Show: HARDBALL Date: December 21, 2017 Guest: Sherrod Brown, Peter Emerson, Susan Page
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The President's lawyer. What did he know and when did he know it? Let's play "HARDBALL." Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews in Washington.
There are new signs tonight the special counsel's investigation is closing in on the President. Even before Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, questions loomed about whether the President's effort to protect Flynn amounted to obstruction of justice.
Well, now foreign policy magazine is reporting that the White House counsel Don McGahn sounded the alarm about Flynn and relayed his concern to the President before Flynn was fired last February.
According to three sources familiar with confidential government documents, the White House turned over records this fall to special counsel Robert Mueller revealing that in the very first days of the Trump presidency Don McGahn researched federal law dealing both with lying to federal prosecutors and with violations of the Logan act, a centuries-old federal law that prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments.
The documents revealed that McGahn was concerned that Flynn had possibly violated either one or both laws at the time according to two of the sources. Furthermore, the records that McGahn turned over indicated he researched both statutes and warned Trump about Flynn's possible violations. In other words, the President knew from the outset that his national security adviser was in serious legal jeopardy.
For months now President Trump has been under investigation for possible obstruction of justice in part because he asked the former director of the FBI James Comey to drop the FBI's investigation into Michael Flynn. As Comey told Congress in June, he interpreted Trump's request to let Flynn go as a direction from the President. And here's how he described that conversation in an exchange during his testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: This is the President speaking. I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go. Now, those are his exact words, is that correct?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Correct. And the reason I keep saying his words is I took it as a direction. This is the President of the United States with me alone saying I hope this. I took it as this is what he wants me to do. I didn't obey that but that's the way I took it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the evidence shows that the President had knowledge that his national security adviser had likely violated the law, you could strengthen the case that Trump obstructed a federal investigation in order to protect Michael Flynn from prosecution.
I'm joined right now by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA today," Chuck Rosenberg, a former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst. And Eli Stokols, of course White House reporter for the "Wall Street Journal" and an NBC political analyst.
Let's start with Susan on this. Trump was warned that Flynn had possibly lied to the FBI. What questions does that raise, new questions?
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Well, it just bolsters the case, if you want to make a case for obstruction. Because it means that the point that President Trump was saying he hoped that Comey would go soft on Flynn was the point where he knew he had lied to the FBI. And that's a question that the White House has been very careful not to answer.
Just earlier this month when the President posted a tweet saying I had to fire Flynn because he lied to the FBI. They went to extraordinary lengths to walk that back and even attribute it to his lawyers having formulated that tweet. It is not a question that goes to the issue of collusion. But it is a question that is central to the question of obstruction.
MATTHEWS: Chuck, how do you see this legally? It was knowledge, if it's proven out what "Foreign Affairs" magazine brought out, that the President was told by McGahn, his lawyer, hey, you know, we have got to look up the Logan act qualifications here and we have got to understand what obstruction might be here. And what's up here and the President knows now a little earlier than we thought about what Flynn had done.
CHUCK ROSENBERG, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So Chris, if this proves to be true. It's an important brick in the wall. Let me explain why. The hardest thing to do in an obstruction case is to show corrupt intent, right. Everything else about the obstruction statute is relatively easy. But showing someone's intent is the hard part. So the earlier that the President knew that Flynn was in some sort of legal jeopardy, informs Mueller's judgment about whether or not he has enough proof to make out intent.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Eli on this. The news value here that the President -- it does have a little echo of Watergate, when did the President know? What did he know? It's actually the backwards of that. What do you make of this, the fact that the President was not investigating something, he already knew it?
ELI STOKOLS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and he had been warned by President Obama, by Sally Yates. He had been warned by a lot of people about Mike Flynn. But the proof that his own counsel had looked into this and tried to protect the President and that the President may have ignored that and then gone to Comey, it's problematic. And I think it's politically problematic because they are trying to paint a picture of a renegade organization that's on this witch hunt.
And the fact that there are documents in this case that may come out, that may prove this, is important because the public, when every fact and element of this case is going to be contested, there's an importance in having documentation, in showing your work. And I think that's something that when I talk to people around the President, people who are outside the White House who are trying to soften the ground, to soften up Mueller a little bit and say look, this is a witch hunt, this is bad, he's friends with Comey, all these things to get the public not to believe the findings, this is why. And I hear them talk about an obstruction of justice charge, sort of belittling that charge. Oh, it's just some tick tack thing. He didn't know any better, he's not a politician. They are out to get him on everything. I mean, if he knew and Mueller can prove that that's really important.
MATTHEWS: Well, this all began with the questions surrounding Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in the days just after former President Obama sanctioned Russia for meddling in the U.S. election. Let's take a look at what we know and how we got here.
On December 29th of last year Michael Flynn consulted a senior transition official identified as K.T. McFarland to discuss the sanctions and what he should say to ambassador Kislyak. Later that day Flynn talked to the ambassador and discussed the U.S. sanctions on Russia.
Then on January 14th of 2017 Flynn lied to vice President Pence, saying he did not talk about sanctions on that call. Pence went on to vouch for Flynn, saying publicly the next day that sanctions were not discussed in Flynn's conversation with the Russian ambassador.
Then on the 24th of January Flynn went further and lied to the FBI saying he did not talk about sanctions with the ambassador.
Days later, acting attorney general Sally Yates warned White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had misled the vice President and others.
Well, now as "Foreign Policy" magazine reports, Yates' concerns led McGahn to research the Logan act and conclude it was likely that Flynn may have violated the law according to two sources familiar with the matter.
While meeting with McGahn, Yates said, he also asked her how Flynn had performed in his interview. However, she declined to tell McGahn whether Flynn had told the truth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: He asked me how he had done in the interview, and I specifically declined to answer that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because it was part of an investigation?
YATES: That's right. I was intentionally not letting him know how the interview had gone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And lying to the FBI is a crime, correct?
YATES: It is, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, as "Foreign Policy" magazine now reports, McGahn himself and those working for him researched the federal laws regarding making false statements to federal investigators. And McGahn voiced these concerns to Trump after meeting with Yates. And despite having knowledge that Flynn may have broken the law, President Trump didn't fire Flynn until February 13th. And the very next day according to former FBI director James Comey the President asked Comey to drop the investigation of Flynn.
Back to you, Susan. This is just a question of -- this is front page stuff it seems to me. You are talking about the President knowing full well thanks to his attorney, Don McGahn, that laws may have been broken by his newly established, newly named national security adviser. He subsequently fired him. He subsequently begged for the guy's getting a break from the FBI director. All the while knowing this guy was in legal jeopardy. Your thoughts about the political implications of a President keeping that secret.
PAGE: Well, this is if true a very big story and the timeline just went through underscores, you know. It also underscores what we don't know about what bob Mueller already knows, you know. This investigation has been going on for months and months and when there are critics who say it's a witch hunt, that it's a hoax, who knows? Because we do not know what kind of material he's been amassing in the investigation that is now private but will one day be public.
MATTHEWS: Back to you, Chuck. Put this together. Imagine you are Bob Mueller and you are looking at this information, maybe it came out to him months ago or maybe it came out because he read that magazine today. But now he knows the President was fiddling around with the knowledge that his national security adviser in a well have broken serious law.
ROSENBERG: WELL, first it makes McGahn a very important witness, Chris. And I can tell you that Mueller and his team are going to ask in excruciating detail, what did you tell him? Who was there? What did he ask you? How did you respond?
MATTHEWS: Is that executive privilege material?
ROSENBERG: It may or may not be. But the Supreme Court in the Nixon case back in '74 said executive privilege typically yields in this situation.
MATTHEWS: In a criminal case.
ROSENBERG: In criminal case. Yes, sir.
MATTHEWS: Eli, your thoughts about the implications as a news story, the fact that the President knew substantial information about the legal jeopardy of his national security adviser Michael Flynn and sat on it.
STOKOLS: Yes, I mean, it's potentially a huge story, as Susan said. I think it's going to be a little while longer before we see how all these pieces fit together. It's interesting to see the timeline because all of these reports have come out sort of out of order as far as they have been revealed by different news reports. And so seeing that timeline and being able to connect the dots I think is important for the public as well as for investigators obviously.
But for this White House at the end of the year, right, this is a President who has been told by his own legal team that this is going to be ending soon. We have got no indications that that's actually going to be the case. And this is just something that will hang over this White House going into 2018 even after the first real significant policy achievement this week.
MATTHEWS: Or maybe all next year.
Anyway, asked about Flynn last week, President Trump did not rule out a pardon for his former national security adviser. Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About Michael Flynn, would you consider a pardon for Michael Flynn?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We will see what happens. Let's see. I can say this. When you look at what's gone on with the FBI and with the justice department, people are very, very angry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, Susan, he never wants to say when he found out or who told him that Michael Flynn was in trouble. He never -- he mocks the press when we ask him, when we ask him at the line, you know, when he walks along the line and say what about this? He says you already know. You are wasting my time. But he never says, like when he walks around in front, he never says wait a minute, this is when I learned it. Why is he keeping it secret?
PAGE: Well, he is keeping it secret because it is an important piece of information that could either exonerate him -- help exonerate him from a charge of obstruction or could make the case, could be an important piece of evidence saying that yes, he did try to obstruct a federal investigation into one of his top officials. It is a really crucial building block to this investigation. And the day will come when we know the answer to that, but which do not know the answer to that yet.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think is the biggest most explosive thing Trump can do before Christmas? He can grant a pardon to Flynn or to Kushner. You know, what else can he do bigger than that? He can fire Mueller. What's the bigger, most explosive thing he can do that might cause a march to impeachment?
PAGE: Well, if you are asking me, firing Mueller I think would be a very big event that would put not just Democrats but Republican office holders in a spot to answer what they would intend to respond to that. I think that would be a more serious statement by the President, a more serious action than pardoning Mike Flynn.
MATTHEWS: How much megaton age? Pardoning his son-in-law, pardoning Flynn, or would it be firing Mueller?
STOKOLS: Firing Mueller would be the most -- the biggest thing he could do to lead us into unknown territory and potentially a constitutional crisis. But I don't get any indication that's something that they are seriously considering. The President is seriously considering at this point, certainly not before the end of the year. But the clip you played where he is saying we don't want to talk about that yet, that was really interesting to Mike Flynn.
MATTHEWS: That's a big yet.
STOKOLS: He might say now Flynn's been indicted taking the deal. He was only here 25 days. But the reality is after he was forced to let Flynn go he felt bad about it. He felt like his hands were tied and he regretted firing Mike Flynn. This is a person he was very close to throughout the campaign and is personally close to. Interesting how that relationship plays into this.
MATTHEWS: Maybe there's a soupcon of affection in all this, I would be surprise perhaps either way.
Anyway, Susan Page, Chuck Rosenberg and Eli Stokols. Great expertise here.
Coming up. Republicans are trying to muddy the waters around the Mueller investigation hoping the American people will fall for the distractions. And today we learned Devin Nunes has been secretly gathering his fellow Republicans to build a case against the FBI's handling of the dossier.
And attorney general Jeff Sessions just called for an investigation into the uranium one deal. That's ahead. Anything to change the subject.
Plus the Republican tax bill will benefit President Trump with a financial windfall personally. It is unprecedented in American history. That's the conclusion of experts quoted by the "Washington Post" and it contradicts everything the President has said about his tax plan. He also said it isn't for him, it's against rich guys like him. It's exactly what it's for.
And Trump's never ending need for praise from Republicans could be a bad sign for the Russian investigation. If Trump fired Mueller, would Republicans go along with it? Would they ever put country over party? We will see.
Finally let me finish tonight with Trump watch. You know what he'll think of this.
This is "Hardball," where the action is.
MATTHEWS: The U.N. general assembly voted overwhelmingly today to condemn the Trump administration's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The assembly voted 128 to just nine in favor of the resolution and 35 countries abstained. Major U.S. allies like Britain, France, and Germany all voted in favor of the measure. President Trump yesterday threatened to cut off aid to countries that backed the resolution. Before today's vote U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley echoed that threat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: The United States will remember this day, in which it was singled out for attack in the general assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world's largest contribution to l the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us as they so often do to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Former CIA director John Brennan responded on twitter saying that the threat of retaliation quote "shows "President Trump expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone, qualities usually found in narcissistic, vengeful autocrats." Wow.
And we will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball."
As Robert Mueller continues his investigation, President Trump, conservative pundits and allies on the hill have continued their aggressive campaign to undermine the special counsel and law enforcement altogether. It's seemingly part of a larger effort to push a counter narrative to help delegitimize him and his investigation. That would be Mr. Mueller. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: This bias is like an infection. It's like an incurable cancer that's inoperable. And we have got to end this Mueller probe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only evidence that we have seen thus far on collusion is with the Clintons, with the DNC, one with the dossier that I know you have talked about but also then with uranium one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's the uranium one deal. That's treasonous.
SEN. RON PAUL (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's now allegations that both in the FBI and the department of justice there basically was collusion to try to prevent Donald Trump from becoming President. This kind of group of people that has such enormous power needs more oversight, not less.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And now, according to Politico, Trump's top henchman, Congressman Devin Nunes, is leading a covert group of Republicans in running a parallel investigation.
"A group of House Republicans has gathered secretly for weeks down in the Capitol in an effort to build a case that senior leaders of the Justice Department and FBI improperly and perhaps criminally mishandled the contents of a dossier that describes alleged ties between President Donald Trump and Russia. The goal is to highlight what some committee Republicans see as corruption and conspiracy in the upper ranks of federal law enforcement."
The congressman has been an outspoken critic of the Russian investigation for a while, and it's not the first time Nunes has expressed his concern about law enforcement agencies.
Here he is just a few weeks ago on FOX.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: I hate to use the word corrupt, but they have become at least so dirty that, who's watching the watchmen? Who's investigating these people? There is no one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, his campaign seems to be working. NBC News has learned that on the orders of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Justice Department prosecutors have begun asking FBI agents to explain the evidence they found in a now dormant criminal investigation into a controversial uranium deal that critics have linked to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
For more, I'm joined by Ken Dilanian, national security reporter for NBC News. He broke that story. And Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney and an MSNBC contributor.
Thank you both.
What is the rights of -- what are they supposed to do? In other words, in Trump's administration, does he have a right as president to go around looking for anybody in these agencies that may not like him legally?
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I mean, within reason, Chris.
We have a tradition in this country of independence of the FBI and the Justice Department. But it's just that. It's a tradition. It's not really enshrined in law. In theory, he can go in and order that investigations be started and order that they be finished.
But there are political costs to that. And those that could be deemed an impeachable offense, particularly if it was thought that he was obstructing an investigation into his own conduct.
MATTHEWS: Barbara, same question.
Is this proper for the president to go fishing around, checking people's registrations, what they have written, what op-eds they have written, how they talk to their neighbors, finding out their politics, and more importantly than their politics, what they think of him?
BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, this is another example of how norms are being burst in this administration.
There's no legal prohibition on it. But the norms have always been to permit the independence of the FBI and the Justice Department and to be separate from partisan politics.
In fact, there was a wall between communications when I was at the Justice Department between Justice Department lawyers and the White House to prevent even the appearance of partisanship. And so digging into people's politics and opinions is really very different from anything we have ever seen.
MATTHEWS: Let's talk about this uranium deal. I think it's a stretch on the part of the critics, on the part of Nunes, the Republican leader on the Intelligence Committee.
This idea that something that had to be approved by all the Cabinet secretaries was somehow -- they are portraying it now as some kind of underhanded backroom deal all covered in darkness that somehow Hillary did for her husband, when in fact it was signed on to this uranium deal with the Russians by all the Cabinet secretaries, every one of them in broad daylight.
DILANIAN: You're absolutely right, Chris. The more reporting we do on this at NBC News, the more it becomes clear that there was no national security risk here. There was nothing -- there's no evidence of any impropriety.
This was a unanimous decision by the federal government, by the nine-member CFIUS commission that decides on these things. And Hillary Clinton has said that she played no role in it, and nothing has contravened that.
Now, what we're reporting today is that the Justice Department is now going back and taking another look at a criminal investigation that apparently went on into this whole question of how this deal was approved and then some contributions to the Clinton Foundation.
It's not unheard of for the Justice Department to take another look at a case, not necessarily improper. I mean, after all, Eric Holder, when he was the attorney general, took another look at CIA interrogations after Bush administration lawyers had cleared those CIA people.
So, that's not unheard of. But it does start to raise the hackles in the context of everything else you're describing, which is a concerted campaign to try to change the subject and divert attention and talk about things that Hillary Clinton did, instead of the obvious investigation into Donald Trump.
MATTHEWS: You know, Barbara, it does seem that what's happening is the Republican Party -- I shouldn't say all Republicans, but those who are particularly loyal and allied with the president, seem to say, you know, we can't defend him anymore. This guy Mueller's too good. He just keeps getting closer and closer.
He keeps bringing people to his side, like Flynn and others. He's basically rolling it up close to the president. So, instead of trying to play to the president on like the third yard line, they're trying to go to the other end of the field by saying, oh, wait a minute, we're going to grab the ball and we're going to head down to the other end of the field and we're going to prove that there's something amiss with this minerals deal, this uranium deal, or that there was someone that shouldn't have been working for the Mueller investigation.
Even if Mueller fired him, he shouldn't have been there in the first place, and we will make that the issue.
Isn't that what is going on? It's a scorched-earth policy, it looks like to me.
MCQUADE: Yes, and it seems like an effort to discredit and undermine the investigators, not only Robert Mueller, but also the FBI.
And I think that is such a short-sighted and selfish perspective, because not only is this investigation going on, but all over the country, the FBI's investigating thousands of cases, bank robbery, extortion, kidnapping, human trafficking. And all of those cases are going to end up in court where jurors, members of the public are going to be asked to assess the credibility of the FBI agents who collected the evidence in that case.
And it worries me that they're going to be hearing in their head the words of the president that the FBI is in tatters or these concerns that they're unfair in some way.
And I worry about the effect it's going to have on the fair administration of justice all over this country.
MATTHEWS: I think he has contempt for the government.
Anyway, House Republican Jim Jordan from Ohio, who is also an outspoken critic of Robert Mueller, indicated that he had spoken to the White House about the Mueller investigation. Let's watch him in action.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Have you had conversations with the White House, not about the questions you asked, but about the Mueller investigation in general?
REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: Well, I talk with the White House about all kinds of things. We have had talks at the White House about tax policy. We have had talks about welfare policy. We have had talks about Obamacare. Of course we have had talks with the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, what's that about, Ken?
And, by the way, it looks like this is a partisan deal. Only 6 percent of Republicans in our new NBC poll think there was any collusion. What's that, one in whatever, I don't know, 6 percent, like one in 16 or something. That's, like, nothing.
DILANIAN: Yes, it's really another example of how there are almost parallel realities in this country.
But, look, the idea that the Republicans are coordinating with the White House to sort of counteract the Mueller investigation should shock no one. I'm sure that the Clinton administration coordinated with congressional Democrats when Ken Starr was investigating President Clinton.
The question is, are they crossing the line? Are they making charges that are really unsupported? If Devin Nunes has evidence of corruption at the highest levels of the Justice Department, I would like to know about it so that we can report on it.
But until we see some evidence, I think we should be very suspicious, because Devin Nunes was the guy who brought us -- remember the unmasking scandal that basically fizzled because it turned out that revealing the names of Americans inside the intelligence community was something that sometimes has to happen, and it's not a scandal at all, Chris?
MATTHEWS: Yes, I will go back to Barbara for the last question here.
It seems to me that what they're trying to do is undermine the prosecution. And that means they could perhaps demoralize it a bit, although that may work. They could discredit any finding by Mueller at the end, or they could basically set the Republicans up in the Congress not to do anything with his finding.
MCQUADE: Yes, it does seem -- I know there's been some speculation that they're laying the groundwork to fire Robert Mueller.
I think a more likely scenario is laying the groundwork to delegitimize any findings he makes later.
MATTHEWS: I agree.
MCQUADE: And so if you can create this skepticism about Robert Mueller and the FBI now, then when they ultimately find evidence of interference with the election, you can say, well, we told you all along he was unfair, that the system was rigged, that this was a witch-hunt, et cetera.
MATTHEWS: You know, Ken, last question to you.
I get the feeling what they're really working on is, suppose it looks like Mueller is about to get evidence that the president obstructed justice with regard to this Russian probe, and that that's what he has, in the end, that's all he's got, he doesn't have any collusion evidence, it's all about the president personally.
But he does have a few bodies along the way, like with the bridge closing in New Jersey, a few people go to jail, but the big guy doesn't. All they have on the big guy is he possibly obstructed justice.
I wonder if the House would act on that. I don't care how well it was written. Your thoughts?
DILANIAN: I agree with you, and I agree with Barbara. That is the game here. They are playing to the 30 percent of Americans who vote in these heavily Republican House districts. These are the House members that are going to have to decide on the question of impeachment, unless the House changes hands in 2018, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, and still won't get the vote in Democratic hands until '19. But you're right. That does change everything, Ken.
Thank you, sir, Ken Dilanian. And, Barbara McQuade, thank you, Barbara, for your expertise.
Up next: President Trump may claim that the Republican tax bill will cost him a lot of money, but tax experts say that Trump and his family are in for a financial windfall. We're going to get to that with Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Milissa Rehberger. Here's what's happening.
Vice President Mike Pence made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to meet with top Afghan officials, rally U.S. troops at Bagram Airfield and pledge America's commitment to ending the 16-year war. It is his first trip to the country as vice president. It was kept secret for security reasons.
President Trump paid a holiday visit to wounded service members at Walter Reed National Medical Center near Washington. Trump is scheduled to spend the holidays at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
Snow, ice, and heavy rain are expected to impact holiday travel over the next three days. Central and Northern New England are expecting two to four inches of snow -- back to HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: So, cut out all the crap about this is something for working families. It is not.
I will say this for Republicans in Congress. They're making it pretty easy for the American people to see whose side are they on. You're either on the side of everyday working Americans. They're either working for them or they're working for the people in Senator McConnell's office down the hall.
I want my colleagues to just picture this. I want my colleagues to think about this picture, that -- this stream of lobbyists in and out of Senator McConnell's office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that was theater.
Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown protesting the tax bill on the Senate floor itself late Tuesday night, arguing that the legislation will not help the working family.
Anyway, President Trump, however, claims the bill hurts the rich and gives a tax cut to working families. Let's watch him in action.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is going to cost me a fortunate, this thing, believe me. Believe -- this is not good for me. Me, it's not so -- I have some very wealthy friends. Not so happy with me. But that's OK.
You know, I keep hearing Schumer, this is for the wealthy. Well, if it is, my friends don't know about it. The beating heart of our plan is a tax cut for working families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But "The Washington Post" points out that the president will save millions under the tax bill personally, which "will ensure a financial windfall for him and his family in a way that is virtually unprecedented in American political history."
The article quotes a tax professor who says he's not even aware of a single provision in the bill that disadvantages the president or his family, other than to change the state and local tax deductibility.
Anyway, the benefits the president will get include a lower tax rate, of course, down from 39.6 to 37, deductions for top-earning households, deductions that will help him as an owner of commercial real estate, of course, that last little thing they threw in, and a reduction of the estate tax. So his kids can all be hugely wealthy.
Working families will also have a lower tax rate at first. But those tax cuts are temporary for individuals, and the largest cuts will go to the wealthy Americans. Both the president and the working-class families in some states will be impacted negatively by the reduction of the state and local tax. We said that.
I'm joined right now by an expert who put on quite a show the other day, Senator Sherrod Brown.
Trump has so much theater, so much theater. How do you match the guy in show business stuff? You said no crap, by the way. I didn't know you could say that on the Senate floor.
But he's been able to tell -- I think his numbers are going to go up this week with this tax thing.
BROWN: Well, they might.
But I think the more people see -- and there's no question that this tax cut benefits President Trump, his family, New York realtor, real estate developers. It helps Wall Street financiers. It helps Texas oil men. It helps $20 million-a-year corporate CEOs.
As you know, 83 percent of the benefits of this tax bill in like the eighth year of the bill, 83 percent go to the richest 1 percent. We know all that.
MATTHEWS: OK. Explain this whole thing.
You have got a House bill and a Senate bill. They go together to compromise. And somehow out of the sky comes some bill that helps out the real estate corporations. It wasn't even in the House-passed bill or the Senate-passed bill.
The people, as I say, had nothing to do with this provision. It's thrown in by magic by these lobbyists you saw down in the hall, I guess, and then it's passed as a compromise between bills that didn't have it in it. How does that happen?
BROWN: Well, the whole bill was like that.
I was in the Oval -- or in the Cabinet Room with 10 members of the Finance Committee. I presented two bills to the president, first time I met President Trump. And I gave him our Patriot Corporation Act bill we have talked about on this show. That's -- it's pretty simple.
It says, if you pay good wages and you keep your production in this country, you get a lower tax rate. And I gave him the Working Families Tax Relief Act, which puts money in the pocket of $25,000-, $50,000-, $75,000- a-year workers.
BROWN: The president said he liked it, but it was all written down the hall. That's where the bill was written, in McConnell's office. We knew that. And that's what they did.
And they slipped things in, in the middle of the hearings or the markup. They slipped things in, in the middle of the night. They slipped things in, in that last weekend. You know that.
MATTHEWS: Speaking of slipping things in, two things really got me.
The Obamacare -- now, we're going to argue about Obamacare for years, but most people like it. It helps people that need it. They -- 13 million people thrown out of health care because of what happened today -- yesterday -- 13 million, and it's done just like that.
The underpinning, younger, healthier people being required to participate, is the key to Obamacare. Out the window.
BROWN: As it was Romneycare in Massachusetts.
And what happens then is, when healthy people are out of the pool, then prices go up.
MATTHEWS: Because only older, sicker people...
BROWN: People our age have higher health care costs.
MATTHEWS: Who need health care.
And so the projection by the Congressional Budget Office -- they're not Democrats, they're not Republicans -- is 10 percent increase in premiums every year.
MATTHEWS: Who's going to get blamed politically?
BROWN: Oh, they're going to get blamed. They're going to get blamed when companies shut down.
There's provisions in this bill that may -- if you shut down production in Mansfield, Ohio, or Zanesville, and you move overseas, you get a tax deduction now for moving expenses. Now you have more incentives under this bill.
When plants move to Mexico and China, this bill will be part of the reason for it. No question.
MATTHEWS: Let's talk about CHIP, because I think most people have a conscience. A lot of Republicans do too. They see kids who need health care. They don't want to have Tiny Tims out there on crutches that are not getting doctor's treatments.
And this thing takes away nine million kids who are covered by health care. When are you guys -- and everybody doesn't even notice this. This is just happening, except the kids know it.
BROWN: My colleagues are willing to go home. My colleagues, all of whom have good health insurance paid for by taxpayers, are voting tonight and going home. And we will not have taken care...
MATTHEWS: So, they're going to sit in front of the their TVs and watch "A Christmas Carol" and cheer for Tiny Tim, while they screw him in real life. I mean it, in real life.
And what's particularly tragic is, in my state, there are 209,000 children -- and these are children whose parents work making $8, $10, $12 an hour.
But what's really tragic is, there's a letter that has gone in many states, has gone out to parents saying, you're going to lose your health insurance. Your kids are going to lose their insurance.
So, they're going to get those letters at Christmas saying, you have lost your insurance. How awful is that?
MATTHEWS: Is somebody like you, a progressive, going to beat Trump in 2020 or not, somebody like you, not you necessarily?
BROWN: Well, somebody -- yes.
MATTHEWS: Some progressive.
BROWN: If Trump lasts that long, he -- the contrast is real.
And I think one of the things that plays into it, right now, they're blowing a hole in the budget deficit. You have talked about that on this show.
What they're going to do, two years from now, they're going to come back and say, we have got to raise the eligibility age of Social Security. We're going to cut out funding for the Great Lakes.
MATTHEWS: Yes, because they gave away a trillion-and-a-half bucks.
BROWN: Because they have got this.
So, we're building a movement right now. Come to SherrodBrown.com, sign our petition, and say no cuts to Social Security and Medicare to pay for this tax cut for the rich.
And that's going to be a big part of the issue in '18 into '20 and that's why whoever the Democrat is it's going to be a progressive, that's what our party is. The contrast between that person and Trump --
MATTHEWS: That message would have beaten Trump in 2016, it's going to beat him in 2020.
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
BROWN: Good to be back.
MATTHEWS: Up next, could yesterday's display at the White House, the pig- out over the tax cuts be trouble for the Russia investigation?
Republicans had no problem lavishing praise on this president with those same -- look at them all up there like lemmings. Are they going to back him on firing Mueller? Look at them. Looks like a North Korean parade.
Anyway, you're watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, it was like a scene out of "Julius Caesar" yesterday on the south lawn of the White House. One by one, Republican leaders lined up to praise his eminence, the imperious Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: But this has been a year of extraordinary accomplishment for the Trump administration.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Something this profound could not have been done without exquisite presidential leadership.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say that the American people, President Trump has been making history since the first day of this administration.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Mr. President, I have to say that you're living up to everything I thought you would. You're one heck of a leader. And we're going to keep fighting and we're going to make this the greatest presidency that we've seen not only in a generation but maybe ever.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whoa. Paul Ryan just said how good was that?
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MATTHEWS: Well, a year into his presidency obviously little has changed for this president. He still relishes praise, craves reassurance, and seems incapable of letting any slight go, no matter how small.
Well, today, he tweeted, the fake news media is desperate to write badly about the tax cuts so as to please their Democrat bosses.
Well, his viewing habits also seem to be the same. He tweeted today: was Fox & Friends just named the most influential show in news? You deserve it. Three great people. The many fake news hates shows should study your formula for success.
For more, I'm joined by tonight's roundtable, Yamiche Alcindor is a national political reporter for "The New York Times" and an MSNBC contributor. Charlie Sykes is an author and MSNBC contributor. And Peter Emerson is a "Huffington Post" contributor.
I don't know where to start except I remember Haile Selassie used to get those -- the lion of Judah, you know, these incredible praises. He seems to believe it. But yet when Orrin Hatch who is a man who believes what he says gives him this almost religious kind of treatment. Trump says good PR, like great stroke there. What do you think of that, Ryan?
He undercut the guy's honest tribute. He doesn't even know how to take praise properly.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, essentially, because I think even President Trump sees there's something going on here that's not quite genuine. Eleven people in total I think went up there and stood up there and talked about how great he was. When we know as Capitol Hill reporters, you get eye rolls from a lot of these Republicans when you try to ask them off the record what they think about this president. Most of the time they're highly embarrassed by what he's tweeted this morning.
So, to have Orrin Hatch up there possibly calling him the best president ever, he knows there's some flattery going on that's not quite genuine.
MATTHEWS: What was that photo-op about? Why -- look at the faces. They were like North Korean soldiers. Look at all the smiles in unison, synchronized swimming. There's Roy Blunt, there's the guy from -- Young from Alaska and Vice President Pence. They're all there just grinning exactly the same proper Republican way.
CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I get that they were excited.
MATTHEWS: That's what excited looks like.
SYKES: I get that they liked tax cuts. But why do you actually have this ritualized fluffing of the orange god king? I mean, I also understand this is an interesting, you know, tactic. You know, to keep him in line.
But I had the feeling as I was watching this do you understand you're doing this in public, we can see what you're doing here? I mean, this is great. Paul, you got your tax cuts. But have a little pride. Just a little bit of dignity left when all this is over.
MATTHEWS: We know forever that Republicans fall in line, Democrats fall in love. But they looked like they were falling in love. Orrin Hatch said, I love you, Mr. President. I love you.
PETER EMERSON, HUFFINGTON POST CONTRIBUTOR: And what's so cynical about that is we both know that Orrin Hatch doesn't feel that way.
MATTHEWS: Well, how do we know that after watching that?
EMERSON: Because I believe he has figured out as so many others that if you pander, if you curry favor with Trump, you get what you want.
MATTHEWS: OK. If you're Robert Mueller, Yamiche, and you're thinking about -- is the Congress going to back me up if I indict this president come 2019 or end of next year, if I come out with strong evidence and a strong piece of indictment that this guy did obstruct justice, will that crowd impeach?
ALCINDOR: I think that if you're Robert Mueller, you're looking at Mike Pence and saying this is someone who's quiet but ready to take the leadership. The same praise --
MATTHEWS: I'm sorry. Let's take a middle step there, 2/3 vote in the U.S. Senate to remove Trump.
ALCINDOR: Right. So, if you're Robert Mueller I think you're looking at Mike Pence and realizing that yeah, this is some praise, this is some showmanship but all of these people would turn on him because again all he has to do is have a bad tweet and everyone starts rolling their eyes and running away from reporters because they don't want to talk about it.
SYKES: These guys never going to push back, they're never going to turn on Trump. I think that was obvious. There was some speculation once they got their tax bill then they could throw him under the bus. What you saw then was -- what you saw was really the taking the knee for Trump. And I don't think they're going to back away from that.
EMERSON: Well, those who think that there's going to be a constitutional crisis are as delusional as some of the Democratic leadership. They own all three branches of government. And we saw on the faces as you've said - -
MATTHEWS: No crisis there.
EMERSON: There's no crisis there. No.
MATTHEWS: This is astounding. I'll tell you, I don't understand it. I still have been watching the Republican Party since I was born practically. I don't get this genuflection, this submission. Do you think it's going to turn the same way with Mueller? Does this really mean Mueller can do all he wants, they're going to say no thanks?
ALCINDOR: I don't particularly believe that because I think when you actually talk to Republicans off the record and actually get their real understanding of what's going on, if Mueller comes out with some really rock solid evidence that he's broken the law, I think these same people are going to start turning to Pence and saying you know, what we have a real conservative behind this president, this is why we have Mike Pence here. I don't think that this --
MATTHEWS: My question is will people like Richard Burr, people that I think are very responsible Republicans, Charlie, will they do their duty in the way Sam Irvin did back in the Nixon era and Judge Sirica did and all those -- Howard Baker, all those Republicans did their duty?
SYKES: You would hope that they would. You would hope that there would be this moment where they would recapture the significance of being a co-equal branch of government. You know, remember there was that moment not that long ago where you had Bush and McCain and Corker and Flake all stand up and talk about the need to reassert the independence of Congress and then remember what happened after that?
SYKES: Pretty much crickets.
MATTHEWS: The round table is sticking with us. Up next, these three will give me some scoops. I'm raising the stakes here.
You're watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Four days until Christmas. After a brutal political year, a time of the worst division I think in this country since the Vietnam War. And I've got a tonic for this occasion. It's about a true leader, an American with moral courage who knew this was a great country but wanted it to be a good country.
"Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit", it just rose up in "The New York Times" bestseller list, a perfect gift for the HARDBALL fan.
We'll be right back.
MATTHEWS: We're back with the HARDBALL round table.
Yamiche, tell me something I don't know.
ALCINDOR: For the second year in a row, the light expectancy for Americans has dropped.
MATTHEWS: I saw that.
ALCINDOR: And the thing I think that's really impactful is that there are so many deaths from opioid crisis and we're not really talking about that. President Trump talked about it earlier on in his campaign, but it's really just taken a back seat, and there's so many people dying of this addiction.
MATTHEWS: Is that (INAUDIBLE) attention or what is it? Do you know?
ALCINDOR: It's the opioid crisis. It's so many people are dying from drugs.
ALCINDOR: I want to talk about Reagan 1986 tax reform bill. Dick Gephardt was a co-sponsor of that bill. Bill Bradley was a cosponsor of that. It passed the Senate 74-23. Kind of a rather dramatic contrast, not to mention it was revenue neutral.
MATTHEWS: And cut the top rate down to like 28. Unbelievable.
EMERSON: DREAMers are going to get another yuletide in America. I've talked to several Republican and Democratic senators and Congress persons. They all believe a compromise will be reached and DREAMers will be allowed to stay and contribute to America.
MATTHEWS: Wow. That's positive.
Thank you, Yamiche Alcindor, Charlie Sykes and Peter Emerson.
When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch." it will be interesting.
You're watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch," Thursday, December 21st, 2017.
Give the president credit. More than anyone since Herbert Hoover, he showed the difference this week between Republicans and Democrats.
It's quite simple, isn't it? Republicans of all economic levels believe the way to stimulate the economy and create jobs is to cut taxes for the top corporations and for the top taxpayers. They believe that the way to trigger spending by corporations spending on new plants and equipment is to leave them with more cash. The way to get wealthy individuals to work harder is to leave them with more cash.
It's not the way they look at everyone, however. While they believe the key to getting the wealthier to work harder is to leave with more money, they believe the best way to get those near the bottom to work harder is to leave them with less benefits, like killing the health care program that will now leave 9 million kids without health care and undermining Obamacare which will leave another 13 million without coverage.
That will get people working, they say. Give money to encourage the rich, cut the benefits of those near the bottom, help the rich, hurt the poor. It's a 2017 message from Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago. How is that for a Christmas stocking stuffer?
And that's HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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