Mueller speaks publicly for first time. TRANSCRIPT: 5/29/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Beto O`Rourke, Joaquin Castro, Rashida Tlaib, David Frum

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Bob Mueller gets the final word there speaking to the stakes of his investigation in Russian meddling that he indicted.

That does it for our special coverage.  But don`t go anywhere.  "HARDBALL" is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  It`s now or never.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews Washington.  To impeach or not to impeach, that is the question now confronts House Democrats.  After Special Counsel Robert Mueller broke his silence today, the moment of decision has clearly arrived.  If the House leadership doesn`t start hearings now, I believe it`s hard to see them ever doing it in the months ahead.  Again, now or never.

Having kept the remarkably low profile for more than two years, Robert Mueller today delivered his first and only remarks on the findings of his investigation.  In doing so, he made clear that he was bound to the Justice Department`s legal opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted while in office.  But in a devastating blow, Mueller specifically said that the evidence he gathered does not clear the President of obstruction of justice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MUELLER:  If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.  We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, those remarks directly contradict the President`s claim of total exoneration.  The Special Counsel went further, citing the legal opinion of the Justice Department.  He also made clear that only Congress can charge a sitting President with wrongdoing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MUELLER:  The opinion says that the constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s impeachment.  As one author of a book on Robert Mueller wrote today on Twitter, Mueller is in his own Mueller-like way screaming for presidential impeachment proceedings.  But he`s too respectful to say it as directly as America and Congress evidently needs him to say it.

Likewise, Congressman Justin Amash, the only republican lawmaker to publicly support impeachment, said on Twitter, the ball is in our court, Congress.

And while Mueller`s public remarks have fueled new calls for impeachment among democratic lawmakers, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remains cautious.  Here is what she said about the Special Counsel`s statement today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  Nothing is off the table, but we do want to make such a compelling case, such an ironclad case that even the Republican Senate, which at the time seems to be not an objective jury, will be convinced of the path that we have to take as a country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I`m joined now by democratic candidate for congress -- actually for president, former Congressman Beto O`Rourke of Texas.  Beto, thank you.  Where are you on this right now?  Should Congress impeach this president?

FMR. REP. BETO O`ROURKE (D-TX):  For more than a year, I have been saying that it`s time for Congress to act and begin impeachment proceedings.  I think Robert Mueller made it as clear as day for all of us.  Of the hundreds of pages of his report, he chose to focus on the fact that our political system, our democracy, was invaded by Russia.

And then in between the beginning and the ending of his statement, he focused on President Trump.  And he said this.  When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation, or lies to investigators, it strikes at the very core of our government`s ability to get to the truth and hold the perpetrators accountable.  He`s telling us if he wants to prevent this from happening again to our democracy, we have to hold those responsible accountable, and the only method that we can do that is for our representatives in Congress to begin impeachment proceedings.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the President`s claim again today that he was exonerated by the Special Counsel`s report, that there wasn`t evidence there to bring charges?

O`ROURKE:  I think he is trying to cow those republican lawmakers who are looking at their next election instead of looking at the next generation of Americans who are depending on our actions today.  I hope that they can put their country ahead of their polling numbers, of their next election of the president, of their own party and to what`s right for America.  That`s what this moment calls for.

At the ending of Bob Mueller`s statement, he said that this systematic attack by Russia on our democracy demands the attention of very American.  And the only way every American can be represented is through the House of Representatives.  So if ever there were a moment to act, it is this one.

And I agree with you.  If Congress fails to act now, it`s hard to see them acting in the future.  And if they fail to do that, we have set the precedent that some people, because of the position they hold, are above the law in this country.  That begins the end of our democracy, and we cannot allow that to happen.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go with your point there, because I agree with you and you agree with me.  I think now that Mueller is not going to testify, and I don`t think they`re going to subpoena him.  It didn`t sound like Jerry Nadler, the Chairman of the Judiciary, is in any mood to subpoena the guy.  He`s a hero to most Americans, not to treat like a subpoenaed witness.  If that`s not some reason to hold off on, what is the -- do you see any justification to put this off?

It`s now June next week.  We`re going into summer.  4th of July is coming.  We`re going to have the presidential campaign, which you`re very much in the middle of, coming in the fall.  And it will be -- and you guys will be competing in the Iowa caucuses come this fall.  I don`t think that there is an opportunity for hearings unless they get going now.  What do you think?

O`ROURKE:  I agree with you.  Act now or lose our democracy forever.  That is the choice before us.  And I`m grateful to those lawmakers, including republican Justin Amash, who have put this country ahead of their own political careers.  And I understand political considerations.  I`ve held elected office.  I`m campaigning for one right now.  But this moment demands more of us.  And we will be judged by how we have faced these facts.

For Robert Mueller to come forward today, someone who is famously reticent, and out of the hundreds of pages of his report, to focus on the fact that we were attacked by the Russians and that there is somebody who obstructed justice and lied to investigators, and then to say the criminal justice system is not the way to hold this person accountable, there`s another process under our constitution, he is clearly referring to impeachment.  And he is demanding that we do this now or forever lose the opportunity to act.

So it`s that clear to me.  I hope it is clear to those members of Congress who have the opportunity to act while there is still time.

MATTHEWS:  If you were still in the House, would you vote to impeach?

O`ROURKE:  I would.  And it`s funny, I was asked this question more than a year ago by a conservative radio host in Lubbock, Texas, while I was running for Senate.  And I said the same thing because it is clear to me that our very democracy, our political system, the future of this country is at stake.  Knowing that that might have not be the most popular thing to say in my home state of Texas, I said it nonetheless, because we must have the courage of our convictions at this moment of truth.

And I just hope now that the Mueller report has been released, that Robert Mueller has made this incredibly important clarifying statement today, that those members of Congress find the courage to act, democrats and republicans alike, they will be rewarded by the judgment of history.  It`s important they do this while they still can.

MATTHEWS:  And thank you for putting your beliefs and your commitment on the record.  You would vote to impeach.  Thank you so much, former U.S. Congressman Beto O`Rourke, candidate for president.

O`ROURKE:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  I`m joined now by U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro, a democrat from Texas and a member of the Intelligence Committee, and David Frum, he`s a Senior Editor at The Atlantic.  Thank you.

Congressman, this thing, Pelosi and saying, well, we need more information and saying there`s only 38 democrats in the House who want impeachment, and they`re getting all the media attention when 200 are opposed to it, is that square with what you know of the House?  Is the House really against impeachment, as the speaker says?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX):  Yes.  I think most people believe that the President should be removed from office, people within the democratic caucus and, obviously, perhaps a growing number of republicans in the Congress.  I think the lingering question for people is when is the right time to do it?  And then, of course, there`s a concern because people are in politics about what the political effect will be of that.

But, Chris, I think, you know, I don`t know whether there would be more damage to the Democratic Party or Republican Party politically if you go through impeachment.  But whatever that damage is, it`s not as bad as the long-term damage to the country if we do nothing and we let Donald Trump get away with obstructing justice and sit still and do nothing.

MATTHEWS:  Why is Speaker Pelosi opposed to beginning hearings?

CASTRO:  Well, I don`t want to speak for the Speaker, of course.  And, you know, you`re talking about somebody who is not only very shrewd in terms of understanding the political moment.  I`m sorry?

MATTHEWS:  You raised the political calculation one way or another.  Is there a political calculation in her decision?

CASTRO:  Well, I can tell you what part of the political argument is.  I can`t tell you specifically what she`s thinking.  But, politically, the reason for caution is this.  People think that the House of Representatives will take up impeachment.  The House of Representatives will vote to impeach.  And then it will go over to the Senate and the Senate will find the President not guilty.  And then he will then use that in November of 2020 to say that I have been exonerated twice, first by Bob Mueller and then by the United States Congress.  And then he`ll wrap up the election.  That`s the fear, politically.

MATTHEWS:  Where are you?  Again, you`ve given both scenarios.  Where are you?

CASTRO:  Sure.  I have said that I support opening an impeachment inquiry.  And I, knowing what I do, having sat on the Intelligence Committee, going through those dozens of interviews, I believe that the President obstructed justice and I would vote to impeach.  But I think, at a minimum, we ought to start that inquiry now.

MATTHEWS:  David, let`s talk.  David Frum is with me.  You know how to write a big story about a big question.  And here`s the big question.  Will history judge the democrats in the House favorably if they take a bye on this, if they just say good opportunity, we don`t think we`ve got the numbers, we`re not doing it?

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR,THE ATLANTIC:  If democrats in the House start a process that ends with Donald Trump out of office, history will judge them favorably.  If they start a process that ends with fortifying Donald Trump in office, history will judge them unfavorably.  Success is going to matter here.  The bar was indeed in Congress`s court, very important not to hit it into the net.  There are not 67 votes in the Senate to remove.  The Congressman is absolutely right about the consequence of an acquittal of the President in the Senate.

Even more seriously, to start an impeachment process at this point means to rally a fissuring Republican Party around the President.  A lot of republicans who don`t like Donald Trump --

MATTHEWS:  It`s already 90 percent though.

FRUM:  But it`s 90 percent of a much smaller party.  Republicans are now at 25 percent of the country.  They used to be 35.  You rally people to him.

Success is crucial.  And if you`re not going to succeed, don`t start.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to the Congressman on the base question, because we all know there`s a younger Democratic Party.  In many cases, people of color who got involved in politics lately, the last couple of years.  They`re very idealistic.  And they`re not looking at election returns as much as they`re looking at the right thing.  Can this House of Representatives say, we`re going to walk on this one, it`s not good politics, and let the President get away with everything he got away with?  It`s not impeachable.

CASTRO:  Well, I think that -- yes.  I think that in terms -- not only politically in terms of the message that that sends to democratic voters and to all Americans, the poor message that that sends, but also, I think, at this point, it`s a matter of doing the right thing.  I would ask you if -- when is it appropriate to start an impeachment inquiry on a president if not this one for everything this president has done, but particularly with respect to obstruction of justice.  If you`re not going to invoke it here, then what does it take for a president to do to invoke an impeachment inquiry?

FRUM:  But the choice is not impeachment or do nothing.  Congress has set in motion a series of events.  The subpoena for the President`s financial records from his accountants, the claim for the President`s tax returns.  Congress has set in motion a series --

MATTHEWS:  To what effect though?

CASTRO:  And I agree, David.  But I think you know that those cases could be wrangled in court for another year-and-a-half or two years.  That`s going to go to district court.  You win at the district court.  You lose in the appellate court.  It goes up to the Supreme Court.  I mean, they could tie that up basically forever, potentially.

FRUM:  The tax return case, that may happen too.  But the accounting records looks like it`s going fast.  That looks like they -- Trump has lost twice in two different --

MATTHEWS:  What`s the sanction for the President after all the hearings if it`s not impeachment?

FRUM:  What is going to happen is that I think the release of these documents is -- first, is its own sanction to him.  It tends to split the republican coalition.  It tends to cast light where exactly -- I mean, he`s telling you.  He`s like in the old Columbo detective story.  He`s the guy who`s telling you that`s the door not to open.

MATTHEWS:  Okay.  But the person responsible for holding impeachment proceedings, that`s Chairman Jerry Nadler of the House Judiciary Committee, today vowed to hold the President accountable, but, again, stopped short of calling for impeachment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY):  Mueller again highlighted this morning it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump.  We will do so.  Make no mistake, no one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law.

With respect to impeachment question at this point, all options are on the table, and nothing should be ruled out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I can`t read into the mind or heart of the Speaker, guys, but there`s one thing that I think that the Pelosi mind thing is worrying about.  Her minefield ahead of her is this.  If you begin the hearings with a split House, with republicans not supporting it, Amash, sure, nobody else, you walk into probably a year in which the President is the victim.  The President plays the demagogue.  We know he`s nimble at this.  He plays it brilliantly.

The deep state has now arose.  I told you they were coming to get me.  The bureaucracy, the prosecutors, the FBI, the Justice, all those people and those liberals and the media, all those people you don`t like, all those liberals, all those people they are coming out to get and take back what you voted for in the electoral college in 2016.  They`re coming to ruin our democracy.  Save me.  Congressman, is that the fear, that dark knight of terror that Trump would know how to play if he had to play it?

CASTRO:  Oh, I think that`s absolutely part of it, Chris, yes.  In terms of the political messaging, of the political vulnerability of pursuing an impeachment, yes, it`s all of that.  But, again, I think when we think about this historically and the moment that we`re in, if a president is allowed to obstruct justice the way this president has and the evidence suggests, then what does it mean for the rule of law and for our democracy?  What does it say to a future president, whatever their political party, about the power of the presidency to ignore the law and usurp power from the Congress and basically break the law.  There`s longer term damage that`s at stake here.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I was thinking about that old skit that Barbra Streisand did, Coffee Talk.  And I`m thinking now is time for coffee talk for people to speak among themselves.  And everybody watching right now, there`s one or two they`ll be watching.  Have the debate at home right now.  Is it smart?  Is it right for the democrats to impeach right now?  Because I don`t think they`ll do it in three or four months or next year.  I think now, they have to make that decision, yes or no.  It is existential perhaps for their own history.  But it`s time for coffee talk.  Discuss it among yourselves.

Thank you, U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro, and thank you, David Frum.  I`m serious.  The whole country should talk about this, especially democratic liberals.

Coming up, how Mueller pushed through the falsehoods and misrepresentations of President Trump and his protector.  This is Roy Cohn himself coming back.  William Barr, he`ll do anything for this president and he`s never going to get fired.  That`s one guy.  Maybe Bolton will get fired, not this guy.

Plus, Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib joins me in the politics of impeachment.  Is it ever going to happen, ever?

And the Russian threat, Mueller began and ended his statement today with a dire warning about the systematic efforts to interfere in our election and how it deserves the attention of every American, republican and democrat.  So what if anything is being done about it?

And be sure to watch our HARDBALL live Town Hall coming up Monday night, where you`re going to hear from Mayor Pete Buttigieg and the voters.  This guy is impressive.  And that`s Monday night at 7:00 P.M. Eastern live in Fresno State in California.  We`ll all be out there.

Much more ahead, stick with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE SPECIAL COUNSEL:  There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. 

Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report.  It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. 

We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself.  And the report is my testimony. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was Special Counsel Robert Mueller today -- actually, this morning -- pointing to his 400-page report as the definitive account of his investigation. 

In his statement today, Mueller was very clear about the conclusions of his work, often directly rebutting Attorney General William Barr`s Trump- friendly interpretation of its findings. 

Last month, Barr said Mueller`s decision to not prosecute President Trump had nothing to do with the Justice Department`s legal opinion on charging a sitting president with a crime.

Here he goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE:  He was not saying that, but for the OLC opinion, he would have found a crime.

He made it clear that he had not made the determination that there was a crime.

MUELLER:  Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office.  That is unconstitutional.  Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Mueller also disputed Attorney General Barr on whether the president obstructed justice or not. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  The deputy attorney general and I concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense. 

MUELLER:  If we had had confidence that the president clearly didn`t commit a crime, we would have said so. 

We didn`t, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Despite Mueller`s emphasis that he didn`t clear President Trump of an obstruction of justice charge, the president again claimed exoneration like today, tweeting: "Nothing changes from the Mueller report.  There was insufficient evidence and, therefore, in our country, a person is innocent.  The case is closed."

That`s the president tweeting. 

For more, I`m joined by Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times," and NBC News correspondent Julia Ainsley. 

I will start with Peter on this. 

What`s the big story in the paper tomorrow, in your paper, about this? 

PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES":  Well, I think we`re focused on the fact that the special counsel came out and refused to exonerate the president.  That`s an important thing.  That doesn`t happen every day of the week. 

That means the president is not free and clear of any allegation.  It doesn`t mean he`s committed a crime or that the special counsel thinks...

MATTHEWS:  How about referral to Congress?  How are you treating that tomorrow?

BAKER:  Well, this is the problem, right, that he`s operating under a special counsel rule, not under an independent counsel rule.

Unlike Ken Starr, for instance, he doesn`t have the authority to refer to Congress.  He did elliptically tell us, in effect, that that`s what he was doing.  He said, that`s the next obvious step, in effect, is, there are other bodies that can judge this, not me, as a special counsel.

But he didn`t directly say it.  He didn`t say it a way that would be played on a loop on cable television or on Twitter saying, the House must investigate. 

And I think that`s actually helpful to President Trump.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he`s not Robert De Niro playing him. 

BAKER:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  He`s not this tough, brooding, frightening power figure.  He came off as a civil servant today, a guy doing the limit of his authority, but not exceeding it. 

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, that`s right. 

I mean, he`s very small-C conservative.  He never wants -- he`s never going to be as explicit as the public wants him to be.  And I think that we`re seeing that in this confusion over the obstruction question, and the president actually stepped right in it in his tweet, when he says that there was insufficient evidence. 

That is not what Robert Mueller said.  And it`s also not what William Barr said.  William Barr was more careful and tried to get into this, but for the OLC opinion.  And there`s been confusion.

And we actually just got a statement from the Justice Department right before we came on air where they`re trying to say there`s no daylight between William Barr and Robert Mueller on this issue. 

But there is insofar as the attorney general is trying to make the case that he would not have -- he didn`t even need the OLC opinion because he`d be cleared. 

But that`s not what Robert Mueller said.  Robert Mueller is saying, we never got to that fork in the road, when you decide between charging and not charging, because there was a block before we even got to that road that was the OLC opinion.

MATTHEWS:  That`s a good argument.  He`s saying, Peter -- and, Julia, I think is -- very clearly what he said was, I didn`t consider charging the president because you`re not supposed to do it under the Constitution, as we interpret it at the Justice Department.

If that`s true, and it is the way they look at it, if he knew from the time he got this commission two years ago that he could not indict the president, and, therefore, it would be unfair, as he said in the report, to accuse him, if you can`t indict him, why didn`t he say so the first day he had the job?

BAKER:  I know.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Because we have been waiting for two years, not just the Democrats and the media.  All of America was waiting for him to come out and give us a verdict. 

BAKER:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  He didn`t give us a verdict. 

BAKER:  We have got this process right now that...

MATTHEWS:  He said, it`s up to Congress to have the verdict.

BAKER:  Exactly. 

Well, if he had said that more explicitly, that would be one thing.  He didn`t even say it quite that explicitly.  He -- it`s this circular process we have created.  We want to investigate the president, but you can`t indict him if you find anything wrong, and you can`t go to Congress and tell them that they should impeach him, because that`s exceeding your mandate. 

Well, that -- it makes you wonder, what the heck is the process for, right? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I was thinking he could have told us that part of the process at the outset.

BAKER:  At the beginning, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BAKER:  Maybe so, but we don`t have an independent counsel law, which is why we did have it.

Under the law that has now expired, an independent counsel was required, not just enabled, but required to go to Congress and say, I found things that I think could be high crimes and misdemeanors.  That`s what Ken Starr did 20 years ago, therefore, at least lays it out there in a clear-cut way. 

What was Robert Mueller`s judgment with regard to issues?  We don`t really know, because he didn`t get to them.

MATTHEWS:  Except he couldn`t exonerate.

BAKER:  He couldn`t exonerate.

AINSLEY:  Well, I think that frustration is legitimate, right? 

We had this cloud hanging over the president.  Whether or not you like him or not, there`s a cloud hanging over him for two years.  And Robert Mueller tried to lay that out a little bit today of why he didn`t clear that up at the beginning, that he wouldn`t be making a charging decision, one, that you want to investigate, so that you memorialize everything when it`s fresh, and you get all the evidence, and that there could be other people related to the obstruction probe apart from the president. 

And then, if you think about...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And it`s all true.  He said all that, the special counsel, today.  But he never said why he didn`t tell the American public and those interested parties, I can`t indict. 

AINSLEY:  Well, and he said he won`t explore hypotheticals.

But we can.

(LAUGHTER)

AINSLEY:  And let`s play the hypothetical that he had come out and said, I won`t -- I can`t charge the president with obstruction while he`s going to continue all of these other investigations.

That would allow the president to meddle all he wanted.

MATTHEWS:  Oh.  I will have to think about that.

Much of what Mueller said also contradicted what the president has been telling us for the last two years. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have President Putin.  He just said it`s not Russia.  I will say this.  I don`t see any reason why it would be.

MUELLER:  Russian intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system.

TRUMP:  This is a hoax. 

MUELLER:  They used sophisticated cyber-techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. 

TRUMP:  How can you obstruct when there was no crime?

MUELLER:  When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government`s effort to find the truth.

TRUMP:  They`re trying to get a redo.

MUELLER:  The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.

TRUMP:  The Mueller report came out, and they said he did nothing wrong. 

MUELLER:  We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime. 

TRUMP:  It was a complete and total exoneration. 

MUELLER:  If we had had confidence that the president clearly didn`t commit a crime, we would have said so. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What`s so powerful here is that here`s a civil servant, a soft- spoken guy...

BAKER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... saying that the Russians, through their defense intelligence operation, which goes way back to the world -- the Stalin days, which they were doing through the same agency, basically, defense intelligence, to subvert -- do all the subversion, and this -- the Alger Hiss stuff, all the -- Elizabeth Bentley -- all that stuff was being worked back then by their grandfathers. 

And they did it again this time in a so-called Soviet -- or Russian republic.  They`re doing the same old game of subversion. 

BAKER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And the president won`t even acknowledge it. 

BAKER:  Yes, well, because he sees an attack on him, right?

There are two different issues here.  Did the president do anything with Russia, and did Russia do something?  We know that Russia did something.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BAKER:  Everybody has said so, except for president of the United States and Vladimir Putin. 

But the president can`t acknowledge that in his own mind, because it attacks the legitimacy of his election.  It means that he is not a legitimate president, as he sees it.  And, therefore, to acknowledge that is to -- is to admit that he might not be legitimately elected.  He won`t do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Politics.

AINSLEY:  Or even to suggest it is treason now.  We also have that.

BAKER:  Yes.  Right.  Yes. 

That doesn`t mean, by the way, he would elected because of the Russians, but because he understands that that`s what a lot of people say...

MATTHEWS:  OK, where`s narcissism fit in history?  That`s total narcissism.  The whole world revolves around me.

And his view of the world is, if it has anything to do with me, I will deny it.

AINSLEY:  On that treason piece, I mean, I think he`s had a hard time separating -- first understanding the definition of treason, but separating himself from the country.

Loyalty to the president...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Narcissism.

AINSLEY:  ... or, in that case, the candidate, is not the same as loyalty to the country.  And so I think he`s had a hard time separating that. 

But there was a warning shot that -- or a warning that we got from Robert Mueller as he left the podium and left his office today, which was, this is still continuing, and we have to invest in our infrastructure to protect our voting databases and to protect our influence on social media, which he very meticulously laid out in his indictment.

MATTHEWS:  I think it was, in many ways, a modern-day farewell address, like Washington`s or Eisenhower`s, to say, look out.  They`re coming for us.  And they`re going to come with even more forces in 2020. 

AINSLEY:  And I know he did not specifically address this investigation of the investigation, which William Barr has started, but I think that there was an element of that in there when he was going through the legitimacy of this investigation, what they found, why they needed to do this. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

AINSLEY:  And so the fact that these people are now being investigated for the first FISA warrants should not be.

MATTHEWS:  That`s one reason why he doesn`t want to testify on the Hill, because, if he testifies through the House Judiciary Committee with Nadler, he`s got to go over to the Senate and let those Republican jackals go after him on -- go back to the -- to the dossier and stuff like that. 

He doesn`t want to do that for the rest of his life. 

Thank you, Peter Baker.  Thank you, Julia Ainsley.  What a world you have conquered in these last several months. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Speaker Pelosi says House Democrats need to present an ironclad case to the American people before moving forward on impeachment.  That`s a hell of a bar. 

But has the day for a decision actually arrived?

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib joins us in just a moment.  I think she says the day is here and already here for a long time. 

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has remained opposed to impeachment.  But, as more Democratic lawmakers come out in favor of an impeachment inquiry, will Pelosi hold to that position?

Well, several Democrats have been out front on this issue, with some calling for impeachment just hours after being sworn into Congress.  Let`s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-MI):  People love you, and you win. 

And when your son looks at you and says, "Mama, look you won, bullies don`t win," and I said: "Baby, they don`t, because we`re going to go in there.  We`re going to impeach the mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, had to bleep that part out.

Joining me right now is that congresswoman, Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who sits on the House Oversight Committee. 

What did you make of Mueller today, Congresswoman?

TLAIB:  Well, I think, from the beginning, the Mueller report is a impeachment referral to the United States Congress.

It`s very clear that he is asking the United States Congress to take up the responsibility to now hold an impeachment inquiry into these offenses.  I think it`s very clear that, for many American people that I have spoken to, they don`t want a lawless king-like president to continue to not be held accountable to the United States Constitution and so many things that are so interconnected to the work that we`re trying to do on their behalf. 

MATTHEWS:  The downside -- well, first of all, let me ask you about Speaker Pelosi, who`s speaking -- she was speaking at the Commonwealth Club out in San Francisco, her hometown. 

And she said only about 38 Democrats in the House, her caucus, are for acting on impeachment, and 200 are not.  How do you see the numbers? 

TLAIB:  Well, for me, I have always looked at the numbers of the turnout that we saw in the last election that gave us one of the largest, most diverse class to the United States Congress. 

If you see us taking on the majority, it`s because more people like myself and others that really want to hold this president accountable came out to vote.  To me, it was a referendum. 

If you look at the numbers across this nation, it was very clear that many people came out because they wanted to elect the jury that would impeach this president, but also to always uphold the United States Constitution.  It was very clear, because people like me, regular folks, that are not your polished politicians, that don`t look at polling, that don`t look at these political strategies from this other lens, but they`re looking at what is the best interest of the American people?

We`re regular folks that are now leading this fight to say that we have to hold them accountable.  And, you know, Chris, it`s very important for people to know we cannot separate the fact that we`re out there fighting to lower prescription drugs, that we`re fighting to deal with the crisis at the border.

  MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TLAIB:  And we can`t sit there and separate that from the fact that the president, the most important position in this country, is not upholding the United States Constitution, thus, thus impacting and directly impacting, endangering this institution and the American people. 

It is our job and our duty and responsibility.  Just like the Watergate class, when they came in, they didn`t run away from their responsibility and their duty.  They may not have run or campaigned on impeaching the president, but, at the end, they did what was right for the country.  And they put the country`s -- the people first, before they chose any kind of political stance, when it comes to all of the different pundits that are out there saying it`s not time.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

TLAIB:  It is definitely time.  The evidence is overwhelming.

But, also, the American people are hurting every single day that we don`t act. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I hear your passion, and I feel it.  And I share it.

I just want to say one thing.  Pelosi is sitting there.  She`s a pol.  And she`s a good one.  And she`s saying, wait a minute, there`s a lot of excitement.  There`s always a lot of excitement when you start a war. 

But once you get into a war -- and it will be a war with Trump -- he will declare the fact that you and your caucus are trying to upset the American people`s decision of 2016, that you in the deep state, he will call it, and the FBI and the media are all out to turn against the American people.  And this will be a coup.  It will be an attempt to destroy our democracy. 

And he will do this every single hour that the impeachment exercise is at work.  Can your leadership withstand that attack?

  TLAIB:  Look, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Can you, as a Democratic Party, withstand that kind of attack? 

TLAIB:  Oh, yes.

Look, Chris, I tell the president, bring it, because 10 million people signed a petition to impeach this president.  They want us to hold him accountable. 

And I bet you I can get 10 million more people.  From organizations across this country that have been talking to people at home, they are very clear.  No one should be above the law.  No one should sit there and become a king- like president. 

It endangers our well-being, our future.  What a precedent do we set when we don`t do anything?  Inaction is basically action and saying that what he`s doing, in acting above the law, in not upholding on to his oath to hold -- as the president of the United States, I say to people, please, understand that this is not about this president, who`s a me-me-me president. 

This is about people, about government, which is supposed to be about people, and about upholding the most brilliant, awesome document that we have in this country, which is the United States Constitution. 

That is my responsibility.  And I know many of my colleagues agree.  We cannot run this country based on political strategy and -- and it has to be so centered around what`s doing right for our country.  And that`s what many of us and many of the millions of people that support this effort and saying, enough is enough. 

This is so much impacting us trying to do our job around prescription drugs, around health care, my God, the education crisis that we have in our country. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

TLAIB:  We can`t do our job when the man that is in charge in the Oval Office is endangering our -- our country and our democracy. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much for coming on, Congresswoman. 

TLAIB:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Please come back again. 

TLAIB:  Of course.

MATTHEWS:  I like clarity.  And you gave us that, and passion. 

TLAIB:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  You`re a great American.  And thank you for coming on, because I now know where you stand. 

Let`s see what happens the next couple of days.  I think the time for action is now.  Thank you so much. 

Up next, well, Robert Mueller says every American should be concerned about foreign attempts to interfere in our elections.  I think we agree with that. 

Why are so many Americans, including some Republicans, not listening to a threat to our country? 

Back after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The first few words special counsel Robert Mueller shared today were a disturbing description of how Russia successfully infiltrated the American political system to manipulate it.  Here he goes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL:  Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system.  They used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign.  They stole private information and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks.  The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Russian interference is a fact that President Trump has been reluctant, let`s say, to accept. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Did you ever notice anything that goes wrong, they blame Russia.  Russia did it.  They have no idea.  We`re being hacked because we have people that don`t know what they`re doing. 

INTERVIEWER:  You don`t think it`s phony that they, the Russians, tried to meddle in the election?  Do you believe that --

TRUMP:  That I don`t know. 

We didn`t win because of Russia, we won because of you. 

They said they think it`s Russia.  I have President Putin.  He just said it`s not Russia.  I will say this: I don`t see any reason why it would be. 

I accept our intelligence community`s conclusion that Russia`s meddling in the 2016 election took place.  Could be other people also.  There`s a lot of people out there. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It`s like one of those POWs speaking for the record when they know not a word they say is true. 

Anyway, despite the president`s skepticism there, the Robert Mueller`s investigation charged 30 Russian officials or companies for their roles in the election interference.  It doesn`t end there.  Just two weeks ago, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, confirmed that Russian hackers had in the year 2016 gained access into a network of two county election systems in his home state. 

So the question is, what are President Trump and congressional Republicans doing about it?  Stay tuned.  By the way, giving this away now.  Nothing!  Stay tuned, though. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  He said it a number of times that there was interference and now we`re taking steps on how we stop it from happening again.  You guys constantly want to attack this president, but the reason that we`re in this mess in the first place is because the previous administration failed to do their job. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That`s a stupid job that she`s got. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, defending the president`s less than vocal condemnation of Russia`s interference in the 2016 presidential election, instead blaming the Obama administration for the Russian hacking and social media effort.

Anyway, special counsel Robert Mueller`s final word was a sobering reminder of what is truly at stake for the democratic process, lower case D, democratic in this country.  Here it goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MUELLER:  And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election.  And that allegation deserves the attention of every American. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by David Corn, Washington bureau chief of "Mother Jones", and Malcolm Nance, former naval intelligence officer and author of "The Plot to Destroy Democracy". 

Malcolm, we just saw Sarah Sanders having the stupid job of doing what Trump is doing on purpose, which is denying the Russian involvement in 2016 election.  She`s saying something she doesn`t believe.  Trump, I don`t know -- is this narcissism, saying in the face of all these investigations, all these indictments, the Russians didn`t do anything wrong? 

MALCOLM NANCE, AUTHOR, "THE PLOT TO DESTROY DEMOCRACY":  I think it`s a combination of narcissism and disinformation.  Donald Trump is a master of manipulating news and causing distractions.  So, his own personal narcissism feeds into him saying, it`s a hoax, there`s nothing to it.  But he also knows by exonerating Russia, exonerating himself and throwing smoke up into the air, he can now create a meta narrative that he wants, which is no collusion, no obstruction. 

All of it is a lie.  The worst part is, this is all straight from the KGB playbook.  This is old school stuff.  But he is good at it. 

MATTHEWS:  It`s (INAUDIBLE), this nationalist, remember Trump was a nationalist, defending the actions of an adversary country to undermine us. 

DAVID CORN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes, one point in time. 

Well, I`m glad Mueller ended that way that we`re talking about a timing. 

MATTHEWS:  He meant it. 

CORN:  Because the original, the central sin of the whole Trump-Russia scandal is that while Russia was attacking the United States and attacking American democracy, Donald Trump was saying, it`s not happening. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CORN:  He was echoing Russian disinformation.  And he was seeking to benefit from it.  Then his people were meeting with Russians while this was happening. 

And then afterwards, he`s denied this has happened.  He gave cover.  He helped whether he was in on it, criminal conspiracy or not, he gave cover.  And he helped Putin get away with this.  If it`s not criminal, it`s betrayal.  It`s treachery. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CORN:  And that`s just wrong as anything else, even if it doesn`t violate the law.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Malcolm, I heard Jerry Nadler say that today.  He`s not going to let him off on this.  He said that, you know, maybe it wasn`t a comprehensive conspiracy, but they were welcoming and benefitting from all the Russia hacking and the social media disinformation. 

They were -- it`s like in old medieval times, going to a city and having somebody give you a key to the door to the city.  They go, yes, here is the key.  Here it is, come on in and blow this place apart. 

NANCE:  Yes.  You are right.  You know, what really gets me about this whole denial of conspiracy, that the evidence that he had did not rise to the level of criminal conspiracy was, there is evidence where they were actually involved in the pathway leading to criminal conspiracy. 

But Robert Mueller also said something very particular in the report everyone should remember.  He said that information was destroyed, encrypted applications were used and they were erased.  People lied to him.  People withheld documents from him.  And that`s people who were involved in this who could prove conspiracy were also kept overseas and not allowed to come to the United States outside of the jurisdiction of the FBI. 

Also, that this information could change due to future information acquired by another prosecutor.  So, this story is not over.  There is a conspiracy out there.  We have seen quite a bit of it.  Just because it didn`t rise to the level of an indictable charge does not mean it did not exist. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, horror story, next election, 2020 is a close one in the Electoral College, right?  We`ll still have the Electoral College, right?

CORN:  I assume -- 

MATTHEWS:  It comes down to a couple votes. 

CORN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  One of the states got -- something went wrong with the machinery.  We don`t have a clear result. 

CORN:  Something went wrong -- 

MATTHEWS:  And the Russians did that and they`ve screwed up. 

CORN:  Something went wrong in one county in one state? 

MATTHEWS:  And both sides claim victory. 

CORN:  That could happen.  I mean, Trump -- Trump was heading in that direction in 2016, saying things were rigged. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CORN:  They were indeed rigged. 

MATTHEWS:  Suppose it really happens. 

CORN:  The Russians were trying to rig the election.  You can`t tell me that a massive disinformation campaign and dumping all those Podesta e- mails on every single day of the last month of the campaign didn`t have some impact on election that was decided, you know, by 77,000 votes across the three states.

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

CORN:  So, we`re going to have another tight one.  And why does Trump not want to talk about election security?  Because he is right, it does taint his election.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, and, by the way, I think the count -- that`s all we need in this country is a count that isn`t clear.  What are we going to do then?

Anyway, thank you as always, David Corn. 

Malcolm Nance, as always, thank you for your brains, wisdom and passion.  Of course, I like the passion, too.  Thank you. 

Up next, how impeachment could become a defining factor for the 2020 presidential candidates.  I`m talking about the people on the left fighting it out. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, today was a day of history.  The country`s top investigator of an American president shifted the verdict on the president`s guilt or innocence to the U.S. Congress.  As I said earlier of the show, the question now is to impeach or not to impeach. 

Well, for the two leading progressive challengers to Trump, the answer is different.  Senator Elizabeth Warren said today, the Constitution leaves it up to Congress to act, that`s impeachment.  Senator Bernie Sanders said, if the House Judiciary Committee deems it necessary to open an impeachment inquiry, he will support the decision. 

That`s a heck of a difference.  And it`s a case study in how these two are competing for the Democratic left.  Warren has been out with proposals filling a whole platform of topics.  Name the issue, and Warren has got a plan for that. 

Meanwhile, her rival Sanders is working what`s been called a makeover, putting forth his own life experiences to back up his progressive positions.  For whatever mix of reasons, Warren leads Sanders in a couple of recent polls of voters who identify with the left politically.  That`s interesting.  Both polls just came out. 

And the difference on the issue of impeachment could emblemize their difference between Warren and Sanders and where they stand. 

And that`s HARDBALL tonight.  And thanks for being with us. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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