Senator Amy Klobuchar plays Hardball. TRANSCRIPT: 1/6/20, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: And she gets tonight`s last word. “HARDBALL”
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Bolton ready to talk. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews back in Washington, a city exploding with
the news now that Donald Trump`s ex-national security adviser is ready to
testify in the Senate impeachment trial.
And what about the President Trump`s ordering of the assassination of that
top Iranian general? Well, Trump`s ordering of the killing of Soleimani
edged the United States to regime change in Tehran? Well, the shocking
about-face for Bolton comes days after he tweeted his enthusiastic support
of President Trump`s strike on Soleimani.
In a statement today, however, Bolton wrote, since my testimony is once
again at issue, I have had to resolve the serious competing issues as best
I could. Based on careful consideration and study, I have concluded that
if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify.
Well, former White House officials and people close to Ambassador Bolton
tell The New York Times that his testimony would likely be damning to Mr.
Trump and put additional pressure on moderate Republicans to consider
Well, both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck
Schumer used the news to ratchet up pressure on Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell in the Senate to allow witness testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Given that Mr. Bolton`s lawyers have stated he
has new and relevant information to share, if any Senate Republican opposes
issuing subpoenas to the four witnesses and documents we have requested,
they would make it absolutely clear they are participating in a cover-up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Bolton was at the center of the House impeachment
proceedings with several witnesses describing how he was, quote, disturbed,
unquote, by the shadow campaign to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Bolton`s top aide, Fiona Hill, for example, testified that Bolton was so
disturbed by the president`s behavior that he called it a drug deal and
directed Hale, Fiona Hill`s deputy, to report it to their lawyers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. FIONA HILL, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR EUROPE AND RUSSIA, NATIONAL
SECURITY COUNCIL: The specific instruction was that I had to go to the
lawyers, to John Eisenberg, I was senior counsel for the National Security
Council, to basically say, you tell Eisenberg Ambassador Bolton told me
that I am not part of this whatever drug deal that Mulvaney and Sondland
are cooking up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: At that time, Bolton refused to appear voluntarily. But his
lawyer, in a letter his lawmakers, teased that Bolton, quote, was
personally involved in many of the events, meetings and conversations as
well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been
discussed in the testimonies thus far. So his lawyer is teasing about how
great his testimony would be against the president.
For weeks, McConnell and fellow Senate Republicans, however, balked at
calling any witnesses, instead expressing their support for a quick trial
that acquits the president. Speaker Pelosi has been holding on to the
articles of impeachment, of course, until she said she receives assurances
the Senate trial is going to be a fair one.
For more, I`m joined by Michael Schmidt, The New York Times Washington
Correspondent, Ben Rhodes, former Deputy National Security Adviser in the
Obama administration. Let me start with you two gentlemen.
Michael, what do you make of the Bolton decision? He had a lawyer with the
explanation about how things have developed in another trial that he was
using as a model, blah, blah, blah. But here`s a guy that everybody
thought might be hoarding the great stuff for a book a year from now. And
now, he`s saying, I`m willing if they subpoena me, I`m talking.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think two
things. The first is that he needed the legal and political cover to do
this. He did not want to be seen as someone that was running up there to
rat on the president. I think that he has a desire to have a long future
in the Republican Party.
MATTHEWS: I`m so with you on that.
SCHMIDT: And I think that in order to maintain that, he has to do that
under the legal and political cover that his lawyer, Chuck Cooper, ash –
MATTHEWS: That was a good way to explain, they gave him a way not to
testify. But here he is agreeing to testify. What changed?
SCHMIDT: I think history. I think that he doesn`t want to be in a place
in history where he had information at a crucial juncture in American time
and sat back and didn`t say anything. Because my guess is that some day we
will know what John Bolton knows.
SCHMIDT: And maybe we`ll know it in a few weeks or a few months, or maybe
we`ll know it in a few years.
MATTHEWS: Ben, I want to get to the real personal calculation. I`m no fan
of John Bolton, not personally, but I don`t like his politics. He`s a real
hawk, a real neo-con. But his calculation a couple of weeks ago was I`ve
got to hold this gold, my jewels, my crown jewels of information for a book
at some point. That`s the speculation maybe cynically, but that`s what
people think. But maybe he calculated, as Michael just said, you know
what, if a year from now I blow some great news that`s so relevant because
this guy, the president, skated through this whole trial because I kept my
secrets, I`m not going to look good and nobody will want to read my book.
BEN RHODES, : That`s right, Chris. And the reality is, having been in the
White House, everything runs through the national security adviser`s
office. So if there is any paper trail about efforts to withhold aid from
Ukraine, if there is any paper trail about trying to remove the sitting
ambassador in Ukraine because she wouldn`t go along with this scheme, that
will have John Bolton at least copied on emails and memos and other
So he knows, as Mike said, that this information is going to get out. And
I think the question is quite simple. The two officials in the U.S.
government who clearly would be in a position to know anything and
everything about what happened are Mick Mulvaney, who is not just the chief
of staff, but the head of OMB, which was putting the hold on the aid to
Ukraine, and John Bolton.
And they have to make a decision about whether they`re going to fall on the
sword and go along with this cover-up and whether Senate Republicans
frankly let them do that by assuring that this is not a fair trial, or
whether they`re going to come forward with their information that`s notable
that Bolton, the guy who was not currently in the administration, is the
one putting himself forward while Mulvaney, who is still sitting down the
hall from Trump is not.
MATTHEWS: Well, here`s the question. Will Mitch McConnell agree to this?
Late today he stood in the Senate floor and said, I`m not going to do it.
I`m only going to decide on witnesses somewhere during the trial. I`m not
committing to let even this star witness, this John Dean power witness, to
testify. How does that happen?
I still wonder if McConnell has 90 percent of Republicans backing every
senator who says no to any kind of real trial. Isn`t he still got the
cards here? I hate to say it.
SCHMIDT: I think we have to look to what happened during the Kavanaugh
nomination. In that case, it was the moderate Republicans who went to
McConnell and said, look, you kind of got to buy us some cover here. We
need you to go back and do another week-long investigation and then take
the vote. If those same people, the Murkowskis, the Collinses are saying
to McConnell, hey, as part of my politics, I need to show that we saw all
the evidence and heard all the witnesses. I really need you to do this.
If they can put that pressure on McConnell, they can do it.
But as we`ve seen with McConnell, he`s willing to take on a lot.
MATTHEWS: Let me tell you why I don`t think he`ll give. He doesn`t want
them to land on the beach and fight him on the beach. He wants to keep
them off the beach, to use a German reference from World War II, Normandy.
He doesn`t be want to go to the beach. Because one half hour of Bolton
testimony, if handled right by Adam Schiff, the House Manager, I assume
he`s going to be the manager, blows the whole wall.
SCHMIDT: He does?
MATTHEWS: Well, because he has the president making the deal. He called
it a drug deal. What did you mean by drug deal right off the bat?
SCHMIDT: You don`t have that in the transcript? You don`t have that in
the witnesses that you – I mean, so what you`re saying is that Bolton`s
politics, his standing is so great –
MATTHEWS: As the super hawk and beloved for that reason by many on the
right. He walks in that room – I hate to say this implicitly, but the
president of the United States is a snake. He used our national security
interests to buy him some cheap political dirt.
SCHMIDT: So you still think there`s something that can move public opinion
on the president and –
MATTHEWS: I`m proposing that because that`s the only way to get the truth
Two Senate Republicans, you have reasonable skepticism, have expressed
concerns about McConnell`s resistance to an impartial trial. Lisa
Murkowski, looks like the possible hero here, of Alaska and Susan Collins
of Maine join a handful of wild card Republican senators, view it as
potential defectors from the president.
Utah Senator Mitt Romney, of course, is one. He flirts with greatness all
the time. He told reporters that he would like to hear from Bolton, but
left it up to the leaders of both parties to negotiate when and if that
will happen. Here he goes, Mitch McConnell – I mean, Mitt Romney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I`d love to hear what he has to say. He has
firsthand information. And assuming that articles of impeachment do reach
the Senate, I`d like to hear what he knows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Ben, he`s a quandary to me. He`s a guy that many ways has
presidential stature through his life, as governor of Massachusetts and
just his family and everything, and yet he pulls back. There is a hedge.
He says, I want to hear the two party leaders agree.
Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer aren`t agreeing on anything. We know
RHODES: Yes. I mean, to me, saying that is a way of, frankly, dodging
this. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney have been a bit like Lucy with the
football with Charlie Brown. They indicate that they`re going to be for
what`s right and then they pull back at the last moment.
It`s a pretty simple equation, Chris. We`ve seen throughout this
impeachment process that whenever new information, documents or witnesses
come to light, it is always incriminating for Trump. There was never been
a new piece of information that was exonerating, and it`s a black or white
issue. Either you think that there should be witnesses and documents that
can shed more light on the situation for the Senate`s consideration, or you
And it seems like these senators are trying to have it both ways,
indicating they`d like this to be a fair trial, but they`re deferring the
decision to other people. They have a vote. They can force the issue. If
you get four Republican senators who want this to be a fair trial, it will
be. Either we`ll have the witnesses and the documents necessary and all
evidence to this point suggests that any additional information or voices
would be incriminating for Trump, or you don`t think that should happen and
you`re running a cover-up for the president of the United States. It`s
pretty simple – pretty black and white situation, which is not always the
case in politics.
MATTHEWS: Thanks so much. I agree with you completely. I also agree with
Michael Schmidt`s skepticism about anything turning the minds of those 90
percent Republican constituencies. Anyway, thank you, Michael Schmidt of
The New York Times. Thank you, Ben Rhodes.
And a sign of just how challenging it will be to get Republicans to back up
motion to support witnesses in the Senate trial, ten Republicans signed
onto a new Senate resolution today introduced by Senator Josh Hawley of
Missouri that would dismiss the House articles of impeachment altogether.
For more, I`m joined right now by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from
Minnesota who is running for president, of course. Senator, it`s great to
have you on, as always, and I wish you so well. You are moving up there in
those numbers in Iowa. And I just want to ask you this.
Mitch McConnell stands at the door, holding the door close so no truth will
get to the American people. He sees now that John Bolton is ready to
answer to a subpoena. Is he going to get away with keeping the big truth
from the American people about the president?
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is not going to just
be about him, as your guest just pointed out, Chris. This is going to be
about every single Republican in that chamber. And I was heartened when I
heard that Mitt Romney said he wanted to hear from Bolton.
And I want to add two things to what your guests said. Number one, we
don`t really know what happened in the rooms between John Bolton and the
president unless we hear from Bolton. They had private meetings at times.
Number two, we know, and this hasn`t been discussed much in the testimony,
I looked it over, of Morrison, who was an aide to John Bolton. He reported
that in August after the president had made that call and the aid had been
withheld, and we know Mulvaney and Duffey`s involvement. After that,
Bolton went in on a mission to try to convince the president to lift it.
Guess what? That didn`t happen.
So the question is this. What happened in that meeting? What happened in
so many other meetings? And I think he`s a key witness, along, of course,
with Mick Mulvaney and Duffey, who sent all those emails, as well as Blair.
This is only four witnesses, Chris. This is not a fishing expedition.
This is basically a mission to get to the truth. And if Richard Nixon, as
you have pointed out, let all the men testify, all the president`s men,
what is Donald Trump so afraid of?
MATTHEWS: That`s the question, of course. I want to ask you about this
confluence of reality here. I`ve never seen so much news buffeting us in
one couple of days. I mean, I was over in Vietnam for the last week-and-a-
half and I was working with the University over there. And I have to tell
you that it all looks like it`s happening again. You know, Z.M. was
assassinated. We took over the war in Vietnam. We lost all those men and
women. And we all did it because we basically knocked off a leader. We
had a hand in that. The generals did it, but we had a hand in it.
And here we are in the assassination business again. I`m sorry, this is a
top general. We didn`t need (INAUDIBLE). He wasn`t operational. He was a
leader. We killed this guy. A president of the United States, they used
to hide from assassination responsibility. This president is bragging
about it. Pompeo is bragging about it. Is there a new deviancy in the
American culture that we now support murder or killing of political
leaders? Is this what we do now? It shocks me.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think we know that this is all outrageous. And let`s
add to this, the targeting of cultural sites, things that ISIS has done.
And so that`s why I have demanded a briefing, as have many other people.
We`re getting this briefing this week, and these are the questions that
must be asked.
But one other thing on this is that if you remember back to that original -
- the very first debate on the presidential stage when there were tons of
candidates, now we`re down to five in this next debate, and we were asked
what did we most – right, I`m one of them. Yes, there we go. We were
asked what are the biggest threats out there, internationally. I said
China for the economy, but I was the only one on the stage that said Iran,
and I would never have said that when Barack Obama was president and made
the agreement and the nuclear agreement. I said it, as I pointed out,
because I was afraid of the escalation of Donald Trump.
You trace this back when he got us out of that international agreement, all
of this, I`m sad to say, was pretty predictable. We see escalation. We
see a fraying with our allies. And now without an authorization of
military force, he`s sending troops over. And so, of course, I support
authorization of military force if he`s actually serious about us getting
into an escalated conflict.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about something you mentioned a minute, which I
thought was – it just jumped at me, and that`s this cultural thing.
KLOBUCHAR: And, by the way, I want to clear, I support a vote on that.
I`m not saying I support it, is that we must have a vote and we must have a
decision made by Congress.
What were you asking, Chris? I`m sorry.
MATTHEWS: I want to ask you about this whole thing about cultural. It`s
like Trump trolls the Democrats. He trolls the Iranians. He goes, you
know what will really tick off the liberals, the moderates out there, the
reasonable people? I`m going after cultural sites because this is Persia,
a real ancient culture, a real country, not something created by Churchill
in a Cairo conference. This exists like China. Do you think he`s
trolling? Do you think what he`s trying to do is get the liberals all mad,
to get the Iranians really upset, because he`s trying to play wag the dog
What he really wants to do is create an explosion of media focus, and even
a war – even a war, a bite-sized war, he thinks, to distract from his
impeachment threat? Is he up to this?
KLOBUCHAR: I hope not for our country`s sake that he would put thousands of
men and women`s lives at risk because of that. But you look at the pattern
here where he has continually done this, a tweet saying he`s invited the
Taliban to Camp David when there was no agreement on Afghanistan. The
summit he hastily called with Kim Jong-Un when actually there was no
result, and they`re still launching missiles. You look at all of his
patterns, so often he does things to distract.
I just hope it`s not true. But regardless of what the truth is, we must
prevent an escalation of the conflict. And as commander-in-chief, I
wouldn`t have gotten us there. I will bring us back into that Iranian
agreement. But for right now, we must work with our allies to de-escalate
this. We must keep Americans safe that are over in Iraq, and we must work
with our allies to try to stop him from bringing us to the brink of war.
MATTHEWS: I don`t think you`re an assassin. Anyway, thank you so much.
This president is. Anyway, thank you, Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Coming up, Trump the tough. This is the moment his opponents were afraid
of, having an unstable, impulsive president threatening to launch a major
Plus, Congress returns to a phase of double jeopardy now, Iran and
impeachment. Does the unfolding of the Iran crisis upstage the president`s
upcoming trial? Is that what he`s up to?
And should the U.S. government be in the assassination business? I say no.
I just got back from Vietnam, where history shows assassinations don`t
prevent wars, they start them.
We`ve just got much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
By killing Iran`s General Soleimani, President Trump has raised serious
questions about his own motive and the possible consequence of what he`s
been doing here. Rather than cool tensions in the wake of that strike, it
appears Trump is lurching toward catastrophe, threatening on Saturday to
hit Iran`s cultural sites if they retaliate.
Well, the outpouring of support for the regime at Soleimani`s funeral today
indicates that they view the strike as an attack on the Iranian people.
Trump`s action also risks destabilizing the region, as the government of
Iraq – Iraq – takes steps towards expelling us, U.S. troops, from their
And after all that war, all the bloodshed, all the courage of our troops,
and they`re telling us to leave because of what Trump did on Thursday.
In response, the president threatened Iraq, too, saying: “If they do ask us
to leave, we will charge them sanctions like they have never seen before.”
Well, as Peter Baker writes in “The New York Times,” Trump`s critics have
warned that a commander in chief known for impulsive action might overreach
with dangerous consequences. Well, now Trump confronts a decisive moment
that will test whether those critics were right.
I`m joined by Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense under
President Obama, and Robert Costa, national political reporter with “The
Robert, you are a Trump watcher nonpareil. Here`s the question. Is this a
march toward war, a la John Bolton? In other words, I don`t care, we will
assassinate people, we will go to regime change, I don`t care, if they want
to fight, I`m ready to fight?
Or is it stepping back from that, a brinksmanship – a brinkmanship
strategy, where you push them, push them hard, thinking that they will
buckle? Or is it all P.R.? What`s Trump up to?
ROBERT COSTA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Chris, based on my calls today around
the president`s inner circle, the White House and Capitol Hill, it`s clear
that President Trump is telling his confidants that he doesn`t want to put
boots on the ground in Iraq or in Iran.
At the same time, he wants to be seen as very tough on foreign policy,
especially in the Middle East, as he heads toward his 2020 reelection
campaign this year. So he`s trying to balance being a non-interventionist,
but also being very militaristic.
But that`s a tough play politically and on policy. And Democrats and
Republicans today say the fallout of all of this is very unpredictable, as
much as the president wants to control it in his way.
MATTHEWS: Here`s the question.
You know, we have seen through all, growing up, things like the Cuban
Missile Crisis, things like that, where one leader has to talk to another
leader through his actions. And it`s done very cleverly in some cases.
What message is Trump sending to the ayatollahs? What is he saying to
them? Is he saying, get out of my – I`m taking over your country, I call
the shots over there, you don`t?
MICHELE FLOURNOY, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think he`s
sending a very dangerous message.
What he was trying to do was retaliate for the loss of the life of the
American contractor from the attacks.
FLOURNOY: But he should have been doing something with an eye to restore
deterrence, which completely had broken down after a series of Iranian
Instead, he`s poured fuel on the fire. He has introduced escalation.
FLOURNOY: He has put Iran and their leadership in a position where they
have to retaliate. They have to do something stupendous.
MATTHEWS: That`s what I think.
FLOURNOY: And so every single proxy group across the region that Iran
supports is now looking for, what is that next attack?
MATTHEWS: What do you smell out there? What – when you visualized it,
because you have been in the business, national defense, is it something
like, we`re going to go knock somebody off? We`re going to assassinate
FLOURNOY: Oh, we don`t know.
MATTHEWS: We`re like Lord Mountbatten. The IRA did it.
FLOURNOY: It could be any embassy.
MATTHEWS: Just go kill somebody really big with lots of badges on them.
FLOURNOY: It could be that, any embassy where there`s vulnerability, any
U.S. bases, any forces or civilians who are transiting who are vulnerable.
And now, having assassinated Soleimani, any American official security
official who shows up in the region, why – it`s – the Pandora`s box is
now open. Why wouldn`t Iran feel licensed to assassinate that person?
So they`re going to be looking for lots of opportunities. They`re going to
take their time and pick – pick the targets of their choosing.
But this is going to escalate. And given this president, then what is he
going to do? And so the risk of stumbling into a conflict that neither
side actually wants is now very, very real because of the option the
MATTHEWS: Robert, when he does things like saying people`s families
shouldn`t be off-limits, they should be fair game, when he says things
like, we`re going after their cultural treasures, religious treasures, of
course, as well, does he know that he`s poking them, that he`s getting them
to not give in, but to fight?
COSTA: I asked a White House adviser today about that, one of the
president`s top political aides. I said, does he get it?
And they compared his comment about Iran to how he handled North Korea
early on in his administration, using the phrase fire and fury, threatening
action there. They said it was bellicose language.
But what`s different now, foreign policy experts say, is that you have
thousands, if not more than – many tens of thousands of people marching on
the streets of Tehran and elsewhere in Iran furious about the president`s
action, calling it an assassination.
And it`s not an isolated hermit kingdom like North Korea.
COSTA: You have a major Middle Eastern power that`s now thinking through
its own reaction and taking this language very seriously.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the people in the White House, this crowd,
including Pompeo, they get the fact that Iran is a real country?
It may well be at some point in the future the most powerful country beyond
even Israel in terms of its economic power in that region. It`s – we know
from the Iranians living in this country, the emigres, how serious and
impressive a people they are.
Did he understand it was a nationalism thing that he sparked, that they
took this as an attack on their people, not just on their government and
military, this assassination, as you – as they call it?
COSTA: Pompeo, the secretary of state, wants to be out front on this,
according to his associates. He wants to be the face.
He also is working closely with Vice President Pence, these two hawks on
the president`s shoulder advising him to move ahead.
COSTA: And their advice to him, I`m told, is that targeting Iran in this
way reassures U.S. allies in the region.
And that`s part of the whole strategy here, is moving the president away
from withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, trying to reassure U.S. allies that
the U.S. is not going to be moving away from the Middle East.
MATTHEWS: Well, it seems to be frightening to me.
I mean, I – it is frightening because I think there`s kind of a religious
attitude that Mike – that Mike Pence is involved with, and throwing it in
with the political ambitions of Pompeo, my God, this is a fire coming.
Anyway, Michele Flournoy, thank you so much. Thank you, Robert Costa.
Up next: Will the Soleimani strike, the killing of this guy, the
assassination, change the political calculus on impeachment and also the
coming election? This stuff is all coming together, one big Niagara Falls
Would a retaliatory strike, by the way, by Iran change it even more? Who
knows where they`re going to hit us?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Congress returns this week to a political landscape upended by President
Trump`s decision to authorize the killing of Iran`s General Soleimani, as
the status of a Senate impeachment trial remains, let`s say, unclear.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to hold onto those two articles of
impeachment passed by the House, until, she says, Senate Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell provides details of how the Senate will try the president.
Axios reports – or quotes a leadership aide saying no decision has been
made about when to send the articles of impeachment. That`s someone
speaking for Pelosi.
As for Iran, Speaker Pelosi announced the House will vote this week on a
war powers resolution limiting the president`s military actions over there.
Pelosi argued that last week`s strike, the assassination, was done without
consultation with Congress.
But President Trump wrote on Twitter: “These media posts will serve as
notification to the United States Congress that, should Iran strike any
U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly and fully strike
back, and perhaps in a disproportion – disproportionate manner.”
In other words, he`s tweeting Congress` – that`s how he`s notifying them.
Well, today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argued that both Iran
and impeachment demand serious treatment from Congress.
Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The House may have been content to scrap
their own norms to hurt President Trump, but that is not the Senate.
Even with a process this constitutionally serious, even with tensions
rising in the Middle East, House Democrats are treating impeachment like a
political toy, like a political toy, treating their own effort to remove
our commander in chief like some frivolous game.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Senator McConnell went on to call House Democrats`
impeachment efforts a bizarre stunt, while Senator Lindsey Graham tells the
Senate to get rolling on the trial, and not even wait for Pelosi to send
over the articles. He says, just go ahead and do it, hold the trial.
Well, that`s all next.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
As escalating tensions with Iran threaten to change the political calculus
– well, calculations surrounding impeachment, a top Republican says he
wants the Senate to take matters into its own hands.
Here he goes. Lindsey Graham told FOX News that senators should just
change the rules to bypass Speaker Pelosi and start a trial without those
articles in hand and just read them in the paper, I guess, and move on.
Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The founders never envisioned you would have a
speaker do something like this, withhold the articles, demanding the Senate
bend to her will.
It`s not going to happen. So I hope she sends them over soon, so we can
get on with the trial. If she doesn`t, I would urge Senator McConnell,
with my colleagues, to change the rules of the Senate, so that we could
proceed with the – proceed to the trial without Nancy Pelosi being
My goal is to start this trial in the next coming days, not let Nancy
Pelosi take over the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, a White House official told NBC News that the president`s
team is holding off on making any strategic moves until the Senate receives
the articles from the speaker.
For more, I`m joined by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for “USA
Today,” of course, and David Frum, senator editor at “The Atlantic” and a
former George W. Bush speechwriter.
Let`s talk about something big here.
You put these two big stories aside with each other, assassination or
killing of a top general, an act of war, of course, against a country that
we have got problems with, belligerence from. And against that, we have an
impeachment trial that is supposed to begin like today or tomorrow. It`s
supposed to begin now.
Does what`s going on in Iran and possible, here`s – who lost Iraq has got
to be a story pretty soon, because it looks like we`re going to get kicked
out of there.
Does that help the push for impeachment and conviction of this president?
DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: It
intensifies the emotions.
It gives Senate Republicans a rally-around-the-flag argument. I think…
MATTHEWS: Against him?
FRUM: That we have to get – because the president of the United States
can`t be fettered by these petty considerations.
But I think the deadline everyone is really working to, the real date, is
February 4, State of the Union. The Republicans want this over before
September – February 4. The Democrats want it to go past February 4,
because everybody knows that, if Trump is still under impeachment on
February 4, he will deliver a State of the Union of such blithering
insanity, the world will never forget it.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “USA TODAY”: You know what he could
MATTHEWS: Whoa. I never thought of that one.
In other words, they`re trying to protect us again from him.
FRUM: They`re trying to protect themselves, because they have to sit
They have to…
MATTHEWS: Well, Pelosi – by the way, the speaker set that date. So, she
set it fairly early.
PAGE: Well, it`s been in negotiations with the White House. But, you know,
I think the alternative is if – if we`ve had the impeachment trial in the
Senate at the point of the State of the Union on February 4th, the
president will make the case that he`s been vindicated –
DAVID FRUM, THE ATLANTIC: Right.
PAGE: – and that the impeachment –
PAGE: Yes, he`s been acquitted. He`s been vindicated, it was ridiculous.
He`ll try to do something to –
FRUM: So that`s why Republicans want it over by February 4th. Democrats
want it not over by February 4th.
Also, you know, Democrats understand they have a weak hand to play here in
terms of controlling or affecting the rules of the Senate. They have to
delay – it`s put a spotlight on questions about the fairness of the Senate
trial and the likely rules. And you`ve had things happen like Bolton
happening. I mean, that does put pressure on Republicans.
Why don`t they want to hear from John Bolton? Won`t he have something that
will be worth hearing?
MATTHEWS: So, President Trump repeated his threat today to attack Iranian
cultural sites. He returned from his holiday in Florida at Mar-a-Lago.
And when he was asked by reporters aboard Air Force One about fears of
Iranian retaliation for that, the president said, if it happens, it
happens. If they do anything, there will be a major retaliation.
So, he`s very calm. Maybe because he doesn`t know what he`s doing – but
he`s very calm in this setting. You have a real country over there, Iran -
FRUM: Do you think he`s calm? I think he sounds nuts.
MATTHEWS: OK, speak to that.
FRUM: Trump exists in the moment. I mean, one of the questions, what is
the president thinking about. The answer is he`s got – Pekingese dogs
have longer attention span. So, as he himself has said, I never plan
anything, I just do it.
So, he exists in a moment. He says whatever he says. He doesn`t remember
what he said in the past. He doesn`t feel bound by the future.
There is no plan. There`s just a series of impulsive statements designed
to make him look good in his own mental mirror.
MATTHEWS: Well, as a private citizen, Trump repeatedly criticized
President Obama`s Iran policy. In 2011, he argued President Obama would
start a war with Iran to help him win reelection in 2012. Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, THEN-BUSINESSMAN: Our president will start a war with Iran
because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He`s weak and he`s
ineffective. So, the only way he figures that he`s going to get reelected
and as sure as you`re sitting there is start a war with Iran.
Unfortunately, we have a president that doesn`t know the first thing about
negotiation. We have a real problem in the White House. So I believe that
he will attack Iran sometime prior to the election because he thinks that`s
the only way he can get elected. Isn`t it pathetic?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: It`s also not true, of course. Susan has he got an obsession
PAGE: Well, he does have an obsession with President Obama. We see that
on policies ranging –
MATTHEWS: Is he trying to out macho him in this whole thing?
PAGE: You know, for some reason, you know, he wants to undo anything Obama
did. He wants to do the reverse of anything that President Obama did on
Iran or health care or anything else.
But here`s my question, does starting a war with Iran, in fact, to your
political benefit if you`re a president running for reelection? You know,
especially a president like Donald Trump who campaigned last time around on
getting us out of these endless wars. Does it help Trump if, he, in fact,
starts another military conflict in the Middle East?
MATTHEWS: Well, people will die.
PAGE: People will die.
MATTHEWS: Wars are costly and PR is cheap. Wars are not.
We have learned a lot of lessons in the last 50 or 60 years. Vietnam,
Iraq, we`ve all learned the lessons together in different ways. Trump
hasn`t if he takes us to war.
Thank you, Susan Page. Thank you, David Frum.
Up next, in 2012, President Trump predicted that President Obama would
start a war with Iran as we just heard to get reelected. So, how are
Trump`s own actions playing with voters out there? And which Democratic
candidate is best position in this major camp (ph) to use as an issue?
I think Bernie can use it. I`ll get to that right now. I think Bernie can
reuse it as an anti-war candidate because he`s one guy sharply against this
thing. And Biden can use the prestige thing. And Buttigieg can say, at
least, I`ve been in uniform.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No president has the right to take
a nation to war without the informed consent and authority coming from the
United States congress.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are not safer
because Donald Trump had Soleimani killed. We are much closer to the edge
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The strength of the
United States is to bring people together to resolve their differences
without killing each other.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was just a few of the Democratic presidential candidates. There`s
only a few left really right now, reacting to President Trump`s handling of
With exactly four weeks to go before until the Iowa caucuses, foreign
policy is now front and center, boy, it came out of nowhere, there it is.
The question is, could that change how voters look at the field of
A new CBS/YouGov poll of registered Iowa Democrats, these polls are getting
good now. They`re beginning to matter. Look at the tie – have you seen
that, three guys 23 percent. Bernie, Buttigieg, Biden, all three at 23 on
And then you got Elizabeth Warren still there in contention clearly at 18
or 16, is it? And as I said earlier in the show, we have Klobuchar hanging
in there at 7. In fact, she`s growing. No other candidate receives more
than two points in that poll.
For more, I`m joined by Jason Johnson, politics editor of TheRoot.com, and
Howard Fineman, MSNBC contributor.
Jason, I want to ask you, and ask Howard the same question. You can follow
each other seriatim here.
The question is, who wins? In these four weeks, who is going to pop?
Because they`re one of the Democratic caucuses want as a voice now?
JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM: It`s all about organization
in Iowa. And if you look at organization, the person who does that best is
Bernie Sanders. He has the most enthusiasm on the ground and, he`s always
been a really –
MATTHEWS: He got the half votes last time.
JOHNSON: Exactly. So, he goes in with an advantage. But if you`re
talking about somebody who could pop at the last minute, it`s probably
Mayor Pete. If there is a feeling at the end, if let`s say this
MATTHEWS: Are you hedging your bets?
JOHNSON: Oh, I`m not hedging my bets. I honestly think that it`s probably
going to be one of those two. I don`t think Joe Biden is going to win in
Iowa. I don`t think Elizabeth Warren is going to win in Iowa. I think
it`s going to come down to Bernie Sanders or Mayor Pete.
If it looks this war is going to go from Twitter to the real thing, I think
that ends up being something that Mayor Pete can talk about. He`s a
millennial. His whole life – we`ve pretty much been at war. And he can
talk about what his accomplishments (ph) –
JOHNSON: What`s his position on whether we should be hawkish or dovish? I
don`t know what Pete Buttigieg`s position. I know where Bernie is.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he`s – he`s the younger
MATTHEWS: But is there a technocrat –
FINEMAN: I don`t know if there is. I`m thinking gymnasiums and the
schools and caucus sites that I`ve covered since 19 –
FINEMAN: And the last minute emotion as you`re causing, who you pull over,
remember the Jacob Soboroff thing that he did on our network?
FINEMAN: I`ve seen that up close for years. So, you want to pull –
MATTHEWS: Well, what about those a week before –
MATTHEWS: OK, right now, they`re going out there every weekend and they`re
hitting the gyms and the high school field – field houses and they`re
getting like 200 people, 300 people. In those rooms, who is exploding now?
FINEMAN: Well, what I was about to say is to agree with you, which is that
Bernie, I think because of the war – I – Chris, in an odd and eerie way,
I`ve been through this movie before starting out in journalism school.
MATTHEWS: OK, who is Bernie?
FINEMAN: Trump is Nixon and Bernie is McGovern.
MATTHEWS: That`s what I think.
JOHNSON: I don`t – I don`t –
FINEMAN: For historical reference.
JOHNSON: Yes, historical reference, perhaps, perhaps.
MATTHEWS: Because he`s – it helps sometimes –
FINEMAN: It`s an antiwar vote. That`s the emotion. That`s where the
MATTHEWS: You know, being a lefty in the Democratic Party can always be
helpful, a real lefty. It always helps during a war.
JOHNSON: Here`s the catch, though. If you look – if you look further
down in that YouGov poll, it`s – when they asked the Democratic voters in
Iowa who do you think has the best chance of actually beating Trump, it`s
still Joe Biden. Joe Biden beats everybody else. He beats Bernie, he
beats Buttigieg, and he beats Warren by like 10 to 12 points amongst voters
on who you think can beat Trump.
So, if it`s down to, I want Trump to be out of office, Joe Biden may not
win Iowa but he still may leave –
MATTHEWS: When is the last time voters voted like that strategically?
JOHNSON: Strategically, African-Americans almost always vote that way. If
you are facing an unprecedented right wing revolutionary president like the
one we have now –
MATTHEWS: All right.
JOHNSON: – that may happen.
FINEMAN: Iowa, Iowa is a place that has almost no military installations
whatsoever. It`s a pacific in that sense state.
Young people matter as organization tools, as Bernie knows. If the war
talk is big, this mobilizes, I think gives more emotion even to younger
voters who already are for Bernie, and that`s going to make sure that they
turn out and they organize to a fairly well and drag people who don`t get -
- candidates who don`t get 15 percent, they`re out in the caucuses. Those
people are going to get dragged to the Bernie camp if the war talk is big.
MATTHEWS: Let`s look at this, CBS/YouGov poll also found that Bernie`s
backers in Iowa are the most enthusiastic for their candidate. Sixty-seven
percent of his supporters say they are enthusiastically supporting Sanders.
I don`t know how this works.
That compared to 49 percent – I`m for Biden, but not enthusiastically.
What a statement that would be?
Anyway, the former vice-president leads with Iowa voters on another key
question: 53 percent call Biden safe. In other words, he`s going to win in
the general. That`s about 30 points higher than any other candidate.
To make your point, he`s the best bet right now against Trump.
MATTHEWS: But in terms of enthusiastic human emotion, there (INAUDIBLE).
FINEMAN: Iowa isn`t always predictive, by the way –
FINEMAN: It isn`t always predictive –
MATTHEWS: For the Democrats, it is.
FINEMAN: Well, not always.
MATTHEWS: Where not? What, Harkin and Gephardt? They`re the only two
FINEMAN: All right. Well, but –
MATTHEWS: And they`re neighborhood guys.
FINEMAN: Yes, but the day – the thing is that Bernie is probably going to
be just as strong in New Hampshire the week following.
MATTHEWS: I agree, I agree.
JOHNSON: And then if he pulls out of water in Nevada and South Carolina.
FINEMAN: Yes, and I agree with you about Pete. And what they`re going to
go after Biden on, yes, he`s got the experience and so forth. But he also
has a lot in history –
MATTHEWS: He voted for the Iraq war. He voted for the Iraq war.
FINEMAN: – and voted for the Iraq war, and that`s an easy line for the
Bernie bros to use in Iowa at the caucuses.
MATTHEWS: If you`re Biden, what do you do to get some excitement about
JOHNSON: Basically, you say, you want this guy out of office? You go
after me. You want to see the person that`s going to make him sweat? You
go after me. You want the guy who`s going to fight? You go after me.
That`s been Joe Biden`s argument the whole time.
MATTHEWS: You know what I say to women and men?
JOHNSON: What do you say?
MATTHEWS: Woke men.
If Trump wins again, get ready for a 7/2 Supreme Court for the rest of your
MATTHEWS: Give it up on those human rights.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Jason Johnson. Thank you, Howard Fineman.
Up next, assassination is not historically the best way to prevent a war.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Ever since Christmas, I`ve been over in Vietnam. It brought
back to me the horror and irony of what they over there call the American
war. The horror is the loss of 58,000 American lives. The irony is how
that horror could have been averted.
In the fall of 1963, South Vietnam President Diem was believed to be
plotting a way to end that war that was dividing his country to reach some
form of agreement with the rebellious Viet Cong.
Fearing that we were in the verge of being told to leave the country, the
Kennedy administration okayed a military coup against President Diem, and
that coup led to Diem`s assassination and with it, a terrifying
consequence. It was now our war. By getting rid of Diem, we have made
ourselves the deciders of South Vietnam`s future.
The decision to assassinate General Soleimani last week has given hope to
President Trump`s recent national security director, John Bolton, that
Trump will now push for regime change over in Tehran. The assassination
has already triggered the Iraqi parliament`s vote to oust us from that
country. It has triggered Iran`s decision to move forward with this
nuclear program and has already succeeded, you can see there in the crowd,
in uniting the Iranian people against us.
So it`s all happening again, the way in which assassination drives us
toward war and its consequence.
Again, back to Vietnam. Today, the courtyard of the Continental Hotel over
there where U.S. generals had their first quenched orange juice during the
war remains. So does the rooftop of the Rex Hotel where the public affairs
office gave their late afternoon briefing and body counts of the notorious
Many here still call in that country, still call Ho Chi Minh City “Saigon”,
just as the 30 or so Starbucks in that city, the many high-rise buildings
and bustling economy make you wonder what the war was about. The war we
fought with such courage and took so many American lives after taking it
over from the South Vietnam president we had dumped and left to be killed.
Assassination is a nasty word because it`s a nasty business. It is not a
means to avoid war. It is a trigger to war. A step toward regime change
on which the neocons like John Bolton have set their hearts.
For them the lesson of Vietnam is how to do it all over again. That`s what
they`re after in Iran.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.
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protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the