Hardball With Chris Matthews, Transcript 12/15/2016

Guests: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Eric Lipton, Carolyn Ryan, Sam Stein, Karine Jean-Pierre, Michael Steele, Caitlyn Huey-Burns

Show: HARDBALL Date: December 15, 2016 Guest: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Eric Lipton, Carolyn Ryan, Sam Stein, Karine Jean-Pierre, Michael Steele, Caitlyn Huey-Burns

JOY REID, GUEST HOST: Trump and Putin versus U.S. intelligence agencies.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

There isn`t much disagreement when it comes to Russia`s role in interfering in the U.S. election this year. Seventeen intelligence agencies said they were confident it was Russia. Many Republicans in Congress agree. The White House has publicly named the Kremlin.

But there is one notable exception and it comes from a man who`s being given intelligence briefings when he chooses to take them, President-elect Donald Trump. He continues to question the findings about Russia`s involvement. Before the election, he said for all he knows, it could be some 400-pound guy in his bedroom in New Jersey.

Well, according to a new report from NBC News, not only was Russia involved in the plot, it reached up to the highest level of the Kremlin. NBC News reports U.S. intelligence officials now believe with a high level of confidence that Russian president Vladimir Putin became personally involved in the covert Russian campaign to interfere with the U.S. presidential election.

A spokesman for Putin told the Associated Press today the report was, quote, "laughable nonsense." And Donald Trump tweeted this morning, "If Russia or some other entity was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why do they only complain after Hillary lost?"

Trump`s claim that the White House acted only after Hillary lost isn`t true. On October 12th, White House press secretary Josh Earnest publicly blamed Russia for the hacking and said there would be a response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president will consider a range of options in terms of determining what is appropriate or proportional.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: The intelligence assessment Earnest was citing was made public via a paper statement from the Obama administration five days earlier, on October 7th, which happens to be the same day the lurid "Access Hollywood" tape of Trump bragging to Billy Bush about assaulting women came out.

According to NBC News,10 days later, at an October press conference, Obama was not asked a single question about the Russian hacks.

Today, Senator Lindsey Graham called Russia`s role in the hack undisputable.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m 100 percent certain that the Russians hacked into Podesta`s e-mails, the DNC and other political organizations. Most of the information that was released was unfavorable to Clinton, not Trump. I don`t know their motives were, other than create discontent and discord and to undermine democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: And earlier today, I spoke to Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. She`s the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Well, I want to start with getting your reaction to the reporting by our Cynthia McFadden and others that Vladimir Putin not only sanctioned the hacking of Democrats, both Hillary Clinton and Democrats down the ticket, but that he actually participated or that he was the driving force behind it.

What do you make of that reporting?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I can`t really go there. I can`t really say where -- whether he was or he wasn`t a driving force. As a matter of fact, I don`t know whether he was or he wasn`t a driving force. So let me make that clear.

The thing is, with both Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear and the evidence that leads that the intelligence bureaus used them and the damage that was done -- what we know now was at least four House campaigns and the presidential campaigns and both political parties, with material being put out in large amounts to embarrass the Democratic side but not the Republican side. And that is pretty conclusive.

And I think the intelligence agencies, when we were briefed, briefed us with high confidence. Having -- and we don`t often have that, I mean, and it was obvious by their body language, by their emphasis, by the passion that they had in the briefing -- it`s usually pretty cut-and-dried -- that this was really fairly unique.

And therefore, would a country do this, which is actually foreign espionage, on another country without the assent or the direct order of the head of the government, particularly when you know the head of that government runs everything in that very large and very powerful country?

REID: And what do you make of it? I mean, you talk about the high confidence that you have in the assessment and the definitiveness of the briefings that you received from the intelligence community. Then what do you make of the fact that the soon-to-be next president of the United States, Donald Trump, does not believe the assessment of the intelligence community and is, in fact, ridiculing those findings?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I have just learned that Mr. Trump, president-elect, is taking more intelligence briefings. If they are the PDBs, we don`t see that. That`s the one thing on the intelligence side of our committee work that we do not see. Only the president sees that.

So if he has a similar briefing that we have had from Director Clapper or from others at the highest levels and with the information -- and I think there`s more out that he would be given than we have been given -- I think he will take a different view.

Now, what his reaction will be, I certainly don`t know, but I think he will see the seriousness of this regardless of political party, regardless of which side is benefited and which side is hurt. I think he will see that this is not good for the future of the American democratic system, and therefore, we need to do something. Now, what we do is another story.

Having said that, President Obama, it`s my understanding, before he leaves office will put out a report with the facts and, hopefully, declassify this so the American people can actually see what happened. That`s a good measurement because this is, in my view, a real attack at our system of election, democratic election. And I don`t think our country can just stand by and let this happen because once it happens, it`s open sesame.

REID: But Senator, what if he doesn`t change his view? What if after receiving even substantially more top secret briefings, he still doesn`t believe it? Can the American people have confidence in the Congress to be the investigative authority in that case, when Senator Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Senate, his wife is about to soon be working for Donald Trump and be in his cabinet?

FEINSTEIN: Well...

REID: And he is said to have blocked putting this information out in a partisan manner during the campaign. So if Trump doesn`t change his view and Mitch McConnell already seems to have blocked this information getting out and will have a family tie to the White House, then who would the American people be able to turn to, to do a real...

FEINSTEIN: Well, let me -- let me make a comment on that. I know Senator McConnell. He`s the Republican leader. He`s the majority leader of the Senate. He wants our elections to function fairly and without influence from foreign countries. And you know, strike me dead if that isn`t true. It is true.

And I think this would be completely irrelevant. His wife, Elaine, is wonderful. She`ll be a good transportation secretary, and I don`t think that would be relevant at all in his mind. I really don`t.

I think what would be relevant to him is who did -- who would do an investigation. And if I understand it up to this point, he would leave it up to the Intelligence Committees.

This is why I think it`s so important that what President Obama is reportedly doing in the preparation of a report gets done. After all, this broke in the summer. We knew -- we`ve known about this for six months. And I think the facts need to be put before the American people so -- because this is major.

And what people are telling me today is, Oh, Americans don`t really care. Well, Mr. and Mrs. America, wake up! You better care! This is our whole system. This is everything the Constitution has put forward for us to be a nation under law, to be able to conduct free and fair elections.

And if we can`t do that, and if other nations are going to come in and essentially manipulate elections by releasing data to one side, which they may think is unfavorable to that side, then we`ve got a big problem.

REID: Yes. Well, Senator Dianne Feinstein, I think that everyone can agree on that. Thank you so much for your time.

FEINSTEIN: Well, you`re welcome, Joy. Nice to talk to you.

REID: Same here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

REID: At the White House today, Josh Earnest reacted to Trump`s tweet casting doubt on who is responsible for the hacking of Democrats` e-mails.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Another one came in today! This Wikileaks is like a treasure trove! Did you see where on Wikileaks, it was announced that they were paying protesters to be violent $1,500?

(BOOS)

TRUMP: Donna Brazile did it again. Wikileaks today -- she gave the questions to a debate to Hillary Clinton.

Wikileaks just came out with a new one just a little while ago.

Her campaign in Wikileaks has spoken horribly about Catholics and evangelicals. They got it all down, folks, Wikileaks.

Hillary should fire Podesta. How do you have people working that say these horrible things about you? Boy, I love reading those Wikileaks!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Well, based on that tape reel, there`s clearly no question Donald Trump made information from the Wikileaks hack a major focus during the final weeks of the campaign. But now let`s listen to Josh Earnest today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was obvious to everyone who was paying attention, including the gentleman whose thumbs authored that tweet, that the impact of that malicious activity benefited the Trump campaign and hurt the Clinton campaign. That`s why the Republican nominee was hoping they would do more of it. That is why, in the days leading up to election day, the Republican nominee himself was encouraging people to check out Wikileaks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Meanwhile, today "The New York Times" reports the Russian campaign to disrupt the U.S. election wasn`t limited to the race for the White House. Dozens of Democratic House candidates were also targeted. The hackers, linked to Russian intelligence, went by the name of Guccifer 2.0. According to "The Times," the seats that Guccifer 2.0 targeted in the document dump were hardly random. They were some of the most competitive House races in the country.

Joining me now is NBC`s Cynthia McFadden, who broke the story yesterday about Putin`s involvement, and the "New York Times`s" Eric Lipton, who broke today`s story about the targeting of Democratic House members. Thank you both for being here.

So Cynthia, I want to first get your reaction to Dianne Feinstein. She`s expressing confidence that the Senate will be able to look into these matters despite what will soon be family ties between the Senate majority leader and the incoming president.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think what she said had a lot of resonance with me and is consistent with our reporting. I mean, I think there`s another way to look at what Trump tweeted today. There is the potential that he`s making a pivot. What he said today was asking some questions. Why wasn`t more put out there?

I mean, remember when there was the famous Sony hack and the president went on television and looked in the camera and said, We`re not putting up with this? President Obama didn`t do that in this instance.

And our reporting tonight on "NIGHTLY NEWS" suggested there were a couple of reasons why. According to high-level intelligence sources, the administration felt that they wanted to stay out of -- the appearance of affecting the election.

Secondly, they were also confident that Hillary Clinton was going to win and they didn`t want to take the chance of a tit for tat -- a cyber tit for tat with the Russians if there was going to be time later to straighten it all out. Well, it didn`t turn out the White House thought.

So I think that -- you know, we talked to the former head of NATO today. He said, Listen, Donald Trump is raising some interesting questions. Let`s respond to those questions. America needs to know the answers. I think very consistent with what Senator Feinstein said.

REID: We also -- NBC News is reporting that the -- the day that the assessment came out, October 7th, was the same day as the leak of the "Access Hollywood" tape. So it`s arguable that maybe the White House didn`t think that they could compete with the news cycle because, as we know, that`s really what was leading the news cycle. And to the same point, NBC News reported that reporters, that journalists asked the president zero questions about hacking when he did a press conference about -- a press conference 11 days later.

MCFADDEN: So that`s on us. I mean, that`s our failure. But you know, I think as Dianne Feinstein points out, the intelligence community had made the assessment for at least six months before October 7th. It was certainly six months prior to that. We know that at the G20, President Obama went up to Putin personally and talked to him about it.

And yet the American public was really unaware of the full scope of this. A paper statement by intelligence officials is not the same thing as the president. The president didn`t go to Congress and say, This is serious business. Let`s consider sanctions. So I think there`s some questions that need to be answered.

REID: And yet, Eric Lipton, you did have the story out. I mean, I know that on my show, we did the story almost every weekend. And so the American public had some information about this. What they didn`t know at the time, and what we were even reporting when we had various journalists on who talked about Russians attempting to interfere, was that they were also interfering below the presidential level, they were going after House races.

Tell us little bit more about that and who was targeted.

ERIC LIPTON, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, what happened was the -- Guccifer 2.0, who we believe is a Russian intelligent affiliate -- intelligence affiliate, was -- was -- took information from the Democratic Campaign -- Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, tens of thousands of pages of documents, which were their internal assessments of their own candidates, which identified weaknesses of their own candidates, in addition to strengths.

And then he dumped those -- that information into individual House races in spots across the country, in Florida and Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, in Ohio.

And he gave this information to bloggers and to reporters in those states via direct message often through Twitter, and then they`ve got -- produced coverage in each of those states that was damaging to these Democratic candidates. In several cases, it looks as if this may have been a factor in losses of these candidates in House races.

This got very little coverage because reporters were mostly focused on the Podesta e-mails, the DNC disputes, that were coming forward from all of this releases in material. But it had great consequences, as well, on the House level, which is -- you know, it`s sort of enormous (ph) to look back and think about.

REID: Yes, it was broader than we thought. I want to ask each of you before we leave whether you think the intelligence community will declassify much of this information that so the American people can see what members of Congress have already seen. And Cynthia, I`ll start with you.

MCFADDEN: Yes. I think that there`s going to be some declassification, and I think that`s part of what the president is now trying to do. Whether it`s too little, too late remains to be seen. But certainly, I think there`s universal pleasure at the notion that the president is going to convene this bipartisan look at the intelligence information.

And I think that he will, indeed, make the case to the American people because as Dianne Feinstein said to you earlier today, it is clear that this matters, and the depth of this is vitally important to democracy.

REID: Yes. She said, "Wake up, American people." I`m sorry, Eric Lipton, we are out of time. We`ll have you back. Thank you, Cynthia McFadden and Eric Lipton both.

And coming up -- what Trump...

LIPTON: Thank you.

REID: Thank you. What Trump was supposed to be doing today was holding a press conference where he claimed that he would explain how he would separate himself from his business when he`s president. Well, clearly, that didn`t happen, so we`re left with more questions.

And later -- Trump continues to attack the news media as dishonest and unfair. So what should the media expect once he takes office?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: Donald Trump is set to take the stage soon in Hershey, Pennsylvania, as he continues his thank you tour.

That and more HARDBALL, including a look at the Trump family`s ongoing conflicts of interest when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: Welcome back to Hardball. There is new alarm today over Donald Trump`s potential conflict of interest as president after Trump`s children -- Eric, Donald Jr., Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner -- attended a meeting yesterday with the top executives of multiple Silicon Valley companies.

Trump has promised he`ll take steps to separate his presidency from his personal business interests. But he has yet to clarify exactly how he intends to do that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

On Monday, Trump tweeted that he will leave his company to his two adult sons. And that under their management, "No new deals will be done during his time in office."

But Eric and Donald Junior are also playing a role on their father`s transition team. And their involvement in yesterday`s tech summit suggests they`ll continue to have a seat at the table. Addressing the issue in separate interviews today, Kellyanne Conway and RNC communications director, Sean Spicer, both emphasized that Trump was being transparent.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: I find all this hand wringing over who was in that meeting yesterday to be really over the top. The meeting was so transparent. We`ve seen clip after clip, excerpt after excerpt -- it`s all been reported this morning. It was quite transparent, open. There was nothing secretive about it. And these are adults who have a great deal to offer to the conversation.

SEAN SPICER: We brought the press in to show who was at the meeting. So it`s not like there`s anything nefarious going on, or sneaky or transparent. We`ve been very clear about the role of his family, the importance that they play and the advice that they give him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: I`m joined now by Karine Jean-Pierre, senior advisor and national spokesperson at MoveOn. As well as Michael Steele, former chairman of the RNC, and an MSNBC political analyst. Thank you both for being here.

All right Karine. So you know, you have to give the Trump team credit that they understand the media.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, MOVEON.ORG: Oh, most definitely.

REID: And they understand the media -- one of the favorite words of all journalists is "transparency." It`s said every day on Twitter, it`s said every day on TV. People love the word, "transparency." What in the world does transparency saying that we`re going to have the kids be in the business and in the White House?

JEAN-PIERRE: Right.

REID: To think we`re going to do it. How does that solve the conflict of interest?

JEAN-PIERRE: It`s not transparency at all. Bringing in the media and for a couple of minutes just to show what you want people to see is a photo op. It`s not transparency.

If you wanted to truly be transparent, he would A: Have a press conference and allow press to ask questions. B: Actually release his personal taxes, right? That we`ve been asking for, that he said he was going to release once he ran for president. Never did.

And three: Actually tell us, "How are you going to divest your companies, your business, from the conflict of interest that is right before you. And instead what he does is, he uses Twitter, he does 140 characters or less to explain his plan, which is not the way to do it.

REID: Yes. And you know, and Michael Steele, in addition to that, he invites cameras into watch his children, both be in his cabinet and do business with him as members of his company. I mean, he`s literally saying, "I`m going to let you watch us do kleptocracy. That makes it better." How can that possibly work?

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIR: Well there you go with another five- dollar word I`ve got to go look up.

JEAN-PIERRE: I`ll lend you the five dollars.

STEELE: Thank you, babe, thank you. No, I hear what you`re saying, but you know, there`s nothing that stops him from doing this. There`s no law on the book. There`s no regulation that oversees it or prevents it.

The President of the United States is allowed to have at the table advising him whomever he wants and in whatever capacity he wants them there to advise him. Whether it`s a family member or, you know, a partisan or someone else. They`re not getting paid. They`re not on the government payroll. They will not be on the government payroll. So that is the reality of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

And when you flesh the rest of this out, Joy -- the new reality that we`re all having to come to grips with is that Donald Trump is in the driver`s seat here. Donald Trump understood that the law did not require him -- because there is no law that requires him -- to release his tax returns. And he didn`t. Donald Trump understands that there is no law that sets him in the same box as other federal officials when it comes to conflicts of interest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

And so he does not see any, and therefore will not respond accordingly.

REID: Except, and here`s the problem, Michael Steele. There are laws against bribery. There is the Emoluments Clause of the constitution that specifically deals with --

STEELE: Yes.

REID: Well, hold on a second. Against foreign bribery of an American president.

STEELE: But Joy,

REID: Hold on, hold on, hold on. No no no no.

STEELE: I`m not going to let you finish this point because you can`t set up a straw dog argument like that, Joy.

REID: I haven`t finished my question. I haven`t finished my question.

STEELE: You can`t set up a straw dog argument like that, Joy.

REID: It`s not a straw man argument. Ask Richard Painter --

STEELE: How do you get to bribery?

REID: -- who is the former ethics advisor to George W. Bush if it`s a straw man. And Richard Painter --

STEELE: How do you get to bribery?

REID: -- has been on this air over and over and over, that essentially if foreign leaders can check into Donald Trump`s hotel anywhere around the world --

STEELE: That`s not bribery.

REID: -- and essentially pay the President of the United States, and then get policy favorable to them, that is akin to essential bribery.

STEELE: Well --

REID: He called him an "innkeeper" yesterday. And that`s Richard Painter, not me. So you can say that it`s a five-dollar word or whatever if you want.

STEELE: Well you, you, Joy --

REID: But people who are constitutional lawyers, which neither you or I are, have said very differently.

STEELE: But I`ve worked in the --

REID: Ask Laurence Tribe. Ask Richard Painter.

STEELE: Excuse me. As a corporate lawyer, I have worked in this area. And so you need to establish bribery. You just can`t say it. You just can`t project it.

REID: Would you consider a foreign leader --

STEELE: Excuse me.

REID: -- being able to swipe their card at a Trump Hotel --

STEELE: No I would not until --

REID: -- and then get policy favorable to them? You don`t consider that to be a bribe?

STEELE: And then gets policies. Has that happened?

REID: Let`s go to Karine on this. Because Karine, here`s --

STEELE: No no Joy, stop. Joy.

REID: He`s not in office yet. He`s not in office yet, Michael Steele.

STEELE: No but then how can you make the case?

REID: He has to correct the conflicts of interest before he gets into office. That`s what every single expert on this has said, including George W. Bush`s ethics lawyer.

STEELE: But the conflict of interest doesn`t exist for him.

REID: Not me. George W. -- Yes, the constitution applies to him.

STEELE: It doesn`t exist for him.

REID: The constitution applies to him. It does. Karine, does the Constitution of the United States --

STEELE: The Emoluments Clause talks about benefits.

JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely.

REID: Your party went after Barack Obama --

STEELE: Not conflicts.

REID: -- for receiving a Nobel Peace Prize and used the Emoluments Clause as the reason for you all to go after President Obama.

STEELE: But that was a direct benefit.

REID: And he gave the money away to charity. So let`s go to, let`s let Karine get in.

STEELE: Okay.

JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look. I think the founding fathers did not believe that, you know, that anybody including the president was above the law, right? And I think that`s the thing to remember. When we were, when they were putting together the Constitution and all of that.

But There`s also, there`s the hotel in Washington, D.C., right? There`s the Trump International Hotel, which is being -- his lease is with the federal government.

REID: He`s the landlord and the tenant.

JEAN-PIERRE: He`s the landlord and the tenant. So on day one, he will be violating that lease because he as an elected official -- he cannot partake in that lease. And that is -- and just this past weekend there was a federal, a federal government that had a holiday party at his Trump hotel.

REID: That`s right.

JEAN-PIERRE: And that alone -- if he was president, he would be in violation of that lease.

STEELE: So can I, can I just address that point real --

REID: Well, actually we don`t have more time. I`m sorry. We have a commercial. We have to pay for this.

Karine Jean-Pierre and Michael Steele, thank you both.

STEELE: All right.

REID: Thank you. And up next, Donald Trump is sure to have an unconventional presidency as you could just hear. And that could include his relationship with the press. So what happens to the White house press corps when Mr. Reality Show comes to Washington? That is next.

This is Hardball, the place for politics.

JOSH BARRO, MSNBC: I`m Josh Barro. Here`s what`s happening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Dylann Roof, who confessed to fatally shooting nine black worshippers at a Charleston church last year was convicted earlier today on all 33 counts against him. Jurors only deliberated for about two hours in the case. Eighteen of the counts carry the death penalty. Roof sat stone-faced as the verdicts were read.

The jury will now break for the holidays and then decide whether Roof should spend life in prison or die for his crimes. He plans to represent himself during the next phase of the trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Now, back to Hardball.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Donald Trump has taken his "Thank-You" tour to Hershey, Pennsylvania. He`s speaking now. Let`s take a listen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re going to cut the price way down. Way way down. And how about the F-35 fighter? It`s a disaster. It`s totally out of control. Totally out of control.

So we`re going to get more equipment for our military. And we`re going to get better equipment for our military at a smaller price. Does that make sense? Okay? Believe me.

We`re also going to stop trying to build new nations in far-off lands. Many areas -- you`ve never even heard of these places. Okay? We`re going to stop. We`re going to be so strong. We`re going to be so respected. We`re going to be so powerful.

We`re not respected now. And believe me, it`s going to turn. And we`re going to have this great, incredible powerful military. But you know what? I don`t think we`re ever going to have to use it. And that would be very, very nice. America first. It would be very, very nice. Instead --

CROWD: Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump.

TRUMP: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: That was Donald Trump in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He continues his "Thank You" tour. We`ll keep an eye on. And if he makes any news, we will bring it to you.

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump frequently attacked the news media as dishonest. He called the press "liars." Singled out individual reporters at rallies and press conferences and accused networks of unfair coverage, mostly for reporting the words that came out of his mouth.

Since becoming president elect, Trump and the press have also sparred over access, as Trump hasn`t allowed the media to travel on his plane. He`s ditched his protective press pool, and he hasn`t held a news conference since July 27th. And yesterday, incoming White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, that changes might be coming to the daily White House briefings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS: Even looking at things like the daily, you know, the daily White House briefing from the press secretary. I mean, there`s a lot of different ways that things can be done and I can assure you we`re looking at that.

The first front row of assigned seats issue, as I understand it, started in the Obama administration. In the Bush administration you just took a seat and I guess there were a couple people that had reserved spots, but for the most part, the more formalized reserved seating piece came in over the last eight years. That issue is being talked about.

The point of all of this conversation is that the traditions -- while some of them are great -- I think it`s time to revisit a lot of these things that have been done in the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Nope, not true.

White House Correspondents Association President, Jeff Mason, released a statement in response to Priebus` comment, saying:

"That was not on Obama-era innovation as Mr. Priebus suggested. The WHCA assumed responsibility for assigning the seats in the briefing room over the last two decades at the request of both Republican and Democratic administrations, who were mindful of the potential appearance of playing favorites if they assigned the seats themselves."

Trump himself took to Twitter this morning to lash out at the media, as he so often does, tweeting, "The media tries so hard to make my move to the White House as it pertains to my business so complex -- when actually it isn`t."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: So what does the future relationship between the new president and the press corps look like, given the acrimony that already exists during the transition?

Sam Stein, a senior politics editor at the Huffington Post and Carolyn Ryan is senior editor for politics at the New York Times.

But Carolyn, I`m going to start with you. Because I think nothing occupies real estate in the mind of Donald Trump like the New York Times. I mean, he came up here as a Queens-based businessman and has always coveted the love, respect, and adulation of the Times.

Do you expect the Times to have a particularly volatile relationship with Donald Trump going forward?

CAROLYN RYAN, NEW YORK TIMES: I think we already do have a very particularly freighted relationship. And I think, you`re right. That he almost resents the power, even as he covets the approval of the New York Times.

But I think what`s going on right now is there`s sort of a testing of both sides. He`s testing the media. They`re suggesting that they`re going to shatter some of the traditions that the White House press corps has enjoyed -- a sort of cohabitating uneasily with the president.

And the media is, as you see in coverage, getting more aggressive and directly calling him out, pointing out inaccuracies in headlines, making clear that things he`s saying are not true. And it feels like a testing period where everyone is sort of taking the other person`s measure.

REID: Yes, and you know, Sam. For a lot of people, that might be a good thing. I mean, there is a sort of reverential sort of attitude toward the presidency among a lot of Americans. And the press corps, in the minds of a lot of Americans, has gotten too cozy with presidents. Getting nicknames from President George W. Bush when he was there. You know, just in a lot of peoples` minds -- even attending all these dinners, White House Correspondents, etc. -- that we all go to -- that it`s too much. Maybe is it better that the press just stay purely adversarial?

SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST: Well, yes. The press obviously has a role in being an adversarial check on power. And I think that has to continue, obviously, under this administration. The question about coziness is always a difficult one to answer. Because of course you don`t want to be cozy with the people you cover. And of course you don`t want to be biased towards the people you cover because you`re cozy.

But a good part of journalism does actually depend on access. And if one side of the equation, in this case the Trump administration, completely cuts off access. You know, you played one part of the previous interview. But in another, he suggested possibly that they would just maybe even end or cut down on the amount of daily press briefings. So if you cut down on access, that creates a whole set of problems.

So you can be adversarial, and it`s important to be adversarial. But you also have to maintain an element of access so that you can ask the probing questions. So you can ask the adversarial questions. And without access, you lose a lot of that.

REID: And you know, one of the -- Carolyn -- sort of things that could in theory happen, given Trump`s behavior so far, even after the election, is that he could simply using Twitter to communicate directly to his followers who only believe what he says. They don`t believe what you say or what Sam says or what I say. They only believe him.

STEIN: They believe what I say.

REID: They believe what you say, Sam. Everyone believes that. You just have an earnest face. You know, they could use Brietbart. That`s sort of state-run media almost. They`ve got Fox News which is friendly. Couldn`t they just skip over the New York Times, the Huffington Post, or anybody they don`t think is friendly?

RYAN: Well I think there are going to be some security questions about his use of Twitter and how frequently he could do that as president. But I think you`re right, that he`s looking for sort of workarounds. He likes to speak directly to his followers. They`re very passionate. But at the same time, as you point out, he does covet the approval of legacy media.

Look how he reacted to Time Magazine. I mean, there are certain publications that he grew up with and that he still thinks, regardless of what he tweets about, are important.

So, I think he feels like he`s a master manipulator of the media and he`s not going to give up entirely on those outlets.

REID: Yes, and he`s completely freaked out by Graydon Carter.

RYAN: Clearly.

REID: Thank you Sam Stein and Carolyn Ryan. Sorry we`re out of time.

Up next, Republicans in North Carolina are trying to strip power from the incoming Democratic governor. This is remarkable. The Hardball roundtable will be here to explain.

You`re watching Hardball, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOY REID, MSNBC GUEST HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Democrats in North Carolina are calling it a power grab, even a coup. Republicans are trying to pass a series of bills that would strip powers from the newly elected Democratic governor. The breathtaking attack on the powers of the next governor was pushed in the final hours of the current governor`s term, in what was supposed to be a special session about helping the victims of natural disasters.

Just moments ago, Republicans passed the first of those bills, according to "The Raleigh News and Observer". It would subject the governor`s cabinet picks to approval by state legislators. The spokesman for the Democratic Party of North Carolina said, quote, "This is an unprecedented, shameful, and cowardly power grab from Republicans."

And here was the incoming governor this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROY COOPER (D-NC), GOVERNOR-ELECT: We don`t look good to our people here in North Carolina or to the rest of the country when laws are passed hastily, with little discussion in the middle of the night. This has got to stop. I will use every tool in the governor`s office to fight for everyday North Carolinians, including the courts, if necessary. What is happening now is unprecedented.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Meanwhile one of the Republicans pushing for the changes, David Lewis, told reporters, quote, "I think, to be candid with you, that you will see the general assembly look to reassert its constitutional authority in areas that may have been previously delegated to the executive branch", unquote.

I`m joined by tonight`s round table. Caitlin Huey-Burns is a political reporter for "Real Clear Politics". Nicholas Confessore is a correspondent for "The New York Times". And Joan Walsh is an MSNBC political analyst and national affairs correspondent for "The Nation".

Thank you all for being here.

All right. I`m going to start with you, Caitlyn. Have you ever in covering politics seen anything quite like this?

CAITLYN HUEY-BURNS, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: What is remarkable about this is that Republicans were elected to the statehouse, obviously, Donald Trump won by four points. Senator Burr was re-elected. So, this was a direct message against Governor McCrory, the current governor, outgoing governor.

So, to make this move after those messages being sent is really remarkable. And something that we haven`t really seen before and we`re not seeing anywhere else. Interestingly there would be other governors coming in with different parties.

REID: Well, I mean, this is something that could be replicated, right? We`ve seen when laws like "stand your ground" passed in Florida, they get replicated across the country. I mean, this really is undoing the vote and saying, we will -- we will make the governorship not worth having if we don`t have it.

NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. It`s a power of the principles. I think we saw them say reasserting our constitutional authority. You know, back when the governor was Republican, it was not a worry they had.

REID: Right.

CONFESSORE: Right? So, Democrat is now in office and they`re going to roll back and make the office worthless. We saw it as Reconstruction after the Civil War, when they scattered the powers of governorships around to make them less important. You know, we saw the climate change, right? We saw in local levels when states were trying to reestablish the ability to pass laws. It`s power over politics, over principle.

REID: Absolutely. And it`s causing a reaction, Joan.

We have -- we can show some video of it. There are protests taking place right now. The Moral Mondays Movement led by Reverend Dr. William Barber. They are there protesting. You see the protesters are inside the capitol building. And we are going to continue to monitor what is happening. Civil disobedience has been taking place all day.

And yet, Joan, there`s a sort of shamelessness to it, because this is now - - the national media has caught on to it. That has not deterred these members of the House and Senate in North Carolina.

JOAN WALSH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It`s absolutely shameless. But it does go back to what they did when McCrory was elected, right? He was elected as a perceived moderate and then swung away to the right and they passed their voter suppression and cutting education bills.

But this is worse because they just want to repudiate -- the only thing is, Joy, they have, the Republicans have a veto-proof majority. So, there`s not that much -- unless they peel off some Republicans, which I think they will, which I would assume they will. But I don`t know if it`ll be enough to do anything about this. I think he`ll be fighting it in the courts.

REID: But that`s the point, though, Caitlyn. They already had the veto- proof majority. They didn`t need to do all of this extra stuff. It doesn`t lend to the question, why are they all of doing this?

HUEY-BURNS: That`s exactly right. I mean, this is the height of partisanship this year. And if anything, there was a real message from the electorate they didn`t want this kind of thing to happen. It is so fascinating because they do already control the statehouse. Also, McCrory was the only Republican to lose his seat in this year. That was a great year for Republicans. It`s really remarkable.

REID: And, you know, Nick, the other thing you had the election of an African-American Supreme Court justice, which now tips the balance 4-3 in favor of Democrats, so that if the new incoming governor went to court, he would have a favorable court.

But you`ve also heard that one of the things they like to do is court pack. Add two more people so that they even can`t go that route.

CONFESSORE: Yes. Look, you know, again, this is like a cry of rage. They lost. They hated losing. They think it was not fair for some reason. They raised a hullaballoo that was nothing about fake votes and voter fraud. And they`re going to do whatever it takes to hold on to power. It`s like -- we haven`t seen this in a long time.

REID: Yes. I don`t think we`ve seen this clinging to power.

WALSH: No.

REID: Not in a modern American election.

WALSH: No. I mean, I`m a Democrat. We really hate losing. This has really been tough. But no one is proposing anything like this.

You know, the Democrats aren`t looking for ways to strip Donald Trump of his power. I mean, they may, but that`s a different story.

REID: All right. Labor Secretary Tom Perez announced that he was joining the race for chair of the Democratic National Committee. Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison had already announced he was running for the chairmanship. For some, this matchup looks like a proxy battle between the Clinton-Obama wing of the party and the pro-Bernie Sanders wing.

Another to NBC`s Alex Seitz-Wald, Ellison was a loyal Bernie Sanders supporter in the presidential primary, while Perez was a vocal Hillary Clinton backer and some in the party`s establishment are uneasy with handing the reins of the party to a senator`s ally from one of the most liberal congressional districts in the country, worried that he could divide the party or alienate the white working class voters the party needs to win back.

I`ll start with you on this, Joan, because there is a sort of fishing constantly for white working class voters who are quite clearly Republicans.

WALSH: Right.

REID: Why is that the main driving force behind a choice between Perez and not Perez?

WALSH: Well, I think it`s a false choice, too, because Tom Perez -- look, I`m completely undecided here. I adore Keith Ellison. I think he would do a great job. Tom Perez is someone I respect enormously. He`s not put out any plans yet. Keith has, you know, a website with lots of plans. You can read about it.

Tom is taking -- Secretary Perez, I don`t know him personally, is taking listen tour, which he`s entitled to.

REID: Yes.

WALSH: But this has to be about issues. How do you rebuild the party? The public base of the party, the messaging of the party, rebuilding the state parties especially in places like Michigan and Wisconsin, where they`ve been decimated, and also the union base has been decimated. So, it really can`t be about refighting Clinton versus Sanders or going out for the white working class. It`s got to be so much more than that.

REID: Like Groundhog Day.

The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something which I don`t know, which is very easy.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: President Barack Obama will hold a press conference at the White House on Friday, 2:00 p.m. Eastern. His last for the year. We`ll bring you live coverage of that here on MSNBC. The president will then leave for his annual family vacation in Hawaii.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: All right. We`re back.

Caitlyn, tell me something I don`t know.

HUEY-BURNS: Keep on eye on the Senate Democrats from really red states during the confirmation process. Joe Manchin deciding -- whether he decided or not, staying in the Senate may be more welcome news for Donald Trump than it is for Democrats particularly when it comes to the Tillerson nomination where Republicans are likely to defect.

REID: Yes. Manchin wants them to pick a DNC chair from a red state which would go over brilliantly.

Nick, tell me something I don`t know.

CONFESSORE: Speaking of DNC chairs, I was curious who had the job the longest in the 20th century, Jim Farley under FDR, eight years. A great period for Democrats.

REID: Yes.

CONFESSORE: He was the first ever guest on "Meet the Press."

REID: Wow, that`s cool. Very interesting. I don`t know that.

All right. Jo, can you top that?

WALSH: I can`t -- probably not. I`m going to give up.

Conspiracy monger Alex Jones has been scrubbing his site of his pizza-gate content, but he`s got a new target. It`s Christine Pelosi and the electors who are trying to simply get a CIA briefing or intelligence community briefing about the issues of Russian hacking. He has accused them of wanting to assassinate Donald Trump and, of course, she is getting death threats.

REID: Wow.

OK. Really quickly, lightning round, how many electors end up being feeble (ph) electors, give us a number.

WALSH: I have no idea. Seven?

CONFESSORE: I`m going to guess, like, two.

HUEY-BURNS: How about none?

REID: One. I think there might be one.

WALSH: There`s one. You know --

REID: Door prize for whoever was right.

Thank you to Caitlyn Huey-Burns, Nick Confessore, and Joan Walsh.

When we return, let me finish with a big question facing my profession, our profession, the media.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: Let me finish tonight with the big question facing my profession, the media, and not just Democrats and what`s left of never-Trump Republicans in the coming years. What are you going to do about it?

That`s basically what Trump is asking when he and his team openly brag that his adult children will defy convention and work both as White House advisers and run Trump businesses. Businesses Trump clearly won`t or maybe can`t part with as president. It`s what he`s asking when he insists despite all evidence to the contrary, including from the intelligence community that he`s about to inherit that, no, Russia didn`t play a role in getting him elected by hacking Democrats. It`s what he asked when he refused and still refuses to release his tax returns.

Trump is almost daring the media to just try, try and do, reporters say, anything that might stop him. He`s waving around the threat of cutting off even traditional press briefings. And he and his campaign, with considerable help from Vladimir Putin and Russia, have spent a year or more undermining confidence in the traditional press, and selling his supporters on the idea that the only voice they can trust is his, whether that voice is heard at a series of televised pep rallies, or on Twitter.

It`s a Putin-like approach that so far is working among Trump supporters and elected members of his party. The big question, will we let it work on us?

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