President Trump pulls U.S. troops in Syria. TRANSCRIPT: 10/8/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests:
Gregory Meeks, Susan Del Percio, Jill Colvin, Tim O`Brien, James Stewart, Ruben Gallego, Evan McMullin
Transcript:

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

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

HARDBALL.

 

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

last summer.

 

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

2016.

 

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

of government.

 

(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

House`s thinking?

 

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. 

Steve?

 

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

responsibilities.

 

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

court.

 

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 House?

 

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

investigated for.

 

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.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

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

worried.

 

(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

everything? 

 

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

process. 

 

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

the course? 

 

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

move.

 

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

deep state?

 

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

here.

 

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

investigate.

 

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

around this.

 

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

strategic thinker. 

 

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

enemy. 

 

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`

minds here. 

 

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. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

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

impeachment inquiry.

 

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

impeachment inquiry. 

 

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

opinion.

 

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

in line.

 

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.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

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

both parties. 

 

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

wonderful fighters. 

 

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

priority. 

 

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.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

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

else. 

 

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

troops there. 

 

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.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

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

later. 

 

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. 

 

 

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

BE UPDATED.

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