AG Barr defends handling of Mueller Report. TRANSCRIPT: 5/1/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Kamala Harris, Michael Schmidt, Raja Krishnamoorthi

STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC HOST:  Schiff said Barr should never have gotten the job.  The question to Adam Schiff will be, well, he`s got the job.  Now, what are democrats going to do about it?

That does it for me.  I will see you back here at 9:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M.

I now hand you off to my friend and colleague, Chris Matthews.  "HARDBALL" starts right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Barr fight.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews up in Washington.  Today, in an open Senate hearing, Attorney General William Barr walked into an explosive mine field set by last night`s revelation that he had distorted, even undermined the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Now, perhaps because of it, the Attorney General is backing out of his scheduled testimony tomorrow before the House Judiciary Committee.  Barr had been refusing to take questions from the lawyers on the committee staff.  And now, he is refusing to comply with a subpoena for the full Mueller report.

Here`s Chairman Jerry Nadler on those developments just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY):  Attorney General Barr has just informed us that he will not attend tomorrow`s hearing.  I understand why he wants to avoid that kind of scrutiny, but when push comes to shove, the administration cannot dictate the terms of our hearing in our hearing room.

The Department of Justice has also told us that they will not comply with our subpoena for the full unredacted Mueller report, a subpoena that was returnable today.  Compliance with congressional subpoenas is not optional and if good faith negotiations don`t result in a pledge of compliance in the next day or two, the next step is seeking a contempt citation against the Attorney General.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, this comes after today`s hearing where in case after case Barr came across as a criminal lawyer defending the President rather than as the country`s chief law enforcement official.  The Mueller report says Trump tried to fire the Special Counsel.  Barr now says Trump simply tried to remove him as if there was any difference.  Barr said that Trump`s attempt to sway witness`s testimony was really an effort to discourage them from lying.

However, the hearing reached its explosive climax when Barr`s admission that he had not looked at the evidence before overwriting Mueller`s verdict that the President could not be exonerated.  Here`s the Attorney General in a dramatic exchange with Senator Kamala Harris.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA):  Has the President or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?  Yes or no, please, sir.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The President or anybody else?

HARRIS:  It seems you would remember something like that and be able to tell us?

BARR:  Yes, but I`m trying to grapple with the word, suggest.  I mean, there have been discussions of matters out there that they have not asked me to open an investigation.  But --

HARRIS:  Perhaps they suggested?

BARR:  I don`t know.  I wouldn`t say suggested.

HARRIS:  Hinted?

BARR:  I don`t know.

HARRIS:  Inferred?  You won`t know.  Okay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Barr was masterful in obfuscating the facts throughout his performance today, Senator Harris managed to nailed him down.

In another revealing exchange, the Attorney General could not or would not say whether anyone at the White House had ever asked him implicitly or otherwise to open any new investigations.  I think we just saw this tape.  Let`s catch this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS:  Then reaching your conclusion, did you personally review all of the underlying evidence?

BARR:  No.  We took and accepted -- we accepted --

HARRIS:  Did Mr. Rosenstein?

BARR:  No.  We accepted the statements in the report as factual record.

HARRIS:  Did anyone in your executive office review the evidence supporting the report?

BARR:  No.

HARRIS:  No?  Yet you represented to the American public that the evidence was not, quote, sufficient to support an obstruction of justice offense?

BARR:  The evidence presented in the report.

HARRIS:  I think you`ve made it clear that you have not looked at the evidence.  We can move on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, soon after those exchanges with Barr, Senator Harris Tweeted, what I just saw from the Attorney General is unacceptable.  Barr must resign now.  In doing so, she joins a growing course of democrats calling for the Attorney General to step down from office.

Senator Kamala Harris joins me now.  She sits, of course, on the Senate Judiciary Committee and is a candidate for president in 2020.

Senator, an amazing performance today, I think.  A couple of points that come to mind for news, however.  You are calling now for his resignation.  What was it that broke you on that -- to that conclusion?

HARRIS:  Well, it`s a culmination of things, Chris.  It is -- I mean, from the beginning, I was part of the Judiciary Committee hearings to decide whether or not he should be Attorney General, the confirmation hearings.  I voted against him because I thought he was less than candid at that point.

But since then, we have seen an Attorney General, who, after a comprehensive extensive two-year investigation by Bob Mueller and an extraordinary team of lawyers and prosecutors, after two years of around the clock work, he in, two days, submits a four-page so-called summary of the investigation, which clearly was intended to mislead the American public about the contents of the report.  And then does a press conference, again, reinforcing his biased, and it`s clear he is biased, his biased interpretation of not only the evidence which now we know he did not review, but his biased interpretation of the meaning of what had been gathered in the report and his biased view of the intent of the actors who were the subject of the investigation.

And then today he, today, admitted again that he did not review the evidence.  And I`m going to tell you something, Chris, as a former prosecutor.  When you were talking about the Attorney General of the United States who is presented with the responsibility and the duty to represent the people of the United States in a system of justice on a question of whether the President of the United States obstructed justice, I think it is reasonable that the American public should expect that before that Attorney General speaks, he would have firsthand knowledge of the evidence before he speaks and utters a word about whether or not he is going to charge a crime.  But this Attorney General failed to do it.  And, clearly, it is because he thinks of himself as the attorney of the President instead of the people`s attorney.  And I think that`s disqualifying.

MATTHEWS:  Just to put a sharp point on it, it seems to me that he overruled Mueller.  He said, basically, he can`t exonerate the president on obstruction.  I`ll do it.  And it seems to me that he did that, as you point out, without going into the evidence, he simply arbitrarily made the judgment, I`m going to exonerate even if Mueller won`t do it.

HARRIS:  I agree with you.  And, listen, the report is a report.  If you have it in front of you, you will see the cover page of that 400-plus page document.  It calls itself because it is a report.  It is not a file of evidence.  It is a report on an investigation and the findings of that investigation.  He says it himself.  After the report was filed with him, it was his, quote, baby.  This is what he said today.  Well, when he`s got his baby, then you know you`ve got to really figure out what exactly it is before you start representing what it is to the American public.  And he failed to do that, Chris.

And, listen, I mean, there is that piece of it, there is the piece of it about his testimony where he could not clearly answer it.  And I believe he can, but did not clearly answer whether he had been asked by the President or any member of the White House to investigate someone or anyone.

MATTHEWS:  Well, if this is his baby, then who is the daddy, because I get the sense watching this?  I mean this.  This was a brilliant P.R. operation.  It started with a two-day wait when he comes out and says the President was exonerated, right?  I`m sorry to be so jocular here.  It`s a serious day.

HARRIS:  Yes.

And then he holds it, he lets it marinate, or gesticulate for whatever, gestate for four weeks and then he comes out and has a press conference that morning and puts the spin on it that morning.  It seemed to be a lot of -- do you think the president has been directing this choreography?

HARRIS:  I have no way of knowing that.  But what I do know is that I do know what I have seen in the Attorney General and what I have seen as someone who clearly does not have the people in mind as his first priority or his first or for whom he should have the ultimate and the most important duty.

And I think he feels a sense of duty to this President but does not clearly feel the same sense of responsibility to the American people.  And we can`t -- you know, Chris, as you mentioned, I`m traveling the country, I`m meeting a lot of people who are feeling a great sense of distrust in our government, its institutions and leaders. 

And when you have the person who was responsible for being the highest official in our land around our system of justice, presenting himself and conducting himself in this way, it compromises the integrity of our system of justice.  And let`s be clear, there are people in America everyday who are walking into courthouses be it state or federal courthouses.  Who are being prosecuted and convicted on evidence less than the evidence in this report.

And so this is also a statement about the integrity of our system overall.  And I think that what we have seen is that General Barr is not contributing to anyone a confidence in the integrity of this justice system.

MATTHEWS:  Is he upholding his oath to the constitution as you watch him?

HARRIS:  Well, he has duty to uphold the constitution and of the United States.  And I think that certainly we can call into question whether what if that is his primary duty in terms of what he thinks of his job.

MATTHEWS:  I thought you were very strong today, so I want to know how far you are going to go.  Do you think he should be impeached?

HARRIS:  I think that we should take it one step at a time, but I do think he should resign.  And I do believe, Chris, that he intentionally mischaracterized the report.  I believe he intentionally is misleading Congress and the United States Congress that has an independent responsibility as a coequal branch of government to have oversight to determine the integrity of the system.  And I think he has failed to convince the United States Congress that he has conducted himself with integrity.

MATTHEWS:  We only have a few minutes more.  Well, let`s move ahead.  McGahn, Don McGahn, the Attorney General also said he`d support the President`s efforts to prevent his former White House Counsel Don McGahn from testifying before the Congress.  Here he goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL):  Do you have any objections?  Can you think of an objection of why Don McGahn shouldn`t come to testify before this committee about his experience?

BARR: Yes.  I mean, I think that he`s a close adviser to the President and the President --

DURBIN:  Never exerted executive privilege?

BARR:  Excuse me?

DURBIN:  It may already waived --

BARR:  No, we haven`t waved the executive privilege.  Well, that`s a call for the President to make.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I guess the question is once he`s testified before Mr. Mueller Special Counsel investigation, how can he now say, I won`t make the same testimony in public claiming executive privilege.  I think it is sort of like virginity (INAUDIBLE).  Once you start talking about a matter in your jurisdiction and then you say, oh, I`m not doing it anymore.  You can`t do it once you`ve started it.  So I understand that`s how executive privilege works.  Once you have given it up, you can`t grab it back.  How do you see it?

HARRIS:  I am not going to go with you on that metaphor, Chris.  But I will say this.  Dick Durbin did an excellent job of pointing out that there is no, I think, valid reason why he should -- he, being the Attorney General, should object to Don McGahn coming before the United States Congress and testifying.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let`s talk about Mueller.  Is he definitely going to testify before your committee?  Do you know yet?

HARRIS:  I don`t know, but I strongly urge him to.  I hope he was watching today`s testimony.  I would think and I would assume that, certainly, the Mueller team, if they watched today`s testimony, would know that there are clearly other versions of this report and the process of the investigation and the underlying evidence and I would hope that they would make themselves available to the United States Congress and the people of our country to expose the truth about the evidence and the investigation and what exactly it is that they were trying to communicate in the publication of that report.  And specifically because it is my interpretation and I think many of us believe that that report was an indication to the United States Congress that ball is now in our court to take a look at the information and begin a process.

MATTHEWS:  That`s what I thought.  I think most people watch this program in America thought that the Mueller report was going to be the first step Congress would look at.  It would be a cue as to what to do next in terms of impeachment proceedings.  And then the Attorney General said, no, now it`s in my court.  It`s my baby, as he said.  I`m going to decide.

HARRIS:  Right.  And I think interestingly enough, what he failed to indicate, and I think it remains a reasonable belief for us to understand that it was the office of legal counsel`s opinion about the ability to indict a sitting President that may have been the one reason why the Mueller investigation did not result in an indictment.  I think it is very reasonable for us to believe that.  And there`s certainly nothing that contradicts that belief.

MATTHEWS:  I`m sorry about that metaphor I used before.  I`ve been admonished already about it.  So I really shouldn`t have used it.  I`ve heard that phrase used in this context.

However, let me ask you about the stonewalling and your questioning of the Attorney General today.  Do you think it has something to do with the fact that he`s not showing up in the House tomorrow?  And we thought they were working those things out, and now, he`s not even going to show up before the House Judiciary Committee.  What do you make of that?  He doesn`t like tough questions.

HARRIS:  Well, I think that I have a great sense of confidence and the ability of that committee and the Chairman, Nadler, to do whatever is necessary to make sure that the American public has as much informs as they rightly deserve and that there is transparency and that Congress has its full ability to exercise its responsibility of oversight.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think this -- Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker, has -- many people think shrewdly, said, let`s not do impeachment now, let`s wait, get more information.  And yet this is a moving reality because the administration is stonewalling on all the subpoenas, all the document requests, even the very statutory right of the Congress to ask for the President`s tax returns under 1924 law.  They`re just stonewalling it.  Is this moving towards a situation where the only weapon, to use a tough term, that Congress has left is impeachment?

HARRIS:  I don`t think we have exhausted everything yet.  And, obviously, each day reveals a new angle and a new concern.  And my perspective is let`s take it one day at a time.

MATTHEWS:  Last question.  Looking at the report, as I`m sure you have done, looking at the first part of it because you haven`t had a chance to look at it, the part about the conspiracy by the Russians, all established by indictments, multiple indictments of Russians, it happened, sweeping attempt to intervene in our election process, not an attempt, as the Attorney General in reality.  Do you believe that the Trump people played ball with the Russians during the `16 campaign?

HARRIS:  Well, it depends on how you define that.  I think that it is very clear that they were aware of what the Russians were doing and that they were fully prepared to receive the benefit of what the Russians were doing.  And as a next step, I think it is incumbent on Congress and this Attorney General and all of us to say that any campaign that plays with a foreign government and benefits from that foreign government`s interference in one of the pillars of our democracy, which is our open and free elections, that there should be severe and grave consequence.

This is of fundamental issue which is the issue of the strength of our democracy.  And anyone who is running for office, who is running for the highest office in this land and purports to be a leader in our country, should be a defender of our democracy and not be complicit with an adversarial country attempting to under mining the strength of who we are as a nation.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Thank you so much Senator Kamala Harris of California, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a candidate for the presidency of the United States.

Coming up, Attorney General Barr continuing to distort and deflate the Mueller report and never once considered the President did anything wrong what Mueller himself says Barr got wrong about the Russia report.  And there`s lots to talk about what Mueller intended, by the way, regarding obstruction.  So when are we we going to hear directly from Mueller?

And the plaintiff cry from President Trump, where is my Roy Cohn?  Well, we found him in Bill Barr, didn`t he?  We saw him today.  There`s much more ahead on a very busy day.  Stick with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL

Attorney General William Barr spent the day today acting like a defense attorney.  His client in this case?  President Donald Trump.

In that capacity, he explained why he, and not Mueller, was the man in charge. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE:  His work concluded when he sent his report to the attorney general.  At that point, it was my baby.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "It was my baby."

In his nearly six-hour testimony, Barr went about defending the president`s actions and explaining why Trump had the right to do what he did. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT):  Do you think it`s fully cooperating to instruct a former aide to tell the attorney general to unrecuse himself, shut down the investigation, and declare the president did nothing wrong?

BARR:  I don`t think -- well, obviously, since I didn`t find it was obstruction, I felt that it -- the evidence could not support an obstruction.

LEAHY:  I`m asking, is that fully cooperating?  I`m not asking whether that is obstruction.  Is that fully cooperating? 

BARR:  Yes, he fully cooperated. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Barr`s appearance came just hours after the explosive news that special counsel Robert Mueller objected to Barr`s representation of the report.

Absent the presence of Mueller himself, however, Mr. Barr was free to characterize that letter. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT):  This letter was an extraordinary act, a career prosecutor rebuking the attorney general of the United States, memorializing in writing, right?

I know of no other instance of that happening.  Do you?

BARR:  I don`t consider Bob at this stage a career prosecutor.

The letter is a bit snitty, and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  A bit snitty, that`s how he described the writing on the record of the special counsel.

Anyway, Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat from Hawaii, tore into the attorney general. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI):  Mr. Barr, now the American people know that you are no different from Rudy Giuliani or Kellyanne Conway or any of the other people who sacrifice their once decent reputation for the grifter and liar who sits in the Oval Office.

At your confirmation hearing, you told Senator Feinstein that -- quote -- "The job of attorney general is not the same as representing" -- unquote -- the president. 

So, you know the difference, but you have chosen to be the president`s lawyer, and side with him, over the interests of the American people. 

You used every advantage of your office to create the impression that the president was cleared of misconduct.  You selectively quoted fragments from the special counsel`s report, taking some of the most important statements out of context and ignoring the rest. 

You put the power and authority of the office of the attorney general and the Department of Justice behind a public relations effort to help Donald Trump protect himself. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, for his part, President Trump was more than thrilled by Barr`s performance, telling the Boston Herald Radio that the attorney general was -- quote -- "really, really solid and did a great job."

For more, I`m joined by Cynthia Alksne, former federal prosecutor, Michael Schmidt, Washington correspondent for "The New York Times," and David Corn, "Mother Jones" Washington bureau chief.

Thank you.

I want to go with Michael Schmidt. 

The statement by the attorney general was pretty -- I don`t know if arrogant is the right word.  He just said, it`s my baby.  I`m in charge.  Mueller is finished. 

It`s like a -- I guess a screenwriter for a movie.  Once the director gets ahold of the screenplay, you`re out of the business.  I`m the boss. 

Is it that way it works, that the special counsel has no legacy role here for having done this two-week -- two-year-long report?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES":  Well, not when Mueller`s not speaking up. 

And some critics of Mueller would say the fact that he did not have a big public-facing effort during his time as special counsel, he never spoke publicly, we have never heard his voice since he was appointed, allowed Barr to move into this vacuum.

Barr is showing himself as incredibly capable, certainly in ways that Jeff Sessions wasn`t, and Matt Whitaker, the his predecessor, really grabbing the narrative, helping to protect the president, crafting it in a way that is digestible for the average person to understand. 

I don`t think we have seen a Cabinet member that the president has so effectively communicate and operate today in the president`s effort as we did.  And I thought that was pretty significant.  Very, very different than what we usually see. 

MATTHEWS:  Cynthia, when the report came into the hands of Mueller, he saw, because he got to read it right away over that weekend.

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Right, when it went to Barr.

MATTHEWS:  He saw the 10 examples of where the president may have obstructed justice.  And he saw the summary, which says, I can`t exonerate him. 

And then he took the report and said, OK, he`s exonerated.

ALKSNE:  Right

MATTHEWS:  He just overruled.

ALKSNE:  He -- yes.

Not only did he overrule.  He -- there`s no way he could have read the 448 pages over the weekend and really digested it.  And now we know that he didn`t read any of the underlying evidence. 

And you know what else is shocking, what he didn`t do?  He didn`t call Mueller and discuss it.  Usually, if you take a case into a supervisor at the Department of Justice and say, I`m going to do X, we talk about it.  Well, what about this?  What about that witness?  How did this happen?  Are you sure this witness is right? 

He did none of that.  And you`re led to the conclusion that this was a preordained conclusion.  He`d already figured out what he was going to say.  And it really didn`t matter what Mueller said on the underlying -- in the underlying report.  That`s what`s so -- was made so clear today by Senator Harris` questioning.

MATTHEWS:  What struck me, another thing -- and he talked about with the senator, with Senator Harris.

But I`m struck that he can say that McGahn will not testify, even though he`s a former official of the White House.

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  And he testified under his oath -- under oath to the Mueller commission.  And they`re saying, no, we can still reach out and pull him back in and tell him not to testify. 

CORN:  Well, they can try, right?

They can try to do that.  It may be ultimately up to Don McGahn if he`s called in to testify.  It`ll be -- we`re going to have the same fight perhaps over whether Robert Mueller testifies. 

I mean, there are a lot of questions I think that Barr raised today, who was in the meeting, what was memorized.  We know that whole exchange at the very end, when Senator Blumenthal said to him, well, there are notes to that meeting.  And he goes, can we get them?  And Barr said, well, why would I give them to you? 

I mean, so...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it was pretty daring. 

CORN:  It was very daring.  I mean, it was very -- there were a lot of things that happened today.  We could spend literally the whole night talking about them. 

But what we`re going to see, I think, on this front, on the tax returns and other things, some very major constitutional clashes when Congress tries to get information, and they`re going to say no. 

Will Barr come and testify before the House Judiciary Committee?  He put it off tomorrow, but they...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CORN:  But they -- will he come back in a week or two?

I mean, they may just try to turn our constitutional order upside down, in which they don`t cooperate with any oversight. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the special counsel`s report listed 10 instances, as I said, where the president may have obstructed justice.  And while Mueller did not indict the president, he specified that Congress has a role to play in that determination. 

Yet, Barr said otherwise today.  Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  Yes, I don`t think Bob -- Bob Mueller was suggesting that -- that the next step here was for him to turn this stuff over for -- to Congress to act upon.  That`s not why we conduct grand jury investigations. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Where are we at here?

(CROSSTALK)

ALKSNE:  That`s exactly what the report says.

I mean, he finds -- he goes through each of these instances, and he finds substantial evidence of several things, one of which is the attempted firing of Mueller.  The other is to try to get McGahn to lie. 

And the third is to try to get Sessions to control the size of the investigation and the scope.  And then he says in 50 different ways from Sunday in 19,000 footnotes, this is up for Congress to decide, because I cannot decide, as a matter of rule from the Department of Justice.

And when Barr says to everybody, no, that`s not what he says, I mean, it`s black, white, it`s raining, it`s not raining.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ALKSNE:  It`s bizarre.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He took it away from the jury and said, I`m going to judge.

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  Well, what happened today was that Bill Barr became Sarah Sanders with more gravitas.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CORN:  I mean, it was just spin and saying things that aren`t true, but with a more avuncular manner.

MATTHEWS:  Trump loved it.  Trump loved it. 

They`re going to stick around, both -- all these guys are going to stick around.

Cynthia, Michael and David.  Stick with us. 

And when we come back, more on the attorney general`s sort of testimony today, including trying to figure out if the U.S. attorney general understands the difference between legitimate surveillance and his favorite word and Trump`s favorite word, spying.

We`re back after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Attorney General Barr has been criticized for sounding more like the president`s personal lawyer, rather than the country`s chief law enforcement officer.  He`s been called out for parroting some of the talking points coming out of the White House about no collusion and spying on the campaign trail of Donald Trump.

Well, today, Barr defended his use of that word spying to describe FBI surveillance of people connected to the Trump campaign in 2016. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  I don`t think the word spying has any pejorative connotation at all. 

I think spying is a good English word that in fact doesn`t have synonyms, because it is the broadest word, incorporating really all forms of covert intelligence collection.  So I`m not going to back off the word spying.

Up until all the full outrage a couple of weeks ago, it`s commonly used in the press to refer to authorized activity, such as referring to the FISA court as the spy court.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI):  But it`s not commonly used by the department.

BARR:  What?

WHITEHOUSE:  It is not commonly used by the department.  

My time is up.

BARR:  It`s commonly used by me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, he indicates the word choice, his word choice, was -- has no negative connotation. 

Here`s what he talked about, what he said about spying last month in front of Congress. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.  It`s a big deal. 

The generation I grew up in, which was the Vietnam War period, people were all concerned about spying on anti-war people and so forth by the government. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, back with me is Cynthia Alksne and Michael Schmidt and David Corn. 

Check us on this, Michael, this use of the word spying.  It`s clearly pejorative.  It clearly makes the government look like jackbooted thugs, the whole way they like to talk about the deep state, the bad guys, if you will, the enemies of Donald Trump. 

SCHMIDT:  Well, he sort of straddled both sides of this. 

He has said that he knows of no illegal spying that has gone on.  He has acknowledged this is something that the inspector general is looking at.  But he knows how to speak about it in a way that sort of resonates with the president and doesn`t deviate too far from that. 

And he easily could put an end to all of this and say, OK, like I understand people may interpret that word one way.  I`m not going to use it like that.  But he`s someone that is very -- he likes to stand where he stands, and he`s going to defend what he does, and he doesn`t seem to back down. 

And it sort of allows him to keep up this notion, especially in the conservative press, where there`s a lot of emphasis being put on this inspector general`s investigation into how the FBI handled the investigation into the Trump campaign back in 2016. 

And there`s a lot of anticipation there.  And this has really stoked it and fed it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I was watching the hearings today.  And I get the feeling there is going to be a turning of this Titanic known as the Justice Department under Barr.  And I get the sense they`re going to turn, because the Republicans on the committee today in the Senate Judiciary Committee have already turned.

CORN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  They`re going to try to say that their successful stifling or suppression of the Mueller report, which they did succeed at least halfway -- they reduced his firepower.  Let`s all admit that, that they`re now going to turn on Hillary. 

They`re going to go back to the e-mails.  They`re going to go back to everything.  Especially, they`re going to go back into how this whole investigation began. 

CORN:  Yes and no.

They`re trying to do that.  They`re putting their fingers in all these dikes trying to keep the Mueller report at bay, tax returns at bay, and all this.  Where is the other source of information here?  House Democrats. 

I mean, we see that 3 percent of Americans have read the report.  You put Don McGahn on TV, and you get him talking about the story.  You call Don Jr. to talk about the Trump Tower meeting.  None of the investigations that we have seen on the Hill so far have had hearings about that. 

Bring in George Papadopoulos. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CORN:  Ask why he was setting up the meeting with Putin`s office in August of 2016.  Bring in the people who briefed Trump when he was a candidate and told him the Russians were doing this, and then list all the times he denied it. 

So there`s still a lot more to come on this story.  It`s not just in the hands of Republicans in the Senate and Bill Barr at Justice.

ALKSNE:  But here`s the problem with that.  That`s great as a concept, but most of those people aren`t going to come.  And they`re going to fight the subpoenas and they`re going to drag it out. 

And what`s going to happen?  When the House Democrats try to push a subpoena, Bill Barr is going to enforce it?  No, he`s not going to enforce it.  I got news for you. 

CORN:  Well, then that...

ALKSNE:  So then it`s going to go to the D.C. courts, and it`s going to be tangled up until the election.

MATTHEWS:  In a "New York Times" op-ed today -- it`s going to run tomorrow, apparently -- former FBI Director James Comey calls out William Barr and Rosenstein`s continued defense of the president and what it reveals about them.

Comey writes: "Of course, to stay with Trump, you must be seen as on his team.  So you make further compromises.  You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values.  And then you are lost.  You have -- he has eaten your soul."

Michael, that is strong stuff from Comey.  He`s eaten your soul.

SCHMIDT:  Yes.  It`s interesting.  Comey -- yes.

And Comey is someone who confronted this over the first several months of the administration, and did not give in to the president.  The president asking Comey initially for his loyalty, asking Comey to get out the word that he was not under investigation.

Comey holding firm on that, until exactly -- almost exactly two years ago this month, where he fired him, and then the disclosures about their relationship leading to the appointment of Mueller and the obstruction investigation, so it all sort of coming full circle.

And Comey is someone who has experience in this area and certainly wasn`t someone that gave in.  And it`s interesting to hear from Comey in this way.  We don`t always hear from Comey sort of speaking in this detail. 

I mean, he wrote about this in his book, but I don`t think he went into sort of like the complete impact that the president can have on you when you`re a subordinate and he`s the president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, people have chosen up sides, haven`t they?

Anyway, thank you, Cynthia Alksne.  Thank you, Michael Schmidt and David Corn.

Up next:  It looks like the U.S. attorney general has had enough of answering questions before Congress.  Now he won`t testify anymore.  No more scheduled meeting tomorrow with the House Judiciary Committee.  He says no, nyet. 

Will Democrats take this lying down?

Don`t go anywhere. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

After his grilling today, Attorney General William Barr escalated the administration`s ongoing disputes with Congress by declining to testify before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow.  Barr objects to taking questions from counsel on that committee`s staff. 

Chairman Jerry Nadler told reporters today he wouldn`t immediately subpoena Barr if he doesn`t appear. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY):  The committee has the right to determine its own procedures.  The attorney general has the nerve to try to dictate -- the administration has a never to dictate our procedures.  It`s a part of the administration`s complete stonewalling of Congress, period. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Nadler also said he would consider starting contempt proceedings however if Barr cannot provide the full unredacted Mueller report.  In this statement, the Justice Department spokeswoman called the conditions for tomorrow`s hearing unprecedented and unnecessary, adding: The attorney general remains happy to engage directly with members of Congress on their questions regarding the report. 

Nadler said he wasn`t surprised that Barr didn`t want to submit to the questions by professional staffers. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NADLER:  I can understand given how dishonesty he has been since March 24th at the latest.  I can understand why he is afraid of facing more effective examination. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  One of Nadler`s fellow chairmen says Congress should explore every possible option to deal with the defiance coming from the Trump administration.  That means impeachment, I believe.  That`s coming up next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to be HARDBALL.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler says he won`t immediately subpoena General Barr if he fails to show for testimony tomorrow morning.  Barr says he is not coming, and he joins a host now of Trump administration officials who have stonewalled Congress`s request for documents or testimony. 

In this morning, House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings said the administration`s defiance is testing the patients of House Democrats, including members who have so far resisted impeachment. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD):  They don`t mind investigating, but when they find they have nothing to investigate because we can`t get information, I mean, why bother?  So, I don`t know what the White House is trying to push or to pressure us into.  We have to use every tool we have in the tool box, whether it`s impeachment or whether it`s inherent contempt.  I don`t know.  We have to. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by former Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, and Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois, a member of the Oversight and Intelligence Committee. 

I want to start with the congressman. 

What do you make -- all this intimation from the chairman, from Mr. Cummings, that maybe this is a taunting thing that`s going on right now?  Maybe we are getting a "bring it on, go ahead, start impeachments, we`ll kill you in the next election"?  Do you think that might be or are they just being defiant and arrogant? 

How would you describe their motive? 

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL):  It could be a little bit of all of the above.  I think that the thing from our standpoint is, are we going to do nothing or are we going to do something?  I think we have to vindicate our subpoena rights and we have enforced them and hold these folks in contempt. 

I think he alluded to one type of contempt, inherent contempt, which is something that the House and the Congress can do without requiring Department of Justice cooperation.  I think that`s something that people are leaning towards right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you hold someone in contempt and bring them before the law without the respect of the Justice Department? 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  Well, it`s been done in the past.  Actually, we have a holding cell in the U.S. Capitol.  I`m not saying we necessarily use that.  However, we can exact fines against individuals and their personal capacity, and make sure that people personally feel the sting of basically not complying with the subpoena. 

MATTHEWS:  This is a reduction that is absurd, Senator.  I don`t use these conversations because I assume having lived through Watergate and everything else, Iran Contra, that people played by the rules.  That if there`s a subpoena, it`s honored.  It`s not ignored. 

And if there`s -- contempt of Congress is something to be feared.  And yet that feel that Mnuchin, he says, I`ll think about it and May 6th maybe.  Someone else, a cabinet member, will say, oh, that`s kind of premature.  They just basically admonish the Congress to leave them alone. 

FORMER SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO):  You know, it`s interesting to me that my Republican colleagues always like to wave the Constitution and talk about the Constitution.  And in that Constitution, Chris, our Founding Fathers did smart things.  And one of them was the coequal branches of government and the checks and balances.  All the kids in America learn about the checks and balances between the branches of government. 

This executive branch has not read history.  They`re not paying attention because it`s really important that Congress can do this.  And, you know, the notion that Barr won`t be questioned by a staff member, have they forgotten the Republicans brought in a staffer to question Dr. Ford in the Kavanaugh hearings?

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well -- 

MCCASKILL:  And no one complained about that. 

So, if Dr. Ford who is not the attorney general can sit in front of the Judiciary Committee and take questions from a staff member, and surely Barr can do it in front of the House Judiciary Committee. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I saw the same vulnerability in the Senate side, as the more numerous House side where they have the five-minute rule.  The senators were held to a very short period of questioning.  And the most common thing I heard from most of them, except for maybe Kamala Harris was, my time is up.  That`s all they ever seem to be saying.

What`s wrong with letting one person grilled for maybe a half hour and get somewhere and that with a staff or a member? 

MCCASKILL:  Yes, you can get continuity. 

MATTHEWS:  Why not? 

MCCASKILL:  Because really what Barr ought to want, what the attorney general ought to want is for the public to get the information.  That the public needs to have the information about whether or not he is trampling on the rule of law for politics. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s go over to the other thing he`s holding up.  Apparently, Attorney General Barr is saying, I`m not going to give you the unredacted document.  You`re not going to get the Mueller report. 

How can he just say that?  You`d think he`d say, all right, executive session, I`ll give it to the chairs or ranking members or some -- no compromise here.  Congressman? 

MCCASKILL:  Well -- 

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  I think the question that I asked in my mind is, what are they hiding?  What`s there to hide here?  Why aren`t they coming forward with this information? 

We know of the thousand redactions, almost 80 percent of them are in volume one which goes to criminal conspiracy and contacts with Russians.  We also know that of the 14 cases that referred to other jurisdictions, 11 were completely blacked out in the appendices of the report.  There`s more wrongdoing that`s being investigated as we speak in other jurisdictions and I`m thinking that perhaps they don`t want us to know what that wrongdoing is, who the targets are and what the subject matter is. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to the senator.  Last question, Senator, thank you for coming on tonight. 

How did you like the Senate`s performance?  Do you have a sense that these Senate hearings or House hearings are a good way to get the information or not? 

MCCASKILL:  Well, I think there were some moments that were really illuminating.  I mean, it is very interesting that Barr said, I accepted the evidence in the report and didn`t examine it.  Just accepted it as true and tried to ignore all of the damning evidence in the report about what Trump has done and how he has abused the office, how he has told people to lie, how he tried to shut down the investigation. 

So, it was really everything that is up is down, everything that`s down is up.  And -- but it was hard to follow.  Senators have a tendency to -- I mean, Kamala is a courtroom prosecutor.  And when you`re a courtroom prosecutor, you learn how to do cross examinations.  Keep it short, don`t give the witness much room to wiggle around -- 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MCCASKILL:  -- because this guy can wiggle. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought it was quite a battle there, quite a battle there between both -- and I think she won. 

Anyway, thank you, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and former Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. 

Up next, Donald Trump has finally found his Roy Cohn, don`t you think, the guy who will do what he needs to do for the boss. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  What we witnessed today at the Senate Judiciary Committee is a vivid come to life of what this president wants in the country`s chief law enforcement official.  He wants someone in that job sworn to protect him. 

There was never any doubt how much Trump resented his first attorney general.  What Trump wants in his attorney general is what he saw the notorious New York lawyer Roy Cohn do when they worked together years ago in Manhattan.  Cohn made his bones defending mafia figures and other shadowy defendants with the ruthlessness that bordered on and sometimes entered into criminality.  He won his early notoriety, of course, serving as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s. 

Trump wanted Attorney General Barr to play the same role for him, a legal bodyguard.  "Where is my Roy Cohn?" he asked after learning that his White House lawyer Don McGahn had failed to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end his recusal and take control of the Mueller investigation. 

Well, five weeks ago, Trump got what he wanted.  In William Barr, he had an attorney general willful enough to grab control of that two-year Mueller report and turn into Trump`s advantage.  Where Mueller had failed to exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice, Barr did just that.  Never mentioning the heart of the Mueller report, which began, quote, the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion. 

Even Roy Cohn could not have protected the president with such dash and lack of shame. 

That`s HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. 

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