And it`s very clear. But one of the things we have learned about this administration, especially Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, anybody associated with them, I question them all.
MATTHEWS: Are they all toadies?
GOMEZ: They are. They all delay, dodge and lie for this president to protect him.
MATTHEWS: Well, you got the evidence there.
The battle over Trump`s taxes will almost certainly wind up in court. "The Washington Post" reports that, according to two administration officials -- quote -- "Privately, Trump has told White House advisers that he does not plan to hand over his tax returns to Congress and that he would fight the issue to the Supreme Court, hoping to stall it until after the 2020 elections."
I don`t think Trump wants to see his tax returns. And I mean in the worst way. There`s some -- for him to hide this like this for all these years, there`s something really nasty in there, I think.
AUSTIN EVERS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN OVERSIGHT: It certainly seems that way, although the president does seem to have a penchant for acting guilty all the time.
But when it comes to this statute, it`s not the president who`s turning them over. It is the IRS, as you pointed out. He doesn`t really have the control. And, at the end of the day, it`s going to be the people at the IRS, the career civil servants and the people who will have to answer to history, but also this Congress, who are going to have to decide whether they want to go down standing in the way of Congress` oversight role for this president or stand up for the Constitution.
MATTHEWS: Well, here`s a legal question. I don`t know if anybody can answer this, but it seems to me it`s not a question he said, she said, or he said, he said, or anything. This is a question about the law. It`s not that Congress wants the documents. They have a statutory right to them.
EVERS: It`s not just that.
It`s that this statute is actually used all the time. People think that there`s not much precedent. It`s that it`s so clearly written that it`s never been challenged. Just recently, with the Lois Lerner investigation., committees on both sides of the Hill obtained reams of 6103 protected taxpayer information, and they published it.
EVERS: This is used all the time.
What the president wants is a standard that no other American gets.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to you, Congressman, about the court. We have a 5-4 Republican Supreme Court. Now, they`re supposed to be nonpartisan, but yes.
MATTHEWS: All these fights, whether it`s getting the Mueller report unredacted, to getting the information about who they`re giving clearances to, like Ivanka and Jared and all that stuff going on in the White House, everything, and tax returns, all comes down to, if it goes to the courts this year, by the end of the year, do you trust the Supreme Court to give us a nonpartisan constitutional response?
GOMEZ: I hope they do.
But one of -- our job, as a co-equal branch of government, is to ask the questions and to follow the answers to wherever they may lead. And that`s what we`re doing. We`re being responsible stewards of this branch of government, to check the White House.
And I think that if we ask the right questions, we will get the right answers.
MATTHEWS: People -- the president -- why did I make that mistake?
The president -- the people are very different. He says nobody cares. What`s your response to your people at home?
GOMEZ: Oh, everybody cares.
Poll after poll shows that people care about what this White House does. They have cared since he started running for president, when he didn`t release his tax returns, when he lied that he was under audit, which I believe he actually lied that he was under audit.
So we`re going to push him. And the American people want him to be held accountable. If not, we wouldn`t have taken back the House.
EVERS: I think one of the most...
MATTHEWS: People that watch this show care, I can tell you. I walk around with people. They ask me about it. People do want these tax returns.
EVERS: I think people think he`s got something to hide.
And I think one of the most important things is not just that Congress ask the questions, but that the courts ask the questions. This administration loses all the time, because, when courts get involved, they make you articulate your arguments. And this administration takes absurd positions, and they lose.
And even this Supreme Court, I think, will look to history.
MATTHEWS: Do you think Mueller has got them? Do you think he`s got them?
EVERS: Do you think Mueller has got them?
EVERS: The tax returns?
MATTHEWS: He`s got two years. Do you think he got the tax returns?
EVERS: I think the Mueller team knows a lot about the Trump Organization`s finances.
And talk about another thing Congress needs to see and, frankly, has a right to get.
MATTHEWS: So, how is this going to end, Congressman? You`re on Ways and Means. Are you confident?
Anyway, in response to the Ways and Means request, President Trump just said an IRS audit was preventing the release of his tax returns, a claim he repeatedly made as a presidential candidate.
Here he is again. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, what we`re working on that now. I have very big returns, as you know, and I have everything all approved and very beautiful. And we will be working on that over the next period of time.
You don`t learn much from tax returns, but I would love to give the tax returns. But I can`t do it until I`m finished with the audit.
It`s under audit. I will release them when the audit is completed. You don`t release your returns until the audit to complete. When the others complete, I will do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, in February, Congressman Gomez, who is with us right now, asked the president`s former fixer Michael Cohen about the president`s refusal to release his tax returns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOMEZ: Can you give us any insight into what the real reason is that the president has refused to release his tax returns?
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Statements that he had said to me is that what he didn`t want was to have an entire group of think tanks that are tax experts run through his tax return and start ripping it to pieces, and then he will end up in an audit, until ultimately have taxable consequences, penalties and so on.
GOMEZ: So, could you presume from that statement that he wasn`t under audit?
COHEN: I presume that he`s not under audit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So, it`s another catch-22, Congressman. I can`t release my tax returns because that will get me under audit. Oh, by the way, I`m under audit, and I can`t release my tax returns.
GOMEZ: Oh, well, that`s this president.
He speaks from both sides of his mouth, right? And what was brilliant is that he was -- Cohen was just talking, just kind of riffing, and then admitted -- he let out some information that gave us insight, that he was never under audit.
So that`s why it`s really important for the Oversight Committee, but also Ways and Means, to get our hands on these tax returns. And that`s what we`re doing , is laying the groundwork to make sure that we can ask for them.
MATTHEWS: By the way, your state carried for Hillary Clinton last time by four-and-a-half million dollars -- four-and-a-half million votes.
MATTHEWS: That was the plurality.
I think Trump got like 10 in my district.
MATTHEWS: I don`t think you can do more than that. Probably will, though.
Congressman Jimmy Gomez of California, the L.A. area, in fact, L.A. itself, and Austin Evers, thank you.
Up next: growing concerns about security at Trump`s winter White House. It sounds official. Should Mar-a-Lago staff, and not the Secret Service, continue to be the gatekeepers while the president is in residence?
We`re back after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president of China is coming to Florida. We are having a meeting, a big meeting, at Mar-a-Lago, the Southern White House, which it actually is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The president likes to refer to Mar-a-Lago, his private Palm Beach club, as the winter White House. As "The Washington Post" points out, presidents used to vacation in seclusion and screening their visitors was relatively simple. But Trump`s decision to use Mar-a-Lago as both the presidential retreat and a money-making resort has added vast new complications for the Secret Service.
That was especially evident, of course, this weekend when the Chinese national was arrested for trying to enter the club with a thumb drive containing malicious software.
Here`s what the president said yesterday when he was asked if he was concerned that the Chinese may be trying to spy on him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: No, I`m not concerned at all. I have -- we have very good control. We extremely good -- it`s getting better and cyber, frankly what we are doing with cyber is a story in itself. No, I think that was just a fluke situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, now, "The Miami Herald" is reporting that federal authorities are investigating possible Chinese intelligence operations targeting President Donald Trump and his private Palm Beach club. They know that the probe was turbo-charged after this weekend`s incident.
And tonight we are learning more about that woman arrested in Mar-a-Lago who has been described by federal prosecutors as posing an extreme risk of flight. We`ll have more on that coming up next here.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
"The Miami Herald" has new details tonight on the arrest of Yujing Zhang. According to a recording of a hearing early this week, she identified herself as an investor and a consultant for a Shanghai private equity firm who appears to have amassed considerably wealth. She told a magistrate judge down in Florida that she owns a $1.3 million house in China and drives a BMW, and what use that is to anybody.
But a federal prosecutor said that Zhang posed an extreme risk of flight from the U.S. if she is released from custody.
I`m joined right now by Nicholas Nehamas, investigative reporter from the "Miami Herald", who`s been reporting on the issues at Mar-a-Lago. And Jill Colvin, White House reporter for "The Associated Press".
Thank you both.
Nicholas, thank you for this. What about the woman who showed up and first of all said she couldn`t speak English and it was not clear what her mission was. Was she a tourist? Was she a spy? What do we know?
NICHOLAS NEHAMAS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, MIAMI HERALD: Well, we know that she is apparently a very sophisticated person. The judge actually remarked at this initial appearance on Monday that the questions she was asking were incredibly well reasoned for a defendant. Now, she was speaking through a mandarin interpreter and it`s unclear to what degree she speaks English.
But as you said, she is wealthy. She appears to be intelligent and she tried to get into Mar-a-Lago. Why? We still don`t know.
MATTHEWS: Tell me about the equipment, electronic equipment she had. Was she up to no good because of the nature of the equipment? Is that a lead for the investigators, for the police?
NEHAMAS: Well, I mean, investigators are treating this as a potential case of espionage. They described the thumb ware she had as malicious malware, and also noted that she had four cell phones, a laptop, an external hard drive. It`s a lot of equipment for a trip to use the pool at Mar-a-Lago, as she at one point has said to have claimed she was there for.
MATTHEWS: Everything but a swimsuit, which was strange.
NEHAMAS: Yes, no swimsuit.
MATTHEWS: Because apparently she was not telling the truth.
Anyway, while attention has been focused on the malware brought in to Mar- a-Lago by Zhang, "The Washington Post" reporting she may be connected to a group of people who used Mar-a-Lago to peddle claims of access to the United States power. According to court documents, Zhang told a club receptionist, she was there to see her Chinese friend, Charles, and attend a United Nations friendship event, those were her words.
A group with a very similar name promotes events with U.S. politicians and it`s run by a man who goes by the name of Dr. Charles. "The Washington Post" reports that he has become a central figure in the Chinese effort to get close to Trump and influential Republicans. So, Zhang could really thought he had a ticket to an event at the club.
So, your thoughts about this? It seems that we have a weird place. Like Casa Blanca last time, somewhere between here and there where you can go in and get through security because you are spending money, you get access to the president, you got to overhear him at dinner and here somebody that comes in, does -- you may not even speak English, but found her way in thinking, the word was out, you can get to Trump here.
JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Oh, yes. I mean, it is such an unusual situation. I think that we all forget just how incredible it is that the president still attends and runs a private club where people -- this is not a big conspiracy --
MATTHEWS: You can imagine --
COLVIN: -- people every day paying money, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for access, $200,000, for the price of admission, plus fees, plus tickets to annual events. It is very clear. I mean, this could be connected to this scheme we know about where Chinese business people are paying money for access to the club. But every member of Mar-a-Lago has the ability to do that. They get tickets to the events like New Year`s Eve celebration, various banquets, where people can pay to mingle not just with the president, but the president`s advisers, with his family members, people who have influence with him.
MATTHEWS: Nicholas, does the president know about this Mr. Charles?
NEHAMAS: Well, that`s not clear. We know he thinks this is a fluke, but what`s really interesting is that "The Herald" reported that there has been should investigation going on for at least several months, looking at possible Chinese espionage operations in south Florida. This incident has, you know, put that investigation into overdrive, but this is something that the feds down here have been concerned about for a while.
MATTHEWS: The problem with the word fluke is, if it was just this weekend, the White House for years someone flies a plane and lands on the south lawn. These things happen, but there`s this pattern of somebody selling access down there. There is that literature in Chinese and mandarin all over in Chinese proper, and he`s selling to people who have the money, like her, come on over and I will get you in the door.
COLVIN: Yes, and what`s so interesting is that we heard and there have been reporting that both in Mar-a-Lago and some other RNC-run events, they`ve actually noticed that there were more Chinese nationals, people who didn`t speak much English, who were around the president and we have been writing now for years about the concerns with security access to Mar-a- Lago. I`ve written extensively about even cautions that members of the White House staff took to try to figure out who was around him, you know, what shape he was trying to sell sort of what loony idea, their pet project to the president. Scanning lists of a attendees who might, you know, cause a red flag, trying to sit next to the president to keep an ear and an eye on who was going up to him, trying to talk them, say, what did you talk to him about and keep an ear on all of this.
This is a situation that people have been warning about for years. This is not at all surprising that this is bubbling up.
MATTHEWS: Nicholas, along those lines, it seems to me that for years, minority groups in this country, poor people, people who don`t have much power in the establishment use money to get access to power. You overstep the pact fact that you don`t have enough people to have some influence inside.
These Chinese people here are not out to protect themselves. They seem like they are aggressive. They want to get stuff to help beat us in the world economically.
NEHAMAS: Well, I mean, many of the people coming to visit the president are business people and they`re looking for a competitive advantage in which in this case is being able to say, hey, I met the president of the United States. Here`s the proof. I got a photo. You know, he backed my business, whether that`s true or not. I mean, it`s surely not true.
But they can take it back to their home country and, you know, it`s all worth remembering that everything we are talking about, none of it would have come out if Robert Kraft had not been arrested or -- I`m sorry -- charged for soliciting prostitution down here in Palm Beach County. I mean, that is what led to the uncovering of this entire potential Chinese influence and espionage operation. It`s really quite head spinning.
MATTHEWS: It`s amazing how things stick together.
Anyway, thank you, Nicholas Nehamas and Jill Colvin. Thank you. Both of you great tonight.
Up next, well -- how will William Barr bar us from the truth? It`s a pretty good name. It`s Dickensian, bar, barring us from the truth.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: In the last 24 hours, we`ve had some significant news out of the Mueller investigation. Last night, we had the breaking news that some of the special counsel`s investigators believe that four-page letter put out by Attorney General William Barr withheld alarming evidence against President Trump, alarming.
And today, we had further reporting that revealed that some members of the Mueller team believe Barr should not have cleared Trump on obstruction of justice, that the evidence was stronger here, than the attorney general relayed in his letter. We also had additional reporting that some of Mueller`s investigators believed members of Trump`s 2016 campaign while not engaged knowingly in a Moscow conspiracy were nonetheless manipulated by what was a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation.
All these news reports that some Mueller investigators that A.G. Barr buried alarming evidence in his four-page letter, that perhaps the same Mueller investigators saw the evidence and said the evidence Barr left out shows the president engaged in obstruction of justice, that the Trump presidential campaign was manipulated by Russian intelligence, it all paints a picture that the American people and future candidates really need to see.
President Trump and his totties can speak petulantly and relentlessly about fake news and unfair partisanship, but the only facts we get from the stonewall of White House flackery is carried by public servants who are not sit quietly and by journalists who will carry their truth into the grace of public light.
That`s HARDBALL for now.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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