Hardball With Chris Matthews, Transcript 12/12/2016

Guests: Sen. Chris Coons, Greg Miller, Steven Clemons, Jon Ralston, Anne Gearan, Ruth Marcus, Ken Vogel

Show: HARDBALL Date: December 12, 2016 Guest: Sen. Chris Coons, Greg Miller, Steven Clemons, Jon Ralston, Anne Gearan, Ruth Marcus, Ken Vogel

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Trump versus the CIA.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

I am not an adviser to president-elect Donald Trump. If I were, I would look him in the eye right now and tell him how wrong he is on this question of who to trust.

Trump is denying that Russia intervened in the presidential campaign. He`s attacking the CIA for discovering the intervention. He`s thinking of naming John Bolton to the State Department.

How can he do such things? He ran against the Iraq war. He said it was stupid, horrible, disastrous. But it wasn`t the CIA`s fault we started that war. The chief briefer for the agency told me on air that no one from the CIA ever told an administration official that Iraq had nuclear weapons.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.

MATTHEWS: "We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." Was that true or not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we were saying...

MATTHEWS: Was that true?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were saying...

MATTHEWS: Can you answer that question? Was that true?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s not true.

MATTHEWS: They`re selling the war, using your stuff, saying that you made that case when you didn`t. So they`re using your credibility to make the case for war dishonestly, as you just admitted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, I`m just telling you...

MATTHEWS: Well, you just admitted it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m just telling what we said...

MATTHEWS: They gave a false presentation of what you said to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On some aspects.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, it wasn`t the intelligence people who took us into Iraq. It was the nest of neocons at the Pentagon and the vice president`s office who pushed that horrible war from day one, and it was John Bolton at the State Department pushing the case all the way.

And when went learned there were no nuclear weapons or chemical or biological weapons in Iraq there, the neocons around Dick Cheney wanted us to blame it on the CIA. I watched "Washington Post" reporters Dana Priest and Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus cover that blame game for weeks, and yes, I watched the neocons expose CIA agent Valerie Plame`s undercover identity in order to throw off the blame for their ruthless push for war.

So now the incoming commander-in-chief is going to war with the CIA, which dared conclude that Russia intervened with the campaign with the intention of helping Trump win.

Well, "The Washington Post" first reported that stunning conclusion this past Friday night. Trump`s response to the news has been to impugn the intelligence agency. In a statement, he said, "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."

No, they weren`t! Wrong! It wasn`t the intelligence professionals, it was the ideologues around Dick Cheney. You saw it in that back and forth right there. Mike Morell said they never told Cheney. Cheney ran out with that story he made up himself.

On Fox, yesterday, Trump dismissed the idea that Russia was involved in the hacking, something the entire intelligence community concludes.

In fact, here`s Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I think it`s ridiculous. I think it`s just another excuse. I don`t believe it. I don`t know why. And I think it`s just -- you know, they talked about all sorts of things. Every week, it`s another excuse. If you look at the story and you take a look at what they said, there`s great confusion. Nobody really knows.

And hacking is very interesting. Once they hack, if you don`t catch them in the act, you`re not gong to catch them. They have no idea if it`s Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace. I mean, they have no idea who it was.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: So why would the CIA put out the story that the Russians wanted you to win?

TRUMP: Well, I`m not sure they put it out. I think the Democrats are putting it out because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics in this country.

Personally, it could be Russia. It -- it -- I don`t really think it is. But who knows? I don`t know, either. They don`t know and I don`t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: There are now bipartisan calls, including from the top Republican in the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, for a congressional investigation into Russia`s hacking. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Obviously, any foreign breach of our sovereign security measures is disturbing, and I strongly condemn any such efforts. I agree with Senator Schumer, Chairman McCain, Burr and others. This simply cannot be a partisan issue.

I have the highest confidence in the intelligence community and especially the Central Intelligence Agencies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, "The Washington Post`s" Greg Miller, who broke the story Friday, and Malcolm Nance, an MSNBC terrorism analyst and a former intelligence officer himself. He`s the author of "The Plot to Hack America."

I`ve got little time here for all this. We got to get to -- Senator Coons, what do you make of Trump`s claim that the CIA is not to be trusted? He`s just going to go on his own wits in terms of everything, no more briefings, nothing.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: It`s very disturbing, Chris. Someone who as president-elect has a strikingly limited amount of experience in intelligence matters or in international affairs, is saying we should just disregard that Russia is not our friend and that all of the intelligence community, not just the CIA, more than a dozen different intelligence agencies across the entire U.S. government has delivered a message to Congress that, with high confidence, they believe at the most senior levels of the Russian government, there was an intentional effort to interfere with our democracy.

I`m very pleased that Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has joined with Senators McCain and Graham and Rubio and others in a bipartisan call to make sure we get to the bottom of this and that we respond appropriately. I think this is a very big deal, Chris.

MATTHEWS: What do you think, as an American, of the fact that the evidence now that the Russian, the former Soviet Union over there, if you will, from my memory -- we can all remember the cold war -- that that country over there deliberately got involved in our political campaigning so the one side, the one they wanted to win, in this case, Trump, won. What do you make of that, as an American, not as a politician?

COONS: Well, Chris, first, I led a bipartisan delegation to Eastern Europe back in August, when we first got news this was likely happening. And it`s striking to me how many countries across Central, Eastern and Western Europe have already been victims of overt and covert Russian interference in their elections. This is something that the Russians are doing across all of Europe. And as an American...

MATTHEWS: What do they want?

COONS: ... I think this goes right to the heart of our country. We are defined as a democracy. And if we allow this to go unchallenged, if we allow this to go uninvestigated, and if we allow this to go without a robust response, I think we`re letting down America.

MATTHEWS: Why are they picking Trump? Why do they want him?

COONS: Well, I think that`s something that we should be investigating more thoroughly. But his nominee, his potential nominee for secretary of state, just to give one example, Rex Tillerson, is somebody who is such a close friend of Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin that he`s received a medal of friendship from Vladimir Putin.

I`m concerned that anyone who is a close friend of Vladimir Putin may not really have the best interests of the United States at heart.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Greg. Congratulations, Greg, on this incredible reporting. I mean, incredible reporting, I should say. How do you -- what do you know that drove them? Do we know what drove the Russians to intervene in our election on behalf of Trump?

GREG MILLER, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I mean, I think that the sense we have is that they were sort of trying lots of different things, and then exploring lots of vulnerabilities from various parties and various candidates, who (ph) were sort of equal opportunity hacking in multiple directions.

But as it became clearer and clearer that Trump would be the Republican nominee, and then, in fact, have a real shot at winning, a lot more energy went into supporting that prospect and that possibility.

And I would add to what the senator was just saying. I think that, you know, initially, looked like they were just out to undermine confidence in democratic institutions or just a simple presidential vote in the United States. And then over time, it became more of a concerted effort to try to get Trump into office.

MATTHEWS: When did they decide not to release the hacked information from the Republican National Committee, as they had done with the Democratic National Committee?

MILLER: We`ve spent a fair amount of time reporting on that exact question, Chris. And we have a story, I think it will run tomorrow, that will, hopefully, clear that up a bit. It`s a little murky, but it`s -- one of the big questions is whether they actually obtained a trove of Republican material.

They certainly tried. They certainly made attempts to get material. And if they didn`t, there`s a question about why they didn`t try. I mean, there are a lot of security officials I talked to said the Russians are certainly capable of getting into an unclassified network like the RNC computer systems. They don`t appear necessarily to have gathered a comparable trove in this case. So it`s not obvious that they had one and were sitting on it.

It looks more likely that they went after the Democrats harder, got more material, and put all of it or a lot of it out.

MATTHEWS: How sophisticated are the Russians at figuring out and basically plucking the stuff they knew would cause trouble?

MILLER: Well, I think that -- the Russians are regarded as highly sophisticated, one of the most sophisticated cyber adversaries for the United States.

And I think, though, that you see here, they have a pretty decent understanding of the vulnerabilities of the American system and -- in some ways, how little is required to sow confusion, if not dissent.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MILLER: So I mean, just the story lines that we`ve seen, even over the past several days, if this is -- these are true conclusions from the CIA, if they`re accurate, I mean, this must be deeply satisfying to Putin and the Kremlin.

MATTHEWS: I know because they pulled this stuff about Donna Brazile, the stuff from Palmieri about the -- her fellow Catholics. They really knew their stuff, unfortunately.

In his interview for Fox this weekend, Donald Trump also dismissed the idea of even having a daily intelligence briefing as president. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: I just want to ask you about your skepticism about the intelligence community. You are getting the Presidential Daily Brief...

TRUMP: Yes.

WALLACE: ... only once a week.

TRUMP: Well, I get it when I need it.

WALLACE: But is it -- is there some skepticism...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: First of all, these are very good people that are giving me the briefings. And I say, If something should change from this point, immediately call me. I`m available on one minute`s notice. I don`t have to be told -- you know, I`m, like, a smart person. I don`t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years. Could be eight years, but eight years. I don`t need that. But I do say if something should change, let us know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Malcolm Nance, free fall -- free opportunity for you to critique what you just heard. I don`t know what to make of it because thank God we had the CIA telling us in August of 2001 that they were coming to attack us in this country, al Qaeda. Unfortunately, we had a president who didn`t move on it, but the CIA damned well gave it to him in his PBD that day in August. So here`s a president-elect that doesn`t seem to want the PDB every day. Your thoughts.

MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC SECURITY ANALYST: He doesn`t seem to understand that the world changes on a very small scale every day. When he goes to sleep at night, if he hasn`t read his pre -- you know, PM dossier or his 29 -- 2359 Zulu report at night and -- the next morning, the world will wake up different. And he needs to know that.

And although he says, You can just come back to me when it changes -- it`s constantly changing. There are thousands of intelligence watch officers right now all around the world watching this program, smacking their foreheads, wondering whether the president-elect of the United States is absolutely oblivious to the intelligence processes or he just doesn`t care.

MATTHEWS: You know, the Medal of Freedom, Dan Patrick Moynihan, the senator from New York, discovered there was a medal given to intelligence officers who were killed overseas. It had to be done quietly, but they had to be honored. And it was appropriate. We`ve lost a lot of spies over the years who have gone into horrible situations, been brilliant at risking their lives and sometimes lost their lives for this country.

What do you make of his broad brush attack on the intelligence community, Mr. Trump`s, Malcolm?

NANCE: Well, I think it`s absolutely disgraceful. I mean, if the election hadn`t occurred, it would be disqualifying. But we`ve been using that word a lot.

I have three friends on the wall at the CIA. I have six who I`ve worked with at NSA`s wall, on the wall of those who have lost their lives in the defense of this nation. There are tens of thousands of good people, men and women, working 24/7, 365 to defend this nation, and he discards them because he thinks he knows better!

Right now, what we need to know is why does this man`s policy track with the Kremlin? Why does this man`s policy seem dismissive of 70 years of American defense policy and strategies? Why does this man seem to have foreknowledge of intelligence operations which have occurred with the acquiescence or the direction of the Kremlin? This requires investigation. And believe me, I certainly hope that we get to the bottom of it.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Senator Coons. Senator Coons, an old Washington hand, years ago, maybe 30, 40 years ago, told me when you`re dealing with bureaucrats, people work for the country who are nonpartisan - - they just do their job for the country. They don`t make a ton of money. That`s what they do, they serve the country.

And he said, you know, they don`t do their best work when they`re being dumped on. He used worse words, but you get it. To dump on a bunch of people that work for the government and risk their lives in many cases and use the supreme ability of their intellect to try to save us from trouble - - where`s this headed?

What is Trump -- if you could be his Dutch uncle, what would you tell him? What would you tell Trump right now?

COONS: I`d tell him to stop tweeting. I`d tell him to start taking your presidential daily briefing. And I`d tell him that he -- frankly, it would be in his best interests and the country`s interests for him to stop attacking the professionals in the intelligence community and start relying on their advice.

I frankly think he`s headed for some very rough water with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. The idea that somehow, he as a great deal maker, might nominate someone for secretary of state and for deputy secretary of state...

MATTHEWS: Oh!

COONS: ... who also view themselves as great deal makers and they might cut some grand deal with Putin that would sell down the river Ukraine or the Baltic allies we have through NATO, I think will profoundly upset the American people. And his disrespect to the career professionals in the intelligence community is a very alarming opening move before he`s even been inaugurated.

MATTHEWS: Senator Coons of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sir, and of the state of Delaware, thank you so much for coming on on this very important night.

COONS: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Greg Miller, I think it`s a very important bit of work you`re doing right now and I hope you keep going with this. What a story and how scary it is that we have a foreign government that`s been so successful in manipulating us.

Malcolm Nance, as always, sir, your passion and your brains are much appreciated.

Coming up -- if Russia did intervene -- interfere in our election to help Donald Trump win, what do they want from him? And what do they expect to get? We`re going to ask the former United States ambassador to Russia next. He`s coming here.

Plus, outgoing Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid says FBI director James Comey cost Hillary Clinton the election. He also says Democrats would have won control of the Senate had Comey not sent that letter just days before the election. Reid`s now calling for an investigation into Coomey. Anyway -- Comey, rather

And the HARDBALL roundtable is here to remind Trump that the issue of Russian hacking was brought up during the election campaign -- a lot of times! And if he`s still wondering about that, we`ve got lots of tape, videotape to refresh his memory. We`ve talked about this a lot.

Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch" and the stark divide between what Trump is saying and what`s actually true.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Breaking news tonight. Donald Trump is postponing a previously announced press conference that he planned to hold on Thursday. The purpose of the presser was to announce how he will handle his private business during his term as president.

According to Bloomberg, senior transition officials say that will be postponed until next month. Bloomberg was first to report that news, and NBC has confirmed it. The president-elect has said he would hand off the business operations to his grown children, but hasn`t provided details of the arrangement.

We`ll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: In his case, he`s much more than a business executive. I mean, he`s a world-class player. He`s in charge of, I guess, the largest company in the world. It`s been a company that`s been unbelievably managed. And to me, a great advantage is he knows many of the players and he knows them well. He does massive deals in Russia. He does massive deals -- for the company -- not for himself, but for the company.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was President-elect Trump, of course, speaking about Exxonmobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who NBC News reported over the weekend is expected to be named as Trump`s and the country`s secretary of state perhaps in a day or two.

Anyway, the choice of Tillerson could ignite the first showdown between Trump and members of his own Republican Party up on Capitol Hill. Tillerson`s close business ties to Russia and Trump`s own reluctance to criticize Putin but instead take shots at U.S. intelligence officials is concerning, to put it lightly, to the Republican Party.

A Tillerson pick comes amid the uproar over a report that the CIA believes Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Trump win.

Well, because of ExxonMobil`s working relationship with the Russian government, Tillerson was given the country`s, Russia`s Order of Friendship decoration. Look at it. There he is getting the award in 2012.

Republican Senators fired the first shots across Trump`s bow over the weekend. Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted: "Being a friend of Vladimir is not an attribute I`m hoping for from a secretary of state."

South Carolina`s Lindsey Graham said, "If you received an award from the Kremlin, Order of Friendship, then we`re going to have some talking."

And here`s what Arizona Senator John McCain had to say:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It is a matter of concern to me that he has such a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin.

And, obviously, they have done enormous deals together, that that would color his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat. But that is a matter of concern. We will give him his chance. That`s what the confirmation process, that is what advise and consent is all about.

But when he gets the friendship award from a butcher, frankly, it`s an issue that I think needs to be examined.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, campaign manager and transition adviser Kellyanne Conway defended the possibility of Tillerson at State.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: It`s not like Vladimir Putin and Rex Tillerson are pounding down vodka at the local bar. They`re not intimate friends.

But they deal with each other through business interests. And I think, most importantly, anybody who is in President Trump`s Cabinet, particularly the secretary of state, the fourth highest ranking person in our government, that person will be advancing the interests of the U.S. everywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Michael McFaul is an MSNBC contributor and the former United States ambassador to Russia. Steven Clemons is Washington editor at large at "The Atlantic."

And, Mr. Ambassador, thank you.

Give us your -- take some time. What do you think of Tillerson as secretary of state?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, MSNBC ANALYST: Well, I have the same concerns of the various senators you just had clips of.

Obviously, he`s a very experienced CEO of a major company. He`s been there for his entire career. And with respect to Russia, I know his operation and his people in Moscow well. They did some fantastic deals, a $300 billion deal with Rosneft, the largest oil company in Russia.

And they did that deal because he developed a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin. That`s the way that system works. You don`t do that kind of deal without that relationship. And until this moment, they were very proud of the fact that they had that kind of access with Putin that almost no other Americans have.

That said, our relationship is not just about energy. It`s is not just about drilling in the Arctic. It`s about Syria, it`s about Ukraine, it`s about annexation, the illegal annexation of Crimea. It`s about North Korea.

And I`m just not convinced yet that he understands the full portfolio just in dealing with Russia, let alone the rest of the world.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Well, let`s talk about the old East-West problem. I grew up with it. You grew up with it, the ambassador did, where we worried most about Russia and China. And we worry about some of the satellite countries like North Korea. OK, we worry about them, because they have nuclear weapons, and they can go to nuclear war, potentially.

So what does Tillerson do if the North Koreans drop a bomb on Seoul? These are horrible thoughts, but somebody has to have them in their head. What do you do then?

(CROSSTALK)

STEVEN CLEMONS, EDITOR AT LARGE, "THE ATLANTIC": And I agree with everything Mike McFaul just said.

But, that said, our own secretary of state, John Kerry, has been trying to work out a relationship with Putin and Sergei Lavrov, try and find areas to collaborate within Syria. When you`re a Permanent Five member -- they collaborated with us, Iran -- there are going to be areas where our interests diverge dramatically and where they converge.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk about the Baltics.

CLEMONS: So, if you drop a bomb on Seoul, you are going to need Russia and China and others aligned in an action.

There`s this notion that America moving unilaterally through the world is something to celebrate and boast about it. It`s just not the way the world works.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

I gave that extreme case. And I hope in our lifetimes we don`t see anything like it, Ambassador. But you have to wonder about what a guy who deals with gut instinct would do. He would just drop another on there. Well, what would that accomplish?

But you have to have a sense ahead of time where you`re going to -- let`s take something less drastic, a middle case. He grabs one of the Baltics. He just grabs one. He marches in and takes it, because he got the wrong message. Like, remember April Glaspie gave the wrong message to Saddam and Acheson gave the wrong message to the North Koreans back in `50?

You give wrong messages, wars start. We have seen that, Ambassador. How do we avoid a war with Tillerson? Because stupidity and ignorance do bring wars. And failure to lay down the line ahead of time, what you will do if they do it, is usually what gets us into trouble. Your thoughts?

MCFAUL: Well, of course, we will have to engage. We will have to avoid that through diplomacy.

And I do want to underscore that, if you have run ExxonMobil, you have a lot of experience with diplomacy with people around the world. That`s important to say, first and foremost.

But the problem is just looking through the lens of diplomacy through energy or even business, that`s what troubles me. We have other things we have to think about. His closest business partner in Russia today is Igor Sechin. Sechin is on the sanctions list. And I think he`s on the sanctions list for good reason, because Russia annexed Crimea and intervened in Ukraine.

So, we have to -- that is part of the policy, too, in my view, and that`s why you have to -- in my view, have a larger portfolio and think about these things, not just from the narrow perspective of energy.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the world. There`s a whole globe out there. And I do agree with Trump`s -- the things I do agree with the guy, when he does -- opposition to the Iraq War, to the extent he was opposed to it.

I don`t like the idea of secretaries of states being constantly in airplanes. I think at some point you have got to use modern technology and sit in Washington in Foggy Bottom or at the White House and advise the president, quality time with the president, lots of it.

So, you have one like Jim Baker and George senior Bush -- George Bush Sr., get your heads together. Shultz and Reagan. Get your heads together, understand the world. That`s a learning process. And bopping around with these long trips...

CLEMONS: There has to be strategy. There has to be strategic depth.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes. I don`t think you have...

(CROSSTALK)

CLEMONS: And, right now, we don`t have a sense from Donald Trump and his team whether they`re doing things by accident or they`re doing things on purpose.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes.

CLEMONS: We don`t know whether the flirtation with Russia is a strategic pivot for the United States that many of us don`t support, but, nonetheless, you can make a case for it. And you`re simultaneously taking on China.

And, by the way, you`re basically planting an element of doubt in every ally of the United States about America`s willingness to be with them in their dark days. So, you have a problem, where now we have total global fragility. All of our allies` behaviors are going to change. And you have two of the big stakeholders, Russia and China, getting very different signals than they have been getting from the United States.

And all of this is happening on a dime. So, in that world, you do need someone. I don`t know if Rex Tillerson is the guy, but he has run a complex role. Brent Scowcroft was on his board. And they`re close friends at ExxonMobil.

But I agree with Mike that you want to make sure that it`s not through an oil and energy lens only that you`re looking at the way in which America pursues its diplomacy.

MATTHEWS: You have two men of great narcissistic intent here, Ambassador. What is -- what do you think, in his fantastic world, Putin is looking for from Trump? What`s he really want? A bigger -- bring back the near empire, enlarge it, annex Ukraine? What does he want?

(CROSSTALK)

MCFAUL: Well, I think the point about strategy that Steve just pointed out is really important.

So far -- and I have listened to a lot of what president-elect Trump has said about Russia for a long time. And, by the way, you`re right, Chris. We have been talking about hacking and the threat to our democracy for a long time on this program, well before this weekend.

So, let`s be clear about what he said. He said: I want a good relationship with Russia.

That`s his objective. And Putin says, OK, I will give you that. If you want to meet the objective, here`s the price. Support me in Syria. Support my ally in Syria. Support me in Ukraine. Recognize Crimea.

That`s a bad deal. The problem, I think, in terms of the strategy so far is, we don`t know what the actual objectives for American security should be. So, the objectives should be define those first, and then use your engagement, your personal relations to achieve those. In other words, he`s got the means and the ends mixed up, in my view.

MATTHEWS: My only hope -- and I`m always looking for the pony in the crap pile, as I say all the time, like Reagan did. I`m always looking for hope.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Could it be we could eventually cut some deal with Putin over Syria where you partition the country, the Alawites get their little piece of Syria, and maybe the Assad family can hang out there for another couple of years, maybe three or four years, some kind of compromise where they`re allowed the to have a soft landing, but we get them out of there eventually, and we bring back some kind of -- some sort of Sunni-controlled Syria that`s somewhat moderate?

That`s my hope.

Steve, you`re laughing, but it`s my hope.

CLEMONS: It`s nice to have hopes.

MATTHEWS: OK. We need the hopes.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, I`m not with Netanyahu, where it`s just the world is going to hell.

Anyway, thank you, Michael McFaul.

And thank you, Steven Clemons.

Up next: Harry Reid said FBI Director James Comey cost Hillary Clinton the election. Fair enough argument there. He`s calling for an investigation. That`s ahead.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening.

The Wisconsin Election Commission says Donald Trump picked up 162 votes in a presidential election recount requested by Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

Meanwhile, the state of Pennsylvania is just now submitting its certified presidential election results. President-elect Trump defeated Hillary Clinton there by about 44,000 votes.

And check out these scary scenes in California where a gaping sinkhole opened up under a trail leading down to a beach in Pacifica. Fortunately, no one was hurt -- back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: And Comey helped Trump significantly. A week before the election, he came out with this. Oh, we found some more e-mails. And, as a result of that, we lost Senate seats and I think we lost the presidency.

Had he not written that letter a week or so before the election, she would have won. We would have picked up at least two more Senate seats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, hard to argue with that.

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was outgoing -- I don`t think outgoing in the right personality trait -- Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid laying Hillary Clinton and the Democrats` defeat in November squarely at the feet of FBI Director James Comey.

Senator Reid also says the FBI director knew about Russian interference in the 2016 election, but withheld the information from the public and refused to act for political -- actually, partisan reasons.

He had tougher words for Comey in a phone interview on Saturday with my colleague Joy Reid, when he referred to Comey as the new J. Edgar Hoover. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. REID: I did not believe that Comey was the new J. Edgar Hoover. I thought that he would do the right thing for the country.

You know, this is clear. We have all read the press the last few days. The FBI had this material for a long time. Comey, who`s, you know, of course, a Republican, refused to divulge this information we got on Russia and the presidential election. He violated the orders of the attorney general, precedent, and good taste.

JOY REID, MSNBC ANCHOR: You believe that Jim Comey, the FBI director, had this information and deliberately withheld it from the American people before the election? Is that your contention?

H. REID: That`s right. That is true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joining me right now is MSNBC political analyst and Nevada politics expert Jon Ralston, also Anne Gearan of "The Washington Post."

Jon, I want to ask you about this guy Reid. I mean, he has -- he`s firing in both directions. He said the FBI talked because they wanted to help Trump. The CIA didn`t talk because they wanted to help Trump. They`re all in cahoots.

Is this -- this is a pretty strong claim of partisanship, not institutional purpose, but partisan Republican behavior. He certainly has a case to make in terms of the impact, the consequence. But the motive, that`s a pretty stark charge. And I don`t know how you prove it even if you have an investigation.

JON RALSTON, "RALSTON REPORTS": Well, of course, this isn`t the first time, Chris, that Harry Reid has made a charge he can`t prove. We all remember Mitt Romney and the taxes.

But this is Harry Reid doing what Harry Reid does. I think a lot of people think, because you mentioned that he`s outgoing, that he`s willing to say anything.

But Harry Reid has never had a self-editing mechanism. And he`s clearly very upset, even though he`s leaving, that Hillary Clinton lost, that he was unable to hold onto the U.S. -- to take over the U.S. Senate for the Democrats, even though he managed to hold his own seat.

So, he`s out there with his blunderbuss, as he usually is, firing in all directions. And, believe me, he`s going to keep doing it up until January 3, and probably even in retirement.

MATTHEWS: What do you think it`s about? I mean, he talked about not being -- not getting anywhere on his good looks or anything. That was a funny line. Self-deprecation always works.

ANNE GEARAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes.

MATTHEWS: But he has also talked about how good works should get results.

Well, we all know, in life, the hardest-working people don`t all make it. And he argues, because he worked so hard to deliver Nevada for his Senate candidate, for Hillary Clinton, that somehow that good work should have brought results, when, in fact, you know, that`s life. Some things really do break the wrong way.

Do you think he can make a case in a hearing or a Senate commission that the FBI and the CIA were both acting partisan, acting partisan on purpose?

GEARAN: Well, from our "Washington Post" reporting shows that there is a fair amount of -- to back him up, but certainly not -- he`s gone farther than -- certainly than Hillary Clinton did, or than really other Democrats have gone in saying it`s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: How do you show that Comey -- I can imagine being a real partisan and saying, yes, Comey did at the last minute, he timed it to screw her, to screw Hillary Clinton, and that she -- he knew she couldn`t overcome it, and he did it twice, right, right near the end.

GEARAN: Well, even -- even if Comey was acting purely, as he has -- you know, has indicated, and as his partisans have said on his behalf, for the good of the FBI, and because he felt that there would be some sort of an internal insurrection and the material would leak out, and that it would look even more -- it would look more partisan than he believed it was...

MATTHEWS: Well, Harry Reid...

(CROSSTALK)

GEARAN: Even if he believed that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Harry Reid didn`t say that. He said: "I`m disappointed in Comey. He has let the country down for partisan purposes."

GEARAN: Right.

MATTHEWS: He did this to hurt Hillary and to get Trump elected, that`s the accusation.

GEARAN: And that goes a lot farther than Hillary has gone in her own defense. So, it`s interesting that it`s coming from Harry Reid.

MATTHEWS: Jon, that charge is hard to prove and hard to disprove. You don`t -- you just never know about motive and what`s in a person`s head, unless he had a conversation with somebody, and they`re sitting around having a drinking, saying, I`m going to get that -- I`m going to beat Hillary Clinton. I`m going to do this right.

People don`t have those conversations, I don`t think, even if they have that purpose.

RALSTON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And I don`t think Comey is a partisan. I think he`s an institutionalist.

You know, he`s -- you never know these people, but I think he`s more of an FBI guy than he is a Republican. But he is a Republican.

I don`t think you can prove that Comey did this for partisan reasons, but they will have a long commission to try to do so.

Anyway, thank you.

And, by the way, they should try, and to try to find the evidence, because, if there is any, it would be damning.

Thank you so much, Jon Ralston.

And thank you, Anne Gearan, as always.

Happy holidays.

MATTHEWS: Up next: Donald Trump asks why the issue of Russian hacking wasn`t brought up before the election. Guess what? It was brought up again and again and again right here. We have got video to show.

Donald, you can`t deny what`s on television. Remember, reality TV? That`s what we`re in. That`s next with the roundtable.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Despite the word of the U.S. intelligence community, Donald Trump continues to deny that Russia was behind the cyberattacks directed against this country during the election. And this morning, Trump went a step further, tweeting, "Unless you catch hackers in the act, and it`s very hard to determine who is doing the hacking. Why wasn`t this brought up before the election?"

Well, of course, Russia`s interference was brought up. It was hotly debated on multiple occasions during the campaign. Asked about it in his last official press conference back in July, Trump famously called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton`s e-mails. Then, he denied Russia`s involvement in each of the three presidential debates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It could also be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?

I notice anytime anything wrong happens, they look to say the Russians -- she doesn`t know if it`s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.

From everything, I see has no respect for this person.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, that`s because he`d rather have a puppet as president than --

TRUMP: No puppet. No puppet.

CLINTON: -- and it`s pretty clear --

TRUMP: You`re the puppet!

She has no idea whether it`s Russia, China, or anybody else --

CLINTON: I am not quoting myself, I am quoting --

TRUMP: Hillary, you have no idea.

CLINTON: Do you doubt 17 military and civilian --

TRUMP: Our country has no idea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by the HARDBALL roundtable tonight.

Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer with "The Washington Post" and MSNBC political analyst. Ruth Marcus is a columnist from "Washington Post", and Ken Vogel is chief investigative reporter at "Politico".

Go at it here first, Jonathan. I think we`re all thinking about this really horrible situation, where the president-elect is about to take the side of the Russians against people who give their lives, often give their lives to try to get intel for this country.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think it`s astounding. I think it probably would live a lot of us, who cover presidents speechless. These are the people that put their lives on the line, as you said, they are the president`s eyes and ears around the world. The idea that he is pooh- poohing the work that they`ve done, but also not even availing himself of all of the intelligence briefings, it`s just, if that doesn`t put the fear of God into every American, I don`t know what else could.

RUTH MARCUS, THE WASHINGTON POST: This is a very dangerous and disturbing situation. You want -- look, a president should be appropriately skeptical of intelligence. Should say that his intelligence agent who brief him, what is the basis for this? Are you sure we know this? How confident are you? What are the underlying sources and methods?

But Donald Trump -- that`s not Donald Trump`s point. He has been relentlessly incurious and taking the side of not the intelligence agency. Now, he`s going to be president. He needs to have a relationship with these briefers, and to have -- there needs to be some trust of them, because he is what -- they are wrong sometimes, but they are right more than they are wrong. And he needs, as our president, to be able to rely on them. When he just dismisses their work, it is just -- it`s poisonous to that relationship, which is essential to the country.

MATTHEWS: You know, H.L. Mencken once said, never argue with somebody`s whose job it is not to be convinced. Is there any way Trump will ever be convinced that the Russians helped him get elected?

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO: No, I know, he`ll throw mud all over that and that`s clearly what`s going on here in an effort to distract. There is mounting momentum to look into this in a serious way. And I think we should look into it in a serious way. He should just step back and let it play its course.

I mean, there is evidence that Russia intervened and try to help them. There is no evidence that it was actually determinative in the results.

MATTHEWS: That`s right.

VOGEL: We let that happen. And then he can --

MATTHEWS: You would have to interview anybody --

(CROSSTALK)

VOGEL: Even the people who are arguing that this was somehow tipped by James Comey, for instance. They`re not arguing that it was tipped because of WikiLeaks` hacked -- release of hacked e-mails from John Podesta`s e- mail account. So, it`s really puzzling why he`s doing it.

MATTHEWS: But that`s a -- it will be in the history books. We all know that 10 to 20 years from now, there`s be something in the history books, maybe a perfect little nugget, you know, that says, a little nut in the article that says, there were questions about the role played by Russia in that campaign, the intelligence agency said they were involved in trying to help Trump. It`s going to be part of the history. And he hates it!

CAPEHART: He hates it, but in terms of like instilling confidence in the American people that the election, even with the interference of the Russians and the Russian government, that even with that, the election was true, bona fide, you know, above board, everything was fine, as Ken said, would not have changed the outcome of the election, why wouldn`t Trump want to have that seal of approval.

That`s what I don`t understand.

MATTHEWS: If he really believed it.

CAPEHART: But those of us in the reality-based community would look and see that something that says --

MATTHEWS: That`s a minority community.

Anyway, the Trump transition further assailed the credibility of the U.S. intelligence community on Friday night, releasing a statement saying, quote, "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It`s time to move on."

This is almost like a new reversal. If we could put a man on the moon, we could, dot, dot, dot, the ellipses, you know? In other words, if they were wrong once, and it wasn`t the intelligence community. It was the way it was manipulated by people in the administration under George W. Bush. We all know that.

And, by the way, why is he picking John Bolton, maybe? He picks the guy who was in the Iraq War, still seems like the Vietnam War to me. The Iraq War, he still seems to want this guy, as we speak, and at the same time, he says he wants to get the FBI and the CIA out of there who actually were right! Ruth?

MARCUS: But only one of the sentences in that statement, it`s time to move on, is even arguably true. And, you know, I actually do think he is going to be president. I`m moving on in that way.

But, yet, constantly, when you have conversations with Trump folks and Trump supporters and the Trump transition about facts, they always point to a fact that somebody else got wrong another time, rather than trying -- wanting to get to the essence of these facts and whether they`re right or not.

And it`s never going to be proven that Russia`s involvement impacted the election. Nobody is accusing Trump of being in league with the Russians in order to do that, of wittingly knowing that they were working on his behalf. So, why not just do what you say and come forward and say, you know what, I would like a full investigation.

MATTHEWS: I have to put a fact in here, because there are facts. One is arithmetic. He just said in that statement there, it`s one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. Well, it was 46 out of 48. It wasn`t -- 46 out of 58. It wasn`t a big --

MARCUS: Landslide!

MATTHEWS: It wasn`t the upper quintile.

VOGEL: Yes, so that was wrong. And additionally, there`s really nothing to gain for him politically. Unless there is actual evidence that someone on his team had advanced knowledge or knew something about this, then it`s just -- it burns hot now and it goes -- he is actually adding fuel to this fire.

MATTHEWS: Another Lawrence Walsh investigation that goes on for nine years. Anyway, it goes -- it succeeds all the possible administrations we could think about.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, Republicans will have a 52-48 majority in the next U.S. Senate. That`s because Republican John Kennedy won in this weekend`s Senate runoff election down in Indiana. Kennedy, the state`s treasury, defeated Democrat Foster Campbell, for the seat being vacated by the retiring David Vitter.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

Jonathan, tell me something I don`t know.

CAPEHART: Something you don`t know, Chris, is that I had an interview for my podcast Cape Up with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and she talked to me for the first time on the record about all of this stuff in the intelligence community, and I don`t have all a lot of time, but I asked her if she were concerned to know that President-elect Donald Trump has not availed himself of all -- of the intelligence briefings and she said, well, you know, I think we have to give them time to spend with the intelligence community and make their own assessments.

MATTHEWS: Of how valuable --

CAPEHART: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Ruth?

MARCUS: Well, actually, this is law-related, also. We`re all waiting to see who President Trump is going to name to the Supreme Court, but there`s another decision his administration is going to have to make pretty soon, after the election, which is what position to take in a transgender rights case that`s before the court.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

VOGEL: There`s a number of key positions that the Trump transition team is on the cusp of naming, including a number of White House positions, secretary of state, also RNC chair that were held up because of infighting we understand between the old Trump loyalists, between the RNC, GOP establishment, in between the anti-establishment Steve Bannon type.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, guys. Thank you all -- Jonathan Capehart, Ruth Marcus and Ken Vogel.

When we return, let me finish with Trump Watch for tonight.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Trump watch, Monday, December 12th, 2016.

You certainly could argue that I should have seen this coming, this stark break between what Donald Trump is saying and the truth that is out there and available for those who pay good attention. The stark break here is between Trump`s denial that the Russians intervened in the presidential race and the CIA assessment that they did. One is right, the other is wrong.

If Trump has evidence to dispute the CIA finding, he should produce it. If not, his contempt for the intelligence agency is without merit. In fact, it`s worse. Why would an about to be U.S. commander in chief ridicule the intelligence services he`s about to command?

I repeat what I said at the top of the show. It wasn`t the CIA that got us into that terrible, stupid, self-destructive war in Iraq. It was the clock of idealogues, neocons festering in the Pentagon, the State Department, and the vice president`s office. This group`s ruthless push for war led to the uncovering of an agent`s identify and perjury conviction for one of its own number.

I would like to think Donald Trump read the newspapers during this fiasco. But if he got it wrong, it`s not entirely all his fault. I have never seen a period in which there was so much propagandizing in our major dailies.

The CIA did not tell us Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons. Dick Cheney did, along with a chorus of neocons, including John Bolton who can`t wait to get back into positions where they can do more of this, more wars, more regime changes, more American casualties, more killing of people for the offense of daring to be in their way.

Mr. Trump, please don`t let John Bolton back into power. He will do more of what he`s done before. He will bring more like him with him to do it.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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