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Pelosi backs impeachment. TRANSCRIPT: 9/24/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Denny Heck, David Cicilline, Jon Meacham, Mikie Sherrill, ShaneHarris, Chrissy Houlahan, Michael Steel, Ayesha Rascoe

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Does this mean there will be an impeachment vote, as our experts said tonight, that is yet to be determined?

As always, thanks for watching THE BEAT right here on MSNBC.  We will keep on reporting the story.  So I`ll see you again if you tune back in at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow.

But I wouldn`t go anywhere, especially on a night like this.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.

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

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews up on Capitol Hill.

Today, the United States Speaker of the House made the decision to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  Our public endures because of the wisdom of our Constitution enshrined in three co-equal branches of government serving as checks and balances on each other.

The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution, especially when the president says Article 2 says I can do whatever I want.

And this week, the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically.  The action of the Trump ƒ_" the actions of the Trump presidency revealed a dishonorable fact of the president`s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.

Therefore today, I`m announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the House of Representatives is now committed to an up or down decision on whether to pass articles of impeachment against Donald Trump.  The House will vote to impeach him sooner or later or decide to drop all charges.

Speaker Pelosi`s decision to pursue a formal impeachment proceeding marks a break for months of her resistance to such a course.  It was a decision that did not come likely what it was triggered by last week`s revelation that the president had attempted to trade the power of his office to get dirt from the president of Ukraine on a political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Well, that revelation changed everything for Pelosi and seem to have led the way for many Democrats.  As of right now 188 House Democrats back impeachment.  That`s more than three quarters of the Democratic Caucus.

I`m joined now by Congressman Denny Heck of Washington State, a members of the House Intelligence Committee, U.S. Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island, is on the House Judiciary Committee, Heidi Przybyla, NBC News Correspondent, and Jon Meacham, of course, is a presidential historian and co-author of Impeachment, an American history.

Let me start with you, Congressman Heck.  This -- having now a leader, I remember from reading about Nixon and writing about him all those years, he said, I knew I was in trouble when I saw who was running the show up there, in that case, my old boss, Tip O`Neill.  Nancy Pelosi has been resistant to this campaign.  It seems now she`s out and front.  What will they do?

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA):  Well, two strikes today, Chris.  Actually, yes, he knows he`s in trouble because of the speaker`s change of position but he also ought to know he`s in deep trouble because the Senate took action today to unanimously require and demand that the ODNI cough up the whistleblower complaint.  That ought to tell him that we`re now inching into bipartisan territory on his refusal to follow the law.

MATTHEWS:  Did that strike as significant that the Republicans joined to that?

HECK:  Absolutely.  It says it`s not any longer just a question of Democrats versus Republicans or even liberals and conservatives.  This is matter of upholding the law and following our Article 1 constitutional responsibility to provide oversight on an unchecked administration.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, you weigh in.  If you could tell your people back at home in Rhode Island what to expect over the next couple of months, what would it be in terms of the action on the Hill right here in the House of Representatives over the next couple of months regarding the impeachment proceedings?

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI):  Well, I think there will be quick action by the Intelligence Committee.  On Thursday, they`ll hear from the acting DNI.  They expect that the DNI will produce the whistleblower report.  If he doesn`t, then they`ll have to take additional action.  But I think in very short order, we`ll get to the bottom of this.

But we should recognize the president of the United States has already admitted this.  He admitted that he reached out to a foreign leader and asked him to basically gin up a fake story against a political opponent.  That in and of itself is sufficient to moving forward with our --

MATTHEWS:  Do you have sense about the -- let me go to Heidi on this as a reporter.  Heidi, it seems to me that for three years, the people trying to find out what happened with the president and Russia tried to connect the dots.  The meeting at Donald Trump`s hotel in June of 2016, they tried to connect president`s son with the president, trying to connect Veselnitskaya, some lawyer from Russia with Putin.

Here, it seems to be one big fat die.  It`s a meeting between two presidents.  Do you have a sense that this story requires a lot of reporting at this point or even a lot of investigation at this point?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I think the congressman is right that Thursday will another inflection point because either we will see that whistleblower complaint or we will see how this Congress is going to use new tools to come down on this administration or whether the obstruction itself becomes an article of impeachment.

The members that I talked to said that this is a pretty clear-cut case and that Speaker Pelosi really did draw a distinction in that meeting, Chris, between the Russia situation where you had the president accepting dirt on a political opponent.

And this situation where he was actually asking a foreign government to manufacture dirt on a political opponent, because as we`ve reported on this network and other networks, the Ukrainians have already disputed these charges.  These are bogus charges.  The case had been dormant for at least a year.  And so in this case he`s admitting to it and asking this government to essentially manufacture something that doesn`t exist and withholding U.S. taxpayer dollars, which are meant to, guess what, fight corruption, so leveraging taxpayer dollars then to benefit himself politically.

And so in both her mind and in the mind of these national security-minded Democrats who frankly broke the dam last night, this did cross a new threshold.

MATTHEWS:  Jon Meacham, sir, history here is being made.  We came to the Hill tonight because of it.  You can feel it around here.  Your thoughts.

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  You know, I was thinking about President Ford`s inaugural address there in the east room in August of `74, not to run too far ahead here, when he said we`re a government of laws and not of men.  The Constitution works, the system works.

And I think for so many people who have lost faith in the system of checks and balances of Montesquieu through Madison, to our own day, this is a day to say the system is showing signs of life.  And it`s far, far, far from over, but, ultimately, the checks and balances that have served us for 243 years have a chance now again of perhaps saving us from our worst instincts.

MATTHEWS:  Well, as Congressman Heck just mentioned tonight, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a Democratic resolution calling for the whistleblower`s complaint to be turned over to Congress.  Worst yet for Trump, he`s actually admitted to the conduct that could bring about his impeachment that he asked the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his family.

Now, for the first time in Trump`s presidency, he`s on the defensive, offering a concession tat few presidents will willingly make.  Trump`s announced that he has authorized the release tomorrow of the complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript of his phone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine.

And also today, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said the whistleblower who sent these events in motion now wants to break his or her silence.  That person could testify as early as this week.

Additionally, the Director of National Intelligence and the inspector general of the intelligence community are set to testify before the Congress on Thursday.

So here we are.  And I guess the question is if you have to tell your constituents, which you have to do as a representative, what do you say if the president goes down on this conduct, Mr. Heck?

HECK:  I would remind them about what the entire 2016 controversy was about, where, frankly, he encouraged, welcomed and benefitted from Russian interference, which is wrong.  It`s just plain wrong.  And then as Section 2 of the Mueller report so amply demonstrated, he obstructed justice in that pursuit of the investigation.  And now, he`s doubling down.

He`s not chased (ph) at all.  Now, he is encouraging foreign interference in our election in violation of the law and he`s obstructing justice in the form of denying the revelation of the whistleblower.  He`s learned nothing.

And, Chris, understand that we don`t come to this out of anger.  We come to this with great sorrow.  The fact is, if I may, I`ve got a marijuana banking bill that Mr. Perlmutter and I think is going to pass after six and a half years of effort the day after tomorrow or tomorrow.

I want to be celebrating this week.  I don`t want to be doing this.  He is compelling this.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about that, because you raised the point, Congressman, the day after Mueller gave his testimony up here, and he wasn`t at his best that day, we all know that.  It wasn`t that great television drama, but the message was pretty clear.  Don`t collude with Russians.

The next day he colluded with the Ukrainian president.  He was like saying, screw you.

CICILLINE:  I think what`s really important here and the way I explained to my constituents is the conduct of the president is endangering the national security of the United States.  He is trying to trade our support for an ally, support approved by Congress in order to elicit from the president of Ukraine a political benefit for himself.  And he`s violating or he told the DNI not to release the whistleblower report even though that`s required by statute.

So we have in plain view, in real-time, the president of the United States seeking assistance from a foreign leader and breaking the law and trying to keep it secret.  And as Denny said, we don`t do this with delight but we have a responsibility to stand up to defend the Constitution and the rule of law and defend against a president who is betraying his oath of office.

MATTHEWS:  That`s the moral question, the historic question, Heidi, because I grew up with the captive nations of Eastern Europe, and countries like Ukraine, where I went to school with a lot of Ukrainians.  And, boy, the idea that a president would stake their freedom from Russia based upon whether he get dirt from the president is unimaginable.  It will be like talking about Hungarians, if you give me some dirt, I`ll protect you from the Russians.  I mean, it`s unimaginable, historically.  Your thoughts.

PRZYBYLA:  Well, wouldn`t it be ironic, Chris, if the Russians tried to help get this president into office and a scandal over Ukraine helped to bring him down?  We`re not there yet.  But, yes, we`ve seen many unimaginable moments here.  But I think that the congressmen really put their finger on it when they said that he has been emboldened every step of the way here because there has not been a single incidence really here of the oversight.

And with all due respect to members of Congress and the House where they`ve succeeded in getting a major document or witness other than Mueller to come up there and give them information.  And even that wound up being, in the eyes of many, kind of a disappointment because he wouldn`t go much beyond what was in his report.  And even then, it was kind of a stilted delivery.

And so, you know, next week, I think by this time next week, we will have a very good answer assuming that the DNI does come through with this whistleblower complaint.  The extent to which the president and now the reporting is eight times pressured the Ukrainians to collect dirt, we`ll have a good sense of whether or not that all is true.

MATTHEWS:  That was The Wall Street Journal report, eight times President Trump brought up his need, his demand for dirt on Joe Biden with the president of Ukraine.  It`s an amazing bit of news.

Anyway, Politico is also now reporting that the White House is now preparing to release the whistleblower`s complaint itself and the inspector general`s report by the end of the week.  So, Congressman, these guys, the president, for the first time in his presidency, it looks like he`s reacting rather than acting.

HECK:  Well, I think he feels the heat, and he should, because he`s lawfully violated the law and his administration has.  I`m looking forward a great deal to hearing from the ODNI and seeing the whistleblower complaint.

And let us remember that the independent inspector general has deemed the underlying considerations from complainant to be of an urgent nature and backed by credible evidence, let`s remember that, and the definition of the laws is a flagrant abuse or violation of the law.

MATTHEWS:  Well, somebody, this whistleblower, man or woman, obviously a civil servant of the National Security --

CICILLINE:  Appointed by President Trump.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we -- the whistleblower?

CICILLINE:  No, I`m talking about the --

MATTHEWS:  The person who triggered this watched the pattern of the president`s behavior and something in him said that this is urgent, this can`t be done.

CICILLINE:  Yes, absolutely.  And I think the action by the Senate today has really helped.  This is the first time we`re seeing our Senate colleagues join us in this effort to hold this president accountable and demonstrate no one is above the law, the president is required to follow the law.  And that action today, I think, has done a lot to help advance this forward.

MATTHEWS:  Jon Meacham, you`re going to get the last word, I think, in this segment.  I`m glad you`re on tonight.  We`ve had Andrew Johnson impeached, saved in the senate in a close one-vote difference.  We had Bill Clinton impeached.  That didn`t go anywhere in the Senate, but that was a partisan issue in many ways.  Nixon was forced to resign after the House Judiciary Committee acted.

Here we are back again somewhere in that vicinity.  Your thoughts how this fits in history.

MEACHAM:  Well, all three of those impeachments unfolded at a time when there was a deep fracturing of the country and a fundamental almost existential question confronting us.  It was the nature of the Union after the civil war and whether the verdict of the war would actually be implemented.

Johnson stood in the way of that.  He tried to undo the work of Lincoln in many ways.  President Nixon was impeached at a time of Cold War and cultural upheaval.  The Clinton impeachment unfolds at a moment of generational shift from the World War II generation to the baby boomers and a continuation of the shifting nature of the parties after segregation and integration.

And now, we have this question of are we, in fact, going to have a coherent answer to globalization and the questions that confront us.  In 2016, we had a populous spasm.  And what we`re going to see right now is whether the people who have supported this president for other reasons will, in fact, follow the facts to their logical conclusion.  This is great test for the relevance and role of fact and truth in our politics in the 21st century.

MATTHEWS:  And, of course, the strength of our Constitution in this 21st Century.  Does it still matter what the limits of power are?

Anyway, thank you, Congressman Denny Heck of Washington State, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Heidi Przybyla, thank you, with us, and Jon Meacham with history.

Coming up, much more on tonight`s breaking news.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as I said, announced a formal impeachment inquiry, a proceeding, really, heading towards an up or down vote at some point on President Trump`s impeachment.

And as the flood gates open today with three dozen House members announcing just today their support for beginning the impeachment process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI):  The very basic idea of getting foreign help to influence the American political process, that is beyond the pale.

REP. MIKIE SHERRILL (D-NJ):  We need to step up and talk about a president who has become more and more chaotic and reckless and this really crossed the line for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Plus, seven freshman Democrats write in a Washington Post op-ed column that the president`s alleged actions are a threat to our national security.  If the allegations are true, they say, he should be impeached.  Two of those Democrats join me here, right here on this balcony, next.

We`ve got a lot to get to on this very historic night.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOS:  The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable fact of the president`s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.

Therefore, today I`m announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.  I`m directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry.

The president must be held accountable.  No one is above the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

After repeatedly urging caution on impeachment, the speaker there has now become the leader of the impeachment drive in the House of Representatives.

Politico reports that in a closed-door meeting, Pelosi told committee leaders to compile their arguments for impeachment and send them to the House Judiciary Committee which will review and package it all together before deciding whether to send impeachment to the House floor."

The speaker`s decision came amid a groundswell of support for impeachment that built at breakneck speed over the last 24 hours.  As of right now, 187 of 235 House Democrats have publicly supported action toward impeachment, after the dam of opposition burst open overnight.

Seven vulnerable -- or freshmen -- I think I would change that.  It`s not vulnerable.  People in swing districts, freshman Democrats with national security backgrounds, published an op-ed in "The Washington Post" in support of an impeachment inquiry.

They wrote: "To uphold and defend our Constitution, Congress must determined whether the president was indeed willing to use his power and withhold security assistance funds to persuade a foreign country to assist him in an upcoming election."

Well, the drumbeat reached a powerful crescendo this afternoon, as Georgia Democratic Congressman John Lewis, often referred to as the conscience of the House, gave an impassioned speech, arguing that now is the time to act. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA):  The future of our democracy is at stake.

There come a time when you have to be moved by the spirit of history to take action to protect and preserve the integrity of our nation.

I believe, I truly believe the time to begin impeachment proceedings against this president has come.  To delay or to do otherwise would betray the foundation of our democracy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I`m joined right now by two of the authors of that "Washington Post" op-ed column, Democratic Congresswomen Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey.

Thank you both for joining me.  I haven`t had you on yet.  But now I have - - I had you on, I think, before once. 

What did you make?  That was a rather soulful sermon, almost, from John Lewis there. 

What`s the moral issue here?  Do you see a moral issue of this president`s behavior?

REP. CHRISSY HOULAHAN (D-PA):  I think the reason why the seven of us came together is that we have historically, in our pasts, served in the military, served in the CIA, taking the oath of office in the past.  We took it again as freshman members of Congress.

And the moral obligation in taking that oath is to protect and defend.  And we are worried in what we have seen in the behavior -- possible behavior of our president, that he has abandoned that out of office.  And we need to find out whether or not that`s true. 

MATTHEWS:  This week, we`re going to get apparently the complaint from the whistle-blower, the whole thing about his or her -- whoever it is -- we don`t know, male or female -- who was very concerned about this president`s behavior, and not just apparently in that telephone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine. 

And the question is, you`re also going to get apparently that conversation, the transcript of that.  So you`re going to know it all basically this week.  What will that tell you?  Yes or no one on articles of impeachment for abuses of power.

REP. MIKIE SHERRILL (D-NJ):  Well, first of all, I think it`s important that we do get that whistle-blower complaint, because, by law, it has to be turned over to the Intelligence Committee at this point. 

And I think what we`re going to see is what the whistle-blower was so concerned about.  We know the ICIG thought that it was very concerning, and met the standard and the threshold for turning it over to Congress. 

And we know it has been withheld to this point by the director of national intelligence.  That must be turned over.  And I`m glad the president realizes that at this point.  And then we will see the details of it. 

I mean, what we know now is that the president did withhold support for one of our security partners who`s fighting a war to preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine against Russia, something that Congress felt was so important that we passed it with bipartisan support. 

We know the president withhold -- withheld that.  And then we also know, because he told us, that the president talked about corruption with Ukraine and the Bidens. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that?  You first, Congresswoman Houlahan.

What do you make of a trade like that, a president of the United States trading our basically umbrella of support for a country that -- we have been supporting anti-communist countries for most of the last -- ever since the end of World War II, we have been defending countries on the edge of Russia from Russia.

HOULAHAN:  Yes. 

And I served -- when I was active duty was at the tail end of the Cold War.  And so this is a particularly personal conversation for me. 

Listen, we have a credible belief that this particular president may have compromised our national security, may have exercised corruption, and may have actually in some ways compromised the 2020 elections. 

And so, on all three of those levels, we should be concerned, concerned enough that we need to get more information and get to the bottom of it.

MATTHEWS:  Corruption has many forms, I said last night on this show, but it will always come down to something very simple. 

Someone has official power, and they use it for personal gain.  That works whether it`s Zimbabwe or it`s anywhere, China, or it`s here.  Here`s a president who took his official power to decide whether to release those military aid funds to a very scared country, Ukraine, $250 million in arms. 

And he said, you can get it, apparently, if you give me some political help with beating Biden.

SHERRILL:  You know, I think some of us have been marveling at this because we know that, were we still in uniform, this is certainly something that we would be investigated about, possibly serve some time for, to really work with a foreign power...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SHERRILL:  ... to undermine our election system, especially when you`re the president of the United States of America. 

I think that`s why we had to stand up. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, hold on there.

President Trump was asked this morning about the growing calls for impeachment shortly before his address to the United Nations General Assembly.  Let`s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think it`s ridiculous.  It`s a witch-hunt.  I`m leading in the polls.  They have no idea how they stop me. The only way they can try is through impeachment. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, later, during a meeting with the Iraqi president, Trump even suggested a formal and impeachment inquiry could benefited him -- benefit him politically. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Look, it`s just a continuation of the witch-hunt.  It`s the worst witch-hunt in political history.  They are going to lose the election.  And they figured this is a thing to do.  This never happened where we`re in the election and -- I mean, if she does that, they all say that`s a positive for me from the election. 

You could also say, who needs it?  It`s bad for the country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I think the -- just my view, me watching it, like -- you have closer views by talking your people, talking to your constituents -- that this whole thing for three years got a little diffuse, something like the O.J. trial.  You got too many factors involved.  People couldn`t get a clear bearing on the whole thing. 

But now it`s got this clear focus.  Do you think, back in your districts, Congresswoman Houlahan -- I know your district a little well because I grew up in the burbs there in Philly.

Do you think they get this one?  I don`t mean to be condescending, but do you think they get what we`re talking about here? 

HOULAHAN:  So I think that there`s a couple things here. 

One is that this is not political.  This should not be political.  This is very painful.  And the decision that we came to as a group was one of the most difficult, I think, certainly in my career. 

And so we don`t take this with any glee or joy.  This is not about the election of 2020.  This is not about my election.  My community, though, does deserve the truth.  And my community -- I think this is one of those seminal moments where we do have something that`s crystal clear.  It`s very bite-sized.  It`s something that we can understand.  It`s something that the president has done while he`s in office, purportedly.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HOULAHAN:  It has to do with the 2020 elections, not the 2016 elections. 

And so these are all opportunities for us to really dig down and get to the truth. 

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman Sherrill, do you think your people at home are going to want -- if it comes down to a vote, will they understand the gravity of this? 

SHERRILL:  Well, that`s our job. 

And that`s why we ran for Congress.  And that`s why we`re stepping up now, to continue our service.  We have to explain to the American people what we see, why we see such a threat to national security, how we have connected the dots on this behavior, and why we think it`s important. 

And so,hopefully, I can convey that to my community.  There -- this has been a somewhat chaotic and reckless presidency.  There is a lot of noise coming out of this presidency.  So we are hoping to cut through that noise to just stand for basic American values. 

MATTHEWS:  You were both in the service, right? 

HOULAHAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  When you were in the service, what did you -- how important was it to you that you were defending the Constitution and our government?

HOULAHAN:  So, I not only was in the service, but I`m third-generation military and have cousins who are active-duty right now in harm`s way. 

This is essential.  It`s not just for the country.  It`s also for my family.  And so it`s really, really important that you`re -- you take that oath of office very, very gravely and seriously.

MATTHEWS:  When you`re in the military itself, defending this, what we`re looking at.

HOULAHAN:  This great nation.

MATTHEWS:  We`re looking at it here.  This is what they`re defending.

SHERRILL:  Right.  Well, not just in the military. 

We just took another oath in January.

HOULAHAN:  Right.

SHERRILL:  We have taken numerous oaths.  I took an oath when I was a federal prosecutor.

I, time and again, have sworn to protect this country.  And so we have seen this national security threat.  And we felt that we had to stand up.

Now, do we want to continue working on the things that are really important in our districts?  Yes.  I`m not going to stop working on the Gateway tunnel or taxes or health care.  But this was important enough that we had to take note.

MATTHEWS:  Glad I got to meet you both. 

SHERRILL:  Thank you so much. 

HOULAHAN:  Thank you so much for having us.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I take it seriously, and I think you -- everybody up here does.

Thank you, Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan and Mikie, Mikie Sherrill. 

I think that was a kid`s name.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, coming up next -- it was in that commercial.

Anyway, breaking news tonight, of course, Politico`s reporting the White House will release the whistle-blower complaint itself and the inspector general report this week.  There`s a lot more to come.  We`re going to see a lot of information in the next couple days.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Today, President Trump confirmed that he personally ordered his administration to freeze U.S. military aid to Ukraine.  Multiple reports said that aid was frozen just a few days before he reportedly pressured the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. 

"The New York Times" reports that other government officials were left in the dark as well, and that staff members at the State and Defense department were puzzled and alarmed by this freezing of the funds of the military aid to Ukraine just days before the president basically talked to the president of Ukraine about what he needed to do to get the money. 

Anyway, today, Trump attempted to explain why ordered that aid to Ukraine frozen.  Let`s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  As far as withholding funds, those funds were paid.  They were fully paid.  But my complaint has always been -- and I would withhold again, and I`ll continue to withhold until such time as Europe and other nations contribute to Ukraine, because they`re not doing it.  It`s the United States. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  However, "The Washington Post" reports that U.S. allies are providing aid to Ukraine, lots of it.

Since Russia intervened in Ukraine and annexed its Crimean Peninsula in 2014, the European Union has provided more than $16.5 billion in grants and loans to Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, big news from Politico tonight:  The White House is now preparing to release the whistle-blower`s complaint and the inspector general`s report by the end of the week.

For more, I`m joined by Shane Harris, national security correspondent for "The Washington Post," and Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI. 

Thank you.

Shane, first to you.

The president of the United States is apparently going to release everything.  What`s causing it?  He`s now releasing the conversation he had with the president of Ukraine. 

SHANE HARRIS, "THE WASHINGTON POST":  Right.

MATTHEWS:  He`s releasing the complaint that lays out what this guy or woman thinks was really awful and urgent that we know about in what he was doing on the phone. 

HARRIS:  Yes.  Well, the pressure has been building on him. 

It`s incredible how this has happened in just a week`s time.  It was only a week ago we found out what this complaint was even remotely about.  Obviously, the impeachment pressure is building on him.  We`re hearing that he may release some of this information to Congress as soon as tomorrow, if not in full by the end of the week, also that Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, asked the president to do this on a phone call they had today. 

And, of course, she`s announced impeachment proceedings have begun. 

So it seems like the White House wants to get this to Congress, maybe kind of rip the Band-Aid off here, clearly believing that the information itself is not sufficient to inflict any major damage on the president.  They think it`s actually going to turn out to be nothing. 

We`re going to find out soon enough.

MATTHEWS:  How do you know that, they think it`s going to turn out to be nothing?

HARRIS:  What we`re hearing is that the president actually has been very pleased to see the way this is playing out in the press, and thinking this is going to be something that blows up in the media`s face, that it`s an exaggeration, it`s Russia hoax all over again.

That`s how he`s viewing it.  Some of his aides, it`s important to say, do not see it that way and think that even the substance of the transcript of that call with the Ukrainian president is not going to look good for President Trump. 

MATTHEWS:  Frank, it seems to me it goes back to the moral issue, the political issue, and really constitutional here. 

Does the president of the United States have a within its power to basically condition U.S. military aid, defense money to protect the country, on that country kicking over dirty material on a political opponent of the president, in other words, trading political office and power and office really for political gain? 

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, Chris, we`re already seeing the defense starting to play out, right?

And I have seen this before with corrupt public officials throughout my FBI career.  I call it the "I did it, so what?" defense.  I was the mayor.  I was the county commissioner.  I was the governor.  I -- I am the president.  And you don`t understand my authority and how I operate. 

But here`s the problem with that.  He can release all of the things he wants to release, but the law says the moment you, a public official, solicit a thing of value for personal benefit, in return for an official act, like releasing a quarter-billion dollars in aid, you have violated the law. 

And you can do it directly with a stated quid pro quo, or you could do it indirectly.  The problem here is that, if we get all bogged down in the law, we miss what is staring us in the face, which is that this president decided to solicit the aid of a foreign government to intervene against his adversary for reelection. 

If the American people think that`s acceptable, then we have backstepped a long way in this country, and, quite frankly, our president has lost any sense of shame, if he ever had one. 

The concept of soliciting a foreign power to aid your reelection is a disgrace to the office, and he`s going to flaunt it by saying, it`s OK that I did it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, there`s more breaking news tonight, guys. 

NBC News is reporting that Speaker Pelosi told members of the caucus meeting this afternoon about a call she had with the president this morning.  The president told Pelosi, according to her, that he wanted to figure this out.  He wanted to figure this out. 

Pelosi said, "Tell your people to follow the law," three sources tell NBC News.

What I think is interesting is that the president thought that Rod Blagojevich did nothing wrong.  He`s talking about pardoning him because all he did was sell the former president`s Senate seat for some political game he was playing.

Well, here`s the president of the United States selling his authority over unfreezing military aid to Ukraine to get what he wanted, political gain for himself in terms of dirt on his opponent. 

HARRIS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  That seems to be pretty -- very parallel here.

HARRIS:  It`s pretty parallel. 

And it`s -- also, remember this happened the day after Robert Mueller testified.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HARRIS:  And Trump says, I`m exonerated, no collusion.

Then he gets on the phone, and potentially is inviting foreign interference in the election. 

I think you have hit upon something here.  It`s not clear to me that the president understands why this is a problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HARRIS:  And that seems to be his posture in here, is that, I withhold aid for all kinds of reasons.  We have withheld aid to Central American countries because their immigration policies aren`t tough enough. 

It seems like he`s not making that connection.  And I think some of his aides worry about this, that, no, what you`re doing here is potentially a corruption of the office and an abuse of the authority as president.

Just because you can withhold aid in some circumstances doesn`t mean you get to do it when you`re trying to get somebody to investigate your political rival. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to get back to you, Frank, because the one thing that frustrates me about this Congress, it`s been -- it`s getting into the weeds. 

And you ought to be able to see it when you see it.  Like they used to say about pornography, if you can see it, you can see it.  If you don`t see this as corruption, this misuse of authority, this abuse of power by a president, if you don`t get it, you don`t need to have more hearings on it, make more document demands. 

But all the time this -- I`m hoping that they get -- we`re hearing they`re going to move quickly on this, they`re going to act quickly based on the information they get this week in terms of acting on whether to proceed towards articles of impeachment or not. 

But my worry is, they will hire a bunch of lawyers again, hire a bunch of staff, do a lot more whatever, whatever, and just put it off and off, and by the time this thing cools down, nothing happens, not even a vote up or down.

Your thoughts?

FIGLIUZZI:  And while that time runs, let`s understand the national security risk here. 

The president has conceded that he reaches out to foreign leaders for help for personal benefit.  This goes right back to the Russia allegation. We can now easily see how he could have compromised himself with Russia.  We don`t know what transpired there.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FIGLIUZZI:  But he`s very willing to do this for personal benefit.  How much longer will we allow this to go on where he can know what transpired know what transpired there, but he`s very willing to do this for personal benefit.  How much longer will we allow this to go on where he can compromise himself and someone else holds the key to his compromise? 

Don`t forget, it`s not just Ukraine that was a party to that conversation?  You know who else is listening to that conversation?  Russia. 

Russia is intercepting the Ukrainian president`s conversations.  They know exactly what transpired.  There`s another adversary who now comes in and says I own this president. 

MATTHEWS:  And you wonder if it`s the same one we`ve always thought of, which is Vladimir Putin, and whether that`s the same thing we`re watching here, just another chapter in this story.  Helping out Russia by screwing Ukraine. 

Anyway, thank you, Shane Harris.  Thank you, Frank Figliuzzi.

Up next, stand by your man no matter the cost.  Republicans remaining mostly silent yet again on the latest abuse of power. 

I love this guy Pat Toomey, he couldn`t say over the weekend what was going on.  He said I`m not paying attention to it.  What`s that about? 

And why aren`t more Republicans in Congress willing to put their allegiance to country ahead of their allegiance to Trump? 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As news of the impeachment inquiry broke, President Trump fired off a number of angry tweets today accusing Democrats of engaging in another witch hunt and claiming more presidential harassment. 

With the tide turning against him, however, with impeachment the open question now is whether members of the Republican Party will do anything.  The president has drawn their line in the sand, of course, and Republicans seem to be burying their heads in it. 

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy claimed that the speaker of the house had no authority to call for an impeachment inquiry. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER:  This election is over.  I realize 2016 did not turn out the way Speaker Pelosi wanted it to happen.  But she cannot change the laws of this Congress.  She cannot unilaterally decide for an impeachment inquiry.  What she said today made no difference of what`s been going on. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, his Senate colleague, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, called the impeachment inquiry a rush to judgment.  And earlier, he declined to say if he thought it was okay to solicit dirt on an opponent from a foreign leader. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  Is it appropriate, though, for any candidate to reach out to a foreign leader asking for help digging up dirt on a political rival? 

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER:  Well, we`re going to find out what happened in the Senate through a process pre-established by the Intelligence Committee behind closed doors initially, with the acting director of DNI. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, devoid of a clear message from their leaders, congressional Republicans have had to come up with a range of explanations or deflections for the president`s actions.  Let`s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL):  I`m not prepared to go as far or anywhere near where some of the people around here are going in terms of the things they`re saying. 

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL):  I think there are people in the intelligence community and other parts of our government who just have it out for the president.  I don`t have any worries about the president.

REP. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA):  I don`t know the context.  I don`t know what was said. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I don`t know what was said.  Well, today`s Republican Party is singing a much different tune than they did, say, 20 years ago, the last time a president was impeached.  And that`s next. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THEN-REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  You don`t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic.  Yet this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role.  Impeachment is not about punishment.  Impeachment is about cleansing the office.  Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Pretty well done.

That was former South Carolina U.S. Congressman Lindsey Graham back in 1999 during President Bill Clinton`s impeachment hearing, arguing in that case impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.  It`s not exactly a legal issue. 

Well, 20 years later, of course, Senator Lindsey Graham has changed his tune, defending President Trump`s behavior amid similar calls.  What happened to the Republican Party is a question, and where are they now is another question. 

For more, I`m joined by Michael Steel, former senior adviser to Jeb Bush, former spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, and Ayesha Rascoe, White House reporter for NPR. 

I guess it`s up to you, Michael, to answer the question.  I was watching Pat Toomey about that feeble comment about I don`t know what`s going on here, Sergeant Schultz`s answer.  He didn`t know what was going on this weekend. 

I notice John Cornyn says, well, is it a whistleblower?  Is it leaker?  Or, I don`t know, conceptually, it`s kind of hard to deal with.  They know what they see. 

MICHAEL STEEL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I`m reminded by former Speaker Ryan`s comment he would wake up every morning and figure out which tweets to pretend he hadn`t seen from the president.  In some cases, ignorance is bliss on these things.  But I think you`re so seeing a lot of Republicans in the Senate particularly reserved judgment, hold back.  The president was willing to apparently release a transcript of the call or notes from the call.  There are suggestions that we may see the whistleblower report. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

STEEL:  At least Senate Intel obviously will. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it looks like it.

STEEL:  Unanimous -- you know, Senate Republicans did not object. 

So it`s sort of an odd moment for House Democrats to have moved into this new sort of fake impeachment phase when they were getting cooperation -- 

MATTHEWS:  You think it`s a fake impeachment case -- 

STEEL:  I think they`re doing exactly what they were already doing, they`re combining the reports all their committees and jurisdictions are doing, sending them to the Judiciary Committee.  That`s not impeachment.  That`s collating. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR:  But -- 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but it does put them in a position --  well, you can argue that.  Go ahead and argue --

(CROSSTALK)

RASCOE:  But it does seem to be getting the president to act, right, which is what he wasn`t doing.  He was stonewalling and not cooperating at all.

STEEL:  I mean, I think he was -- 

RASCOE:  And now he`s moving very fast.  Before this was a transcript he was saying he`d release it, maybe, he didn`t know, it might be a slippery slope, we don`t want to do it, and now, he`s moving.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- point for analogy because we got to work.  Howard Fineman called me a little bit before 2:00 today saying guess what, Pelosi`s moved, they`ve moved, they`re going to act.  And then we start hearing from the president, we start hearing from the White House --

STEEL:  And you saw Schiff over the weekend signaling that House Democrats were prepared to that.  

MATTHEWS:  And the president started to react -- for the first time in his life reacting to the Democrats. 

STEEL:  Remember that there`s a split in the White House on this.  There are people who believe impeachment is unpopular, almost 2 to 1 against in polling.  House Democrats are doing a pathetic job building a case against this president in hearings with the public. 

The president has a lot of advisers who believe that you will guarantee his re-election if the House Democrats impeach him. 

MATTHEWS:  I think that`s Trump thought.  I`m not sure they thought it this week.

The fast developments today prompted Joe Biden to join the chorus of voices holding Trump accountable.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Using its full constitutional authority, Congress in my view should demand the information it has a legal right to receive.  If Congress does not -- if a president does not comply with such a request of the Congress, he continues to obstruct Congress and flaunt the law, Donald Trump will leave Congress in my view no choice but to initiate impeachment. 

We`ve always been a beacon to other countries around the world.  We know who Donald Trump is.  It`s time to let the world know who we are. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Michael, let`s go to the elements of this thing that have to be connected.  It will be this week.  This is not going to be a long-term thing.  The president of the United States froze military aid funds to Ukraine.  A couple days later, he calls up the president of Ukraine and says give me some dirt. 

(CROSSTALK)

STEEL:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  It looks like a quid pro quo, whatever you call it.  Is that impeachable in your lights if that happened, if that was the connection? 

STEELE:  It is impeachable.  I don`t know whether or not it makes sense to impeach him for it.  There are things -- there are things that a president could be impeached for that are not necessarily to impeach. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you stop him from doing it if you don`t impeach? 

STEEL:  That`s the problem.  Under our constitutional system, the only effective check is impeachment or the threat of impeachment.  And having moved in this direction, if they don`t go all the way, he`s just emboldened to do something worse next time. 

MATTHEWS:  Ayesha, history -- give some current history.  First draft of history, you`re a journalist.  What are we getting here? 

RASCOE:  Well, I think that is an interesting point when you talk about what do you -- is -- does this rise to the level of impeachment?  I think that`s what makes it a difficult argument for Republicans.  If it does turn out when this transcript comes out that he was maybe pressure Ukraine, if you`re making the argument politically, well, it was really bad but do we want to impeach him like your trying to thread this needle, like we don`t approve of it, but this is something that doesn`t rise to the level of impeachment, that`s not a very strong argument necessarily.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what happens when the president -- this president thinks he`s in the call time room and he`s just calling world leaders that are dirty?  He figures, I can do anything I wanted there now.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Steel, I like your arguments, I don`t agree with them.  Thank you, Ayesha Rascoe.

RASCOE:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  We`ll be right back.  You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Stay with MSNBC throughout the night and in the coming days for the latest developments on the impeachment inquiry.  Tomorrow, President Trump says he`ll release the transcript of his call with the Ukrainian president.  Thursday, we`ll hear testimony from the acting DNI Joseph Maguire, and the inspector general in this case. 

And at some point this week, we might hear the testimony itself from the whistleblower from the intelligence community who started all this. 

And that`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. 

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