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GOP Senators push to move ahead. TRANSCRIPT: 9/20/2018, Hardball w Chris Matthews.

Guests: Tamara Keith, David Catanese, Joel Payne, Shermichael Singleton

Show: HARDBALL Date: September 20, 2018 Guest: Tamara Keith, David Catanese, Joel Payne, Shermichael Singleton

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The accuser to testify. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assaulted her early `90s is negotiating a potential appearance before the senate judiciary committee for next week. At this hour her lawyers are working with the judiciary committee to come up with a plan.

According to an email, her email, her lawyer Debra Katz wanted to discuss conditions under which Dr. Christine Blasey Ford would be prepared to testify next week. Well, Katz goes on to say quote "she wishes to testify provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety." Wow. She said the deadline of Monday imposed by the committee`s chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley was not possible and the committee`s insistence that it occur then is arbitrary.

However, in a letter sent to the Judiciary Committee tonight, judge Kavanaugh reaffirmed his desire to testify on Monday. Dr. Ford has said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when both were high school students in Maryland in the 1980s, an allegation that Kavanaugh has called completely false -- sorry.

Senate Republicans who are eager to move ahead seem to be counting on her failure to appear.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Ultimately, we will have to move forward based on what we know. And that is, you know, his years of experience on the bench and 12 years on the circuit court already in D.C. and move forward from there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the information is not provided after the time we have spent on this, it`s time to move forward and get the votes in next week.


MATTHEWS: If she appears, Dr. Ford, would face questions from the 11 Republican men on the judiciary committee.

Aware of the optics, what it`s going to look like, NBC has learned that Republicans are looking to hire an outside lawyer ideally for them a woman to handle the questioning of Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey Ford.

For more, I`m joined by Susan Page, "USA Today" Washington bureau chief, Cynthia Alksne, a former federal prosecutor, Peter Baker, a "New York Times" chief White House correspondent and Kasie Hunt, NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent.

Kasie, I have to start with you. It seems like the ball is back in the Republican`s court because Dr. Ford says I`ll come next week.

KASIE HUNT, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: She does, Chris. And you know, she has said that it`s not possible for her to be here on Monday. So Republicans are going to have to decide how much do they want to give here. But I think a lot of the energy has been focused on making sure that they - - that this doesn`t turn into the debacle that it turned into for Anita Hill in 1991. And, you know, back then the entire committee was all men.

This time around there are four Democratic women involves and on the Republican side just 11 men and so they have come to this attempted strategy to try and have a female lawyer question Dr. Ford as well as judge Kavanaugh. It was explained to me as an attempt to try and turn down the heat, take the politics out of it, make it less emotional. But of course, it also takes the pressure and potential criticism off of each individual Republican senator in the room.

There isn`t anything that Democrats can do to prevent this from happening. I think both sides all want to hear from Dr. Ford and, of course, from judge Kavanaugh, but this is something that`s been used before in the Senate. You are a student of the history of our law making in congress. It`s happened before, but it`s been decades since it was done this way.

MATTHEWS: Of having a counsel doing the questioning itself. What about the conditions that Dr. Ford has set? That she wants to see other witnesses called. Mark judge who was also, according to her, at the scene of the sexual assault. The other person who was not mentioned I guess, Patrick Smith. There`s of course Christina Miranda, Christina Smith -- Christina King, actually, who apparently knew about this incident from that time period. Are they going to be included in the list of witnesses?

HUNT: And there`s actually one additional person, Chris, an unnamed person who has not gotten back to the committee. We know that the others have in some form communicated with the committee, either to provide a statement or to say they are not interested in speaking to them. And you are right, that this was a condition that Dr. Ford had laid out. And we should point out that in the latest statement, she didn`t totally drop but basically said she would testify even if the FBI investigation is not reopened.

They did not revisit this question of other witnesses. But it does seem as though the strategy has been to draw attention to these places where Dr. Ford feels as though she is not being treated fairly or her lawyers are arguing in her favor, but that really the ultimate intent is going to be to testify.

So, I think you are going to see attempts by Democrats especially to make sure that these other people who are involved are central to the hearing bringing up whatever statements they have or haven`t made potentially trying to talk about their backgrounds and credibility. But right now it doesn`t look as though that`s a point on which the Republicans are going to be willing to cave but clearly these negotiations are actively ongoing as we`re all sitting here talking about this tonight.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. Hang in there, Kasie.

Susan, it seems like there`s an inconvenient truth here, this professional, this psychologist with a Ph.D. has a story to tell, and it`s her memory that she`s counting on and it`s clear, it`s tragic and it`s crystal clear in her mind. How do Republicans and public deal with the fact if she goes in there next week and testifies about what she said Kavanaugh did to her as a teenager, how do you believe that it just was made up? Who is going to believe it was made up?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: If you want to know how nervous Republicans are about this, just consider that you have got 11 Republican senators who are voluntarily giving up TV cameras.

MATTHEWS: You are right.

PAGE: When was the last time that happened? It`s happening --

MATTHEWS: That`s a great point.

PAGE: -- the peril --

MATTHEWS: They are giving their life`s blood away.

PAGE: The perils are so great for the Republicans. Even if they push Brett Kavanaugh through, the confirmation, the perils have not ended. What if there are more allegations. What if we have a more serious investigation after they succeed in pushing him through? This has both short-term and long-term dangers for the GOP.

MATTHEWS: I think the phrase, Dr. Ford, Peter, is going to be powerful. Dr. Ford, tell us what happened. Not what`s her name as Art Hatch calls her. The other ones that this mixed up person. This confused woman. I mean, the phrase is used by some of these Republicans so far are awful, but now when they have to do it one to one, face to face, excuse me, they are going to have to call her Dr. Ford and they`re going to have to listen to her.

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, that`s right, obviously. And I think that`s what Susan just said correctly which is why they want a lawyer to do it who would keep them from looking so political. And by the way keep the Democrats on the other side from doing that same thing. Remember several of those Democrats are running for President and they obviously have an interest in, you know, pretty argumentative perhaps interrogation of judge Kavanaugh. So the Republicans look at this and it`s in both their interests to make it a little bit more professional by having a lawyer do it. Take the temperature down.

But Dr. Ford, we`ll see what kind of witness she is, what kind of presentation she makes. A lot will depend on how she presents herself. How credible she appears. How persuasive she is. It`s hard to imagine why somebody would come forward with allegations like this if it`s not the truth or at least that they believe it`s the truth. I think what you will hear on the other side as a defense is rather than questioning that, rather than questioning whether this actually happened to her, questioning only does she remember the right person. Was it really judge Kavanaugh 36 years ago?


BAKER: Could it possibly be somebody else, some other boy who was there that night?

MATTHEWS: Well, according to NBC News Kavanaugh spent part of the day today hunkered down prepping for the possibility of testifying next week.

On Tuesday Kavanaugh spent two hours being grilled by a small group of senior White House staff about his past, his dating life and his accuser. NBC News has confirmed that Dr. Ford has hired a veteran Democratic operative Ricky Seiben, a communications expert, to help offer personal advice.

Anyway, a source familiar with Ford`s preparations tells "Politico" that unlike Kavanaugh Dr. Ford has not been participating in mood hearings or other mock proceedings at least as of yet.

Let me go to Cynthia on this about Kavanaugh. How do you question a guy who says he doesn`t remember anything? He doesn`t remember the `80s as far as I`m concerned. I mean, he doesn`t know anything about any party. But if you are really honest, did you ever drink at a party? How many parties did you go to in the `80s when you did drink? Is it possible you might have forgotten something? Did you ever get a buzz that got you out of hand? Did you ever have a blackout? Did you ever drink so much that you had to be driven home? All kinds of questions. What`s your limit? Eight beers, 15 beers? What did you drink in those days? It seems like he`s going to have to admit that he existed back then.

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Righ.t. And obviously, there`s a lot of cross exam that comes out of his yearbook and his statements in the yearbook about drinking and sexual statements.

Something that is interesting that will come out early is did he even know her or remember her. Because obviously, an identification is a different thing, if she knew him before the party. And another important thing will be, you know, who else was at these general parties. Because Susan is right, this is all going to be investigated. The Republicans can hide. And they can say it is not going to happen and thy can push this through. Somebody either is going to win a Pulitzer or the FBI is going to step up. But everybody is going to know what happened at this in the next six months. And it will begin with his testimony finding out what he is willing to say about what he knew about her and the manner in which she testifies. And remember --

MATTHEWS: This isn`t a long-term investigation. They are going to vote next week.

ALKSNE: It doesn`t matter. It`s not over. It`s not over. And it will affect the politics down the road. And remember, when she testifies, once those cameras are on her, she can say and structure it any way she wants. So she can do an opening statement and say, this is what happened to me. And these are the people that you should have talked to if you had taken the time and she can really set the stage. And what is Grassley going to do, interrupt her? No. He can`t. What are those -- that collection of old white men going to do? They have to listen to her.

MATTHEWS: Susan, it seems like -- I said this last night, I think it`s true that the two parties are looking at this differently. And I think Democrats are always interested in the truth. Lewinsky and all of that mess that went on the `90s. They weren`t interested in the truth back then.

But now, they are the ones who want this woman to have her day in court. They wanted to hear what she has to say. They want to give her full dignity and respect. They want to hear her.

Republicans are focusing on the rules. How come you didn`t come in earlier? How come Feinstein didn`t tell us about this earlier? How come you are interrupting our schedule? It just seem like they are really being why are you on my lawn, you know?

The Republicans don`t seem to be focused on finding out the truth here. They are focusing on the schedule and the rules of their committee.

PAGE: And you know, there are things you can criticize about Democrats for sure when it came to the Monica Lewinsky investigation, but this is a different time. This is going to resonate, I think, in a different way with Americans generally and especially with American women. We have just had a year of coming up on the one year anniversary of the Me Too movement that empowered hundreds, thousands of women to come forward with stories that are pretty similar to Dr. Ford`s.

MATTHEWS: Do you think we will hear more stories coming in this case?

PAGE: I don`t know.

ALKSNE: Why would anybody come forward after what she`s been through?

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s see.

Anyway, according to NBC/Wall Street poll out tonight, Public opposition to Brett Kavanaugh`s nomination, the Supreme Court has spiked. In the new poll which was conducted Sunday through Wednesday, that`s yesterday, 38 percent of voters say they oppose Kavanaugh`s nomination, 34 percent a lesser number supported. That`s a 12 point increase in opposition since July. I love this number. Only five percent of democratic women support this nomination.

I want to go to Kasie on that.

Kasie, this is a powerful number. It talks to the suburbs, the voters that may not have voted for Hillary Clinton but are darn ready to vote this time on the Democratic side. Five percent support for Kavanaugh. If he gets confirmed, there`s going to be a rage out there, I think.

HUNT: And I think that it reflects the degree to which women are paying attention because quite frankly before all of this unfolded with Dr. Ford, you know, the campaigns against Kavanaugh had been still focused on women. And a lot of, you know, the defenses that the White House had lined up from the beginning had to do with finding women to vouch for him because they knew that a lot of the conversations in the hearing were going to center on Roe versus Wade and they still would need to persuade these two women, Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins. And so they needed to strategize around that. And I think these numbers reflect that.

I will also say, Chris, that one of the things that we know that President Trump pays very close attention to are poll numbers and --


HUNT: -- one of the key factors in whether Kavanaugh ultimately makes it onto the bench is just how much the White House is willing to support him and are they at some point going to cut -- you know, cut and run and say, look, you know, we have had enough. We can`t defend you anymore than you are willing to defend yourself. It`s not good enough. And this is the kind of thing I think that you could see end up inside the President`s head in a way that could impact the process. Obviously, we will just have to see. But his track record has indicated that`s a possibility.

MATTHEWS: Kasie, I`m thinking just like that.

Let`s go to Peter on this.

Peter, it seems to me that Trump is more like the Humphrey Bogart character in Casablanca. Said I stick my neck out for nobody. I don`t know why he would stick his neck out for Brett Kavanaugh at this point having a sense, I`m not saying a familiarity with this woman`s testimony, but Trump must believe this woman is telling the truth. I mean, he must believe that. I don`t think in any of his cases women made up anything. Your thoughts?

BAKER: Well, look, I don`t think President Trump has any particularly strong or -- relationship or affinity for judge Kavanaugh in a personal way that would make him say I want to really stand be by him. But I do think he gets his back up when it comes to issues of sexual allegations against people.

Look what happened with Roy Moore in Alabama in the Senate race. Look what happened, he defends other prominent people who have been accused of things, FOX News host and so forth. He hired Bill Shein. He has this idea that men have been accused unfairly. He defended Rob Porter even his own aide who was accused of spousal abuse.

MATTHEWS: Well, OK. I just want to say, you have to delineate here. Susan may agree with me. I`m delineating. If he did what he was accused of, and is accuse of, stands accused of in this case, close the door, shoves a woman into a room with the help of somebody else -- another guy, throws her on the bed, jumps on top of her, covers her mouth when she screams for help. It seems to me that`s in a category of sexual assault that`s a bit more egregious than these other cases. But I don`t want to delineate except how does he turn his back and say, that doesn`t matter.

PAGE: I don`t think that`s what he says. I think - I have been struck by how President Trump has kept his options open to dump Kavanaugh if she`s credible, he says, then we have to assess where we stabbed.

This is in contrast to what George H. W. Bush did with Clarence Thomas. He was much more full throated in getting behind Clarence Thomas than President Trump has been in getting behind Brett Kavanaugh. He`s left the door wide open.

MATTHEWS: You are so right.

They treated -- the Bushes has treated Clarence Thomas as a friend of the family basically.

Susan Page, thank you.

Cynthia Alksne, Peter Baker and Kasie Hunt, thank you all.

Coming up, as the Supreme Court showdown continues now, what risks and opportunities do red state Democrats, they exist, face ahead of the Midterm elections and will Republicans pay a price from women if they push this confirmation all the way through?

Plus, two years after the 2016 Presidential election one question remains, did the Trump campaign benefit from the Russian conspiracy or did it actively act to encourage it?

And Dr. Ford now says she will be prepared to testify before the Judiciary Committee next week but under certain conditions. Will Senator Grassley, the chair, accept her request?

Finally, let me finish with Trump watch. This is HARDBALL" where the action is.


MATTHEWS: It has been a year now since hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico killing almost 3,000 people and quote "the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. in a hundred years." Well, today, Puerto Rico is still in rowing. According to the "New York Times" which reports that hundreds of thousand people are still living in damaged homes.

But last week, President Trump called his response to Puerto Rico un-sung success, an-sung success and question the death toll in Puerto Rico tweeting 3,000 who did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico.

Well, we will be right back.


Well, the path forward for Judge Brett and his nomination to the Supreme Court is still very murky right now. But with November`s midterm election coming just 47 days from now, both parties` handling up the allegations of sexual -- sexual assault against Kavanaugh almost certainly is going to have implications at the ballot box, don`t you think?

Well, Kavanaugh`s fate turned a spotlight on several Democrats who are up for reelection in states President Trump won handily in 2016, North Dakota`s Heidi Heitkamp, Indiana`s Joe Donnelly, and West Virginia`s Joe Manchin. All three voted for Trump`s last court nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch.

Well, "The New York Times" reports the allegation may change the stakes for them, noting: "There is rising confidence among many leading Democrats that, at the very least, the claim of sexual misconduct deprives Republicans of a potent to wild against those senators who voted -- vote no."

Well, "The Washington Post" reports on the challenge facing Republicans on Kavanaugh, writing: "The party`s push to install him on the high court by next week could come at a steep political cost for women and the independent voters, who are the keystone for congressional majorities."

Right now, I`m joined by Shermichael Singleton, Republican political consultant. Joel Payne is a Democratic strategist.

Joel, isn`t it true that these Democratic senators who are running for reelection in conservative pro-Trump states are safer now to vote against this nominee because of this allegation?

JOEL PAYNE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I know that`s what some have said.

But, actually, I have some good sources within some of those red state Democrats, and they don`t think they are.


MATTHEWS: They think they are still in trouble?


PAYNE: Not only -- not necessarily that they`re still in trouble, but they still have to see what Ms. Ford says, what she says next week, how it`s received.

They don`t believe that just this scuttlebutt this week takes them off the hook. I think a lot of progressive Democrats obviously feel differently. But those Democrats that are on the griddle in those red states, those Trump states, they don`t feel like they have got a free pass.


MATTHEWS: OK, let`s talk about the Democrats in the moderate suburbs of Philadelphia and Chicago and places like that, New York, L.A. It seems to me that 5 percent of Democratic women support this nomination at this point.

I have never seen a smaller number for anything. I mean, there`s a larger African-American vote for Trump, I think, than 5 percent maybe. I mean, 5 percent? That`s pretty -- yes, go ahead. What do you think of this, Shermichael?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Chris, if you look at Republican women, Republican women, they have actually increased their support of Kavanaugh from July, from August, to where it currently stands now.


MATTHEWS: Well, what do they like? What have they seen that they like from this guy?

SINGLETON: You may look at independents, but when you talk about those three Democrats that are running in states that the president won, if you were to do cross-tabs in those states, I`m almost certain you would see an increased amount of support for Kavanaugh.

PAYNE: But we talked about this. This isn`t even about Kavanaugh anymore. This is a litmus test on Trump, right?


PAYNE: This is tribalism.

You know this, Chris. This is about red team/blue team. And I don`t think people see Kavanaugh just as Kavanaugh. They see it as Trump. So if your Joe Manchin in West Virginia, you can`t just sit this one out and say, oh, Dr. Ford has a compelling case, because you still have a lot of voters who think this is a -- this is Donald Trump. This is a stand-in for Donald Trump.

I don`t think that they have the license to take a step back from this the way that you think they do.

SINGLETON: I would agree with that, but I think, for Republicans, they`re looking at those numbers.

Sure, we could talk about Democrats. Sure, we could talk about independents. But at the end of the day, this is a left or a right thing. They`re looking at those numbers. They`re seeing that Republicans are becoming more cemented in their support of Kavanaugh.

And they`re going to say, I have to go back to my constituents. What am I going to say?

MATTHEWS: Why are independents swinging radically since July against this guy, against Kavanaugh, independents radically?

(CROSSTALK) MATTHEWS: A 31-point shift since July, what is that about?


SINGLETON: I think if you look at -- this is the era of women right now, I would argue. There are a significant number of women who are running for office.

There are a significant number of women who are more involved in the political process. Those independents aren`t as hard-lined as some of those in my party or as extreme as some of those on the left, I would argue.


MATTHEWS: If the Kavanaugh thing is a neutral -- it`s just the usual tribal thing, partisan, right vs. left, why are the independents sweeping...


PAYNE: I think the president has had a bad three months. That is why.


SINGLETON: I disagree. I disagree.

PAYNE: And, by the way, I think this Kavanaugh nothing, you can`t just look at this as an isolated incident. This is about Trump getting elected, being -- admitting to sexual assault.

This is about the Republicans behaving badly. This is the continuation of a narrative.

SINGLETON: But that is not new.

PAYNE: It`s not new, but this is the latest salvo that women voters feel - - 183, big number -- 183, record number of women running in the House this cycle, Chris. That`s a record, over 60 more than we have ever had.


MATTHEWS: Why did Republican women go along with, as you pointed Trump bragging about grabbing women by their whatever? How did he get away with that politically?


SINGLETON: I think a lot of those Republican women -- I will use evangelicals for an example.

You had Franklin Graham who made a statement about Republicans need to confirm Kavanaugh. You had other evangelical leaders come out.


PAYNE: Franklin Graham is a joke.


SINGLETON: Well, that may be to you.


SINGLETON: But wait a minute here. Wait a minute.

To all fairness, to many Republicans, that is not the case. They look at those individuals as being legitimate sources of leadership, if you will, for the things that they believe.

And so they may look at Trump, and they may have faults with many of his character flaws, but they will look at the tangible things, say, we got Neil Gorsuch, we`re getting -- we`re getting Kavanaugh, we`re looking at other things such as building a wall.


SINGLETON: There are legitimate things...


MATTHEWS: I know there`s a few moderate Republicans left, but what about people from middle-of-the-road states like Ohio, Pennsylvania?

Pat Toomey is going to have to run eventually for reelection, people running against Bob Casey, this time running against -- what`s -- Sherrod Brown, all kinds of moderate people, the sort of center Republicans, do they want to defend this thing?

PAYNE: Of course not.


MATTHEWS: Are they happy defending for Kavanaugh?


SINGLETON: Of course they don`t.

But in order to win, they have to sort of model Trump.

PAYNE: They want the Trump candy.

SINGLETON: That`s the only way you can win, because the party is far more hard-line than it was a year or two ago.


MATTHEWS: The cutting question, do you think Trump is really behind Kavanaugh, really behind him, until the last dog dies?

SINGLETON: I think Trump is behind him as long as it serves Trump`s interests. That`s what I will say.


MATTHEWS: I will not stick my neck out for nobody.


PAYNE: If I was Donald Trump and if I was Republicans, you know what I would want? I wouldn`t want Brett Kavanaugh alive and tarred and feathered. I would like him dead and martyred. Pardon the pun.

You want to know why? That charges up the Republican base this November.

SINGLETON: No, it doesn`t.

PAYNE: Yes, it does.


SINGLETON: That charges up the Republican base. And they`re going to put another more conservative person behind him.


MATTHEWS: You`re right. You know what makes your point? You know what makes your point, Joel?

Who knows what is going to happen after next week, after we see Dr. Ford testify.

SINGLETON: Because of her testimony, yes.

MATTHEWS: But Trump does a really good weepy story about Kavanaugh, poor Justice Kavanaugh.


PAYNE: And he`s held his fire on Dr. Ford so far.

MATTHEWS: He can do that really good.

Anyway, thank you, guys. Thank you, Shermichael Singleton and Joel Payne.

SINGLETON: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next: new reporting from "The New York Times" on Russia`s attempt to hijack the 2016 election, a thorough, going -- totally new segment of the newspaper today all about what Russia has done.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s now been more than two years since Americans got their first glimpse of Russia`s intrusion into our democracy. And ever since, a steady drumbeat of revelations has shed greater light on the true extent of Kremlin influence here.

Well, the question remains, of course, whether the Trump campaign merely benefited from the Russian conspiracy or acted to encourage it.

Well, today, "The New York Times" was out with a special supplement in its newspaper giving a wide account of the Kremlin`s cyber-attack on this country and the intriguing behavior of the candidate who now occupies the White House.

It details how well-connected Russians worked aggressively to recruit or influence people inside the Trump campaign, noting, in nearly every case, the Trump aides and associates seemed enthusiastic about their exchanges with the Russians.

And while the president continues to try to discredit the investigation itself, "The Times" points out how: "Mr. Trump`s position on the Russian contacts has evolved over time, first that there were none, then they did not amount of collusion, and next that in any case collusion was not a crime."

Well, joining me right now is Malcolm Nance, author of "The Plot to Destroy America."

Malcolm, you`re the perfect guest. Thank you so much. There you are in front of Independence Hall, which just seemed appropriate, because our democracy itself was under threat. It goes all the way back when our democracy began back in the 18th century.

And here we are with a foreign power trying to destroy us, destroy our democracy. How do you read the latest "Times" effort to try to put it together comprehensively?

MALCOLM NANCE, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think "The Times" did a good job chronicling all that we have learned over the last two years.

And it was actually on this set two years ago where I sat down and said that the nation was under attack in a wide-ranging cyber-warfare influence operation which was designed to break the American electoral process and to put Donald Trump into power.

And what we have seen since that time is this snowball effect of information that has led us understand that it was more than just to get Donald Trump into -- into office. That was just one result that they wanted. But it was to break Hillary Clinton`s campaign, divide the Democratic Party, and fundamentally change the American system of government and push it away from where it was, democratic -- you know, a democratic republic -- constitutional republic, to what we`re leaning towards, which is an autocracy.

MATTHEWS: Are you impressed by how much they know about us? I mean, I don`t think we, as Americans, would know how to screw up the Soviet or the Russian system as well as they figured -- they understand our tribal differences, our ethnic differences. They understand all the conflicts in this country, the attitudes towards Hillary Clinton.

It`s the internals of the Democratic Party and their -- Jennifer Palmieri and what she said, how that would hurt, or what Podesta might have said. They seem to have known all our pressure points politically.

NANCE: Well, you know, I was actually mocked by Russia Today when I said that Vladimir Putin was the former director of the KGB, when, in, fact he was the head of the FSB, which is the KGB with two different letters.

This is -- what we are seeing is a culmination of strategic goals that the Russians had wanted since 1917. And it was only when they became a capitalistic society, which became ultimately very conservative, and aligned themselves with conservatives within the United States, that -- and gave their intelligence organizations enormous -- billions of dollars of money, only then could they actually achieve and target goals that they had wanted since the beginning of the old communist Soviet.


NANCE: And that was to effect a U.S. president.

MATTHEWS: So Putin is doing what he would have been doing under the old Soviet world. If it had been the Soviet Union still today, he would still be trying to undermine us in the way they always wanted to undermine us and humiliate our democracy?

NANCE: Sure.

Well, it would like putting -- making me president, an old intelligence guy, right? I would want to be carrying out operations left and right.

And he is a career KGB officer. And, granted, he got out. He went out, and he liquidated the Soviet -- Soviet assets in St. Petersburg and became a multibillionaire.

But it`s the strategic goals of aligning themselves and making Russia go from a third-rate superpower to take on, challenge and lead around by the nose ring a president they installed. That is a very old Soviet objective.

You know, there were movies and fiction about that. It`s happened now.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about today, right now.

Robert Mueller appears to be closing in on the president himself. ABC News is today reporting that: "Michael Cohen has participated the over last month in multiple interviews sessions lasting for hours with investigators from the office of special counsel. Specifically, the special counsel`s questioning of Cohen has focused primarily on all aspects of Trump`s dealings with Russia."

So how much has Michael got on Trump on Russia?

NANCE: I think he has all of his financial transactions, his relationships with the Russian mafia. Craig Unger has a great book out about that. The relationships with real estate dealings. When the Soviet Union broke up, they liquidated all those assets, took their illicit money, and they put it into real estate all around the world.

But those -- that money is a vehicle for buying governments and individuals. And like, in all good counterintelligence operations, the first thing a competent intelligence officer will do is, they will scrub your bank account to see whether any of that money comes from a foreign power.

And with Donald Trump, that is an absolute necessity. And if Mueller is focusing on that with Cohen, Mueller already knows. And he just wants to lock it down. And it`s going to be a documentary case. It`s not going to rely on Michael Cohen coming in and diving out Donald Trump. It`s -- that`s just going to support what they already know from counterintelligence, law enforcement and international intelligence collection.

MATTHEWS: So let`s talk about the endgame.

Former FBI Director James Comey has weighed in on the progress of the Mueller probe in an interview just last night in Saint Louis with public radio there.

Here`s what Comey said:


QUESTION: How do you read the Mueller investigation as to where it is now?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I don`t know. I know it`s been incredibly productive in just over a year. It`s produced all kinds of charges and convictions. And so they have been working really hard and produced a lot of results.

But I don`t know. I think there`s an argument to be made that the conviction, the plea and cooperation by Paul Manafort, may represent that we`re in the fourth quarter, because the way you normally do investigations is, you work from the bottom up. And so they`re getting pretty high.


MATTHEWS: What do you think, Malcolm? This fall, get a report from him on everything?


NANCE: I don`t believe that we will get a report from him this fall.

But I think Jim Comey is absolutely right about this being the fourth quarter. But you have to understand, this is probably the fourth quarter of just one tentacle of this octopus. It could be dirty tricks team A, with Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr.

We found over the last two years there were multiple teams of people reaching out to the Russians, multiple Russian operations reaching in to the Trump campaign. And they seem to have been in synchronization and conspiracy.

All of those are going to have to be adjudicated. There`s not one report that`s going to come out. It`ll be obstruction of justice to stop these investigations and, of course, going out and seeing who exactly conspired against this nation to betray us and to break our fundamental electoral process for their own profit.

MATTHEWS: Well, it sounds like this probe is going to go right into the 2012 election, because that election is going to start within about a day after these midterm elections are over.

Anyway, thank you, Malcolm Nance.

Up next: Judge Kavanaugh`s accuser is reportedly negotiating now with the Senate Judiciary Committee on the terms under which she will testify, apparently next week. Well, we will see what happens.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The big story tonight is Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school, she`s agreed to testify next week, now if certain conditions are met. Ford`s lawyer Debra Katz asked to set a phone call today with the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss those conditions for Ford`s testimony, leaving that to the committee, and it`s Republicans to make the next move.

So, the ball is in their court.

Let`s bring in our roundtable tonight. Tamara Keith is a White House correspondent for NPR. Howard Fineman is an MSNBC news analyst, and David Catanese is a senior politics writer from "U.S. News and World Report".

Howard, look at this, take the long view. Are they better having this pulled next week, sometime, this nomination or getting a guy in with his taint on him?


MATTHEWS: We`re talking about Brett Kavanaugh.

FINEMAN: You mean they meaning Kavanaugh and the White House?

MATTHEWS: Are the Republicans better winning dirty or throwing in the towel and saying, OK, we didn`t about this situation, we`re going to pull him?

FINEMAN: Well, it`s becoming a very, very close. This was cruising along on the theory, well, Trump was elected. He seems like an okay guy. You know, we could have done worse. Let`s just get it over with, the nightmare continues, let`s get it over with.

As soon as there was a hitch in this thing, people began to look at Brett Kavanaugh in an entirely different light. I`m not just talking about women who are just tired of what seems possibly to be this kind of guy in this kind of situation. They`re starting to look at, you know, what was -- how truthful was he or was he not in his testimony? Is he kind of too political kind of a political schemer, this kind of thing? The slower it goes, the worse his situation is.

MATTHEWS: Tamara, here`s the question. How do you deny being at a party you don`t remember? I understand how a lawyer would say just deny the damn thing. Move on.

But his denial was so black and white, I don`t remember anything, I don`t want anything. It`s like Sergeant Schultz in "Hogan`s Heroes." I don`t know nothing.

And I don`t think it`s going to work, because you do remember parties you drank too much at. You do remember who you`re with. You may not remember everybody you made a move on, if you will, but you do have a vague memory of the year, the parties you went to and the kind of women -- young women you hung out with, girls. You do remember it.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: He is going to be able to say that it was 36 years ago and he is going to -- he`s going -- he has to continue to be categorical. At this point he`s put out two statements that categorically deny that this happened, that he ever did anything like that. He has to stick with that.

MATTHEWS: How can he say I wasn`t at the house, if he doesn`t know what house? David, he said, I wasn`t at that house? What house are we talking about? You just said that house, whatever that house was.

DAVID CATANESE, U.S. WORLD AND NEWS REPORT: Sure. Do we know if he is going to testify if she doesn`t agree to? That`s not clear. You know, I don`t know if you`re going to have a hearing with just Brett Kavanaugh if she doesn`t decide --

MATTHEWS: She says she`ll do it next week, though.

CATANESE: Well, they`re playing semantics. Monday is not good, maybe Wednesday is. I actually think there`s a tipping point here.

And It was the Democrats were ahead on this issue. It`s starting to swing towards Republicans. They`re overplaying their hand on when they can hold this hearing and I think it`s going to solidify to Jeff Flake, and Bob Corker and Susan Collins --

MATTHEWS: But how can they say -- look, you may be right. This thing is moving.

CATANESE: I think if they pull his nomination, the base will go crazy. The Republican base will go crazy and that`s the last thing the Republicans have left to at least hold -- to play even in this election. If the base stays home, this is going to be more than a wave, it`s an onslaught.

MATTHEWS: OK, good point.

Meanwhile, President Trump is heading to Nevada tonight to campaign for Republican Senator Dean Heller. Heller`s been far from an avid supporter of this president. In fact, just weeks before the 2016 election, he had said he was 100 percent against Clinton, that`s Hillary Clinton, 99 percent against Donald Trump. But a new "Reuters"/Ipsos online poll of likely voters out there released yesterday shows a tight race out there, 3 points over the challenger, Jackie Rosen. He`s up 46-43.

There`s so many of these close races this year.

KEITH: Absolutely. You know, in wave years it either tips one way or it tips another way. Jackie Rosen is a candidate who is not particularly well known in Nevada.

MATTHEWS: Is she exciting?

KEITH: I can`t make value judgments on whether people are exciting, but what I can say is the fact that President Trump is going out there means that they are trying to rally the base and base voters, Republican voters tend to turn out more in lots of midterms but especially in Nevada. There`s a big falloff for Democrats in Nevada in midterm years.

MATTHEWS: But it may be no surprise that according to "The New York Times", Heller is now praising Trump calling him -- this sounds Chinese, a great leader.

Anyway, Heller isn`t the only Republican senator once critical of the president looking for his support right now. Trump will campaign in Texas for Ted Cruz, his good buddy, who he accused of having a father who helped kill Kennedy. Howard?


FINEMAN: Of course the Democrats are putting up billboards and putting advertising out there quoting Trump talking about Ted Cruz.


FINEMAN: Yes. So -- I mean, but this is the problem and the profit that the Republicans have. They have Donald Trump, it`s all about Donald Trump, it`s all his party.

And one of the problems I think they have, and you eluded to it, is Donald Trump has spent so much time telling the Republicans that everything is going great. Forget the blue wave. There`s going to be a red wave. I`m in charge of the red wave. That Republicans may think, OK, he`s in charge of it. We don`t have to bother turning out. That`s why he`s got to go to these places.

CATANESE: I don`t think it`s a question. I think there`s a lot of debate, do you bring Trump in, do you not? You bring him in. The midterm rule is you have to stoke your base up. It is not about playing to the middle because as you just said, turnout drops down, so the only people that are coming out are people who really, really care.

I don`t know, are you that passionate about Dean Heller? Probably not but if Trump shows up and tells you to show up, Dean Heller might have a shot. That`s the only chance I think is Trump gets in there, revs up the base. I`ll do the same thing --


MATTHEWS: Trump is the big name on the ballot.

FINEMAN: He`s the only thing on the ballot. I`ve been covering these for a long time, midterms for a long time. I`ve never seen one that is so determinately and exclusively just about the character really of the president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: Here`s my question, mark. I think Democratic women are doing dynamite work all around, Philly, winning everywhere. How many Republican women? They are the ones -- you know, we had a guest on a moment ago that said -- Shermichael said Republican women are more for this judge now that he`s in trouble with women. I mean, I don`t get this.

What do you make of that, Tamara? Women, they like -- I don`t get it.

KEITH: Well, the idea is that Republican voters are basically picking Trump and so anything that`s associated with Trump they support it. So, even though in the past, for instance, trade, you know --

MATTHEWS: It`s free traders.

KEITH: You know, Republicans were free traders. Well, now, you ask them how they feel about tariffs and the president on trade and they say, all for tariffs. Whereas, a couple of years ago they didn`t.

MATTHEWS: David, you don`t like this.


MATTHEWS: Republicans are regimental. They do what they`re told.

CATANESE: I mean, mostly. I mean, Martha McSally is a great example in Arizona who won`t even say she voted for Trump.


CATANESE: She wanted to compromise on immigration, and now is all in. On the border, tough, I`m with the president. She`s running in the general election. She`s out in the primary. She`s running this as a general.

MATTHEWS: They go Trump.

FINEMAN: Clark County, huge Hispanic vote in Clark County which is Las Vegas.

MATTHEWS: And she`s from Clark County.

Anyway, thank you.

The roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. Jackie Rosen, Howard thinks she`s looking good there in Clark County. We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Well, the Pentagon has identified the remains now of two American soldiers killed during the Korean War. The remains were returned to the U.S. following President Trump`s summit over there with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in late July. They`ve been identified as Army Master Sergeant Charles McDaniel of Indiana, and Private William Jones of North Carolina.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

Tamara, tell me something I don`t know.

KEITH: Well, there`s only been one White House press briefing in the entire month of September. If Sarah Sanders were to hold a briefing every single weekday until the end of the month, she would still not be able to catch up with the briefings in September in a single year in Obama and Bush administrations.


FINEMAN: Democrats are in Maryland in Montgomery County, Maryland, with that party, the Kavanaugh party might have taken place, are looking closely at statutes to see if there can be an allegation filed locally, criminally in the case.

MATTHEWS: No statute of limitations.

FINEMAN: No statute of limitations in Maryland.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. David?

CATANESE: I have a sleeper race for you, Chris. Watch the Iowa governor`s race, no one`s talking about. Democrats are primed to pick up that seat, knock off Kim Reynolds out there. If they do, the new governor would be Fred Hubbell. He`ll be one of the most important men in politics and the world --

MATTHEWS: Because?

CATANESE: -- because he`s governor of Iowa and he`ll be getting calls from Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Fred Hubbell, remember that name, he could be the Democratic governor.

MATTHEWS: Will there be enough days between now and 2020 for him to meet everybody?

CATANESE: No, he gets a call the day after. He gets those calls the day after.

MATTHEWS: This election from 2020 is starting soon.

Thank you, Tamara Keith, Howard Fineman, and David Catanese.

When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch". You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch" Thursday, September 20th, 2018.

President Trump has been keeping a safe distance from his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. He`s praising him, but not quite defending him. And this is consistent with Trump`s go it alone approach in life, whether it`s with nations or people, like the Humphrey Bogart character in Casa Blanca, he sticks his neck out for nobody.

But there`s something added in the case of Kavanaugh. I wonder if Trump suspects that the accusation made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford might be true. Why would Trump not think so? He may figure that Senator Feinstein held on to Dr. Ford`s letter into the last minute. He may figure the Democrats as a group are out to screw him on this nomination. He may assume they`re playing as tough as Mitch McConnell has played on court appointments, as tough as he, Donald Trump, plays on just about everything.

But assuming the Democrats are playing tough doesn`t mean they didn`t have this ace in their hand. It doesn`t mean that Dr. Ford`s story isn`t an accurate account of what she remembers that night from high school, whether her story, as horrific as it is, isn`t from something that actually happened.

Well, the key fact as I see it is that Donald Trump may recognize the behavior accused here against Brett Kavanaugh as just what happened.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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