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All living presidents attend memorial service. TRANSCRIPT: 12/5/18, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews

Guests: Janet Bewley, Charlie Sykes, John Warner, Mike Quigley

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  A get out of jail card.  Let`s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

President Trump`s former national security adviser, General Michael Flynn has told all to investigators.  It`s now clear that Flynn who once served Trump on the campaign, the transition and early in the administration is a valuable witness for the prosecution.  It`s also clear that for Flynn his cooperation is paying off.  It already has, in fact, the special counsel last night fought a highly-anticipated sentencing memorandum that shows Flynn has been extremely useful to Mueller`s investigation, crediting Flynn with quote "substantially assisting the government.  Prosecutors recommended little to no jail time saying that a sentence does that does not impose a term of incarceration is appropriate and warranted."  Wow. 

Well, the special counsel praised the timeliness saying it likely affected the decisions of related first-hand witnesses to be forthcoming with the special counsel`s office.  He add then detailing the nature of Flynn`s assistance was partially sealed due to the sensitivity of the investigations which are described as ongoing. 

That means that the most crucial pages, the pages that could provide key answers to the central questions of the Russia probe are largely redacted, you can see it there in the page, from the public report that was released last night.  However, we have learned that Flynn participated 19 interviews with the special counsel and other government lawyers and that he provided firsthand information about the content and context of interactions between the Trump transition team and Russian government officials. 

  Most surprisingly, it reveals Flynn was assisted with several ongoing investigations, including two outside the special counsel`s probe.  That includes a previously unknown criminal investigation in another inquiry, both of which are almost entirely redacted in this report. 

I`m joined by Ben Wittes, editor-in-chief of "Law Fair."  Eli Stokols is a White House reporter for the "L.A. Times," Susan del Percio, Republican strategist and Mike Quigley, a Democratic congressman from Illinois who sits on the House intelligence committee. 

I want to go to on this Ben.  What do you make on this?  Last night we expected a bombshell, instead we got a big teasing document with a lot of reacted material that tells this guy is a canary.  He is saying everything.  He is telling Mueller everything he needs to know about the relationship between Trump and the Russian ambassador and all that stuff that went on yet we have to figure out what`s going on between the lines here. 

BEN WITTES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF LAW FAIR:  Everything -- so clearly what Mueller decided to do here was he needed to communicate to the court what recommendation he was going to make with respect to Flynn.  He needed to communicate that Flynn had given him everything that he could reasonably want from him.  And he didn`t want, yet, to tell the public what he knows, what he has found, what he has planning to do.  So the document is a very careful, as you say, tease in which it outlines sort of the mechanics of what Flynn has done, 19 interviews, substantially assisting in multiple investigations and encouraged other witnesses by his example to come forward.  But doesn`t actually say anything that he said.  And so it leaves all of that to another day. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Quigley, thanks for joining us.  Could you use this report last night as kind of a flashlight, the point forward as to what Mueller`s got here?  Where he is headed? 

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  I think what`s striking is, what, 17 months into the investigation we are still learning the width and depth of what the special counsel is looking into.  And why does Flynn matter?  For those who forget, let`s just remember what director Comey told us.  That the President himself asked him to go easy on Flynn or the -- what would it take to let it go. 

Obviously, there`s a lot of stake here.  And we have to remember when what general Flynn was accused of.  It was lying to the justice department or the FBI about his meeting with the Russians on lifting sanctions.  News stories all day long, all week long, about what those sanctions mattered to the President about.  So I`ll say this, there`s no coincidences in the Russian investigation and apparently everything is tied together. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the President has been characteristically silent on the memo since its release yesterday.  His lawyer, Rudy Giuliani said of Flynn, if he had information to share with Mueller that hurt the President, you would know it by now.  He added, there is a Yiddish toward that fits, they don`t have bupkis.  Anyway, we will see what that`s worth. 

Let me go to Susan on this.  You worked with Rudy.  I don`t take this for anything.  He is using Yiddish, firs of all.  He doesn`t have anything to say so he is using Yiddish.  I think he gave us bupkis.  I don`t think he had anything to say except he is trying to flack here. 

SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, Chris, I think he is meshugena. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, good. 

DEL PERCIO:  That`s my Yiddish on being a little crazy.  The President`s only legal strategy right now is deflection.  So of course Rudy Giuliani goes out there and just says that will make the President happy.  That is they have nothing because that`s what they have been doing all along.  And that`s what the fundamental problem with this White House is in handling this investigation is that they simply go out and just speak when they don`t know what they are talking about.  And I think this is going to lead them to, you know, digging themselves a bigger grave than what they already have because they don`t know what they are responding to. 

MATTHEWS:  Eli, let me ask you about this.  From the beginning, we know the story of the possible obstruction of justice began when the President went to see Comey, the head of the FBI and said lay off Flynn.  Let him go.  Well, now Flynn has been let go ironically.  He got what Trump was asking for.  He`s walking scot-free right now.  What do you think he had to give him to get that get out of jail card? 

ELI STOKOLS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, from what we were told 70 hours or so of interviews with the special counsel about his time and his conversations you would have to think with the President during the transition, during the campaign.  So that can detail -- we don`t know what the nature of those conversations are yet.  A lot of that staff is probably what has been --. 

MATTHEWS:  But we know the questions they have asked because they asked about what about your relations with a Russian enjoy, with Kislyak?  What would you talking him about - talking about - sanctions about, what were the deals you were making? 

STOKOLS:  Right.  Exactly.  So the obviously is something that they talk about, the fact that it is redacted tells you that so much in this report has redacted.  Tells you there is a lot of interesting things, a lot of shoes left to fall here in this investigation.  I mean, the President and people around him have been telling themselves and telling the public that this is about to wrap up for some time, almost a sort to make themselves feel like they can engineer it by saying it.  That`s not the case.  And this sentencing memo seems to be an indication that this is not anywhere close to being over just yet.  There are possibly more indictments.  There are possibly more big developments. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Ben, tell me what else do you think is going on here?  Because according to the document we got last night, it`s not just the Russia investigation, there`s other criminal investigations, there is other perhaps civil actions, something going.  They are really working this guy Flynn for information to get people. 

WITTES:  Yes.  So Flynn, you know, was involved in a lot of stuff.  He was involved in stuff during the transition that is of interest to the special counsel.  He was involved with Russia stuff from before that, right?  He was involved --

MATTHEWS:  You saw him in the dinner over there.

  WITTES:  Exactly.  He was also involved in some very weird activities as a private lobbyist for Turkey. 

MATTHEWS:  For Turkey, yes. 

WITTES:  Yes.  And you know, so I think there`s a variety of matters that both the special counsel and the justice department would be interesting in talking to him about.  Now, what those are, you can see where they are in the document, a criminal matter and then a big blank spot.  You can see where it is but what those consist of, nobody knows.  Bob Mueller doesn`t want us to know yet and, you know, he runs a really tight ship and we just don`t know yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, I`m wondering about how much information that has fled already to the President through Whitaker, his acting AG.  If Whitaker got ahold of this documents before they were redacted, he would know a lot of stuff that we would like to know right now and he could walk it over the President and say guess what, Donald, here is what we got.  Here were they are working.  Did they know, does Whitaker know what`s on this redaction? 

QUIGLEY:  Obviously the appointment of Mr. Whitaker was meant to, at the very least, slow or hinder the investigation if not obstruct or end the investigation.  So the fact that he`s there and potentially, we just don`t know, has access to the redacted words in this document is particularly of concern.  If he turned it over to the President, at the very least they would be wildly unethical if not violation of the department of justice regulations.  And we have to ask ourselves and Congress needs to find out did he do this and has the President asked for this information?  What communication is taking place?  And obviously if the President asks for it, it would be another one of his abuse of powers. 

MATTHEWS:  Right, but he`s not been - he has not recused himself, Whitaker, at all.  Why wouldn`t he just ask Mueller`s team?  Let me look at that un- redacted. I want to know what`s in there. 

STOKOLS:  Right.  That`s been his sort of - reflects his behavior. 

QUIGLEY:  Again, because it is unethical. 

MATTHEWS:  Unethical. 

STOKOLS:  Yes.  I mean, that`s what Trump has done at the various points.  He has tried to just paper over things and he has made the situation a whole lot worse at different points.  We are talking about the situation in terms of what conversations Flynn had with Kislyak during the transition.  And the central question being whether he was directed by Trump?  Did Trump know about these things, the conversation?  Trump was down in Mar-a-Lago when Flynn was having these conversations. 

But Trump, after Russia decided not to respond to Obama expelling some of the Russian diplomats, Trump tweeted "I knew Putin was very smart."  So he has already put information out there into the public realm already that is at the very least suspicious. 

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of suspicious, former Trump adviser Roger Stone, who may be Mueller`s next target, is declining to cooperate with a Senate investigation by asserting his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.  Here`s what Stone said about the scrutiny he`s been from the special counsel and the Congress. 


ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  I think few Americans could withstand the kind of legal proctological examination Mister Mueller has had me under for two years.  I`m not going to stop defending myself.  I think in American, when people accuse you publicly of wrongdoing and you are silent, there`s an immediate assumption that you are guilty of something.  I think it`s incumbent on you to get out there and defend yourself with the truth. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You are going to plea the fifth if you get called by the Senate? 

STONE:  I`m going to assert my Fifth Amendment rights as a better way to put. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, it is a different way of putting it but it is putting the same point out there.  Stone`s decision to plea the fifth is especially notable because of what Trump said after the FBI`s investigation of Hillary Clinton`s emails.  Here`s Trump on the Fifth Amendment. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Her staffers taking the Fifth Amendment.  How about that?  So there are five people taking the Fifth Amendment, like you see on the mob, right?  You see the mob takes the fifth.  If you are innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment? 


MATTHEWS:  Is he asking that to Roger Stone? 

Anyway, Stone`s decision to stay silent and take the fifth also comes after the President on Monday praised Stone on twitter for promising not to testify against him. 

Susan, let`s talk about this here because why would Roger Stone take the fifth if he says I have got nothing to use in prosecuting Trump, anything I say will be honest, it is not going to hurt him.  Who is he protecting?  Himself, I guess. 

DEL PERCIO:  Well, that and the President to some extent in that every time that the President is under major scrutiny as in we saw with the document yesterday with Flynn, Roger Stone pops up and makes more noise as to detract from some of the real scrutiny that the President is under.  So I think this is actually one of these political tactic by Roger Stone who likes to get his name out there and cause a diversion. 

One of the things that I am actually concern about is looking back at Flynn and also Michael Cohen because also they have one new person that they both have in common which is Don McGahn.  And he sat there for 30 hours giving testimony. 

Michael Cohen`s statement said that he kept White House counsel apprised of what he was doing.  And we also know that Sally Yates went to Don McGahn on Michael Flynn.  I would be focused on those 30 hours because it seems to me that Don McGahn is the one who can verify and not be a tainted witness for Mueller.  So I think that`s where we should keep our focus on, not Roger Stone who seems to just like to show up and make noise. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he is fascinating. 

Thank you Ben Wittes.

Thank you, Eli Stokols, Susan del Percio and U.S. congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois. 

Coming up, Democrats in Wisconsin, like in Illinois, are calling it a power grab.  Overnight the Republican-led legislature out there passed several bills meant to take power away from the newly elected Democratic governor and state attorney general, both Democrats.  We are going to talk to a Wisconsin state senator about this power grab by the lame duck Republicans. 

Plus, it was an emotional day of celebration and remembrance for the 41st President, George Herbert Walker Bush.  We are going to have the highlights coming up. 

And much of special counsel Robert Mueller`s probe remains a mystery and the Michael Flynn filing last night didn`t really clear things up.  It just teased a lot.  What does it mean for Trump and those close to him? 

Plus, let me finish with a strong suggestion for Beto O`Rourke.  You will know what it is. 

This is HARDBALL where the action is. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In the dark of night the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature approved the sweeping package of bills weakening the powers of the incoming Democratic governor and the incoming Democratic attorney general of the state.  Republicans spent much of last night working behind closed doors until roughly 4:00 in the morning when they unveiled their final bill. 

The lame duck legislation, among other things, will limit early voting, thereby suppressing the vote.  It also gives lawmakers new power to block the governors who voted to make rules to enact laws and puts lawmakers, not the attorney general, in charge of litigation allowing them to keep alive a lawsuit to overturn, guess what, the affordable care act.  The bill passed both chambers amid cries of "shame" from outraged onlookers and state residents.  Let`s watch. 


STATE SEN. FRED RISER (D), WISCONSIN:  Let`s face it, the Republicans this year are very poor losers. 

STATE SEN. JANET BEWLEY (D), WISCONSIN:  The people spoke, Walker lost, and now we are here to change the law so that you can claim some sort of victory.  Claiming a victory that you do not have by changing law to accomplish the things that are completely contrary to what the winners campaigned on is disgraceful. 

STATE SEN. CALEB FROSTMAN (D), WISCONSIN:  I have been sick to my stomach this entire time and weak in the knees.  And I find it pretty telling that not a single member of the majority has spoken on any of these bills. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, ahead of the vote, the Republican assembly speaker Robin Voss defended the lead for legislation. 


SPEAKER ROBIN VOS (R), WISCONSIN STATE ASSEMBLY:  We don`t believe any one individual should have the opportunity to come in and with a stroke of the pen eliminate laws that have been passed by our legislature. 


MATTHEWS:  Any individual.  He is talking about the new governor.  Any, the bill now heads to outgoing Governor Scott Walker`s desk who signal head would, of course, support the bill. 

Senate Republicans in Michigan are advancing similar legislation during the lame-duck session this fall. 

For more, I`m joined by Wisconsin state senator and assistant minority leader Janet Bewley and Charlie Sykes, contributing editor at the "Weekly Standard." 

Senator, thank you so much.  Give us a sense of is this something -- I always look to Wisconsin as one of the clean states, at least historically.  It was progressive, obviously.  It believed in good government, clean elections, honest votes, all the good stuff.  About 20-some years ago, 30 maybe, it started to get corrupted by a hard-right faction coming in there.

Is there something wrong with Wisconsin now, that they are screwing around with...


MATTHEWS:  ... this lame-duck session?  What`s going on?  

BEWLEY:  Well, first of all, thank you very much, Chris, for having me on.  It`s great to be joined by Charlie as well.

Let me -- let me state, first of all, that Wisconsin is a wonderful state, and there are many, many people in our state who are working hard, like I am, to make sure that the will of the people is heard.

What we have seen is the actions of the Republican majority at this time.  I wish I could say that the Republican majority is acting according to the will and the demeanor of the people, but they`re, frankly, not.

They lost an election.  They`re sore losers.  And they want to change the law so that they can continue to be involved. 

And we are listening, the Democrats and I, very, very clearly to the will of the people.  And we`re going to do everything we can to make sure that their will is heard and followed through.

MATTHEWS:  Well, some of this is usual suspects, Charlie, stuff like limiting the amount of early voting.  I mean, Republicans like to close the window on voting as much, as tightly as possible, so only lesser people come to show up.

This other thing about making it harder to protect Obamacare, it looks like they`re just going through everything that they care about and acting like they won the election by pulling these legislative tricks. 

CHARLIE SYKES, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Yes, it`s likely the restriction early voting will be thrown out by a federal judge.

Look, like, Napoleon once said that it was worse than a crime.  It was a blunder.  And what the Republicans have done has really been a self- inflicted wound, because this comes off as petty, vindictive, and I think it will backfire. 

And I`m hoping that Scott Walker will step back and take a moment of reflection and veto this legislation.  And the argument that I would make to him, if he ever listened to me anymore, would be, look, look at the way George H.W. Bush is being remembered and the way that he handled his transition after his very, very bitter defeat by Bill Clinton, the grace with which he handed over power. 

And I do think that Governor Walker needs to reflect on the kind of legacy he`s going to leave, because, look, this is a power grab.  And, ultimately, either it`s going to be thrown out by the courts, or it`s -- believe it or not, it`s relatively minor stuff.

The advantage they gain just is not worth what they look like to the rest of the country.  And I don`t think he fully probably grasps at this moment how bad this looks, what it will mean for his image and for his legacy. 

And if he wants to step back and say, you know, having watched the funeral of President Bush, this would be a moment to celebrate democracy, which is to celebrate the norms and the peaceful and reasonable transition of power, and if he did that and he vetoed it, I think there would be a tremendous amount of goodwill gained.

MATTHEWS:  So, you`re hoping he will skip the Mickey Mouse stuff.

BEWLEY:  Well, and...

MATTHEWS:  Let me go look at this. 

Last month, during the midterm election in November, Wisconsin Democrats won all five of the statewide offices that were up for grabs, all five.  In fact, Democrats won 53 percent of the popular vote for the Wisconsin State Assembly, but due to political gerrymandering, they only 36 percent of the seats.

Senator, that`s a problem, and -- but how are they misusing it?  Give me an -- tell me what it`s like for them to basically distort the will of the people, act like they won the election and be able to use tricks to get what they want done, against what the Democrats ran on.

BEWLEY:  Well, if you think -- if you look at this extraordinary session alone, it is a lame-duck session, but it was called before the November 6 election.

And you have an issue, which was Kimberly-Clark, ostensibly the reason why this session was called.  Nothing was done about Kimberly-Clark.  Instead, they changed it, so that they were able to get through these issues that they wanted to address at the very, very last minute. 

And there are two things to keep in mind here.  One, the people were not included in any of this.  They had no idea that this was going to happen until the very last minute.  We received bills that were fresh off the printer. 

And not only that.  Once these bills are enacted into law, if the governor chooses not to veto them, we have great expenses.  The amount of money that the lawyers who can be hired now by the legislature and the Senate any time the attorney general does something they don`t want, they can intervene.

And the amount of money they can spend is endless.  These are private law firms that they will now be allowed to hire, when we have in place an attorney general and a constitutional office to protect law and order in our state.  And yet the Republicans can go out and hire private attorneys with a limitless checking -- checking account. 


MATTHEWS:  Charlie, what do you think of 2020 in Wisconsin? 

Tell me.  You`re the political expert.  You talk to people all the time out there.

SYKES:  Yes.   

MATTHEWS:  What is your sense of Wisconsin being in play?  I mean, it was one of the Trump states, but not so much -- by so much, like Michigan and Pennsylvania. 

Is Wisconsin winnable by a Democrat? 

SYKES:  Yes, it is. 

And, in fact, the kicker, sort of the buried lede of what happened in the dark of the night, very, very early morning, is that, having pushed through all this legislation, the Republican legislature killed the bill they had promised to pass protecting preexisting conditions. 

That was a huge issue in this campaign.


SYKES:  And Governor Walker and almost every elected official running in Wisconsin, recognizing how important that was, said, we will absolutely pass legislation protecting preexisting conditions. 

So, on top of everything else that we`re talking about, that, I think, is going to hang on their -- hang on them.

Look, this energizes the Democratic base.  There`s no question about it.  This poisons the atmosphere.  And Wisconsin is -- remains a purple state.  And nothing the Republicans have done in the last 48 hours has strengthened their hand in 2020. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much.

Wisconsin State Senator Janet Bewley, thank you.  Please come back on the program. 

Charlie, you`re always welcome.  I love your analysis. 

Up next -- Wisconsin is clearly in play.

Up next:  The current and former presidents gathered in Washington today to celebrate the life of one of their own.

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Well, today in Washington, and across the country, of course, was a day of celebration and remembrance of the life of President George Herbert Walker Bush. 

The casket carrying the body of the 41st president left the U.S. Capitol in the morning, where tens of thousand had paid their final respects.  The motorcade made one final drive down Pennsylvania Avenue, passing the White House -- there it does -- a place Bush once called home.

Well, the Washington National Cathedral was filled by family, friends and dignitaries from home and abroad.  There`s Prince Charles -- you see them there -- talking with Colin Powell.  And there`s German Chancellor Angela Merkel with senator Bob Corker.  There she is on the right.

Also in the cathedral were all the living former presidents, along with President Trump and first lady Melania.  They`re all together. 

The tributes were paid to the man that once held the office in the land.  Let`s watch.


JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL BIOGRAPHER:  George Herbert Walker Bush was America`s last great soldier statesman, a 20th century founding father.

BRIAN MULRONEY, FORMER CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER:  I believe it will be said that no occupant of the Oval Office was more courageous, more principled, and more honorable than George Herbert Walker Bush.

ALAN SIMPSON (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  He often said, when the really tough choices come, it`s the country, not me.  It`s not about Democrats or Republicans.  It`s for our country that I have fought for.



Well, former President George W. Bush offered a solemn and poignant send- off, not just to a fallen president, but, of course, to his dad.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Last Friday, when I was told he had minutes to live, I called him.  The guy who answered the phone said, "He -- I think he can hear you, but he hasn`t said anything for most of the day."

I said, "Dad, I love you, and you`ve been a wonderful father."

And the last words he would ever say on Earth were, "I love you, too."

So, through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter could ask. 

And in our grief, let us smile, knowing that dad is hugging Robin and holding mom`s hand again.


MATTHEWS:  I`m joined right now by former Senator John Warner of Virginia.

Senator Warner, I had to have you on.  You`re a World War II guy, a Korea guy.  You know Bob Dole.


MATTHEWS:  And you saw him stood up yesterday for his old colleague.

WARNER:  Oh, that was a moving...


WARNER:  He`s a marvelous American.

I knew him very well.  I`m always humbled to be in his presence.

MATTHEWS:  Bob Dole?

WARNER:  Oh, yes. 

I was over and having lunch with him the other day, just the two of us and one or two of his staff.  We reminisced about the old times.  And he finds it, as much as I do, tough to understand what happened to all that wonderful political structure we once had in this country, be it Republican or Democrat, and how we got along and got things done. 

But, you know, the key to it, Chris, is that in the period that Dole and I were in the Senate together, which was about 30 years I was there, 70 percent of the senators were veterans.  And they were taught, either in the Army, Navy, or the Air Force or whatever, or the Marine Corps, duty, honor, country, was tattooed on their heart. 

And you never get over that.  And you know that you have got to do things and get things done to move forward.  And you know you have got to learn how to respect the man or the woman on your right or your left, because, if they fail to do their job someday, it could be your life. 

Those are the fundamentals. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you World War II guys knew how to work together. 

WARNER:  Well, we did.

But generations of young men and women now in service, I just respect them as equally as I did the old grunts I mixed up with.

MATTHEWS:  What was it like in the church, the National Cathedral today?  Was there a mood in there?  Or how would you describe it?

WARNER:  It was absolutely, quietly serene and dignified, just a little bit of chatter, people waiting for the ceremony to start.

It was -- you just got absorbed in it from the moment the organ struck its first notes. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you surprised at how bipartisan at least today was?  It was like a battle truce.

WARNER:  No, that doesn`t surprise me. 


WARNER:  Because I think that bipartisanship, we saw it with all the presidents and the first ladies there today.  There were a few tense moments, not that I saw all of it.  But you did, perhaps. 

MATTHEWS:  I`m looking for it. 

WARNER:  Well, they were there, and they were very dignified about it... 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WARNER:  ... knowing they have feelings.


MATTHEWS:  Well, it`s hard for someone like Mrs. Clinton. 

WARNER:  Oh, it`s terribly hard for her. 

MATTHEWS:  Because the way that he`s been trashing her. 


WARNER:  Well, not only that, but there`s a question of how it was done. 


WARNER:  It`s not a proud chapter in our history, this race.

And I think, fortunately, our democratic system is working.  And we`re going to get to the bottom of this thing, how and what did happen and did not happen.  I`m confident of that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let`s talk about George Herbert Walker Bush, because you knew him.

And what do you think he wants to be remembered by? 

WARNER:  Just to be a man that is owing everything to pay back to this country. 

He was -- I think he -- in his final moments -- and I knew him reasonably well.  I say that with humility, but I knew him well.  He came down and saved my butt two or three times when I was in political trouble.  The hard right was going to bury me the next morning.  But he would come in and straighten it up. 

You know, he exemplified that generation of World War II, the Greatest Generation.  But prior to that -- and he and I are two or three years apart in age -- we saw America as youngsters suffering from the Depression.


WARNER:  People didn`t have enough to eat.  They didn`t have any homes.  They didn`t have any jobs. 

He`d seen this transition, and he took it through his own courage through World War II, then into the public service.  And I will bet he said to himself as he rolled over, I have been a patriot, a soldier, a warrior, everything, and maybe I had something to make things better today than they were when I was a youngster. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I have to tell you, watching you all the years, Senator, I saw you stand up against some of the crazies in your party, like Oliver North.

I saw you stand up for women`s rights and health.  You made tough decisions in your party.  You`re smiling because you know you stood up for them, and you had the guts to do it, to take on the crazies.

And I think a lot of progressives watching now would probably look up to you right now and say, there`s a man I can respect, even if he`s a conservative.

WARNER:  Well, I always used to say, country first, state second, OK, politics, I`m here third. 


WARNER:  And that infuriated...


MATTHEWS:  ... Churchill...


WARNER:  Yes. 

I went and gave a speech at the 50th anniversary of his college.  And we got it. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

WARNER:  Hey, glad to see you.

MATTHEWS:  One of my heroes.  Thank you.

Senator John Warner, a great man.  And I`m so glad he came over tonight. 

Up next: more on what the Flynn sentencing memo, the memo we got last night, means for Trump and his family, his kids.  Are they all in trouble now?  And what it tells us about Robert Mueller`s approach to the whole investigation.  He`s taking it slow, but he`s getting it all. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

While much of the Flynn sentencing memo is hidden for public view, one line in the filing speaks volume.  It`s about the gravity of Robert Mueller`s investigation in requesting little or no prison time for Flynn.

Mueller`s team wrote: Flynn`s record of military and public service distinguish him from every other person who has been charged as part of the special counsel investigation.  However, senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards. 

Well, I`m joined by the HARDBALL round table today.  Yamiche Alcindor is White House correspondent for the "PBS NewsHour", Jonathan Capehart is opinion writer for the "Washington Post," Ruth Marcus is deputy editorial page editor of the "Washington Post."

I want to go to Ruth on this.  You know, I was kidding during the break there.  It`s like wheel of fortune, you see some of the words, but you don`t see all the words.  You got to fill them in.  What does this tell you where we`re headed?

RUTH MARCUS, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST:  I`d like to buy a redacted line now if I may.  We`re reading tea leaves, but the tea leaves are they`re blacked out.  It tells us probably that Flynn has provided significant, important and trustworthy information to the special counsel because basically Flynn has gotten what President Trump asked for all along which is for the special counsel to go easy on him.  No prison time.  You can`t do better than that.

MATTHEWS:  He got it through a different route, Yamiche.  Trump was going to get him sprung now, he sprung himself.  But it seems to me that Trump knows everything that Flynn knows, because he watched Flynn do it and told him to do it, worked with him, on anything to do with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, anything on sanctions, Trump knows all about it, in other words, he knows where he`s vulnerable now. 

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR:  I mean, if you`re President Trump you should be in some ways worried because Mike Flynn did get basically the Cadillac deal, the idea that you have Mike Flynn who everyone thought he would be easy to prosecute, a lot of the things that he did were very, very easy to point out.  He was early on in this presidency, he was pointed out as someone who was going to be in danger really, really early.  And now, you have this. 

He sat down for substantial interviews.  He`s gotten information.  They gotten information out of him that they feel like they can trust.  And by the way, if Michael Flynn is lying, we`ve already seen that, that Robert Mueller has no problem kind of reeling back the agreement for you.

So, I think that Michael Flynn is probably feeling like he wants to tell the truth. 

MATTHEWS:  Meanwhile, there was an incredible scene or a number of scenes at this morning`s funeral service for former President George H.W. Bush.  All five current and former living presidents attended, a rare gathering of what is commonly called the president`s club. 

After taking a seat alongside his predecessor, there he is, President Trump shook hands with former president Obama and then right there, very dutifully with Michelle Obama but did not engage with the Clintons whatever.  They were 90 degrees from him.  Hillary Clinton, his 2016 opponent and target of his taunts to this day stared straight ahead not even glancing in his direction. 

Trump hasn`t spoken to the Obamas or the Clintons since around this time at his inauguration.  Jonathan, I saved this for you. 

So, what do you make of what we saw and how just was it? 

JONATHAN CAPEHART, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  That`s interesting, how just was it.  President Trump in that crowd was to my mind sort of persona non-grata.  All those people, particularly the Democrats sitting there, had been targeted for assassination by pipe bomb and when asked have you called the Obamas or the Clintons, he said, no, I`ll pass. 

He`s out there at rallies in the lead-up to the midterm elections saying, you know, I want to prosecute Hillary Clinton.  I mean, the people sitting there --

MATTHEWS:  And he was trying to prosecute her.  It wasn`t rhetoric. 

CAPEHART:  Right.  No, it wasn`t rhetoric.  He was trying to do it.

So the idea -- the fact that the Obamas reached their hands out to him to shake -- to shake his hand, they are living what they -- their mantra, when they go low, we go high.  They kept it civil, good morning and moved on. 

I do want to point something out.  The clip that you showed showed Hillary Clinton staring straight ahead, not engaging with Donald Trump.  But before that, as they were coming into the row when Melania, the first lady, came into the row, Mrs. Clinton was looking at her and nodding, acknowledging her, then she turned and then she ignored the president, and with good reason. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree. 

Go ahead.

ALCINDOR:  I think it`s awkward city.  There`s no other way to put it, right?

CAPEHART:  How else could it be?  Yes.

ALCINDOR:  It`s cringe-worthy not only because there`s political tension but Barack Obama just in the midterms was clearly criticizing President Trump in a way that he hadn`t before.  Then you have Michelle Obama doing this tour, where she`s opening up about the danger she feels Donald Trump specifically put her family in. 

So, it`s not just that it`s political history, there`s recent history of these people not liking each other. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow, what a club, huh?  I wouldn`t call it a club. 


MARCUS:  A club that might not want all the members in the club.  There`s been tension between presidents before, among ex-presidents and between incumbents and their predecessors, but there has never been a scene like this that I can recall, where there just also obviously --

MATTHEWS:  Yes, there it is, we caught the picture of Hillary shaking her head rather --

MARCUS:  They`re so obviously uncomfortable with the sitting president of the United States.  That`s extraordinary and to say that shaking hands is going high -- I mean, I`m not criticizing the Obamas` behavior by any means, but that shows you sort of how low a benchmark we have here. 

MATTHEWS:  There weren`t going to be embracing. 

Finally, one member of the president`s club, President Obama, has been making the rounds with several Democrats who are eyeing a 2020 run for president.  The "Washington Post" reports Beto O`Rourke met with Obama in Washington last month.  CNN is reporting that Andrew Gillum, of course, he was the guy running for governor in Florida, met with Obama just yesterday and the enthusiasm O`Rourke and Gillum generated has led to speculation about their presidential prospects in a year when the Democratic field could number -- well, who put 20 in here?  A lot more than 20. 

And "The Washington Post" reports today the DNC is already finalizing a debate plan to, quote, give lesser-known candidates a chance to share the same stage as the party`s front-runners avoiding, the two-tier kiddy table approach that divided the Republican field in the last presidential election. 

I hope they don`t have debates during NFL big games either, that little cutie.  We can forget that one.  Let`s have when people are watching like weekday nights. 

Anyway, what do you make of the fact that they`re not going to have -- Yamiche, what do you make of the fact that they`re going to have -- no more kiddy tables, they`re going to mix up the big guys with the little people. 

ALCINDOR:  I think you might have started with me because I`m sometimes at the kiddy table.  I think in some days, they`re trying to learn the lesson that Republicans learn. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean you moderated the kids table. 

ALCINDOR:  The fact that -- right.  I could be moderating the kiddie table.  But I think it`s the fact that you had 17 Republicans and then you ended up with Donald Trump.  I think they`re trying to figure out, OK, if we have to 20-people, we don`t want to end up of what their version of Donald Trump might be. 

And that might be thinking of the DNC.  They also realized like they`re dealing with well-known senators and well-known political people who have political careers, but also they could be dealing with Silicon Valley techs.  They could be dealing with a really popular mayor or somebody -- 

MATTHEWS:  They used to have a percentage of, you have to have 5 percent.  How do you keep somebody with a lot of money and no name I.D. out of there. 

MARCUS:  And how do you do percentages when you have this number of potential people in the field?  So, I think getting rid of the kiddy table, mix it up, have some random selection and different panels of people doing it, it`s not just the Democrats are not wanting to repeat the mistakes of the Republicans last time around, but also not wanting to repeat their mistakes where they were accused of doing things -- scheduling things in a way that favored Hillary Clinton. 

So this seems like a better way.  We`ll watch. 

CAPEHART:  Look, I think, however you do the debates, fine.  However many people are on the stage, that`s fine, too.  I remember Democrats in 2008 going oh, my god, there are 10 people on the stage.  It was one of the best moments in the Democratic Party. 

MATTHEWS:  There might be 30 this time. 

CAPEHART:  Well, you know, the party has to figure it out.  The bigger issue for the Democratic Party is not how they arrange the people on the stage, Chris.  It`s what do the party faithful do when their favorite candidate isn`t the one who has the nomination?  They`ve got to start acting like Republicans circle the wagons around the nominee and make sure that person wins. 

MATTHEWS:  I want you to write a column about that 20 times between now and next year. 

CAPEHART:  I`ve already written. 

MATTHEWS:  Because if that party doesn`t think like that, they will not win. 

The roundtable is sticking with us, and up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.  They`re very impressive so far. 



MATTHEWS:  We`re back with the round table. 

Yamiche, tell me something I don`t know. 

ALCINDOR:  Interest in becoming a police officer has plummeted in this country, in Seattle, where the starting salary is $79,000, applications have dropped by 59 percent.  It has to do possibly with the fact that we`ve had this national conversation about -- 

MATTHEWS:  Who`s signing up ethnically?  African-Americans less, whites less? 

ALCINDOR:  Depends which city.  If you`re the NYPD, there are a lot of officers of color who are signing up.  If you`re in Seattle, there might be more of a whiter police force.  So, it really depends on what city. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think it is? 

ALCINDOR:  Hard to tell, it might be the conversation we`ve been having about criminalization of African-Americans and the role that police officers have been playing when it comes to killing people in unjustified shootings. 

MATTHEWS:  Those headlines every time kill me, every time.


CAPEHART:  So, I interviewed Senator Doug Jones for my podcast at the post and it`s the one-year anniversary of his election.  He`s a former federal prosecutor and I asked him with the Mueller investigation and also the talk about the possibility of the president pardoning Manafort or Flynn or Cohen or anyone, what does that mean? 

And he issued a very good reminder -- a pardon only gets you so far.  Once you have the pardon, Mueller could still compel Manafort or anyone, compel them to testify.  They no longer have the right to waive their Fifth Amendment -- invoke the Fifth Amendment.  You can`t use them. 

And if you don`t testify you could go to jail.  If you lie, you are still - - you could be held for perjury.  So part of me is like, go ahead, pardon Manafort.  Go ahead and do it.  Manafort is still --

MATTHEWS:  What stops him from pardoning him again? 

CAPEHART:  I mean, OK, we are in that other world. 

MARCUS:  Also, state prosecutions.  We`ve been remembering George H.W. Bush today, I want to remember Ann Devroy, White House correspondent for the "Washington Post" who covered George H.W. Bush, passed away from but she received a beautiful letter talking about the inevitable tension that clouded things between us, but then wrote, strangely, wonderfully, I feel close to you now.  I want you to win this battle, I want that same toughness that angered me and frustrated me to a fare-thee-well at times to see through your fight. 

That was George Bush at his finest. 

MATTHEWS:  So well, thank you.  Thank you, Yamiche Alcindor, Jonathan Capehart and Ruth Marcus.

When we return, let me finish tonight with a strong recommendation from me for a potential 2020 contender.  I`m talking about the presidency, I`m taking on Trump. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with a strong suggestion.  It`s that Beto O`Rourke should run for president. 

I got a good look at Beto`s race for Senate when we hosted the HARDBALL college tour at the University of Houston.  There was magic in that room like when we hosted a HARDBALL college tour at Westchester University up in Pennsylvania in 2008 for Senator Obama. 

Democrats respond to magic.  I have a reason for urging a Beto run.  I believe elections should be about the future. 

To those who say Beto can`t win a Senate race in Texas, let me remind you of George Herbert Walker Bush who lost two races for the Senate in Texas. 

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. 





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