Trump reverses course on Mueller testifying. TRANSCRIPT: 5/6/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Wendy Sherman, Jamie Raskin, Laurence Tribe, John Brabender, JamalSimmons, Harry Litman, Susan Page

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIGER WOODS, AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL GOLFER:  You`ve seen the good and the bad, the highs and lows, and I would not be in this position without all of your help.

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ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Tiger Woods opening up about that honor.  He is the fourth golfer to have ever received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

That does it for us.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Can Donald Trump gag Robert Mueller?  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews up in Washington.  Can a president really keep the Special Counsel from testifying about his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, and Donald Trump`s role in that and his attempts to obstruct justice.  Can Trump stamp out the truth?

Well, after saying he wouldn`t stand in the way of the Special Counsel`s testimony, President Trump now is sharply changing his mind.  He now says Mueller should not testify.  And that`s where we begin tonight with the strong possibility that the Special Counsel`s long-awaited testimony could be in serious, if not, mortal jeopardy.

Yesterday, Trump tweeted that Bob Mueller should not testify.  No dues, no re-dos for the dems.  It`s a 180 degree reversal from his -- Trump`s position of just two days earlier.  On Friday, Trump said he would leave the decision to the Attorney General, who`s already said he has no problem with Mueller testifying.

Here is Trump on Friday followed by Barr.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  Mr. President, should Mueller testify?  Would you like to see him testify?

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  I don`t know.  That`s up to our Attorney General, who I think has done a fantastic job.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL):  What about Bob Mueller, should he be allowed to testify before this --

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I`ve already said publicly, I have no objection to him.

DURBIN:  And Don McGahn?

REPORTER:  Would you permit him to testify publicly to Congress?

BARR:  I have no objection for Bob Mueller personally to testify.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  No objection.  Anyway, Trump`s interference could now derail an already delicate negotiation.  The House Judiciary Committee, which is communicating with the Special Counsel`s team, has proposed a date for Mueller`s testimony.  It`s next week, though nothing has been finalized.

This comes as a new NBC News Wall Street Journal poll shows that 60 percent of Americans say Donald Trump has been dishonest in his handling of the Russia probe.  Only 37 percent say he`s been honest and truthful.  That seems about right.

Meanwhile, almost 500 former federal prosecutors have signed a public statement affirming their belief that the evidence of Trump`s obstruction of justice is, quote, significant.  The statement says, each of us believes that the conduct that President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s report would, in the case of any other person, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.  That`s 500 prosecutors.  To look at these facts, quoting further, and say that a prosecutor could not probably sustain a conviction for obstruction of justice and runs counter to logic in our experience.

I`m joined now by Harry Litman, a former federal prosecutor and contributing columnist to the Washington Post, Susan Page is Washington Bureau Chief do USA Today, Julie Ainsley is National Security and Justice Reporter for NBC News and Donny Deutsch is the host of the new show ,Saturday Night Politics on MSNBC.

Donny, let`s just talk about a chutzpah.  With the Attorney General saying no problem, Robert Mueller, who wrote this report, who was the basis for all discussions for two years, he can testify.  I`m not getting in his way.  Then Trump on Friday says, I`m not getting in the way of the Attorney General on this.  He can let him prosecute.  And then over the weekend, he has the nerve, the stones to come out and say, I`m not going to let the American people hear from the guy who wrote the report that I`m using to exonerate myself with.  Can he get away with this?

DONNY DEUTSCH, MSNBC HOST:  It`s gone.

MATTHEWS:  Politically or constitutionally?

DEUTSCH:  And, you know, before anything else Robert Mueller is a U.S. citizen.  When we get to the point in this country when forget that he`s a special prosecutor, forget that he used to run the FBI, forget that he`s a Boy Scout, forget that he served in Vietnam, that we have a president that says a U.S. citizen can`t even speak up, just -- it defies logic.

Trump`s biggest fear right now, what is the Mueller report?  It`s an inanimate (ph) d448-page document that basically was served up by Trump`s in-house Attorney General who basically said, nothing here, keep on moving.  And, basically, Trump has been saying it`s a witch hunt and a hoax.  And, basically, you have democrats complaining and Trump saying they`re just out to get me.

Once Mueller testifies and he`s asked a question, Mr. Mueller, is this obstruction of justice, not that the President can be charged, and now you have an animate human object saying, yes, that is a very definitive other side to the story.  Right now, Trump has just been producing the show himself.  Once there`s a human, a credible human, saying those words, it lands in a very different place for memoriam.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Harry, the expert on this question of the constitution.  Can this president tell this Special Counsel you can`t talk to Congress?  Can he physically do it by saying, you`re not going to take any documents with you that they`re government property?  You`re not going to take any staff help with him because they`re working for the government.  And you, buddy, are still working for the government.  You`re not going to -- can he physically stop him from showing up on Capitol Hill and telling the truth?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Physically, well, he`d have to do a bear hug because there is no legal way.  Forget about it.  First of all, Mueller will be a private citizen, as Donny says, in a matter of days.  Second of all, Barr has said there is no problem and he will be hard- pressed, would Barr, even though I know he`s backed off before, to let it happen, but there is no basis, there is no claim of privilege.  It`s all out there.  He can hope that Mueller will revert to his sort of laconic Boy Scout self.  Keep him from showing up in the chair, no, it`s going to happen.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Julia, I think that`s what Trump may be up to, if not, denying him access to all the documents he worked on, denying him.  It`s pretty tough to go in there and sit in that chair all by yourself playing the lone ranger, trying to remember 400 pages of documentation, try to remember every word you ever spoke in that report without any help.  He could do that, right?  But he also could intimidate him, as Harry just said, and say, you want to play partisan politics, you`re doing it.  That means I`m saying if you get out there and argue against me, you`re a politician.

JULIE AINSLEY, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER:  Look, I think in this case, what might be true is that we`re actually going to get less from Robert Mueller than we would expect.  There are so many unanswered questions.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I want to ask you.  Stick with the question, can Trump keep him from talking?

AINSLEY:  He can keep him from talking more when he is still the Special Counsel.  But, as Harry points out, in a matter of days, he could be a private citizen.  And like many days in this administration we`re going to law school, there is a separate on what executive privilege means once you`re a private citizen.

There have been former officials like Sally Yates, like Jim Comey, like Don McGahn, all of whom were threatened with executive privilege but it wasn`t clear they did not have to adhere to it.  This White House believes they may still have to adhere to it.  But other people say, no, executive privilege will not get to them after they leave, except when it comes to certain conversations that the President can protect, grand jury materials, which we know are --

MATTHEWS:  Didn`t he already have a conversation with Robert Mueller?

AINSLEY:  No.  I guess he had the written answers.  Those would be about as far as they went.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes.  That was a joke.  He said, I don`t remember anything.  This is a great standoff, a great constitutional (ph).  It`s great because the President is saying, I`m not letting any of my people, broadly defined, any executive public servant, I`m not letting them testify on the truth.

SUSAN PAGE, AUTHOR, THE MATRIARCH:   You can have a confrontation.  You can have a delay.  I don`t think you can derail having Robert Mueller testify.  And I think Robert Mueller probably will testify.  I think it will be up to him.  And it`s hard for me to imagine that after all these years of him not speaking, of us not hearing his voice, his take on things that we aren`t going to hear it.  I mean, I think you saw his willingness to do it with the letters that he sent to Barr raising objections to his summary.  I mean, that tells you something about Mueller`s own view of what Barr has done so far and what Trump has done so far in mischaracterizing the conclusions that he came to in this report.

MATTHEWS:  I want to get back to the personality and the character.  The character looks pretty good, Donny, of this guy, the Special Counsel.  And most people think of him as a straight arrow, a Boy Scout, the whole thing, all the good stuff, Eagle Scout, a guy who is a public servant, all those years as head of the FBI and everything.  But I`m not sure about his public/political personality.  Is he the kind of guy, is he really the Robert De Niro character on SNL, the real -- look, you see him walking.  He walks like he`s got that bag always with him.  He`s always carrying that satchel (ph) bag.  He`s got business in there.  Do you think he`s the kind of guy who comes out and say, okay, let me make it clear, the President obstructed justice.  He`s a felon.  The Congress ought to act.  Will he do that?

DEUTSCH:  Interestingly enough, I think Barr has actually been a great friend to the democrats, because Pre-Barr, I wouldn`t be quite sure.  At this point, I think he sees it as a moral imperative.  I think Barr will push him possibly to go to places that he hadn`t gone.  And once again, he was a very, very strict by the DOJ guidelines, didn`t put it.  But if he`s asked a question, once again, not volunteer, Mr. Mueller, we`re not saying you would prosecute, but as a prosecutor, were these laws broken?  Is this obstruction of justice?  Under oath, he`s going to answer.  And I also think his kind of non-charisma, his anti-Trump, his boringness actually works to his favor.

MATTHEWS:  Ad the question also, did you exonerate this president on obstruction of justice?  His answer is because that`s what the Attorney General says you did.  And then he says the Attorney General lied.

LITMAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Is he going to get -- Harry, will he do that.  Do you know the guy enough to say whether he`s got the nerve to take on the Attorney General, who is his boss, and say don`t trust this guy, he`s lying?

LITMAN:  Yes.  So he`s got the nerve.  He will not say, don`t trust this guy, he`s lying.  Three months ago, he wouldn`t have even approached it.  But I agree with Donny.  It`s not simply that he`s been so denigrated by Barr, but the values he`s lived his life for, of rule of law and the like, are really at -- in jeopardy now and he knows it.  So, yes, I think he will push for Mueller, he`ll push as he hasn`t before and he`ll say something like what Donny says, this is obstruction, what the 500 former prosecutors say, because it is not a close call, as they say.  There is no credible professional judgment, Barr notwithstanding, that can go any other way here.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here`s the President playing his latest gimmick, his game, his escapade, if you will.  In a Tweet yesterday, Trump claimed that part of his presidency had been stolen by the Russian probe while at the same time he bragged of his accomplishments.  Quote, despite the tremendous success that I have had as president, they have stolen two years of my presidency that we`ll never be able to get back.  Well, this came after the President re-Tweeted Jerry Falwell Jr. who said Trump should have two more years added to his first term as payback for sometime stolen by this corrupt failed coup.  Who are these people anyway?

LITMAN:  Various people who do-over.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, as Politico described it, Trump floated the idea of extending his constitutionally limited time in office himself.  What do we make of this, Trump`s claim that he somehow deserves some sort of compensation, some restitution for investigating his Russian deals?

AINSLEY:  I think it shows that he realizes that the Mueller investigation, even when it`s over, is actually something that really plays to his base.  I think that`s part of the reason for reversing course on the Tweets.  It might not be some sort of order to his Attorney General not to let Mueller testify, but instead he wants to keep bringing this up.  He wants to see -- he wants his base to see him facing off against Robert Mueller, that he`s someone who tried to bring them down.  That`s why he said they shouldn`t have a do-over.  Like they`ve already done round one of a wrestling match and they don`t get to have another.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the cold fact is that Trump has a winning hand more than he ever thought he did.  A couple of months ago, we were waiting for the explosion to come from Robert Mueller.  Thanks to Barr, his guy, he was able to mute that explosion to the point where you had to read it enough to figure it out because he made sure there was no headline.

PAGE:  And he`s laid the groundwork.

MATTHEWS:  Barr did.

PAGE:  Barr laid the groundwork for a lot of Americans to believe that the report exonerated President Trump.  Anyway, it didn`t.  And put that next to this economy that`s been so strong.  And that is a formidable re- election message for the President to take to the people.

MATTHEWS:  3.6 percent unemployment.  When we study that in grad school, you couldn`t do it.  There are structural problems there.  You just can`t - - people are going from one job to another.  You couldn`t have everybody working as much.  But there are a lot of people who have given up, a lot of people who aren`t even in the labor market.

Anyway, meanwhile, Trump`s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, reported to federal prison today, sentenced to three years for lying to Congress and campaign finance violations among other things.  Cohen has been incarcerated at a minimum security facility roughly two hours outside New York City.  There he is going in.  What a day do him.  Cohen spoke with reporters outside his apartment building earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S FORMER ATTORNEY:  I hope that when I rejoin my family and friends that the country will be in a place without xenophobia, injustice and lies at the helm of our country.  There still remains much to be told.  And I look forward to the day that I can share the truth. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  On his statement, Cohen`s attorney, Lanny Davis, said, Michael will be sentenced within the walls of a federal correctional institution.  But the truth has no walls.  Michael will continue to be accessible to Congress and to federal state and local enforcement.

Donny, a couple of questions.  Is he gaming it to get out?  You were with him the other day.  Is he still hoping he has something that will lure prosecutors into getting him off -- getting him out with less time?

DEUTSCH:  Yes, he does.  And I sort of spent some time with him yesterday.  And one of the last things he said to me is you might be seeing me, you know, sooner than you think.  Look, we need to remember on a day like this, whether you like Donald Trump, whether you like Michael Cohen, the fact remains that Michael Cohen is going to prison, ostensibly the core of why he`s going, things he did for the President, on behalf of the President, at the President`s benefit, and that`s not justice.  Not that he doesn`t belong there, but the fact that Trump is still in the White House, we need to look hard at that.  Look, this is -- for Michael, it`s a personal tragedy.

He actually called me after he got out of the car up there just to say, you know, I miss you, buddy, and thanks for everything.  And he -- look, I actually saw yesterday Michael was more at peace and more relaxed than he last two years.  He`s such a scrapper and fighter.  And I think he realizes at this point, obviously, this where he`s going.

But this is not the last we`ve heard from Michael Cohen, I believe history will be relatively kind to Michael Cohen and this is still just one chapter in the story.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk to you as a friend.  What`s he facing inside?  This is a minimum security, but, you know, it`s not just barbells and watching television.

DEUTSCH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  What kind of people is he going to meet in there?  What kind of colleagues will he have inside the jail?

DEUTSCH:  Interestingly enough, it`s about 45 percent orthodox Jews.  A lot of them go there because they have kosher meals.  Look, basically, he gets there, he spent four hours today behind -- or a few hours behind actually minimum prison -- I mean, in a medium prison behind bars.  Then he walks up a hill for a quarter of a mile with his bag of stuff.  He`ll get use of a microwave.  He gets to text on an app.  He gets 12 points a month, 2 points is for a visit from a family.  So it`s very kind of regimented.  He`s got a job there.  He will -- it is certainly not a camp.  It`s not frightening time where he`s going to be in any physical danger.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  No general population problems then?  He`s not going to face dangerous people?

DEUTSCH:  But it`s interesting, on my show the other night, I had Steve Madden who had done prison time and basically said, look, it is -- the day they kind of close that door on you and your freedom`s gone, it is humbling and you`re going to have to find your strength within you.

MATTHEWS:  Well, then it`s a great book to had -- to be written.  Somebody has got to do it about all these politicians that went to prison.  And there are so many of them that I know by name and personally who have gone inside.  Boy, they`ve got stories.  You know the old joke, the food was better when you were governor.  You know that one.

DEUTSCH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  It was a little bit funny.  Anyway, thank you, Harry Litman, thank you, Susan Page, Julie Ainsley and Donny Deutsch.

Coming up, the other oversight showdown, the House Judiciary Committee moves to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt.  Could all the obstruction going on right now be the basis for impeachment?  It sure looks like it.

And President Trump ran against so-called stupid wars.  Remember that?  Now, he and his National Security Adviser, the neocon, John Bolton, appear to be ginning up wars with Iran and maybe even Venezuela.  What`s all this tough talk from Trump?  What`s he thinking?  Is for a republican (INAUDIBLE)?  Why do they want to hear this tough hawkish talk? Much more to come tonight.  Stick with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The Trump administration is, once again, telling congressional democrats to buzz off.  Late tonight, Secretary Mnuchin, the Secretary of the Treasury, refused to turn over President Trump`s tax returns to the Chairman of the Tax Writing Ways and Means Committee, stating that the request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.  That`s what he says.

In doing so, the administration is ignoring a law that says the Treasury Secretary, that would be Mnuchin, shall furnish.  Those are the words, shall furnish, in the law that returns of any taxpayer to a limited number of legislative leaders, like the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.  This comes just hours after Attorney General William Barr failed to comply with the House Judiciary Committee`s request for an unredacted version of - - of special counsel Robert Mueller`s report. 

In a statement, Chairman Jerry Nadler writes that Barr`s failure to comply with the committee forced them to initiate a contempt proceeding.  The committee scheduled a markup of the 27-page contempt resolution for this Wednesday.

So the committee is going to vote on Wednesday on contempt, where it would have to move to the House full for a full vote on contempt. 

The resolution argues that the special counsel left it up to Congress to answer the question of obstruction and that -- quote -- "access to these materials is essential to the committee`s ability to effectively investigate possible misconduct of the president and consider appropriate legislative oversight or other constitutionally warranted responses like impeachment."

The resolution also notes that: "Access to the unredacted report would help the committee take further steps that includes whether to approve articles of impeachment for the president or other officials."

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice was critical of the resolution, but invited committee staff to the department to discuss mutually acceptable accommodation. 

For more, I`m joined by U.S. Congressman Jamie Raskin, Democrat from Maryland and a member of the House Judiciary Committee. 

Congressman, I just wonder -- and I`m not being difficult here, but I do have a problem of my skepticism.  I look at Jerry Nadler, the chairman of your committee.  I look at Elijah Cummings, chairman of Oversight.  You`re on both of those committees. 

They are serious, serious legislators.  They are for real.  They`re not just partisan hacks.  They`re for real.  And yet this administration laughs at them.  They just say, we`re going to give you a deadline of we`re going to think about it until May 6, which is today.  That`s what Mnuchin said, like it`s his job. 

And they just say, we`re not going to give you anything, witnesses or documents.  What do you do in the end to make them do it? 

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD):  Well, we`re going to vote on a contempt resolution Wednesday morning. 

And I expect a unanimous vote among all the Democrats.  Hoping that some Republicans will see the logic of it, especially they voted as part of a unanimous 420-0 vote on the House floor to have the report turned over to us. 

But, in any event, our contempt resolution will go to the floor of the House.  And I expect at least all of the Democrats and maybe some of the Republicans to join us.  And we`re going to hold this attorney general in contempt of court -- in contempt of Congress, rather.  And then...

MATTHEWS:  But doesn`t the Justice Department have to roll here?  Don`t they have to bring charges on contempt? 

RASKIN:  Well, right. 

We`re going to send it to the U.S. attorney, and they can bring criminal charges.  But we also can go to U.S. district court to ask for a civil contempt and to try to press it like that and to ask for a much -- a much more rapid resolution of it. 

We also have, Chris, powers of inherent contempt, which go back to the early 19th century. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RASKIN:  In fact, inherent contempt predates criminal or civil contempt. 

And that was simply Congress just saying, you are disobeying a lawful order of Congress.  You`re defying our authority, and we`re going to hold you.  We`d send the sergeant of arms to go back to go get people back in the 19th century. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, where would the sergeant of arms go?  This is beginning to sound like Venezuela. 

Where does the sergeant of arms go?  He goes to the gates of the Treasury Department and he asks if he can come in to arrest the secretary of treasury or ask if he can name -- go to the Justice Department to ask for permission to get past the guards to arrest the attorney general?

I don`t see it happening.  I know you`re a constitutional expert, but how does it actually work? 

RASKIN:  Well, the way it worked in the 19th century is that people who were acting in defiance of lawful orders by Congress were held until they essentially extinguished the contempt by complying with the order. 

Now, obviously, this hasn`t been done in, I think , more than seven or eight decades, so it`s taken a long time to get to this point of official executive contempt. 

But what we have got is an executive branch which is categorically defying the lawful orders of Congress.  They`re doing it with the president`s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What happens?  But, in the end, Congressman, what happens?

In the end, it sounds like they`re going to test your ability to make them turn over the tax returns.  Trump`s not going to let any of his people turn it over.  So he will have to make the decision.  Do you think he`s going to turn over the right to get access to his tax returns, that he, Donald Trump, will agree to that

RASKIN:  Well, he has said under no circumstances would he turn over his tax returns, which makes us all the more determined to get them. 

He`s the first president of the last seven or eight who has not turned over his tax returns. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RASKIN:  And we want to know precisely what he`s hiding in terms of foreign entanglements, in terms of emoluments...

MATTHEWS:  I`m with you.

RASKIN:  ... payoffs from foreign princes and kings and governments, in violation of the U.S. Constitution. 

MATTHEWS:  I would like to file the German bank name he`s going after.  I would like to know a whole lot of what he`s up to. 

Thank you so much, U.S. Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. 

RASKIN:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, a new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll conducted after the special counsel`s report was released to the public -- that`s the Mueller report -- shows Americans remain divided on the question of impeachment. 

Look at these numbers; 49 percent say the Congress should either begin impeachment hearings now or keep investigating a possible impeachment in the future, while 48 percent, including the majority of Republicans, do not believe the Congress should not hold impeachment. 

So, basically, even if you say just think about it, it`s not working well, because the Mueller report was so snuffed out by Mr. Barr, don`t you think? 

For more, I`m joined by Laurence Tribe, professor at Harvard Law School, and the co-author of "To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment."

You`re about the best expert in the country, Professor Tribe.  And I just wonder, what do you do in the end when he says, no, no, no, including this thing inherent -- inherent subpoena power?  I mean, they`re not going to send the sergeant at arms down to the -- you don`t -- do you think they would actually do that to try to get the document? 

LAURENCE TRIBE, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL:  I don`t think it`s very likely. 

It makes us look like a banana republic.  But we have to remember that the guy who is tossing the banana is this so-called president.  It is a fact that he is throwing down the gauntlet and saying, I don`t respect anybody but myself.  I`m above the law.  I won`t obey Congress.  Make me. 

And at that point, there really is no choice, after you have exhausted everything else, other than to impeach him. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TRIBE:  And nearly 500 prosecutors have told us in no uncertain terms that he has committed felonies in obstructing justice. 

We know, from the detailed Mueller report, that he wasn`t just obstructing nothing.  He was obstructing the details of how he asked for Russia`s help, took advantage of it, used it to become the president. 

When the framers wrote the impeachment power into the Constitution, their primary example of somebody who would have to be impeached, regardless of whether he would eventually get removed by the Senate or not, their primary example was somebody who had worked with a foreign power to become president, a hostile foreign power. 

For goodness` sake, if this is not enough to lay down the line and say that, for all the future, we do not find this acceptable, if this is not impeachable behavior, if this is not abuse of power amounting to high crimes and misdemeanors, then for all time we will have established the precedent that the president can get away with anything. 

And it seems to me that the power of the House is sacrosanct.  They can`t simply duck and say, well, we will defer to the U.S. Senate.  The Senate has the sole power to try an impeachment, but the House has the sole power to impeach. 

And a lot of my friends say, you can`t do that, it may be the right thing to do, but, hey, we might lose the presidency next time. 

But we might lose our souls and our constitutional democracy if we do nothing.  And doing nothing is not an option.  You see that Jerry Nadler and Nancy Pelosi and others are moving closer to saying that we are looking into whether the president committed impeachable offenses. 

And when they conclude, as they may well, that he did, what are they going to do, say, but never mind? 

MATTHEWS:  I know. 

TRIBE:  They can chew -- you know, they can chew gum and walk at the same time.  They can work on a positive agenda, and people can run for president on issues like wage equity and equal rights...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TRIBE:  ... and climate change and decency, but that doesn`t mean they shouldn`t impeach the guy.  It seems to me...

MATTHEWS:  Professor, I...

TRIBE:  ... that we have to do the right thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

I want to ask you about this question.  I remember McCarthy, Joe McCarthy, went down.  In the end, they didn`t prosecute him for, you know, hounding witnesses, because they all did it to some extent.  They got him for the way he opposed the investigation into his conduct. 

They say -- the Flanders committee, they weren`t -- it was basically getting him on obstruction, of Senate action against him. 

TRIBE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And this time around, do you think there`s a chance that Congress would finally, as you`re getting at here, said, you know what, we can`t get him on what he did with Russia, we can`t get him on obstruction in the past, but he`s actively obstructing right now?

He won`t testify.  He won`t let his people testify.  He won`t let the documents move.  He won`t even let a former -- about to be former employee, Robert Mueller, testify.  He`s obstructing justice right now. 

TRIBE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Would that -- do you think that might get Congress to move on impeachment? 

TRIBE:  Well, Congress definitely wants to protect itself.  At least they used to care about their own integrity.

But it`s not either/or.  With Nixon, they got him on obstruction of justice.  And the final impeachment article, article three, was defying Congress, contempt of Congress.  And if Congress won`t even stand up itself, then really they are making a terrible abdication of duty. 

And the president is abdicating duty.  Quite apart from anything else, he`s not doing anything to protect us from ongoing invasion by Russia. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

TRIBE:  When he talks to Putin, you know, he`s willing to talk to Putin about Mueller, but not talk to Mueller about Putin.  What kind of president has that disloyalty to the United States? 

MATTHEWS:  Professor, thank you. 

It`s been an honor to have you on, sir, Laurence Tribe at Harvard.  Thank you for joining us tonight on HARDBALL.

TRIBE:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next: all over the map.  Is there an actual strategy behind Trump`s baffling approach to foreign policy?  You figure it out.  Other than providing a steady stream of red meat to some of his base?

We`re back after this. 

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MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

There were new provocations from North Korea over the weekend, as Kim Jong- un test-fired several short-range missiles.  Instead of a return to his fire and fury rhetoric, however, President Trump stood by the North Korean leader, tweeting: "He also knows that I am with him."

Wow. 

Well, this comes a day after the president spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but chose not to even warn the president of Russia against meddling in our next election. 

And while our president`s cozying up to the leaders of Russia and North Korea, he`s taking a much tougher stance against countries like Venezuela and Iran. 

And last night, his national security adviser, John Bolton, the neocon, announced the document of the USS Abraham Lincoln -- there it goes -- it`s a carrier -- and a bomber task force to the Middle East in what Bolton calls a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime. 

Let`s start a war over there, huh?  What do you think?  Not a good idea. 

Anyway, in a new op-ed, Susan Rice, the former national security adviser to President Obama, describes the president`s erratic approach to foreign policy as simply to help him gain reelection by dishing up red meat to energize the Republican base. 

She adds that: "The president follows a basic, if unorthodox playbook, he and his party over our country."

Well, joining me right now is Ambassador Wendy Sherman, former undersecretary of state under President Obama, and author of "Not For the Faint of Heart."

Madam Secretary, thank you so much for joining us. 

It comes to me that what you say is peripatetic.  Give me an adjective for Trump`s foreign policy.  I don`t get it. 

(LAUGHTER)

WENDY SHERMAN, U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS:  There is a good reason you don`t get it. 

I think that Ambassador Rice is quite right.  This is really all about him, all about what works for his reelection.  And he will hold to this point of view until he loses reelection.  And then he will say, as he said yesterday, that it was stolen from him. 

So you just had Laurence Tribe talk about the abdication of responsibility.  This is truly abdication as commander in chief.  As you noted, Chris, he said he`s with Kim Jong-un. 

I have got news for the president of the United States.  Kim Jong-un is not with him. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about the national security adviser, John Bolton, a real neocon, a big war hawk on all fronts, over in the Middle East especially.

John Bolton apparently got his job because Sheldon Adelson made his one ask -- that was his ask, I want this guy as national security adviser.  Bolton is a hawk on Iran.  He`s fanatical about it.  But, also, just to mix it up a bit, he goes after Maduro because the president wants Florida. 

It`s pretty clear to me it`s constituency politics, right-wingers, wherever he can find him, who will vote for him. 

SHERMAN:  There`s no doubt about it.  It`s constituency politics all of the way.  You`re quite right. 

What really should happen here is that Venezuelans who are in the United States get temporary protected status, as Ambassador Rice notes in her op- ed.  But, of course, the president won`t do that because his base won`t like him letting other people who aren`t part of sort of, shall we say, the European background come in to our country. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure. 

SHERMAN:  So I think this is a really tough place the president`s put himself in. 

And what you say about John Bolton is true.  I don`t think there has ever been a war that John Bolton doesn`t want to wage, and it really makes me question where the president is.  Are he and John Bolton on the same page?  The carrier that has been sent, the Abraham, out into the sea to try to say to Iran, be careful what you do here -- tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the Trump administration`s withdrawal from the joint comprehensive plan of action, the Iran nuclear deal. 

And, yes, Iran might react.  And there are reports that the Pentagon wanted the carrier to move.  But I think this is a plan from quite some time ago, and I think the administration has amped up the pressure to try to look strong and tough. 

The president has told us for a very long time:  This is all about me.  I am the decider. 

He told us during the campaign he doesn`t need experts because the best person for him to talk to is himself. 

For the sake of the security of the United States of America, I hope that he not only talks to some other people, but he actually listens, something he doesn`t seem to do very well, except to Vladimir Putin, who he listen to quite well, much to the dismay of all of us. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Madam Secretary, let`s get a couple of things here.  He thinks he can charm the head of North Korea, who is a third-generation tyrant and a warrior.  He thinks he can charm a former head of the KGB.  It`s crazy. 

SHERMAN:  Totally. 

MATTHEWS:  What scares me right now is what we studied in school, you and I, when we were kids, immediate causes of war. 

And you bring a battleship -- I`m sorry -- a carrier, a big carrier, with a whole strike force with it, and you take it right over into the Persian Gulf, and you basically say to this guy, we`re the boss, it seems to me that the Revolutionary Guard and the rest of those hawks under the ayatollah will say, wait a minute, we got to show we`re tough now.

That`s what scares me.  They take a shot at one of the ships, all of a sudden, we`re in a war situation.  And I think -- that`s what I`m afraid of, what Bolton`s up to.  I think he wouldn`t mind ginning up some action. 

SHERMAN:  Well, I think there is great concern, both in Venezuela and Iran, that John Bolton is trying to gin up action, that, in fact, he`s creating an escalatory cycle. 

I`m glad that we stood up to Maduro.  I`m glad that we said that Guaido really ought to be running that country.  But I am not glad we have escalated the effort here.  And, in fact, I think we encouraged Guaido to call for people to come out on the streets, without giving him the appropriate intelligence that most of the military still stood with Maduro. 

And so it looked like Guaido came off with less power than I think he really has, rather than having a patient, keep the pressure on, work with our allies and partners. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SHERMAN:  The president doesn`t believe in allies and partners, except when it serves his purposes, but not when it serves the purposes of the security of the United States of America. 

Latin America wants us to do this in a pressured, but patient way.  They believe Maduro will fall.  They wish that the president of the United States would understand our history with Latin America when it comes to military action. 

You know, Chris, from your time on the Hill -- 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

SHERMAN:  -- how catastrophic this can be. 

MATTHEWS:  I`m afraid they were trying to do a Guatemala with Arbenz, trying to shake things up and have the guy make a run for it.  It`s the old game plan from the early `50s.  It`s a bit out of date. 

Anyway, thank you, U.S. Ambassador Wendy Sherman.  Thank you.  It`s an honor having you on. 

Up next, Bernie Sanders doesn`t like the looks of Joe Biden`s early lead in the polls one bit.  Will his shots at Biden help him or as often happens in these primaries help some third candidate? 

He takes the shot.  Biden gets hurt.  Somebody else gets helped.  That`s the way it usually works. 

We`ll be right back. 

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I happen to believe that our trade policies over the years have been a disaster for workers in this country.  If you add the job loss as a result of NAFTA, which Joe voted for -- Joe is a friend of mine and we`re going to have this policy discussion in a very civil way. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Senator Bernie Sanders taking a swipe at former Vice President Joe Biden just last week. 

And while Biden`s campaign has focused almost exclusively going after Donald Trump, Sanders is attacking the early Democratic front-runner, Biden.  Biden said on Saturday he had no plans to attack his other Democratic rivals. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I`m not going to speak ill of any Democrat during this campaign, unlike some other Democrats now.  That`s not useful.  The last thing the Democratic Party has to do is get in a big fight that only benefits Donald Trump. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But Sanders has not hesitated to draw distinctions with Biden, going after him, offering his response to Biden`s claim of having the most progressive record of anyone running.  Here`s Sanders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS:  Joe is a good friend of mine.  I`m not here to attack Joe. 

Joe voted for the war in Iraq.  I led the effort against it.  Joe voted for NAFTA and permanent trade relations, trade agreements with China.  I led the effort against that.  Joe voted for the de-regulation of Wall Street.  I voted against that. 

You know, I think if you look at Joe`s record and you look at my record, I don`t think there`s much question about who is more progressive. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, as the battle begins, the most powerful Democrat in the country has a dire warning for 2020.  And that`s coming up next. 

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MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With Democratic front-runner Joe Biden taking hits on his policy record from Bernie Sanders, no surprise the number two guy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has a warning for all Democratic candidates. 

In an interview with "The New York Times," Pelosi offered her plan for beating Trump.  It consists of two warnings.  Warning one, do not get dragged into a protracted impeachment bid that will ultimately get crushed in the Republican-controlled Senate and do not risk alienating -- that`s the second rule -- alienating moderate voters who flocked to the party in 2018 by drifting too far to the left. 

She said: Own the center-left, own the mainstream. 

For more, I`m joined by John Brabender, Democratic -- well, he`s a Republican strategist.  Jamal Simmons --

(LAUGHTER)

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Don`t get him in trouble. 

MATTHEWS:  You changed seats. 

Host of the Hill TV. 

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  That would be a big announcement for me.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s start with the Democrat. 

Jamal -- 

SIMMONS:  Yes, sir.

MATTHEWS:  -- that advice, is that aimed, it seemed to me, at helping the center candidate? 

SIMMONS:  Yes, listen, this argument gets a little bit tortured.  I think we`re talking about not just left and right here.  We`re talking about insiders versus outsiders.  That`s the axis I think this campaign is really being waged on. 

And you know what, for all those who view themselves as centrists, be a Bill Clinton centrist from 1992.  He was a centrist, but he ran on centrist policies and not on centrist process.  What Bill Clinton said is, I`m going to end welfare, I`m going to, you know, deal with crime.  Channel:  I`m going to focus on raid and it`s going to make your life better. 

He didn`t say, oh, we all need to get along, and we`re going to bring Democrats and Republicans together.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s try that, Jamal.  I`m with you, because Bill Clinton made two promises.  He said for people who work hard and play by the rules, which appealed to working people of all backgrounds -- people who work hard and play by the rules.  He said I`m going to make abortion rights safe, legal and rare.  He was very shrewd, Bill Clinton. 

He appealed to the centrist, Catholics and all kinds of people, working people.  He was able to get a huge coalition. 

BRABENDER:  But what does that have to do with this race? 

MATTHEWS:  That`s what I`m asking. 

BRABENDER:  Well, the thing is, you have to understand, first of all, it`s game on.  We finally have an election going on because you have one Democrat who figured out I can`t just attack Trump, I`ve got to start going after Biden.  And I think more and more of them --

MATTHEWS:  He`s not a Democrat. 

BRABENDER:  -- will do that. 

Well -- 

MATTHEWS:  He`s a Democratic candidate but he`s a socialist and an independent. 

BRABENDER:  But, wait, wait, wait, he might be closer, though, to Democratic turnout in these primaries than Joe Biden is.  Look, Biden wants 22 other candidates --

MATTHEWS:  Why is Biden leading in the poll if it`s so left-wing, the party? 

BRABENDER:  Because he`s an insurance policy.  Everybody likes Joe, but the problem is nobody`s dying to vote for him. 

What Bernie Sanders is doing is I think smart.  First of all, he`s saying I`m going to go after Biden.  You know what?  Now they`re going to talk about me and Biden --

MATTHEWS:  What are you trying to do here?  Are you trying to get Bernie nominated?  I know what you`re doing. 

(CROSSTALK)

BRABENDER:  Yes, I`m sure he`ll be running ads with me in them.  He`s also saying do we stand for something or don`t we?  I mean, that`s what he`s also asking.

MATTHEWS:  Who do you think Trump should truly be afraid of? 

BRABENDER:  Look, I think they all provide some problems, and I think some opportunities.  I do think that the two keys to this -- to 2020 election in November is going to be younger voters --

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BRABENDER:  -- where Biden will not appeal to as much as Bernie Sanders. 

MATTHEWS:  Why does Bernie appeal to younger voters?  Because he does.  Why does he?

BRABENDER:  Because they`re more liberal. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you that question.

SIMMONS:  Because he`s an outsider.  He`s an outsider. 

I sat next to a young woman in Detroit when I was there during the 2016 campaign.  And I just asked her -- she and her friend were talking about politics.  I asked her, why are you for Bernie?  I`m for Bernie because everybody says I shouldn`t be and that`s why I`m for him. 

They like the outsiders.  And I think that`s the thing -- whoever is going to be the Democratic nomine --

MATTHEWS:  Who else has an outsider advantage? 

SIMMONS:  Oh, I think Elizabeth Warren has a little bit of an outsider advantage.  I think Pete Buttigieg has an outsider advantage.  Maybe Beto O`Rourke has an outsider advantage. 

BRABENDER:  But there is not room for all of them.  There is going to be a third candidate, maybe fourth at most emerge.  It`s like three-dimensional chess. 

MATTHEWS:  Is Pelosi worried about her majority in the House?  She might be mostly worried about.  She talks about losing four seats if Trump contests them.  Were she more worried about the election losing to Trump?  I mean, when she says --

SIMMONS:  She wants a president.  She wants a Democratic president.  I think she understands --

MATTHEWS:  She thinks a moderate`s a better shot. 

SIMMONS:  She understands the history making of this moment.  Here`s the thing: you`ve got to have a progressive candidate who you can sell to the center, not a centrist candidate trying to sell to the progressives. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is that the case? 

SIMMONS:  Take a look, Vice President Biden -- 

MATTHEWS:  I think that may be right. 

SIMMONS:  Listen, Vice President Biden last week was in Dubuque, Iowa.  Great example.  In Dubuque County, Iowa, Hillary Clinton got 5,700 fewer votes than Barack Obama got when he ran in 2012.  Now, Donald Trump only got 2,200 more votes than Mitt Romney. 

So, that means there were 3,500 Democrats that chose not to vote for Hillary Clinton.  Those are the Democrats that they have to get to show up.  That is --

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that`s because she was a moderate or because they didn`t like her? 

SIMMONS:  That`s because she`s a little establishment. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that`s true, that Hillary was too moderate? 

BRABENDER:  No, I just think they didn`t like her -- they disliked her.  She represented everything about Washington they hated the most.  But here`s the thing you`ve got to understand. 

SIMMONS:  But those voters are the voters that are missing.  The missing voters matters much as the Trump/Obama switchers. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, one at a time.

BRABENDER:  Pelosi`s also saying we can`t do Green New Deal, we can`t do Medicare-for-all and we can`t do free college tuition for everybody.  She wants to move them back to the middle.  Why?  Because she thinks those are losing issues for the Democrats. 

Bernie Sanders doesn`t think so.  Elizabeth Warren doesn`t think so.  The real question is, who control the message for the Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  Thirty seconds for you, Jamal.

SIMMONS:  I`d say Pelosi`s not running for president.  Pelosi`s trying to hold on to the House, but she cares about who is going to be president.  Running for president is a different thing than managing the House of Representatives.  You need a progressive you can sell to the middle, not a centrist you`re trying to sell to progressives, because you`re not going to get those passionate people to turn out for somebody who is blah. 

MATTHEWS:  And you know the party, the Democratic Party needs to get the passion of the left and the votes of the center.  I think that`s well-said.  I just said it. 

Anyway, thank you, John Brabender, and Jamal, who probably agrees with it.  Jamal Simmons.

Up next, two big promises Donald Trump made to convince Democratic working people to vote for him in 2016.  Neither of which promise is he keeping. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

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MATTHEWS:  As we heard earlier, candidate Donald Trump, remember him, used two issues to grab the votes of working people going into 2016.  One was his opposition to what he called stupid wars and the other was infrastructure.  Remember those? 

We knew that he meant by those stupid wars, the war with Iraq that cost thousands of Americans lives, a hundred thousand Iraqi lives and ended up destroying the great buffer we had with Iran.  And today, we read how Iran is working to control its fellow Shiite Muslims in Iraq, in effect replacing a rival neighbor with a compliant pawn. 

Worst yet on the stupid wars front, Trump is trying to gin up an outright U.S. conflict with Iran right now.  Just yesterday, he sent an aircraft carrier strike force -- there it is -- to the Persian Gulf to raise the heat. 

The second promise Donald Trump made was infrastructure.  Remember that?  He was going to upgrade the country`s rails and highways from New York`s Penn Station all the way to Los Angeles.  This was a mighty promise.  Not just for the huge number of high-paying jobs it would generate, also those worried about the aging of our subway and sewer systems in our big cities and the dangers posed by our crumbling bridges and highways all across the country. 

All of this died last week when Trump`s Republican Party went thumbs down on that $2 trillion proposal from Speaker Pelosi and other Democrats to rebuild the country with no infrastructure.  There they are.  Well, maybe the Republicans realized they`d spent it all on the Trump multibillion tax boondoggle for the better off.  So, that makes two for two, doesn`t it, promises made, promises discarded, especially those working people Donald Trump flipped to get his 2016 win in the Electoral College. 

That really is HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. 

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