CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Mueller`s case for obstruction, and we got it here. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Tonight, we know President Trump`s very first reaction to the appointment of a special counsel in 2017 was as dramatic as it was revealing. That moment of political terror captured in Mueller`s report today showed a president realizing how much his life of cutting corners could now be coming back to haunt him. Trump said, oh, my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I`m (bleep).
That reaction certainly rings true in light of the news today that Special Counsel Robert Mueller believed he had a case of obstruction of justice against President Trump. Despite abundant evidence, Mueller declined to prosecute, however, because of his view that a sitting president should not be indicted nor officially accuse while in office.
The reason we`re only hearing this today is because of the four-week effort by Attorney General William Barr to keep Mueller`s findings about obstruction of justice from us. It was not until earlier today that Barr even admitted that he disagreed with the Special Counsel on the obstruction matter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Although the Deputy Attorney General and I disagreed with some of the Special Counsel`s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law, we did not rely solely on that in making our decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Despite the Attorney General`s attempts to blunt the impact of today`s revelations, the Mueller report speaks volumes about the President`s misconduct, detailing numerous efforts to control, curtail and otherwise kill the Mueller investigation.
One significant episode occurred in June of 2017 when the President twice directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire the Special Counsel, telling McGahn in one instance that Mueller has to go. Call me back when you do it. Well, instead, McGahn decided to resign telling Reince Priebus that the President asked him to do crazy stuff.
Well, the report finds that Trump was clearly trying to shield himself from further inquiry at that point, quote, substantial evidence indicates that the President`s attempts to remove the Special Counsel were linked to the Special Counsel`s oversight of investigations that involved the President`s conduct.
Mueller cites numerous other examples of the President`s meddling in the investigation, including his attempts to limited scope and his encouragement to witnesses not to cooperate. And while there`s much more in the report, the Mueller report, which stands at almost 450 pages in total, the evidence of obstruction is substantial and can serve as a road map for the U.S. Congress moving forward.
In fact, in declining to accuse the President of a crime, Mueller`s team pointed to the role of Congress to impeach the President, saying a criminal accusation against a sitting president would potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct. Wow.
I`m joined right now by Cynthia Alksne and Paul Butler. Both are former federal prosecutors. And also NBC`s Pete Williams is at the Justice Department. Pete, lay out the litany. It was wonderful and nightly tonight. Do it again. What`s the charge made by Mueller about obstruction of justice, his laying it out?
PETE WILLIAMS, MSNBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he goes through ten episodes that he said were investigated as potential obstruction of justice events. Many of them we know and we knew in advance they would be those that happened in public, the firing of Comey, urging Comey to go easy on the investigation of Michael Flynn.
One of the things that was a bit surprising in the report is that it said that what seemed to bother the President the most about James Comey in firing him is that Comey steadfastly refused to say that the President wasn`t under investigation despite being repeatedly asked to do so.
So they go through all those, the couple that you have mentioned, McGahn urging Lewandowski, the former campaign manager, to have Jeff Sessions say that the Mueller investigation had concluded the President didn`t do anything wrong.
And at the end of the day though, they say they didn`t charge -- they didn`t say the President obstructed justice. But I think you put your finger on the key part of this disagreement between the Attorney General and Mueller.
The report strongly suggests, it doesn`t come right out and say it in so many words, but the strong implication is that the Mueller team believed there was evidence of obstruction of justice. Barr in describing it in his letter last month said that Mueller concluded that the evidence was ambiguous and it pointed in both directions. And indeed, there are parts of the report say that.
The very first page of the report says that, fundamentally, the Mueller team concluded that the President could not be charged with a crime because of the longstanding Justice Department policy that said that would be unconstitutional.
So that`s the disagreement here, that the report strongly suggests that the Mueller team believed that the reason they didn`t go all the way and say obstruction of justice was because they couldn`t.
And what Barr has said, and said today, by the way, that Mueller told him last month that it was the fact that the evidence was inconclusive and pointed in both directions, that was the reason Mueller didn`t make a call on obstruction of justice, that it was not the disagreement or the problem with the longstanding policy against indicting a sitting president.
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s murky as hell. Thank you so much. The facts are real, but, my God. Thank you, Pete Williams, for the great reporting.
Paul Butler, the whole question to most watch right now is was there a case, is there a case for the Congress to take up now? Have they been handed the goods?
PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: They have. We learned from the Mueller report that President Trump did everything in his power to try to impede the Russian investigation. And the only reason he didn`t stop the investigation is because his staff just said no. The President asked 11 different people to do unethical or illegal things to try to halt Mueller`s investigation and they all said no.
For the law though, you don`t actually have to succeed in stopping an investigation in order to be guilty of obstruction. All you have to do is try. The difficult case for a prosecutor with obstruction is how you prove criminal intent, ill motive that the subject knew he was doing something wrong. Here, we have President Trump not only asking people to break the law, but then afterwards saying lie about it.
So he told McGahn, yes, I tried to fire Mueller, but if you are asked by the press, deny it. That`s consciousness of guilt, the President knew knew that he was doing something wrong. There is an extremely strong case for obstruction against the President of the United States.
MATTHEWS: Well, we can`t say the word on any network or cable right now tonight, but I am f`ed, everybody knows what he`s saying. There, it seems to be established, his motive for cover up and for obstructing justice. He said if this thing goes forward, I`m dead. My presidency is dead. There is your motive.
BUTLER: And remember what the investigation was about. The investigation was about whether the Trump campaign worked with the Russians to try to give the election to Trump. And Trump says that there is an objective investigation that my presidency is over?
MATTHEWS: It`s pretty clear. Anyway, the report supports James Comey`s version of events over the story offered by the President. It says, for instance, the substantial evidence corroborates Comey`s account of that dinner invitation and the request for loyalty from the President. Remember that night? The report also affirms that the President fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. Quote, substantial evidence indicates that the catalyst for the President`s decision to fire James Comey was Comey`s unwillingness to publicly state that the President was not personally under investigation.
Cynthia, it seems to me we`ve established motive here. The President didn`t want to be caught for what he has done and all of the things we don`t know about that he`s done. I think those were all in his mind when he thought about, my God, an investigation to me, Donald Trump, who needs that, and now, finding out that he particularly was afraid of the Russian investigation.
CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Right. And the report is written beautifully because it goes through each of these ten charges and lays out exactly what the facts are, what was his intent, what is all evidence. And it is when you read it, any regular prosecutor reading this would say this is a prosecution memo, basically. If this guy`s name was regular guy Trump, he would be indicted today as opposed to President Trump.
I mean, it is very clear from the reading --
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the charge? I`m sorry, go ahead.
ALKSNE: What do you make of what charge?
MATTHEWS: Of the charge that the reason they didn`t go -- that it was this bad as it could have been because a lot people around him, including his White House Lawyer, McGahn, refused to do what he told him to do.
ALKSNSE: That doesn`t really have anything to do with an obstruction charge. Because you don`t have to -- the obstruction has to be -- does not have to be complete.
So, to me, that`s not much of an argument. I mean, it sort of sets the --
MATTHEWS: Well, I didn`t mean that is an argument. I mean, for the republic, I mean, it`s better off that they didn`t follow what he told him to do because it would have been a worse consequence.
ALKSNE: There`s nothing but bad news for the republic today. I mean, first of all, we have an Attorney General who is deceiving us. We have a President who is completely out of control. We have a Press Secretary who lies to the press with impunity. There is just -- there is no good news for the republic in this except that it has come -- now, it`s come out and it`s being thrown to Congress.
MATTHEWS: I`ve got to remember. Paul, what did you make of the fact that we found out today in a report that Sarah Sanders, the press flack for the President, said thousands of people at the FBI don`t like Comey. And then she admits under oath, I just made that up.
MATTHEWS: She`s made it up.
BUTLER: And, again, what she is making up is an attack against people who are federal workers, FBI agents who put their lives on the line to do their job. And so, again, not only is the President upsetting norms at the Department of Justice and the White House, again, he is upending why people go into government service. He`s attacking people for trying to serve the country.
MATTHEWS: And here`s the President of the United States, and I was reading Robert Kaiser`s piece in The Washington Post a couple of days ago about how old is too old to be President. Catch this. A review with the President`s responses to Mueller`s written question shows that the President claimed on 36 occasions that he did not recall, did not remember, had no recollection that the Special Counsel was seeking.
Cynthia, how many times can you get away with saying, I don`t remember, and still be able to pass a competence test? 36 times he said I don`t know.
ALKSNE: Right. But it`s not believable that he doesn`t know. I mean, he didn`t remember anything. The document showed that he was in the Trump Tower when the meeting was organized for Don Junior and he couldn`t -- and we know that he went on the air and announced that he had this big speech with new revelations about Hillary Clinton and he couldn`t remember whether or not anybody told him about that meeting. I mean, that just isn`t believable. So there are 36 times that don`t appear to be true.
And don`t forget that not only is in his non-cooperation was he refusing to testify in front of the grand jury, number one, but number two, he would answer written questions on the Russian side. He refused to even answer written questions on the obstruction side. And knowing all this, the Attorney General of the United States went on the air today and told us all that he has cooperated. The whole thing is shocking.
I can tell you, this was the Attorney General who was the A.G. when I went into the Justice Department. And so I really wanted him to succeed. I wanted knowing that he was going to be the Attorney General again to be an institutionalist and protect the Justice Department that I so love, and he did not.
MATTHEWS: Well, Trump claimed all those memory lapses of his after he repeatedly boast about his great memory. Remember this in 2016, a great memory. Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have a very good memory. People know me for my memory.
One of the great memories of all time.
And I have like a good memory.
You know, I`m blessed with a great memory.
Crooked Hillary Clinton told the FBI she couldn`t remember 39 separate times, she couldn`t remember. You know her memory is a little bit off.
If she really can`t remember, she can`t be president. She has to remember anything.
I can`t remember.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: 37 times in this report he said, I can`t remember. He`s knocking Hillary for 39. He`s in competition at least.
BUTLER: Yes. But he probably does remember, which is why he had to lie. So there were -- this was a very thorough investigation. 3,000 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, 500 witnesses interview with one tragic flaw. Mueller did not interview the President of the United States. If Mueller had sat him down for a one-on-one interview, he would have conclusive evidence of the President`s criminal intent.
And what Mueller said, the reason why he says he didn`t do that is because it would have prolonged the investigation. That`s kind of like Mueller buying (ph) into Rudy Giuliani`s line, the Trump defense lets in the investigation that is taking too long. This investigation was way shorter than most other investigations of presidents, but it was the most consequential, the most important investigation of a president in American history.
MATTHEWS: Well said. Thank you, Cynthia Alksne, as always, and thank you, Paul Butler.
Coming up, William Barr versus Robert Mueller, it`s about the truth. The Attorney General now says he disagreed with some of Mueller`s legal theories on obstruction and how, today, he revealed himself to be a partisan defender of the President. We call them flacks and not a defender of justice at all.
Plus, what we are learning about the collusion investigation, Donald Trump Junior`s connections to WikiLeaks and what went on in that meeting in Trump Tower with the Russians.
Much more ahead. Stick with us.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Attorney General William Barr once again ensured he got the first chance today to put his own spin on the Mueller report before the report was released. In his press conference hours before the report`s release, Barr acknowledged Mueller examined ten episodes that could have amounted to obstruction of justice but added this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: Although the Deputy Attorney General and I disagreed with some of the Special Counsel`s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law, we did not rely solely on that in making our decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We call that flackery in Washington. Imagine that the Attorney General, that guy right there, Bill Barr had stated he disagreed with Mueller`s findings in his letter to Congress four weeks ago, explained his decision that day. Imagine if we knew that then. We would be talking in the last four weeks about how Barr disagreed with the Mueller report.
Well, Barr claimed that Mueller did not draw a conclusion back then, four weeks ago, only quoting the Special Counsel was saying, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him. Well, Barr conveniently omitted the preceding sentence that states, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we`re unable to reach that statement. Wow.
As to drawing a conclusion, the report states Justice Department got (INAUDIBLE) against indicting a sitting president, saying investigators determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result the judgment that the President committed crimes. And despite the Special Counsel laying out numerous links between the President`s campaign and the Russians, Barr repeatedly parodied the President`s favorite rallying cry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: The Special Counsel found no collusion by any Americans in IRA`s illegal activities. There was no evidence of the Trump campaign collusion with the Russian government`s hacking, did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those efforts. No underlying collusion with Russia, there was in fact no collusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida, he serves in the House Judiciary Committee, Jeremy Bash, Former Chief of Staff at the CIA and the Department of Defense, and Michael Schmidt, Washington Correspondent for the New York Times.
Michael, I need you here now. It seems to me that Barr did a great disservice for the country because for four weeks now, he`s had access to that report in full, every word and letter of it, and he did not present it accurately when he made that four pager on that Sunday night four weeks ago.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, this is the root of the frustration with the Mueller team that we were reporting about a few weeks ago, that they felt that Barr had sort of put his finger on the scale when he came out and said, essentially, cleared the President.
They wanted a fuller accounting at the time of what they had found. They thought that the president`s conduct was troubling. And they thought that, by Barr coming out with his declination, he was sort of casting the die on how the public would see that, and that the public really needed to see the entire report, and was eventually going to see the report.
Now, from Barr`s perspective, he thought the president was due the ability to be cleared and be told and the public know that he was not going to be charged, because this is something that has hung over him and his White House for so long.
So that was sort of the rub there. Now, what we see today is a Mueller team that obviously went to great lengths to look into obstruction, got great cooperation from the people around the president, who really told what the president was doing and saying behind closed doors, giving us this intimate view of a president intent on using his power atop the executive branch to insulate and protect himself.
It`s a damning portrait. But, at the end of the day, it wasn`t what Barr thought was illegal.
MATTHEWS: Why did -- well, what he said is illegal. I mean, you don`t know what he thinks. He`s looking -- he`s flacking for the president, Michael. Come on. You don`t know -- you think he thinks the president was innocent?
SCHMIDT: I believe -- yes, I...
MATTHEWS: Do you think William Barr believes the president is innocent of all these charges, in disagreement with the judgment made in the report today by the special counsel? He disagrees with that, or he just has a political position?
SCHMIDT: My guess is -- my...
MATTHEWS: In Washington, they say where you stand is where you sit. And he`s got a job working for the president, it looks like.
SCHMIDT: Look, I...
MATTHEWS: Go ahead.
SCHMIDT: Look, I can`t get inside of William Barr`s head.
But my guess is that he believes what he says. And I will take him at what he says for now, I guess.
MATTHEWS: OK, fair enough.
Let me go to Congressman Deutch on this thing.
What do you make of this? It seems to me, you got a case here because he`s just given it to you.
REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: Of course we do.
He hasn`t just given it to us. He`s asked us to move ahead. Chris, if it weren`t for the actions of the attorney general almost a month ago and then again this morning, the takeaway from today would be that we had a president who was terrified when this investigation started, went out of his way, at least 10 times tried to interfere with the investigation.
When asked about it, when he -- he refused to talk to the Mueller team. But when asked in writing, he couldn`t remember over and over and over again. This is not the Donald Trump of Twitter. This is the Donald Trump who looks like he`s trying to avoid answering questions.
And then Mueller concludes by saying, Congress has the authority to pursue obstruction charges. It`s consistent with the constitutional system of checks and balances that we have, in order to ensure that no one`s above the law.
Without the attorney general, as you point out, as you describe it, flacking for the president for the past month, the story today would be one of shock and outrage at what the president did over the course of this two- year period, and the demand that Congress now exert its influence so that it`s clear that the rule of law actually has some meaning in our country still.
MATTHEWS: Well, Barr`s letter -- that`s the attorney general`s letter -- also suggested four weeks ago that President Trump lacked the intent to obstruct justice.
He quoted the special counsel as saying: "The evidence does not establish that the president was involved in any underlying crime related to Russian election interference."
But the report itself goes on to state that we got today, the real report the evidence does point to a range of other possible motives, personal motives, animating the president`s conduct.
In describing why this case was complicated, Mueller`s team notes proof of such a crime is not an element of an obstruction case offense. The integrity of the justice system is the same regardless of whether a person committed an underlying wrong.
Jeremy, there`s a lot of things Trump would like to not have be found out, OK? We know that. His life is cutting corners, business deals, tax decisions, all kinds of stuff. In New York, we hear about it. And now he doesn`t want anybody to be investigating him. He said, I got a red line here. You can`t go here, the whole thing. We know what he`s hiding.
We don`t know. We know he`s hiding stuff. Mueller makes that clear. He says there`s a lot of things you might be hiding here.
But Barr comes out and says, no underlying crime, therefore, no obstruction potential here. The guy is flacking for him.
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO LEON PANETTA: That`s right.
And what Mueller says at the very beginning of volume two of this report, Chris, is that the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department prohibits charging a president. And so Mueller says, I can`t even in good faith charge him with a crime. However, here`s all the evidence. Over to you, Congress.
MATTHEWS: Well, the attorney general also tried to argue the president had non-corrupt motives in those 10 episodes you just mentioned of possible obstruction. Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: As the special counsel`s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Congressman, here`s the question, because the cover here the flackery -- I think you agree with me on this.
The flackery by the attorney general, who got appointed by Trump because he promised his belief, he swore his belief in total executive authority by the president, of unitary theory of power, that the president was only operating in reaction to what was the bad faith efforts of Democrats and journalists to come at him. Therefore, whatever he did was justified.
Well, again, this is the attorney general, completely mischaracterizing. He says that it`s because the president was frustrated. That`s besides the point anyway. But the Mueller report makes clear, if you look at the reaction by the president of the United States when he learned that this investigation had commenced, his response was, "This is the end of my presidency, this is terrible," and then proceeded to do everything he can to interfere with the carrying out of this investigation.
So let`s be clear about this, Chris. There was never a question of whether or not the Mueller team was going to suggest charges or find the president guilty. They said, as you point out, that their only choice here was whether to exonerate -- that is, find the president not guilty -- or being unable to find him not guilty.
They chose the latter. They could not exonerate. And there is chapter and verse in these 400 pages to explain why, and a whole range of characters that need to come before the Judiciary Committee now, so we can actually understand, for example, why Don McGahn reacted by invoking the Saturday Night Massacre...
MATTHEWS: I know.
DEUTCH: ... when he was asked to take action.
It`s clear. There`s just so much more there that has to come out. And he`s asked us, Mueller has asked Congress to do its job. We have a responsibility to do that.
MATTHEWS: Michael, I got to go to your big story tomorrow. I have seen a tease of your story in "The Times" tomorrow about how -- about how Mueller apparently thinks there might be an incarcer -- or certainly a trial of the president based on these facts after he leaves office on obstruction.
SCHMIDT: Well, Mueller essentially saying that he can`t because of the OLC opinion, because of the Justice Department policy, he can`t indict the president. They can`t take that into consideration.
But when he was out of office, is there a criminal case to be made against him? I think the biggest takeaway from the report today is just this picture of Trump trying to obstruct justice, but failing.
He wasn`t very good at what he did. Every time he tried to do something to get in the way, he was thwarted, oftentimes by the people around him. And it`s a sort of interesting thing, where he sort of ham-handedly is trying to lean on people and push them, and he wasn`t very good at it. He wasn`t very skilled.
If he had been more stealth and thoughtful about it, he could have done some real damage to the investigation. But he didn`t seem to want to take the time and effort to do that.
So, instead, he sort of took out his megaphone and was tweeting things and saying things publicly and dangling things. And that is really interesting in the whole thing, that the president may not be that good at obstructing justice.
MATTHEWS: Well, it sounds like Donald Trump.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you very much, Michael Schmidt, I think the top reporter in the country right now.
Anyway, Ted Deutch, thank you, Congressman, for coming on tonight, and Jeremy Bash with your expertise in so many places.
BASH: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next: drilling down on what the report reveals about the Trump campaign`s multiple contacts with Russians and Trump`s repeated assertion he has no -- no recollection of anything -- 37 times, I can`t remember, I don`t have a recollection, blah, blah, blah.
That`s what mobsters say, isn`t it?
We will be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The special counsel report lays out the breathtaking steps Russia took to manipulate the American democratic process in the 2016 election. The special counsel describes that attack as sweeping and systematic -- or systemic -- a point that the president of the United States, to this day, denies.
Volume one of the special counsel report details at great length Russia`s interference. First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer intrusion operations against entities working on the Clinton campaign. We know that.
Finally, in trying to determine conspiracy with Russia, the special counsel identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, but acknowledges that, in applying the legal framework of conspiracy, not the concept of collusion, they could find -- not find tacit and express coordination.
For more, I`m joined by David Corn, Washington bureau chief at "Mother Jones," who`s an expert on this thing.
He hung on the word collusion a like a life raft today, Barr did, to protect the president.
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Yes.
MATTHEWS: But the question we want to know is, was the Trump campaign playing ball with the Russians?
CORN: Nowhere in the report does Robert Mueller say, "There was no collusion." He doesn`t say that. He`s going on criminal conspiracy charges, as he`s looking at this long series of puzzling, curious interactions between Trump and the people around him and Russia.
And what we see in this report is really a flood of lies and misconduct.
MATTHEWS: By Trump?
CORN: By Trump and the people around him.
I go down the list quickly. The Trump Moscow project, Trump lied about it. He was dealing with Moscow throughout a lot of the campaign. Wonderful scene in the report where Michael Cohen goes up to him and says, hey, boss, you`re saying there`s no contact with Russia. What about this deal? He goes, it`s not finalized yet, so I can lie about it.
Here`s the president lying about a gigantic conflict of interest. The Trump Tower meeting, that`s an effort at collusion, at working together. There`s a lot on that.
Again -- and Mueller points this out -- Trump keeps repeating throughout the campaign, Russia is not attacking.
MATTHEWS: OK, why do three top guys around him, Michael Flynn, Papadopoulos and Michael Cohen, all get indicted, admitting to crimes, felonies for lying about Russian connections? Why?
Well, because they`re all hiding the fact that they were either trying to echo the Russian disinformation, deny it was happening, or maybe doing something worse.
We know that they lied about the Trump Tower meeting because they didn`t want people to know that they were trying to collude with Russians.
CORN: But the other thing is Roger Stone.
His name is redacted, but he`s all over this volume. Why? Because Trump was in contact with Roger Stone. You can read through these redactions pretty easily.
CORN: While Roger said or was in contact with WikiLeaks. That`s what Trump is worried about.
MATTHEWS: OK, let`s remind everybody, Roger Stone got the word, the heads- up, that dirt was coming on Hillary, and he was getting it from WikiLeaks.
Trump was talking to him about it. And that`s what he`s -- that`s who Trump got the information from. In his response, written response, to the special counsel, Trump says, oh, I just got that from the air. Everybody`s talking about it.
No, he got it from Roger Stone.
CORN: Think about this.
And I look at Trump as sort of a mob boss. Here, he has a henchman, Roger Stone, who`s telling him, I`m in touch with WikiLeaks, which is like being in touch with the Russian attack on the United States.
So that`s what Trump has been worried about. No collusion, that means, I don`t know Roger Stone. Roger Stone lied. He`s covering up something, right? Or he allegedly lied. He`s charged with lying. And Trump doesn`t want to acknowledge this.
MATTHEWS: That`s why we have RICO charges.
Thank you so much, David Corn. You know your stuff.
U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro is a Democrat from Texas, of course. He`s a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, you sat through this whole thing today, like we all have. What`s going to happen now in Congress, especially on obstruction?
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Well, a few things.
First of all, we have got to get special counsel Bob Mueller in there to testify. And I think a question that he will be asked, and I would expect that he would be asked, is, based upon your findings, if you were a member of Congress, would you move forward with impeachment proceedings?
I think he should be able to answer that question for us. It`s a question, obviously, that every member of Congress is going to have to answer for themselves, the Judiciary Committee first.
But it`s also clear today that the special -- that -- I`m sorry -- that the attorney general, Barr, has been doing a real public relations campaign for the president for a few weeks now and really trying to soften the blow, so to speak.
And now that we have got the final report, we know that it`s much worse than what the attorney general has been making it out to be.
MATTHEWS: Certainly. Well said. Thank you.
Rick Gates, by the way, Congressman, told the special counsel that -- quote -- "By the late summer of 2016, the Trump campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton e-mails, Clinton e-mails, by WikiLeaks."
On July 27 of 2016, five days after the initial e-mail dump, President Trump called on Russia to do more. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, according to the special counsel, Robert Mueller, the Russians heeded his called -- quote -- "Within approximately five hours" of Trump`s request there to the Russians, Russian intelligence officers targeted for the first time Clinton`s personal office.
Congressman, it seems to me -- I don`t know about the laws of conspiracy, but, to me, it looks like they`re playing ball with each other, Trump and the Russians, to get Hillary.
CASTRO: Yes, I think that`s right, Chris.
And I think this point can`t be overstated. You have a presidential candidate running for president of the United States basically asking a foreign country to hack into an opponent`s e-mail server and find e-mails.
And the bad thing for our democracy, for our country is that, if that is not punished or recognized as wrong, then whoever`s running in 2020 or 2024 can go out there and say, Iran or China or whoever, man, I wish you would really go find the e-mails that are on this person`s server. Wouldn`t that be great?
And then they can come back and say, you know what, guys, I was just joking about that. I didn`t really mean that. And I guess that they`re -- they would be off the hook.
Just because Donald Trump said something publicly, and later claimed it was a joke, should not let him off the hook for that. And as the report makes clear, within five hours, five hours after he said that, for the first time, the Russians went after Hillary Clinton`s e-mails.
MATTHEWS: You know what struck me, Congressman, is how smart the Russians are. They know about the coal miners and their anger about basically the green revolution right now against coal. They know all about that.
They know about anger in the black community about black lives, which certainly they do. But they have a lot of these are legitimate grievances in our culture. And they played on them. It`s in the report. It`s frightening.
CASTRO: Oh, it`s very sophisticated.
MATTHEWS: And we don`t have anything. We couldn`t do that in Russia. They can do it here. Yes.
CASTRO: Yes, it was very sophisticated.
To give you an example, in Houston, Texas, they set up both a pro- Confederate rally at an anti-Confederate rally at street corners across the street from each other. That`s how sophisticated they were in what they were doing.
MATTHEWS: They`re working our nervous system, aren`t they?
Thank you, U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. Thank you, sir.
CASTRO: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Up next: more on Trump`s handpicked attorney general and his remarkable subjugation to the will of this president, don`t you think? He`s a useful, I guess, Roy Cohn.
We will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump and his team have been trumpeting the results of the Mueller report all day, claiming, well, their version, total exoneration, even though the report states it doesn`t. In fact, the words are, we cannot exonerate the president on obstruction of justice.
Trump was helped, of course, by the Attorney General Barr`s press conference this morning where Barr not only stressed there was no collusion, but referred to the Russian interference in the 2016 election merely as an effort or an attempt. He won`t even admit there`s all through the report which is the Russians intervened in a sweeping fashion in the 2016 election. He denied that, too.
Here we go. Here`s Barr.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Russian attempts to interfere in our 2016 presidential election.
Russia`s attempts to interfere in our electoral process.
The efforts of the Russian government to interfere on our presidential election.
Two main efforts by the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.
Efforts by the Internet Research Agency.
Efforts by the Russian military officials.
Russian efforts to publish stolen e-mails and documents.
These dissemination efforts.
The Russian government`s sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: The report clearly states that the Russian government interfered, didn`t try to, interfered with the presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion. It couldn`t be more clear.
I am joined now Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for "PBS NewsHour", Eugene Robinson, columnist with "The Washington Post", Charlie Sykes, editor in chief of "The Bulwark".
I don`t know who is smiling the most. Let`s start with Eugene.
What a flack. What spin.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Read the Russia part of the report. I mean, the Russians interfere, those were not efforts. They were accomplishments. They were from the Russian point of view triumphs. They reached millions and millions of people.
MATTHEWS: But he just wants to reach one guy, Trump.
ROBINSON: Yes. Right, Barr just wanted to reach one person. I mean, that`s one factor.
You know, this report is a 400-page referral to Congress. That`s what it is. And now, it`s in the court of -- the ball is in the Congress`s court. I mean, it is -- you know, they have a job to do here.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me do a follow-up. It`s almost May. They`re going to hear in May from Barr. They hopefully hear from Mueller in May.
That means June is the month to decide. Do you think they will move ahead with impeachment?
ROBINSON: I don`t know if they will or not. You know, Steny Hoyer has already come out and said, you know, no.
ROBINSON: He doesn`t think Congress should move --
MATTHEWS: He and Pelosi.
ROBINSON: Pelosi is going to be pushed in various directions. She hasn`t wanted to talk about it until now. Read this report. I mean, this is devastating. And Congress has a responsibility here.
Now, they are either going to do their job or not. But it`s clear what their job is.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: And one of the key things that came out of Attorney General Barr`s press conference or remarks, the reporters did not have the report to ask real questions. But what you have is him with no mention of Robert Mueller leaving this up to Congress, and then we all got the report and it was the exact opposite.
There are several places in the report where it says explicitly, Congress has the authority to look over the president`s behavior and protect the integrity of the United States. And then you get to this point where you have Robert Mueller saying, the president wanted to obstruct justice, but the people around him couldn`t do it.
You have Corey Lewandowski who is supposed to give dictated speech to Jeff Sessions, he never gets it done. And then you have Don McGahn told to basically lie about the president, telling him to fire the special counsel, Don McGahn packs up his office and says, I`m going to resign. Then Reince Priebus, the chief of staff to the president, said that`s all crazy. Just forget about it.
So, you have the idea that people are around the president in some way shielding him. And when you talk about the fact that he was dealing with his team that wasn`t the A team, that wasn`t even the B team, but they really helped him not get indicted for obstruction of justice, at least according to the Mueller report.
MATTHEWS: Was it resistant or incompetence?
ALCINDOR: It sounded like resistance, and sounded -- but it did sound like these people understood that the president --
MATTHEWS: Good for them. Let`s give them credit for that.
Anyway, Mueller`s report cites multiple instances where the Trump aides lied or misled the press. Notably, the report states that after then- Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the press that the White House had heard from countless FBI -- she said this, had heard from a countless FBI agents who have lost confidence in Comey. Well, later, Sanders acknowledged to investigators that her comments were not founded on anything.
Charlie, I don`t know where to begin. The flackery begins with her and ends with Barr. And I can say -- what do you think? Will Congress step up to the plate here?
CHARLIE SYKES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE BULWARK: Well, you know, there is two things. There is two separate issues. Number one is the political calculation that the Democrats have to make. The public does not want impeachment and I don`t think the Democratic leadership wants impeachment.
But if you read this report, Yamiche is absolutely right, this is an open invitation. It is very close to an explicit invitation to Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibilities.
And there is something fundamental here. As Robert Mueller lays out, if you cannot indict the president of the United States, then unless Congress takes the responsibility of oversight seriously, the president is literally above the law.
SYKES: So, there is something fundamental here. I understand the Democrats don`t want to do it politically, but this is their job. And Robert Mueller lays this out and this is the way the system is supposed to work.
Look, if this was about anyone else, if this was about you, Chris, or this was about me or this was about Eugene Robinson, we would be indicted for obstruction of justice. This is an overwhelming case. And what Robert Mueller is basically saying is do not expect the criminal justice system to deal with this because he`s the sitting president.
But now, it is up to the public and it is up to Congress to do something, whether or not it`s impeachment, whether or not it`s some sort of or oversight or a censure, they have to follow-up on this and they have to take their constitutional obligation seriously.
ROBINSON: One other thing. The political calculation -- if Congress doesn`t move forward, Donald Trump is going to move forward. He`s going to be pushing this counter narrative that that was something wrong about how the investigation started, even though that`s completely debunked.
MATTHEWS: It was Christopher Steele who did it.
ROBINSON: You know, facts don`t matter and he`s going to push and push for new special counsel to investigate the investigation. He`s not going to stand still.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a bigger question. Nixon -- I didn`t hate Nixon. Most people did. I can see something in this guy that was just sad.
But if Nixon had gotten away with Watergate, God help -- I`m with Woodward on that, Bob Woodward. If he had gotten away with that, who knows, what would have come next, because he got away with a lot of stuff.
If Trump gets away with this, if he walks because they can`t indict, they can`t even accuse because that would be unfair, according to Mueller, and they can`t act in Congress because of political calculations, he walks and he`s dangerous because he knows nothing can stop him.
ALCINDOR: We have been saying for a long time the president was someone who almost felt like he was Teflon. Nothing could stop him.
I think what essentially we`re going to learn is whether or not the 2020 election stops him. Nancy Pelosi does have a tough decision to make. Voters are talking about health care -- the Democrats are trying to put forth a platform and a lot of people saying, can the president get away with all of this stuff?
She is going to have to figure out how hard to fight. But I think it`s really going to come down to, now that the American people know what Russia did, exactly what the president did, will he be reelected for another term?
MATTHEWS: He is headed to Mar-a-Lago tonight, Charlie. Just think about the optics. He`s heading down there. The applause of that peanut gallery down there would be unbelievable. All the paid entrance, all the paid members cheering him at dinner. He will be walking around table to table, taking bows because he walks.
SYKES: Chris, there is a rule in politics that simple beats complex. He and Bill Barr are basically saying, no collusion, no collusion, no collusion. And then you have the Robert Mueller 450-page report. What percentage of Americans are going read that whole report, go through all of that?
He is counting on the slogan and in his peanut gallery to basically push the narrative. And Eugene is right about this. One other reason why I think Democrats need to continue to push forward on this is otherwise the initiative does shift to Donald Trump. He is not going let this go. Facts matter, truth matters, accountability needs to matter as well.
MATTHEWS: To Florida today, the president claimed on Twitter that I had the right to end the whole witch hunt if I wanted. I could have fired everyone, including Mueller if I wanted. I chose not to. I had the right to use executive privilege and I didn`t.
Mueller`s team took a different view when it comes to the president`s executive authority, writing, quote, we were not persuaded by the argument that the president`s blanket constitutional immunity to engage in acts that would corruptly obstruct justice.
Gene, I mean, the Constitution is swaying right now.
ROBINSON: No, it is really, because is the president above the law? He cannot be. That`s not the way the system is designed. The president is not supposed to be above the law. Nobody is supposed to be.
The Mueller report says that he can`t be charged in the criminal courts. It`s up to Congress. They have to hold him accountable.
MATTHEWS: Yamiche, is this a mistake for the legislative branch to count on the executive branch to make them their case for them? If that`s what they`ve done, they`ve counted on somebody appointed in the executive branch, in the Justice Department, to give them their case.
ALCINDOR: I think it`s hard to know, because I think that now the Democrats have this report and they are going to drag Robert Mueller down to Congress and we are going hear from him. They understand now that the ball is in their court. I think that they had to wait for the Mueller report to figure out what Mueller after all these hundreds of interviews and what he was going find. But I think, now, the question is whether or not they let Bill Barr and Donald Trump have this narrative and keep that narrative with them looking at 2020 as where they can have their results or whether or not they will fight the president on this.
MATTHEWS: The chain of custody in this case was terrible, because it went through the White House.
Anyway, last week, the attorney general told Congress multiple times he wouldn`t discuss the report until it was released. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: I`m not going to say anything more about it until the report is out and everywhere has a chance to look at it.
Once the report is out, I`m happy to discuss the process.
I`m not going to discuss it further until after the report is out.
I`m not going to discuss my decision. I will lay it out after the report is out.
As I say, I`m not going to discuss this further until after the report is out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Charlie, that is not only disgustingly misleading, he is having organized meetings with the White House and they have been sharing all this information. They got not just a heads up, but they got, who knows, some sort of get-together on how this was going to be put out.
SYKES: Yes. You know, this administration has been a bonfire of reputations, but it`s shocking that somebody of William Barr`s stature has been willing to do, turning himself into a flack, going -- having that bizarre, inept press conference where he basically tries to justify what the president did because he was sincerely angry and his spin didn`t survive even the most cursory look at the Mueller investigation.
But the fact that he gave the White House the heads up, if there was any doubt in your mind that he was not an honest broker here, I think that certainly -- that notion did not survive this morning.
MATTHEWS: Bill Clinton got in trouble with meeting with the former attorney general at the airport. Bill is impulsive. I don`t think he planned it at all. This was planned, this get-together.
ALCINDOR: What was mind-boggling, I was texting Rudy Giuliani after that Barr press conference/remarks as I put it, and at one point today, the president knew what was in the report and his personal lawyers knew what was in the report. White House aides knew what was in the report, but Congress was still in the dark. That tells you about how William Barr rolled this out.
MATTHEWS: Yes, he finally gave it to Jerry Nadler about noon.
Thank you, Yamiche Alcindor. Thank you, Gene Robinson. Thank you, Charlie Sykes.
Up next, as the focus now shifts to U.S. Congress, the American people are waiting for a judgment from them. I think. Don`t you?
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: "Law and Order" is one of the most popular shows in the history of television. Its popularity I believe lies in its clarity and crackle. The first act shows how the police catch the bad guy, the second is the courtroom drama. You get the investigation of a crime and then you get a verdict.
Well, right now, the American people are in what we used to call the commercial in "Law and Order", or between the investigation of Donald Trump by the special counsel, and the judgment of Donald Trump by the only court that can render it, the United States Congress.
I believe it would be a mistake by the Democrats who control the U.S. House of Representatives who fought so hard last year to win it and with it the subpoena power to fail to render this historic judgment, because if they decide to kill this necessary and expected second part of our justice system, the weighing of the truth, they will have abdicated a Constitution role that is their exclusive domain and therefore their unique responsibility.
To do otherwise might be good politics. I doubt history will see it as anything better.
That`s HARDBALL for now.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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