Show: HARDBALL Date: January 10, 2019 Guest: Glenn Kirschner; Michael Quigley, Jennifer Wexton, Cheri Bustos, Ginger Gibson, Joe Neguse, Michael Steel
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Cohen to testify. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
We begin tonight with the bombshell news that President Trump`s long-time lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen has agreed to testify in public next month before the congressional oversight committee. And he appears ready to really set the record straight. Talk about great television to come.
As Cohen said in a statement today, I look forward to having a privilege of being afforded a platform with which ti give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired. Well, it comes just one month before Cohen himself begin serving a three-year term in prison.
With nothing left to lose, he is also being compared to former White house counsel John Dean who broke ranks with President Nixon in 1973 to reveal the full extent of the Watergate cover-up. Nixon, of course, was forced out of office the next year.
And now Cohen is in the position to deliver a similar brow (ph) that President Trump under oath and on live TV. In fact, Cohen has already implicated the President in at least one felony.
Well last month, Cohen admitted to breaking campaign finance laws to suppress the stories of two women alleging affairs with Donald Trump and said he did so at the direction of this President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: He directed me to make the payments. He directed me to become involved in these matters. I gave loyalty to someone who truthfully does not deserve loyalty.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: He was trying to hide what you were doing, correct?
STEPHANOPOULOS: And he knew it was wrong?
COHEN: Of course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, despite the political and legal damage that Cohen could well inflict on his former boss, Trump today tried to down play the threat Cohen poses to him and to his presidency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, back in Washington, there`s some big news about Michael Cohen. He`s agreed to testify before the house Democrats next month. What do you think of that? Are you worried about -- ?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m not worried about it at all, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: However, Cohen appears are ready and willing to tell all. And when it comes to Trump`s potential involvement with Russia, we already know he has got a lot to say. According to a memo from the special counsel last month, Cohen quote "has provided information about attempts by Russian nationals to reach the campaign" as well as quote "useful information concerning certain discrete Russia related matter." And even more damming when it comes to Russia is that Cohen said Trump is not telling the truth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: The special counsel did say you were doing your best to tell truth about everything related to their investigation, everything related to Russia. Do you think President Trump is telling the truth about that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by Democratic congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois who sits on the House intelligence committee, Natasha Bertrand is a staff writer for the Atlantic. The Reverend Al Sharpton is host of POLITICS NATION here on MSNBC and Glenn Kirschner is a former federal prosecutor.
Reverend, you have a unique relationship to talk about how much do you think Cohen want to tell all?
REV. AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: I think he wants to tell all because Cohen when I met with him the couple of breakfast meetings we had, Cohen, aside from the fact he has nothing to lose, knows this is history and he doesn`t want his kids to see him in history in the way he has been projected by this President. I think he is going to do the right thing for his family. He is going to tell all and unlike John Dean he has tapes and other things that I think that is going to be the beginning of the end for this presidency.
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk human terms. What`s his human attitude towards this President?
SHARPTON: I think he is very hurt, very bitter. And because of that he is hurt and bitter he is the most dangerous witness to have against you. I think he trusted this president. He felt he was coned into feeling like he was a son when now he has been discounted.
The President is calling him names. And this is a guy that was doing very questionable, unethical things for the President.
MATTHEWS: Glenn, a lot of this comes down to personal witness and interpretation. According to what we have heard before, the President told him, I want to pay off these women that he had affairs with. And I want it do it. I want it done to help me get win this campaign. It was an explicit campaign contribution according to Cohen. That`s damming evidence.
GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: And if you can remember, Chris, when the President was seen getting on to Air Force One, what did he tell reporters? I don`t know. You got to ask my lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Guess what? Now, everybody gets to ask his lawyer, Michael Cohen. And this drives him a couple of things. First all of Cohen has obviously stuck with his decision not to become a former cooperator, either with the southern district of New York prosecutors or with the Mueller team. But he has sort of chosen to become America`s cooperator because now he is going to talk directly to the American people. And, you know, you are go having to viewership that could rival the super bowl.
MATTHEWS: He know a lot that he may not have to offer to the congressional committee. If he knows mob stuff, for example, right. He may not want to talk about that because of fear for his life. He may know Russian stuff for fear for his life. So he is not as you say a fully cooperating witness.
KIRSCHNER: And here is the trick bag that he is in. He still has a privilege against self-incrimination because somewhat famously, you know, the southern district of New York prosecutors were a little miff because he wouldn`t tell them everything that he did. So, you know, I think there is a concern here that if begins testifying and then he starts to back up, refuses to answer questions, invoke as fifth amendment against self- incrimination, people might get frustrated, but you know, like rev. was saying, it seems like he is now in a place where he wants to tell it all, perhaps privilege be dammed.
MATTHEWS: If he spills his guts, Natasha, is a crude term, if he spills his guts, what`s he got?
NATASHA BERTRAND, REPORTER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, one of the most interesting things that we have discovered from Lanny Davis is going out and discussing all this in public, his lawyer, is that the turning point for Michael as far as what he has been telling people is came when President Trump was standing on the stage with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and sided Putin and Russian them over his own intelligence agencies when it came to Russia`s election interference. That is the moment according to Michael, according to Lanny Davis when he decided that he needed to starts speaking out against this President. Now that makes me think that a lot of what he knows about the President is about his interactions with the Russians during 2016. Did He --?
MATTHEWS: Did he go to Prague?
BERTRAND: Did he go to Prague? He has denied that. I think it is important to point out. It has denied it precipitously. But he also has, of course, a lot of information about potential campaign finance violations that the President committed and his, you know, (INAUDIBLE).
So I think that he has a lot to say about the general inner workings of the Trump organization. He has a lot to say potentially about whether or not Trump conspire with the Russians. But I do think that some of this is going to a bit limited because he does not want to step on Mueller`s toes.
MATTHEWS: But he is going to talk all about the two women?
BERTRAND: I would imagine so. I imagine he is going to be grilled about their tales.
MATTHEWS: That is going to make this.
Anyway, list to what - here is what Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen`s lawyers once said about representing Cohen as he prepares for his testimony. He said this about Cohen. What he may say next month. Here he goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LANNY DAVIS, MICHAEL COHEN, LEGAL ADVISOR TO MICHAEL COHEN: He will answer the questions truthfully. What it was like working for Donald Trump. He has told me many times that nothing went on inside Trump tower that Donald Trump didn`t know. It was kind of a rotating door in and out of his office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Congressman Quigley, get run through what you are thinking right now about what this is going to offer to the American public. I mean, the people, it is not just you and the committee and Congress. Everybody wants to know what Trump did. Now.
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Yes. Sure, absolutely. Besides great theater, the American people get to find out more about the connections between the Russians and the Trump associates. It`s hard to tell exactly what he will be able to communicate in this first open hearing. And I suspect what you will see is a number of appearances by Mr. Cohen including before my own intelligence committee.
I suspect much of this could be classified. But we will be asking the same questions your panel talked about. If he wasn`t in Prague, why was his cell phone pinging off their towers? Is he being cute? Was he communicating near there? If he wasn`t, who else was communicating with the Russians and where? The American public have a right to know. Still going to be wild to look at the complete answer.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about what you think we are going to hear? For example, do you think it`s possible, you or another member of the committee, might ask him simply - I only have a few minutes here, Mr. Cohen, is there anything you want to tell us you want to ask about. I mean, he does have this plat row (ph) of information. He chatted away. I work for people.
If you work for somebody in a professional relationship, they chat about everything. He heard Trump like -- talking like pop eye about the Russians. He has heard everything that he has said. Can you get that out of him?
QUIGLEY: I suspect Mr. Cummings will be an outstanding chairman on this event. And I don`t believe that it will get past Mr. Cummings to answer that question. What don`t we know? What else can you tell us?
Indeed he is the only person to my knowledge who has that connections of the personal Trump world, financial and political world. And I think that`s where the President`s in trouble because everything is connected and for the first time we have an opportunity to start tying all those questions together.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Glenn Kirschner. What`s the President worried about right now? He has stay on trying to flip it off, it didn`t bother me with his hat on. Kind of goofy down there but he is acting like didn`t -- of course, this bothered him. This number one fixer, he had as his confidant, all these years doing all the dirty work from paying off the women, the guy knows everything.
KIRSCHNER: Yes. And I don`t want to go righting to the salacious. But do we believe all of that information he was buying from David Pecker at AMI involved only Karen McDougal? Are we going to hear about more, pardon the phrase, bim-bow eruptions, you know?
KIRSCHNER: Because there so much that Cohen has been privy to over the decades that he has been involved with Trump personally, professionally, the organization, perhaps even the foundation that I mean, I think Trump has got to be worried about everything he knows that Cohen knows about him.
MATTHEWS: Yes. And every time -- I mean, reverend, this is a guy he knows to when he is in trouble.
SHARPTON: Every time we have had battles with Trump down through the years in civil right community, Cohen was the guy that was sent to the meaning. I never met with Trump that Cohen wasn`t in the room. So when you look at the fact that he was the guy that was the fixer, when he had political or civil right problem, when you look at that, he has proven, he was dealing with these women, why would you think he doesn`t know everything Trump was doing? You don`t bring in a side lawyer to do all of these kinds of things that you have to trust him and Cohen feels betrayed now, has all this information and nothing to lose.
MATTHEWS: Well, despite being implicated in a felony, the President repeatedly insisted at a FOX News interview last month, he did nothing wrong when he directed the pay offs that violated campaign finance laws. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Trump didn`t violate campaign finance laws. Michael Cohen pled guilty to something that is even a crime. It`s not a campaign finance violation. Number two -- or it`s not even under campaign finance. Number two, it`s not a violation.
Trump did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. The two campaign finance charges that are criminal -- they are not criminal charges. Look.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to move on --.
TRUMP: I never directed him to do anything wrong. I never directed him to do anything correct or wrong. It`s totally legal. If you look at stories one after another, they were illegal. The great lawyers who do that stuff are saying there`s nothing illegal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, unlike the John Edwards` case, you know, in North Carolina and where he was getting money to quiet a woman down of filmographer (ph), the child born the was born, thanks to him. This time you have a guy, Michael Cohen, the President`s lawyer or fixer saying no, he paid those women off as a campaign expense.
BERTRAND: There is a recording of this. Michael Cohen released a recording of him discussing the fact he was going to create shell companies and figure it all out with Allen Wisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump organization to suppress these women`s stories that paid them off.
MATTHEWS: For a political purpose.
BERTRAND: Right. So unless Trump is saying that we shouldn`t believe our own ears, which he has said multiple times. He has encouraged us to do as many times and he always kind of when he feels back in a corner, he repeats things over and over again. Now he was repeating, you know, previously that he had not - that this was not crime. Well, clearly, it was crime because Michael Cohen was indicted for it.
So I think that this is just not going to be a reliable story that he sticks to and he has every reason to be very concerned about the other women that Michael Cohen might know about because there were people surrounding Trump in his campaign during 2016 who said openly that there were many women that were coming forward and that potentially had these accusations against him. So I think --.
MATTHEWS: Let me get back to the reverend because I think a lot of people come to you when you are in trouble, you know that. And they come to you hoping you will give them a break in terms of justice. What`s this guy want at this point? He is going to prison for couple of years, maybe get good time off but he is going for a while. He is not going to be happy guy. What do you think spiritually this man we are looking at wants now?
SHARPTON: I think he wants to get all out and is like absolution.
SHARPTON: He has disappointed himself and his family. I think he wants absolution that at least whatever I face, I`m going to face it, that I put it all out there and this guy that used me and then dropped me and now is calling me names, I`m going to let the record be set straight.
The last thing he said and we want a power breakfast places, very high profile.
SHARPTON: The Regency in New York. He says reverend pray for me. It made me feel this guy wants absolution. He knows he can`t erase the past. Well, he is not going to let this guy get away with it.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, U.S. congressman Michael Quigley. Thank you, sir, as always.
Natasha Bertrand, Reverend Al Sharpton and Glenn Kirschner.
Coming up, President Trump visited the U.S./Mexico border for what he called a photo op. He actually called it that and continue to spread the blame for the shutdown and threatens to declare a national emergency.
Plus, an estimated 800,000 federal employees will miss their paychecks tomorrow. We will discuss the real life consequences of the shutdown next.
And U.S. congressman Steve King is getting hit I think appropriately for what he said about white supremacy.
Finally, let me finish tonight with a stunning possible that Donald Trump`s command of television is fading.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, welcome back to HARDBALL.
As the government shutdown stretch into its 19th day, President Trump continue to refused responsibility for the standoff with congressional Democrats over funding for border wall despite recently telling the country he would be proud to shut down the government over the issue.
Well, when Harry Truman way back when was president, he said the buck stops here. Today, President Trump a shrunken case for presidential responsibility bucking a decade`s long trend from his predecessors.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President, whoever he is has to decide, he can`t pass the buck to anybody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The buck stops here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do believe that buck stops here.
RONAL REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It stops with me. I am the one who`s ultimately accountable to the American people.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For ultimately the buck stops with me.
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Does the buck stop with me over this shutdown?
TRUMP: The buck stops with everybody.
MATTHEWS: Well, in fact Jack Kennedy after the failed - what do you call it? The bay of pigs, said I was the serving officer at the time. It was my fault. That`s what the president says.
Anyway, President Trump travelled to the southern border today to make his case for the $5.7 billion he is demanding to build that wall.
"The New York Times" report in an off the record lunch at the White House Tuesday, Trump said the trip was merely a photo op. And today he received the tour of the border near the Rio Grande in south Texas, it was briefed by border patrol officials. Throughout the day, the President repeatedly signaled he is moving closer to declaring a national emergency in order to secure funding for the wall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency. The lawyers have so advised me. If this doesn`t work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely.
We can declare a national emergency. We shouldn`t have to because this isn`t even - this is just common sense.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you closer to declaring an emergency?
TRUMP: We are. I would like to look at broader. I think we can do this quickly because this is commonsense and it`s not expensive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, one of the president`s top allies in Congress, Senator Lindsey Graham, urged the president to use his emergency powers, saying, "It`s time."
I`m joined right now by Democratic Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Michael Steele, the former chair of the Republican National Committee.
Thank you both for joining us.
Who`s -- it doesn`t seem like both sides are doing this. Nobody on the Democratic side in Congress says, let`s close down the government. The president said, we`re closing the government, because I want my wall.
REP. CHERI BUSTOS (D), ILLINOIS: It`s ridiculous. And it`s unnecessary. And this is totally solvable.
We could open government immediately. And, in the meantime, tomorrow is payday. And you saw this pay stub that shows...
MATTHEWS: Whose fault is it they`re not getting paid?
BUSTOS: Well, I mean...
MATTHEWS: Whose fault is it?
BUSTOS: Look, I think there`s a lot of -- there`s blame that can go around.
I mean, look, I...
MATTHEWS: Of shutting the government down?
BUSTOS: Well, President Trump can do it like that. He can do it like that.
But we have got to be willing to go into a room and talk about what we need to do to reopen this. And I believe there needs to be a little give and take on both sides.
MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I agree with that.
But here`s the truth of it. We were at that space where there was give and take. And folks had given and taken and agreed that this would be the deal. The president is the one who upset the apple cart here.
And now you have federal employees tomorrow who are going to have to figure out what they`re going to do for the next two weeks and try to stave off creditors and figure out how to buy food.
We don`t have to be here. That sound clip of the president passing the buck to someone else, to everyone else, except himself, and that`s not the leadership the country needs right now.
MATTHEWS: Well, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has insisted that Congress won`t provide any money to build that wall. Today, she get argued against the wall she`s called an immorality and slammed the present for walking out of yesterday`s negotiations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: What he is proposing is not the best way for us to secure our borders. We don`t want to be a backdrop for the president to stomp the table and get up and walk out.
The president just keeps upping the ante. In fact, I said to him, you are moving the goalposts so many times, they`re out of the stadium.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So my feeling, sitting here, not there -- not a member of Congress or a former RNC chair -- is that Pelosi is acting like Winston Churchill. She`s absolutely strong. She`s pure. She says, we`re not going to build the wall. It`s an immorality. We`re not going to do it. Live with it, Mr. President.
It`s the first time this guy, President Trump, has had to face down somebody who says, hey, you got your iconic message. I got one too. No.
BUSTOS: Well, she`s tough. And I think she`s a great negotiator.
Look what we did on day one, when we were sworn in. We`re sworn in on Thursday afternoon. By that night, we pass a bill to reopen the government. It`s the same, almost identical to the bill that the Senate had passed earlier.
And yet they won`t take it up. And the president says he`s not going to sign it anyway.
MATTHEWS: But where`s this end? President Trump says now he would settle for a steel barrier, instead of a concrete wall.
But NBC News reports that the steel slats -- there they are -- that he`s proposed were cut through in a saw -- by a saw in a `17 -- 2017 test of a prototype.
So, apparently -- anyway, the photo obtained exclusively by NBC News showed the results of a test after military personnel, patrol personnel were instructed to attempt to destroy the barriers with common tools.
And, today, "The Washington Post" reported it could take 10 years to build the wall, even with 10,000 workers, noting even a more modest $5.7 billion in wall funding would take an army of 10,000 workers more than two years to build and yield only 230 miles of barrier. That`s about 10 percent.
Apparently, with a hacksaw, assumingly in the night, you can go and cut your way through. That makes me wonder about a lot of things.
MATTHEWS: But what do you make of this, Congresswoman, that it`s not that hard to get a hacksaw out and start...
BUSTOS: No, it wouldn`t be hard at all.
But what we have been talking about from the start here is this wall, however it`s defined, is not the end-all, be-all. We have got technology we can use. We have learned today from the Border Patrol that these tunnels are being used.
I mean, this has to be a multipronged approach. The wall is not the answer. And let`s just get -- let`s do the best -- let`s look at the best technology we can.
MATTHEWS: OK. There`s the hideous reality.
Meanwhile, "The Daily Show," which is a real news organization, dug up a commencement speech that Donald Trump himself gave in 2004. That`s 15 years ago.
Here`s what Donald Trump then had to say about a wall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Never, ever give up. Don`t give up. Don`t allow it to happen.
If there`s a concrete wall in front of you, go through it, go over it, go around it. But get to the other side of that wall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, I don`t know you say that in Spanish, but I got to tell you, he`s giving advice to a guy or family on the other side that is looking for a job in this country and a place here.
MATTHEWS: If you got to go around the wall, you go around the wall.
That`s common sense.
MATTHEWS: If that wall is 200 miles, and there`s 2,000 miles of border, you will go 200 miles to where it`s not, and you will get across.
STEELE: But the irony of that -- of that moment is, that is the quintessential essence of what America is about, that you`re talking about people who are leaving difficult places to come here. They`re going through trials and tribulations to come here, doing anything they can to get over the walls and barriers that are keeping them imprisoned because of crime and -- and other things in their -- in their home country.
And it`s so ironic to hear him say that, because he`s the guy now who`s building that wall.
MATTHEWS: What would be your counteroffer, if you were speaker, to the president? He says, I want a wall. What would you say to him, if you were speaker?
BUSTOS: Well, I would say, that can be the starting point. Let`s -- we can talk about that. But then let`s get in a room and let`s figure out, how do we use technology? How do we block these tunnels?
In the end, Democrats and Republicans want the right thing -- or the same thing. We want to make sure that people at home feel safe, they`re not scared. I don`t...
MATTHEWS: So, you think there`s a way to reduce illegal immigration properly?
BUSTOS: Well, yes.
But we have to enhance our Border Patrol. And then -- and I think one other thing just worth noting. And I know it`s been stated over and over again. But what happened to Mexico paying for this wall? Now it`s all of a sudden $5.7 billion. And now...
MATTHEWS: What`s that in pesos?
BUSTOS: You know what? I don`t know the conversion rate.
MATTHEWS: It doesn`t matter, because nobody down there is going to pay for it.
MATTHEWS: Because any government down there that tried paying for it would be gone.
STEELE: Real quick on that, I think the important thing, when you ask the question about the immigration problem, we all have to be honest about what the problem is.
It`s not the folks who are coming across our southern border. It`s a lot of other things. It`s the overstays of visas. It`s the work force issues.
So I think, to the congresswoman`s point, a more comprehensive conversation cut into two parts, the first part is, let`s get the government open and put good people back to work, so they can get their family settled. And then let`s deal with what we want immigration to be in this country.
And that`s the frustration of a lot of Americans. Our leadership is not being honest about what the problem is.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Michael Steele.
Up next: President Trump says many federal workers are happy to make the adjustment from getting a paycheck. Not getting a paycheck would be that adjustment.
We`re going to hear from some federal workers who aren`t so happy about being forced to make this adjustment, so Trump can build his wall.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Well, this is going to be interesting. And welcome back to HARDBALL.
The partial government shutdown is now the second longest government shutdown ever in this country. And come Saturday, if negotiations remain at an impasse, it will become the longest.
Tomorrow will be the first payday, however, that roughly 800,000 federal employees will not get their paychecks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TANNA CALDER, INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE EMPLOYEE: I just bought a brand-new car. And it`s very frustrating. All the payments are stopped. And I don`t know how I`m going to survive.
SHELBY, FEDERAL EMPLOYEE: I`m 45 years old, and I shouldn`t have to pawn my belongings to pay for medication when I do have a job. I`m just not able to do that job.
JEREMIAH MARTINEZ, FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WORKER: It`s not easy to go to bed thinking where -- where are you going to get one, you know? We`re having to ration what cash we have, so that we can pay those bills at the end of the month.
You know, we`re -- we`re thinking, are we going to have to get in debt with credit cards to get by? It`s -- it`s really tough.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump says that those workers will just have to make do. Let`s watch him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I can relate. And I`m sure that the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do. And they will make adjustment. People understand exactly what`s going on.
But many of those people that won`t be receiving a paycheck, many of those people agree 100 percent with what I`m doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, earlier today, furloughed federal employees took to the streets in Washington to voice their objection.
In fact, two federal employee unions are currently suing the Trump administration over the shutdown.
For more, I`m joined by Virginia Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, whose district just across the Potomac River from here includes tens of thousands of federal employees.
Thank you so much.
I don`t know if President Trump knows any federal employees, but you know a lot of them.
REP. JENNIFER WEXTON (D), VIRGINIA: I do. I have many constituents and friends and family who are federal employees.
MATTHEWS: Well, they`re real people. They`re not nameless, faceless bureaucrats. Tell me about them, their plight right now.
WEXTON: Well, I`m getting hundreds of e-mails from constituents who are really worried about how they`re going to make ends meet, constituents who don`t know if they`re going to be able to make their mortgage payment, who are asking for forbearance for student loans.
And I had a visit from a constituent who`s an air traffic controller who got her pay stub that she`s going to get tomorrow, showing that she worked 80 hours -- I think there`s a graphic coming up.
MATTHEWS: There it is.
WEXTON: And zero pay.
MATTHEWS: What is this going to do to -- I mean, it scares the heck out of me to think that air traffic controllers are in any way hampered in their jobs, psychologically or whatever, because they`re the ones that keep the planes separate from each other up in the air.
WEXTON: Absolutely. Yes.
And they all are having to work. I have two very large air traffic control facilities in my district that control the air traffic for most of the Middle Atlantic. I have got Dulles International Airport, and all those TSA screeners are still having to work. Many of them commute in from long distances and are incurring commuting expenses, gas and everything, but not getting paid.
MATTHEWS: What is this about the president? I mean, obviously, you`re a Democrat. And you just got elected -- congratulations -- to that district. It`s is a tough district. You got to -- it`s not exactly an easy Democratic district.
But I find it hard to believe that Trump is right, the president, in saying, they`re all my guys. Your district, your federal employees, they`re all Trump people, they`re all walking around with "Make America Great Again" hats on.
Are they? He said they`re all for this shutdown.
WEXTON: That`s not what I`m hearing at all.
These are people who want to do their jobs. They love their country. They love the agencies that they work for. They work for the government because they believe in the mission of what they`re doing. And they`re getting treated -- treated terribly. We owe them so much more than this.
MATTHEWS: And, by the way, as a longtime federal employee told me years ago, what, 40 years ago, he said, people don`t do their best work when they`re being peed on, to be blunt about it.
MATTHEWS: You have to treat people well. Don`t dump on federal employees, because they`re serving the country. It doesn`t do any good.
And with the federal shutdown well into its third week, and no end in sight, the effects are piling up. National parks, which are unmanned, are filling up with trash and -- catch this -- human waste. TSA workers are calling out sick. And the FDA has stopped most of its food safety inspections.
So, when you get your can of tuna fish, you got to wonder if it`s been inspected or not.
And if the shutdown continues, NBC is reporting that the country could face a doomsday scenario, with devastating snowball effects. Millions would struggle to pay for food and rent. The federal court system would slow to a crawl. Disaster relief doesn`t make it to a storm-ravaged area, and continued instability could lead the stock market to plummet.
I was just reading in "The Washington Post" today -- I`m sure you saw the story -- about these stores, these restaurants. There`s nobody in them.
MATTHEWS: They can`t pay the cashier. There`s no cash coming in.
And those -- those businesses are never going to make up the difference. People say, oh, well, federal workers will get back pay. Hopefully.
But I have a lot of contractors in my district who are affected, and all of the businesses who depend on federal workers are never going to see that money.
MATTHEWS: Whose fault is this?
WEXTON: It`s Donald Trump`s fault.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, U.S. Congresswoman Jennifer Wexner -- Wexton of Virginia.
Up next: A sitting member of Congress wonders aloud why calling yourself a white supremacist is -- oh, well, it`s not even offensive.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.
Congressman Steve King of Iowa -- you remember him -- has a history of making racially offensive comments, including comparing immigrants to dirt and saying we can`t restore our civilization through intermarriage.
Well, today, he`s facing new criticism for comments he made in "The New York Times."
King said: "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization, how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"
Well, the Iowa congressman defended his comments to NBC`s Kasie Hunt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: What I was really talking about was
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Well, the Iowa congressman defended his comments to NBC`s Kasie Hunt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: What I was really talking about was the continuation of applying labels on to people as freely as they are. I reject white nationalism, I reject white supremacy. It`s part of any of my ideology. I reject anyone who carries that ideology.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That`s not what he said.
For more, I`m joined by HARDBALL roundtable tonight, Ginger Gibson, political correspondent for "Reuters". She`s been with us before and will be again. U.S. Congressman Joe Neguse, who`s from Colorado. And Michael Steel, the former spokesman for John Boehner who is now speaking for marijuana as I understand.
MICHAEL STEEL, FORMER SPOKESMAN FOR JOHN BOEHNER: The speaker is not me.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I know. It`s a strange transition. I don`t know if that`s your future or not, but let me ask you about Steven King. Is it odd to bump into a guy like that in a hallway who says white supremacy is kind of OK?
REP. JOE NEGUSE (D), COLORADO: I haven`t bumped to him yet. I suspect we will be. I mean, his comments were outrageous, but also not surprising. He`s been saying these kind of racist statements for man, many years just as you articulated. So --
MATTHEWS: Well, cantaloupe like is the one that got to me. Like if you had strong legs down there in the bottom part of your leg, that means you`ve been carrying dope or something across the border, right, Michael? That`s what he says.
STEELE: That`s not been my experience but yes, that`s what he says. What I think is extraordinary is he didn`t even claim to be misquoted. Usually in this sort of situation, the congressman if he`s attacking "The New York Times", that he`s saying out of context, he didn`t even bother to try and claim he was misquoted. He tried to explain this wasn`t his ideology et cetera.
I`m encouraged to see party leaders like Liz Cheney, the conference chair, coming out and saying this is unacceptable. NRCC chair in the past said this is unacceptable. And I think there`s a rising tide of realization this is not something we need in the House Republican conference.
MATTHEWS: He used phrase white supremacy. That`s not the term even in the worse of our history, which has been pretty bad, with slavery for 300 years, and Jim Crow. Saying even the phrase -- well, you have to come up with a better phrase. White people should rule the world.
GINGER GIBSON, REUTERS, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think there`s bipartisan agreement that we all agreed white people weren`t superior to everyone else. I mean, that`s the answer to his question. And to Michael`s point, I think we`re seeing more push back against Steve King.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he can lose an election in Western Iowa?
GIBSON: I think he can lose a primary. Someone who argues that, as his primary opponent is, that he`s costing Iowa.
NEGUSE: While I`m heartened by the Republicans who have spoken out on this, I hope they will stay true to that and the NRCC ultimately won`t come to his aid when he`s running for reelection.
MATTHEWS: But they love that district.
Anyway, meanwhile, we return to the breaking news tonight, the biggest news we`ve heard in a long time. President Trump`s former lawyer/fixer, longtime lawyer fixer Michael Cohen has agreed to testify in public before the Congress early next month. Cohen who once said he would take a bullet for Trump said last month he is done being loyal to the guy.
Here`s Michael Cohen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: I`m done with the lying. I`m done being loyal to president Trump. And my first loyalty belongs to my wife, my daughter, my son and this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: This is John Dean coming. This is Valachi. This is the guy who`s going to explain the whole diagram of the operation.
This is amazing television. It`s going to be done live.
GIBSON: Have no doubt that he has an unprecedented amount of information about the president and has gone out against him. House Democrats promised an investigation into Donald Trump. They`re going to have a blockbuster their second month in power. It didn`t require them to file a single subpoena. He`s coming on his own.
MATTHEWS: Congresswoman, what are the big questions you`ve got?
NEGUSE: One, I`m going to say it`s a big deal and I think walls are closing in on this president. Now, you and I both know Elijah Cummings very well, the chairman of the House Oversight --
MATTHEWS: He`s a pro and he`s earned this position. It`s a big one.
NEGUSE: Precisely right, and he`s a serious man and he is going to I think run a very thorough committee hearing, and I think we`re going to learn a lot, the American people are going to learn a lot when Mr. Cohen testifies in front of committee.
MATTHEWS: I think part of it, Michael, you worked on the Hill, is just say, you got anything you wanted to tell us? Because this guy really wants to tell. It`s not like he`s an uncooperative witness.
MATTHEWS: He wants to blab.
STEEL: This is a reminder that elections have consequences. House Democrats are not, I`m sorry to say, going to have much luck making law over the next two years, but they`re going to be able to shape news, to make news, and to have these big investigations, these big hearings that are going to drive the public debate. And this is going to be the first --
MATTHEWS: You know the PR business like I do. I did what you did for years. You go -- you can hear it, read it in the paper, hear it on the radio, but when you see a person on television saying it become, as Golda Meir would say, a new fact. This guy is going to fill the archives of the media with word after word against Donald Trump which will be useful as hell for those that want him out of office.
STEEL: And it`s going to get wall-to-wall coverage. It is going to get, every network is going to have to cover those. Every nightly newscast is going to cover those. He is going to be preparing for what we have to assume is a pretty damming indictment of the president of the United States, his behavior before, during and after the election, presumably on national television.
NEGUSE: I think so. I think so. I think your point about getting to the facts fundamentally is the most important piece of all. This is the president`s lawyer, his fixer who will testify in open session.
MATTHEWS: What happened to client privacy, you`re not supposed to talk? This guy is blowing it all out there. Ginger?
GIBSON: And I think it`s important to remember it could matter very little what Cohen says as it matters how these members on the panel handle their questions at the moments that they create. Many of them were there through the summer of `13 and these hearings. They`ve seen how the media will jump on a question or a back and forth, even if Cohen won`t answer that.
MATTHEWS: Please follow up with each other, members of Congress. Nothing is more dispiriting when somebody is getting to something and why something different to talk about.
Anyway, finally this morning, President Trump continuing to point the blame on the Democrats, and their incoming freshmen members, especially claiming they don`t care about crime. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats don`t care about crime. They`ve been taken over by a group of young people who, frankly, in some cases I`ve been watching, I actually think they`re crazy. But they`ve been taken over by a group that`s so far left I really don`t think they care about crime.
They have been taken over by a group of people that don`t care about gangs. They don`t care about human trafficking and drugs. They don`t care about anything. I`ll tell you what. They have gone crazy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a Republican campaign speech aimed at the Trump voter. I know who he`s talking to.
What do you make of that? He`s accusing you guys, the younger you are, the worse you are.
NEGUSE: Yes, it`s ridiculous. It`s outrageous. Well, number one, I mean, you just had a very articulate member of our freshman class, Congressman Wexton (ph), talking about border security. We have in our class any number of people who have been law enforcement professionals, veterans who served our country. While he`s playing this political games, a lot of people in our country --
MATTHEWS: He had bone spurs.
NEGUSE: Gets any better than you, Chris. Look, 800,000 people right now are furloughed or working without pay. He has taken our government hostage and this notion he can continue to sort of call people crazy and so forth and not get back to the business of the American people, I`ve had enough.
MATTHEWS: I think he`s running out of runway.
Do you think he can keep this up another couple of weeks, Michael?
STEEL: I think it`s entirely possible the shutdown continues for a very long time.
STEEL: Just because there`s no easy off-ramp for him.
MATTHEWS: Well, there is, the emergency national declaration --
STEEL: If he then opens the government, which is not a guarantee. He can do a national declaration, emergency declaration.
MATTHEWS: He wants this office back, doesn`t he? He wants this office back?
STEEL: Any rational person would have let the House pass, the Senate passed bill and avoided the shutdown altogether before Christmas. I don`t know what he`s thinking or why at this point.
MATTHEWS: I`d rather have a fight with the court about my determination of building the wall than shut the entire government down over it. I think it`s a better fight in the courts than the people.
GIBSON: Nancy Pelosi said she thought the president was dragging this out to distract from the problems in his White House. He likes to fight. He likes to have an immigration fight, we know that. He`s said so.
You talk about a court battle and he gets a twofer. He gets a month of a shutdown and the court --
MATTHEWS: What`s his destination at the end of the runway?
GIBSON: The destination is trying to build the wall.
MATTHEWS: He`s not going to get a wall.
NEGUSE: There is no destination. That`s the point. We are applying rationality to a administration that is devoid of it.
MATTHEWS: As a great Washingtonian once declared, wherever you go, that`s where you`re going to be. And I think there`s not clarity.
Anyway, the roundtable sticking with us. Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.
Ginger, tell me something I don`t know.
GIBSON: Democrats are very aware and very concerned about appearing to be overreaching. They were planning to take their investigations really slow. This Cohen interview is coming I think a little bit faster than many of them anticipated and I would expect to see Democrats making efforts to try to combat that message.
But you know what, there`s a debate --
MATTHEWS: What message?
GIBSON: The message that they`re overreaching.
MATTHEWS: Cohen`s doing the dirty work for `em.
GIBSON: The debate is going to spill out in the Democratic Party, which is they`re going to get criticized anyway so might as well do it, or to be measured and try to --
MATTHEWS: Enjoy them, buddy.
NEGUSE: Well, I think we`re united to get to the facts.
But in terms of what something you don`t know, the impact of the shutdown. So, in my district, we have more breweries, in Boulder, Fort Collins, than anywhere else in the United States.
MATTHEWS: Of course.
NEGUSE: As you know.
But it is an unexpected casualty right now of the government shutdown. The federal agency in charge of licensing beers has been impacted by the shutdown and so, there are a lot of small businesses in my community that are unfortunately unable to do as much business as they ordinarily would.
MATTHEWS: Never thought of that one, Congressman. I will.
STEEL: You asked earlier, Steve King could be defeated in a primary or general election. He has a primary opponent and his primary opponent is making almost exactly the same argument as we saw used against Tim Huelskamp, the only Republican House member who was defeated for being too far too right.
MATTHEWS: What is your sense of your party, the Republican Party on Trump? Will they stick with him to the next election?
MATTHEWS: All the way?
STEEL: Barring some strange new events, I think, yes, he still commands the majority or the bulk of the support of the base of our party.
MATTHEWS: What`s he got that his party likes?
STEEL: The support of the base of our party.
MATTHEWS: What is it?
STEEL: Why does he have the support of the base of his party? Because he fights -- he claims to be fighting for them and they like watching it.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much.
Ginger Gibson, U.S. Congressman Joe Neguse from Colorado, way out there in the mountains, Michael Steel, thank you for that.
When we return, let me finish tonight with a stunning possibility that Donald Trump`s command of television -- break your heart, Donald -- is fading.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a stunning responsibility. Could it be Donald Trump, the reigning champ of reality TV, is losing his stuff? Are we watching the PT Barnum of primetime fading to black?
Two nights ago, Trump went on TV on what was not long ago his uncontested sweet spot, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. We`re talking about the very time slot of "The Apprentice", that long-running show where he famously shove in the knife, when he drove home his cruel catchphrase "you`re fired". Remember that, Donald Trump?
Well, this Tuesday night, Trump went on national television grabbing prime time from all the major networks and cable channels, what we call in the television world a road block. There was no way to avoid the guy.
But guess what? The Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer who came on after Trump managed to grab higher ratings than him. He must have seen it coming, the bad ratings, because according to the "New York Times," Trump told some TV anchors earlier on Tuesday that whole idea of his going on prime time TV was his staff`s idea, as was the decision to head to the Mexican border this afternoon.
It was all his people`s fault. His lousy ratings are his communication staff`s fault. Well, guess what? Trump is getting clobbered again tonight not by his staff but by his old fixer who just let out word he`s going on live television early in February, assuming with all the dirt he`s got under his fingernails working for Donald Trump. Michael Cohen will spill his guts to the payments to the women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, the Russian meeting at Trump tower, the scrambling for dirt on Hillary Clinton, the works.
And guess who has to the sit in the White House and watch it all? That`s right. Watch. The one-time champ of reality television watching someone else grab the network and cable time talk dirty about Donald J. Trump. It will be another star is born, with Trump`s former fixer in the Lady Gaga role, he Donald Trump, as the falling star, who isn`t going to be watching that one?
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
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