No monopoly on patriotism. TRANSCRIPT: 1/8/20, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests:
Tim Kaine, Cory Booker, Joaquin Castro, Valerie Plame, Ted Deutch
Transcript:

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Thanks for joining us on THE BEAT tonight.  We`ll

be back tomorrow covering all the news, including what is a scheduled House

vote to limit the president`s war powers.

 

Don`t go anywhere though.  “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts now.

 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Not buying it.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

 

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

 

24 hours ago, America was on the brink of war with Iran.  Today after six

days filled with fear and anxiety, President Trump took a step back from

the edge telling the American people he would refrain from a retaliatory

attack on Iran for now.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  No Americans were harmed in last night`s

attack by the Iranian regime.  We suffered no casualties.  All of our

soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military

bases.

 

Our great American forces are prepared for anything.  Iran appears to be

standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very

good thing for the world.

 

The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian

regime, your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any

longer.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president`s remarks came hours after Iran launched 16

short-range ballistic missiles at two Iraqi airbases housing American

troops.  When last night`s missile attack was retaliation, of course, after

President Trump approved the assassination of General Soleimani, the head

of Iran`s Quds force, the administration has not provided the public a

detailed explanation, however, for conducting that strike on the general.

 

A senior administration official tells The Washington Post that, quote, the

lack of casualties gave administration officials more confidence that the

Iranians had intended to make a public show of force largely to save face

at home.

 

However, during a briefing with reporters, the chairman of the Joint

Chiefs, Mark Milley, said that his own personal assessment led him to

believe that the Iranians intended to kill personnel.  The speech which at

times veered into a laudatory campaign event by the president was riddled

with factual inaccuracies and took aim at the president`s favorite target,

former President Barack Obama.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  Over the last three years under my leadership, our economy is

stronger than ever before and America has achieved energy independence. 

This historic complement (ph) shades our strategic priorities.  These are

accomplishments that nobody thought was possible.

 

The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the

funds made available by the last administration.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the Associated Press said the president`s speech, quote,

fell short on the facts, noting that he, quote, wrongly dismissed the

continuing threat of the Islamic State group and spread a false tale the

U.S. paying out billions of dollars into Iran as part of the multinational

deal or freezing rather its nuclear program.

 

Early today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House

would take up a resolution that would limit the president`s military

actions with Iran.  Well, the Senate has a companion bill that was

introduced by Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine.  He`ll join me in just a moment.

 

But, first, I`m joined by Richard Engel, NBC News Chief Foreign

Correspondent who is over in Erbil, Iraq.  Richard, it`s hard tell now

whether we`re lucky here by no American service person being killed and

that happening.

 

RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  So we`re lucky that

there were no casualties here but we are on a cycle of violence.  And

anyone who has covered the Middle East or anyone who has served in the

Middle East knows once you start these cycles of violence, they are very,

very difficult to break.

 

And the president set up this threshold that is probably impossible to

meet.  There are tens of thousands of troops and contractors in harm`s way

and he is now set up a scenario where effectively there is a zero

acceptance of casualties, that while pursuing an aggressive foreign policy

against Iran and attacking the most senior military leaders of the Iranian

system.  We are setting ourselves up for a cycle of crises.

 

So, yes, we got past this crisis, but I could see us in the same scenario a

week from now.  Just a few hours ago, there were two rockets fired at the

green zone where the U.S. embassy is in Baghdad.  They didn`t hit anything

significant.  They didn`t cause any damage or casualties, according to

Iraqi officials.  But what if they had?  What if they had hit a couple of

contractors because these – by the way, these short-term rockets are not

even guided.  You just put them in a direction and fire them.

 

And they are being fired by Shiite militia groups that are more or less

allied with Iran.  If those – if there had been an incident tonight, a

deadly incident, we`d be right back here tomorrow or we`d be right back

here right now.

 

So I don`t see the – a very good ending here.  Sure, we got past this

crisis, but are we going to be back again waiting for President Trump to

come out and brief the world if he`s going to take the United States to war

or not?

 

We`ve been down this road before and it doesn`t end well.

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Richard Engel, over in Erbil, Iraq.

 

Shortly after the president`s remarks today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

and others headed to Capitol Hill to provide members of the House and the

Senate the justification for last week`s assassination of general – the

general from Iran.  After briefing the House, which we will get to later in

the show, they headed to the Senate where Trump supporters gave the

briefing rave reviews.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I thought it was a good briefing.

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I just sat through one of the best briefings I have had

since I`ve been here in the United States Congress.

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was very well done.  I think they`ve done an

excellent job of outlining the rationale.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  But Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, excoriated the

administration, calling the briefing we just saw there insulting and

demeaning.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT):  Which I would add was probably the worst briefing

I`ve seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I`ve served in the

United States Senate.

 

It is not acceptable for officials within the executive branch of

government.  I don`t care whether they`re with the CIA, with the Depart of

Defense or otherwise to come in and tell us that we can`t debate and

discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran.  It`s

un-American, it`s unconstitutional and it`s wrong.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, joining me right now is Democratic Tim Kaine of Virginia.

 

Senator, if you catch somebody in a bank robbery, an armed bank robbery and

you shoot them, that`s one thing.  If you got away their living and find

some guy you hurt blew up some banks or robbed some banks and kill you them

in cold blood, that`s murder.  This looks more like an assassination and it

looks like stopping what someone in the commission of a crime.  Your

thoughts after getting that briefing?  Which is it, an assassination or are

we really stopping in the act of somebody blowing up somebody?

 

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA):  Well, Chris, look, I`ll tell you.  You know, was

Soleimani a despicable killer, yes, and is Iran a bad actor, yes, but the

question is should the United States be at war with Iran?  And here was my

take on the briefing.  The administration did a very poor job of suggesting

there is an imminent threat, a very poor job.  They suggested that Iran and

Soleimani in particular was carrying out plans against the United States

just as we have all kinds of war plans against Iran, but the imminence or

any decision being made to carry out these threats, that was weak.

 

Second, the administration didn`t acknowledge.  They kept saying, well, we

ought to red line and Iran crossed it when an American contractor was

killed but they didn`t acknowledge that the United States is also taking

military action against Iran, killing 25 militia members at the end of the

year, killing not only General Soleimani but killing an Iraqi

parliamentarian in the strike last week.  So they sort of said, we get to

have a red line but nobody else does.

 

But the thing that I think really infuriated members of Congress was how

dismissive they were about Congress.  At some point, there was a sort of a

challenge and this isn`t classified.  There was a challenge, you know, you

should seek authority for war from us but, at a minimum, consult with us,

and one of the briefers said, well, I`m here now consulting, yes, but six

days after this major, major escalatory action.

 

So what we need, Chris, is we need not escalation, but deliberation.  And

the framers of the Constitution understood that the best antidote to

unnecessary escalation was deliberation by Congress.  We`d be more likely

to get it right if we had a debate in front of the public and voted and

that`s what I`m trying to force.

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it seems to me that this tit-for-tat began at least in the

latest round with our killing of the general.  The president today said,

however, no, it was because Barack Obama, his predecessor in the White

House, financed the ballistic missiles that were launched yesterday, last

night.  I mean, was it Obama`s fault that we got hit overnight?

 

KAINE:  Well, in the president`s comments, and I will say, the one good

thing about them was that they were a little bit of a climb down the ladder

of escalation, thank God, but the president`s comments were really wrong in

so many ways.  The opening line is Iran will never get a nuclear weapon as

long as I`m president.

 

When President Trump came into office, Iran had signed on to a deal, Chris,

that said they would never seek to a purchase, acquire or develop a nuclear

weapon forever.  And now, President Trump is saying, for the next year,

they`re not going to get a nuclear weapon.  That`s supposed to make us feel

good?

 

By tearing up diplomacy, President Trump put us in a place where he

maximized or increased the risk of unnecessary war.  We predicted at the

time if you tear up the deal, you`ll increase the risk of war.  If you

engage in a maximum pressure campaign, you`ll raise the risk of retaliation

against Americans.  And importantly, if you tear up diplomacy with Iran,

the mountain that you`re going to have to climb to get a deal with North

Korea is going to get much steeper.

 

All those things happened because the president torched diplomacy and

that`s why we are where we are right now.

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we have a president, basically, as you said, tore up the

deal on nuclear arms with Iran.  He`s talked about going after people`s

wives and children if we don`t like them.  He`s talking about going after

their religious and cultural relic space, like going after our Statue of

Liberty and pyramids, and basically saying we`re going to go after it.  He

looks like he`s going into war with the Iranian people.  It`s a policy to

risk war.  How does the Congress – is there any real way to stop them in

his direction right now?

 

KAINE:  Yes, and we need to because you`re right.  What would the Iranians

think as they contemplate?  You know, do they escalate after General

Soleimani is killed?  If all they – if they think that all Americans are

like President Trump, that hate Iran, want to abandon diplomacy, want to

carry out military strikes, if that`s who America is to them, that`s one

thing they have to deal with.

 

But if Congress says, hey, look, we think we should de-escalate, we think

deliberation is the answer, so that`s what I`m trying to do.  I filed a

privileged resolution of the War Powers Act, and you know it well.  The War

Powers Act says that if a president initiates hostilities and those

hostilities aren`t covered by a previous congressional authorization, then

any member can file a resolution that says, stop the hostilities and get a

privileged vote on the floor by simple majority within a reasonable period

of time.

 

We are in hostilities.  Those hostilities are not covered by a previous

authorization, so I`m filing this motion saying, fine, we want to have a

vote.  We want to terminate U.S. hostilities against Iran.  And there`re

only two circumstances under which we should be engaged in those

hostilities, defense against an imminent attack, the president can always

do that, or if Congress passes its own declaration.

 

We`re trying to reclaim from this executive, who like other presidents,

let`s be honest, believes they can do things on their own.  We`re trying to

reclaim to Congress the power to initiate war because that`s what our

troops and their families deserve.

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.

 

Coming – let`s bring back now Shannon Pettypiece, NBC Senior Digital White

House Reporter.

 

Shannon, this question about the justification probably precedes anything

about War Powers Act, because that`s always going to be a court issue

whether the Congress can stop the president.  But the Issue now they`re

raising is, and Mike Lee`s dramatic statement, it`s all over the video now,

we have seen it, a conservative from Utah coming out and saying this is a

joke.  They don`t have a justification they can present for why they

assassinated this general.

 

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, MSNBC DIGITAL SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  I think

it`s a reflection of a broader feeling within this administration of not

viewing Congress as a legitimate branch of government.  We saw this in

impeachment with how they responded to the House inquiries, essentially

saying, you know, this is not a legitimate investigation, you`re not a

legitimate body of Congress of the government.  We don`t have to respond to

you.

 

The same thing when they did not brief members of Congress before and one

of the justifications that the administration gave was, well, they would

just leak the information, why would we tell them?  They singled out Adam

Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.  Why would we tell

Adam Schiff?  He`ll just leak it.  Well, he is an elected member of

Congress, he is on the House Intelligence Committee.  There is this sense

that, you know, they`re not legitimate members of Congress, really, that

just because they were elected doesn`t mean they have to share information

or get their authorization from them.

 

And I think it does fit in this bigger power struggle between the executive

branch and the legislative branch that we`ve been seeing play out for three

years now.

 

MATTHEWS:  The president can basically do what he wants to do even in the

area of starting a war, because, as everybody has been saying, starting

with Richard Engel tonight and the beginning of our report tonight, if

another fire is shot from the other side, some militia person who shoots

somebody, kills an American, according to the latest threshold of war,

we`re at war again, big time.

 

PETTYPIECE:  Right.  And as we have seen over the past three years, what is

anyone going to do about it?  If the president oversteps his bounds and the

executive branch, what are you going to do about it?  Well, you could

impeach him, which Congress – the House is trying to do now, but are you

going to remove him from House in the Senate?

 

So there`s no real – I think we`re seeing this test not the checks in

place on the executive branch that I think people thought there were.

 

MATTHEWS:  And I think it takes such a decision by the Congress, according

to courts, a two-thirds vote in both Houses plus one in this case to

override what is implicitly a presidential veto because you`re basically

replacing the president`s war-making powers by the Congress.  That`s a

tough threshold to reach.  It`s a nice effort by the Senator, senator from

Virginia, Tim Kaine, but I`m not sure it will stop this president.

 

But it does raise the question, why did they assassinate this general?  Was

he in the act of doing something or are they simply wanting to hit him hard

because of what he`d done in the past and to send a message of vengeance,

really, to the Iranians?

 

Thank you so much, Shannon Pettypiece.

 

Coming up, Trump has averted an all-out war with Iran this time.  Luckily,

no one got killed last night in the western – U.S. base in Western Iraq. 

But who can predict this president or can predict the Iranians?

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  Finally, to the people and leaders of Iran, we want you to have a

future and a great future, one that you deserve.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes?  Well, those words are a far cry from a president who

just recently threatened the blowup of Iranian cultural treasures.  And

it`s not at all clear if the president has a long-term Middle East strategy

at all or he`s just winging it.  I`m going to talk about that Senator and

Presidential Candidate Cory Booker.

 

Plus, pressure is growing on Speaker Pelosi now to give the Senate those

two articles of impeachment.  What`s her next move?

 

And can Republican senators get away with blocking witness testimony from

John Bolton and others?  It`s going to be a tough vote for a Republican to

say, I don`t want to know the truth.

 

We`ve got much more to get to tonight.  Stick with us.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

 

Over the last two weeks, the conflicting statements, crossed signals and

mixed messages from this administration have left our allies confused about

what Trump`s strategy on Iran actually is.  Is there a strategy? 

 

“The New York Times”` Peter Baker points out: “The president, who promised

to bring troops home from the Middle East, is now dispatching more instead. 

The Pentagon sent a letter saying it was withdrawing from Iraq, only to

disavow it as a mistake.  The State Department talked about de-escalation,

while Mr. Trump beat the war drums, describing all the ways he would

devastate Iran if it harmed Americans – more Americans.  And even then the

president was forced to back off his threat to target Iranian cultural

sites after his own defense secretary publicly said doing that was a war

crime.”

 

For more, I`m joined by Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for

“The New York Times,”

 

Peter, I guess it`s hard to predict events, but it`s also to predict this

president.  I mean, we have been hearing from Richard Engel just now and

Senator Kaine.  The information we`re getting, if you put it all together,

if there is another shot fired to kill from the other side in any front

over there now from Iran, we`re back at war. 

 

PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  Yes,

certainly could be the case, absolutely.  He wants that to be the

impression. 

 

But one of the reasons why it was important for him to take this action at

this time, according to his advisers, was to reestablish deterrence.  And

by that, they mean that the fact that the president hadn`t responded to

previous provocations over the last number of months, in fact, at one point

ordered an airstrike, and then called it off 10 minutes before it was

supposed to get started, may have left Iran with the impression that he

wasn`t going to respond to anything like this.

 

And so that`s one of the things that you heard them say in explaining this

strike.  But, as you pointed out, and as we wrote about in this morning`s

paper, the messages have been at times conflicting.  And it`s hard for our

allies to get a sense of, what is the broader picture here?  What is the

broader strategy in a region that he says he wants to get out, but we find

ourselves entangled in just as much, if not more, than ever?

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know from American history, like Roosevelt deploying

our ships into the North Atlantic, basically, we were saying to the German,

go ahead, make our day.  And they didn`t do it.  The Japanese attacked us. 

 

But when a president sets these thresholds, these red lines out there,

sometimes, he wants the other side to cross them.  Sometimes, he doesn`t. 

 

What`s Trump want? 

 

BAKER:  Yes, that`s a great question. 

 

You know, he has been one of these really interesting characters who talks

a big game when it comes to military confrontation.  He uses terminology no

other president has about annihilating other countries and wiping them off

the map and all that kind of thing, very, very bellicose.

 

And yet there is a part of him that clearly has been reluctant to commit to

a major kind of military operation, said that the 2003 invasion of Iraq by

George W. Bush was the biggest mistake in history, has been very adamant

that we don`t have a stake in a lot of these things that are happening in

overseas countries, and we should be focusing here on America at home. 

 

So, trying to reconcile these different strains of Trumpism, I think, has

been a tough thing for many Americans, not to mention our friends and

adversaries overseas. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Peter Baker. 

 

For now, I`m joined by Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey

who`s running for president, of course.

 

Senator Booker, thank you for joining us. 

 

Well, here`s a presidential moment.  Put yourself in it.  What would you

do? 

 

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, first of all, I

wouldn`t do what I did in front of the United States Senate right now, when

you send high-level officials, members of your Cabinet to brief us, to show

us your justification for using military force, and you really give no

adequate justification.

 

The answer of an imminent threat, I can tell you, as a United States

senator, coming out of a classified briefing, they did not show us that

they had – were dealing with an imminent threat.  I saw no evidence of

that whatsoever. 

 

And so this is what`s got me really angry, if you look at this region under

this president`s leadership.  Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon right now,

as they`re breaking out to better enrich, than they were before he was

president. 

 

We now have an Iraq that has – excuse me – an Iran has greater influence

in Iraq than before he wasn`t president.  We now have our allies like

Israel at greater danger because of Iran than when – before he was

president.

 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

 

BOOKER:  And I can go on and on and on. 

 

And so he has been a foreign policy disaster in the Middle East, somebody

who said he was going to detangle himself from the Middle East, moving more

troops there right now, somebody who said he was going to defeat ISIS, and

tear them up by the roots, now has put us in a worse position to prevent

their resurgence. 

 

There are so many problems under this president because of his inability to

have a strategy to conduct foreign policy.

 

And as a guy who`s visited this region, Chris, who`s been meeting with our

generals and our leaders from Afghanistan to Baghdad, they will tell you

that this is going to have to be solved with a diplomatic solution. 

 

This president has shown no ability to do diplomacy, from North Korea to

the Middle East, and, frankly, has tore up one of the most important

diplomatic agreements we have had that enabled us to have a stronger

relationship with our allies in Europe and even with the Chinese and the

Russians, because now Iran is doing naval exercises with the Chinese and

the Russians. 

 

Talk about putting us in a weaker position. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, conflicting foreign position statements from this

president is nothing new. 

 

Here he is during the 2016 presidential campaign playing both hawk and

dove. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My foreign policy will

emphasize diplomacy, not destruction. 

 

I`m going to bomb the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them. 

 

You`re tired of the reckless foreign policy, the crazy wars that are never

won. 

 

I`m the most militaristic person in this room, believe me.  Our military is

going to be so big, so strong, so powerful, nobody`s going to mess with us.

 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  This president doesn`t do his homework.  I think we all agree on

that, Senator. 

 

And here`s the problem.  I`m not playing an elitist here.  I`m not an

elitist.  But it seems to me you ought to learn something you can`t in

business school, is, when you shoot a guy, you assassinate a top general

beloved by the Iranian people, so that the streets of Tehran are filled

with tens and hundreds of thousands of people weeping with emotion about

the loss of one of their heroes, it would be nice if our president knew he

was one of their heroes, and knew what he was igniting in the last week. 

 

Do you think he knew who the hell he was killing here, who he was killing? 

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he knew it?

 

BOOKER:  Look, this president is weak.  He`s weak of mind.  He has no

impulse control whatsoever.

 

I do thought think he has a mastery of the issues in this region enough to

conduct himself in a way that`s going to keep America safe.  So, again, I

do thought think this president, as we saw during his campaign, can even

name world leaders, not to mention understands a bigger strategy on how to

deal with the complex issues going on right now, from the Middle East,

frankly, to Asia. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I don`t think Wharton teaches you who to kill. 

 

Thank you so much, Cory Booker.  Good luck in the race.  It`s always great

to interview you, sir.  I really love meeting you on the trail out there. 

 

BOOKER:  Thank you. 

 

MATTHEWS:  And you have been great whenever we have interviewed you.  Thank

you so much. 

 

BOOKER:  Thank you, Chris.  Thank you. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Very few congressional Democrats are willing to take

the president`s word for why he ordered the assassination of General

Soleimani.  We still want to know, what was he up to? 

 

Did he want to ignite this cycle of terror?  Congress heard from several

administrations (sic) today, and they weren`t happy.  They weren`t

satisfied with what they heard, not even Mike Lee, the conservative from

Utah.  He thinks it was a joke, what they heard today.

 

We`re going to – we`re going to ask one of them next one, of the senators.

 

Back on HARDBALL. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  Last week, we took decisive action to stop a ruthless terrorist

from threatening American lives. 

 

In recent days, he was planning new attacks on American targets, but we

stopped him.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

 

That was President Trump again defending the killing of Iranian General

Soleimani. 

 

Members of Congress, U.S. congressmen, were briefed this afternoon the

intelligence that the administration says justified the assassination, as

the administration faces increased pressure for details about what prompted

this whole cycle of violence. 

 

The briefing by four top members of the president`s national security team,

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, CIA Director

Gina Haspel, comes amid objections that Congress was largely kept in the

dark. 

 

Of course it was.

 

In the hours before Iran`s retaliation last night, Pompeo and Esper offered

mixed messages publicly – publicly – about the urgency of last week`s

assassination. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  If you`re looking for imminence, you

need to look no further than the days that led up to the strike that was

taken against Soleimani. 

 

And then you, in addition to that, have what we could clearly see were

continuing efforts on behalf of this terrorist to build out a network of

campaign activities that were going to lead potentially to the death of

many more Americans. 

 

QUESTION:  Can you clarify?  The attack Soleimani was planning, was that

days or weeks away? 

 

MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY:  I think it`s more fair to say days,

for sure.  He was clearly on the battlefield.  He was conducting,

preparing, planning military operations.  He was a legitimate target, and

his time was due. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  He was at Baghdad Airport.

 

Anyway, for more, I`m joined by Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of

Texas, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, and Valerie Plame, a

former CIA covert operative and Democratic candidate for Congress out in

New Mexico. 

 

Thank you both for joining us. 

 

Congressman, what did you make of the briefing today?  Did you hear a

justification for stopping an imminent attack against the United States or

anything like that? 

 

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX):  No.

 

In general, the briefers were very vague.  They were evasive of the

questions posed by the members of Congress.  And there were at least two

failures there, number one, providing a sufficient legal justification for

taking the action that the president did, and then, secondly, demonstrating

that there was an imminent risk to U.S. personnel, a justifiable reason for

taking the action that they did in assassinating Soleimani. 

 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I used the example of a bank robber.  If somebody is

shot in the act of an armed robbery – bank robbery, that`s one thing. 

It`s awful, but it happens, and it`s appropriate sometimes. 

 

But if you go looking for somebody in his house or his apartment, and you

go searching for a guy you think robbed some banks, and you kill him in his

apartment, that`s a murder. 

 

So it sounds like it`s more like an assassination in this case. 

 

CASTRO:  Yes.

 

They certainly – they certainly didn`t provide ample justifications for

why they did things the way they did. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Valerie, let me ask you about this whole thing in terms of your

background in intelligence. 

 

And I don`t think they`re giving us any intelligence here.  According to

Mike Lee, the conservative Republican from Utah who stormed out of that

briefing in the SCIF today, he said, even in the SCIF, which is secure and

nobody else can hear what`s going on in there, they wouldn`t even tell them

why they did this, not really. 

 

VALERIE PLAME, FORMER CIA COVERT OPERATIVE:  Hi, Chris.  Thanks for having

me. 

 

Absolutely.  It sounds like there is absolutely no justification.  This

imminent – we have been lied into war before.  Unfortunately, I had a

front-row seat to that. 

 

And I know how that was approached.  And I see this all over again, where

the intelligence is so thin. 

 

And I want to point something out that I don`t think anyone`s really

noticed, which is, on one hand, you have Trump denigrating the intelligence

community if they do something that he does not deem in his favor.  On the

other hand, now we`re supposed to take everything they say as, trust us,

the intelligence community told us that we have imminent information about

an imminent threat.

 

You can`t have it both ways. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about what we should have known.

 

I will go back to the congressman on this. 

 

When some people die, we – you don`t know what the impact is going to be. 

When Princess Diana died, for example, there was a huge emotional

outpouring.  These kinds of – Elvis Presley in our culture. 

 

It turns out that this general he killed was a beloved hero of the Iranian

people, to the point where – look at the people we got pictures of now,

these enormous crowds coming out. 

 

There`s no American emotion in this case, but there`s a hell of a lot of

emotion on the other side. 

 

Should our leaders know what they`re doing when they kill somebody,

Congressman?

 

CASTRO:  Yes, they very much could have anticipated that Iranians would

react in this way, both the Iranian public, but also that the government

would strike back. 

 

And this speaks to a much larger issue, Chris, which is, the president has

had a very chaotic and erratic foreign policy, and especially with respect

to Iran.

 

You think about what he did, he replaced the Iran deal, the Iran agreement,

which was containing their nuclear program, replaced that with what is now

being called a maximum pressure campaign. 

 

Well, that foreign policy, if you can call it that, has failed, although

this administration considers air force bases – or bases being bombed by

the Iranians, it considers losing the respect and moral authority for the

United States around the world as some kind of success for its maximum

pressure campaign. 

 

But it`s clear at this point that the president`s strategy has failed. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Let me get back to Valerie on this question.

 

And it`s really a question of intelligence in the way we use it normally,

like knowing what you`re doing, having the information you need to proceed,

the ability to pass a driver`s test, just basic information. 

 

A president of the United States, man or woman, Democrat or Republican,

right-winger or left-winger, they have to know what`s going on when they do

something.  They have G2s.  They have got intelligence people that tell

them, if you do this, this is going to happen. 

 

Does this team look like they`re working that way, the ones in the White

House now?

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

PLAME:  I think that`s called a leading question. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

 

PLAME:  No, it`s complete chaos.  There is no foreign policy, per se.  He`s

– Trump is impulsive, impetuous, and the consequences are profound. 

 

And what I was really taken with today was – with the briefing of the

senators of the intelligence was how dismissive the White House, the

executive branch, is of the congressional branch.

 

I learned in eighth grade civics class there are three co-equal branches of

government.  And we have seen, in both – under both parties, Democrat and

Republican, in the White House, there`s been a gradual ceding of a power –

power toward the executive. 

 

And I think it`s time that Congress reassert itself, not – and rebalance

those three co-equal branches of government to steady the ship, because at

the helm right now, we have a very erratic leader. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much.

 

U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro, by the way, your brother ran a heroic,

historic campaign for president.  You should all be proud, as family

members and brothers, as a sibling. 

 

CASTRO:  Thank you. 

 

MATTHEWS:  And, Valerie, what can I say?  I have known you for a long time. 

You have served your country under incredible conditions.  You have risked

your neck overseas undercover.  I hope you do well in this race for

Congress. 

 

I can`t vote out there, but I`d be glad to be your character witness.  You

are the greatest.  Thank you so much.

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

PLAME:  Thank you, Chris. 

 

MATTHEWS:  It`s all true.  Don`t laugh.

 

Up next:  How much longer can Nancy Pelosi hold onto the articles of

impeachment before sending them to the Senate?  It`s getting a little rough

out there.  A growing number of Democratic senators, in fact, are already

saying it`s time to move this thing along to a trial. 

 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  There will be no haggling with the House over

Senate procedure.  We will not cede our authority to try this impeachment. 

The house Democrats` turn is over.  The Senate has made its decision. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

 

That was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell doing what he does,

needling Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the articles of impeachment which she

has yet to turn over to the Senate for the president`s trial in the Senate. 

It comes after McConnell announced yesterday he has the votes to set the

rules of the trial without Democratic support.  He`s got his 53 votes. 

That means Republican intend to postpone a decision on whether to call

witnesses in the trial well into the trial itself. 

 

Yet the trial can`t begin until Speaker Pelosi actually sends over the

articles physically and she made clear again today she wants to see

McConnell`s proposed rules before doing that. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  When we see the arena in which this will happen,

we will then be prepared to send articles, the pay-fors, and the managers. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, meanwhile several Senate Democrats are now saying publicly

that Pelosi would – should not want to send the articles – should not

wait, rather.  They want them over there now.  However, they`re also making

clear that they`ll continue to fight for witnesses under McConnell`s rule. 

Senator Chuck Schumer, for example, has promised repeated votes because any

member of the Senate can simply say I move we bring for these witnesses in. 

We bring witnesses in, the ones that matter like John Bolton.

 

And Joe Manchin, the moderate Democrat said the trial would be a sham

without these witnesses. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV):  I would say to Mitch McConnell say, majority

leader, don`t you think if you`ve got a person with firsthand knowledge,

how can you have a trial without witnesses or without evidence?  I want

witnesses to come and I want evidence to be produced.  If not, then it`s

just basically truly a sham of a trial. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  A sham of a trial. 

 

Amid all this, Senate Republicans appear ready to use any excuse to

suppress new evidence from being presented at Trump`s trial in the Senate. 

That`s next on HARDBALL.

 

Stick with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

 

Senate Republicans are putting off a decision on witnesses at the

president`s trial.  But doing so despite the news that former national

security adviser, there he is, John Bolton, is willing to testify under

subpoena.  And as we`ve seen several Republicans have already made clear

they`ll use any excuse to suppress the new evidence. 

 

Here`s Lindsey Graham, for example, just yesterday. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REPORTER:  Do you think hearing from John Bolton would be helpful to the

president?

 

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  I`m not going to add anything to the record. 

They had a chance to call John Bolton in the House.  They chose not to and

I don`t intend with my vote to reward them for doing this. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they`re now saying they`re unwilling to hear from

firsthand witnesses like Bolton but the House Republicans had spent the

last three months complaining about hearsay evidence from what they claimed

were secondhand sources. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL):  It`s hearsay.  Somebody told somebody told

somebody else that created some concern about the president`s conduct. 

 

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA):  No impeachment should ever proceed on the basis

of hearsay and conjecture and speculation. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The impeachment articles rely almost exclusively on

hearsay. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  An attempt to undo the 2016 election based on hearsay. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In record speed, this majority has assembled hearsay. 

 

REP. TOM COLE (R-OK):  They are based on hearsay. 

 

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA):  The Democrats` case is based on secondhand

opinions and hearsay. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MATTHEWS:  I`m now joined by U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch, Democrat from

Florida, former Congressman David Jolly as well, who`s left the Republican

Party. 

 

Congressman Deutch, it takes four Republicans to join the 47 Democratic

senators to get these witnesses before the Senate trial.  What are the

chances? 

 

REP. TED DEUTCH (D-FL):  Well, I don`t understand why the Senate

Republicans are so opposed to getting to the truth.  Look, there is an

abundance of direct evidence that let us to impeach the president of the

United States for abusing his power for personal again.  But the fact is,

so many of these direct witnesses didn`t appear because the president

banned them, barred them from doing it, said you can`t come. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

 

DEUTCH:  That`s why we – that`s why the second count is obstruction of

Congress.  The only reason not to call these witnesses and to hear from

them is because you`re afraid of what you can say.  That`s the only

conclusion that we can draw here. 

 

MATTHEWS:  David, do you think you can shame the Republicans, at least four

of them, in joining Democratic senators so we have these witnesses? 

Because what the congressman just said is true. 

 

But shame doesn`t seem to matter.  The Republicans say, I don`t care what

you`re saying.  I`m sticking with the president.  That`s their answer on

everything.  I don`t care what you say. 

 

It`s not about values.  It`s about my loyalty to the president.  I am a

lemming.  I will do what I`m told. 

 

FORMER REP. DAVID JOLLY (R-FL):  It is about loyalty or I would even say

fealty to Donald Trump.  But I think it`s actually more selfish and even

smaller if you will.  It`s covering up for themselves. 

 

Look, the House arguments about hearsay, though, they were wrong, because

as Ted said, the impeachment was based on witnesses who were on the call,

based on a record of facts.  The fact is that they were saying what allowed

them to take the vote they knew they wanted to take. 

 

Senate Republicans, sure, they`re covering for Trump.  But they`re covering

for themselves.  They don`t want witnesses because they don`t want all this

evidence to be on display, have compelling testimony of witnesses and then

take the vote to acquit, which they already know they`re going to do. 

 

And, Chris, the foolishness of Republicans in this moment is that it would

be so easy to say to the American people, we`re going to have a fair trial

and we are going to have witnesses and 71 percent of the country wants a

fair trial with witnesses.  So, we`re going to do that. 

 

And in the end, through the partisan lens, which our Founders knew we may

evaluate this case, we are likely going to vote to acquit the president, we

know that.  But you can do that following a fair trial.  It would be so

easy to do that.  But they are intimidated by the president and, obviously,

won`t do that. 

 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Congressman Deutch, looks like the president has a plan

here, settled things with the Iranians for a short term, maybe couple of

days, couple of weeks.  But he gives the State of the Union the day after

the Iowa caucuses and he comes prancing into the floor of the House where

you work everyday, and says, I`ve been exonerated by the U.S. Senate. 

That`s the plan. 

 

Apparently, he wants it all over by the State of the Union day, the day

after the Iowa caucuses, on the fourth of February.  The president gets a

standing O from the Republican side of the aisle and some Democrats and

he`s a hero.  He`s Julius Caesar. 

 

I mean, this is the plan.  They`re going to get away with it. 

 

DEUTCH:  No, of course not.  Look, remember, regardless of what happens,

Chris, the president of the United States is going to appear before the

country as a president who was impeached by the House of Representatives. 

And I don`t believe that rushing through – trying to ram this through, as

McConnell is trying to do, trying to show that his devotion is first and

foremost to the president rather than to the Constitution is going to work,

as Dave just said. 

 

The overwhelming majority of people in this country believe there should be

a fair trial.  They want witnesses.  They want evidence put on.  As the

Senate weighs the decision of whether to remove this president from office

for abusing his power, for soliciting involvement of a foreign government

in our elections. 

 

All of that is what everyone knows.  The pressure, I think, will only

increase on the Republican senators to recognize that they`re actually –

they may think they`re helping Donald Trump.  They`re doing an enormous

disservice, obviously, to the country, but they`re going to wind up hurting

themselves as well. 

 

MATTHEWS: Well, the choir is with you, congressman.  The people outside the

church don`t want to hear this stuff.  They`re walking past the church. 

 

Thank you so much, Congressman Ted Deutch, as always. 

 

DEUTCH:  Thanks.

 

MATTHEWS:  David Jolly as always.

 

Up next, my question for President Trump, Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence, I`ve

got a big one for these guys, this trio. 

 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MATTHEWS:  It`s hard to imagine it`s possible to make our relations with

Iran worse but President Trump, Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo have managed to

do just that. 

 

It was one thing to subvert their elected Democratic government back in

1953 and give them a quarter century of the shah.  But even then, after the

revolution of 1979, that brought the ayatollah to power, we got one report

after another of how the people of Iran have retained their goodwill toward

us, the people. 

 

Until very recently, the people in Iran were divided toward their own

government.  Demonstrations in cities large and small were calling for an

end to the Islamic Republic`s government and downfall of its leaders. 

Well, those people in the streets there now protesting us. 

 

So, how did Trump get the people of Iran hating us again?  He assassinated

one of the country`s most beloved heroes and threatens to destroy the

country`s cultural sites. 

 

Now, think about what that means.  Imagine telling the Egyptians we`re

going to destroy the pyramids, telling the French we`re going to destroy

the Eiffel Tower, or the Italians, we`re going to destroy the Coliseum or

someone telling us we`re going to destroy the Statue of Liberty. 

 

Threatening to destroy a country`s heritage isn`t about one government

shouting threats to another government.  It`s about an enemy shouting

threats to a people.  In this case, the Persian people, whose culture goes

back thousands of years. 

 

My question for the president, the vice president and the secretary of

state, why do you want to stir up the hatred of the Iranian people?  What

is it that makes you want them enraged at U.S., at us? 

 

Again, I`m not talking about the country`s current government, the

ayatollah and the rest.  Why are you targeting the country`s soul?  Why do

you want them to hate us and them us hate them?  What`s with the blood war

you`re trying to start? 

 

I don`t get it.  I see those thousands of Iranians in the streets right

now, is anyone in America – is anyone in America out on our streets? 

Nobody.  There`s not a single American out on the streets calling for blood

with Iran.  None of us. 

 

No, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President and Mr. Pompeo, the people who got

Iran to the boiling point at this point are you three. 

 

And 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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