Elizabeth Holtzman, Dave Weigel
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: MSNBC's continuing coverage of the impeachment trial. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Good evening from New York, I'm Chris Hayes. Just a few hours ago, President Donald Trump's lawyers wrapped up their defense to the President in his impeachment trial. And it was a mix of really the kind of arguments you'd expect. There were some recognizable legal arguments made in the language of law. Most of which were pretty unconvincing or wrong or poorly grounded, but they were, to their credit, legal arguments nonetheless.
And then there was also just a whole bunch of kind of Sean Hannity outtakes that were completely unrelated to the impeachment, touting the economy under President Trump, hammering the FBI for investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, pushing a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine systematically interfered in the 2016 election.
The big question, though that now hangs over the trial is whether or not the Senate will vote to call witnesses, in particular, former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton. Now, I should be clear here. The reason this hangs over the trial is because going into the trial after the House voted to impeach, the partisan incentives for Republicans are always so powerful.
I mean, they have the majority. The threshold for conviction and removal of the President is so high. It's never been done in American history. And so the overwhelming case built by the House managers was, I think it's fair to say, never going to be enough to get the needed votes from Republicans.
That is why we now find ourselves stuck on this procedural question. Is there some testimony that might exist in the world? For instance, Oh, I don't know, a stalwart 40-year conservative Republican saying the president personally told him the U.K. pressure was extortion. That would then dislodge the unbelievable pressure the Republican senators are under, just stick with the President.
That is why we are debating this right now. It's not because the case is not strong. It is. But Republicans or enough Republicans are never going to be moved by the House's case. So now everything hinges on this question. What would it take to break Republicans away from the president on just procedural vote?
And now, of course, looming all over this, the contents of John Bolton's book manuscript, apparently sitting in the White House the last month, and they're now leaking out. And the excerpts or the characterizations of the contents that we've gotten sound pretty devastating. I mean, for all the insanity you're seeing on Trump T.V. to discredit John Bolton as the Republican tool of the left, it is, of course, worth remembering this guy served under every Republican president since Ronald Reagan.
And recently he could not get confirmed as George W. Bush's U.N. Ambassador because he was so despised by Senate Democrats. And now he's being thrown under the bus because he's written this book that reportedly says the President Trump just came out and admitted it, that he just came out and told him to his face back in August that yes, he wanted to continue freezing military aid to Ukraine until officials there help with investigations into the Biden's, quid pro quo.
Last night, Trump's former chief of staff John Kelly, who of course spend a lot of time in the White House, knows the president well, spent a lot of time around him, told the crowd in Florida that he believes John Bolton and that he supports calling witnesses. Fancy that. With this news, there are discernable cracks, I will say, in the Republican wall.
The Republican caucus is clearly on the defensive about all this. Trump ally, for example, Senator Lindsey Graham said he's supporting letting the Senate view Bolton's book manuscript in a classified setting. It's kind of funny because it's going to be out in the public in a few months. Some moderate Republicans or so-called moderate Republicans have been much more receptive to full-on witness testimony.
Maines' Senator Susan Collins said this morning, it's very likely she will vote to hear witnesses. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski says she wants to hear Bolton's account. Utah Senator Mitt Romney told reporters today, I want to hear from John Bolton. So now this evening, The Wall Street Journal and several other outlets are reporting that in a private Republican caucus meeting tonight, that Senator -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his caucus that right now he does not have the votes to block impeachment witnesses.
Joining me now for more on where things stand on this in the Senate, Carol Lee, NBC News Correspondent, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for The Washington Post. Carol, I'll begin with you. A lot of conflicting reports and conflicting characterizations, I think, in the kind of (INAUDIBLE) way of what went on in that meeting. What's your reporting indicate about where things stand?
CAROL LEE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, our understanding and our whole team's understanding is that it's -- they don't have the votes for now. That basically you don't have a number of majority that it says no witnesses. And so you have a number of people who are senators who are still on the fence. And there's this push to try to say, well, we'll take a -- we want to -- what you're hearing people say is now is you know, we want to hear that question and answer a portion of this trial, and then maybe we'll get to vote.
So I think the piece to underscore is that it's for now. And at the same time, you know, each day that goes by, it potentially gets harder depending on what new things come out, new revelations, as we've seen. And potentially each day that goes by, it might get a little easier if nothing else comes out and this sort of pressure begins to wane a little bit on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
But as of right now, he's in a tough spot, and clearly doesn't have the votes that he would like to have. But that's not because he has a bunch of hard nose. It's more that he has some people who are not quite sure yet.
HAYES: Robert, what's your reporting suggest?
ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: I was down by the Senate trains in the basement of the Capitol and a senator pulled me aside, a Republican, after the meeting, and he said, "Mitch wants this done." And the whole take out, the readout of this meeting is that yes, McConnell said to his members, he doesn't have the votes to prevent witnesses from coming before this trial. But it really was politically, based in my conversations with GOP senators, speak now or forever hold your peace moment for Senate Republicans.
McConnell is essentially saying to the Republicans, if you want witnesses, you better speak out now publicly. He warned against it. In a way, he said it's going to cause a fallout. It's going to cause a projected witness fight, and he wants to move by the end of this week to acquit the president if at all possible without witnesses. But if he's going to have a fight, he wants to know about the fight as soon as possible.
HAYES: I thought this was an interesting reporting Carol from the Wall Street Journal. And I should say that Martha McSally's office has already taken some issue with this characterization, but I'll read it. Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina who face competitive races in the fall, address their colleagues in the meeting, people familiar with the matter said. Gardner said, a longer trial would lead to more Democratic attacks, according the spokesman.
Meaning, basically, like let's get this done. We're already sort of halfway in on the cover-up, we might as well just finish it as soon as possible.
LEE: Well, and you know, they're not the only ones that feel that way. The White House feels that way. You know, there's -- and you saw that just in the difference in the amount of time the President's legal team and the House -- the House members spent on their allotted time. They didn't use it in the -- to the same extent. And that's been part because they just really want to move this along and there's a lot of pressure coming in for the White House.
There's also, you know, in the last couple days been some tensions between the White House and Republicans as have been noted because they felt blindsided by the Bolton book, which the White House had for 30 days. And there was some feeling that they should have known about that.
And so in part you want to -- there's a desire to get this done because they don't know what else is coming. It seems like every week, there's something new. And not something small, it's something pretty significant.
HAYES: Robert, I know McConnell's method pretty well. And it's been clear from the beginning. He did this in the ACA which is just keep everyone together day after day after day, and then put them in a position of maximum pressure. He tried that with the ACA vote and it ultimately failed in the wee hours of the morning. But it was procedural vote, procedural vote, stay with us, stay with us, stay with us, stay with us.
He's clearly doing that here. You got those arguments in the first day of the trial saying well, it's not really a witness vote. Now, it's just a question about whether we have witnesses now or later. Clearly, he thinks the closer they drive to the cliff, the harder it gets for the Republicans that might want to go over -- to go over it.
COSTA: McConnell ally put it like this to me. They said, what mattered tonight is what McConnell didn't say. He didn't lean into supporting witnesses all. He said he didn't have the votes, but he didn't say let's have a vote on witnesses. So he's putting enormous pressure on Senator Romney and others who want witnesses to consolidate, to coalesce around 51 senators and get a group together.
But he's also signaling to them that that would be a break from the leadership because he's not leaning into that idea.
HAYES: All right, Carol Lee and Robert Costa, thank you both for sharing that reporting. That was illuminating. It's been a confusing sort of set of reports coming out of the meeting. Joining me now, one of the House managers who presented the case against President Trump last week, Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
And as many people have pointed out in the sort of normal trial, at least a criminal trial, the prosecution goes, the defense goes, the prosecution then has this kind of rebuttal or redirect. They can come back afterwards. You don't have that, and so, I'm just curious. You sat there over the last few days. Were there points that you were sitting there wanting to jump up and rebut?
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Well, there were several misrepresentations that were made throughout the presentation by the President's defenders. But most significantly, the case that we presented is powerful and straightforward. The facts are largely uncontested and the evidence is overwhelming. And they did not address the central allegation that is at the heart of our abuse of power article of impeachment which is the president improperly solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election as part of his effort to cheat.
They raised a whole bunch of other issues but never dealt with that central allegation because there is no defense to the indefensible.
HAYES: I've seen a number of Republicans just in the last maybe 24 hours. I think John Cornyn is one of them. A few people in the House who are on the Presidents you know, I don't know, T.V. team or whatever, basically saying, look, even if what Bolton says is true, even if stipulating the president said this that it was a quid pro quo, still not impeachable because of the arguments that say Alan Dershowitz made. Have you noticed a shift in the argumentation? And what's your response to that line of reasoning?
JEFFRIES: Well, I think that line of reasoning strikes at the very heart and undermines our democracy, our Constitution, who we are as a republic, the fact that the rule of law is preeminent, and that no one is above the law, including the President of the United States of America.
And essentially, if you were to adopt that argument that this President could essentially solicit that foreign interference while at the same time withholding the $391 million in military aid without justification as part of his effort to pressure the Ukrainian government to target and American citizen, and nothing is wrong with that, he cannot be held accountable, that essentially would unravel the very fabric of our democracy.
So I cannot believe that there are a majority of senators on the Republican side of the aisle who accept that outrageous proposition.
HAYES: And there was an interesting moment today in the trial. Jay Sekulow took some time to talk about Bolton's book. He called it unsourced, which was a little weird because we know the sources, a guy named John Bolton. But Lawrence Tribe had this observation about Sekulow going into this territory.
Tribe said, Sekulow seems unaware he is now waving whatever executive privilege might have shielded Bolton's account of his interactions with Trump, and he's strengthen the case for subpoenaing Bolton right away. Did you think that Sekulow's discussion of the Bolton book helps your case?
JEFFRIES: Certainly it does. First of all, the executive privilege argument that the President's team has talked about on the floor of the Senate is something that they never have actually raised in their correspondence with us or in court. So, it's a phony argument. They try to hide behind it, but they've actually never asserted it.
And to the extent that they may, in the future try to assert it as it relates to John Bolton, certainly, I think talking about it on the floor in the manner that was done today would erode any credibility to asserting that privilege. But the most important point is that the American people deserve a fair trial. A fair trial involves witnesses, it involves documents, it involves evidence. It should involve the testimony of John Bolton.
And the President's team spent three days telling us that cross-examination is the greatest tool to uncover the truth ever invented in American jurisprudence. Most of us as lawyers would agree with that proposition. But the logical extension of that point is if you think that John Bolton is not telling the truth, he should come before the Senate as a witness, he'll be subjected to cross-examination by the president's defenders, and we could present the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to the American people, and let the chips fall where they may.
HAYES: All right, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, of course, one of the impeachment managers who has been arguing the case. Thank you very much.
JEFFRIES: Thanks, Chris.
HAYES: I want to bring in now one of the 100 Senate jurors who has heard the dozens of hours of arguments over the last week, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. Let me start with this question. If you had to name the best argument the president's lawyers made over the last three or four days, what would it be?
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): It's hard to sort that out because they made a dozen arguments or more. I think they were trying to build as many off-ramps as they could away from the real question that Congressman Jeffries just described. And it was almost like, you know, take it or leave it, we've got -- we've got 15 different arguments for you. If anyone of them feels good to you, go ahead and use it. Just whatever you do, don't look at the core evidence in the middle of this case.
I mean, if there's one core piece of evidence in the middle of this case, it's that the President's agent Rudy Giuliani and one of his officials appointed to the Ukraine problem, tried to get into President Zelensky's talking points, the promise about investigating the Biden's.
WHITEHOUSE: They never even address that critical fact. If there's one center-point fact in this whole case, that's it. Instead, they said, Giuliani is irrelevant. He's a distraction. No, he's the president central agent in this. Bolton is inadmissible and he's just trying to sell his book. The only reason the book might be inadmissible is because Bolton is available to testify for Pete's sake. So bring him in, or the book is second-best evidence and that's what you're stuck with.
But you -- these arguments just turn on themselves and they turned and it was really a lot of legal mumbo jumbo nonsense, and at the end of the day, never addressed what Congressman Jeffries just described, which is the President's push to get a private citizen investigated by a foreign country so he could weaponize that information in his campaign. They never addressed that.
HAYES: You just mentioned John Bolton who of course looms all -- over all this. We began tonight's show with a discussion of the sort of where things are on the Republican caucus. Obviously, you're not in that meeting. But I wonder what the discussions are on the -- on the Democratic side about what exactly happens next year. You got two days of questions, how you're preparing for that, how you're gaming out what procedural votes might come after?
WHITEHOUSE: Well, let me first -- so I was not in the Republican meeting, but I was in the hallway outside as the Republican senators streamed out to go to that meeting on which should have been their highest happy hour of this whole impeachment episode, as the President's defenders finished up with a great crescendo of showing, you know, what a great guy he was and what a terrible case the Democrats had.
There was none of that. This was not a happy crowd of people. They had been apparently deeply misled by the White House, which is not a good thing. Bolton is hanging out there all over this with relevant testimony that it's really hard to explain why you don't want to hear. They are divided within their caucus. So it was a very, very somber and unhappy group of faces walking down that hallway into that room. Not what you would expect.
HAYES: I just -- I just keep thinking of gaming this out. And I'm curious what your read on this. I mean, if they vote for no witnesses on Friday, if McConnell is able to whip the votes, and then they acquit the president. You know, and then, I don't know, a month from now the excerpt starts to leak of the book and --
WHITEHOUSE: Yes, exactly.
HAYES: I mean, I guess they're going to be OK with that. That's just -- they've kind of bought their ticket, they're going to take the ride, but it's a wild scenario to consider.
WHITEHOUSE: There's really no good outcome for them. They may evade the immediate wrath of McConnell, and the big donors, and President Trump, but they jumped out of that frying pan, and they're now into the very public fire over months and months and months and months about the information on this scheme continuing to come pouring out. From Bolton, from Giuliani, from other sources that are in litigation right now.
There's a whole array of ways in which they are going to look in November at the election time back at this interim period, and be facing an awful lot of voters who said, now wait a minute, you knew this evidence was out there and you didn't bother to even bring it in and look at it before you voted? How is that fair? And I don't think that's the question they can answer right now. So it's a tough, tough, tough position that they're in deservedly, by the way.
HAYES: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, thank you so much for making time tonight.
WHITEHOUSE: You bet.
HAYES: Next, more on what we're learning about the jumbled manuscript from the reporter who broke that story and the ongoing political shockwaves that book is causing in two minutes.
HAYES: A MacGuffin has entered the plot of this tale of the impeachment of the president of -- the trial of President Donald Trump, a twist, an unknown thing, the manuscript locked in a vault somewhere of former National Security Advisor John Bolton's forthcoming book. A copy of it is sitting as I speak to you now in the White House, also in some publisher's office, also presumably on John Bolton's computer in the cloud, maybe too, I don't know.
This manuscript appears to have extremely important and incriminating evidence against the President of the United States who is currently under trial. Evidence that goes to the very heart of the President's motivations for withholding nearly $400 million in security system so Ukraine. Evidence none of us can see in the midst of this impeachment trial unless there are 51 votes in the Senate to hear it from the man who wrote it.
Clearly, this plot twist to shake and up the Republican side. Joining me now with more Mike Schmidt who is one of the New York Times reporters who broke the first explosive story on the Bolton manuscript followed by another story just yesterday. Michael, what is the status now of this document and how many people have read it or know about it?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, we don't really know. We know that it went to the White House at the end of December for a 30-day review for classified information. And basically, the White has had that period of time to say, hey, there are certain things here that we don't think should come out because they could damage national security.
But based on the understanding between Bolton's lawyer Chuck Cooper and the White House, that was the only thing they were supposed to be looking for. That Bolton was not supposed to be review for executive privilege for other things. It was just to be for classified information. That's because they're -- they had -- they made this arrangement but they're trying to get the book published by the middle of March. And they wanted to go through the correct channels, the proper channels, the ones that they believe government officials should go through before publishing a book.
And that's the process that started at the end of last year. It's been going on. We do not know the status of it. We do know that in the weeks since the White House received the book, the President and his aides have ramped up their attacks on Bolton and their efforts to stop him from testifying. And that's sort of where we are.
HAYES: Have you -- have you -- maybe you've answered this question before. Have you read the pages in question?
SCHMIDT: We went as far as we could in the newspaper and how we described what we learned about the manuscript of this book. Look, it's been something very, very difficult to report on. It's sort of been the central question of impeachment from the beginning. What is it that Bolton will say? He signaled that he did want to talk. He signaled that there was a story to tell. But we didn't know exactly what that story was. And we obviously still don't have the full story.
SCHMIDT: But we now have some view into it, some idea. And it takes on the central contention of the President's impeachment defense that the aid was not linked to the investigation.
HAYES: Final question. I thought it was -- it was striking and notable to me this story. You done this great reporting you broke the stories about it, the sort of characterizations of really remarkable things for Bolton to say. I mean, worrying about the president putting the foreign leader's interests over the American interest, of essentially doing the -- cutting them favors over and above the Ukraine story.
I found it remarkable that John Kelly who was the chief of staff of the President last night says, if John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton. Every single time I was with him, he gave the President the unvarnished truth. That's a -- that's a striking thing for a guy who worked for the President in the Oval Office for months to say.
SCHMIDT: Yes. I think what we're seeing here is that the views that Bolton has our views that other people within the cabinet share, at least according to what he's going to be putting in this book that we reported today about a conversation he had with the Attorney General Barr in which Bolton expressed some concerns that he had about the way that Trump was dealing with foreign countries on investigations.
And the book, as we reported, says that Barr agreed with him on something like that. And, you know, Barr has been one of the President's chief allies and one of his greatest defenders in his time since attorney general. So that gave us a peek into what other folks around the president who work with him on a daily basis, who worked directly for him may have to say about how they actually view the way he's conducted himself as President.
HAYES: Yes. Well said. Mike Schmidt, thank you so much for making time tonight. I want to now bring in Fordham Law Professor John Shugerman, former New York Congressman Elizabeth Holtzman, author of the book The Case for Impeaching Trump, and Vox Editor at Large Ezra Klein, author of the new book Out Today, which is excellent, which we just discussed on my podcast Why Is This Happening? It's called why we're polarized which is quite germane to what's going on today.
I want to start on the Kelly thing, just because -- I mean, it's not that surprising but it also is striking. I thought of the comedy series Veep in which there's this character Jonah who's like this like caricatured, odious candidate who is incredibly odious in public but even worse in private, and his staffers are the ones who are most devoted to making sure he doesn't win because -- like, Kelly presumably knows what he's doing, Ezra, when he comes out and makes this public comment.
EZRA KLEIN, EDITOR AT LARGE, VOX: The secret of reporting on the Trump administration has always been the absolute worst things you hear about Donald Trump do not come from Democrats, they come from his own staffers. That has always been the case. It has been the case from day one of the presidency.
But I just want to step back for a minute. I've been on MSNBC to talk about politics hundreds of times maybe. This is the single craziest or at least one of the crazy things I have ever seen. So you have here a situation where somebody with direct knowledge of the situation under trial in the impeachment trial says that they would like to come forward and testify. They said that a little while ago when nothing happened. Somehow their book leaked. I don't know-how. Mike Schmidt is not saying that, but somehow it got out.
And the Republicans are meeting to decide if it is possible for them to not hear more about what happened. And we are sitting here pretending -- it is like reality is rushing. We're sitting here pretending there's something normal about what is going on. This is a completely crazy way for political system to work.
JED SHUGERMAN, PROFESSOR, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW: Just to add to that, first of all, I mean, it's as crazy as this for John Kelly to be a pivotal figure here. It's crazier that crazy John Bolton is the ones turning --
SHUGERMAN: And it's even crazier that they're saying John Bolton is the deep state lefty bureaucrat when he is the person that Republicans have relied on from the -- from Afghanistan and Iraq, all the way to the president to be the person to shake up what they perceived the deep state. That's one point.
Historically, this is a repeat of what happened in Watergate. Alexander Butterworth, John Dean, these are people who were inside the Nixon White House, and there's a tipping point at which they realize there is criminal investigation happening and they have to save themselves and made deals. So we've seen this before.
HAYES: That's clearly the -- I mean, the worry here, right? If you're McConnell or Trump, and you're gaining this out, and even if you're Martha McSally, you're like a marginal member of the Senate is like, just keep it under wraps. Like don't start pulling the threads. Lord knows where that ends up.
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN OF NEW YORK: Well, that's the real danger. They thought they had the whole impeachment in the package with a nice cover, nice wrapping, and a bow on it.
HAYES: That's right.
HOLTZMAN: The minute you have a witness here, then it blows the whole thing up. It's no longer under their control. Who knows what John Bolton will say not just about Ukraine, and not just about doing favors for autocrats, but what's he getting for the -- for the favors? Who knows what Bolton will talk about? And that's the danger for them. It's just like Pandora's box, you cannot tell.
HAYES: What's striking about this too, Ezra, and this sort of intersects with your quite excellent book which is out today, Why We're Polarized. It's amazing to watch them all turn on a dime to be like John Bolton is -- I mean, John Bolton is --
KLEIN: Who? John Bolton who?
HAYES: Yes. John Bolton is a made man. I mean, John Bolton has been in the fight in the trenches, pawning libs for 40 years, right? Like that guy is as right-wing as they come. He is a disruptor. He couldn't get Senate confirmed by the Senate Democrats. He's been the engineer of multiple foreign policy cataclysmic disasters. He hates liberals. He leaves to destroy them. He relishes it. And now, he of all people, at the flip of a switch, because the dividing line in the modern Republican Party is are you with Trump or against Trump is being excommunicated.
KLEIN: There's a study I talked about in the book, I think is very relevant here. Donald Trump, because he takes positions rhetorically on all sides of every issue because he just rips, he creates this possibility to see is conservatism itself, is believing conservatism an actual anchor in what you believe. So there's a study done where they gave people a policy issue, and then gave them either Donald Trump's liberal position on it when you said something liberal about it, or the conservative thing he said about it, And because he says so many things, people believe it.
And so the question of this study was, is being truly conservative, is saying you're a very strong conservative, your movement-oriented, a protection against just being in the wings of Donald Trump. And the answer was exactly the opposite. The more conservative you are, the more you're willing to follow Trump even down a liberal road. And the thing that that shows you and that you're seeing here, too, is it is a reasoning backwards from what your party leadership wants from you, not a forward from your values or ideology into your party.
HAYES: And that's why -- the one complicating factor in all this, though, is that Bolton also has relationships with those Republican senators, right? So I think part of the reason there's any question here is because John Bolton and Mitt Romney go way back, John Bolton and Lamar Alexander go way back. I mean, John Bolton has relationships there, and I got to think that those means something in this current context.
HOLTZMAN: Well, he's got some credibility with them, of course. But the other thing the senators have to worry about is what's going to come out if they don't hear him because we still we'll have Lev Parnas and those other people, and we still may have, who knows what's going on with Rudy Giuliani himself -- and, and, and.
So, there is a big problem.
But it is like Watergate. We have the plumbers. We have the John Dean potentiality. There is a lot of similarities.
HAYES: I want you guys to stay here. Jed Shugerman, Elizabeth Holtzman, stick around.
I want to talk about why Republicans are afraid of Bolton's testimony, and also what McConnell is probably telling his caucus if I had to game it out. We'll be right back.
HAYES: The Republicans' fundamental problem is that President Donald Trump is guilty of what he is accused of, that all the evidence has been compiled shows that, and that yet more evidence is almost certain to show that even more indisputably, particularly in the person of a respected lifelong right wing Republican conservative like former national security adviser John Bolton. He said he's willing to go under oath and testify. Apparently, according to his new manuscript, he's prepared to say the president told me it was a quid pro quo more or less.
The problem for Republicans is voting to have John Bolton testify and having him say that will then make their obvious task of acquitting him more difficult. That's the conundrum they're in.
Still with me Judge Shugerman, Liz Holtzman, and Ezra Klein.
Jed, I mean, purely from a descriptive standpoint, right, it was interesting to me to see that reporting at The Wall Street Journal that the most imperiled senators -- Cory Gardner, Martha McSally -- they're the ones who are like don't vote for witnesses, don't open the can of worms, don't drag this out. We don't want to know anything more. Like, let's get this done and move on with our lives.
SHUGERMAN: I think they're panicked, but they're not gaming this out. And if they understand -- and I think it has to be clear -- they would prefer if they understood what else could happen outside the halls of the Senate, they would prefer for the Senate to control this process. What else could happen?
The House could come back in February, immediately, when this trial doesn't happen in the senate, they could come back and impeach and subpoena Bolton and many others. Now that's one bad alternative.
An even worse alternative is the New York State prosecutors, like Cy Vance in Manhattan, could indict Giuliani tomorrow for a clear -- and it's a combination of conspiracy law -- it's federal felony of bribery plus the New York State felony of extortion, because those two laws are little different, but cover the same kind of behavior, plus conspiracy law means that they could have a trial in New York.
Now, it couldn't happen tomorrow, because they'd subpoena and it would have to go through courts, but would they prefer to have a Senate trial that they control all the rules of...
HAYES: That's an interesting argument.
SHUGERMAN: Or have it be controlled by New York Democrats or House Democrats in the summer or the fall of 2020.
HOLTZMAN: But they're in a tough spot, because you use the word they control what happens in the Senate. My contention is, the minute they bring in one witness, they really lose control.
HAYES: That's the thing, yes.
HOLTZMAN: Because they don't know what Bolton is going to say. And Bolton may go way beyond just the quid pro quo and put him into deeper trouble.
HAYES: This is a good point.
HOLTZMAN: The Democrats have to be asking -- the minute they have witnesses, the minute they open this up, they lose control potentially.
KLEIN: Everything about this whole thing makes me feel crazy. We are not waiting to find out from John Bolton if Donald Trump did what he's accused of doing.
HAYES: No, we all know it.
KLEIN: Donald Trump release a call record in which he said all the things in his own voice and then cameras were turned on in front of him and he said it again. And then people came in front of the House and they testified that he did this as well.
And, so, I do think that one of the problems right now is we are pretending, we are to some degree pretending that there is some kind of information lurking in the system that will make Republican senators do their job, and there is not a way this political system works, or the impeachment process, works without a Republican Party that wants to put down its partisan incentives and act as constitutional protectors, at least for a minute. There's no information that can make them do their jobs if they don't want to do that.
HAYES: Except the one thing -- I would say that's basically the truth, right? Like, the goal here is to get to acquittal. The only thing I'll say is that to me, if you are strategy this from the Democratic standpoint, it's the inverse of McConnell. McConnell is just stay with me and then the moment comes, and Democrats' goal is just to never have the moment come, right. I mean, the longer the case is open, right, you live -- you kind of live to fight another day. You don't know what Bolton says. You don't know what comes after that. Things get unpredictable.
KLEIN: I agree, you should do it.
HOLTZMAN: But the issue isn't only the Republican senators, the issue is the American public. As we saw in Watergate, that turned people around.
I'm not saying the senators will move to impeachment.
HOLTZMAN: But who knows what's going to come out and the consequences of that, that's the danger.
HAYES: Although, the one -- yes, that I agree with in terms of the substance. So one thing that I will say is that, again, if I were asked to give political advise to the Republicans like I think Mitch McConnell is telling his caucus, like Corey Gardener, you are not going to lose in November because you voted no on witnesses, like that's not going to be the thing that kills you. What is going to kill you is if the Republican Party goes down, right, like we are going to rise or sink -- we are going to rise or fall together, and so you might as well all just stay lashed to each other, which I think is the political argument.
SHUGERMAN: Well, there is a political argument on both sides, which is I think is the same argument, we'd rather have all the dirt air out in February and March.
HAYES: That's a good point.
SHUGERMAN: It is a win-win. I mean, if the Democrats should look at this regardless of who you support in this election, that is a lot like the Jeremiah Wright Obama situation. It was much better that that came out in April of 2008 than if it happened in October.
And, so, the Democrats...
HAYES: You are talking about Hunter Biden/Burisma.
SHUGERMAN: Biden -- let's just be clear, what Hunter Biden was engaged with, it still may have been a bad faith extortion bribery conspiracy to investigate just him with foreign investigators.
SHUGERMAN: But that's still an underlying problem for the fall of 2020. You'd rather see what cards they have, make them play their cards now, and at least engage, inoculate, and if something else comes out, at least Democratic voters can go and either decide on...
HAYES: You are saying have a fight about -- although it strikes me that Schumer made this point about the thing that's weird about this idea of a witness trade, which Schumer kept saying is, you guys control the body. You've got the majority. Why are you trading with us? Call whoever the hell you want to call.
KLEIN: Right, they can subpoena witnesses any day they want.
HAYES: You, you got them. Who are you bargaining with here?
HOLTZMAN: But the other thing they have to be concerned about is not just getting Bolton. We have to make sure we get his notes.
HAYES: Documents, yes.
HOLTZMAN: Because if we don't have them, they're going to say he's disgruntled. He's a mad former employee. He was fired. He's just getting back. And so there has to be a documentary basis here.
HAYES: From the moment that the call notes were released, it is the documentary evidence that has been by far the most damning stuff. The texts we have seen, all of that, like that has by far been the most damning stuff and you wonder what else is out there.
Jed Shugerman, Liz Holtzman, Ezra Klein, new book is called "Why We're Polarized." It's out today. Thank you all for coming.
Coming up, what's really motivating the Republican obsession with Hunter Biden. And hint, it has nothing to do with corruption. I'll explain right after this.
HAYES: So Texas Senator Ted Cruz and a bunch of his fellow Republican senators have been making all sorts of noises that you have to look at this Hunter Biden Burisma stuff. It's serious. There is a real tell here.
And there's a real tell here. Senator Cruz, just to take one example, was in the United States senate starting in 2013. He won in 2012. And he was there in 2014 when Hunter Biden was hired by Burisma to serve on that company's board. He was there in 2015 and 2016 when Joe Biden was the sitting vice president and Republicans controlled both Houses of congress. We reached out to Senator Cruz's office to ask if they could show us any evidence, anywhere, that Cruz was asking questions at that time about Hunter Biden and Burisma. We scoured his website, we got nothing. Because, I suspect, there is nothing.
There is no record, as far as we can tell, of anyone making any noise about Hunter Biden and Burisma when Republicans had power and didn't shy away from using it. Of course, there were press reports, but I'm talking about Republicans in the Senate.
Remember, these are people who used their oversight abilities to explicitly go after Hillary Clinton about Benghazi, as then House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy confessed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (D) CALIFORNIA: Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: McCarthy, of course, giving away the game there. The reason they held those hearings, the special committee, which was the 10th committee to investigate it, was not because there was some new information they needed, some actual good faith interest in getting to the bottom of a thing that had been investigated 10 times, it was, as McCarthy said himself on camera, to damage Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate.
But Republicans didn't hold any hearings on Hunter Biden and Burisma. They could have. They had control of the oversight committee. The had subpoena power. And they didn't do that because, you know what, Joe Biden wasn't running for president. And also nothing wrong actually happened, at least regards to Joe Biden, and they knew it.
And it goes even further than that, Republicans, get this, they actually supported Joe Biden's policy of fighting corruption in Ukraine. This is a letter that Republican senators Ron Johnson and Rob Portman signed onto in 2016 echoing Biden in pushing anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine.
Another Republican who was in the Senate back then, is Joni Ernst of Iowa. And we contacted her office, too. We asked them to show us any record anywhere of any public statements or hearing questions or letters she wrote or things in the congressional record, anything about this issue, this very important issue she's suddenly very interested in back then.
We checked her website. Nothing.
But of course just yesterday Senator Ernst came right out and admitted what the game is really about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JONI ERNST, (R) IOWA: Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening, and I'm really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucus goers. Will they be supporting Vice President Biden at this point?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Big question. That of course, that's the ball game.
If it was an actual good faith effort by Republicans, who certainly were not shrinking violets about what they saw as corruption or misdeeds by the Obama administration, don't you think they would have said something about Hunter Biden and Burisma at the time it was happening? Don't you think? And yet they didn't. They didn't. And that's how you know the entire thing that has been retroactively reverse engineered solely for political purposes.
HAYES: Here now just six days away from the Iowa caucuses and after a year of campaigning, it's the first time that we're going to see people actually like do the thing, vote, caucus, with their feet. Yet because of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, it has not been the number one news story. Because of the trial, three of the top tier candidates in the race, Senators Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren have been mostly tethered to their desks in Washington.
I'm joined now from Iowa by two people who have been covering the campaign out there in its final days, MSNBC anchor Katy Tur and Washington Post national reporter Dave Weigel.
Katy, let me start with you about just your sense of what you have sort of seen and heard while you've been out there.
KATY TUR, MSNBC ANCHOR: You know, it is a problem for the senators not being here in the final stretch. And I say that because Amy Klobuchar was able to fly into Council Bluffs tonight after the Republicans, or Donald Trump's defense wrapped up. And she just held an event here in this bar behind me. It is packed, Chris, and it had a ton of energy. And she was able to connect with voters one on one in a way that you don't quite get from a TV ad or an interview or a Facebook Live chat, which is what they've been doing since she's been gone.
And she had this room totally captivated talking about not only her story, but what's going on with impeachment and what's happening in the senate. By not being here, she's not making that one on one connection. So it hurts people like her.
Sanders maybe not so much, because he has the ground game here that he's had basically for four years back from the first time he ran.
TUR: ...against Clinton in 2016. And Warren already has a great ground game. But for people like Amy Klobuchar, you have to imagine that not having this face to face interaction is going to be hard, especially in the next few days up to Monday, especially if they're calling witnesses and this extends past Monday.
HAYES: Although we should note that in the latest Emerson poll, Klobuchar was 13 percent, Bernie Sanders at 30, Joe Biden at 21 in the Suffolk Iowa poll, Biden was leading the field at 25 percent, Sanders at 19, Buttigieg at 18, Warren at 13, and Klobuchar at 6.
David, what have you been hearing from voters about how they are trying -- there are so many undecided caucus-goers in Iowa, and it's very hard to model who is going out. What have you been hearing in the final stretch, what are the kind of make or break ways people are thinking about what their final decision is?
DAVID WEIGEL, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, not a ton has changed about their conception of the race, which is nervousness about nominating the wrong candidate who would lose to Donald Trump. And that is the closing argument of Joe Biden. His ads, honestly say, in mail and on TV in the last couple days, vote Biden, beat Trump, you know, four words, just a few syllables.
The Bernie Sanders slogan for quite some time, I don't think it caught on very well in the summer, but you see it a bit more now is, Bernie beats Trump.
The Elizabeth Warren's closing ad here is about Trump being afraid of her.
So, they are all closing with that very explicit messaging. And if that sounds obvious, it's not every campaign is like this. I mean, Hillary Clinton basically tied Bernie Sanders in Iowa four years ago. And if you look at the exit poll, by a 60 point margin, people thought she was the most electable candidate. So, the electability focus is, you know, news is what is new. The new conversation, that's not new.
I think Katy was onto something, though, because I met a lot of voters who were flirting with Biden, flirting with Buttigieg, but looking for a candidate who is moderate but not an old white guy, and you hear that phrase a lot, old white guy. And I do think Amy Klobuchar is getting hurt the most being in Washington, because even when her events aren't enormous, though the word spreads. She was later to build a big organization, but she has one now. I do think voters have been listening more to the argument that a Midwest Senator can beat Trump, she's just not here to deliver it that often.
HAYES: Katy, what do you think -- what is your sense of sort of enthusiasm and interest here? Because a big question in all this polling is how you model who turns out.
TUR: Yeah, well, I mean, enthusiasm is a really key factor especially in Iowa because this is all about getting into a room and making the case for your candidate. So, you have got to get 15 percent. The caucus is a complicated thing, but basically you're on opposite sides of the room and whoever -- whichever candidate gets 15 percent can move on.
If you don't get that, then you have got to try and convince people to come onto your side. So you need really excited caucus-goers to be in your corner in order to get you over the line if you're a second choice, which Amy Klobuchar could be, or Elizabeth Warren could be.
So, it's all a bout enthusiasm here, it's all about organization, much more so than the other states, because you're not going into a polling booth and you're not just pulling down a lever, you're trying to convince your friends and neighbors to come over to your side.
HAYES: Yeah, and we should note that there's a 15 percent threshold to viability in these caucuses. As we get closer and explain them.
But also the delegates coming out of Iowa are portioned proportionally if you reach over the magic number of 15 percent, which is sort of key for everyone in terms of what the big headline out of Iowa is.
Katy Tur, Dave Weigel, thank you both for being with me.
Stick around, the Rachel Maddow Show is coming up next.
HAYES: Before we go tonight, I have some exciting announcements next week, we're taking the show on the road to Manchester, New Hampshire. On Friday, February 7th, we're doing our first ever All In post-debate special. You can come out, watch the debate with us and then stick around in part of our interactive live analysis. And on the following Monday, we're going to be making the long perilous13 mile journey to Derry, New Hampshire.
Monday, February 10 come join the live audience as we preview the critical primary that will be happening the next day. Tickets are free, available for both of these big nights at MSNBC.com/AllIn 2020, so if you're basically anywhere near the state of New Hampshire, want to join us, go get your tickets now. We hope to see you there.
That does it for me this evening. I'll hand over MSNBC's continuing coverage to Rachel Maddow.
Good evening, Rachel.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END