2020 campaign TRANSCRIPT: 12/30/19, Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests:
Steve Cohen, Charlie Savage, Larry Pfeiffer, Erin Banco, Michael Steel, Barbara Boxer
Transcript:

GEOFF BENNETT, MSNBC HOST:  Fighting the freeze.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

 

Good evening.  I`m Geoff Bennett in for Chris Matthews.

 

New evidence continues to bolster the case against the president as he

awaits his trial in the U.S. Senate.  The New York Times is revealing

stunning details about the tug-of-war inside the administration after the

president ordered a freeze on U.S. aid to Ukraine.  According to dozens of

current and former officials, Mr. Trump`s demands sent shockwaves through

the White House and the Pentagon, where opposition to the order was more

intense than previously known.

 

The Times reports that in a previously undisclosed Oval Office meeting,

National Security Adviser John Bolton, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried and failed to convince the president

to release the aid.

 

We`re also learning that by late summer, the White House was still trying

to develop a legal justification to keep the aid frozen.  The proposed

argument was that Mr. Trump`s role as commander-in-chief would simply allow

him to override Congress on the issue.

 

At the same time though, it appears that White House Budget Official

Michael Duffey was ready to blame the Department of Defense for the the

hold up.  In early September, Duffy emailed the Pentagon suggesting that

responsibility for any failure to release the aid should not rest with the

White House.  But in a stinging rejection, a Pentagon official shot back

with this, you can`t be serious.  I am speechless.

 

Late today, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the reporting further

highlights the need for witnesses to testify at the president`s trial.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY):  Simply put, in our fight to have key documents

and witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial, these new revelations are a

game changer.  The story makes the choice even clearer, will the Senate

hold a fair trial, or will it enable a cover-up?  President Trump, if

you`re so confident you did nothing wrong, why won`t you let your men

testify?

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

BENNETT:  All right.  I`m joined now by Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen

of Tennessee, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, we`ve got Charlie

savage, he`s a National Security and Legal Reporter at The New York Times,

and Barbara McQaude is a former federal prosecutor.

 

And, Congressman Cohen, I want to start with you, because this reporting

from The New York Times, at the very least, it`s evidence, more evidence

that President Trump personally asked for this aid to Ukraine to be

withheld despite objections from top aides and that it had nothing to do

with national security, because if it did, you wouldn`t have had the

national security adviser at the time, the secretary of defense and the

secretary of state all encouraging him to release the aid.

 

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN):  Well, it wasn`t about national security and it

certainly wasn`t about investigating corruption of anything in Ukraine.  It

was about these conspiracy theories that apparently Putin or somebody had

convinced Trump had some basis for reality or maybe Putin just wanted Trump

to deliver to help Putin get off the hook as if Putin cares about being on

the hook for interfering in our elections.  I`m sure he probably likes the

idea that he`s credited with that.  But they want to get something on the

Bidens for sure.

 

And this just – this has been – this has been on for a couple or three

months and they don`t want their folks to testify because they would have

to perjure themselves, don`t have to show the American public that the

president of the United States did indeed subvert his oath, try to

influence a foreign nation to get involved the in our political elections

and committed impeachable acts.

 

And it`s clear this has happened and people in the administration knew what

he was doing was wrong.  And people tried to push the blame around.  Duffey

tried to get McCusker at the Department of Defense to take responsibility

for the delay and have them issue – order the money to be spent before the

September 30 fiscal deadline.  It`s just unbelievable what`s going on.

 

And it puts McConnell and the Republicans kind of in a trick bag.  If they

go ahead and have witnesses, they`ll still vote not to impeach the

president and they`ll go back to their second line of defense, but the

money was given anyway.  And when they get to that defense, which they use

a lot, they`re basically admitting that their first line of defense didn`t

work and it`s not successful that the president engaged in trying to force

a foreign power to get involved in our elections.  They`re falling back on

their last line of defense, but they got the aid anyway.

 

They still can use that and go ahead and vote that way to not impeach

because they want to preserve the president.  But if they don`t have the

witnesses and information continues to come out, then they`re going to be

seen in the publics` eyes as not only voted wrong and having a sham trial

but being conspirators with McConnell and having that trial and trying to

keep the information from the American people.

 

BENNETT:  Let me ask you about that, because is that what the House

speaker, is that what Nancy Pelosi was banking on, that if she were to

delay the transmission of these articles of impeachment, there would be

some sort of evidentiary bombshell that drops in everybody`s lap and it

would ramp up pressure on Republicans to have what Democrats would call a

fair trial?  Is this now all coming into fruition, her plan, her grand

strategy here?

 

COHEN:  I`m not sure what the speaker`s grand strategy is.  I guess you`re

suggesting that she`s playing chess and she`s thinking three moves ahead

while President Trump and his people are playing checkers or marbles or

something.  And that indeed could be the case.  Speaker Pelosi has really -

- she`s just done things that Trump can`t even understand and she`s run

circles around him.

 

She`s one of the greatest speakers in the history of the United States. 

She knows policy.  She knows strategy.  And she has a good grip for what`s

going on while Trump is just – he`s just totally lost.  I mean, he`s still

dealing with Home Alone and wanting to be  in the movie again.  And he is

home alone.  I mean, it`s kind of a strange situation.

 

BENNETT:  Barbara McQuade, let me ask you a question because one thing I

read that struck me was that there`s something about the recording that

speaks to what the Democrats see and their theory of the case as the White

House cover-up, and that was White House officials trying to come up with

some legal justification after the fact for withholding the aid.  Does that

speak to a consciousness of guilt, in your view?

 

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  I think it does.  There`s one

really critical email that has been released pursuant to this Freedom of

Information Act, and that`s the email by Duffey at OMB when he says in

communicating with the Pentagon, please don`t share the details of this

with anyone due to the sensitive nature of it.  You know, when you keep

things quiet and you`re trying to hide the reasons that you`re doing

things, it does suggest it`s because you know that if the truth got out, it

would be either illegal, unethical or politically damaging in some way. 

And so prosecutors, as you just mentioned, often refer to that as

consciousness of guilt.

 

And so you can`t help but wonder that if as time goes on, more and more of

this information comes out to fill in the gaps, we will learn more about

what was actually going on.  It`s very interesting to see as this

information comes out, it demonstrates a motive, perhaps, for President

Trump stonewalling that is if the truth were to come out in terms of

witnesses or documents that they would be damaging to the president`s case.

 

BENNETT:  And, Charlie Savage, what about that?  Because based on this

reporting, the White House lawyers thought that Mr. Trump`s role as

commander-in-chief would simply allow him to override Congress on this

issue, on this issue of providing aid that Congress had authorized.  I

mean, it`s one thing for people, Republicans in particular, in the White

House to have a sweeping view of the authority of the executive, but this

seems like it`s something else.

 

CHARLIE SAVAGE, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Well, this

is consistent with the very expansive theory of executive power that

William Barr, the attorney general, and Pat Cipollone, the White House

Counsel, who`s sort of a sidekick to Barr, have embraced.  It is well

outside the mainstream.  But the essence of it is that when it comes to

national security, the president is the commander-in-chief of the Armed

Forces and that means that Congress cannot bind him.

 

And so we see here that there was a large group of officials in the

executive branch, OMB, the Defense Department who were confused by this aid

freeze, who saw it as contrary to American national security interests and

stated policy and wanted to get the aid unfrozen and delivered to our ally

in its time of need against Russia.

 

And then there were a very small number of people extremely close to Trump

who were acting to help him achieve this thing he was trying to do.  Mick

Mulvaney is one of them, Pat Cipollone is one of them.  And the lawyerly

part of that is if this thing goes all the way and they never release the

aid, it gets to September 30th, I`m sorry, Ukraine, you`re out of luck

because you didn`t do what we asked you to do, perhaps, right, announce

investigations into Biden.

 

And they were going to say, well, this wasn`t illegal, notwithstanding the

fact that there`s a law called the Anti-Impoundment Act, which says when

Congress appropriates money, the Congress has the power of the purse.  You

have to spend it.  The president doesn`t just get to put that in his

pocket, as he used to back up until the Nixon administration.

 

And they were going to say, forget it, notwithstanding the reform of the

Anti-Impoundment Act during the Nixon years.  When it comes to national

security, the president still has the final say.  Congress does not have

the power of the purse.  it`s sort of the inverse of what we saw with the

wall spending, where the president takes money that was not appropriated by

Congress and says he`s going to spend it on to something he wants, a wall,

that they didn`t spend it for here.  They want something and he`s not going

to spend it.  It`s sort of two sides of the same coin.

 

BENNETT:  And were it not for the whistleblower complaint, who knows what

would have happened with that Ukraine aid, right?

 

In some ways, this New York Times reporting bolsters what we already know,

because you have multiple witnesses who testified in the impeachment

inquiry, said that they were surprised to learn of the freeze on this aid

Ukraine.  Take a look at all this.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DAVID HOLMES, STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I was shocked when on July 18th,

an Office of Management and Budget staff member surprisingly announced the

hold on Ukraine security assistance.

 

AMB. KURT VOLKER, FMR. U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO UKRAINE:  I opposed the hold

on U.S. security assistance as soon as I learned about it on July 18th.

 

AMB. WILLIAM TAYLOR, ACTING U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE:  I and others sat

in astonishment.  In an instant I realized that one of the key pillars of

our strong support for Ukraine was threatened.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

BENNETT:  So put this in the context of what we spent the last, what, two

or three months learning, watching public trials and reading through all of

the testimony that had been released.

 

SAVAGE:  Right.  So we have known that this is the basic narrative and this

is not about one phone call and whether or not it was perfect.  This is

about a multi-month bureaucratic campaign on different fronts both to get

Ukraine to announce investigations and also a struggle here in Washington

over this frozen aid that unfolded through many meetings with many

different officials fighting and trying to understand what happened.

 

This new reporting by my colleagues, both the emails that came out from the

(INAUDIBLE) lawsuit and then the stuff that they got on their own, has

added a rich degree of texture to that, that this is a season-long, a

multi-month campaign struggle bureaucratically, not just about one phone

call.  It does not contradict anything.  It bolsters the basic

understanding of what happened here.

 

BENNETT:  Yes.  And, Barbara McQuade, there`s another detail in this

reporting that when I read it, I had this correction in mind to put to you. 

It says this.  It says, Mick Mulvaney is said by associates to have stepped

out of the room whenever Mr. Trump would talk with Mr. Giuliani to preserve

Mr. Trump`s attorney-client privilege.  Does that seem like that`s on the

level to you, because multiple witnesses have described Mick Mulvaney as

being one of the three amigos.  It was him, Sondland and Kurt Volker who

were in on this entire Ukrainian gambit.

 

MCQUADE:  Yes.  And that`s a real red flag if you were to step out of the

room.  Attorney-client privilege does protect communications between a

lawyer and client for the purpose of receiving legal advice.  What it does

not protect is discussions to cover-up a crime.  There`s something known as

the crime-fraud exception.

 

And so if Mick Mulvaney is stepping out of the room because he is concerned

that they`re discussing things that are illegal that he doesn`t want reveal

to the public.  That, to me, is another red flag of consciousness of guilt

that they know there`s something here that is amiss, that the reason he

needs to be out of the room is to protect privilege so that this

information will never be disclosed down the road.

 

BENNETT:  Congressman Cohen, last question to you.  How is it that

reporters at The New York Times can get information like this that your

committee apparently can`t?

 

COHEN:  Well, The Times has done a great job and a great service, and I

guess that`s why the president went after the media immediately and said

the press was the enemy of the people, and don`t believe what you`re

reading because that`s not what`s happening, because he foresaw this. 

They`ve stalled us.  They haven`t complied.  We`ve gone to court and the

court process has been slow and very difficult.

 

We will probably get these documents and we will get witnesses, but it`s

going to take a long time.  Even the documents The New York Times have got

though have been redacted, so there`s a lot more information there.

 

It`s kind of amazing when I think about what we`ve gone through with these

impeachment hearings.  So many people brought up, including myself, the

founding fathers in our arguments about this crime and how they saw it

coming and they were most concerned about a foreign power influencing our

elections.  Everybody in America, all the people were marveling at the

founding fathers and their genius and what they expressed.

 

And it seems like Trump is on the side of King George because he`s trying

to get, he and Barr, all the power for the Article II folk, and there was a

reason why founding fathers made Congress Article I and gave us the power

of the purse and the sole power of impeachment.  He doesn`t understand

either, just like he doesn`t understand the so-called emoluments clause. 

This is real a shock to the American system of government and the founding

fathers` work and hopefully it will come out proper and this man will be

held accountable.

 

BENNETT:  All right.  My thanks to you, Congressman Steve Cohen, Charlie

Savage and Barbara McQuade.

 

Coming up, Rudy Giuliani`s shadow diplomacy now extending beyond Ukraine. 

New reporting indicates Giuliani, who is a private citizen, not a

representative of the U.S. government, was trying to negotiate an exit for

Venezuela`s president.  Giuliani`s efforts are raising serious concerns

among the country`s actual diplomats.

 

Plus, a Republican senator says he does not believe President Trump is

someone that young people can look up to.  We`ll explain in a bit.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK):  I don`t think that President Trump, as a

person, is a role model for a lot of different youth.  That`s just me

personally.  I don`t like the way that he tweets, some of the things that

he says.  His word choices at times are not my word choices.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

BENNETT:  All right.  We`ve got much more to get to so stay with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

BENNETT:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

 

Rudy Giuliani`s dirt digging in Ukraine wasn`t his only attempt to insert

himself in U.S. diplomacy.  According to explosive new reporting, his

backchannel work extended to Venezuela contradicting official U.S. policy

in the process.

 

According to The Washington Post, Giuliani, along with former Texas

Congressman Pete Sessions, participated in a September 2018 phone call with

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

 

Now, according to The Post, both were part of a shadow diplomatic effort

backed in part by private interests aimed at engineering a negotiated exit

to ease Maduro from power.  Giuliani`s efforts reportedly drew the ire of

former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who also opposed his work in

Ukraine that ultimately set the stage for President Trump`s impeachment.

 

During the impeachment hearings, Giuliani travelled to Kiev to meet with

former Ukrainian prosecutors and later said President Trump wanted him to

brief lawmakers on his findings.

 

Now, as senators get ready for an impeachment trial, some are reportedly

wary of Giuliani`s escapades.  The Daily Beast reports senators on Capitol

Hill are actively avoiding meeting with Giuliani.  South Carolina Senator

Lindsey Graham said, quote, my advice to Giuliani would be to share what he

got from Ukraine with the Intelligence Community to make sure it`s not

Russian propaganda.  I`m very suspicious of what the Russians are up to all

over the world.

 

For more, I`m joined by Erin Banco, National Security Reporter for The

Daily Beast, and Larry Pfeiffer, former Chief of Staff at the CIA.

 

And, Larry, first to you, from this reporting, we now know, we didn`t know

it before, that Ukraine was no outlier.  You`ve got Rudy Giuliani running

shadow policy in at least Venezuela as well.  And this was in September

2018.  This was well before he was trying to sideline Marie Yovanovitch in

the spring of 2019, the spring of this past year.

 

So what stands out to you, as you read all of this and put it all together?

 

LARRY PFEIFFER, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE SITUATION ROOM:  Yes. 

Yes.  Who knew Ukraine was actually act two of this play, and not act one? 

 

BENNETT:  Yes. 

 

PFEIFFER:  What stands out? 

 

What stands out is, it`s many of the same players.  It`s many the same

kinds of activity.  It`s the same thing same possible commingling of

national security work with his own personal economic interests.  You have

got Lev Parnas involved.

 

BENNETT:  Yes. 

 

PFEIFFER:  So, if – with all of those variables the same, one can only

imagine that the other variable that we`re not certain of yet is probably

true as well, and that is that this was activity that Donald Trump himself

was personally involved in. 

 

The other thing that really stands out to me, we have had shadow diplomacy

for two-plus centuries of American history, but, when it happens, it`s done

in coordination with the national security infrastructure of our country. 

 

The national security adviser is involved and supportive.  The intelligence

community is usually briefing the individuals, so that they can go into

these discussions in an informed manner. 

 

But, clearly, if this article is to be believed, and, as we saw with

Ukraine, the national security infrastructure is actually opposed to what

he`s doing.  That, I think, is what really makes this one different. 

 

BENNETT:  Yes. 

 

You touched on something I want to draw you out on.  And that`s the fact

that Giuliani so often blends his personal business interests with the work

he`s doing for President Trump. 

 

And during the impeachment hearings, one of the things that we heard Fiona

Hill say was that, to her mind, it was a national security nightmare to

have people like Rudy Giuliani and Gordon Sondland running around Eastern

Europe basically selling access to President Trump to the highest bidder.  

 

What are the unintended consequences of something like that? 

 

PFEIFFER:  Well, there`s a significant counterintelligence risk, if these

are individuals that are operating outside of the normal national security

process.

 

They are not as well-informed.  If our – if our American journalists are

learning about the activities, well, I guarantee you the foreign

intelligence services of Europe, including the Russians and some of the

Eastern European countries, they are even more aware of it. 

 

And as they become aware of it, they can identify vulnerabilities, and

these individuals can then be played. 

 

BENNETT:  Yes. 

 

PFEIFFER:  Or they can perhaps be compromised. 

 

BENNETT:  Yes. 

 

PFEIFFER:  So, a great – great counterintelligence risk. 

 

BENNETT:  Hey, Erin Banco, I`m old enough to remember, because it was just,

what, two months ago, where Lindsey Graham said he wanted Rudy Giuliani to

come testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is the committee

that Graham leads in the Senate, in part because Lindsey Graham wanted to

have some counterprogramming to put up against the Democrats, the House

Democrats` impeachment push. 

 

Now you have got Lindsey Graham saying that he`s concerned about this

information that Rudy Giuliani dug up and brought back. 

 

ERIN BANCO, THE DAILY BEAST:  Yes, that`s right. 

 

I was – had a phone call with Senator Graham, and that was not what I was

expecting to hear on the other end of the line.  It`s a new development. 

 

And as we dug around after speaking to Senator Graham, that this is a

sentiment felt by other Republican lawmakers, especially in the Senate, as

well, and Democrats who we spoke to as well, that the characters that

Giuliani is meeting with in Ukraine, people like Andriy Derkach, Oleksandr

Dubinsky, two Ukrainian parliamentarians who are sort of more closely

aligned with the Russian bloc of the Ukrainian Parliament, who are known

for peddling Russian conspiracy theories on their social media threads,

holding press conferences. 

 

And we know from Giuliani`s trip to Kiev that he met with those individuals

and then worked with them on this new documentary that he`s put out.  And

that`s what`s really concerning senators before the impeachment trial. 

Like, hey, listen, we need to figure out whether or not the information

that we might potentially get briefed on is Russian propaganda. 

 

BENNETT:  Yes.

 

Well, for his part, President Trump has been supportive of Giuliani`s most

recent trip to Ukraine, telling reporters earlier this month his lawyer had

found what he called good information. 

 

Take a look at this. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I just know he came

back from someplace and he`s going to make a report, I think, to the

attorney general and to Congress.  He says he has a lot of good

information. 

 

He has not told me what he`s found.  But I think he wants to go before

Congress and say, and also to the attorney general and the Department of

Justice.  I hear he`s found plenty. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

BENNETT:  And just two weeks ago, just days before the House voted to pass

articles of impeachment, President Trump was asked how much Giuliani had

shared with him about his visit to Ukraine. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  Not too much, but he`s a very great crime fighter.  He was the best

mayor in the history of the city of New York.  He`s a great person who

loves our country. 

 

And he does this out of love, believe me.  He does it out of love.  He sees

what goes on.  He sees what`s happening.  He sees all of the hoax that

happens when they talk about impeachment hoax or the Russian collusion

delusion. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

BENNETT:  So, Erin, do we know what Giuliani has told Trump?  Is that a

knowable thing?  Do we know what he has briefed him on as it relates to

whatever he was trying to unearth in Ukraine?

 

BANCO:  We have certainly asked both Mr. Giuliani, officials at the White

House and Giuliani`s lawyer. 

 

We have not gotten a straight answer about exactly what President Trump and

Giuliani have spoken about.  But we do know that they spoke about the

Ukraine trip, if not briefly, and at length, for at least an hour, is what

we have heard. 

 

We have also heard that Giuliani has brought back a lot of materials from

Ukraine to brief President Trump, documents and other kinds of materials

that he`s brought back after meeting with these two individuals in

Parliament who I mentioned earlier. 

 

Now, The Daily Beast previously obtained a 50-page document from one of

those Ukrainian parliamentarians.  And that specific dossier has been

circulated among top Trump administration officials in the past several

months.

 

And what it lays out are allegations saying that Ukraine actually

interfered in the 2016 election and that it wasn`t Russia.  And that is a

well-debunked conspiracy theory that has been propagated for at least a

year. 

 

And we know that this kind of material has made its way into Giuliani`s

hands and has been briefed – has been sort of read out to people inside

the White House, including President Trump. 

 

BENNETT:  And, Larry, we`re talking a lot about Rudy Giuliani. 

 

But, in fairness to Rudy Giuliani, he`s only giving President Trump what

President Trump apparently wants, right? 

 

I mean, help us understand this sort of rumor-to-Trump pipeline, this

conspiracy-theory-straight-to-Trump pipeline.  It`s the thing that

President Trump himself seems to be demanding. 

 

PFEIFFER:  True.  And it`s a very dangerous thing. 

 

During my time in intelligence, senior leadership time in intelligence, it

was not at all unusual for individuals who were seeking influence with the

president or seeking influence in a foreign country to come to the national

security staff peddling information that they had obtained that was going

to break open some crisis. 

 

And that material would routinely be given to the intelligence community to

assess.  And they would assess it for – for its sources.  In this case, if

it was documents, they`d be able to look at the documents and in many cases

determine if they were counterfeit. 

 

And they would then be able to provide an assessment.  And more often than

not, the assessment was that this stuff was garbage. 

 

BENNETT:  Yes. 

 

PFEIFFER:  This case, we have this information going directly to the

president.  We have a president who seems inclined to want to consider

information from the intelligence community as being establishment or deep

state information. 

 

And, at a minimum, he`s – he`s taking this conspiracy information and

putting it on the same level as exclusive intelligence analysis that`s

well-sourced coming from the intel community. 

 

BENNETT:  Yes, great insights.  Appreciate that. 

 

My thanks to you, Erin Banco and Larry Pfeiffer. 

 

Up next:  President Trump`s looking to beef up his legal defense team ahead

of a Senate impeachment trial.  His top hiring criteria so far?  Unwavering

personal loyalty, and you got to look good on TV. 

 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

BENNETT:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

 

The explosive new revelations about President Trump`s freezing of aid to

Ukraine could help explain why the Trump administration has blocked

witnesses from testifying during the House investigation. 

 

As Greg Sargent of “The Washington Post” points out: “What makes all of

this money new information really damning is that many of these officials

who were directly involved with Trump`s freezing of aid are the same ones

Trump blocked from appearing before the House impeachment inquiry.”

 

Now, according to “The Wall Street Journal,” Pat Cipollone, the president`s

lawyer, will play the leading role in an aggressive defense of the

president, which Cipollone started laying the groundwork for with key

senators back in September. 

 

“The Wall Street Journal” is also reporting that the president wants to

expand his defense team to include – quote – “others with television

experience he values and some of the president`s staunchest defenders on

the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committee.”

 

What that Senate trial looks like is still up in the air, with the

possibility of some Republicans and Democrats breaking ranks with their

respective parties.

 

That`s next. 

 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

BENNETT:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

 

Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the press

that he would not be an impartial juror because the impeachment trial was a

political process, he says.

 

On Christmas Eve, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski told a local Anchorage

station that she was disturbed by McConnell`s promise. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK):  In fairness, when I heard that, I was

disturbed.

 

We have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense. 

 

I happen to think that that has further confused the process. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

BENNETT:  Murkowski`s public grievance is notable.  Given her party`s slim

majority in the Senate, it takes only four Republicans joining with

Democrats to force Leader McConnell`s hand on any number of thorny issues

in a Senate trial. 

 

Ahead of the impeachment trial, all eyes are on a handful of Republican

senators who are viewed as potential defectors.  But they`re not the only

ones to keep an eye on.  Three Democrats could also buck their party. 

 

For more, I`m joined by former Senator Barbara Boxer.  She, of course, is

the former U.S. senator from California and the host of “The Boxer

Podcast,” and Michael Steel, former spokesman for House Speaker John

Boehner. 

 

Michael Steel, I want to start with you, because we talk so often – we

talked so much today, anyway, about what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is

going to do and when she`s going to transmit the articles of impeachment,

but let`s talk about Mitch McConnell, because he has a couple of

constituencies here he has to keep happy. 

 

He has the Republican in the White House, and he has the Republican

majority he has to keep content and intact to get the kind of fast and

forgettable trial he envisions. 

 

MICHAEL STEEL, FORMER JOHN BOEHNER SPOKESMAN:  Yes, I mean, I think Senator

McConnell is fortunate in one sense.  He doesn`t have the sort of ride-or-

die pro-Trump caucus that House Republican leaders have to contend with.

     

There`s no Matt Gaetz, there`s no Mark Meadows, there`s no Jim Jordan in

the Senate Republican Caucus.  So that`s a big advantage. 

 

But at the same time, what he wants, a swift, dignified, senatorial – un-

senatorial in its swiftness, but senatorial in any other sense – trial, is

not exactly what the president wants. 

 

And I think it`s notable that he talks about coordinating with White House

counsel.  He talks about coordinating with the White House or the

administration, not necessarily giving the president what he wants, but

moving through this in the most politically – least politically damaging

way possible. 

 

BENNETT:  Yes. 

 

Hey, Senator Boxer, you lived through the Clinton impeachment.  Help us

understand, given your experience then and your experience just in the

Senate, what`s the cost-benefit analysis for someone like a Doug Jones or

someone like a Lisa Murkowski in trying to decide whether or not they`re

going to split with the party, maybe not on voting on whether or not to

remove President Trump from office, but on something like having a trial

with witnesses? 

 

BARBARA BOXER (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  Well, Geoff, I`m going to be

really from the heart here. 

 

You can`t do a cost-benefit analysis in a situation like this.  When a

president is – has been impeached by the House – and this is a very

different case than the Clinton case.  We have discussed that before.  One

was lying about sex.  The other is abuse of power, shaking down a foreign

leader to get dirt on your opponent, very, very different. 

 

But in all cases, whatever the reasoning is by the House, you need to just

sit back and do your duty.  You raise your hand to do your duty.  So, I

like the fact that we`re seeing some independent voices on all sides. 

 

It`s got to be that way, or the system fails. 

 

BENNETT:  You have got now something like 70 percent of Americans,

according to the latest poll, wanting to see a Senate trial with witnesses.

 

You can`t get 70 percent of Americans to decide or agree on what day it is,

and yet you have 70 percent of Americans saying they want a fair trial, as

Democrats see it. 

 

Senator Boxer, do you think that, in and of itself, will be enough to put

pressure on Republicans to give Democrats the thing that they want, to have

folks like Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton crossing that threshold on the Senate

floor and telling the American public what they know? 

 

BOXER:  I would hope so, because, as we know, and if we look back to the

Clinton days, which you raised, there were witnesses.  Now, there was a

vote to call witnesses.  And there were witnesses.  And they decided to

take their depositions. 

 

But here`s the thing.  We know that we had many, many witnesses already

confirm what the president did, shaking down this foreign leader,

endangering national security, giving Putin another victory and all the

rest of it, using taxpayer funds.  It`s pretty ugly.

 

And we`ve had a number of brave people come forward, non-political people,

many of them Republicans, to testify.  But still in all, there are many

others that were in the room where it happened, and they need to be called. 

And yes, I do think that with the public saying that`s the way to go, it

could weigh heavily on certain colleagues there. 

 

I would think the Democrats would vote to call the witnesses And I do think

there`s several Republicans who are fair minded who might do that and some

others who were frankly scared because they`re in purple states and they

need to win. 

 

BENNETT:  Yes.

 

Hey, Michael Steel, you said earlier that McConnell doesn`t have to deal

with the ride or die Trump caucus – which, by the way, should be printed

on t-shirts or something.  But to your point, Republican Senator James

Lankford of Oklahoma, he told a CBS station that he doesn`t think that the

president is a role model but that doesn`t mean he will stop supporting the

administration. 

 

Take a look at this. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK):  I said very early on in the campaign time

period when people asked me in 2016 what are you looking for?  I always

look for a president who can be a role model?  I don`t think that President

Trump as a person is a role model for a lot of different youth.  That`s me

personally.  I don`t like the way he tweets, the things he says.  His word

choices at times are not my word choices. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

BENNETT:  So, that was Lankford and Chris Coons talking to CBS`s “Face the

Nation”. 

 

We`ve heard versions of this before, that Republicans say Donald Trump

isn`t a good guy, but he`s still my guy. 

 

MICHAEL STEEL, FORMER SPOKESMAN FOR HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:  Yes, and

you can see that and the ad that the president played during the World

Series – you may not like Trump, he may not – he may ruffle some

feathers, but it takes Donald Trump to get this stuff done.  I think

they`re going to be smart to lean into that because there are a lot of

people who believe as Senator Lankford does that the president`s record can

be defended, record low unemployment, winding down wars abroad, et cetera,

but his personal character is indefensible. 

 

BENNETT:  What about Mike Pence?  He`s waiting in the wings, right?  I

mean, so goes the – 

 

STEEL:  Yes.

 

BENNETT:  If you play it out – 

 

STEEL:  Well, I mean, one of the – one of the things that`s very strange

in both the Clinton impeachment and this is, is that the parties fight so

hard to defend a president who`s probably harder to reelect or probably

less likely – 

 

BENNETT:  Yes.

 

STEEL:  – a successful next election if they stick with that president. 

 

BENNETT:  Right.

 

STEEL:  Vice President Al Gore as incumbent president of the United States

would have rolled to victory in 2000.  That`s just not the way Democrats

chose to play it. 

 

BENNETT:  You`re right about that.

 

All right.  Thank you, former Senator Barbara Boxer and my friend, Michael

Steel.

 

Up next, time to get down to business.  We`re just five weeks out from the

Iowa caucuses and if you`ve been waiting to get your head in the game,

now`s the time.  We`re going to run through some of the biggest moments in

the campaign so far to help you get you up to speed. 

 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

BENNETT:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

 

Five weeks from tonight, we`ll be talking about the results of the first in

the nation Iowa caucuses as the presidential election gets into full swing. 

And as we count down the final hours until 2020, let`s take a look back at

the highlights of the presidential campaign in 2019. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

 

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST:  The calendar says 2019 but don`t be fooled,

2020 is in full force. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A crowded and diverse field of declared or likely

Democrats. 

 

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY):  I`m filing an exploratory committee. 

 

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA):  I will lead with integrity. 

 

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You don`t get what

you don`t fight for. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Bernie Sanders making it official. 

 

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I`m running for

president. 

 

CROWD:  Bernie, Bernie! 

 

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Sanders is facing a completely different primary

terrain from last time. 

 

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am a candidate. 

 

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  On this snowy day on

this island –

 

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I announce my

candidacy. 

 

ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I`m running for president. 

 

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), FORMER COLORADO GOVERNOR:  Because we need dreamers

in Washington. 

 

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Good leadership brings out the

best in us. 

 

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That`s what we believe. 

 

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I`m Cory Booker and I`m

running for president –

 

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA):  Of the United States of America. 

 

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA):  I`m announcing today –

 

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH):  I`m going to run for president. 

 

BETO O`ROURKE (D-TX), FORMER CONGRESSMAN:  I`m running to serve you. 

 

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA):  Because we have to beat Donald Trump.

 

MARIANNE WILLIAMSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That`s why I`m running

for president. 

 

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK:  Donald Trump must be stopped. 

 

GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT):  We will take our democracy back.

 

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Join me if you want to

get to work. 

 

JOHN DELANEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I`m on my 40th trip to Iowa.  

 

TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  My name is Tom Steyer.  I`m

running for president. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Joe Biden nearly slipped up and declared himself a

candidate a bit early. 

 

BIDEN:  I`m the most progressive of anybody running for the United – of

anyone who would run. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This weekend, Lucy Flores upended discussion of his

potential bid.

 

LUCY FLORES:  I felt these hands on my shoulders. 

 

BIDEN:  The boundaries of protecting personal space has been reset and I

get it. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Joe Biden finally makes it official. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I can beat Donald Trump.  That`s the signal they`re

trying to send with this roll out. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For a small town mayor, Pete Buttigieg has big

ambitions. 

 

BUTTIGIEG:  They call me Mayor Pete. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If elected he would be the youngest president, the

first who is openly gay. 

 

BUTTIGIEG:  There were times in my life when if you had shown me exactly

what it was inside me that made me gay, I would have cut it out with a

knife. 

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We`re draining the swamp. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  President Trump in front of a capacity crowd kicking

off his 2020 campaign with familiar themes. 

 

TRUMP:  Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice, and

rage. 

 

BIDEN:  Donald Trump has violated his oath of office.  He should be

impeached. 

 

TRUMP:  Sleepy Joe Biden who`s dumb as a rock. 

 

WARREN:  We need to get rid of Donald Trump. 

 

TRUMP:  The great Pocahontas. 

 

WARREN:  Trump is a pathological liar and a racist. 

 

TRUMP:  Crazy Bernie. 

 

HARRIS:  There was a little girl in California and she was bussed to school

every day and that little girl was me. 

 

BIDEN:  I did not oppose busing in America. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did Kamala Harris mischaracterize her position on the

busing question in particular, sir? 

 

BIDEN:  Yes, she did. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Get the people that are racist off the streets. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Buttigieg, we said second place in white voters, 18

percent, black voters, wow, zero. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Two American cities in shock and mourning this hour

after two mass shootings in less than 24 hours. 

 

O`ROURKE:  Hell yes we`re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. 

 

WANG:  I have a 6 and 3 year old.  I was imagining, it was one of them that

got shot and the other saw it. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That`s kind of been the subtext of this campaign, the

issue of the concerns about Biden`s age. 

 

CASTRO:  You just said two minutes ago they would have to buy in.  Are you

forgetting what you said two minutes ago? 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  One day it`s Joe Biden, the next, Elizabeth Warren. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What do you make this surging in the polls?

 

WARREN:  I don`t do polls. 

 

We don`t want each other families bankrupted by medical bills.  I`ve got a

plan to fix it. 

 

BUTTIGIEG:  Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything,

except this. 

 

KLOBUCHAR:  The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something

that you can actually get done. 

 

O`ROURKE:   Guaranteed universal –

 

HARRIS:  Medicare for all. 

 

BIDEN:  It may be a nice idea. 

 

SANDERS:  I wrote the damn bill. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Raise your hand if your government plan would provide

coverage for undocumented immigrants. 

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Senator Bernie Sanders was hospitalized last

night after experiencing chest discomfort. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He`s off the road for a little bit, his appearances

have been cancelled. 

 

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY):  But he`s my feel Bernie Sanders. 

 

SANDERS:  I am back! 

 

(CHEERS)

 

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  I think they have got

their eye on somebody who`s currently in the Democratic primary.  She`s a

favorite of the Russians. 

 

GABBARD:  She knows she can`t control me. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mike Bloomberg started as a middle class kid. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He launched his campaign with the single largest

political advertising buy in U.S. history. 

 

HARRIS:  I`m not a billionaire.  I can`t fund my own campaign.  I am

suspending our campaign today. 

 

BOOKER:  It is a problem that we now have an overall campaign for the 2020

presidency that has more billionaires in it than black people. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It`s the least diverse Democratic field on a debate

stage so far. 

 

KLOBUCHAR:  I have not denigrated your experience as a local official. 

 

BUTTIGIEG:  You actually did denigrate my experience, senator, and it was

before the break and I was going to let it go because we`ve got bigger fish

to fry here but –

 

KLOBUCHAR:  Oh, I don`t think we have bigger fish to fry than picking a

president of the United States. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This year, it is feeling real intense as these

Democratic contenders try to get a toehold. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mr. Vice president, why don`t you come on up? 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We`re live on MSNBC right now.  We`re live. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bernie Sanders. 

 

SANDERS:  Walked right in. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Look at that, that`s Vaughn Hillyard in our shot

right there. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The question, Congressman, is where is the rental car

from? 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Behind me, Elizabeth Warren is in that scrum. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I want to show what this event looks like.

 

BOOKER:  Are you asking me to tell MSNBC exactly what my campaign strategy

is? 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The president of the United States. 

 

HARRIS:  America does not want to witness a food fight. 

 

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  Governor Steve Bullock at the Iowa state fair,

don`t eat your way out of it.  Just trust me.

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you ready to be president? 

 

BUTTIGIEG:  Well, we better be. 

 

TRUMP:  Let`s just pick somebody, please, and let`s start this thing. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You`re selling access to the president just like he

was. 

 

BIDEN:  You`re a damn liar, man.  That`s not true. 

 

WARREN:  That`s right.  I`m tougher than I look.

 

BIDEN:  What the hell concerns, man?  Do you want to wrestle? 

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey! 

 

WARREN:  The bad news is I`ve caught a cold.  Nevertheless, I persist. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He tweeted watching Sleepy Joe Biden making a speech,

so boring. 

 

BIDEN:  He should get a life. 

 

TRUMP:  We don`t want to be politically correct. 

 

HARRIS:  He and his account should be taken down. 

 

SANDERS:  That`s me.  Let me turn it off. 

 

WARREN:  It`s Elizabeth Warren. 

 

CASTRO:  Sorry for this fruit fly. 

 

WILLIAMS:  Thank God this wasn`t Beto`s day to see the proctologist. 

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

WARREN:  I`m going to get me a beer. 

 

HARRIS:  It`s going to be a really long election. 

 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

 

BENNETT:  Well, that was quite a look back.  My hats off to the team that

produced that. 

 

All right.  Coming up next, Congressman John Lewis announced he`s beginning

treatment for pancreatic cancer.  The latest on his condition and fight

ahead, coming up next. 

 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA):  When you see something that is not right, not

just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do

something.  Our children and their children will ask us what did you do? 

What did you say? 

 

For some, this vote may be hard.  But we have a mission and a mandate to be

on the right side of history. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

BENNETT:  That was Congressman John Lewis during his most recent appearance

on the house floor giving an impassioned plea during the fight over

impeachment. 

 

Now the Georgia Democrat and civil rights icon is facing a different kind

of fight.  He announced over the weekend that he`s undergoing treatment for

stage 4 pancreatic cancer. 

 

In a statement, Lewis writes: I have been in some kind of fight for

freedom, equality, basic human rights for nearly my entire life.  I have

never faced a fight quite like the one I have now. 

 

Lewis, who was elected to Congress in 1986, is the last survivor of the so-

called big six civil rights activists, led by the late Reverend Dr. Martin

Luther King Jr.  In 1965, Lewis was brutally beaten by police while leading

a civil rights march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in

what became known as Bloody Sunday. 

 

And earlier this year, the congressman sat down with Chris Matthews and

spoke about the fight for forces of good in our country. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

LEWIS:  You have to have faith.  You have to believe.  You have to have

hope.  You cannot give up.  I will not give up.  I will not become bitter. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

BENNETT:  It`s that same resolve that his friends and colleagues say will

see him through this latest battle. 

 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi writes in a tweet, quote: Know that generations

of Americans have you in their thoughts and prayers and you face this

fight. 

 

Former President Bill Clinton wrote: If there`s anyone with the strength

and courage to fight this, it`s you, John. 

 

And former President Barack Obama added this: If there`s one thing I love

about John Lewis, it`s his incomparable will to fight.  I know he`s got a

lot more of that left in him.  Praying for you, my friend. 

 

Congressman Lewis says he plans to return to work in Congress as he

undergoes treatment and hopes to be back on the front lines soon. 

 

That`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us. 

 

“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now. 

 

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

BE UPDATED.

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