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Redacted Mueller Report expected tomorrow. TRANSCRIPT: 4/17/19. Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: David Cay Johnston, Adrienne Elrod, Evan McMullin, Barney Frank

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  -- throughout the day.  That does it for me.  Thanks, as always, for watching The Beat.  Thanks to our panelist tonight.  I`ll see you tomorrow.

And don`t go anywhere.  HARD BALL with Chris Matthews is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Behind closed doors.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Hours from now, the American public will get its first look at the 400-page report from Robert Mueller`s investigation.  But just tonight, on the very eve of the revelation, we`ve got a disturbing news that the Trump White House had the guts of this report in its hands for days.

New York Times issued an explosive new report tonight revealing that Justice Department officials had numerous conversations with White House lawyers about the conclusions made by Mr. Mueller in recent days according to people with knowledge of the discussions.  The talks have aided the President`s legal team as it prepares a rebuttal for the report and strategies for coming public war over its findings.

The fact that those conversations occurred raises serious questions, of course, about the propriety of the Attorney General`s decision making especially after he issued that four-page letter last month.  And this comes after the President himself broke the news that Attorney General Barr will hold a press conference tomorrow morning to address the Special Counsel`s report.  The President announced the Attorney General`s press conference.  Think about that one.

Trump also suggested he might hold one of his own.  Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  This should never happen to a president or to this country again, what took place.  And you`ll see a lot of very strong things come out tomorrow.  Attorney General Barr is going to be giving a press conference.  Maybe I`ll do one after that.  We`ll see.  But he`s been a fantastic Attorney General.  He`s grabbed it by the horn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, he knows what those strong things are because he has been briefed.  He has the guts of the report already in hand.

Well, minutes after that interview, the Department of Justice confirmed NBC News that Attorney General Barr will speak at 9:30 tomorrow morning.  And then he`ll be accompanied by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

And now, we are learning that Congress won`t even see the report, the Mueller report, until Barr has wrapped up that press conference.  So the people the report was written for won`t get to see it to put their spin on it, massage the hell out of the report.  And that`s according to Congressman Jerry Nadler, who Tweeted moments ago that, quote, DOJ is informing us we will not receive the report until around 11:00 or 12:00 tomorrow until after Barr`s press conference.  This is wrong.

Well, the release of Mueller`s report tomorrow comes nearly four weeks after the Special Counsel concluded its investigation and turned over his findings.  The hope is that it will not only shed light on Trump`s strange relationship with Russia, of course, but that it will explain why Robert Mueller decided he could not exonerate the President on obstruction of justice.  How strong is the strong is the evidence that Trump obstruct the justice and what is the new evidence that the Attorney General alluded to in that letter of last month?

I`m joined right now U.S. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, who serves on the House Intelligence and also the Oversight Committee, Caroline Frederickson is President of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and Rajesh De is former senior White House and DOJ official.  Also, we`ve got Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent at The New York Times.

So I`ve got to go to Peter on this.  You guys are breaking a hell of a story, but the fact that the President has been getting the main thing to worry about, but I`m sure they briefed him on what they are worried about, he said some strong findings coming tomorrow.  Do we know what that is that they delivered to him, what the scary stuff was?

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Well, that`s the interesting question, right?  We can watch the Tweets and the comments that he`s made in public in the weeks since the Barr letter went to the Hill, and then the question is to interpret from those, what do those mean, the fact that he originally said, I want it the whole report released, I have got no problem with it going out.  And then for days, he would say, why do they need to see the report, it`s over, the democrats are just trying to make hay, that they indicate that he knew something more that was causing him concern, obviously, these bottom line conclusions that Bill Barr has delivered to the Congress and not the whole report.  And the question is whether details that are in there tell us something new we didn`t know about and whether or not Mr. Mueller explained more fully the conclusions that Bill Barr has represented.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about Barr`s, I think, slippery?  I`m not going to say, slimy, but slippery statements to Congress last week.  I haven`t briefed the White House on this and then going ahead and briefing the White House the minute it`s out the door to Congress.  I mean, you don`t say I haven`t, but I will.  Well, you would do that if you were telling the truth.  Would you tell him not doing is making the presumption out there, you are not going to brief them, and they did.  Peter?

BAKER:  Yes.  I think it would have been reasonable for senators and to expect that what he was saying was he was not planning to do it, although he didn`t say that, and this is going to cause a lot of ripples on Capitol Hill, especially among democrats who were going to ask questions about what he was telling the President.  I imagine it will be the first question or one of the first questions he might get at tomorrow`s news conference at 9:30 in the morning.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, what do you make of this whole thing?  I don`t like the whole looks of it.  If we actually we get a four-page memo from the President`s appointee as Attorney General, his pal, who got the job by saying, I believe in a very strong executive authority and all the things for Trump to hear.  And then, you know, he could have released the summaries from the Mueller report.  He chose not to release the summaries.  Why not?  And now, we find out that he has been briefing the White House for days, he`s not going to give him a copy of the report to the Congress people until he, Mr. Barr, the Attorney General, the President`s guy, has put out a statement tomorrow morning explaining what he thinks, again, his version of truth, not the truth.  Your thoughts?

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL):  I find it unacceptable.  I mean, all along, folks like Chairman Schiff and Chairman Nadler and others are saying, we need to see the unredacted Mueller report at least for members of Congress.  We want the Mueller genuine draft, as it were.

And here, we`re going to have color coded redactions.  I hope it`s not a rainbow of redactions.  But I think folks like myself will be going and trying to find those executive summaries immediately because we know that the prosecutors who also apparently talked to The New York Times and other outlets said that they crafted those executive summaries with the notion that they would not be redacted for any of the categories that we might be concerned about.  And so that`s one thing we`ll be looking for.

The second thing is any counterintelligence information, so information that might not rise to the level of criminal conspiracy but it might be information that could be used by Russians or adversaries for purposes of leverage or exploitation with regard to government officials here.

And then the third and final thing I will be looking for among other things is simply that evidence that was on both sides of the obstruction of justice.  If we`re not able to find that within the report, then we know for sure that large portions have been redacted that should otherwise be shared with the public.  In any case, Jerry Nadler is armed with subpoenas and the subpoena power has been granted by his committee.  And I expect that he would probably use them if we see some of these red flags pop up immediately.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think the Attorney General is going to be fighting those subpoenas anyway as part of the President`s team.  That`s how it smells like already.  Anyway, the revelations about the Justice Department`s conversations with the White House lawyers comes after Attorney General Barr refused to say last week, as I said, whether his department has briefed anyone at the White House on the Mueller.  Let`s watch him cover the story here, cover up the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NITA LOWEY (D-NY):  Did the White House see the report before you released your summarizing letter?  Has the White House seen it since then?  Have they been briefed on the contents beyond what was in your summarizing letter through the Judiciary Committee?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I`ve said what I`m going to say about the report today.  I`m not going to say anything more about it until the report is out and everyone has a chance to look at it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the congresswoman who asked Barr that question, Nita Lowey of New York, joined me on HARDBALL that night, here`s what she said of that exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOWEY:  It was very clear for me that this report was reviewed by many people, including those in the White House.  Look, if the Attorney General said he consulted with the White House, do you and I really believe that they kept it secret from the President of the United States?  I don`t believe that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Caroline, what do you make of this, this special gift to the White House of a couple days of briefing to help them put together, Trashing of the report, basically?

CAROLINE FREDERICKSON, PRESIDENT, :  It`s pretty outrageous that it brings to mind two things.  One, that They`ve been paying a lot of attention to the college admissions scandal and they realized just like those parents that should -- your kids will do better when they get the test results in advance.  But the second thing, I think, much more importantly is that this is an incredible violation of our checks and balances system and an incredible insult to congress.  We should all be offended that this White House is coordinating with the Justice Department, which seems like another act of obstruction to impede a very important investigation and to whether and how the Russians affected our 2016 election and what they are planning for the next election.

MATTHEWS:  It`s like instead of reading the newspaper in the morning, you have somebody to tell you what you ought to know from the newspaper, their way, like their point of view.  Like it`s, Rajesh, man (ph).  I mean, to hear Barr say, well, here`s what`s in the report now.  And if you go out and you speed 90 miles an hour one day but the next day you ride at the speed limit, that`s not a question of, well, one day you didn`t break the law and one day you did.  Now, you get a ticket.  So why do we hear from him while there was some exculpatory and some prohibitive (ph)?  I don`t care about all that.  Tell me what the President did wrong.  Why don`t they just tell us that in the summaries?

RAJESH DE, FORMER SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL:  And the American people deserve to know.  These summaries will be interesting if they are released largely unredacted tomorrow raises the question, why couldn`t they have been released as soon as the Attorney General got the report?  On the other hand, if they are severely redacted, the question is why is the Attorney General`s judgment so different from Bob Mueller`s?

MATTHEWS:  By the way, do you think Mueller, who spent two years to put together this on paper, writes a summary that is all redactions?  No.  This summary would have the bottom line after all the information, however you got it.  The bottom line doesn`t have to have names in it.  It`s just not what he concludes, right?

DE:  Exactly.  And many years ago, we worked on the 9/11 commission and we went through a similar process with none other than Bob Mueller, who was the director of the FBI at that time.  He knows how to write an unredacted --

MATTHEWS:  Of course, and we`ll see.  I`m betting big money the summaries are not redacted.  Anyway, last week, Attorney General Barr said he had been working with the Special Counsel to redact portions of the 400-page report.  According to Barr, those redactions will be color coded according to four categories of material.  The question is how much or how little will we actually be able to see.

Well, some of Mueller`s team have expressed dismay that the Attorney General didn`t release Mueller`s own summaries of the report, which they say could have been released immediately with minimal redactions, if any, and the very least when we finally those summaries which are intended to be released.

And my question to Congressman, I think Mueller probably did a smashing job here and I think he probably did his absolute best as an honest broker, as a public servant.  And he put in there something at the end which is why he did the report, so there would be summaries of it that regular people could read, including Congress people that made common sense.  And we have been four weeks denied these summaries.

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  I 100 percent concur.  I think that the summaries -- and that`s why those prosecutors who went to outlets to complain about the four-page summary were so disturbed that why weren`t these summaries released?  What are they trying to hide from us, Chris?  I think that`s one of the big questions that folks like myself are wondering aloud about.

Going to your previous comment about sharing with the White House the test results, so to speak, before they are released to the public, I think that the whole question there is to what extent are the redactions going to be politically motivated, right?  Is there information that`s politically embarrassing or somehow puts people in an awkward position that they are going to shoe horn into one of these four categories that Mr. Barr talked about?

One of those categories has to do with embarrassing information about a peripheral third party.  What the heck does that mean?  What`s a peripheral third party?  Is that Jared Kushner and so forth, or the President?  He never was named as a target, they keep telling us.  And that`s because, of course, under justice guidelines, you can`t indict a sitting president.  So that`s why he wasn`t technically a target.

So those are the types of questions that are going to be raised tomorrow, I imagine.

MATTHEWS:  We`ll just remind everybody the breaking news that we`ll get it right back to in a moment because there`s more coming up on this very topic.

So far, we know the amazing news, not only has the White House been briefed on the guts of this report way ahead of anybody else, so days ahead of it, against everything Barr was covering coming up.

But it turns out, they`re going to release the report itself to members of the House Judiciary, including its Chair, until a couple of hours after they have a press -- two or three hours after they have a press conference, which the President announced for the Justice Department.  This looks like an inside job, which Trump, we`re going to see tomorrow.  We`re going to see the black smoke or the white smoke coming out of his mouth.  Is he going to say, I love Mueller?  I don`t think so.  I get the feeling we`re going to see some black smoke for this.  He is not going to like what we`re seeing tomorrow because they are doing so much to massage it before we even get to see it, attack (INAUDIBLE).

What`s coming up?  It`s just about what we learned from the Mueller report, and equally important is what democrats and Congress decide to do.  I`m going to make a strong case at the end of all this.  Tomorrow is either the beginning of a process of impeachment or it`s an end of that process.  And a lot of that is going to ride on what the guts to the Congress and what they see and what courage they have in responding to what they see tomorrow.  If they see impeachable offenses, they should impeach.

Anyway, it`s a busy night coming up.  Stick with us.  We`ll come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Hours away from the release now of the redacted, and we hope not too much, Mueller report, we got news tonight that Attorney General William Barr will hold a press conference tomorrow morning at 9:30 hours before members of Congress even get the report.  Wow.  The Special Counsel, the men who actually wrote the report, will not be present, of course.

And New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries had the smartest thing to say all day.  He`s a House member of the House Judiciary Committee.  He hit back at the Attorney General`s announcement Tweeting, so-called Attorney General is presiding over a dog and pony show.  Here is a thought.  Release the Mueller report tomorrow morning and keep your mouth shut.  You have zero credibility.  That`s Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn talking to the Attorney General of the United States.

And Senator Chuck Schumer tweeted today, the American people deserve the truth.  They don`t need any more pre-damage control, that`s well said, or spin from President Trump`s handpicked Attorney General, William Barr.  Mr. Barr is acting more like a Trump campaign spokesman than an independent agent of the law.

I`m back now with Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and Caroline Frederickson and Rajesh De and Peter Baker.  Congressman, you`re laughing.  I have to tell you, I love the way Hakeem says things.  It`d normally considered crude to say, shut up.  But we have heard enough of William Barr and we have heard nothing from the guy who wrote the report, Robert Mueller, nothing, no word audibly.

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  You`re absolutely right.  And I think that his -- the Attorney General set the bar low for what we can expect from him going forward.  He is just -- he is acting like the Attorney General for Donald Trump and not for the United States.

Just the other day, he talked about the law enforcement community is spying on the Trump campaign without any kind of evidence of anything to back up what he is saying.  And he`s somehow equating spying with warrants issued for probable cause in connection with criminal wrongdoing.  That was the source of surveillance that led to the Mueller report or the Mueller investigation.

And so he is just eroding his credibility every single day.  Eventually, we`ll hear from Mr. Mueller.  I think Chairman Schiff has already said that he`s planning to bring him in to the intelligence committee.  And so I can`t wait to ask him questions directly.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, reacting to the news of tomorrow`s press conference, Chairman Jerry Nadler, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Tweeted, Attorney General Barr wrote to me on April 1st.  I do not believe it would be in the public`s interest for me to attempt to summarize the full report. I agree.  So why is the A.G. holding a press conference tomorrow morning to go over the Mueller report?"

And, by the way, Nadler will hold a press conference of his own in just a little while.

I -- I`m going to go back to Peter Baker on this.

Something has been bugging me the last couple weeks.  And it`s the news coverage generally and it`s the Democrats` behavior.  There`s a sort of a weakening of the spine of the people covering him and the way -- the toughness with which they cover this president.

You talk about -- I`m talking about the constitutional power of the legislative branch, for example, about subpoenas.  Like, there`s a sort of an elasticity to subpoenas now, where they will have a tough time in court, or there`s a real question whether they will be enforced or not.

Or what happens?  Is there some sort of fatigue right now, mental fatigue, that`s going on in the world about criticizing the president?  I sense it.  I sense it among Democrats.  It`s Pelosi doesn`t want to go after impeachment. 

The coverage by the best newspapers, including yours, seem to be like, well, maybe he can win this one.  Maybe he won`t have to turn over his taxes.  Maybe he won`t have to turn over this information.  What`s going on, Peter? 

You`re write the... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... question.  You`re the Bigfoot. 

BAKER:  Yes.  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, give me the big...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... here.  What`s going on? 

BAKER:  Between -- yes, there`s been kind of an interregnum, obviously, between Barr`s letter to Congress and tomorrow`s release of the report.

People haven`t known quite what to make of it.  We don`t have the report itself.  We don`t know whether the two sentences that Bill Barr quoted from it adequately reflect what`s in the report.  We`re told by some of Mueller`s prosecutors that they are frustrated, in fact, because they don`t think it adequately summarized their work. 

So I think you`re right, in the sense that there has been kind of this lull in Washington these last couple of weeks.  We, as a newspaper, are obviously committed to providing extensive and comprehensive coverage, including tough coverage, of this president and the Congress and everybody else that we cover.  I don`t think that`s changed, as you just -- you led the show with a story of my colleagues wrote about the conversations between Attorney General Barr`s office and the White House. 

So we`re out there pressing to get more information, to learn more.  And I think, by the way, the reason why Bill Barr -- I don`t know why Bill Barr`s having a press conference.  But I will say that there`s certainly questions that people want to ask of Bill Barr.

And if he didn`t have a press conference tomorrow, we would say, how come these questions aren`t asked?  The question would be, for instance, the spying comment that was just cited.  What process went into these redactions?  Why did he take it upon himself to issue the conclusion about obstruction of justice, when Robert Mueller didn`t issue that conclusion? 

There are -- and what are the nature of the conversations that were had with the White House?  These are questions I think that we would like to ask Attorney General Barr.  And I think it`s good that we have the opportunity to do it tomorrow.  Whether he should have done it before or after the report is released, I will leave to others to comment on. 

MATTHEWS:  Raj and Caroline, I know it`s not a legal term, but the frog in the boiling pot comes to mind.

For two years, starting with his firing of Comey, after asking for a loyalty test for him, after asking to get his national security guy off the hook, and then the firing of his attorney general for recusing himself, honoring the law, all this stuff he does, in plain sight, obstructing justice, in plain sight, especially -- everything else you can think of, because you mentioned some.

And then this behavior by his hand-picked attorney general, this Roy Cohn- type guy, who`s working for him, not the country, all this goes on, and people say, well, I don`t know whether we should impeach him or not. 

Is it the boil -- are people just gradually worn down? 

DE:  We are hard-boiled, to use your analogy.

MATTHEWS:  Why are people accepting this crapola that gets worse every day, Raj?

DE:  There is so much coming at us every day, it`s almost hard to internalize.

The attorney general alone in the past several weeks has exhibited a pattern of political conduct, from making a snap judgment on obstruction, to releasing his summary, to using terms like spying, and now to this inverted rollout, where he will tell the public the report after telling the White House and before telling Congress.

This is the world upside-down.

FREDRICKSON:  Well, and to add to that, this Justice Department has just decided to -- not to defend the Affordable Care Act. 

This Justice Department, Attorney General Barr has decided to change the policy on how we treat people applying for asylum, all of this in the space of a couple days following shortly on the president apparently telling the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security that he should go ahead and violate the law, and Trump will pardon him in the aftermath. 

I think there is a certain amount of outrage fatigue.  But, look, folks, I mean, I feel like the Constitution is on fire right now.  We used to have checks and balances.  And all of a sudden, Congress is no longer there.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you read about the `30s and how things gradually got worse, and this act, after this act, after this act.

And you go, this is until people said, yes, yes.  They had said yes so many times, they were finished.  They can`t say no anymore.  And I worry about this even tomorrow. 

Anyway, thank you, Congressman Krishnamoorthi.  Thank you so much, sir, for coming on.

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Caroline Fredrickson, Raj De, and Peter Baker, of course.

Up next: more on tonight`s breaking stories, the DOJ reportedly giving the White House a sneak peek at the Mueller report.  Who knows how much massaging they did back and forth on that baby?  And the U.S. attorney general holding a press conference hours before anyone in Congress -- so, what, is he going to tell us what we see, so we will know what to make of it?

What is going on here?  This report was for the American people and the Congress.  It wasn`t for the president and his privileged few to P.R.-ize.

Anyway, how will President Trump respond?  We will be back after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We`re continuing to cover the breaking news that Attorney General Bill Barr will finally reveal one of Washington, D.C.`s best-kept secrets tomorrow morning, the Mueller report.

Barr, who has been facing escalating scrutiny and suspicion from congressional Democrats, will make his case directly to the press and the president.  So he`s going to do it. 

President Trump says he might follow Barr`s press conference with one of his own.  Given the unpredictability of this president, it`s an open question whether Trump will applaud the report or trash it.  Will we see the version of Trump who in a rare show of civility actually praised Mueller, like last month?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Do you think Robert Mueller acted honorably?  Mr. President, do you think Robert Mueller acted honorably?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Yes, he did.  Yes, he did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Or will we see the man who has relentlessly attacked the Mueller probe for almost two years?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  When you see Mueller, with the conflicts, he`s -- he`s so conflicted.  Comey is his best friend.  He had a really nasty business transaction with me.

Robert Mueller put 13 of the angriest Democrats in the history of our country on the commission.

People that are on Mueller`s team were there crying.  They were crying as she lost.  What kind of -- what kind of a probe is that?

The Mueller investigation has been totally discredited.

Mueller, a big complaint people have, Mueller was not Senate-confirmed. 

Now I have somebody writing a report that never got a vote?  It`s called the Mueller report. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by Robert Costa, national political reporter at "The Washington Post," David Cay Johnston, tax expert and author of "The Making of Donald Trump."

Robert, this is a tough one, because I look at -- I look at the way the theatrics of this are.  We thought we`d get the report.  And, instead, we`re going to get this sort of -- I don`t know, this preview of coming attractions via the attorney general, and possibly Trump himself, long before we even see the first shot at looking at the actual Mueller report tomorrow. 

ROBERT COSTA, "THE WASHINGTON POST":  And Congress will certainly have questions when the attorney general`s called before the House of Representatives or the Senate to testify, not only about the report, but the process behind the release. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you know, have you gotten any reporting at "The Post" about the fact that they shared -- that they were getting briefed by Barr on what`s in the Mueller report, that White House lawyers or perhaps the president`s personal lawyers are getting briefing on what was in it, the guts of it, before anybody else has seen it? 

COSTA: "The Washington Post" is -- can report tonight that the White House is aware of the Department of Justice and their plan for the report release tomorrow.

At the same time, the depth of those briefings is something that we`re really going to have to hear more about in the coming 24 hours.  There`s not a lot of detail.  But we do know the White House is aware that certain things are moving forward, and they had been briefed, maybe in broad terms. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, David, let me ask you about this manner of Trump. 

This is a P.R. operation tomorrow.  It`s damage control, obviously.  He has to be prepared for the worst, whether there is a -- certainly, the questions about obstruction of justice are up in the air, if there`s new evidence of that.  According to even -- even Bill Barr`s four-page letter of four weeks ago said there would be more, something new, because he said most of what we know about it is already public. 

That leaves the big residue that we haven`t heard about that could be really a problem for the president.  The way he`s handling it is sort of marinating it, the president, as he`s getting his look at -- it`s whether "The Washington Post" "The New York Times" are right, how much they got information ahead of time.

But, clearly, the fact that we have a press conference tomorrow, which the president announced, of the attorney general tomorrow morning at 9:30, followed by possibly a presidential press comments, and only hours after that a release of the Mueller report.

Explain the P.R. operation, what it looks like to you.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, "THE MAKING OF DONALD TRUMP":  Well, this is Donald`s strategy of capture the headline.  Don`t worry about what`s in the story.  As long as you get the headline, you`re ahead.

And Donald is hoping here the headlines are like the ones that came out a couple of weeks ago with the four-page letter that made it sound like Donald had been cleared, when he had not. 

So, tomorrow, you`re going to see an example of Donald creating his own reality.  And we`re going to see Attorney General Barr, who at DCReport today, we call -- compared to James O`Keefe and his infamous edited videos to create the opposite impression of what actually happened. 

You`re going to see Barr tomorrow doing his best to show his loyalty to Donald, not to our Constitution. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, "The New York Times" is reporting tonight, tonight, that a sense of paranoia is taking hold among some of the president`s aides, some of whom fear Mr. Trump`s backlash more than the findings themselves.

Word that the report might make clear much of -- which of Mr. Trump`s current and former advisers spoke to the special counsel, how much they said, and how much damage they did to Mr. Trump, providing a kind of road map for presidential retaliation. 

Robert, your -- your reporting on that?  What will Trump do if he finds out one of his prized kittens in the White House has been meowing to the special prosecutor?

COSTA:  There`s a divide inside of the White House.  There are some who say the president is inclined to fight this whole report, to call for perhaps a second special counsel, more investigations of the investigators. 

Others are saying, move on.  Even if he`s unhappy that some of his White House officials and former officials went to sit down with the Mueller team, politically, it doesn`t make sense to harp on, whether it`s Don McGahn, the White House counsel, or Steve Bannon or Reince Priebus or anyone else who cooperated with Robert Mueller, that it just doesn`t make sense to linger on those issues. 

MATTHEWS:  David, your thought. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How is he going to take this, the white smoke or black smoke tomorrow?  I`m thinking of the Vatican here, of course, and whether he`s -- white or black smoke. 

It seems to me he`s ready at any moment to trash Mueller. 

JOHNSTON:  Well, Chris, two things to keep in mind.  Donald says his life`s philosophy consists of a single word: revenge.  He calls himself a Christian, but his life`s philosophy is revenge.

And, secondly, he today -- yesterday basically told FOX News, you had better toe the line, threatening their audience that they depend on for all their profits, in effect, and they need to be loyal to him. 

And that tells you that whatever it is that`s in that report, they are deeply concerned, if there`s serious discussion of it, anything beyond the headline level of it. 

MATTHEWS:  Sounds like he`s an Old Testament guy, rather than a New Testament guy. 

Thank you very much, David Cay Johnston.  You know his psyche.  And, Robert Costa, great reporting always.

Up next:  We`re hours away from the release of that long-awaited Mueller report itself.  But we`re learning tonight that Congress and the public won`t see the report for several hours -- this is astounding -- after the attorney general has had his chance to spin the whole baby and the president gets to spin it before anybody gets to see one word of it. 

Right back in a minute. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

NBC News is now reporting that the redacted version of the Mueller report will be made public only after it`s delivered -- well, delivered to Congress tomorrow morning around 11:00, maybe an hour later, according to the chairman of the committee.

That means, officially, Bill Barr`s comments will precede the release of the 400-page report by several hours.  And while the American people and Congress will also have to wait, "The New York Times" is reporting tonight that Justice Department lawyers have already had numerous conversations about the report with White House lawyers.

Joining me right now is Adrienne Elrod, former senior adviser to the Hillary Clinton campaign -- boy, that`s a title that hangs in there -- and Evan McMullin, 2016 independent presidential candidate.  We got the oldies, but goodies here.  Anyway, he`s director of Stand Up Republic.

I want to start with Adrienne.

This P.R. operation, it`s like -- I was thinking of Cyrano de Bergerac.  They said his nose preceded him by a quarter-of-an-hour. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We got two hours of P.R., P.R. two-and-a-half-hours, before we see it. 

ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, HILLARY FOR AMERICA:  Mm-hmm.

MATTHEWS:  I don`t understand. 

You don`t see -- you don`t see a preview of a movie you`re sitting down to watch.

ELROD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Why are they doing this?  I -- I am asking the obvious.

ELROD:  Well, this is...

(LAUGHTER)

ELROD:  You are asking the obvious, but this is so indicative of the Trump White House, right? 

I mean, here`s the bottom line, the bottom line is there are people in the Trump White House who are far more scared about their reputation, of how Trump is going to deal with them than actually upholding, you know, the Constitution which is not a surprise because of what we see so much from this White House. 

But, you know, they continued to violate every single rule.  The cardinal rule is that the Department of Justice does not report to the Trump White House or to the White House.  It is a separate institution and the fact that, you know, there have been these discussions and the heads-up, and they`re basically doing all the preplanning and the prebuttals in the West Wing before this report even comes out. 

MATTHEWS:  This is like, this is like, you know, we all waited for the O.J. report.  Everybody, I covered it for television, and then we had a different reaction to it.  Two hours before the jury came in, someone said this is about the L.A. police, it`s really not what you think.  We don`t need that.  We don`t need to be talked to. 

The American people want to know what`s in the report.  We want to read it, not the summaries. 

EVAN MCMULLIN, 2016 INDEPENDENT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Right.  Well, absolutely, and it`s strange behavior for a White House and a president who claimed that the report will exonerate him, right?  But, look, what we`ve just gone through, what will end tomorrow just to a large degree is what I call the month of Barr.  It`s a month in which he was able to define the narrative, to define the story around the Russia investigation and around the Mueller report. 

Well, you can see this is about a month period comes to an end, the squirming and the defining of the narrative as much as possible before they lose control of the narrative.  And that`s I think what`s going to happen even with the heavily redacted version of the Mueller report.  You`re going to have thousands of reporters pulling on threads, congressional investigators and others. 

And their control of the narrative will then slip from their hands and go back to, I think, largely what it was worse for them before this month of Barr. 

MATTHEWS:  Adrienne, here`s what I can`t explain.  It`s so right in our face.  The attorney general, the president`s guy comes out and says there is stuff that said he obstructed justice, and some said he did. 

Well, wait a minute, if he obstructed justice, that`s what matters.  Maybe other days he didn`t obstruct justice.  Other days, he went by the speed limit. 

That day, he broke the speed limit.  That day, he obstructed -- it just seems like he`s talking to 3-year-olds.  If he obstructed justice, let`s have it out. 

ELROD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And for four weeks as you say, we haven`t. 

ELROD:  One time he obstructed justice, it`s not like, you know, every day that he obstructed justice this day or did he not?  You know, Chris, when I saw the story came out tonight, the only thing I could think of initially was, thank God Democrats have some degree of control in Congress because if there was ever a need for --

MATTHEWS:  I hope they have -- 

ELROD:  -- oversight committee investigations, it is now.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let`s go to that.  Bill Clinton took a lot of heat for -- and he shouldn`t have done it, it was dopey behavior.  But, you know, Big Bill, cheeseburgers, here`s a chance.  Go meet with Loretta Lynch, the A.G., when he has gotten all this case coming about him, right?

Here we find out the attorney general has been meeting with the White House people for days now, warming up the public to a PR campaign. 

ELROD:  Thank you for making that comparison, Chris, because -- there is no comparison, right?  The fact that the newly appointed A.G. --

MATTHEWS:  Well, there is a comparison. 

ELROD:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  It`s talking to people, ex parte conversations.

ELROD:  Tiny apples and big oranges comparison here. 

But the fact that, yes, the A.G. has been meeting with the White House about this to basically to conspire.  I mean, I`m imagining a war room back in the West Wing somewhere in a not-so secret location with Barr conspiring with Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

MATTHEWS:  Evan, ex parte, we all know the term.

MCMULLIN:  Look, I don`t like the side conversations either way, but I`ll tell you this.  Let them have these conversations.  They are inappropriate, but what do you do once the report is out?  Once you have spent that capital, you`ve engaged with the White House, you`ve given them a heads up, you`ve tried to frame the report in a certain way that apparently doesn`t reflect the truth of the report. 

What do you do after the report is out there?  And so, I`m calm.  I`m OK.  Let them squirm.  The report comes out and we move on. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the old Joe McCarthy trick was to brief the press in the morning.  I`m going to name names.  That got all the afternoon newspapers, there were afternoon papers.

MCMULLIN:  We`ve got to be smarter than that. 

MATTHEWS:  And now, we have cable in the afternoon.

Anyway, Adrienne Elrod, we might be able to pull that old Joe McCarthy trick.  Maybe he doesn`t know about it, but instinctively --

MCMULLIN:  You just told them.  Now, he knows.

MATTHEWS:  Just told them.

Anyway, thank you, Adrienne.

ELROD:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  And thank you, Evan. 

MCMULLIN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Nice names.  Easy names. 

Up next, Mayor Pete Buttigieg heckled two days in a row for being gay.  That was it about, does he have the tough staying power as a presidential candidate to put up with the crap? 

Barney Frank, the first openly gay member of the United States Congress, joins me next to talk about the amazing development that`s going on in American culture right now, with this guy`s blazing, so far, success.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWD MEMBER:  Remember Sodom and Gomorrah, Pete.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Speaking of things, hello again. 

CROWD:  Pete!  Pete!  Pete!  Pete! 

BUTTIGIEG:  The good news is, the condition of my soul is in the hands of God, but the Iowa caucuses are up to you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was smooth.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg in Iowa facing protesters heckling him because of his sexual orientation.  The openly gay mayor says he`s not letting those attacks get to him. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUTTIGIEG:  You know, the things that get to me are when somebody makes a critique of a decision I made or something that I said and I feel they may be right, when I put a foot (ph) wrong, or I had a policy I could have done better, and they are making a valid criticism.  When you are getting some kind of hateful attack, in some ways, actually, it`s easier to lay aside.  You know, when you have a thousand or 2,000 people there to cheer and a few people are there for a different reason, that`s just politics. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, 30 years ago, coming out as a gay politician had a much different effect.  Former Congressman Barney Frank told "The Washington Post" that when he decided to tell then-House Speaker Tip O`Neill, O`Neill, Frank was -- Frank said he was sorry to hear it because O`Neill thought Frank could have become the speaker of the House if not for that fact. 

Well, past forward today and we`re seeing an openly gay candidate rising in the polls for Democratic presidential nomination. 

Joining me right now is former Congressman Barney Frank from Massachusetts.

Congressman, it`s great to have you back on for this.  But you`re the pro.  You`ve been through this.  What`s your reaction to watching what you are see something. 

FORMER REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  Well, I`m delighted with it.  I guess, Chris, you and I, Tipp was one of our heroes.  I just like to think how he would have reacted back then. 

It is doubly wonderful in two ways.  First of all, the fact that this is not a negative.  In fact, I think it`s a positive for Mayor Pete.  That is if he was straight, I don`t think he`d be getting the attention he was getting. 

Then the second part is that when he gets the attention, he is so talented and good at this and solid, that he makes the most of it and it`s a benefit.  So, his progress is both a sign of the prejudice is diminishing and it is an opportunity by giving him this platform. 

As to the hecklers, I would be disappointed if there weren`t any.  People don`t get heckled if nobody thinks they are a threat. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

FRANK:  The fact that these bigoted lunatics start acting out in public, it`s a sign of their desperation and, yes, he did handle it very well.  So, you know, I guess the way I summarize it is this, we remember Joe Biden`s reference to a BFD.  Well, when Jim and I got married in 2012, it was a BFD internationally.  Pete Buttigeig`s marriage is apparently NBD. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FRANK:  And that move -- that change in adjectives of the deal is a very, very important sign of progress. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, in an exclusive interview we got, we have this done for our show, NBC`s Josh Lederman caught up with voters in Iowa, and got their reaction to these hecklers. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN MARKEN, IOWA VOTER:  If they want to waste their time, go ahead.  The country is ready for an open minded candidate. 

ED FALLON, IOWA VOTER:  I don`t know what these people are from, but they don`t represent how we interact here in Iowa. 

MADELINE ROCHA SMITH, IOWA VOTER:  That`s what politics is all about.  It can be nasty, it can be beautiful at the same time.  But I think it`s really disheartening and I wish he wouldn`t have to go through specifically directed towards his sexual orientation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Barney, I remember, it was 12 years ago.  It must have been an HRC, a human rights thing in Philadelphia, it must have been 20 years ago.  And you talked to a really young crowd, mostly young guys in their 20s and early 30s, and you said, keep up hope, it`s going to get better. 

FRANK:  Without question.  One of the things that occurred to me that I realized when I came out, Chris, in `87, we did some good polling, and I became convinced to the interesting point, when people were asked if they thought I`d get hurt, because I was voluntarily acknowledging being gay, 44 percent said I was going to get hurt.  That`s pretty close to 50. 

When they were asked, well, are you personally less likely to vote for him?  It was 22 percent.  That`s 22 percent were people who wouldn`t vote for me ever under any circumstances.  And I realized was a lot of Americans were not homophobic, but thought they were supposed to be.  And as more of us came out and our reality confronted the prejudice, we made great gains. 

And even, I did say, yes, my marriage to Jim was a big deal, but by the time I came out by 2012, actually being gay had been more respectable than being a congressman.  My marriage with Jim polled better than the Dodd- Frank bill.

MATTHEWS:  That`s a classic Barneyism. 

By the way, in an interview with "New York Magazine", Buttigieg credited you, Congressman, with helping him on his decision to come out.  Quote: The first time I knew you could be gay and still be in politics I guess when I became aware of Barney Frank, who`s also just a remarkable mind and a very interesting person to watch. 

So, apparently, your coming out as Tip O`Neill said at the time, you came out of the room.  That was hilarious.  He got the whole thing wrong. 

Anyway, what do you think of the fact that you are a role model and he`s said so?

FRANK:  I think you and I would be -- Tip often got the words wrong, but he always got the music right, which is what counted.  It made me feel very good.  In fact, when I read that, someone sent it me, I interrupted Jim who was doing something and said, I got to read that to you. 

Jim is in a position to give some advice about spouses.  Can I just volunteer something now that I think is relevant for Joe Biden? 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

FRANK:  Because I had a personal experience of Joe Biden expressing what some people might have thought was inappropriate affection to a spouse.  But it was Jim.  We were in the Oval Office.  Joe and both of us had his arms surrounded, and he reached down and kissed him on the forehead.  So, I think maybe we should start a him too movement. 

MATTHEWS:  Barney, I love that.  Thank you so much for completing the story of Joe Biden`s social behavior.  Thank you, Barney Frank.  You are a great man.  Thanks for coming on tonight.

FRANK:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, tomorrow is not just what we learn from the Mueller report, but what the Democrats decide do with the information.  Will they? 

You are watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Twenty-four hours from now, we will see either the beginning of an impeachment drive against President Trump or the end of it.  And all of its 400 pages of the Mueller report will either make the case for the president`s removal from office or fail to make such a case. 

If Mueller makes the case for impeachment, the next all important question is whether Democrats of this country have the guts to act on it.  If the report shows that the president had pitiful judgment in accepting the aid of Russian allies in his campaign for president, and if he obstructed justice in defending such judgment, will the Democrats have the political and moral courage to begin the procedure the United States Constitution lays out? 

I don`t think they have the leisure to do otherwise, because if a president cannot be indicted for crimes, then the only recourse for justice in this society of laws lies with the Congress.  If Congress fails to act on that recourse, its meek performance is likely to merit neither the honor of history nor the reward of the voter. 

Again, if the verdict of the Mueller report comes in guilty, the Democrats need to rise up and do their duty.  To do less is to show the Trump and the country their bluff has been called.  Two years of promising to act cannot end with only a resentful cringe. 

And that`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. 

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