Show: HARDBALL Date: December 1, 2017 Guest: Jennifer Rubin, George F. Will, Michael Schmidt; Eli Stokols; Susan Page; Carol Lee, Frank Figliuzzi, John Lauro
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: -- when that news broke and has been busy and one of the evenings when I am looking forward to watching "Hardball" and Chris and Rachel and everyone continue this reporting.
That does it for "the Beat." Thanks for watching. "Hardball" is now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The beginning of the end? Let`s play "Hardball."
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington where there was this roaring scene outside a federal courthouse here. Michael Flynn, who served as President Trump`s national security adviser before being fired, walked into court to plead guilty to a charge of making false statements to the FBI. It was a stunning moment. And one that takes the Russia investigation on to a very dangerous path to the White House.
Flynn was the fourth person to be charged in Robert Mueller`s probe but he is the first to have worked in Trump`s White House. There are few people who were higher up in the transition.
According to the charging document, Flynn made two false statements to the FBI about contacts with the Russians. Each instance included conversations with officials in the Trump transition team which means it`s very likely more shoes are going to drop.
After President Obama announced new sanctions on the Russians last December, the Russian ambassador to the United States contacted Flynn. According to the charges, Flynn called a senior official at the Presidential transition team. NBC News is reporting it was K.T. McFarlane, a senior official in the Trump transition, to discuss what, if anything, to communicate to the Russian ambassador to the U.S. sanctions. They discussed the members of the Presidential transition team at Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation. Flynn relayed that message.
In a separate instance last December, Flynn contacted the Russian ambassador about a pending vote in the U.N. general assembly regarding Israel. According to the charges quote "a very senior member of the Presidential transition team directed Flynn to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, to learn where each government stood on the resolution and to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution."
NBC News reported today that the very senior official was Jared Kushner, the President`s son-in-law. In a statement today Michael Flynn said, I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong. And through my faith in God I am working to set things right. My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the special counsel`s office reflect the decision I made in the best wanted of my family and of our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions.
Well, there was strong reaction to today`s news from Democrats on the Hill involved in the Russia probe. Their message, there`s more to come.
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SEN. MARK WARNER (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: My hope is general Flynn will tell everything he knows and tell why he was having these contacts with Russians, who directed these contacts. I think it goes well beyond the fact that he lied to the FBI.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: This is clearly not the last shoe to fall. Now we learn that there is at least one other key member of the administration or the transition team who is very knowing of what Mike Flynn did and the fact that Mike Flynn lied about it.
SEN, RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: This admission of guilt by the former national security adviser is a shattering moment for the Trump presidency. For the first time the special counsel is penetrating the White House gates. The simplicity of this indictment is a signal that there`s a lot more to come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well for more on this major development today, I`m joined by NBC News reporter Carol Lee, "USA today`s" Washington bureau Chief Susan Page, White House reporter for "the Wall Street Journal" Eli Stokols, and "New York Times" reporter Michael Schmidt.
In order, I want to ask each of you as top correspondents to explain the implications of this, of having as his primary witness for the prosecution general Flynn at his disposal now after this plea deal -- Carol?
CAROL LEE, NBC NEWS REPORTER: Well, it`s what you started to talk about a few minutes ago, which is that this is an individual who Michael Flynn, who is by Donald Trump`s side throughout the campaign, was a key player in the transition, and then spent 24 days inside the White House. There`s nobody else who has all of those things right now, that we know of, who has flipped and is cooperating with special counsel. It`s a huge deal.
MATTHEWS: So he knows all about possible collusion with Russia, all about possible obstruction of justice to cover that up.
SUSAN PAGE,, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: So what`s alarming I think to the White House is that this person who has flipped who is now a small fish, not a big fish, you don`t flip the person at the top, means that they have bigger targets in mind.
MATTHEWS: Who`s next? Jared?
PAGE: And there are only three or four people who are bigger targets.
PAGE: Jared Kushner.
MATTHEWS: Jared gave them the duty, basically, to kill that resolution against Israel for its settlements.
PAGE: But there - and a couple of other, Donald Trump Jr., I mean. But there are not very many people that you would allow to negotiate, that you would negotiate a deal with someone as senior and as important as Michael Flynn to get somebody else. It`s got to be somebody bigger than him, not someone smaller.
[19:05:14] LEE: Eli, is he the John Dean of this event? Is he the one, the deal-cracker that opens up the door to prosecution?
ELI STOKOLS, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: There are a lot of people who say that analogy is an apt one today, as people have been discussing and drawing those lines, those parallels back to Watergate. But inside the White House I think what unnerves them is that -- what unnerves the President about Mike Flynn more than maybe anybody else in this investigation, is that he has been so quiet. They hadn`t heard from him. They cut off contact with Trump`s attorneys. And now they had no warning for this. And so I think --
MATTHEWS: Well, they did get the warning last week when he stopped talking to the White House lawyers.
STOKOLS: Right, but they weren`t expecting this this morning. They didn`t get a heads-up that this was coming today. And I think that just, inside the White House, they don`t really know, they don`t have the information. What they do know is there were few people closer to this President throughout the campaign than Mike Flynn. He was someone who was vetted to be vice President. This is a guy who was with Trump at every - almost every rally, so.
And when Obama, Sally Yates came and said, you might want to think twice about this guy, they were in this post-election glow. They thought nothing could touch them. And they thought they were being political and they said no, we are going to stick with this guy.
Even after he fired Mike Flynn, Trump regretted firing him. This is a person that they can say, he will only work here for 25 days. He worked for the Obama administration too. But there is no, you know, in the real world, Mike Flynn was pretty close to this.
MATTHEWS: Michael Schmidt, backing that up, it seems to me that Trump laid that out pretty well by two things. The first stage was getting rid of Comey because after pushing Comey to protect Flynn and that didn`t work, he got rid of Comey.
And also, all these months since sort of cuddling up, you know, by long distance to Flynn. Trying to make him think, we are still together, we are still buds. All the time he seemed to be saying, I don`t want this guy on the other team. And now he is on the other team.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, I mean, look. Mueller and the justice department don`t give out cooperation deals like this, plea deals like this, if they don`t have anything to give. And I think that is really what unnerves the Trump lawyers is that to go to this extent, to go this far, is pretty significant. And raises questions about what does he really know? This is not just something they give out for free. So that is a, you know, a thing.
And the other thing that I think is significant here is that the Russia thing continues to cast a cloud over this White House. The White House had tried to push the notion that by the end of the year, the Russia investigation would sort of be moved beyond it. That Mueller would have wrapped up. I don`t think this is the ending of the year that they thought it was going to be.
MATTHEWS: Well, Ty Cobb, the President`s lawyer must look pretty stupid right now because he had been telling the President that tale for months now that everything`s cool. It`s going to be over by Christmas. And also -- all he could do today was trash on the credibility of Flynn by saying he was Obama`s guy. Although Obama warned them not to hire him. How does he still have credibility as an attorney for the defense here?
SCHMIDT: Well, in terms of Cobb, look, he is in a very difficult position. He has forced to explain this. And they fall back on this argument that it was the Obama administration that had given him a security clearance.
It was also the Obama administration that fired Flynn. They got rid of Flynn when he was head of DIA, the intelligence branch of the Pentagon. And as you pointed out, you know, Obama says to Trump at the White House right after Trump`s elected, hey, look, national security adviser, big job. You can`t give it to a guy like this, he is not sophisticated enough to do this. You really need to go with someone better. He wasn`t warning him about the FBI investigation. He was simply warning him about what he thought Flynn`s capabilities were.
MATTHEWS: Well, NBC News reported today quoted a source close to Donald Trump, said the developments regarding Flynn -- this talks like a kid, an 8-year-old. Are very, very, very bad. It`s like a kid`s book.
Anyway, Congressman Schiff, ranking member of the House intelligence committee, reacted today pointing to the President`s past behavior regarding Flynn. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHIFF: The President, when he was in the process of firing Mike Flynn, was at the same time very defensive of Mike Flynn. That`s the kind of conduct you would expect if the President was forced to fire Mike Flynn not because he lied, but because the lie was exposed. And if the President is one of those senior transition officials who was knowing of the contact and perhaps even supporting this contact with the Russian ambassador, that would explain both his reluctance to fire Flynn, but also why he would be intervening with James Comey and urging Comey to drop the Flynn case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What does everybody -- Carol, what do you make of the fact that the President, when he first came into office, said, I didn`t tell good general Flynn to talk to the Russians but I should have or would have. It reminded me of the O.J. story, O.J. wrote a book called "If I did it." Why would he play coyly like that?
LEE: What he said at the time was essentially -- he was trying to say there was nothing wrong with what Michael Flynn did. He was saying, you know, I didn`t know about it. But if I did, it would have been fine because he wanted to make it seem insignificant or diminish it.
[19:10:11] MATTHEWS: OK. Was he covering for something he was denying? Anyway -- I`m sorry.
LEE: Well, no. I was going to say that, you know, for the other piece of this is that Mike Pence was under the impression, until today, that Michael Flynn was the only one who knew at the time when he told him he didn`t talk about sanctions, that he did talk about sanctions. And now it`s clear that there were others within the Trump orbit, within the White House, who knew that and knew that the vice President lied about that.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s listen to the President back in February of this year, what a long year, instead, when he was asked about Flynn`s conversations with the Russians. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you direct Mike Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I didn`t --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Prior to your inauguration --
TRUMP: No, I didn`t --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And would you have fired him if the information hadn`t leaked out?
TRUMP: No. I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence, very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn`t doing it. I didn`t direct him, but I would have directed him, because that`s his job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Jared Kushner directed him on this. Because he said various governments, he was checking them, obviously, about the U.N. resolution on the establishment. So Trump is saying he is hiding the fact that he knew his son-in-law did it, looks to me. Although he was saying it was fine what he did.
PAGE: Here`s what`s perplexing is if he did nothing wrong, if he should have ordered him to do it though he didn`t, why are they lying about it? Why did they then lie even knowing that would be a felony, to lie to the --
MATTHEWS: So that`s the beginning of the cover-up, the obstruction, OK. They thought it was against the law, because technically it is.
PAGE: But it`s a law that`s not usually enforced --
MATTHEWS: I know. Do you think that General Flynn knew it was an unenforced law?
Eli, everybody on this, my hunch about this whole cover-up is that Flynn was so unaware that this law was never forced, the Logan act, against anybody not in the government to be negotiating with a foreign power. He thought it was unenforceable.
STOKOLS: Well, I mean, I think when you play that clip of the President Trump at the press conference basically kind of offering an incoherent answer, talking about both guys, that you know, if he did do it, no big deal. But he didn`t do it. I mean, it`s basically creating space for him on both sides. And maybe that`s just the usual Trump answer to everything, where rhetorically he is back and forth and kind of spinning you into knots.
But it also, as Susan said, I mean, this could also be a President who is aware of things that happened because the tweet that the President sent out right after, when Putin did not respond, when he did what Flynn asked him to do and Trump tweets, Putin, very smart not to respond, I knew -- I mean, you look at that, then you have to ask yourself, is this really a President who had no idea that these overtures were being made to the Russians?
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s get back to the one on the territory, Israel on its territories. And the question there, Michael Schmidt, is the President was obviously engaging in foreign policy. He was telling somebody or they were telling on behalf of him to try to kill this U.N. resolution which he didn`t want to carry and Obama was ready to abstain on and let carry, let be enforced. I mean, clearly he was setting up a counter foreign policy in the Middle East.
SCHMIDT: Yes, long-standing precedent has been there`s one administration at a time. That the incoming one sort of defers to it. But what we saw here was very different. We saw an administration that was constantly engaging in its own foreign policy, in its own meetings with foreign leaders, its own attempts to influence things.
And we are seeing some of the consequences of that now. It`s sort of a gray area that we hadn`t really seen in previous, you know, transitions. We are seeing, you know, as they have tried to explain that they have gotten themselves into a lot of trouble here. And then maybe at the root of the cause of why Flynn went to the lengths that he did in the interview with the FBI to deny stuff that the FBI had wiretaps about.
MATTHEWS: I think it`s going to end up being a black area for this administration.
Anyway, thank you, Carol Lee and Susan Page and Eli Stokols and Michael Schmidt. What a team.
We will be covering Michael Flynn`s guilty plea and the Russian probe throughout the hour. When we return where does the investigation go from here? And will Donald Trump now move to fire Mueller or start giving out pardons? What`s next?
Plus everything we know about Trump`s relationship with Michael Flynn.
And the "Hardball" roundtable is here to talk about whether the bombshell news today has anything to do with Trump`s increasingly erratic behavior this week and by the Russia Republicans to pass their tax cut for the wealthy. And it really is for the wealthy.
Finally, let me finish tonight with "Trump watch" on this historic day in Washington.
And this is "Hardball," where the action is.
[19:15:44] MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump is back on twitter following Michael Flynn`s guilty plea in the Mueller investigation. But in his first public statement since the news broke, President Trump ignored the bombshell development, of course, instead tweeting the media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon. Fake news. He`s not leaving.
And while we disagree on certain subjects, I call the final shots, we work well together and America is highly respected again. That`s the President tweeting.
We will be right back.
[19:18:19] MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball."
The news that former national security adviser Michael Flynn is cooperating in the special counsel`s probe has got the White House on edge and for good reason. According to the plea agreement Flynn`s cooperation may include answering questions, providing sworn written statements, taking government- administered polygraph examinations, and participating in covert law enforcement activities. Wow.
To many legal experts, the leniency of the single charge suggests that Flynn must have offered information of significant value to prosecutors. The question now is who could Flynn implicate?
As NBC News reported today Flynn discussed the nature of his calls with the Russia ambassador with Jared Kushner and K.T. McFarlane. However, court documents show that Flynn also discussed some those conversations with other unnamed officials on the Trump transition.
Quote "Flynn spoke with senior members of the Presidential transition team about Flynn`s conversations with the Russian ambassador regarding U.S. sanctions." That means multiple people were aware vice President Mike Pence was not telling the truth when he said this in January.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Mike Flynn ever discuss lifting sanctions in any of those conversations? Do you know?
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I talked to General Flynn yesterday. And the conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to new U.S. sanctions against Russia or the expulsion of diplomats.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Furthermore, NBC News confirms that the purpose of one of Flynn`s conversations with the ambassador was to reassure the Kremlin that the incoming administration would reverse the Obama administration`s sanctions punishing Russia for meddling in the election to help Trump win.
I`m joined right now by Frank Figlusi, the former assistant director of counter intelligence at FBI. John Laurel is former federal prosecutor and Paul Butler, of course, the former federal prosecutor and an MSNBC legal analyst.
Gentlemen, thank you for calling.
What do you think is the damaging information, Frank, that this guy holds, that Flynn can give to the prosecutor to use as he wishes?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR: Yes, look, we heard the judge today in court say that your sentence depends on your cooperation.
And I think that cooperation`s going to go right to the top. I want to throw out three names here. First, Vice President Pence has some serious explaining to do about his prior statements in public about no conversations involving sanctions and the Russians.
Jared Kushner is clearly exposed now, criminally possibly, for violations of the Logan Act or conspiring to violate the Logan Act. And then, lastly, this unnamed senior transition official is also now exposed.
So, we have got to watch carefully the next moves that take place here.
MATTHEWS: John Lauro, I think the question lies out there, who gave the inexperienced Jared Kushner, the president`s son-in-law, the notion that he could negotiate Mideast policy with all the nations around the world, including Russia? Who gave him that right?
JOHN LAURO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, presumably, it was...
MATTHEWS: In fact, that duty to do that?
LAURO: Yes, presumably, it was the president, president-elect, that did it.
But I want to be clear about something. The special prosecutor has tipped his hand. He is not looking at this as a criminal matter with respect to contacts with Russia. This is now an obstruction of justice case. It`s about people who went in and were interviewed by the FBI and didn`t tell the truth.
So the focus of the investigation is on lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice, not the contacts with Russia as a criminal activity.
MATTHEWS: Paul, do you agree that the focus now, because of what happened today, with Flynn coming in and plea bargaining and accepting a low charge, that we`re talking obstruction here more than collusion, that this is the real path we`re headed down?
PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: I think so, in part because of what a sweetheart deal Flynn is getting. He`s got criminal exposure for money laundering, for bribery, maybe even for conspiracy to kidnap.
And all he`s pleading guilty to was one measly count of false statements? He probably won`t do any jail time. His kid won`t be indicted. Mueller would only make a deal with a snitch like Flynn if the snitch has really good evidence to offer, compelling evidence of criminality of someone higher up in the chain.
I think, again, it`s got to be Trump, Trump Jr., Kushner, or Vice President Pence. That`s where this investigation is heading.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me go through that. Let me go through the other gentlemen.
Frank and John, the same question to you, because it looks to me like they`re not going to be able to get Trump himself on collusion, but they could damn well get him on obstruction.
Frank, you first.
FIGLIUZZI: Yes, I think that`s where this is headed as well.
And let me throw out another name. Let`s not forget that Attorney General Sessions, we learned this week, refused to answer a question from the House Intelligence Committee about whether President Trump directed him to impede the Russia investigation. He wouldn`t answer that question.
I believe Michael Flynn may have information about Sessions` knowledge and involvement in that. And I think that`s where this could be going.
LAURO: Chris, I have represented a general and people in the military. Honesty is so critically important to them. What was going through Flynn`s mind when he lied to the FBI?
I mean, that`s the million-dollar question. He had to be doing it for some reason. And what the prosecutors have done, I`m certain, because they have interviewed him, is drill down on why he took that step, why he consciously lied about something that frankly was not a crime. That`s what we need to know.
MATTHEWS: Is that -- is it not that he talked to Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, but that he talked about relieving sanctions by offering during the transition a different, nicer foreign policy to the Russians?
LAURO: That doesn`t matter.
MATTHEWS: And he was worried about that getting out?
LAURO: The Logan Act has never been used to prosecute anybody.
It`s clear that the special counsel is not using the Logan Act in this case. So the question to me is, who did Flynn think he was protecting, and why? That`s why he lied.
MATTHEWS: Was he afraid of what Richard Nixon did during the `68 campaign that Johnson never forgive him for, that he was negotiating a better deal for the government in Saigon than they were getting from Johnson?
LAURO: We will never know until he testifies in public. The prosecutors certainly know about it.
But let me say this. Once you sign on the dotted line as a cooperator, your life becomes an open book. Anything and everything you have done becomes exposed. They`re going to question him for hours and hours and hours until they drill down on every aspect of the campaign and every aspect of the administration in its early days.
BUTLER: And, Chris, that`s how we know the focus is on obstruction.
So, when we look at Donald Trump, he`s famously not loyal to anybody, right, except Michael Flynn. The whole reason that he fired FBI Director Comey was because Comey wouldn`t call off the investigation on Michael Flynn.
So, Flynn clearly knows something about Donald Trump that Donald Trump does not want out there. Now Flynn is going to sit down with 16 of the country`s best prosecutors, even more FBI agents, for hours and hours, days and days, spilling his guts. It will be real interesting.
MATTHEWS: Frank, let me get back to you about speculation here.
Everybody agrees that the Russians tried to help Trump win because they hated Hillary, and even if Hillary managed to squeak it in the Electoral College, they wanted her to be starting off weak.
So, does Trump have a hand in that? Can we see that in this story so far?
FIGLIUZZI: I think Flynn holds the key to that kind of knowledge.
But we`re beginning to see this glimpse of collusion in even the charging document today, where we see the transition officials well knowing what Mike Flynn`s up to with the Russians. So I think we`re getting glimpses of that.
And I think it`s within the realm of possibility that Trump actually had a hand in that.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk some legal questions here, Frank -- or John, you and then Paul.
Let me ask you this. What about, if the president sees his son-in-law, who he knows he has to care about just as long as he lives -- he`s got to worry about his son-in-law -- he`s the husband of his daughter, his beloved daughter, and the father of his grandkids. He wants to keep him out of jail, I would think, the same way Michael Schmidt (sic) wants to keep his son out of jail.
And we saw that today, effectively. Now, Paul, there`s the question. Does he now simply pardon the guy, that kid we`re looking at? He seems like a kid to me.
LAURO: I think any pardon at this point, I think any effort to try to undermine Mueller or to fire Mueller results in impeachment proceedings. I doubt -- I significantly doubt he`s going to do that.
BUTLER: If he does, Mueller would be like, make my day, President Trump, for, number one, you are writing your own article of impeachment. That might be too much. A pardon of Trump Jr. or Kushner might be too much even for the Republicans.
Moreover, Mueller`s a crafty dude. And so he`s working with state prosecutors as well, lots of exposure for all of these guys for state crimes. Guess what? The president of the United States has no power over state prosecutions, couldn`t pardon.
MATTHEWS: I know. And the attorney general in Albany can`t wait to get going here.
Let me ask Frank one last question. I forgot my last question. I was already done here.
MATTHEWS: No, what about the fact that the president will have this pardon authority? Do you agree he won`t use it?
FIGLIUZZI: I think he might, but I agree that it would lead to impeachment proceedings.
But here`s what I think. Knowing Mueller and his team, they`re already factoring that in here. I don`t think they need Kushner. I think they`re assuming there`s going to be a pardon. And I think they have got Flynn, they have got enough, and they`re going to get inside that Oval Office.
MATTHEWS: What a week.
Thank you so much, Frank Figliuzzi, John Lauro, and Paul Butler.
Up next: The Trump White House may be trying to distance itself from Michael Flynn, but the tape doesn`t lie. Trump used to heap praise on his former national security adviser. We are going to take a look at their relationship.
That`s coming up next.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn`s guilty plea makes him the highest figure in Donald Trump`s orbit to face charges in Robert Mueller`s investigation.
As part of the deal, Flynn has agreed to cooperate with the investigation, seemingly turning on his former boss. Well, today marks a watershed moment in the relationship between the two men that dates back roughly two years.
The retired general first met Donald Trump in August of 2015, when Flynn traveled to Trump Tower to meet with the then-candidate. According to "The New Yorker": "They were scheduled to talk for 30 minutes, the conversation lasted 90. Flynn left the meeting deeply impressed with Trump."
By February of 2016, Michael Flynn was serving as informal foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. He had openly advocated for closer ties with Russia. In fact, two months earlier, Lieutenant General Flynn had traveled to Russia, to Moscow itself, as a paid speaker for a Russian Today anniversary dinner.
He was seated two seats over from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On April 27, 2016, Donald Trump delivered his first major foreign policy speech, in which he advocated for closer ties with Russia. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We desire to live peacefully and in friendship with Russia and China. I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia, from a position of strength only, is possible, absolutely possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: By May of 2016, Donald Trump becomes the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party.
In July, Flynn`s early loyalty is rewarded with the now-infamous speaking spot at the Republican National Convention. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We do not need a reckless president who believes she is above the law.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
FLYNN: If I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth, a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: In September of 2016, despite increasing evidence from U.S. intelligence that Russia was meddling in our election, candidate Trump continues to praise Putin.
Here he is during an NBC News commander in chief forum.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He`s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: On November 8, Donald J. Trump is elected the 45th president of the United States.
And, two days later, President Barack Obama hosts a sit-down meeting with the president-elect and warns him against hiring Michael Flynn as his national security adviser.
On November 18, Donald Trump disregards President Obama`s warning and names Michael Flynn as his national security adviser.
A few weeks later, according to "The New York Times"` reporting, Flynn and the president`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, hosted a meeting with the ambassador, with Ambassador Kislyak, at Trump Tower in order to establish a line of communication between the new administration and the Russian government.
On December 22, 2016, according to today`s court documents, Michael Flynn called Ambassador Kislyak and asked Russia to delay or defeat a pending U.N. Security Council vote on condemning Israeli settlements.
A week later, Obama orders the ejection of 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives from the country and imposes sanctions on two Russian intelligence services as retaliation for election interference, according to "The New York Times": "Mr. Kislyak was irate and threatened a forceful Russian response."
Well, that same day, Flynn has a series of phone calls with Kislyak in which, NBC News is reporting, Flynn promised to reverse those sanctions. Court filings today reveal that Flynn asked Kislyak to refrain from escalating the situation in response to the sanctions.
A day later, Putin announces he will not retaliate against the expulsions. Trump takes to Twitter to take the Russian president, writing: "Great move on delay by V. Putin. I always knew he was very smart."
On January 13, once news of Flynn`s calls to Russian officials were made public, the White House misrepresented the content of those calls. Let`s watch the vice president, Mr. Pence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States` decision to expel diplomats or impose a censure against Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: On January 24, the FBI, troubled by intercepts of the call, asked to meet with Flynn. It was here where he lied about his conversations.
On January 26, 2017, acting Attorney General Sally Yates was so alarmed by Flynn`s characterizations of the calls that she warned the Trump White House that Flynn might have been compromised by the Russians.
She recounted that story back in May before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done, and, additionally, that we weren`t the only ones that knew all of this, that the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done.
And the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others, because, in the media accounts, it was clear from the vice president and others that they were repeating what General Flynn had told them, and that this was a problem, because not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information.
And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: The following day, in a private one-on-one dinner, President Trump appears to ask FBI Director James Comey for his loyalty.
On January 30, President Trump fires Sally Yates for not defending his travel ban. On February 13, Flynn resigns. On February 14, in another Oval Office meeting, Trump tells Comey: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Comey was asked about this during his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
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SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: This is the president speaking. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Now, those are his exact words; is that correct?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Correct. The reason I keep saying his words is, I took it as a direction.
This is the president of the United States, with me alone, saying, "I hope this." I took it as, this is what he wants me to do. Now, I didn`t obey that, but that`s the way I took it.
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MATTHEWS: All along, throughout this relationship, President Trump has defended his former national security adviser.
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TRUMP: Mike Flynn is a fine person. And I asked for his resignation.
When I looked at the information, I said, I don`t think he did anything wrong. If anything, he did something right. You know, he was just doing his job. The thing is, he didn`t tell our vice president properly.
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MATTHEWS: Well, up next: President Trump was hoping to take a victory lap today, touting the passage of the Trump Tower tax cut. But then the Flynn news broke.
We will get to that and more with the HARDBALL Roundtable.
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SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: I think the -- at least the quick report of the charge, it seems obvious to me that he had made a lot of misstatements to a whole lot of people. And the frightening thing is this guy was the national security adviser of the United States and the key, you know, foreign policy adviser to the president.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think most of us believe it`s not a witch hunt or a hoax and that the FBI director and all others believe this is a legitimate concern. I like General Flynn. He served this country for a long time with honor and effectiveness. It`s a sad day. But this is the way the system works.
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MATTHEWS: I love Lindsey Graham, he reminds me of what senators used to be like.
Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.
Those words Senators Tim Kaine and Lindsey Graham reacting to the news of Michael Flynn`s guilty plea in the Mueller probe, the bombshell that overshadowed what should have been today`s headline, the battle over the Republican tax bill.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared he had the votes to pass the tax bill today. The Trump Tower tax cut I call it, just hours ago. Anyway, the Flynn news broke.
Four holdouts -- Montana`s Steve Daines, Wisconsin`s Ron Johnson, Arizona`s Jeff Flake, and Maine`s Susan Collins -- declared their support for the bill, giving Republicans the 51 votes, one more than necessary to pass this sweeping overhaul.
Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable for this Friday night. Jennifer Rubin, opinion writer with "The Washington Post", George F. Will is columnist with "The Washington Post", and Cornell Belcher is a Democratic strategist.
I think this is interesting because here`s a bill about to be passed with a lot of hoopla and grandeur, it`s exciting, with about a 28 percent popular support. And yet the Republicans consider it an essential, necessary, mandatory thing to do. And they are going to celebrate it.
JENNIFER RUBIN, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. I think it`s two reasons why they`re behaving that way. One is they haven`t done anything else and they`re scared to go to the voters and say, we`ve done nothing other than Neil Gorsuch. And the second is that the dogma of trickle-down economics is very strong and these people believe it. Does it matter that we`re not in a recession, doesn`t matter it`s going to create debt, this is what they do. This is what they believe in. And they`re willing to get behind --
MATTHEWS: Regardless of the cycle?
RUBIN: Exactly. And they`re willing to get behind it regardless of whether it`s a dog`s breakfast of a bill or not.
MATTHEWS: George, we have almost a trillion-dollar deficit right now. And I`m wondering, to add another $1.5 trillion over the next ten years doesn`t sound like traditional Republican dogma.
GEORGE F. WILL, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Under current law, the deficit`s going to -- the national debt`s going to go up $10 million before this, $12 billion with it, and people think that`s a rounding error nowadays.
I would be interested to see how these people go back to Donora, Pennsylvania, and the Monongahela Valley, and say, well, Obamacare wasn`t repealed and replaced, the infrastructure -- trillion-dollar infrastructure is still a hypothesis. But we cut corporate taxes. And see how thrilling that is.
The Republicans are making a serious lunge for 3 percent growth.
WILL: If we don`t get the 3 percent growth, our politics is going to be just increasingly bitter, distributional conflict.
MATTHEWS: When`s that payoff? By 2020?
WILL: We don`t know. One of the beauties of economic debates like this is we`re going to learn something. People have made predictions. They`ve given a hostage to fortune now.
And we`re going to find out how taxes affect behavior. That`s what economists argue about all the time. The Republicans have said, cut these taxes and this will happen. We`ll see.
MATTHEWS: You know, it`s interesting, Cornell, despite I think the Democratic Party`s figure to do education role here, to actually explain how it does to different brackets, 75 a year, 250 a year, whatever, people do have a sense it is a rich person`s tax cut. They got the message.
CORNELL BELCHER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, despite our inability to message properly on it, you do have a majority of Americans against this tax bill, and you do have a majority of Americans who think that the most of this tax bill is going to the wealthy.
This is almost a gift, right, to Democrats. It is hard to understand why Republicans are doing this besides their donor class. So, they`re going to go into a midterm election with a very unpopular president, with their approval numbers at an all-time low, and not passing anything that actually a majority of Americans want them to pass.
It -- we are looking at 2006 perhaps all over again.
MATTHEWS: I`m very suspicious of the Democrats on this. I think their donor class is very much the same donor class Republicans have in terms of interests, economic interests. And they benefit because now they have a big target to attack.
MATTHEWS: But also they didn`t offend their people economically. All their people did well. Do you know?
MATTHEWS: If you want to live like a Republican, vote like a Democrat.
MATTHEWS: They got it made, a win-win for them. They lose the fight and Republicans have to take the blame.
BELCHER: I want to jump into that conversation, though, because as someone who worked for the Obama campaign, when you look at sort of where we raised money, it wasn`t from the big donor class. When you look at someone who also worked for Howard Dean, when you look at what we raised our money from, it wasn`t from the big donor class, it was grassroots upsizing. It is different, Chris.
MATTHEWS: So, Chuck Schumer isn`t better off politically?
BELCHER: I`m talking about -- what I`m talking about is the last two people who are head of our party --
MATTHEWS: Democrats, you think they made a fight of this?
WILL: Sure. You`re quite right, the people who said this is a rich person`s tax bill. But remember, they get this from the media coverage of it. Twenty percent of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth.
WILL: Seriously. Fifty percent of Americans, college students, can`t tell you the length of Senate and House terms. Yet we pick up the paper and 18 percent of Americans oppose this provision of the tax bill. They don`t know what the Senate is.
I mean, so, the idea that there`s formed public opinion out here or informed is wrong.
RUBIN: But they do stumble on the truth. It is getting to the large benefits going to --
MATTHEWS: We like to think they learn what they need to learn.
Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And next, we`ll get back to Michael Flynn`s guilty plea, how it`s made this a historic day here in D.C.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Well, as we`ve been discussing all day, Michael Flynn`s guilty plea for lying to the FBI could have wide-reaching implications. If you want to know more about the three-star lieutenant general, watch our MSNBC special this Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, "Headliners: Michael Flynn." It`s going to be great.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table, Jennifer, George Will and Cornell Belcher.
All of you -- today`s historical importance?
RUBIN: It`s huge. This is inside the White House. This is not an errand boy. This is someone implicating potentially the president of the United States, his son-in-law, and let`s not forget about the attorney general.
So, this is real. This is not a hoax. And the president could pay a permanent penalty for this.
MATTHEWS: George, I wonder what the king is thinking tonight.
WILL: I think the king is probably thinking that there`s an inverse relationship between the lightness of the sentence, the one charge that Flynn has been convicted of and what he must have been offering in order to get that lightness.
MATTHEWS: And all those charges that were pending against him, like kidnapping --
WILL: That`s the point.
RUBIN: They go away.
MATTHEWS: This is life.
BELCHER: It`s harder to call this fake news now, right? And I think to a lot of real Americans who haven`t been paying attention to this, now, you have someone admitting of a crime. It`s harder for Americans not to pay attention to this right now.
MATTHEWS: And so, here we go.
RUBIN: Yes. You and I remember this from a time gone past.
MATTHEWS: OK. What`s the Watergate parallel, George?
WILL: Well, I suppose the Watergate parallel is what happened when James McCord, one of the burglars, was given not a life sentence but a draconian sentence by Judge Sirica in order to put pressure on him to begin to unravel the whole system.
MATTHEWS: So, what`s the difference between punishing someone to make them talk and rewarding them not to -- rewarding them to talk?
RUBIN: Well, there`s -- you know, everyone likes their own methodology. And Mueller, so far, he`s getting one guy to flip after another.
MATTHEWS: Similarity is the public servant, the civil servant here, Judge Sirica, Republican appointee, Nixon I believe appointed him, went out and did his job. Same with Mueller. And by the way, with Comey, cheering him on biblically. Sound like Dr. King.
BELCHER: Well, the rule of law is winning today and we`re seeing a lot of chaos in Washington, a lot of Americans upset with institutions in this country, but the rule of law, our legal system is working and I think we have a lot to be thankful for today.
MATTHEWS: I think we have a merry Christmas and happy holidays coming our way.
MATTHEWS: I think it`s looking good for the country.
Jennifer Rubin, George F. Will, and Cornell Belcher.
When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch". It`s definitely he`s not going to like this. He didn`t like today. He won`t like tonight.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Friday, December 1st, 2017.
Today was the day Donald Trump was told would never happen. His lawyers said special counsel Robert Mueller was going nowhere, that he was about to give up the case, that the president was going to go scot-free and today, everything changed.
You heard the hecklers outside the federal courthouse yelling "lock him up." They were serenading General Michael Flynn, reminding him of his own cheerleading at the Republican National Convention when he led the hall with "lock her up," the woman who ended up with the most votes last November, just as General Flynn is ending up this November, copping a plea to testify against the guy Hillary beat.
What a year it has been? All these months since the election without question hanging over the heads of the Trump team, did they collude with the Russians and will they eventually get caught?
Trump`s defense attorney has been giving false courage to Trump, telling him again and again that Mueller is ready to close shop, that he`s coming up with nothing and then today, Mueller`s got general Flynn, got him by the back of the collar, has him ready to tell the whole story of what he knows about, and well, everything. Who told him to tell the Russians to stay cool on the sanctions, that Trump was helping -- coming with help? Who told him to tell the Russians they should kill that U.N. resolution about Israel for the new settlements, the resolution that Obama was going to let pass.
Flynn knows all kinds of stuff like what the president said about stopping FBI Director Comey from looking into this and about how Trump was ready to dump him rather than allow the investigation to go forward, one that would lead to an impeachment before his presidency even got started. And now, General Flynn is in the steady hands of Bob Mueller, ready and willing to tell all he knows about the man who sits now, worried, resentful, a bit disoriented, about a fix his lawyer told him he would never be in, a fix that could doom his place in history, because whatever comes next, today was a day of history.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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