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Michael Cohen pleads guilty, TRANSCRIPT: 11/29/2018, Hardball w. Chris Matthews.

Guests: Joaquin Castro, Gwenda Blair, John Kasich, David Cay Johnston, Cheri Bustos, John Brabender

Show: HARDBALL Date: November 29, 2018 Guest: Joaquin Castro, Gwenda Blair, John Kasich, David Cay Johnston. Cheri Bustos, John Brabender

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Individual one. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Special counsel Robert Mueller could now be one big step closer to implicating the President in the ongoing Russia probe. Today, the President`s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress and said he will continue to cooperate in the special counsel`s investigation in exchange for a lighter sentence for him.

Specifically, Cohen has confessed to lying in August of last year about the real estate project that was he was pursuing in Moscow on Trump`s behalf while Trump was a candidate for President. Identifying the President as individual one in his plea document, Cohen`s hearing today marks the first time the President of the United States has been named in open court in connection with Mueller`s investigation.

The documents reveal that Cohen testified falsely when he said he only discussed the real estate project with Trump on three occasions. He has now confessed that he discussed the status and progress of the Moscow project with Trump on more than the three occasions. And he briefed family members of Trump within the company about the project. That`s among the several lies that Cohen told congress.

Cohen claimed that the Moscow project ended in January of 2016 when it actually continued through June of 2016. He claimed he never agreed to go to Moscow, yet, he did agree and he asked Trump if Trump would go as well.

Cohen also claimed he didn`t recall getting a response from the Russian government, but in fact, he did remember dealing with the office of a top Kremlin official.

All of those statements were deliberate lies in apparent effort to cover up to protect the President.

As the charging documents state, Cohen`s intent was to minimize links between the Moscow project and Trump, in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations. The big question, why did he lie so much? Why did he commit a felony so often? And why would Cohen commit a felony to cover up his boss` dealings with Russia during the election? And now the President is accusing Cohen of making up the whole story. Here`s how Trump reacted to the news early today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What he is trying to do because he`s a weak person and not a very smart person, what he is trying to do is end, and it`s very simple, he has got himself a big prison sentence and he is trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up a story. So very simply, Michael Cohen is lying and he is trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me.


MATTHEWS: And joining me right now is Democratic congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas who sits on the House intelligence committee. Tom Winter is an investigative reporter with NBC News. Natasha Bertrand is a staff writer at "the Atlantic" and Glenn Kirschner is a former federal prosecutor.

Why it seem, get to the bottom of this, let`s go to our own guy, Tom.

Why would Michael Cohen commit a series of felonies to cover up his boss`, his client`s, business dealings, in Russia?

TOM WINTER, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, I think, Chris, on face value, Michael Cohen addressed this point directly in court today. He stood up and then later sat down, better than speaking to the microphone. But he said that the reason why he did this was to be consistent with the messaging that was being offered by President Trump and by other people close to the President. In addition to that, he said he did it out of loyalty to the President, was the reason why he made these false statements.

And I think the hope here, Chris, was that by saying, hey, look, you know, any discussion of this Moscow plan, or this Moscow project, and any discussion of a hotel, all that ended before around the time of the Iowa caucus, meaning that it didn`t continue on into the actual candidacy of the President.

But I think what`s really interesting here, Chris, is that, in fact, it did. It went into June of 2016. And by that time, Trump was the presumptive nominee. This occurred just barely a month before the RNC. So I think it raises questions as to why, you know, seemingly, this is innocuous. I mean, it would not be illegal for the President of the United States at that point to continue his business dealings, whether it be in Russia, China, the U.S., wherever it may be, it was not illegal for them to pursue business dealings. And Michael Cohen was somebody who worked for the Trump organization. So why in this particular case would you lie about your business dealings in Russia? I think it raises a lot of questions. Michael Cohen addressed some of them today, but obviously there`s more for the Trump organization, the Trump family, and the President, himself.

MATTHEWS: I can give one explanation, it`s not a legal team, it smells. It smells to have business dealings with people you are supposedly negotiating with on behalf of the United States government, at least defending our interests with.

By the way, the title, President of the United States, comes with it that wonderful title leader of the free world. We are dealing with Russia, not working with them.

Anyway, to your point, Tom, throughout 2016 and 2017, Donald Trump repeatedly denied pursuing any deals with Russia or in Russia ever. In fact, he said he purposely stayed away from Russia. Let`s take a look.


TRUMP: I mean, I have nothing to do with Russia. I don`t have any jobs in Russia. I`m all over the world, but we`re not involved in Russia.

I have no relationship to Russia whatsoever.

No, I don`t deal there. I have no business. I have no loans from Russia.

I have nothing to do with Russia folks, OK.

I don`t have any deals in Russia.

I have nothing to do with Russia. I have no investments in Russia. None whatsoever.

I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we have stayed away.


MATTHEWS: Well, Cohen`s plea deal today shows those statements were false.

Let me go to Congressman Joaquin Castro. Sir, you are on the intelligence committee. What does this tell you about Trump`s believability, what`s it tell you about his legal culpability and his impeachability?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Oh, all great questions. Well, the first thing is I think the prosecution of Michael Cohen for lying to Congress I think is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to prosecutions for lying to Congress by the witnesses who went in front of the House and the Senate. There are other folks like Roger Stone and Donald Trump junior, I think, who should be concerned about possibly facing prosecutions as well.

The other thing is based on the BuzzFeed reporting about the fact that Vladimir Putin may have been offered a $50 million condo in that project. If that`s correct, and that`s been determined, that opens the gates to prosecution under the foreign corrupt practices act. And then that becomes very serious if the President knew about what was going on and what was being offered to entice Vladimir Putin to allow that project to go forward.

MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense that the money was driving Trump in the business dealings? Was he running for President to enhance this brand so he could make more money in Russia? Or was he -- was he doing the business deal over there -- I don`t know, I keep trying to figure out what the carrot was for him, was he trying to do business at the same time he was trying to be elected President thinking he probably wasn`t going to get elected? How do you see it?

CASTRO: You are right. I mean, it`s impossible for us to say with certainty, but I don`t know that he was convinced he could win, and that at the end, he may have been actually surprised that he won. So in that instance, it`s not completely uncommon for people to take some benefit, some financial economic benefit, from all of the exposure that they get by running for office.

MATTHEWS: You are so right.

CASTRO: You know --

MATTHEWS: You are right because we all know people -- young lawyers, they come out of law school a couple years. Business isn`t working. They run for some office to get some ink and get back to practice with a little more name I.D.


MATTHEWS: Let me go to Glenn on this. Serious business here of possible work together legally. How much in trouble does the president because his lawyer-fixer was saying stuff as pergurist? It was lying under oath to Congress. But the President was saying basically the same thing the whole time. And this guy was echoing it and he is now having to confess to a crime.

GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. Chris, first of all, the fact the President lies is not exactly late breaking news.

MATTHEWS: This President.

KIRSCHNER: Yes. So why is this consequential? And I don`t really think it`s all about this one business deal with Russia. I think it`s about the President`s determination to conceal from the American people his relationship with Russia because he had bigger things in mind to exploit that relationship. So -- and what I found most consequential about all of this news about Michael Cohen is Michael Cohen spent 70 hours testifying before the grand jury. I got to tell you, I have tried complex murder cases in less than 70 hours. This is the tip of the iceberg, and there`s so much more to come.

MATTHEWS: You think there`s a lot more coming from Cohen?

KIRSCHNER: Absolutely.


Natasha, this story, my God, I -- every once in a while, it just explodes with news. And all of a sudden, you got his fixer who has intimate relations with, now he is saying I don`t know the guy, basically. He is a lightweight. He is almost saying low I.Q. But this guy has facts.

NATASHA BERTRAND, REPORTER, THE ATLANTIC: Yes. And I think when you are asking the question of why Cohen felt the need to conceal all of this, as late as August and September of 2017, it just goes back to the idea that they were conscious of how bad this looked. They were conscious of the fact --.

MATTHEWS: The smell factor.

BERTRAND: Right. They were conscious of the fact this showed, this provided direct evidence that the President may have been compromised by Russia when he was running his election and through the entire election --.

MATTHEWS: You mean a $50 million condo, whatever it was? That`s something -- a congressman just told me about.

I want to go back to the congressman on this one. The timeline of the Trump tower project in Moscow overlaps with several key events in Russia`s campaign to intervene in our 2016 election. So the money and the politics are coming together here. We know that Trump signed a letter of intent to pursue the Moscow project in October of 2015. Just a month after the Russians success successfully hacked the Democratic National Committee.

And then in January of 2016, Cohen opened up his correspondence with Putin`s spokesman, his press secretary, about the possible deal. So he is right in the Putin world there. By May, Cohen was actively planning a trip to Russia in connection with their project. And was arranging a separate trip for Trump, himself, to do the same.

Anyway, Cohen continued those preparations through June of 2016, right in the middle l of the campaign, when Donald Trump Junior famously met with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton on the 9th of June 2016. And then four days later Cohen abruptly canceled his trip to Russia on June 14th. And that`s the same day the DNC publicly announced their servers had been breached, hacked into by Russian intelligence. Wow.

The next day on June 15th, the first hacked materials from the DNC were released by a Russian entity called Guccifer 2.0. And WikiLeaks then began releasing the DNC`s emails the next month in July of 2016.

Congressman, this is so intertwined. And I keep thinking if he lied about his business dealings not being nonexistent, why would anybody believe when he would say he had nothing to do with collaborating with the Russians?

CASTRO: Yes. I don`t think that we can believe what the President says about his relationship with Russia or whether he conspired with Russia or not because you`re right, he started, Chris, by saying I have no business with Russia, I haven`t talked to any Russians, and now we have all these evidence of collusion of meetings of trying to get information about Hillary Clinton.

Now further reporting that basically a bribe may have been offered to Vladimir Putin to allow the Trump tower Moscow project to go forward. And that`s very important because what`s important there is that it may show a method of doing business that then opens up other questions about how he was doing business in other countries where he has Trump properties. So he can face criminal liability there, if, in fact, that $50 million condo was offered to Vladimir Putin and the special counsel can look into how they went about doing business in other countries.

MATTHEWS: You know, Glenn, he does show an ability to mix business with pleasure. Mix business with politics. We know that down the street from here on Pennsylvania Avenue, he has got a Trump hotel. He doesn`t mind welcoming the Saudis there all the time. I call this sort of the tale of two towers.


MATTHEWS: The one tower he wants to build in Moscow, the other he does his political business with his son. Donald Junior, involved in both cases. The nasty tricky business. He has got a kid who is being held hostage by this whole process now and he knows it.

KIRSCHNER: And it`s pretty ominous that among the things we learned today from Michael Cohen is that he also indicated he had been briefing and keeping some of Trump`s family members up to speed.


KIRSCHNER: That had a real ominous ring to it because I had --

MATTHEWS: Donald Junior.

KIRSCHNER: -- a feeling Donald junior, Jared Kushner, you know, who knows. But --.

BERTRAND: And Ivanka Trump. Apparently, Ivanka Trump actually recommended an architect for the Trump tower Moscow that was being pursued by Michael Cohen. So she is very deep in this as well. And there is no evidence yet that she has been brought in to be interviewed by the special counsel. But I can`t imagine that she won`t be questioned about all this. And Donald Trump junior has been telling his associates that he expects to be indicted by the special counsel over what he told Congress about this very deal. He said that he was only peripherally aware that what was going on but that. Of course, may not be the whole story.

MATTHEWS: You know, you have to wonder about motive here, everybody. And just an open question about motive.

Donald Trump may have been pursuing business over there which we know is true. He was trying to make some money in Moscow. He was developing good relations -- sort of a reproach with Putin all that time. Was that reproach meant to encourage his business chances or was, you know, if it`s all about money, that makes it simple.

Anyway, pursuing the Trump tower project in Moscow, Michael Cohen teamed up with Felix Sater, a Russian-born American citizen helping plan Cohen`s trip to Russia and pushing the deal say, he wrote Cohen in 2015 saying our boy could become President of the United States, the USA, and we can engineer it. I will put all of Putin`s team to buy in on this. I will manage this process.

OK. It sounds like mob talk. According to the "Washington Post," Sater also told Cohen he could get President Vladimir Putin to say great things about Trump. Where do I go with this?

Let me go back to Tom on this. Put it together. Money, politics. What, I mean, we are not even talking the dossier for a while now. It is so -- it`s so connected, all this stuff.

WINTER: It really is, Chris. I think that`s kind of the biggest thing that we are trying to figure out at this point. I mean, I think we are all a good six, seven months behind where Robert Mueller actually is in this investigation.

I think really tellingly today, Chris, they decided to set the sentencing for what Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to today for December 12th, which is also the date that he`s going to be sentenced for what he already pleaded guilty to back in August. So just tells me that, hey, you know, we are good with this guy.

To Glenn`s point, they have had seven formal meetings called proffer sessions with Michael Cohen. We have realize that today from the plea agreement that he signed. So it just tells me, Chris, that I think they`re much further along in this investigation than we know. I think Chuck Rosenberg made the point earlier today on our air saying that, look, this is just one of other things that Michael Cohen admitted to, pleaded to.

And so I think when you start to look at all the various dots here, you start to look at -- you start to look at his pattern and a serious of circumstances that raise a lot of questions. And to your point before, why lie about this? Trump today came out, you played a sound bite saying, well, you know, Michael Cohen, he is a liar. He is doing this in order to get time off of his sentence. And then later you have our colleague, Kristen Welker, explaining that apparently the President`s written answers to Donald Trump, according to Donald Trump`s legal team, matches up with what Michael Cohen said today.

So on one hand, you are calling him a liar. On the other you are saying, yes, now we agree with the things -- we always stated the things Michael Cohen is now saying. It doesn`t quite make a lot of sense, Chris.

MATTHEWS: You know, the "Titanic" can make fun of the iceberg but the iceberg won.

Thank you, U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro, Tom Winter, Natasha Bertrand and Glenn Kirschner.

We are going to have much more on this breaking news story.

Tonight, Donald Trump`s fixer admits that he lied to Congress. Is the President starting to feel cornered?

Plus, how long will Republicans stick with Trump? Ohio governor John Kasich weighs in on that tonight.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump`s former personal lawyer and fixer sat in a federal courtroom today and confessed to perjuring himself by lying about a Russia real estate deal in Moscow. Michael Cohen`s lies seemed aimed at minimizing the role of his former boss, Donald Trump, in the Moscow deal, something Trump himself has repeatedly done as well.

Asked about Cohen`s plea today, President Trump tried moving the goalposts. Here he goes.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There would be nothing wrong if I did do it. I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn`t have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business. And why should I lose lots of opportunities?

Even if he was right, it doesn`t matter because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign.


MATTHEWS: But you denied it all, Mr. President. You denied it time and time again.

Anyway, Trump began his day, today, tweeting wild accusations against special counsel Robert Mueller, charging him with leading an illegal Joseph McCarthy-style witch-hunt.

Well, it`s a technique he`s employed over the past two years, waging an aggressive personal campaign against not just Robert Mueller and Michael Cohen, but also his own government, lashing out against findings that Russia was responsible for hacking our democracy.

So, what if -- what is he afraid of? Why does he keep lying?

For more, I`m joined by two people who know Donald Trump well, David Cay Johnston, founder of the and author of "The Making of Donald Trump," and Gwenda Blair, author of "Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a President."

Let me go to Gwenda on this one.

And why the cover-up? We love television here. We`re on it. And we can use it. And you can show all these tapes again and again and again, Trump denying any business dealings during the campaign. Why does he do this stuff? Why does he keep covering up something that smells bad, but wasn`t, he says, illegal?

GWENDA BLAIR, AUTHOR, "THE TRUMPS": Well, there`s a couple of possibilities. Maybe he`s guilty. That`s one.

But another one is -- and it doesn`t preclude the first -- is that I think he`s a long-game guy. He was in long game in real estate. He`s in long game now that he`s in the White House. And the long-game play in the White House is, keep denying, distracting, blaming other people, throwing charges back.

Make it so that we really don`t know what`s going on. Or that`s the intent. And the delegitimatization is really the long game here, so that he delegitimized, you know, conventional mainstream media. He delegitimizes the idea that you look for the facts or the truth or the chain of evidence.

And, in a sense, he`s not delegitimizing himself, but he`s always changing. You can`t catch him, so that there`s a kind of deniability built into everything.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to David.

I mean, lying about something that may not be illegal, I mean, I`m not sure anybody says it is, doing business while you`re running for president, it smells bad because it`s a clear conflict. Why are you saying you`re going to defend the interests of the United States when they go into conflict with Russia, if you`re trying to make money on Russia, offering them condo deals on the side?

I mean, it does look like double dealing. In fact, it is double dealing. But that`s not necessarily illegal. The question is, do you trust him on anything? When he denies the business, well, how about denying the collaboration on the politics end, where his family`s involved with both pieces of it?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, FOUNDER, DCREPORT.ORG: Well, the denials about Russia are no longer at all credible. Even Donald Trump`s strongest supporters should begin to realize this.

And, remember, we`re seeing one thread Mueller put out there today. It`s a powerful and important new piece of information. But there`s a whole tapestry of facts that`s being woven by Mueller and his team.

And Donald Trump tonight, I`m sure, is feeling very, very vexed, because, among other things, what`s happened in just a couple of days here? The prosecutor has shown that Paul Manafort lied and said, we have got evidence to prove he was lying left and right to us. And Donald had already submitted his written questions when this comes out.

And then we have Michael Cohen with this charge that came out of nowhere. And Michael Cohen, same thing, we have e-mails, we have people around you transacting this business.

The Donald Trump denial and distraction and muddy the waters game is not going to continue to work as well.

MATTHEWS: Well, on his way to Argentina today, President Trump was asked why he stuck with Cohen for so long, if he found him as so weak, as he says now. And here`s his answer.


QUESTION: If Cohen is such a bum, why did you hire him, have him on your payroll for 12 years and have him do much of your dirty work like paying off...


TRUMP: Because, a long time ago, he did me a favor. A long time ago, he did me a favor.

QUESTION: Mr. President, is Michael Cohen a threat to your presidency?

TRUMP: Not at all. I`m not worried at all about him.


MATTHEWS: Again, "Godfather" talk, Gwenda. He did me a favor, so I made him my lawyer and fixer for 20-some years, or whatever it was.

He doesn`t -- he obviously faces a lot of bad news coming from the direction of Cohen now. And he has to destroy the guy, like he tried to destroy Maxine Waters, saying low I.Q. He has to destroy what he now sees as a personal enemy, lifetime enemy.

BLAIR: That`s his M.O. You`re useful until you`re not useful. Everybody`s a candidate to be thrown under the bus when they`re not useful anymore. We have had a long string of them.

He did it -- he`s done it all the way through from the start.

MATTHEWS: Who does he trust?

BLAIR: Himself. Himself.

MATTHEWS: Who will stand up for him? Who will take the bullet for him?

BLAIR: Himself. His gut -- he trusts his gut. He doesn`t need experts. He knows what`s right. He knows more than the generals, more than the scientists, more than everybody.

MATTHEWS: David, follow up on that. That`s crazy talk. I mean, that`s crazy -- it`s not crazy talk by Gwenda.

JOHNSTON: Well, but...

MATTHEWS: It`s crazy -- it`s an assessment that says this guy is nuts, that he believes he`s smarter than anybody else on the planet on everything. Solar issues, he`s an expert.


MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

JOHNSTON: If you sat down on a coast-to-coast flight next to Donald, didn`t know who he was, by the time you got to Pittsburgh, you would have concluded that you`re sitting next to a crazy person.

Donald really does believe that he`s smarter than everybody else, he knows more than anybody else. The fact that he`s appallingly ignorant that, he doesn`t know the first thing about economics, even though he has a -- was given a degree in it, he didn`t earn it from Penn -- that`s how Donald sees the world.

And so long as you`re with him, you`re smart, you`re really great. And the minute you turn against him or become useless, just as Gwenda said, now you`re weak and you`re an idiot.

And notice, in the papers that came out today, people very close to Trump, not named directly, but we know who some of them are, they may turn out to be distanced from Donald. It`s perfectly possible we will see Donald throw, for instance, Don Jr. under the bus, if it becomes convenient or significant for him to do so.

MATTHEWS: You know, David, the way you talk -- and I`m serious about this -- I was an altar boy at a mental institution when I was a kid.

It was in our parish, and I would be an altar boy. And I would go in there with these 7,000 inmates. And one of them was a trustee. And he would meet me. And he was the guy that brought the movies in, these old-time big movies. He would bring them in there.

And then finally, during the conversation, he went from being the guy that brought the movies into a Hollywood producer. And then he kept going. And this delusion of ability just kept growing.

JOHNSTON: That`s Donald.

MATTHEWS: That`s what I thought you were talking about, the guy that brought the movies in to a mental institution.

Thank you so much, David, for a little humor there, I think, I hope, Cay Johnston.

Thank you, Gwenda Blair, as well.

Great testimony here from people who have worked with Trump on his own view of himself.

Up next: It`s the moment of truth for the Republican Party. Will Republicans stand up for the rule of law or stand with a president who`s flouting it?

Ohio Governor John Kasich joins us after the break live here at HARDBALL.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are sounding off on the news that President Trump`s former lawyer Michael Cohen today admitted he lied to Congress about a lot of stuff, especially Trump`s business dealings with Russia.

Well, some Republicans downplayed what it could mean for the president. Here they go.


SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: I don`t think at this point that there has been anything that in any way changes the landscape, so to speak, where the president is concerned.

He has argued all along there wasn`t any collusion on the part of his campaign team or his administration with Russia. And I haven`t seen anything that disproves that.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: All I have seen thus far are process crimes. I have yet to see anybody indicted for actually colluding with the Russians. So we will see.

QUESTION: Are you concerned at all that the president has been talking about or hasn`t taken off the table the idea of pardoning some of his associates, like Paul Manafort, potentially like Michael Cohen, when all these sorts of -- the investigations are still going on?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: No, I`m not concerned about that. The president has a right to do whatever he wants to there.


MATTHEWS: The president has a right to do whatever he wants to.

Let me go to Governor John Kasich of Ohio.

Did you just hear that? Did you just hear this? Orrin Hatch is a man of tremendous experience and dignity. And there he is saying the president has a right to say anything he wants.


GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Well, I don`t agree with Orrin. I don`t -- yes, I don`t agree with what Orrin said.

And, look, Chris, for me, you just got to let this whole investigation, you know, be completed. It shouldn`t be interrupted.

And I was thinking about what I wanted to say tonight, and knowing I was going to come on the show. And there are people who are watching this who think, oh, well, you know, Kasich`s happy. Maybe he will run for president.

Chris, this makes me sick to my stomach, all of these things that are happening, because I believe, like you, we love our country, we worry about our country, we worry about, you know, what kind of message this sends to the world.

And -- but, you know, we`re in tribal politics. We see it all the time. And I know, you know, the question is, why does he have 90 percent Republican support? Well, look at the party. It`s shrinking. You know, it`s dramatically lost membership.

And it isn`t with any joy that I say that those House elections, I think the Republicans lost 39 seats. There was a blue wave, something that I thought would happen. However, that was done on the basis of anti-Trump. I still don`t know what the Democrat message was, because I don`t think -- I mean, I know they had one, but it wasn`t very clear.

People are upset in this country. They don`t want to see these kinds of things happening, and the party`s shrinking. Can it be saved? I`m a Republican. We did pretty well out here, Chris. But I run the politics of inclusiveness. You know, we`re up over a half-a-million jobs. We have got money in the bank. We have cut taxes.

But we help people who don`t have much, people who are disabled, people who are mentally ill or drug-addicted. It`s top to bottom. And here, the Republicans did well, unlike almost everywhere else in the Midwest.


KASICH: They did well here.

MATTHEWS: You reelected a -- you elected a successor, Mike DeWine.

Amid calls far Senate vote on a bill to protect the special counsel, Robert Mueller, from President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this week called such a need irrelevant.

Here he goes.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: This is a solution in search of a problem.

The president`s not going to fire Robert Mueller. We have a lot of things to do to try to finish up this year, without taking votes on things that are completely irrelevant to outcomes.


MATTHEWS: Well, Governor, it wouldn`t be hard to pass a resolution to say that the president can`t fire the...

KASICH: Well, I would disagree, Chris. I would...

MATTHEWS: Go ahead. Go ahead.


I would disagree with the fact that this is not relevant. Of course it`s relevant. And we need to get to the bottom of all this. You know, I know there`s a lot of speculation, what does this mean, what does that mean, what does this leak mean, what does this charge mean?

I don`t really know. I don`t study it all every day. But, at the end, there`s going to be a report from Mueller. And that report has to be clear. It cannot be tarnished. It shouldn`t be limited. And I don`t agree with Mitch McConnell when he says that, you know, it`s not relevant.

It`s very relevant, because I would like to see this thing get done. And I hope, when it`s done, that we can then move on. And I hope -- I just -- I don`t wish for bad things for people. That is not the way I operate.

But, Chris, we got to find out what the truth is. We have to find out what the truth is, that simple.

MATTHEWS: Well, among Trump`s recent Twitter activities, this beauty.

It`s a retweet of a picture showing a who`s-who of Trump`s political enemies, if you will, behind bars, suggesting they should all be tried for treason. You can see there President Obama, the Clintons, Robert Mueller, James Comey, Trump`s own deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.

What do you make of that, that he has to put out like a retweet? The president of the United States is showing everybody he doesn`t like as treasonous, behind bars.

KASICH: I think it`s terrible, Chris.

I mean, look, the country`s divided enough. And people are hungering. You know, I just heard it on a call yesterday. I mean, I see it all the time. People are hungering for an end to all this, the name-calling, the chaos.


KASICH: And, you know, when you are the president, you`re putting things out like that -- look, Chris, I`m the governor of the state, the seventh largest state in the country.

I got things that make me mad, get me upset. I`m not going to start putting out a list of people that -- you know, that are my enemies or something. I mean, I thought we got over that when Nixon left, you know, no more enemies lists.

You got to work with people, sometimes even when you don`t like them. I mean, it`s just a matter of fact. It`s life.

MATTHEWS: You know, I have grown up with your party, with the Democratic Party. My family`s mostly in your party. My brothers, I think two or three, depending on what day you talk to them, are Republicans.

I have to tell you that I grew up with people like Tom Ridge, the governor of Pennsylvania, and Christie Todd Whitman, and all kind...


MATTHEWS: Governor Rockefeller. All kinds of regular Republicans. They were not right -- crazy right tribalists. So here`s the question to you.


KASICH: Well, how about this? Wait a minute. How about Ronald Reagan? Wait a minute. How about Ronald Reagan? You knew him.

MATTHEWS: OK. I knew him.


KASICH: I love those people you mentioned.

MATTHEWS: Well, I knew him from the other side. I saw him inferentially.

Let me ask you about you. Last time around, I met you up in New Hampshire, and you called me off into a side room. And I don`t think it was off the record. And you were very optimistic that you could win the nomination up in New Hampshire.

I think you have got good relations with the newspaper up there. Where would you stop Trump, if you were to challenge? Would it be New Hampshire? Where would any Republican have a shot at saying, OK, this is not the real Republican Party of Ronald Reagan even, you`re not our guy?

KASICH: Yes. Well...

MATTHEWS: Who -- where`s that going to start?

KASICH: I`m saying -- I`m saying all the time and have been -- and sometimes it`s been lonely -- that this is not the Republican Party that I knew and I joined.

It`s -- our party is pro-trade, pro-immigrant, believes that our connections and allies around the world are critically important, not only for our security, but world security and world peace.

We believe -- I believe -- I`m doing a piece right now, writing a piece for "The Washington Post" on the deficit and the debt.


KASICH: When did we not care about debt?


KASICH: So I`m doing my darndest to try to pull things together.


KASICH: And, Chris, look at what I have done in Ohio. It`s not about talk. Look at what I do.

MATTHEWS: I`m with you.

KASICH: That`s what matters.

MATTHEWS: That`s why you`re here.

Let me ask you. Anybody can write an op-ed piece who can write. But here`s the question to you.


MATTHEWS: Fourteen months from now, not a million years from now, about 14 months from now, New Hampshire`s going to have a primary.


MATTHEWS: Will you be there to take on Trump?

KASICH: Oh, I don`t know. And you know this. I have answered. I`m very seriously considering all of my options.


KASICH: And we will see, Chris.

MATTHEWS: What would stop you from running?

KASICH: There`s a lot of things that have to develop.

MATTHEWS: What would stop you from running?

KASICH: If I -- if I thought that I would not make an impact, if I did not think that it was something where I could contribute to the goodness of our country.


KASICH: But you know what?

MATTHEWS: We will be there to cover you.

KASICH: I`m going to have many ways to contribute.

MATTHEWS: We will be there to cover you. We will be there to cover you...

KASICH: OK. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: ... in New Hampshire. It`s a -- it will be cold, but it`s already...

KASICH: Always with those HARDBALL questions.


MATTHEWS: It`s already cold. So, it might as well be cold New Hampshire.

Governor John Kasich, merry Christmas to you, sir.

KASICH: Merry Christmas to you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: The Democrats will face their own moment of truth in January, when they take control of the House of Representatives. And that`s going to happen. They have got the win, a 40-seat pickup.

What will Democrats do with that power? What can they do to ensure that Mueller is allowed to completely complete his investigation, as Republican Governor John Kasich says he must be able to do? And America is allowed to see the results of that investigation in its entirety? The full report for everybody to read.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



The big news today is Michael Cohen`s admission, confession that he lied to Congress about a Trump deal, a real estate deal over in Moscow. It`s called the Moscow project.

But a month from now, the president will face a Democratic-led House of Representatives.

How will they use their subpoena power to dig deeper into Trump`s business relationships with Russia?

Let`s bring in tonight`s roundtable. Illinois Democratic Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, who just got elected today chair of the DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is a really big deal. Eugene Robinson, he`s a big deal, too, columnist for the "Washington Post." And John Brabender, surprisingly sharp for a Republican.

Let me ask you this. You must be having your -- the new power, when Nixon got re-elected in `72, he told Colson, oh my God, I lost the subpoena power again.

You have it in your hands. What are you going to find about Trump`s business dealings in Russia?

REP. CHERI BUSTOS (D-IL), DCCC CHAIR: Well, as of January 3rd, we have in our hands. You know, here`s the thing, we`ve got three incoming chairmen. We have Jerry Nadler, who will take over Judiciary, Adam Schiff, intelligence, and Elijah Cummings on oversight.

They are three very smart men. They are very good men. They are very fair men. I have complete confidence they will be driven by finding the truth. And I think we`ll be in good shape. I think our country will be in good shape.

MATTHEWS: If you were the grand inquisitor, where would you go, Gene? Because it does seem a lot of stuff going on there.

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, yes, I mean, you know, and actually, I don`t know where I would go because I don`t know what -- you know, I don`t know what Adam Schiff knows, for example, about those hearings.

MATTHEWS: We just heard tonight --

ROBINSON: We haven`t been allowed to find out --

MATTHEWS: Kristen Welker today found out he apparently -- Putin was promised a really nice condo in this new hotel over there.

ROBINSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: I mean, these little -- little tributes are interesting.

ROBINSON: From what we learned today, you know, one place you have to go is the Trump organization, and it seems to me you have to take a look at, you know, tax returns, Trump organization`s dealings, because what`s been described is, you know, seems to violate the Emoluments Clause to me, potentially.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he was running to drum up more business or drumming up more business because he thought he was going to lose?

ROBINSON: Look, I think it was all about the family business.

MATTHEWS: John Brabender, your thoughts?

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Every time I`m on a show the Democrats seem excited about the breaking news about the day --

MATTHEWS: Republicans right --


BRABENDER: Well, what we learned today is Michael Cohen says they were talking to the Russians after Iowa and Donald Trump said it was before Iowa and there`s nothing illegal about that. I mean, so --

MATTHEWS: Why did he cover it up? Why lie about --

BRABENDER: He didn`t want it to be a political storm. I don`t know why Michael Cohen did but --

MATTHEWS: He did a lot of lying about this.


BRABENDER: Wait a minute, nobody cares about Michael Cohen. Everybody cares about the president.

MATTHEWS: Why did Trump deny it? Again and again today. We have it on tape.

BRABENDER: Let me ask you this. By him denying it, is that illegal? The answer is probably not.

MATTHEWS: Why did he lie if he didn`t have to?

BRABENDER: I can`t tell --


MATTHEWS: You got to help me here, he`s your guy, come on.

BRABENDER: What I can tell you is, this isn`t one of those smokes guns where all of a sudden, people, Democrats are going to be out in the streets. What he said isn`t illegal, even if he did lie.

MATTHEWS: It`s probably not illegal for Roger Stone to know weeks before the DNC --


BRABENDER: We just got out of a campaign.

MATTHEWS: All this suggests collaboration.

BRABENDER: I didn`t see anywhere in exit polls where people said what we really need more around here is more investigations, more hearings.

MATTHEWS: OK. You`re a young man. Let me warn you of something.

BRABENDER: Thank you for saying that. I appreciate you.

MATTHEWS: I want to tell you something, in 1972 when Nixon got re-elected, nobody cared about Watergate either.

ROBINSON: That`s true.

MATTHEWS: The voters didn`t care. They gave him 49 states. What`s it like to be powerful, by the way, Congresswoman?

BUSTOS: I don`t know.

MATTHEWS: You are, you`re chair of the DCCC.

BUSTOS: You tell me.

MATTHEWS: Meanwhile, President Trump canceled his meeting with Vladimir Putin today at the G20 meeting down in Buenos Aires. Tweeting today, based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I`ve decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously -- he didn`t write this, this reads like the government of the United States -- previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin. I look forward to a meaningful summit again as soon as this situation is resolved.

Trump`s tweet refers to Russia`s seizures of three Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea last weekend. This came an hour after the president told reporters in the midst of questions about Michael Cohen`s guilty plea that now was, quote, a good time to meet with the Russian president.

Gene, who`s in charge here?

ROBINSON: Well, look --

MATTHEWS: That was not written by Donald Trump. That we know.

ROBINSON: Of course not. You know, what looks to have happened is the most plausible thing. I imagine that his national security team have been trying to get him in a meeting to explain to him, probably for a week now, why he shouldn`t have this meeting, and they finally got him on the plane and they finally, you know, and sat him down and explained why it would be absurd for him to have this buddy/buddy meeting with Putin.

BRABENDER: Yes, but let`s have --

ROBINSON: At a time when he`s once again being aggressive toward Ukraine.

BRABENDER: Come on. Let`s be fair to the president. You`re familiar with the "Washington Post." On Tuesday, the president told the "Washington Post" that there was a good chance this meeting would be canceled because of what happened on the weekend, and he wanted to wait and see --


MATTHEWS: OK. You guys withhold for a moment because we have an elected official here.

I want to ask you, if you could describe, if you were speaker, you were in charge of deciding how the Democrats use the new portion of the federal government they`re going to control, as of January 3rd, you know, parties have made the mistake of spending all their time, back after World War II, the Republicans got control of the House for the first time in years, they used it to all they did was hold hearings.

BUSTOS: We can`t do that.

MATTHEWS: So what happens?

BUSTOS: We made a pledge to the American public the first thing we would do is focus on health care, bringing down the cost of health care and prescription drugs, that we would rebuild our country with a real trillion dollar infrastructure package.


BUSTOS: And number three, we would clean up this mess in Washington. But we`re talking about the dark money in politics. To Gene`s reference earlier, we got a problem with abuse of the emoluments clause. I can tell you back in the 17th district of Illinois, though, we don`t go around talking about the Emoluments Clause. We just talk about making Washington work.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask Gene, then John. Who do you think the best picks are for the Democratic nominee against Trump in 2020? Best picks.

ROBINSON: You know, Sherrod Brown --


ROBINSON: -- is an interesting possibility. He won against the tide in Ohio. He, you know, he won his race. And I think he`s a real possibility.

Kamala Harris, who is really, really, really talented politician. I just think she`s got --

MATTHEWS: Is that a ticket? Is that a ticket right there? is that a ticket right there?

ROBINSON: Could be a ticket.

MATTHEWS: Ohio, California.

ROBINSON: My third choice is candidate X, because there`s somebody out there.


BRABENDER: I don`t know who the best opponent is, but who I will emerge, I do think Beto O`Rourke is very credible. I think he will.

Senator Harris is very credible, great story.

And the third one, possibly, is Senator Amy Klobuchar.

MATTHEWS: I think Klobuchar, I like all this thinking. What comes through, the Democrat needs a woman on the ticket.

BUSTOS: I`m all in favor.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, a possibility, Eugene Robinson, and John Brabender, you`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: When we come back, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch". It`s the tale of two towers, both Trump Towers, one in Moscow, one in New York.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEW: "Trump Watch", Thursday, November 29th, 2018.

I`d like to end tonight with the tale of two towers. The first tower, the one Trump wanted to build in Moscow, was about a business deal to make him richer. The Moscow Project, his associates called it, about building a gold plated Trump Tower in the Russian capital. It`s a deal Trump denied being involved with, certainly not during the 2016 election.

The second Trump Tower was the meeting place for that June 2016 get- together of his son and namesake with Putin`s representative to talk about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. Politics, not money was the name of that game.

But from the beginning of this tale of two towers the meetings in these two buildings had one thing in common, Trump has denied them both. He`s denied being in on any business dealings with Russia, he`s denied knowing anything about his son Donald Jr.`s meeting with the Russian rep in the Trump Tower in Manhattan.

But don`t stop there, Trump recently denied knowing anything about the change in the Republican platform to meet Russia`s demands. He`s denied knowing anything about Russia`s hacking in the Democratic National Committee. He`s denied knowing anything about Russia`s interference in the 2016 campaign at all.

And yet, and yet there`s the fact now these other witnesses coming forward, like that of his fixer, Michael Cohen who now confesses to have lied, of having perjured himself when he told Congress that Trump was not engaged in Moscow business dealings during his campaign for the presidency, which is adorned with the title, of course, leader of the free world.

Wouldn`t it have been useful for voters to know that Trump was playing business tycoon with Russia at the very same time he was speaking voter support for standing up to Russia? Wouldn`t it be useful for our country to have a president who comes clean with the people who made him president?

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.