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Democrat withdraws concession in North Carolina. TRANSCRIPT: 12/10/18, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews

Guests: Hakeem Jeffries, Noelle Nikpour, Philip Bump, Michael Blake, Tim O`Brien, Dallas Woodhouse

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  A simple private transaction.  Let`s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews up in New York. 

Donald Trump smells trouble.  It shows in his anger and he is plenty angry right now, attacking everyone bringing evidence against him.  The legal threat to this President is, by the way, growing by the day.  There are serious new revelations on the Russia front.  Over a dozen Trump associates have been caught in interactions with Russians.  Prosecutors in the Michael Cohen case have meanwhile implicated the President in a scheme to break campaign finance laws. 

Court documents reveal that by helping the President buy the silence of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, Cohen acted in coordination with and at the direction of individual one, a.k.a., Donald Trump.  And now Trump appears to be leading his own legal defense via twitter. 

In a series of tweets containing, for those who care, a spelling mistake, the President earlier today tried quoting something he heard on folks.  Quote "Democrats can`t find a smoking gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey`s testimony.  No smoking gun.  No collusion." 

He went to defend the illegal payoffs to sounds to women as, I love this, as legitimate transactions saying, so now the Dems go to a simple private transaction.  That`s what he calls the payoff s to quiet the women.  Call it a campaign contribution which it was not.  It was done correctly by a lawyer and it would not even be a fine.  Lawyers` liability if he did make a mistake, not me.  Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced.  Witch- hunt. 

That`s how Trump talks, especially in tweets.  Well, with multiple investigations into the President and his associates, the "Washington Post" writes today, Trump is stepping into a political hail storm.  Quote "rather than building a war room to manage the intersecting crises as past administrations have done, the Trump White House is understaffed, stuck in a bunker mentality and largely resigned to a plan to wing it." 

According to this report, the White House has calculated that most GOP base voters will believe whatever the President tells them to believe.  That`s probably right. 

Joining me right now is Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter with "Vanity Fair."  U.S. congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York.  He sits on the House Judiciary Committee.  Thank you, congressman.  Phil Rucker is coauthor of the report in the "Washington Post" I have been reading from.  And Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor. 

A private -- a simple private transaction, congressman.  I want to talk to you about that because he`s talking about payoffs to two women in the midst of a campaign that his own lawyer says were basically a campaign expense to keep these two people quiet by catching and killing their stories, upwards of about a third of a million dollars.  A lot of money, maybe up to half a million. 

What do you make of that claim that it`s just a private transaction, business transaction in the middle of a campaign to shut up these people that said they had affairs with him? 

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Well, that`s another silly nonsensical statement by the President of the United States of America.  What is important to note here is that these court filings were put forth by the southern district of New York, not the special counsel. 

So this is the Trump justice department claiming that the President of the United States, during the campaign, defrauded the American people.  This is as serious as it gets.  But that said, we still have to allow the process to play itself out, let the southern district of New York complete its investigation.  Let the special counsel Bob Mueller complete his investigation.  Let them report to the department of justice, the American people, and then we can decide how best to proceed.  And in the interim, we are just going to continue to focus on our the people agenda, lowering health care costs, increasing pay, cleaning up the mess and corruption in Washington, D.C. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, let`s go to Phil Rucker of the Post.  You cover the White House.  You are the White House chief.  It seems to be Trump`s defense is that school yard behavior, the kid on the school yard.  No matter what the facts are, he figures if he can pee on the opponent, if he can called Blumenthal, the senator, attack him for his Vietnam record, or whatever, if he can make it personal with nicknames, he doesn`t need lawyers.  That seems to be his approach now. 

PHIL RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, WASHINGTON POST:  Yes, I think that`s right, Chris.  He has this undying faith in his own ability to drive that message.  The problem is when Mueller comes out with a report, there are going to be facts in that report.  There is going to be a narrative that is meticulously detailed based on two years of an investigation and Trump may end up needing more than just his instincts and messaging abilities to beat back against those facts.  And that`s why so many of his allies, especially on Capitol Hill are concerned with the lack of preparation inside the White House for what`s to come. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Trump could have good reason to fear what comes next in the Cohen case as you said, Phil. 

"The New York Times" reports that what the prosecutors did not say in Mr. Cohen`s sentencing memorandum is that they have continued to scrutinize what other executives in the President`s family business may have known about those crimes.  The incoming democratic chair of the House intelligence committee, Congressman Adam Schiff said that Trump could be the first former President, when he becomes a first former President, to serve time in jail.  Let`s watch. 


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (R-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  There is a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the justice department may indict him, that he may be the first President in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time. 


MATTHEWS:  And the incoming Democratic chair of the committee responsible for drafting articles of impeachment, the Judiciary Committee, that is congressman Jerrold Nadler of the west side of new York here, said Trump`s knowledge of those payments could be an impeachable offense.  Let`s watch Jerry Nadler. 


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  If proven, are those impeachable offense s? 

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY) RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Well, they would be impeachable offenses whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question.  But certainly, they will be impeachable offenses because even though they were committed before the president became President, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office. 

But the fact of the matter is what we see from the indictment and these charging statements is a much broader conspiracy against the American people. 


MATTHEWS:  Paul, let me analyze this history, pressed on this as a professor right now.  Is it provable, is it now precedent that if you spend money in a P.R. capacity to cover up a sexual affair, is that a campaign expense?  Is that established law now?  Because I wonder about that.  Your thoughts. 

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  Yes.  So, I think a judge would find that if a candidate pays hush money to his mistresses to try to get elected President, that counts as a campaign donation.  That`s a thing of value and, therefore, it must be reported. 

There is a limit under the federal campaign law, the maximum contribution from an individual is $2700.  According to the Mueller sentencing memorandum, Michael Cohen got $420,000 for covering up the payments to the mistresses. 

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE), does the President -- can any candidate have a right to spend any amount on their own behalf, though?  I don`t like the law, but isn`t that the law, Paul? 

BUTLER:  A person can spend his own money, but you can`t give money to somebody else and make it look like it`s their transaction. 

So, you are right, Chris.  Intent is going to be very important, but we have both Michael Cohen and President Trump lying about the purposes of these payments for months and months until their lies are uncovered by Robert Mueller.  So this, this consistent lying shows what prosecutors call consciousness of guilt.  They knew they were doing something wrong. 

And importantly in this statement, Mueller -- actually, the federal prosecutors in New York say that Trump directed and coordinated these payments.  So if we think about this as another kind of organized crime, Michael Cohen is just the conciliar.  Donald Trump is the dawn (ph). 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about this at the "National Enquirer" story because they have a magazine that basically caught and killed the story.  But let`s put it together. 

When Donald Trump ran for President, he got caught up in that Access Hollywood tape which people like Reince Priebus thought would kill his campaign.  In fact, he was ready to walk.  And a lot of people say, this is awful.  He is talking about how he can do anything he wants, the women sex with him, whatever he wanted with the complete impunity because he is a celebrity, a big shot. 

So now we find out that he was acting that way.  He thought he could have these alleged affairs, we will say alleged, but he was paying money to keep them quiet, paying a lot of money but he had a lot of money, and he still does, and he is paying off these -- using a magazine to buy these stories and kill them to cover up his sexual behavior, OK.  So it`s to me ironically - because in Washington, we say what goes around comes around. 

I said this on Friday.  Isn`t it ironic that Trump is now having to pay for it?  He has to pay for that, what he did in his attitude, because his attitude expressed in the Access Hollywood tape is exactly his attitude. 

EMILY JANE FOX, STAFF WRITER, VANITY FAIR:  You could call it irony or you can call it karma.  This is something that as the President said today, he wanted to be a simple and private transaction, but the way the universe has worked it has been anything but simple and it has become the most public and possibly the most damning story of his entire presidency.  It is something that could potentially land him as an unindicted coconspirator in this case against Cohen. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the fact that it is the New York up here.  I`m in New York once in a while, every couple weeks.  Here I am in New York.  It isn`t the deep state, a bunch of bureaucrats down in D.C.  It is not a bunch of liberals down there.  It`s a bunch of prosecutors, hard nose prosecutors in the southern district of New York which is sort of Rudy Giuliani country.  And now the President is that`s being nabbed, great word for it, nabbed by those guys. 

FOX:  These are not only people from his home city, people in the southern district of New York, but this is his justice department as well.  So yes, they are New Yorkers.  But they belong to his justice department.  These are not people who are part of the witch-hunt necessarily.  These are people who are in his own government. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to congressman.  By the way, congratulations, congressman on role.  You have a big role in the Democratic Party.  I know about it.  I am watching your career.  I spotted you.  You are on your way.  Congratulations.  You may be speaker some point fairly soon.  Who knows? 

But let me ask you about, do you think you can actually impeach a President for basically covering up sexual misbehavior?  I mean, we had this with Clinton.  Everything is different in life, but it was somewhat related.  And it never seemed right that that would be the basis for throwing a guy out of the presidency to a lot -- certainly progressives and middle of the roaders and journalists in some cases.  It seemed to be a witch-hunt to use the phrase used lately.  How do you impeach a President for his sexual misconduct covered up, even if it is illegal?  Your thoughts?  Is it appropriate to do that? 

JEFFRIES:  Yes, I think we have to proceed carefully as it relates to impeachment because it is the ultimate political death penalty put into the constitution for extraordinary circumstances. 

Now, it may be the case that down the road once the Mueller investigation has concluded and the facts are presented to the American people, all options at that moment may be on the table.  But that`s hypothetical at the moment.  We do know the President has conducted himself like an organized crime boss, woefully inappropriate.  There were electoral consequences I believe for some of his inappropriate behavior as a result of the blue wave that took place on November 6th.  Democrats picking up 40 seats as well as seats at the state level across the country. 

And we will see what happens over the next two years.  But the right thing to do is to let Bob Mueller be Bob Mueller.  Let the southern district of New York, professional prosecutors led by Republican appointees, complete their work before we as Democrats and the house decide how best to proceed. 

MATTHEWS:  Crime boss. 

Anyway, thank you.  Former director James Comey was asked this weekend by Nicolle Wallace if the President is effectively unindicted co-conspirator after being implicated for making the payoffs through Michael Cohen for the two women.  Let`s watch. 


NICOLE WALLACE, TV ANCHOR:  Is the President of the United States right now an unindicted coconspirator? 

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR:  I don`t know.  Not in the formal sense that he`s been named in an indictment where you can actually say that this defendant and named others or others by pseudonym, conspired together, and that`s how you formally name someone as an unindicted coconspirator.  But if he is not there, you certainly close given the language in the indictment -- in the filing that the crimes are committed at his direction. 

WALLACE:  If Trump wasn`t the President and someone went to court in the southern district of New York sponsored information that they directed a crime, what would happen to that person? 

COMEY:  Well, that person would be in serious jeopardy of being charged. 


MATTHEWS:  You know, Phil, you have cover politics like I cover it.  And the irony is the way in which this whole case has begun to sort of simulate what happened with Clinton.  Clinton was investigated for something called whitewater, which was a dry hole.  Nothing came of it.  Then it switched over to Paula Jones somehow and Paula Jones flipped over to Monica Lewinsky, and he got in trouble for lying about Monica Lewinsky, about covering up a sexual relationship. 

Here we have a President investigated for a Russian connection and obstruction of justice part of that, flipping over ending up with a discussion this past weekend about covering up lying about an affair, couple affairs.  What do we make of that under our political system, that this is the way -- this is how we rock and roll these days? 

RUCKER:  Yes.  Well, Chris, it`s not the first time that the cover up would be worse than the alleged crime, but the President is in a heap of trouble here and he tweeted on Friday, he tried to claim, look, these court filings, there were three of them in the span of a couple of hours Friday night, that they totally clear him as the President and that is just not true.  I mean, the President is now implicated in a federal felony related to the southern district of New York case in New York. 

MATTHEWS:  Translate when he says it clears me.  What does that mean to anybody else on the planet when he says something -- when he has all this damaging evidence about him paying off these women through a circuitry through the "National Enquirer" ownership?  It`s all caught on paper, and he says that clears me, what kind of translation would you give that?  What is Trump saying to anybody that`s listening, it clears me?  Is he talking to his 40 percent who believes anything he says? 

RUCKER:  Exactly.  He is trying to create an alternate reality.  He has been doing this for some time with regard to the investigation.  And it`s his strategy to continue to do that.  And he feels like he can use his megaphone, his twitter handle to communicate directly to his supporters to tell them what to believe and they are banking on -- he and his advisors are banking on those tens of millions of Americans out there to believe him.  So when he says he is totally clear, they will think he`s totally cleared. 

MATTHEWS:  I guess it`s like the Germans believe that the name who we never can quote or never mention said that Poland invaded Germany.  That`s why World War II started.  Poland invaded Germany, remember?  He was able to get away with that baby. 

Anyway, thank you, Emily Jane Fox.  Great reporting as always. 

U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.  We are watching your greatness, sir.  I think you are on your way up.  You are a leader and that is great.  The Democrats need leader. 

JEFFRIES:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Phil Rucker - I mean it.  And Paul Butler as always, sir. 

Coming up, "the Washington Post" is reporting that Russians interacted with at least 14 more than a dozen Trump associates had contacts with the Russians in the campaign and during the transition.  What is this Russian thing?  What is this deal with the Russians?  We have had people like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and they never had any Russian friends.  How come these guys have so many Russian -- what is this going on here, Russian, Russian, Russian?  Every single one seems to have a Russian date.  Why are they all matching up?  What`s this linking up about? 

Plus, we are going to have the latest on the story we have been following very closely, the investigation that vote (INAUDIBLE) down in North Carolina.  That sort of was.  Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the Republican Party is going to join us.  That will be knocking around. 

And with the upcoming departure of John Kelly from the White House, Trump finds himself in search of a new chief of staff.  (INAUDIBLE).  Nobody wants to be chief of staff at the White House.  That used to be a big deal. 

Finally finish tonight with two years I spent in a world apart. 

This is HARDBALL where the action is. 



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election? 

TRUMP:  No, nobody that I know of.  Nobody. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So you are not aware of any contacts during the course of the election if

TRUMP:  Look, how many times do I have to answer the question? 

Can you say yes or no on it? 

TRUMP:  Russia is a ruse.  I have nothing to do with Russia.  To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with this. 


MATTHEWS:  To the best of my knowledge over and over again, to the best of my knowledge. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was President Trump in February of 2017 denying any contact between his campaign and Russia. 

And thanks to a flurry of recent court filings, we now know that Trump`s former lawyer Michael Cohen regularly updated Trump on his work on a real estate project in Moscow while Trump was a candidate for president.

And in special counsel Robert Mueller`s sentencing memo on Friday, we learned more about the extensive nature of Russian outreach during the campaign. 

According to the memo, "Cohen spoke with a Russian national who claimed to be a trusted person in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign" -- I love this phrase -- "political synergy."  How about collusion?  Better word for that.

In fact, "The Washington Post" found that public records and interviews show Russians interacted with the least 14 -- they there are -- look at those pictures.  Just keep those pictures up there, please. 

These are Trump associates during the 2016 campaign, and including three Trump family members, two former associates, and nine campaign officials, all with Ruskie connections, if you will.

According to "The Post, some offered to help his campaign and his real estate business. Somewhere offered dirt.  A lot of them offered dirt on his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, repeatedly.  Russia nationals suggested Trump should hold a peacemaking sit-down with Vladimir Putin and offered to broker such a meeting. 

I`m joined right now by Tim O`Brien, executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion, and Ken Dilanian, NBC News intelligence and national security reporter. 

I just want to get back to you, Ken, because you have this sort of wide, sweeping notion of the whole thing.  And I think you have got a pretty good counterpunch to what Trump has in his brain that he`s denying.  But you`re not denying it.  It`s your job to tell us about it. 

So, if you -- what does Trump think when he`s watching a broadcast like this, and he`s hearing us talk about 14 people around him all had Russian contacts?  Is he saying that`s natural, no big deal?  How does he explain this Russian thing that no other presidential candidate has ever been involved with? 

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT:  The thing is, Chris, he might have been able to explain it, because he did have a policy of trying to reach out to Russia and have a rapprochement with Russia. 

But he denied it.  So, he lied about it.  I mean -- and I use that word lie because it`s clear now those clips that you played, those were lies.  He knew that Michael Cohen was reaching out to the Russian government, we now know from these Friday court filings.

And it`s not something you forget.  They were trying to build a tower in Moscow.  So, I don`t know what he thinks.  But, to me, the only mystery left now is whether this was mostly the Russians trying to infiltrate and recruit Trump people, or was it the Trump team reaching out to the Russians?  Or was it some combination of both? 

Because, as you know, Chris, a U.S. government official who was approached by a Russian government official for a lunch meeting or something has to report that, because they are an adversary country.  They`re trying to recruit and co-opt Americans.  They`re not our friends.

And so there`s never been anything like this in a political campaign.  And there`s not a reasonable explanation for it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, people used to say -- maybe I was one -- that Hillary Clinton was wrong to avoid being transparent.

But this guy seems like -- I will go to Tim on this.

You know him?  Why does he hide?  He won`t even tell us what -- he`s not going to tell us what -- is it he`s worrying about the dossier?  Was it something he did in a hotel?  What is the dirty little secret that makes Donald Trump keep covering up?  

TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG OPINION:  Well, I suspect it`s money.  I don`t think the answer to that is complex. 

And I think it`s...

MATTHEWS:  Why is he embarrassed by the fact that he was a tycoon who wanted to be a bigger tycoon?  Why was that something to hide?

O`BRIEN:  That`s not what he`s embarrassed about. 

I think he`s embarrassed -- Well, he`s not -- he is wary of the implications of providing information that fills out the narrative that there was active horse-trading going on between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign for a far longer period of time than I think we still know.

I think it`s important to remember that a lot of the people around the Trump campaign and Trump himself did not think he was going to win.  He entered the 2016 campaign essentially as a marketing opportunity. 

And that`s why the people around him, I think, were also grifting.  And the sentencing memo on Michael Cohen that came out of...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, let`s talk about that. 

O`BRIEN:  Well, we now know that he met in 2015.  That rolls the clock back a little bit later.  They were -- in the earliest stages of Trump`s bid for the presidency, one of his close advisers was approached by a Russian who asked him if he wanted to try to do a transaction.

MATTHEWS:  By a guy who wanted to have -- let me get back to Ken.

They wanted synergy.  They wanted -- in other words, we both want to beat Hillary.  The Russians, Vladimir, hates Hillary Clinton.  We want to beat Hillary Clinton.  Let`s work a deal. 

That seems to be what synergy sounds like to me. 

DILANIAN:  Absolutely. 

And the filing says that that particular meeting with that particular person didn`t come to fruition, but it also says that Trump discussed with Michael Cohen outreach to the Russian government to talk about the Trump Tower project and other points of mutual interest. 

I mean -- and this was all hidden, Chris, from the American voter.  And you know this.  If -- even if Republican primary voters had known the extent of Donald Trump`s Russia ties, it`s not clearly that he would have been as successful.  It just raises so many questions that Trump essentially hid from the public.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the question of blackmail comes up.

And the whole thing about -- Comey was -- I`m sorry -- we`re talking about Michael Flynn, his national security adviser, meeting with Kislyak, and all those meetings to talk about sanctions.  And he was -- and the Russians knew all those meetings.

O`BRIEN:  And Michael Flynn trying to cut deals with the Turks, right?

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Yes.

Well, they`re all over the blackmail.


O`BRIEN:  And everything that`s gone on with the Saudis.

And then Jared Kushner scrambling to refinance the family`s real -- troubled skyscraper on Fifth Avenue.


Starting Friday, we learned a lot of stuff, guys.  We learned about Michael Flynn.  We learned about Cohen.  And each time, we learned a little about him.  We know about how the president of the United States is more susceptible to blackmail, Ken, because, if they -- if all this stuff that he`s hiding comes out, he`s afraid.

And he ought to be afraid that any time Vladimir Putin wants to put it all out, he can.  And so everything that Trump`s afraid of can be put out by Putin at any time Putin feels like it.  So that suggests to me, a typical voter in some ways, this guy has to worry about Putin, which means he`s not really an independent operator, as our president.

He`s worried about Putin. 

DILANIAN:  That`s right. 

And, as an example, Chris, the Russians have known for a long time that, in fact, when Michael Cohen reached out to Vladimir Putin`s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, to ask for help in the Trump Tower Moscow project, Peskov got back to him. 

And, in fact, the Trump and Cohen story was that that never happened and that the project was cut off well before the primaries.  The Russians have known that that was a lie.  They have known this for some time.  They had that over Donald Trump.  That`s just one small example. 

And another one of these interactions, Chris, brings us into today`s story, which is Maria Butina, this Russian agent, agreeing potentially to plead guilty and cut a deal with the government.

A man named Aleksandr Torshin, who was working with her, is a Russian central banker.  He reached out to Kushner during the campaign to try to propose a meeting between Trump and Putin.  Kushner rebuffed him.  And then he ends up at a dinner, an NRA dinner, sitting next to Donald Trump Jr.

And congressional investigators that I talk to still don`t know how that happened, why that happened.  And they find that very suspicious, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I just want to put two points together.  We got to end this segment. 

But Trump`s worries about this being disclosed, everything we`re talking about disclosed, and that smirk on the face of Vladimir Putin every time you see him in the company of Trump fits together. 

Putin knows what Trump`s worried about.  And that`s the key to this whole thing.  Putin knows what Trump`s worried about.

Tim O`Brien, thank you, and Ken Dilanian.

Up next: the never-ending midterms.  One midterm race is still undecided, as election officials investigate vote theft down in North Carolina.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is. 



DAN MCCREADY (D), NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  We`re gearing up right now in case we do have a special election.  This is in the hands of the North Carolina State Board of Elections that`s launched an investigation.

A week or so ago, they made a really unprecedented move to -- they decided, in a 9-0 zero bipartisan decision, to refuse to certify the results of this election based on the fraud and the irregularities and the illegal activity that are there.

So, we`re gearing up to be in this fight.  Ultimately, this is in the in the decision of the Board of Elections. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Democratic candidate for North Carolina`s 9th Congressional District, Dan McCready, gearing up for a new election down there. 

At this moment, it`s unclear who will represent the people of the 9th District come January 3 in the U.S. Congress.

Well, just a few weeks ago, it looked like it would be Republican Mark Harris, who defeated McCready by a slim margin.  His victory is now tainted by explosive allegations of absentee ballot tampering.

On Friday, Harris said he was unaware of any wrongdoing, unaware. 

Let`s watch.


MARK HARRIS (R), NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  If this investigation finds proof illegal activity on either side to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of the election, then I would wholeheartedly support a new election to ensure all voters have confidence in the results.


MATTHEWS:  At the heart of the allegations is a man by the name of McCrae Dowless, who is now a person of interest in the investigation being conducted by the Board of Elections.

BuzzFeed reported that one man signed a blank absentee ballot and handed it over to Dowless.  Public records show that his ballot ended up signed, sealed and delivered to the county Board of Elections. 

In other words, somebody voted for him. 

Anyway, Dowless denies any wrongdoing there.

For more, I`m joined by Dallas Woodhouse, another person, completely different person, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party.

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Director, let me ask you about this.  Do you think a tainted election should count? 

DALLAS WOODHOUSE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NORTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY:  Chris, we think that this is deplorable, and it shows a systematic...

MATTHEWS:  Should it count, a tainted election count?  Should a tainted election count?

WOODHOUSE:  Chris, the problem with that is, I don`t know what that means, and it`s not an objective standard. 

But we clearly have a problem here.  And we may very well be headed for a new election.  We need to treat Mr. McCready right.  We need to treat the voters right. 

We also have the problem that 286,000 people cast legal ballots.  They`re not in question here. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WOODHOUSE:  And so, unfortunately, as good a job as the press has done about this -- and I wrote a column thanking them for their sunlight and their disinfectant -- we do have to let the nonpartisan investigators tell what we know before we move to that special election, although it seems like we may very well be heading that direction. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of a guy, a candidate who pays a political operative a bounty to deliver the most absentee ballots? 

Because Harris did that, by the reporting.  He paid this guy, Dowless, to win among the... 

WOODHOUSE:  Yes, that`s -- I think his name is pronounced a little differently.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, to win among the absentee -- well, OK, pronounced... 


WOODHOUSE:  Yes, because he sure as hell ain`t me.  I can tell you that.

MATTHEWS:  But I don`t want to confuse him with you, sir.

But I do think -- I`m asking you, is it right or wrong to pay a guy, not to help me win an election, but I will only give you the bounty if I win on the most absentee ballots?

Because I think that`s at the heart of this corruption, the belief that you can deliver victory among the absentee ballots if you -- in that county especially, in Bladen County, if you control the way that they were harvested.

They went around and collected them. 


MATTHEWS:  So, this guy who got paid to do it knew what he was doing.  And the guy paying him, I presume, knew what he was doing.  He wanted to win among the absentee ballots in that county, so he paid him, what, 40,000 bucks if he won, so -- among the absentee ballots.  And he did.

So, doesn`t that seem corrupt by itself?

WOODHOUSE:  I think that`s a fair question.  I really do. 

And I think we`re going to have to get to the bottom of that.  There are legitimate absentee ballot drives.  But this is looking more and more like not one of those.

And I know Mr. Harris personally.  It is hard for me to conceive that he personally would be part of what looks like a corrupt operation.  I would think it would be other people associated with him. 

But those are questions that are fair to be asked.  And you`re right, sir - - you`re right, sir, to ask them.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about cheating in an election.

I mean, you and I probably agree completely, because we were -- been involved -- I have in my life either been involved in politics or covering it.  I love democracy.  And I love the fact that you fight it out to get people to vote for you.  It`s the way it works.  I love it. 

The idea of cheating just -- it`s like taking drugs in baseball.  It`s -- I can`t accept it.  I will not accept it. 

WOODHOUSE:  I agree with that. 

MATTHEWS:  And I don`t think a guy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, for example, if they cheat, so they -- or they gamble on any team.

And so I take -- I take those positions.  Don`t you?  Isn`t it important that we say to people, if you cheat, you don`t win? 

WOODHOUSE:  And, sir, I agree.

MATTHEWS:  If you cheat, you don`t win?  Isn`t that a good standard?

WOODHOUSE:  Absolutely.  And I agree with everything you said. 

And I just want to say, when you were fighting out for Senator Frank Moss or Ed Muskie, you did it because you believed in their political positions and their -- and that their policy positions would -- would result in them -- in betterment for the society.

That`s what good Republican activists do.  That`s what good Democrat activists do.

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

WOODHOUSE:  These are paid political mercenaries.

And, look, we have a -- we have a long way to go.  We have the question of certification.  We have the question of the long-term systematic failure that, through three governor`s administrations, two Democrats, one Republican, dozens of boards of elections, criminal prosecutors who have not been able to get a hold of this -- we have to find out why.

And we have to change this, so it never happens again.  And we have to hold the people that have done this criminally responsible.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

WOODHOUSE:  And they need to go to prison for long terms. 

The only way, Chris -- and I`m glad you`re focusing on this -- the only hope North Carolina has is that the disinfectant provided by the media does not go away when we answer the question of what happens in the night.

MATTHEWS:  I`m with you.  I`m with you.

WOODHOUSE:  We need it for many years to come, because we have a cultural corruption problem down in that area of the state.

MATTHEWS:  We have had this problem in the city I grew up in, too, some of it, over the years.

And I agree with you, sir.

Dallas Woodhouse, thank you.  You agree with me, I think, in the large part.  Thank you. 

WOODHOUSE:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next...

WOODHOUSE:  It is -- this is the worst thing I have ever seen.

MATTHEWS:  Up next: new hiring. 

President Trump`s on the hunt for a new chief of staff, but qualified, willing candidates are apparently hard to come by right now. 

Isn`t that interesting?  This is one of the great jobs in America of chief of staff to the president.  And he`s hard to fill in -- hard time filling it.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year.  We`ll be announcing who will be taking John`s place.  It might be on an interim basis.  I`ll be announcing that over the next day or two, but John will be leaving at the end of the year. 


MATTHEWS:  John will be leaving -- I love that, he`s not retiring, he`s leaving. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The search is on for the next chief of staff.  The president announced over this weekend that John Kelly will be leaving by the end of the year. 

Nick Ayers, the vice president`s chief of staff, was reportedly to be next in line all weekend, but sources tell NBC News now that the president couldn`t close the deal with Ayers.  This 36-year-old guy wouldn`t take the job. 

Well, those now under consideration include U.S. Congressman Mark Meadows, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and even Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker -- another job for him.  Whoever is chosen will have to face Democrats next year with their own new subpoena power, as well as the likely release of special counsel Robert Mueller`s big report.  We assume that`s coming by early next year.

Of course, there`s a tweet for everything.  In 2012, Trump criticized then President Obama for going through three chiefs of staff in less than three years.  For President Trump, it will be less than two years. 

Let`s bring in HARDBALL`s roundtable tonight.  Noelle Nikpour, Republican strategist, Philip Bump, political reporter for "The Washington Post", and Michael Blake, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and an assemblyman here in the state of New York. 

Assemblyman, you first.  My question is, what`s Trump`s problem? 


MATTHEWS:  Why can`t he pick a chief?  These are great jobs. 

BLAKE:  Well, it`s because of utter chaos in the White House.  When you think about how they`re going to have three chiefs of staff in less than two years, you know, it`s an absolute mess.  It shows that not only do people not want to be in the White House, they`re afraid of what will happen if they`re actually there. 

I had the honor of working at the White House under President Obama for 2 1/2 years.  There is nothing describing that kind of honor you can`t have.  When you see you`re walking into investigations, you`re walking into consistent lies, absolutely no direction, why would anyone want the seat? 

The other concern is, Chris, Trump was saying on Saturday that they had someone in mind in a day or two.  They can`t even get everything in line what they`re trying to get done all the time.  There is no direction, and that`s why no one wants to be there are there. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of this White House? 


MATTHEWS:  Would you like to be chief of staff to the president? 

NIKPOUR:  Absolutely, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s get that name in there.  Let`s get your name in there. 

NIKPOUR:  You know, I think the bigger question to me is, it`s a natural move up for Nick Ayers.  Why wouldn`t he be chief of staff for the president? 

MATTHEWS:  They say, he`d give three months, that`s all he`d give him. 

NIKPOUR:  You have to ask yourself, why isn`t he all over this?


MATTHEWS:  He has enemies in the White House.  He has enemies.  He has the two big Romanovs, Jared and what`s her name, Ivanka behind him.  That means he`s got enemies because a lot of people don`t like those two running the White House. 

PHILIP BUMP, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  I think it`s simpler than that, though, right?  I mean, first of all, this is a tough job in any conditions, much less going into the headwinds with Democratically controlled House getting ready to drop subpoenas all over the place, 2020 election.  You also have only one chief of staff ever in the Trump White House and that`s Donald Trump.

  No one is ever going to be able to corral Donald Trump.  It is an utterly thankless job, because Donald Trump is always going to be Donald Trump.  He`s always going to be -- 


MATTHEWS:  He doesn`t like having a hall monitor. 

BUMP:  Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Meanwhile, "The New York Times" reporting right now that the president`s son-in-law, the aforementioned Jared Kushner has continued to hold private talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin S -- MBS, even after the murder of "The Washington Post" reporter Jamal Khashoggi in October.  Time flies.  It`s been two months.  The guy has been dead.

According to a Saudi brief on their conversations, Mr. Kushner has offered crown prince advice about how to weather -- what, is he his PR advisor?  "The Times" described how the Saudis have been cultivating the relationship with Kushner.  Given Mr. Kushner`s political inexperience, the private exchanges could make him susceptible, don`t you think? 

This is great, the royal crown princes are getting together so well.  The Saudi crown prince sort of cozied up to the son-in-law because he thinks we`re another banana republic, another country you can buy friendship, you can cuddle up to somebody and treat them like royal family members.  Unfortunately, they may be right. 

Your thoughts?  I want do let her take a shot at this.  This is your party. 

NIKPOUR:  This is a very -- yes, it`s my party.  This is a different administration.  Everybody knows this is a very different administration.  This is not a typical GOP-run administration.  This is a Donald Trump-run - -

MATTHEWS:  Is he running this country like a republic or something else? 

NIKPOUR:  No, I think he`s running this country like Donald Trump wants to run it.  You have to remember, that`s why a lot of people elected him. 

MATTHEWS:  To cozy up to Mohammed Bin -- what`s his name?  I don`t know any -- in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he was last night, I don`t think anybody voted for Trump to become friends with the Saudis. 

BLAKE:  No, they didn`t vote for him to do that, they didn`t vote for a cover up, they didn`t vote for Jared Kushner saying very clearly that profit is more important than the people.  No one voted for this.  And for us to make it seemed like it`s okay, it`s absolutely not okay in any aspect. 

When you are watching -- this is another reason why I think no one wants the job.  You have an administration, you have someone in Trump where covering up the death of someone is more important than doing what`s right.  Regardless of party affiliation, it should be actually doing the right thing.  And there is nothing about the Trump administration that shows you doing that. 

MATTHEWS:  MBS, the world thinks he did it. 

BUMP:  Yes.  I mean, all of the evidence -- I mean, Gina Haspel, CIA director, goes to Capitol Hill.  We have evidence --

MATTHEWS:  They`ve got the guy screaming to be able breathe today.  We`re getting the tape recorders.  We`re getting the torture stuff. 

BUMP:  It`s horrible. 

And in the other administration, this is the flip side of the conversations we`re just having on the chief of staff.  You can`t fire Jared Kushner.  That`s the entire reason that there exist a nepotism statutes in the United States, they had to get a special exemption for, because you want to have someone accountable to the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is Jared -- this is a blunt question.  Why is he looking out for the crown prince?  Does he like him personally?  What is going on here? 

BUMP:  I mean, the reporting suggests that they were -- the Saudi Arabian government was very successful at putting forth a strategy of bringing Jared close to the fold, right?  And if you look at the Trump Organization, the way the Trump organization works is by the interpersonal loyalty.

MATTHEWS:  You know what I think?  I think they`re all nuts.  And to think that the idea the keepers of Mecca, the Saudi family, is going to help Israel keep the Holy Land is insane.  It`s never going to happen.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. 

And up next, Beto O`Rourke in the 2020 elections -- is he the wildcard in the Democratic field in the 2020? 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The race for 2020 is beginning to take shape.  I really believe this is the week.  And today, "The New York Times" is calling Texas Congressman Beto O`Rourke the wild card in this coming race.  "The Times" writes his record- setting success with small donors would test the grassroots strength of progressives like Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.   So, he could raise like those two can, and has appealed to some former Obama advisors and potentially this electoral college of young people, women and often infrequent voters could complicate a possible run for former Vice President Joe Biden.  That`s a really smart analysis, I think.  He`s a threat to Biden. 

NBC News is reporting tonight that O`Rourke has been reaching out to prominent Democrats in the African-American community, including former President Barack Obama.  Andrew Gillum of Florida, Al Sharpton. 

Noelle, Philip and Michael all back with me. 

So, everybody, your take on the fact that "The Times" is boosting Beto, and they took a real shot at Elizabeth Warren the other day on the front page.  So, what`s up with the Democrats? 

NIKPOUR:  Well, I can tell you in the case of Beto O`Rourke, in my opinion, he would be fantastic, not running for president, but being the brand of the DNC, being the new face of the Democrat national party, and being one of the number one surrogates to help all everybody running for office. 

MATTHEWS:  Surrogate, I love to hear that.  By the way, that was a slight way of saying you don`t want him to run. 


BLAKE:  It`s also kind of ironic since I`m one of the vice chairs of the DNC.  Maybe we should focus on that fact before we get going. 

Now, if we want to talk about what`s happening, clearly, we`re going to have a remarkable bench before what happens in 2020.  We have other races in 2019.  We got public advocate race here in the city.  We got other races going on.  So, that`s another thing we can talk to. 

But I would rather be in our position than the Republican position. 

MATTHEWS:  So, Beto O`Rourke, should he run? 

BLAKE:  He`s phenomenal candidate -- anyone should think about running.  But the reality, Chris, when we think about this, when President Obama, when we decided to make the move, we were in Iowa on March 2007.  We made a decision obviously in February. 

If you`re serious about running for president, it cannot just be Trump is bad.  You have to have a clear narrative of why you`re good.  And you have to put a coalition together, which I think gives him an opportunity.  But I think there`s going to be about 15 or 20 people have a chance. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Phil? 

BUMP:  That`s right.  I mean, with those numbers, I think one of the dynamics you have to look out for is what happened with Trump.  Trump won because he consolidated a solid 20, 30 percent of Republican base out of the gates by taking a hard right immigration stance.  That carried him through the early primaries. 

One of the things going on with Beto O`Rourke is, Texas got bumped up in the calendar, Texas and California, much earlier than they used to be.  That`s a huge advantage for him.  If he`s able to stick with it into that primary, yes, California is there and Kamala Harris could also be on the ticket.  She could pick up a lot of votes.

MATTHEWS:  My question as a political pundit, to listen to the crowds they rally, not to listen to them talking, but look out and see if anybody is following them.  Biden has a great name.  I don`t know if anybody is wildly cheering him yet.  And this guy threatens him, too. 

BLAKE:  I think the reality is until that first person makes a move, we`re all in a wait and see approach.  But --

MATTHEWS:  Give me three people you`re sure of running. 

BLAKE:  Sure of?  Not going to do that.  DNC vice chair, don`t do that to me. 

MATTHEWS:  Elizabeth Warren is running.

NIKPOUR:  Howard Schultz --

BLAKE:  You`re talking talking points now.  Come on. 


MATTHEWS:  They`re not running. 

NIKPOUR:  He`s actually talking to consultants. 

BUMP:  The last thing Democrats are going to nominate is a rich billionaire --


MATTHEWS:  You got to unite.  You are right.  You have to unite the moderate Democrats with progressive Democrats or you`re going to lose. 

BLAKE:  Everything is about how to fight for the people.  And that`s what a narrative did work going into the midterm and I think we`re going to continue that into 2020. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Democrats can win the states they need to win.

Noelle Nikpour, Philip Bump, and Michael Blake, sir, Assemblyman, thanks for joining us. 

When we return, let me finish tonight with the two years I spent in a world apart.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with this.  It was Africa, wasn`t it?  Well, that was my northern Irish grandmother explaining my early success in Washington. 

An immigrant herself, she knew what it meant to go from one country to another leaving everything and everyone behind.  She knew how abrupt and life changing it can be, how it can kick you in the butt. 

Fifty years ago, I went to a matinee showing of "Hair" featuring future star Diane Keaton.  Then I got on a night plane for New York, leaving my world behind, my parents, my four brothers, my grandparents, my PhD program, my looming career as an economics professor, my country. 

And from late 1968 through 1970, I rode a motorbike in Swaziland, Africa, teaching business to rural traders out there in the son and open air of Africa.  I was tucked down there in that little kingdom between South Africa and Mozambique.  My students, clients really, were men who had opened trading shops to serve their local communities. 

They were incredibly nice to me, always offering a cold drink, Coke on hot days, even when there was no way to make it cold.  Those wondrous years I gave up things that didn`t matter -- electricity, television, hot water, and enjoyed what does matter, beautiful outdoor weather actually, warm people, doable work and adventure, not least the black mamba that kills within minutes that tried jumping into my car window. 

It wasn`t all work.  In my second year, I took a vacation, hitch hiked up east Africa, all away, all alone, all away to Kilimanjaro.  And after spending two years working with the Swazi small business guys who I`ve come to know personally and distinctly, I forgot all about the cultural differences that separated them from me. 

And that I believe is what the Peace Corps was about.  Yes, grandma, I think it was Africa in more ways than we, any of us, can count. 

That`s HARDBALL for now, or softball tonight.  Thanks for being with us. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.