President Trump visits the border wall. TRANSCRIPT: 9/19/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests:
Hakeem Jeffries, Denny Heck, Katrina Mulligan, Mieke Eoyang, Edward McMullin, Juanita Tolliver
Transcript:

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Who`s that you`re talking to?  Let`s play

HARDBALL.

 

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

 

A troubling private conversation between President Trump and a foreign

leader has rung such an alarm bell that the intelligence community`s

internal watchdog calls it an urgent concern.

 

The Washington Post was the first to report that a whistleblower complaint

filed over this summer involves President Trump`s communications with a

foreign leader.  Their conversation included a promise that was regarded as

so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence

community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector

general.

 

And now, the whistleblower`s complaint is the subject of a bitter public

dispute between the Congress, which is entitled by law to see it, and the

Director of National Intelligence, who`s withholding it.

 

And while the identity of the foreign leader is still unknown, NBC News

today confirmed that the communication described in the complaint was a

phone conversation.

 

NBC News is working a complete list of the president`s phone calls and has

so far confirmed that he spoke with at least nine different world leaders

during the relevant time period, including a call with Ukraine`s president

on July 25th of this year and one with Vladimir Putin on the 31st.  The

whistleblower complaint was filed on august 12th.

 

The inspector general of the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson,

deemed the whistleblower`s complaint credible and troubling enough to be

considered a matter of urgent concern – urgent concern is the phrase – a

legal threshold that requires notification of oversight committees on

Capitol Hill.

 

However, acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire has

refused to turn over the complaint to the appropriate congressional

hearings.

 

After consoling with the Justice Department, Maguire`s office told Congress

that the complaint involves confidential and potentially privileged

communications.

 

And now, the chairman, Adam Schiff, of course, of the House Intelligence

Committee, who issued a subpoena for the complaint on Friday, is crying

foul.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA):  I believe that there is an effort to prevent this

information getting to Congress.  And if the assertion is accurate that the

Department of Justice has made and the DNI has affirmed that this involves

a potentially privileged communication, then at one level or another, it

likely involves either the president or people around him.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Schiff`s committee met today with Inspector Atkinson.  But

while Atkinson wants to release the complaint to Congress, he is bound by

orders of his superior not to.

 

I`m joined right now by U.S. Congressman Denny Heck of Washington State,

who`s a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Ken Dilanian,

Correspondent for NBC News, of course, and Katrina Mulligan has held senior

positions in the DOJ, NSC and the Office of Director of National

Intelligence itself.

 

Let me start with Ken, our guy.  This had to have reached a threshold,

urgent concern.  What would that embody that would cause the inspector

general`s office to get a hold of a complaint that reaches to the level of

urgency and should, by law, be told to Congress immediately?

 

KEN DILANIAN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  There`s actually a legal definition. 

It`s supposed to involve intelligence activities and it`s extremely rare

because there`s a lot of complaints that go into that office.  Very few of

them are deemed urgent concerns.  And when he made that determination to

the inspector general, that should have triggered a mandatory disclosure to

Congress.  And he is saying this career DOJ person, that`s the inspector

general, I wanted to turn this over and I was blocked in doing so by acting

DNI Joe Maguire.

 

But what we learned tonight when some letters were released is that Maguire

himself disagreed with the decision.  It was a DOJ ruling that said that

there`s some privileged communications here.  And since we know it`s about

the president, that`s understandable.  Their position, really, is that the

president`s conversations with foreign leaders are not the business of

Congress and particularly not the congressional intelligence committees. 

And Adam Schiff is saying, how can that be the case?  If we have a

whistleblower who is an intelligence officer who`s saying I saw something

really inappropriate here, we`ve got to know about it.

 

And no one I`ve talked to has ever heard of this happening in the history

of our country, a whistleblower filing complaint about the conduct of the

president of the United States.

 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, your reaction to this story because you`re being

denied the actual fact of the complaint, but we know it`s in the hands of

obviously of the whistleblower himself or herself.  We know it`s in the

hands of the inspector general.  We know that the folks over at DOJ,

William Barr, who is very loyal to the president, don`t want this out. 

What do you guys in the Hill, you people?

 

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA):  So Ken is right, no one has ever heard of this

ever happening before because the simple truth of the matter, Chris, it has

never happened before, not since adoption of the Whistleblower Protection

Act.

 

Listen, we should remember that the intelligence community Whistleblower

Protection Act is designed to keep America safer.  And if this president is

allowed to stand, we will all be less safe.  It`s designed to ensure that a

whistleblower can come forward when they discover credible evidence of an

abuse, a serious or flagrant violation of the law with respect to

intelligence activities and that they will not be retaliated against.

 

Now, of course, if the subject of this whistleblower complaint is allowed

to quash it, that person is no longer incentivized to come forward with the

truth.

 

And more over, frankly, it creates a perverse incentive perhaps for

somebody, ala Edward Snowden, to bring forth through public channels and

inappropriately information that may compromise methods and procedures.

 

America is less safer tonight if this president is allowed to stand, pure

and simple.

 

MATTHEWS:  We`ll be back to you in a moment.

 

Katrina, let me ask you about this.  There`s talk of, according to our

logs, the information we`ve been able to get at NBC News that he talked to

Putin, he talked to President Zelensky of Ukraine.  Do we know whether this

pardon involves partisan behavior by the president or what sort of intrigue

is at work here?

 

KATRINA MULLIGAN, MANAGING DIRECTOR FOR NATIONAL SECURITY, CENTER FOR

AMERICAN PROGRESS:  So I think it`s important to remember that there`s a

lot we still don`t know.

 

MATTHEWS:  We know there`s a promise involved here.

 

MULLIGAN:  We know there`s a promise involved but there`s a lot of

information we don`t have and we should be cautious.  I mean, there are

serious allegations here and they should be treated very seriously.

 

But there are a couple of things we know are not the case.  We know that

this isn`t purely a difference of opinion pertaining to public policy

because pursuant to the definition in the statute, that`s expressly

excluded from being defined as an urgent concern.  So we know, as some have

speculated, that the president has all the freedom in the world to make

public policy, that cannot be what`s essentially at issue here.

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president today had an odd sort of would have, could

have didn`t sort of attitude.  He didn`t deny it.  He actually said he

wouldn`t have done it.  He would seem not to have done it.  It`s a strange

kind of denial.  Trump today, he dismissed the whistleblower`s complaint,

saying, it`s unthinkable that he would have been caught doing what the

complaint describes.

 

Quote, catch this language, firstly, any time I speak on the phone to a

foreign leader, I understand that there are may be many people listening

from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country

itself.  Knowing all this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would

say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while in such a

potentially heavily populated call?  I would only do what is right anyway.

 

Okay, that`s fine.  That`s a weird kind of denial.  That`s not I didn`t do

it, it`s I wouldn`t have done it.  And by the way, why if it`s not really

dangerous, why is William Barr, who is a toadie of this president, why

would he want to keep it secret?  Why does this president want to keep it

secret?  Because a two-second call of William Barr would get this out and

behind him.

 

DILANIAN:  He could declassify right now and we could all see it.

 

MATTHEWS:  It would be gone.  There would be no story here.

 

DILANIAN:  But we know that Donald Trump doesn`t necessarily know when he`s

doing something inappropriate.  He gave away code word classified

information to the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office that his aides

later had to cleanup.  He`s been cavalier with intelligence right along. 

So it`s completely credible that he would say something that he didn`t

realize was improper and that a career official flagged.

 

And it`s not a disagreement.  It`s not even something the officials thought

was stupid.  It`s something they thought compromises the national security

of the United States.

 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, that, I think, is the fact here – two facts. 

Actually, the fact that the whistleblower believed that this was a matter

of urgent concern, number two, that the attorney general of the United

States who serves this president rather well, I must say, in a negative

way, he looks out for him and doesn`t want us to know about it.  That`s two

levels of urgent concern, as far as I`m concerned.

 

HECK:  Well, in addition to that, Chris, he also said that there was

credible evidence to establish this urgent concern.  So on every level,

there is reason for concern, frankly.

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, in a letter sent to Chairman Schiff on Tuesday, Inspector

General Michael Atkinson wrote, I have now determined that the acting

Director of National Intelligence and I are at an impasse over this issue

of releasing the complaint to Congress.  He emphasized that the subject

matter involved in the complaint relates to one of the most significant and

important of the DNI`s responsibilities to the American people, which of

course would be national security.

 

Back to you, Ken.

 

DILANIAN:  That`s powerful language.  This is the inspector general who is

appointed by Trump, confirmed by the Senate.  He`s a career Justice

Department lawyer.  He`s totally neutral in this.  He`s one of the five

people who knows what actually in this complaint.  And he`s saying it`s

central to the mission of the top intelligence agency.  And the idea that

Congress can`t have that information, a lot of people are going to have a

problem with that.

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I was thinking – looking at this all day, this story

popped in The Washington Post this morning, Katrina.  And I`m thinking top

of the fold, that top of the fold, the very top of the newspaper today.  So

a lot of editorial judgments in this too, but the best newspaper that

covers the federal, which is The Washington Post.  They have – they think

this is huge.  The fact that the editors have decided to put it up there at

the top, the fact that the inspector general thought it`s big enough to

Congress, and he`s fighting his DNI, the head of the National Intelligence

over this, the fact that William Barr is hiding this thing, there are a lot

of alarm bells going off here.

 

MULLIGAN:  There are a lot of alarm bells going off here.  And I think it`s

important to emphasize that the statute here doesn`t authorize the DNI or

the acting DNI in this case to overturn the judgment of the ICIG, and

that`s a serious concern.

 

The other thing I think is worth emphasizing here is that there hasn`t

actually been a privilege claim asserted, to my knowledge.  There`s

potential privilege claim.  But until it`s asserted, it`s not operative. 

And I think, arguably, it puts the acting DNI in a pretty tough spot.

 

If I`m Joe Maguire tonight, I`m wondering if I can find a way out of this

before testifying in open hearing next week.

 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, what are you thinking about this?  Because I`m

thinking Russia, I`m thinking Putin, I`m thinking the kind of conversation

we all figure he has with Putin because he and Putin have a lot of history

together, a lot of needs, a lot of – what we all know, back and forth

relationship, and the fact that it might involve a promise.

 

There`s also the Ukrainian president who might have information on who

knows who, perhaps the Bidens.  Who knows?  I mean, we have lots of

speculation today about this all around town that this may be a partisan

move by the president uncovered by a career bureaucrat who said presidents

shouldn`t be using intelligence, they shouldn`t be using communication with

foreign leaders for partisan negative oppo.

 

HECK:  Three quick things, Chris.  First of all, who said what to whom

matters, and it is important.  But I`m still going to maintain and assert

that it is secondary to the willful (ph) violation of the intelligence

community Whistleblower Protection Act, which keeps us all safe.

 

Secondly, we should not assume because we really do not know what this is. 

We do not know what this is.  But we should not assume it was simply an act

of the president sharing classified information with a foreign leader

because he possesses the authority to declassify material.  Therefore, if

it was him and we don`t know, it`s probably something else of a serious

nature, of a flagrant nature.  That`s the law.

 

And thirdly, I think we just have to stop and pause here.  What Inspector

General Michael Atkinson did is, frankly, a mini act befitting of inclusion

in the profiles in courage.  It was very hard for him to stand up, write

that letter and seek to uphold the law in the context of how this

administration acts and it should be acknowledged as such.

 

Frankly, what I`m very, very worried about is that the character

assassination is about to begin of this career public servant.

 

MATTHEWS:  It`s not going to start here, I can tell you, Congressman.

 

Thank you, U.S. Congressman Denny Heck of Washington State, a member of the

Intelligence Committee of the House.  Ken Dilanian, as always we rely on

you, sir.  And Katrina Mulligan, thank you for your expertise.

 

Coming up, the bombshell whistleblower report is the latest and perhaps the

most serious potential example of Trump`s mishandling of sensitive national

information.  So what can Congress or anyone else do about this

mishandling?

 

Plus, Democrats are still waiting for Republicans to agree to anything,

anything on gun control.  Despite the urgency of the situation, the

president says he`s taking it slow until we forget about it, I guess.

 

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is coming here.  He`s a member of the House

Democratic Leadership.  He joins us soon tonight.

 

We`ve got much more to get to.  Stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

 

As the leader of the free world, President Trump has access, of course, to

the country`s deepest and most guarded secrets.  And every morning, of

course, he`s handed an intelligence briefing and updates him on various

covert programs, surveillance, intelligence, current cyber attacks and new

foreign secrets.  Well, the president is supposed to be the guardian of all

that stuff, all those top secrets.

 

Traditionally, unauthorized disclosure of top secret information is seen as

a serious breach of security causing exceptionally grave damage to our

country.  It`s within that context, according to The Washington Post, that

an individual once working in the staff of the White House National

Security Council was so troubled by this president`s behavior that he or

she felt compelled to blow the whistle on the leader of the free world.

 

President Trump brushed off those reports today by tweeting, is anybody

dumb enough to believe that I would say anything inappropriate with a

foreign leader?  I think a lot of people would.  Trump`s handling of

classified information has been a recurring source of concern to U.S.

intelligence since the start of his administration.

 

In April of 2017, for example, Trump shared the location of two nuclear

submarines to the president of the Philippines, a secret so guarded that

it`s kept from Navy Command.  By the way, why do you think they`re

submarines?  To keep them secret.

 

In May of 2017, The Washington Post reported that the president actually

discussed classified information provided by a U.S. ally, I think it was

Israel, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador

Sergey Kislyak.  Oh, he tells them everything.

 

In July of 2017, The Washington Post reported that during a private meeting

with Vladimir Putin, President Trump, quote, took the unusual step of

confiscating and keeping his interpreter`s notes.  In other words, they

were keeping notes of what he said and Putin said so he made sure to kill

all that stuff.

 

In July 2019 – actually, June, President Trump publicly opposed the CIA

using informants against North Korea.

 

And just last month, the president tweeted a reportedly classified image of

recent damage to an Iranian testing missile site.

 

For more I`m joined by Mieke Eoyang, Vice President for the National

Security Program at Third Way, and Edward McMullin, a CIA operative and

Executive Director of Stand Up Republic.

 

Mieke, what do you make about this?  We`ve been talking about it, but it

seems to fit a pattern.  This president is not just sloppily but reckless

with information, they could do damage to our forces overseas, could do

damage to all kinds of our international relations.  He doesn`t seem to

care about being careful.

 

MIEKE EOYANG, NATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM VICE PRESIDENT, THIRD WAY:  Yes. 

Not only does he not care, he doesn`t care if the people around him aren`t

careful.  We went through this with the security clearances.  A number of

people in his White House, they were recommended to not be suitable for

holding classified information.

 

MATTHEWS:  Like Jared?

 

EOYANG:  Right.  And they got clearances anyway.  He just does not take the

security of American information that is central for our national security

seriously in the ways that we have come to expect presidents will do based

on the entire history of America.

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let`s talk about his use of foreign relationships.  What

do you think about it?  I mean, Bibi Netanyahu has manipulated the hell out

of this guy.  We all know Bibi maybe about to fall thanks to the democracy

in Israel.  But the word is out that our people know that he`s been

manipulated.  Tillerson, the former Secretary of State, wrote in his book

that this president has been played by – played is the term – by Bibi.

 

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Yes.

 

Well, look, that`s one reason why I think whatever is happening here has

got to be more than simply the president being a little loose with

protecting national security secrets, intelligence secrets, because that`s

been going on for some time. 

 

I think that`s sort of priced into the experience with President Trump, not

only in the country broadly, but also inside the intelligence community. 

That`s something they would try to manage internally. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Why is he closer to those guys?

 

He`s there with – he`s there with Kislyak and Lavrov, chuckling like –

man, there`s nothing wrong with having fun, but he seems closer to them

than he does with our intelligence community.

 

MCMULLIN:  Well, I think that`s exactly it, Chris. 

 

MATTHEWS:  The Russians.

 

MCMULLIN:  There has to be with this, I think, some angle of personal

interest. 

 

So some – this intelligence whistle-blower, I think, had to see something

in the president`s engagement with this – with the foreign power or with

foreign powers that was going beyond simply the president sharing too much. 

 

It had to be, I think, some action in which the president was acting to

serve his own interests…

 

MATTHEWS:  Collusion.

 

MCMULLIN:  … not the country.

 

Well, I would just say this, because you could imagine the president –

this whistle-blower apparently talked about a commitment or a promise to a

foreign power. 

 

You could imagine an American president, for example, talking to Angela

Merkel in Germany and saying, look, if you will – if you will put in 2,000

more troops in Afghanistan, we will help you on this initiative at the U.N.

or something like that.

 

Making a commitment or a promise like that, that`s normal.  It`s in the

nation`s interests.  We might debate over the wisdom of that policy, but

it`s within the realm of normal. 

 

What I think may be happening here is that the president has taken some

action in which he was serving himself, rather than the country.

 

MATTHEWS:  His partisan interests.

 

MCMULLIN:  Or personal.

 

EOYANG:  Or his financial interests.

 

MCMULLIN:  It could be more…

 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think?  What do you think is on the plate here in

terms of this – because, for a whistle-blower, a – we all know how – the

thing about working for the government your whole life is, you don`t make

as much money as some other people, but you have a life career. 

 

And you don`t throw that out the window.  You don`t just quit at 53.

 

MCMULLIN:  Right. 

 

MATTHEWS:  You try to work through to retirement.  You are trying to have a

good life, you know, a secure existence.

 

To throw that up in the air and say, I`m going to risk all this because of

somebody – I just heard the president say.  I have got to act. 

 

EOYANG:  Right. 

 

So what you have to understand about the intelligence community is, they

are very, very sensitive to the idea that anyone who handles classified

information is being bought by a foreign power, personally enriched by an

overseas interest. 

 

And they look out for that very carefully.  hat a lower level, people go to

jail for that.  That`s called espionage, when you`re being paid off by a

foreign power to do something or to provide information. 

 

So, if there`s a sense that the president was being personally enriched in

these conversations, that`s the kind of thing that makes people very

nervous. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

 

MCMULLIN:  It could be political.  That financial is certainly true.  It

could be that.  Could be political.  It could be both. 

 

But I`m sorry to interrupt, but I just don`t agree with that, that it – it

has to be something more than just sharing of intelligence, yes. 

 

MATTHEWS:  And they would smell the difference immediately?

 

MCMULLIN:  Yes. 

 

MATTHEWS:  A pro?

 

MCMULLIN:  Well, it would be alarming to them, because – rMD-BO_Mieke and

I come from the intelligence world in – on one way or another. 

 

And I will tell you that, when you make a commitment or a promise in that

world, that means something.  And if you`re doing it clearly in the

interests of the country, that`s something a president does. 

 

But if it`s in your own interests, that`s a compromising act.  You have

compromised yourself to make a promise or a commitment to a foreign power

to serve yourself.  And that would send off all kinds of alarm bells.

 

MATTHEWS:  Trump says – the president of the United States said today,

rMD-BO_Mieke, I would never do that because I know people are listening. 

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

MATTHEWS:  I mean, it`s not a denial. 

 

EOYANG:  It`s not a denial. 

 

And, look, if that`s really true that he didn`t do anything wrong, then

there`s nothing wrong with sharing this allegation, because what you will

find out, in fact, is that it`s normal, right?  He was just doing the

normal stuff.

 

MCMULLIN:  That`s a good point.

 

MATTHEWS:  My question.

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

MATTHEWS:  If that`s true, that he`s clean on this, why is the DNI,

national intelligence, keeping it quiet?  Why is the inspector – the

attorney general, his guy, William Barr, blowing the whistle to keep it

quiet?

 

Anyway, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked about the reports

that President Trump was somehow involved in this whistle-blower case. 

Here`s what Kevin had to say:

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA):  This is not something I would ever see the

president doing.  And I would, instead of jump to conclusions, actually get

the facts first. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s careful.  He`s not denying it. 

 

MCMULLIN:  Yes.  Well, absolutely.  I mean, people have learned their

lessons, I think, with this president.

 

But, look, I will say, sure, let`s get the facts, absolutely.  But part of

getting the facts would be the administration allowing the whistle-blower`s

complaint to go to Congress, where the facts should be.

 

MATTHEWS:  OK, journalistic question to you spooks, you spies.

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

MATTHEWS:  I mean spooks in the best possible way. 

 

Yes, will this be bottom of the fold tomorrow or top of the fold?  Will

this story have legs?  Is this going somewhere? 

 

EOYANG:  This story has legs.

 

When this is an urgent concern, and it is credible, the underlying matter

is a big deal and a big story.

 

MATTHEWS:  I will go with that. 

 

Thank you, rMD-BO_Mieke Eoyang.  And thank you, Evan McMullin.

 

Up next:  Congressional Democrats and Republicans are still waiting for a

response from President Trump to the Democratic leader`s office on

background checks. 

 

They put a firm offer to him right on the table:  Do us background checks,

we will be at the signing ceremony with you, with the flags flying and the

“Hail to the Chief” playing.  He won`t respond.

 

Is Trump falling – stalling for time, or could something actually be

coming together behind closed doors?  I`m skeptical.  You should be too.

 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

QUESTION:  Madam Speaker, on guns, I know you spoke with the president over

the weekend.  I know I asked you on Tuesday night if you had heard anymore.

 

I guess, first of all, you haven`t heard anymore since then?

 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  We have heard through staff that they`re still

working on it, he`s going to call us when he`s ready.  But we haven`t heard

directly from the president. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

 

That was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of course, this morning saying she`s

still waiting for the president`s response to her offer that she and Chuck

Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, gave to the president over the

weekend. 

 

It was on Sunday that the two Democrats in Congress spoke to the president

and said that, if he would support the universal background check

legislation already passed by the House, they would join him in the Rose

Garden for a signing ceremony.  They will be there for the lights and the

applause and everything.

 

Well, that legislation would not bar anyone from buying a gun.  It`s not a

gun control bill.  It simply says you have to pass a background check to

buy one.  Trump hasn`t responded to the Democrats` pretty firm offer, but

says he`s working on a proposal, as he put it, slowly.

 

Let`s watch. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

QUESTION:  Guns.  We`re told that your Justice Department a couple weeks

ago gave you a package, legislative package.  You might move on it

Thursday. 

 

What are you going to do? 

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No, we`re not moving on

anything

 

We`re going very slowly in one way, because we want to make sure it`s

right.  We want to – we`re doing a very careful job.  We`re working with

the Democrats.  We`re working with Republicans. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you heard it from the president`s own mouth there.  “We`re

not moving on anything.” 

 

That`s operative. 

 

For more, I`m joined by U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York.  He

is chair of the House Democratic Caucus. 

 

Congressman, it`s great to have you on tonight.  Thank you. 

 

Do you believe the president will produce anything on gun safety? 

Anything? 

 

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY):  Yes, that`s not clear.  It`s a great

question, Chris. 

 

It`s time for us to stop talking the talk, in terms of the president, and

for him to start walking the walk.  Americans are dying, being massacred. 

Mass shootings are taking place.  You have day-to-day violence occurring in

parts of New York City and Chicago and Los Angeles, at all points in

between.

 

The American people are demanding action.  The House acted by passing

universal criminal background check legislation 204 days ago, in February,

and the bill has been languishing in the Senate.  Mitch McConnell needs to

do his job.  The president needs to do his job. 

 

The American people are overwhelmingly supportive of criminal background

checks, including Republicans, independents and gun owners. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Who`s the boss, just in street terminology?  Who`s the boss, the

president of the United States, or Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle

Association?  Who`s the boss in that deal? 

 

JEFFRIES:  That`s a – you know, it`s very interesting, because every time

you have a tragedy that has occurred, and the president seems to suggest

that he`s willing to do something on gun violence prevention, particularly

as it relates to moving on legislation that is already ready-made to go on

behalf of the American people, in the form of HR-8, our universal criminal

background check bill, a few days later, he`s either visited or receives a

call from Wayne LaPierre, and he backs up. 

 

And so there`s a question that the American people have to ask.  Is Donald

Trump working for us or is he working for the NRA?  And only he can provide

a definitive answer to that by deciding it`s time to move forward and get

something done.

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president seems to even be pushing back now against

his own attorney general, who has been circulating a gun reform proposal to

members of the Congress. 

 

The proposal, obtained by NBC News, is similar to the failed Manchin-Toomey

bill, which extends background checks to all commercial sales, including

gun shows, but would not go as far as the House bill, which include private

sales. 

 

No coincidence.  The NRA also opposes that proposal. 

 

I guess – I have a sense – you`re the politician, Congressman, and a good

one.  I just got to ask you.  This president seems scared to death, that

it`d be like something like the first George Bush when he came out for tax

increases, and he got beaten because he broke his promise. 

 

He seems to be scared to death to lose his virginity on this question of: 

I`m not for any gun control. 

 

I mean, I think he`s afraid of any gun control, because then those people

applauding him in these pictures at these rallies won`t like him anymore.

 

What is your thinking?

 

JEFFRIES:  Yes, he`s clearly a very insecure man. 

 

And it`s strange, because he can engage in all manner of outrageous

behavior, abnormal behavior, criminality, and these folks don`t leave him. 

So, why would this president be concerned that, if he did something

reasonable supported by more than 90 percent of the American people on

background check legislation, they would all of a sudden, on this

particular issue, decide to abandon him?

 

So that is going to fall squarely on him, if he decides to proceed with

this inaction. 

 

More than 8,000 Americans have lost their lives as a result of gun violence

since we passed HR-8 in February.  And so that is going to fall on Moscow

Mitch and the Senate…

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

 

JEFFRIES:  … the do-nothing Republican senators, and President Trump. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, while President Trump usually enjoys being in the

spotlight, he`s been making the case that, if Democrats continue to

investigate his business dealings, they should also look into the deals his

predecessor has made since leaving office. 

 

Following up on the president`s claim, reporters asked Trump what he thinks

a congressional investigation into President Obama`s deals with Netflix and

his book publishing would find. 

 

And the president said: “Well, it was a very substantial deal.  Plus, the

book was the highest book ever sold.” 

 

“The highest book ever sold,” whatever English that is.

 

“And there were many other things that he did.  So I think somebody should,

if they`re going to be looking at me over nonsense, they should certainly

be looking at that also.”

 

I don`t know what he`s talking about. 

 

Michelle Obama, the former first lady, has had the most successful book in

nonfiction history.  She sold 10 million copies that people wanted to read

and paid for. 

 

The company made – I have a rough estimate – almost $200 million off her

book.  The deal with both of the Obamas was 65. 

 

How can he claim there`s hanky-panky here, when the book publishing company

has made a killing on this book from the Obamas, and the president, the

former president, hasn`t even written his book yet? 

 

What`s the intrigue here?  I don`t get it.  Your thoughts, Congressman? 

 

JEFFRIES:  Yes, I mean, it`s very strange. 

 

And I think it is consistent with the envy…

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

 

JEFFRIES:  … that he has repeatedly shown at Barack Obama`s successful

presidency, the eloquence and majesty of the partnership between him and

Michelle Obama, and the fact that they have had some success thereafter,

because the American people recognize that they are authentically good

individuals who care about and love this country.

 

They`re private citizens right now.  The president should stop the

misdirection. 

 

MATTHEWS:  What`s that about?  You say envy, and I wonder, is it that –

simply he`s got a better rep than I do, he`s a better person than me, he`s

going to go down in the history books pretty well, I`m not going to look so

good?

 

What is it?  Where would you put it?  Political?  Moral?  What?  Manly? 

Macho?

 

JEFFRIES:  I think…

 

MATTHEWS:  What is it we talking here? 

 

JEFFRIES:  You know, it may be all of the above.  

 

But I think, most importantly, President Obama was able to accomplish a

variety of different important things for the American people, including

historic health care reform. 

 

The only thing Donald Trump has gotten done is the GOP tax scam, where 83

percent of the benefits went to the wealthiest 1 percent.  He`s done

nothing on infrastructure.  He`s done nothing to really improve

meaningfully the wage stagnation problem that everyday Americans have in

this country, done nothing on prescription drug pricing, even though we are

willing to be partners in that regard and we have promised to try to drive

down lower health care costs and try to find assistance in the Senate and

the White House to do so. 

 

Meanwhile, President Obama is revered, will go down in history as one of

the greatest presidents we have ever had.  President Trump can`t take that. 

 

MATTHEWS:  U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of the beautiful borough of

Brooklyn, it`s an honor to have you on, sir.  You`re a great man.

 

JEFFRIES:  Always…

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, one of our best guests ever. 

 

JEFFRIES:  Thank you. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, sir. 

 

Well, Trump`s 2020 reelection strategy is coming into focus, with fresh

attacks on blue state cities.  Notice how picks them out, Baltimore, places

like that, L.A., the spotlight on his ballyhooed border wall?

 

There he is down at the border wall, Mr. Border Wall. 

 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

 

President Trump capped his two-day visit to California by polishing his re-

election argument in typical Trump fashion, promoting his vaulted wanted

border wall.  The wall was the backdrop for his only public appearance in

California, even signed his name to one of the steel slats of his signature

campaign promise.  There he is. 

 

In an interview with Fox News, he went onto brag about the quality. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We had in a couple of cases

championship mountain climbers and tested various walls.  You have to have

the see through ability otherwise you don`t know who`s on the other side. 

They were unable to get over this wall. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president`s effort to play up the wall is just one

part of his argument for reelection, of course, and he`s been showcasing

lately.  He continued his attack on San Francisco saying he`d issue an

environmental notice to the city over his homeless problem.  He told

reporters they`re in serious violation and they`d have to clean it up.  We

can`t have our cities going to hell.

 

In that interview with Fox, however, he was asked if he was ready for his

2020 challenger. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  Whoever it is, I`ll take `em on and we`ll do well.

 

REPORTER:  And you feel good about your standing and the economy? 

 

TRUMP:  I really think my standing is the best it`s been.  We had a poll

today, 51 percent, and that`s despite all the fake news and all of the –

you know, I say the Democrats and the media really are like one.  They`re

as if one.  But I think that we`re probably doing the best we`ve done. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  What poll is that?  Fifty-one percent, a majority of the vote,

we haven`t found that in any objective poll for the last three years. 

 

Anyway, but the numbers don`t tend to back up the president`s confidence,

and real numbers, and that`s coming up next.  The real numbers, what you

see.

 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

 

President Trump says his standing is the best it`s been, looking ahead to

2020.  But a new poll from Fox News suggests otherwise.  The polls show

Vice President Joe Biden widening his lead over President Trump in a

hypothetical head to head by 14 points.  So, 52, a solid majority against

38 percent. 

 

Well, the prez also loses by eight points to Bernie Sanders and six points

to Elizabeth Warren and also Harris, Kamala Harris beats him by a couple of

points.  It`s all negative for him. 

 

In that same poll when asked if the president would be reelected, here`s

the interesting conundrum here, you ask the same people who`s going to

you`re going to be for him, they`re all against him.  You ask the same

people, who`s going to win, look at this one, 46 percent, a big shift from

December of last year say he`s going to win.  By the way, that`s what I

keep hearing all the time. 

 

For more, I`m joined by a couple of experts, Juanita Tolliver, campaign

director for the Center of American Progress, CAP Action Fund, Michael

Steele, former RNC chair.

 

Michael, as a once and true forever Republican – 

 

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN:  Yes.

 

MATTHEWS:  – what`s going on that people think your party candidate and he

will be your party`s candidate is going to win no matter all the numbers

against him? 

 

STEELE:  OK.  So, you know what this poll reminds of, it reminds me of my

2006 Senate race in which we had two questions back-to-back in the poll. 

First question, would you vote for a black man for the United States

Senate?  Seventy-four percent of the respondents said yes.  Would your

neighbor vote for a black man for the U.S. Senate?  Forty-three percent

said yes. 

 

MATTHEWS:  So, that`s – well, that`s a filter that pollsters use to find

out prejudice.

 

STEELE:  And what this poll shows and tells me is that people are lying,

that more people are going to vote for Trump than they`re telling you

they`re going to vote for these other candidates.  So when you start to

look at the numbers, the only way you can begin to put them in context when

they say I`m voting for him but the other guy is going to win, that gives

you  –

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

MATTHEWS:  You have plenty of time here.  I want the Republican for one

second.

 

JUANITA TOLLIVER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND:  All right, all

right.

 

MATTHEWS:  Articulate this, why would people – I have a theory, but why

would people say to a pollster something that`s not true? 

 

STEELE:  Well, as we`ve seen now for several cycles, what people have –

what a lot of folks out there have concluded is they do not want to be put

in a position where they`re judged by someone else.  If I say I`m

supporting President Trump then you will automatically presume I`m a white

nationalist or racist. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, you`re a yahoo.

 

STEELE:  So if you ask me if Buttigieg beats Trump, yes, he beats Trump. 

If the next question is, do you think Trump is going to win?  Yes, Trump`s

going to win.  You know why Trump`s going to win?  Because I`m voting for

him. 

 

So, this is how – this is how this kind of thing kind of breaks down.  So,

you`ve got to be careful, one, with national polls and how they`re

questioned and how they work together.  And number two, look at the states. 

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

MATTHEWS:  Juanita, your thoughts?  Back to our conundrum question, why do

people say they`re for a Democratic candidate for top four over Trump, but

then you ask the same people who`s going to win, they say Trump? 

 

TOLLIVER:  I think yes, people lie, but I also think people have a healthy

concern about our democratic process being interfered with.  Like we all

know that our democratic process has been compromised since before 2016. 

So when the polls in 2016 said this is clearly going to happen, like there

was Russian interference. 

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

MATTHEWS:  Before `16, to help Obama win?

 

TOLLIVER:  I think people have – people have that concern and it`s coming

forward in this polling, and they`re expressing that because they`re like,

OK, I know how I`m going to vote.  Whether or not I`m lying about

supporting Trump or supporting a Democratic nominee, but I still am

concerned that there are external factors –

 

STEELE:  But I don`t see how that concern manifests in those numbers.  I

don`t see if I have a concern about Russia`s interfering in my poll, that`s

going to affect how I answer that question.  You know, if who`s going to

win the election, Trump or Buttigieg, Trump or Biden. 

 

So I think – I see what you`re saying, but I think that to Chris` point in

the broader question about how the voters are looking at this, I think the

voters are – yes, they`re not unconcerned about what Russia is saying – 

 

TOLLIVER:  Yes, it`s a concern.

 

STEELE:  It is a concern, but I think there`s also a larger concern on the

second point I was going to make is, those voters who are still not being

captured by pollsters. 

 

TOLLIVER:  Yes.

 

STEELE:  There are a lot of voters out there.  Trump tapped into those

folks in `16 in a way that no party – 

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

 

STEELE:  – Republican or Democrat has been able to do. 

 

The Democrats` challenge is going to be: can they find that alternative,

that other voter who has been sitting on the sideline, who now has a

progressive awakening to come out and support whomever the Democrats put

out? 

 

MATTHEWS: Yes, I wonder, Juanita, your thoughts on this.  Could it be that

Democrats who do follow – read the newspaper, know what`s going on – you

know what I noticed last time at the very end, Trump came out of nowhere.  

He started hitting those places, Pennsylvania, he knew where to go.  He had

good advanced people.  He`s smarter that he seemed.  He may be awful but he

knew where to go, and he picked up those three states. 

 

And also, he has this habit of destroying his opponent.  He destroyed all

his Republican opponents last time.  He made fun of them so that they

limped off the stage, like Mark Rubio, I mean, he looked like crazy. 

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

STEELE:  And they haven`t been – 

 

MATTHEWS:  He took Jeb Bush.

 

They`re afraid, Democrats who have, they may worry about the Russians

again, but they also wonder Trump`s coming to thumb the candidate. 

 

TOLLIVER: And it`s important that Democrats show that they can go toe to

toe with Trump.  I think that`s the message we`ve heard from a lot of

campaigns like Elizabeth Warren, Senator Harris have all been pointing out,

I can stand up to him, I`m not afraid of him, I`m going to hold him to task

and I`m not going to back down. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here`s – excuse me, here`s a Democrat holding another

Democrat to task.  Pete Buttigieg took a shot at Senator Warren today.  In

an interview with CNN, Buttigieg was asked if he thinks Warren was being up

front about how she would pay for her Medicare-for-All proposal.  Let`s

watch Pete.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Warren is known for

being straightforward and was extremely evasive when asked that question,

and we`ve seen that repeatedly.  I think if you are proud of your plan and

it`s the right plan, you should defend it in straightforward terms.  And I

think it`s puzzling that when everybody knows the answer to that question

of whether her plan and Senator Sanders` plan will raise middle class

taxes, is yes.  Why wouldn`t you just say, though – look, people are used

to Washington politicians not giving straight answers to simple questions,

but at a time like this, on an issue this important, that`s exactly what we

need. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

STEELE:  That`s why I like Pete. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Bernie`s been direct.  Bernie says it will raise taxes.

 

STEELE:  But – it`s the way he delivered that punch to me is – I`ve known

him a long time and watched him.  It was so clean, so effective, so above

where a Trump would take that kind of an attack. 

 

TOLLIVER:  Exactly right.

 

STEELE:  And what it signals for this upcoming debate is that Elizabeth

Warren better find the flak jacket because now in these numbers show that

really, there`s a greater separation between where Pete and others are

positioned, they`re now going to be shooting up at her.  And so, this is a

warning.  Just as we`ve seen other warnings come against Biden –

 

MATTHEWS:  And this the debate between now and Iowa?  Because he`s gaining

in Iowa.  He`s come from nowhere. 

 

TOLLIVER:  He`s gaining in Iowa, and he`s punching up, because he knows

that`s the field he needs to play, and if he`s going to position himself to

have nearly as much momentum like Elizabeth Warren has.  She`s got a bullet

under her in every way right now.  And so, him going after her in this way

seems like a natural progression for his campaign. 

 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I think in long-term, I watch this back-and-forth,

Democrats win one election, Republican – the only way to finance a middle

class benefit program like Social Security and Medicare is in effect middle

class pay for most. 

 

STEELE:  Middle class has paid for it.

 

MATTHEWS:  That`s the way it works, because in the end, the Senate (ph)

will be Republican in two or three years, after a Democrat wins, and they

flip it all back and you`re stuck with a tax bill.

 

STEELE:  She was asked that question four times.

 

MATTHEWS:  And the rich do not get stuck with it.  The rich never get stuck

with those tax bills. 

 

STEELE:  No.

 

MATTHEWS:  Juanita Tolliver, thank you.  Michael Steele.

 

TOLLIVER:  Thanks for having me.

 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, Senator Kamala Harris is betting it all on Iowa, and I

think it`s a smart bet.  I love political calculation and I think she`s got

a smart move here.  She`s saying, if I don`t win in Iowa, I`m not going to

win, so I better damn well win in Iowa. 

 

So watch what she`s up to. 

 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Kamala Harris has decided to place all her marbles on

Iowa, doubling the size of her staff there. 

 

It`s a smart bet.  Democrats who have won the Iowa caucuses have tended to

win the nomination itself.  This was true of jimmy carter in 1976 and in

1980 against challenger Ted Kennedy; of Mondale in 1984, Gore in 2000,

Kerry in 2004, Obama in 2008, Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

 

The only two Democrats to win Iowa and not the Democratic nomination were

Dick Gephardt from neighboring Missouri, and Tom Harkin from Iowa itself. 

And all the other cases from the outset of the caucuses of 1976, to the

most recent contest, the winner in Iowa ended up winning the Democratic

nomination. 

 

And this explains why Kamala Harris, who has failed to rise in national

polls has decided to put it all on Iowa.  Another reason is a new poll

conducted by her pollster, taken among those voters most likely to attend

the Iowa caucuses on February 3rd.  The poll shows Biden with a narrowing

lead that`s dropped from 37 percent, down to 25 over just one year. 

 

Elizabeth Warren rising from 16 percent to up 23 percent in that span of

time, putting her 2 points from Biden.  Another factor is the Iowa race in

that race is Mayor Pete Buttigieg who has risen from nowhere to 12 – 12

percent. 

 

Harris poll shows her own support in Iowa has been cut in half from 10

percent of likely caucus goers a year ago to 5 percent now.  But the polls

spotted something else.  The utter volatility of Iowa`s Democratic

caucusgoers. 

 

Harris` number in the poll just two months ago right after that first

Democratic debate in which she tore into the former vice president was at

the top of the field at 18 points, Biden with 17. 

 

Think about this.  I can only assume what the California senator is up now. 

She`s looking to do to Biden in Iowa what she did to him in Miami in that

first debate, toppling him and taking over the lead in the Democratic fight

for the nomination. 

 

This is her bet.  This is her plan.  And as we have heard her just the

other day, in fact, this morning, saying to a fellow Democratic senator –

yesterday actually, I`m moving to Iowa. 

 

And there she is moving out there.  This race is still wide open. 

Buttigieg could win out there.  She could win out there.  Watch Iowa.  It`s

only a few months away. 

 

And that`s HARDBALL for now. 

 

“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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