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Trump & Pelosi trade jabs in Oval Office. TRANSCRIPT: 12/12/18, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews

Guests: Tulsi Gabbard, Jackie Speier, Cheri Bustos, Ryan Costello

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Blind loyalty.  Let`s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Today former Trump attorney Michael Cohen said it was his blind loyalty to the President that motivated him to break campaign finance laws on behalf of his boss.  That`s one of the big developments out of the southern district of New York that delivered a blow to President Trump today.  Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to nine criminal counts including violation of campaign finance laws by silencing two women during the election. 

Fighting back tears, Cohen today said he quote "chose to participate in the elicit act of the President rather than to listen to my own inner voice." 

Referring to the President`s frequent attacks on him, Cohen said that recently the President tweeted a statement calling me weak and it was correct but for a much different reason than he was implying.  It was because time and time again I thought it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.  I was weak for not having the strength to question and to refuse his demands. 

In the case of the adult film star Stormy Daniels Cohen used a shell company and false invoices to conceal the payment and also the subsequent reimbursements.  In the case of playboy model Karen McDougal, however, Cohen coordinated with David Pecker of the "National Enquirer" to purchase her story in order to conceal it in a process known as catch and kill.  The problem is that corporations are barred from contributing or coordinating with political campaigns under the law. 

And now in a major development the parent company of the "National Enquirer" American Media Incorporated, AMI, has admitted that the principle purpose of that payment was indeed to suppress McDougal`s story to prevent it from influencing the election.  That means all the chief participants in the scheme, except for the President have admitted to breaking the finance laws. 

I`m joined right now by Natasha Bertrand, staff writer at "the Atlantic," Glenn Kirschner, former federal prosecutor, Elliot Williams, a former senior justice department official and Peter Baker is White House chief for "The New York Times." 

Peter, I want to start with you to wrap your hands around this story.  Everybody here admits they were breaking the campaign laws.  Everybody was a conspiracy to hide these payments because they would have hurt his chances, not to avoid embarrassment with his wife or his reputation, but to protect him as a candidate.  Your thoughts. 

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  That`s exactly right.  This is why the document that came out last week seemed to leave President Trump in the position of being basically an unindicted coconspirator.  They didn`t use that phrase but that`s the import of what the prosecutors said last week and basically what you hear today in court with this new revelation about American media. 

You know, the President said, look, campaign violations happened.  I didn`t have anything to do with this.  Even if I did, it was a civil situation, not a criminal one.  President Obama pay a civil fine with his campaign -- violated campaign laws. 

But the difference here is Michael Cohen has just been -- has just pleaded guilty and been sentenced in a court of law to a criminal violation.  A judge decided and prosecutors charged him with a crime as a result of this orchestration.  It`s not a bookkeeping error.  It is not under reporting some contributions.  It not something that can be corrected later.  They are saying a crime was committed and the President of the United States was involved with it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the prosecutors, Natasha, said he directed it.  So, is this an explanation why for months now we have heard from those who know that the President has more reasons to fear Cohen than Mueller? 

NATASHA BERTRAND, REPORTER, THE ATLANTIC:  Yes.  I think the big part of that also is the fact that Michael Cohen has been taking prosecutors inside the Trump organization.  Let`s not forget the whole Russia angle here also which said that, you know, he was involved in negotiations to build Trump tower Moscow during the height of his election.  But I do think these campaign finance violations in the attempt to conceal the affairs are certainly something that should worry the President.  Because legal experts that I have spoken to say over and over again, if he weren`t the President he would be prosecuted right alongside Michael Cohen.  And he could be. 

Democrats are now saying that, you know, once he leaves office, if leaves in 2020, than the statute of limitations might not be up and he could still be prosecuted for this.  They are also calling for, you know, the Supreme Court to potentially take up the question of whether or not a sitting President can be indicted.  Because the question has never been brought to the court before. 

So this is all adding to the concrete criminal conduct that the President has conducted here.  And (INAUDIBLE), he says the Russian investigation is a witch hunt but that had yet to be concluded.  That is primarily counterintelligence investigation.  This is very real violation of the laws.  It is very real felony. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

Glenn, there`s two points Natasha raised and one is can a President be indicted.  Donald Trump has said on notorious occasions that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue.  If he did, he is not going to do it, I don`t think, shoots someone, he would be indicted.  He would -- the idea that he can, it seems to be a ridiculous overstatement of truth.  Of course a President if he got criminal in his obvious violent behavior would be stopped. 

GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Yes.  He would be arrested, indicted and tried if he shot somebody on Fifth Avenue. 

MATTHEWS:  So if he violates a campaign law, in this case directed an operation to violate a law, is that a crime?  Is this a matter measure that somebody has to say, well, it is not bad enough to put him in jail right now? 

KIRSCHNER:  Well, but you know, it is bad enough and - for him to be prosecuted and here is why.  You know, prosecutors look at evidence in the totality.  We don`t just look at one piece of evidence to see what it proves.  Now what do we have?  We have got Cohen`s testimony, the undercover tape in which the President is virtually admitting he is complicit.  We know have AMI and David Pecker saying, yes, by the way, catch and kill, that was for political advantage.  And weave Allan Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump organization who is giving up where all the financial bodies are buried. 

When you look at all that in aggregate, you can walk in to court and prosecute the President successfully without breaking a sweat. 

And Finally, Chris, you know, didn`t - the President didn`t rob a bank.  What did he do?  He robbed the American people of their right to vote, of the full value of their vote.  For that he needs to be held accountable. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I just want to - I`m watching Cohen do all this purp (ph) walks in and out of court as I begin to think a little bit like a mob gut.  As Natasha said, I want you to expand on what you said, Natasha, you took about he gave the inside of what was going on there because there was almost like (INAUDIBLE) in the old days.  Here`s the chart of the mob op where the (INAUDIBLE) and everything.  This is how it works. 

BERTRAND:  Right.  And he did tell prosecutors that were more than just him and trump that were involves in this.  There were members of, you know, the Trump organization executives that were also implicated in this.  And that, of course, could also be what we are going to see next this executive two, perhaps, is going to be at the center of the next prosecution. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is that? 

BERTRAND:  Who will that be?  We don`t know.  It could be Donald Trump Junior.  It could be a member of Trump`s family. 

MATTHEWS:  All right.  And they can be indicted.  And they can be put in (INAUDIBLE). 

Anyway, although he has been implicated of violation campaign finance laws, who is the one directing.  And according to the prosecutor, Trump is denying that he did anything illegal. 

In an interview with Reuters last night, Trump said, Michael Cohen`s a lawyer, I assume he would know what he is doing.  Number one, it wasn`t a campaign contribution.  If it were, it is only civil.  And even if it was only civil there was no violation based on what we did.  Well, that`s a cover. 

Elliot, what do you think of the President here?  It looks like he is surrounded by former guys he was in back rooms with, people that he was conniving with like Pecker, like Cohen.  They used to be deal making in the back room to keep things away from the public.  Now these guys are all coming at him saying he is the criminal. 

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  This civil versus criminal thing is preposterous.  Look.  If you murder somebody and then write bad checks afterwards to cover it up and say sorry it was a civil offense, no.  I mean, you committed a criminal act.  You directed a criminal act.  And he did it, you know, to further himself and make himself sort of endeared with the President of the United States. 

I know you are all talking about the mob stuff earlier.  And this is exactly how criminal enterprises work where a little guy takes the fall for the big guy who is directing criminal activity, and he may never get a prosecutor to go to jail but all these underlings are going -- this is Gambino family playing out in front of us on a national scale. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s get back to some of the evidence. 

Last summer, Michael Cohen released a tape recording of a conversation he had with the president in 2016 in which they reportedly discussed paying David Pecker of the American Media, that`s the "National Enquirer" for McDougal`s story and other potentially dangerous - damaging story.  In other words, pay for the story, pay the woman and kill the story. 

At the end of the tape which cuts off abruptly you can hear Michael Cohen and Donald Trump discussing whether that payment should be in cash or by check.  And the tape is real (ph).  We did not know if it was been audited.  Well, let`s listen to it.  You judge. 


MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP`S FORMER PERSONAL LAWYER:  I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that -- I`m going to do that right away. 


COHEN:  And I have spoken to Allan Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with funding -- yes, and it`s all the stuff.  All the stuff.  Because here you never know whether that company -- correct.  So I`m all over that and I`ve spoken to Allan about it.  When it comes time to the financing. 

TRUMP:  What financing? 

COHEN:  Well, I have to pay --.  No, no, no, I got --. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi. How are you? 


MATTHEWS:  Glenn, he has got a wire. 


MATTHEWS:  And the President check.  Then candidate didn`t check for a wire.  But they were also talking, almost, like underworld figures.  It is all this innuendo and David and this.  But it seems to me that the case involving Stormy Daniels where they are creating a shell company and they are talking about it here, it all was an attempt to conspire to avoid the law. 

KIRSCHNER:  Yes.  And they are like play mobster in that tape. 

MATTHEWS:  Talk like it. 

KIRSCHNER:  And you, I tell you, I think there may very well be more tapes to drop.  We are going to hear about that in the future.  And the reason I say that, Chris, is because it can`t be that the only people with tapes or the only sort of surreptitious recordings or monitorings that went on here were the ones that caught Michael Flynn talking dirty on the phone to the Russians and Omarosa, and Michael Cohen making this isolated tape.  I have a feeling when Bob Mueller finally lays his cards on the table we may be hearing some more covert recordings. 

MATTHEWS:  Peter, let me get back to you about the sort of - you are good at -- I love the way you do this violins as `Newsweek" calls it on the front page.  This is what it all means.  This is where we are going.  Where is all this taking us now?  Because we are going into the New York, the southern district of New York.  We are talking about a prosecution of three years now today, 36 months for Michael Cohen, the President`s lawyer and fixer.  That should be a blockbuster. 

Back in the `50s I think, this would be a blockbuster.  The President of the United States, lawyer and fixer goes to federal prison for three years for work he was doing for the President.  It`s not robbing gas stations on a weekend.  It is not extracurricular.  It`s doing the job we all know that he does for the President.  He broke the law doing what the President wanted, what he called blind trust or whatever.  What do you make of this story?  How does it fit into the whole question of the Trump presidency? 

BAKER:  Yes, that was a great question.  I think it would have been a blockbuster in 2016.  I think this is still obviously a big deal. 

Now, what President Trump`s lawyers would say is, look, the justice department tried this against John Edwards when he had a mistress he was - who was affair he was trying to hide and they went to trial, and there were five counts on acquitted one on mistrial.  So they would say, look, you know, why should the President be subjected to prosecution when this didn`t work under John Edwards? 

But here`s the thing, you know, the whole question about whether a President can be indicted or not is an open question.  No judge has ever ruled on it.  But the prevailing opinion of the justice department, this is prior, you know, prior Trump`s administration, I think it goes back to the Clinton days, is that a President cannot be indicted.  So there is no option at this point for a prosecutor -- federal prosecutor to indict him.  At least we presume unless that policy changes. 

But that brings you to the question of what Congress would do?  What does the House do if -- once Democrats take charge next month?  And we heard Jerry Nadler say this last few days is these are impeachable offenses.  These could be defined as high crimes and misdemeanors.  But the question is whether it justifies removal.  Whether they are big enough.  Whether they are offensive enough to the health of the republic, to justify the Congress taking the extraordinary action of impeaching and removing for office.  That he wasn`t willing to say. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about the parallels, Elliot.  Without putting any judgment and saying it`s the same as Bill Clinton, but this whole thing about lying about a relationship, that`s what we are looking at here.  You know, breaking a law to cover up a relationship.  And the Republicans thought that was enough to impeach Bill Clinton.  In fact they were giggling over it. 

WILLIAMS:  And remember this isn`t lying about sex, this is cheating on our campaign finance system.  And the southern district of New York and the judge go through this in a great deal and with the details saying this is, you know, transparency is a core value of our core value of our campaign justice system.  If we can`t have faith in how our people are elected, how are presidents are elected, then we can`t have faith in anything in this country. 

And so, it is a serious crime that strikes of the heart of who we are as a nation and sort of all these attempts to minimize the severity of the conduct.  You saw it from Cohen saying it wasn`t actually that serious or, you know, I`m so sorry that I did it.  It, you know, and lying to banks as well, so let`s not forget how important the crime was. 

MATTHEWS:  Natasha, you are all over this story.  So I want to give you the big question to start with.  Ready here?  Bill Clinton -- forget Bill Clinton.  Erase that from the blackboard.  Donald Trump says that if he is impeached over something like this, there will be a revolt.  Now I don`t know what metaphor level we take this.  Does he mean pitchforks coming into Washington?  Does he mean the tanks have to ready to meet the people? 

When he says revolt, now you can say that is stirring up real trouble in this country, what do you make of it? 

BERTRAND:  It sounds like a dog whistle.  I mean, it sounds like he is appealing to his supporters saying, look, if I get impeached it`s not legitimate, it is a move by the deep state to remove me, your now democratically elected leader, even though now we are learning that that may not be the case because he would severely limited voters knowledge during the election and may or may not have worked to the Russians.  But I think that it was definitely a signal to his base saying this is what you guys should do.  You should be up in arms figuratively, not necessary literally, if the Democrats in the House move to impeach me. 

Of course, I don`t think at this point the Democrats will do that because they have signaled that they would not do it if they did not think that the Senate would remove him.  But I don`t think there is any other way that you can slice it.  I think that Donald Trump was clearly sending a dog whistle there. 

MATTHEWS:  It`s interesting because if Stormy Daniels was all over the paper the day or two before the election and Karen McDougal, all that would have I think changed a few of the votes in Pennsylvania.  Don`t you think? 


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, think you - I know that state. 

Anyway.  Thank you, Natasha Bertrand, Glenn Kirschner, Elliot Williams and Peter Baker. 

Coming up, top administration officials brief Congress today on U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia and the investigation into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.  President Trump says he is OK with putting profits over principles.  He will cover up for this crime.  Are congressional Republicans ready to go on board with covering up for a murder? 

Plus, President Trump could be in for a rude awakening when Democrats take control of the House January 3rd.  That`s a few weeks from now.  Will congressional Republicans stand behind their man if a slew of investigations are on the agenda? 

And there is breaking news tonight on Capitol Hill.  Nancy Pelosi has reached a deal with a group of moderate Democrats that all but guarantees she will re-claim her speakership.  Did her performance in the oval office yesterday ice the deal?  I think so. 

And finally let me finish tonight with the royal family now inhabiting the White House. 

This is HARDBALL where the action is. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The Trump administration has made a concerted and committed effort to defend, believe it or not, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia after ruthlessly ordered, he did, the murder of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi. 

In the past 48 hours, the President and his son-in-law, and the secretary of state have all dismissed the CIA assessment that there was a high probability that MBS, that`s the crown prince, ordered the killing.  In an interview with Reuters, Trump defended his position, saying: "He`s the leader of Saudi Arabia.  They have been a very good ally."

Well, in an uncharacteristically tough grilling from FOX News, however, Mike Pompeo knocked down the notion that more should be done. 

Let`s watch.  


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  The direct evidence isn`t yet available.  It may show up tomorrow.  It may have shown up overnight, and I haven`t seen it. 

But President Trump -- President Trump...

QUESTION:  Someone has to pay the price, though.  It`s so brutal. 

POMPEO:  President...

QUESTION:  Apparently, those audiotapes are awful.

POMPEO:  Well, we -- the Saudis have already paid the price.  There are -- the folks who actually committed the murder, we have held accountable. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, according to "The Washington Post," the administration`s inability to listen to the CIA has frustrated officials.

Intelligence officials tell "The Post" that there is a disconnect between the spy agencies and the president that is without precedent, leaving an arrangement they call dysfunctional, much like Trump refusing to release his taxes because of the audits he says are going.

It`s unclear if Trump will ever accept the intelligence about MBS.

I`m joined right now by Democratic Congressman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

It is like the -- every time you ask Trump about his tax returns, he says they`re under audit. 


MATTHEWS:  And -- or he says -- like he used to do it with Obama and his birth records from Hawaii.  Oh, I`m checking on those. 

It`s nonsense.  It`s B.S.  Nobody believes they`re doing anything, but just delay.  Why are they doing this?

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII:  The biggest B.S. that I see in this whole thing is the statement that you hear from President Trump.  You hear it from Mike Pompeo. 

You hear it from different people within this administration, that Saudi Arabia is a good ally, or is our best ally or our best friend within the region. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GABBARD:  The issue here with the murdering of this journalist in Turkey shines a light on the larger question that I think needs to be asked and answered here in Washington, which is, show the evidence of how Saudi Arabia is our ally, because I can tell you, there is a long list of reasons pointing to all of the reasons why they are not our allies, why they are acting directly in ways that are counterproductive to the interests of the American people and to our own national security interests. 

MATTHEWS:  So, why is the president`s son-in-law in charge of all this?  Because he thinks he`s got a buddy in MBS, the killer over there.  They have sweet-talked to him.  He`s been seduced by them.  He thinks he`s going to get an Israel -- a pro-Israeli deal, not just a deal in the Middle East, but a deal that Netanyahu is going to like, the hard -- the hardest of the Likudniks, that he`s going to like it. 

How can there be such a deal?       GABBARD:  Well, when you look at the things that this administration is doing, they are things that are moving us farther and farther away from the possibility of striking a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. 

Again, we have got to look at what`s driving -- what`s driving this.  And if you look at Trump -- and he`s made it very clear -- it`s money and it`s his so-called deal with the Saudis for this $110 billion of weapons that he`s selling to them, without regard for how they`re using those weapons and slaughtering people in Yemen. 


GABBARD:  There are so many issues here that really...


MATTHEWS:  You don`t think we should have to deal with the fact that the Saudi royal family is there to stay, there`s nothing we can do about it?

GABBARD:  They -- that`s not the point.  I`m not saying that we have got to get rid of the Saudi state or the government or whatever.  That`s -- that is not my point at all.  I don`t believe that we should be in the regime change business, whether it be in Saudi Arabia, in Iran, or North Korea.

MATTHEWS:  Or Syria.

GABBARD:  Or Syria or anywhere else. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s take a look this.

Meanwhile, according to -- outgoing U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley talked to my colleague Craig Melvin about how she would use President Trump`s unpredictable behavior to her advantage at the U.N.  Let`s watch this strange story. 


CRAIG MELVIN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Is it true that you use the president`s unpredictable rhetoric to our advantage diplomatically?

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS:  If I needed to pick up the phone and say, this is what I`m going to do, are you good with this, or this -- we -- we kind of partnered in that. 

And so he would, like, ratchet up the rhetoric, and then I would go back to the ambassadors and say, he`s pretty upset.  I can`t promise you what he`s going to do or not.  But I can tell you, if we do these sanctions, it will keep him from going too far. 


MATTHEWS:  This is sort of like the Nixon mad bomber thing.  Make him think -- and she`s saying that`s what she would do to our people negotiating with us.  Oh, be careful.  This guy`s a little -- a little rocky here. 

GABBARD:  And yet what she`s doing is -- is further ratcheting up tensions with other nuclear powers in the world, further beating those hawkish neocon war drums. 

So, whatever she -- she`s trying to make it sound like she`s the good cop.


MATTHEWS:  You sound like me talking here.  I like this.


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, let me ask you about your cause, because, right now, Trump ran by saying he was going to get rid of stupid wars and help the troops.


MATTHEWS:  Where would you put him on that?  Where is he doing on that?

GABBARD:  Moving us in the wrong direction. 

Not only have we not ended any of these stupid wars.  We are continuing to have our troops deployed in places like Afghanistan and Syria and other places, all while this administration is laying the groundwork for a regime change war against Iran.

What -- to speak of the veterans here at home, I spoke with a veteran recently.  He used to work in the VA and who now works just helping veterans in his community, who said -- and he was a Republican -- and he said, never before has he seen veterans worse off with this VA than he has with this VA.

And that`s because veterans are being treated like a number. 


GABBARD:  And so, in order to report out good statistics, their cases are being closed prematurely.  We`re seeing cases and appointments being deleted completely because they were waiting too long. 

And this G.I. Bill issue, where veterans are trying to go to school, they have been promised these benefits, and the VA is saying, well, actually, you know what?  We will pay you in a year-and-a-half.  Meanwhile, they have got to pay their rent, they have got to pay their tuition and take care of their families. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.

My dad -- our dad went to school on the G.I. Bill.

GABBARD:  Yes, so did I.

MATTHEWS:  That`s why we were middle class. 

Anyway, 2020, the Baskin-Robbins campaign. 


MATTHEWS:  There`s every kind of flavor running. 

Somebody from Hawaii was recently elected president, Barack Obama.

Yourself, are you running? 

GABBARD:  I`m seriously considering it.

MATTHEWS:  What would stop you?

GABBARD:  I`m -- I`m concerned about the direction of our country. 

MATTHEWS:  No, what would stop you from running? 

GABBARD:  I don`t know.  I`m thinking through very carefully.

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like you`re heading toward it.

GABBARD:  I`m thinking through it very carefully.

MATTHEWS:  That`s an old Tim Russert question, by the way.  What can stop you?


MATTHEWS:  And you have to come up with that answer. 

It`s good to have you.  A lot of people are seeing you for the first time.

U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard may run for president in a very wide, interesting field.

Up next:  President Trump is facing investigations by federal prosecutors right now working with Robert Mueller and New York prosecutors.  He`s also facing a newly emboldened Democratic Party.  Don`t you notice?

Look at her yesterday, the speaker, the future speaker. 

And his staunchest supporters are mocking his claims he`s already built a wall.  Laura Ingraham says, there`s no wall, Mr. President.  Look.

That`s unusual. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Trump`s longtime lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen is headed to prison for three years, in part due to campaign felonies he says Trump himself told him to commit. 

And that`s just one of the host of challenges now facing this president legally and, of course, politically. 

Yesterday, the president got a rude awakening, don`t you think, to what Republican -- or actually Democratic control of the House is going to look like come January 3 -- that`s a few weeks now -- publicly sparring with top Democrats Schumer and Pelosi over his border wall.  They don`t want the wall.  He says he`s got to have it or he`s shutting down the government.

"The Washington Post" reports on Trump`s introduction to a divided government, writing: "The conflict comes at a fragile moment for Trump`s presidency.  The Russian investigation is intensifying and becoming more perilous, both politically and perhaps legally."

It goes on to add: "House Democrats are preparing a series of potentially damaging investigations into Trump`s finances and allegations of corruption in the administration."

Well, for all that, I`m joined by California U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, and Robert Costa, a national political reporter for "The Washington Post."

Robert, a couple things in your reporting.  Despite the fact that the president faces a many-headed monster coming at him, including the New York prosecutors who just put Cohen away, his lawyer away, for three years, he`s got the House of Representatives, he`s got Mueller`s investigation, and he`s got a busy new -- ambitious new attorney general in New York state. 

Let`s just start with the first one, Cohen. 

How much of a pounding did the president get today knowing that his fixer, intimate, intimate, backroom, deal-make -- deal-maker guy testified against him, and "The National Enquirer" bosses testified against him, and they all said they were in on a corrupt conspiracy to break the law, criminally, in terms of campaign financing by covering up those relationships that he had with those women?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Chris, I touched base with the president`s outside attorney, Rudy Giuliani, about this. 

And it`s really a blame game from the president`s team, blaming Michael Cohen for his conduct, saying the president wasn`t in any way really directly involved, and it was a personal, not campaign matter. 

But this belies a real challenge for the president.  He doesn`t have a chief of staff and he doesn`t have an operation right now that`s really working on all these issues, Congress, Mueller, Michael Cohen.  What does it all mean politically and legally for him? 

And, today, he`s trying to keep some of his allies on Capitol Hill like Mark Meadows.  That North Carolina congressman is now out of the mix for chief of staff.  So we have seen the president really navigating and unsure about exactly who his team`s going to be.

MATTHEWS:  We have a tape.  He says he`s not involved.  We just played a tape a few minutes ago of him playing a -- obviously, Cohen was wired.  He shows the president and him talking about whether to pay in cash or check, the whole deal.  They`re totally intimate on this. 

How can he say he wasn`t involved? 

COSTA:  You`re exactly right, Chris.

Not only do we have a tape, but we have federal prosecutors saying in a sentence in document that Individual 1, President Trump, directed Cohen to commit a felony.  That`s something House Democrats are already talking about is enough to impeach the president of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman, ask you, how does it look to you folks up on the Hill? 

You`re going in with power.  It looks like Pelosi is going to be speaker.  It looks like you`re going to be in charge of all the committees, including Intelligence, Judiciary.  You`re going to be able to impeach this president you want to. 

Can you do it?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: I think we`re going to wait until the Mueller investigation is complete before we take any action in that regard. 

Meanwhile, we have investigations that need to be done, particularly in the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee.  And I think those will take place.  And most of them, I think, are going to be public, so that the public is not going to have the shroud over them, not knowing what was really said, who lied, what subpoenas need to be issued and the like.

MATTHEWS:  Does this stuff all add up, though?  Southern District of New York, the president identified as directing a criminal operation up there, all these investigations by you, the Mueller operation, how -- the thing, it seems to me Trump benefits -- I don`t like it -- but there`s so many things going on, they don`t add up into one puncture into him that says, you`re out of here. 

Is there something you know of right now that says to you, Trump should be removed?

SPEIER:  It`s not anything that I know, but we`re all...

MATTHEWS:  Or should be pursued?

SPEIER:  Well, what should be pursued is the fact that he, I believe, has violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The properties in Toronto, SoHo, and Panama all had Russian money in it, all money that was laundered.  And he has a responsibility to make sure that is not the case.  And yet it`s truly what has happened.


MATTHEWS:  And you think that might be the mother lode here of the bad stuff on him?

SPEIER:  Right.

And it all comes down to money with him.  It always has and it always will.

MATTHEWS:  Well, meanwhile, during his Oval Office battle with Democrats yesterday, President Trump said a lot of his border wall had already been built.

Talk about delusion.


MATTHEWS:  But that claim drew a stunning rebuke even from one of his supporters, FOX News host Laura Ingraham.

Let`s listen to her last night. 


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS:  I must have missed the wall being built.  What wall?

That`s not a wall.  Stop saying it`s a wall.  There`s no wall.  If you want a wall, say, we don`t have the wall.  And I know it`s -- he made the promise, but they`re not building the wall.  So you got to stop saying that.


MATTHEWS:  Robert Costa, you`re the Trump expert here.

Why does he keep saying there`s a wall?  And we were -- we showed examples of Marcel Marceau last night, the mime, when he would just pretend there`s a wall by putting his hands up. 

Trump keeps talking about a wall that kept the caravan out.  There is no wall.

COSTA:  The answer is right in front of us.

Talking to White House officials and top Republicans today, they say the president`s political theater in that meeting with Senator Schumer and Leader Pelosi and Vice President Pence was about sending a signal to the Republican base that the president is fighting for the wall.

But the White House and top Republicans know, at the end of the day, the president`s probably going to have to cut a deal that doesn`t get close to the $5 billion he wants for border security and wall building. 

He`s going to have to have a lesser deal.  And if he has to get into that later this month, he wants to at least have the show that he`s fighting for that wall, so the Laura Ingrahams of the world, FOX Newses, take away he`s at least fighting for it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the trouble is, he wasn`t fighting for the wall.  He says he has the wall.  He says the wall kept the caravan, whatever number of people, from coming into the United States, as if it`s there.

Doesn`t anybody just say to him, show us the wall?  Where is this wall? 


SPEIER:  Well, the other part of it is, of the money, the $1.3 billion, that has already been put in the budget, he`s only spent $290 million.


SPEIER:  So he hasn`t been even spent what`s already been given to him.

MATTHEWS:  It`s a world of delusion. 

Thank you so much, U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California and Robert Costa of "The Washington Post."

Up next:  Did Nancy Pelosi`s performance in the Oval Office yesterday pave the way for her to reclaim the speakership?  I think she iced it yesterday. 

There`s breaking news tonight indicating it may have been done already.  It happened today, the deal.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, breaking news tonight.  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

House minority leader, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi announced tonight she has reached a deal with some of her opposition that would help secure the votes needed for her to re-claim her speakership.  Pelosi has agreed to support a proposal of term limits for the top Democratic leaders, that would limit to her to no more than four years.  It comes after her Oval Office sparring yesterday with President Trump. 

As "The Washington Post" wrote, it was proof positive this is no time to elect a rookie with the toughest negotiations with American policies.  Here`s a bit of what happened yesterday. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I also know that, you know, Nancy`s in a situation where it`s not easy for her to talk right now and I understand that. 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER:  Mr. President, please don`t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as a leader of the House Democrats who just won a big victory --



For more, I`m joined by tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable.  Kimberly Atkins, Washington bureau chief of "Boston Herald", U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos is a Democrat from Illinois, and U.S. Congressman Ryan Costello, a Republican from Pennsylvania.  A great group to talk about politics and that`s what it is. 

Let me go to Cheri Bustos. 

Congresswoman, I thought the way that Nancy Pelosi handled Trump yesterday was like a lion tamer.  She might as well have had a chair out.  And she was very polite, very civil and she pushed him back and said, I`ll describe my leadership position.  I`m not going to let you do it. 

REP. CHERI BUSTOS (D), ILLINOIS:  I think that`s a perfect way to describe it.  I think she was masterful.  I think if there were any of these incoming freshman members of Congress or the so-called rebel group who weren`t convinced last night, I don`t know what would convince them that she should be the next speaker of the House. 

MATTHEWS:  And, Kimberly, she didn`t raise her voice.  She didn`t use sarcasm.  She didn`t use dirty names, nicknames.  She didn`t make fun of his looks. 

She just very demurely, lady-like or whatever the word is, and just said, back off, don`t mansplain me. 

KIMBERLY ATKINS, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, BOSTON HERALD:  Right, she said, I`m not the one.  I mean, she stood her ground, checked him immediately, tried several times to say, look, let`s not do this in front of the cameras.  But when he pushed it, she made clear she could do it in front of the cameras if she had to. 

And I think after that moment, it was very difficult to make an argument as to how anyone, certainly no one because there is no challenger, could serve the role as speaker better than she can coming up being Washington`s top Democrat facing off to Donald Trump. 

MATTHEWS:  Ryan, what do you make -- this is tricky business but I`m going to go in here, what do you make of Trump`s posture sitting in that room?  The way he sits the whole -- 

REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R), PENNSYLVANIA:  He only sits that way, though.

MATTHEWS:  What would you call that?  The man spread or whatever you call that.  He widens his legs as far as possible, man spreading, or whatever, mansplaining.  He`s also mansplaining.  With the hands up, let me explain tis to you, dear, or whatever he`s doing here.  What do you make of that because it didn`t work?

COSTELLO:  Well, I`ve seen him do it with you, too.  I saw a picture where he does a lot of these sort of showman type stuff.

I`m going to say this -- I think that Ms. Pelosi probably did herself very well with any undecided Democrat and with base voters.  I will say this, though, for President Trump when he leaned in and told Senator Schumer, I`ll own the shutdown, I don`t care, his base loves him for doing that. 

So, in a weird sort of way, I think it was a draw as between who was Pelosi speaking to.  I think she was speaking to Democrats who want to see somebody stand up to the president.  I think the president was speaking to his base because he -- the base loves to see him say, I don`t care what you say, this is what I`m for, we`re going to do it anyway. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think his base wants to shutdown the government, Congresswoman? 

BUSTOS:  He said he`d be proud to shutdown the government. 

MATTHEWS:  How about his base?  They don`t care. 

BUSTOS:  You know, I don`t know.  I probably don`t fit as part of his base, but I don`t know why anybody would accept the president of the United States saying he would be proud to shutdown the government. 

MATTHEWS:  He is in charge of being a chief executive. 

ATKINS:  And the problem will be Republicans under him living in districts where their base will not be happy with the prospect of the government shutting down a few days before Christmas, taking the paychecks away to people who are guarding the border right now.  We`re talking about Department of Homeland Security folks.  I don`t think that will go over -- that will put Republicans in a tough spot. 

MATTHEWS:  The president made clear if he doesn`t get the funding for the border wall, he`ll shut the government down.  Here he is. 


TRUMP:  If we don`t get what we want one way or another, whether it`s through you, through military, through anything you want to call, I will shutdown the government. 


MATTHEWS:  And this morning, Trump used the news about a terrorist incident over in France to push for wall funding.  He tweeted, another bad terror attack in France, we`re going to string strengthen our borders even more. 

Well, some Republican lawmakers are voicing concern over the president`s call to shut down the government over border wall funding.  West Virginia Senator Shelly Moore Capito told "Bloomberg", it`s a fool`s errand in my opinion.  And Arizona Senator Jeff Flake told NBC News that nobody wins with government shutdowns. 

I don`t know.  What do you -- I`m going to go back to you.  You said people get hurt, Ryan you say people don`t care on his side.  They like -- they don`t care what he does as long as he`s fighting. 

COSTELLO:  I think his base loves the fact he`s willing to shut it down over the wall, because he hasn`t gotten the wall yet, he`s going to win pin this on the side --

MATTHEWS:  Is he going to get the wall? 

COSTELLO:  I bet you he gets more than one-eight, but less that the $5 billion.  The deal is with eight, nine Democrats in the Senate.  I mean, the House, it`s going to be probably all Republican votes once it comes back from the Senate.  That`s probably --

MATTHEWS:  Talk about wasting federal money, I mean, you can argue whether we need a wall or not, but there`s no reason to have one tenth of a wall?  What`s the purpose?  It doesn`t stop anybody from coming into the country.  It`s a complete waste to do a partial wall.  Isn`t it?  Isn`t that stupid?

COSTELLO:  Well, ultimately, it has to be part by part.  By the way, I didn`t campaign on a wall across the entire -- so, I`m trying to make the argument that it`s not necessarily my argument to make.  But it would be incremental.  A wall along certain parts of the border makes sense but not along the entire border.  And interestingly the president is bringing up the fact some of this is figuratively speaking and it`s border security --

MATTHEWS:  So, how is this going to end here?  A week from now, they go on vacation, but they won`t go.  Cheri Bustos, what`s going to -- what are Democratic leaders going to do?  Are they going to say Nancy Pelosi was really tough, or they`re going to say you don`t have the votes for your wall? 

BUSTOS:  Well, we`re not going to give him any votes.  And here`s the thing, they are in charge.  It is Ryan`s party in charge of the House, the Senate and the White House.  So, Nancy Pelosi`s message to the president is you don`t have the votes, but you have the ability to get this done.  If you`ve got the votes, you don`t need us. 

I mean, they`re in charge of the other branches of this government.

COSTELLO:  And you have more leverage in January.  So if it shuts down, Democrats have more leverage in January.  So any deal we get can only be as conservative as eight Democrats in the Senate are willing to give. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, if you`re talking about a threat of potential impeachment, the president told "Reuters" I`m not concerned, no, I think the people would revolt if that happened.  I`m going to start with you, nonpartisan here.  What does the president mean there will be a revolt?  Is it a metaphor or is it real? 

ATKINS:  Look, I know he has a core group of constituents within his base that probably would get out and protest or, you know, make a lot of noise if that were to happen and he would probably feed that by, you know, decrying that this is some sort of coup.  But, look, we`ve had two impeachments in our country.  Somehow this country`s survived.  I don`t think it will happen in the literal term. 

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman, I don`t know if he does it, because I think we`re underestimating this guy`s wildness.  I think Trump may well will a revolt, like something like the Whiskey Rebellion or something or something like Macron over in Paris where they started shutting down the streets in protest. 

BUSTOS:  I think it`s a shout out to his base this is what he`s calling for. 

You know, we`ve talked about this before, what we need to do as Democrats when we are in the majority come January 3rd.  We have these guys who are going to be chairman of the intelligence committee, oversight, judiciary.  They are good, reasonable people.  They will be guided by the truth, and that`s what needs to -- whatever happens out of the Mueller investigation, we just need to be guided by the truth and see where that leads us. 

MATTHEWS:  Sorry for interrupting.

The round table sticking with us.  Up next, we`ve got a candid photo of two high profile Democrats all part of the speculation for 2020 and the Democratic ticket to be. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

You never know who you`re going to run into on the streets of D.C.  Take a look at this picture of two potential 2020 Democratic nominees.  Former Vice President Joe Biden, he`s the guy on the left, and Kamala Harris, that`s the woman on the right.  Senator Harris` team tweeted the photo this afternoon saying the two randomly ran into each other. 

We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable with Kimberly Atkins, who knows his Boston politics, U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, and U.S. Congressman Ryan Costello. 

Talk about the political serendipity of this. 

ATKINS:  Yes, nothing is serendipitous when it comes to D.C. that wasn`t a selfie because neither one of them was holding the phone.  There was something that went into that obviously. 

MATTHEWS:  Who was promoting it? 

ATKINS:  They`re both promoting it.  They`re both promoting it.  They`re both getting buzz in different --

MATTHEWS:  Is that a pairing? 

ATKINS:  It could be.  Maybe it was a test out to see how they look on a ticket.  The question will be who will be at the top of it? 

BUSTOS:  What was the reaction to it? 

MATTHEWS:  A lot.  We`re reacting to it because a lot of people thought months ago that Biden could get in a term as president.  He can`t say he`d only serve one term, but if he puts a really strong running mate together and he is on top, then people will say, she`ll get it the second term without him saying so. 

COSTELLO:  Every time I turn a corner in the hallway, I see somebody else running for president. 

MATTHEWS:  We had Tulsi Gabbard on tonight from Hawaii.  I think she was talking about running very seriously and -- 

COSTELLO:  I saw Beto earlier.  I saw Swalwell in the gym.  He was talking about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Who could beat Trump in Pennsylvania? 

COSTELLO:  Biden and Klobuchar.  Bloomberg, interestingly, I think in the suburbs would do very well.  I don`t know what he does in the Northeast and Southwest. 

MATTHEWS:  He`s very pro-choice. 

COSTELLO:  Well, I just think amongst working class Democrats and, again, in the Southwest and the Northeast, I don`t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Biden in the general would be somebody that Trump would be afraid of. 

COSTELLO:  Biden is a Pennsylvanian to most people. 

BUSTOS:  I love Joe Biden.  We`re going to have great candidates.  It was kind of funny when you were mentioning Tulsi Gabbard, class of 2012, this is when I came in, Beto O`Rourke, Eric Swalwell.  We`ve got this great class of 2012 and they`re looking to do something better. 

MATTHEWS:  What`s better, hard progressive, moderate, what? 

BUSTOS:  Someone who is going to punch their way back into the hearts of working --

MATTHEWS:  You`re laughing, Ryan. 

COSTELLO:  Look, if you`re going to go against Trump with Trump, Trump is going to win, Trump is going to be a lefty Trumper. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Kimberly, thoughts?  You don`t want to get in this business of picking which profile is the best? 

ATKINS:  Look, I think for Democrats, the appeal is much broader.  You`re going to have to appeal to minorities, working people, people who don`t think that capitalism is bad.  You`re going to have to have a broad reaching candidate. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know what?  The Democrats need excitement.  That`s what I think.  That`s why we were talking Beto for the last couple days.  We may not be talking about two days from now. 

Kimberly Atkins, great to have you on.  U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, one of the Democratic leaders, and Congressman Ryan Costello, taking a breather from politics. 

When we return, let me finish tonight with the royal family who now inhabits the White House.  You know who I`m talking about, the Romanovs.  They`re there. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with the royal family now inhabiting the White House and largely running this country`s government. 

The singular strangeness in the Trump administration too infrequently noted is the power of his daughter and his son-in-law.  There is no precedent for it.  It is recognized that Jared and Ivanka, known as Javanka, have a wide band of authority.  They design America`s policy and strategy in the greater Middle East, maintaining an intimate tie to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the man who ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. 

Think of the absurdity of Jared`s idea for a Middle Eastern arrangement, that the Saudi royal family with underwrite Israel`s control of Islam`s third holy place, that the royal family entrusted with the guardianship of Mecca would guarantee Israel`s possession of Jerusalem.  Here at home, it is being reported that noun will be named the president`s next chief of staff without Jared and Ivanka`s personal approval. 

I have warned since the beginning that such family ownership has not been seen since the Romanovs ruled from St. Petersburg. 

And that`s HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.