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Trump ignores "sweeping" election interference. TRANSCRIPT: 4/24/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Gerry Connolly, Nadeam Elshami, Bill Weld, Kelly Magsamen

ARI MELBER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  We have a former Watergate prosecutor to break down what Congress can and can`t do in a whole lot more, tomorrow 6:00 pm Eastern.  But don`t go anywhere because "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  From Russia with love, let`s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews from Washington.  Donald Trump is smart to fear the Mueller report.  It makes sense that he`s preoccupied with defending himself in the wake of Mueller`s findings.  The fact that he`s screaming bloody murder right now and tweeting with such nervousness shows he, more than others, even his critics grasp the danger to Donald Trump from Mueller`s central finding that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion. 

We`re witnessing right now, I believe, is a President who knows history will chalk up his election in 2016 to the help he got from the Russians.  Trump fears that his presidency will have an asterisk next to it in the history books like a major leaguer whose performance at the plate is chalked up to drug use.  As multiple witnesses told the Special Counsel, the President is afraid, quote, that reports of Russian election interference might lead the public to question the legitimacy of his election. 

And today new reporting suggests that the President`s insecurity is so profound that it`s causing the White House to turn a blind eye to the Russian threat coming in 2020.  The New York Times reports that before she was fired, Kirstjen Nielsen tried to focus the White House on one of her highest priorities as Homeland Security Secretary preparing for new and different Russian forms of interference in the 2020 election. 

However, Trump`s chief of staff told her not to bring it up in front of the President.  According to The New York Times, chief of staff Mick Mulvaney made clear that Mr. Trump still equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory.  The rebuff makes clear that his administration`s posture toward Russia is see no evil hear no evil and this story comes as Jared Kushner, the President`s son-in-law and top advisor downplayed Russia`s unprecedented role in the 2016 election. 

Yesterday, Jared said the investigation of Russian interference was worse than the interference itself, let`s watch. 


JARED KUSHNER, PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP`S SON-IN-LAW:  I think the investigations and all of the speculation that`s happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads.  Now, if you look at the magnitude of what they did and what they accomplished, I think the ensuing investigations have been way more harmful to our country. 


MATTHEWS:  "But this wasn`t just a couple of Facebook ads," as he put it.  Again, the Mueller report made clear.  This is the lines for the history books.  The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.  In fact it`s the leading line of the whole report. 

I`m joined right now by Ben Rhodes former Deputy National Security Adviser under President Obama, Yamiche Alcindor, White House Correspondent for PBS NewsHour, Charlie Sykes is the Editor-in-Chief of The Bulwark.  I want to start with you, Ben, on this line. 

I have been trying to figure out for two weeks why this guy has behaved so wacky lately if he won, if he said he won in the Mueller report.  And I`m thinking back, wait a minute, what does he really care more about?  His legitimacy.  "I won.  I won.  I won, mommy.  I won.  I won.  I won.  I did it.  I did it.  I did it."  Well, now this says you did it with some help from Moscow. 

BEN RHODES, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Yes.  Well, first of all he at no stage has he acted like an innocent man.  I think that as you said just confirming the reality of Russian interference does call into question the legitimacy of that victory and in part because what gets to the core of our democracy more than whether or not you`re aided by foreign power or a foreign adversary in order to get into that office. 

I think the more concerning thing, Chris, though is maybe he wants them to help him again.  When you have Rudy Giuliani out there saying it`s OK to accept Russian help, what you`re essentially saying is, "Hey, Russia, here`s a blinking green light.  Come back in and help us again in 2020. 

MATTHEWS:  Charlie, what do you think about this?  I`m trying to figure out a little bit of psychobabble here, but the importance of the psychobabble in this case is understanding Trump because he has fired Kirstjen, what was her last name? 

RHODES:  Nielsen. 

MATTHEWS:  Nielsen, of course, they`re gone, Nielsen, of course, and he seems to not want to hear it anywhere within his counsels.  He doesn`t have anybody.  Mick Mulvaney say, "Don`t bring that up."  He doesn`t like that. 

CHARLIE SYKES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE BULWARK:  This is like FDR after Pearl Harbor saying, "I don`t want to hear about the Japanese.  Don`t talk to me about the Japanese or the Germans."  Look, this is a part of the Mueller report that I`m glad is getting attention.  I think was overlooked. 

The voluminous documentation of the extent and the scope of the Russian attack and that it`s not over, this is not looking just to the past.  It is ongoing and given the return on investment of their interference in the 2016 election, we`re going to see next year may be even broader and more dramatic.  So the question is, is this President going to do anything about it?  Is he going to mobilize this government to protect our democracy? 

And I think this is something that Congress really has to look into because I get the focus on the obstruction of justice which I think is important and the coordination with the Trump campaign, but the reality is no doubt this country was attacked, is under attack and will be attacked and the President doesn`t want to hear about it.  That`s a problem. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Charlie, the great FDR quote that is better I think even than the one you mention was he said, "Never mentioned the word rope in a family where there`s been a hanging."  And I think that he is really sensitive, Yamiche.  He does not want talking about the Russians and what they did so clearly to help him. 

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR:  It`s because it goes to the core of his biggest fear which is that he won`t be seen as somebody who rightly should be president.  The President is really someone who is focused on his personal issues and I think the White House would say, "Don`t look at our rhetoric.  Look at what we`ve done." 

But when you have Jared Kushner out there calling this - a couple of Facebook ads, what we know is that this was not a couple of Facebook ads, not only was it something on social media but there were protests, there were real protest set up, there`s also website set up to target African- Americans in some cases, telling them not to vote.  There were so many things that Russia did, but I know I`ve been talking to White House sources about this and they say, one, Mick Mulvaney doesn`t remember telling Kirstjen Nielsen this and that -- 

MATTHEWS:  Can`t remember.  Well, that`s a similar pattern, I don`t remember. 

ALCINDOR:  They cannot remember.  Also, I talked to some sources at DHS they say, "Take this with a grain of salt, because now that she`s not in DHS anymore she`s someone who wants to look at her own reputation and her own legacy, so there could be allies doing that."  But the big issue here is, of course, that we all have heard the President over the last couple of years say, "You know what?  I`m not sure if Russia has a real big impact to --" 

MATTHEWS:  It could be anybody. 

ALCINDOR:  There are so many intelligence agencies which have been telling us for months and even years that they did have an impact. 

MATTHEWS:  And then, of course, Robert Mueller`s report comes out and confirms doubles down all of the 17 intelligence agencies that said so before.  And by the way, those who doubt did the little Russian help like bringing up those embarrassing emails out of the DNC and all of that stuff and Robert Podesta or John Podesta stuff and all of that stuff with Palmieri and all of that stuff was embarrassing.  We all knew those stories.  They got out because of their hacking of the DNC and Podesta. 

And just look at these numbers, Trump didn`t win by a landslide.  He won Pennsylvania by 0.7 of 1 percent.  He won Michigan by 0.3 of 1 percent.  He won was Wisconsin by 0.7.  Yes, he won.  Jefferson was right, you win, you win.  But he won in such a close election.  He must wonder if he doesn`t get reelected, how the history book is going to see him.  A guy who won a fluke election because he got Russian.  But anyway, most alarming and led the President`s continued cover-up is that the Russian threat to American democracy still looms. 

According to The New York Times, "One senior official described homeland security officials as adamant that the United States government needed to significantly step up its efforts to urge the American public and U.S. companies to block foreign influence campaigns.  But the department was stymied by the White House`s refusal to even discuss it, the officials said.  As a result, the official said, the government was failing to adequately inform Americans about continuing influence efforts."  Ben, you`ve been in the business, not politics, government. 

RHODES:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  In this case, government.  The number one job of American president is to protect us. 

RHODES:  Yes and protect our democracy.  And this is a blinking green light, again, not just to Russia but other foreign adversaries could be looking at this and looking at us not making these preparations and not taking defense of our democracy.  And if you`re China or you`re Iran in addition to Russia, you`re thinking, "Well, I`m going to come in too.  I`m going to have my own foreign influence operation in your election." 

And they`re getting an open door.  The Trump people are holding the door open for foreign adversaries to attack our elections.  And the reality is we should be changing our laws, it should be illegal to do what these people did in the model report.  I was on a national presidential campaign, I didn`t need to meet with the representatives of foreign adversary.  That should not be, I think, the only reason it wasn`t illegal yet is because nobody ever imagined that any nominee would do that. 

We have to be securing our election infrastructure.  What if the Russians actually tried to change the vote to help Donald Trump -- 

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you, Charlie, you are reasonably a concerned American official in National Security area, what would you do to smack the Russians back into their corner so they wouldn`t try it again?  How do you teach them a lesson they don`t forget? 

SYKES:  Well, the first thing you do is you understand that you`re in the middle of cyber war and that the President is the Commander-in-Chief of that war.  Because Ben is absolutely right, this is what is terrifying about all of this, is the signal that he is sending saying that it`s a hoax or having the secretary of everything, the boy genius, Jared Kushner, say it`s just a few Facebook ads. 

Because, of course, what you have now is the President not only not leading the country in defense but providing sort of a cover to minimize the danger of all of this and that is actually the kind of thing that ought to be bipartisan concern.  OK.  If Republicans want to provide cover against impeachment proceedings, that is one thing.  But they have to take legislative steps to make sure that in fact this country is protected, that is the number one responsibility of the federal government and the president. 

And all of this rhetoric that you`re getting from the White House makes you wonder, are we committed to doing all this.  One of the first things that John Bolton did as National Security Adviser was to abolish the position of cybersecurity coordinator in the White House.  The Mueller report says that Donald Trump brought Corey Lewandowski in and wanted him to go to Jeff Sessions, tell him to unrecuse and limit the investigation to only future attacks which would have let everyone off the hook for the 2016 attacks. 

All of this, I think, is a blinking green light.  It is an invitation and I think the Democrats whatever they do in terms of hearings ought to start teeing up legislation to make it absolutely clear that this sort of behavior is not acceptable. 

MATTHEWS:  I have to add, Yamiche, I talked to some young people who buy into this thing about safe places.  They don`t want to hear harsh hurtful ideological lines from other people.  Trump is like that.  He wants a safe space in the White House, literally.  A place where I don`t hear any discordant words about how the Russians help.  It`s hurtful to him. 

Do you realize what Mick Mulvaney is doing here?  He`s protecting the President of the United States from realities because he doesn`t want to hurt his feelings. 

ALCINDOR:  Well, there are people -- 

MATTHEWS:  And this is astoundingly babying of a president. 

ALCINDOR:  Well, there is this idea that the President has surrounded himself with people that he feels like he can trust and that are loyal to him and he wants that loyalty to include kind of shielding him from some of the things that he doesn`t want to talk about. 

MATTHEWS:  Hurtful. 

ALCINDOR:  I think, of course, one of the most striking things about the Mueller report was this idea that people - that he`s not guilty of obstruction of justice because people didn`t want to carry out his orders and I think that ghosts that idea that the President in some ways has aides around him trying to protect him, which I guess in some ways is what the White House would want in some ways.  If you are someone like Donald Trump and you have to not discuss the things that you don`t want to discuss. 

MATTHEWS:  That`s like putting blinkers on the horse.  I just want to get to this next point, Ben.  As The Daily Beast reported in February, Trump`s 2020 campaign was the only one, going forward to 2020, that`s declined to rule out the use of hacked materials in the next election.  Here`s what Vice President Mike Pence didn`t say when asked today whether Trump`s campaign would forswear or actually accept Russian help in the next election. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you regret using emails stolen by Russian intelligence officers during that campaign and do you pledge to not do so in this upcoming presidential campaign? 

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The United States is taking strong action against the founder of WikiLeaks.  We`re seeking extradition and we`ll be holding him accountable.  Questions that were raised by the Special Counsel, the questions that were raised in the last election in this aftermath have been answered. 


MATTHEWS:  Charlie Sykes it reminds me of Molotov after World War II.  I mean it`s just guy has simulated humanity there, but he`s basically just talking this thing that Trump wants to hear which is nothingness, white sound.  That`s what he gives them.  Nobody can remember what he just said, by the way. 

SYKES:  Right.  And so he`s actually gotten pretty good at all of that when you think about this.  But how do you answer those questions and that`s a fundamental question.  Do you regret inviting the Russians to find Hillary`s emails?  Do you regret praising WikiLeaks?  Do you regret exploiting information that we now know was hacked by the Russians.  And it should be an easy question going forward, would you pledge not to accept illegal foreign interference, that should be an easy question. 

But, again, that`s not the answer that Donald Trump will tolerate and that`s why I think people ought to be really concerned about what`s coming, not what happened in the past but what is about to happen in plain sight in our election next year. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think Mike Pence is afraid that one false move and it`s Nikki Haley`s job.  Anyway, thank you, not his anymore.  Thank you, Ben Rhodes.  That`s my theory, Nikki Haley.  I`m sorry.  He`s a ruthless guy.  Ben, you got to believe this.  This is the fun of politics, the other ruthlessness of guys like Trump knowing you can`t trust their loyalty at all.  Anyway, Ben Rhodes, thank you, sir.  Thank you, Yamiche.  You`re always great to be on the show.  Thank you, Charlie Sykes. 

I don`t know where you are, but you`re great.  Thank you.  You`re always out there somewhere in the West somewhere.  Anyway, President Trump is vowing no cooperation at all with congressional investigators.  The President believes he`s above the law and answers to no one.  I am the boss.  I answer to no one.  How do you respond when you`re the Democrats who fought so hard to win the House of Representatives this last November. 

And with it, the power of the subpoena.  The power to this chairmanships means something.  This President is laughing at them.  He`s awful.  They got to find a weapon against the President.  Resistance from the right also coming up.  Can anyone stop Donald Trump from winning the new Republican nomination.  There`s a Larry Hogan from Maryland, John Kasich, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld is trying and today calling the President to resign.  That`s strong talk.  Bill Weld is coming here just a minute.  Much more ahead tonight, stick with us. 


[18:18:17] MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Trump is using the Mueller report now as a pretense to behave like a king, telling Congress, "I answer to no one."  This morning, the President said as much telling Democratic committees to buzz off when it comes to getting information about his taxes, financial ties and information on why he ignored CIA concerns and gave his daughter and son-in-law top-level security clearances. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Now, we`re finished with it and I thought after two years we`d be finished with it.  Now, the House goes and starts subpoenaing.  They want to know every deal I`ve ever done.  We`re fighting all of the subpoenas.  They`re not going to win against me.  I say it`s enough. 


MATTHEWS:  Well along with ignoring the U.S. Constitution, the President is also ignoring the outcome of the 2018 midterm congressional elections when the American public was given a choice more the same or a check on the presidency.  The President lost that one.  The public opting instead to entrust control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats and with it the power to investigate and issue subpoenas which is exactly what they`ve been doing. 

Well, today eight committees in the House requested information from the President.  There they are.  His administration and companies tied to his private business.  However, House Democrats say that the Trump administration has either ignored or delayed document requests 35 times since January and rejected requests for officials to appear before the committee nine times.  And just this morning Attorney General William Barr followed the boss` directive and ordered one of his deputies not to appear before the House Oversight Committee to discuss why Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were granted security clearances. 

Well the goal of the Trump administration is according to Bloomberg News to keep Democrats` myriad inquiries tied up for months.  Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly told a local radio station that the President has triggered what it`s likely to become a constitutional crisis. Gerry Connolly joins us right now.  He`s a member of the House Oversight Committee.  And also joining us is Nadeam Elshami, former chief of staff to Nancy Pelosi.

I want to start with the congressman. 

I get the feeling that this body language out there by the president that it`s intimidating.  The public hears this guy say, oh, it`s premature to ask for that, or that`s just partisan, or, we will tell you about it in two weeks, some date they come up with.  I will tell you.  I will respond to you. 

They act so -- like they`re the imperial gods, and they decide that you guys are just something below them. 

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA):  That`s right. 

MATTHEWS:  How did they got -- are they going to get away with this?


And that`s why I said I think he has actually triggered a constitutional crisis.  We`re in it.  The legislative branch is a separate, but equal co- branch of government.  Article 1 is about Congress` power.  That`s why they wrote it as Article 1, not Article 2 or Article 14. 

And if you read The Federalist Papers, Madison clearly saw Congress as the preeminent branch of government.  You ignore Congress` demands at your peril, your legal peril, your constitutional peril. 

And if he wants to get into that battle by having an across-the-board defiance of legitimate constitutional requests by Congress, then the fat is in the fire.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the third branch of government is the courts.  Are you confident that some appellate court, maybe all the way to the Supreme Court, is going to back up you with contempt of Congress rulings?  Will they go and incarcerate people at the White House? 

Will they demand -- will they somehow force Trump to play ball?


CONNOLLY:  I believe -- I believe they will.

And I believe case law would suggest that.  Courts have been pretty supportive...

MATTHEWS:  This Supreme Court?

CONNOLLY:  Well, even...

MATTHEWS:  With Kavanaugh on it.

CONNOLLY:  Even this Supreme Court has to think long and hard about taking on the entire legislative branch of government. 

If our system of constitutional checks and balances means anything, even to Mr. Kavanaugh, it means you have to uphold the right of Congress to demand.


I`m getting a new skepticism about this today.  When I watched the rulings on the census asking about citizenship, look, this can argue -- we can argue about that in all kinds of ways. 

But it tells me, when the court so clearly leaned in the direction of the president yesterday and the secretary of commerce, that they`re in a mind to -- like everybody else in this White House and administration, they`re kowtowing to the president.

NADEAM ELSHAMI, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO NANCY PELOSI:  Look, we can`t control the judiciary, all right?

What we can control is what could happen in Congress.  And I have trust in Chairman Cummings, Chairwoman Waters, Chairman Nadler.  They`re going to get it done. 

But let`s take a look...

MATTHEWS:  What is their weapon? 

ELSHAMI:  Well, I think the weapon is the subpoenas.  The weapon is the bully pulpit.

MATTHEWS:  He`s saying, I`m ignoring those. 

ELSHAMI:  They`re going to continue to proceed going forward. 

Look, they have to do a couple of things, one, put pressure on the Republicans in tough districts.  They`re going to start feeling the pressures.  And Cummings issued a bipartisan subpoena.  And we will see what happens to it. 

I believe Barr and I believe others are going to come to testify.


MATTHEWS:  You are going to beat Republicans you couldn`t beat last November?

ELSHAMI:  Yes, I believe we can.

MATTHEWS:  Really?  You`re very optimistic. 

I just want to know what your -- I just whether they`re going to come in with a really crowbar to go after this guy. 

Anyway, along with telling Congress to get lost, President Trump fired up this tweet about impeachment: "I did nothing wrong.  If the partisan Dems ever tried to impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Not only there no high crimes and misdemeanors.  There are no crimes at all by me at all."

The Constitution, by the way, does not work that way.  If the House votes to impeach, and the Senate convicts him, the decision is done.  It`s over.  There`s no appeal.  The Supreme Court has nothing to rule on this. 

Congressman, why did -- you guys say The Federalist.  You know what he hears when he hears The Federalist?  Something in a book somewhere.


MATTHEWS:  I don`t read books. 

CONNOLLY:  Well, he`s about to learn the hard way, I think, Chris.

If impeachment, in fact, materializes, what he`s going to learn is, the only role for the Supreme Court is the Supreme Court justice presides over the trial in the Senate, period.  They have nothing to say.

MATTHEWS:  No ruling.

CONNOLLY:  No ruling at all. 

They have no constitutional role.

MATTHEWS:  OK, you`re making my case.  So why don`t -- you guys for impeachment?

CONNOLLY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  It is your one weapon that nobody can get away of.

CONNOLLY:  I would say to you that the jury`s out on that. 

But I think we`re moving closer to impeachment because of the Mueller report itself and what he just did in the last 48 hours. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think about this? 

You go back in history and you look at the way things really work.  Joe McCarthy wasn`t censured or condemned because of what he did with witnesses.

ELSHAMI:  That`s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Because they didn`t want to judge themselves.  He was condemned because he wouldn`t play ball with the committee investigating him.


MATTHEWS:  And now the question is the fact that the Congress is issuing subpoenas and all to his people.  If he ignores them, is that going to be impeachable? 

ELSHAMI:  The power of the committees is immense. 

They have the ability to dig into this president, into his administration.  And there`s something that we kind of don`t talk about too often.  And that is the whistle-blowers. 

There are a lot of whistle-blowers all across this government talking to committees and prepared to talk to committees. 


ELSHAMI:  Look, the president, they got his schedule, for example. 

That`s -- that`s someone who`s very close to the president leaked that outside.  And there are others who are well...


MATTHEWS:  What was that was leaked?

ELSHAMI:  His schedule. 


ELSHAMI:  That is someone who is extremely, very close to the president who leaked that.


CONNOLLY:  And we had a whistle-blower who came forward on the whole issue of security clearances, including to his son-in-law. 

ELSHAMI:  That`s right. 

MATTHEWS:  The arrogance of people like the secretary of treasury.  I know he`s loaded.  He`s got a lot of money.  He doesn`t need the job.  But he comes out and says things like, that subpoena for the tax returns was premature, like he`s like some British guy.  That`s premature. 

And he comes out and says, yes, they -- oh, that`s partisan.  Well, everything`s partisan.  And then he said the other day, I will be thinking about that.  I will make a decision on whether to respond to that subpoena May 6.

I mean, he just makes these arbitrary judgments, like he`s the boss. 

CONNOLLY:  You know, you...

MATTHEWS:  Where do they get this attitude?

CONNOLLY:  You asked earlier, what`s the power of Congress? 

And I would say to you, there`s -- there`s the obvious power that everybody is familiar with, but then there are latent powers that have not been deployed.  But they are immense. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it`s time for them to come out of the closet.

CONNOLLY:  I agree.  And there`s already...


MATTHEWS:  To use a metaphor, and come out and do it. 

CONNOLLY:  I agree.

But there is already talk about fining people talking $25,000 a day for not complying with a subpoena.


CONNOLLY:  The need for them to lawyer up.  Their reputations, their careers can be profoundly damaged.  And, ultimately, people can go to jail over noncompliance. 


MATTHEWS:  I think -- I think your caucus needs a cheering section.  You need pom-poms.  You need people cheering.  Go, go, go!  I just think you`re all -- you`re smart people and very calculating.  Sometimes, I think a little mad dog is better than calculating.  Just my thinking. 

But you`re a member of Congress.  I`m not. 

Thank you. 

CONNOLLY:  Thanks. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Gerry Connolly.  Thank you. 

And you worked for the speaker.  And she`s smart.  She`s one of the smart ones.  Thank you, Nadeam Elshami.

Up:  Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld is coming here to talk about Trump.  And he says he should resign.  That`s pretty clear.  He`s called him a one-man crime wave.  I like it.  Bill Weld joins me here to talk about what he says the crisis of trust in the presidency right now. 

And he was a very popular governor up in Massachusetts.  He will be right here. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Tomorrow, former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to officially jump into the 2020 race for president and shake up an already crowded Democratic field. 

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the field of primary challenges against President Trump is not nearly as deep.  Only one Republican has stepped up to take on the president.  That`s former two-term popular Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld. 

But former Republican Senator Bob Corker says it would be a good idea for the country to see a more robust Republican primary fight.


BOB CORKER (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  And it would be a good thing for our country, should that occur, from the standpoint of issues, in that if you had a real primary, where you had someone that was really being listened to and of substance, these things that we were talking about -- and I could go through a list of them -- they would actually be debated in a real way. 


MATTHEWS:  Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, however, says there`s no need for a debate because the Republicans are the party of Trump. 


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  It`s the party of Donald Trump right now.  And the Republicans that don`t realize that had better get on board. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, joining me right now is former Massachusetts Governor and 2020 Republican presidential candidate Bill Weld.

Governor, what do you think of Rush Limbaugh acting like he`s like King Caucus, he`s like the boss who brings the party in, unites his party?

BILL WELD (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  They tried to shut down the first- in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire.  They said we didn`t need it, and it should all be for Trump.  And that lasted about one minute, because people in New Hampshire are smart enough to know that about 50 percent of their clout in this country comes from having the first-in-the-nation primary. 

So that went nowhere.  But they`re sending out messages from Washington, from the RNC, from Trump headquarters, saying, don`t let there be any discussion.  If anybody representing Bill Weld shows up at a Republican committee meeting, move to adjourn.  If that doesn`t work, move to table.  If that doesn`t work, then walk out. 

They`re just terrified there will be any discussion.


MATTHEWS:  Is it fear or love?  What unites everybody behind Trump right now, four out of five Republicans?

WELD:  It`s not love.  It`s fear. 

And I don`t know why people should be scared of saying the emperor has no new clothes, but they seem to be.

MATTHEWS:  Well, in op-ed on The Bulwark today, you write that there`s a crisis of trust in this presidency, and that it`s time for the president to resign -- quote -- "How can a president function if he instinctively lies to not only the public, but to his own staff?  There is one essential truth that leaps from the pages of the Mueller report.  No one can trust Donald Trump."

Resign, was that a figure of speech? 

WELD:  No, no, it`s not a figure of speech.

MATTHEWS:  Do you really think -- you`re calling...


WELD:  This...

MATTHEWS:  What is it?  How would you describe your call for him to resign?

WELD:  This country would be so much better off with Mike Pence than with Donald Trump, that I can`t begin to explain the magnitude of that difference. 

People don`t feel normal these days.  They feel anxious.  Polling shows that people would love a return to normal conditions, what Warren Harding was pleased to call normalcy.  But they can`t get it as long as Trump is out there sowing division.

And I was right there when President Nixon had to go.  And Donald Trump is saying, oh, no, I`m not going to comply with any subpoenas because they`re partisan on the other side.

That`s nothing but a declaration that he`s going to refuse to engage.  And what he doesn`t comprehend is, there`s law out there. 


WELD:  There`s a little case called the United States vs. Nixon decided in 1974 in the summer that says the president is not above the law. 

And one time shortly after he left, President Nixon was talking with David Frost, the British journalist, and he said, well, when a president does something, it can`t be -- and Frost led him on and said, it can`t be a violation of crime, criminal law if the president does it; is that right? 

And President Nixon, former President Nixon, said, well, yes.  But he later backed off that position, because it`s a ludicrous position. 

It is, however, President Trump`s position. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the problem is that ignorance is bliss here.  And I think about a president`s lacking of any knowledge.

Somebody was citing The Federalist Papers a few minutes ago on this private.  He doesn`t care about The Federalist Papers.  He doesn`t -- he thinks the U.S. Supreme Court can win this thing in some sort of arbitration dispute with the Congress. 

WELD:  Yes.  Yes.  No.

MATTHEWS:  Where did he get that one from? 

WELD:  Well, I don`t know.  But if ever there was a political question that the Supreme Court would refuse to touch, it`s that one.  The congressman from Virginia nailed that one.  There`s just no basis for saying that. 

And I don`t think the president really cares what`s in the Constitution, and I don`t think he`s going to trouble himself to look.  He`s just saying, I`m not going to engage with anybody between now and 2020.  I`m simply going to say, they`re partisan.

So he wants to hyper -- hyperspace Wookiee the extreme antagonism between the D`s and the R`s that are already there and hope that he wins the coin flip between the D`s and the R`s in 2020. 

That`s abdicating responsibility.


MATTHEWS:  I have to tell you about my worry right now.  I got it from my son today, because he has some -- very interesting observation. 

He`s a smart historian.  And he told me about the New Hampshire primary ballot.  Now, apparently up there in New Hampshire coming in the next primary up there next winter, you get to choose which ballot you pick up. 

So a moderate Democrat or a moderate Republican might say, I`m going to vote for Bill Weld against Trump, because that`s going to really send a bigger message.  Or that moderate person could say, I`m going to vote for Joe Biden, because I want the Democratic Party to move a little more to the center. 

If you win, if people do go to you and vote for you against Trump, Biden loses.  Is that good for the country? 

WELD:  Well, I don`t know.  My argument to the voters up there...

MATTHEWS:  It`s a good question.  And I want an answer.  What`s going to happen up in New Hampshire?  Because you got your best shot up there probably.

WELD:  Well, I will tell you, my argument up there is, if you vote for me against Trump, if you don`t want six more years of Trump -- and, believe me, that that`s a scary phrase, six more years of Donald Trump. 

If you don`t want that, then if you vote for me against Trump, then you`re taking a direct vote against Trump.  If you vote for one of 15 remaining candidates in the Democratic Party, there may be many wonderful candidates in that pack, including Joe Biden, with whom I have a long and positive relationship, but there`s 15 of them.  So it`s a more diluted vote against Trump.

And you may not guess right.

MATTHEWS:  OK, I`m going to think that through.  I still think you`re a danger for Biden, because moderates are going to like you up there.  I know you`re popular in Massachusetts, and that`s pretty close. 

Anyway, thank you, Republican presidential candidate Bill Weld. 

WELD:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  President Trump is pushing a right-wing conspiracy theory now about the Obama administration spying on his campaign.  He says it`s just a question of time before the truth comes out. 

This is another birtherism thing, another thing about Ted Cruz`s father shooting Kennedy, all this crapola coming from one president.  Amazing. 

OK, Mr. President, we`re going to wait for this.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Just one day after President Trump accepted an invitation from Queen Elizabeth for a state visit to the U.K., he is once again spreading a baseless conspiracy theory that the United Kingdom helped spy on his presidential campaign.  In a tweet early today, the president cited a report from a former CIA analyst on the conservative One America News Network accusing British intelligence of helping the Obama administration spy.  Adding: Wow, it`s now just a question of time before the truth comes out and when it does, it will be a beauty. 

Well, President Trump and his administration embraced this hard right media conspiracy once before, two years ago, citing a report from a Fox News commentator.  In fact, here`s then-press secretary to the White House, Sean Spicer, in March of `17. 


SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  On Fox News, on March 14th, Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement, quote, three intelligence sources have informed that Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command, he didn`t use the NSA, he didn`t use the CIA, he didn`t use the FBI, and he didn`t use the Department of Justice. 

He used the GCHQ.  What is that?  It`s the initials for the British intelligence spying agency.  This so simply by having two people saying to them, the president needs transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump`s conversations, involving President-elect Trump.  He is able to get it and there`s no American fingerprints on this. 


MATTHEWS:  What nonsense.  At least he`s wearing a green tie for St. Patrick`s Day. 

Anyway, the time -- at that time, British intelligence agency Spicer cited, the one GCHQ slapped down that charge, calling that allegation utterly ridiculous.  But that didn`t stop President Trump from commenting in a joint press conference meeting with German Angela Merkel. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As far as wire tapping, I guess this past administration at least we have something in common perhaps.  We said nothing.  All we did was, quote, a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television.  I didn`t make an opinion on it. 

That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox.  And so, you shouldn`t be talking to me.  You should be talking to Fox. 


MATTHEWS:  That is so Nixonian, to just play that dishonest thing off on somebody else. 

Anyway, Fox News itself disavowed the report they did, acknowledging the network couldn`t confirm the story.  When asked about the president`s tweet today, a spokesman for the British intelligence agency referenced the statement they made two years, telling reporters, actually telling "Reuters" the allegations the GCHQ was asked to conduct wiretapping against the then-president-elect are nonsense.  Once again adding, they are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored. 

Well, President Obama isn`t one to ignore a hard right conspiracy theory when he`s got his hands on one, and the debunk claim from British intelligence isn`t the only one the president and his allies have embraced.  And all that is coming up next.

We`ll be right back.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It was an illegal investigation.  It was started illegally.  Everything about it was crooked, every single thing about it.  This was an attempted coup.  This was an attempted take down of a president.  And we beat them. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump just two weeks ago before the release of the redacted Mueller report calling the investigation an attempted coup.  That`s what he was talking about there, the Mueller report. 

And just like when he championed the racist birther conspiracy theory, his bizarre theories about Ted Cruz`s father having a role in the Kennedy assassination, and doubling down on the debunked British intelligence claim, the president is going off the deep end, accusing Mueller investigators of trying to illegally seize power. 

Well, last night on Fox News, hard right commentator Rush Limbaugh picked a part of the president`s claim, responded to remarks Hillary Clinton made that anyone else would have been indicted based on the information on the Mueller report, and that Congress should act. 


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Hillary Clinton and her pals in the Obama Department of Justice and the FBI, they are the ones who colluded with the Russians.  For Hillary Clinton to be talking about impeaching Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton needs to be investigated, she needs to be indicted and she needs to be in jail.  And many of her co-conspirators in this whole sordid affair which amounted to nothing more than a silent coup to overturn the election results of 2016. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, Limbaugh went on to accuse Clinton of having sour grapes about the 2016 election.  President Trump tweeted a video of his appearance saying: Thanks, Rush. 

For more, I`m joined by Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney and former senior FBI official.  And Kelly Magsamen, former National Security Council staffer in both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. 

You know, I think there was a case of anatomy of a murder, where they asked the jury, don`t think of a blue cow.  Don`t think of a blue cow.  And, obviously, you get that picture in your head of a blue cow, and it`s like this crazy stuff.

Once you get it to people`s heads of some coup, "Seven Days in May` thing.  Oh, yes.  Oh, yes, that thing.  That thing didn`t exist. 

KELLY MAGSAMEN, VP FOR NATIONAL SECURITY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Yes.  I mean, I think this is the president trying to mount his defense and he`s going to use conspiracy to do it and he thinks it works for him.  He is now taking these conspiracy theories and he`s making them international involving our closest ally, the United Kingdom.  So, he`s recycling conspiracy theories at this stage.  So, I think he`s going to continue to go back to this. 

MATTHEWS:  Why now? 

MAGSAMEN:  I think -- 

MATTHEWS:  Why -- two weeks, at least week after that Mueller thing, why is he jabbering and coming out with this stuff every day like rain man?  Why is he coming out with this stuff over and over again?  Why is he doing that?

MAGSAMEN:  I think he`s a man obsessed with what`s happening and a man slightly unhinged about what is happening to him and his reputation and his presidency.  And I think he`s sort of lost it. 

And when I woke up and saw the tweet about him accusing the British intelligence of spying on his campaign, you know, that was not only embarrassing, but sort of reminded me of a crazy uncle who`s kind of lost it and is out tweeting. 

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, I would always say that countries with less develop political cultures than ours, less Democratic in our history, they`d say, if you win an election, you arrest the other side.  If you lost, you`d say it was rigged. 

And now, he is using there was a coup attempt.  He`s using the language of crazy countries.

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Yes, we don`t use that language in this country at least until today, this era.  We don`t even think that way, right?  That`s not how we operate.  That`s not who we are or at least that`s not who we were. 

You know, to Kelly`s point, the notion that GCHQ, which is the British equivalent of the NSA, would run an operation against us is ludicrous.  The Brits are our closest allies and as Kelly well knows, we are part of a fact of five countries.  The five closest intelligence allies in the world, that includes the Brits, of course, but also the Canadians and the New Zealanders and the Australians. 

We don`t spy on one another ever.  We work together.  We share our stuff.  We don`t spy on one another. 

MATTHEWS:  Kelly, see, this is information.  I feel like we are in an alternative universe with Trump.  Information, that`s something I didn`t know.  I now know it.  Trump would not know this now.  He would hear that and he wouldn`t know it, because it contradicts to his notion that the whole world is out to get him. 

MAGSAMEN:  Yes, to your point, GCHQ has been essentially in disrupting terrorist plots, for example, against American and European citizens.  They are a very close partner of the United States.  I suspect that DNI Dan Coates is on the phone right now as well as Gina Haspel on the phones with their British counterparts, trying to play nice at this stage, and make up for what the president is saying. 

MATTHEWS:  Those are public servants.


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, you remember that Attorney General Bill Barr picked up on the president`s charge of spying while defending his decision to order a review of the Russian investigation`s origins.  Here`s the president`s lawyer. 


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  We want to make sure that during -- I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.  I`m not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it`s important to look at that.  And I`m not just -- I`m not talking about the FBI necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly. 

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH):  So, you are not suggesting, though, that spying occurred. 

BARR:  I don`t -- well, I guess you could -- I think spying did occur.  Yes, I think spying did occur. 


MATTHEWS:  Was that for the president? 

ROSENBERG:  Boy, I don`t -- 

MATTHEWS:  He just took that -- he is just sitting there thinking out loud.  He`s thinking, Trump is watching me right now.  That`s what I thought. 

ROSENBERG:   There was this long pause before he said I think spying occurred.  We don`t spy.  We the United States of America do not spy on Americans, right?


ROSENBERG:  If we need to surveil, Kelly, and I can`t imagine that would ever happen, we would go to get authorization to do that.  The term is so loaded and so wrong.  And I`m surprised because Bill Barr knows better. 

MATTHEWS:  Why does he go back and try to attack the former president so much? 

MAGSAMEN:  Well, I think he`s obsessed with the former president in all ways, shape and form.  But I also think, you know, this is part of a broader playbook that I think he has.  It reminds me a lot of, to your point, authoritarian playbooks. 

So, you know, attacking the press, attacking your political opponents, talking about conspiracies against you, talking about silent coups.  These are all words that dictators and authoritarians use abroad and he`d seen be effective, looking at Erdogan and Duterte and Bolsonaro in Brazil.  I mean, it`s like a kinship that he`s got and I think he sees that as effective. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the word?  Because these words are translatable.  Coup is a word, it`s a French word.  We all know what it means, coup d`etat.  The military takes over from an elected government. 

Now, he`s accusing somebody of pulling a coup.  I don`t know how you master it without the military behind you.  How would you take power in our country without the military? 

ROSENBERG:  It would be a lonely coup. 

MATTHEWS:  You don`t have one person coups.

ROSENBERG:  Yes, right, a one-man probably does not succeed, thank God. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, I just keep thinking about the world, "Agence France Press", "Reuters", all these world news agencies are quoting this guy like he`s a regular president and they`re believing, what the hell is going on in Washington?

Anyway, thank you, Chuck, as always.  Great to have you on.

And, Kelly Magsamen, thank you so much.  I love the fact that you work for Republicans and Democrats and you did, too.  We need people like that more than ever. 

Up next, the Trump team is already looking at Pennsylvania for the 2020 race.  The Dems would be wise to do the same.  The Democrats could lose Pennsylvania next year, and Republicans could lose it.  That one is up in the air and it`s probably going to decide the matter. 

You are watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  The top advisers of Trump`s reelection campaign met in Harrisburg today to talk about 2020.  They know if they can win Pennsylvania for President Trump, they can win it all again.  It`s that simple and that tough for both sides. 

Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 with three winning arguments.  He would do something about illegal immigration.  He would oppose abortion.  And he would not be Hillary Clinton. 

It worked because a lot of blue collar voters have come to believe the Democratic Party of their parents had grown too elite and took working people for granted.  As the Pittsburgh friend of mine said, people don`t mind being used, they mind being discarded. 

Well, heading into 2020, another trio of targets awaits Donald Trump.  He`s made clear he would readily hit the Democrats for open borders, late term abortion and socialism.  The theory of why this trifecta would work was propounded 70 years ago by a Beverly Hills public relations guy named Murray Chotiner.  He was Richard Nixon`s first campaign adviser. 

The Chotiner rule was that voters can take up no more than three issues in any election, the goal of any campaign should therefore be, to make sure all three issues are about your opponent and that all three issues are negative.  In the early 1950s, the Republicans destroyed the Democrats with communism, corruption, and Korea.  Those are three reasons why the eloquent Adlai Stevenson never got to speak to the country from the Oval Office.

In the 1980s, the Republicans hit Michael Dukakis for letting lifer Willie Horton out on weekend furloughs, refusing to fine teachers for not leading their classes on a Pledge of Allegiance, and being a, quote, card carrying member of the ACLU. 

Well, that trio took Dukakis, his lead of 17 points in August down to an eight-point deficit by election. 

And right now, the one Democrat who might be bulletproof on the Republicans` big three targets, illegal immigration, late term abortion and socialism, is a man who`s announcing his run tomorrow.  Joe Biden can beat Donald Trump in Pennsylvania.  And I said that because maybe other Democrats can, too, but Biden definitely can beat him there. 

It`s worth thinking about this because without the Keystone State, the Democratic Party is not getting through the Oval Office door. 

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.