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WH: "Plan" in place to replace Tillerson Transcript 11/30/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Ashley Parker; Yamiche Alcindor; Nayerra Haq, Jackie Speier, Natasha Bertrand, Michael Schmidt, Gordon Chang, Donna Edwards

Show: HARDBALL Date: November 30, 2017 Guest: Ashley Parker; Yamiche Alcindor; Nayerra Haq, Jackie Speier, Natasha Bertrand, Michael Schmidt, Gordon Chang, Donna Edwards

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Helter Skelter. Let`s play "Hardball." Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

President Trump`s one-man foreign policy is becoming a three-ring circus driven by his mercurial personality and ego. "The New York Times" reported this morning the White House has developed a plan to force out secretary of state Rex Tillerson, whose relationship with President Trump has been strained and replace him with Mike Pompeo, the CIA director perhaps within the next several weeks. Trump today dodged questions about Tillerson`s future. Let`s listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you want Rex Tillerson on the job, Mr. President? He`s here, document him to stay in his job?

TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks everybody.


MATTHEWS: Well, it`s been widely reported that Tillerson, who is often disagreed with the President on policy, could leave the administration by the year`s end. In October, NBC News reported that Tillerson had openly disparaged the President, referring to him as a moron. White House chief of staff John Kelley was said to have put the plan in place, but both state department and White House officials publicly say Tillerson isn`t going anywhere -- yet.


HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: What I can tell you is that chief of staff Kelley called our department this morning and said that the rumors are not true. That those reports are not true.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: When it comes to questions like this of senior staff and cabinet secretaries, when the President loses confidence in somebody, they will no longer be here as the President said On the Record and several of you were in the room in the oval today, the secretary of state is here.


MATTHEWS: Well, the potential shakeup on the national security team comes after Trump spent the better part of the last 24 hours creating his own series of international crises. Trump`s retweet of a series of inflammatory anti-Muslim videos posted by a leader of the far-right nationalist Britain first party drew a sharp rebuke from British Prime Minister Theresa May, who called -- whose office called it wrong.

Trump responded by twitting, Theresa May, don`t focus on me. Focus on the destructive radical Islamic terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine. But May is standing her ground.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: But the fact that we work together does not mean that we are afraid to say when we think the United States have got it wrong. And to be very clear with them. And I`m very clear that retweeting from Britain first was the wrong thing to do.


MATTHEWS: The wrong thing to do.

Anyway, "the Washington Post" Ashley Parker, Ashley Parker noted - notes that the inflammatory tweets were just the latest example of Trump quote "veering past the guardrails" of Presidential behavior writing, Trump has internalized the belief that he can largely operate with impunity. His political base cheers him on. Fellow Republican leaders largely stand by him. His staff scrambles to explain away his misbehavior or even laugh it off. And the White House disciplinarian, chief of staff John Kelley has said it`s not his job to control the President. Wow. For more, I`m joined by the author of that article, Ashley Parker, White House reporter for "the Washington Post." Yamiche Alcindor is national political reporter for "The New York Times." and Nayyera Haq is a former state department senior adviser. Thank you, all three.

Let`s start with Ashley. I thought, Ashley Parker, that was pretty poetic but pretty scary because you basically ran through all the guardrails, staff, people in the leadership of the White House, the chief of staff. No one seems to have any control over the President`s meandering into trouble.

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: That`s right. And no one, let`s be clear, has ever really had that much control over this President. But the thing that seems new now in talking to people inside and outside the White House is that Trump himself feels emboldened. He feels that -- he hasn`t really felt the consequences of many of his comments or tweets or decisions. And so for instance, with the Russia probe, he believes, contrary to a lot of evidence, that it will be over by the end of the year. On the "Access Hollywood" tape, he is now the high- profile man accused of sexual misconduct and has faced no ramifications. Aides today told me if tax reform passes through he will certainly feel the wind in his sails and we could see more of this sort of behavior.

MATTHEWS: Well, I guess he is also counting on winning down in Alabama, with Roy Moore.

But anyway, let`s get back to this. It seems, Yamich, that if the word`s out that your foreign minister, secretary of state in our country, is on his way out and on his way out in fairly quick time, he is not much of a representative for this country.


MATTHEWS: He is useless.

ALCINDOR: I mean, part of it is that President Trump has been undercutting him for months. There`s this idea that Rex Tillerson said that he was going to try to work on North Korea and then President Trump tweeted that he was wasting his time and that there was no really option there. That he essentially always been for months his own department of state. He has always been kind of talking about state department and talking about foreign relations on twitter. That`s how he does this. He governs on twitter. And I think that in this case we are starting to see the real ramifications where you have Britain basically almost revoking this invite to President Trump to come there.

MATTHEWS: Nayyera, who said that U.S. foreign policy of the big-picture questions like North Korea, things like that all those issues, trade, everything, who is really setting the course for our country now? Anyone?

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SENIOR ADVISER: There doesn`t really seem to be much of a course, actually. I mean, he spent 12 days touring Asia and we have no ambassadors there. And nobody can actually point to any one deliverable of what the United States gained, other than a military parade and some pomp is circumstance for Donald Trump.

He clearly has a military fetish. And has surrounded himself in his leadership with people who either are in uniform or used to wear military uniform. Rex Tillerson does not fit that mold. So not only does he not have the direct trust of the President, he also does not have any empowerment from the rest of the staff to do the job of diplomacy. This has signaled to the rest of the world that the United States is no longer interested in being diplomatic, and in fact is going to probably use war as its first option.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Ashley on this. I don`t know when you have the judgment or the ability to judge this. But it seems you have got a big corporate ego in Tillerson, Rex Tillerson. He is a big-shot. He is head of a big oil company. He came in here at the top of his game, at the top of his world, which is oil. And being a CEO of a big corporation, one of the biggest. He comes in as basically an adjutant, a deputy to a President. Has he adjusted to that role? And has Trump accepted him as a deputy or as a partner or what? Who is Rex Tillerson in terms of setting U.S. foreign policy?

PARKER: So I think the answer to both of those questions is, no. And this is something you often find. And you even see this with the President a little bit that there are people who are very successful in business, in corporate America, in that skill set for whatever reason does not quite translate to managing a major complicated bureaucracy.

In this case too, Rex Tillerson had some additional challenges in that he was the deputy working for a fairly mercurial boss who was, as we mentioned earlier in the show, sort of making foreign policy on the fly on twitter. But it was a relationship that was never particularly warm or successful and then just increasingly deteriorated over the months.

MATTHEWS: Yamiche, when people my age grew up with the Cuba missile crisis, thinking about how a group of 12 men in those days, old men in those days, figured out how to deal with the threat of nuclear missiles in Cuba. And how to get them out of Cuba without causing a war in Berlin or somewhere else.

Who is that group today? Who is that cohesive set of people, men and women I presume, well, I don`t presume anything, let me be honest. Is there anybody saying, how do we deal with Kim Jong-un? What if he does this, does that, drops a nuclear weapon that explodes in the middle of pacific? Is that the red line and if so what do we do?

ALCINDOR: I think there are career people at the state department that are absolutely trying to think this through. The problem with this is that President Trump at the end of the day is really the CEO of the entire U.S. government in that he doesn`t want to give anyone power --

MATTHEWS: Who puts the options on his table? A, b, c, d?

ALCINDOR: I think a lot of it is the generals. I think those are probably the number one people that he respects the most. Because you think of Rex Tillerson calling him a moron. And I don`t think -- I think that he is still very much angry about that. So I would say that it`s mainly the generals. And I think that calling John Kelley the disciplinarian in the White House is pretty clear. But who he actually pays attention to are all the people he calls on the phone. Roger Ailes, all these other people that are kind of just out in the world, Steve Bannon --

MATTHEWS: Years ago, Roger Ailes.

ALCINDOR: And here`s what happens when you devolve --

MATTHEWS: Yes, go ahead.

ALCINDOR: When you devolve everything to generals and military options, there really isn`t anybody at the table discussing what the diplomatic solutions could be. And you have Rex Tillerson who instead of spending his time empowering the diplomats seems to be driving them out the door, giving them offers to terminate their tours early, they are cutting - they are not bringing any new classes of foreign service officers, and diplomats have the experience of being in multiple different places, having that -- Rex Tillerson himself has only been in one company his entire life. And is trying to manage the state department, a sprawling bureaucracy, with multiple languages and multiple countries under its purview, as if he`s running Exxon.

MATTHEWS: I just keep worrying that - we are not worrying about Exxon, we are worrying about nuclear war with North Korea or a second Korean war.

Anyway, despite the blowback from the British prime minister, Sarah Sanders once again defended the President`s reposting of that anti-Muslim tweet. Let`s watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- might incite violence against Muslims? Does he understand he has elevated a fringe political group that many people outside of Britain didn`t even know about?

SANDERS: Look. I think what he has done is elevate the conversation to talk about a real issue and a real threat, that`s extreme violence and extreme terrorism, something that we know to be very real and something the President feels strongly about talking about and bringing up and making sure is an issue every single day that we are looking at the best ways to protect Americans.


MATTHEWS: Well, I guess we go back - let me go back to Ashley on this again. And I think that -- what do you make of that question? This fundamental question, who is setting our policy around the world right now? Who is dealing with, you know, the kind of tactical decisions that have to be made on a split second, if Kim Jong-un does something that really forces to us do something? Who is the one that walks into the White House, walks into the oval office, Mr. President, here is your three options. Who is doing that?

PARKER: Well, I think again at the core, President Trump is the President. He is making the final decision. And as we saw with Sarah Sanders, the White House is sort of scrambling to respond to stuff that they are not expecting. And ideally they wouldn`t have to defend.

But in terms of if you are asking who are the adults who walk into the oval office, I think there is still a sense that it is sort of the generals, it is general Kelley, it is McMaster, it is Mattis. It`s obviously not quite Tillerson anymore. But there are sort of these adults around him who people have correctly or un-correctly pinned their hopes on, can sort of reason with the President if that`s what the situation requires.

MATTHEWS: Well, Nayyera, usually -- sometimes that we deal with Israelis, for example, very smart governing group, I think they are playing chess, we are playing checkers. But right now I don`t know if we are up to checkers.

And I think about Netanyahu, is he worried about Jared Kushner, what he is up to? Is he worried about Tillerson? Apparently not. Is he still trying to shine up the President? I mean, how do you, if you are a smart foreign leader, find the way to the brain of our country now?

HAQ: Well, I mean, it ultimately - we are playing a big game of sorry, when we should be playing chess as you said. And really you have diplomats in foreign countries and heads of state who are horrified at what Donald Trump is doing to the United States` legacy.

The United States has been known for promoting democracy, civil rights, freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion around the world. Instead with the language coming out of the White House, you have attacks on the basic fundamentals of democracy. That emboldens people like these fringe far-right groups, like people who would like to see military coups in Africa and dictatorships in Latin America, instead of the people that we are allied with who are trying to spread the idea of democracy.

MATTHEWS: Well said.

ALCINDOR: I also think if you`re a foreign leader you`re having to keel with a personality that changes, is somewhat erratic. You see these foreign leaders they are trying to flatter President Trump as a way --

MATTHEWS: Big dinner.

ALCINDOR: Yes, with big dinners, big rugs. You see him in the Philippines and he is kind of being brought up on stage and being made to feel well. And these foreign leaders understand that they have to get President Trump to like them personally. That he feels as though he is really being flattered. So for us to be safe, essentially.

MATTHEWS: This is embarrassing.

Meanwhile, (INAUDIBLE) reporting that White House officials expect Trump to get even more outrageous in coming months saying he seems more prone to confidently indulge in wild conspiracies and fantasies more quick-triggered to fight.

I go back to, Ashley, on the reporting here. The President doesn`t seem to be learning on the job. He doesn`t seem any better today than yesterday. It`s like groundhog`s day. It begins at 6:30 in the morning when he reads the papers and retweets something or tweets something in anger in reaction what was he just read. There doesn`t seem to be in progress in terms of his sophistication, to put it lightly.

PARKER: I think it goes back to a couple of things. I think it goes back to what we talked about a bit earlier about him feeling emboldened. As you just said, there are certainly are consequences for his behavior. He was just publicly rebuked by the British prime minister, but he doesn`t necessarily feel those consequences. He also views himself as a counter puncher. He sort of thinks he is at his best when he is in a one-on-one fight. And a lot of -- not a lot but some of these issues and fights he is picking and stances he is taking especially when it comes to sort of culture war, stuff his base loves. And if there is one group he knows he can`t lose because they are quite frankly right now the only group with him, it`s his base.

MATTHEWS: This whole thing is haywire. Thank you, Ashley Parker. It`s dangerous. Yamiche Alcindor and Nayerra Haq.

Coming up, attorney general Jeff Sessions wouldn`t answer when asked by the ranking member of the House intelligence committee whether Donald Trump ever instructed him to hinder the Russia investigation. And that probe keeps chugging along with new reports that Jared Kushner net with Robert Mueller`s prosecutors. That`s news and that`s ahead.

Plus, Republicans are on the verge of passing the Trump tower tax cut and they are selling it with lies. Donald Trump says he wouldn`t benefit from the tax cut, wrong. They are rushing through a major give-away to the top one percent and the impact it will have on the rest of the country will be massive.

And how concerned should we be about the possibility of war with North Korea? Again, that`s my worry. We are going to ask an expert.

Finally, let me finish tonight with a needed spirit for the season.

This is "Hardball," where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, there are now growing calls for veteran Democratic congressman John Conyers of Michigan to resign amid new details about his alleged misconduct. This morning a woman who settled a sexual misconduct claim against the congressman spoke out publicly for the first time, talking to "Today" show that Conyers violated her body and repeatedly propositioned her for sex. Amid those detailed allegations, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi this afternoon called on Conyers to resign.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The allegations against congressman Conyers, as we have learned more since Sunday, are serious, disappointing, and very credible. It`s very sad. The brave woman who came forward are owed justice. I pray for congressman Conyers and his family and wish them well. However, congressman Conyers should resign.


MATTHEWS: That`s definitive. And those remarks where in stark contrast to Pelosi`s comments this past weekend when she referred to Conyers as an icon.

Other Democrats including the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, U.S. congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, have also called for his resignation. Representatives for Conyers, however, say that he is currently being hospitalized for a stress-related illness and have rejected calls for him to step down.

We will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball."

There are some incremental but significant developments on both the congressional and the federal Russia investigations just now. Attorney general Jeff Sessions who was on Capitol Hill today for closed-door testimony before the House intelligence committee comes two weeks after his evasive answers in the house just hearing left many lawmakers questioning his credibility. Big surprise, it seems the attorney general was not any more forthcoming today. However, at least according to the ranking Democrat, U.S. congressman Adam Schiff of California.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Attorney General specifically did the President of the United States ever take any action that you believed -- instruct you to take any action that you believed would hinder the Russia investigation? And he declined to answer that question.


MATTHEWS: Well, we`re going to get to that in a second.

Anyway, NBC News also reports that Donald Trump Jr. is set to appear before that committee next week.

Perhaps more significant is that Jared Kushner met this month with Robert Mueller`s investigators. According to "The New York Times," the questions focused on a meeting in December between Mr. Kushner, the Russian ambassador, and Michael Flynn, Michael T. Flynn, rather.

Prosecutors also asked Mr. Kushner about other interactions between Mr. Flynn and the Russian government.

I`m joined right now by Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, Natasha Bertrand, who covers the Russia investigation for "Business Insider." And Michael Schmidt is Washington correspondent for "The New York Times."

Congresswoman, let`s talk about this.

What do you make of the fact that Sessions won`t say whether he`s ever observed any obstruction or has ever been given orders to obstruct this investigation? I guess the second question is the more pertinent one.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: I think it suggests that, in all likelihood, he was asked to do something, and he declined to answer that question.

He was, as he has been in many other settings, conveniently amnesia-hit by much of what`s been asked of him, and often would just respond by saying, "I do not recall, I do not recall."

But when he was asked the question by Congressman Schiff, he just declined to answer it altogether.

MATTHEWS: What valid justification could he have for not answering that question? What? Is it executive privilege? What is he talking about when he says, I can`t answer that?

SPEIER: He is just declining to answer it. He don`t -- he can`t invoke executive privilege. He says that he wants to position himself in such a way so that if the president does invoke executive privilege, he can be supportive of that.

But the president hasn`t invoked executive privilege. So, it`s a circular logic that is just a way, I think, to evade.

MATTHEWS: Michael, let`s talk about that obstruction direction.

Can you tell us whether Bob Mueller`s headed down that path for possible impeachment or the other path of collusion?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, we don`t know what Mueller`s going to do with what he finds in regards to the president or anything. We know he`s going to charge some people.

He is looking hard at the obstruction question. He`s talking to White House officials. He`s gotten all these documents from the White House. He`s got Don McGahn he`s questioning. He`s talking to all different lawyers in the counsel`s office to understand what kind of advice they are providing with him.

But we don`t really know what Mueller`s going to do with it. Would Mueller give a report to Congress? Would he try and bring charges out of that? We have no idea.

And getting an idea of what Mueller is doing has been very difficult. Mueller has said very little. He`s said nothing publicly since he was appointed six months ago.

MATTHEWS: Natasha, what`s your sense of the direction now? Because, sometimes, I get the sense that Mueller, who`s an experienced prosecutor at the federal level, might be looking at like a RICO charge, a criminal enterprise, looking at all these tidbits put together and saying they show an effort to make some money along the way to the presidency.


Well, right now, it seems like you have two tracks that Mueller`s taking. He`s talking the obstruction track and he`s talking the collusion track.

The one that is most dangerous for the president is, of course, the obstruction track. But in terms of his questioning of Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Michael Flynn, all of these people who have very severe legal liabilities, it seems like he`s using the penalties, the possible penalties with RICO and with money laundering, with tax fraud, and things like that, in order to pressure them to tell him what happened during the 2016 election, to kind of get to the bottom of whether or not there actually was collusion or whether there were more meetings that we don`t know about or more communication between Trump campaign officials and the Russians.

MATTHEWS: What`s your sense of this -- I could say this -- almost bumper cars. There`s so many people being interviewed now, so many people being investigated, so many people being brought before these committees, brought before Mueller.

Does this, I could say, this acceleration of testimonies tell you anything about the length of this investigation?


BERTRAND: Well, it`s certainly moving --

MATTHEWS: Natasha, please.

BERTRAND: It`s certainly moving very quickly. It`s moving much quicker, I think, than most experts that I have spoken to have expected, especially with the indictment of Paul Manafort.

But this is really an indication that there`s probably so much that Mueller really needs to get to the bottom of that he has no time to waste, especially when comes to such high-level players like Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, who of course played really prominent roles on the campaign, no matter what Donald Trump or the White House wants to convey.

They were top campaign officials. And they do have very valuable information. And the sooner that Mueller can get them to talk, the closer he can get to wrapping up this investigation.

MATTHEWS: Congresswoman, you were going to say something there.

By the way, while I have got you on camera, how long`s this going to go for Bob Mueller? Do you think -- would you be less surprised by the end of next year or more surprised that he`s still going?

SPEIER: Oh, I think, by the end of next year, he will have completed his investigation and filled his commitment to the job.

I really am concerned about the speed with which the Intelligence Committee on the House side is trying to wrap things up.


SPEIER: There is a list of more people that we want to interview, and the committee majority has been reluctant to agree to them, some of whom are key.

And we`re doubling up on these interviews day by day. And I think it`s an effort to try and just wrap it up.


MATTHEWS: Do you think the chairman of your committee is a fifth columnist for the president?

SPEIER: I think that the chairman of the committee is tied very closely to the president.

MATTHEWS: Well, Erik Prince, the Trump donor and founder of the private military firm Blackwater, also testified before the House Intel Committee today.

In January, Prince held a meeting in the Seychelles with a Russian close to Vladimir Putin, which, again to "The Washington Post," was -- quote -- "part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and president-elect Trump." Prince has acknowledged the meeting, but denied the proposed back channel.

Here he is.


ERIK PRINCE, FOUNDER, BLACKWATER USA: I was -- happened to be there, and I -- I met a Russian.

QUESTION: Who did you meet?

PRINCE: Pretty thin. Some fund manager. I can`t even remember his name. No one was aware from the Trump team that I was even there.

QUESTION: No one was aware --


PRINCE: It was private business that had nothing to do with the U.S. government, had nothing to do with the Trump team or the transition team or anything else.

QUESTION: When people talk about whether there was a possible back channel or anybody, all of that, you`re saying no, off the table?

PRINCE: Complete hogwash.


MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a pretty denial -- a pretty strong denial there, Michael?


MATTHEWS: Is that one of the directions we think that Trump was heading, trying to establish relations, back-channel kind of things? There`s whole things about that. It`s called collusion.

SCHMIDT: That`s what collusion has been from the beginning, a series of curious meetings and connections. What do they mean and whatever?

That`s something that the House committee has said it`s trying to get to the bottom of. Now we hear that there may be two reports to come out of the House committee. Not sure --


MATTHEWS: That`s not good.

SCHMIDT: No. It will be looked at very partisan. That investigation has had a partisan tint since the beginning. And if they`re going to have two reports, it`s probably going to be taken less seriously by the public.

MATTHEWS: Congresswoman, if that is the case, and you have a split verdict, you have two different verdicts, in fact, on this whole Russia investigation, can you continue to call witnesses once the Republican side, the majority, says the game`s up? Are you finished, as well as they are?

SPEIER: I think that we are basically shut down. We can probably attempt to interview people. But they may be unlikely to cooperate, because it`s not coming from the majority, who is in charge of this investigation.

MATTHEWS: That`s pretty depressing.

Congresswoman, thank you. You`re always welcome on this show, Jackie Speier of California, for coming on.

SPEIER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Michael Schmidt of the great "New York Times" and Natasha Bertrand.

Up next: North Korea claims its latest missiles are capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. But just how big a threat does the country pose? A big one, it looks like. Are we headed to a second Korean war?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile. It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they have taken, the research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that could threaten everywhere in the world basically.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Secretary of Defense James Mattis describing the missile that North Korea test-fired earlier this week, the country`s biggest and most controversial launch to date.

Well, despite the growing threat, President Trump yesterday continued his pattern of taunting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, even calling him a sick puppy. Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Little rocket man, he`s a sick puppy.

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury, like the world has never seen.

Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.


MATTHEWS: Well, meanwhile, Ambassador Nikki Haley from the U.N. warned that the North Korean -- North Korea continues their acts of aggression.

They will be, as she put it, utterly destroyed if they do. Here she is.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We have never sought war with North Korea, and still today we do not seek it. If war does come, it will be because of continued acts of aggression like we witnessed yesterday. And if war comes, make no mistake, the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed.



And Senator Lindsey Graham was blunt about the prospect of going to war as well. Here he is.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We`re headed toward a preemptive war with North Korea if things don`t change.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined now by Gordon Chang, columnist for The Daily Beast and author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World."

Mr. Chang, Gordon, what do you make of these? What is the impact in Pyongyang, in North Korea, of these warlike statements, like we`re headed to a second Korean war?


For instance, we`re hearing not only Nikki Haley, who, yesterday, she talked about cutting off the oil to North Korea, saying, if China doesn`t do it, the United States will. You know, that is war talk.

MATTHEWS: How do we cut off the oil from China? Intercept it over at sea?

CHANG: I think what they`re probably going to do is --

MATTHEWS: It wouldn`t be at sea. It comes by land.

CHANG: It comes by land.

We`re not going to hit China. We probably will hit their refinery. North Korea has only one refinery for oil. So it`s probably a Tomahawk strike.

But, clearly, when Kim Jong-un hears that, that is -- puts him at a defensive position. Also, you have McMaster talking about war, and Lindsey Graham in a number of comments this week talking about how, for instance, the United States is -- has a viable military option, and we`re going to send a strong signal that it does late this week.

And so clearly that is something that is driving the North Korean regime at a point where they feel threatened.

MATTHEWS: Are they fearing the threat that we might do the first strike, the first attack? Does that scare them into a preemptive action by themselves?

CHANG: I don`t think that they would, because they know, as Nikki Haley said, they would be destroyed.

But we are -- there`s a lot of talk in this town about totally destroying North Korea. And, yes, that`s one of the scenarios. But we have got to remember that, in August, "The Global Times," which is a sort of semi- official newspaper -- it`s controlled by "People`s Daily," which is the most authoritative source in Beijing -- said that China would come to North Korea`s aid if the United States were to strike North Korea first.

And so this could be not just the United States vs. North Korea. This could be the United States vs. North Korea, China, and maybe even Russia.

MATTHEWS: Before we went on, you talked about the insecurity of Kim Jong- un.

We in the United States, most of us think he can`t -- you watch people marching past him in this regimental goose-stepping, and all the people around him laughing in synchronicity, and we think this guy owns that place. Is he that strong?

CHANG: Yes, I don`t think so.

And the reason is that, for instance, he`s killed about 160 senior officials since he took over on the death of his father. Now, that does intimidate. But the other thing it does do is, blood demands blood. And so it`s loosened the bonds of loyalty between the regime elements and the Kim family.

Also, we have seen a number of instances over the last three or four months of real distress inside North Korea. So, for instance, junior officials in Pyongyang, part of the regime`s favored class, are not getting their rations from the special distribution system.

That soldier who defected on November 13, he was malnourished, he comes from a very good family.

MATTHEWS: The gun who struggled to get across the DMZ. And he -- it was pretty impressive how hard he fought and how gutsy he was to do that.


And he was not a -- came from a bad-background family, because all the soldiers in the joint security area, where that defection took place, are the best of the best of the army.

And so this guy probably came from a really high family in Pyongyang. And he was malnourished, which is an indication that the regime is having problems even taking care of the soldiers it has to absolutely put in good position.

MATTHEWS: Toughest question in the world, how do we avoid a nuclear war or any kind of war with Korea, and yet get them to push back, push them back on their nuclear weapons program? How do we do this?

If you were a genius president, how would you do it?

CHANG: Well, I were the genius president, I would continue with the September 21 executive order, which is a step forward, because it says to the world, you do business with North Korea, you`re not doing business with the United States.

The only issue is whether the United States is actually going to enforce it. Trump has given signals that he will, but, you know, on Tuesday, when they fired that missile, Trump is talking about how he spoke to Mattis.

What Trump should have done was say, I spoke two hours with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin.

He`s the guy who actually enforces sanctions. If President Trump had done that, they would have heard that in Beijing.

MATTHEWS: And we can squeeze them?

CHANG: We can certainly squeeze them, because we can squeeze China, China can squeeze North Korea.

I`m not saying 100 percent it will work, but, nonetheless, it`s much better than thinking about thermonuclear war, the world`s first nuclear exchange with perhaps China. We have got to try everything possible short of the use of force.

MATTHEWS: Well, I hope the president`s listening. I don`t know if he is.

Gordon Chang, thank you, sir.

Up next: President Trump says the Republican tax plan would help plumbers, carpenters and teachers, everyone but the rich. Well, that claim couldn`t be further from the facts.

And now Republicans are on the verge of getting this bill passed, maybe tomorrow, maybe tomorrow morning.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Senate must pass those tax cuts, bring Main Street roaring back. And that`s what`s going to happen.

In all fairness, this is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me, believe me. This is not good for me. Me it`s not so -- I have some very wealthy friends not so happy with me but that`s OK.

Wait until you see what finally comes out in what I call the mixer. The beating heart of our plan is a tax cut for working families. That`s what it is. I will tell you this in a non-braggadocios way.


There has never been a ten-month president that has accomplished what we have accomplished, that I can tell you. That I can tell you.



MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump being modest as always, touting the Republican tax bill which appears to be headed towards passage tomorrow morning, perhaps. Senate Republicans cleared a major hurdle when Arizona Senator John McCain signed off on the legislation.

"The New York Times" reports the bill, quote, could widen American inequality while diminishing the power of local communities to marshal relief for vulnerable people. In other words, there`s no tax break for local property taxes. Many view the legislation not as a product of genuine deliberation but as a transfer of wealth to corporations and rich individuals, both generous purveyors of campaign contributions.

Larry Kudlow, one of the president`s top outside economic advisers, seems to agree. Let`s watch him.


LARRY KUDLOW, TRUMP`S TOP OUTSIDE ECONOMIC ADVISER: When you want to end the state and local tax deduction, for example, well, because rates are reasonably high, relatively high, that`s going to hurt a lot of different people. You follow? So the internal logic was not good. This is not a true tax reform bill.


MATTHEWS: Well, a recent University of Chicago survey of top economists show of the 42 top economists polled, only one thought the Republican bill would boost the economy. Of course, they`re all Democrats. Anyway, the majority said it wouldn`t.

Senate leaders announced they will hold no more votes on the tax bill tonight, will hold the next votes tomorrow morning when they think they`re going to head toward passage.

For more, we`re joined right now by the HARDBALL roundtable. Former Maryland Democratic congresswoman from nearby right here, Donna Edwards, Sophia Nelson, contributor to, and Sam Stein, politics editor at "The Daily Beast" and an MSNBC contributor.

I want to go straight with Sam with just one point of news. Tomorrow, right? You have the 50?

SAM STEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, we don`t know if they have the 50. It seems like they should have the 50.

MATTHEWS: Who`s definitely off? Anybody?

STEIN: No one`s definitely --

MATTHEWS: Johnson?

STEIN: No one`s definitely off. There are a couple based on their concerns of the deficit, a couple of holdouts based on how the tax is passed through corporations. The latest reporting I saw was four or five holdouts. They were going to work through the night to try to figure out how to fix this thing.

It`s not done yet. But I do think it ultimately gets done, it`s just a matter of getting it across that final yard.

MATTHEWS: What strikes me is the daylight robbery aspect of this. Walk into the bank without masks, give us all the money.

I mean, they`re keeping carried interest. It`s a big corporate cut. It`s a big cut for the top brackets. It gets rid of the minimum tax. It`s a fantastic boondoggle for inheritance. You can leave $22 million without any problem.

It`s got everything for the rich, and maybe $1,000 for everybody else per person as the payoff. It`s so obvious.

FORMER REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: I mean, look, it goes after students, teachers, working people, working families, and it gives a boatload of money to the wealthiest 1 percent. I mean, it`s not even transparent anymore.

MATTHEWS: What`s the politics?

EDWARDS: You know, I think they think they want -- they have to get something done. But the something they`re getting done, people may not realize now, but I`m going to tell you something. Every single person is going to go to their personal calculator. They`re going to look at this thing, and they`re going to realize that they`re getting stuck with the bill so that millionaires can go back with $200,000.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go back. The most people are not millionaires, most Republicans are not millionaires. The average Republican who voted for Trump is not going to do well here.

So, what do they get politically and why do they have to pay off their donors? Because I think this whole thing about and I also have a sneaky suspicion in your party, Donna, your party, doesn`t mind this, because A, their contributors make a lot of money out of this tax deal, and they get to run against him, it`s perfect, it`s a twofer.

They get all their fat cats saying, hey, thanks for not getting in the way of the Republicans, giving us a tax break. Oh, by the way, we get to run against it.

EDWARDS: Well, come on, Chris. I think they`d much rather make sure we`re protecting the American people.


MATTHEWS: Do you think Pelosi and the others have done -- and Chuck have done a great job stopping this bill?

STEIN: There`s definitely more grassroots --

MATTHEWS: Come on!

SOPHIA NELSON, NBCNEWS.COM CONTRIBUTOR: But I don`t think they have to --

MATTHEWS: They don`t have to what?

NELSON: They don`t have to do anything because the Republicans, to your point, they have to get something done, so this is one of those things where they got John McCain in a room and said, look, if you don`t sign on to this thing and we don`t get something done, we will have gone a whole year with no legislative accomplishments --

MATTHEWS: He hates Trump. Why does he care?

NELSON: It doesn`t matter, he`s a Republican at the end of the day, and I don`t think he wants to see the party completely crash and burn. That`s the first thing.

Secondly, Larry Kudlow who I`ve known for years, I don`t always agree, but he`s smart, and it`s dead on, this is not a tax reform bill at all. And it`s definitely -- I`m the conservative person saying this. This is not a tax reform bill. It doesn`t help regular people.

Taking away local deductions. If I buy a new home, and I`m a young person, $500,000, I can only write off so much of the interest. What good is that? So, this bill doesn`t help working people like they`re saying. It hurts working people and middle class people. And that`s just -- everybody sees that.

MATTHEWS: Why are they doing something that`s going to put a target on their back next year for Congress, when we have elections, everybody on the Democrat side can say, he voted to make everybody rich, richer? Why are you voting for this guy?

Look, you go into the states that really matter, Pennsylvania. You go to those suburban areas that really can flip. New York`s not going to flip but those suburbs are going to flip. They`re the people that are tax sensitive. They make maybe $150,000, both people working, maybe. What`s in it for me?

STEIN: I agree with you. One of the fascinating elements of this for me was how Democrats aren`t supporting this. If you go back to the 2001 Bush tax cuts, 10 Senate Democrats voted for that bill, including Dianne Feinstein, Max Baucus famously did. I would be surprised if one Senate Democrat voted for this bill.

We went on a report why this is the case, and basically, this is the most unpopular you can make a giant tax cut. This is remarkable. Tax cut bills usually poll fairly well, but they`ve managed to make this incredibly unpopular.

Now, Trump thinks he can sell it, talking about how he gets hurt by this. When any sober analysis of the bill says he benefits incredibly by this. And certainly his children will benefit incredibly by this as well.

NELSON: And there`s no controlling of health care, which is my problem. Health care expenditures, particularly for small businesses and individuals keep going through the roof.

STEIN: In fact, it would exacerbate that by getting rid of the individual mandate.

NELSON: Absolutely right.

STEIN: So, you have this package of things that will really be politically toxic. I don`t think Democrats are hopeful that it passes. I`m not as cynical as you. I think they`re nervous that down the road Republicans will say, the deficits out of control, we need to turn our attention to Social Security and Medicare.


EDWARDS: When you have -- you can`t get Republican -- Democrats like from West Virginia and from Missouri, these conservative Democrats, you can`t get them on this bill? You have a problem.

MATTHEWS: We`ll see. Looks like a pure partisan operation. It`s target practice for the Democrats next year.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, we`re going to get three scoops from these people. You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: A Mexican immigrant who was in the country illegally has been found not guilty of the 2015 murder of Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier. Jose Zarate just acquitted moments ago. The case drew national attention, Trump especially from Donald Trump on the campaign trail. He railed against sanctuary cities. Zarate had previously been convicted of seven felonies and was deported five times.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

And Donna is going to start. Tell me something I don`t know.

EDWARDS: Well, the wave of sexual harassment allegations that are coming forward, I think you`re going to see the leadership doing something real on sexual harassment, and making sure Congress is a place that workers can work safely.

MATTHEWS: Should the chairman of the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee resign?

EDWARDS: I`ve already said that he absolutely should.


NELSON: I`ll lighten it up. Tonight was the national Christmas tree lighting, a time when Americans come out. Pictures are all over the internet tonight that the seats are empty and nobody showed up really for this lighting. I mean, it was really empty. So, Trump, of course, will tweet that he had the biggest lighting ever in the history of the world. Probably in about 20 minutes.

MATTHEWS: You`re such a wet blanket.

Sam, are you waiting to get in line for that big Christmas handshake this year?

STEIN: No, I`m not.


STEIN: Maybe that`s something you didn`t know. I`m going to make it a little heavier than that.

Conyers, if he stays around, expect to hear more calls for expulsion, if not that, for him to get kicked off the Judiciary Committee entirely.

MATTHEWS: That`s very rare, expulsion.

STEIN: Very rare.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, former U.S. Congresswoman Donna Edwards, I`ve always supported her in our neighborhood concerns, Sophia Nelson, and, Sam Stein.

When we return, let me finish tonight with what I told the crowd last night at the Kennedy Center here in Washington.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with what I told the crowd last night at a party for "Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit", held at the Kennedy Center here in Washington.

My first job in Washington was as a capitol cop, a Capitol Hill cop. I worked in the morning, and evening, and afternoon -- in early afternoon in a senator`s office, then put on my uniform and .38 special and worked the 3:00 to 11:00 shift as a cop.

I learned that one senator always made a point to say hello to the capitol police, a lot of whom were country boys, some of whom commuted in from West Virginia. I guess it hit me by surprise because Bobby Kennedy was then known for standing up for minorities, for African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans.

But what made Robert Kennedy so unique as New York writer Jack Newfield once wrote was he felt the same empathy for white working men and women. He thought of cops, waitresses, construction workers, all of them, and firefighters, as his people. He wanted to bring people together.

When campaigning, he would ride around in an open car, out in Gary, Indiana, Richard Hatcher, the first African-American mayor of that city, on one side, Tony Zale, the white former middleweight champ, on the other. He wanted to say he was with both communities. He had also what he really need in a leader today, empathy.

I don`t know any other politician who could have stood before that African- American crowd in Indianapolis, that tragic night of April 4th, 1968, and told them that Martin Luther King had just been killed. I`ll never forget the faces and salutes of those thousands of Americans, white and black, lining the route of Bobby`s funeral train, they`re a strike witness to the belief that this man could unite the purpose of the discarded factory worker and also the inner-city youth.

He stood up the crooked labor leaders, the mobsters, the southern governors defending segregation, the white college students protected by deferments, the lumberjacks defending opposition to gun control. And he admitted when he was wrong, like about Vietnam, like about wanting to bomb Cuba. He was able to learn because he was willing to.

I wrote a book about him because we need to believe leadership like this is doable. We had it, we might have it again someday. Until then, against what`s out there today, I`m running the spirit -- and I mean it -- of Bobby Kennedy.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t pay much attention to his tweets. He`s been one of the best presidents I`ve served under.

HAYES: The Republican bargain -- supporting an increasingly dangerous president to get more money for the very rich.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Failure is not an option.

HAYES: Tonight, the Senate votes on a tax cut bill amid new calls for the president`s impeachment.

Then --


HAYES: The radio show host who could be the linchpin of the Russian investigation.



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