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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 12/30/2015

Guests: Laura Coates, Robert Costa, Anne Gearan, Sabrina Siddiqui, Michael Tomasky, Ginger Gibson

Show: HARDBALL Date: December 30, 2015 Guest: Laura Coates, Robert Costa, Anne Gearan, Sabrina Siddiqui, Michael Tomasky, Ginger Gibson

JOY REID, MSNBC GUEST HOST: Bill Cosby charged.


Good evening. I`m Joy Reid, in for Chris Matthews.

An incredible scene unfolded today in Elkins, Park, Pennsylvania, where television legend Bill Cosby was charged with aggravated indecent assault against a woman. The charges stem from an incident that allegedly happened 12 years ago.

Unsteady at times, using a cane and flanked by his attorneys, Cosby walked into a courtroom where he was arraigned. He was released on $1 million bail after being fingerprinted and photographed. Authorities released his mug shot this afternoon.

Now, earlier today, prosecutor Kevin Steele laid out the charge.


KEVIN STEELE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY PROSECUTOR: The evidence shows Mr. Cosby established a relationship with the victim after meeting her through her work associated with Temple University`s women`s basketball program. Through the course of their association, the victim came to consider Mr. Cosby her mentor and her friend.

On the evening in question, Mr. Cosby urged her to take pills that he provided to her and to drink wine, the effect of which rendered her unable to move (INAUDIBLE) respond to his advances, and he committed aggravated indecent assault upon her.


REID: In the past year, dozens of women have come forward to publicly accuse the 78-year-old of sexual misconduct. Cosby has repeatedly denied the allegations, and prior to today, he`s never been charged with a crime. Indeed, the statute of limitations on the current case nearly ran out before today`s surprise announcement.

This afternoon, lawyers for Cosby said in a statement, "The charge by the Montgomery County district attorney`s office came as no surprise, filed 12 years after the alleged incident and coming on the heels of a hotly contested election for this county`s DA, during which this case was made the focal point. Make no mistake, we intend to mount a vigorous defense against this unjustified charge, and we expect that Mr. Cosby will be exonerated by a court of law."

NBC`s Stephanie Gosk is with us live from Elkins Park. OK, Stephanie, how did this charge come about? How did it unfold today?

STEPHANIE GOSK, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joy, it`s interesting. You know, we`re standing outside of Bill Cosby`s home right now. And after he posted his $1 million bond, he came right back here.

And this is also the scene of the alleged crime. Now, as you mentioned, this is a crime that took place over a decade ago, in 2004. It was Andrea Constand, an employee at Temple University, who says she came here to Bill Cosby`s house at night, and the prosecutor says that she was coming just for some career advice when she was assaulted, allegedly, by Bill Cosby.

Now, at the time, according to the affidavit, she went home to her home in Canada, reflected on what had happened and then decided that she was going to file a criminal complaint. The prosecutor at the time here in the country investigated that complaint and decided not to press charges. She went forward with a civil suit, and in the course of that civil suit, she revealed another 13 alleged victims.

Now, if you fast-forward a bit to the last year-and-a-half or so, where we`ve seen a flurry of activity of alleged victims coming forth and accusing Bill Cosby of really very similar types of assault, the prosecutor here said that it was in the process of that and a decision by a federal judge to reveal parts of Cosby`s deposition from that 2006 civil suit that propelled them to go forward and press these charges today, a bit of a surprise coming during a holiday week.

It was an unbelievable scene at that courthouse, Cosby coming out in a tiny place, such an unlikely moment. He was walking gingerly. His demeanor was sort of listless, actually. He didn`t say anything, and then he just came right back here home -- Joy.

REID: All right. Thank you very much, Stephanie Gosk.

Now, in the past year, more than 50 women have made accusations of sexual misconduct against Bill Cosby. This summer, "New York" magazine put a number of these accusers on the cover, and earlier this year, NBC`s Kate Snow interviewed 27 of them in a special "DATELINE."

The women made a variety of allegations, from harassment to rape, and they differed from what`s in today`s criminal complaint.


KATE SNOW, HOST, "MSNBC LIVE": How many of you believe you were drugged by Bill Cosby? How many you believe Bill Cosby raped you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whatever I was given, it was laced in my drink. It was like being -- like having a lobotomy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was, like, Stop. What are you doing? Stop it, you know? And he`s, like, I`m not going to hurt you. You know, just calm down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I took really no more than two or three sips of it, and I really lost consciousness. I was in a bed. He was next to me. He didn`t have anything on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said, Drink it, Bernard, drink it. And very quickly, the room started spinning. The next memory, I`m on the floor, on the carpet, and I remember the sensation of the carpet against the flesh of my back like velcro, like this. And it hurt and I couldn`t move because of the drugs. And I remember him on top of me.


REID: Now, it`s important to note these are just allegations. Bill Cosby has denied them all, and he`s also brought defamation claims against several of his accusers. And for the record, Andrea Constand was not one of the women interviewed by NBC.

Kate Snow joins me now. And Kate, just seeing the sheer number of those women all sitting together is really jarring, and then to think that that`s a little more than half of the total number of women that actually have made accusations.

I know that you`ve been hearing from some of these women you interviewed today. What are they saying?

SNOW: Yes, it`s been interesting, Joy. I think it`s a day of emotion for them, as you might imagine, and different responses from different women, but tears of joy, some people, you know, finding that their emotions are coming back up again today, I think that they had stuffed down, are coming back.

Linda Cooper Kirkpatrick actually just sent me a message recently, and she said, I thought this day would never come. I feel vindication, which is a word that I`ve heard from several women today, Joy. And she said, We`ve made history. We`ve torn down the veil of secrecy and fear.

I think that`s a recurring message that I`ve heard from these women, even when we talked to them in August. And why they were coming forward and speaking out in a group like that was because they felt like that was tearing down a wall of sorts.

REID: And Kate, with so many women having come forward already, I guess the natural question would be, you know, per your reporting, do you expect there to be more women who come forward?

SNOW: You know, I don`t know how many more, Joy. But I will tell you when we were all gathered together -- and again, this was months ago, in August -- there was talk of other women that they knew. So you know, of those 27 that I was with in that room, they all seemed to know another person, so -- or of -- they`d heard of another person.

And I don`t mean that they knew them back then, but they`re connecting now. They have Facebook groups. And I think social media is a big part of why we`ve seen such a flood of accusations, Joy, in the last year because they found each other. They`ve connected on line, and that`s spurring people to come forward. So I would not be surprised if we see more women come forward after today.

REID: And Kate, has anybody remarked to you that -- the sense that but for that comedic sketch by Hannibal Buress -- because women attempted to come forward before and they weren`t really -- the stories weren`t picked up. Has anyone made that remark to you?

SNOW: Yes. Some of the women have said that. Yes. Yes, because -- yes, in fact, Stephanie Gosk and I were talking about this earlier today, Joy, that it seems so strange that this Constand case sort of went away for about 10 years, and why -- why did we all in the media not pay more attention? Why was it not out there? Why did women not come forward at that time?

And I think it`s a combination of things, but for some reason, Hannibal Buress, the comedian, coming out and using it as a joke in his routine, and then that went viral -- that`s what prompted other women to come forward. Barbara Bowman then wrote a "Washington Post" op-ed, and that got people talking and it was sort of a domino effect after that.

REID: Yes, and Kate, I`m wondering, too, whether or not women believe it because that lawsuit, the Constand lawsuit, really was the fruit of this. Are women commenting on the fact that, in fact, she had to go civil because there weren`t charges before? Are the women telling you that they have any sort of feeling about non-prosecution back in 2004?

SNOW: Not so much, although the women who were Jane Does back then -- there were 13 of them, and I spoke to a few of them you just saw in the clip that you just showed -- they felt very saddened when the case went away and was settled out of court. I mean, they weren`t as upset about the lack of criminal charges. I think they understood that the prosecutor at the time felt he didn`t have enough direct evidence. And he has said that. He certainly didn`t have a lot of physical evidence in the case.

But when the civil case was settled out of court and then there was a gag order, meaning nobody could talk about it, they were pretty upset by that because that`s sort of what took it off the front pages and took it out of the media.

REID: Yes. Kate Snow, you`ve done just some phenomenal, phenomenal reporting on this.

SNOW: Thank you.

REID: Thank you so much, and happy new year to you.

SNOW: You, too, Joy.

REID: Thank you.

All right, here`s more from prosecutor Kevin Steele today about the charge against Cosby.


STEELE: When you look at the case, there is a number of aspects that are undisputed. There`s not a question in terms of, you know, pills being provided to here. There`s not a question as to the occurrence of what went on, of the digital penetration. And we`ve gotten that from statements, from depositions.


REID: Laura Coates is a former assistant U.S. attorney. So Laura, let`s start there, where I sort of left off with Kate Snow. The fact that there was no prosecution, that a district attorney looked at this body of evidence, at these same facts in 2004, and didn`t bring charges -- if you were the DA now, would that give you pause as to whether or not the charges are provable now, or what has changed from now to then -- I mean, from then to now?

LAURA COATES, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, what changed, Joy, is the fact that there was a release of deposition testimony, where Mr. Cosby actually admits that there was, in fact, some penetration, and there was a history of providing a substance to kind of put women at ease. You have the development of the case theory that was not necessarily present when the case was first looked at by the first DA. You have a woman here who now has the admission, essentially, of the defendant in this case. That wasn`t present before.

But before everyone counts their chickens before they hatch, there`s a lot of legal hurdles that still need to be met. It`s one thing to actually charge him with this crime now. It`s also still going to be a hard time to actually prove it. Now we`re not just a few months or weeks out, we are over 10 years away, in fact, almost 12 full years away. It`s very difficult when you don`t have physical evidence, and all you have is the hope that the transcript itself will be admitted into testimony.

REID: And I`m wondering what it says to you that this charge comes so close to the expiration of that -- you know, the time to bring these charges, the statute of limitations.

COATES: Yes, well, you know, this was a case that`s been a focal point of a very heated election. There was a political ad that was being run by the current DA against the former DA about the failure to bring this particular case. And so he`s really at the tail end of being able to bring it.

And I suspect there`ll be several pretrial motions about delays in indicting this particular case. And they will be justified in bringing the motion. It won`t be successful because you do still have the opportunity bring a case within that period of time.

The far more contested motions, Joy, are going to be whether or not the other alleged accusers are going to be able to testify and betrust (ph) this particular victim`s own testimony at trial. That`s going to be the key.

We already have a court of public opinion that`s condemned Bill Cosby, but in a court of law, we can`t actually know about all those other cases unless the court allows them to come in.

REID: And as you mentioned, Laura, Bill Cosby testified under oath about the rape accusations in a deposition for a lawsuit brought by his accuser, Andrea Constand. And that testimony was unsealed this summer by a judge. Cosby admitted giving quaaludes to women back in the 1970s for the purpose of having sexual relations, though he denied that it was without their knowledge. Cosby admitted having sex with Constand, but said it was consensual.

Here`s how he described what happened. Quote, "I don`t hear her say anything and I don`t feel her say anything, and so I continue and I go into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection. I am not stopped."

When you hear that form of an admission, which again, from the Cosby team`s point of view, he`s saying he`s not admitting rape -- but does that admission, as a prosecutor, help you?

COATES: It certainly does. I mean, consent is not a matter of semantics. You can`t kind of wade in the area of, She didn`t say no and she didn`t say yes, so I`m going to go ahead and proceed. Somebody has to actually consent to that sort of action.

And it supports the argument that if she was rendered unable to defend herself, unable to consent and unable to actually say yes or no, it does not bode well for him.

But you still have the issue of that transcript, which says that he was talking about the quaaludes in the `70s. There was not a direct connection between the quaaludes of the past and a particular incident. There has been testimony that he gave her Benadryl. I think that was the herbal medication that`s talking about having been given. And there`s some inconsistency there.

But they`ve got to bridge that gap. It`s not an insurmountable hurdle, and but it`s not necessarily a slam dunk just because he`s made that particular statement. There still has to be consideration of other testimony, and the prosecutor still has the burden of proving that Mr. Cosby, with this particular victim committed, a particular sexual penetration against her will.

REID: All right, thank you so much, Laura Coates. Really appreciate it.

COATES: Thank you, Joy.

REID: Thank you.

And we`ve got much more on Bill Cosby coming up next.

Plus, still ahead on HARDBALL, Trump versus Clinton. For the better part of 2016 (sic), Donald Trump`s dominated the headlines, the polls and the pack of Republicans running for president. Now he`s trying to take down the Democratic front-runner. Who`s got more to lose in the fight for 2016?

And speaking of Trump, he was one of just many headliners who sat down with Chris Matthews in this wild year of politics. We`ll bring you the key moments of HARDBALL in 2015.

Also, Larry David as Bernie Sanders, the Donald as -- the Donald and Hillary as themselves -- a look back at some of the best late night moments so far in this presidential campaign.

And finally, let me finish with this new year`s prospect of hope and change or fear and loathing all to be decided at the ballot box.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


REID: As we wind down to the end of 2015, let`s take a look back at some of the lighter moments of the presidential campaign this year. Here are just a few of our favorites on the Democratic side, thanks to the good folks at "Saturday Night Live."


LARRY DAVID, "SNL": We`re doomed! We need a revolution, millions of people on the streets! And we got to do something and we got to do it now!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. Hi. Mrs. Clinton, I`m sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to say my sister is gay, so thank you for all you`ve done for gay marriage.

KATE MCKINNON, "SNL": Well, you`re welcome.

HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. SEC. OF STATE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It really is great how long you`ve supported gay marriage.

MCKINNON: Yes. I -- I could have supported it sooner.

CLINTON: Well, you did it pretty soon.

MCKINNON: Could have been sooner.

CLINTON: Fair point.

DAVID: Eh. Not a fan of the banks. They trample on the middle class. They control Washington. And why do they chain all their pens to the desks? Who`s trying to steal a pen from a bank? Makes no sense!


REID: And later, we`ll will show you some Republicans, including late night`s favorite candidate, Donald Trump.

We`ll be right back.


REID: We`re back with more on the news that Bill Cosby was charged today with aggravated indecent assault. Cosby has denied the charge in the past.

Today`s news caps a year of reversed fortunes for a man who was considered a national icon. Cosby was even awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2002. His downfall began when a stand-up routine by comedian Hannibal Buress went viral.

Buress called Cosby a hypocrite for scolding young African-Americans, in light of the rape allegations. Soon, a number of women came forward accusing Cosby of sexual assault. Those stories kept coming, though Cosby has denied all the allegations.

I`m joined now by "Washington Post" Eugene Robinson and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. Both are MSNBC political analysts.

And I have got to start with you, Governor Rendell, because this is your state. You are a former prosecutor. And I`m wondering if -- what are your thoughts on, first of all, the fact that it is coming so close to the end of the statute of limitations and the fact that this really was litigated as part of the campaign for that office?

ED RENDELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that doesn`t negate the fact that the charges are being brought within the statute. It`s right near the end, but being brought timely, and that a jury has the right to decide Mr. Cosby`s guilt or innocence.

It is really debilitating for Pennsylvania and for Philadelphia and for Temple University, where Bill went, because he was not only a national icon, Joy, but he did so many wonderful things to help people in this area.

I remember when the legislature and I were locked in a battle over education. He called me and said, can I help? And he came up to Harrisburg and did a press conference out of his own time, not with one dime in remuneration, urging the legislature to fund education properly, because education was the only way out for our kids.

And we got coverage in every TV station in the state. And he did that on his own. And he did countless acts of kindness. And it was a real body blow when this came out over a year ago to the people who here love Bill Cosby and think of him as one of our own.

REID: Yes.

And, Eugene, that issue of education really was so central to the Cosby brand. All of us who used to watch "The Cosby Show" remember it being Bill Cosby Ed.D. at the end and him emphasizing education.

Just talk about what -- what kind of a blow is it to that iconography that so many Americans came to depend on in the 1980s?


And it means that, at best, he ends with a certainly mixed legacy. And, of course, we have to see how this court case ends and whether the charges are proven beyond a reasonable or not.

But this is a man who certainly was an icon in the African-American community. He was not uncontroversial, especially in recent years, with the stridency of his call for sort of personal responsibility and self- reliance. Sometimes, he made that call in a way that rubbed some people the wrong way. But I don`t think anyone could doubt, in terms of his public acts, his sincerity -- his sincerity and his commitment to education and to the betterment of minority communities.

It was there. At the same time, you have, apparently, this other side of the man that is nothing like the public Bill Cosby. And we are just going to have to get our heads around that.

REID: Yes, indeed. And this summer, even President Obama weighed in when he was asked if Cosby should return his Medal of Freedom.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will say this. If you give a woman, or a man, for that matter, without his or her knowledge, a drug, and then have sex with that person without consent, that`s rape. And this country, any civilized country should have no tolerance for rape.


REID: I will come back to you quickly on that, Eugene.

Is there any greater rebuke than to have the president of the United States essentially evoke you as a symbol for rape?

ROBINSON: Yes, there is no greater rebuke, I think.

It just has to be a devastating thing. At the same time, one`s sympathy for Mr. Cosby -- it is actually hard for me to call him anything other than Mr. Cosby. I have met him a couple of times. That`s the way one addresses him. He`s such a icon.

But one`s sympathy has to be tempered with the fact that there are now upwards of 50 women who have come out, who have made very, very similar, consistent allegations about his behavior. And now we have criminal charges. And that just has to be factored into the mix.

REID: Yes. And very quickly, lastly, Ed Rendell, this trial, is there any way that the defense will be able to try to move it? Because there is nowhere in Pennsylvania you could go, nowhere in the world, I would think, to get a change of venue.

RENDELL: No, they won`t be able to get a change of venue, not at all.

And it will depend on whether the judge lets in the entire transcript of the deposition and whether he lets prior testimony from other victims into court. Without that, it is just a naked allegation with no corroborating evidence. So, who knows?

REID: Yes. Thank you so much, Eugene Robinson and Ed Rendell. Thank you both.

All right, and up next, we turn to presidential politics, as the Donald sharpens his focus on Hillary Clinton and Bill.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


REID: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump is now throwing the kitchen sink at Hillary Clinton. At a rally in South Carolina today, Trump lit into Clinton with a series of crowd-pleasing one-liners, which he followed up with a nasty personal attack.

Trump began the rally with a declaration of war and a rapid-fire attack on Secretary Clinton.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We view this as war. Don`t we view this as war? It`s war. It`s war.


TRUMP: Hillary is a disaster. I mean, Hillary...


TRUMP: Hillary is controlled by her money. She has done a terrible job as secretary of state.

I did have to mention her husband`s situation. OK?


TRUMP: I love, love, love having a woman president. Can`t be her. She is horrible. She is horrible.

Hillary doesn`t have a clue. By the way, you talk about low-energy. She has lower energy than Jeb Bush.


REID: And then things got downright nasty.


TRUMP: For the last week, she has been hitting me really hard with the women card, OK, really hard.

And I had to say, OK, that`s enough. I will tell you who doesn`t like Hillary are women. Women don`t like Hillary.


TRUMP: I see it all the time.


TRUMP: And always so theatrical. Mr. Trump said this and that and this.

Oh, and you just -- I actually -- I shouldn`t do it. I just have to turn off the television so many times. She just gives me a headache.


TRUMP: But, you know -- although I think, last night, I gave her a big headache.


TRUMP: I can imagine. I can imagine those discussions. I talked about her husband and the abuse of women and the tremendous abuse.

No, it`s tremendous abuse. You look at it. It is tremendous abuse. And now, today, the television is going crazy. And she gets up, makes a speech, and doesn`t even mention anything about me with sexism or anything else. I wonder why. I wonder why.



REID: Robert Costa and Anne Gearan are both political reporters with "The Washington Post."

All right, Robert, I`m going to come to you first.

The utility of attacking Hillary Clinton, when Donald Trump has yet to win a primary or a caucus, so attacking her, instead of attacking his Republican opponents, your thoughts?

ROBERT COSTA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I stopped by Trump Tower this week, met with some of the Trump advisers. And they are really looking toward the general election.

And they know that targeting Secretary Clinton at this stage in the primary may be smart politics, because, as you see from the crowd`s reaction, it seems to rouse up the audience and get them animated about Trump, and it also makes him not have to pay attention so much to his own rivals.

REID: And, Anne, I want to play you some vintage Hillary Clinton, because this is the Clinton a lot of people expected and the way that she responds to attacks.

This is what she told supporters during the heat of the battle when she ran for president back in 2007.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you are attacked, you have to deck your opponent. And that is what I believe we are doing.



REID: And, Anne, you are out on the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton. Is she decking Donald Trump or not responding to him at all?

ANNE GEARAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think they really are a bit hamstrung when it comes to knowing what the right tone and what -- and right level of response is to Donald Trump.

She has tried to deck him a couple of times by pointing out that his policies on everything from immigration to Syrian refugees are, as she has said, dangerous. She has accused him of being an -- essentially an ISIS recruiting tool. That is one way of trying to deck him. It hasn`t really worked.

They have also tried to take the high road, which is what you have seen her do over the last couple of days. And I think it has yet to be seen whether that has long-term utility.

But Trump`s response today shows that it certainly didn`t do him any short- term damage. For Hillary, she really has to decide whether she considers him and the -- sort of the double-edged sexism and women problem allegations that he has been raising over the last few days are enough of a threat that she really needs to address it head on.

Doing so would mean giving the Bill Clinton allegations of sexual exploitation more altitude than they currently have, and it would be coming from her side, instead of from outside the campaign. And that could be a problem.

REID: Yes. And, by the way, one of the things that Trump said was that Hillary is not popular with women.

Let`s look at a little statistical information that might refute that. Hillary Clinton actually trounces Donald Trump with women, as you can see that Donald Trump is only ahead about -- he`s ahead by about five points with men. But Hillary Clinton is up 57-33 percent with women.

And, Robert Costa, I`m wondering if there is any concern within the Trump camp that he might actually be turning off Republican women primary voters.

COSTA: You see with the Trump campaign they are trying to get Republican women who may have reservations about Secretary Clinton excited about Trump campaign.

I have been to Trump focus groups. And when you see women react to some of Trump`s statements, they generally seem to stand by him, even when he says some things that are incendiary or controversial. But they are more wary than most men. Men seem to be more willing to accept some of Trump`s statements.

And so by going after Secretary Clinton, it may be turning off general election women perhaps who are more independent or Democratic-leaning, but it may be also bringing in those Republican women who have their concerns about Secretary Clinton and also have their concerns about Trump that -- that maybe loops them in.

REID: All right, very quickly, want to get your boldest prediction for 2016.

Robert Costa?

COSTA: I think one bold prediction, if this becomes a potentially contested convention, you could see some kind of new candidate emerge at the Cleveland convention. It is unlikely, but it`s certainly possible.

A Mitt Romney, a Paul Ryan, those -- the donors for those men would like to see it, if it ever came to that situation.

REID: And Anne Gearan?

GEARAN: I think that Donald Trump will lose both Iowa and New Hampshire, maybe not by much, setting up a midterm for the Republican field, where a Chris Christie or a Ted Cruz has a real clear shot at winning in March.

REID: And if he does that, who will dare call him a loser? Hmm.

All right, thank you very much. We appreciate those predictions.

Robert Costa and Anne Gearan, thank you.

And coming up, from President Obama to Donald Trump, HARDBALL is a must- stop destination for the big political newsmakers. The roundtable will take a look back at some of HARDBALL`s best interviews of 2015 next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger with breaking news.

The man charged with buying the two assault weapons used in the San Bernardino attacks is facing new charges, including conspiring with Syed Farook to provide material support to terrorists in 2011 and 2012. He is also accused of making a false statement related to the purchase of the guns and marriage fraud. He is currently being held without bond on charges brought earlier this month. He is due on court on January 6 -- back to HARDBALL.

REID: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

2015 was an epic year in American politics, a year when big personalities dominated the discussion. We did our best here at HARDBALL, the place for politics, to give you a front-row seat to all of the madness and the mayhem.

Here is just a sampling of the headliners who played HARDBALL in 2015.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: We have got Senator Bernie Sanders joining us now from the debate. We`re in the so-called spin room.

Right now, we are joined by Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

He`s author of the new book, "A Time For Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America." There he is. And we have him with us tonight.

Thank you so much.

Don`t bad things happen? Why does the Republican Party keep banging on the door of Benghazi politically?

They were trying to get us into a war under false pretenses, yes or no? Were they trying to get us into war under false pretenses?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know. I don`t know. I don`t know.


MATTHEWS: What is the difference between a Democrat and a socialist?


MATTHEWS: What is the big difference between a Democrat and a socialist?

You`re chairman of the Democratic Party. Tell me the difference between you and a socialist.

Is Donald Trump honest when he says that Barack Obama isn`t a legitimate president?

I want to tell you my theory, Governor.


MATTHEWS: Well, I like you politically, so let`s go through it.

They are throwing the kitchen sink at this trade agreement, which will involve 11 nations and ourselves on the Pacific Rim. Why are they saying these things?


REID: Go Chris.

Time now for some of the biggest and wildest HARDBALL interviews of the year. If you think 2015 was something, just wait until next year.

I`m joined by the HARDBALL round table, "Reuters`" Erin McPike, "Politico`s" Ken Vogel, and "Time Magazine`s" Jay Newton-Small.

All right. Let`s start with the ugly side of Donald Trump.


MATTHEWS: Is Donald Trump honest when he says that Barack Obama isn`t a legitimate president?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, I knew you would ask me that question.


MATTHEWS: It`s a good question.

TRUMP: I didn`t say you couldn`t.

MATTHEWS: You can`t stop me.

TRUMP: You know, I should really -- no, I can`t. I should not tell you this but I do watch you a lot. So, I knew you were going to ask that question and you know what I`ll say?

MATTHEWS: Well, because he`s the president of the United States.

TRUMP: I don`t talk about that anymore. Here`s the story, I don`t answer because you know what? If I do answer, that`s all people want to talk about.

MATTHEWS: It`s over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are going to have to answer it in a general election.

MATTHEWS: We Catholics believe in confession. You say you were wrong and you move on.

TRUMP: OK, well --

MATTHEWS: Do you really believe --

TRUMP: I don`t want to answer the question.


REID: Ken Vogel, if Donald Trump is a nominee, does birtherism help or hurt him?

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO: Oh, it absolutely hurts and there`s no question. You know, Chris finishes up by saying he thinks it is Donald Trump`s original sin. But in the eyes of a lot of Republican primary voters, it is really his original appeal is when he first got out there as a flame thrower on the right, appeal to the FOX News crowd, and kind of made his name, set the groundwork for this candidacy and it`s definitely helped him. He`s continued -- he said many more outrageous things since then, since he launched his campaign.

But once -- if he wins the nomination and pivots to the general election, he`s going to have a lot of explaining to do starting with that.

REID: Yes. All right. Let`s go to the guy who definitely has not forgotten that. President Obama plays HARDBALL by taking aim at Elizabeth Warren and the Democrats` left plank. It was the president`s biggest fight with his own party over a massive trade deal that progressives and unions absolutely despised.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love Elizabeth. We are allies on a host of issues, but she is wrong on this.

Look, Chris, think about it -- I spent the last 6 1/2 years yanking this economy out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Everything I have done from the Affordable Care Act to pushing to raise the minimum wage to making sure that young people are able to go to college and get good job training, to what we`re pushing now in terms of sick pay leave, everything I do has been focused on how do we make sure the middle class is getting a fair deal.

Now, I would not be doing this trade deal if I did not think it was good for the middle class. And when you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is, when you dig into the facts, they are wrong.


REID: Erin McPike, folks means Elizabeth Warren and her wing of the party which is giving the party its energy right now. Does this trade deal wind up being a factor in the Democratic primary or in the general?

ERIN MCPIKE, REUTERS: Well, it certainly has been a factor in the Democratic primary. And, of course, you hear Bernie Sanders talking about it all the time and then Hillary Clinton came out against the trade deal.

What I would say about this, though, is that President Obama won. He won big here. 2015 was a big year for him. We are not talking about Elizabeth Warren at the end of 2015. Bernie Sanders has become the leader of the progressive movement in the Democratic Party.

By and large, this is something Democrats are talking about. And, of course, Donald Trump has been talking about it. It`s been an issue in the Republican primary as well. But this has been a movement that Barack Obama has taken from the Democrats really.

REID: All right. Well, this was the year that Ted Cruz road the Trump wave to become a serious contender for the Republican nomination.

Cruz launched his bear hug strategy on HARDBALL this summer. He refused to attack Trump even when presented with Trump`s birther style comments about Cruz`s Canadian birthplace.


MATTHEWS: The day you announced your candidacy, Senator, that Trump also said your birth place, you were born in Calgary, as your father was working up there, father and mother at that time up in Canada, could be a hurdle for your campaign. What do you think of the fact he still says it`s a hurdle for you. By the way, you are quite open about how you grew up and where you were born.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, sure, sure. Now, look, I like Donald Trump. You know, there are a lot of folks seem to be crawling all over themselves just to smack Donald Trump. I`m not one of them. I think he`s bold. I think he`s brash. I think he`s got backbone.

MATTHEWS: Why does he say stuff about you?

CRUZ: As you noted, my mom is Irish and Italian, born in Wellington, Delaware. And when I was born in Calgary, I was a citizen by birth. I never breathe a breath of air on earth --

MATTHEWS: Yes. So, you are black Irish. This is great.


REID: Jay Newton-Small, is Ted Cruz the real big winner of 2015? We talk a lot about Trump. But is he the big winner?

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, TIME MAGAZINE: Certainly. Iowa is looking more and more like it`s his to lose. And so, the strategy of embracing Trump with this bear hug as he told Chris seems to have been incredibly successful. He is one of the guys to beat going into 2016 if he wins, he`d have a lot of momentum, he could become the front runner.

REID: Really, I know he is popular, Jay. But why hasn`t the Canada thing stuck to him, do you think?

NEWTON-SMALL: The Canada thing --

REID: Being born in Canada?

NEWTON-SMALL: I mean, look, there`s plenty -- like John McCain was born in Panama. He was born on a military base. These are -- I mean, like, it`s only really a question when people have mingling doubts of their minds of somehow that they are un-American or somehow that they are not -- they question their patriotism. And nobody really is questioning Ted Cruz`s patriotism here and that`s why it`s not really an issue.

REID: Yes, well, John McCain was not a dual citizen.

All right. The roundtable is staying with us. And up next, all eyes are on Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel as the city grapples with ongoing tensions between the African-American community and the police.

HARDBALL is back after this.


REID: Earlier, we showed you some of the best late night moments for the Democrats running for president. Now for the Republicans, late night hosts couldn`t have dreamed that Donald Trump would be a front runner six months into his candidacy and not once do they let him off the hook. Occasionally, the Donald got in on the fun. Take a look.


TRUMP: Part of the reason I`m here is that I know how to take a joke.

Me interviewing me, that`s what I call a great idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, it`s a great idea. We thought of it.

STEPHEN COLBERT, TV HOST: He is in self-destructible. He declared he was running for president and followed it up with Mexicans are rapists and John McCain is a coward. Nothing he says or does can turn off voters. His campaign slogan might as well be -- Trump 2016, you`re stupid and ugly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got to say doing a great job. In fact, I think the show got better by about 2 billion percent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you think it is going to go?

TRUMP: It`s going to be really class.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s going to be really fantastic. It`s going to be huge!

TRUMP: Huge!


REID: We`ll be right back.



MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL (D), CHICAGO: We will improve communication between officers and individuals to make these encounters less confrontational and more conversational. And we will double the number of tasers to 1,400 while also providing officers the training to use them properly.


REID: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel today announcing a mayor overhaul of police procedures. It comes in the wake of last weekend`s fatal police shootings of two people. Critics continue to call for the mayor`s resignation, and the Department of Justice has launched a special investigation into how the Chicago Police Department uses deadly force.

The roundtable is back with us.

And, Ken Vogel, I`m wondering at what point do Rahm Emanuel`s local problems in Chicago become a national story and/or a national problem for the Democrats?

VOGEL: Yes, I think they could. This is already an issue, police/civilian interaction, police brutality questions in the Democratic primary. To the extent that Rahm Emanuel is already a national figure, very close to the Clintons, has been relied upon as a bit of a surrogate, I think we could see a diminishment of that, potentially, because of this.

But I don`t necessarily see his problems in Chicago or rather he as a figurehead for this debate, as inflaming the issue anymore than it already is an issue in the Democratic primary.

REID: And, Erin McPike, not to take Rahm Emanuel`s side, but he tried to blow this up as a national problem and say, it`s not just about Chicago, but this is a bipartisan and national problem. If you look at the statistics in the year that is just about to end, police officers have killed nearly a thousand citizens, African-Americans make up just 6 percent of the U.S. population. They account for 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death by police this year.

Erin, I think it`s fair to say, particularly the Democrats, but also Republicans, did not expect to have to be litigating issues of policing and race in 2016. How -- they can`t avoid it, right?

MCPIKE: Well, that`s right. But this has been a bigger problem over the last few years, and we`re talking about a number of episodes that have piled up, especially over the last couple of years.

So, yes, both sides do have to take a look. This is a bigger problem for Rahm Emanuel than it is for most other mayors because of what`s going on in Chicago. And Rahm Emanuel has not handled himself all that well.

Not only are people calling for his resignation now, but Rahm Emanuel`s whole tenure in office has been troubled. So, this is a bigger problem for Rahm Emanuel, especially as he tries to resuscitate this political career that`s, you know, he`s having some problems in Chicago right now. It`s not just this. It`s the education issues, budget issues in Chicago.

Several years ago, joy, in early 2013, people were talking about Rahm Emanuel starting to reach out to potential donors about a presidential bid in 2016 if Hillary Clinton didn`t run. How far has he fallen since then? This is a bad story for Rahm Emanuel.

REID: Very quickly, Jay Newton-Small, down ticket races now suddenly have a big import for Democrats. Are you hearing out there among Democratic politicians or political operatives that they are now concerned that you could start to see some down ticket instability because of these issues with DAs, et cetera?

NEWTON-SMALL: Certainly, it`s a problem for, you know, if you`re going to worry about these things, but honestly, the down-ballot races, I`ve heard much more concern about are the Republican races. You`ve got Donald Trump. That makes Republicans, senatorial candidates much, much, much more concerned than anything than Rahm Emanuel is doing right now.

So, yes, there is concern, but not as much. And I think with the steps Rahm`s taking, hopefully, that will quiet the concern.

REID: All right. Thank you very much to the roundtable tonight. Erin McPike, Ken Vogel, and Jay Newton-Small, happy New York.

And when we return, let me finish with the choice at hand in 2016.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


REID: Let me finish tonight with a word on hope and change versus fear and loathing.

Tomorrow is New Year`s Eve. It`s a night when people around the world renew their faith in themselves and in the future by vowing to do better, be better, and to achieve big, if sometimes unrealistic goals in the coming year.

This New Year will bring us a presidential election, one in which we have no incumbent asking for another term. And so each of the parties will make their case for how they will renew the country`s civic spirit.

In America`s history, some of our most successful politicians have run on a promise of positive change, igniting the country`s sense of optimism and hope. It`s true that going after people`s deepest fears has also been the ticket to the White House for some, but the legacy of running or governing based on fear is to leave the country more cynical, more on edge, and much harder to unite.

When Barack Obama was elected, Republicans had a choice. Would they let the president have his due and govern on the hopeful platform he ran on, even if they disagreed with it, the way Democrats did with Reagan and George W. Bush, or would they fight him until the last dog died and play to the fear and loathing of his most bitter and angry detractors, essentially promising total victory over the supposed interloper in the White House? The way the Gingrich brigades played the Clinton era.

Would they launch total war on Obama, even at the risk of ripping the country apart, right down the seams of race and demographic change, blue color erosion, income inequality, and economic anxiety that were always there just below the surface?

We all know what choice was made, and when they inevitably failed, time and again to deliver the defeat of this president, that anger and rage inevitably turned on them. And now, the coming election promises to be a brutal contest, of who can best exploit the fear and loathing and anxiety of the American people. Not a very happy prospect for the New Year.

And that does it for me and HARDBALL.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.