President Trump pulls U.S. troops in Syria. TRANSCRIPT: 10/8/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: And that does it for me. But don`t go anywhere.
“HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews is up next.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: The impeachment showdown. Let`s play
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.
President Trump and his administration have launched a new bid to slow the
unfolding impeachment inquiry, but it has prompted one top Democrat to
accuse the White House of trying to obstruct justice.
In a letter tonight, the White House Counsel calls the impeachment inquiry,
quote, illegitimate and says the White House will refuse to cooperate with
it. This comes after the State Department blocked Gordon Soundland, the
U.S. ambassador to the European Union, from speaking to three House
committees, informing him of that decision just hours before he was
scheduled for a deposition today.
Ambassador Sondland has become a central figure in the Trump-Ukraine
scandal. He is among the three diplomats who exchanged potentially damning
text messages about a possible effort to leverage the government of Ukraine
And according to Republican Senator Ron Johnson, Sondland told him over the
summer that the release of U.S. aid to Ukraine was contingent on Ukraine
pointing a prosecutor who would, quote, get to bottom of what happened in
Ambassador Sondland was today served with a subpoena and House Intelligence
Chairman Adam Schiff made clear that the administration`s stonewalling
represents obstruction of justice to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The failure to produce this witness, the failure
to produce these documents, we consider yet additional strong evidence of
obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress, a co-equal branch
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: In a tweet this morning, the president took personal
responsibility for the decision, saying, quote, I would love to send
Ambassador Sondland to testify but unfortunately he would be testifying
before a totally compromised kangaroo court.
Trump also quoted from one of Sondland`s texts, which was released last
week, to claim vindication. He said, quote, importantly, Ambassador
Sondland`s tweets stated the president has been cCrystal clear, no quid pro
quos of any kind, that says at all. This is a part of a counteroffensive
the president is waging to stop the momentum Democrats have gained.
All of it comes amid new reporting as well from The New York Times about
Trump`s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky. According to a memo that
was written by the whistleblower, a White House official described the call
as crazy, frightening and completely lacking in substance related to
national security. The whistleblower describes the official as, quote,
visibly shaken by what had transpired and says that, quote, in the
official`s view, the president had clearly committed a criminal act. NBC
has confirmed the existence of the memo and the accuracy of The Times`
description of it.
Joining me now, Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York, he is a member of
the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Susan Del Percio is a republican
strategist, and Geoff Bennett, White House Correspondent for NBC News.
And, Geoff, let me start with you to take us through. The day began with
Ambassador Sondland apparently being told, no, you`re not going to be
giving that deposition today. And the day is ending with the White House
now putting out this document, this letter, saying they`re not going to
cooperate on anything. What is is going on here in terms of the White
GEOFF BENNETT, MSNBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you read the
letter, Steve, it actually reads like more a political document than a
legal one. So it appears the White House is trying to give Republican
allies of President Trump some talking points to use in his defense as they
try to run out the clock here.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made clear that this argument made by
the White House has no legal ground, that it`s not based on the
Constitution, it`s certainly not based in-House precedent. And so what
we`ve heard from her and what we`ve heard from Adam Schiff is that in the
face of anymore stonewalling past Democrats aren`t going to seek legal
remedy through the courts.
What they`re going to do is chalk that up as a new potential avenue,
another article of impeachment, congressional obstruction. And beyond
that, Adam Schiff says they`re going to draw an adverse inference. That is
if the White House won`t give them documents on a subject, they will assume
that the underlying evidence, the underlying claim is true. They will take
that stonewalling to be some sort of confirmation.
On the Sondland point, which I think is fairly instructive, is that, and as
you mentioned, my colleagues and I confirmed today that during that five-
hour gap, there was a five-hour gap during which Bill Taylor, a diplomat,
and Sondland were communicating about this quid pro quo, this holding up of
Ukrainian military aid in exchange for President Trump`s desire to have
Ukrainians dig up discredited dirt on Joe Biden.
We have now confirmed that in that five-hour window that Sondland
communicated directly with President Trump. And now, today, President
Trump is now echoing what Sondland said in that text message back, where he
said, in effect, no, there is no such thing, there is no quid pro quo.
KORNACKI: Well, we have actually with us a member of one of the committees
now, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee
that has subpoenaed Sondland to testify and to appear for a deposition,
now, next Wednesday, is what you`re saying, by next Wednesday to be deposed
to provide documents. If this posture from the White House, which shows no
signs of relenting, if that continues, if he doesn`t show up next
Wednesday, if these documents don`t come forward, what is the next step?
REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): The next step is this, what Chairman Schiff
said. Look, enough is enough. If, in fact, he wants to continue to
obstruct, then we will say he`s obstructing the fundamental rights of
Congress to do its job. And then that will become part of the impeachment.
It will no longer have to worry about an impeachment inquiry if, in fact,
he is not cooperating and he`s intensely trying to cover up his behavior –
KORNACKI: Does that – when you say it will become part of the
impeachment, is this going – would this then be an article that would be
fast-tracked on its own, perhaps in an effort to compel cooperation or
would this play out along with the other –
MEEKS: No. I think that this would be an item that could be fast-tracked
on its own, on its face. It is clear that he is trying to obstruct and
prevent the Congress from getting information that it needs to do its work.
And as a result of that, it`s a separate and independent count of
impeachment, in my opinion, and then you look at other areas of impeachment
also if he continues to obstruct and does not come up with anything that
refutes what the facts are.
KORNACKI: So the discussion that`s been playing out, Republicans have been
making the issue of saying, hey, House Democrats have not had a formal vote
in the House to have an impeachment inquiry launched, they have said the
impeachment inquiry is underway, the committees are investigating. There
are no individual articles that have been introduced yet. But are you
saying if Sondland doesn`t show next Wednesday, there will be an article of
impeachment that`s then introduced?
MEEKS: I`m saying they could very well. That is the next step. That`s
where we have to move to. If, in fact, you obstruct the investigation, the
inquiry, then we have to look at what`s left, what is happening. He is
then obstructing the impeachment inquiry. And so now we look as part of
articles of impeachment, obstruction. That becomes one of those articles
as well as others that we can look at.
And as Chairman Schiff has indicated, if he does nothing other than that,
then we will have to infer that the facts, as we see them, is what they
are. Believe your own eyes, a betrayal of his trust as president of the
United States, of the fact that he has endangered the national security of
the United States of America and that he`s abused his power as president of
the United States of America.
KORNACKI: Susan, what do you make of this, because the threat is here?
You`re hearing it from a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. If the
ambassador does not show up next week, does not cooperate, they are now
saying this becomes an article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress.
What do you make of a calculation by the White House? Surely, you`re aware
that is likely going to happen if they do this, choosing to embrace that
route rather than have him show up and testify.
SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I`m still a little unclear. If
he refuses to show up,
Congressman, will that be part of a number of counts of impeachment or will
it be a separate count that you will fast-track and use it to kind of hold
over the president`s head? Because if it`s separate, I think, from a
communications point of view, not a legislative one but a communications
one, that would be a mistake because that`s just kind of muddying the
waters a little bit about why we`re going after the president.
I think that they have to do their investigation, present whatever they`re
going to do. Obstruction makes sense. The quid pro quo makes sense. Have
that and keep this as clean as possible. Because what the president does,
he denies, he delays, he deflects. And right now, we`re getting perilously
close to having a conversation about process versus what he did. And
that`s where I think the focus has to stand.
KORNACKI: Well, arguing that the impeachment inquiry is, quote,
illegitimate, the White House letter to Pelosi says this. Given that your
inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of
fairness or even the most elementary due process protections, the executive
branch cannot be expected to participate in it.
Tonight, the White House` argument is facing criticism from both Democrats
and at least one Republican. The former General Counsel to Republican,
Senator Marco Rubio, tweeted, quote, wow, this letter is bananas, a barely
lawyered temper tantrum, a middle finger to Congress and its oversight
As a result of the White House letter, Democrats will presumably have to
fight to get the White House to respond to any of their subpoena requests.
And today`s subpoena to Ambassador Sondland is the sixth issued since
Speaker Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry just two weeks ago.
Geoff, let me bring you back in on this. Just – again, you were
mentioning this. This reads like a political document. We`re always
saying impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. Ultimately,
it`s a jury of senators, if it gets that far, they would decide the
president has to face the House that would impeach. It this – this can be
read, then you`re saying is, this is the White House`s attempt to equip
Republicans with a political sort of line of attack.
BENNETT: Yes. And interestingly enough, the trial balloon that the White
House floated on Friday when they first suggested that this letter was
coming was that they were going to say that if the House speaker doesn`t
bring this impeachment vote to the floor, they weren`t going to cooperate.
This letter does not use that phrase. It stops short of making that point.
I think because Republicans got the message that if Nancy Pelosi were to
bring an impeachment vote to the floor, it would also put Republicans on
the record, and that was something that they didn`t want to do.
So, yes, it does read like a bit of a political screed here. But to
Susan`s point, Nancy Pelosi has already said that what`s already in the
public record as this investigation goes forward, even if they don`t get
another diplomat to show up, if they don`t get the documents that they
want, what`s already in the public record.
But President Trump has already admitted to is enough of an impeachable
offense. The president trying to use his public office of personal gain,
the president undermining the national security, risking the integrity of
American elections, that is the public case. That is the argument that the
Democrats are trying to build.
And they feel like they already have the evidence they need to do that,
including, Steve, President Trump`s own comments.
KORNACKI: Congressman, Geoff mentions this. It`s in that letter to the
speaker, the White House making the point, Democrats in the House have sort
of decreed that there`s an impeachment inquiry going on. There`s not been
a formal House vote to authorize it. You had a formal House vote with
Clinton in `98. There was a formal House vote in `74. They`re not
required to do it but that`s been the custom at least in modern times.
We`re going to show some of the polling in a little bit, but it looks like
the consensus in the polling right now is there is support out there for an
impeachment inquiry. Do you want Democrats to essentially call the White
House`s bluff and say, fine, let`s have that vote, impeachment inquiry?
MEEKS: What we`re not going to do is allow the individual who`s subject to
the investigation to tell us how to investigate. We`re going to do our
jobs. And what we`re trying to do in a very serious manner because we`re
in a very serious time, is to make sure that we give the White House the
opportunity to produce documents if he has those documents and show that
there`s no need to impeach him for what is obvious to us an abuse of his
power, a threat to national security and a betrayal of the Constitution
based upon his actions.
So absent that, then what choice do we have but do what I do say, Susan, I
am talking about all three. Obstruction becomes one of the counts that
will be included therein with the same thing we talked about as far as
betrayal, abuse of power and national security interests. Those would all
be compiled therein. That`s what we have to do. It`s a serious time and
we`re not going to allow the president to act as if he is one of those
authoritarians who he seems to embrace.
KORNACKI: Okay. Your argument is Trump says you don`t want to just let
Trump dictate the terms. It was done though with Nixon. It was done with
Clinton. Is there a compelling argument to put it on the record that, hey,
each individual member put their name out there and said we are, as a
House, going to go forward with an impeachment inquiry? It is a serious
and kind of rare thing in our system.
MEEKS: At some time when it comes to a vote of whether or not to impeach
or not, every member of the House will be on record because they will vote.
KORNACKI: Okay. The president`s allies are echoing his allegation that
the impeachment inquiry is nothing more than a compromised kangaroo court.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LEE ZELDIN (R-NY): Now, as far as the administration goes, if they
don`t want to send Ambassador Sondland here because this is a kangaroo
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): We`ll only get to hear from him when there is a
fair process. This is not a fair process.
REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): What we see in this impeachment is a kangaroo
court, and Chairman Schiff is acting like a malicious Captain Kangaroo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: At the same time, Republicans are seeking to counter Trump`s
impeachment hearing depositions with a hearing of their own. Senator
Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tweeted
today that he would invite the president`s personal attorney, Rudy
Giuliani, to testify before his committee.
As the president`s point man to Ukraine, Giuliani has been trafficking in
disinformation, including claims about the 2016 election, that even Trump`s
former Homeland Security adviser said was, quote, completely debunked.
Susan, what do you make of that piece from Lindsey Graham?
DEL PERCIO: A part of me – my initial response was, boy, they`re ready to
throw Rudy Giuliani under the bus because they`re setting him up. Because
if he has to testify under oath, he`s not just going to be answering
Lindsey Graham`s questions, he`s going to be answering Democratic Senators,
three of which are presidential candidates, so it will be a complete show.
It does not – I don`t – I can`t figure out how this reconciles. And if
he testifies in front of the Senate, how does he not testify in front of
The whole thing seems a little bit off. I`m not sure why they`re doing
this but, again, it could be part of that deflection and that process
instead of focusing on what the president is being charged with or
KORNACKI: Okay. Susan Del Percio, Congressman Gregory Meeks, NBC`s Geoff
Bennett there on Capitol Hill, thanks to all of you for being with us.
And coming up, some of the president`s closest allies are reportedly about
how the White House is dealing with this impeachment inquiry. Could a
strategy of not cooperating at all actually work?
Plus, several polls have shown rapidly growing public support for the
inquiry. I`m going to head over the big board. We have a brand new NBC
News poll on this subject. We`re going to take you through all of it.
We have got a lot more to get through as well. Stay with us.
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: What they to this country is unthinkable and
it`s lucky that I`m the president because, I guess, I don`t know what, a
lot of people said very few people could handle it. I sort of thrive on
it. You know why? Because it`s so important that we get to the bottom.
We went through the whole Mueller scam. You can`t impeach a president for
doing a great job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Trump yesterday attacking Democrats for launching the
impeachment inquiry into his interactions with Ukraine. The president`s
attempts to undermine the credibility of the whistleblower had been
hampered by a second whistleblower claiming to have firsthand knowledge of
his actions, although the president told reporters yesterday he is not
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. President, are you concerned what the second whistle-blower
may reveal about your conversation with Ukraine?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not at all, because the call
was a perfect call. You had stenographers. You had people that took it
down exactly. It was a perfect call.
It`s just a scam. It`s a scam by the Democrats to try to win an election
that they`re not going to win in 2020.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports – quote – “The White
House is finalizing a high-stakes strategy to counter the impeachment
threat to President Trump, stall, obfuscate, attack, repeat. As lawmakers
seek to amass ammunition to be used in an impeachment trial, the White
House increasingly believes all-out warfare is its best course of action.”
For more, I`m joined by Jill Colvin. She is the White House reporter for
the Associated Press. Tim O`Brien, executive editor at Bloomberg Opinion,
and James Stewart, columnist for “The New York Times” and author of “Deep
State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law,” which is out today.
Jill, let me start with you.
We quoted from your reporting there on the White House`s strategy. We are
talking about this letter that went out tonight to Nancy Pelosi, refusal to
cooperate on any aspect of this congressional inquiry here.
You mentioned that timing here might be at the heart of this strategy, the
idea that the White House may be trying to buy itself enough time until
some point early next year, where the election year calendar overwhelms
JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes.
So we saw today with that letter finally released by the White House them
moving forward with this strategy, which is that they are refusing to
comply whatsoever with any of these congressional requests.
They`re going to ask everybody they possibly have control over not to
appear, not to comply with the subpoenas for documents. Part of this
strategy from the White House could be a tactic to try to delay this whole
We have heard from Nancy Pelosi and others, Democrats on the Hill, who want
to get this over as quickly as possible. There are concerns that if they
let it extend through the 2020 election season, that it could increasingly
pea seen as sort of a political act, an election-year attempt to try to
undermine the president.
But as the president hits the campaign trail later this week and next week,
we`re going to really see him trying to run on this impeachment mantle,
trying to continue to make the case the Democrats are trying to take him
down from the very first day he took control of the Oval Office, that
Democrats were trying to get him, trying to undermine the 2016 election.
And it gives him this platform to be able to kind of run as this victim,
which is something he really likes to do.
KORNACKI: Tim, again, we`re seeing in many ways here very similar Trump
traits on display in terms of his response to this.
Do you sense – you have a very good sense of him, an unusually good sense
of him. Do you think he views this as a different kind of threat than he
has faced before in his presidency? Or does he just view this as par for
TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG OPINION: No, I think he views it
as a different threat.
I thought, when this first burst onto the scene, when he gave a speech at
the United Nations, and then a couple of the press conferences he gave
about a week after, he looked alternately somnambulant, tired, petulant,
angry. It`s emotions he doesn`t normally have out in public.
People see this in private with him all the time. I think he was under
stress. I think he was worried.
I think he`s now emerged from that somewhat, and he`s in a playing field
that he`s very comfortable with. One of the things about Donald Trump is,
he`s an incredible survivor. And he has this kind of – he`s got a lack of
remorse and a lack of guilt that turns him into this sort of perpetual
crime machine almost.
He doesn`t care about the criticisms that come his way. He embraces the
fight. He`s willing to say outlandish things or to slag anyone who is his
critic in order to keep his side of the argument going.
And, clearly, what they`re going to do here is say, anyone who`s
criticizing the president is deep state, has an agenda, can`t be trusted,
is a liberal Democrat, et cetera, et cetera.
And I think that`s why, at the end of the day, the cohort that`s going to
really matter here are independent voters, not – the Trump base isn`t
going to move. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is not going to
But people who are caught between those points, and I think care about good
government and care about institutions and the rule of law, they`re going
to come into play in a very potent way here, regardless of what Trump does.
KORNACKI: You mentioned those two words we hear a lot from the president
and his supporters, deep state.
President Trump also reverting to what has become one of his go-to attack
lines, that Democrats are part of a deep state plot against his presidency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, first of all, the impeachment inquiry is a scam. The mistake
they made, the opponents, the opposition, the Democrats, the radical left,
deep state, whatever you want to call them, they came out with a whistle-
blower report before they saw the conversation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And this comes a day after Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson used a
similar line in an interview on “Meet the Press,” referencing the deep
state, the idea of what became the Mueller investigation originating with
FBI officials who were biased against the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”: Do you not trust the FBI?
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): … want the truth.
TODD: You don`t trust the CIA? I`m…
JOHNSON: No. No, I don`t..
TODD: I`m just very confused here.
JOHNSON: Absolutely not.
TODD: You don`t trust any of those…
JOHNSON: After Peter Strzok…
TODD: … agencies?
JOHNSON: … and Lisa Page? After James Comey…
TODD: OK. You believe the FBI…
JOHNSON: … and Peter Strzok…
TODD: … and the CIA…
JOHNSON: … John Brennan…
TODD: … these government agencies…
JOHNSON: No, I don`t trust any of these guys in the Obama administration.
I don`t trust any of them.
TODD: You don`t trust them now? Do you trust them now?
JOHNSON: No, I didn`t trust them back then.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And, James, who better to have with us than the author of the
book “Deep State,” a new book just out this week?
You write in it that former White House strategist “Steve Bannon told me
that the deep state conspiracy theory is for nut cases. America isn`t
Turkey or Egypt.”
But take us through this here, because you have spent a lot of time looking
into this. The president mentions it. His supporters mention it.
At its core, what is it they`re trying to say here when they talk about a
JAMES STEWART, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: They`re trying to say that, as in
Turkey and Egypt, we have an entrenched bureaucracy, the so-called deep
state, that cares only about their own power and privileges, and to protect
that will overturn a democratically elected president.
But let me be categorical here. This is preposterous. What Trump is
calling the deep state in the United States is, in fact, patriots who
recognize that they, A, work for the American people, and, B, their sworn
allegiance is to the Constitution.
They do not work for a president. James Comey, of course, the pillar of
the so-called deep state, told me that he thought, in that sense, yes,
there is a deep state in this country, and thank God there is, because it
is protecting us and preserving the rule of law when we have elected
officials trying to run roughshod over it.
KORNACKI: Because this idea of a deep state also intersects with Ukraine
We talk about the Ukraine story in terms of, was the president trying to
get Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, his potential 2020 opponent? But
the other aspect of it is, Ukraine is central in a lot of ways – or at
least as a key player in a lot of ways – in terms of what proponents of
this deep state idea think happened in 2016.
STEWART: Yes, and we have the attorney general now traveling around
Europe, spending taxpayer money, not to mention his own time, to re-
investigate the opening of the Russia investigation.
There is nothing to re-investigate. It is all out there. It is not a
mystery. And it is not a deep state conspiracy. It started with one of
the closest allies of the United States, the Australian intelligence
service, passing on seemingly credible information. And it was
appropriately investigated by the FBI.
Today, we have the whistle-blower coming forward. We now have an attorney
general who seems to be under the thumb of the president who immediately
says, oh, there`s no crime here, so the FBI is not even going to
They should be investigating.
KORNACKI: Meanwhile, according to Bloomberg, House Republicans felt
blindsided by the decision to present – to prevent Ambassador Sondland
from testifying today.
Quote: “A handful of GOP lawmakers went to the White House to discuss the
issue with Trump and senior advisers. White House officials agreed to
improve communication of their impeachment strategy with allies who are on
the front lines.”
The report adds this quote: “While many Republicans, especially in the
House, are anxious to defend the president, they could step into political
danger if they are caught off-guard by Trump`s actions.”
Tim, when I say so many of these aspects of Trump we`re familiar with are
on display here, this seems to be one of them, sort of a go-it-alone,
improvisational – here are House Republicans saying, gee, we wish we`d
known about this.
O`BRIEN: And this is a day after they were all thrown off balance because
he decided to withdraw military from Northern Syria and abandon the Kurds
without consulting anybody.
When Trump accuses the deep state of being involved here, the real
difference between what`s happening in the Ukraine event and what happened
through the Mueller investigation is, Trump set this event in motion.
Nobody else did.
The Mueller event began when people got intelligence and began looking at
the implications of it. The Ukraine debacle began because, a day after
Robert Mueller testified to Congress, Trump picked up the telephone and did
exactly the same thing he`d been investigated for by Mueller.
That`s incontrovertible. And I think people will come back to that time
and again. The second he picked up the phone and asked Ukraine`s leader to
dig up dirt on Joe Biden, he abused the power of his office.
I think, on its face, that was an impeachable act. The quid pro quos are
gravy. And Trump can`t rewrite that script. And I think – I think the
other thing you`re going to see happen here is that members of the
intelligence community and law enforcement are going to start to coalesce
You`re seeing this with more whistle-blowers coming to the fore. And
Trump, in that context, I think, is going to be his own worst enemy,
because he`s a solo pilot. He doesn`t take advice. He`s undisciplined.
He really – I always think it`s a mistake to talk about Trump as a
He`s really more like a visceral, almost reptilian operator. It`s why he
survives. It`s why he is – can be beat – usually can`t be beaten down
easily. But it`s also his greatest detriment, is that he`s his own worst
KORNACKI: And, Jill, in terms of Republicans there in Washington, clearly,
they`re frustrated – or at least some of them are frustrated by the White
House and its handling of it this way.
To what extent, though, do they feel, because of the president`s support
from Republican voters, that they have to just sort of go along with it?
COLVIN: Well, that`s definitely something that weighs on Republicans`
Look, if – they know that, if they cross the president, if they come out
and express any kind of reservations about what he did here, that then that
could open them up to attacks not just by the president utilizing his
Twitter feed to attack them, but could also potentially alienate them from
voters, especially folks who are up for election come 2020, who will be on
the ballot there next to the president`s name.
But I can`t emphasize enough concerns among the president`s allies outside
of the building here and even some inside who are very concerned about the
fact that he just has not launched a broad enough or effective enough
counterpunching effort here.
You didn`t see a single White House official on any of the Sunday shows
over the weekend. You have not seen White House officials or outside
allies with a unified message, trying to fight back against this. And they
would really like a stepped-up effort from the White House.
KORNACKI: All right, Jill Colvin in Washington, Tim O`Brien.
James Stewart, check out his new book, “Deep State.”
Up next, I`m going to head over to the Big Board, take a look at the latest
polling on impeachment, brand-new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” numbers out in
just the last few hours. You are not going to want to miss these.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, you remember, for the longest time, when you polled the question of
impeachment, it really wasn`t moving. It really wasn`t budging. A lot of
this was back during the Mueller investigation, the Russian probe.
You might have somewhere in the 30s. You might, on a good day for
Democrats, get into the low 40s in terms of finding support for potentially
impeaching the president. Really didn`t budge much from that.
It has started to change, though, since the Ukraine situation came to light
and since House Democrats announced they were going forward with an
And, today, we have three new polls that came out, Quinnipiac, “The
Washington Post” and our very own NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll,
three new polls that come out – come out today and show just how much the
ground has shifted when it comes to impeachment.
Let me show you what I mean. First of all, remember, two different
questions that are being asked in these polls. The first question is not
full-fledged impeachment, impeach, remove him. Remember, the first
question is just the impeachment inquiry.
Democrats said Congress is now – the House is now launching an impeachment
inquiry, committees going to investigate him, all of these sorts of things.
Well, do you support or oppose that?
The three new polls today, look at this, 53 in Quinnipiac, 55 in the
NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, and 58, the highest number we have seen
yet, in “The Washington Post” poll supporting the impeachment inquiry, low
40s, high 30s in terms of opposition.
This is what – you would say this is pretty solid support for the
impeachment inquiry. And look at this. Put this in bigger context. Over
the last two weeks, here`s all the polls that have come out about an
You see, there are eight polls that have come out basically in the last two
weeks on this. Count them up. One, two, three, four, five, six of those
eight have outright majority support for the impeachment inquiry, over 50
percent, and the other two, still, plurality support, 49-43, 49-46.
So eight polls have come out on the inquiry. And in all eight polls,
there`s more support than opposition for the inquiry. And in six of the
eight, there`s outright majority support.
So, Democrats, in terms of taking that step, public – they have to like
what they`re seeing in terms of the public opinion polls.
Now, take it a step further. This is the inquiry. What about outright
impeachment? What about that House impeaches him and then the Senate
convicts him and Trump is removed from office? Where does public opinion
stand on that?
In the three new polls that came out today, it is a different story. You
see in Quinnipiac – remember, outright support for the inquiry, opposition
by a 49-45 margin to impeaching and removing Trump.
In our own poll, opposition by a 49-43 margin. In the ABC poll, there is
support for it, less than 50 percent, but 49-44, and certainly less than
there was in terms of support for the inquiry.
So, much more support for the inquiry. The question of actually impeaching
and removing, that gets to be a lot more contested in terms of public
One more thing. The partisan divide on impeach and remove, that second
question we`re asking about, here Democratic strong support across the
board. This is the number, though, that we`re looking at in every one of
these polls that comes out there.
Look in this poll. The Quinnipiac poll, only 6 percent of Republicans
support impeaching and removing Trump. Now, that`s the number Trump and
his allies want to keep seeing. They think that keeps Republican members
On the other end, in that “Washington Post” poll, that number was 18
percent. Right now, that looks like an outlier. If that becomes the norm,
if that number or higher becomes the norm in subsequent polling, that might
start to make the White House nervous.
They don`t want to see any dissension when it comes to Republicans on this.
They want to see more like that 6-94.
So we`re going to keep an eye, obviously, every one of these polls that
comes out, what does that partisan divide look like?
Anyway, three new polls out today. We`re getting a lot of new data on this
question. And I`m sure there will be more to come.
And there will be more HARDBALL to come too. So, stay with us.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump dispatched Pentagon officials to Capitol Hill today to give
members of Congress a top secret briefing on the situation on northeast
Syria. The briefing comes amid a torrent of criticism from lawmakers from
Today, President Trump invited Turkey`s president Erdogan to the White
House. At the same time, he pushed back against the criticism he was
hanging a key ally out to dry. Quote: We may be in the process of leaving
Syria but in no way have we abandoned the Kurds who are special people and
A top Kurdish general told NBC news the president`s decision was
disappointing and that it hurts American credibility. He added that
watching over ISIS prisoners locked up in Syria has become, quote, a second
Yesterday, NBC reported that President Trump wanted to smooth things over
the with Turkish president who was upset that he didn`t get a one-on-one
meeting with Trump during the U.N. General Assembly. An official familiar
with the call tells NBC that President Trump told Erdogan that a moderate
incursion would be acceptable.
Trump`s decision to remove forces from northeastern Syria left senior
officials at the Pentagon, State Department, and White House blind-sided.
One national security official told “Reuters” this, quote: There`s a real
sense nobody`s going to stop Trump from being Trump at this stage, so
everybody should buckle up.
In a tweet earlier today, Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, warned,
quote: If Turkey moves into northern Syria, sanctions from hell by Congress
will follow. Wide, deep and devastating sanctions.
Senator Graham who`s called this decision a disaster in the making has
spent a lot of time cultivating relationship with the president apparently
to try to avoid this rash policy type decision. So, why didn`t the
president listen to his close ally on this one?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Turkey`s vice president said, quote, it would not react to threats from
President Trump as it continues its preparation for a military offensive
against U.S. allied Kurdish forces. This comes just days after President
Trump signed off on a small Turkish incursion into Syria, and then turned
around and threatened Turkey with obliteration.
Earlier today, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy told “Politico” that
President Trump was reconsidering that decision. Yesterday, Senator
Lindsey Graham said he would put forward a resolution asking to change
course, but it`s unclear if he will.
In a piece for “Politico”, Charlie Sykes cautioned that, quote, Graham told
himself by staying close to Trump, he could influence him and prevent
horribly bad decisions. Trump didn`t even consult him before making the
decision to abandon the Kurds. Graham who had giving up so much self-
respect to prevent just this outcome was not even in the room. That again
from Charlie Sykes.
For more, I`m joined by Congressman Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Arizona,
a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Evan McMullin, former
CIA operative and executive director of Stand Up Republic.
Congressman, let me start with you. Senator Bill Cassidy says, Trump is
reconsidering this. Do you think that`s the case?
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ): I don`t know but the damage has been done. The
Kurds right now are probably mistrusting everything we do and say. We
basically have also told the rest of the world we`re not trusted allies,
and also, it shows how chaotic international relations are – the decision-
making process of this White House is that they`re not even consulting what
seems to be the State Department, National Security Council or anybody
The damage is done, the president again has really stepped in it, and we`re
the ones who are going to have to pay for this.
KORNACKI: There`s the threat there from Lindsey Graham to author some kind
of a sanctions bill. Is there – on that front or any other front, we saw
this bipartisan outcry yesterday. Is that going to express itself in the
form of bipartisan legislation here?
GALLEGO: Potentially, but what we really have to do is try to step back
and figure out how we got to this situation. And this is why I wrote a
letter with Representative Cicilline asking the Armed Services Committee
investigate, get answers from the P-Pentagon, who do we talk to? Do we
talk to our generals? Do we talk to our advisers? Do we even talk to the
Kurdish, before even make a decision? Do we talk to the Turks?
I mean, all these things are – some necessary action (ph) we need to get
first. The fact this president is continuously putting our national
security, our alliances is at risk is something that I think we should all
be very worried about.
KORNACKI: Evan McMullin, we mentioned that piece there from Charlie Sykes
about Lindsey Graham. A lot of people have been very curious about that
relationship obviously. Lindsey Graham did run for president briefly there
in the 2016 cycles. He had some extremely harsh words for Donald Trump
back then. Now, obviously had been a close ally.
What do you make of his role or his lack of a role I should say in this?
EVAN MCMULLIN, STAND UP REPUBLIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Well, I think Lindsey
Graham as he`s described it is pursuing re-election, and I think he said I
think to “The New York Times” months ago that, you know, you`re in the
wrong business, speaking of his business, serving in the Senate, if you
don`t want to be re-elected. The problem, of course, is that Lindsey has
compromised many of his principles to align with the president, who`s
dangerous to the country.
But I think Charlie Sykes makes a great point in this piece that, you know,
what`s the benefit to the country here, Lindsey, for making this compromise
of your principles even on the issues you care most about, these national
security issues, you`re not even being consulted?
And so, I think – I think that`s what we`re seeing here. Lindsey Graham
may put forward a bill I would imagine that will have strong bipartisan
support. I don`t know if they`ll pursue it to the point they`ll overcome a
presidential veto if the president decides to stick to this policy
position, but who can really say what he`ll do?
But I agree with Congressman Gallego that damage is being done here. Every
time we fail to live up to our commitments to our key allies that we
depend, our strength globally depends largely on our relationships, and I
think the damage is being done here. And I think we`re looking at years of
work to repair not only this relationship with the Kurds but other
relationships with our allies abroad.
KORNACKI: Well, Susan Rice, President Trump`s national – President Obama,
excuse me – she was national security adviser under President Obama, she
slammed President Trump`s decision to pull back troops from the Turkish
border in Syria.
During an interview on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”, she called the
president`s decision crazy. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN RICE, FORMER OBAMA NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: It seems like six days
a week I just put my head in my hands. This is bat (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
crazy. These are the people who for the last four years have been fighting
on our behalf with our equipment to defeat ISIS, and they have done it with
enormous efficacy and they`ve sacrificed immensely, and we`ve basically
just said to them – see you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So, Congressman, let me return basically to a different way of
asking the first question that I led with here, you`re talking about long-
term damage to the U.S., I take that point. But, yesterday, sort of listen
to what Susan Rice said there on Colbert show and people from both parties
yesterday, were talking about because of this decision pie Trump, the
imminent slaughter of the Kurds, given the reaction in the last 24 hours
and what you`re seeing from the administration now, is your sense at least
when the comes to that threat, that right now that might be on hold at
least in terms of the administration`s action?
GALLEGO: Well, in terms of what the administration has, I think what
Congress is trying to communicate to Turkey, which is do not attack the
Kurds, do not use this as an excuse to attack the Kurds. What may have the
president may have committed to you, it does not give license to you to
attack the Kurdish people.
The other thing that I think really bothers many of us is that they are
currently holding close to 20,000 ISIS fighters right now. If this
incursion happens, who`s going to take the mantle? Who are going to hold
these ISIS fighters?
Certainly, it`s not necessarily in the best interest of Turkey. Turkey
could care less about ISIS. Syrian Assad regime could really care less
about ISIS. So, as a matter of fact, the only who have always fine with
this are the Kurds. This is why this is such a betrayal.
KORNACKI: Evan McMullin, I just – for folks who say the United States,
they don`t want the United States necessarily in Syria but they certainly
don`t want the slaughter of the Kurds, what`s the answer to them?
MCMULLIN: I would say wave only got about a thousand troops in Syria right
now. That`s of course a decrease from a higher number that we had, about
2,500 months ago. But we`ve got a thousand elite Special Forces, units or
And so, our investment is actually quite minimal, but it`s very
consequential because those troops are supporting a Kurdish Arab Christian
force of about 60,000 fighters who are helping us beat ISIS, and we need
them there and need to continue to support them. It`s very little cost on
our part but it`s a critical relationship.
KORNACKI: All right. Congressman Ruben Gallego and Evan McMullin, thank
you both for joining us.
And up next, Elizabeth Warren is now leading Joe Biden in a critical
national polling average, first time that`s happened, but a lot can change
between now and the Iowa caucuses.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: For the first time, Joe Biden is not in first place in the
Democratic race. Elizabeth Warren passed him today in the Real Clear
Politics poll average. It`s very narrow, but she has edged into the lead
by two tenths of a point for the first time.
It has been the biggest single story of this Democratic race so far.
Warren so and steady rise from it back of the pack and now into the lead.
The other big story, of course, the doubts about Biden, the shaky debate
performances that have raised alarms, the questions about whether as one of
his rivals put it, he can get the ball across the goal line against Donald
Trump. But will these be the big stories four months from now when the
first votes are finally cast? Will it be a race between Warren and Biden
with Bernie Sanders back in third place?
Or is there another big story that is yet to be written here? A candidate
from the back of the pack who will suddenly, after months and months of
toiling, gain traction and become a contender?
Well, if that is going to happen, it will probably be out in Iowa. That`s
a state where retail politics can still make a difference. The voters are
highly engaged. All those town hall meetings, the personal one-on-one
encounters, they can still matter.
Will we look up in a few weeks, maybe a few months and suddenly see a poll
with, say, Amy Klobuchar in double digits in Iowa or Cory Booker or even
Pete Buttigieg suddenly vying for the lead, or someone else altogether? If
someone can break out in Iowa, everyone will notice. More attention from
the media will follow, more questions in debates, more money from donors,
more momentum overall.
We have seen candidates who are invisible nationally suddenly break out in
Iowa before. That was the story for John Kerry back in 2004. He was going
nowhere for a year and he surged in Iowa and he was a nominee a few weeks
This Democratic race looks pretty simple right now. Maybe it`ll stay that
way, but there`s still time for the candidates who dream of breaking out.
That is HARDBALL for now.
“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.
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protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the