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Sec. Acosta defends handling of Epstein case. TRANSCRIPT: 7/10/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Berit Berger; Kimberly Atkins; Peter Baker; John Brabender, Zerlina Maxwell, Natasha Bertrand, Eric Swalwell, William Cohan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Passing the buck.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.  It was a remarkable scene this afternoon urged by the President, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta took questions from the press about his role years earlier in letting Jeffrey Epstein off with a light sentence.  It was a reality T.V. effort to salvage his job, and let`s watch.


ALEXANDER ACOSTA, U.S. SECRETARY OF LABOR:  Times have changed and coverage of this case has certainly changed since that article.  Facts are important and facts are being overlooked.

The goal here was straightforward.  Put Epstein behind bars, insured he registered as a sexual offender, provides victims with the means to seek restitution and protect the public by putting them on notice that a sexual predator was in their midst.

It was complicated by the fact that this matter started as a state investigation.  A state grand jury brought that single completely unacceptable charge.

We believe that we proceeded appropriately.


MATTHEWS:  Well, as you heard there, Secretary Acosta blamed the Palm Beach State Attorney`s Office for the 2008 plea deal.  But late tonight the former Palm Beach State attorney himself slammed the Secretary`s defense, writing in a statement, I can emphatically state that Nr. Acosta`s recollection of the matter is completely wrong.  If Mr. Acosta was truly concerned about the state`s case and felt he had to rescue the matter, he would have moved forward with a 53-page indictment that his own office drafted.  Instead, Mr. Acosta brokered a secret deal.  Mr. Acosta should not be able to rewrite history.

Well, Acosta was critical of the lenient jail term, telling reporters he absolutely deserved a -- Epstein did harsher punishment.  He said he never approved letting Epstein out of jail to go to work every day.

Well, Acosta was asked multiple times by reporters today if he felt the victims deserved an apology.


REPORTER:  They didn`t hear back from you until it was too late.  Do you owe them an apology?

ACOSTA:  The agreement that had been negotiated had an unusual provision.

REPORTER:  You have no regrets?

ACOSTA:  We believe that we proceeded appropriately.

REPORTER:  Would you make the same agreement today?

ACOSTA:  Today`s world treats victims very, very differently.

REPORTER:  But these victims say you failed them.

ACOSTA:  We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail.

REPORTER:  What is the message to the victims who say they don`t trust you anymore?

ACOSTA:  The message is you need to come forward.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Acosta`s latest defense again undertaken at the urging of President Trump comes amid a growing chorus of people calling for his resignation.  That includes the Miami Herald writing today in an editorial, if Acosta, when he was U.S. Attorney in Miami, had shown an ounce of sympathy for the vulnerable girls Epstein sexually exploited, they would have had a powerful voice on their side.  They didn`t.  Not only did Acosta fail to get it right in 2008, he didn`t care to.  He has to go.

Well, sources tell NBC News tonight that President Trump spoke to Labor Secretary Alex Acosta by phone Tuesday afternoon, that was yesterday, and urged him to hold the press conference today.  The New York Times report the President monitored his performance today closely.

A former administration official familiar with the matter told Politico that Acosta amounted to a Kavanaugh 2.0 rebuttal in an effort to impress President Trump.  So he was talking to Trump today in that press conference.

Acosta made a point of addressing the President directly here.


ACOSTA:  My relationship with the President is outstanding.  He has, I think, very publicly made clear that I`ve got his support.  He spoke yesterday in the Oval Office.  He and I have spoken.

I`m here.  I`m defending this case.  That`s my job.


MATTHEWS:  Well, earlier today, the House Oversight Committee invited Secretary Acosta to testify to a hearing on July 23rd.  In a letter to the Secretary, Chairman Elijah Cummings announced that hearing would examine Secretary Acosta`s actions as well as the finding that he violated the Crime Victims` Act by keeping the agreement he made secret from the victims.

For more, I`m joined by Kimberly Atkins, Senior News Correspondent for WBUR, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times, Berit Berger, former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York.

I want to go to Berit on this one.  Berit, please, a couple of things, unpack the defense of the guy today.  So the Secretary of Labor said today that it wasn`t his fault because if he hadn`t gotten involved as a federal prosecutor, there wouldn`t have been any jail time at all because the state wasn`t going to put him away for any time.

And, secondly, he said, don`t blame me for this crazy deal where the guy can come out every day and go to work six days a week when he was supposedly in jail.  That was something that was cooked up after the deal and in violation of the deal.  How true are those claims?

BERIT BERGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  Yes.  I mean, what you see there is Acosta really trying to pass the buck to the state prosecutors.  Essentially, he is saying the state had negotiated this terrible deal.  We had to swoop in and try to save the day.  But I think that really falls short.

I mean, first of all, if he had really wanted to swoop in and save the day, it sounds like there is a 53-page indictment that his office had drafted, why not go forward with those charges?  We still have not seen a good explanation for why they decided to walkway from federal charges altogether.

And if he didn`t like the way that the state charges ended up playing out with him getting out of jail six days a week, again, there were at that time in 2007 and 2008 very on point federal statutes that would have guaranteed that Acosta went to jail for years, not just a matter of months.

So those explanations really didn`t carry a lot of weight for me.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I`ll tell you, watching as a prosecutor, what did you think of the latest victim coming out today?  It`s an amazing -- watching her talk about what he did to her.  This thing is not going away at all, is it?

BERGER:  It`s definitely not going away and it was incredibly emotional watching her interview today.  I think this is going to feed right into the case that the Southern District of New York is going to bring.  I think perhaps they will add her as a victim to their case.

And it just goes to show why sex trafficking charges were so important and continue to be so important for prosecutors to bring.  This is a man, Jeffrey Epstein, who simply has not been held accountable for the horrific conduct that he did.  And it`s time for somebody to actually say no.  13 months in jail where you get to leave six out of seven days a week just doesn`t seem sufficient.

MATTHEWS:  How much time would you have given him in a case knowing what you know of this case and this guy`s misdeeds?  How much time would you put him away for?

BERGER:  Yes.  I mean, I did sex trafficking cases where we gave people with far fewer victims a mandatory minimum of ten years in prison.  So I think this is something that years in prison is absolutely appropriate.

MATTHEWS:  Kimberly, this does a couple of things, because you and I talk about so many things on this program.  Trump`s personality, Trump`s own rap sheet, the Access Hollywood, the women he paid off, all that behavior of his, takes him back to the sleaze problem.  He must be thinking every day we`re talking about Epstein, We`re basically talking about me too.


MATTHEWS:  I mean, him, not just the movement but him.

ATKINS:  Right.  And so he has done two things, right?  He distanced himself from Epstein as someone who he did know and he did socialized with years ago.  They haven`t spoken in some time.

MATTHEWS:  14 times his name -- his phone number, different phone numbers show up in Epstein`s book, his black book.

ATKINS:  Right.  But at the same time, he demanded that Secretary Acosta go defend himself in a way, the same as he wanted to see Brett Kavanaugh defend himself against those charges.

But in this case, he wanted Acosta to deny it, to defend himself, to give a reason for him to stand behind him.  Because at the same time, President Trump does not like the perception that he is being pushed to do something by democrats, by people in the media.  So he wants to fight back against this, and his instinct is to back Acosta and to get Acosta to defend himself.  That`s what we saw today.

But Acosta`s biggest concern, according to folks who I talked to who are close to republicans on the Hill and the White House, is that republicans were not liking the job he was doing.  They were trying to get the President to remove him for other reasons, because he wasn`t rolling back the regulations at the speed that they wanted.

So this may actually save him to get the President to back him and join in this fight against the democrats might, in a weird way, make his job more safe instead of less.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the storm engulfing the Secretary of Labor has pushed the President`s own relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, as I said, back into the spotlight where Trump doesn`t want it.  The New York Times setting a Florida businessman is reporting that Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein were the only guests at an exclusive Mar-a-Lago party in 1992 attended by, this is interesting proportions, two dozen or so women flown in to provide the entertainment.

The businessman told The New York Times, he warned Trump and Jeffrey Epstein about Epstein, but Trump didn`t care.  The White House did not respond to a request for comment on that allegation.

Peter, I get the sense that the President -- and Kimberly is right.  I think he is with him for an hour or two.  But I get a sense that the egg timer has already started on this guy`s demise, and today was the first step on the plank to leave the ship.  Your thoughts.

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Well, it`s certainly possible.  We`ve seen in the past the President has, as Kimberly said, forced people under him to go defend themselves when they get in trouble.  And when they do well in his view, he keeps them, and when they don`t, he doesn`t.

You know, In this case, we don`t have a verdict yet from the President.  He hasn`t weighed in on Twitter.  White House aides tell us that they assured him that he did well, that Mr. Acosta did well, but he did not respond to them.  So we don`t yet know, you know, how he comes out on this at this point.

It`s kind of a -- you know, Acosta offered sort of a measured even nuance kind of explanation here, whether you accept it or not, by saying, you know, I thought that the plea deal was a safer course than taking -- going to trial which would have been a roll of the dice.

Trump likes, you know, a more Trumpian kind of defense.  This is not a -- he is not known for nuance.  And we`ll see whether this satisfy his thirst for kind of a more robust kind of the defense of the sword that he himself would give if he came under fire.

MATTHEWS:  Kimberly, you`re agreeing with this, robustly?

ATKINS:  Yes.  I mean, that`s one of the things that I saw is that this was not a Kavanaugh defense.  Kavanaugh was angry and vocal.

MATTHEWS:  And he attacked his attackers.

ATKINS:  He attacked the attackers.   And in this case, Acosta was very measured, very technical, in a sense, trying to explain why that this deal was secretive that was somehow meant to protect the victim.

MATTHEWS:  Okay.  Imagine -- well, you can`t imagine, but it seems to me the victims -- let many go back to Berit.  And it seems if you`re a victim of this guy and there are scads of them now, they are coming forward in this dramatic way, as we saw today from the latest victim, they were kids at the time.  They were 14 years old, some that young.  Imagine watching on television what this guy`s defense of what he didn`t do, his sin of omission.  What do you think that would work with them?  Would they be happy with that?

Especially, by the way, talk about the secrecy of this.  He cut a deal with the state down in Florida, the Palm Beach district attorney down there.  Why were they -- why was that deal cut secretly and not with the knowledge of the victims?

BERGER:  Yes, that`s a fantastic question.  I mean, I think one of the most offensive parts of this whole situation is how these victims were left out of this entire process.  I mean, there is a statute, this Crime Victims Rights Act, that guarantees victims the right to be a full participant in a criminal case.

And not only were they not full participants, they were intentionally kept away from this.  They didn`t them them they were negotiating a non-prosecution agreement.  They didn`t tell them they had actually signed it.  And according to Acosta today, they were doing that somehow on behalf of the victims because they were hoping they`d get restitution.

Buy you know what?  Some of these victims may not have wanted just restitution.  They may have wanted their abuser, Jeffrey Epstein, to actually be behind bars.  They may have wanted a different kind of accountability.  So I think they really let the victims down, and it had to be pretty painful for them to watch that today.

MATTHEWS:  You know -- well, I`m going to go to Peter on this.  It seems to me my memory is pretty good on these things.  Republicans, as a cultural group, as a political faction, have always been for victims rights.  They thought that, you know, they come out against the defendant in these criminal cases, but they were very big on the rights to defend of victims, no interest in this case, no interest.  In fact, we`re not telling you, victims, what happened.

BAKER:  Yes.  His explanation was rather -- was technical and hard to maybe follow.  His argument was that the deal they were negotiating would include the ability for victims to seek financial restitution, and that if they had talked to the victims about that, then if Mr. Epstein didn`t follow through with the agreement and insists on a trial, they would undercut the credibility of the victims by saying they were only out for money.  So it`s kind of a loose explanation for why the victims were cut out of this.

But you`re right, I mean, it has historically been a republican issue, the victims` rights legislation and policies have been put in place over the last couple of decades.  And that`s one of the things that really grates on his critics.

So we talked to a lawyer for seven of the alleged victims of Mr. Epstein from the past who says that what, you know, Secretary Acosta is doing here is rewriting history and trying to blame both the prosecutors and, in some ways, the victims for not being willing to stand up in court at a trial.

MATTHEWS:  Politically, why wouldn`t he apologize, Acosta?

BAKER:  Well, you know, it`s hard for me to say, you know.

MATTHEWS:  He won`t do it.

BAKER:  But it is known that this is a president who doesn`t like people who apologize.  He doesn`t like his aides to apologize.  The few instances I can think of when advisers publicly said that they might have done something better, that they had some regrets about something, it worked against them with this president.  So I don`t know if that`s what his motivation was.  But, certainly, he must be aware of that having served in this administration for a while, that apologies don`t go over very well in the Oval Office.

MATTHEWS:  I guess that`s the truth.  Anyway, President Trump has made a habit of defending his cabinet secretaries before having them walk the plank.  It`s a two-step.  He defends then he dumps.  Take a look.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT:  General Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the President.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Michael Flynn has resigned.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  I think he`s a very fine person.  I certainly don`t like the optics.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The Secretary of Health and Human Service, Tomas Price, offered his resignation earlier today and the President accepted.

TRUMP:  I like him.  He`s a good man.  He is not a racist.  I can tell you that.  He`s a good person.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A senior administration official is confirming that Bannon will be leaving.


MATTHEWS:  Kimberly, a two-step?

ATKINS:  It is.  I mean, it depends on the circumstance, a lot of times, the two-step comes after somebody does something, like in Bannon`s case, that Trump was angry about.  Sometimes they defend him.  He defended Michael Flynn for a long time until Michael Flynn started cooperating with investigators, and that stops.

So Acosta, so far, is doing what he thinks the President wants him to do.  We will see if he continues to do that and, as Peter said, if that will be enough for the President.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he left today with some ballyhoo for the economy.  He talked about how great Trump is in terms of growth, in terms of jobs.  I think he was doing his best to throw a kiss to the President.

Anyway, thank you, Kimberly.  Thank you, Kimberly Atkins, Peter Baker, Berit Berger.

Coming up, Trump`s go-to response to anyone who criticizes him, I hardly knew him.  The latest example of the British Ambassador to the U.S. who said President Trump was insecure and incompetent, but appears the Ambassador learned the hard way not to express an opinion, not even in a private cable.  And today, he resigned.  Trump won this one.

Plus, more stonewalling from the Trump administration, the Justice Department is now trying to prevent two of Robert Mueller`s, Robert Mueller`s top deputies from even testifying before Congress.  They got their talons into those guys.  What is the Attorney General afraid they`re going to say?

And 20 years after his death, John F. Kennedy Jr. remains a fascinating American icon.  A friend of his will be here with new details about his incredible life and death.

Stick with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to Hardball.  British Ambassador to the U.S. Kim Darroch has learned the hard way, as I said, not to give his opinion of Donald J. Trump.  Darroch resigned today after days the emergence of leaked cables where he called President Trump inept, insecure, incompetent.

In his resignation letter, Darroch wrote, the current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like.

In a series of Tweets yesterday, President Trump called Darroch wacky and very stupid before adding, I don`t know the Ambassador but have been told he`s a pompous fool.  This is the President of the United States talking about the Ambassador from Britain.

"The Washington Post" reports on the president`s selective amnesia, noting: "Darroch has been in every meeting between British Prime Minister Theresa May and Trump."

But it goes on to add: "The rejoinder fit a familiar pattern for Trump, who is quick to minimize ties with people who criticize him or who find themselves facing an onslaught of negative attention that reflects poorly on him."

Well, here are just a few of the others who have gotten the "I don`t know them" treatment from this president. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign. 

I haven`t spoken to Michael in a long time. 

Well, Matt Whitaker, I don`t know Matt Whitaker. 

I never met Putin.  I don`t know who Putin is.

James Comey, I hardly know the man.  I`m not going to say I want you to pledge allegiance. 

Ann Coulter, I don`t know her. 

I don`t know anything about David Duke, OK?

BILL O`REILLY, FORMER HOST, "THE O`REILLY FACTOR":  Do you have anything further to say on this Miss Universe thing? 

TRUMP:  No, not much.  I mean, look, I hardly know this person. 

COLIN COWHERD, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  You and John Oliver, HBO guy, got into a little Twitter thing. 

TRUMP:  I don`t even hardly know who he is.  I wouldn`t know what he looks like.

I don`t know who Little Jon is. 


MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by Zerlina Maxwell, of course, senior director of progressive programming for SiriusXM and John Brabender, Republican strategist. 

John, you first. 

The British ambassador, from everybody I have talked to, is an impressive guy, a good guy.  He has now been put in the barrel by this president, humiliated, thrown out of his job, a career public servant, by the way.   He is no rich guy.  He is no toff, as they say in Britain.

He`s gone now from a career he worked 40 years to get to, U.S. -- to ambassador to the United States.  Now he is finished because the president somebody -- well, somebody leaked it. 

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, I don`t know the British ambassador.  So...


BRABENDER:  I`m just kidding.

MATTHEWS:  I like the ambassador.

BRABENDER:  I`m using that as a standard line right now. 

MATTHEWS:  If I ever got to meet him, I have always liked him.

BRABENDER:  Look, here is the truth of the matter. 

The bigger story is, this is a relationship that is critical to both sides.  And for this to have escalated to this is incompre -- look, when President Trump sees these type of criticisms, what I have learned about him is, he sees this as a criticism of not him, but of America. 


MATTHEWS:  He does?

BRABENDER:  He takes great offense at this.

MATTHEWS:  Is America inept? 

BRABENDER:  Well, he`s America first.

MATTHEWS:  Is America incompetent?  Nobody has ever said, this country is incompetent. 


BRABENDER:  Let`s make the point this guy did write those things down about a country that is very important to them. 

MATTHEWS:  In a cable. 

BRABENDER:  Somebody over there leaked them purposely to embarrass this guy.

And he is right that he could no longer serve in this duty while making these type of comments.  And there was no other opportunity, other than to resign, in my opinion. 

MATTHEWS:  Zerlina, there is a pattern here of character, which is the president drops anybody who criticizes him from his memory bank.  He separates himself from anybody who may have a sleaze problem. 

He`s not reliable as a witness to fact.  That`s a problem. 

ZERLINA MAXWELL, SIRIUSXM RADIO:  No.  Well, I mean -- and also he doesn`t tell the truth. 

But, Chris, if you think about the description in those cables that were released, those are not untrue things.  To say that this administration is dysfunctional, to say that it`s disorganized, and to allude to the fact that you have to deal with this administration in a particular way when it comes to an important issue like foreign policy, I don`t think any serious person watching thinks that what the British ambassador said was untrue. 

I think that it upset Trump personally.  I disagree.  I don`t think that he thinks that people are talking about America, because he`s not defending America in attacking an entire country in these instances.  He is attacking people personally by calling them names, calling them stupid. 

And I think that, you know, it`s really beneath the office of the president, but here we are, another day where Trump is pretty embarrassing. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I have learned in Washington over my many decades here that you don`t get in trouble for lying.  People get away with lying all the time. 

What You get in trouble for is speaking what you think is the truth.  It may not be the truth, but what you think is the truth, like this guy.  This guy has gone from his career because he said the president is what most people think he is. 


BRABENDER:  Well, but the truth of the matter is, the president also spoke the truth. 

And what people criticize this president for is really being a disruptive force in Washington, not following the norms that we`re used to. 


BRABENDER:  And, frankly, you can`t argue that some of the results haven`t been quite positive by him making changes.

MATTHEWS:  Look, I think you guys -- you just did to it me five seconds ago. 

You made fun of the fact that I might have met a few of the British ambassadors, like I`m hanging out with the toffs.  Come on now.  This is so Trumpian.  It`s like Popeye Doyle.  I would rather be a lamppost in New York than the president of France. 


MATTHEWS:  That is the whole Trump thing.

Anyway, meanwhile, John, you got some attention from the president last night.  He retweeted a video from you.  Let`s watch part of what he retweeted. 


NARRATOR:  If there is one thing we have learned, he`s not afraid to go it alone.  And he does what he thinks is right. 

That`s called having the courage of your convictions.  And despite some hoping he fails, and America fail along with him, he just keeps fighting on.

Instead of getting sand kicked in our face, we`re now once again leading from the front, a swagger in our step, respect from our allies, fear from our enemies. 


MATTHEWS:  So, you`re going to put a billion dollars behind this next year?  Is that the plan? 

BRABENDER:  No, the funny thing about it is...

MATTHEWS:  Is this how we`re going to watch morning in America two? 

BRABENDER:  I got frustrated at nobody defending the president, nobody putting out his brand that will play in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio.

MATTHEWS:  Tell me which other countries respect now us more now than they did under Obama. 

BRABENDER:  I think they all do. 


MATTHEWS:  They do? 


BRABENDER:  And you got to understand, they liked us...

MAXWELL:  No, you can`t do that.  Name them, please. 


BRABENDER:  No, wait a minute.

They liked us under Obama, but they didn`t respect us.  And there is a huge difference.  And I will tell you what.  On the trade wars or anything else, you go to places...


MATTHEWS:  Zerlina, get in here. 

BRABENDER:  ... like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, that`s how people are thinking.

MAXWELL:  OK, so let`s stick to the facts. 

We were just talking about a British ambassador, Britain being one of our most important allies, right, in terms of our standing in the world.  That ambassador had to resign after 40 years for saying true things about the president and the White House`s dysfunction, which is borne out in reporting. 

So my pushback on what you`re saying is not necessarily a partisan one.  It`s just like, I -- we need to stick to the facts here.  All the countries in the world do not respect us more than under President Obama.  So, just name some and specific quotes, and then we can have a serious conversation. 

BRABENDER:  Well, for some reason, now we`re getting them to all ante up and pay their share of the United Nations.

MAXWELL:  But based on reporting, many countries are on record saying that they lost respect for this administration and this president because of his behavior. 

He acts very immature on Twitter, in public, pushing members of NATO out of the way.  This is not how any adult should behave, and certainly not a president. 

MATTHEWS:  John, you know, when Obama went abroad, whether it was Berlin or Cairo or anywhere in Africa, he got huge crowds.  People loved Obama around the world. 

BRABENDER:  They did, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Nobody loves Trump. 


And what you find with Trump is, he did not in get this job because he wanted to get pats on the back or see if he could get people in other countries to love him.  This is what he talks when America first. 

The context he looks at is, what is in the best interests of his country?  And sometimes that is going to anger other countries, like China.  And he`s not afraid to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Does he listen to you? 

BRABENDER:  I have never met him in my life. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you`re a good pitchman.  I`ll tell you that.  You`re a ballyhoo boy for this guy. 

Thank you so much, John Brabender, Zerlina Maxwell, as always.  Watch her on -- listen to her on Sirius Radio. 

MAXWELL:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Attorney General William Barr`s Justice Department is accusing Congress of trying to create a public spectacle.  That`s what they say about having Robert Mueller testify. 

Isn`t that why we did a two-year investigation?  He comes to Congress to explain what he discovered, that`s a spectacle?  I think that`s truth-telling.  And the Democrats say Barr is determined to keep the American people in the dark. 

We will have more about that after the break. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Apparently, they can`t quit the cover-up. 

The Trump administration continues to attempt its attempt to gag witnesses who have been asked to testify to the Congress about the Russia probe. 

"The New York Times" reports that the Justice Department is trying to silence two of Robert Mueller`s deputies.  Both had agreed to testify to the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees behind closed doors. 

According to the DOJ official -- quote -- "The department told both retired officials not to appear."

While the former members of Mueller`s team, Aaron Zebley and James Quarles, are not obliged to comply with the department`s wishes, the pressure could have a chilling effect on their willingness to cooperate once they do show up. 

And this looks like Attorney General Bill Barr`s latest attempt to conceal the full impact of the Mueller report.  And it comes after Barr changed his position this week on Mueller`s testimony -- testimony, which was scheduled -- it is scheduled for next Wednesday. 

Barr now objects to Mueller appearing before the Congress, even though he gave his word in April he had no objection to it. 


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE:  I was disappointed to see him subpoenaed, because I don`t think that serves an important purpose, dragging Bob Mueller up, if he, in fact, is going to stick to the report. 

It seems to me the only reason for doing that is to create some kind of public spectacle.

QUESTION:  Will you permit him to testify publicly to Congress? 

BARR:  I have no objection to Bob Mueller personally testifying. 


MATTHEWS:  So will the Justice Department`s 11th-hour intervention here keep Mueller`s deputies from testifying? 

The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee was asked that today, and that`s coming up next. 



REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY):  The American people should hear from Mueller what was in the report, should hear from Mueller about the evidence of the 10 obstructions of justice by the president, of the repeated instructions by the president to people to lie to them, the American people, and to investigating bodies. 

And, of course, Barr doesn`t want that.  Of course, he doesn`t want to be contradicted in his lies and misrepresentations. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler responding last night to the attorney general`s criticism of Robert Mueller even testifying before the Congress. 

Well, today, he confirmed that Mueller is still set to testify next Wednesday, a week from tonight, but he wouldn`t say whether Mueller`s deputies would also appear. 


QUESTION:  Mr. Nadler, can we ask you about your negotiations with Mueller?  Still confident he is coming next week? 

NADLER:  He is coming. 

QUESTION:  What about the deputies? 



Tomorrow, Nadler`s committee plans to authorize a new round of subpoenas for additional witnesses, including Jared Kushner, Jeff Sessions and Corey Lewandowski, among others. 

The special counsel`s testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees next week comes as Politico reports that few members of Congress have actually read the Mueller report. 

I`m joined right now by Congressman Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.  It`s his first MSNBC interview since ending his presidential bid. 

You`re smiling, Congressman.  Are you happy?



MATTHEWS:  And Natasha Bertrand is a national security correspondent at Politico. 

I will get to you in a minute about the campaign, Congressman.  I do want to know some thoughts. 

But let`s go to Natasha to start this thing out. 

What is Barr up to?  Is he still doing a rear-guard effort to scuttle the whole Russia probe by making sure nobody testifies, so we know what`s in the Mueller report? 

NATASHA BERTRAND, POLITICO:  Well, it certainly seems that way. 

I mean, Barr was probably banking on Mueller not testifying, right, because Mueller made it very clear that he did not want to go before Congress and reiterate the report which he had spent two years working on. 

So, I think now the kind of last-ditch effort here is to try to scuttle his deputies from testifying behind closed doors, because they`re the ones that can really get into the nuts and bolts of this, because not only are they going to be testifying privately, which is a more secure setting, obviously, but they have also been two of the people closest to the investigation, two of the people closest to Bob Mueller. 

James Quarles is actually the one that dealt with the White House directly on issues of obstruction of justice.  And Aaron Zebley, of course, was the liaison with DOJ, the Justice Department. 

So, these are two people who could really get into the weeds here with members of Congress.  And it`s unclear -- actually, it seems pretty clear now that Barr really doesn`t want them to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, you`re a politician, as well as an investigator in this case, and a recent campaigner, I must say.

It looks to me like Barr has already been successful in dousing the fireworks.  He -- from the beginning, he distorted what the Mueller report was.  He gave a false leading about how it didn`t have anything about collusion, really didn`t have obstruction conclusively, didn`t have -- in fact, even the day the report finally -- he finally let it out, he basically doused it again.

And here he is dousing it again.  I just wonder if there is any hope to get the fireworks lit up again, even if you have a hearing next Wednesday with the special counsel.  Your thoughts. 

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA):  He is a full obstructer, and he has been emboldened, because he hasn`t paid the price.  The president is certainly not going get rid of him.  This is what the president wants him to do. 

But he is going -- there is going to be an accounting for what he has done.  It won`t happen as fast of all of us want it to happen, but he is doing this for one simple reason, and one reason only, to protect the president, to bury the evidence that hurts the president as far beneath the earth as possible, and hope that they run out the clock, so we can`t get it. 

But we are winning court fights.  We are getting these witnesses to come in.  And the American people are going to see that this president drew his campaign very closely to the Russians, and then, when he was caught and confronted with it, they sought to cover it up. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, meanwhile, Natasha, you have been reporting that the Justice Department officials interviewed former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele as part of the inspector general`s inquiry into the origins of the Russia probe, and you report the interview was contentious at first, but investigators ultimately found Steele`s testimony credible and even surprising. 

The extensive interview with Steele may dampen expectations among the president`s allies who have claimed that Steele`s sensational dossier was used improperly by the bureau.  During the break, I was asking do you think Republicans` counter offense, the red hots, the Tea Party types on the committees, are they going to get anywhere in disrupting the hearings next week? 

BERTRAND:  Well, we pretty much know what they`re going to ask, right?  They`re going to play the greatest hits.  Why did you only hire Democrats to proceed with this investigation?  Why didn`t you grill Peter Strzok more, you know, effectively when you found out that he was sending these text messages? 

And they`re also going to say, well, when did you find out that there was no, quote/unquote, conspiracy between the campaign and Russia? 

But these are things that Mueller can easily push back on, right?  I mean, he chose the most qualified people for the job.  The investigation moved at a record pace because these people were so confident. 

And then with regard to the collusion and conspiracy question, well, there was a lot of corruption in this entire probe.  There was a lot of use of encrypted communications.  I mean, these are things that Mueller can get at and say it took a while for us to conclusively determine that we could not establish in a criminal context that a conspiracy had occurred. 

And with regard to Christopher Steele, we`re now seeing that the inspector general perhaps is a looking at him in a new light.  So when that report comes out, it may also put everything into a new perspective. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president today tweeted a video of his lawyer Rudy Giuliani saying on Fox News last night that the entire investigation about the Russia probe was a plot to frame Trump.  Let`s watch Rudy for Trump. 


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S ATTORNEY:  The reality is that this was a plot from the very beginning to frame Trump.  That`s what you`re going to find out.  It`s rather complex.  It has a whole counterintelligence spin to it, and it`s going to get worse and worse and worse. 


MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that?  By the way, I got to ask you about something that`s political.  Now that you`re running for reelection, Eric, to the House of Representatives.  Maybe this is too touchy, but it`s a good one. 

Back when Nixon was in trouble, he said I knew I was in trouble when I saw who was running the show on the Hill, that was Tip O`Neill.  He was going to get him after Watergate. 

Does it hurt your party that the speaker of the House now, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, has been basically Horatio at the bridge basically stopping the impeachment effort?  And is that going to hurt next year that you lacked the leadership to go after Trump when you had the chance? 

SWALWELL:  I wouldn`t say she is stopping at all, Chris.  I would say that she`s --

MATTHEWS:  She isn`t? 

SWALWELL:  No, if she was stopping --

MATTHEWS:  Everybody thinks she is. 

SWALWELL:  Well, Mueller wouldn`t be coming in next week if she was stopping it, right?  She would say move on. 

I think what she is doing -- you know, she plays a different role than I.  I want an impeachment inquiry.  She is the conductor of this symphony, and she wants to make sure all the instruments are tuned and all the performers -- 

MATTHEWS:  OK, you`ve fallen for that.

SWALWELL:  -- are playing off the same sheet of music. 

MATTHEWS:  You are arguing to me now you believe at some point she will give you the good ahead for impeachment?  You believe that at some point in the next two years? 

SWALWELL:  I`m not going to speak for her -- 

MATTHEWS:  You believe that?  I don`t believe it. 

SWALWELL:  I`m not going to speak for her, but here is what the president should believe is that if she does move in that direction, he should be really worried because she is a very prepared and focused leader, and if that`s where we end up, he`s in trouble. 

MATTHEWS:  I don`t think she`s going to move for it.  I think she made a decision strategically.  It`s not in the interest of getting reelected as speaker or the House holding the House, the Democrats. 

Let me ask you, do you still think Joe Biden is too old to be president? 

SWALWELL:  No, it`s never about age.  And the case --

MATTHEWS:  No, you say it`s time to pass the torch in the debates. 

SWALWELL:  Right.  And someone, you know, could be new on the scene that is an older American.  It was about having a next generation of leadership and making sure that these issues that we`re facing right now on gun violence, on student loan debt --

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but you said it`s time for a generational change.  You said it`s time to pass the torch and you were talking directly to the vice president, the former vice president.  Why are you changing your tune now? 

SWALWELL:  Well, I`m saying it`s time to pass the torch to people who have not been around for decades working on these issues.  You know, I am of a generation that has lived with failure, you know, to act on a lot of these issues, and we want to step up and lead right now. 

But look, Joe Biden can beat Donald Trump.  Kamala Harris can beat Donald Trump. 


SWALWELL:  Elizabeth Warren can beat Donald Trump.  We`ve got a lot of talented folks.  And I`m -- you know, it`s nice to be citizens sitting on the couch with my 2-year-old son and my 8-month-old daughter and watching this play out. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Biden is competent to be president? 


MATTHEWS:  But you said he had to pass the torch.  I don`t get you on this.  Explain to me the difference between pass the torch to a younger generation and saying he is too old.  Just what`s the difference between those two statements? 

SWALWELL:  I just happen believe and my candidacy was rooted in that passing the torch to the generation that`s going to have to live with the consequences of inaction on climate, that is going to have to live on the quicksand of student loan debt that people are on, and the fear that people have sending their kids to school and fearing gun violence, we`re living these issues, and maybe perhaps we should be leading on it and being on the stage with Donald Trump. 

But look, our candidacy didn`t take off.  I feel comfortable, though, that we did get Joe Biden -- 


SWALWELL:  -- and Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris to say they supported my ban on a buyback on assault weapons, and we accomplished that. 


SWALWELL:  I`m going to go back to the work I have to do in the House and I`ll be a better congressman because, you know, I made this case. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.

SWALWELL:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  I had to hit you on this. 

SWALWELL:  It`s my job. 

MATTHEWS:  Because you threw the long ball, you threw the long ball, and it was intercepted tonight. 

Anyway, thank you, U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell. 

SWALWELL:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to the House and welcome back to HARDBALL.

Natasha Bertrand, great reporter. 

Up next, a new report of the life and legacy of John F. Kennedy Jr., who died in a plane crash 20 years ago.  We`ve got a lot of details from a great author about how it happened, how he lost his life. 

Stick around. 



MATTHEWS:  Would you think of a magazine editor getting into politics.  Steve Forbes, Barkley running, Bradley having a center.  Are we getting beyond the usual suspects and we`re tired of the usual suspects? 

JOHN F. KENNEDY JR., SON OF JFK:  Well, I`m not sure it`s all that different.  I think if historically Americans have always been frustrated with what they perceived inside Washington and outside.  I think people are intrigued by novelty.  And when you have a new face comes up, you know, people are -- it`s a way of kind of spicing up what is a long election. 


MATTEHWS:  Couple of guys long ago talking about politics.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was, of course, John F. Kennedy Jr. with me back in 1996 on the first edition of the show that later became HARDBALL, on the prospects of that conversation of nonpoliticians like guess who running for office.

Next week will mark the 20th anniversary since the death of John F. Kennedy Jr.  The son of a president, he had the same lightness of personality, I can say that, that his father had, but never jumped at the chance to follow in his footsteps politically.  His life was cut short when his plane he was piloting crashed off the coast of Martha`s Vineyard killing him, his wife and his sister-in-law. 

A new book entitled "Four Friends" looks at the life and death of Kennedy as well as three of his high school roommates who also died young. 

Joining me right now is the author of this great book, William Cohan, special correspondent for "Vanity Fair" and also a high school friend. 

So, let`s talk about risk-taking.  He took off that night in the dark.  He hadn`t been checked out as an instruments flier.  What was that about him that he was the kind of guy who took chances he didn`t have to take? 

WILLIAM D. COHAN, AUTHOR, "FOUR FRIENDS":  Well, he took chances with his own life, Chris, as I`m sure you know and that particular -- I mean, this is a guy who would unfortunately go kayaking in the Arctic.  He would go kayaking in Scandinavia with friends.  He got lost on a trip to Africa.  John always thought the rules of human behavior didn`t necessarily apply to him. 

On this particular night, of course, you know, he was going to go with the flight instructor, but being the kind of guy he was, a real gentleman to a fault, unfortunately, he told the flight instructor not to go with him because it had come late at night.  His wife was delayed getting a mani/pedi and, oh, didn`t get to New Jersey until an hour and a half too late and, you know, he told the flight instructor not to go with him. 

And he wasn`t certified for flying in those hazy, hot humid conditions but did it anyway without a flight instructor, a fatal decision. 

MATTHEWS:  Your description -- I`m sorry, Bill, your description is so vivid about a guy flying a plane, a very -- you know, a brand-new pilot, basically, about three hours of flying time, and he is up there, and it`s dark.  It`s hazy out.  It`s like he is in a box.  He can`t see anything, and he doesn`t know how to read the instruments properly, and he doesn`t know if he is up or down. 

Meanwhile, he`s got a wife in the back seat with her sister, God knows what mood they were in.  Imagine the horror.  Talk about that.  That was your -- I don`t know how you cannot want to read that and be just amazed by it. 

COHAN:  I mean, obviously, the horror of that realizing, come to realizing at that moment that you`ve made a fatal error in judgment, you know, and the same thing happened to two of my other friends from Andover. 

I mean, literally, Chris, I think we could be talking about a president John F. Kennedy Jr. now if he hadn`t made that fatal decision 20 years ago.  He was that charismatic.  He was that talented.  He was a magnet for people, as you well know. 

You can see from that clip.  Talk about a fresh new face. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he was always light and wonderful when I got a chance to hang out with him. 

But let me ask you about his decision.  He did avoid -- he did step back, according to your writing and reporting when Hillary Clinton wanted to run that seat in New York.  He thought the Senate was boring.  He thought -- hanging around voting in committee didn`t excite him. 

But according to your report, he was thinking about running against George Pataki when Pataki went for his third term in 2002. 

COHAN:  Absolutely right.  John thought of himself as a CEO.  I mean, he had been running "George" with some various degrees of success.  He did not see himself as a one of 100 in the U.S. Senate.  He did not see himself as a legislator. 

He saw himself as an executive.  He wanted to be different than the other members of his family who went into politics and were more in the legislative branch, obviously, except for his father.  And I think that`s what he saw himself. 

And there is no question, you know, I think he could have beaten Pataki.  I don`t think he would have challenged a Barack Obama in 2008, but I can be damned well sure that he would be challenging a Donald Trump in 2016. 

MATTHEWS:  Quickly, the marriage doesn`t look so good. 

COHAN:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  It looked good on the outside.  What was wrong? 

COHAN:  Just a disaster.  From the start, I think it was -- I mean, it was a totally physical romantic relationship.  They were desperately in love, but then they fell completely out of love. 

And I think at the end here, at the time of his death he was living apart from her.  He was living in the Stanhope Hotel, and I think he was -- 


COHAN:  -- getting ready to move on to find somebody new who could be a political wife for him. 

MATTHEWS:  Unbelievable reporting.  This is blockbusting stuff for you. 

William Cohan, thank you. 

COHAN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  The book is called "Four Friends", a lot of it about John F. Kennedy Jr.  Four promising lives cut short, it`s called. 

Up next, the U.S. women`s soccer team.  Boy, did we cheer for them, an incredible sight on the streets of New York City today when they were applauded as they should been.  What a moment for women in sports and for our country. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  What a day it was today in New York City.  The U.S. women`s soccer team was given a ticker tape parade like national heroes back from the front, which of course they are.  The victory parade traveled down that special stretch of Broadway known as the Canyon of Heroes where conquerors of the past have been honored where they were given the keys to the city today. 

Here is U.S. team captain Megan Rapinoe speaking to the crowd. 


MEGAN RAPINOE, U.S. TEAM CAPTAIN:  This is my charge to everyone.  We have to be better.  We have to love more, hate less.  We got to listen more and talk less. 

It`s our responsibility to make this world a better place.  I think this team does an incredible job of taking that on our shoulders and understanding the position that we have and the platform that we have within this world. 

Yes, we play sports.  Yes, we play soccer.  Yes, we`re female athletes, but we`re so much more than that. 


MATTHEWS:  That was team captain Megan Rapinoe. 

Anyway, the World Cup champions attribute it to team work, will to win and athletic pride.  They had a lot of that.  And, by the way, as a husband and father and family of women athletes, my wife Kathleen played tennis at Stanford, my daughter Carolyn was an inveterate midfielder in soccer, it`s even grander joy to be in a country in love with these champions that thrilled us in game after game.  I watched a lot of them, especially when we beat the Brits. 

That`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts now.