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Tillerson under pressure Transcript 12/15/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Eli Stokols, Frank Montoya, David Ignatius, Natasha Bertrand, Catherine Rampell, Libby Casey, Clarence Page

Show: HARDBALL Date: December 15, 2017 Guest: Eli Stokols, Frank Montoya, David Ignatius, Natasha Bertrand, Catherine Rampell, Libby Casey, Clarence Page

[19:00:17] CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Going on offense. Let`s play HARDBALL. Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. What`s he afraid of? President Trump again today attacked the FBI and the U.S. justice system, battering the integrity of Robert Mueller`s investigation into Russian Trump collusion.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it`s a shame what happened with the FBI, but we are going to rebuild the FBI. It will be bigger and better than ever, but it is very sad when you look at those documents and how they have done that is really, really disgraceful. And you have a lot of very angry people that are seeing it.

It`s a very sad thing to watch. I will tell you that. And I`m going today on behalf of the FBI to their new building. And you know, when everybody, not me, when everybody, the level of anger at what they have been witnessing with respect to the FBI is certainly very sad. When you look at what`s gone on with the FBI and with the justice department, people are very, very angry.


MATTHEWS: This is getting uglier, isn`t it? And this attack on the country`s federal law enforcement came shortly before the President delivered remarks at FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia praising law enforcement as people who quote "rarely get the recognition they deserve."

As Mueller`s probe gets closer and closer to the oval office, however, Trump has stepped up his attack. He tweeted earlier this month, after years of Comey with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation running the FBI, its reputation is in tatters. And many people in our country are asking what the justice department is going to do about the fact that totally crooked Hillary after receiving a subpoena from the United States Congress deleted and acid washed 33,000 emails. No justice."

The President`s newest attack on Mueller`s investigation references Peter Strzok. He is a former top counterintelligence official who Mueller removed from his investigation last summer after Mueller learned of messages Strzok exchanged with another FBI employee that were overtly critical. Many were critical of Trump and praised Hillary Clinton. One message he sent said, God, Hillary should win 100 million to nothing. While Republicans and conservatives in the media have used this development to impugn the entire Mueller investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I call on my Republican colleagues to join me in calling for the firing of Bob Mueller. And look, it`s time for Mueller to put up or shut up. If there`s evidence of collusion with Russia, let`s see it.

REP. BOB GOODLATTE (R), VIRGINIA: We are now beginning to better understand the magnitude of this insider bias on Mr. Mueller`s team.

REP. SCOTT PERRY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: If one person can be persecuted by an instrument of the government at one standard and another can`t, what does it mean to all of us? Should we fear our FBI?

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: There is a cleansing need in our FBI and department of justice. It needs to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired but who need to be taken out in handcuffs.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Mueller is corrupt. The senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: His conflicts of interest, his clear bias, the corruption are on full display. Mueller is frankly a disgrace to the American justice system.


MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by Joy Reid, host of A.M. Joy on MSNBC on weekends. "Wall Street Journal" White House reporting Eli Stokols and former special agent Frank Montoya.

Joy, listening to this alarm bell from all of these right wingers and commentators and right-wing commentators, you would think they are ready for a military coup. We have to disgrace, like the Greek generals or somewhere in Argentina. We have to disgrace the entire U.S. justice system to justify overthrowing it. What`s coming here?

JOY ANN REID, MSNBC HOST, A.M. JOY: You know, that "Washington Post" story said that two of Donald Trump`s favorite world leaders are Erdogan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin. And it does seems that Donald Trump has the tools of authoritarianism down. He had got the dance of authoritarianism down to a science.

Step one, claim the investigation of you is a fraud being conducted by enemies of the state. Step two, get your state-run media, your affinity media to echo that into your base and whip them up into a frenzy against those investigating you. Step three, get the state party, in this case the Republican Party, to echo that from the seat of government and say, wait a minute. The people investigating the President are themselves criminals.

Create this feedback loop that creates a feeding frenzy that has now essentially got Republicans claiming that Bob Mueller, probably the most respected member of law enforcement in the last 30, 40 years in the United States, essentially being characterized as a criminal. And then of course, you have to add that last step. Call for the prosecution of your political enemies in this case, dredging up Hillary Clinton to again call to lock her up.

Donald Trump is an authoritarian of the first order, and he is behaving like one.

[19:05:13] MATTHEWS: This is scorched earth, basically, Eli. And I`m wondering what he would have done if Mr. Mueller, Robert Mueller, hadn`t fired that guy, Strzok, for having this sort of exchange with someone he is involved with romantically and they are exchanging their similar political views, apparently.

He fires the guy last July. And now, the Trump crowd are saying that`s evidence that Mueller`s not just here. In fact, he is proving his just nature by firing the guy. What is it?

ELI STOKOLS, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: They would latch on to this either way, because what Donald Trump, and even to a greater degree, his allies outside the White House are doing right now, you played that montage of all the clips on FOX News. There are other Trump surrogates, people in the Bannon world, people who are not his legal team who are out there mounting a defense. And it`s not a legal defense. It`s a public relations defense. It`s trying to get the public to discount whatever findings are coming from the Mueller probe to protect the President politically.

You know, it`s all about reality being sort of in the eye of the beholder, perception being reality. And there are a lot of people who are pushing this idea that the probe is a witch hunt just as the President has said. The President is not doing it quite as brazenly as some of the people on FOX News, even though he is still out there every day saying that the FBI is in tatters. He might step back and say, I just meant Comey. I`m just talking about these texts. He is not speaking specifically about Mueller, but this whole thing on the whole is about discrediting the Mueller probe and protecting him politically.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk timing and why not. Anyway, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein defended Mueller in the House judiciary committee hearing this week. Let`s watch him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you seen good cause to fire special counsel Mueller?

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: No, I believe based on his reputation, his service, his patriotism, and his experience with the department and with the FBI, I believe he was an ideal choice for this task.


MATTHEWS: Well, look, Frank Montoya, because it looks like what Trump is doing and his allies, is and main course out there is they are basically trying to impeach the U.S. judicial system in advance of something they see coming like a waterfall they are about to go over. So do you get a sense that this investigation by Mueller is reaching a point where they better destroy the prosecutor or they will get destroyed themselves? Is that the thinking on the Trump side of things?

FRANK MONTOYA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: There`s definitely a great deal of fear that something is coming their way. And I think when you look at what happened with Mike Flynn, that was, you know, a clarion bell as far as that warning is concerned.

Another part of this, too, that is really frustrating to me is that there`s 56 field offices out there. There is a bunch of people that are out in the field trying to do this job to the best of their abilities every single day. And so these attacks that we are hearing, whether they are from the President himself or from his surrogates, it`s not just about the investigation against him that`s being conducted by the special counsel that`s problematic. It`s about everything else that we are trying to do in the field.

I mean, in terms of the amount of public trust that`s being undermined right now, it really makes it difficult to do this job. But yes, you know, what you are seeing is, and I have seen it hundreds of times in all kinds of investigations, is an individual who is fearful that the door is about to shut on him.

MATTHEWS: Do you think that works? I mean, somebody once said to me years ago when I came to Washington, and people, they talk about defending the bureaucracy against the regular attacks on the bureaucracy by right wingers. They said people don`t do their best work when they are being dumped on. It was something like that.

My question, does that enhance the anger and the ferocity of the FBI investigation or demoralize it when somebody is dumping on it, Frank?

MONTOYA: There is going to be some intensity there, absolutely, because it is a personal affront. But the other part of this is everybody recognizes, if you can`t prove the case, then you don`t have a case. I mean, you know, let`s harken back to the email investigation. It was the same thing. There were folks that were really concerned about the behavior in terms of using the server. But if you can`t -- if the evidence isn`t there to make the case, then you isn`t going to make the case.

And folks, you know, they learn to live with that because that`s the nation - you know, that is system that we live under, that`s the rule of law. And what you do is you just work harder to make that case if it`s there. If it`s not, then you move on to the next thing.

MATTHEWS: When do you think Mueller will decide if he has the case or not, whether to drop it against the President or go full bore for something that would set up an impeachment process, when do you think he will decide?

MONTOYA: Well, he is going full bore now. And so, you know, that is a great question in terms of what they have, in particular, what is Mike Flynn providing that can lead them to other subjects, in terms of making the case. But you know, another part of this consideration, we are in uncharted waters as far as the President is concerned. Are you going to bring charges in a court of law? Are you going to write a report and then hope that Congress acts on it? There are, you know, they got some really smart brains, prosecutor`s brain is working on this. The question is, you know, what venue do they take you into next? That really is going to be interesting to see.

[19:10:08] MATTHEWS: No, I`m thinking about that too.

Thank you, Frank.

The attacks on the FBI and justice department follow a similar playbook as President Trump`s attacks remember those on the CIA and the Intel community. After reports that the Intel community concluded that Russia intervened in the Presidential election to help Trump win his transition team mocked them as the same people who said Saddam Hussein had weapon of mass destruction. And he blamed them for the Russian dossier being leaked to the President, something he cared to Nazi Germany. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful, that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it`s a disgrace. And I say that, and I say that. And that`s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.


MATTHEWS: Well, after his inauguration, President Trump traveled to CIA headquarters where he stood in front of the wall honoring CIA agents killed on duty and then delivered a political speech attacking the media and defending the crowd size at his inaugural address. Let`s watch that.


TRUMP: We had a massive field of people you saw that. Packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks. And they show an empty field. I said, wait a minute. I made a speech. I looked out. The field was -- it looked like a million, a million and a half people.


MATTHEWS: You know, Eli, I don`t think he has -- I`ll say this again because I have said it because a long time ago. But he doesn`t seem to have a sense of the common wealth, the nation as a government, as a republic, of him being responsible for the government, of being part of it and having to reflect our history. And when he goes out, you don`t just trash all those men and women, mostly men who died for this country and secretly in overseas countries and horrible deaths. I mean, (INAUDIBLE) to be tortured. And he uses that platform to brag about crowd size. It`s not about the republic for which he stands. It`s about him and only him.

STOKOLS: And that`s consistent with who Donald Trump has been his entire life, before he was President, I know there were some people who voted and said, well, maybe he will change. Maybe he will be more serious as President.

We have seen in the first year of this presidency, the same narcissism that defined Donald Trump for decades in the public sphere. And you know, even when it comes to national security, when it comes to an independent judiciary, when it comes to the media, he doesn`t care about these institutions. He believes they are mainly there to serve him. And what`s been striking about this is not really so much his behavior but the way Republicans have adapted to sort of adopt his behavior.

I mean, seeing Republicans carrying his water and attacking Bob Mueller which just months ago, the conventional wisdom in Washington was Bob Mueller, (INAUDIBLE) Newt Gingrich was saying he had impeccable credentials and now Newt is TV a couple months later saying that he has to go. I mean, that sort -- and Newt is not the only one. That change is really remarkable.

MATTHEWS: Joy, do you think he would sacrifice an independent judiciary, an independent press, a free press, the institutions of the federal government, especially the FBI, the CIA, all to save his skin? Would he be glad to destroy all that?

REID: In a hot second. I think Eli is 100 percent right. This is (INAUDIBLE). This is I am the state. All that matters is me. This is the fever dream of Roger Stone, if Nixon could have run Watergate this way and had the Republican Party defend him, trash the media, trash the CIA, the FBI, everything that is not there to shore up Donald Trump is an enemy of the state because the state is Donald Trump.

It`s really frightening when you think about it. As an American, this is not the republic that was set up. Donald Trump is not the state, but in his mind, he might as well be a Romanov. The state is him. And anyone can be an enemy, even the CIA and the FBI. It`s really frightening.

MATTHEWS: The Romanovs, they come as a family, rule as a family only for themselves.

Anyway, thank you, Joy Reid, Eli Stokols and Frank Montoya.

Coming up, Donald Trump says he doesn`t want to talk about a pardon for his former national security advisor Michael Flynn yet. That`s his word, yet. And now that Flynn is cooperating, clearly, with special counsel Robert Mueller, wouldn`t a pardon constitute obstruction of justice? And by the way, wouldn`t it be after the horse had left the barn? Don`t you think Flynn`s already been talking a lot? And that`s ahead.

Plus, the Republicans release their tax plan. And now that Marco Rubio is a yes, big surprise, this thing is on track to pass. Rich people and corporations will get their Trump tower tax cut as an early Christmas present. Isn`t that nice?

And talk about the best and brightest. Take a look at this exchange between Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana and a Trump nominee to be a federal judge.


SEN. KOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Have you ever tried a jury trial?




KENNEDY: Criminal?




KENNEDY: State or federal court?

PETERSON: I have not.


MATTHEWS: Well, the guy has got no experience in a courtroom. What happened to Trump`s promise to get the best people in the world?

Finally, let me finish tonight with John McCain. I have some words for him.

And this is HARDBALL where the action is.


[19:16:09] MATTHEWS: Well, despite having champion, Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, President Trump today called on him to concede defeat in the Alabama Senate race this Tuesday. Let`s watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should Roy Moore concede?

TRUMP: I think he should. He tried. I want to support, always, I want to support the person running. We need to seat. We would like to have the seat, but as far as Roy Moore, yes. I would certainly say he should.


MATTHEWS: We will be right back.


[19:18:42] MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s been seven months since deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein named Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation. In that time, the investigation has netted two indictments and two guilty pleas from people within the Trump campaign. And all the while, the investigation is inching closer and closer to the oval office itself. Today, President Trump defended himself against allegations of collusion.


TRUMP: There is absolutely no collusion. That has been proven. When you look at the committees, whether it`s the Senate or the House, everybody, my worst enemies, they walk out, they say there is no collusion. But we will continue to look. They are spending millions and millions of dollars. There is absolutely no collusion. I didn`t make a phone call to Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia. Everybody knows it. That was a Democrat hoax. It was an excuse for losing the election. And it should have never been this way where they spent all these millions of dollars. So now, even the Democrats admit there is no collusion. There is no collusion. That`s it.


MATTHEWS: Well, the special counsel has not made that determination, nor has the house or Senate committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Here is what has been proven so far. In March of 2016, former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos began communicating with Russian operatives who hinted at the possibility the Russians had thousands of Clinton emails.

Then that June, last June, the president`s son met with a Russian lawyer who offered official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary Clinton and would be "very useful to your father as part of the Russian government`s support for Mr. Trump."

We also know that the campaign openly solicited dirt on Hillary as Russia was actively engaged in a covert hacking operation.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will tell you this, Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.


MATTHEWS: When a column today in The Washington Post, David Ignatius, reminds readers that President Trump`s recent denunciations of the Russia investigation recall the famous legal advice, "if the facts are against you, argue the law, if the law is against you, argue the facts, and if the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell."

He goes on to say that the president "isn`t arguing the facts or the law about collusion with Russia, he`s simply pounding the table."

For more, I`m joined by David Ignatius himself, who wrote the column, Natasha Bertrand, who is political correspondent with Business Insider, and Phil Rucker, who has been really making noise, is a great reporter, White House bureau chief of The Washington Post and an MSNBC political analyst.

You know, first, I want to make a political point. Anybody can jump in here, purely politics. I know a lot of Democrats, a lot of progressives, who are very sad that Hillary Clinton lost. They blame Hillary Clinton. They don`t blame the Russians. They think it`s a separate question. The question of the Russian involvement in the campaign is a concern about republic, not of any political party. It`s a concern about people who care about this country.

I don`t know anybody who is saying, if it hadn`t been for the Russians, oh, Hillary would have rolled to victory. I don`t believe anybody is saying that. So this is an untruth, I`ll just call it that, by Trump. Your thoughts on that?

DAVID IGNATIUS, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think you`re right. This investigation is a counterespionage investigation. Russia conducted a political covert action against the United States. That was the conclusion of our intelligence agencies in January, and Robert Mueller is investigating the details of that.

He`s moving along. He`s gathering information. You summarized some of the information that he has got. Whether that rises to the level of criminal violations is a question for Mueller. But I think in the clip that you played, we saw a classic example, Chris, of what I was writing about this morning. President Trump was pounding the table. He kept repeating, as if it was an established fact that there is no collusion, no evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia.

That`s precisely the issue that`s under investigation. And however many times he repeats it, it doesn`t change the fact that Mueller is going to continue to look at it, and until that`s resolved, the president`s claims are entirely secondary to the investigation.

MATTHEWS: Natasha, why is he more credible, he thinks, to deny everything than simply deny his role? Why does he deny the Russians intervened? Why is he covering for them? He should be covering for himself alone.

NATASHA BERTRAND, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, BUSINESS INSIDER: Well, there are two theories, the first is that Donald Trump feels like, you know, saying that the Russians did interfere in the election undermines his own victory and therefore it`s an affront on his ego. The second theory is a little bit more nefarious, and it is that Trump, you know, feels like this investigation is getting very, very close to him and his inner circle, and so he feels like he needs to lash out and undermine the investigation as a whole, which, at its core, it is a counterintelligence investigation.

Robert Mueller`s mandate says that he was appointed so that he could investigate Russia`s election interference. So by casting the whole entire thing as some kind of witch hunt, as something that was put out by the Democrats as an excuse for them losing, he`s also trying to undermine, you know, the idea that he was involved in this broadly.

MATTHEWS: Well, Phil, doesn`t he have to deny the role of Papadopoulos as any part of his operation? He has to deny the role of his son, Donald Jr., in terms of the meeting he went to. For him to say he didn`t engage with the Russians, wouldn`t he have to sort of cut off his arms? Everybody involved with his campaign that had anything to do with the Russians he has to deny, including Flynn? Is that remotely credible that none of these people were working for him when they were all working for him?

PHILIP RUCKER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, it`s plainly untrue that nobody on the Trump campaign had any contact with Russians. We have reported and it has been -- come out as fact that a number of these officials on the Trump campaign, including his son and -- his namesake son, did have contact with Russians. But that doesn`t mean that there was collusion, coordination, strategic sort of working together to help him get elected. And that`s what Mueller is trying to get to the bottom of.

But what I think is going on in President Trump`s head is he`s purposely conflating these very separate threads. You have got Russian interference. That is a matter of fact, according to our U.S. intelligence agencies, that they did interfere in the election. That is separate from colluding with Trump and his campaign, and that`s what Mueller`s investigating.

MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute, let me challenge you on that. It seems to me if you have got a lot of evidence of the Russians offering dirt on Hillary and putting it out to WikiLeaks, and whatever, they put it out all over the place, about Podesta, the DNC, anything to embarrass the Democrats and help Trump and hurt Hillary.

But we also have evidence from the other end of this quid pro quo of Trump`s people talking to the Russian ambassador about reducing sanctions, relieving sanctions and all that, it seems to me.

RUCKER: We do. That`s right.

MATTHEWS: So how is that not collusion if there`s the quid and the quo? The quid and the quo.

RUCKER: Well, you know, it`s not for me to decide. There`s evidence of this communication going on. There`s evidence of -- clearly of Russian officials talking to representatives of Trump`s campaign and of his administration, of his government about policy, about things that they want to happen when Donald Trump becomes president, such as lifting those sanctions.

But I don`t know, you know, I`m not a lawyer and a judge. I don`t know if that is the definition of collusion and whether any charges can be brought or not because of that.

MATTHEWS: Well, and, Natasha, how about seeing a business deal when you see one? One side is giving one deal and the other side is giving the other end of the deal. It looks like a deal to me. Somebody is giving, somebody is taking, and they all seem to be happy about it. Neither side wants to dump on the other side. Nobody is really denying that they have been working together. They just don`t like the word collusion, because they`re both working, one for the other side, one for the other side.

BERTRAND: Right. And, you know, multiple legal experts have been -- they wanted to emphasize the point that collusion is the wrong word to really describe this kind of relationship. I mean, Trump has been very reluctant to criticize Putin, if at all. There was clearly something else that was going on throughout this entire election.

And, of course, you know, you have the intelligence -- some in the intelligence community saying that there was an effort to cultivate Trump over the course of years before he actually ran for president. So whether or not this relationship actually began even before the 2016 election is going to be a question of interest for Mueller as he examines whether or not there was a quid pro quo that had something to do perhaps with his business dealings and his financial interests.

And that is, of course, why Mueller has reportedly issued these subpoenas to Deutsche Bank, which was Donald Trump`s bank of choice for the last couple of decades.

MATTHEWS: And Deutsche Bank, which was getting money from the Russians.

Anyway, President Trump, in an exchange with reporters, refused to rule out a pardon for Michael Flynn, yet, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Let`s watch this "yet."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About Michael Flynn, would you consider a pardon for Michael Flynn?

TRUMP: I don`t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We`ll see what happens.


MATTHEWS: Well, White House lawyer Ty Cobb was forced to clarify the president`s comments, saying that there is no consideration in the White House of pardoning Michael Flynn.

But, you know, the lawyer said no, yet, but he said yet. What is he saying that for? Trump knows what he`s talking about.

IGNATIUS: I think Trump -- I take Trump`s version, not Ty Cobb`s version. The fascinating mystery at the center of this to me is, what it is that Trump was so worried about in the beginning with Michael Flynn? What was it that Michael Flynn knew about concerning the conversations that Flynn had with...

MATTHEWS: He was told by Jared to go talk to Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.

IGNATIUS: So we`re going to find out finally the answer to that. Why was it that the day after Flynn resigned, under pressure, that Trump went to Comey and said, I would like to see you take it easy on this? We`re going to get answers to those questions at the end of the day.

But it`s really an interesting measure of Trump`s concern about this that he keeps stepping up the rhetoric. His comments today were as sharp as any he has made. He`s going after the FBI. He`s saying the FBI is a mess. I think the danger is he`s going to take law enforcement and FBI people down with him in his attempt to criticize the investigation.

MATTHEWS: He seems quite ready to do that.

RUCKER: And, Chris...

MATTHEWS: Yes, go ahead.

RUCKER: Chris, let`s remember that President Trump has used his power of clemency before. He pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, a very controversial sheriff who had been convicted of discrimination in his office, and the president did a political move there to pardon him. So I wouldn`t put it past him to pardon anybody who is implicated in this Russia probe.

MATTHEWS: Well, he knows the paperwork, anyway. Thank you, David Ignatius. Thank you, Natasha Bertrand and Phil Rucker. Phil, you have been doing great.

Up next, Republicans today released a final version of their tax bill. It looks like they`re on track to get the Trump Tower tax cut passed. They got all these people -- all those Republicans are falling in line, maybe not in love, but their donors are in love with this one, you betcha, just in time for their big Christmas present.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.




REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO: There is nothing worse than when someone makes a promise to you, you rely on that promise, and then they go back on their word. And you feel in your gut, I have just been betrayed. People in Youngstown feel betrayed because President Trump was saying, I`m going to cut your taxes during the campaign. I`m going to expand health care for you. I`m going to make life better for you. And everything he has done in the last year has either thrown someone off of health care or taken care of the wealthiest people in the country.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Ohio Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan warning Republicans that their voters will feel betrayed if they pass this tax bill. The text of the final bill, agreed upon by a conference committee of the House and Senate, was just released earlier this evening. And according to NBC News, the bill contains temporary tax breaks for individuals with the biggest gains concentrated at the top, along with more modest benefits for lower income people.

It also eliminates Obamacare`s individual mandate, a big death throe at the health care bill, I think. Anyway, Republicans say that with this bill, the typical family in this country of four, earning the median family income of $73,000 a year, will receive a tax cut of a little over $2,000 per family. As of now, the bill looks like it`s going to pass with Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida changing their no votes to a yes. They`re all in line now.

Corker, who had previously voted no on the original Senate bill since it adds to the deficit, released a statement today saying "this bill is far from perfect, but after great thought and consideration, I believe this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make businesses domestically more productive, and internationally more competitive, is one we should not miss."

The House plans to vote on the bill Tuesday with the Senate voting after the House. Though Democrats were part of the conference to decide this, they say that they didn`t have much of a voice. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon called the process a sham. Let`s watch him.


SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: This whole process has been a sham. The fact is, this is a historically unpopular giveaway to the multinational corporations at the expense of the middle class. And the Republicans know that if there`s any real sunlight on this, this bill is going to dry up. And that`s why they`re moving with the speed of light. But I`m telling you, this debate is far from over.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Catherine Rampell, who`s an opinion columnist for The Washington Post.

Catherine, this -- I guess what stuns me about this, it`s such a big fleecing of the Treasury and of the average person, and it`s such a tremendous windfall in terms of corporate tax reduction, dramatic, big cuts in the top individual rate for people, getting rid of the alternative minimum tax, really. All these advantages, the estate tax, doubling the exemption, up to $22 million per family, all these goodies for the top, and some money for people at the bottom to keep people happy.

But politically, it should be an explosion, like a multi-megaton explosion politically killing the Republican Party, and it doesn`t seem to be that loud. It`s just terrible. What`s going on?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, OPINION COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, it depends on what you`re listening to, right? If you`re listening to the polls, the explosion looks pretty ear-deafening at this point. This legislation, or at least previous versions of it, and it has been moving quite quickly, is historically unpopular. It is the most unpopular piece of major legislation in decades. It is more unpopular even than tax increases under President Clinton and President George H.W. Bush.

So the public does not like it, even Republicans, if you look at the polling data, don`t believe that this bill will help them. So if you look at the public, if you look at the populists, if you look at people on the right and the left, it does not appear that this legislation is necessarily to their liking.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about why it`s passing. You know this. What is it - - who are in the trough here? Who is gobbling this up? Who wants this to happen? Who`s going to the president, saying, if you do this for us, we will get you re-elected? Who -- tell me about that community of people. Who are they?

RAMPELL: It`s donors, right? It`s donors. It`s the corporate community. It`s pass-through groups that want to get the same kinds of goodies that their brethren at C-corporations are getting. It`s lots of people in the business community, although not everyone in the business community, I should be clear, not only because there are people with a conscience who care about what will happen to the national debt, who care about what the distributional consequences are, and screwing the poor and the middle class, but also people who are worried that this legislation is being jammed through so quickly that there are lots of unintentional glitches and loopholes that could actually hurt particular industries.

So it`s not like there`s unanimous adoration for this legislation for the business community, but there are some powerful donors. I think beyond that, the Republican Party is concerned that if they don`t get this signature piece of legislation through, and Ron Wyden is correct, every day that passes, more people learn how much more they dislike it, and potentially the chances of this thing passing go down, if they don`t get it through, then they just look completely ineffectual.

And that`s the deal that they`re making. On the one hand, the public hates it. On the other hand, they`ve got to please the donors and they`ve got to say that they achieved something.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you what I think is the big casino part of this. Despite the sleaze of it and the inequality of it, and the undemocratic nature of it, and the awfulness of it, there`s one big gamble here. If we don`t get a really rock `em sock `em growth rate coming out of this two or three years from now, going into the next election, Trump ought to pay for this.

He ought to almost be beaten up for it in a sense, politically, because the whole idea of this is like nitroglycerin. It will explode the economy with all this deregulation, all this tax cutting at the corporate level, at the top level, all this incentivization should be creating a huge growth rate of, what, 4 percent? What does he have to get to be able to say, I did the right thing?

RAMPELL: Well, he is claiming not only that there will be growth in the near term, additional growth in the near term, but in the long term as well. And actually, economists do generally believe that this will be stimulative, that this will improve growth rates in the near term because you`re pumping a lot of additional money into the economy, effectively.

The bigger question, the bigger test for Trump and that history will judge him by is, what are the consequences in the longer term? And basically, no reputable economist anywhere, from the Fed, from the Tax Policy Center, from the Tax Foundation, which is right leaning, believes this will generate nearly the amount of rocket fuel that the Trump administration and Republicans on the Hill claim that it will in the long term.

MATTHEWS: And all this could have been done to rebuild Americans that it`s going to the rich.

Thank you, Catherine Rampell, for that great analysis.

Up next, President Trump promised he would appoint the best and brightest to work in his administration. One of his judicial nominees can`t answer basic legal questions.

Meanwhile, his staff is in chaos. Omarosa has been shown the door, rather undelicately and it sounds like Secretary Tillerson is the next one to get the boot.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump during the campaign promised he would hire only the best people for the country. But on Wednesday, one of his judicial nominees, a lawyer up for a lifetime appointment to a U.S. district court position, struggled to answer basic questions about the law during his confirmation hearing. Here it goes.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Have you ever tried a jury trial?




KENNEDY: Criminal?




KENNEDY: State or federal court?

PETERSEN: I have not.

KENNEDY: Do you know what a motion in limine is?

PETERSEN: Yes. Again, my background is not in litigation.

KENNEDY: Do you know what the Younger abstention doctrine is?

PETERSEN: I`ve heard of it, but again.

KENNEDY: How about the Pullman abstention doctrine? You`ll see that a lot in federal court.


MATTHEWS: Well, that was so low key and so brilliant. Amid that showing for that potential Trump administration hire, a new "Washington Post" report says Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may not be staying in his job for long. According to "The Washington Post," a White House official said Tillerson, quote, had not learned his lesson from the last time when Trump publicly rebuked his top diplomat on Twitter, over the wisdom of talking to North Korea.

Another official said, I think our allies know at this point he`s not really speaking for the administration.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Tough night tonight. Libby Casey is a reporter for "The Washington Post." Clarence Page is a columnist with "The Chicago Tribune". And Vivian Salama is national political reporter for NBC News.

So, we have some heavyweights here, as we often do.

And I want to ask you about why would a Republican senator put a guy through a grilling like that that can only humiliate him or her forever? I mean, even if they get confirmed. They will always be known as the nominee for a federal bench position that doesn`t know nothing.

LIBBY CASEY, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: It was stunning to see a Republican do that.

MATTHEWS: They want to humiliate the president obviously.

CASEY: Well, you know, Chris, there is a fundamental question with how qualified some of these nominees are.

MATTHEWS: Not with him.

CASEY: Well, there you go. I mean, there you go, and it was a low-key interaction, but it revealed a lot. Most -- this actually, this nominee was qualified, according to the American Bar Association, but many of Donald Trump`s nominees have not -- a surprising number have not hit that bar.

And the reason is because they`re not turning over the names and checking with the ABA before they release the names to the public. Instead, they`re releasing the names and the ABA is saying, here`s where their ratings are. More of his judges, his nominees are coming back with not qualified ratings from the ABA. But this is one who was qualified.

MATTHEWS: You know, I remember a guy for the ambassadorship under Reagan, he was not prepared at all. He`s a political contributor, which often happens, we know that. Didn`t know about the language, didn`t know about the culture, didn`t know anything, and they still put him in. But it does make them look stupid.

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Yes, it does, and I think in this case, it just looks like there was a quiet rebellion here on the part of committee members who are kind of fed up with the idea of sending these amateurs up here. They really have respect for the law. You know, a lifetime appointment, a serious business, and they`re not getting serious nominees in some cases.

MATTHEWS: By that standard, I could be a federal judge.

PAGE: I would say the same thing.

MATTHEWS: I have all those I don`t knows.

PAGE: I thought, gee, I thought law school was tougher than this, you know?

MATTHEWS: Vivian, I want to go to Omarosa here because we can`t forget, Omarosa Manigault Newman, she gave more details about her surprise departure from the Trump administration today, saying she resigned after a one-on-one with chief of staff John Kelly.

Let`s listen with Omarosa.


INTERVIEWER: Was it a tense conversation?

OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Absolutely, because I raised issues that I had concerns. I had some grave concerns --

INTERVIEWER: What kind of concerns?

NEWMAN: I talked to him about some concerns I had about issues, about one very urgent issue, and pressing issue, that would affect the president, in a big way.


MATTHEWS: I`m sorry. It`s acting class, the whole thing. I`m sorry, I don`t know her. I have no problem with her, but I have a problem with the fact she had these positions and doesn`t have any serious nature about them and that actor performance, it`s very impressive. She`s great television.

But what else?

VIVIAN SALAMA, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Your guess is as good as mine about what the urgent issue could have been.

MATTHEWS: It`s a chapter one in a book she`s trying to sell.

SALAMA: I mean, who knows? I guess.

But we periodically would see Omarosa at the White House, most notably during black history month of this year where she would be often be seated next to the president, sometimes Ben Carson would be on the other side, and they were very much put on display as the African-Americans of the administration, trying to portray some level of diversity that we know is not there.

And so, this is something that Omarosa in her two days of being out of the White House, is already raising concerns about.

MATTHEWS: Why was she bounced?

SALAMA: Pardon?

MATTHEWS: Why was she bounced?

SALAMA: Well, that`s still the big question. You know, she says it wasn`t a contentious thing. She went in and gave her recognition, but a lot of reporting indicated that she was pushed out the door. That remains to be seen. She`s not confirming that.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Tillerson. Tillerson is apparently, he won`t take the hint. Is that it, that Trump won`t fire him? He wants to hint him out of the office?

PAGE: I think Trump would like to fire him, but he has done that before. And also, we in the media expect him to do it.

MATTHEWS: He`s allowed to fire that guy.

PAGE: He`s certainly allowed to, but he doesn`t want to go thru the trouble of having to replace him, and he also feels a certain respect for Tillerson, although not that much since Tillerson made his little comment that he now wants to deny.

MATTHEWS: I know, he called him a moron. That would bother most of us.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will give us some scoops for the weekend.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump has portrayed his first year in office as a resounding success. But most Americans don`t see it that way. According to a new "Associated Press"-NORC poll, a whopping 69 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction under Trump. And a majority, 52 percent, say the country is worse off since Trump took office.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Libby, tell me something I don`t know.

CASEY: "Washington Post" pollsters, what are the top 20 words Americans described 2017 -- chaotic, crazy and challenging are the first three words Americans are using to describe this past year.

MATTHEWS: How about a better word, mishegoss? It`s good.

PAGE: Not bad.

MATTHEWS: Complete confusion.

Yes, go ahead?

PAGE: Well, magazine, (INAUDIBLE) another one.

Chris, Tuesday, the Jared Kushner past deadline set by House Democrats for him to answer questions on his overseas conversations in regard to a building he owns in New York City, the 41-storey building on Fifth Avenue.

MATTHEWS: Yes, 666.

PAGE: Yes, 666. How can we forget that number? He hasn`t answered the questions. They`re getting upset about it. And I think we`re going to see some action.

MATTHEWS: Time for a pardon.

PAGE: Yes.

SALAMA: Chris, President Trump has president for 330 days. But wait, there`s more. In that time, he has tweeted the words fake news 164 times. He`s tweeted Russia 96 times. MAGA, make America great again, 94 times. And Clinton 72 times.

MATTHEWS: Somebody had to keep count.

Libby Casey, Clarence Page, and Vivian Salama for that great update.

When we return, let me finish tonight with John McCain. You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with John McCain. There are few people in American politics who match up to my childhood notions. By that I mean members of the U.S. Senate whose daily stature fits with the portrait of Webster, Taft and La Follette, whose personality stands alongside those imagined in advise and consent.

John McCain, he makes the grade. I`ve praised him, I`ve taken shots at him, fairly, but sometimes not. In any case, given him much reason to trust my fairness.

None of that is important to history, to the gentleman from Arizona or certainly to the country. I know full well that he could care less what his critics say. And that is the measure of this man.

I`ve discovered along the way that those heroes who have faced the horror of war, have truly been in it, come back with a sense of proportion, having endured their rite of passage, they hold little fear for the bearable blows of peacetime political life.

I am a dove, questioning every war our country has begun since Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the two Iraq Wars and certainly this Intifada Trump has trumped up in the Mideast due to his vast ignorance of that region and its history.

Senator McCain has equal or fairly equal reliance supported such military endeavors, often pushing for greater U.S. commitment. I think I know the difference. I opposed the Vietnam War, John McCain fought in that war, suffered in that war, hated the failure of our government to make a daring effort to win that war. So, I get it.

And I get McCain`s moral superiority in this enduring difference of opinion. It took a lot more to fly a jet over Hanoi, to suffer all that was done to him in the Hanoi Hilton than it did to march in an anti-war parade. Who is right in this never-ending argument is vital. But so is the roll call of those who were admirable, who were faithful to what they believed about what was our country`s right cause.

John McCain was faithful to America, is so now, will be I dare say as long as he lives. That I say that means nothing. That it needs to be said is clear and enduring and ennobling.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.



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