ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: And that does it for me. But don`t go anywhere. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: The impeachment showdown. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.
President Trump and his administration have launched a new bid to slow the unfolding impeachment inquiry, but it has prompted one top Democrat to accuse the White House of trying to obstruct justice.
In a letter tonight, the White House Counsel calls the impeachment inquiry, quote, illegitimate and says the White House will refuse to cooperate with it. This comes after the State Department blocked Gordon Soundland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, from speaking to three House committees, informing him of that decision just hours before he was scheduled for a deposition today.
Ambassador Sondland has become a central figure in the Trump-Ukraine scandal. He is among the three diplomats who exchanged potentially damning text messages about a possible effort to leverage the government of Ukraine last summer.
And according to Republican Senator Ron Johnson, Sondland told him over the summer that the release of U.S. aid to Ukraine was contingent on Ukraine pointing a prosecutor who would, quote, get to bottom of what happened in 2016.
Ambassador Sondland was today served with a subpoena and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff made clear that the administration`s stonewalling represents obstruction of justice to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents, we consider yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress, a co-equal branch of government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: In a tweet this morning, the president took personal responsibility for the decision, saying, quote, I would love to send Ambassador Sondland to testify but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court.
Trump also quoted from one of Sondland`s texts, which was released last week, to claim vindication. He said, quote, importantly, Ambassador Sondland`s tweets stated the president has been cCrystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind, that says at all. This is a part of a counteroffensive the president is waging to stop the momentum Democrats have gained.
All of it comes amid new reporting as well from The New York Times about Trump`s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky. According to a memo that was written by the whistleblower, a White House official described the call as crazy, frightening and completely lacking in substance related to national security. The whistleblower describes the official as, quote, visibly shaken by what had transpired and says that, quote, in the official`s view, the president had clearly committed a criminal act. NBC has confirmed the existence of the memo and the accuracy of The Times` description of it.
Joining me now, Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York, he is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Susan Del Percio is a republican strategist, and Geoff Bennett, White House Correspondent for NBC News.
And, Geoff, let me start with you to take us through. The day began with Ambassador Sondland apparently being told, no, you`re not going to be giving that deposition today. And the day is ending with the White House now putting out this document, this letter, saying they`re not going to cooperate on anything. What is is going on here in terms of the White House`s thinking?
GEOFF BENNETT, MSNBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you read the letter, Steve, it actually reads like more a political document than a legal one. So it appears the White House is trying to give Republican allies of President Trump some talking points to use in his defense as they try to run out the clock here.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made clear that this argument made by the White House has no legal ground, that it`s not based on the Constitution, it`s certainly not based in-House precedent. And so what we`ve heard from her and what we`ve heard from Adam Schiff is that in the face of anymore stonewalling past Democrats aren`t going to seek legal remedy through the courts.
What they`re going to do is chalk that up as a new potential avenue, another article of impeachment, congressional obstruction. And beyond that, Adam Schiff says they`re going to draw an adverse inference. That is if the White House won`t give them documents on a subject, they will assume that the underlying evidence, the underlying claim is true. They will take that stonewalling to be some sort of confirmation.
On the Sondland point, which I think is fairly instructive, is that, and as you mentioned, my colleagues and I confirmed today that during that five- hour gap, there was a five-hour gap during which Bill Taylor, a diplomat, and Sondland were communicating about this quid pro quo, this holding up of Ukrainian military aid in exchange for President Trump`s desire to have Ukrainians dig up discredited dirt on Joe Biden.
We have now confirmed that in that five-hour window that Sondland communicated directly with President Trump. And now, today, President Trump is now echoing what Sondland said in that text message back, where he said, in effect, no, there is no such thing, there is no quid pro quo. Steve?
KORNACKI: Well, we have actually with us a member of one of the committees now, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee that has subpoenaed Sondland to testify and to appear for a deposition, now, next Wednesday, is what you`re saying, by next Wednesday to be deposed to provide documents. If this posture from the White House, which shows no signs of relenting, if that continues, if he doesn`t show up next Wednesday, if these documents don`t come forward, what is the next step?
REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): The next step is this, what Chairman Schiff said. Look, enough is enough. If, in fact, he wants to continue to obstruct, then we will say he`s obstructing the fundamental rights of Congress to do its job. And then that will become part of the impeachment. It will no longer have to worry about an impeachment inquiry if, in fact, he is not cooperating and he`s intensely trying to cover up his behavior --
KORNACKI: Does that -- when you say it will become part of the impeachment, is this going -- would this then be an article that would be fast-tracked on its own, perhaps in an effort to compel cooperation or would this play out along with the other --
MEEKS: No. I think that this would be an item that could be fast-tracked on its own, on its face. It is clear that he is trying to obstruct and prevent the Congress from getting information that it needs to do its work. And as a result of that, it`s a separate and independent count of impeachment, in my opinion, and then you look at other areas of impeachment also if he continues to obstruct and does not come up with anything that refutes what the facts are.
KORNACKI: So the discussion that`s been playing out, Republicans have been making the issue of saying, hey, House Democrats have not had a formal vote in the House to have an impeachment inquiry launched, they have said the impeachment inquiry is underway, the committees are investigating. There are no individual articles that have been introduced yet. But are you saying if Sondland doesn`t show next Wednesday, there will be an article of impeachment that`s then introduced?
MEEKS: I`m saying they could very well. That is the next step. That`s where we have to move to. If, in fact, you obstruct the investigation, the inquiry, then we have to look at what`s left, what is happening. He is then obstructing the impeachment inquiry. And so now we look as part of articles of impeachment, obstruction. That becomes one of those articles as well as others that we can look at.
And as Chairman Schiff has indicated, if he does nothing other than that, then we will have to infer that the facts, as we see them, is what they are. Believe your own eyes, a betrayal of his trust as president of the United States, of the fact that he has endangered the national security of the United States of America and that he`s abused his power as president of the United States of America.
KORNACKI: Susan, what do you make of this, because the threat is here? You`re hearing it from a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. If the ambassador does not show up next week, does not cooperate, they are now saying this becomes an article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress. What do you make of a calculation by the White House? Surely, you`re aware that is likely going to happen if they do this, choosing to embrace that route rather than have him show up and testify.
SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I`m still a little unclear. If he refuses to show up, Congressman, will that be part of a number of counts of impeachment or will it be a separate count that you will fast-track and use it to kind of hold over the president`s head? Because if it`s separate, I think, from a communications point of view, not a legislative one but a communications one, that would be a mistake because that`s just kind of muddying the waters a little bit about why we`re going after the president.
I think that they have to do their investigation, present whatever they`re going to do. Obstruction makes sense. The quid pro quo makes sense. Have that and keep this as clean as possible. Because what the president does, he denies, he delays, he deflects. And right now, we`re getting perilously close to having a conversation about process versus what he did. And that`s where I think the focus has to stand.
KORNACKI: Well, arguing that the impeachment inquiry is, quote, illegitimate, the White House letter to Pelosi says this. Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness or even the most elementary due process protections, the executive branch cannot be expected to participate in it.
Tonight, the White House` argument is facing criticism from both Democrats and at least one Republican. The former General Counsel to Republican, Senator Marco Rubio, tweeted, quote, wow, this letter is bananas, a barely lawyered temper tantrum, a middle finger to Congress and its oversight responsibilities.
As a result of the White House letter, Democrats will presumably have to fight to get the White House to respond to any of their subpoena requests. And today`s subpoena to Ambassador Sondland is the sixth issued since Speaker Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry just two weeks ago.
Geoff, let me bring you back in on this. Just -- again, you were mentioning this. This reads like a political document. We`re always saying impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. Ultimately, it`s a jury of senators, if it gets that far, they would decide the president has to face the House that would impeach. It this -- this can be read, then you`re saying is, this is the White House`s attempt to equip Republicans with a political sort of line of attack.
BENNETT: Yes. And interestingly enough, the trial balloon that the White House floated on Friday when they first suggested that this letter was coming was that they were going to say that if the House speaker doesn`t bring this impeachment vote to the floor, they weren`t going to cooperate.
This letter does not use that phrase. It stops short of making that point. I think because Republicans got the message that if Nancy Pelosi were to bring an impeachment vote to the floor, it would also put Republicans on the record, and that was something that they didn`t want to do.
So, yes, it does read like a bit of a political screed here. But to Susan`s point, Nancy Pelosi has already said that what`s already in the public record as this investigation goes forward, even if they don`t get another diplomat to show up, if they don`t get the documents that they want, what`s already in the public record.
But President Trump has already admitted to is enough of an impeachable offense. The president trying to use his public office of personal gain, the president undermining the national security, risking the integrity of American elections, that is the public case. That is the argument that the Democrats are trying to build.
And they feel like they already have the evidence they need to do that, including, Steve, President Trump`s own comments.
KORNACKI: Congressman, Geoff mentions this. It`s in that letter to the speaker, the White House making the point, Democrats in the House have sort of decreed that there`s an impeachment inquiry going on. There`s not been a formal House vote to authorize it. You had a formal House vote with Clinton in `98. There was a formal House vote in `74. They`re not required to do it but that`s been the custom at least in modern times.
We`re going to show some of the polling in a little bit, but it looks like the consensus in the polling right now is there is support out there for an impeachment inquiry. Do you want Democrats to essentially call the White House`s bluff and say, fine, let`s have that vote, impeachment inquiry?
MEEKS: What we`re not going to do is allow the individual who`s subject to the investigation to tell us how to investigate. We`re going to do our jobs. And what we`re trying to do in a very serious manner because we`re in a very serious time, is to make sure that we give the White House the opportunity to produce documents if he has those documents and show that there`s no need to impeach him for what is obvious to us an abuse of his power, a threat to national security and a betrayal of the Constitution based upon his actions.
So absent that, then what choice do we have but do what I do say, Susan, I am talking about all three. Obstruction becomes one of the counts that will be included therein with the same thing we talked about as far as betrayal, abuse of power and national security interests. Those would all be compiled therein. That`s what we have to do. It`s a serious time and we`re not going to allow the president to act as if he is one of those authoritarians who he seems to embrace.
KORNACKI: Okay. Your argument is Trump says you don`t want to just let Trump dictate the terms. It was done though with Nixon. It was done with Clinton. Is there a compelling argument to put it on the record that, hey, each individual member put their name out there and said we are, as a House, going to go forward with an impeachment inquiry? It is a serious and kind of rare thing in our system.
MEEKS: At some time when it comes to a vote of whether or not to impeach or not, every member of the House will be on record because they will vote.
KORNACKI: Okay. The president`s allies are echoing his allegation that the impeachment inquiry is nothing more than a compromised kangaroo court.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LEE ZELDIN (R-NY): Now, as far as the administration goes, if they don`t want to send Ambassador Sondland here because this is a kangaroo court.
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): We`ll only get to hear from him when there is a fair process. This is not a fair process.
REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): What we see in this impeachment is a kangaroo court, and Chairman Schiff is acting like a malicious Captain Kangaroo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: At the same time, Republicans are seeking to counter Trump`s impeachment hearing depositions with a hearing of their own. Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tweeted today that he would invite the president`s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to testify before his committee.
As the president`s point man to Ukraine, Giuliani has been trafficking in disinformation, including claims about the 2016 election, that even Trump`s former Homeland Security adviser said was, quote, completely debunked.
Susan, what do you make of that piece from Lindsey Graham?
DEL PERCIO: A part of me -- my initial response was, boy, they`re ready to throw Rudy Giuliani under the bus because they`re setting him up. Because if he has to testify under oath, he`s not just going to be answering Lindsey Graham`s questions, he`s going to be answering Democratic Senators, three of which are presidential candidates, so it will be a complete show. It does not -- I don`t -- I can`t figure out how this reconciles. And if he testifies in front of the Senate, how does he not testify in front of the House?
The whole thing seems a little bit off. I`m not sure why they`re doing this but, again, it could be part of that deflection and that process instead of focusing on what the president is being charged with or investigated for.
KORNACKI: Okay. Susan Del Percio, Congressman Gregory Meeks, NBC`s Geoff Bennett there on Capitol Hill, thanks to all of you for being with us.
And coming up, some of the president`s closest allies are reportedly about how the White House is dealing with this impeachment inquiry. Could a strategy of not cooperating at all actually work?
Plus, several polls have shown rapidly growing public support for the inquiry. I`m going to head over the big board. We have a brand new NBC News poll on this subject. We`re going to take you through all of it.
We have got a lot more to get through as well. Stay with us.
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: What they to this country is unthinkable and it`s lucky that I`m the president because, I guess, I don`t know what, a lot of people said very few people could handle it. I sort of thrive on it. You know why? Because it`s so important that we get to the bottom.
We went through the whole Mueller scam. You can`t impeach a president for doing a great job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Trump yesterday attacking Democrats for launching the impeachment inquiry into his interactions with Ukraine. The president`s attempts to undermine the credibility of the whistleblower had been hampered by a second whistleblower claiming to have firsthand knowledge of his actions, although the president told reporters yesterday he is not worried.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. President, are you concerned what the second whistle-blower may reveal about your conversation with Ukraine?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not at all, because the call was a perfect call. You had stenographers. You had people that took it down exactly. It was a perfect call.
It`s just a scam. It`s a scam by the Democrats to try to win an election that they`re not going to win in 2020.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports -- quote -- "The White House is finalizing a high-stakes strategy to counter the impeachment threat to President Trump, stall, obfuscate, attack, repeat. As lawmakers seek to amass ammunition to be used in an impeachment trial, the White House increasingly believes all-out warfare is its best course of action."
For more, I`m joined by Jill Colvin. She is the White House reporter for the Associated Press. Tim O`Brien, executive editor at Bloomberg Opinion, and James Stewart, columnist for "The New York Times" and author of "Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law," which is out today.
Jill, let me start with you.
We quoted from your reporting there on the White House`s strategy. We are talking about this letter that went out tonight to Nancy Pelosi, refusal to cooperate on any aspect of this congressional inquiry here.
You mentioned that timing here might be at the heart of this strategy, the idea that the White House may be trying to buy itself enough time until some point early next year, where the election year calendar overwhelms everything?
JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes.
So we saw today with that letter finally released by the White House them moving forward with this strategy, which is that they are refusing to comply whatsoever with any of these congressional requests.
They`re going to ask everybody they possibly have control over not to appear, not to comply with the subpoenas for documents. Part of this strategy from the White House could be a tactic to try to delay this whole process.
We have heard from Nancy Pelosi and others, Democrats on the Hill, who want to get this over as quickly as possible. There are concerns that if they let it extend through the 2020 election season, that it could increasingly pea seen as sort of a political act, an election-year attempt to try to undermine the president.
But as the president hits the campaign trail later this week and next week, we`re going to really see him trying to run on this impeachment mantle, trying to continue to make the case the Democrats are trying to take him down from the very first day he took control of the Oval Office, that Democrats were trying to get him, trying to undermine the 2016 election.
And it gives him this platform to be able to kind of run as this victim, which is something he really likes to do.
KORNACKI: Tim, again, we`re seeing in many ways here very similar Trump traits on display in terms of his response to this.
Do you sense -- you have a very good sense of him, an unusually good sense of him. Do you think he views this as a different kind of threat than he has faced before in his presidency? Or does he just view this as par for the course?
TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG OPINION: No, I think he views it as a different threat.
I thought, when this first burst onto the scene, when he gave a speech at the United Nations, and then a couple of the press conferences he gave about a week after, he looked alternately somnambulant, tired, petulant, angry. It`s emotions he doesn`t normally have out in public.
People see this in private with him all the time. I think he was under stress. I think he was worried.
I think he`s now emerged from that somewhat, and he`s in a playing field that he`s very comfortable with. One of the things about Donald Trump is, he`s an incredible survivor. And he has this kind of -- he`s got a lack of remorse and a lack of guilt that turns him into this sort of perpetual crime machine almost.
He doesn`t care about the criticisms that come his way. He embraces the fight. He`s willing to say outlandish things or to slag anyone who is his critic in order to keep his side of the argument going.
And, clearly, what they`re going to do here is say, anyone who`s criticizing the president is deep state, has an agenda, can`t be trusted, is a liberal Democrat, et cetera, et cetera.
And I think that`s why, at the end of the day, the cohort that`s going to really matter here are independent voters, not -- the Trump base isn`t going to move. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is not going to move.
But people who are caught between those points, and I think care about good government and care about institutions and the rule of law, they`re going to come into play in a very potent way here, regardless of what Trump does.
KORNACKI: You mentioned those two words we hear a lot from the president and his supporters, deep state.
President Trump also reverting to what has become one of his go-to attack lines, that Democrats are part of a deep state plot against his presidency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, first of all, the impeachment inquiry is a scam. The mistake they made, the opponents, the opposition, the Democrats, the radical left, deep state, whatever you want to call them, they came out with a whistle- blower report before they saw the conversation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And this comes a day after Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson used a similar line in an interview on "Meet the Press," referencing the deep state, the idea of what became the Mueller investigation originating with FBI officials who were biased against the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Do you not trust the FBI?
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): ... want the truth.
TODD: You don`t trust the CIA? I`m...
JOHNSON: No. No, I don`t..
TODD: I`m just very confused here.
JOHNSON: Absolutely not.
TODD: You don`t trust any of those...
JOHNSON: After Peter Strzok...
TODD: ... agencies?
JOHNSON: ... and Lisa Page? After James Comey...
TODD: OK. You believe the FBI...
JOHNSON: ... and Peter Strzok...
TODD: ... and the CIA...
JOHNSON: ... John Brennan...
TODD: ... these government agencies...
JOHNSON: No, I don`t trust any of these guys in the Obama administration. I don`t trust any of them.
TODD: You don`t trust them now? Do you trust them now?
JOHNSON: No, I didn`t trust them back then.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And, James, who better to have with us than the author of the book "Deep State," a new book just out this week?
You write in it that former White House strategist "Steve Bannon told me that the deep state conspiracy theory is for nut cases. America isn`t Turkey or Egypt."
But take us through this here, because you have spent a lot of time looking into this. The president mentions it. His supporters mention it.
At its core, what is it they`re trying to say here when they talk about a deep state?
JAMES STEWART, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": They`re trying to say that, as in Turkey and Egypt, we have an entrenched bureaucracy, the so-called deep state, that cares only about their own power and privileges, and to protect that will overturn a democratically elected president.
But let me be categorical here. This is preposterous. What Trump is calling the deep state in the United States is, in fact, patriots who recognize that they, A, work for the American people, and, B, their sworn allegiance is to the Constitution.
They do not work for a president. James Comey, of course, the pillar of the so-called deep state, told me that he thought, in that sense, yes, there is a deep state in this country, and thank God there is, because it is protecting us and preserving the rule of law when we have elected officials trying to run roughshod over it.
KORNACKI: Because this idea of a deep state also intersects with Ukraine here.
We talk about the Ukraine story in terms of, was the president trying to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, his potential 2020 opponent? But the other aspect of it is, Ukraine is central in a lot of ways -- or at least as a key player in a lot of ways -- in terms of what proponents of this deep state idea think happened in 2016.
STEWART: Yes, and we have the attorney general now traveling around Europe, spending taxpayer money, not to mention his own time, to re- investigate the opening of the Russia investigation.
There is nothing to re-investigate. It is all out there. It is not a mystery. And it is not a deep state conspiracy. It started with one of the closest allies of the United States, the Australian intelligence service, passing on seemingly credible information. And it was appropriately investigated by the FBI.
Today, we have the whistle-blower coming forward. We now have an attorney general who seems to be under the thumb of the president who immediately says, oh, there`s no crime here, so the FBI is not even going to investigate.
They should be investigating.
KORNACKI: Meanwhile, according to Bloomberg, House Republicans felt blindsided by the decision to present -- to prevent Ambassador Sondland from testifying today.
Quote: "A handful of GOP lawmakers went to the White House to discuss the issue with Trump and senior advisers. White House officials agreed to improve communication of their impeachment strategy with allies who are on the front lines."
The report adds this quote: "While many Republicans, especially in the House, are anxious to defend the president, they could step into political danger if they are caught off-guard by Trump`s actions."
Tim, when I say so many of these aspects of Trump we`re familiar with are on display here, this seems to be one of them, sort of a go-it-alone, improvisational -- here are House Republicans saying, gee, we wish we`d known about this.
O`BRIEN: And this is a day after they were all thrown off balance because he decided to withdraw military from Northern Syria and abandon the Kurds without consulting anybody.
When Trump accuses the deep state of being involved here, the real difference between what`s happening in the Ukraine event and what happened through the Mueller investigation is, Trump set this event in motion. Nobody else did.
The Mueller event began when people got intelligence and began looking at the implications of it. The Ukraine debacle began because, a day after Robert Mueller testified to Congress, Trump picked up the telephone and did exactly the same thing he`d been investigated for by Mueller.
That`s incontrovertible. And I think people will come back to that time and again. The second he picked up the phone and asked Ukraine`s leader to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, he abused the power of his office.
I think, on its face, that was an impeachable act. The quid pro quos are gravy. And Trump can`t rewrite that script. And I think -- I think the other thing you`re going to see happen here is that members of the intelligence community and law enforcement are going to start to coalesce around this.
You`re seeing this with more whistle-blowers coming to the fore. And Trump, in that context, I think, is going to be his own worst enemy, because he`s a solo pilot. He doesn`t take advice. He`s undisciplined. He really -- I always think it`s a mistake to talk about Trump as a strategic thinker.
He`s really more like a visceral, almost reptilian operator. It`s why he survives. It`s why he is -- can be beat -- usually can`t be beaten down easily. But it`s also his greatest detriment, is that he`s his own worst enemy.
KORNACKI: And, Jill, in terms of Republicans there in Washington, clearly, they`re frustrated -- or at least some of them are frustrated by the White House and its handling of it this way.
To what extent, though, do they feel, because of the president`s support from Republican voters, that they have to just sort of go along with it?
COLVIN: Well, that`s definitely something that weighs on Republicans` minds here.
Look, if -- they know that, if they cross the president, if they come out and express any kind of reservations about what he did here, that then that could open them up to attacks not just by the president utilizing his Twitter feed to attack them, but could also potentially alienate them from voters, especially folks who are up for election come 2020, who will be on the ballot there next to the president`s name.
But I can`t emphasize enough concerns among the president`s allies outside of the building here and even some inside who are very concerned about the fact that he just has not launched a broad enough or effective enough counterpunching effort here.
You didn`t see a single White House official on any of the Sunday shows over the weekend. You have not seen White House officials or outside allies with a unified message, trying to fight back against this. And they would really like a stepped-up effort from the White House.
KORNACKI: All right, Jill Colvin in Washington, Tim O`Brien.
James Stewart, check out his new book, "Deep State."
Up next, I`m going to head over to the Big Board, take a look at the latest polling on impeachment, brand-new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" numbers out in just the last few hours. You are not going to want to miss these.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, you remember, for the longest time, when you polled the question of impeachment, it really wasn`t moving. It really wasn`t budging. A lot of this was back during the Mueller investigation, the Russian probe.
You might have somewhere in the 30s. You might, on a good day for Democrats, get into the low 40s in terms of finding support for potentially impeaching the president. Really didn`t budge much from that.
It has started to change, though, since the Ukraine situation came to light and since House Democrats announced they were going forward with an impeachment inquiry.
And, today, we have three new polls that came out, Quinnipiac, "The Washington Post" and our very own NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, three new polls that come out -- come out today and show just how much the ground has shifted when it comes to impeachment.
Let me show you what I mean. First of all, remember, two different questions that are being asked in these polls. The first question is not full-fledged impeachment, impeach, remove him. Remember, the first question is just the impeachment inquiry.
Democrats said Congress is now -- the House is now launching an impeachment inquiry, committees going to investigate him, all of these sorts of things. Well, do you support or oppose that?
The three new polls today, look at this, 53 in Quinnipiac, 55 in the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, and 58, the highest number we have seen yet, in "The Washington Post" poll supporting the impeachment inquiry, low 40s, high 30s in terms of opposition.
This is what -- you would say this is pretty solid support for the impeachment inquiry. And look at this. Put this in bigger context. Over the last two weeks, here`s all the polls that have come out about an impeachment inquiry.
You see, there are eight polls that have come out basically in the last two weeks on this. Count them up. One, two, three, four, five, six of those eight have outright majority support for the impeachment inquiry, over 50 percent, and the other two, still, plurality support, 49-43, 49-46.
So eight polls have come out on the inquiry. And in all eight polls, there`s more support than opposition for the inquiry. And in six of the eight, there`s outright majority support.
So, Democrats, in terms of taking that step, public -- they have to like what they`re seeing in terms of the public opinion polls.
Now, take it a step further. This is the inquiry. What about outright impeachment? What about that House impeaches him and then the Senate convicts him and Trump is removed from office? Where does public opinion stand on that?
In the three new polls that came out today, it is a different story. You see in Quinnipiac -- remember, outright support for the inquiry, opposition by a 49-45 margin to impeaching and removing Trump.
In our own poll, opposition by a 49-43 margin. In the ABC poll, there is support for it, less than 50 percent, but 49-44, and certainly less than there was in terms of support for the inquiry.
So, much more support for the inquiry. The question of actually impeaching and removing, that gets to be a lot more contested in terms of public opinion.
One more thing. The partisan divide on impeach and remove, that second question we`re asking about, here Democratic strong support across the board. This is the number, though, that we`re looking at in every one of these polls that comes out there.
Look in this poll. The Quinnipiac poll, only 6 percent of Republicans support impeaching and removing Trump. Now, that`s the number Trump and his allies want to keep seeing. They think that keeps Republican members in line.
On the other end, in that "Washington Post" poll, that number was 18 percent. Right now, that looks like an outlier. If that becomes the norm, if that number or higher becomes the norm in subsequent polling, that might start to make the White House nervous.
They don`t want to see any dissension when it comes to Republicans on this. They want to see more like that 6-94.
So we`re going to keep an eye, obviously, every one of these polls that comes out, what does that partisan divide look like?
Anyway, three new polls out today. We`re getting a lot of new data on this question. And I`m sure there will be more to come.
And there will be more HARDBALL to come too. So, stay with us.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump dispatched Pentagon officials to Capitol Hill today to give members of Congress a top secret briefing on the situation on northeast Syria. The briefing comes amid a torrent of criticism from lawmakers from both parties.
Today, President Trump invited Turkey`s president Erdogan to the White House. At the same time, he pushed back against the criticism he was hanging a key ally out to dry. Quote: We may be in the process of leaving Syria but in no way have we abandoned the Kurds who are special people and wonderful fighters.
A top Kurdish general told NBC news the president`s decision was disappointing and that it hurts American credibility. He added that watching over ISIS prisoners locked up in Syria has become, quote, a second priority.
Yesterday, NBC reported that President Trump wanted to smooth things over the with Turkish president who was upset that he didn`t get a one-on-one meeting with Trump during the U.N. General Assembly. An official familiar with the call tells NBC that President Trump told Erdogan that a moderate incursion would be acceptable.
Trump`s decision to remove forces from northeastern Syria left senior officials at the Pentagon, State Department, and White House blind-sided.
One national security official told "Reuters" this, quote: There`s a real sense nobody`s going to stop Trump from being Trump at this stage, so everybody should buckle up.
In a tweet earlier today, Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, warned, quote: If Turkey moves into northern Syria, sanctions from hell by Congress will follow. Wide, deep and devastating sanctions.
Senator Graham who`s called this decision a disaster in the making has spent a lot of time cultivating relationship with the president apparently to try to avoid this rash policy type decision. So, why didn`t the president listen to his close ally on this one?
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KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Turkey`s vice president said, quote, it would not react to threats from President Trump as it continues its preparation for a military offensive against U.S. allied Kurdish forces. This comes just days after President Trump signed off on a small Turkish incursion into Syria, and then turned around and threatened Turkey with obliteration.
Earlier today, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy told "Politico" that President Trump was reconsidering that decision. Yesterday, Senator Lindsey Graham said he would put forward a resolution asking to change course, but it`s unclear if he will.
In a piece for "Politico", Charlie Sykes cautioned that, quote, Graham told himself by staying close to Trump, he could influence him and prevent horribly bad decisions. Trump didn`t even consult him before making the decision to abandon the Kurds. Graham who had giving up so much self- respect to prevent just this outcome was not even in the room. That again from Charlie Sykes.
For more, I`m joined by Congressman Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Arizona, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Evan McMullin, former CIA operative and executive director of Stand Up Republic.
Congressman, let me start with you. Senator Bill Cassidy says, Trump is reconsidering this. Do you think that`s the case?
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ): I don`t know but the damage has been done. The Kurds right now are probably mistrusting everything we do and say. We basically have also told the rest of the world we`re not trusted allies, and also, it shows how chaotic international relations are -- the decision- making process of this White House is that they`re not even consulting what seems to be the State Department, National Security Council or anybody else.
The damage is done, the president again has really stepped in it, and we`re the ones who are going to have to pay for this.
KORNACKI: There`s the threat there from Lindsey Graham to author some kind of a sanctions bill. Is there -- on that front or any other front, we saw this bipartisan outcry yesterday. Is that going to express itself in the form of bipartisan legislation here?
GALLEGO: Potentially, but what we really have to do is try to step back and figure out how we got to this situation. And this is why I wrote a letter with Representative Cicilline asking the Armed Services Committee investigate, get answers from the P-Pentagon, who do we talk to? Do we talk to our generals? Do we talk to our advisers? Do we even talk to the Kurdish, before even make a decision? Do we talk to the Turks?
I mean, all these things are -- some necessary action (ph) we need to get first. The fact this president is continuously putting our national security, our alliances is at risk is something that I think we should all be very worried about.
KORNACKI: Evan McMullin, we mentioned that piece there from Charlie Sykes about Lindsey Graham. A lot of people have been very curious about that relationship obviously. Lindsey Graham did run for president briefly there in the 2016 cycles. He had some extremely harsh words for Donald Trump back then. Now, obviously had been a close ally.
What do you make of his role or his lack of a role I should say in this?
EVAN MCMULLIN, STAND UP REPUBLIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Well, I think Lindsey Graham as he`s described it is pursuing re-election, and I think he said I think to "The New York Times" months ago that, you know, you`re in the wrong business, speaking of his business, serving in the Senate, if you don`t want to be re-elected. The problem, of course, is that Lindsey has compromised many of his principles to align with the president, who`s dangerous to the country.
But I think Charlie Sykes makes a great point in this piece that, you know, what`s the benefit to the country here, Lindsey, for making this compromise of your principles even on the issues you care most about, these national security issues, you`re not even being consulted?
And so, I think -- I think that`s what we`re seeing here. Lindsey Graham may put forward a bill I would imagine that will have strong bipartisan support. I don`t know if they`ll pursue it to the point they`ll overcome a presidential veto if the president decides to stick to this policy position, but who can really say what he`ll do?
But I agree with Congressman Gallego that damage is being done here. Every time we fail to live up to our commitments to our key allies that we depend, our strength globally depends largely on our relationships, and I think the damage is being done here. And I think we`re looking at years of work to repair not only this relationship with the Kurds but other relationships with our allies abroad.
KORNACKI: Well, Susan Rice, President Trump`s national -- President Obama, excuse me -- she was national security adviser under President Obama, she slammed President Trump`s decision to pull back troops from the Turkish border in Syria.
During an interview on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert", she called the president`s decision crazy. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN RICE, FORMER OBAMA NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: It seems like six days a week I just put my head in my hands. This is bat (EXPLETIVE DELETED) crazy. These are the people who for the last four years have been fighting on our behalf with our equipment to defeat ISIS, and they have done it with enormous efficacy and they`ve sacrificed immensely, and we`ve basically just said to them -- see you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So, Congressman, let me return basically to a different way of asking the first question that I led with here, you`re talking about long- term damage to the U.S., I take that point. But, yesterday, sort of listen to what Susan Rice said there on Colbert show and people from both parties yesterday, were talking about because of this decision pie Trump, the imminent slaughter of the Kurds, given the reaction in the last 24 hours and what you`re seeing from the administration now, is your sense at least when the comes to that threat, that right now that might be on hold at least in terms of the administration`s action?
GALLEGO: Well, in terms of what the administration has, I think what Congress is trying to communicate to Turkey, which is do not attack the Kurds, do not use this as an excuse to attack the Kurds. What may have the president may have committed to you, it does not give license to you to attack the Kurdish people.
The other thing that I think really bothers many of us is that they are currently holding close to 20,000 ISIS fighters right now. If this incursion happens, who`s going to take the mantle? Who are going to hold these ISIS fighters?
Certainly, it`s not necessarily in the best interest of Turkey. Turkey could care less about ISIS. Syrian Assad regime could really care less about ISIS. So, as a matter of fact, the only who have always fine with this are the Kurds. This is why this is such a betrayal.
KORNACKI: Evan McMullin, I just -- for folks who say the United States, they don`t want the United States necessarily in Syria but they certainly don`t want the slaughter of the Kurds, what`s the answer to them?
MCMULLIN: I would say wave only got about a thousand troops in Syria right now. That`s of course a decrease from a higher number that we had, about 2,500 months ago. But we`ve got a thousand elite Special Forces, units or troops there.
And so, our investment is actually quite minimal, but it`s very consequential because those troops are supporting a Kurdish Arab Christian force of about 60,000 fighters who are helping us beat ISIS, and we need them there and need to continue to support them. It`s very little cost on our part but it`s a critical relationship.
KORNACKI: All right. Congressman Ruben Gallego and Evan McMullin, thank you both for joining us.
And up next, Elizabeth Warren is now leading Joe Biden in a critical national polling average, first time that`s happened, but a lot can change between now and the Iowa caucuses.
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KORNACKI: For the first time, Joe Biden is not in first place in the Democratic race. Elizabeth Warren passed him today in the Real Clear Politics poll average. It`s very narrow, but she has edged into the lead by two tenths of a point for the first time.
It has been the biggest single story of this Democratic race so far. Warren so and steady rise from it back of the pack and now into the lead.
The other big story, of course, the doubts about Biden, the shaky debate performances that have raised alarms, the questions about whether as one of his rivals put it, he can get the ball across the goal line against Donald Trump. But will these be the big stories four months from now when the first votes are finally cast? Will it be a race between Warren and Biden with Bernie Sanders back in third place?
Or is there another big story that is yet to be written here? A candidate from the back of the pack who will suddenly, after months and months of toiling, gain traction and become a contender?
Well, if that is going to happen, it will probably be out in Iowa. That`s a state where retail politics can still make a difference. The voters are highly engaged. All those town hall meetings, the personal one-on-one encounters, they can still matter.
Will we look up in a few weeks, maybe a few months and suddenly see a poll with, say, Amy Klobuchar in double digits in Iowa or Cory Booker or even Pete Buttigieg suddenly vying for the lead, or someone else altogether? If someone can break out in Iowa, everyone will notice. More attention from the media will follow, more questions in debates, more money from donors, more momentum overall.
We have seen candidates who are invisible nationally suddenly break out in Iowa before. That was the story for John Kerry back in 2004. He was going nowhere for a year and he surged in Iowa and he was a nominee a few weeks later.
This Democratic race looks pretty simple right now. Maybe it`ll stay that way, but there`s still time for the candidates who dream of breaking out.
That is HARDBALL for now.
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