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Barr refuses to appear before House today. TRANSCRIPT: 5/2/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Sam Stein, Madeleine Dean, Mieke Eoyang, Carlos Curbelo

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Flunking the Barr exam.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews up in Philadelphia where the U.S. constitution was written.  And tonight, America is dangerously close to a constitutional crisis as President Trump tightens his grip on power and continues to strong arm the Congress.  Attorney General William Barr who, yesterday, spent hours justifying President Trump`s misconduct called off in appearance before the House Judiciary Committee today and continued to resist the committee`s call for the full unredacted Mueller report.

Chairman Jerrold Nadler presiding before an empty chair warned that the Trump administration`s defiance of Congress has dangerous implications for the country.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY):  The Attorney General must make a choice.  Every one of us must make the same choice.  That choice is now an obligation of our office.  The choice is simple.  We can stand up to this president in defense of the country and the constitution and the liberty we love or we can let the moment pass us by.

I do not -- and we have seen in other countries what happens when you allow such moments to pass by.  I don`t know what Attorney General Barr will choose.  I don`t know that my republican colleagues will choose, but I am certain that there is no way forward for this country that does not include a reckoning with this clear and present danger to our constitutional order.


MATTHEWS:  Moments after the hearing ended, the White House leaked a letter from the President`s counsel, Emmett Flood, that five-page letter which was delivered to the Attorney General on April 19th, one day after the Mueller report went public, highly criticized the Mueller report itself.  The President`s lawyer wrote, the Special Counsel office released a prosecutorial curiosity, part truth commission and part law school exam paper.

Flood added that the refusal to exonerate the President was a political.  He wrote, exoneration statements can be understood only as political statements issuing from persons who in our system of government are rightly expected to never to be political in the performance of their duties.

Additionally, Trump`s lawyers signaled that the President would move to prevent his aides and administration officials from testifying before Congress.  William Barr`s refusal to appear today is a dramatic escalation, of course, of tensions between a White House that sees itself free to roll unimpeded and a Congress that is trying to wrestle back its constitutionally mandated response that he`s just serve as a check on executive misconduct.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has so far resisted calls for impeachment from the democratic caucus accused the Attorney General of perjuring himself.


REPORTER:  Madam Speaker, did the Attorney General commit a crime?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  He lied to Congress.  If anybody else did that would be considered a crime.  Nobody is above the law, not the President of the United States and not the Attorney General.  Being attorney general does not give you a bath to go say whatever you want.  And it is the fact because you are the Attorney General.

REPORTER:  Should he go to jail for it?

PELOSI:  There`s a process involved.


MATTHEWS:  And tonight, NBC News is reporting that the House Judiciary Committee has now bypassed William Barr, the Attorney General, and is discussing Mueller`s possible testimony directly with him and his team.  Though nothing has been finalized as of yet.

For more, I`m joined by Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, democrat of Pennsylvania and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Yamiche Alcindor, White House Correspondent for PBS NewsHour, and Mieke Eoyang, Vice President of National Security Program at Third Way.

Congresswoman, thank you for joining us tonight.  It`s momentous.  I tell you, I get the sense that Congress has weapons at its disposal, but they`re meaningless against this President.  Has Congress become a paper tiger?  You can`t get subpoenas honored, you can`t scare people with contempt of Congress, you don`t want to go after impeachment.  Are you disarmed against this attorney general and this president?

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA):  Not at all.  Thanks for having me on.  This was a terribly important day where we gaveled into the judiciary hearing to an empty chair, Mr. Barr not showing.  Mr. Barr`s refusal to come to us under the rules of our committee show that he, along with the President, is trying to obstruct any investigation into the wrongdoing by this administration and into getting the facts of the Mueller report before the people.

What I thought as I sat there this morning, Chris, was that empty chair was symbolic of a few things.  It`s really that we don`t need to know much more from Barr about the Mueller report.  We now need to know about Barr and his own behavior.  Because his own behavior, lying to Congress, claiming there was no communication from Mueller about Mueller`s concerns about the miscommunications, misperceptions of this report and the full summary, it showed me we`ve taken a turn.  We need Robert Mueller in front of us and that`s what the Special Counsel regulations give us the opportunity to do.  Even though Mueller is an employee of the Department of Justice, there is a special out that the regulations allow him to come to Congress.

So we are far from a paper tiger.  We have all kinds of constitutional opportunities to hold Barr in contempt, to hold anybody in contempt to -- fails to follow legally drawn subpoenas.  So we have all the levers at our hand.  But we have an administration --

MATTHEWS:  Well, and so far -- Congresswoman, what have you been able to get done so far in terms to getting the truth from this administration, from Mr. Barr who says he`s not going to even give you his notes?  He said the other rather dramatically before the committee of the Senate, I`m not going to give you my notes even.

DEAN:  He`s not -- Barr is not an honest broker of information, so it is Mueller who we need to talk to.  He has shown extraordinary restraint, credibility, abidance by the law, refusal to get involved in leaks or gossip, but when Mueller writes on the 27th that this report, that the way that Barr has handled this report gives him grave concern because he`s creating public confusion.

Imagine that.  This man swore to uphold the oath of the independence of an Attorney General`s Office and he is creating public confusion, offering this president cover, saying things foolishly like no collusion, allowing the President to skip past.  Most damaging is the public confusion.  And so Mueller has warned us of that, Barr is less important for the facts of the report, Mueller will give us that.

What Barr now is responsible for is his own behavior, his lying to Congress and why is he offering cover to this president and not upholding his oath of office.  He is now going to be responsible for that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Speaker Pelosi accused Attorney General Barr of lying to Congress.  Her comments appeared to refer to questions Barr gave during his testimony last month.  Let`s take a look.


REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D-FL):  Reports have emerged recently, General, that members of the Special Counsel`s team are frustrated at some level with the limited will information included in your March 24th letter, that it does not adequately or accurately necessarily portray the report`s findings.  Do you know what they`re referencing with that?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  No, I don`t.  I think I suspect that they probably wanted more put out.  But in my view, I was not interested in putting out summaries.


MATTHEWS:  I just got it confirmed a few moments ago from the Speaker`s Office that that is, in fact, what the speaker means when she said he lied, because he denied getting any communication from the Special Counsel`s Office when, in fact, he got a very direct communication, a letter from the Special Counsel, Mr. Mueller himself.  That was a direct lie, as the speaker saw it.

On Tuesday, we learned that Mueller had written a letter to Barr objecting to his interpretation of the report, of course.  Mieke, let me -- here`s the thing that gets me after all this.  And the reason I was tough with the Congresswoman, and I`ll be tough with everybody about this, I hear the outrage from a number of members of Congress, including the gentlewoman from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.  And I hear and I believe in it completely in the virtue of her arguments.

And yet, if you listen to Mr. Barr, the President cannot be indicted, he should not be accused if he is not indicted.  The Special Counsel has no role in delivering information to the Congress for use of impeachment and, besides, the President is incapable of obstruction of justice because he`s all-powerful in controlling the executive.  By the Attorney General`s measure, this president is above the law.  And it looks like he`s going to operate his A.G. in that fashion.

MIEKE EOYANG, VICE PRESIDENT, THIRD WAY NATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM:  Yes.  I think that Barr hasn`t recognized what the law will do to those arguments.  It`s very clear that when the Attorney General or when others are going to try to and challenge the congressional subpoenas in court, that the courts have a long record of siding with Congress on this.  It`s well established law.  And then he`s going to find himself in defiance of a court order.  And so he`ll be in defiance of not just one branch of government but two.  And then you really have to ask, is he being at all faithful to the oath he swore to defend the constitution?

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that the U.S. courts, five, four republicans say -- I`m sorry.  Go ahead, Congresswoman.  Go ahead.

DEAN:  There`s one piece that you are missing and maybe you read this very interesting op-ed by Neal Katyal, who was actually the drafter of the Special Counsel Regulations.  And what he says is there is one provision that we have left.  It is not all within the administration or the Department of Justice Attorney General.  He called it a break the glass emergency relief measure.  And that is that Mueller has the ability to come directly to Congress, not by way of the Attorney General and report to us.  That`s the break the glass measure that is provided in the Special Counsel report and that`s why that same author said that he believes the system is working however slowly to get to justice.

MATTHEWS:  So I hear that.  That`s in our report tonight, Congresswoman.  The House Judiciary Committee under Jerry Nadler, the Chairman, is working with Mueller`s team to try to get him of his own volition, of his own choice to come and testify.  Do you understand the law one way or the other whether the administration or the President could stop him if he chose to come?

DEAN:  I take the author at his word.  And he tells us very, very clearly that the president and the Attorney General, yes, Barr and Trump cannot stop him.  Mueller has every right to come to us.  I have a feeling he has an eagerness to come to us to disclose the full substance of his report and the extraordinary work of a team over 22 months looking at obstruction of justice by a president and Russian interference in our elections.  I believe that we will negotiate well with Mr. Mueller and Mr. Mueller will come.

MATTHEWS:  Yamiche, your assessment of the state of play here between the House Democrats led by the Judiciary Committee and, of course, the Speaker, vis-…-vis, the -- versus, I should say, it`s a contest with the Attorney General and the White House lawyers working for Trump.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR:  Well, I think, first of all, the President long searched for an Attorney General that was going to be loyal to him, that was going to have his back.  And he has found that in William Barr.  He has found someone who is willing to put his reputation on the line to defend the President using his language, talking about no collusion, and really also parsing words and splitting hairs to try to make sure he can do whatever he can to protect the President.

So my sources tell me that the President is very pleased with William Barr`s testimony yesterday.  They`re also pleased with his actions today.  I think now when we move on to the idea that the House Judiciary Committee is looking at Robert Mueller coming to testify, I think that tags us to that letter that the White House lawyer, Emmet Flood, sent to Barr soon after he read the Mueller report.  He was very -- Emmett Flood, that is.

He was very worried that Robert Mueller was delivering (ph), as he called it a, quote, road map to Congress.  So what you see is the White House, even if the President is saying he was exonerated, the White House read that report and was worried instantly that Robert Mueller was going to be able to work with the committees in Congress try to move forward with this investigation.  So I think it`s going to be very interesting when Robert Mueller comes to Congress and says, here is what I was thinking when I put together this obstruction of justice volume two part of my report.

And I think what you`re going to see is Robert Mueller talking about the concerns that he had when William Barr was setting the narrative publicly.  William Barr said that Robert Mueller really had issues with the media coverage.

But what we really know is the letter speaks for itself.  He did not mention CNN or any -- or MSNBC or any networks.  He said, William Barr, I have issues with the way that you are creating public confusion.

MATTHEWS:  Mieke, last question for me in this segment, and this is -- we know the President, according to the Office of Legal Counsel, you are not supposed to indict a president, and, FYI, if you can`t indict, you can`t accuse him, that wouldn`t be fair, according to Mr. Mueller and his report.  That leaves only one access to justice, and that is impeachment, at least a report to Congress they can use in an impeachment proceeding.

And now, we`re hearing from the President`s lawyer, Emmet Flood, that the Special Counsel has no right to offer a road map for impeachment.  It is not -- in other words, not to provide a charging document in any way useful to the Congress.  Then why do we have a Special Counsel?  How are we able going to get judgment about a president`s misconduct, ever?

EOYANG:  Right.  Well, it`s very clear that Emmet Flood is using taxpayer dollars to defend the President and its personal capacity, and now, looking out for the institutions of our government.  And it`s very clear that Mueller, in laying out his report, was pointing to a number of instances of obstruction of justice and problematic behavior from the President, which, even if not criminal, might be at the level of high crimes and misdemeanors for the impeachment standard.

Now, remember, Mueller had a limited charge and he was not looking at things the President has done subsequent to that and also prior to the election.  What we know is that the House Judiciary Committee, the Ways and Means Committee and the Intelligence Committee are taking a broader look at the President`s finances, his conflict of interest, some of the things that have been done in his administration.  And so they may build a much fuller record than what we know even from Mueller.

MATTHEWS:  It`s an optimistic assessment.  I hope you`re right.  The U.S. Congresswoman, thank you, Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, Yamiche Alcindor and Mieke Eoyang.

Coming up, Attorney General Barr`s stunning testimony bending over backwards to defend this president.  He seems to think there is a difference between trying to fire the Special Counsel, for example, and trying to remove him.  You tell me the difference.  Forcibly removal or firing are identical meaning.

Plus, the President`s obsession with Hillary Clinton, here he goes.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  I mean, I`m living rent- free inside of Donald Trump`s brain and it`s not a very nice place to be.  I can tell you that.


MATTHEWS:  But it`s not just Trump.  Clinton, who hasn`t held public office in more than six years, was repeatedly brought up by all the republicans at Barr`s hearing yesterday.

And why is Trump doing for Biden what President Johnson did for Richard Nixon back in the `60s, building him up by attacking him?

Much more ahead.  Stick with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Attorney General William Barr has proven he will defend the President in every turn in spite of the damning evidence that`s outlined in the Special Counsel`s report by Robert Mueller.  On countless occasions throughout his testimony yesterday, William Barr made clear that he believes the President has the power has the power to obstruct an investigation with impunity. 

  Barr even said that a president is within his rights to kill an investigation if he and he alone believes it`s based on what the President believes are false allegations.


BARR:  If, in fact, a proceeding was not well founded, if it was groundless proceeding, if it was based on false allegations, the President does not have to sit there constitutionally and allow it to run its course.  The President could terminate that proceeding and it would not be a corrupt intent because he was being falsely accused.


MATTHEWS:  Well, in expressing that opinion, Attorney General William Barr echoed the same language he used in a memo which was shared with the White House last June months before he became Trump`s Attorney General, in language many believe was his application for the job.  In that memo, Barr said a president does not act corruptly simply by acting on, even terminating a matter that relates to his own conduct.

Well, yesterday, Barr also said that because Mueller believed the President could not be accused of a crime, that Mueller shouldn`t have investigated him in the first place.  Here we go.


SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA):  Was it special counsel Mueller`s responsibility to make a charging recommendation? 

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE:  I think the deputy attorney general and I thought it was.

I think that if he felt that he shouldn`t go down the path of making a traditional prosecutive decision, then he shouldn`t have investigated. 



I`m joined right now by two former federal prosecutors, Barbara McQuade and Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney and former senior FBI official, Chuck is, and the host now of our newest podcast "The Oath With Chuck Rosenberg," currently the top podcast on Apple charts.

Let me go to Chuck.  And I`m going to go to Chuck and then to Barbara in that order. 

And I want to -- same question to both of you. 

I have been listening to the attorney general, this guy who looks like the president`s lawyer, talks like him, is his lawyer, it seems.  He`s defined the president out of getting into trouble. 

He said, well, the president can`t be indicted.  The president can`t be accused if he can`t be indicted, because that would be unfair.  And, by the way, a special counsel like Mueller shouldn`t be writing a road map, shouldn`t be giving information to Congress that they can use for judging the president.  And, by the way, just to clear the air, a president can`t be charged with obstructing justice, because he`s in charge of justice, basically, as executive. 

It just seems to me that this guy has said, in a number of words, William Barr says, Donald Trump is above the law, get it?  Get it.  That seems to be the thinking of this guy, Chuck and then Barbara. 

CHUCK ROSENBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, Chris, I will start with one piece of it.  And I`m sure Barbara will do a better job on the second piece. 

The first piece, the Office of Legal Counsel opinion within the Department of Justice that holds that a president can`t be indicted also explicitly states that a president can be investigated.  And so that makes sense, by the way.

If a sitting president cannot be charged, a former president certainly can.  And how would you know whether charges are appropriate?  If you did an investigation.

And so Mr. Barr can`t really pick and choose here.  The policy of the Department of Justice is perfectly clear.  And, by the way, on page one of volume two of Mr. Mueller`s report, he cites to that OLC opinion, which says that a sitting president may be investigated, so no there there. 

MATTHEWS:  What about this thing about a special counsel like Robert Mueller shouldn`t be able to prepare a document which can be used by the Congress for impeachment purposes or considering impeachment?

And then, if that`s true, then there`s no role -- Barbara, pick this up.  That would mean there`s really no role for any kind of special counsel regarding a president. 


I think what William Barr is describing couldn`t exist.  What he`s saying is that a prosecutor, a special counsel must make a binary decision.  He keeps using that phrase.  He loves that phrase.  Prosecutors decide charge or don`t charge.  And that is true in an ordinary case. 


MCQUADE:  But this is not an ordinary case, because what he`s also saying is, but you can`t charge the president. 

So, in fact, what he is saying is, you can only clear the president.  That`s the only thing that you can do.  And so why would we spend all of this time, effort and energy just so that we can have a report that says nothing wrong, as you were? 

I think we must be able to preserve that evidence, as Chuck says.  There`s nothing that prohibits the special counsel from investigating, even if he can`t charge.  And Robert Mueller tells us why.  He says, I want to preserve it for future prosecutors, because there will be a day when Donald Trump is no longer president. 

And he also makes reference to not wanting to preempt Congress from fulfilling their constitutional duty to impeach.  And so he does not want to prejudge the evidence.  He collects it and he hands it off for those who can make that decision later. 

MATTHEWS:  Both of you, let`s get to the news that just broke tonight, that the House Judiciary Committee, under Jerry Nadler from New York, is trying to work around Barr, knowing that it`s very difficult to deal with Barr. 

He didn`t even show up today for the hearings, and he`s not going to give them the unredacted Mueller report -- to try to get Mueller himself, Robert Mueller, the special counsel, to appear before the House Judiciary Committee. 

First, Barbara, is this something that you can do?  Or can a president pull Robert Mueller back into his earlier position as special counsel?  Or can Barr do this and say, you will not testify?  You remember -- just remember -- I was amazed by Barr`s comment the other day, this is my baby now.  He used the term.  This whole report is my baby. 

Does he control Mueller, as well as the baby, Barbara?

MCQUADE:  Well, I don`t know if Robert Mueller is still working for the special counsel, working for the government.  And it does make a difference, because he can stop him from testifying altogether if he does. 

If he`s a private citizen, then he can come and testify.  But he is still subject to protecting things that might be subject to executive privilege.  Now, I would submit that anything that`s been shared with him in an investigation, the privilege would have been waived and he should be able to answer those questions. 

He probably can`t answer questions about grand jury matters.  But I think that William Barr has put into the public domain.  What was intended between their correspondence by characterizing his letter as snitty, by talking about their conversation, by producing the letter. 


MCQUADE:  And I think we`re entitled to know whether -- William Barr has characterized the decision that Robert Mueller has cleared or exonerated President Trump from obstruction of justice, and I think the American people are entitled -- entitled to hear it from Robert Mueller himself whether that is accurate. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Chuck, on this same point, it seems to me that the other - - I`m trying to remember yesterday`s testimony, but I thought that Mr. Barr said he would have no objection to Mueller testifying. 

And my question is, that might change, because we know the White House has a lot of power here.  And they could exert -- the president has to assert privilege, executive privilege.  In this case, the president, can he exert executive privilege over a Justice Department official? 

ROSENBERG:  Yes, he could, if it applies.

You know, Barbara`s spot on with regard to the law of executive privilege.  And it may very well have been waived, but that doesn`t preclude the White House from asserting it and litigating it. 


ROSENBERG:  And so that`s going to take a long time to resolve.  And that might be part of the ploy, Chris.

You know well that sometimes people file lawsuits not because they believe they have a meritorious claim, but because they want to gum up the works.  I believe Mr. Trump, when he was a business developer in New York was known for that tactic. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you withdraw your waiving of executive privilege?  I was always told that, once you waive it, if a guy testifies, like Don McGahn testified -- Mueller -- it was out there, once you start talking to the public on a topic, that`s it.  You can`t go back to, oh, now I`m asserting privilege. 

Is it something that can be withdrawn, the waive? 

ROSENBERG:  Well, that`s the general rule, Chris.  That`s the general, once waived, waived forever. 

But, again, it doesn`t preclude the president from asserting it and litigating it.


ROSENBERG:  And I think that`s the problem. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, bottom line, Barbara, do you think the courts will really referee this?  Because I think the Democrats from the beginning believed a couple things I`m not sure are true. 

One, they believed that the report by Robert Mueller will be useful in deciding one way or another in perhaps proceeding with impeachment.  They always assume that, when they subpoena somebody, they`re going to show up.  And they think, if they threaten someone with contempt of Congress, they`re going to act. 

This administration is breaking all those rules so far.  Do we have confidence?  Pete Williams, our expert here at NBC, does not believe the courts have shown a history of willingness to intervene between fights between the executive branch and the legislative branch.  Will they this time? 

MCQUADE:  I think, ultimately, if they ever answer the question, they will resolve it in favor of a subpoena and producing the information. 

But I agree with Pete that courts are very reluctant to get involved.  What they are more likely to do is to try to push the parties through the process known as accommodation, to try to avoid that constitutional showdown and get them to agree and compromise to turn over that which is necessary to proceed. 

But, as Chuck said, all you have to do is slow-walk it.  And I think President Trump would very much want to slow-walk it until after the 2020 election. 


Thank you so much, Barbara McQuade and Chuck Rosenberg.  As I listen to you experts, I hear more and more the theory and the fear I have that this president thinks he`s above the law, and he may well get away with it for the next several months or a couple more years, or, if the electors decide differently, or that way for him, six more years.

Up next:  But her e-mails.  What is it with Republican lawmakers` obsession with Hillary Clinton?  They were changing the question all day yesterday, talking about Hillary Clinton, dozens and dozens of mentions of Hillary`s e-mails in a hearing that was really about the Mueller report, wasn`t it? 

Is this just a force of habit, or do they really think it works with their base?  I think it`s the latter.

More HARDBALL after this. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Yesterday`s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Attorney General Barr was supposed to be about the Mueller report, right?  But Republicans on that committee seemed to have an entirely different focus. 

Let`s listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  A little bit about what the Clinton people did.  Clinton campaign.

GRASSLEY:  Hillary Clinton.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX):  Hillary Clinton.

GRAHAM:  The Hillary Clinton e-mails.  The Clinton e-mail situation.  The Clinton e-mail investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hillary Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hillary Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hillary Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hillary Clinton.

GRAHAM:  Decision that Clinton didn`t do anything wrong.  Hillary.  Secretary Clinton.

CORNYN:  Secretary Clinton.

It appears to me that the Obama administration Justice Department and FBI decided to place their bets on Hillary Clinton. 


MATTHEWS:  But it`s not just congressional Republicans who are unable to get all -- to let go, actually, of the 2016 Democratic nominee. 

President Trump has repeatedly talked about his former rival.  In the past week alone, he has mentioned her several times. 

Let`s listen again. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The heads of the unions voted for Hillary, or, as we say affectionately, crooked Hillary, which turns out to be so true. 

How much did Hillary Clinton pay for the dossier?  You know she paid for it.  Then you look at what Hillary Clinton did with 33,000 e-mails and nothing happens to her.

If you want to litigate, go after the DNC, Crooked Hillary, the dirty cops, all of these things.


MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by Sam Stein, politics editor at The Daily Beast.

Sam, what is this?  Is this psycho whatever?  Is it calculated?  What do you make of his -- having her in his brain rate -- rent-free, as she put it?  That`s a great line.


SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST:  Well, there`s two components to this. 

One is that Hillary Clinton for a generation now has served as a convenient foil for Republicans and a villain that they use predominantly in election season.  So it`s not a surprise, although this happens in non-election seasons too. 

And then the second component is that one way that they have diverted attention from the findings of the Mueller report is to try to put the attention on the origins of the Mueller report.  And they have tried to muddy the waters by stressing repeatedly that Hillary Clinton and allies of her and people who were rooting for her election were the nexus, were the originators of this decision to surveil the Trump campaign and then, from that, to launch the invasion spearheaded by Robert Mueller.

And so this is a classic diversion tactic.  They want to get away from talking about the actual findings, and what they say is investigate the investigators. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, all I know is, watching this -- and anyone who denies that the Trump people played ball with the Russians is blind to the facts, because they had every meeting in the world with them, asking them for help, taking their help, back and forth, trading, oh, polling information.

It was all a huge get-together between the two sides.

STEIN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Whether it was criminal or not is up to the Mueller and the rest of them.  But there`s no doubt political.  They were playing ball with the Russians.  The Democrats didn`t make this up. 

By the way, here`s the interview with Rachel Maddow last night where Hillary Clinton responded to all the attention she`s gotten from this president and his fellow GOPers. 


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  I`m living rent-free inside of Donald Trump`s brain.  And that`s not a very nice place to be, I can tell you that.

This is a diversion attack.  I guess it is one of their tools to fire up there hard-core base.  When in doubt, go after me. 


MATTHEWS:  It could be that Trump hates Hillary because she gave him a tough fight, and a lot of people think he didn`t win fair and square because he won with Russian help. 

Is that what drives him crazy, that little whisper in the back of his head when he goes to sleep at night, maybe the Russians did help me enough to beat her by just a half-a-percentage point in some of those states, like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin?  I won so narrowly. 

Couldn`t the Russians have been that margin of difference?  Doesn`t that drive Trump crazy?  Just a thought.

STEIN:  Oh, he`s obsessed.  He`s obsessed by it. 

And it`s not just that he won so narrowly.  He`s obsessed by the fact that he lost the popular vote.  He`s obsessed by the fact that James Comey, in his late-stage histrionics, may have swayed the results of the election. 

He is, more than anything else, preoccupied with the idea that he has to have a legitimate presidency.  And any talk of Mueller, any talk of the popular vote, any talk of James Comey`s influence inherently undermines his legitimacy. 

So, yes, this is something that preoccupies the president, and he`s not letting it go.  My question is, does he continue this through the 2020 election, when Hillary Clinton will not be on the ballot and he will be running against someone else entirely?

MATTHEWS:  Someone who may not have the baggage that Hillary had, all those years of baggage.

STEIN:  Correct.

MATTHEWS:  It`s easy to pick up critics after all those years.

I got the feeling that most in politics -- most people in politics -- I probably do it too.  You project.

STEIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You have a feeling, some other person has that feeling. 

So could it be that Hillary`s had Donald Trump in her head rent-free?  Imagine every day getting up and reading the paper and watching the tube and seeing that guy as president, saying, how did I lose to that? 

STEIN:  Well, it`s more -- yes.

MATTHEWS:  I wonder what she must be thinking day after day about that, her rental arrangements with him.

STEIN:  Well, it`s more than just that.  It`s not, how did I lose to that?  It`s, what have I allowed to happen, right? 

It`s -- and you talk to -- when you talk to Hillary Clinton aides, they do sense the gravity of what happened in 2016.  They look at it and they say, wow, history really took an abrupt turn in this moment.  What could have been?

You look at things like the Paris climate accord, anything combating global warming.  You look at the Iran nuclear deal.  You look at the attacks on health care.  All of that hinged on 70,000, roughly, votes in three states.  And of course you wake up every day thinking, what have I done, what could have been done differently, what was done to me to affect history in such a profound manner?

And I am sure they both are now living rent-free in each other`s heads, for that reason.

MATTHEWS:  God, it`s -- elections are consequential to the human soul, aren`t they?

STEIN:  To say the least, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Thank you, Sam Stein.  Great reporting.

Up next:  Hillary`s not the only one living rent-free in Trump`s brain.  It appears Joe Biden has also taken up residence there, thanks in part to a big endorsement that apparently struck a nerve with Trump.

More after this.  Stick with us. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There`s another Democrat living rent-free, if you will, in the President Trump`s brain, former Vice President Joe Biden.  The president woke up yesterday with a new Democratic front-runner front and center in his mind.  In an early morning rapid fire Twitter spree, Trump retweeted nearly 60 anti-Biden posts purportedly from firefighters after their union`s endorsement of the former vice president. 

In Iowa, Biden seemed to enjoy getting under the president`s skin. 


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Folks, you know, I understand that the president has been tweeting a lot about me this morning and -- for a while.  I wonder why the hell he`s doing that.  So I`m going to be the object of his attention for a while, folks. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, he was right.  The VP was right there.

In an interview with Fox Business, President Trump again mocked his would- be 2020 rival, Biden, and complained about Biden`s union endorsement the other day. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He`s a sleepy guy.  I don`t care. 

No, it just seemed to be what happened is the firemen love Trump.  The policemen love Trump. 

The firemen or the international comes out and they always do.  They have for many, many years, but they go with the Democrat, with Joe. 

And the firemen and women, they went crazy when they saw it.  They went absolutely crazy because they`re going to be voting for me. 


MATTHEWS:  Actually firemen are the people that used to throw the wood in the oven there -- into the steam engine.  A firefighter is the right term, Mr. President. 

Anyway, the back and forth between the President Trump and Biden already has a feel of general election battle, don`t you think? 

Well, the list of Democratic candidates meanwhile grew again today.  Colorado Senator Michael Bennet joined the field, bringing the number of officially declared Dems running for president to over 20.  And new reporting today suggests President Trump may not be able to stop himself from meddling in the Democratic primary politics, even if it boosts his top rivals.  He can`t stop himself. 

Stick with us.  That`s coming up next. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

If President Trump`s Twitter account is any indication, Joe Biden is occupying some prime real estate in his head.  But according to "Politico", some presidential advisers including his son-in-law Jared Kushner would like the president to lay off his 2020 rival.  Aides argue engaging Biden gives the Democrat exactly what he wants in a 20-candidate primary field, the image that he`s already waging a head-to-head battle with a rattled incumbent. 

And one aide told "Politico", we`ve asked him, I personally asked him to stop.  It`s not helping us.  It`s helping Biden.  We don`t think Biden can make it out of the woke Democratic primary, but he will if the president gives him oxygen. 

That`s somebody smart in the White House. 

In an interview on Fox tonight, the president couldn`t hold back, though.  Let`s watch. 


TRUMP:  I think Biden seems to have a lead, I`d be very happy if it were Biden.  Sleepy Joe. 

INTERVIEWER:  Happy, why?

TRUMP:  I think he did a bad job and I would be running against him and Obama. 

INTERVIEWER:  So, you think he`s beatable?

TRUMP:  I just don`t think he`d be a very good candidate.  I mean, we`ll see what happens.  I hope -- you know, I wish him well.  I`d like him to get it.  I`d be happy -- I`d be happy with Bernie.  I personally think it`s those two. 


MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by Zerlina Maxwell, director of progressive programming for Sirius XM, and former U.S. Congressman Carlos Curbelo, Democrat from Florida. 

Zerlina, your thinking, is smart -- is Trump knowing what he doing or is this a case where he doesn`t? 

ZERLINA MAXWELL, SIRIUS XM SENIOR DIRECTOR OF PROGRESSIVE PROGRAMMING:  I think he actually knows what he`s doing, Chris.  I think it`s a strategy on his part to elevate Biden during the beginning of the primary process where voters are trying to figure out who they like and candidates are still ruling out policy.

So, I think it`s a smart strategy, but I also think it`s a reflection and indication that Donald Trump is so scared of the possibility of running against Joe Biden.  I think, you know, Joe Biden is somebody who can go hand in hand and to toe with Donald Trump in terms of performing toughness in a specific way, a very masculine way.  I`m not saying that there`s something good about that.  I`m just saying that I think on the debate stage, they will go toe to toe on an equal playing field in that way. 

But I do think that there is also a danger for Joe Biden in this moment, because he just jumped into the race about a week ago.  There are all these other candidates running.  We are up to 21.  Joe Biden can`t count all the chickens before they roost either.  But Donald Trump is clearly very afraid of Joe Biden because he cannot stop talking about him. 

MATTHEWS:  Seems like that would be a good estimation of what he`s worried about rather than what he`s thinking. 

Congressman, is this a smart calculation to go after Biden?  Or is it instinct?  It`s just fear, as Zerlina said, just as he`s afraid of him, he`s going to hit back at him hard? 

FORMER REP. CARLOS CURBELO (R-FL):  Well, Chris, I think people tend to talk about things that make them anxious.  And I think Joe Biden makes Donald Trump a little anxious. 

There are two types of candidates that pose a threat to the president.  One is a movement type candidate and another can build a coalition.  And certainly, Joe Biden can build a coalition.  He can rebuild that Democratic wall in the Midwest.  You were talking about and labor support earlier on your show, Joe Biden can certainly win back a lot of those Democratic labor voters that ended up supporting Trump over Hillary Clinton. 

So, certainly, the president understands that Biden is a formidable or could be a formidable opponent, and that make him anxious and I think that`s why he`s talking about him so much despite the fact that he`s getting advice from his political team to stop talking about the Democratic primary and not elevate the types of candidates that would be most likely to beat him. 

MATTHEWS:  I guess Trump is a very impulsive guy.  Let`s put it there. 

Anyway, President Trump is reportedly spending a lot of time thinking about his Democratic potential foes.  "Politico" spoke to several people close to the president and according to one person, quote, he talks a lot about it.  With Trump, everything is personal.  So, for Trump, a lot of the day is trying to assess the weaknesses of the other candidates. 

Well, during his interview with Fox Business last night, the president weighed in on the Democratic candidates who questioned Attorney General Barr.  Here he goes. 


INTERVIEWER:  Kamala Harris, uh-huh? 

TRUMP:  Well, she was probably very nasty.  How about these three people running for -- three of them, they`re not doing very well.  But three of them are running for a particular office.  You have three of them running against me, and they were up there ranting and raving like lunatics, frankly. 


MATTHEWS:  That`s not the way I saw it.  Zerlina, I don`t think you did either.  I thought they looked pretty good.  The three he talked about, the three candidates. 

MAXWELL:  Right.  And I think in the case of kamala Harris, there was no ranting and raving.  That`s what made it effective.  She did it like a surgeon almost. 

You know, she has the experience as a prosecutor and she just very calmly asked questions that really flustered Bill Barr because he`s not operating in good faith. 

Now, I think Donald Trump uses the word nasty to describe a particular kind of woman, Chris.  I think he uses it to describe women who are opinionated, who are outspoken, who are tough, because he doesn`t really have a good sense of anything else to call them.  And sometimes, I think he wants to say another word I can`t say on television so he lands on nasty.  I think that, you know, very unfortunate.

MATTHEWS:  He`s pretty nasty.  The way he puts people down personally and their physical appearance, he goes after people`s looks in the way I never have seen another pol do it, unlike anybody else. 

MAXWELL:  A lot of his attacks on his opponents are petty and childish because he`s a bully, Chris.  I mean, we have to be honest about the president`s behavior.  That`s not really an opinion at this point.  I think that`s just an analysis of the way that he conducts himself. 

And I think certainly the senators yesterday took advantage of a critical opportunity to show that they can go toe to toe with the Trump administration and they can go toe to toe eventually with Donald Trump if they should get the nomination.  I thought Amy Klobuchar again did a great job yesterday in the hearing, Senator Booker was solid. 

So, I think you have serious candidates vying for the top job.  And I just want to also mention, how does Donald Trump have so much time to tweet?  I don`t have enough time to retweet 60 people in one morning.  I think that is very odd behavior and it`s certainly concerning when he should be running the country. 

MATTHEWS:  I think he has a lot of servants to put it lightly, as part of it, a lot of gophers around do everything he wants.

Let me go to Congressman Curbelo, and the last question.  I got the sense looking at it that the smugness, the arrogance of the attorney general was so profound and obvious that a little toughness by the Democrats was in order.  Whatever your politics, I thought. 

CURBELO:  Well, Chris, I just really think that the administration, the attorney general, the president really wanted to bait the Democrats into starting impeachment proceedings. 


CURBELO:  I think they have done the math and I think that if they provoke the Democrats, it`s more likely they get impeachment, and they think that helps them in November of 2020. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, there is the Chinese curse.  You get what you pray for. 

Thank you, Zerlina Maxwell, and former Congressman Carlos Curbelo.

  Up next, how Trump is making the same political mistake that Lyndon Baines Johnson made in attacking another resilient opponent. 

You are watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  I think Donald Trump, the politician, is making a big mistake, all this tweeting and fussing about Joe Biden is having just one effect, building up Biden. 

Biden came out of the gate with a clear-cut strategy: run against Trump.  He reminded people how morally embarrassing it was having Trump as this country`s head of state.  All the tweeting and squawking from the White House is exactly what the Democrat hoped for, even before Biden officially announced, Trump was going after the recent VP. 


TRUMP:  I just don`t see him as a threat.  He has been there a long time.  His record is not good. 


MATTHEWS:  If Trump knew history, fortunately he doesn`t, he would know a previous president was cost his presidency. 

In 1966, on the eve of a midterm election, Lyndon Johnson attacked Richard Nixon as a, quote, chronic campaigner.  Well, it wasn`t so much of an attack, it brought Nixon back into the national arena.  The Republicans gave Nixon a half hour of prime time television which he used to accuse Johnson of the most savage attack against a political opponent. 


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT:  He engaged in what I thought was a rather -- well, a personal attack which is not worthy of the president of the United States. 


MATTHEWS:  Of course this was nonsense.  By landing a modest punch on Nixon, however, Johnson triggered his come back from the electoral dead.  Nixon lost a close race for the presidency in 1960, lost a race that wasn`t close for the California governorship in 1962.  And here he was roaring back for `68, all because the president attacked him and put him back into the spotlight. 

Good work, President Trump.  Keep it up. 

That`s HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.