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Robert Mueller testifies. TRANSCRIPT: 7/24/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Sean Patrick Maloney; Madeleine Dean, Ben Rhodes, Cynthia Alksne,Leon Panetta

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Second term or prison term.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

That`s the message from today`s testimony by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a second term for term or a prison term for Trump.  Trump was not exonerated in the investigation by Mueller and stands vulnerable to indictment the second he leaves office.

And the dramatic double-feature today, Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, laying bare the evidence his prosecutors uncovered in their two-year investigation.

And despite his reluctance to testify, Mueller offered a stark, often emphatic summary of his findings.  He pierced a gaping hole in the President`s most misleading defense, Trump`s false claim that the Mueller report exonerated him.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY):  The President has repeatedly claimed that your report found there was no obstruction and that it completely and totally exonerated him.  But that is not what your report said, is it?

ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL:  Correct, that is not what the report said.

NADLER:  And what about total exoneration?  Did you actually totally exonerate the President?



MATTHEWS:  Far from exonerating the President, Mueller confirmed for millions of Americans today that Trump and his associates embraced Russian interference with open arms and then lied about it.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA):  In fact, the campaign welcomed the Russian help, did it not?

MUELLER:  I think, we have in the report indications that that occurred, yes.

SCHIFF:  Apart from the Russians wanting to help Trump win, several individuals associated with the Trump campaign were also trying to make money during the campaign in transition.  Is that correct?

MUELLER:  That is true.

SCHIFF:  When your investigation looked into these matter, numerous Trump associates lied to your team, the grand jury and to Congress?

MUELLER:  A number of persons that we interviewed in our investigation, it turns out, did lie.

SCHIFF:  When Donald Trump called your investigation a witch hunt, that was also false, was it not?

MUELLER:  I`d like to think so, yes.

SCHIFF:  Well, your investigation is not a witch hunt, is it?

MUELLER:  It is not a witch hunt.

SCHIFF:  When the President said the Russian interference was a hoax, that was false, wasn`t it?



MATTHEWS:  Throughout his sworn testimony today, the former Special Counsel detailed how Trump and others misled prosecutors and covered their tracks throughout the investigation.  He reprimanded the President for encouraging a hostile intelligence service, WikiLeaks, to distribute Hillary Clinton campaign emails, and he explained how the President used the power of his office to attempt to end the investigation itself.

When a Republican Congressman questioned Mueller`s findings on obstruction, the former Special Counsel made clear that the President can be indicted, indicted for criminal action after he`s left office.


REP. KEN BUCK (R-OH):  Okay.  But the -- could you charge the President with a crime after he left office?


BUCK:  You believe that he committed -- you could charge the President of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?



MATTHEWS:  Didn`t explain I mean, didn`t expect it.  Anyway, Mueller`s point appeared to bolster Speaker Nancy Pelosi`s private words to members of her caucus in June when she said, I don`t want to see Trump impeached.  I want to see him in prison.

Well, after House Democrats held an impromptu caucus meeting following the hearing today, U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland made an impassioned plea to all Americans about the importance of this moment, today`s testimony in history.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD):  It`s not about not liking the President.  It`s about loving democracy.  It`s about loving our country.  It`s about making a difference for generations yet unborn.  That`s what this is all about.  And I`m begging, I`m begging the American people to pay attention to what is going on.


MATTHEWS:  I`m joined right now by U.S. Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney of New York State, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, and Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.  Thank you both for joining us.  You`re on that busy carter (ph) again, but let`s get to the question.

The President since March when William Barr put out his distorted notion of what the findings were of the Special Counsel, the President has been bragging that he was exonerated by Special Counsel Mueller`s investigation.  What was the truth that came out today, Congressman Maloney?

REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-NY):  Well, I`m reminded of the old saying that a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on.  And I think what you saw today is the truth is getting in the game, that the Attorney General went out and just flat-out misrepresented what the report said.  The President has been lying about it all along.  Today was the beginning of a serious effort to get the truth to the American people.

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman, the same question to you, because it seems to me that the President was successful in lying.  It is a direct lie.  He was not exonerated.  The committee counsel made that clear today many, many times.  In fact, he is vulnerable for criminal prosecution the second he leaves office.

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA):  Well -- and you actually are getting to an area that I actually focused on in my questions with Mueller, the role of Attorney General Barr in creating public confusion around what the findings were of this report.  The Special Counsel wrote to the Attorney General and said, there is now public confusion as a result of his characterization of the report, which gave cover to this president to go on over and over again to say no collusion, no obstruction.

Guess what Mueller said today?  Neither of those things was the case.  In fact, in volume one, we see sweeping wrongdoing by Russia that continues to this day.  We see incredible collaboration, not criminal according to Mueller, by the Trump campaign, more than 100 contacts with Russia and not a call to law enforcement, and then ten instances of obstruction of justice by this president, and he couldn`t charge simply because of the Justice Department ruling that you cannot charge a sitting president.

MATTHEWS:  For which the President, according to Robert Mueller, now faces if he leaves office tomorrow morning, criminal action against him.

Anyway, under questioning from Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida, I believe, Mueller acknowledged that the evidence he gathered contradicted the President`s written testimony, which was not always truthful.  Here it goes.


REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL):  In fact, there were many questions that you asked the President that he simply didn`t answer, isn`t that correct?


DEMINGS:  And there were many answers that contradicted other evidence you had gathered during the investigation.  Isn`t that correct, Director Mueller?


DEMINGS:  Director Mueller, isn`t it fair to say that the President`s written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn`t answer many of your questions, but where he did his answers showed he wasn`t always being truthful?

MUELLER:  There -- I would say, generally.


MATTHEWS:  He is careful there, of course, Congressman.  It looks like he is getting to the point there of saying the President perjured himself.

MALONEY:  Well, let`s remember, there was no in-person sworn testimony by the President.  And I asked him why.  And I think the interesting explanation is that Director Mueller actually thought he had laid out substantial evidence, sufficient evidence in the report to divine the intent and to assess the Presidents culpability in that area.

By the way, that`s the most he can do under the DOJ guidelines around prosecution and around accusing without charging.  And so the fact is that he ran right up to the line there, I think, of saying, we didn`t even interview the President because we had enough and it`s in the report.

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman, good ahead.

DEAN:  More than that, yes, take a look at what both the President and Attorney General Barr claimed, full cooperation by this White House, full cooperation by this president.  But he refused to come in, and then he testified so many times in his written words he didn`t remember, he didn`t know, and contradictory things.

This is not a transparent, accountable White House.  What we have seen today is the lawlessness, the corruption that has permeated both the campaign and this administration.

MATTHEWS:  Amazing testimony today.  Thank you so much, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney of New York State and Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania.

DEAN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Piece by piece, democrats Mueller to confirm the details of Trump`s attempt to fire the Special Counsel and stop the investigation altogether.


REP. TED DEUTCH (D-FL):  The President wanted to fire you because you were investigating him for obstruction of justice.  Isn`t that correct?

MUELLER:  That`s what it says in the report, yes.  And I stand by the report.

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA):  Next, the President told the White House Staff Secretary, Rob Porter, to try to pressure McGahn to make a false denial.  Is that correct?

MUELLER:  That`s correct.

REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D-LA):  So it`s fair to say the President tried to protect himself by asking staff to falsify records relevant to an ongoing investigation?

MUELLER:  I would say that`s generally a summary.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI):  Mr. Lewandowski, a private citizen, was instructed by the President of the United States to deliver a message from the President to the Attorney General that directed him to limit your investigation.  Correct?

MUELLER:  Correct.

CICILLINE:  And it`s an unsuccessful attempt to obstruct justice is still a crime, is that correct?

MUELLER:  That is correct.


MATTHEWS:  joining me right now is Cynthia Alksne, former federal prosecutor, Paul Butler, also a former federal prosecutor, also Ben Rhodes, Former Deputy National Security Advisor.

Let me start with Cynthia on this.  It seems like the democrats did a series (ph) at him, one after another, draw out from Mueller the examples and cases of where he obstructed criminally.

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Yes and no.  I mean, he refused really to even answer a question.  All he would do is take a leading question.  But he wouldn`t actually say what happened.  I thought that was frustrating.  He wouldn`t read from the report.  I thought that was frustrating.

And then I also thought the presentation, you know, as nice as the clips are that you`ve put together, your staff has put together, when you watch the whole thing, it wasn`t compelling, because it was upside down and backwards.  It started with the obstruction.  It moved to -- after that to the actual crime.  That didn`t make any sense.  He was very halting.  He didn`t defend the report with the kind of gusto I expected him to.

So while the information got out, it was information we all knew.


ALKSNE:  And I hate to be the contrarian on the network, but I did not think it went well.


ALKSNE:  And I was unimpressed with the manner in which it was organized.

MATTHEWS:  Well, a lot of this is the man`s age and all kinds of factors.  We`ll be examining that.  But I thought although he didn`t have racing stripes on, he did deliver the goods, point by point.  Your thoughts, Paul.

PAUL BUTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  So Mueller directly proved that Trump`s claim of no obstruction is a lie.  He presented compelling evidence that all of the predicates, all of the legal requirements for obstruction were proven.  His was an official investigation that the President tried to impede with a corrupt intent.

And so Mueller proved that by looking at how Trump tried to fire Mueller and then tried to get the White House Counsel to lie and cover up about how Trump tried to get Sessions to recuse himself about how Trump impeded witnesses by dangling those pardons and threatening Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort.

So I agree with you, Cynthia.  The problem isn`t so much what Trump said but how he -- what Mueller said but how he said it.  Mueller is lawyerly and reserved where Trump and Barr are aggressive and in your face.  And the stakes here are very high.

This is the most important investigation of a president in American history.  Trump and Barr lie about it and their lies seem to be effective.  What Mueller needed to do was say plainly and directly that the President is guilty of multiple felonies, that the only reason that he`s not charged with a crime now is because of that DOJ policy.  But the constitutional remedy is impeachment.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Ben on this question, because it seems like a lot of this was done in broad daylight.  The President attempted firing of Comey, daring him to give a loyalty oath, everything he could to protect his guy, his National Security Advisor, pushing for the firing of the Special Counsel himself.  So much of this information is bold print in the headlines for months now.  And all they wanted to do was tie it together today.

And I had to admit, I agree with Cynthia.  The ability of this special prosecutor to make his case was not good, but the members of the Congress on the democratic side and the republican side were able to bring out the criminality, I thought.  Your view?

BEN RHODES, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR:  Yes.  I mean, Chris, at the end of the day, the thing that has to endure are the facts, right?  And the facts here are very clear, that Russia interfered in our election, that the Trump campaign was involved in, as was confirmed today, 100 contacts with a hostile foreign power that was attacking our democracy, and that, clearly, Trump and many people around him lied about their contacts with Russia.  And some of those people have even been charged with crimes.  And we learned today that Trump could be charged with a crime when he no longer has the protection of the presidency.

So, again, a lot of this has been playing out in plain sight.  A lot of the crimes, frankly, that were committed in the obstruction that was committed was in plain sight.  Frankly, we all remember Donald Trump asking Russia to hack Hillary`s emails on camera, just as we saw him confirm that he fired Jim Comey because of the Russia investigation on camera.

But that shouldn`t make the facts matter less.  Again, just because the republicans on that committee don`t have the conscience to defend Trump, just because Bob Mueller did not perform like a professional wrestler doesn`t diminish the severity of the facts.

And what we also heard from Mueller today is that Russia was continuing to interfere in our democracy and that we should have no confidence as Americans that this administration wouldn`t do the exact same thing again and seek the help of a hostile foreign power in getting elected again.

Those are the facts, and now, I think the democrats now have to act on them.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I thought that Jerry Nadler got the points out front.  First of all, the President has been lying for five months.  He was not exonerated by Mueller`s report.  He was not exonerated.  And second, he faces criminal prosecution.  You have a thought?

ALKSNE:  Yes.  Here is my problem with the situation.  I didn`t learn anything knew.  I knew he could be prosecuted.  I read the report a million times.  There isn`t any question to me that he committed the obstruction and that they played cozy with the Russians, welcomed their help and then they`ve lied to cover it up.

The question is what are the democrats going to do about it?  Every time we approach anything, they have a new solution.  Oh, you know, Julian Assange is coming.  Maybe he`ll talk.  Manafort will talk.  Stone is going to flip for sure.  They always have something to kick the can down the road.  And now, you can already hear them at this last press conference, we`re just going get Don McGahn.

I got news for you.  Don McGahn is going to fight the subpoena constantly.  They have to make the decision.  Are they going to impeach him or are they not going to impeach him.  If they`re going to impeach him, get going.  If they`re not going to impeach him, let`s take the business of the country.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Cynthia.

ALKSNE:  Sorry.

MATTHEWS:  No, don`t be sorry.  It`s in my soul what you`re saying.  I want to do it too.  I`m going to move it too.

ALKSNE:  Just do something.  We all know what happened.  We know.

MATTHEWS:  Stop kicking the can.  Cynthia, Paul and Ben are all sticking with us.

Coming up, Robert Mueller lays out the Russian connection and how Trump and his people welcomed it, encouraged it, made use of it and then covered it up.

Plus, why isn`t there more being done to fight ongoing Russian interference, which Mueller made clear was definitely not a hoax?  I`m going to talk exclusively to former CIA Director Leon Panetta tonight.

Much more ahead on a big news day.  Stick with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Robert Mueller demonstrated again today that his investigation into Russian election interference was not a witch hunt.  He was explicit about the main finding of his two-year investigation, that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and the Trump campaign welcomed, encouraged it, benefitted from it, used it, covered it up.

Well, this afternoon, the afternoon House Intelligence Committee hearing today, Chairman Adam Schiff, asked the Special Counsel to confirm aspects of his findings.


SCHIFF:  In fact, the campaign welcomed the Russian help, did they not?

MUELLER:  I think we report in our -- in the report indications that that occurred, yes.

SCHIFF:  The President himself called on the Russians to hack Hillary`s emails?

MUELLER:  There was a statement by the President in those general lines.

SCHIFF:  And numerous times during the campaign, the President praised the releases of the Russian-hacked emails through WikiLeaks?

MUELLER:  Well, that did occur.

SCHIFF:  Russia committed federal crimes in order to help Donald Trump?

MUELLER:  When you`re talking about the computer crimes in --


MUELLER:  -- the charge in our case, absolutely.

SCHIFF:  Trump campaign officials built their strategy, their messaging strategy, around those stolen documents? 

MUELLER:  Generally, that`s true. 

SCHIFF:  And then they lied to cover it up? 

MUELLER:  Generally, that`s true. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, Mueller went on to call the threat of more Russian interference next time the most serious threat to our democracy. 

Cynthia Alksne, Paul Butler, and Ben Rhodes are back with me. 

Ben, you first this time.

There was a lot of information gleaned there by the chairman, Adam Schiff, from the special counsel about the role the Trump people played here in terms of colluding, a lot of it. 

RHODES:  Yes. 

And that exchange is the whole ball game right there, Chris.  That`s that the Trump campaign welcomed this attack from a foreign adversary, sought to benefit from it, built a campaign strategy around it, and here we are.  And here we are facing an ongoing threat to our democracy from the Russians.  And Cynthia is exactly right.  Mueller can`t directly instruct Congress to impeach the president, but he has basically punted it into their lap, and said, here`s what I found.  What are you going to do about it? 

And let`s be clear, Chris.  If this isn`t an impeachable offense, or at least -- if this doesn`t at least merit an impeachment inquiry, what does?  We have got multiple crimes.

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that. 

RHODES:  We have an attack on our democracy from a foreign adversary, a foreign adversary that`s going to do it again. 

And if the people who did this pay no price for it, if there is no accountability, why wouldn`t they do it again, and why wouldn`t other people do it after them?  That`s why this is such a big crisis for our country. 

MATTHEWS:  Paul, during Watergate -- and I was around -- I got a -- every time I got a tad of sympathy for the guys who got in trouble, I said, no, if they got away with this, it would have gotten much worse, because it gets worse. 

If you exploit, if you abuse your power, you`re going to abuse it more the next day you get up. 

BUTLER:  And Robert Mueller said that today. 

The word he used to describe what the Russians did to the United States was attack.  This was an attack on our democracy.  And the question is, will they get away with it?  And what he suggested is, not only have we not learned, but that this is very likely to happen with the 2020 election, and this time it won`t only be the Russians who are attacking us, it will be other nations as well. 

The point here is, did Mueller then rise to the occasion and do everything in his power to try to get that message to the American people?  Because this wasn`t an investigative kind of hearing.  This was a showcase to -- for the American people to learn what Robert Mueller had found in his findings. 

And, usually, prosecutors want criminals to be brought to justice.  They want there to be consequences for illegal actions.  And, again, I`m not sure Mueller made that case to the United States as directly and effectively as he could have. 


BUTLER:  This was theater.  At the end of the day, he was an ineffective leading man. 

MATTHEWS:  He wasn`t a presenter. 

Anyway, Mueller...

ALKSNE:  Well, he is not a theater guy.  We all knew that.  He did exactly what he said he was going to do.  I`m going to stick to the report. 

And, by the way, everybody who knows him knows he doesn`t do theater.  He has this armor of ethics around him.  That`s why he is a prosecutor`s prosecutor.  He was never going to do what the House wanted him to do.  He was never going to do that. 

He was just -- and he absorbed all the criticism from the Republicans.  Neither side got what they wanted. 


ALKSNE:  Let me just be the depressing person at the table. 

Trump is getting away with it.  That is what is happening.  We are not -- they are not going to impeach him.

BUTLER:  But Mueller understands that. 

See, the thing is, Mueller understands that.  He is allowed to notice politics.  So he understood that today could be a game-changer.  And given, again, that he thinks that the Russians attacked our democracy, and that Trump actively welcomed that attack, and then did everything in his power to prevent the investigation, which is a crime, again, why wouldn`t he do more to try to protect his findings, to make sure that Trump is brought to justice? 

MATTHEWS:  Cynthia, you say he is going to beat the judge here.  He is not going to get impeached.  He is not going to get indicted.

ALKSNE:  I don`t think he is going to get impeached.  I don`t -- he might get indicted later, if we`re lucky.

MATTHEWS:  You think he might, really?  Suppose he gets a second term?

ALKSNE:  Well, here`s the -- well, then we have a statute of limitations problem. 

But it`s not just this case.  It`s the campaign finance case too.  That case is going down the road.  The guy paid somebody off in order to get elected.  And what are we doing?  We`re like sitting on our thumbs, fiddling. 

I don`t know what`s going on here.  And how are you ever going to have a campaign finance law, when you know the president of the United States can pay somebody off and nothing happens?

MATTHEWS:  Ben, is he going to get away with it? 

RHODES:  Well, I mean, part of what...

MATTHEWS:  Everything we talked about, everything that Mueller brought today under -- he -- pulled out of his hands, but we got the truth from him today, all of the dealing, the collusion, all the obstruction, all that that came forward finally today, you had to pull it out of his teeth, but it came out. 

Is that going to put this guy away, or is he going to stay as president, maybe get reelected without any prosecution?  What do you think?

RHODES:  That`s not going to put him away, right? 

And you`re only going to defeat him at the ballot box, and that`s when we will see if he gets away with it. 

But if I`m the Democrats, I would be playing much more hardball, an impeachment inquiry.  You can call all kinds of witnesses.  You can call witnesses on what Russia did, on their tactics.  You can call witnesses...

MATTHEWS:  Pelosi is not going to do it.  I heard it again late today.  She is not going to do it. 


RHODES:  I think that we have to expose the fundamental corruption and unpatriotic nature of this administration. 

Somebody has to prosecute that case, if not the House Democrats, the Democratic nominee. 


RHODES:  And just as they`re making the case on bread-and-butter issues, they have to go right at this level of corruption, because I can tell you, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Write your congressman.  I`m dead serious about this. 

RHODES:  ... this matters. 

MATTHEWS:  Just a minute.  Let`s take a moment here. 

If you think there ought to be impeachment proceedings, write your Democratic congressman.  The Republican ain`t going to do it.  Write them.  Find out what their address is.  Write them.  It`s up on Capitol Hill, U.S. House of Representatives.  They have the name of the person and make your case, because I think there`s a lot of people that would like to see something happen there. 

And it`s clear the leadership of the House is not going to do it.  Am I right?

  BUTLER:  You`re right. 

And, again, what Pelosi says is she wants there to be other kinds of hearings.  Well, guess what?  Impeachment would get all of that evidence much quicker.  What the Trump administration is doing now is stonewalling.  They`re not responding to any subpoenas.  If there`s impeachment, they have to.

MATTHEWS:  Five-week recess coming up.  It will be the fall when they come back.  They`re not going to impeach this year.  And, therefore, they`re not going to impeach next year.  It`s not going to happen. 

ALKSNE:  I`m at the point where I don`t even care -- I don`t even care if we have to wait to the ballot box. 

Just make a decision . Either impeach him and do it and skip your stupid recess, or don`t impeach him and deal with the country, instead of this constantly kicking down the road oh, we`re going do this, we`re going to do that, and we`re going to decide. 

Enough about -- there is enough evidence.  We have all read the report 100 times.  The evidence is there.  Make a decision.  That`s your job. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  I thought those four committee chairs looked like they`re the losing locker room.  I`m afraid, because I thought the guy did make the points today, but didn`t do it emphatically enough.  And the...

ALKSNE:  It`s not his job to do that.  It`s just -- it`s their job to decide.  Let`s keep the focus where it belongs. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Cynthia.

ALKSNE:  Sorry.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Cynthia Alksne.  And thank you, Paul Butler.  Thank you, Ben Rhodes.  I think all three of you agreement -- are agreeing here.

Still ahead: Mueller`s stark warning about Russia`s efforts to undermine our elections coming up.  They`re doing it as we sit here.  Perhaps the most consequential question to arise from today`s hearing, are we doing enough to keep foreign powers, Russia, from interfering in our 2020 election? 

Former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is going to come to us about in a minute and tell us what he thinks about the danger lying out there 2020.

We will be right back.



REP. WILL HURD (R-TX):  Is this -- in your investigation, did you think that this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election, or did you find evidence that suggests they will try to do this again? 

MUELLER:  No, it wasn`t a single attempt.  They`re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was special counsel Robert Mueller sounding the alarm, if you will, that Russia is still actively trying to undermine our country`s democracy. 

Page one of Mueller`s report made that clear -- quote -- "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion."

And, as we have learned, the Trump campaign welcomed the help by the Russians.  This is something Mueller says he worries could be the new normal for our political campaigns here. 


REP. PETER WELCH (D-VT):  My concern is, have we established a new normal from this past campaign that is going to apply to future campaigns, so that if any of us running for the U.S. House, any candidate for the U.S. Senate, any candidate for the presidency of the United States, aware that a hostile foreign power is trying to influence an election, has no duty to report that to the FBI or other authorities? 

MUELLER:  I hope...

WELCH:  Go ahead. 

MUELLER:  I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is. 


MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined right now by Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA and former secretary of defense. 

Mr. Secretary, Mr. Director, what did you get out of the hearings today and what we should be worrying about as Americans? 

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  I don`t think there is any question that the most critical point made by Bob Mueller today -- and it`s obviously the subject of the report that they were discussing -- but Bob Mueller made very clear that the Russians deliberately and systematically attacked our country during the 2016 election, and that they`re continuing to attack our election systems in this country. 

This isn`t a hoax.  The president called it a hoax.  Bob Mueller made very clear this is not a hoax.  And what is the scariest thing of all, Chris, is the fact that this president has not acknowledged to the American people what the Russians did to our country and, as a matter of fact, has accepted Russian excuses for the fact that somehow they were not involved. 

That is, I think, a very dangerous combination of having the Russians continuing to attack our election systems, but, more importantly, having a president who still even today called it a hoax.  That`s a dangerous combination for our national security. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Secretary, when you and I were growing up, the Republican Party took pride in being the party of national defense. 

They were the most anti-communist, the most serious about protecting our country from foreign dangers.  When you watch them today, what did you make of their failure to have even a nationalistic sense of, damn it, we can`t let somebody else do this to us again?

It didn`t seem like they had any kind of indignation at all about it.  In fact, they were covering it up. 

PANETTA:  Chris, you and I were in the House of Representatives when Democrats and Republicans not only worked together, but Republicans were very strong on national defense and protecting our country, particularly from Russia. 

To hear the Republicans today not strongly come out with regards to the attack that Russia made on this country, and try to continue to excuse the president`s activities here is -- it`s discouraging, because, frankly, when it comes to our national security, this is not a partisan issue. 

This has to be an issue that both Democrats and Republicans are concerned about.  We`re facing an election again in 2020.  People are going to run for office.  The American people have a right to cast their vote knowing that it`s not going to be interfered with from an adversary. 

Today, that is not the case.  We are still looking at the Russians continuing to interfere in our election process.

And I will tell you what`s worse.  The Russians are getting a message from this president and this administration that it`s OK to do that.  That`s the worst message of all. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of his claim, admission, it`s more like a confession, that this president says, if he got some more dirt handed to him over the transom, he would take it from overseas, again?


PANETTA:  Well, you know, again, when the president gave that response that, if the Russians were to offer that kind of information, he would take it, that says a great deal about what we have just been through. 

Clearly, in the case of President Trump, there was only one issue that he cared about, which was winning.  And he was going to win regardless of who helped him.  It`s pretty clear the Trump team was willing to accept the help of Russia. 

The fact that they lied about it tells you an awful lot about what they were trying to do, so that you have got an individual here who is not going to resist the Russians coming in and messing around with our election process. 

That is the concern that I think all Americans need to have.  This is not a situation in which our commander in chief ought to be standing back and allowing the Russians to interfere in our election process.  He ought to be speaking out against it.  He ought to be making clear what we`re doing to prevent that from happening. 

He ought to be conducting a full-scale effort to make sure that this doesn`t become the new normal for American politics. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Secretary, I wish you were president.  Thank you so much for joining us from Monterey, California, Leon Panetta. 

Still ahead: a closer look at some of the cheap shots taken by Republicans today during the hearings.  And they were cheap. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Republicans spend much of their allotted time today firing off cheap shots at special counsel Mueller, and avoiding, of course, the substance of his report. 


REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE (R-TX):  Americans need to know this as they listen to the Democrats and socialists on the other side of the aisle as they do dramatic readings from this report that volume two of this report was not authorized under the law to be written. 

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX):  He knows he`s innocent.  What he is doing is not obstructing justice.  He is pursuing justice, and the fact that you ran it out two years means you perpetuated injustice. 

REP. TOM MCCLINTOCK (R-CA):  Having desperately tried and failed to make a legal case against the president, you made a political case instead.  You put it in a paper sack, lit it on fire, dropped it on our porch, rang the doorbell and ran. 

REP. KELLY ARMSTRONG (R-ND):  The drafting and the publication of some of the information in this report without an indictment, without prosecution, frankly, flies in the face of American justice.  And I find those facts of this entire process un-American. 

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA):  There is collusion in plain sight, collusion between Russia and the Democratic Party. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, late this afternoon, President Trump took a victory lap, seemingly missing the part where Mueller told members he did not exonerate the president. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We had a very good day today, the Republican Party, our country.  There was no defense of what Robert Mueller was trying to defend.  There was no defense to this ridiculous hoax, this witch hunt. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, President Trump spent of the day echoing his Republican congressional defenders in a series of tweets.  At the end of the hearings, he declared: Truth is a force of nature. 

And for more, I`m joined now by Yamiche Alcindor, "PBS NewsHour" White House correspondent, Betsy Woodruff, "The Daily Beast" politics reporter, David Corn, "Mother Jones" Washington bureau. 

Betsy, thank you for coming back. 

Today, the Republicans, the cheap shots, referring to them as the Democrats and socialists, saying they`re aiding and abetting the enemy here like they`re traitors.  I have to tell you, they did a pretty good day when they had nothing to sell. 

BETSY WOODRUFF, THE DAILY BEAST POLITICAL REPORTER:  And sort of the deep irony of this is that the member who probably did the most genuine damage to the president is Congressman Ken Buck, who is a Republican who got Mueller to say in this clip that it would be possible to prosecute Trump after he leaves office.  On the whole --

MATTHEWS:  He looked like a jug head.  He acted like he didn`t know the answer.  Aren`t you supposed to as prosecutors, Yamiche, know something what the answer is going to be when you put it, the question? 

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, PBS NEWSHOUR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  That is true.  And obviously that was in some ways such a telling moment because it was a Republican trying to go in, and he asked the question multiple times, and Mueller multiple times said yes, he can definitely be indicted when he leaves office that raises the stakes for 2020, because the president isn`t just fighting for getting reelected, he is fighting possibly for his freedom, because if he doesn`t get reelected and is not president, he could be taken to jail or indicted. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, what they called it in the show once?  Were you here for that?  Second term or prison term.  So I was anticipating your genius. 

David, what are these cheap shots?  I mean, it was like the theories.  This Maltese professor, these weird things.  It was like it made Johnny Cochran look like, you know, he didn`t know how to do it.  Talk about distracted, the brilliant distraction of this guy. 

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  Listen, they want the distract.  They want to confuse.  They came up with a couple of new conspiracy theories to supplant the half a dozen old ones that they`ve used, and it`s pretty obvious. 

Did any one -- any Republican, Will Hurd a little bit, talked about the fact that Russia attacked an election, that Trump sought to benefit from it, that they were trying to help Trump, and Trump then lied about his connections with Russia to the investigators and others.  I mean, these are very fundamental facts that give you a basic scandal, and all they want to do is zero in on this, that and the other thing to try to create an alternative narrative that the real scandal is that there was an investigation of a Russian attack. 

MATTHEWS:  I`m going to defend it like the director said, just putting up a framework for Fox TV tonight, just to give them enough stuff, crap, to throw out and confuse the thing. 

WOODRUFF:  It`s interesting because it sort of seemed like the strategy for Republicans was to take what Democrats were saying and just say the opposite.  And, of course, Nunes, you know, the former chairman --

MATTHEWS:  Oh, the midnight rider. 

WOODRUFF:  May embody that, by saying, for instance, that Democrats were responsible for colluding with the Republicans when you would be hard- pressed to find a single person in the intelligence community who thinks that`s even remotely connected to reality. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, he is the toddy, Nunes.  You know, he`s guy that went down to the White House, went to the old office building, got some stuff, went home for bed, went down the next morning and said, guess what I found out?  OK, he was joke. 

The other guy, Gohmert, what a great name he`s got, Gohmert, so, Gohmert is the birther of all time.  He is the guy who said our previous president, President Obama was a Kenyan, a Kenyan national.  He would just throw that stuff out.  And now, he is taken seriously by anybody today? 

ALCINDOR:  In that exchange you could see was made for TV for Fox News frankly and conservative media to say look at Gohmert, go after Mueller. 

I think if you back it up little, the president is calling Republicans today incredible warriors, and he says that the Democrats want to destroy your way of life.  So, if you listen to the vocabulary that the Republicans are using, they`re not just making a case the Democrats are wrong on this, they`re making the case they`re un-American, they`re unpatriotic. 

And it goes back to this idea that if you don`t like the country you should leave it.  So I think what we have here are Republicans really underlying what the president wants to make this case about, and it`s who can be an American. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, moments ago, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California joined by president Trump`s Greek chorus of Republican supporters and boosters on the committees unflinchingly backed the president, because Kevin is really good at numbers, and he knows the party is going to back the president.  So he is going to do it. 

Let`s take a look. 


REPORTER:  You have no concerns about how the president conducted himself based on the Mueller report? 

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA):  I do not.  There was no collusion.  So how do you get to obstruction? 


MATTHEWS:  Betsy, they just -- they`re toys.  They do what they`re told. 

WOODRUFF:  It`s not hard to understand that you can commit obstruction of justice without committing the crime that is at issue.  This is I mean, this is kind of what you learn on your first year of law school.  This isn`t complicated. 

For Kevin McCarthy to make a statement like that, for him to say -- well, how can there be obstruction?  There is a really easy answer to that.  At this point, he is the top Republican in Congress.  He can`t plead ignorance on this situation. 

This is just willfully suggesting that the law doesn`t work when we all know it works. 

MATTHEWS:  That`s what they say after a drink on the commuter train, that any traveling business guy commuter say, well, you know, Herb, you can`t really be accused of obstruction if you didn`t do the initial crime.  Well, that`s not true. 

CORN:  There is this profound lack of seriousness. 


CORN:  They don`t take the Russian attacks serious.  They don`t take Trump`s lies serious. 


CORN:  They just get out there and say they say whatever strikes them at the moment.  They`ve all kind of fallen into Trumpitis which is you just keep spinning, spinning, throwing out conspiracy theories, somebody said this, that`s not really true.  I mean, people have used the phrase gaslighting, but that`s truly what it is. 

MATTHEWS:  We`re going get back.  Alcindor, Yamiche, I can`t go by last name.  I`m going to tell you something, we`re going come back and ask a big question.  When the Democratic opponent, she or he gets on that platform next year in October, they go to go mano-a-mano, what are they going to say based upon today? 

Now, there are all the NAACP convention, fine.  But when they look at the tapes and figure out what they will be able to take from today and throw it at Trump, because I believe if they can`t throw it in his face when they`re looking at him, it`s not going to serve much purpose. 

We`ll be right back.  Our guests are sticking with us. 

Coming up, where do Democrats go from here?  Speaker Pelosi weighed in this evening.  We`re going have that for you next. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In a press conference tonight, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked whether what she heard today changed her mind on impeachment.  Let`s watch. 


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  What we saw today was a very strong manifestation, in fact some would even say indictment of this administration`s cone of silence in their cover-up.  My position has always been whatever decision we made in that regard would have to be done with our strongest possible hand, and we still have some outstanding matters in the courts.  It`s about the Congress, the constitution, and the courts.

And we are fighting the president in the courts.  If we have a case for impeachment, that`s the place we will have to go. 


MATTHEWS:  I`m back with Yamiche, Betsy and David.  We only have three minutes left. 

I want to start with Yamiche. 

We know where the speaker stands.  She is against the full indictment against the president.  The next Democratic candidate for president, however will, have this all in their quiver, in their arsenal. 

What do you think they will use or should do, whether it`s a woman or man?  We know who the usual suspects are right now, who is probably going to be the nominee.  But how can they use what we learned today after all this investigating? 

ALCINDOR:  After talking with a number of Democrats, what Democrats want to hone in on is that Robert Mueller said the president was generally untruthful when he submitted answers, and that campaign aides and White House aides repeatedly lied and tried to impede the investigation, and they`ll point to a step by step repudiation that Mueller set out that this is not 12 angry Democrats, this is not the president being exonerated, this is not a witch hunt.  Those clear things when Robert Mueller wanted to step out of the four walls of the report, he did so to directly refute the president`s own words. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the spirit you would take right into the president if you`re the Democratic nominee? 

CORN:  I think you go more basic.  America was attacked.  You were AWOL.  You denied the attack, and according to the Mueller report you sought to benefit from the attack that was designed to help you, and then you lied about it, and then you get to obstruction. 

So I would do all that before you worry about obstruction.  When America needed you, you were not there.  You`re national security risk. 

MATTHEWS:  That`s why I love you. 

CORN:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  That`s why I love you. 

WOODRUFF:  Perhaps -- 

MATTHEWS:  What would you say?  I know you`re a straight reporter.  You don`t have any opinion about anything. 

But I`m asking you -- I know you`re not supposed to.  If you think it through, after all this investigation, all the witnesses, all the indictments, all the convictions, all on the watch of this president, what do you say about him when he comes up for reelection and says I deserve another four years? 

WOODRUFF:  The newsiest moment that perhaps Democrats won`t talk about this, but people in the national security space will is the fact that Mueller said the Russians are currently working to meddle in the 2020 election.  And that`s something that should be front of mind for anyone running for president in 2020, because it`s easy for campaigns to get stuck in the past.  There is this maxim that candidates are constantly running the last race. 

But right now, candidates know what the Russians` playbook was in 2016.  And according to Mueller himself, they`re looking for creative ways to replicate. 

MATTHEWS:  I`m afraid, the hot hand.  If we don`t have paper ballots and we have electronic counting of whatever kind, right, what happens if we lose a state next time?  We don`t have good candidates in some states and it`s that close? 

WOODRUFF:  What I can tell you is when intelligence community officials briefed Capitol Hill within the last two weeks about elections security, they didn`t stress concerns about ballot integrity, but rather what they said they were most worried about according to sources who were on hand for this classified briefing was threats from Russia, North Korea, and, of course, Iran.  That`s what people in the national security space. 

MATTHEWS:  I`m afraid they can skip one count and that`s enough in 270 electoral vote, the situation. 

Anyway, thank you, Yamiche Alcindor.  Thank you, Betsy Woodruff.  And thank you, David Corn. 

Up next, the two major takeaways from Mueller`s testimony today and where this scandal is headed.  My conclusion.  Stick around. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Long after today becomes a past date in the calendar, and long after the weekly news is digested, two facts will hold their place in history. 

One is that despite his repeated claims, President Trump was not cleared of crime by the two-year Mueller investigation, and because he was not cleared by the special counsel, this president remains vulnerable to criminal indictment once he leaves office.  Trump could well be headed to a reckoning in the same criminal courts and therefore to the same justice available to any American. 

Two, it was confirmed under oath today by the special counsel that far from being a witch hunt, the investigation determined that the Russians did intervene in the 2016 election, that it was for the purpose of electing Donald Trump president of the United States, and it was welcomed, encouraged, used and covered up by Trump and his people. 

And that`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.