ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: I asked him about taking on Trump at the Oscars and why he says he knew it would bother the President. You can check out the whole interview, if you want, online.
But don`t go anywhere now. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Repeat offender. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. We have breaking news this Friday night. It turns out that even the Mueller report itself didn`t stop Donald Trump from obstructing justice. He continued his efforts to cover up his wrongdoing by pressuring aides to deny any intentional illegality.
In an explosive breaking story tonight, The Wall Street Journal reports within a day of the release of the Mueller report last month, President Trump sought to have former White House Counsel Don McGahn declare he didn`t consider the president`s 2017 directive that he seek Robert Mueller`s dismissal to be obstruction of justice. But Mr. McGahn rebuffed that request.
The New York Times further reports on that story that White House officials ask at least twice in the past month for McGahn to say publicly that he never believed the President obstructed justice, ever. According to The Times, McGahn`s reluctance angered Mr. Trump, who believe that Mr. McGahn showed disloyalty by telling investigators for the Special Counsel about Mr. Trump`s attempts to maintain control over the Russian investigation.
It`s similar to the behavior that got Trump in trouble in the first place. The Mueller report documents how, in January of 2018, Trump pressured McGahn to publicly deny the reports that he had tried to fire the Special Counsel. In that case, McGahn also refused the President`s request.
And now, I want to bring in Victoria Nourse, Director of the Center on Congressional Studies at Georgetown Law, And Glen Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor, Michael Schmidt from the New York Times just reporting on this, and who joins us now by phone.
Michael, another amazing story. Give us the sense you have of what Trump was up to when he told Mr. McGahn, his former Counsel in the White House, to say he never thought there was anything wrong with what Trump did in the first place of trying to say, fire Mueller.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think the problem is that McGahn is at the center of the most problematic episode in the report. And what they are trying to do is downplay the obstruction issue. There was a difference of opinion between Mueller and the Attorney General, Mueller not making a determination on it. Politically, this issue has lingered. And Trump was upset when he saw how much McGahn had spoken to Mueller and all the things he had done in helping Mueller write this report, essentially.
And what happens is is that they try and get McGahn to say, hey, I didn`t think there was any obstruction to help with the political problem the report has created and that McGahn wouldn`t go along with that. He looked at the report and he was not going to go along and do that.
MATTHEWS: Well, does this say that the President wasn`t confident that Mr. Barr, his Attorney General, was not doing enough, giving enough cover for him by saying there was no obstruction in his four-page report that followed the Mueller report? In other words, he had to go back and cover himself by saying, McGahn, you put out the word that I didn`t commit a crime here?
SCHMIDT: Look, I think he has to be pretty happy with Barr. Barr has gone to great lengths to help make the argument to the public why there is no case here. So I don`t think it was frustration with Barr that led to this. I think that the President never completely understood the extent of McGahn`s cooperation. He never got the fact that McGahn had gone in there for 30 hours and said all sorts of things.
And he picks up this report -- well, I don`t know if he read the report, but the media picked up the report and laid out all of these things based on McGahn and the President saying, hold on a second, what`s going on? And he`s fuming about it. And the White House in an effort to try to calm the President down and help take some air out of the political problem tried to get McGahn to do this.
MATTHEWS: Glenn, you jump in here. I want to know how this fits into the whole scheme. I mean, Trump seems to be trying, trying, trying to exonerate himself, trying to use what Barr would give him and not quite confident that was enough. He had to go back to the scene of the crime and said there was nothing wrong with what I did when I obstructed justice.
GLENN KIRSCHNER: Yes, which is crazy. I mean, Chris, he already has the benefit of the law firm of Giuliani, Sekulow, Mnuchin and Barr all working, and now he wants McGahn to be of counsel and weigh in as well.
Now, Mcgahn, the person who is basically a witness to the obstruction in the first instance when the President says, I want the man investigating me and my family and my associates and my campaign fired, McGahn is like, I`m not going to do that. So then he takes it one step further, well, then I want you to lie about the fact that I just asked to you do it. And now, he reaches out to McGahn again and says, hey, buddy, can you vouch for me? And, of course, when he won`t vouch for him, as McGahn, I think, continues to be the principled person he is, he then lays into him again and says to everybody, well, he`s been lying all along. This is theater of the absurd. It`s theater of the obstruction.
And the only thing I will disagree with Mike Schmidt on is there really is no split of opinion about whether the president obstructed justice. There is Mueller and 700 or 800 career -- former career federal prosecutors who said he did and then there is Barr who is the President`s P.R. flack who said he didn`t.
MATTHEWS: I wonder, Michael, back to you for a second, I wonder whether the President has read somewhere in the papers because he does pick them up in the morning, at least with leads (ph), and realize there`s a question about it. If you take money, for example, illegally and you don`t know it`s wrong illegally to take it, if you don`t know it`s wrong to take it, then you`re not really criminally responsible. I mean, I know that`s with campaign laws.
And I wonder if he`s thinking, well, if it doesn`t -- if I don`t know it`s illegal to obstruct justice, to fire the prosecutor who`s prosecuting, as if you need to be informed by that, then I`m not guilty. And there`s the - - so he tries to get his lawyers, former lawyer, to say, tell the public that I didn`t know it was illegal to fire the guy prosecuting me.
SCHMIDT: I don`t know. That seems sophisticated for the President in this sort of situation. I think that the President didn`t like the fact that these accusations were out there. And he had tried in January of 2018 to get McGahn to go back on what he told Mueller on this. And that is actually probably one of the more dramatic and stark examples in the report that the President really trying to interfere with the investigation. After it comes out that McGahn has told Mueller about this, he tries to get him to create a fake White House document, in which he said, look, I never told you to fire Mueller. And so this has been an issue that`s been going on for over a year now between McGahn and Trump.
And what`s interesting, and you are pointing out before, is that the President is undeterred to do things like this. Despite the fact that he was under investigation for obstructing justice for over two years, he`s not -- he doesn`t think twice to go out and try and get someone who is a witness, certainly in a congressional setting, to say something.
MATTHEWS: Victoria, this president won`t go down easy.
VICTORIA NOURSE, DIRECTOR OF CENTER ON CONGRESSIONAL STUDIES, GEORGETOWN LAW SCHOOL: No.
MATTHEWS: I mean, whatever you think, this guy will fight everything. He has no respect for the constitution, for the law, really. If he gets someone to say he is right, he will find that person. He found one in Barr.
NOURSE: This is very brazen, the repeated rejection of all the congressional subpoenas then the story with McGahn. McGahn is a stand up lawyer. I mentioned I thought he was the hero of this investigation, because he does what White House Counsels are supposed to do. I`m been out there. You throw yourself in front of the leader and say, you can`t do this. That`s wrong. That`s what your job is. He did that. So idea that the President wouldn`t know that was wrong strikes me as very unusual.
MATTHEWS: Do you think Donald Trump would ever hire anybody to help him do the right thing?
NOURSE: I don`t know about that.
MATTHEWS: Okay. Maybe that`s too much of a stretch, but anybody is (INAUDIBLE).
But, anyway, this morning the reporting today comes after a former FBI Director James Comey, mentioned earlier, pointed to the President`s interaction with McGahn when asked if he believed the President obstructed justice. Here is Comey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANDERSON COOPER 360: Do you think that he had criminal intent based on what you have seen in the Mueller report?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: It sure looks like he did in connection with a couple of episodes. The direction to Don McGahn to get the Special Counsel fired is, to my mind, a flaming example of --
COOPER: Of corrupt intent?
COMEY: Yes, of corrupt intent. Again, there`s ten different episodes. I actually think the ones that would be most likely charged are not necessarily the ones that involved me, but particularly McGahn episode and another episode where he was trying to get the Attorney General to limit the investigation only to future elections are examples that any reasonable prosecutor would charge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Glenn, he looked for a lot of excuses to fire Comey, the man just talking. He didn`t look for any excuses to fire Mueller.
MATTHEWS: He just blatantly said, get rid of the guy. He`s tailing me.
KIRSCHNER: I don`t think there is rational argument or dispute to be had over whether the President obstructed justice many times over. Mueller set out the evidence. He didn`t give us the conclusion, but he didn`t have to, because he set out the evidence that satisfies every element of the crime of obstruction of justice several times over. Really, the only remaining question is what does Congress do about it?
MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Victoria in a minute. I want to go to Michael on the reporting then to the constitutional question here. McGahn, he is, to me, the top -- perhaps the number one guest the Congress would like to have testified, because he`s at the very heart of the Mueller case if -- however we`re willing to make the case all the way and be the prosecutor, not just the investigator. But the investigation has really thrown up McGahn as the guy who will tell us the truth about whether the President obstructed justice or not. Does this seem like that`s where the story is going, McGahn is going to testify eventually before one of the Houses?
SCHMIDT: Yes. But you really have a White House that`s ready to go to court to prevent that. And that could take some time. And the democrats, as it looks from here, look like they`re trying to get some momentum and don`t really have it. And McGahn coming up to testify around this period of time would certainly help them if McGahn paints a picture that would be favorably to them.
But I`m also not sure that McGahn is the sort of slam dunk witness that the democrats think he is. I don`t, I`m not sure that he is going to be sort of the John Dean-like character. I still think that, you know, as we reported, his lawyers told the White House last year that McGahn never thought that it was true then. McGahn never thought the President had obstructed justice. And if he stands up and testified to that, legally, it doesn`t mean anything, but, politically, that will be a powerful thing for the President.
MATTHEWS: But if he does say, Victoria, that the President told me to fire the Special Counsel who was prosecuting him, that`s obstruction.
NOURSE: That`s obstruction. I think, you`ve got to -- there`s a legal theory that these folks are following. And that theory is called the unitary executive, that the President can do anything within the executive. So they think that`s what they can do. But McGahn, if he tells you what the facts are, I think that would be very strong evidence for the American people to see, no citizen can fire their own prosecutor, right?
MATTHEWS: Well, this is highly unusual for the Republican Party to argue that the President is the imperial throne. This has run against to all history to say that he or she, if he (INAUDIBLE) to that, can do anything they want, which is what their argument is.
Thank you, Victoria, Nourse, thank you, Glenn Kirschner and Michael Schmidt, great reporting. You guys -- you especially are amazing. Thank you.
For more, I`m joined by Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
I guess, Congressman, I`ve got a question for you which is is rather broad. When is enough? This guy is throwing everything back at you, subpoenas he`s throwing back at you, contempt of congress threats, everything he can imagine is within his power and now comes out and he tried to get -- according to this reporting by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, that he tried to get this former White House lawyer to cover him on obstruction of justice by saying it wasn`t obstruction even though, we all know by watching that it was.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Well, we are certainly watching a rogue, reckless and renegade administration unfold before our very eyes and more importantly the eyes of the American people. But we still have an obligation to proceed in a systematic fashion. What Congressman Jerry Nadler, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee has said, we are going to have a hearing or a series of hearings to explore obstruction of justice, abuse of power and the culture of corruption that appears to exist at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
In order for us to do that in a way that is meaningful for the American people, we`re going to need to secure the participation of witnesses, such as Don McGahn. That`s why he has been subpoenaed.
MATTHEWS: But I understand -- I`ll go to Victoria on the law here, but I understand that you have a better shot at getting these people to testify if you are involved in an impeachment exercise, because they are clearly performing the unique constitutional role of the U.S. Congress and the House to prosecute such a case. Short of that, what confidence do you have that anybody is going to come and show up before you, that any documents are going to show up before, including the unredacted Mueller report? Where is your confidence from?
JEFFRIES: Well, our confidence in the United States constitution. And what`s clear is that the House is a separate and coequal branch of government. We don`t work for Donald Trump. We work for the American people. We have a constitutional responsibility.
MATTHEWS: How do you prove it?
JEFFRIES: Well, we have a constitutional responsibility to serve as a check and balance on an out of control executive branch. That`s why we just have begun contempt proceedings on the Attorney General because he`s out of control. That`s not the end. That`s the beginning for us.
But we are going to proceed in a way that is consistent with our oversight responsibility, but we`re not going to be overpoliticize, overreach or overinvestigate either.
MATTHEWS: How do you get the Justice Department under the control of William Barr to give you citation on a contempt of Congress or an indictment against Barr himself, the Justice Department Head? How do you have that to happen?
JEFFRIES: That`s a good question, Chris, but there are two routes. There`s the Justice Department route, and in all likelihood, they will not pursue a contempt citation against their own Attorney General. But courts have consistently indicated that Congress has its own inherent powers to enforce a contempt of Congress citation that could take many forms, including fining an individual that is not in compliance.
That`s on the table. We will see where we have to go based on following the process that is ahead of us, which will involve eventually bringing this contempt citation before the Florida House of Representatives.
MATTHEWS: Hold on for a second, Congressman. Victoria, you`re a writer on this question. How does the Congress exercise its power to fine? That`s an operational thing. How do they go to somebody and say, pay up? Do they garnish (ph) the wages of the Secretary of Treasury? I mean, how do you that?
NOURSE: Well, I think that`s a speculative issue right now, whether they can find them. They can essentially eliminate their wages. They can zero out people`s office`s wages in an appropriations bill if they get that far. But that`s speculative.
MATTHEWS: That`s done by both Houses. This time, they would have to go along with it. They are not going to go along with it, the republicans.
NOURSE: The idea that they can fine, as Representative Schiff has suggested, is a proposed reform of the current process.
MATTHEWS: That won`t happen.
NOURSE: The current process is he wants to do it in the House with the House rules. But the current process is you take your subpoena, you go to court, you seek a declaration that the executive is violating a certain law.
MATTHEWS: Are you confident in this?
NOURSE: I`m -- I think the Congress has a lot authority, they should go quickly to court on the tax bill, tax case and that the court should be asked to give very speedy results in these cases.
MATTHEWS: I like that. That makes sense.
Mr. Congressman, Hakeem Jeffries, always great to have you on, sir, from New York, Victoria Nourse, thank you, and Glenn Kirschner.
Coming up, President Trump`s team is once again saying its willing to receive campaign help from a foreign government. Repeat offenders.
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut is coming here. He`s going to call in on this investigation. He wants an investigation on his new effort by Rudy Giuliani, who is going Kiev to get dirt on, well, let`s think, the democrats.
Plus, why President Trump fears Joe Biden. What the President`s internal polling is telling him about the threat and the blatant hypocrisy, by the way, of his new nickname of creepy for Vice President Biden? Who`s talking about creepy?
And later a big announcement HARDBALL is hitting the road next week to list the voters who swung the election up in Wolfsburg, Pennsylvania, Luzerne County. They swung from Obama twice to big for Trump. Why? We`re going to find out next Thursday night. Stick with us.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
A presidential candidate asking a foreign power to help dig up dirt on a political rival? Well, that sounds familiar, doesn`t it? It`s called, well, repeat offender. It happened in 2016, of course. And now it`s deja vu all over again.
"The New York Times" is reporting that the president`s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is pressing a foreign country, Ukraine, to take actions to help Trump get reelected in 2020.
As "The New York Times" puts it: "Giuliani`s encouraging Ukraine," the new government over there, "to wade further into sensitive political issues in the United States, seeking to push the incoming government in Kiev to press ahead with investigations that he hopes will benefit Mr. Trump."
Within the next few days, according to the report, Giuliani will travel to the capital of Ukraine to try to meet with that country`s incoming president, you know, the TV comedian.
The trip is also one part of a broader effort to urge Ukraine to pursue investigations that Mr. Trump`s allies hope could help him in his reelection campaign.
Among the matters Giuliani wants Ukraine to investigate, what is the origin of the special counsel, Mueller`s investigation into Russia`s interference in the 2016 election? The other is the involvement of former Vice President Joe Biden`s son in a gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch.
Not only is Giuliani pushing a foreign government to investigate matters related to Trump`s political rival, but he`s doing so in plain sight and bragging about it, as he told -- this is Giuliani talking.
"We`re not meddling in an election. We`re meddling in an investigation." This is Giuliani talking today. He said, "There`s nothing illegal about it," but admitted his actions are questionable, saying, "Somebody could say it`s improper," what he`s doing over there in Kiev.
I`m joined right now by the author of that story, Ken Vogel of "The New York Times," and Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser for President Obama.
Giuliani is, if nothing else, outrageous. And here he is traveling all around the world. He claims he`s going over there to give a speech for a group, which was obviously cooked up two weeks ago, to pay for his trip.
But what do we make of this, how it fits into the whole intrigue of the willingness of Trump`s people to go to the East for help?
KEN VOGEL, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, ironically, what he says he`s doing is trying to undermine the Mueller report, undermine averse findings in the Mueller report, and prove that, in fact, it wasn`t the Trump campaign that was colluding with Russia. Rather, it was the Clinton campaign who was colluding with Ukraine.
And so how does he do it? He goes and seeks assistance from the Ukrainians. Clearly, there`s some irony there. And I think there are some legitimate questions about in what capacity he`s acting. He says he`s acting as President Trump`s personal lawyer. But, in Ukraine, I think the perception is not quite so clear.
And you have someone coming over who has the era of the president to meet with an incoming president, president-elect, and you could see why the Ukrainians would want to curry favor with Trump. They have this new administration. And so they`re probably looking for signs. What does Trump want? What can we do for Trump?
And here you have Giuliani saying, this is what you could do for Trump.
MATTHEWS: Because hearing you say with your smile that what Trump may be getting is nice -- some nice little cupcake of support from the new Ukrainian president, which might be something that makes the Democrats look bad.
MATTHEWS: Whatever it is.
VOGEL: I wouldn`t call it cupcake.
I mean, it could be rather significant, and it clearly is meddling in what should be an independent judiciary process. So, another irony here is that the U.S., in prodding Ukraine to fight corruption, has long honed in on the prosecute -- the judicial system, and flagged that as an area where there was corruption.
And here the U.S. is essentially urging the Ukrainian judicial system to take steps that are politically motivated.
MATTHEWS: Well, we have a couple of problems here. First of all, Trump has a record of so-called launching investigations.
He sent -- remember the investigators that went to Hawaii he had? They`re getting some really interesting stuff?
BEN RHODES, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Yes.
MATTHEWS: He lies.
RHODES: He just lies.
MATTHEWS: He lies.
RHODES: Lies relentlessly, Chris. And all he cares about is harming his political opponents.
This is really disturbing. We have a lot of leverage on Ukraine. They rely on the United States to be their kind of big brother in this conflict with Russia. We provided significant assistance to them.
And so they`re sitting there. And, suddenly, their -- one of their chief patrons is saying, we want you to do this. It`s using the foreign policy of the United States, it`s corrupting fundamentally the foreign policy of the United States to serve the personal interest of the president.
That`s really scary stuff, Chris. I think we have to sometimes step back and remind ourselves, Giuliani`s going there. The Ukrainians aren`t going to draw a distinction between whether he`s a government official or not. He speaks for Trump. And he`s going over there to tell them...
MATTHEWS: As far as they`re concerned, he`s Averell Harriman coming over there, some big...
RHODES: Yes. Yes.
MATTHEWS: Some big delegate coming from the United States, an envoy, if you will.
RHODES: And the Russians are occupying Eastern Ukraine. And they rely -- Ukrainians rely on us to get their back.
And so now they`re saying essentially, well, we want you to do this. Is that conditioning all of our foreign policy support for Ukraine on the Ukrainians investigating President Trump`s political opponents?
This is really crazy, disturbing stuff.
MATTHEWS: OK, we`re going on -- let`s go back to the same issue we have in terms of the law.
We know from the Trump Tower meeting -- it`s still being talked about -- June 2016, the president`s goes up, meets Veselnitskaya, with the hope of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton, a rival in the general election. Is that illegal? Is it something of value? Is it a campaign contribution from a foreign government, which would be illegal?
The argument you would go back to, is it illegal to go to a -- seeking the help, dirt, as something of value? And, by the way, in our -- we all know politics here. In politics, you pay for oppo research, and it`s usually negative on your opponent. And you pay for it. It is something of value.
VOGEL: Yes, I mean, I think that there is certainly that element here, that they`re soliciting something that could be of use on a campaign.
But it`s even more potentially pernicious, as Ben points out, when you start mixing in the sort of patina of a request being made, not for a campaign or for a personal legal team, but rather for the president and the United States more generally.
Giuliani discussed that a little bit and talked about how he could get something that would be of benefit to Trump. He could get something that would be a better benefit to the United States. I`m not sure how I see that.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know what he will do. He will come back with something blurry and confusing and ambiguous, and he will turn it to the president`s advantage, because that`s what he did all through the campaign, if not outright lying.
Anyway, thank you, Ken Vogel.
Ben Rhodes will stick with us for the rest of the program -- or come back later anyway.
Reacting to the story today, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut wrote on Twitter that: "The president`s openly asking a foreign government to investigate his political rival." That`s Joe Biden. This is coming up next. "This is the next level."
Calling in for -- calling for an investigation in a letter to the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Murphy raised concerns that Giuliani is potentially operating a shadow foreign policy apparatus aimed at influencing upcoming U.S. elections. Furthermore, he says, "These actions are entirely improper and should be illegal."
I`m joined right now by the man who wrote that, Twittered that, Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
Starting with the law. You`re an attorney. Is it illegal to take money -- or is it illegal to take anything of value, including oppo research, from a foreign government, using it in the campaign?
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): If it`s of value to the campaign, it is illegal, if it`s not reported as a campaign expenditure.
Obviously, they haven`t received anything of value. And they`re not likely to receive anything of value here, because they have invented this charge that they are trying to get the Ukrainians to look into. But it absolutely could end up being a campaign violation.
I share Ben`s alarm, because I think this may be just the beginning of what I think is -- should rightly be viewed as a shadow foreign policy, Trump using his power in order to try to curry favor to help win an election, and trading American national security priorities away for political favors done to him and his team.
And that is unprecedented in recent American politics.
MATTHEWS: That`s like my question, what`s new, pussycat? He`s been doing that with -- he wants to get the Cuban vote by making all this fight go -- this phony fight with Maduro. It`s not going to go anywhere. He`s moving the embassy in Israel. He`s going after the -- claiming -- giving annexation rights to Israel.
And he just gets keeps -- I want to go back to the senator of this.
What do you make? Trump is showing a willingness to play any foreign policy gimmick to get any group of voters to get the vote for him. It`s outrageous. It`s not unusual, but it is extraordinary that he`s doing it so blatantly.
So, I think this is important point here and why I think we have got to stop this in its tracks, the reason why I think Republicans have to stand up and start asking some questions inside the Foreign Relations Committee.
It`s one thing to do this quietly and secretly and have to have a major investigation be undertaken in order to find out if you are colluding with a foreign government. It`s quite another thing to do it in plain sight and get away with it.
Ben is right. The Ukrainians have enormous equities at stake with the United States. We sell them weapons. We organize Europe to levy sanctions against Europe -- against Russia, which stops Russia from moving any further into Ukraine.
This is a new president, and there is no way that he isn`t making decisions on the requests that Rudy Giuliani is making without thinking that there would be consequences from America if he doesn`t do what Giuliani is asking.
And, by the way, we don`t have an ambassador in Ukraine any longer, because a civil servant got pulled, coincidentally, by the Trump administration, about a week before Giuliani`s trip.
So the only person in Ukraine right now that is speaking for the United States government is the political representative of the president.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of this in terms of sort of a repeat of what happened in 2016, when Trump`s people went after Hillary Clinton in regard to this?
Do you think they`re going after Biden in the same fashion, trying to smear him up?
MURPHY: Yes, so, there`s absolutely no basis for the allegations that they`re attempting to construct here.
And, frankly, if they don`t get anywhere with the Ukrainians, they will just move on to something else. They will just try to find some sellable patina of impropriety of someone somewhere close to Vice President Biden or anyone else who`s leading the polls and try to trump up the charges against that person.
But, again, this is different. You are using the foreign power -- foreign policy power of the presidency of the United States of America in order to try to construct that narrative about a political opponent. This won`t be the end. He will try to create this fiction about somebody else.
But to do it while using the foreign policy power of the United States is a really wild, wild precedent. And you have got to stop it now.
MATTHEWS: Can`t argue with that.
Thank you, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
Up next: Trump is facing crises in North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, with China on trade. How much heat does he want? He seems to like a lot of problems going on at once.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump`s pushing a series of crises around the world, all at once.
There are escalating tensions right now with Iran. We`re sending bombing teams over there. The Pentagon is ordering the USS Abraham Lincoln over there and other military assets right over there to Iran to start something perhaps.
In Venezuela, the Trump administration has so far been unsuccessful, but trying to knock off Nicolas Maduro by, what, bluff? But they`re pushing him.
In North Korea, Kim Jong-un has twice tested new ballistic missiles in just this past week, as negotiations between the countries appear to be not doing well.
And, today, negotiations over an escalating trade war with China also has heated up. No deal there.
But if you listen to the president, he says his efforts across the globe are working.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we have made a decisive break from the failed foreign policy establishment that sacrificed our sovereignty, surrendered our jobs, and tied us down to endless foreign wars.
In everything we do, we are now putting America first.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Endless foreign wars, it looked like he was cooking up right now.
Back with me now is Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser under President Obama. And joining me here is Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for the Associated Press.
Jonathan, when you cover the White House for the AP, do you sense the craziness of all these fronts we`re on, so many trouble fronts, every one that could be a problem? Why are we talking about knocking off the government of Venezuela, except to get a few more votes of the older Cubans in Florida? Pure politics.
Why are we fighting -- fighting like we`re doing in the Middle East now with Iran? You`re not going to beat Iran, in our lifetime maybe. They`re there, the ayatollahs. Why does he want to heat it up?
JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS:rMD-BO_ You`re right, Chris.
It`s a real confluence of foreign policy hot spots kind of happening at once for an administration that, for most of its time, has really been focused inward on domestic policy. And now, suddenly, we`re seeing a number of things happen at the same time.
We saw the trade talks with China broke off today. And the U.S. trade representative has put together -- on the president`s orders, is doing another couple hundred billion dollars worth of tariffs. That`s obviously -- American consumers are going to feel that when China retaliates, including those voters the Midwest that the president is so counting in his reelection campaign next year.
MATTHEWS: Explain that.
Explain that, Jon, how it works with -- so you get down to Wal-Mart or whatever, you buy your cotton shirts or your underwear, socks, basic goods. A lot of them come from China -- 25 percent markup, is that we`re facing here?
LEMIRE: It`s possible.
If this continues to escalate, that`s exactly what consumers -- your average American goes to a store like that to try to buy basic goods that they need every day and every week. And they`re going to be paying more because of what the president is doing right now.
And it`s not just China, as you said. The Venezuela maneuver there, certainly, there are human rights abuses there, but it does feel like a political play with an eye on Florida.
And North Korea in particular, I would like to focus on just for a second. The president has bet big there, that that`s where he thinks that he can really make a difference. He has felt like that is the most dangerous regime on Earth.
LEMIRE: And he believes that, because of the sheer power of personality, the rapport he struck up with Chairman Kim, he can get North Korea to give up the weapons that they feel is necessary to their very existence.
MATTHEWS: How do you get a guy -- how do you charm -- I mean, charm does work in life. We know that.
How do you charm someone -- there he is on the left, Kim Jong-un -- who carries around apparently his uncle`s head in a box, the guy he killed? I mean, that`s not a guy who`s charmable, Jon.
LEMIRE: Right. And, no, I would tend to agree with you, Chris.
But the president believes that he can. I was in Hanoi for that summit when it fell apart in stunning fashion. The president has said that this sort of soft approach with Chairman Kim had paid dividends. He kept pointing to the fact that North Korea had stopped its missile tests.
Well, that`s now changed. Those tests have started again. So, that really points to the limits of what the president has done. He has not gotten anything out of Kim substantial. The North Koreans, of course, are looking for sanctions relief. That hasn`t happened yet either.
And there are real concerns around Washington that we may be heading -- hurtling back to where we were two years ago, when the president was talking about fire and fury and unleashing bellicose rhetoric.
LEMIRE: Tension escalated throughout Asia.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Ben on this.
What do you make of this? First of all, a lot of it is just the Gang That Couldn`t Shoot Straight.
MATTHEWS: They`re going to knock off the Venezuelan government? Because of what?
RHODES: Well, let`s look at the actual results, right?
They said Maduro had to go. He`s still there. They said North Korea had to give up their nuclear weapons. They have done nothing to give up their nuclear weapons. And now they`re testing again. They said that the Iranians have to bend to their will.
The Iranians just announced, because the U.S. pulled out of the Iran deal, they`re going to restart parts of their nuclear program. With China, all he`s doing is hurting U.S. consumers with this ratcheting up of trade.
It`s not just the prices. It`s also soybean farmers who can`t sell their goods into China. So, across the board...
MATTHEWS: But there`s one area he`s making some -- we got to deal with the Chinese on trade, don`t we?
RHODES: Not yet. I mean, on trade, he is ratcheting it up, and ratcheting it up and ratcheting it up, and it`s not clear what the off-ramp is or what the strategy is.
So, the results across the board, Chris, are not -- are not good. These hot spots are getting worse. And in foreign policy...
MATTHEWS: Why did he hire John Bolton, who is just pushing him into most of these fights?
RHODES: Well, here`s what worries me, Chris, first of all. There`s no secretary of defense. When in our lifetimes has there been four or five months without even...
MATTHEWS: Well, he says he will pick Shanahan. He says he will pick him.
RHODES: ... without nominating somebody?
I think it`s because John Bolton wants to be calling these shots, right?
RHODES: And because you -- a secretary of defense would say, I`m not going to give you military options for Venezuela. That`s crazy. A secretary of defense could stand up to this escalation with Iran. They don`t seem to want that there.
The one thing that Democratic voters and Republican voters agree on is, they`re sick of the wars in the Middle East. And the reality is, Trump said he would get us out of them. He`s escalated the war in Afghanistan, and now he`s risking new wars in Iran and Venezuela.
MATTHEWS: I don`t know a single Trump voter who wanted Bolton in there.
MATTHEWS: Trump ran against that crap, no stupid wars.
And Democrats should be saying, he broke his promises. He lied. He said he`d get us out of these wars, and he has not done that, and he`s risking new ones.
MATTHEWS: Mr. President, John Bolton is not your buddy. Not that you will listen to me. He`s not your buddy. Get rid of him.
Thank you, Ben Rhodes. Thank you, Jonathan Lemire.
Up next: President Trump has predicted that he will be facing Joe Biden in 2020. Pretty good bet.
Don`t go anywhere. We`re going to talk about the fight -- the fight that`s coming, it looks like, though you cannot predict politics a year-and-a-half out.
We will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump is absorbed by the developing Democratic primary battle to choose a challenger to him in next year`s election. That`s according to "The New York Times."
He tweeted today he imagines Vice President Joe Biden will be the guy that comes up against him, the candidate. As we discussed earlier in the show, his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is planning to travel to Ukraine to search for dirt to damage Biden.
And "The Times" reports that an internal poll of 17 states taken by Trump`s campaign showed one possible opponent, Biden, overtaking Trump in a head- to-head. The president has used the nickname sleepy Joe for the past year or so to go after Biden. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: How about sleepy Joe Biden? Sleepy Joe. Joe. Sleepy Joe Biden.
TRUMP: Well, I think we will call him sleepy Joe, because I have known him for a while and he`s a pretty sleepy guy. He`s not going to be able to deal with President Xi, I will tell you. That`s a different level of energy and, frankly, intelligence.
We have a choice between sleepy Joe and crazy Bernie. And I`ll tell you take any of them. Let`s just pick somebody, please, and let`s start this thing. Let`s start it. Pick somebody.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But it`s Trump`s new nickname for Joe Biden today that is rich in irony, hypocrisy, whatever. Wait until you catch this one.
That`s up next on HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump tweeted earlier today about the likely Democratic nominee, as he sees it -- quote -- "Looks to me like it`s going to be sleepy, creepy Joe" -- that`s the new nickname -- "over crazy Bernie. Everyone else is fading fast."
Well, look who is talking about being creepy, of course. It`s rich, of course, coming from a guy who once said this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You know, I`m automatically attracted to beautiful women. I just start kissing them. It`s like a magnet. I just kiss.
I don`t even wait. And when you`re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
BILLY BUSH, "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD": Whatever you want.
TRUMP: Grab them by the (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
TRUMP: You can do anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And he`s calling Joe creepy?
I`m joined now by Adrienne Elrod, former senior adviser to the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and Ryan Costello, former U.S. congressman, a Republican from Pennsylvania.
Let me go with you, Congressman. This -- there`s sort of like there`s a great -- what`s the right word -- papal whatever. They used to give these things, exemptions from something. You know, he just gets exempted, Trump.
Creepy? He says it with no shame, like he`s never anything wrong, he hasn`t gone after porn stars, all this horrible stuff that most people would say was creepy.
RYAN COSTELLO (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Yes. So...
MATTHEWS: And he calls Joe that.
And Joe -- I don`t think Joe qualifies for creepy, but your thoughts?
COSTELLO: I think there were 17 Republican candidates in the primary that he won and a lot of voters that felt similarly too.
I will say this, though.
MATTHEWS: Like how he gets this exemption.
But let`s look at the -- as I see it right now -- and for all Joe Biden`s skills and his record, the best thing that`s happening to him in the Democratic primary, where you have other candidates looking to grab some -- some momentum from him, is Trump attacking him.
Whomever Trump attacks is -- that`s who I want to -- if I`m a Democrat running, that`s who I want. I want the president attacking me.
MATTHEWS: Explain why that works.
COSTELLO: Well, because, if you`re a Democrat, and you`re kind of choosing between a few, whomever Trump is attacking, you invariably, instinctively want to go defend.
And so I think, in a weird sort of way, if he doesn`t want Joe Biden to be the nominee against him, he should stop talking about him.
MATTHEWS: What is your thinking? You`re the expert.
ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: Yes.
I mean, I think the congressman is exactly right. You can -- first of all, you can raise money off of it. We see that happen all the time when Donald Trump is criticizing Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, whomever it is. They turn right around, they raise a lot of money off of it.
And it also elevates their name in the news, because what happens? We all start talking about it. So it gives Democrats a chance to get their message out, while also pushing back and defending themselves against these ridiculous attacks.
COSTELLO: Yes, that`s a great point.
The oxygen always goes to wherever Trump wants it to go, even in a Democratic primary. Like, if you`re Beto or, you know, name another other sort of down-ballot presidential candidate, they`re probably sitting at home wanting the president to tweet about him.
COSTELLO: And, instead, Biden is...
MATTHEWS: Well, as long as he doesn`t hit the bullseye, because everybody`s got a problem.
Anyway, in 2016, Trump deflected from that "Access Hollywood" tape from the bus by claiming Bill Clinton -- by blaming Bill Clinton. Let`s watch his game here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Bill Clinton has actually abused women. And Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.
Bill Clinton sexually assaulted innocent women, and Hillary Clinton attacked those women viciously.
If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse. Mine are words, and his was action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: He even went so far as to bring Bill Clinton`s accusers -- there -- he brought a bunch them -- there they are -- to the second presidential debate.
I found a parallel to this. You may not like this, Congressman. But Republicans make better business lobbyists, because they sort of are on the side of the pigs. They like the guys trying to get less taxes, the guys trying to get less regulation.
Democrats do make money as lobbyists after they leave politics, but they feel a little guilty about it. There`s some weird thing about, Democrats have shame. Republicans don`t.
And at least Bill Clinton doesn`t -- he has no shame. Why does it work this way? Democrats -- Bill Clinton even felt embarrassed by the whole Monica thing. I mean, Hillary was embarrassed by it, even though she was the victim really.
What is going on? Why does Trump not feel guilty and, because he doesn`t act guilty, he doesn`t look guilty? What is going on?
ELROD: Well, look, for whatever reason, stuff does not seem to stick to Trump.
But what he`s doing along -- when he embraces -- you know, when he brought the Bill Clinton accusers to the second debate, I was there. It didn`t do anything -- although he ultimately won the election, it didn`t do anything to expand his base.
And that is what is happening now. He -- he throws out lines, he throws out policy -- or attacks that only feeds more rhetoric to his base and gets them excited. But he`s doing nothing to expand this.
And he could sort of get away with it in 2016. But I don`t think it`s going to work this time around, because independents and moderates and those swing voters are going to have a real problem if they keep hearing this rhetoric from Trump.
MATTHEWS: Biden is getting attacked as if he were Clarence Thomas, because of sins of omission, which I believe he did commit. He didn`t give her enough time to make her case, bring in her witnesses. He says he didn`t do enough.
Clearly, that`s going to be a problem, because Anita Hill is still out there, still a professor, making charges against him still. And it seems like he will pay a higher price for that in the election coming more than Trump ever paid a price for "Access Hollywood" or the porn stars or anything.
COSTELLO: I would have felt that, if Biden was going to experience some deterioration as a result of that, it would have happened by now.
But, instead, you have Trump going after -- sleepy, creepy, whatever he`s saying. I really think that he`s kind of glossed over the message that, frankly, some Democrats probably want to use against Biden right now.
COSTELLO: So, again, I still think Trump -- the president is doing Joe Biden a favor right now by immersing himself in the Democratic contest right now.
MATTHEWS: Do you think Hillary is going to endorse Biden?
ELROD: I have no idea.
I would assume that Hillary and Barack Obama will take a step back and watch the process play out and make a determination when and if it makes sense to endorse.
MATTHEWS: Because they have good relations.
I think some -- I get the sense this thing is moving faster than we thought.
COSTELLO: Yes. I think so too.
MATTHEWS: There are people coming out of -- there are people coming out for Biden now. I`m really impressed.
I saw Rob Reiner is out there. He`s always to me kind of a leader of unhyphenated Democrats, just Democrat, down-the-middle Democrats.
ELROD: He used to be a big Tim Ryan fan.
MATTHEWS: Well, he`s -- but at the fund-raiser last night...
COSTELLO: I think it`s consolidating a little bit quicker than I would have expected.
MATTHEWS: I think so too. That`s my view, watching it.
ELROD: Oh, guys, it`s early. It is early.
MATTHEWS: OK. Then you have got a candidate.
We will find out next time.
Adrienne Elrod, who has a candidate out there, former Congressman Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania.
Up next, we`re going to take this show on the road. I`m going to tell you about it. Next week, we`re doing something I have wanted to do forever, get out to the people and hear why they had a 2016 election the way it was.
What happened out there? And what`s going to happen based upon what`s happening now?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Ever since Donald Trump surprised us in 2016, I have wanted to hear voters explain why. I want to hear them say not just what they were thinking, but what was in their gut that made them vote the way they did.
What was it that got people who voted for Obama, for example, to go for the New York real estate big shot, to dump the establishments of both parties?
Well, next Thursday night, we`re going to a Pennsylvania county that voted twice for President Obama, then went even bigger for Donald Trump. We`re holding a special live event up there where, for an hour, I`m going to listen, and, if necessary, push people to tell the country what it is that moves them politically.
Who do they trust to look out for them? Who cares about their interests, shares their values and can give them the country they want to live in? I expect we`re going to hear a lot about the pressure people feel economically, their attitude toward illegal immigration, their attitude toward Trump, toward the Democrats.
It`s really going to be a journey of exploration, a true listening tour of an American county that helped turn the 2016 election and could do it again either way in 2020. It`s going to be a reporting trip for all of us at HARDBALL.
And we`re going to hear from people who stuck with the Democrats for generations, but finally said no. Let`s hear what is in their hearts and minds in `16 and what`s there now.
I`m inviting you to watch next Thursday night, May 16, right here on HARDBALL. We`re calling this show, appropriately, "The Deciders."
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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