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Mueller expected to release Flynn sentencing memo. TRANSCRIPT: 12/4/18, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews

Guests: John Brennan, Michael Isikoff, Jonathan Swan, Amy Klobuchar, Donna Edwards

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Are we coming to the end?  Let`s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews from Washington. 

Tonight we are awaiting what could be bombshell news out of the special counsel`s investigation.  At any moment now Robert Mueller`s prosecutors will file a key memo in the sentencing of Trump`s former national security adviser Michael Flynn.  A memo that could answer the question at the heart of the Russia probe.  Did the Trump campaign collaborate with Moscow to beat Hillary Clinton? 

As one of the first witnesses to flip against the President, Michael Flynn has been cooperating with federal investigators for over a year.  In fact, he appears to be so valuable as a witness that the special counsel delayed his sentencing four times. 

As a former top adviser to the President, both on the campaign trail and in the White House briefly, Flynn was in a position to know firsthand about any collaboration, collusion with the Russian government, which could include a quid pro quo for sanctions relief. 

In fact, Flynn came to the campaign with his own connections to Vladimir Putin.  In 2015, there he is, he famously attended a dinner with the Russian autocrat to celebrate the Kremlin`s state-run news network.  There`s something to celebrate. 

Anyway, Flynn pleaded guilty last year to one count of making false statements to the FBI after lying to investigators about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.  Specifically, Flynn told the FBI that he did not discuss U.S. sanctions with the ambassador when, in fact, he had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.  The question is, why did he lie?  Why would Flynn commit a felony, perjure himself, to cover it up? 

As a potential reckoning draws near, the President`s recent behavior has raised new questions about obstruction of justice and witness tampering as well.  Yesterday, the President attacked a cooperating witness while encouraging another key figure to remain silent.  In a tweet Trump slammed Michael Cohen saying he makes up stories to get a great normally reduced deal for himself.  He then praised Roger Stone for promising not testifying against him saying, nice to know some people still have guts. 

I`m joined now with the former director of the CIA, John Brennan. 

Mr. Director, thank you about this.  I was thinking late this afternoon as we await this memo from the special prosecutor, is it possible that Michael Flynn, who was brought in as Trump`s foreign policy adviser, national security adviser, the works, throughout the campaign, in fact, he wanted him to be his national security adviser, to run all foreign policy, didn`t know there was collaboration with the Russians if there was? 

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR:  It`s possible that mike Flynn was kept out of some of the aspects of the campaign and interactions with the Russians.  Mike Flynn knows foreign policy and so, therefore, he was looked to for his advice on that front.  But there might have been some things going on behind the scenes about how to influence the American electorate that Mike might not have been aware of.  Maybe he encountered some of it.  That`s why I think the Mueller team is trying to do, is find out exactly what Michael Flynn knew during the campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  What would be the motive for him lying about it, for example, saying we didn`t talk sanctions - I didn`t talk sanctions with the Russian ambassador when he did? 

BRENNAN:  Well, I think Mike probably realized when he was being questioned the first time that he made a mistake and then he shouldn`t have been talking to the Russians. 

MATTHEWS:  Why was that a mistake? 

BRENNAN:  Well, if it was, in fact, something that he felt that he shouldn`t have been doing because it was engaging with the Russians in a manner that was inappropriate during the period of time before the inauguration -- and I don`t know the circumstances under which Mike had interacted with folks.  I know some things, but who knows what was behind Michael`s decision to lie to investigators. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of Trump`s behavior, the President -- now the President, where he goes to certain witnesses and says, keep a stiff upper lip, don`t talk, you are my guy, and then trashes the integrity of anybody like Michael Flynn who does squawk, if you will, in mob terminology? 

BRENNAN:  Well, I think just what you said, mob terminology because it`s almost a mob environment and mob attitude, trying to influence those individuals who might think about cooperating, praising those who have stood firm and trashing those who have spoken out of school.  I think it is so typical Trump and so typical mob --

MATTHEWS:  Well, it is right out of "Godfather II" where, you know, Robert goes to the prison and tells the guys they are afraid they are going to talk, frankly five angels and tells him if he commits suicide, basically, his family will be left alone.  It`s not that bad yet. 

BRENNAN:  No, but it`s not surprising in terms of how Trump has operated, I think, through the years.  And so, as he became, you know, President-elect, I think he was continuing to use some of these tactics.  And now as things get a little more difficult for him, and dealing with an investigation that will not go away, despite his best interest and best wishes, he is now I think resorting to whatever tactic he can to try to convince individuals that stick by me, you know, ride it out, we will be fine here.  But I think less and less he has able to convince people about that. 

MATTHEWS:  You have worked with real presidents, presidents who have follow some sort of the norms. 

BRENNAN:  Yes, I have. 

MATTHEWS:  How much of an outlaw is this one? 

BRENNAN:  Total outlier.  Total. 

MATTHEWS:  How about an outlaw? 

BRENNAN:  I think that`s what Bob Mueller is going to decide, whether there`s been criminal activity here.  But certainly he is not doing things the way, I think, most presidents have done them in the past, especially from the standpoint of trying to protect his own interest as well as his, you know, his family`s interest, his business interest while he is in the oval office.  I have never seen that in any President I`ve worked with before. 

MATTHEWS:  What comes first, the chicken or the egg in this case, is it the money in Russia, which is why he went after the Miss Universe contest, he wanted to build the tower over there, he kept up those relations and business efforts all through his campaign, at least for the summer, early summer of 2016.  At the same time he sort of wanted to be President.  What was his guiding motive, do you think, money or power? 

BRENNAN:  Well, I think it was both, but I don`t think he was expecting to be elected president.  And that`s why throughout the course of the campaign, he was keeping a lot of those business fires burning in anticipation that he was going to be able to capitalize on his increased notoriety. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did he run if he didn`t expect to win? 

BRENNAN:  Well, I think it was part of his branding efforts.  He has always trying to increase his profile.  And being Republican candidate for the President of the United States, that certainly gave him more notoriety than he has ever had in the past.  So I think he was hoping to be able to exploit that after he was defeated. 

MATTHEWS:  So, political famous cash in the bank. 

BRENNAN:  Absolutely, especially on the international front.  And it`s clear he was going after the Russian target for many, many years. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, Michael Flynn`s legal problems began during the presidential transition when he discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador in late December.  I think December 28th.  About two weeks later on January 15th, vice president Pence publicly denied sanctions were discussed in Flynn`s conversations.  Let`s watch the VP here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Did Mike Flynn ever discuss lifting sanctions in any of those conversations, do you know? 

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I talked to General Flynn yesterday.  And the conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to new U.S. sanctions. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the problem was that Flynn had lied to the vice president before he went on that show on Sunday with Chris Wallace.  Anyway, Flynn then repeated that lie to the FBI in an interview on January 24th, again covering up the nature of his conversation with the Russian ambassador. 

President Trump first learned that Flynn speak to the FBI on January 26th.  And it was just a day later that Trump asked FBI director James Comey, I remember this one, for his personal loyalty to Donald Trump.  And two weeks after that, Flynn was fired for lying to the vice president.  And the next day, on February 14th, Trump asked James Comey to drop the FBI`s investigation of Flynn. 

We are now also joined right now by Harry Litman, a former federal prosecutor and Natasha Bertrand, she is staff writer of "the Atlantic."  Thank you so much. 

Harry, what do you make of Michael Flynn?  I do believe - I mean, the director here said -- director Brennan says it`s possible that he wouldn`t know some of this stuff, perhaps the business end of things.  But the (INAUDIBLE) thing, the quid pro quo regarding sanctions, I think Michael Flynn is right in the middle of it. 

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Yes.  It seems like it, Chris.  I mean, he repeatedly during Trump`s inaugural address is sending out a text saying, the sanctions are going to be off.  We are going to be OK.  And need to do a nuclear deal that involves Turkey but required the sanctions to go. 

I mean, we are going to find out what you make of him, but he has been this missing man for, you know, a year and a half.  And he now resurfaces, having cooperated in obviously many, many of the cases.  And, of course, he started at the sort of the first strike involving collusion.  Mueller, thereafter, went far and wide with other witnesses and now he is returning to the topic that Flynn first told him about. 

And especially the point you made at the end, the Valentine`s Day request to Comey, can you drop this thing?  Flynn likely knows the backdrop there, including what Trump knew about what the FBI was investigating.  That could really pin obstruction of justice charges on the President. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, when a guy or person is under control of the FBI, under control of the special prosecutor for a year, give me a sense of what it`s like.  You basically have a vacuum cleaner going into your head for any possible -- do they go at it again and again and again to granulate any information that might help their case?  Tell me how it works because this guy Flynn has been in the box with these guys for an awful long time now. 

LITMAN:  The short answer is, yes.  Conversation after conversation first just to kind of establish trust and get the ground rules.  But then repeatedly, session after session, including any time you are thinking of charging him or using him, you go over it again and again, typically from a position now of trust or more collegiality. 

We just learned about Cohen`s 70 hours of conversation with the prosecutors.  People were stunned.  But that`s not so much.  You sit down and have conversation after conversation.  Once you are cooperating, the prosecution owns you.  And they want to make sure every single particular is precisely right because any discrepancy at all could be fodder for the defense on the other side to really attack your credibility. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it`s clearly a great drama trying to figure out how Michael Flynn will be used.  Michael Flynn was this President`s number one guy.  He was going to be his foreign policy guru.  He was going to be his Henry Kissinger.  And now he is state`s witness against him. 

Natasha, this is drama.  We are expecting it to percolate to a boil tonight some time when that report comes out.  How does this fit into the story of Donald Trump`s investigation, rather, his being investigated? 

NATASHA BERTRAND, REPORTER, THE ATLANTIC:  Yes, so Michael Flynn is really at the center of multiple inquiries, as we have pointed out.  He is at the center of whether the campaign conspired with Russia so lift sanctions and exchange for some kind of help during the election.  And he is also very pivotal to the investigation in whether the President tried to obstruct justice.  So in that way he is very dangerous for President Trump at this moment. 

I do think it`s -- it`s not -- it shouldn`t be understated the extent to which when Michael Flynn lied to the FBI.  He was also, perhaps, trying to protect himself because as Harry alluded to, he was also pursuing a nuclear deal to build nuclear reactors across the Middle East with Russia`s help that would have required lifting sanctions on Russia.  So, this was not completely out of -- he didn`t lie to the FBI completely out of loyalty to the President.  We are not even sure that he has such a thing. 

So, I think that when considering whether or not -- or to the extent to which he has been cooperating fully with the special counsel, I think that self-preservation is key here.  And, of course, the question of whether or not the President tried to obstruct justice, the President kind of said that out in the open when he tweeted earlier this year that he had fired Michael Flynn because he had lied to the FBI.  Now, of course, people jumped on that because the President had said earlier that he didn`t know that Michael Flynn had lied to the FBI before he fired him.  So, that was just another area where it seemed like a kind of Freudian slip that the President was owning up to. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I accept the fact he had his own interest but he wasn`t out exactly robbing gas stations.  This guy was doing things that warmed up Putin just like he was warming him up for Trump. 

As a Trump surrogate in fact during the 2016 campaign, Flynn was best known for leading chants of lock her up, that`s a sweet line given all these context, at the Republican national convention.  Here he goes in his gig for Trump. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR:  Lock her up, that`s right.  Yes, that`s right.  Lock her up!  You guys are good.  Damn right.  Exactly right.  There`s nothing wrong with that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Again, I want to go back to a public servant, John Brennan. 

That says to me -- I know this bothers people.  It sounds a little politically incorrect, but that`s the kind of crap you expect from a third world brand-new nation, a democracy where every time you win an election, you put the other guys in jail.  And every time you lose an election you say it`s rigged.  It`s just the language of the other sides are all criminals and your side has been robbed because there`s no confidence in our institutions. 

Here is a guy standing at a Republican convention saying the candidate for the Republican -- or the other side should go to jail.  Not just be defeated on November, but go to prison.  For no crime that anybody can think of that Hillary Clinton committed.  I don`t know what it was.  Benghazi?  They keep making up this stuff. 

BRENNAN:  I think many of us who were watching the convention that night who know Mike Flynn personally were very disappointed in the way he was just brought into is that partisan whirlpool and, you know, engaging in that chanting of lock her up.  Because you are exactly right, that`s not what we expect of individuals. 

First of all, those who wore a uniform.  But secondly, those who are part of a process, an electoral process here that is supposed to maintain some degree of decorum and calling for the former secretary of state, you know, to be locked up, you know, absence, you know, the type of process, again, that we expect --

MATTHEWS:  A process?  How about a crime?  And how about an indictment?  How about some reason to say, lock her up, except you don`t like her and you are running against her. 

BRENNAN:  No.  Well, they were pointing to the email issue. 

MATTHEWS:  I know what is, but it is the one. 

Let me ask you about this while I have you here.  Great guest.  I want to have all three of you talk about this. 

This thing with Khashoggi.  Now, you know what the phrase we all grew up with plausible deniability.  Why is this President -- maybe you know the answer.  I`m asking the answer.  Give me the answer.  Why is he and his secretary of state and secretary of defense and all the people at the top refusing to listen to the tape of the torture and death of Khashoggi over there in Turkey?  Are they doing it just so they can say, well, there`s doubt?  Why are they not helping the truth come out? 

BRENNAN:  I don`t think they need to listen to the tape to be convinced that Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.  There is I think ample evidence and certainly Gina Haspel laid out on the Hill today --

MATTHEWS:  The CIA director. 

BRENNAN:  Laid out the evidence to the committee to the leadership there.  But I think there has been ample evidence so far that this was something that was directed by Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.  And they just don`t want to abandon him.  I think Trump has put down the order that they are going to stick with him because of the relationship they have established with him. 

MATTHEWS:  What do they want?  They want a deal for Israel?  What`s Trump up to deny the obvious truth of this murder? 

BRENNAN:  I don`t know.  It defies logic.  I`m surprised that Jim Mattis has stood so strongly by the White House on this.  I`m not surprised that Mike Pompeo has.  Mike Pompeo will do what Donald Trump wants.  But it`s clear, again, Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.  And I think what we need to do is to tell Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman needs to be held to account.  He needs to be arrested.  He needs to be incarcerated.  He needs to be held responsible for the --

MATTHEWS:  Maybe beheaded is the right answer. 

Anyway, thank you, John.  That`s what they do over there. 

Thank you, Natasha Bertrand and Harry Litman.  Thank you sir, especially you for coming in here today. 

We are awaiting the release of the Mike Flynn sentencing memo any minute now.  We will bring it to you as soon as it comes out.  This is going to be the blockbuster, I think, not just for the week but the months ahead, I think.  But we will see when it comes out tonight. 

Coming up, we are nearing Mueller`s end game.  Are we?  I think so.  A new media reports suggest the special counsel is showing signs of wrapping up his investigation.  How will President Trump handle that pressure? 

Plus, the legacy of George Herbert Walker Bush.  Senator Amy Klobuchar comes here from Minnesota, a Democrat, to discuss the former president`s passing and why it looks to many like the end of a pretty good era in American politics. 

And the North Carolina district nine congressional race is still being contested.  Are we seeing a case of voter fevery (ph)?  I think so. 

Finally, let me finish tonight with that American moment in the capitol rotunda.  What a sight that was as Bob Dole standing up for his colleague and friend, George Herbert Walker Bush. 

This is HARDBALL, where the action is. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The sentencing memo in the case of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is the first in a series, a series of court documents this week that could disclose new details in special counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation.

This coming Friday, Mueller`s team will file two additional memos -- catch this -- one with potential details regarding former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and a similar memo from the president -- about the former president`s former lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen, seems who to be driving from crazy.

President Trump kicked off the week yesterday attacking the special counsel on Twitter, writing; "Bob Mueller (who is a much different man than people think)" -- that`s in parenthesis -- "and his out of control band of angry Democrats don`t want the truth.  They only want lies.  The truth is very bad for their mission" -- close quote. 

But Yahoo News reports this week`s court filings could be part of a signal that Mueller`s investigation is preparing its endgame, noting that -- quote -- "Trump`s (sic) prosecutors have told defense lawyers in recent weeks that they are `tying up loose ends` in their investigation, providing the clearest clues yet that the long-running probe into Russia`s interference in the 2016 election may be coming to its climax potentially in the next few weeks."

I`m joined right now by the author of that report, Michael Isikoff, the chief investigative correspondent at Yahoo News, and also Jonathan Swan, Washington -- national political reporter for Axios. 

So, both of you, gentlemen, starting with Michael, who wrote the story here, we had these three memos coming out this week involving, it seems to me, all three people, by the way, Manafort, Flynn and Cohen, all involved with the Russian end.  I`m not sure that tells us anything.

Are we getting to the end of the collusion piece of this, the obstruction piece, or the whole shebang?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, YAHOO NEWS:  Well, we`re certainly likely to be getting towards the end, if not the end, of the obstruction phase of the investigation, and I think probably even on the collusion one as well. 

Look, I think we`re going to learn more this week than we have learned in the last year-and-a-half about what Mueller has been told.

MATTHEWS:  Love it.  Love it. 

ISIKOFF:  These are the most high-profile, crucial cooperating defendants. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Will we know if there was collusion this week, from a Mueller point of view?

ISIKOFF:  You know, I mean, look, that`s a whole other question, how you define collusion. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

ISIKOFF:  It`s an elastic term.  It can be defined in many ways.

MATTHEWS:  You`re the expert.

Is it possible -- I ask...

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  But here`s the thing.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ISIKOFF:  Look, if -- Mueller is going to put, I think, a lot of information, a lot of details in here.

But if he was getting information from any of these three that was going to lead to other cases, they wouldn`t be going through sentencing.  The normal way prosecutors do it is, if you have a cooperating witness who`s pled guilty, you don`t do sentencing until you`re through with all the cases that that cooperator has helped you bring.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what`s a file then?  What is memo?  What is a filing mean?

ISIKOFF:  No, this is for sentencing.  This is for sentencing. 

So the fact that they haven`t asked for more delays on sentencing on Cohen and Flynn -- they asked for four delays on Flynn, but now they`re not asking for any more delays -- is a sign to me that they`re not expecting to bring additional cases based on what they have told them.

MATTHEWS:  Against these guys?

ISIKOFF:  Against anybody who they have fingered as a result. 

Now, with Flynn, it`s most likely relating to obstruction, what he knew about the conversations with Kislyak, his conversations with Trump, what contacts he had with Trump after he left the White House.  All that`s very key to an obstruction case.

But that would be something Mueller would put in a report, not bring in a criminal case.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s go -- let`s narrow it down.

Let`s go down to what we know, which is that Trump tried to get Comey, then FBI -- or -- FBI director, the drop this case, to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn.  He said he`s a good guy, give him a break. 

He also then fired the guy when he wouldn`t play ball with him.  So is that going to be the interstices of what Flynn can report on, what Trump was talking to him about while he`s doing all this with Comey?

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS:  Well, sure.

I mean, that -- you have got right to the heart of it.

But what we -- we haven`t heard from Flynn in a long time.  I mean, he was -- was it December 17 he was...

ISIKOFF:  Yes, it was practically a year ago, yes.

SWAN:  It`s practically a year ago.  This guy has been silent for a year. 

We know he`s been cooperating because Mueller keeps delaying.  Is it four delays, I think, so far?

ISIKOFF:  Four delays.

SWAN:  Four delays.  So he keeps giving them more. 

We don`t know what he`s been giving them.  We haven`t heard anything from Flynn.  And, yes, obstruction is obviously part of it, but Flynn was by his side on the campaign.  He was flying around with Trump on that jet.  They were talking in the campaign. 

  So, anything that happened during the campaign that potentially had something to do with foreign influence...

MATTHEWS:  That`s what I think. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me try this by both of you.  And I tried this by the director, by Director Brennan. 

ISIKOFF:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it really plausible that Flynn didn`t know that the hanky panky was going on with Russia, with the sanctions and all that, if Trump was involved with it?

ISIKOFF:  Well, look...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, if there was collaboration over policy, not money, he would have known about it? 

ISIKOFF:  No doubt. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Right?

SWAN:  No doubt.

MATTHEWS:  No doubt.

ISIKOFF:  You had that incredibly compelling document last week with Michael Cohen, where we learned for the first time that Michael Cohen, a representative of the Trump Organization, was in communication with Vladimir Putin`s office during the campaign.

That was new.  That was highly significant.

MATTHEWS:  According to his press secretary, who said, I have the phone calls here from the guy, the e-mails. 

ISIKOFF:  Right, right, right. 

But that was the Trump Organization.  Flynn may not have had any insight into that.  There`s no reason to think he would. 

But, remember, you know, under Department of Justice policy, they can`t indict the president.  Mueller can`t do that.  So, all he can do with this information that he`s gotten from all these people is then put it in some sort of report, right, that will go to now Matthew Whitaker. 

What happens after that is -- you know, that`s a jump ball with Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.

ISIKOFF:  But he will probably try to put as much as he can in these sentencing memos, which is why I think they`re so important. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Trump spent part of yesterday tweeting about Michael Cohen, about Cohen`s attorneys -- after the Cohen attorneys filed a memo requesting no prison time, due to Cohen`s cooperation with Mueller and three other investigations into Trump and his inner circle. 

So, Trump doesn`t like the fact that this guy is getting off for squawking.  Well, "The New York Times" reports of Cohen`s motivation, writing that, all of those in Mueller`s crosshairs -- quote -- "Cohen has undertaken perhaps the most surprising and risky legal strategy in cooperating."

The report goes on to say: "He did all this without first obtaining a traditional ironclad deal under which the government would commit to seeking leniency on his behalf."

So, this is fascinating to me.  Cohen has basically decided he`s left the ship, he`s left Trump, he`s on the other side now.  He said, I`m putting all my money on, I`m going to bring down Trump.  I`m going to tell all the truth I got, with the hope that, somewhere down the road, I maybe spend a couple years in prison, but I`m going to be better off for being against Trump than being with him. 

SWAN:  According to people who have spoken to Michael Cohen in the last few months, he felt personally betrayed.  He felt that he had done everything for Trump, and then was iced out when it really came down to it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But before the prosecutions.  He was iced out because he wasn`t getting a job. 

SWAN:  It was a sort of a slower process.  I think he thought he was going to get a job and then didn`t. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SWAN:  But the point is, Cohen clearly now -- it`s personal.  It`s beyond - - yes, he`s going to give it all up, but he sees his path to redemption as bringing down Trump, as putting everything out there that he has. 

MATTHEWS:  Michael, you agree with that? 

ISIKOFF:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It`s war between Cohen and Trump. 

ISIKOFF:  Right. 

And you know what I think this calls for?  Congress has really dropped the ball here.  We have had no public hearings of any of the key fact witnesses.

MATTHEWS:  You mean the Republican-controlled Congress.  Let`s be honest.

ISIKOFF:  Republican-controlled, but, OK, now it`s the Democrats in the House are going to have the opportunity. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they haven`t got there yet.

ISIKOFF:  They should be calling Michael Cohen in January to testify, in public, under oath, tell the whole story of every conversation he`s had with Donald Trump. 

MATTHEWS:  What can Congress do that Mueller hasn`t been able to do, though, in terms of getting at the truth? 

ISIKOFF:  Air it for the world, so we can all know and make our own determination about what it adds up to. 

MATTHEWS:  For the world, yes.

I would put my money on Robert Mueller over Congress to get the job done. 

ISIKOFF:  Well, but Mueller`s brief is very narrow.  It`s to make criminal cases.  It`s up to Congress to inform the public about what`s really happening. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we shouldn`t prejudge. 

Let`s hope that Congress, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, the chairman of the Reform Committee do their job. 

Michael Isikoff has made it pointedly clear. 

Jonathan Swan, thank you both. 

You`re the best, buddy. 

Mike -- no, he is. 

You`re good, too. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SWAN:  I thought you were saying about me, the best. 

MATTHEWS:  No, no, because he`s been around the years. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He`s so damn good.  He`s so damn good. 

ISIKOFF:  Not as long as you, Chris. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, you`re so damn good.

SWAN:  You guys should get a room. 

ISIKOFF:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is that...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Doing the comedy here? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Senator Amy Klobuchar will come here and talk seriously, compared to this, to talk about what she calls the grace and dignity with which the late President George Herbert Walker Bush treated his friends and, more importantly, his rivals. 

I want to hear a little of this from a good Democrat, Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Members of the public visited the Capitol Rotunda today -- I joined them, by the way -- to pay our respects to the 41st president, including former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who, in a powerful moment, stood.  Look at him.  He`s getting helped out of his wheelchair.

He`s an older man.  And he`s got a lot of war wounds that are still working on him seriously.  And he wanted to show man-to-man respect, person-to- person respect there to the man he ran against in 1988 in the Republican primaries. 

And that was one tough primary campaign. 

There`s been a lot of outpouring of praise for the former president coming from both sides of the aisle.  I was very impressed, both sides. 

Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar joins us right now.  She commemorated George Herbert Walker Bush`s commitment to bipartisanship today.  Let`s watch her in action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA:  For George H.W. Bush, patriotism was bigger than political rivalries. 

President Bush was someone who fought hard on the campaign trail, but, once the votes were cast, he understood the underlying truth of America, that people with different political views are not enemies, and that, when all is said and done, we can come together to advance the cause of America, not tear it down. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I`m a fan of yours. 

So, I`m asking you the toughest question I give anybody.  What can you, a Democratic senator who is very well-known and respected, do to bring this country, despite the fact we have Trump as president -- is there any way the country can improve, despite having him as president?

Or does he continue -- does he have the power to keep bringing us down by himself? 

KLOBUCHAR:  I think that already started, Chris, with this last election, where you saw record turnouts of people that came out and said, enough is enough, moderate Republicans, independents, Democrats, young people.

MATTHEWS:  Women.

KLOBUCHAR:  Women.

They said, we want a different America, we want civility.  And look at the numbers.  Look at the new people we elected.  So, I think that`s the first step. 

The second is to continue, despite the bad tweets, despite the statements, to look not just for common ground, but to have that bring us to a higher ground. 

And we can do something right now, like right now, in the next two weeks.  We can pass criminal justice reform, something that has support on the left and the right and is long overdue.  We can get that farm bill done.

MATTHEWS:  Have you talked to the president about that?

KLOBUCHAR:  I actually have -- I don`t think I have talked to him directly.  I have certainly talked to his family members about it.  I have talked to his staff about it. 

I have had dinner with people on his staff about it, with Senator Durbin and others, because I feel so strongly that it needs to get done.

MATTHEWS:  I`m a big Durbin fan.

Anyway, meanwhile, on the sleaze side, Roger Stone said today, in response to a request from the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which you`re a member, ranking member Dianne Feinstein, to her, he says he plans to plead the Fifth Amendment, saying he will not provide documents or appear for an interview before the committee. 

What do you make of that?  This is the guy that is at the heart of a lot of this stuff with Russia and WikiLeaks and the whole works.  And he says, I`m not talking. 

KLOBUCHAR:  Yes, we`re trying to figure this out, because this request actually came many, many months before, over a year before, and this was out of the blue -- I have talked to some of the staff members about this -- that he sent this response in. 

So, the thought is, why is he suddenly saying he will plead the Fifth?  Well, maybe he`s trying to send a message to Adam Schiff in the House, if they start hearings. Maybe he`s trying to send a message to Mueller.  We really don`t know. 

But what I do know is that we have to allow this investigation to continue.  This is an investigation of a foreign power that tried to influence our election, that tried to hack into our equipment.  And this is about our democracy.  And so that is our number one goal right now.

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of democracy, this election coming up, it`s going -- for president is going to begin. 

We all know, from history, it starts next January.  It`s a couple months from now.  That`s a year from the primaries already.  It seems to me that everybody knows that the fight is going to be in the battleground, the middle of the country.  It`s going to be Minnesota, which almost went for Trump by a point-and-a-half.  Of course, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Ohio all went for Trump. 

How do you win it back?  You have the personality to do it.  But how do -- do you have the toughness?  You got to take on Joe Biden maybe.  He says he`s the best prepared.

KLOBUCHAR:  All right, well, first of all, let`s -- let`s start there. 

Joe -- everyone loves Joe.

MATTHEWS:  He said it today.

KLOBUCHAR:  He was an incredible vice president. 

And what he said was that he was experienced.  That is a true fact.  And he said he`s going to talk about to his family about it.

MATTHEWS:  He said he`s the best prepared, the best.

KLOBUCHAR:  OK.

He has a lot of experience for this job.  And that`s all he said.  And I`m not going to go criticize this guy, because he`s an incredible patriot.

We go to the next thing.  There`s going to be a lot of people running.  But I do think it`s important that there are people running from the Midwest.  The Midwest came roaring back in 2018.

MATTHEWS:  How about you?

KLOBUCHAR:  I`m considering it.  There`s a number of people considering it.

MATTHEWS:  What would stop you?

KLOBUCHAR:  Look, it is a daunting task to make that decision.  You have to decide that you would be a good president, that you could bring the country together, that you would be able to beat Donald Trump or whoever the other party put on.

But to do it right, I really think you have to do what I said at the beginning.  You have to find common ground -- and I do have that track record -- but for the purpose of bringing this country to a higher ground. 

When you think of George H.W. Bush, you think of what he did, I saw that clip of Bob Dole.  I hadn`t seen it until I watched it on your show.  It was George H.W. Bush who then pushed for the passage of the American With Disabilities Act, against a lot of the people in his party who didn`t want to do it.

MATTHEWS:  For Bob. For Bob.

KLOBUCHAR:  Mm-hmm.

You look at what he did on the environment with the Clean Water Act.  You look at what we`re facing right now. 

And we need leadership that`s willing to take on those tough causes, like climate change.  George H.W. Bush, he did that.  He saw his party as a party of conservation, a party of not just people who are fighting off change.  He saw it as, you have got to find your moments and reach across the aisle and get things done.

So, that`s what I think we need to do right now, when you look at this major challenge of climate change and everything else we`re facing. 

So, when we pause for a moment tomorrow at this funeral, we have to remember that this is a person that we have to recognize not just in words, but we then have to go back and do the deeds, which is passing these important bills.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think you convinced -- do you think you convinced me?  You do? 

(LAUGHTER)

KLOBUCHAR:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you just did.  I was very -- I`m going to read that statement again, what you -- I do think that`s the exact tone to beat this guy, if he runs again.

KLOBUCHAR:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Exactly.  And I do think come from the part of the country that seems to be more important than any other part, because the South is going to stay Republican.  The West -- the Left Coast will stay Democrat.  The East will stay, but it`s the middle America, of the Midwest and the industrial northern Middle West that is going to decide these elections. 

And you have the accent and the manner and the personality and the politics. 

KLOBUCHAR:  And I think you need a little humor to take this guy because I`m telling you, you just take this guy and go down every rabbit hole, that`s --

MATTHEWS:  I want you to come up with a nickname for him. 

Anyway, thank you, Amy Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, very important senator especially as she continues with this effort at bipartisanship to get things like criminal reform.  We knew that.

Up next, senators on both sides of the aisle say there`s no question that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, an American reporter. 

Plus, the latest on what looks like vote stealing, let`s call it what it is, in North Carolina. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Allegations of vote stealing in North Carolina`s ninth congressional district continue to swirl and evidence of vote theft in Bladen County.  Yesterday, a local North Carolina affiliate, WSOC, spoke to a woman who seemed to be part of a targeted effort to illegally pick up absentee ballots in the county. 

According to a new report out today, a second woman now confirms that she, too, was paid to collect completed absentee ballots, not knowing if they were delivered to the county board of elections.  Some guy or woman comes along and says, I want your unfilled out or filled out absentee ballot and hauls it off. 

According to a sworn affidavit, one political character, I`ll say, McCrae Dowless, is at the center of the scheme.  He denies any wrongdoing.  On Capitol Hill, the incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters today that Democrats might refuse to seat Harris unless and until substantial questions are resolved.  He told "The Washington Post," quote, the House has, as you know, the authority over the propriety of the election. 

For more, I`m joined by the HARDBALL roundtable tonight.  Katty Kay, Washington anchor for BBC News and an MSNBC contributor, former Democratic congresswoman of Maryland, Donna Edwards, and Michael Steele, former RNC chair. 

Who`s the biggest politician here?  You two are politicians.

I have to ask you, Donna, I don`t know much.  I hear about it once in a while.  I generally think American elections are clean, in other words, your votes get counted, generally.  We don`t have rigging like Trump talks about and some new democracies have it. 

This looks like the old stuff, you know, typing in -- send me a ballot and you get the ballot and the next day someone shows up and says, you got your ballot.  If it`s got the wrong information or the wrong votes, they throw it in the trash can.  If it hasn`t been filled out, they fill it out for their guy and they cash it in and put it into the system. 

DONNA EDWARDS (D-MD), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN:  Well, you know, you talk to plenty of voters, and I have, who don`t like to file absentee ballots because they`re afraid of exactly that.  I mean, keep in mind that the elections are conducted county by county and then the state.  And so, you could see that it -- that if someone were nefarious, it would be easy to manipulate. 

Here, you have real evidence.  People saying, I was paid to do "X" and to change ballots.  We don`t know how much that took place across the state or whether it was just confined to these two counties. 

MATTHEWS:  It`s an African-American county.  They went to older people.  You know how it works.  They go to people trusting of public officials.  They`re older, 87 years by, I`ll collect the ballot, you don`t have to pay the postage or whatever.  They look official. 

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  They look official, sound official and acting, quote, in an official capacity to help this senior citizen.  The sad part of this narrative is this was taking advantage of a segment of the population, elderly folks in particular.  It`s particularly ironic that my party, which often enlarges -- you know, lays these charges at the feet of Democrats are the ones behind this particular nefarious act. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, it`s changed.  Life has changed.  In the old days, Democrats ran the big ethnic cities and they played the old games.

STEELE:  Right, right.

MATTHEWS:  Now your party is trying to save itself with a diminishing demographic reality. 

STEELE:  In a district that is a plus D district, a Democratic district, and you`ve got more absentee voters than you have population.  It`s crazy. 

KATTY KAY, WASHINGTON ANCHOR, BBC NEWS:  Doesn`t look very smart, right?  If you`re going to do election fraud, do it a little smarter.  They left a trail of witnesses.  They have more absentee ballots than people. 

STETELE:  I want to get into this international thing.  Earlier today, CIA Director Gina Haspel who seems like a straight arrow briefed a small group of reporters on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi over in Turkey.  Emerging from the briefing, the senators said they were convinced after listening to her, the CIA director, that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was responsible for the killing and some even rebuked, well, rebuked the Trump administration for its response -- its lack of response, its deniability.  Let`s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE:  If he was in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes. 

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people in -- under the command of MBS.  As to Pompeo and Mattis, I have great respect for them.  I would imagine if they were Democrat -- in a Democratic administration, I would be all over them for being in the pocket of Saudi Arabia, but since I have such respect for them, I`m going to assume they`re being good soldiers. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow, that was so sarcastic by Lindsey basically saying they`re lying. 

Well, just last week, the administration made a concerted effort to dismiss the link between the murder of Khashoggi and the crown prince.  Let`s watch their cover game here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You can conclude that maybe he did or maybe he didn`t. 

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  There is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to murder Jamal Khashoggi. 

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY:  We have no smoking gun that the crown prince was involved. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I`m so impressed.  I shouldn`t say this because I`ll be sarcastic, that Lindsey Graham finally said, I`m not going along with this crowd on this one. 

KAY:  Yes, he`s been saying this for a while.  Not only did he say, I think the crown prince is behind this, he also threw Pompeo and Jim Mattis under the bus by saying effectively they are using intelligence for political means.  Whether they can actually now do anything about this because anything they vote on in the Senate can get vetoed by the president, who`s made it clear he`s going to put that relationship first.  But it was striking that the White House didn`t want Gina Haspel to go up and testify there.  They sent up Mike Pompeo last week.

MATTHEWS:  Good for her. 

KAY:  She goes up and they don`t come out of that --

MATTHEWS:  I love it.  You know, I got to want to both of you two, this question of, why is -- I always wonder why people do things to get them this trouble.  Why are we defending a killer? 

EDWARDS:  Well, it`s such a good question.  It leaves open the question of whether Donald Trump is doing this because of other motivations --

MATTHEWS:  How about this, the grand deal involving the Soviets --

EDWARDS:  Financial interest.  And let me tell you something --

MATTHEWS:  And somehow they`re going to get the protector of Mecca, to somehow protect the Israel`s right to the holy -- are you crazy?  It`s a loony tune idea, I think. 

EDWARDS:  Well, MBS is clearly -- I mean, he is behind this.  He ordered it.  These senators know that.  And I think that there are things, in fact, that Democrats can do particularly when they come in the house and call for a full briefing of the House and the Senate so that everybody`s on the same page about what this intelligence is. 

STEELE:  Yes, I`d echo that.  I think right now, I appreciate getting in front of cameras and expressing outrage.  But now, show me your walk.  Show me what we`re going to do.  Is there resolution?  Is there a bill, House and Senate together?

KAY:  Is there a bill the president doesn`t veto?  If sanctions --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Extradite the prince.  Put him in a caboose. 

Thank you, Katty Kay.  Thank you, Donna Edwards and Michael Steele. 

Up next, Joe Biden says he`s the most qualified person to be president.  Does that mean he`s running?  Sounds like it. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Former Vice President Joe Biden seems to be inching closer to making a decision on running for 2020.  During a stop on his book tour in Missoula, Montana, he told a roomful of people, I think I`m the most qualified person in the country to be president. 

  When asked if the fact that he was prone to gaffes would turn people off, he said: I may be a gaffe machine, but my god, what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can`t tell the truth. 

When we return tonight, let me finish tonight with the American moment some of us saw at the capitol today.  What a sight.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with that American moment today in the Capitol.

Bob Dole, the Republican leader who never got to be president, saluting George Bush who did.  Theirs was quite a rumble back in the day. 

Bush, then the vice president, ran a TV ad that excoriated Dole, then a Kansas senator, for trying to have it both ways on a tax bill.  It was called the straddle ad.  It made Dole looked like he lacked the guts to take a stand. 

Dole didn`t like it.  When NBC`s Tom Brokaw asked if he who had just lost a New Hampshire primary had a message for the candidate who had just won, he did -- tell him to stop lying about my record. 

I remember that moment.  And though I know it made Dole look bad, I always thought he had a reason to be riled.  After all, we`re talking about a guy who got shot and permanently handicapped when carrying a wounded fellow soldier through German gunfire, that`s not a good candidate to insinuate he`s afraid to show his colors, something that that Bush ad did do.

Today, Bob Dole got up from his wheelchair however to salute the other guy, the other World War II vet, the greatest generation -- our colleague Tom Brokaw christened them.  And there they were today, the living, the lost, both firmly in the American scroll of honor. 

That`s HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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