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Trump, Sen. Schumer butt heads. TRANSCRIPT:12/12/2018, Hardball w. Chris Matthews.

Guests: David Cicilline, Yamiche Alcindor, Eli Stokols, Tom Reed, Joaquin Castro, Kim Wehle, Bobby Ghosh, Donna Edwards, Ryan Williams, Steven Weisman

Show: HARDBALL Date: December 11, 2018 Guest: David Cicilline, Yamiche Alcindor, Eli Stokols, Tom Reed, Joaquin Castro, Kim Wehle, Bobby Ghosh, Donna Edwards, Ryan Williams, Steven Weisman


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Democrats are fighting now. After two years of holding back, the Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi today, got right in the president`s face.

The battle was over funding for his proposed border wall and whether it`s worth shutting down the government over. Trump says it is. Schumer and Pelosi said it`s a fight they`re ready for.

That`s right. Democrats are fighting, and they may very well be winning now, after Trump, his back up, declared he`d be proud to shut down the U.S. government if he doesn`t get his way.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The one thing I think we can agree on is, we shouldn`t shut down the government over a dispute. And you want to shut it down. You keep talking about.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I -- no, no, no, no, the last time, Chuck, you shut it down.

SCHUMER: No, no, no.

TRUMP: Twenty times.

And then you opened it up very quickly. And I don`t want to do what you did. But, Chuck...

SCHUMER: Twenty times -- 20 times, you were called for, I will shut down the government if I don`t get my wall. None of us has said...

TRUMP: You want to know something?

SCHUMER: You have said it.

TRUMP: OK, you want to put that on my...

SCHUMER: You`ve said it.

TRUMP: I will take it.

SCHUMER: OK, good.

TRUMP: You know what I will say? Yes. If we don`t get what we want, one way or the other, whether it`s through you, through our military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government, absolutely.


TRUMP: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don`t want criminals and people that have lots of problems, and drugs pouring into our country.

So, I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I`m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn`t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down.


MATTHEWS: New York, New York, they love the town, so they named it twice. Two guys there fighting it out on the corner.

The extraordinary televised sparring there, match, really, comes as President Trump and Congress remain at odds over passing a spending bill for the whole U.S. government to fund parts of the government past December 21. That`s next Friday.

At issue, President Trump`s demand for $5 billion for his wall along the Rio Grande.

Minority Leader Pelosi reminded the president, who would shut -- who would own a shutdown. Here she goes.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I think the American people recognize that we must keep government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything, and that you should not have a Trump shutdown.

You have a...


TRUMP: Did you say Trump?


PELOSI: You have the White House. You have the Senate. You have the House of Representatives. You have the votes.


MATTHEWS: Well, after the meeting, Senator Schumer continued to knock Trump.


SCHUMER: This Trump shutdown, this temper tantrum that he seems to throw, will not get him his wall, and it`ll hurt a lot of people, because he will cause a shutdown.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for "PBS NewsHour," U.S. Congressman David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, and Congressman Tom Reed, a Republican from New York. We have got Eli Stokols, however, joining us right -- not yet -- we`re going to have in a minute. I thought we would.

Let me go to Congressman Cicilline.

Why are the Democrats fighting now? I mean, I watched the election of 19 -- well, 2016. I remember that one. And Trump behaved boorishly. He hovered over candidate Secretary Clinton, hovered over her, behaved awfully toward her.

But now the Democrats seem to be in the mood that they want to be seen fighting with this guy. What`s going on?


REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, I don`t know that we want to be seen. This was a televised conversation.

MATTHEWS: OK, come on, that was performance.

CICILLINE: But, look, Democrats...

MATTHEWS: I mean, you knew what -- they knew the cameras were on. I think it`s good, by the way. But why don`t you take credit for wanting to fight?

(CROSSTALK) CICILLINE: No, no, absolutely. Democrats are fighting to be sure that we keep the government functioning.

Democrats have supported border security. We have spent -- we voted for an additional $20 billion.

What Democrats don`t want to support is wasting taxpayer money on this foolish wall.


CICILLINE: The president`s own chief of staff said, this is not an effective way to secure the border.

So, we gave him two proposals. You can pass the appropriations bills, can do a continuing resolution for the Department of Homeland Security, and keep the government open.

The president has made a political calculation that he thinks it`s to his benefit to speak to his base and make it look like he`s fighting to keep America safe.

It`s just not true.

MATTHEWS: And, Congressman Reed, the Democrats believe that they think they benefit politically by fighting Trump on the wall.

REP. TOM REED (R), NEW YORK: I think that`s...

MATTHEWS: Are they wrong or right?

REED: I think that`s accurate, Chris.

I think they made the calculation that the wall has become the political figure of this debate and this fight. And it`s much bigger than a wall. I mean, this is why I think, to David`s point, if -- they have already authorized and supported $20 billion worth of funding.

Why don`t we actually follow through on that funding, do the $5 billion that we need, in order to secure the border and get it taken care of, to fix the border, so American citizens are safe and sound and we have a functioning border...


MATTHEWS: We have about 300,000 people come in the country every year illegally. We have got 20 -- we have got tons of people here illegally.

There is a challenge of illegal immigration.

CICILLINE: Absolutely. And we...

MATTHEWS: How do you effectively change the failed policies of today?

CICILLINE: We should use -- we should use technology. We should be smart about it. We have invested in additional border security. We should be using drones and satellites.


CICILLINE: Let`s be smart about the way we`re doing this. A wall is not effective.

MATTHEWS: So, you think the Democrats are credible in stopping illegal immigration?


CICILLINE: Look, we`re the ones fighting for a comprehensive immigration plan.


MATTHEWS: I`m with you on that.

CICILLINE: And we support...

MATTHEWS: But do you think they`re credible?

CICILLINE: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: They are? OK.

CICILLINE: We supported $20 billion in additional funding for border security.


MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in Yamiche.

Go ahead.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, "PBS NEWSHOUR": I just want to say I think what we saw was a made-for-TV moment.

President Trump wanted this moment. He wanted to be seen as someone who was strong.

MATTHEWS: And what did the Democrats want?

ALCINDOR: And the Democrats, feeling good after the midterm elections, they also wanted a fight.

The idea that Nancy Pelosi kept saying, the cameras need to be gone, they need to be gone, but the moment that President Trump, what I think is a key moment, said, hey, she can`t really talk right now because she`s in the middle of trying to be speaker, she hit back.

And she hit back really, really quickly and really, really hard.

MATTHEWS: I thought it was very impressive.

I reminded -- it reminded me of Nikki Haley. She said, I don`t get confused, Haley said.

She said, don`t try to mischaracterize my situation.

CICILLINE: Strength that I bring.

MATTHEWS: By the way, I think your ally Nancy Pelosi is -- was benefited from today.

CICILLINE: Absolutely. I think she was terrific.

MATTHEWS: I think that fighting match with the president helped her.

What do you think?

CICILLINE: Absolutely.

ALCINDOR: I think it was a strong moment for her, because she didn`t want to be seen as someone who was being talked over. She let the president finish his point. She didn`t talk over him. She didn`t interrupt him.

And then he came in with this idea that was like, I`m already the speaker. Let me tell you...


MATTHEWS: She said he`s into an alpha male number.

I want to ask you about -- Congressman, I don`t want to put you in a corner, because you`re probably a reasonable old-time Democrat -- Republican.


MATTHEWS: But he comes in with that man-spread legs out, like the weird way he sits. This is the way he sits. It`s all attitude with Trump.

And then this guy next with this strange sort of character. I don`t know, Ed McMahon? Well, what is he doing there, the vice president? He`s just sitting there like lapsed being.



MATTHEWS: A lapsed being, like he`s just sort of into passive mode.

Schumer`s in New York mode.

Anyway, let`s bring in Eli Stokols, White House reporter for "The Los Angeles Times." He`s been -- got some reporting, hot stuff on today`s meeting.

What happened after that meeting? Because some of it seemed like performance art on both sides. But it looked -- was it real? Were they really angry at each other?

ELI STOKOLS, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Yes, well, I think that, afterwards, the president, based on the reporting that I`m getting out of the White House, that the president was frustrated after that meeting.

His aides briefed him going in. And aides at the White House, they are aware that sometimes you brief the president, he doesn`t always follow the plan. This was supposed to be a short photo-op, as these pool sprays often are, supposed to give a picture of the president working with the Democrats, the incoming House majority, and trying to get a deal done.

And then they`re supposed to leave. Well, as you know, the president likes to sometimes keep the cameras in the room. Pelosi was, as Yamiche pointed out, trying to help him say, we will talk when the cameras have left.

But it sort of spiraled out of control. And when the president left the Oval after Pelosi and Schumer left, a number of people saw him. He stormed out of the Oval, walked into an anteroom just off the Oval Office, and had in his hand a folder of briefing papers. And he just scattered them in -- out of frustration...


STOKOLS: ... threw them across the room, and expressed frustration to the people who were present, mainly with Chuck Schumer.

His old New York sparring buddy, he felt, got the better of him, goaded him into it.

MATTHEWS: I think he did.

STOKOLS: And he remarked about how Schumer wouldn`t make eye contact with the president and was actually looking back at the cameras as he was making comments to the president...


STOKOLS: ... but directing those comments to the camera.

It frustrated the president more than that what worried his aides, which was actually the comments that he made sort of taking ownership of a shutdown.

MATTHEWS: I think the president in this case read it well. He lost the...


MATTHEWS: But I want to point out something.

Thank you very much, Eli Stokols, for that reporting.

I`m watching the president do this kind of thing. And I`m reminded of Marcel Marceau and the wall? Remember? The mime, he would go on television. He would, like, pretend there`s a wall there, this mime. And the president was like -- he is -- it`s like he thinks there is a wall, but there is no wall, Congressman. He keeps talking about this wall. There is no wall, Congressman.

REED: Well, that`s why we need to have border security. I mean, I think that`s what you`re referring to, Chris.

I mean, that`s why a wall is part of border security. It`s part of making the border secure. But it`s not the only thing. And that is where I think this opportunity lies for a compromise position to come out at the end of the day.

CICILLINE: But I think the president also showed in front of the American people his failure to be a good negotiator.

He basically said, if you don`t give me what I want, I`m shutting the government down. He claims he`s this great negotiator, this great deal- maker. The American people saw him fail miserably in terms of negotiating a real solution.

ALCINDOR: I want to add this.

There`s an aide on the Hill who e-mailed me this. This is what Nancy Pelosi told fellow lawmakers: "It`s like a manhood thing for him, as if manhood could ever be associated with him."

She was going straight for the jugular today. And she wanted to make sure that President Trump...

MATTHEWS: As if manhood would ever be associated with the wall or him?

ALCINDOR: With him, with President Trump.

MATTHEWS: Oh, really?

ALCINDOR: She said, "as if manhood would ever be associated with" President Trump."

That`s what Nancy Pelosi told federal lawmakers on the Hill when she got back after that meeting. So what you have is Nancy Pelosi capitalizing on this moment and saying, look, we went in there, we didn`t back down.

And she`s going -- she`s talking about manhood here, which is not something that we hear from Nancy Pelosi often.


MATTHEWS: Is that appropriate? Is that how bad it`s got?

CICILLINE: I think she`s reflecting the will of the American people.

They gave Democrats to House. American people do not support wasting money on a wall that will be ineffective. And she communicated that very fortunately in those negotiations.

She did that in as adult manner and a really effective way, and I think put the president in his place.

MATTHEWS: So, a week from now, both of you elected officials, it`s next Saturday.

REED: Yes.


MATTHEWS: The Saturday after this. Are you going to get a bill?

REED: We`re going to get a bill.

MATTHEWS: So, this is all opera bouffe?

REED: This is all drama. This is all theater, Chris.

I have been here long enough watching this. This is about posturing, playing to people`s bases. At the end of the day, we get a deal done that gets the border...


MATTHEWS: I agree with you. But this is one of those issues.

Either there`s a wall or there`s not going to be a wall. He keeps saying, well, $1.6 billion wall, but there`s no wall. They never passed the thing. He wants five, he says. The Democrats say zero. They`re not going to agree on 2.5, because there`s no sense in having a half-a-wall, right?

CICILLINE: If he is serious about border security, there`s a compromise to be had with technology, with fencing, with more agents. There`s a way we can get more border security.

If it is about wasting money for a wall, it won`t...


MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at more of this.

Yamiche mentioned earlier the president took a swipe at Nancy Pelosi over the potential battle she is facing to get reelected speaker this January.

Let`s watch this.


TRUMP: I don`t think we really disagree so much.

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, and I fully understand that.

PELOSI: Please don`t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory.

SCHUMER: Elections have consequences, Mr. President.

PELOSI: Let me just -- let me just say...


TRUMP: That`s right. And that`s why the country is doing so well.


MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about this. You`re the only woman of the four of us, so I want you to talk, Yamiche, besides being a fantastic reporter.

This new thing about no more B.S., no more mansplaining, Nikki Haley, I thought, did it well a few months ago.

And now she did it again. She stopped the music. She said, you`re not going to get away with that swipe about, I`m in a tough fight for reelection here.

ALCINDOR: I think what we saw was Nancy Pelosi give the president space to do all that he wanted to do, and then say stop and say, look, we can always about policy, but listen to me and listen to the strength that I`m bringing.

She was -- that was Nancy Pelosi being very polite, but being very clear about her stance. So, I think that she was saying, no mansplaining here. Let me remind you who I am.

MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump previewed today`s meeting on Twitter.

In a series of tweets this morning, the president made his case for more funding to build his border wall, at one point writing -- quote -- "People do not yet realize how much of the wall, including really effective renovation, has already been built."


MATTHEWS: But an NBC News fact-check of the president`s claims found -- quote -- "No new concrete wall has been built along the U.S. Mexican border."

Nada, no wall. And Congress never approved funding for any of the eight different wall prototypes he put forward. As I mentioned a bit, well, for fun, Trump`s imagination of a wall reminds me -- it did today -- of the French mime Marcel Marceau, acting like he actually was touching a wall.

And the president -- Congressman Cicilline, he actually acts like it exists.


MATTHEWS: Look at this, his hands today.

CICILLINE: That`s right, because he has made this such a centerpiece of his administration that he can`t acknowledge that he has been unsuccessful in making it happen.

What he should acknowledge is, it is not an effective way to secure the border and let it go.

But he is speaking to his base. He has made this such a commitment, now he`s imagining it is done.


MATTHEWS: Congressman Reed, you are for the wall. OK.

REED: Yes.


REED: But it`s not just a wall.

MATTHEWS: It is about 2,000 miles. It`s a long border. It`s not like Israel or anywhere else. It`s 2,000-mile-long

Can we afford a 2,000-mile, what do you call it, a hard wall?


REED: Well, what we`re talking are barriers, a wall, a fence.

You heard D.C. speak here today. You heard concrete wall is what you fact- checked. There are steel walls. There are walls on the border today. There are areas of the border that need a functioning wall to keep us safe.

And that`s what this is all about. This is about a wall from the left and a wall from the right. Political theater. At the end of the day, American people want our border secure. That`s what we`re going to get at the end of this drama. And that`s why I`m confident...


MATTHEWS: Is this a 2020 issue?

REED: I think it is a 2020 issue.

This is a repeated issue until we actually fix the issue, which I think David and I agree on. Comprehensive immigration reform is necessary. There`s a path to a successful outcome here. We can lead it in the House.

CICILLINE: You just need to talk to your -- the president.


REED: I think we can get a bill done and we can go from there.

MATTHEWS: It`s not going to be comprehensive until we deal with the people that have been living here for 20, 30 years, and we`re not going to tell them to go home. We`re going to let them become Americans.


MATTHEWS: And the other thing is, we`re going to stop illegal hiring as part of it, because it`s all part of the comprehensive deal.

REED: That`s it. You got it.

MATTHEWS: And if you guys want to vote for it, it will happen. Bring it to a vote.

Yamiche, why don`t they just vote on it? It`s a good comprehensive bill. They all agree on it.

ALCINDOR: I do think that there are a lot of people who are really scared for their jobs, and this is the holiday season.

So, I think, while you talk about it as political theater, there are federal workers who are wondering whether or not they are going to have a job and money on Christmas Day. So I think that Americans really want this figured out.

REED: And I agree with that. Get it done...


MATTHEWS: Thank you, Yamiche Alcindor, speaking for reasonableness, and U.S. Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island and U.S. Congressman Tom Reed from New York state.

Coming up -- around Buffalo.

Coming up: Maria Butina, boy, another Russian, becomes the first Russian national since the 2016 election to plead guilty to try to influence U.S. politics. So, it`s not a witch-hunt. It`s going on. The Russians are trying to mess with our politics. She just pled guilty today.

And according to the plea agreement, she is cooperating with federal prosecutors.

Plus, Jared Kushner makes a rare television appearance, where he deflected a question on accusations about the Saudi prince and the murder of -- he is defending this guy, the murderer. Why? We will get to that.

Why has the son-in-law got any authority to do anything, let alone speak for our country on behalf of a criminal and a -- well, a murderer?

And President Trump having a hard time facing the realities in front of him. Does Trump since, he says something enough, people are going to believe it? Apparently so.

Finally, Let Me Finish tonight with the war on truth and the war for truth, the good guys.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With her confession today, Maria Butina has become the first Russian to admit to trying to influence U.S. politics.

Now the cooperating witness she is could shed more light on the Kremlin`s activities during the whole 2016 election.

NBC News reports that this 30-year-old Russian national who stands accused of cultivating Republican politicians and the NRA, the National Rifle Association, on behalf of the Kremlin, is entering a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Quote: "Maria Butina will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the law governing foreign agents operating in the United States."

Well, Butina is the first Russian national since the election of 2016 to plead guilty to a crime related to Russian influence-peddling here.

According to NBC, her plea agreement says she`s acted at the direction of a Russian official to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics for the benefit of the Russian Federation.

So, she is working for the government for Putin. It also says that, in a message to her Russian handler, Butina stated she had laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration.

And while Butina`s case was not brought by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, her cooperation with him could be of assistance to his probe.

For instance, back in July of, it was Butina`s question, her question in public, to Donald Trump that prompted then candidate Trump to say for the first time that he favored lifting the sanctions on Russia.

Here`s Butina`s question and part of Trump`s response.


MARIA BUTINA, DEFENDANT: If you would be elected as the president, what will be your foreign politics especially in the relationships with my country?

And do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging of both economy, or you have any other ideas?

TRUMP: I don`t think you would need the sanctions. I think that we would get along very, very well.


MATTHEWS: It`s so amazing to see him doing this in plain sight.

Anyway, joining right now is U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, and Kim Wehle, former federal prosecutor.

Congressman, sometimes, I think a lot of this is digging up information nobody can find and finally finding it. But a lot of what Trump did in terms of reopening a different relationship with the Russians is right there. Oh, get rid of the sanctions, you know?

It`s the -- tell us what you know about this woman Butina, Maria Butina.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Well, this is an interesting development, in the fact that she`s going to be cooperating with the federal government, because it really opens up an avenue for prosecutors to find out a few things, first, how deep and extensive the Russian connections are for the NRA.

Remember, there was reporting and news about the NRA possibly accepting Russian money. This will be somebody who could tell us more about that, but also about the relationship between the NRA and some people in Donald Trump`s circle between them and Russian oligarchs.

She was close to Aleksandr Torshin, who`s of the Russian Central Bank. And, remember, at first appearance, it may be -- it may seem as though this was just a Russian who was here, a grad student, but this was somebody who took an NRA delegation to Moscow and had a meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States -- or the Russian foreign secretary.

So, an ordinary person -- you think about an American who`s a grad student in London or anywhere. They wouldn`t be able to just get a meeting with people that high up in the government, unless they themselves were very well-connected and probably working on behalf of the government.

MATTHEWS: Do you think it`s possible that the Russian oligarchs were spending money through the NRA in the U.S. to get Trump elected, filtering the money, channeling the money to the NRA?

CASTRO: I cannot say that definitively or conclusively.

But I certainly think that it`s worth further investigation, yes. And if you ask me, do I think it`s possible? Yes, I do.

MATTHEWS: This whole thing of -- Kim, you`re an expert on this, but this whole weird thing.

Here`s somebody with a Russian accent, obviously, a student visa person, who blatantly comes out and talks to this candidate for president about reducing or eliminating the sanctions.


MATTHEWS: And then he says, yes, I want to do it. It`s like this isn`t -- and this is cape and dagger. It`s right out in public. The Russians want us to drop the sanctions.

Russia -- Trump`s up to doing it. And they got this sort of being in bed together.

WEHLE: Sure. It`s -- and a student, a graduate student, at a campaign rally, that`s the person that he calls. And this is the question. He has a very detailed answer.

And this -- the question of sanctions ties into the Mueller investigation, because we`re -- I think the outstanding question is, what is the reason for so much lying to federal prosecutors about the entire process?

And one of the possibilities is a quid pro quo. Listen, we will lift sanctions, you help us. And so I think that, even though this is not brought by the Mueller team, this Butina plea is really critical to the larger picture of the Russian collusion, for lack of a better word.

MATTHEWS: Well, some of Trump`s Republican allies appear unfazed by the news that federal prosecutors up in New York have implicated the president in a scheme to break campaign finance laws by paying off two women for their silence. We know about that this weekend.

Here`s how Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah reacted in an interview with CNN yesterday.


QUESTION: Are you concerned about what the federal government is alleging here?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Well, I think the Democrats will do anything to hurt this president. Anything.

QUESTION: But it`s not the Democrats. It`s the Southern District of New York, the U.S. attorney, that is making this allegation.

HATCH: You think he`s a Republican, do you? I don`t care. All I can say is, he`s doing a good job as president.


MATTHEWS: I don`t care.


MATTHEWS: This guy`s from Utah.

Anyway, this comes as 44 former senators of both parties published an open letter today in "The Washington Post" to the current members of the U.S. said.

The senators wrote -- the former senators -- "We are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security. We urge current and former senators to be steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy by ensuring that partisanship or self- interest not replace national interest."

Congressman Castro, it seems like those 44 former senators of both parties are talking to people like Orrin Hatch.


MATTHEWS: You know, stand up for the Constitution and rule of law and stop being such a -- such a hack.

I never think of Orrin Hatch as a hack.


MATTHEWS: But that answer was a hack`s answer. I don`t care? I don`t care if he broke the campaign laws?

CASTRO: You`re right, Chris.

Well, and that`s the thing, is that Orrin Hatch has been a senator for a long time, and in many ways has had a distinguished career. But it`s almost painful and certainly appalling to see him really damage his reputation basically in the last few years of his time in Washington.

And what these 44 people are basically saying is that it`s time to put country over party, and you have got to not be so committed to the president that you basically overlook any wrongdoing that he commits.

And, unfortunately, the Republicans who have come out and said something, for the most part, all have former by their names.


CASTRO: You don`t have -- you have former Republican congressmen, former senators.


CASTRO: Everybody in this building on the other side over here that are working over here, they still refuse to acknowledge even on a basic level that the president has done anything wrong.

MATTHEWS: You are so right, Congressman.

What -- Kim, let me ask you about the Russian thing. I have always -- I have kidded, because I have no other way of responding to it, except to laugh at it. So many Russians, so many Russians trying to get through the door and influence -- to influence our politics, to try to get to Trump.

WEHLE: Yes, it`s stunning.

And the connections -- I think we`re into 14, 16 connections between the campaign and the Russians? And it reads like a spy novel or, at this point, we have jumped the shark. It seems almost too impossible to be true, because the facts are coming out with such a -- such fervor.

But the question, as I think was raised by these ex-senators, is, what are we going to do about it as a constitutional democracy? And that really is one, I think, for the ages in this moment.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s like a Russian novel with all those names.


MATTHEWS: So many names. I`m not kidding, but it`s outrageous.

Anyway, thank you, U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro. Thank you, sir, a member of the Intelligence Committee.

CASTRO: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you for coming on, sir.

And Kim Wehle for her expertise.

And next: We`re finally hearing from Trump`s son-in-law -- what a character he is -- and his crusade -- and that`s what it is -- on behalf of the killer of an American journalist.

That`s what he`s doing right now, that guy, the son-in-law, the first son- in-law. He has no authority under the law, but he`s representing the United States and saying, I`m on the side of the killer. That`s what he`s saying.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


Well, Jared Kushner, the president`s son-in-law and Middle East adviser -- what a joke that is -- has been an unflinching ally of the Saudi Arabian crown prince, MBS, Mohammed bin Salman.

According to "The New York Times," Kushner continued to chat informally with the prince even after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Kushner offered the crown prince advice about how to weather the storm. Ooh.

Anyway, the CIA has concluded with high confidence, the CIA, high confidence, MBS ordered the assassination of Khashoggi.

But Kushner downplayed that last night on FOX. Good place to downplay it. Let`s watch.


JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I think our intelligence agencies are making their assessments. And we`re hoping to make sure that there`s justice brought where that should be.

We`re focused now on the broader region, which is -- which is figuring out how to hopefully bring a deal together between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That conflict has gone on for way too long. The president`s been very focused on trying to bring all the different parties together.

And we`re hopeful in the next couple of months we will put out our -- our plan, which, again, not every side is going to love.


MATTHEWS: Well, according to a transcript of the murder which was obtained by CNN, Khashoggi gasped as he shouted that he couldn`t breathe, as the death squads set upon him. They proceeded to dismember his body with a saw once they killed him.

Khashoggi is one of the four guardian journalists selected by "TIME" magazine as the person of the year. The magazine selected them because of their fight against the war on truth.

And just now, in an exclusive interview with Reuters, President Trump followed suit, saying he`s standing by Crown Prince bin Salman, despite the outcry. He said the prince is very strongly in power, whatever that means.

For more, we`re joined by Eli Stokols, who was with us before, White House reporter for "The L.A. Times." And joining me now is Bobby Ghosh, Bloomberg Opinion editor and columnist.

I want to start with Eli and then go to Bobby.

Are they all stupid? They`re stupid in defending what`s obviously a murderer, a premeditated murderer. And everybody knows he`s a murderer. And they`re being seen in the world as supporting a murderer. And then they`re doing it because they think somehow Saudi Arabia is going to back up Israel`s right to control Jerusalem.

I mean, I don`t understand how the defenders of Mecca are going to say, all right, Israel can have the Holy Land. What -- the whole proposition sounds insane and immoral, because it`s based on murder.

STOKOLS: I think that`s a fair summation.

And I think you`re right. They`re basing everything on this wait-and-see what we can deliver with a peace process that`s just out there as the sort of chimera that they`re show -- pointing to and saying, just wait.

MATTHEWS: Like the wall.

STOKOLS: Just wait. This is going to happen.

Well, news flash. This has been pretty elusive.


STOKOLS: And Jared, in that interview, said with a plan that not everybody is going to like.

There`s an understanding. I mean, they`re not really even dealing with the Palestinians. Jared Kushner`s primary qualification for being in this position, aside from being the president`s son-in-law, is that he`s known Netanyahu since childhood.

I mean, he`s effectively a proxy for Netanyahu in this process.

MATTHEWS: Netanyahu is a strong -- and he`s a Likud guy. He`s not going to give away Jerusalem, as if any Israeli will.

Let me -- let me go to Bobby on this.

Bobby, you know more about the Middle East than I do. But I got to tell you, that part of the world is not subject to an easy deal based on a murder. And the idea of -- the immorality of building a peace plan on the -- on a murder cover-up is awful morally.


It`s immoral. It`s impractical, and it completely overestimates MBS, the crown prince, his ability to do any good. And it underestimates his ability to do tremendous harm.

Throughout the two years that he has effectively been in charge of his country of Saudi Arabia, MBS has done enormous damage. He has destabilized all of the Middle East. He has led his country and others into war in Yemen. He has broken up the Arab unity by basically blockading Qatar. He has done enormous damage in the Middle East to American interests.

So, the idea that both the president and his son-in-law think that he is going to somehow pull some sort of a rabbit out of a hat and save this nonexistent Middle East peace plan, that is preposterous. That is bad politics, immoral, as you have said a couple of times, and it`s just impractical.

It`s just not how the way the world works, much less the Middle East.

MATTHEWS: Well, they have this notion, it seems -- I hate when I see this -- like, we`re going to we`re going to buy a bunch of rooms at the Trump hotel in D.C., because that`s like baksheesh in the Middle East. That will get us something, like a little -- a little bribe.

And then they say, we will get the son-in-law, because he`s sort of like a crown prince, and we will work him, because he doesn`t know anything about the Middle East, and we will tell him all the -- we will whisper in his ear all this nonsense.

This guy doesn`t know anything. They -- we have got tapes now showing that they had transcripts where they actually have vetted this guy and found he doesn`t know anything.

STOKOLS: Well, there`s been great reporting by "The New York Times" most recently about just how the Saudis marked Jared Kushner a couple of years ago during the Trump campaign, and said, he`s the guy. He`s going to be our ticket in.

And they have effectively manipulated him in doing this. I think, if you step back, the parallels between the administration`s approach to Saudi Arabia and to Russia are striking, not just the blanket dismissal of the U.S. intelligence officials` conclusions in the Khashoggi matter, in the Russian election meddling matter, wiping those away for no reason, and choosing to believe these adversaries instead.

But, also, you sit here, and you watch the way that they deal with these administrations. They are trying to convince Americans that the U.S. benefits from an improved relationship with Russia, from the strong relationship with the Saudis.

They haven`t really proved -- laid out the case -- made the case effectively for why that matters, for what we`re getting out of it. They have said, oh, we`re going to get a peace process. They have pointed to these arms deals, much of which were negotiated by the last administration.

But they haven`t really shown why they are bending over backwards for these two regimes.

MATTHEWS: Bobby, what`s it look like over there?

I love what Eli said, but what`s it look like over there? What`s the world and the Middle East -- the whole Middle East, how do they see these sort of royal-to-royal, royal-family-to-royal-family relationships going here, with Jared against MBS?

GHOSH: Well, I think that there`s a lot of shaking of heads and wondering how it is possible.

I mean, MBS` behavior, they have had a couple of years. They are used to seeing him behave like that. They are used to seeing him make rash and reckless decisions that do a lot of damage.

But the fact that the United States is going along with this, that it`s -- that it`s over -- over and over again defending him, despite American intelligence agencies, the American Congress over and over again saying, this is the guy who`s -- who should be held responsible, despite all of that, they`re seeing that the White House and Jared Kushner continue to defend MBS.

They just don`t know what to make of it. They can`t believe that the White House can be so credulous to buy into the idea that MBS, the prince of Saudi Arabia, is somehow going to be the great hope, the great Arab hope of the Trump administration.

MATTHEWS: Well, he murders journalists.

Anyway, thank you, Eli Stokols. Thank you, Bobby Ghosh, over in London.

Up next: President Trump is having a hard time facing the realities in front of him. Does he think, if he says something enough over and over again, people are going to believe in?

Well, about 40 percent of the country believes whatever he says, because they don`t think about it. They just say, yes, yes.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, I don`t mean to embarrass you, but I`m a rather brilliant surgeon. Perhaps I could help you with that hump.



MATTHEWS: That`s Marty Feldman in "Young Frankenstein." What hump? That reminds of Trump, which is what?

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Mel Brooks as "Young Frankenstein", as I said, and just as Igor couldn`t face the reality of his hump, President Trump is having a hard time facing realities in front of him. In a series of tweets this morning, the president credited, quote, newly built walls for stopping the caravan of migrants from entering the country along the southern border. The wall did it.

The reality, those newly built walls don`t exist at all. Congress never approved funding for a dime at all. There`s no prototypes, there`s nothing. Nothing he wanted done has been done, yet he said it was the wall that kept the so-called caravan from crossing into the U.S.

Anyway, the president also tweeted that he is having no problem filling the soon to be vacant chief of staff job.

The reality, according to "The Washington Post" is that Trump is scrambling to find a replacement, since his first choice, the vice president`s chief of staff, turned him down. Turned him down, he`s 36 years old. He turned down a president for the top job. That tells you where things are.

And on Friday, following the release of three court filings that among other things allege the president directed an illegal campaign finance scheme, Trump tweeted totally clears the president. It is outrageous.

We`re joined by tonight`s HARDBALL team. Former U.S. Congresswoman Donna Edwards, a great fan, a good portion for the show here. Ryan Williams, Republican strategist and former spokesman for Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney is back, by the way. And Steve Weisman, a friend of mine, a good friend, author of "The Chosen Wars: How Judaism Became an American Religion." By the way, I think that maybe true of all religions in this country. They get more American the longer they`re here.

All right. Let me ask you about the president. Is he deluded or is this just performance art, when he says things like the wall when he knows the wall is not there, when he says I love, everybody wants to be my chief of staff and nobody wants to be our chief of staff, who`s he`s kidding?

FORMER REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: OK. Here`s an understatement, the president has a difficult relationship with reality. Today, that was actually proven in the Oval Office when confronted with truth after truth and he denied it. I think he does it for his base. He does it to rally them. And that really works with them. Just doesn`t work with the rest of the American public.

MATTHEWS: Salesmanship. Ryan, do you believe he doesn`t believe it? Is he a salesman that believes his own B.S.?

RYAN WILLIAMS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I`m not sure. I think Donna is right. I think he`s trying to speak to his base. But I think these are emotional tweets, its kind of an emotional reaction more than political strategy. There`s no one in the White House on the press team, the legal team, anybody telling him to do this. This is just kind of him reacting.

MATTHEWS: So, somebody is at a bar this Friday night. My image is Route 40, or somewhere, the old -- one of the old county roads, and it says shops, steaks, you know, cocktails, there`s a guy at the bar, you know, the president says that wall stopped that caravan thing. And it`s like, Steve, I mean, there are people that believe it literally, the words he puts out. There`s no wall, the caravan didn`t get stopped.

STEVEN WEISMAN, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: The caravan worked for him up to a point, right? It was the subject of the last couple of weeks before the election. But, you know, I loved what we saw today was the cold open for "Saturday Night Live," don`t you think?

MATTHEWS: Yes, the first time. Well, the Democrats think they can win the election if they just stand up to the guy, right, Donna? Just standing up to him something that a lot of people on the left, I say that positively, people on the progressive side don`t feel the Democratic Party has been tough enough, pushy enough.

EDWARDS: Well, and today that was underscored, because when Nancy Pelosi looked right at the president and said Trump shutdown and then said it twice because he pretended not to hear it, I think the Democrats love that. I think today you could see why it is people need Nancy Pelosi as speaker. She walked all over top of him.

MATTHEWS: He tried to talk to Schumer, and Schumer wouldn`t give eye contact. He was talking to the press.

Meanwhile, in an interview with "Reuters" just released, just this minute, President Trump says he is not worried about getting impeached. According to "Reuters", White House correspondent Jeff Mason, Trump said, it`s hard to impeach somebody who hasn`t done anything wrong. Trump also defended payments his former lawyer Michael Cohen made to two women who had alleged affairs with the president, saying, number one, it wasn`t a campaign contribution. If it were, it was only civil. Even if it`s only civil, there was no violation based on what we did. OK?

OK, Ryan? What do you make of that? He just says -- well, that`s a good defense, I guess. I didn`t do anything wrong, and if I did it, it wasn`t wrong.

WILLIAMS: I guess that`s what he`s got now. This is the latest version of the Michael Cohen affair, his explanation.

MATTHEWS: Steve, he admits the reality. He admits basically that payments were made, may be a civil violation, so what?

WEISMAN: He did. He should have gone a step further which John Edwards did, and said, I did this, but it was to protect my family, my wife. That`s how John Edwards as I understand it got off, not by denying the reality that Trump has. So, he should acknowledge the payment, maybe focus on his motivation if he wants to get off the hook.

EDWARDS: Not that it matters, but he`s undercut that argument over and over again with tweets and statements, so, it`s really -- I mean, not that he couldn`t come back to it because he does all the time, but the fact is that the president did something unlawful, and I think Congress has to figure out what to do with that.

MATTHEWS: If he were as smart as he thought he was, he would say I set up a deal with national Enquirer before I ran for office, this catch and kill deal, to hide my affairs. I had it all set up, just the same mechanism I used when I`m running. So, it wasn`t for a campaign issue, he could have, but he didn`t. He said the wrong.

Anyway, finally, with 2020 on the horizon, the progressive group Move has listed an early straw poll of potential Democratic candidates, I love this stuff. It`s early but I love it. It shows Congressman Beto O`Rourke topping the list, look at that, with a narrow lead over former Vice President Joe Biden. Rounding out the top five were Senator Bernie Sanders, of course, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren dropping down there. Why do you think Harris is lower than we would have thought in the group? These are people on the hard left, top left.

EDWARDS: Well, I think move on or the activists, people who knock on doors, people that give small donations. I think what surprised me was, one, not that Beto was at the top, because that was a group that was really enthusiastic for him and remains so, but it`s also the same group that did endorse Bernie Sanders in 2016. Surprise, Joe Biden as high as he was among progressives when a lot of people don`t view him as progressive.

MATTHEWS: Brian, not that I don`t have doubt sometimes, but do you think people begin who are most politically committed are saying, you know what, we got to win this, we have to get a winner.

WILLIAMS: I think the real story here is how badly Elizabeth Warren is doing this fall. These are her people, party activists. This is what she is supposed to be appealing --

MATTHEWS: Is this a function of the DNA test?

WILLIAMS: I think it is. I think they`re looking at her, and they`re thinking she`s damaged goods. And a guy like Beto who they think is progressive, young, a good face, might be a better option. So, I think this is a real -- if we see more polls like this, it will be trouble for Warren as she tries to get it off the ground.

MATTHEWS: Who`s the one you`re afraid of? Are you for Trump if he runs again?

WILLIAMS: I am for the Republican nominee. President Trump.

MATTHEWS: If Trump is the nominee, who are you most afraid of?

WILLIAMS: At this point, no one.

MATTHEWS: Who`s your most afraid of? Come on. Is it Biden?

WILLIAMS: I think Biden has name ID. He`s a more moderate candidate. I don`t think he makes it through a Democratic primary.

MATTHEWS: If he gets past the primaries, look out, right?

WILLIAMS: We`ll see.

WEISMAN: I`m surprised Biden did that well, because it`s not a matter of name recognition, these activists recognize names of everyone. So, the fact that they rated him as high as they did was interesting to me, and very good news for him.

MATTHEWS: Do you think days of NBC, November doesn`t count are over? The people in the hardest left do want to win?

WEISMAN: Of course they want to win. But you can seem to think he has a strong base.


EDWARDS: Democrats love primaries.

MATTHEWS: This is going to be one great -- this is going to be great campaign. I hope it takes awhile. I`m afraid Democrats will make a decision too fast in a couple of weeks. Let the whole country get involved, let California get involved, let Texas get involved, have a lot of involvement.

So, by May or June of 2020, they have the best possible team. It has to be a team. It has to have somebody of color on the team, a woman on the ticket, put it together like a New York state ticket in the old days. That`s what I say.

The roundtable is sticking with us, and up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.

Donna, tell me something I don`t know.

EDWARDS: Some of those Democratic wannabes are making phone calls to the no longer existing superdelegates to try to get their support.

MATTHEWS: And they don`t exist. There`s no vote there?

EDWARDS: Well, no, but they still want them. So they`re making the call.


WILLIAMS: Congressional Republicans are quietly preparing for several resignations in the first six to eight months of the Congress, so keep your eyes peeled for a few special elections. It could be viewed as --

MATTHEWS: Why are they quitting?

WILLIAMS: They don`t want to be in the minority. Look for another job.

MATTHEWS: Isn`t that funny? I always thought it would be great job to be a congressman and not have to do anything. They don`t like that job once you have a real job.

Steve Weisman with a great book.

WEISMAN: Chris, when President Trump had some visitors for Hanukkah the other day, he referred to Israel as your country. That really alienated America`s youth. And as I say in my book, "The Chosen Wars," Judaism became an American religion in which Jews discarded their identity as a nation, and embraced their religion as a religion, an American religion. They were really annoyed and are annoyed when they`re accused of dual loyalty and being a nation loyal to Israel.

MATTHEWS: And that`s what Lindbergh did back in the bad days of the` 30s. You`ve heard the Jewish people as being from another --

WEISMAN: Yes. Well, it`s frankly run through a lot of the anti-Semitic dog whistling and code words of the last year.

MATTHEWS: I -- when I think about your theme, I think it`s true with all the religions. All religions in America are a little different than the European versions of it. And more -- they`re just more different. I can`t get into -- it only causes me trouble. I`m Roman Catholic, but there`s a little difference over here.

Donna Edwards, Ryan Williams, Steve Weisman.

When we return, let me finish tonight with the war on truth and the good guys in the fight. There are good guys.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight the same way "TIME" magazine is ending the year, a high tribute to the journalists of the world who have delivered the truth and martyred for doing so.

The magazine pays special honor to Jamal Khashoggi, "The Washington Post" columnist who the CIA believes was ordered killed by the Saudi Arabian crowned prince, Mohammad bin Salman. There will, I predict, be no statute of limitations on this crime.

President Trump and his first son-in-law, Jared Kushner, can defend the Saudi prince all they want. They can hope that the headlines will fade, that the editors of our country`s newspapers will relent and move on, but it won`t happen. Why? Because those who report and edit the news, as a calling, cannot sit back and let the fact of Jamal Khashoggi`s killing fade away like an old newspaper, because to do so would be to betray the most fundamental of journalistic principles, the duty and right to report the truth.

Here is the unblinking reality. If Jamal Khashoggi had written what MBS, the Saudi crowned prince liked, he`d be alive today. Instead, he is dead.

To turn our back on this fact runs against basic human morality, thousand shall not kill. It runs against the Constitution and the First Amendment. It runs away from a crime scene that blackens all who defend the killers, especially the one who gave the orders.

And that`s HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.