Matthews Leads Motley Crew Defending Trump Campaign Spying, Insists Mueller Found Collusion

In the first 15 minutes of Wednesday’s Hardball, MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews and an assembled crew of cringeworthy guests to defend the Obama administration’s surveillance of the Trump campaign under the guise of alleged Russian collusion (built in part on some dubious beginnings) while decrying the use of the word “spying.”

And for good measure, guests (separately) asserted that collusion still occurred even if nothing was criminal and Attorney General Bill Barr doesn’t deserve to be referred to as attorney general because he’s already decided to ignore disregard America’s commitment to the rule of law.

 

 

Matthews led off the show by comparing the Mueller report’s impact on the Trump presidency to someone being hung (which harkened back to when Matthews joked the President would murder son-in-law Jared Kushner):

Nothing concentrates the mind, wrote Samuel Johnson, like the thought of an imminent hanging. Donald Trump fearing the imminent release of the Mueller report that’s expected to portray his campaign as a dupe of Russia, not to mention deliver alarming new evidence of obstruction is determined to somehow change the subject. 

Later, he introduced the ever-slimy former CIA Director John Brennan and wondered, concerning the term “spying”: “Why is Trump and his cronies including the new AG using that word?”

With the arrogance of a Deep State liberal who voted for the Communist Party, Brennan proclaimed (click “expand”):

Well, I was very disappointed in what Attorney General Barr said today about spying when he was referring to the investigation that was predicated certainly and that the FBI was trying to understand what the Russians were doing. U.S. intelligence agencies were spying against foreign adversaries so that we can understand the threat to our national security. But for the attorney general to imply or to say they were spying domestically, he knows the language very well and he knows the terminology and he knows what is it connotes, which is an extra legal activity taking place when, in fact, the FBI and CIA and others were trying to understand just what the Russians were doing and we know now it is incontrovertible the Russians were trying to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

Matthews made matters even worse by suggesting that surveilling an opposing political party was no different than a police officer patrolling a highway late at night and pulling someone over for speeding. Yes, really. 

Here’s two mind-numbing portions (click “expand”):

MATTHEWS: To use another American word, is he toadie? Is he saying the kind of language that Trump wants to hear him use? 

BRENNAN: Well, unfortunately, I think, over the past several weeks, I’ve been very disappointed in Attorney General Barr. I had higher expectations for him. He shaped the narrative after the Mueller report. He, in fact, then also had this testimony today that I think was very carefully nuanced as a way to try to support the — Donald Trump's positions. So, he acted like a personal lawyer for Donald Trump today rather than the attorney general. 

(....)

MATTHEWS: So when the FBI is trying to figure out what's going on with the Russians because of all this problem or all this noise we are hearing from Papadopoulos and all the rest of them about something going on over there, it's spying and I'm just wondering spying is a perfect word if you believe in the Deep State coming against Trump. If you believe these awful people that work for the federal government, sworn to public service for their careers. All are the bad guys, then you attach a word to them, not like law enforcement, but spies. 

When asked if the Mueller report will contain “enough [information] to scare the hell out of this administration or what,” Brennan insisted that even though the Trump team were cleared of charges for criminal conspiracy (aka collusion), “[i]t never said that there was no collusion or cooperation.” Eye roll.

 

 

Immediately afterward, Matthews brought in Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) and MSNBC legal analyst Cynthia Alksne. Going to the former, Matthews again brought up the speeding argument and, to Alksne, he asked whether Barr has become “a puppetoon” (click “expand”):

First to the politics, Congressman, it looks like this guy is on a tight rope. On one side, he wants to lean way to make sure Trump keeps him in the job and in the other way, don't look like an ass. I mean, clearly, I mean, he’s saying things like they’re spying? Spying? If a state trooper stops you for speeding, that’s not that's not spying you. That's doing your job. If you’re looking for the Russians and what they’re up to in our country because you think they’re into screwing with our elections, that’s not spying. It's law enforcement. He knows the word he used. And he used that word spying. What's your thought? 

(....)

Cynthia, is the attorney general supposed to be a civil servant or a puppetoon? 

Continuing to show how unhinged she’s become, Alksne replied that Barr “is supposed to represent the people of the United States of America and he is not doing so” because “he was completely irresponsible in this spying comment and he knows full well that that investigation began when George Papadopoulos was drunk in a bar and was talking about Russian e-mails and then the Carter Page FISA warrant.”

She then went on a long-winded lecture to us peons out there how fool-proof the FISA warrant process is and that, because of that, “for the attorney general to say so is a stain on his reputation, which I frankly don't recognize the guy anymore.” As our friends at The Federalist and Daily Caller have noted, not only the FISA warrant but Steele dossier and other origins of the Trump-Russia probe were anything but air tight.

“I am outraged he would do that to law enforcement and to the criminal justice system in the United States of America,” she concluded.

“A lot of people are saying that,” replied Matthews. If you’re a distraught former Obama official or liberal journalist on CNN or MSNBC, presumably that’s what you’re thinking. It’s hard to say if that’s what “people are saying” elsewhere.

To see the relevant transcript from MSNBC’s Hardball on April 10, click “expand.”

MSNBC’s Hardball
April 10, 2019
7:00 p.m. Eastern

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Nothing concentrates the mind, wrote Samuel Johnson, like the thought of an imminent hanging. Donald Trump fearing the imminent release of the Mueller report that’s expected to portray his campaign as a dupe of Russia, not to mention deliver alarming new evidence of obstruction is determined to somehow change the subject. He called the Mueller investigation an attempted coup and encouraged his Justice Department to make war on it.

[TRUMP CLIP]

MATTHEWS: Well, now it appears that Attorney General William Barr is set to deliver on the President's wishes. Yesterday, Barr said he intends to review the conduct of the investigators who opened the Mueller investigation and according to Bloomberg News, he’s assembled a team to do just that. Today in his testimony before a Senate Appropriation Subcommittee, Attorney General Barr appeared to endorse the widespread Republican and Trumpian allegation that the Trump campaign was improperly surveilled or to use the Trumpian term, spied upon. Here's the attorney general using that very term. 

ATTORNEY GENERAL BILL BARR: Cause we want to make sure that during — during an elec — I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. [SCREEN WIPE] I'm not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it's important to look at that and I’m not just — I'm not talking about the FBI necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly. 

SENATOR JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): So you’re not — you’re not suggesting though that spying occurred? 

BARR: I don't -- well, I guess — I guess you could — I think there’s — spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur. 

SHAHEEN: Well, let me —

BARR: But the question is whether it was predicated — adequately predicated and I'm not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need explore that. 

MATTHEWS: Well, Barr’s careful to say he’s not allegation anything improper actually took place. He even says that the spying, as he put it, could have been warranted. But Barr still used the very term that the President has deliberately thrown around to smear the law enforcement. So relentlessly, by the way, for the last couple of years. As The Washington Post points out, that is a highly disputed term when it comes to what the FBI did relative to the Trump campaign in 2016 and it “lends legitimacy to what, at this point, is essentially a Trump conspiracy theory.” I’m joined right now by John Brennan, the former director of the CIA under President Obama. Director, spying. Why is Trump and his cronies including the new AG using that word? 

JOHN BRENNAN: Well, I was very disappointed in what Attorney General Barr said today about spying when he was referring to the investigation that was predicated certainly and that the FBI was trying to understand what the Russians were doing. U.S. intelligence agencies were spying against foreign adversaries so that we can understand the threat to our national security. But for the attorney general to imply or to say they were spying domestically, he knows the language very well and he knows the terminology and he knows what is it connotes, which is an extra legal activity taking place when, in fact, the FBI and CIA and others were trying to understand just what the Russians were doing and we know now it is incontrovertible the Russians were trying to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. 

MATTHEWS: Now, according to the language this guy, Barr, I really don't like him much because of this game he's playing here. A state trooper working at night along a state highway and he's watching and he sees somebody is going over 70 miles an hour. Is he spying on the cars or is he doing his job? This word spying is so ludicrously used here. 

BRENNAN: Yeah and he thought about that question and answer and did say there was spying and so forth — he’s a former attorney general as well. It’s not as though he’s just a new attorney general. He is steeped in the law and he should be and he should know the difference between a thorough FBI-predicated investigation and spying against a foreign adversary. 

MATTHEWS: To use another American word, is he toadie? Is he saying the kind of language that Trump wants to hear him use? 

BRENNAN: Well, unfortunately, I think, over the past several weeks, I’ve been very disappointed in Attorney General Barr. I had higher expectations for him. He shaped the narrative after the Mueller report. He, in fact, then also had this testimony today that I think was very carefully nuanced as a way to try to support the — Donald Trump's positions. So, he acted like a personal lawyer for Donald Trump today rather than the attorney general. 

MATTHEWS: Here's what I don't understand about the Trump-Barr strategy. If it comes out next week, as has been reported, that the Mueller report when we get a good look at it — a decent look at it, will show alarming evidence of obstruction of justice, that the Russians did manipulate the Trump campaign, what good is it to go back and fill and say we shouldn't have had this investigation when it bears fruit, when it’s clear it did dig up some awful stuff? What good’s the strategy?

BRENNAN: Well, look at the people who have been indicted and who had convicted in terms of what they did wrong and so it's unclear to me what he was trying to do. I also think it was unfortunate that he arrogated to himself the determination about whether obstruction of justice did occur on the part of Donald Trump. 

MATTHEWS: He said it didn't. Just like that.

BRENNAN: Well, I think we have to understand more about the basis for Bob Mueller not making a determination there. I think Bob Mueller is a conservative individual and recognized the Department of Justice policy is not to indict a sitting president. So, I think he really wanted to have the Congress or the American people make that determination about the transgressions involved. 

MATTHEWS: That’s what I think. Anyway, in discussing the Russia probe last year, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was extremely cautious about his choice of words on the activities of law enforcement. 

JOY BEHAR [on ABC’s The View, 05/23/18]: Was the FBI spying on Trump's campaign? 

JAMES CLAPPER [on ABC’s The View, 05/23/18]: No, they were not. They were spying on — a term I don't particularly like, but on what the Russians were doing. Trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence. 

MATTHEWS: So when the FBI is trying to figure out what's going on with the Russians because of all this problem or all this noise we are hearing from Papadopoulos and all the rest of them about something going on over there, it's spying and I'm just wondering spying is a perfect word if you believe in the Deep State coming against Trump. If you believe these awful people that work for the federal government, sworn to public service for their careers. All are the bad guys, then you attach a word to them, not like law enforcement, but spies. 

BRENNAN: Yeah. In the summer of 2016, the CIA and FBI and NSA worked very closely together to try to understand as much as possible about what the Russians were doing. And those agencies that have a foreign intelligence responsibility carried out their responsibilities and authorities to the best of their abilities and the FBI, which has the domestic role was carrying out the investigation and its counterintelligence investigation and I had many conversations with Jim Comey just to make sure that the CIA and FBI were working together, not doing anything inappropriate, but making sure we were fulfilling our statutory responsibilities.

MATTHEWS: Well, it's Hardball time. What do you think we’re going to find in the Mueller report when we get it — the redacted version of it? Are we going to get enough to scare the hell out of this administration or what? 

BRENNAN: I don’t know. It's clear that Donald Trump and his cronies are quite fearful of what’s — might be in and I don't know what William Barr is going to redact for the various reasons that he has cited. I’m hoping that as much comes out as possible. Let's make one thing clear. The only thing that Donald Trump and his campaign were cleared with by the Barr memo that was citing the Mueller memo was there was not an evidentiary basis to charge someone with criminal conspiracy. It never said that there was no collusion or cooperation, so I think there is a fair amount of information there that Bob Mueller uncovered about the interaction between Trump campaign officials and the Russians and now on the obstruction of justice issue, I think there is really questions about whether or not Donald Trump and others did obstruct justice, but that Bob Mueller decided he was not going to be the one to indict a sitting President. 

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you so much, John Brennan.

BRENNAN: Thanks. Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: You’re great for coming on the show. Once Barr used the word spying to describe the activities of legitimate law enforcement, senators of both parties attempted to exactly clarify what he was talking about. 

[CLIPS]

[MATTHEWS INTRODUCES PANEL]

MATTHEWS: First to the politics, Congressman, it looks like this guy is on a tight rope. On one side, he wants to lean way to make sure Trump keeps him in the job and in the other way, don't look like an ass. I mean, clearly, I mean, he’s saying things like they’re spying? Spying? If a state trooper stops you for speeding, that’s not that's not spying you. That's doing your job. If you’re looking for the Russians and what they’re up to in our country because you think they’re into screwing with our elections, that’s not spying. It's law enforcement. He knows the word he used. And he used that word spying. What's your thought? 

CONGRESSMAN DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): Yeah, I think there’s no question. Look, the president said he wanted his Roy Cohen and he got him. I mean, here’s an attorney general who’s tried to shape the narrative with the four-page summary of the Mueller report, who’s trying to protect the president by not releasing its full contents to the Judiciary Committee and now he throws out in a casual way, spying, which is exactly the word the President used to promote this conspiracy theory of the deep state. That was purposeful. Then he thought about it, I think, during the course of the hearing and he realized what he was saying. He was saying, well, I'm not saying anyone did anything wrong. Look, this was justified law enforcement activities, what we would expect from the intelligence and law enforcement communities. Spying suggests something, you know, unwarranted or impermissible. He said at the end, oh, I'm not saying they did anything unwarranted, but he's clearly offering the President a lifeline to continue to promote this conspiracy theory and undermine the brave men and women in law enforcement who do an incredible job to protect our country and protect our democracy. 

MATTHEWS: Cynthia, is the attorney general supposed to be a civil servant or a puppetoon? 

CICILLINE: Well, you know, we should remember —

CYNTHIA ALKSNE: The attorney general is, of course, — 

MATTHEWS: No, Cynthia.

ALKSNE: — yeah, the attorney general is supposed to represent the people of the United States of America and he is not doing so. Today, he was completely irresponsible in this spying comment and he knows full well that that investigation began when George Papadopoulos was drunk in a bar and was talking about Russian e-mails and then the Carter Page FISA warrant. Just so people understand, to get a FISA warrant is a lot of work. There’s a lot of oversight in the FBI. Then it goes to the DOJ. This warrant then goes to the FISA judges. You know, if you think of federal judges, they’re all really smart. The smartest ones, the most wonky, the most detailed, those are the ones who become the FISA judges and the Carter warrant — FISA warrant was not given once, but three times it was renewed. This was not spying. This was not irresponsible by the law enforcement of the United States and for the attorney general to say so is a stain on his reputation, which I frankly don't recognize the guy anymore. I am outraged he would do that to law enforcement and to the criminal justice system in the United States of America. 

MATTHEWS: A lot of people are saying that. Some of Mueller’s investigations have complained that the attorney general has not portrayed their findings accurately. As The Washington Post reported last week, they say “the evidence they gathered on obstruction was alarming and significant.” We’re talking about the Mueller report itself. Yet, and in today's hearing, Barr repeatedly declined to explain why he cleared the President on obstruction of justice when the special counsel didn't clear him. 

BARR: I'm not going to discuss my decision. I will lay it out after the report is out. 

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Mr. Attorney General, the thing is, you put this out there. I mean, the President went out and tweeted the next day that he was exonerated. That was not based on anything in the Mueller report with respect to obstruction of justice. That was based on your assessment. That was on March 24th. And now you won't elaborate at all as to how you reached that conclusion. 

[SCREEN WIPE]

BARR: I will discuss that decision after the report is —

VAN HOLLEN: Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion? 

BARR: I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion. 

[SCREEN WIPE]

VAN HOLLEN: So, can you assure us that the key factual evidence in the Mueller report related to charges of obstruction of justice will be available in the public report. 

BARR: I believe it will. 

MATTHEWS: Well, that’s our Senator from Maryland there, Chris Van Hollen. Let me go back to David Cicilline of Rhode Island. It seems, to me, that the whole strategy here on the Trump crow, including Barr, who’s now working for them, is to undermine the whole Mueller report itself — the fact there is a Mueller report. What good will that do if it comes out next week even in a redacted form, that there was a Soviet effort to manipulate the Trump campaign. If that gets out there, how can you say this investigation wasn't worth it? 

CICILLINE: Well, I mean, don't forget this investigation produced 199 criminal charges, 37 convictions, five people going to prison. But what I think what Mr. Barr is going to do — he’s going to attempt to release a report that is so redacted as to be misleading to the American people, which is why we’re going to fight hard to make sure its full contents, absent, of course, sources and methods that need to be protected is released to the American people so people understand the facts. But look, he tried to shape the narrative with the four-page summary, made an obstruction of justice finding that he was unable to explain today. But we should remember. He auditioned for this job in an 18-page memo where he said basically a president can't be charged because he or she is in charge of the Justice Department and he delivered on that commitment after being made attorney general, after looking at the report for a very short period of time. So, what I think we’re seeing, very sadly for those of use who believe in the rule of law and who believe in our criminal justice system and in intelligence agencies is an attorney general who thinks he works for the President rather than took an oath to the Constitution and the people of this country. 

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, U.S. Congressman David Cicilline and Cynthia Alksne.

 

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