Show: HARDBALL Date: December 4, 2017 Guest: Joyce Vance, John Feehery, Ezra Klein, Clarence Page
MATTHEWS: Trump versus the FBI. Let's play Hardball. Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews in Washington. So it's now Donald Trump at war with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He's out there knocking the FBI for treating Michael Flynn unfairly. The president defended the man, who on Friday pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI and who is now cooperating with Robert Mueller. Let's watch.
(VIDEO CLIP BEGINS)
TRUMP: Well I feel badly for General Flynn. I feel badly. He's led a very strong life and I feel very badly, John (ph). I will say this, Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI, nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and they destroyed his life. I think it's a shame.
Hillary Clinton, on the Fourth of July weekend, went to the FBI, not under oath, it was the most incredible thing anyone's every seen, she lied many times, nothing happened to her. Flynn lied, and it's like they ruined his life. It's very unfair.
(VIDEO CLIP ENDS)
MATTHEWS: Well Hillary Clinton was interviewed over the Fourth of July weekend back in 2015, but former FBI Director, James Comey told Congress earlier this year that she didn't lie to the FBI.
(VIDEO CLIP BEGINS)
UNKNOWN: Did Hillary Clinton lie to the FBI?
COMEY: We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI.
UNKNOWN: Did she lie to the public?
COMEY: That's a question I'm not qualified to answer. I can speak about what she said to the FBI.
UNKNOWN: Did she -- did Hillary Clinton lie under oath?
COMEY: Not to the FBI, not in a case we were working.
(VIDEO CLIP ENDS)
MATTHEWS: President Trump spent the weekend defending himself on Twitter and blasting James Comey, the FBI and the Justice Department. On Saturday, Trump tweeted, I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. In the past, the White House has claimed Flynn was fired because he lied to vice president.
The tweet seemed to confirm that the president knew Flynn had lied to the FBI, a crime by the way, when -- according to Comey, Trump asked him to drop the investigation into Flynn. So he lied, he thought -- he discovered that Flynn had lied and then asked Comey to take care of the guy.
Talk about obstruction. Well, yesterday Trump's lawyer John Dowd said actually it was he who wrote the tweet, not Trump. He said he mistakenly conflated Flynn lying to the FBI with lying the FBI. He then told the Washington Post that the president knew in late January Flynn had probably told the FBI the same inaccurate account he gave to the vice president.
Well also yesterday, the president took an incredible shot at his own FBI, he wrote, "After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters - worst in History!"
Well Eric Holder, the former Attorney General responded, he wrote, "Nope. Not letting this go. The FBI's reputation is not in "tatters". It's composed of the same dedicated men and women who have always worked there and who do a great, apolitical job. You'll find integrity and honesty at FBI headquarters and not at 1600 Penn Ave right now."
And Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina had this warning for the president.
(VIDEO CLIP BEGINS)
LINDSAY GRAHAM, SENATOR: There's an ongoing criminal investigation, Comey may be part of it. You tweeting comment regarding ongoing criminal investigations at your apparel, I'd be careful if I were you Mr. President. I'd watch this.
(VIDEO CLIP ENDS)
MATTHEW: I'm joined by USA Today White House reporter, Heidi Przybyla, Washington Post columnist, Eugene Robinson and former FBI special agent, Clinton Watts. I want to start with Heidi. It seems to be just (inaudible) more ludicrous part of this.
Whenever Trump gets in trouble like his -- the witness with a prosecution has just been named, it's Michael Flynn who's coming at Trump with everything he's got because he has to save his life basically, he goes after Hillary.
HEIDI PRZYBYLA, USA TODAY: It's classic deflection. And there's something that's not clicking there that doesn't occur to him that it's not going to work to try and discredit Hillary Clinton who's not under investigation, it's his campaign that's under investigation.
And then secondly, to try and impune (ph) the FBI. It's every time there's an institution that is providing a constitutional check on his power, he goes after it whether it's judges, the news media, even the budget office now has been.
MATTHEWS: This is the guy at war, it's like Samson (ph) in the temple. I'm going to bring this place down. You know, I'm going to bring everything down. First of all, going after the FBI, how stupid is that? The FBI caught Nixon.
EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST: Yes. Exactly. I mean, look this is -- this is flailing. If Hillary Clinton are words that provoke a reaction among his face (ph) and among Republicans in general, right? And so it's like a sugar high. You know, he gets that sugar high from, you know, yes, I stuck it to Hillary Clinton, but meanwhile, inexorably I think, the FBI and the Mueller investigation come closer and closer and closer and he starts flailing when something happens like Flinn flipping, and he realizes that in fact, this isn't - this is only - not only not over, but it's just beginning.
MATTHEW: You know, Heidi, it sounds like one of those old comedy sets I'd go on, where you'd say, just say Paris Hilton, and everybody will laugh. Just say it. Just say Kardashian, everybody oh's, and that's just - it doesn't mean it - it's sort of a what is it, it's just a word.
PSZYBYLA: Well he's - he's - what he's doing is he's creating his own news here with the obstruction case. And the question is, you know, we've - having these discussions all day long on cable news about obstruction and how he's building the obstruction case, point valid, but why?
The why is still the much more important question, why was it worth it to tell all of these lies, and now we're seeing that the collusion piece of this, piece by piece, starting to be built out and every week it seems there's a new member of the team who knew something about the discussions that were going on with the -
MATTHEW: Clinton, let's go today - let's go to the law enforcement part of this, Clinton, and here's the question. IT seems to me he's going at war with the people that are the national policemen incentive, the investigators, to get the facts to Robert Mueller.
Why would he go to people who have an incentive already to go after him, because he may have broken the law, but now may have an incentive institutionally, enforced for everyday by his attacks on the FBI.
CLINTON WATTS, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, MSNBC: This is more Trump first, America second. I mean, I was worried a year ago about Russia tearing down democratic institutions, I'm more now worried about our President tearing down democratic institutions.
He is the leader of the executive branch, he should be the one setting the tone for the FBI, he should be supporting them, pushing them in the right direction, if he does believe they're in tatters, which I think is absolute nonsense, the best way to go about that would be be a leader, set an agenda.
And instead he's going on the attack, and that's going to backfire on him, it may solidify his base, but it's also undermining our country. He is actually weakening the credibility of the federal law enforcement agency for the entire United States.
He's going to sow doubt in their ability, and he is going to hurt the ability of our law enforcement and judicial systems with his claims. So he is an enemy of the state whenever he is pushing NCFBI in that way, and if he finds that the FBI is in tatters, well I would sure like to know how he would like to improve that because he's never offered anything as to why it's both in tatters or what he would do about it.
So it's a sad state of affairs.
MATTHEW: Well it's quite nice of the security guys - it's quite nice of the security guys lies to the FBI, the president fires him for doing so, then goes to the head of the FBI and asks him to give the guy a break, let him off, let General Flynn off, and when he doesn't let General Flynn off, he fires the head of the FBI.
Trump is going to war with the FBI, anyway, to cover up what he did with Russia. We'll get to more of that. Yesterday I meet the press, Senator Diane Feinstein of California describe the case against Donald Trump is looking more and more like obstruction of justice, which is what we're talking about here.
The president trying to stop the FBI for doing its job, here she is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR DIANE FEINSTEIN, CA (D): I think what we're beginning to see is the putting together of a case of obstruction of justice. I think we see this in the indictments, the four indictments and pleas that have just taken place and some of the comments that are being made.
I see it in the hyper phonetic attitude of the White House, the comments every day, the continual tweets, and I see it most importantly in what happened with the firing of Director Comey.
MATTHEW: Well, he fired the FBI Director Comey, now the question is will he try to fire Mueller, and is he going - is he - Trump doesn't always surprise us, you can usually see where he's heading.
You're laughing, but he does - he does pretty much address the ball pretty clearly. He tends to telegram message pretty clear. He want - he thinks Mueller - he wants the public on his side, his 30 some percent, to think Mueller is trash.
PSZYBYLA: Well, he's clearly trying to discredit the investigation, he's trying to discredit Mueller.
MATTHEW: Is he moving towards a firing?
PSZYBYLA: Well, maybe that is his ultimate goal, but he has to go through many hoops before he gets there. He can't directly fire him, and what you see now from far right media commentators is talking about how much money Mueller is spending on this investigation, and there's still no proof of collusion, by the way, you don't know that.
MATTHEW: I mean, the president just added a $1.5 trillion to the national debt, are worried about economy.
PSZYBYLA: Well, we don't - we don't know that there's no proof of collusion, because we're not the investigators, but yet they are trying to undermine this investigation, and possibly I would look for other avenues to try and attack the investigation like pulling funding, maybe not an outright kind of ambush of the investigation.
ROBINSON: But you're - the - Heidi's absolutely right, he's trying to draw this line, they're trying to draw this line between obstruction and collusion when, as you said, we don't know what Mueller has on collusion.
I would argue that you could make a (inaudible) case for obstruction at this point. He did, after all, fire the FBI director and say it was because of the Russia investigation.
ROBINSON: You know? And so aside from the tweet this weekend, he did that, he said that to Lester Holt. But -- but the collusion question, at least from my -- I'm not a lawyer. Just looking at the investigation, it seems to me that Mueller is not anywhere near done with collusion and in fact may be just getting started.
I think that's the kind of thing he wants to hear more from Flynn about.
MATTHEWS: Well many of the president's tweets this weekend took aim at the -- at the justice system, as I said. For example, he wrote, "Many people in our country are asking what the Justice Department is doing -- going to do about the fact that totally crooked Hillary, at the receiving a subpoena from the United States Congress, deleted and acid washed 33,000 e-mails. No justice."
And then he said, "I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Just more fake news covering another Comey lie." Well, according to James Comey in February, Trump told him, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting Flynn go." What do we make of that, Clint? (ph)
I mean he's really going down to destroy all people around him. Is it not (ph) just the fake media, everybody else is a fake. Everybody's out of step but Johnny. Everybody, whether it's the independent free press, an independent judiciary, a Justice Department and an FBI out to find out the truth, anyone who gets in his way, he turns into public dirt. That's his strategy.
(UNKNOWN): Yes, it's a discrediting approach. It's what authoritarians do all around the world. We've seen that repeatedly and now they're modeling the behavior off of our president, which is somewhat ironic and also scary. What I think this really comes down to is what does it take to push the American people and keep our bearings straight.
We just see accounts now where the Special Counsel's office has filed for Manafort, who was allegedly working with someone in Russia to try and change the narrative in English, in the newspaper article around his own case. This continues to go on and it's to discredit all institutions. And I don't know who that serves other than Trump.
I don't know how that makes America -- America great again, I don't know how that helps the American people. And ultimately, it leaves us divided. And a president's first mission, above all others, is to unify our country, that we are the United States for a reason and we are quickly becoming the divided states of America.
MATTHEWS: So he's destroying the FBI, whose head he just named and had confirmed by the Senate. Anyway, President Trump passed on reports this weekend that Mueller had removed one of his investigators last summer after the investigator reportedly sent text messages expressing anti-Trump political views. The investigator had also lead the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server.
Trump tweeted, "Report, anti-Trump agent -- FBI agent led Clinton e-mail probe. Now it all starts to make sense." Jane? (ph)
ROBINSON: Well, that doesn't make much sense to me. So Mueller fires an FBI guy because he said some -- some -- some things on social media that perhaps made him look biased, so Mueller does the right thing by getting rid of him. And somehow, that confirms the president's view that Mueller - - I mean it's ridiculous.
PRZYBYLA: You know how backwards this is though? Because it is that Clinton -- his -- Comey's handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation that the Democrats all blame for some of the late shifts in this election, handing the election to Donald Trump. So what does he mean by now it all makes sense?
ROBINSON: Well, (ph) now it all makes sense. But you know, but just one final thing, though.
MATTHEWS: There's not a Hillary person that kind of doesn't (ph) blame James Comey for what happened 11 days into the election (ph) anyway.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Eugene Robinson. Thank you, Heidi -- I'm sorry, we've got to end up this segment. Thanks for coming on. Coming up, Michael Flynn's guilty plea has appeared to open up several new avenues in Robert Mueller's Russian investigation. So we're going to get to collusion now. We've done obstruction. Collusion's starting to look very, very interesting.
Plus, a leading Republican strategist says impeachment's closer than you think but would the GOP actually go forward against Trump? And a president who endorses an accused child molester. A top senator who attacks the working class for spending money on booze, women and movies. And another one who says there's no money left to help poor kids get healthcare because of the mammoth tax cut that just gave money to the rich.
What are these senators saying? Would they be saying this if it weren't Trump in charge? Anyway, that's the Republican part of today. Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. No, he's not going to like it. This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: President Trump today announced he's slashing the size of two national monuments in Utah, the largest rollback of public lands protection in U.S. history. The president's proclamations would shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments by nearly 2 million acres. The decision could open up the land, of course, for exploration and exploitation.
Trump signed the proclamation in Salt Lake City, where he was flanked by Republicans, including Senator Orrin Hatch, a key proponent behind the move. I don't know what's going on with Hatch. At the event Trump heaped praise on Hatch and encouraged him to run for reelection.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You are a true fighter, Orrin. I have to say. I've gotten to know him very well. I've gotten to know a lot of people very well. You meet fighters and you meet people that you thought were fighters but they're not so good at fighting. He's a fighter. We hope you will continue to serve your state and your country in the Senate for a very long time to come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Senator Hatch, he did not want or deserve or need the blessing of that man. Anyway, the president's comments came amid new reporting from Politico that says Trump is going all out to get Hatch to run, a push aimed in no small part at keeping the president's long time nemesis, Mitt Romney, out of the Senate.
Well that makes sense for Trump. At least that's thoughtful. He wants to keep somebody away from him he's afraid of. We'll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. In the wake of the news emerging from Michael Flynn's plea deal, President Trump can no longer dismiss his former National Security Advisor as a lone operator. As we've now learned, Jared Kushner told Flynn to get the Russians to back off the Israeli Settlements Resolution. And K.T. McFarland -- there she is -- spoke with Flynn about the transition's response to a U.S. sanctions on Russia.
Additionally, the New York Times now reports that McFarland quote wrote in an e-mail to a colleague that sanctions announced hours before by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling were aimed at discrediting Mr. Trump's victory. Additionally, Mrs. McFarland wrote Mr. Flynn would be speaking with the Russian Ambassador, Mr. Kislyak, hours after Mr. Obama's sanctions were announced.
So she sent the e-mail about sanctions to transition official Tom Bossert, who then forwarded it to another Trump advisor, including Flynn, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon and Sean Spicer, among others.
It suggests the response to sanctions was more widely discussed among transition officials than was previously known, a development that could open up new avenues of investigation for special counsel Mueller.
I'm joined right now by Malcolm Nance, MSNBC political security analyst, and Joyce Vance, a former assistant -- Joyce, thank you so much for this.
And I have to say that, watching this thing, you now see the chain of command. Somehow, Trump deputizes his top people, whether it's K.T. McFarland, or it's his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to use Flynn to get in the door with Kislyak and send them all kinds of messages to the Russians.
This idea that this is not conspiratorial, that this is not a collusive effort with the Russians is out the window. They're working together being direct at the top. And then Trump jumps right in and says what a great deal it was that Putin is going along with not reacting to the sanctions, just what he wanted him to do.
He is applauding his own mission's success. How could he step back and say, I don't know nothing?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: It's really an interesting situation.
I guess the most important question that Mueller's team will have to make a decision about is whether or not there was an illegal objective of this conspiracy, because, as you, you know, lay out, there is no doubt that these people are collaborating together, making sure that Flynn is talking to Kislyak.
And the only real question at the end of the day was, was there an overt act taken by this group towards an illegal objective, which is what the law would require to prove a conspiracy?
MATTHEWS: Let me go with -- I want to bring in Malcolm on this, because just an hour or two ago, we found out that Trump personally intervened with the Republican platform-writing, and he personally intervened to get the kind of plank involving Ukraine the way the Russians wanted it.
I mean, it's not like the monkey typing merry Christmas, that this might happen in a million years. It would only happen if they intended to it happen.
MATTHEWS: Why is this president mucking around on Russia's business? Why does he have got all the stuff in the world he is worried about? He is about to be nominated for president. And he is thinking, what can I do for the Russians in Ukraine? It's impossible not to see a plan here at work.
MALCOLM NANCE, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST: It's a million -dollar question. We have been asking that question since the beginning of this campaign. Why is he so favorable to Russia?
And the word why is what the Mueller campaign is going after, because this started as a counterintelligence operation that was looking for Americans in communication with Russian intelligence officers. So, as that would translate down to the platform where he wanted to have broader relations with Russia, perhaps he ordered someone to soften that position.
But you have to understand, Paul Manafort was now on the scene at this point. And he had worked deeply for the pro-Moscow government in the Ukraine you. So, you have to determine, was this orders or was this just, you know, acquiescence to his pal in Moscow?
MATTHEWS: Yes, what is he working for Manafort for, unless Manafort said, this is the key to Russian interests here?
Anyway, as I mentioned, NPR, National Public Radio, is now reporting on the effort to water down an amendment on Ukraine in the RNC platform last summer -- quote -- " Diana Denman, a Republican delegate who supported arming U.S. allies in Ukraine, had told people that Trump aide J.D. Gordon said at the Republican Convention in 2016 that Trump directed him to support weakening that position in the official platform."
Gordon has disputed Denman's recollection. And Denman is expected to week with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees this week.
Joyce, here's the weirdness. There are a lot of neocons, real hawks around the president, who you would think would take the Ukrainian side against the Russians. That's the deal. Fight Russia. And then the president, weirdly, just seems to be carrying water for the Russians against the ideology of those people supporting him.
Unless it's for some particular interest, it certainly can't be claimed as ideological because Trump is supposed to be some tough guy with the world, a real nationalist. He sounds like a Russian nationalist these days. I'm sorry.
VANCE: It's completely inexplicable.
You even have Flynn just a few years earlier taking this sort of hard-line view. And suddenly there is a point at which he too jumps over. And on Ukraine and Russia, there is a shift. So, you have this strange convergence of events. You have got the Russians on the one hand allegedly taking a lot of action that made a Trump win in the presidential race easier.
VANCE: On the other hand, you have got activity like this change in the Republican platform, which is now being attributed by at least one source to President Trump, and potentially other things, like not implementing sanctions that Congress has passed.
And the question for Mueller is, do these two completely inextricable time streams, you know, the Trump softening on Russia, Russia's help in a U.S. election, do those add up and meet in the middle with some sort of an exchange between these two, where there was a quid pro quo?
And then Mueller would really be in formal collusion, in criminal conspiracy territory.
MATTHEWS: Yes, how do you do that?
I have heard for years from prosecutors like yourself how hard it is to prove bribery, because you almost have to have a tape recording or at least one witness overhearing, if you do this, I will do that. That's a quid pro quo. It can't just be assumed, can it?
You have to show a conversation somewhere where some guy or woman said hey, hey, here is the deal. You help us out on Ukraine, we're going play ball with you on this other stuff.
VANCE: Right. You can't assume it. You do have to prove it.
But this why we're seeing Mueller engage in this methodical -- I mean, he is moving as quick as possible, but he is also dotting I's and crossing T's. And they will get -- if there was in fact there was a bribe or some sort of a quid pro quo, there will be a lot of circumstantial evidence along the way.
And they will reach the point where that evidence, maybe one piece of it alone wouldn't hold firm, but all of it taken together will establish the broad -- and that's how these sorts of public corruption cases, because that's what this really is, that's how these cases are built, meticulously, piece of evidence by piece of evidence.
MATTHEWS: Thanks, Joyce.
In an in-depth report on the inner workings of the Mueller investigation, "The Washington Post" has revealed that the topics of keen interest, that's its phrase, to chief investigators include "how foreign government officials and their emissaries contacted Trump officials, as well as the actions and interplay of Flynn and Jared Kushner."
As we learned on Friday, Flynn also asked the Russian ambassador to help block a U.N. resolution that condemned Israel for building settlements in disputed territories.
NBC has identified Kushner in court documents as -- quote -- "the very senior member" of the presidential transition team who directed Flynn to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution.
Malcolm, this is part of my whole problem with the administration, besides the existence of the president himself. And this is this Romanov way of running the government. What the hell does Jared Kushner have in his background that justifies him calling world leaders one at a time, including Russia, and telling them how to vote on an Egyptian resolution before the Security Council?
I mean, and then you find out this guy knows nothing. He may have an attitude, a position about Israel. He's got no foreign policy experience or anything. He carries water for nobody in the American people. And he is out there deciding this stuff on a world stage because he's the son-in- law.
NANCE: Well, if you want to be generous, you could say...
MATTHEWS: It's a joke.
But if you want to be generous, you could say that this was them reaching out and making contact with foreign officials as part of their transition duties. But we can see that, plainly, that the Mueller investigation has determined that that's not the case. They were carrying out foreign policy.
NANCE: Literally telling nations what to do and to ignore the sitting president.
The question is, what is the motivation behind their actions? Everyone suddenly hid this. And when you start hiding these activities...
MATTHEWS: How about they just like to call the shots and they weren't willing to wait for January 20?
Because you have got Jared out there. He probably has some kind of attitude about it. There, he comes out and says, we're going crash through the Obama policy, which is to make Israel pull back on these settlements across the Green Line? So why not just crash it right now? Don't even wait for the inauguration.
That's what it looks like.
NANCE: Yes, but you can understand that. And that would be almost reasonable, you know, to have that, as I like to call it, masters of the universe attitude now. Now we run government. We can do whatever we want, even though we're not in power yet.
But, on the other hand, you also have to come to the fundamental question that you discussed in your previous segment. Why lie about this? They spent enormous amount of resources to cover this all up.
MATTHEWS: Well, I know the answer.
Joyce, you have one more minute here. I want to give you half-a-minute. Why would -- if he really wanted to create a rapprochement with Russia and prevent a second cold war from developing, getting any hotter, what would be so embarrassing about that, that he has to hide every inch of it? Because that, to me, is the profound question. I don't get it.
NANCE: Yes, there is no reason that they had to hide any of this, even the meetings themselves.
NANCE: But you to see, when you're talking about Sessions, you're talking about the rest having these contacts, and then literally lying to federal law officers about it. Then what you have is the fundamentals of conspiracy, and I'm sure Mueller knows.
MATTHEWS: I know. I'm getting pushed here.
Joyce, do you have any thought about why they would cover up what could be a grand purpose piece?
VANCE: Well, you know, it's interesting.
You always assume that, if people are covering up, there is a reason for it. People don't typically lie...
MATTHEWS: I agreement.
VANCE: ... unless it's a Martha Stewart kind of situation, when they're afraid they have done something wrong.
And so, here, the ultimate question at the end of the day is, were they lying to cover up collusion? And more and more, we're seeing pieces of evidence that indicate there was a lot of improper exchange. Whether it goes all the way to collusion, I think, is something that we will find out in the next few months.
MATTHEWS: Well said.
I love the way that Martha Stewart handled that very bad situation, by the way. She took her punishment and moved on.
Thank you, Malcolm Nance and Joyce Vance.
Up next, with an obstruction of justice case building against the president, are we getting closer to impeachment? And would Republicans go along with it, even if the case were proven? That's a good question, with a Republican House.
And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Combine two converging currents, the Mueller investigation looking for that obstruction of justice charge, and then Alabama, Roy Moore coming to the Senate possibly in a week, and he becomes the face of the Republican Party for the next year, when we're already in danger of losing the House.
It's likely we will do that without him. Lose the House. Trump gets impeached. We're closer to impeachment now, I think, than we think.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was veteran strategist Alex Castellanos with a warning for his fellow Republicans and new questions about whether or not the president obstructed justice in the Russia probe.
As Axios points out, Trump's legal team claims the president cannot obstruct justice, but notes that: "The one thing everyone agrees on is that the House of Representatives, with its impeachment power, alone decides what is cause for removal from office. For now, at least, the House is run by Republicans."
Well, that's consoling.
Anyway, the first article of impeachment against Richard Nixon, for example, which passed the House Judiciary Committee charged that the president was "in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice."
Similarly, the third article against President Clinton said he has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice.
For more, I'm joined by Ezra Klein, editor at large for Vox.com, who recently wrote a great article, "The Case for Normalizing Impeachment," and, of course, Republican strategist John Feehery.
I want to ask. I want to get to three point in the next five minutes.
One is, can we all agree that obstruction of justice has to be impeachable? Because if a president can do anything he wants with the justice system, he is basically -- he is an emperor, if he can just ignore the law. Is that - - can we agree on that?
EZRA KLEIN, CO-FOUNDER, VOX: I think so, yes.
MATTHEWS: Obstruction of justice should be enough.
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, impeachment -- impeachment is a political matter.
MATTHEWS: But obstruction of justice...
FEEHERY: Well, that's for the politicians to decide. It's a political matter.
MATTHEWS: Suppose it's proven that there's obstruction of justice?
FEEHERY: Well, then that's a good case to make. You to make to it the politicians.
MATTHEWS: They have the right to ignore it?
FEEHERY: They have the right to ignore it.
FEEHERY: They do, and especially in the Senate. I'm just saying, from a practical perspective.
MATTHEWS: Ezra, I'm older than you guys. And I have been -- we have been arguing what high crimes and misdemeanors means since I was born, practically.
You, in your article, say basically it's not a legal term. It's a political judgment, like in the British House of Commons. It's a no- confidence vote. If you don't like this government, if you don't like this prime minister, you want to get rid of him, you vote no confidence.
KLEIN: I wouldn't say that high crimes and misdemeanors is meant to be like a no-confidence vote. But it's not legal either.
So, James Madison talks about impeaching a president potentially for capriciously firing executive branch officials. The first federal official ever impeached, Judge John Pickering...
MATTHEWS: Who is that, Marbury?
KLEIN: I'm sorry?
MATTHEWS: Was that Marbury?
KLEIN: No, no, no, I think that was just on The Federalist Papers.
KLEIN: But the first president -- I'm sorry -- the first judge ever impeached is just impeached because he is ranting at people from the bench. He is demented. And that's also under high crimes and misdemeanor standard.
It's very clear that they mean, if you talk to constitutional scholars, something like breach of public trust. And the problem is, as John says, we actually do have to define that for ourselves.
MATTHEWS: OK. Do you think we underuse it?
KLEIN: I do think we underuse it. I think we're so afraid to talk about it even.
MATTHEWS: We have had, what, 45 presidents. How many of them do you think should have been impeached, or certainly were worthy of impeachment?
KLEIN: More than between zero and one, depending on how you count Nixon.
MATTHEWS: Well, we have already had two.
KLEIN: Well, but we have not removed from office, right?
Anyway, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, dodged questions about whether the obstruction of justice case against this president amounted to an impeachable offense. However, she went on to say this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: The concern rises with the day. The concern about this White House rises...
CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Your concern about this president's ability to do the job rises by the day?
FEINSTEIN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I have been here for 25 years now.
There is a kind of instability, unpredictability. It's one issue after the other.
TODD: Do you believe it's time to think about getting him out of office?
FEINSTEIN: I believe it's time for us to finish our investigation. And I don't want to bias any part of the investigation with premature thinking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Suppose, John, we had a president who, instead of being a normal president, got up every morning around 6:00, read the papers, then started going crazy, started attacking everybody he doesn't like, every institution he doesn't like, pretty much like Groundhog Day in the movie, just over and over and over again. And every day is the same.
Instead of doing anything different or growing in the office or learning or taking it seriously, every morning, it's personal between him and someone like Comey or Hillary Clinton. He is ranting about these people who are coming at him.
Do you think that kind of president should be impeached? That kind of president?
FEEHERY: The question is, can you impeach a president for bad tweets, consistently bad tweets?
And I don't think you can, depending on unless there's...
MATTHEWS: But that's the way he communicates with Earth.
FEEHERY: It's a political judgment.
Now, some people from the get-go have wanted to impeach this president, from the very beginning of when he got elected. And so it hasn't really evolved from that.
Now, Republicans are not going to impeach Donald Trump. Democrats were not going to impeach Bill Clinton. And so that's a political judgment. Now, if things get so bad, if the country gets so bad, if the vast middle of the country decides that Donald Trump is completely incompetent and the country is going down the ditch, that's a different thing.
But that's not what is happening right now. Not we have a political struggle within Washington, D.C. People who wanted him to be impeached since he got elected still want him to be impeached.
MATTHEWS: Why was Clinton impeached? Why was Clinton impeached? He was of sound mind and body. He made a mistake. But -- and he covered it up. But he was of sound mind and body.
FEEHERY: Republicans made the judgment that he lied under oath and should have been impeached for that.
MATTHEWS: Well, he did. But why did they say that was enough to kick him out? Why was that enough to kick him out?
FEEHERY: They made the decision that impeachment was a higher form of censure.
MATTHEWS: No. They put him up for conviction.
FEEHERY: They also knew -- they knew that they had no chance of removing him from office. The Senate was never going to convict him.
MATTHEWS: Oh, they knew that, huh?
Did you think they knew that?
MATTHEWS: I thought he might be convicted.
KLEIN: I'm not sure they knew that.
But I think this is the bigger issue. We do get to decide.
MATTHEWS: Well, then give me some presidents who should have been impeached.
KLEIN: No, I'm not going to go backwards.
KLEIN: We have a president right now. Should Donald Trump control nuclear weapons?
MATTHEWS: OK, suppose Herbert Hoover was president right now, and the economy was going down, frighteningly downward, I mean frighteningly, 25 percent unemployment, and going further.
And he had no ability to deal with it, and you could tell he couldn't -- he had no plan. Should he have been impeached?
KLEIN: I'm not sure we knew at that time that Herbert Hoover had no ability to deal with it.
MATTHEWS: Well, we saw the market. We saw what was going on.
KLEIN: I know. There were huge, huge, huge mistakes then.
MATTHEWS: People were all jumping out of windows.
KLEIN: But it took -- I think that you are close when it was clear what Hoover was doing was a total disaster, you were close enough to an election that you aren't moving. I don't think policies, I don't think bad policies are good reason to impeach. I think complete incompetence is.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think going to war in Iraq measured up to that standard.
Anyway, thank you, Ezra Klein, and thank you, John Feehery.
Up next, meet Trump's GOP. The president has officially endorsed a man accused of pedophilia, of course, we know about that, Roy Moore. And a top Republican is defending tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires by implying that average Americans are just wasting their money on women -- how do you actually mean that? I'm not sure with that manner.
Loose women? What are we talking about here? Going down to the bar and buying drinks for everybody? What is he talking about? And, of course, booze.
You're watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Just days after Republicans passed a tax bill that gives a handout to corporations and the very wealthy in this country, President Trump this afternoon showed just how distorted his party's priorities have become. Donald Trump officially today, here is the day, endorsed Roy Moore for the Senate, despite all the stories about him, most of them obviously true. Choosing to overlook allegations of sexual misconduct by multiple numbers of women, including one accuser who says Moore inappropriately touched her when she was 14.
Anyway, Roy Moore has denied the accusations all across and denied the latest one today.
Anyway, the president spoke to Moore by phone on his way to Utah. A White House readout of the call says it was, quote, a positive call with Judge Roy Moore during which they discussed the state of the Alabama Senate race. And the Senate (ph) endorsed Judge Moore's campaign.
For more, I'm joined by the HARDBALL round table -- and what a great round table it is.
Katty Kay, anchor for "BBC World News America" and an MSNBC contributor, Phil Rucker, White House bureau chief for "The Washington Post" and a political analyst for MSNBC, and Clarence page, columnist for "The Chicago Tribune".
So, Katty, here's the story, what is the Republican Party -- we've seen it since the days the civil rights moved south has become the party of Dixie.
And if you look at Alabama, the party of poor people, because everyone down there, it's pretty rough -- it's not a wealthy state at all. It's not terrific when it comes to education. Pretty good when it comes to football, OK. But otherwise it's got problems down there. And it's also the party of Wall Street.
Which it is? (INAUDIBLE) trying to make a little limited on land or the guys living off carried interest and all the breaks they get on Wall Street? Who are they for?
KATTY KAY, ANCHOR, BBC WORLD NEWS AMERICA: It's trying to do both and be both and that's its very problem, right?
MATTHEWS: Don't they notice each together?
KAY: It's just not possible for one party to encompass the people on Wall Street who are socially liberal and the people down in Alabama who are clearly very socially conservative and now seem to think that it's OK to give their support to somebody who has been accused of let's not beat around the bush, pedophilia.
MATTHEWS: Well, how do you do it? Phil, what you do is you've got a guy like Orrin Hatch, who was a respectful conservative. I've known the guy forever since I tried to beat him in 1976 in that race out there. The guy is just a regular conservative, an LDS guy, traditional values. And yet he somehow finds his way into liking Donald Trump and accepting Donald Trump's leadership today. He is out there saying he is for Roy Moore.
Why would Orrin Hatch, a straight laced LDS guy, a Mormon guy, why would he be for this guy? What would he find in common with Roy Moore the pedophilia guy?
PHIL RUCKER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Because he just spent four hours on Air Force One with President Trump probably talking a little bit about that Alabama race.
But the bigger picture for someone like Orrin Hatch is he wants this tax bill to get passed. He wants it to get signed. He wants to be --
RUCKER: It's the Republican agenda. It's what he has been campaigning on for, you know, 20, 30 years to be in the Senate. And finally, they have a Republican president who can sign some of these laws, or some of these bills into law.
MATTHEWS: OK, Clarence, this is the socio metric overlay here. Here is Orrin Hatch who since he first ran for the state talks about a laborer, a member of the union in Pittsburgh before he moved out there -- back out there. He always talks about the working people.
The average LDS person isn't rich, in Utah or anywhere. Why would he just do what they want from Wall Street? Why would he give them all these breaks? You know, outside there is no minimum alternative tax. They get the corporate break, the top rate down, everything for them. They get to give $22 million to their kids without any taxes.
What's that got to do with the average person living in Sandy, Utah?
CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, Orrin Hatch is a lot like Ronald Reagan. They started out as FDR Democrats who moved over.
But look -- look at the agenda, you know. This is the agenda now of the white working class that votes Republican, swings over that way. And Donald Trump wants that tax bill passed too.
MATTHEWS: I know, self-interest.
PAGE: He also wants to keep Mitt Romney from that seat as well.
MATTHEWS: Talking bizarre voting, Katty, I'll give you this, delightful, and this is delight. In an interview with "The Des Moines Register", Senator Grassley has asked about the estate tax which Republicans just wanted to slash. He argued that the tax, which affects a small number of very wealthy Americans needed to be changed. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Katty, you were mentioning -- it's so -- what is this, a cowboy movie? What are we watching, booze, women?
KAY: Out of the 1950s.
MATTHEWS: Movies, movies. Are they that dirty?
KAY: They don't making progress on this, and then we are -- this senator. I --
MATTHEWS: I just saw three billboards last night. That was a good clean movie. What is he talking about?
KAY: The implication is if you get this, then, you know, you'll somehow squandering the money. I don't know. I can't even defend it.
MATTHEWS: People with a paycheck are spending their money to put food on the table, to keep the roof over their heads, to get clothes for their --
PAGE: Business is part of a conservative narrative now.
MATTHEWS: Well, that's again, that's an average Trump voter saying, I have to count my money to buy shoes this month. I got to figure out the money. I can't go to a restaurant. I don't have the money to go to the movies. If you go to the movies, it's $12 and $12 for both of you and two box of popcorn, it's 30 or 40 bucks.
It's not exactly --
PAGE: But believe it or not, this connects to Roy Moore, though.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, the round table is staying with us. And up next, three scoops we're going to get. We're setting the bar high again tonight. We're going get what they're going to talk about.
You're watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: According to a new Gallup poll just out today, more adults in the U.S. identify as Democrats or independents who lean to the Democratic Party than do people identify as Republicans.
Here is the numbers: 44 percent of Americans identifies Democrats or lean to Democrat while just 37 percent of Americans identifies Republicans or lean that way. It's a five point spread. Democrats have historically held the edge. But this year, it has expanded because of the decline in people who affiliate with the Republican Party, actually saying I'm a Republican. Republican identification has dropped five points in the last year. I wonder why that happened?
Fourteen percent of Americans say they're independents, but who don't lean either way. That's up four points. Boy, that makes sense.
We'll be right back after this.
MATTHEWS: We're back with the round table.
Katty Kay, tell me something I don't know.
KAY: So, scientists are finding that rates of PTSD in American inner cities, some American inner cities are higher than in refugee camps around the world, and they are higher in some of those cities and they are twice as high as they are amongst combat veterans. The rates of PTSD are stunning.
MATTHEWS: Is this with gang warfare? What is it? KAY: It's general violence and it's often children. They can't get away from these environments. And they're, of course, unlike soldiers, they're not trained to deal with it.
MATTHEWS: Such a powerful statement. That's news.
RUCKER: So Chris, President Trump faces a big decision. We expect him to make hit the week about whether to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. It has a lot of implications in the region and around the world. He's been lobbied by Arab leaders, as well as by the president of France to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv.
MATTHEWS: Would any good come with this?
RUCKER: Well, we expect he'll probably begin the process --
MATTHEWS: Will any good of this?
RUCKER: I don't know. I don't know. It's a mess down there.
PAGE: Well, President Trump already decided on Friday to pull out of the United Nations migration compact, which President Obama entered us into last year to help the record numbers of refugees and immigrants we've got around the world right now. And so, this is -- Nikki Haley says we now prefer to go it alone. America first. And we will still help refugees.
But you can see what's happening here, Obama favored it, so Trump has got to overturn it.
MATTHEWS: So we're not going to take our share anymore.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Katty Kay. Thank you, Phil Rucker. And thank you, Clarence Page.
When we return tonight, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch". You're watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Monday, December 4th, 2017.
Justice is grinding its way to Donald Trump. If he did not collude with Russia during the campaign, how do we exclude all the evidence that he did? How do we exclude this new information today that he personally got the GOP to change its platform regarding Ukraine?
Why would an American politician find time in the midst of a presidential campaign on the very eve of the nominating convention to get involved with the geopolitics of Ukraine? Specifically Russia's interest in Ukraine? Why would Trump's top people, his son-in-law being one of them, be commissioning General Michael Flynn to tell the Russian ambassador what he wanted done in regard to U.S. sanctions, what he wanted Russia to do with regard to Israel?
Russia, Russia, Russia. It's been the pattern of the year. An American presidential candidate new to national politics focused again and again on the interests of Russia. And now in December of his inaugural year, Donald Trump finds himself at war with the U.S. government agency trying to get to the bottom of his Russian entanglement. General Flynn, who went on to all those Trump missions to the Russians.
He lies to the FBI about it, refusing to admit the nature of his missions. Trump then tries to get the FBI to stop investigating the general. Then fires the FBI director for not doing what he said he must do.
This whole fandango is about Trump and Russia, and Trump trying to cover it up. And the most mystifying part of it all is the possibility that he, Donald Trump, was trying to do something good here, to end the U.S.-Russian course toward a second Cold War. But if that is really the case, why doesn't he just say so?
That's HARDBALL for now.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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