Show: HARDBALL Date: January 13, 2017 Guest: Jason Johnson, Jennifer Rubin, Jeremy Peters, John Avlon, Julia Ioffe, Steve Cohen, Ruth Marcus, Yamiche Alcindor, Susan Page
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: An investigation.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Sometimes, the very decision to investigate changes the political climate. Think of the Church committee on misbehavior by the CIA, or before that, Senator Fulbright`s hearings on Vietnam, or of course, the Watergate hearings. Hold a big investigation and key information has way of popping out, information that we didn`t have but had a right to have.
The inspector general of the United States Justice Department is about to begin a serious investigation of FBI director James Comey`s decision to explode the 2016 presidential race 11 days before voting day by announcing that the front-running candidate for president was still under active investigation for possible mishandling of classified government information.
One person who sees the inspector general`s decision as possible explosive is the man who won the election. Donald Trump was up at dawn today tweeting a storm of protest. The president-elect wrote, "What are Hillary Clinton`s people complaining about with respect to the FBI? Based on the information they had, she should never have been allowed to run. Guilty as hell! They were very nice to her. She lost because she campaigned in the wrong states. No enthusiasm."
Well, the fact that Trump is fired up about this indicates he recognizes the danger here. The nature of his Electoral College victory is on trial with this post-mortem on Comey`s decision to send that bombshell letter to Congress, as I said, 11 days before the election.
The letter played a major role in Trump`s closing argument.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They`re reopening the investigation into crooked Hillary Clinton! The FBI would never have reopened this case at this time unless it were a most egregious criminal offense!
This is the biggest scandal since Watergate. Hillary is the one who broke the law over and over and over again! We can be sure that what is in those e-mails is absolutely devastating!
And I will continue to address and expose the criminal corruption of Hillary Clinton and its threat to the survival of our democracy!
Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s the election. Clinton and her team left no doubt they put the blame for her loss on Comey. Bill Clinton told a local reporter in Westchester, New York, James Comey cost her the election. And here`s what Hillary Clinton told supporters last month.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Swing state voters made their decision in the final days, breaking against me because of the FBI letter from Director Comey. And Nate Silver believes -- I happy to believe this -- that that letter most likely made the difference in the outcome.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, does Trump have something to be worried about here? What does this autopsy do to our political world going into the inaugural?
Ruth Marcus is deputy editorial page editor for "The Washington Post." Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today." And Yamiche Alcindor`s a national reporter for the "New York Times" and an MSNBC contributor.
Let`s go right along the line. You first, Ruth, because you`ve got to write big picture looks at things. I do think that this is one of those things that seems to start small, a federal government civil servant, an Intelligence, who you never hear of these people, makes a decision this is too big to let go. And right before the inaugural says, I`m going to carry out what could be a relentless investigation, no time period on it, as to what went on in the Justice Department and the FBI that obviously shook this election campaign to its feet. It changed everything.
RUTH MARCUS, "WASHINGTON POST": I -- it`s a very difficult moment, a kind of fragile moment for our democracy, because it`s not simply the IG investigation. It`s also, however, a Congress or whoever decides to do an investigation of what happened with the Russian hacking.
And so we have two situations. You cannot rerun an election, but we also have a situation where a big chunk of the country is very unsure of, suspicious of whether the outcome of this election was really a fair outcome. And you have a president who instead of wanting to kind of heal and bring everybody together, can`t stop relitigating it. And I think that`s just a very unfortunate and kind of volatile situation...
MATTHEWS: Yes, I agree, volatile.
MARCUS: ... for our democracy.
MATTHEWS: I think volatile and fragile`s the word. We will have an inauguration. We will have a smooth transfer, but there`ll be strange electricity in the air with everybody knowing there`s an investigation just begun to see whether a government official changed the results of this election.
SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": And you know, the irony is, what built the political base for Donald Trump? It was questioning the legitimacy of Barack Obama`s presidency, the birther -- discredited birther accusation. So now he faces -- and you know, you named two of them, Russia and Comey. There`s a third, which is that he lost the popular vote. So for -- and you see Donald Trump being pretty sensitive on all three of these issues and still litigating them even a week before he`s going to take office.
MATTHEWS: But what about this one, Yamiche, because this is the United States government in the shape of an inspector general, a non-politician, Michael Horowitz, investigating and using his office, as is proper to use it, to investigate the behavior of his department, the Justice Department.
This isn`t some weird thing we got to go to some MI-6 guy over in Russia, with his contacts over there, rather. This is about us investigating what happened in this city, or maybe what happened in the New York office of the FBI. I have my own theories about this, about why that decision was made by Comey.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, "NEW YORK TIMES," MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think it`s a remarkable thing that`s happening and I think it`s something that could start small and end up being bigger. If we find out that Comey was weighing all these other things, weighing other things, maybe political reasons why did this and took this step -- because it was pretty unprecedented.
And I think I was out in swing states. I went to the North Carolina the weekend that the letter came out, and it was on all these voters` minds. People were early voting with the idea that Comey`s letter had come out. But Hillary Clinton supporters were telling me that, Hey, you know what? Now I feel like she could lose, I`m going to go to vote. And then they were people that were supporting Donald Trump that said, This moved me to the polls because this was the straw that broke the camel`s back. This was the deciding factor.
So it`s true that there`s Russia and these all these other things that went on, the fact that (INAUDIBLE) neither of these candidates were liked by the voters in general that could have swung this election, but I think it`s a big deal and something that I think I`m going to definitely want to follow up (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: And I find it fascinating, North Carolina being the example, which you know so well -- in North Carolina, the Republican governor gets beaten, but Hillary gets beaten. So it may have been about her, not ideology.
Anyway, since his actions in October, James Comey`s reputation has suffered, especially with Democrats. Watch this exchange between Comey and Senator Angus King from this week. This was quite a -- a moment of interesting sarcasm, I might say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Mr. Comey, did you answer Senator Wyden`s question that there is an investigation under way as to connections between either of the political campaigns and the Russian -- Russians?
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I didn`t say one way or another. Especially in a public forum, we never deny a pending investigation.
KING: The irony...
COMEY: I`m not saying...
KING: The irony of your making that statement here, I cannot avoid, but I`ll move on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, he did make his point. The Senator did. And Congresswoman Maxine Waters left a briefing with Comey and other senior intelligence official today with only one message for the press. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about the (INAUDIBLE)
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: No. It`s classified, and we can`t tell you anything. All I can tell you us the FBI director has no creditability.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that was (INAUDIBLE) summary judgment, I might say. But that is the situation we`re in. And now, of course, Comey finds himself a man without a country politically because the wonderful "Wall Street Journal" editorial page is after him because he went after their hero, Scooter Libby, a couple years ago. So he`s got a little -- he`s got a few enemies in the back room, too.
MARCUS: Well, sometimes in Washington, you say if everybody`s complaining about you, maybe you`re doing something right.
MATTHEWS: You agree with that.
FINEMAN: That might not actually -- that might not actually be the situation in this case. And what were going to have, though, is-- you know, people say he has no creditability. You had John Lewis, you know, renowned congressman, questioning the new president`s legitimacy.
MATTHEWS: Well, because of the Russia thing.
FINEMAN: You`re going to have months...
MATTHEWS: Yes, but there`s -- let`s not play naive here. There`s ideology and...
MATTHEWS: ... and partisanship -- no, you`re not a partisan.
FINEMAN: No, no, no. I meant naive.
MATTHEWS: You have a point of view, but I mean partisanship, where they just say -- they used to say -- I know (INAUDIBLE) in Washington. If you`re down, you know who your enemies are because they jump you. So "The Wall Street Journal" saw a chance to jump Comey here for their own little list of reasons, right? It doesn`t convince me that when both sides attack you that you`re bad.
MARCUS: But my point is that this situation is not healthy for the country. And we`re going to have a bunch of inquiries and these questions about the popular vote. And what happens? The IG comes out after months of behind-the-scenes investigation with a report? Does that solve anything for us?
MATTHEWS: Well, the question I have is why so long to wait. Why until the week of the inaugural Dr. Horowitz wait to announce this?
MARCUS: I have been asking that question because I think it`s a really important...
PAGE: Well, I think one reason is to -- I think one reason -- I don`t know why they didn`t do it before, but I think one reason they`re doing it now, to get it launched before the new administration takes over. So there`s an investigation...
MATTHEWS: Before he gets fired.
PAGE: ... going on, and -- before he -- he could be replaced. There`s a process for replacing the inspector general. And it`s possible for the new administration to try to -- I mean, it`s an independent operation, but there are still things...
ALCINDOR: ... the administration can do. But talk about irony -- I don`t think there`s any evidence James Comey did this for political reasons. I think he did it to protect his reputation. And in doing so, could he have hurt his reputation any more than he did?
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about this because I think the great investigation question is what motivated him to announce 11 days before the election that Hillary Clinton was under active investigation. We know the particulars. Anthony Weiner`s e-mail -- we know that somehow, he and his wife had their e-mails on the same -- the same -- the same desktop, I guess. I mean, the fact is that that happens in families. Sometimes things get crossed up.
Was that enough of a reason, or was there politics in the New York FBI office? Was Giuliani of some interest in this whole thing? I don`t know. I find it fascinating. But I don`t know whether you can say Comey can ever be proven to have acted as a Republican or as a partisan.
And if he acted as a professional on behalf of his institution, the FBI -- because all the agents around were saying, You got to do something, you got to do something, and you promised you`d announce this, that`s an institutional imperative, which is not illegal or unethical, necessarily.
ALCINDOR: Well, part of it is going to be what does the report show us. If this report shows us that what you just said and what I think some people have thought (ph) when you (ph) talked about this idea that he wasn`t motivated by politics, but it was by the sense that -- of duty and the fact that he felt like if people -- if he had come out with this afterwards, imagine if Hillary Clinton had won, and afterwards, they would have said, Oh, you know what? We`re going to be looking at Anthony Wiener`s e-mails, and how (INAUDIBLE) and looking at all this stuff, it`s kind of hard, I think, to figure out whether or not...
MATTHEWS: Can I be practical? It took them about a day to look at those e-mails. They could have looked at the e-mails, realized there was nothing there and made no announcement.
PAGE: Which would have been consistent with their policy to not...
MATTHEWS: Well, he just said! He explained the policy to Angus King...
MATTHEWS: ... we don`t make announcements about investigations.
PAGE: One reason we have policies at institutions, especially close to elections, is to avoid exactly the situation we (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: Yes, OK. Well, that may be all that comes out of this, they make an announcement that after two or three months of investigation, hiring a lot of staff people, hiring a lot of Xerox machines and all this stuff they hire for investigations, they come out and say the normal procedure was not to make any politically sensitive within certain weeks of an election, and they violated it.
MARCUS: And then what? Then what happened?
MATTHEWS: By the way, Hillary`s numbers aren`t looking too good today.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
MATTHEWS: See them? I was amazed. Anyway, Hillary -- people don`t like people that lose, I guess, anyway, for a while. She`ll look better in a couple of years.
Anyway, Hillary Clinton wasn`t Trump`s only Twitter target today. He continued to accuse the intelligence community of leaking that unsubstantiated dossier about his ties to Russia. Mr. Trump said today, "Totally made-up facts by sleazebag political operatives, both Democrats and Republicans, fake news. Russia says nothing exists, probably released by intelligence, even knowing there was no proof and never will be. My people will have a full report on hacking within 90"...
MATTHEWS: I`m sorry -- "within 90 days." I`ve had these promises before.
PAGE: And why is "intelligence" always in quotes? And this is a bad sign because he`s going to need intelligence, right? There`s going to be crises where he`s going to need to trust the intelligence people that he is now bashing.
MATTHEWS: OK. OK, bottom line, Ruth, you know how to surmise, look into the future. Will this report by the -- this investigation by the IG, which I do believe will have a lot of drama to it -- will it lead to some sort of indictment of Comey and the way he did this?
MARCUS: Criminal indictment or political indictment?
MATTHEWS: You know (INAUDIBLE) let`s call it ethical indictment.
MARCUS: I -- my guess is that`s going to show that he was not motivated by partisan desire to help...
MARCUS: ... to help Trump or hurt Hillary. He was motivated by a desire to help his institution, but probably more to help himself. He didn`t want to be -- look like he was engaged in a coverup. It will end up criticizing his judgment on a number of different fronts, and then we`re going to say can`t rerun an election, what a disaster.
PAGE: I would say we have no idea what this report is going to end up finding...
MARCUS: Well, you`re smarter than I am!
PAGE: ... because you never know -- you never know until you start investigating.
MATTHEWS: I think -- I`ll go back to mine, Yamiche. Things pop, like, Nixon had a tape recording machine? Oh, didn`t know that. That changes everything. Things it pop when you put pressure on it.
ALCINDOR: I mean, if we come out -- I am -- I`m on Susan`s side, in some ways, in that I think that it`s going to be really hard to see what happens with this report. But if it comes out there`s any way it shows that he had -- was politically motivated, that`s going to be explosively and he`s going to be...
MATTHEWS: Politically or partisanly motivated?
ALCINDOR: Partisanly motivated.
MATTHEWS: I agree with that.
ALCINDOR: If it`s (INAUDIBLE) he didn`t something (INAUDIBLE) because it was a Republican and he wanted to help Donald Trump...
MATTHEWS: If somebody said...
ALCINDOR: ... that`s going to be really -- if it`s an email they find or...
MATTHEWS: OK, but think about...
ALCINDOR: ... a disgruntled employee...
MATTHEWS: Oh. Well, just think about how hard that is to prove. It`s like proving bribery. You need a tape recording.
Anyway, with Ruth Marcus, we are here, Susan Page with Yamiche Alcindor, we`ve had a great Friday start.
Coming up -- we now know that Donald Trump`s pick to be national security adviser was on the phone with the Russian ambassador here at the same time the Obama administration was considering sanctions against Moscow for the election hacking. That`s raising a lot of suspicions about the Trump administration`s relationship with Putin.
And now U.S. Congressman John Lewis, as mentioned here, the Civil Rights hero, says he doesn`t see Trump as a legitimate president because of this Russian help he got.
Anyway, plus, why are we hearing so much testimony from Trump`s cabinet picks that directly contradicts what Trump has been saying himself, whether it`s torture, the border wall with Mexico, the Muslim ban or Russia, Trump`s nominees are breaking with a lot of the issues Trump ran on. So are we supposed to believe what they`re saying or what Trump has said then?
And as we watch President Obama and Vice President Biden say their good- byes, it`s the farewell from another president, George Washington, that means as much today, you`re going to learn tonight, as it did more than two centuries ago. For a long time, it was the most famous speech in American history.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Late today, the House of Representatives approved a plan that would allow them to scrap President Obama`s health care law without fear of a Senate filibuster. The House voted along party lines to pave the way for "Obama care`s" repeal. The Senate cast a similar vote in the early morning hours yesterday.
Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress are vowing to replace "Obama care," but they can`t agree on what the replacement plan should look like. In the meantime, 20 million Americans, as I`ve said, are now at risk of loosing their health insurance.
We`ll be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. With just seven days until Donald Trump takes the office, the role of Russia in the election campaign threatens to cast a shadow over his inauguration and future presidency. Civil Rights hero and Georgia congressman John Lewis in an exclusive interview with NBC News`s "MEET THE PRESS" with Chuck Todd said today that he thinks Russia`s influence has made Donald Trump`s presidency illegitimate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: I don`t see this president-elect as a legitimate president.
I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But as Donald Trump said on Wednesday he strongly rejects that criticism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Also today, James Clapper and James Comey held a classified and at times contentious briefing with the House members, well, on Russian hacking.
And for more, I`m joined by U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen, Democrat from Tennessee, who was in the briefing today, and Julia Ioffe, national security reporter for "The Atlantic."
Congressman, thank you.
Can you tell us? I know you`re under rules, but tenor of that hearing must have something.
REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: It was pretty tense.
Clapper was the main spokesperson. And it was chilling to know what Russia had done, which is public information pretty much, to interfere with our election, and their attempt to destroy our democratic principles and to make us look bad, as they have done other places in the world, but to know that they have come into our country, stolen merchandise.
COHEN: E-mails, and then saw that they were produced. And the idea that the Trump`s campaign seem to so parallel the same material that they were putting out.
MATTHEWS: What do we know? Let`s go, not the conclusions, but what do we know of the facts of what the Trump people did to cooperate, to be accessories, if you will, to this Russia getting into our election campaign?
What did Trump people actually do? This meeting with the Russian ambassador the same day that the sanctions were being put out?
COHEN: This is something that needs to be ascertained. And I hope there`s an investigation. I would call for an investigation to see what the connections were between the Kremlin and the Trump people.
And I ask that question, because that`s of major import. But we do know that Trump`s message about WikiLeaks and about the crookedness of Hillary and everything were the same things that Russian television was putting out and Russian propaganda with false, fake news.
MATTHEWS: What came first, the chicken or the egg?
COHEN: Well, it`s hard to say.
MATTHEWS: Were they aping him or was he aping them?
COHEN: Well, we don`t know. And that`s something we have to find out. But it was consistent. It was the same message.
MATTHEWS: What do you know?
JULIA IOFFE, "NEW YORK": Well, I would agree with the representative that the Russians for a long time had a favorite candidate.
When I was in Russia in May and June, if you just turn on Russian TV, it was all about Hillary Clinton is a war-monger and she is going to start a war with Russia, Trump practices or preaches a healthy isolationism, in the words of the Kremlin.
MATTHEWS: That`s how I looked at the campaign, by the way. I don`t think Hillary was looking for war. But I think she is much more hawkish than Trump was.
But let me tell you, was that a globalist look or they just thought Hillary was going to go to war with Russia?
IOFFE: I don`t think they thought Hillary was going to go to war with Russia. But it was not a candidate they wanted to see win the presidency.
She is very hawkish towards Russia. Vladimir Putin has a personal grudge against her going back to December 2011, when she was secretary of state and there were pro-democracy protests that broke out in the wake of widely falsified parliamentary elections. And she called him out on it publicly. He was very angry and very upset about that and said that she had actually sent the signal, is what he said, to these protesters.
And then this meme started up on Russian TV.
MATTHEWS: She also made fun of him.
IOFFE: I think this was the key.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the law here.
MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. Let`s get to the law here.
If it comes out for that Trump or -- it would have to be Trump, I suppose. But let`s find out for political reasons. If one of his people was working hand in glove with the Kremlin, in other words, calling in the other shot, what you ought to say about Hillary is this, what you ought to find out is, or why don`t you go look into this, because Trump did rather notoriously announce, I wish the Russians would put out, would dig into her e-mails.
So, we know that part. But what would be criminal? What would be a violation of the Logan Act, which prevents an American from engaging in foreign policy negotiations as -- not as part of the administration?
COHEN: I think that the Logan Act would be applicable. And I think there are other laws.
MATTHEWS: If what?
COHEN: Well, if they were working in collusion to have a foreign power interfere with our electoral process and put out false information and also to participate in what is a criminal activity. And hacking the e-mails is a criminal activity.
And having knowledge of that and encouraging such and then using that information like an aider or abetter or an accessory after the fact, I think it would be subject to an impeachment hearing. The Republicans would have to be the people to bring it. They chair the committees. They would have to be to be the one to initiate impeachment.
IOFFE: It`s hard to see Republicans, who control now both houses of Congress, who need a Republican in the White House to affirm their agenda, that they would bring this forward and topple him.
MATTHEWS: Today, they`re the majority in both houses.
Today, the great David Ignatius -- we had him on last night. He wrote in "The Washington Post" we have learned that Trump`s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, conducted direct talks with the Russian ambassador here in Washington on the very day that President Obama sanctioned Russia and expelled over a dozen Russian diplomats from this country.
He wrote -- this is Ignatius -- "According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on December 29, that day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials, as well as other measures in retaliation for their hacking."
According to Ignatius, the move could have violated the Logan Act, which forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments having a dispute with the United States.
In an attempt to clarify, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters today that Flynn called the ambassador a day before sanctions were announced. Let`s listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: On the 28th of December texted him and said I would like to give you a call. May I?
He then took that call on the 28th, and the call centered around the logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and the president-elect after he was sworn in and they exchanged logistical information on how to initiate and schedule that call. That was it, plain and simple.
QUESTION: Did General Flynn have any conversations to indicate to the Russian ambassador that the U.S. Trump administration would either ease or roll back sanctions?
SPICER: The only conversation that General Flynn had was one to wish him a merry Christmas, two, to express his sympathies for the loss of life that occurred during that plane crash that took the lives of their military choir, and the two -- is to commit to establishing a call after the inauguration between the two leaders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: It important to note that, on December 27, the day before Flynn made the call, "The Washington Post" had reported that U.S. sanctions were imminent.
So, this argument over days and this flackery going on here, oh, it was a different day, doesn`t really work, because the Russians knew was what was coming and we knew what was going, sanctions.
COHEN: There`s a lot of smoke, and I think it needs to be investigated. I hope there is an investigation.
I would like to say this about James Comey. I called for his resignation immediately after he released the information about the Weiner e-mails.
MATTHEWS: About Hillary.
COHEN: Now -- and I think it was wrong. I think it influenced the election, and I think it was totally wrong.
But I think Comey is the only guy we got left who, if he finds something that connects the Trumps to the Russians, that he will have the backbone and the rectitude to stand up and make it a national issue. And I think Comey needs to stay.
And I think the "Wall Street Journal," in giving Trump some kind of cover, was wrong.
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes. Don`t trust "The Wall Street Journal."
COHEN: And if Trump does fire him, it will be Ruckelshaus and Richardson, and it will be the beginning...
MATTHEWS: By the way, they gave it out -- they let it out of the bag today. "The Wall Street Journal" is not concerned about improprieties.
They`re upset that Comey got Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate Karl Rove and Scooter Libby and the revered Dick Cheney. And that`s what they are mad about and that`s what they said.
By the way, I`m with Comey on that one.
Anyway, thank you, Congressman Steve Cohen on that one. And Julia Ioffe, thank so much.
Up next, why are Trump Cabinet nominees contradicting the same positions that Trump himself took during the campaign? A lot of them are at odds with Trump on some big issues like Russia, that border wall with Mexico, I suppose, anyway, the Muslim ban, torture and the Iran deal. They`re all on the other side of the fight. They could have been with Hillary on some of this stuff.
Who are be supposed to believe, the Cabinet or whatever?
Anyway, this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Several of Donald Trump`s Cabinet nominees, as I said, took the stand for confirmation hearings this week. And one thing is clear, I guess. They are not on the same page as the guy who picked them. The president-elect, when it comes to his views or his campaign promises that made him popular with his loyal base of supporters, doesn`t quite scare with what these nominees are saying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: The TPP is a horrible deal. It is a deal that is going to lead to nothing but trouble. So, I say it`s a very bad deal, should not be approved.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you share his opposition to TPP?
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: I do not oppose TPP.
TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: I have no belief and do not support the idea that Muslims as a religious group should be denied admission to the United States.
TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they are bringing drugs, they are bringing crime, they are rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.
TILLERSON: I would never characterize an entire population of people with any single term at all.
TRUMP: We are going to build a wall. If they ever get up, they`re saying, oh, man, how do I get down from this wall?
GEN. JOHN KELLY (RET.), HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY NOMINEE: A physical barrier, in and of itself, will not do the job.
TRUMP: WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks.
REP. MIKE POMPEO (R), KANSAS: I have never believed that WikiLeaks was a credible source of information.
TRUMP: The people of Crimea, from what I have heard, would rather be with Russia than where they we.
TILLERSON: I would have recommended that the Ukraine take all of its military assets it had available, put them on that eastern border, provide those assets with defensive weapons that are necessary just to defend themselves, announce that the U.S. is going to provide them intelligence and that either NATO or U.S. will provide air surveillance over that border.
TRUMP: This was looker room talk.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: My question is very simple. Is grabbing a woman by her genitals without consent, is that sexual assault?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Trump says his Cabinet choices should just be themselves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We want them to be themselves, and I told them, be yourselves and say what you want to say. Don`t worry about me.
And I`m going to do the right thing, whatever its is. I may be right and they may be right. But I said be yourselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Let`s bring the HARDBALL roundtable tonight.
Jason Johnson is politics editor for TheRoot.com. Jennifer Rubin is an opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and Jeremy Peters is a reporter with "The New York Times."
So, let`s start, Jason, because if you voted for Trump and you voted against trade and you voted for the wall, if you will, I guess you voted, I go through the whole list, I could do it all, everything is being vitiated by the nominees, at least in these hearings.
JASON JOHNSON, THE ROOT: And what did Trump say during the campaign? I could shoot somebody walking through Times Square and these people will still follow me.
I didn`t vote for Donald Trump because I thought he was consistent. I voted for him because I thought he was going to shake up the system. This is not going to affect his supporters at all.
MATTHEWS: OK. Jennifer.
JENNIFER RUBIN, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It is going to make the government completely incoherent, however.
MATTHEWS: Which way is he going, is I guess another question.
RUBIN: That`s the question.
There`s two possibilities. One is he`s not going to let these guys do anything, and so it doesn`t matter what they say. He is going to talk to Reince Priebus or he`s going to talk most likely to Steven Bannon and decide what he wants to do. That`s one possibility.
MATTHEWS: Or Jared Kushner.
RUBIN: Or Jared Kushner.
JEREMY PETERS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Or however the last person is to whisper in his ear, which has been the case.
MATTHEWS: But these are Rock of Gibraltar commitments he made.
Look, I don`t think he`s going to build the wall, but he`s going to do something to stop illegal immigration in a dramatic, perhaps cruel way. But he`s going to do it.
And then has a guy saying the wall won`t work.
I think over the course of the campaign, I talked to a lot of his supporters at these rallies and asked them, does it matter if he builds the wall, does it matter if Mexico pays for it? Well, not necessarily, as long as he improves their lives. That`s what people voted for.
They voted for change. They voted for a shakeup in Washington, as Jason was saying. And as long as they feel like Washington is functioning again, like their lives are just a little bit better, I think he gets a pass on all that.
MATTHEWS: Do you buy that? That`s a great theory, if it`s true.
RUBIN: Yes, I would love that to be the truth.
I actually think that he believes this stuff. A lot of supporters did. And there`s going to be this sense of mass disillusionment if he doesn`t made good.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a more dramatic question, because I think the election was very cultural and class.
MATTHEWS: If he starts hanging around with the celebrities, like Hillary Clinton did, Rob Reiner and Carole King, and he`s the toast of Martha`s Vineyard, I think they might not like that.
JOHNSON: They may not like it if it`s wrong kind of celebrities, right?
MATTHEWS: Well, no, Wayne Newton is OK.
JOHNSON: Exactly, Kid Rock, those kinds of people.
Those people are going to be fine. But here`s the other thing. I don`t even think a lot of Trump supporters care if government works better. They want somebody to go there and kick some butt. They want somebody to go there and make Congress feel uncomfortable.
MATTHEWS: OK. First of all, we`re not going to get into all the detail, but I do say these are profound.
And I look about the Muslim ban. A lot of his wilder people on the edge, the alt-right, like that. And now he says, well, that`s not going to do. We`re not going to outlaw Muslims, which is an absurd, un-American thing to do.
But all of a sudden why did Mr. Sessions feel, he could -- well, the guy from Alabama can`t look like he has got a race problem. Right?
RUBIN: Well, that`s the kind of clue to all of this. They can`t say these crazy things and get confirmed.
That kind of proves..
MATTHEWS: So, Trump couldn`t have got confirmed for any Cabinet post.
RUBIN: Exactly. That`s exactly -- only the voters could unleash him on us.
PETERS: Yet he could get elected president.
RUBIN: Yes, that`s right. But he couldn`t have any job.
MATTHEWS: I want to follow your theory, which is the wild theory, is all they feel like things are getting better.
And I do agree. If he can produce jobs from infrastructure, I would be all for it. If he wants to -- like they did in China, I talked about it the other night. They took the guys that did the deep mining and coal, stopped mining coal, and used those deep miners to dig subways. That would be brilliant.
It`s thrilling that you could start to think like that. But that`s a command society. You tell people to move from Milwaukee to Tallahassee, and they do it.
OK. Roosevelt went into power, into the White House in a very terrible time, much worse than him, the depths of the Great Depression. He promised -- come back and look at it -- I`m going to end the Depression by cutting the number of government employees. I`m going to reduce the deficit.
The deficit is the -- he comes in, expands this city, Washington, expands role of the federal government, and he got reelected three times.
So, he`s right. It doesn`t matter what you do, as long as you do it.
RUBIN: As long as you do it, and it works.
And I think the other thing is he also came into -- and this goes to the foreign policy guys -- he also came in essentially promising not to get us into a war. and he had to bring the president -- the country with him.
So, question is, does Trump know how to or does he want to bring the country with him wherever he goes?
MATTHEWS: Let`s get to the tricky issue of the Middle East. He says, I don`t want any more wars in the Mideast, but I`m moving the embassy. That is an act of -- let me call it this, a slap in your face to King Abdullah, to the Saudis, to the Emirates.
MATTHEWS: By the way, I know there`s a plus upside to it, but there`s a scary downside, in terms of war.
JOHNSON: Look, Netanyahu will like it. That will work help for his constituencies.
MATTHEWS: There`s some upsides, in terms of morale.
JOHNSON: There`s a governing part, and then there`s the sort of retail politics part. His retail politics are going to be great.
The contradictions between him and these Cabinet positions will make government almost impossible.
MATTHEWS: And Jared Kushner may be the strongest Cabinet member, son-in- law. He`s going to be there long after the administration. He is going to be married to Ivanka, his daughter. You don`t fire that guy.
MATTHEWS: The only other guy to fire his son-in-law was Mussolini. He had him expected. He had the count executed.
JOHNSON: We don`t have that yet.
PETERS: But this is not exactly a team of rivals in the intellectual sense, right?
I don`t get -- Trump is going to run his White House like he ran his campaign, which is impulsively, from the gut.
MATTHEWS: OK, Mad Dog vs. Flynn, who is going to win?
RUBIN: Mad Dog.
He has a higher rank. And that counts with those guys.
MATTHEWS: Defense beats State defeats the NSC.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. It`s a lively Friday, even with this shadow of Russia and Comey all over us.
Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.
You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Back with our HARDBALL roundtable.
Jason, tell me something I know.
JASON JOHNSON, THEROOT.COM: Talladega College, which is the oldest historical black college of the United States, a lot of scandal, a lot of controversy this week because they have said that they`re actually going to perform at Trump`s inauguration. The interesting thing is they have used this in a creative way. The school has raised over $300,000 from right wing organization since making this announcement.
MATTHEWS: Well, that will pay for the trip.
JOHNSON: Oh, that`s going to more than paying for the trip. And a lot of people say that`s the reason why they said they are going to do it.
JENNIFER RUBIN, THE WASHINGTON POST: I spoke with --
MATTHEWS: Just like the unjust steward in the bible, right? You make your move.
RUBIN: I spoke with Jason Chaffetz this afternoon who shows a remarkable passivity about Donald Trump`s finances. I asked him whether he cared he still owned his asset and therefore would be in a continual position of conflicts of interest. He said, all we care about is the law.
Don`t you care about inviting conflicts, inviting corruption? No, all we care about is the law. What about the emoluments? I don`t have any -- you know, I don`t have any questions on that.
Really, you don`t care weeks from now that the president of the United States can put his hand on the Bible swear to uphold the Constitution, be in violation? His answer, not necessarily.
MATTHEWS: His father was Kitty Dukakis` first husband. Don`t you love this interesting associate matrix overlays?
Anyway, Jeremy --
JEREMY PETERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The stuff that only you know. It`s amazing.
What John Lewis did, could be a stroke of sheer genius if Donald Trump takes the bait. I think what this is intended to do is not really to cast doubt on Donald Trump`s legitimacy as a president. It`s meant to make Trump do what he did with the Khans. And if he does that, it`s going to blow up and it`s going to be smart play on the Democrats.
Very hard to go after John Lewis.
MATTHEWS: John Lewis is very soulful in his manner and he has an amazing history of taking the hits for civil rights.
PETERS: Yes, you don`t attack a civil rights hero.
MATTHEWS: He was one of the freedom riders and, of course, on the bridge, what a history he had. He is the real thing.
Thank you, Jason Johnson and thank you -- Jennifer Rubin and Jeremy Peters.
Up next, as we watch President Obama say farewell, it`s the parting words of the first president, George Washington, still has so much resonance today as they did a lot of it since 1796 when he first made the words.
And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: We just learned today President Obama will hold last press briefing next Wednesday. It will happen sometime in the afternoon from the White House briefing room.
Meanwhile tonight, join my colleague Lester Holt, "Barack Obama: The Reality of Hope". Lester interviewed President Obama aboard Air Force One for his "Dateline" NBC special, "The Reality of Hope" coming up tonight, as I said, at 10:00 Eastern, 9:00 Central on NBC.
And we`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America is no fragile thing but the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: We`re back and that was President Obama in his farewell address this Tuesday, issuing a solemn reminder that America`s bold experiment in self-government has succeeded only because we as a people have unified behind its principles. But in delivering that message, the 44 president was echoing the very prophetic warning delivered by the country`s first president over two centuries ago.
In his new book, "Washington`s Farewell", author John Avlon makes the compelling case that George Washington`s parting message applies today as much as it did in the early years of the republic. As Avlon writes, quote, "Washington understood that utopian dreams often turn into nightmares. He hoped to create a document beyond partisanship, able to unite the nation."
It was with that goal in mind that President Obama quoted from Washington`s farewell address in his speech on Tuesday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self- government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity and liberty. But from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth. And so, we have to preserve this truth with jealous anxiety that we should reject the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties that make us one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by John Avlon, editor-in-chief of "The Daily Beast" and author of "Washington`s Farewell: The Founding Father`s Warning to Future Generations."
You know, John, I`m sometimes overwhelmed by history and here we have the first African-American president quoting reverently from the first president who was a slave holder. It`s just -- it`s just one of those things that shows how things change for the better in our history and to become a more perfect union.
Let me ask you about Washington, this great book of yours. Tell me, what - - what is the core of the Washington message on leaving the presidency?
JOHN AVLON, AUTHOR, "WASHINGTON`S FAREWELL": The core message, Chris, is that he`s sending a message to future generations, a warning about the forces he felt could destroy our democratic republic -- hyperpartisanship, excessive debt and foreign wars. And it`s based on the understandings of his life and his understanding of history. It`s the sum of all his hard won wisdom and it`s a prophetic document that has more applicability today perhaps than ever before.
MATTHEWS: What about the two parties? We`ve had a good run. I mean, I used to like the two parties more than I do now because one would keep the other honest. If you thought one was cheating or it`s Watergate, or somebody screwed up with the Great Depression, you could come in with the other side that was center left, the other one was center right. They`re all moderate even today and that would work.
Now, I think one party seeks to prevent the other party from getting any credit to do anything. They just try to screw each other, undermine each other. Is that what Mr. Washington was thinking about or did he even see the worst coming?
AVLON: No, he understood the danger of partisanship, of hyperpartisanship which is the problem we`re dealing with. Remember, Washington was an independent president. He was not a member of any political party. The Constitution doesn`t mention political parties, not incidentally.
But what he saw specifically, Chris, was the danger of hyperpartisans hijacking the government, creating a dysfunctional democracy and that he warned could open the door to a demagogue with authoritarian ambitions. So, he was very clear-eyed about those dangers rooted in his understanding of how democratic republics failed before.
MATTHEWS: I think in high school public speaking, we had that for two years, I had a dim memory one of the speeches -- I don`t think it could have been this one because the Gettysburg address is like two minutes. This was longer and it wasn`t delivered, right?
AVLON: That`s exactly right. It was an open letter to the American people published in "The Philadelphia Daily Advertiser" in September, 1796. It`s over 6,000 words, but there was a time it was standard operating procedure to teach it in America`s public schools, particularly after the civil war, as a way of reuniting the nation.
It was more widely reprinted than the Declaration of Independence for over a hundred years. So, this was civic scripture.
MATTHEWS: You know, I remember one of the key lines is that it was about avoiding entangling alliances, and I think we look at Trump and Russia, you know, our relationship with Israel, those tricky relationships with the Arab nations and all, I wonder -- I wonder if a big power like us can avoid entangling relationships.
We do have allies, we did have NATO. You know, NATO is pretty darn good. It worked. It kept the Russians out of Europe, out of Western Europe. It did work. Entangling alliance.
AVLON: Yes. You`ve got to remember at the time when Washington was doing this. First of all, the fact of our geography, we were isolated by an ocean from the problems of Europe and Washington wanted to take advantage of that strategic asset and give us time to grow in military and economic strength so that we could be an independent nation on the world stage, but he never intended it to be a message of isolation. And that`s a common misconception about the farewell address.
He was simply saying we needed a foreign policy of independence, not to dependent on another nation`s foreign policy or to become its satellite, and the point you raise about Russia is really ripped from the headlines, but would have resonated with Washington, because he also recognized that history was littered with examples of countries where foreign powers can come in and subvert it the sovereignty of other nations, and by interfering in their domestic politics. And God knows that`s what we`re seeing today.
MATTHEWS: There we go.
I want to ask you the big question when we come back. I never do this but I`m doing it for you. What would George Washington think of Donald Trump?
We`ll be right back with the answer from John Avlon.
You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: So, we`re back with John Avlon, author of the great book "Washington`s Farewell", just out.
So, what would GW think of Donald Trump?
AVLON: WWWD, yes.
I think on a personal level, Washington is somebody who really cultivated character. He cared about his reputation. He was a modest man. He believed in the strength of moderation as a governing principle and he devoted his life to civic purposes, whether it was being a soldier, a member of the House of Burgesses or obviously our first president. These are qualities that Donald Trump doesn`t necessary cherish or value or reflect his own personal history, obviously.
So, on that front Donald Trump would be a different kind of man that Washington anticipated. But there are aspects of what Washington laid out in the farewell that even Donald Trump might resonate with -- foreign policy of independence, the idea of peace through strength in military. That`s something that could resonate with Trump and the virtue of this document is there are things that conservatives and liberals alike can take comfort from, even Donald Trump perhaps in some of his supporters.
MATTHEWS: Did it surprise you that the president, President Obama, mentioned Washington`s farewell remarks, he wasn`t trying to help you sell books but he was talking about your book. That must have been marvelous to hear the president actually talk about what you`d been writing about all these months.
AVLON: That was a remarkable moment but, you know, it makes sense, the focus on citizenship, focus on national unity, the understanding that our independence is inseparable from our interdependence. Those are all things he shares with George Washington.
MATTHEWS: OK. John Avlon with a timely book, "Washington`s Farewell".
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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