Tillerson under pressure Transcript 12/15/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests:
Eli Stokols, Frank Montoya, David Ignatius, Natasha Bertrand, Catherine Rampell, Libby Casey, Clarence Page
Transcript:

Show: HARDBALL
Date: December 15, 2017
Guest: Eli Stokols, Frank Montoya, David Ignatius, Natasha Bertrand, Catherine Rampell, Libby Casey, Clarence Page


[19:00:17] CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Going on offense. Let`s play
HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. What`s he
afraid of? President Trump again today attacked the FBI and the U.S.
justice system, battering the integrity of Robert Mueller`s investigation
into Russian Trump collusion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it`s a shame what
happened with the FBI, but we are going to rebuild the FBI. It will be
bigger and better than ever, but it is very sad when you look at those
documents and how they have done that is really, really disgraceful. And
you have a lot of very angry people that are seeing it.

It`s a very sad thing to watch. I will tell you that. And I`m going today
on behalf of the FBI to their new building. And you know, when everybody,
not me, when everybody, the level of anger at what they have been
witnessing with respect to the FBI is certainly very sad. When you look at
what`s gone on with the FBI and with the justice department, people are
very, very angry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: This is getting uglier, isn`t it? And this attack on the
country`s federal law enforcement came shortly before the President
delivered remarks at FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia praising law
enforcement as people who quote “rarely get the recognition they deserve.”

As Mueller`s probe gets closer and closer to the oval office, however,
Trump has stepped up his attack. He tweeted earlier this month, after
years of Comey with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation running
the FBI, its reputation is in tatters. And many people in our country are
asking what the justice department is going to do about the fact that
totally crooked Hillary after receiving a subpoena from the United States
Congress deleted and acid washed 33,000 emails. No justice.”

The President`s newest attack on Mueller`s investigation references Peter
Strzok. He is a former top counterintelligence official who Mueller
removed from his investigation last summer after Mueller learned of
messages Strzok exchanged with another FBI employee that were overtly
critical. Many were critical of Trump and praised Hillary Clinton. One
message he sent said, God, Hillary should win 100 million to nothing.
While Republicans and conservatives in the media have used this development
to impugn the entire Mueller investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I call on my Republican colleagues to join me in
calling for the firing of Bob Mueller. And look, it`s time for Mueller to
put up or shut up. If there`s evidence of collusion with Russia, let`s see
it.

REP. BOB GOODLATTE (R), VIRGINIA: We are now beginning to better
understand the magnitude of this insider bias on Mr. Mueller`s team.

REP. SCOTT PERRY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: If one person can be persecuted by an
instrument of the government at one standard and another can`t, what does
it mean to all of us? Should we fear our FBI?

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: There is a cleansing need in our FBI and
department of justice. It needs to be cleansed of individuals who should
not just be fired but who need to be taken out in handcuffs.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Mueller is corrupt. The
senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: His conflicts of interest, his clear bias,
the corruption are on full display. Mueller is frankly a disgrace to the
American justice system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Joy Reid, host of A.M. Joy on MSNBC on
weekends. “Wall Street Journal” White House reporting Eli Stokols and
former special agent Frank Montoya.

Joy, listening to this alarm bell from all of these right wingers and
commentators and right-wing commentators, you would think they are ready
for a military coup. We have to disgrace, like the Greek generals or
somewhere in Argentina. We have to disgrace the entire U.S. justice system
to justify overthrowing it. What`s coming here?

JOY ANN REID, MSNBC HOST, A.M. JOY: You know, that “Washington Post” story
said that two of Donald Trump`s favorite world leaders are Erdogan of
Turkey and Vladimir Putin. And it does seems that Donald Trump has the
tools of authoritarianism down. He had got the dance of authoritarianism
down to a science.

Step one, claim the investigation of you is a fraud being conducted by
enemies of the state. Step two, get your state-run media, your affinity
media to echo that into your base and whip them up into a frenzy against
those investigating you. Step three, get the state party, in this case the
Republican Party, to echo that from the seat of government and say, wait a
minute. The people investigating the President are themselves criminals.

Create this feedback loop that creates a feeding frenzy that has now
essentially got Republicans claiming that Bob Mueller, probably the most
respected member of law enforcement in the last 30, 40 years in the United
States, essentially being characterized as a criminal. And then of course,
you have to add that last step. Call for the prosecution of your political
enemies in this case, dredging up Hillary Clinton to again call to lock her
up.

Donald Trump is an authoritarian of the first order, and he is behaving
like one.

[19:05:13] MATTHEWS: This is scorched earth, basically, Eli. And I`m
wondering what he would have done if Mr. Mueller, Robert Mueller, hadn`t
fired that guy, Strzok, for having this sort of exchange with someone he is
involved with romantically and they are exchanging their similar political
views, apparently.

He fires the guy last July. And now, the Trump crowd are saying that`s
evidence that Mueller`s not just here. In fact, he is proving his just
nature by firing the guy. What is it?

ELI STOKOLS, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: They would latch on to this either
way, because what Donald Trump, and even to a greater degree, his allies
outside the White House are doing right now, you played that montage of all
the clips on FOX News. There are other Trump surrogates, people in the
Bannon world, people who are not his legal team who are out there mounting
a defense. And it`s not a legal defense. It`s a public relations defense.
It`s trying to get the public to discount whatever findings are coming from
the Mueller probe to protect the President politically.

You know, it`s all about reality being sort of in the eye of the beholder,
perception being reality. And there are a lot of people who are pushing
this idea that the probe is a witch hunt just as the President has said.
The President is not doing it quite as brazenly as some of the people on
FOX News, even though he is still out there every day saying that the FBI
is in tatters. He might step back and say, I just meant Comey. I`m just
talking about these texts. He is not speaking specifically about Mueller,
but this whole thing on the whole is about discrediting the Mueller probe
and protecting him politically.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk timing and why not. Anyway, deputy attorney general
Rod Rosenstein defended Mueller in the House judiciary committee hearing
this week. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you seen good cause to fire special counsel
Mueller?

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: No, I believe based on his
reputation, his service, his patriotism, and his experience with the
department and with the FBI, I believe he was an ideal choice for this
task.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, look, Frank Montoya, because it looks like what Trump is
doing and his allies, is and main course out there is they are basically
trying to impeach the U.S. judicial system in advance of something they see
coming like a waterfall they are about to go over. So do you get a sense
that this investigation by Mueller is reaching a point where they better
destroy the prosecutor or they will get destroyed themselves? Is that the
thinking on the Trump side of things?

FRANK MONTOYA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: There`s definitely a great deal
of fear that something is coming their way. And I think when you look at
what happened with Mike Flynn, that was, you know, a clarion bell as far as
that warning is concerned.

Another part of this, too, that is really frustrating to me is that there`s
56 field offices out there. There is a bunch of people that are out in the
field trying to do this job to the best of their abilities every single
day. And so these attacks that we are hearing, whether they are from the
President himself or from his surrogates, it`s not just about the
investigation against him that`s being conducted by the special counsel
that`s problematic. It`s about everything else that we are trying to do in
the field.

I mean, in terms of the amount of public trust that`s being undermined
right now, it really makes it difficult to do this job. But yes, you know,
what you are seeing is, and I have seen it hundreds of times in all kinds
of investigations, is an individual who is fearful that the door is about
to shut on him.

MATTHEWS: Do you think that works? I mean, somebody once said to me years
ago when I came to Washington, and people, they talk about defending the
bureaucracy against the regular attacks on the bureaucracy by right
wingers. They said people don`t do their best work when they are being
dumped on. It was something like that.

My question, does that enhance the anger and the ferocity of the FBI
investigation or demoralize it when somebody is dumping on it, Frank?

MONTOYA: There is going to be some intensity there, absolutely, because it
is a personal affront. But the other part of this is everybody recognizes,
if you can`t prove the case, then you don`t have a case. I mean, you know,
let`s harken back to the email investigation. It was the same thing.
There were folks that were really concerned about the behavior in terms of
using the server. But if you can`t – if the evidence isn`t there to make
the case, then you isn`t going to make the case.

And folks, you know, they learn to live with that because that`s the nation
- you know, that is system that we live under, that`s the rule of law. And
what you do is you just work harder to make that case if it`s there. If
it`s not, then you move on to the next thing.

MATTHEWS: When do you think Mueller will decide if he has the case or not,
whether to drop it against the President or go full bore for something that
would set up an impeachment process, when do you think he will decide?

MONTOYA: Well, he is going full bore now. And so, you know, that is a
great question in terms of what they have, in particular, what is Mike
Flynn providing that can lead them to other subjects, in terms of making
the case. But you know, another part of this consideration, we are in
uncharted waters as far as the President is concerned. Are you going to
bring charges in a court of law? Are you going to write a report and then
hope that Congress acts on it? There are, you know, they got some really
smart brains, prosecutor`s brain is working on this. The question is, you
know, what venue do they take you into next? That really is going to be
interesting to see.

[19:10:08] MATTHEWS: No, I`m thinking about that too.

Thank you, Frank.

The attacks on the FBI and justice department follow a similar playbook as
President Trump`s attacks remember those on the CIA and the Intel
community. After reports that the Intel community concluded that Russia
intervened in the Presidential election to help Trump win his transition
team mocked them as the same people who said Saddam Hussein had weapon of
mass destruction. And he blamed them for the Russian dossier being leaked
to the President, something he cared to Nazi Germany. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful, that the intelligence
agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake
out. I think it`s a disgrace. And I say that, and I say that. And that`s
something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, after his inauguration, President Trump traveled to CIA
headquarters where he stood in front of the wall honoring CIA agents killed
on duty and then delivered a political speech attacking the media and
defending the crowd size at his inaugural address. Let`s watch that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We had a massive field of people you saw that. Packed. I get up
this morning, I turn on one of the networks. And they show an empty field.
I said, wait a minute. I made a speech. I looked out. The field was –
it looked like a million, a million and a half people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, Eli, I don`t think he has – I`ll say this again
because I have said it because a long time ago. But he doesn`t seem to
have a sense of the common wealth, the nation as a government, as a
republic, of him being responsible for the government, of being part of it
and having to reflect our history. And when he goes out, you don`t just
trash all those men and women, mostly men who died for this country and
secretly in overseas countries and horrible deaths. I mean, (INAUDIBLE) to
be tortured. And he uses that platform to brag about crowd size. It`s not
about the republic for which he stands. It`s about him and only him.

STOKOLS: And that`s consistent with who Donald Trump has been his entire
life, before he was President, I know there were some people who voted and
said, well, maybe he will change. Maybe he will be more serious as
President.

We have seen in the first year of this presidency, the same narcissism that
defined Donald Trump for decades in the public sphere. And you know, even
when it comes to national security, when it comes to an independent
judiciary, when it comes to the media, he doesn`t care about these
institutions. He believes they are mainly there to serve him. And what`s
been striking about this is not really so much his behavior but the way
Republicans have adapted to sort of adopt his behavior.

I mean, seeing Republicans carrying his water and attacking Bob Mueller
which just months ago, the conventional wisdom in Washington was Bob
Mueller, (INAUDIBLE) Newt Gingrich was saying he had impeccable credentials
and now Newt is TV a couple months later saying that he has to go. I mean,
that sort – and Newt is not the only one. That change is really
remarkable.

MATTHEWS: Joy, do you think he would sacrifice an independent judiciary,
an independent press, a free press, the institutions of the federal
government, especially the FBI, the CIA, all to save his skin? Would he be
glad to destroy all that?

REID: In a hot second. I think Eli is 100 percent right. This is
(INAUDIBLE). This is I am the state. All that matters is me. This is the
fever dream of Roger Stone, if Nixon could have run Watergate this way and
had the Republican Party defend him, trash the media, trash the CIA, the
FBI, everything that is not there to shore up Donald Trump is an enemy of
the state because the state is Donald Trump.

It`s really frightening when you think about it. As an American, this is
not the republic that was set up. Donald Trump is not the state, but in
his mind, he might as well be a Romanov. The state is him. And anyone can
be an enemy, even the CIA and the FBI. It`s really frightening.

MATTHEWS: The Romanovs, they come as a family, rule as a family only for
themselves.

Anyway, thank you, Joy Reid, Eli Stokols and Frank Montoya.

Coming up, Donald Trump says he doesn`t want to talk about a pardon for his
former national security advisor Michael Flynn yet. That`s his word, yet.
And now that Flynn is cooperating, clearly, with special counsel Robert
Mueller, wouldn`t a pardon constitute obstruction of justice? And by the
way, wouldn`t it be after the horse had left the barn? Don`t you think
Flynn`s already been talking a lot? And that`s ahead.

Plus, the Republicans release their tax plan. And now that Marco Rubio is
a yes, big surprise, this thing is on track to pass. Rich people and
corporations will get their Trump tower tax cut as an early Christmas
present. Isn`t that nice?

And talk about the best and brightest. Take a look at this exchange
between Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana and a Trump nominee to
be a federal judge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Have you ever tried a jury trial?

MATTHEW PETERSON, NOMINEE FOR U.S. DISTRICT COURT: I have not.

KENNEDY: Civil?

PETERSON: No.

KENNEDY: Criminal?

PETERSON: No.

KENNEDY: Bench?

PETERSON: No.

KENNEDY: State or federal court?

PETERSON: I have not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the guy has got no experience in a courtroom. What
happened to Trump`s promise to get the best people in the world?

Finally, let me finish tonight with John McCain. I have some words for
him.

And this is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:16:09] MATTHEWS: Well, despite having champion, Republican Senate
candidate Roy Moore, President Trump today called on him to concede defeat
in the Alabama Senate race this Tuesday. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should Roy Moore concede?

TRUMP: I think he should. He tried. I want to support, always, I want to
support the person running. We need to seat. We would like to have the
seat, but as far as Roy Moore, yes. I would certainly say he should.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:18:42] MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s been seven months since deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein named
Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation. In that
time, the investigation has netted two indictments and two guilty pleas
from people within the Trump campaign. And all the while, the
investigation is inching closer and closer to the oval office itself.
Today, President Trump defended himself against allegations of collusion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: There is absolutely no collusion. That has been proven. When you
look at the committees, whether it`s the Senate or the House, everybody, my
worst enemies, they walk out, they say there is no collusion. But we will
continue to look. They are spending millions and millions of dollars.
There is absolutely no collusion. I didn`t make a phone call to Russia. I
have nothing to do with Russia. Everybody knows it. That was a Democrat
hoax. It was an excuse for losing the election. And it should have never
been this way where they spent all these millions of dollars. So now, even
the Democrats admit there is no collusion. There is no collusion. That`s
it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the special counsel has not made that determination, nor
has the house or Senate committees investigating Russian meddling in the
2016 election. Here is what has been proven so far. In March of 2016,
former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos began communicating with
Russian operatives who hinted at the possibility the Russians had thousands
of Clinton emails.

Then that June, last June, the president`s son met with a Russian lawyer
who offered official documents and information that would incriminate
Hillary Clinton and would be “very useful to your father as part of the
Russian government`s support for Mr. Trump.”

We also know that the campaign openly solicited dirt on Hillary as Russia
was actively engaged in a covert hacking operation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will tell you this,
Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 emails
that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our
press.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: When a column today in The Washington Post, David Ignatius,
reminds readers that President Trump`s recent denunciations of the Russia
investigation recall the famous legal advice, “if the facts are against
you, argue the law, if the law is against you, argue the facts, and if the
law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

He goes on to say that the president “isn`t arguing the facts or the law
about collusion with Russia, he`s simply pounding the table.”

For more, I`m joined by David Ignatius himself, who wrote the column,
Natasha Bertrand, who is political correspondent with Business
Insider, and Phil Rucker, who has been really making noise, is a great
reporter, White House bureau chief of The Washington Post and an MSNBC
political analyst.

You know, first, I want to make a political point. Anybody can jump in
here, purely politics. I know a lot of Democrats, a lot of progressives,
who are very sad that Hillary Clinton lost. They blame Hillary Clinton.
They don`t blame the Russians. They think it`s a separate question. The
question of the Russian involvement in the campaign is a concern about
republic, not of any political party. It`s a concern about people who care
about this country.

I don`t know anybody who is saying, if it hadn`t been for the Russians, oh,
Hillary would have rolled to victory. I don`t believe anybody is saying
that. So this is an untruth, I`ll just call it that, by Trump. Your
thoughts on that?

DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think you`re
right. This investigation is a counterespionage investigation. Russia
conducted a political covert action against the United States. That was
the conclusion of our intelligence agencies in January, and Robert Mueller
is investigating the details of that.

He`s moving along. He`s gathering information. You summarized some of the
information that he has got. Whether that rises to the level of criminal
violations is a question for Mueller. But I think in the clip that you
played, we saw a classic example, Chris, of what I was writing about this
morning. President Trump was pounding the table. He kept repeating, as if
it was an established fact that there is no collusion, no evidence of
collusion between his campaign and Russia.

That`s precisely the issue that`s under investigation. And however many
times he repeats it, it doesn`t change the fact that Mueller is going to
continue to look at it, and until that`s resolved, the president`s claims
are entirely secondary to the investigation.

MATTHEWS: Natasha, why is he more credible, he thinks, to deny everything
than simply deny his role? Why does he deny the Russians intervened? Why
is he covering for them? He should be covering for himself alone.

NATASHA BERTRAND, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, BUSINESS INSIDER: Well, there
are two theories, the first is that Donald Trump feels like, you know,
saying that the Russians did interfere in the election undermines his own
victory and therefore it`s an affront on his ego. The second theory is a
little bit more nefarious, and it is that Trump, you know, feels like this
investigation is getting very, very close to him and his inner circle, and
so he feels like he needs to lash out and undermine the investigation as a
whole, which, at its core, it is a counterintelligence investigation.

Robert Mueller`s mandate says that he was appointed so that he could
investigate Russia`s election interference. So by casting the whole entire
thing as some kind of witch hunt, as something that was put out by the
Democrats as an excuse for them losing, he`s also trying to undermine, you
know, the idea that he was involved in this broadly.

MATTHEWS: Well, Phil, doesn`t he have to deny the role of Papadopoulos as
any part of his operation? He has to deny the role of his son, Donald Jr.,
in terms of the meeting he went to. For him to say he didn`t engage with
the Russians, wouldn`t he have to sort of cut off his arms? Everybody
involved with his campaign that had anything to do with the Russians he has
to deny, including Flynn? Is that remotely credible that none of these
people were working for him when they were all working for him?

PHILIP RUCKER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, it`s plainly untrue
that nobody on the Trump campaign had any contact with Russians. We have
reported and it has been – come out as fact that a number of these
officials on the Trump campaign, including his son and – his namesake son,
did have contact with Russians. But that doesn`t mean that there was
collusion, coordination, strategic sort of working together to help him get
elected. And that`s what Mueller is trying to get to the bottom of.

But what I think is going on in President Trump`s head is he`s purposely
conflating these very separate threads. You have got Russian interference.
That is a matter of fact, according to our U.S. intelligence agencies, that
they did interfere in the election. That is separate from colluding with
Trump and his campaign, and that`s what Mueller`s investigating.

MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute, let me challenge you on that. It seems to
me if you have got a lot of evidence of the Russians offering dirt on
Hillary and putting it out to WikiLeaks, and whatever, they put it out all
over the place, about Podesta, the DNC, anything to embarrass the Democrats
and help Trump and hurt Hillary.

But we also have evidence from the other end of this quid pro quo of
Trump`s people talking to the Russian ambassador about reducing sanctions,
relieving sanctions and all that, it seems to me.

RUCKER: We do. That`s right.

MATTHEWS: So how is that not collusion if there`s the quid and the quo?
The quid and the quo.

RUCKER: Well, you know, it`s not for me to decide. There`s evidence of
this communication going on. There`s evidence of – clearly of Russian
officials talking to representatives of Trump`s campaign and of his
administration, of his government about policy, about things that they want
to happen when Donald Trump becomes president, such as lifting those
sanctions.

But I don`t know, you know, I`m not a lawyer and a judge. I don`t know if
that is the definition of collusion and whether any charges can be brought
or not because of that.

MATTHEWS: Well, and, Natasha, how about seeing a business deal when you
see one? One side is giving one deal and the other side is giving the
other end of the deal. It looks like a deal to me. Somebody is giving,
somebody is taking, and they all seem to be happy about it. Neither side
wants to dump on the other side. Nobody is really denying that they have
been working together. They just don`t like the word collusion, because
they`re both working, one for the other side, one for the other side.

BERTRAND: Right. And, you know, multiple legal experts have been – they
wanted to emphasize the point that collusion is the wrong word to really
describe this kind of relationship. I mean, Trump has been very reluctant
to criticize Putin, if at all. There was clearly something else that was
going on throughout this entire election.

And, of course, you know, you have the intelligence – some in the
intelligence community saying that there was an effort to cultivate Trump
over the course of years before he actually ran for president. So whether
or not this relationship actually began even before the 2016 election is
going to be a question of interest for Mueller as he examines whether or
not there was a quid pro quo that had something to do perhaps with his
business dealings and his financial interests.

And that is, of course, why Mueller has reportedly issued these subpoenas
to Deutsche Bank, which was Donald Trump`s bank of choice for the last
couple of decades.

MATTHEWS: And Deutsche Bank, which was getting money from the Russians.

Anyway, President Trump, in an exchange with reporters, refused to rule out
a pardon for Michael Flynn, yet, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Let`s watch this “yet.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About Michael Flynn, would you consider a pardon for
Michael Flynn?

TRUMP: I don`t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We`ll
see what happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, White House lawyer Ty Cobb was forced to clarify the
president`s comments, saying that there is no consideration in the White
House of pardoning Michael Flynn.

But, you know, the lawyer said no, yet, but he said yet. What is he saying
that for? Trump knows what he`s talking about.

IGNATIUS: I think Trump – I take Trump`s version, not Ty Cobb`s version.
The fascinating mystery at the center of this to me is, what it is that
Trump was so worried about in the beginning with Michael Flynn? What was
it that Michael Flynn knew about concerning the conversations that Flynn
had with…

MATTHEWS: He was told by Jared to go talk to Kislyak, the Russian
ambassador.

IGNATIUS: So we`re going to find out finally the answer to that. Why was
it that the day after Flynn resigned, under pressure, that Trump went to
Comey and said, I would like to see you take it easy on this? We`re going
to get answers to those questions at the end of the day.

But it`s really an interesting measure of Trump`s concern about this that
he keeps stepping up the rhetoric. His comments today were as sharp as any
he has made. He`s going after the FBI. He`s saying the FBI is a mess. I
think the danger is he`s going to take law enforcement and FBI people down
with him in his attempt to criticize the investigation.

MATTHEWS: He seems quite ready to do that.

RUCKER: And, Chris…

MATTHEWS: Yes, go ahead.

RUCKER: Chris, let`s remember that President Trump has used his power of
clemency before. He pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County,
Arizona, a very controversial sheriff who had been convicted of
discrimination in his office, and the president did a political move there
to pardon him. So I wouldn`t put it past him to pardon anybody who is
implicated in this Russia probe.

MATTHEWS: Well, he knows the paperwork, anyway. Thank you, David
Ignatius. Thank you, Natasha Bertrand and Phil Rucker. Phil, you have
been doing great.

Up next, Republicans today released a final version of their tax bill. It
looks like they`re on track to get the Trump Tower tax cut passed. They
got all these people – all those Republicans are falling in line, maybe
not in love, but their donors are in love with this one, you betcha, just
in time for their big Christmas present.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO: There is nothing worse than when someone makes a
promise to you, you rely on that promise, and then they go back on their
word. And you feel in your gut, I have just been betrayed. People in
Youngstown feel betrayed because President Trump was saying, I`m going to
cut your taxes during the campaign. I`m going to expand health care for
you. I`m going to make life better for you. And everything he has done in
the last year has either thrown someone off of health care or taken care of
the wealthiest people in the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Ohio Democratic Congressman
Tim Ryan warning Republicans that their voters will feel betrayed if they
pass this tax bill. The text of the final bill, agreed upon by a
conference committee of the House and Senate, was just released earlier
this evening. And according to NBC News, the bill contains temporary tax
breaks for individuals with the biggest gains concentrated at the top,
along with more modest benefits for lower income people.

It also eliminates Obamacare`s individual mandate, a big death throe at the
health care bill, I think. Anyway, Republicans say that with this bill,
the typical family in this country of four, earning the median family
income of $73,000 a year, will receive a tax cut of a little over $2,000
per family. As of now, the bill looks like it`s going to pass with Senator
Bob Corker of Tennessee and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida changing their
no votes to a yes. They`re all in line now.

Corker, who had previously voted no on the original Senate bill since it
adds to the deficit, released a statement today saying “this bill is far
from perfect, but after great thought and consideration, I believe this
once-in-a-generation opportunity to make businesses domestically more
productive, and internationally more competitive, is one we should not
miss.”

The House plans to vote on the bill Tuesday with the Senate voting after
the House. Though Democrats were part of the conference to decide this,
they say that they didn`t have much of a voice. Senator Ron Wyden of
Oregon called the process a sham. Let`s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: This whole process has been a sham. The fact
is, this is a historically unpopular giveaway to the multinational
corporations at the expense of the middle class. And the Republicans know
that if there`s any real sunlight on this, this bill is going to dry up.
And that`s why they`re moving with the speed of light. But I`m telling
you, this debate is far from over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Catherine Rampell, who`s an opinion
columnist for The Washington Post.

Catherine, this – I guess what stuns me about this, it`s such a big
fleecing of the Treasury and of the average person, and it`s such a
tremendous windfall in terms of corporate tax reduction, dramatic, big cuts
in the top individual rate for people, getting rid of the alternative
minimum tax, really. All these advantages, the estate tax, doubling the
exemption, up to $22 million per family, all these goodies for the top, and
some money for people at the bottom to keep people happy.

But politically, it should be an explosion, like a multi-megaton explosion
politically killing the Republican Party, and it doesn`t seem to be that
loud. It`s just terrible. What`s going on?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, OPINION COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, it
depends on what you`re listening to, right? If you`re listening to the
polls, the explosion looks pretty ear-deafening at this point. This
legislation, or at least previous versions of it, and it has been moving
quite quickly, is historically unpopular. It is the most unpopular piece
of major legislation in decades. It is more unpopular even than tax
increases under President
Clinton and President George H.W. Bush.

So the public does not like it, even Republicans, if you look at the
polling data, don`t believe that this bill will help them. So if you look
at the public, if you look at the populists, if you look at people on the
right and the left, it does not appear that this legislation is necessarily
to their liking.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about why it`s passing. You know this. What is it -
- who are in the trough here? Who is gobbling this up? Who wants this to
happen? Who`s going to the president, saying, if you do this for us, we
will get you re-elected? Who – tell me about that community of people.
Who are they?

RAMPELL: It`s donors, right? It`s donors. It`s the corporate community.
It`s pass-through groups that want to get the same kinds of goodies that
their brethren at C-corporations are getting. It`s lots of people in the
business community, although not everyone in the business community, I
should be clear, not only because there are people with a conscience who
care about what will happen to the national debt, who care about what the
distributional consequences are, and screwing the poor and the middle
class, but also people who are worried that this legislation is being
jammed through so quickly that there are lots of unintentional glitches and
loopholes that could actually hurt particular industries.

So it`s not like there`s unanimous adoration for this legislation for the
business community, but there are some powerful donors. I think beyond
that, the Republican Party is concerned that if they don`t get this
signature piece of legislation through, and Ron Wyden is correct, every day
that passes, more people learn how much more they dislike it, and
potentially the chances of this thing passing go down, if they don`t get it
through, then they just look completely ineffectual.

And that`s the deal that they`re making. On the one hand, the public hates
it. On the other hand, they`ve got to please the donors and they`ve got to
say that they achieved something.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you what I think is the big casino part of
this. Despite the sleaze of it and the inequality of it, and the
undemocratic nature of it, and the awfulness of it, there`s one big gamble
here. If we don`t get a really rock `em sock `em growth rate coming out of
this two or three years from now, going into the next election, Trump ought
to pay for this.

He ought to almost be beaten up for it in a sense, politically, because the
whole idea of this is like nitroglycerin. It will explode the economy with
all this deregulation, all this tax cutting at the corporate level, at the
top level, all this incentivization should be creating a huge growth rate
of, what, 4 percent? What does he have to get to be able to say, I did the
right thing?

RAMPELL: Well, he is claiming not only that there will be growth in the
near term, additional growth in the near term, but in the long term as
well. And actually, economists do generally believe that this will be
stimulative, that this will improve growth rates in the near term because
you`re pumping a lot of
additional money into the economy, effectively.

The bigger question, the bigger test for Trump and that history will judge
him by is, what are the consequences in the longer term? And basically, no
reputable economist anywhere, from the Fed, from the Tax Policy Center,
from the Tax Foundation, which is right leaning, believes this will
generate nearly the amount of rocket fuel that the Trump administration and
Republicans on the Hill claim that it will in the long term.

MATTHEWS: And all this could have been done to rebuild Americans that it`s
going to the rich.

Thank you, Catherine Rampell, for that great analysis.

Up next, President Trump promised he would appoint the best and brightest
to work in his administration. One of his judicial nominees can`t answer
basic legal questions.

Meanwhile, his staff is in chaos. Omarosa has been shown the door, rather
undelicately and it sounds like Secretary Tillerson is the next one to get
the boot.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump during the campaign promised he would hire only the best
people for the country. But on Wednesday, one of his judicial nominees, a
lawyer up for a lifetime appointment to a U.S. district court position,
struggled to answer basic questions about the law during his confirmation
hearing. Here it goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Have you ever tried a jury
trial?

MATTHEW SPENCER PETERSEN, DISTRICT COURT JUDGE NOMINEE: I have not.

KENNEDY: Civil?

PETERSEN: No.

KENNEDY: Criminal?

PETERSEN: No.

KENNEDY: Bench?

PETERSEN: No.

KENNEDY: State or federal court?

PETERSEN: I have not.

KENNEDY: Do you know what a motion in limine is?

PETERSEN: Yes. Again, my background is not in litigation.

KENNEDY: Do you know what the Younger abstention doctrine is?

PETERSEN: I`ve heard of it, but again.

KENNEDY: How about the Pullman abstention doctrine? You`ll see that a lot
in federal court.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was so low key and so brilliant. Amid that showing
for that potential Trump administration hire, a new “Washington Post”
report says Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may not be staying in his job
for long. According to “The Washington Post,” a White House official said
Tillerson, quote, had not learned his lesson from the last time when Trump
publicly rebuked his top diplomat on Twitter, over the wisdom of talking to
North Korea.

Another official said, I think our allies know at this point he`s not
really speaking for the administration.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Tough night tonight. Libby Casey
is a reporter for “The Washington Post.” Clarence Page is a columnist with
“The Chicago Tribune”. And Vivian Salama is national political reporter
for NBC News.

So, we have some heavyweights here, as we often do.

And I want to ask you about why would a Republican senator put a guy
through a grilling like that that can only humiliate him or her forever? I
mean, even if they get confirmed. They will always be known as the nominee
for a federal bench position that doesn`t know nothing.

LIBBY CASEY, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: It was stunning to see a
Republican do that.

MATTHEWS: They want to humiliate the president obviously.

CASEY: Well, you know, Chris, there is a fundamental question with how
qualified some of these nominees are.

MATTHEWS: Not with him.

CASEY: Well, there you go. I mean, there you go, and it was a low-key
interaction, but it revealed a lot. Most – this actually, this nominee
was qualified, according to the American Bar Association, but many of
Donald Trump`s nominees have not – a surprising number have not hit that
bar.

And the reason is because they`re not turning over the names and checking
with the ABA before they release the names to the public. Instead, they`re
releasing the names and the ABA is saying, here`s where their ratings are.
More of his judges, his nominees are coming back with not qualified ratings
from the ABA. But this is one who was qualified.

MATTHEWS: You know, I remember a guy for the ambassadorship under Reagan,
he was not prepared at all. He`s a political contributor, which often
happens, we know that. Didn`t know about the language, didn`t know about
the culture, didn`t know anything, and they still put him in. But it does
make them look stupid.

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Yes, it does, and I think
in this case, it just looks like there was a quiet rebellion here on the
part of committee members who are kind of fed up with the idea of sending
these amateurs up here. They really have respect for the law. You know, a
lifetime appointment, a serious business, and they`re not getting serious
nominees in some cases.

MATTHEWS: By that standard, I could be a federal judge.

PAGE: I would say the same thing.

MATTHEWS: I have all those I don`t knows.

PAGE: I thought, gee, I thought law school was tougher than this, you
know?

MATTHEWS: Vivian, I want to go to Omarosa here because we can`t forget,
Omarosa Manigault Newman, she gave more details about her surprise
departure from the Trump administration today, saying she resigned after a
one-on-one with chief of staff John Kelly.

Let`s listen with Omarosa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER: Was it a tense conversation?

OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Absolutely, because I raised
issues that I had concerns. I had some grave concerns –

INTERVIEWER: What kind of concerns?

NEWMAN: I talked to him about some concerns I had about issues, about one
very urgent issue, and pressing issue, that would affect the president, in
a big way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. It`s acting class, the whole thing. I`m sorry, I
don`t know her. I have no problem with her, but I have a problem with the
fact she had these positions and doesn`t have any serious nature about them
and that actor performance, it`s very impressive. She`s great television.

But what else?

VIVIAN SALAMA, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Your guess is as good
as mine about what the urgent issue could have been.

MATTHEWS: It`s a chapter one in a book she`s trying to sell.

SALAMA: I mean, who knows? I guess.

But we periodically would see Omarosa at the White House, most notably
during black history month of this year where she would be often be seated
next to the president, sometimes Ben Carson would be on the other side, and
they were very much put on display as the African-Americans of the
administration, trying to portray some level of diversity that we know is
not there.

And so, this is something that Omarosa in her two days of being out of the
White House, is already raising concerns about.

MATTHEWS: Why was she bounced?

SALAMA: Pardon?

MATTHEWS: Why was she bounced?

SALAMA: Well, that`s still the big question. You know, she says it wasn`t
a contentious thing. She went in and gave her recognition, but a lot of
reporting indicated that she was pushed out the door. That remains to be
seen. She`s not confirming that.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Tillerson. Tillerson is apparently, he won`t
take the hint. Is that it, that Trump won`t fire him? He wants to hint
him out of the office?

PAGE: I think Trump would like to fire him, but he has done that before.
And also, we in the media expect him to do it.

MATTHEWS: He`s allowed to fire that guy.

PAGE: He`s certainly allowed to, but he doesn`t want to go thru the
trouble of having to replace him, and he also feels a certain respect for
Tillerson, although not that much since Tillerson made his little comment
that he now wants to deny.

MATTHEWS: I know, he called him a moron. That would bother most of us.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will
give us some scoops for the weekend.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump has portrayed his first year in office as
a resounding success. But most Americans don`t see it that way. According
to a new “Associated Press”-NORC poll, a whopping 69 percent of Americans
think the country is headed in the wrong direction under Trump. And a
majority, 52 percent, say the country is worse off since Trump took office.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Libby, tell me something I don`t know.

CASEY: “Washington Post” pollsters, what are the top 20 words Americans
described 2017 – chaotic, crazy and challenging are the first three words
Americans are using to describe this past year.

MATTHEWS: How about a better word, mishegoss? It`s good.

PAGE: Not bad.

MATTHEWS: Complete confusion.

Yes, go ahead?

PAGE: Well, magazine, (INAUDIBLE) another one.

Chris, Tuesday, the Jared Kushner past deadline set by House Democrats for
him to answer questions on his overseas conversations in regard to a
building he owns in New York City, the 41-storey building on Fifth Avenue.

MATTHEWS: Yes, 666.

PAGE: Yes, 666. How can we forget that number? He hasn`t answered the
questions. They`re getting upset about it. And I think we`re going to see
some action.

MATTHEWS: Time for a pardon.

PAGE: Yes.

SALAMA: Chris, President Trump has president for 330 days. But wait,
there`s more. In that time, he has tweeted the words fake news 164 times.
He`s tweeted Russia 96 times. MAGA, make America great again, 94 times.
And Clinton 72 times.

MATTHEWS: Somebody had to keep count.

Libby Casey, Clarence Page, and Vivian Salama for that great update.

When we return, let me finish tonight with John McCain. You`re watching
HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with John McCain. There are few people in
American politics who match up to my childhood notions. By that I mean
members of the U.S. Senate whose daily stature fits with the portrait of
Webster, Taft and La Follette, whose personality stands alongside those
imagined in advise and consent.

John McCain, he makes the grade. I`ve praised him, I`ve taken shots at
him, fairly, but sometimes not. In any case, given him much reason to
trust my fairness.

None of that is important to history, to the gentleman from Arizona or
certainly to the country. I know full well that he could care less what
his critics say. And that is the measure of this man.

I`ve discovered along the way that those heroes who have faced the horror
of war, have truly been in it, come back with a sense of proportion, having
endured their rite of passage, they hold little fear for the bearable blows
of peacetime political life.

I am a dove, questioning every war our country has begun since Vietnam,
Grenada, Panama, the two Iraq Wars and certainly this Intifada Trump has
trumped up in the Mideast due to his vast ignorance of that region and its
history.

Senator McCain has equal or fairly equal reliance supported such military
endeavors, often pushing for greater U.S. commitment. I think I know the
difference. I opposed the Vietnam War, John McCain fought in that war,
suffered in that war, hated the failure of our government to make a daring
effort to win that war. So, I get it.

And I get McCain`s moral superiority in this enduring difference of
opinion. It took a lot more to fly a jet over Hanoi, to suffer all that
was done to him in the Hanoi Hilton than it did to march in an anti-war
parade. Who is right in this never-ending argument is vital. But so is
the roll call of those who were admirable, who were faithful to what they
believed about what was our country`s right cause.

John McCain was faithful to America, is so now, will be I dare say as long
as he lives. That I say that means nothing. That it needs to be said is
clear and enduring and ennobling.

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

“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.

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