Show: HARDBALL Date: December 18, 2018 Guest: Walter Dellinger, Ruth Marcus, John Sipher, Susan Page, Shawna Thomas
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: You sold your country out. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
A federal judge today said that the man President Trump chose to be his national security advisor sold his country out, adding that he was disgusted by his crime.
Those were just some of the explosive comments made inside a Washington courtroom today where Michael Flynn was expected to receive a lenient sentence for lying to the FBI. Instead, at the judge`s suggestion Flynn agreed to postpone his sentencing to cooperate with investigators for at least another three months.
The surprise development comes despite Mueller`s recommendation that Flynn serve no prison time on account of his quote "substantial assistance to prosecutors." Yet throughout today`s hearing district Judge Emmet Sullivan made clear he was not feeling as generous.
He said quote "arguably, you sold your country out. I`m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense." He added that quote "I cannot assure you that if you proceed today you will not receive a sentence of incarceration."
Specifically judge Sullivan objected to Flynn`s decision to question the FBI`s conduct in their initial interview with him in January of 2017. In a filing last week Flynn`s lawyers complained that the agents did not provide general Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement before, during or after the interview.
Echoing that sentiment, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders went further today claiming that before the hearing Flynn was ambushed by the FBI.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you arguing that he was entrapped?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, we are arguing that he was certainly ambushed. And certainly I think one thing is definitely clear is we think the FBI went outside the bounds and the scope of the way that they should operate in the way that they conducted interviewing Michael Flynn.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: However, Judge Sullivan gave Flynn every chance to press his case against the FBI in court today asking quote "do you wish to challenge the circumstances under which you were interviewed by the FBI?" Backing down, Flynn said, no, your honor.
Sullivan`s harsh judgment of Flynn was also a blow to President Trump who wished Flynn well before the hearing. Quote, this is Trump, "good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn. Will be interesting to see what he has to say despite tremendous pressure being put on him about Russian collusion in our great and obviously highly successful political campaign. There was no collusion."
I`m joined right now by Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for "the New York Times," Cynthia Alksne, a former federal prosecutor, Eli Stokols, White House correspondent for the "L.A. Times" and Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor.
What do you make of this, Glenn? This broadening (ph). I mean, the judge, it was like a character out of the bone fire of the vanities. The judge sitting up there, saying, don`t ask me to send you today, buddy and you are going away.
GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. Masters of the universe.
KIRSCHNER: So here`s what we saw today, Chris. And I was in the courtroom. And I have appeared before Judge Sullivan as a federal prosecutor. We saw the fiercely independent judiciary standing up and showing its force because Judge Sullivan, listen, he is known as somebody who hates government wrongdoing. And usually, what form does that take? When we are in there trying cases in front of him, if we are not doing it fast enough or well enough or to his liking he is yelling at us.
Well, today, Chris, General Flynn represented government wrongdoing. And that`s why Judge Sullivan came down on him and said, you want to go to sentencing today? I cannot promise you, you are not going to jail. You want to cooperate some more, come back in three months and try again. You know what he said, I`m still not promising you, you are not going to jail.
MATTHEWS: Where do judges stand basically of flippers, because basically a prosecutor needs flippers, but do judges thing about guys who rat out their leader, their boss, whatever?
KIRSCHNER: Judges know that they are an integral part of what we do as prosecutors and law enforcement.
MATTHEWS: But they don`t have to like him?
KIRSCHNER: They don`t have to like him. But what they do, if we don`t have insiders or cooperators, we cannot infiltrate criminal organizations. The judges know that. And the judges usually defer to the prosecutors when they make a sentencing recommendation because the prosecutors know the value of the assistance that cooperator rendered. The judge really doesn`t.
So yes, this is a little bit of a departure because the defense said zero to six months. Mueller said zero to six months. Sullivan said, not so fast.
MATTHEWS: Cynthia, this may be a question for a swami, but why in the world would Trump, the President, who this guy flipped on, be wishing him good luck today? What does he get out of a guy who has already spilled his beans on everything Trump did assumedly? He is still trying to keep him quiet. What do you think is going on here?
CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think he is still hoping against all hope that he can keep him quiet. But I tell you, I think it also invaded the courtroom.
Flynn comes out of his car. He is smiling. He is chatting with his lawyers. He is getting these little, you know, little kisses from the President on twitter. He is not taking the thing seriously. He comes in there and Judge Sullivan has a come to Jesus meeting with him like, you know, stand up. You know, he answers the question, speak up! And he obliterates the defense of you knew what you were doing was wrong. He obliterates the, I want to withdraw my plea. Sullivan was not fooling around. And Trump`s little twitter comments did not help him.
MATTHEWS: Eli, give me a background on this guy. Here is a judge -- General Flynn, who is sort of an amateur. I mean, he goes over to Russia. He hangs out with -- he gets his picture taken with Putin. Looks incriminating. Jill Steinman was there of course, the fourth party candidate. But then he lies. He never admits. He never signs up as an agent of Turkey even though he is getting paid. He is a lobbyist for foreign government. He never signs up with that. And he lies about all these meetings with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador. He does everything wrong. He gets caught and now Trump is rooting for him. Explain.
ELI STOKOLS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, we know that Michael Flynn lied about a lot of things. And today, the judge made sure to put him on the spot and say, did you know what you were doing when you talked to the FBI? And he said, yes, I knew what I was doing. I knew that I was lying. And he was probably lying because he knew that those other behaviors were not right. They were against the law, were transgressions of various sorts.
And so, that explains perhaps his lying and setting the record straight today. I think why is the White House so invested in portraying Michael Flynn as a victim here, as a victim of some sort of malfeasance by the FBI? It is because they are all in on this political defense for the entire thing.
MATTHEWS: What`s this ambush thing?
STOKOLS: Saying that everybody is being victimized by these overzealous prosecutors. That is the frame they are trying to put on this entire thing. I don`t know why the President has more empathy for Mike Flynn than he does, say, for Michael Cohen.
MATTHEWS: He doesn`t, definitely different Sarah.
What is this all about ambushing? And you have to tell the guy if you lie, it`s a crime. Do you have to act like a British Bobby? I must say so. Anything you say can be taken down against you. Do you have to do that?
KIRSCHNER: You don`t have to, not under the law and not really under the equities of the situation. I will tell you. What really is frustrating when the judge elicited from Flynn in substance, were you ambushed? Flynn said, no. Defense team, ambushed? No. Prosecutors, ambushed? No. The judge said Mr. Flynn was not ambushed. His plea stands and then Sarah Sanders thereafter goes on TV and says he was ambushed. That is so detached from the reality of what just went on in the courtroom that it is really unforgettable.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know who taught her what to say, right. She is not freelancing out there. She is not Robin gas station (ph).
KIRSCHNER: She is a mouthpiece for somebody else.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, despite Flynn`s cooperation with the special counsel, of course, he did cooperate. President Trump has continued to praise him while attacking Michael Cohen as the rat on this. Here is what Sarah Sanders says, as we just said, when asked about that thing. Why so mean to Michael Cohen and so nice to Michael Flynn?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His is cooperative with the special counsel`s office. He met with them 19 times. Is there any particular reason why the President has not said he is a rat the way that he has said to Michael Cohen is a rat?
SANDERS: Look, we know Michael Cohen to be a liar on a number of fronts. And the President`s opinion is extremely clear on that front. I don`t see any reason to go beyond that comment at this point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Peter, paint the painting here, this whole story, the story of Trump. Michael Cohen last week, Flynn this week, trashing one guy as this the audible center of all time. This guy is sort of a saintly figure as the President treats him. What`s it all about? They are both witnesses against him. They are both state`s witnesses?
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, we know what Michael Cohen has told prosecutors about President Trump. And he said it in open court. He said it to prosecutors that the President had directed him to, you know, to carry out an illegal scheme to pay hush money to women to keep them quiet before the election.
We don`t know what Michael Flynn told the prosecutors. We don`t know what Michael Flynn said in these 19 people meetings that he has had with Robert Mueller`s team. It maybe that once that becomes public, you might here the President change his tune, we just don`t know. For the moment, the President has taken on faith that Michael Flynn has been loyal to him. But he doesn`t have any particular reason that we know of to come to that conclusion one way or the other. But you are right, there is a very desperate treatment between the two of them. It depends whether or not one is seen as hostile and the other is not.
MATTHEWS: Apart from that, and I think that makes the most sense.
Eli, what about the possibility that the President has a consistent respect for military guys had worn uniforms and high rank, field rank?
STOKOLS: Yes, that certainly could be part of it. Also the fact that Mike Flynn was the first and really only high ranking establishment person out of the national security establishment to join on with his campaign and be a wholehearted --.
STOKOLS: So he has some gratitude? We have never this before. But you are laughing. You are laughing. Go ahead.
KIRSCHNER: Well, And Sessions was one of the first ones to endorse him and look what that got Sessions.
But I think it is something as simple as Cohen has stood up and publicly just told everybody the President did this and this and this. Flynn has said nothing. His defense team has been very disciplined, quiet. So trump doesn`t know what is coming. But I will tell you, Bob Mueller would not have supported the sentence of zero to six months if Flynn hadn`t given him everything on Trump and company.
MATTHEWS: Does the judge want more? Does Emmet Sullivan want more out of Flynn -- Cynthia?
ALKSNE: Yes, he does want more out of Flynn and he has gotten his attention. There`s an old saying in the law, grab them by the Cajuns and their hearts and mind will follow. And that is what he got now. He has his attention.
Remember this also. And that is that this whole thing started with Flynn. It all started when Trump tried to protect Flynn. He is afraid of Flynn. He went to Come and said can`t you -- can`t you somehow not go after my friend Flynn? He called the DNI. He called Pompeo. It`s all about Flynn. Flynn knows something that he is protecting the President on and the President hopes he hasn`t given it up and the rest of us hope he has.
MATTHEWS: I want to get back to Peter on this. What would be the what be? Because it seems to me that if you have a national security advisor to be, he is going to be the Henry Kissinger of Donald Trump, whatever you think of that parallel. He is talking to him about all of the strategic plans he have. If there was a big grand scheme, grand deal involving Putin, he would know all about it. He would know why he was talking to Kisylak, the Russian ambassador about sanctions. He would know about all the picture, he would know it. Is that what they are trying to get from this guy, what Trump was up to overall?
BAKER: Yes. It is important to remember that General Flynn was not just his national security advisor in the White House, he was also his basically national security advisor on the campaign trail. He was there through the entire, you know, 2016 course of the campaign when obviously Robert Mueller was very interested in knowing what kind of contacts were taking place, what kind of discussion were taking place about any meetings that might or might not have taken place.
And remember that 24 days, he served in the White House, obviously, very abbreviated, but also pretty important. Because in those early days there was discussion in that White House about whether or not to pull back on some of the sanctions that had been applied to Russia. Obviously, General Flynn can provide Robert Mueller a better picture of what that was about and whether there was any kind of connection to anything else that was going on.
MATTHEWS: Could it be possible that there was collusion by this President, Donald Trump with the Russian during the campaign, and Flynn didn`t know about it?
First Peter. I think I`m going to hit everybody with that question. Is it imaginable that his national security guy wouldn`t know what he was up to with Putin?
BAKER: Well, it`s hard to say. I mean, you would think not. But obviously, he knows something. He wouldn`t sit down 19 times with special counsel just to say the same thing over and over again or say I don`t know anything. Now, we just don`t know what it is. I mean, and --.
MATTHEWS: But I`m asking a logic question. How can the President run a campaign based to some extent on colluding with the Russians, where to get the dirt on Hillary, whatever, without his national security want-to-be not knowing about it. Is that conceivable?
MATTHEWS: In other words, if it`s there, he should have it. I`m trying to get to the bottom line of this whole, this whole mystery. If it`s there, wouldn`t Flynn know it?
BAKER: If there is something there, you presume that General Flynn might know about it. But let`s remember, this is -- the Trump campaign was not an ordinary campaign run by a tabled organization and a chain of command that you might normally see in the campaign. All kinds of things could happen where some - one part of the campaign might know about. Something another part might not know. So we can`t go too far I think in making a sense.
But you are right, he was in a position to know presumably something because he again, he spent 19 sessions with Robert Mueller`s prosecutors.
MATTHEWS: I mean, he may have the crown jewels is what I am getting at.
Anyway, advance of Flynn`s hearing today, Trump`s allies had expressed hope that Judge Sullivan would take an aggressive stance against the Mueller investigations. Here is how Jeanine Pirro described Judge Sullivan on FOX, not a million years ago, this past weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Judge Emmet Sullivan, a jurist unafraid of the swamp, a judge who has a track record of calling out prosecutorial misconduct, a man who does not tolerate injustice or abuse of power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Good set up Pirro. She went on to speculate that what would happen to Judge Sullivan throughout Flynn`s guilty plea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIRRO: The amazing part of it is if he does, then the house of cards of Robert Mueller falls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Glenn, what do you make that? Jeanine got - she is a good prosecutor but she got that judge wrong.
KIRSCHNER: Yes, not sure she could have been any more wrong. Now Judge Sullivan was certainly upset but Judge Sullivan was upset with Mike Flynn selling out his country as a national security advisor. And I think that country`s hero tonight is Judge Sullivan because he said, I don`t care what the parties say. You need to sit yourself in jail for a minute.
MATTHEWS: And this - and these people continue to do the Mexican-American judge. They always think that judge are going to do like robots what they are appointed to do, right?
MATTHEWS: And they can`t imagine a real judge.
Anyway, thank you. And Peter Baker, thank you. Cynthia Alksne, thank you.
And by the way, I like the Spanish down in Florida. That was great. Worth it.
Thank you, Cynthia, with your Spanish word there. I caught it.
Eli Stokols and Glenn Kirschner, thank you.
Coming up, President Trump is facing multiple investigations. Could he, as I have suggested last night, protect his family by resigning the presidency in exchange leniency for the kids and himself.
Plus, after trying to swing the 2016 elections in favor of Trump, Russia`s disinformation teams set their sight, can you believe this, on Robert Mueller. They were after of Mueller. We found this out late last night. Why were they so determined to protect Trump from Mueller?
And Mitch McConnell and the other Republicans are trying to persuade the President not shut down on government on Christmas Eve. But with this looking like a no-win situation for Trump, will he listen to them even?
Finally, let me finish tonight where "Saturday Night Live" on Saturday began.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The President and his family received another legal blow today with President Trump agreeing, he did, to dissolve his personal charity, the Trump foundation, as part of an investigation into the charity`s finances. The movement is part of a lawsuit brought by New York State against the President and his three eldest children, Don Junior, Ivanka and Eric, all serve as directors on the Trump foundation.
In a statement New York attorney general Barbara Underwood wrote quote "our petition detailed a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump foundation."
With six Trump entities now under investigation for a slew of potential criminal activity, it`s increasingly apparent his children aren`t immune from legal jeopardy. But to what length does the President willing to go to protect his family.
Former acting solicitor general Walter Dellinger notes, one option for prosecutors should they determine the president has committed a crime, writing: "One possible resolution would be to offer a plea bargain in which the commander in chief agreed to resign the presidency in exchange for utmost leniency."
Well, Dellinger goes on to add: "The end of Spiro Agnew`s vice presidency is instructive, and provides a good example for why we should be able to indict a sitting president."
I`m joined by Ruth Marcus right now, deputy editorial page for "The Washington Post," and Walter Dellinger himself, former acting solicitor general.
Mr. Dellinger, prosecutorial discretion amazes me. I watch it all the time. I have seen it with congresspeople who, in a quiet way, without any publicity, agree to end their political careers to avoid prosecution and incarceration.
We saw that with Agnew. What`s the chances that we will see this with Trump, something like this to protect himself and I think more immediately what seems to be coming up in the next couple of weeks and months, if not right away next year, and perhaps indictment of Ivanka, indictment of Donald Jr.?
WALTER DELLINGER, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL: Yes.
Well, you know, Chris and Ruth, I think that it is one way that a presidency can end, and end swiftly, the way Spiro Agnew`s vice presidency ended, because, remember, even if a president had some immunity from being indicted while he was sitting in the office, we only have 25 more months of the first term of Trump`s presidency.
And if he were not reelected, Air Force One would then turn into a pumpkin and he would be like any other citizen facing the bar of justice, so that he would then have to consider what his options were.
And if -- and I say this as a major if -- if any president had engaged in serious criminality which was provable beyond a reasonable doubt and was facing becoming a private citizen, he or she would have to think about, through their lawyers, whether to approach the government and say, look, we will hand over -- our guy`s a criminal, but we will hand over the nuclear codes, if you will promise to let him and his family go free, and if you will get all the state prosecutors who might have jurisdiction to agree as well.
MATTHEWS: Well, my question -- and I will go to Ruth on this. You`re a lawyer as well, an attorney.
And it goes to this larger question of, we`re looking up at a rock and a hard place in a couple months. If the children get indicted, will this presence sit and let them go to jail? I find it impossible to imagine him to get reelected with children in jail, unless he pulls some amazing appeal to the -- his people and say, they have come after my family, we got to fight them.
RUTH MARCUS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": So you`re piling hypotheticals on hypotheticals here.
MATTHEWS: No, no, because I will give you a tougher hypothetical.
These kids walk without any legal trouble the next couple years. That`s harder to believe.
MARCUS: Well, the notion of some Trump children being indicted is definitely potential.
But then you have the question, would this president really sacrifice himself, sacrifice his office even for his children? We haven`t exactly seen a lot of history of Donald Trump being so loyal, even to his family.
MATTHEWS: I think he is touchy about his kids.
MARCUS: He is touchy about his kids, but his primary loyalty over time has been demonstrated to be towards himself.
And then the other question is, can you really protect the children? Because, as Walt -- in Walter`s also somewhat hypothetical universe -- hi, Walter.
MATTHEWS: We`re in a hypothetical universe right now, by the way. That`s where we are.
MARCUS: He is imagining a bunch of state attorneys general kind of coming together to promise some degree of immunity. That`s also very difficult to achieve.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go the other way, Walter. You have thought about this. And you`re the expert.
How can you stop like the attorney -- the next attorney general of New York, who`s ready -- already gung-ho to go out after investigating Trump -- she has said so -- she`s just been elected -- or about the Southern District of New York -- who`s going to stop those prosecutors from indicting this president?
Not everybody`s controlled by Mr. Mueller.
MATTHEWS: And Trump has to deal somebody along the line to get himself free.
DELLINGER: Well, the Southern District of New York is -- reports to the deputy attorney general and the attorney general.
But the state prosecutors do not. And there`s really nothing the federal government can do. That`s really -- that`s really up to juries.
Now, I think, if a state prosecutor indicted a president during the time of his or her service, that would raise serious -- some serious federalism problems.
DELLINGER: But I think we need to -- I think we need to be cautious and remember that we never want to be a country where we put presidents or political opponents in prison.
So any prosecutor would have to proceed with great caution before proceeding down the road to indict even a former president, I think. They...
MATTHEWS: I know something here you may not know.
When Spiro Agnew was facing indictment, when he was about to go to jail for basically taking kickbacks as governor of Maryland, he was guilty of basically a street crime, theft, basically, of bribery.
He went to see Carl Albert, who was then speaker of the House, a Democrat, and asked him, pled his case to him, please put me on the Judiciary Committee. Bury this case in the House machinations for a couple years, and then I will be a good boy.
Tip O`Neill, my old boss, walked in the room, caught this deal being made, and said no deal on behalf the Democratic Congress. We`re not hiding you. We`re not going to bury this case in the House. You`re facing the wheels of justice, as like anybody -- other citizen.
And that`s what happened. So, Agnew thought he was protected by this impeachment process. Turns out he wasn`t. But it really depended on who the speaker was at the time. And he might have been able to escape justice.
But I`m saying, I just got a sense right now, with the wildness of what`s going on politically, that prosecution -- prosecutors have a lot of discretion right now what they`re going to do, because I have seen it with congresspeople in Philadelphia, when they agree to walk, no punishment, nothing in the papers. You know, Walter, this stuff is done.
And we have to ask ourselves, Chris, why is it that Mike Flynn was willing to take the risk of lying? What is behind this Russian involvement?
DELLINGER: It`s always possible that there`s less here than we think. And it is also possible this is the greatest crime in the history of America, if there was -- Americans were working with Russians to determine the outcome of a presidential election.
MATTHEWS: Well, Saddam Hussein went the world -- went to war and had himself hiding in a spider hole because he said he had weapons of mass destruction. He was protecting something that didn`t exist.
MATTHEWS: That`s one possibility I`m not willing to buy here.
I think there is something hidden behind that curtain.
Anyway, thank you.
FOX News -- actually, on FOX News, legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano suggested the president could already be under indictment in connection with his alleged role in directing Michael Cohen`s hush money campaign finance. A lot of people think this, he`s already indicted. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS: There`s ample evidence -- this doesn`t require too much analysis -- to indict the president.
The question is, do they want to do it? The DOJ has three opinions on this. Two say you can`t invite a sitting president. One says you can.
But all three address the problem of, what do you do when the statute of limitations is about to expire? All three agree, in that circumstance, you indict in secret, keep the indictment sealed and release it the day he gets out of office. You can`t let a person go scot-free because they happen to be in the White House.
SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS: So, he may be an already indicted co-conspirator?
NAPOLITANO: He -- that, I don`t know about. But it could be, because we don`t know what`s been sealed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Ruth, another possibility here.
MARCUS: Highly unlikely.
And Walter knows more about the Department of Justice legal opinions than I do. But the controlling legal authority, to coin a phrase, says that you can`t indict a sitting president. And the notion that Mueller or the Southern District did this -- and I think Judge Napolitano is suggesting the Southern District did this -- in contravention of the existing Justice Department policy, is pretty farfetched, I think.
MATTHEWS: OK, Ruth Marcus, Walter Dellinger.
Thank you, Walter, for exciting us with a great prospect. And I do think anything goes right now.
Cole Porter was right. Anything goes.
Up next: After helping Trump win the White House with its disinformation campaign, Russia refocused its efforts on the biggest threat to Trump, staying in the White House, Robert Mueller.
Putin, Moscow, they all went after Mueller after Trump was in -- new revelations of Russia interference in the American political arena straight ahead.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Late last night, we learned that Russia never stopped meddling in our politics on behalf of President Trump.
According to a report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee -- we mentioned it last night -- Russian operatives used Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to -- quote -- "increase or erode support for prominent political figures, including Julian Assange, Robert Mueller, and James Comey. These mentions were largely an attempt to shape audience perception during a relevant news cycle. These tactics and goals overlapped with the pro-Trump portion of the operation."
Perhaps most alarming is the timing. These operations continued after Russia`s interference became public. So, once they were ratted out, they were still doing it. The report also said that Russian-sponsored Facebook and Instagram accounts targeted former FBI Director James Comey after Trump fired Comey. And they targeted special counsel Robert Mueller after he was hired to investigate Trump`s campaign.
For more, I`m joined by John Sipher, a former CIA -- senior CIA official.
What do you make of this Jean Valjean, relentless pursuit on behalf of protecting Trump by the Russians?
JOHN SIPHER, FORMER SENIOR CIA OFFICER: Well, frankly, this relentless pursuit of the Russians has been consistent. They have relentlessly...
MATTHEWS: Javert, I should say.
SIPHER: Yes, there you go.
MATTHEWS: Javert, yes.
SIPHER: But relentlessly trying to hurt and sow chaos in the United States from the days of the Soviet Union all the way up through.
I think 2016 was unusual for a variety of reasons, because the ability to weaponize social media, the real hatred that I think Putin had for Hillary Clinton, and the dysfunction in our political system that made it easier for them to stoke and push these kinds of things.
MATTHEWS: What did you think? I have thought politics was always about fear, envy, and -- well, envy and fear. You`re either afraid somebody`s coming for what you got or you`re trying to get what they have.
What do we have that the Russians are trying to destroy?
SIPHER: They`re trying to destroy our relationship with our allies. They are trying to destroy America`s relationship with NATO, because, without America, NATO is really nothing. It`s all about credibility and our support to those people. So, Putin has been consistent in trying to break that apart.
And one of the reasons I think -- their support for Mr. Trump is because Trump was the chaos candidate. He sows chaos. He sows chaos between...
MATTHEWS: They saw that? So, they didn`t like him. They didn`t want to be bro -- brenemies or anything like that. They just thought he was a combustible fact that could hurt our country and our allies?
SIPHER: Absolutely. Absolutely.
I think they did hate Hillary Clinton, because she understood them and was tough on them and worked against Putin in the 2012 election.
MATTHEWS: She could see through Putin.
SIPHER: But Trump is the chaos candidate. He creates weakness here, and it hurts the relationship with our allies.
And we have seen that take hold, certainly.
MATTHEWS: What about that god-awful smirk we see on Putin all the time? He`s always -- every time Trump walks in the room, he`s laughing at him.
SIPHER: Well, Putin is a career KGB officer, takes pride in the chekist past. The Cheka was the intelligence service of the original Soviet Union. They still -- they still celebrate it to this day.
And so the Russian state is almost like a large intelligence agency that`s involved in sabotage and subversion. And they play these operational games. And I think Putin takes pride in sort of the cleverness of his operational games.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I saw his Stasi I.D. card the other day in the paper. Did you see that?
SIPHER: Yes. Yes, I did.
MATTHEWS: Way back when the DDR was there, East Germany. And he was -- he was a spook back then.
How`s it going to work for us? Let`s be positive for two seconds here.
MATTHEWS: How do we break out of this, this capture by the Russians of our country, of our president?
SIPHER: Well, the first thing we need to do is realize we`re far more powerful than them. And, with our allies, Russia doesn`t really have a chance to stand up to us.
The weakness, of course, is that we need the president to acknowledge this. If we`re going to have a policy that pushes back against Russia and uses our strengths, you can`t have a president who denies these things even happened.
But if we...
MATTHEWS: What is your take on Trump?
SIPHER: My take...
MATTHEWS: He`s not stupid, so why is he going along with this? Why is he letting himself be used?
SIPHER: Well, there`s some instincts there that I don`t understand, in terms of supporting somebody like Putin. There might be those business instincts.
But I do think that potentially working with the Russians, some version of collusion, is something that may be true.
Thank you so much, John Sipher.
SIPHER: My pleasure.
MATTHEWS: Up next: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he is sure the government won`t shut down over funding for the wall down there along the Mexican border. But with the White House dead-set on getting that wall money, why is McConnell so sure of himself?
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. President, can we ask about the shutdown?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will see what happens. Too early -- too early to say. Sorry. Thank you. OK.
Thank you, everybody.
QUESTION: Are you still willing to shut it down for $5 billion?
TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. We need border security. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, when that goes on, I thought I was watching "Saturday Night Live." I got to tell you, it`s getting very hard to distinguish.
Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump is set to travel to his estate in Mar-a-Lago this Friday for a 16-day vacation while the threat of a partial government shutdown looms over this city. That`s Washington, D.C.
And that sets up the prospect of a jarring photo-op, the president playing a round of golf out there, protected by Secret Service agents who aren`t even getting their pay up to date. This would be among the roughly, they would be, among the roughly 800,000 workers furloughed. They`re working without up to date paychecks.
Well, on Capitol Hill today, Democrats rejected a proposal from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that would provide $1.6 billion in border wall funding with an additional $1 billion slush fund that Trump could use for his immigration agenda, but not border wall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: A $1 billion slush fund is not what is right, what the American people want and it couldn`t get votes in either house to pass.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Now I`m in consultation with the White House about the way to go forward and we`ll have more to say about that, hopefully, a little bit later about what the president is willing to sign. I must say the administration is extremely flexible on this issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I don`t think so.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a rare White House press briefing today, increasingly rare, put a response on Congress and not the president to solve this problem.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We want to see what the Senate can pass. They`ve thrown a lot of ideas. They have yet to take a vote. Once they do that we`re disappointed in the process and their inability to put something forward. Once they make a decision and they put something n the table, we`ll make a determination on whether or not we`ll move forward on either a short term or long term spending bill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable. Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today", Shawna Thomas, Washington bureau chief for "Vice News", and Howard Fineman, MSNBC news analyst.
Thank you all.
You know, I used to think that you had eight, then you have ten, you solved it with a nine. That`s the great thing about math, you find a middle number. But this is about a symbol. This fight now isn`t about appropriations number. This is about a president who run on a wall, a wall, no B.S., no symbolic, a wall, made up of real stuff, brick and mortar.
And the Democratic Congress which is very upset with the anti-immigrant nature to this president, neither want to give.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: The wall wasn`t going up so fast when Republicans control those houses of Congress --
MATTHEWS: Why did they never build a piece of the wall?
PAGE: Well, I think there`s Democratic opposition. A lot of Republicans - -
MATTHEWS: They have $1.6 billion to put a wall.
PAGE: They prepared some fencing, but not exactly the wall. But what you`re seeing now is what is going to be the case for the next two years, which Democrats are really emboldened to stand up to President Trump on this. He is not going to get funding for his wall and it`s compounded by his comment, his astounding comments last week saying he would be proud to take responsibility for government shutdown and Democrats are happy --
MATTHEWS: Well, Democrats work on a Hill two blocks from here. They have to stay in town of the government hasn`t begun functioning again. Trump`s down in Mar-a-Lago.
Is that an advantage? He`s down there. They`re up here. I don`t know.
SHAWNA THOMAS, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, VICE NEWS: I don`t know if it`s an advantage. I think it is one of those things that it will create, as you said in the beginning, sort of a video situation in which it will look like he is insensitive.
That being said, the Democrats are in a situation where this is a symbol to them too, right? He made the wall a tenet of his campaign. The Democrats have made the wall a tenet of something that they are unwilling to do. And truth of the matter is Sarah Huckabee Sanders can say, the Senate needs to put something on the floor and then we`ll evaluate.
The thing is we already know what the deal is. The deal that really has been struck on the Hill is that $1.6 billion for some kind of immigration kind of thing, and then the rest of the government is funded. That`s the deal.
MATTHEWS: What are they going to do -- Howard, you know, I used to say, don`t throw a 50-foot roof to somebody drowning 100 feet from the shore. I mean, what good is building 1.6 of a building? Why waste even a dollar on a wall that`s not going to be completed? They`ll walk around it.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: As you were saying before, it`s a largely symbolic argument.
FINEMAN: Either you believe in a concept that is almost god like or you don`t, one or the other. But I think part of the problem here and I was looking back at the Trump book "Art of the Deal". OK, in "The Art of the Deal", Donald Trump says you`re supposed to make these grandiose claims and always be threatening to leave the table and go home.
FINEMAN: The problem with that theory in Washington is while you can go to Mar-a-Lago, you`re functionally still here. There`s nowhere to go.
This is the government. This is the country. You can`t just get up and leave. There`s no table to leave.
MATTHEWS: That`s why he can always drop the deal.
FINEMAN: He can drop a deal, you can`t drop a deal, you got a government to run, you got a country to run. You can`t walk away. You can`t take it and go home.
MATTHEWS: I talk to conservatives about this and they don`t really care if the wall -- they don`t care if the government shuts down. They don`t take it means -- the Lincoln Memorial is not going to have lights on it for a couple of days. They know the zoo won`t have zoo lights, they don`t care.
PAGE: Do you remember the first time the government shut down in my memory was Clinton and New Gingrich, and it seemed like the end of the world. And now, this is a third one in two years. It does have less of a sense of urgency --
MATTHEWS: Who cares about the government shutdown? The federal employees don`t get paid for a couple of weeks, but they do get paid every dollar.
THOMAS: They do get paid but they don`t necessarily get their checks on time, and it takes a great deal of money to actually restart the system, as well as put out those back paychecks, and they --
MATTHEWS: But in a way they get paid for not working.
THOMAS: In a way they get paid for not working, do you want your paycheck right before Christmas?
MATTHEWS: You`re making the case.
THOMAS: I`m making a case for the fact that it`s not every government worker, it is a partial shut down, and I`m glad you used that term. But there are hundreds of thousands of people who are not going to be sure they`re going to have the money to make ends meet at any given year.
MATTHEWS: I think the Democrats, just guessing, but I don`t know for sure. Trump`s people up there probably saying tough.
Meanwhile, the stock market is slightly up today following yesterday`s bill selloff. However, unless there`s a Christmas miracle in the next couple of weeks, the stock market is on track for the worst December since the Great Depression. How is that for a standard?
When the stock market was doing well, President Trump was not shy about taking credit. Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The stock market which to me is jobs. The stock market hit an all time high again. Think of it.
The stock market is at an all time high.
The stock markets yesterday hit the highest they`ve ever been in the history of our country.
The stock market is at an all time high. Think of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Do you like this Jesus thinks he does?
With all the gains this year from the markets wiped out, the president has reason to be concerned. According to "The A.P.", "The Associated Press", Trump has nervously watched Wall Street, keeping an eye on the cable television ticker and barking at his aides for updates.
MATTHEWS: It is 500 points a day. It looks terrible.
PAGE: We give the presidents too much credit for a good economy and we give presidents too much blame for bad economy and President Trump has benefited from the previous one. And he is going to suffer if the economy goes down, even if it`s not particularly his fault. People expect -- people will credit the president with whatever is happening.
MATTHEWS: I agree.
PAGE: And he will -- I think this is one reason presidents have been pretty careful about not taking too much credit when times are good.
THOMAS: Yes. But also, there is a world where this president, even if the stock market is down, will still say that the economy is the best it`s ever been. He will still publicly say that, he will publicly tweet that. There is a group of supporters that he has will believe it.
I mean, part of what this president does is create its own reality anyway.
FINEMAN: But some of what we used to call country club Republicans held their nose and voted for Donald Trump despite everything because of tax cuts and because they thought as a businessman, he would goose the economy.
He`s done that with the big tax cut. He basically used all of his chips already in the first year or two. He can`t do another tax cut. The interest rates will skyrocket if he does.
So, you know, he`s got problem politically there. And also, he will try to blame the Fed and he will try to blame the Chinese and will try to blame game. I`m not sure in this case because he`s elected partly as a businessman that it`s going to work.
PAGE: We`ve got a poll coming up later this week. If the economy goes to a recession, who do you blame? Number one person gets blamed is President Trump. Twice as many people blame President Trump as they would blame the next factor which would be the business --
MATTHEWS: That`s a trillion and a half are tax cuts. It doesn`t make any economic sense.
FINEMAN: Because as people said at a time, some people said at a time, he was pushing the pedal to the metal to mix my metaphor, at a time when you don`t do that with a maturing recovery. You`re just not supposed to do that, he did it anyway. He got the juice early on. Now, he`s going to have to maybe pay the consequences.
MATTHEWS: So, what he`d do is counter cyclical. What do you do about a recession when you`re already shot --
MATTHEWS: What do you do? You`ve already done it.
FINEMAN: You build a wall.
MATTHEWS: OK. The roundtable is staying 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 round table.
Susan, tell us something we don`t know.
PAGE: Twenty years ago tomorrow was the date the House of Representatives voted to impeach Bill Clinton. This is a memory that Democrats have in mind because the consequences were unexpected. Clinton kept his job. Newt Gingrich lost his job. Republicans lost seats in the House.
This is one of the biggest insurance policies that Donald Trump has now impeachment because Democrats in charge are remembering what happened the last time around.
THOMAS: The Senate is actually poised to do something bipartisan and real in the next day and day and a half, pass the First Step Act, which is criminal justice reform. It is a small criminal justice reform bill, but it brings together a lot of people.
MATTHEWS: Will it get to law?
THOMAS: I think so. Yes, the president has said he will sign it. The House said they will take it up once the Senate passed it.
MATTHEWS: Who`s the winner?
THOMAS: I actually think Jared Kushner is the winner.
MATTHEWS: I mean on the street, real people.
THOMAS: Who wins? There`s about -- there`s a number of federal prisoners who could actually have their sentences somewhat reduced.
FINEMAN: Speaking of federal prisoners, you talked earlier about the foundation, the Trump Foundation being shut down. That was the Trump lawyers trying to go into a fetal position before the next attorney general of New York comes in, Letitia James --
MATTHEWS: Look out for her.
FINEMAN: -- who is going to investigate for criminal liability, not just the civil liability that had been looked at so far.
So, Bob Mueller is tough to deal with. Wait until he gets a load of Letitia James.
MATTHEWS: What do you think, Shawna, she`s going after this guy before she even gets in the job?
THOMAS: I think the office was already set up to do that and she is walking right into it and she`s going to keep on doing it.
FINEMAN: It`s a powerful position, this New York state attorney general.
MATTHEWS: How many votes did Trump get in New York? Not too many.
Anyway, thank you, Susan Page. Thank you, Shawna Thomas and Howard Fineman.
When we return, let me finish tonight where "Saturday Night Live" began this Saturday.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight where "Saturday Night Live" left off Saturday night.
I did imagine that Donald Trump isn`t president, that we`re free to have a government and country of our own. It`s good to think of that once in a while if only to get ourselves set for when that day arrives, don`t you think? So, let`s go.
A strengthened and secure Obamacare with ready options for improvement, a strengthened relationship with our Democratic allies, an enduring alliance against the world`s despots, an absolute commitment led by the United States to protect the planet from climatic disruption, a reunification of continental United States by state of the art rapid rail, east to west with strong arteries to the country`s heartland cities, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha and Lincoln, an end to the geographic polarization of east and left coast.
A jobs program of massive building that replaces the smell of decay with the smell of construction. A comprehensive immigration program that brings citizenship to over 10 million residents and an effective border policy Americans can be proud of. An end to one party obstruction in the U.S. Congress, a new mandate that all popular proposals at least come to a vote. A restoration of Supreme Court nominations based on life achievement rather than life expectancy.
A Republican Party return to its values of fiscal responsibility and personal decency. A Democratic party strongly fastened so its roots as the party of the working people whose leaders speak loudly and unashamedly for the needs of the people they represent.
You can no doubt add to this list yourselves. The key for the country and the resistance to Trump is to have that list because we may need it sooner than we think.
And that`s HARDBALL for now.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END