STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Slight risks. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.
Major new developments today. It raised more questions for President Trump`s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and that could affect the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
Federal law enforcement officers last night arrested two business associates of Giuliani`s charging them in a scheme to make illegal political donations to influence U.S. relations with Ukraine.
Among other things Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas allegedly made illegal contributions to approach from political action committee and are stand accused of funneling illegal foreign donations from a Russian national to other political candidates.
The arrests come as the two Giuliani associates also emerged as potentially key figures in the Trump-Ukraine scandal. They were reportedly helping Giuliani pursue allegations against Joe and Hunter Biden on behalf of the president.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, quote, Fruman and Parnas have introduced Giuliani to several current and former senior Ukrainian prosecutors to discuss the Biden case. Their lawyer suggested as much in a letter to Congress this month saying this, quote, be advised that Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump.
Additionally, Lev Parnas told BuzzFeed News that he has met, quote, many times with the president in the last year. Posts on social media appear to confirm at least one of those interactions back in May as well as an apparent breakfast meeting with Donald Trump Jr., which took place later that month.
However, President Trump today said he doesn`t know either man.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: What conversations have you had with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman?
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I don`t know those gentlemen.
REPORTER: You`re in picture with them.
TRUMP: Now it`s possible -- I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody here.
I don`t know them. I don`t know about them. I don`t know what they do. But -- I don`t know. Maybe they were clients of Rudy. You`d have to ask Rudy. I just don`t know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The Wall Street Journal reports that according to an eyewitness, Parnas and Fruman, quote, had lunch with Rudy Giuliani at the Trump Hotel in Washington yesterday, just hours before their arrests.
They were taken into custody last night at Dulles Airport, where, according to prosecutors, they had one-way tickets to leave the country. Their planned departure came just before they were supposed to testify in the House Impeachment Inquiry in depositions scheduled for today and for tomorrow.
Now, on the day of their arrests, they`ve also been served with a subpoena for documents in connection with the House impeachment inquiry.
For more, I am joined by Congressman John Garamendi, a Democrat from California, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, who just returned from a congressional trip to Ukraine. Mieke Eoyang is Vice President for National Security Program at Third Way. And Ken Dilanian is an NBC News Correspondent.
Ken, let me just start with you to get the details clear on this. Officially, this is a case that prosecutors are bringing on campaign finance grounds. But all sorts of connections here between these two individuals and Rudy Giuliani, the president`s personal lawyer, and his activities in relation to Ukraine, take us through what we know about those connections.
KEN DILANIAN, MNSBC CORRESPONDENT: That`s right, Steve. This can get pretty complicated pretty quick, but the bottom line here is that Donald Trump has said what he was doing in Ukraine, what he was sending Rudy Giuliani to do was about corruption and battling corruption.
Well, these charges suggest that there was corruption at the heart of that inquiry because these two men were involved with Rudy and introducing him to Ukrainian politicians and other figures that Rudy was then lobbying to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden and to pursue other investigations that Donald Trump wanted in connection with the 2016 election. And at the same time, by the way, they were pursuing private business deals, and there`s going to be more questions about that.
But what these charges say is that all the while that this was happening, they were essentially making straw donations and they were funneling foreign money illegally into political campaigns. And one of the contributions is a huge one, $325,000 to a Trump Super PAC.
And that was really part of their scheme because when they were in Ukraine, they were claiming, sources tell NBC News, that they had political juice with the Trump administration. And that was how they were trying to get this natural gas business deal that they were doing, and it was also how they were getting introductions with senior politicians and bringing Rudy to the table.
So they were wearing a couple of different hats and it was all a kind of a murky arrangement. But the bottom line here, I think, today is that the prosecutors said the investigation is continuing. Steve?
KORNACKI: Congressman, we mentioned in terms of investigation here, these two individuals were supposed to be deposed as part of the House impeachment inquiry. What is it potentially still that you and your colleagues are hoping to learn from them?
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Well, get down to the details. What were they there for, who were they working for, were information came from Rudy Giuliani, and, by the way, what was said at that lunch that would send them to Dulles airport so quickly to get out of town fast? A lot of those threads to be followed here, and each one of those threads lead back to Giuliani and then Giuliani to the president himself.
And so that`s what we need to get at. That`s why the subpoenas have to go out. That`s why these folks have to appear. That`s why the information and the emails and all the other data needs to be submitted.
Clearly, this was an allegation of a crime, and I`m sure it`s not the only one.
KORNACKI: I`m going to ask everybody to standby for just a minute because I am hearing this and I`m going to tell you about it now.
We have some breaking news that is just coming in. This is being reported at this moment by The Washington Post. They report this, quote, at least four national security officials were so alarmed by the Trump administration`s attempts to pressure Ukraine for political purposes that they raised concerns with a White House lawyer both before and immediately after President Trump`s July 25th call with that country`s president, again, this being reported right now by The Washington Post.
They also report this, quote, the nature and timing of the previously undisclosed discussions indicate that officials were delivering warnings through official White House channels earlier than previously understood.
And we have Greg Jaffe who has reported and is joining us on the phone. I`m sorry, I`m just being told this through my ear and trying to convey it.
Greg, thank you for joining us on short notice. We just read sort of the headline findings from your story here. But, essentially, you are learning and you`re telling us more people than we realized raised concerns about this call.
GREG JAFFE, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASINGTON POST: Yes, that`s right. Concern has been percolating for a while among some prior to the call and then immediately after kind of a flare goes up and there`s kind of significant worry. And some folks go immediately to John Eisenberg, who`s the National Security Council lawyer to register their concerns about what had happened on the call and the direction of Ukraine policy.
KORNACKI: And as they registered their concerns, did anything happen then?
JAFFE: You know, it`s not clear. Eisenberg, from one of our sources, gave the indication he took it seriously and would elevate it. But beyond that, we don`t know what happened.
KORNACKI: Is it your sense that -- because, obviously, the president, and we know these other transcripts have leaked out in the past, but the president had calls in the past with foreign leaders that maybe were a little unorthodox, but is it your sense that this was in terms of just the alarm bells that were being sort of set off here and registered, that this was unique in that sense?
JAFFE: Yes, this was different. I think there are calls that are outrageous, there are calls that are surprising that caused people to lie (ph). I think what was different here is people heard something that they felt was potentially illegal.
KORNACKI: Congressman, Garamendi, I know you`re still with us and I hope you (INAUDIBLE). I`m just curious. This is -- we`re all processing this, I assume you are. But what is your reaction to this news?
GARAMENDI: Well, we know exactly what happened. What happened was a cover-up. The tapes of the transcripts went into a deep vault. We know people began to scramble to cover up what is apparently an illegal action by the president with regard to the campaign financing laws, as well as perhaps other laws dealing with bribery in a foreign country. And so what did they do? They did a cover-up.
Now, who did it? That`s why we need subpoenas, that`s why we need the president to come forth to end his stonewalling, to allow people to do what they must do, and that is to testify before Congress, get the facts out there and we`ll see where it goes. We always know, always been said forever, it`s the cover-up that gets you in trouble. And we know from all the information that has thus far been forthcoming that there was at least a cover-up here and quite possibly in other places.
KORNACKI: And, Greg, I just want to make sure -- clear on the details here. The folks who raised concerns, who expressed concerns, who you`re reporting on, these are people who are on the call, these are people who heard about the call?
JAFFE: Yes, it was a combination of both people who are on the call or listening into the call and people who had heard about it within the White House, so the immediate kind of National Security Council staff.
KORNACKI: And for folks who aren`t familiar how the different sort of facets of the bureaucracy sort of interact here, the people you`re describing, would these be national security professionals who are sort of in place no matter who the president is, no matter which party controls the White House or are these political appointees you`re talking about here?
JAFFE: It`s actually a mix of both political appointees and career officials.
KORNACKI: It`s both.
And in terms -- I say in terms of what they expressed here, did they make written statements? Are there records that might come out pertaining to this at all?
JAFFE: Yes, I don`t know. My understanding is that from our reporting is that they went to the NSC lawyer and did not provide written statements but, you know, expressed concerns verbally.
Now, as to whether Mr. Eisenberg took notes or typed up a report, that, I can`t -- that, we don`t know.
KORNACKI: Greg Jaffe, thank you for taking a few minutes. I know this is probably a lot of demand for you right now. But, again, you just reported this breaking news piece in The Washington Post. Thank you for taking a few minutes. We appreciate it.
Mieke Eoyang, I want to get you and just your reaction as well.
MIEKE EOYANG, VICE PRESIDENT THE FOR NATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM, THIRD WAY: Yes. I think that both of these stories, what they really indicate is that it`s very clear that the president`s actions are illegal and the White House has known it for quite some time. You don`t go through the effort to hide this transcript in a deep dark vault after all these officials expressed alarm.
If you don`t think that you`ve done something wrong and what the DOJ indictments unsealed today show you is that foreign campaign contributions are a crime. This is far from a perfect call. The president has done something very seriously wrong here. He can`t say this is nothing and this is business as usual. The Department of Justice considers this kind of activity a crime, and they`ve been trying to hide it.
DILANIAN: Steve, if I could just --
KORNACKI: Go ahead, yes.
DILANIAN: The context here and the timeline, so our viewers can understand where the whistleblower fits into this, as I understand it. So The Post is reporting that these four officials raised questions some before and then some after the July 25th Ukraine call. And then at some point later, that transcript of that call was put into a highly classified system at the White House.
And then a little bit after that, some of these officials who had heard the call directly went to the whistleblower, who was a CIA officer, and at that time was back at the CIA, had worked in the White House and knew these people. And then that whistleblower began gathering these accounts and went to the CIA lawyers, the CIA General Council, who then called John Eisenberg, the man that Greg Jaffe mentioned, the top lawyer at the National Security Council, and said, we have a problem with this call. People were raising about this call with Ukraine.
Well, Eisenberg, of course, knew exactly which call she was talking about because he had already had these previous complaints. Then they went and gathered information. At that point, the CIA General Council made what she considered a criminal referral to the Justice Department about that call, and then some time later, the whistleblower complaint came in. That`s the timeline, Steve.
KORNACKI: That`s great context. Thank you, Ken, for providing that.
One more question to you, Ken, as well. I want to return to the story we led with there, because one more piece of it is getting a lot of attention. Obviously, you mentioned all of the connections to Giuliani. Giuliani not included in this indictment today. Again, it`s a campaign finance indictment. There`s all sorts of speculation. Do you have any reporting, do you have any sense if prosecutors are interested in Giuliani at all ultimately here?
DILANIAN: There are reports out there, Steve, that we have not confirmed. The word we`re getting is, of course, there is scrutiny of Rudy Giuliani as a part of this inquiry. He had relationships with these people who are now under indictment. He was working with them closely in some very controversial matters. So there is scrutiny. There is nothing to suggest yet that he`s a target of an investigation. He`s not saying very much today.
But certainly when I talk to my congressional sources, that is where their attention is focused here, is the question of what was Rudy Giuliani`s role in the political contributions made by these men, in the business deals that they were trying to arrange in Ukraine, what did Rudy know, who was paying for Rudy`s trip to Ukraine? Because, after all, what Rudy was doing is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, which is charging that Donald Trump abused his power to pressure the Ukrainian government. He was doing that in part through Rudy Giuliani, Steve.
KORNACKI: Okay. Ken Dilanian, Congressman John Garamendi, Mieke Eoyang, thank you all for being with us. Thank you for rolling with us as well through that breaking news. I appreciate the time.
And coming up, the White House`s defiant letter to Congress vowing not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, it`s clear he can`t stop impeachment. So what is he really hoping to accomplish by stonewalling and could it work?
Plus, 16 prominent conservative lawyers call for a, quote, expeditious impeachment investigation arguing the established facts show a clear abuse of office by the president. One of the 16 who signed that document will be here.
We`ve got much more to get to. Stay with us.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Tonight, President Trump will make his case for re-election at a rally in Minneapolis. This his first rally since the launch of the impeachment inquiry that comes even as the White House ramps up its showdown with Congress over the impeachment probe.
Today, the president responded to a new Fox News poll that showed 51 percent of voters would like to see him impeached and removed from office. Trump tweeted this, quote, whoever their pollster is, they suck, adding that Fox News, quote, doesn`t deliver for us anymore.
Tonight`s rally in Minnesota is largely aimed at energizing his political base, and by extension, Republican Senators who would have to vote in any impeachment trial.
Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner, who is up for re-election next year, showed the binds the president has potentially put Republicans in when he was asked about Trump`s call with Ukraine`s leader. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Do you believe it`s appropriate for the president of the United States to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival, yes or no?
SEN. CORY GARDNER (R-CO): Well, look, this is what we`re going to get into. The Senate Intelligence Committee is having an investigation, a bipartisan investigation. Unfortunately, though, what we`ve seen is a very political process takeover.
REPORTER: But is it appropriate --
GARDNER: I have answered your question.
REPORTER: No, you didn`t. Is it yes --
REPORTER: Is it yes or no?
GARDNER: Well, here is what we`re seeing the House of Representatives. You see a very partisan process taking place. Why is it that when you all do stories or we see reports in the news it`s about four states, Colorado, Arizona, Maine and North Carolina? It seems to be about politics and elections.
REPORTER: But the question is, is it appropriate for a president to --
GARDNER: Look, I think we are going to have an investigation and it`s a non-partisan investigation.
REPORTER: But, Senator, it`s a yes or no question.
GARDNER: It`s an answer that you get from a very serious investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: For more, I`m joined by Peter Baker, "New York Times" chief White House correspondent, and Philip Rucker, "Washington Post" White House bureau chief.
Phil -- and by the way, that clip there we showed, that went on for some time.
PHILIP RUCKER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes.
KORNACKI: Gardner refusing to answer.
The question there was, is it appropriate for the president to be asking a foreign country to aid in an investigation of his rival? Gardner not the only Republican who has been unwilling to answer that question.
Explain the complicated or tricky politics that is making Republicans hesitant to answer that.
Well, Steve, it sounds like a pretty simple question with a yes-or-no answer, but we have seen over the last couple of weeks that a number of Republican senators have had really pained experiences trying to come up with those answers.
There have really actually been only a few, a small handful of Senate Republicans who have come out and said directly that it`s inappropriate or improper or wrong for a president to do what President Trump appears to have done, which is to solicit help from a foreign government to help damage a domestic political opponent.
And the reason for that is, these Republican senators are so fearful of getting on the wrong side of President Trump. They know he has a commanding power with the Republican voting base and they fear primary challenges.
Senator Gardner is up for reelection in 2020. If he were to get crosswise today with President Trump, that could invite a primary challenge from the right tomorrow. And that could make it very difficult for him to make it to reelection.
KORNACKI: Peter Baker, I was thinking back. The last impeachment we had 20 years ago with Bill Clinton, back then, Democrats who wanted to stay loyal to Clinton had this middle ground where they could condemn his behavior.
He himself would go out there and acknowledge that he had behaved poorly. And they could say, OK, he`s admitted that, it`s terrible, he shouldn`t be impeached over it.
I get the sense from some of these Republican senators they would like to distance themselves from Trump`s actions with Ukraine, while saying impeachment is not an appropriate step.
But if the president`s position is, I did nothing wrong, the call was perfect, I had a duty to do that, to pressure Ukraine like this, it`s impossible for Republicans to find a similar middle ground.
PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think that`s right, Steve. You`re exactly right. It`s a very good point.
You wrote the book, of course, about the 1990s and the conflict between Republicans and Democrats back then. And you`re right. The difference is that President Clinton did acknowledge wrongdoing. He didn`t acknowledge - - at least at first, anyway -- any legal wrongdoing. He didn`t acknowledge any impeachable wrongdoing.
But he said, look, I strayed from my wedding vows. I lied to the country. I lied to my wife. I shouldn`t have done it. I`m sorry.
And that gave the Democrats something to hang onto, to condemn him without saying it rose to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor.
Here, there is no middle ground. As you rightly point out, the Republicans are stuck with President Trump`s adamant denial that he did anything wrong whatsoever. As long as he sticks to that position, they`re going to have to stick with him, or find themselves on the receiving end of a Trump Twitter blast and the possible consequences with their own base.
KORNACKI: Well, underscoring the extent to which the president is acting as his own spokesperson here, making his own arguments against impeachment, the Associated Press reports this:
"White House officials close to President Trump are pulling off a disappearing act, remaining largely absent from public view in the middle of the storm over impeachment. Many of the White House`s most visible officials have been staying out of public view, letting the president`s indignant Twitter feed and his frequent commentary drive the public conversation."
Phil, is this behind the scenes what it looks like in public, that folks in the White House, his aides are basically deferring Trump to improvise this on Twitter?
RUCKER: Well, at least publicly, Steve, his aides have been pretty mute. For the last week or so, they have let President Trump handle his own defenses.
There have been a handful of Republican congressmen who`ve rushed to the president`s defense on television. But you`re not seeing the sort of full- throated defense that you`re used to seeing at moments of crisis in the White House. You`re not seeing the press secretary come out on camera to discuss this -- this issue.
And there are a couple of reasons for that. I think, one, Trump wants to do it himself. He thinks he`s a better communicator than anybody working for him, and has faith in his own ability to do it. And that`s why he`s been tangling with reporters almost every day throughout this crisis.
But the other answer is that the White House talking points have proven over the last few weeks not to hold up. There are new discoveries, new information, new revelations coming forward every day, and, sometimes, those are contradicting the talking points.
So you might see a reluctance from White House aides to get too far ahead of the story and say something that they would later regret.
KORNACKI: And, Peter, along those same lines of the president setting the tone, he is about to hold this rally out in Minneapolis, his first political rally, first campaign rally since the launch of the impeachment inquiry.
Certainly, if the past is prologue here, he`s going to have some pretty choice words on this subject tonight.
What are you looking for in terms of the president, the tone he will set tonight, and how his party might respond to it?
BAKER: Well, I think that`s exactly right.
Look, if we assume that the House Democrats have taken the leap that they have taken and are heading toward an impatient vote, that would probably be on party lines. And the president would then have to go on trial in some fashion in the Senate, where it doesn`t look like 20 Republican senators would break with him, and, therefore, he would remain in office.
The real court then is going to be the voters. It is going to be in November 2020. That will be the ultimate verdict on whether impeachment was a legitimate effort or not, and whether the president is fit for office or not.
And so his -- he`s got the first tonight of three rallies in the next week, where he will no doubt make the case that this impeachment is, in his mind, illegitimate, that it`s just a partisan witch-hunt, to use the phrase he likes to use, and to keep the Republicans in his corner.
When President Clinton survived impeachment, it was by keeping Democrats in his corner when it came to the idea of an impeachment or trial. That`s what President Trump needs to do here as well. But he`s also got something that President Clinton didn`t have.
He had a -- has an election ahead of him. And that`s looming not too far in the distant future.
KORNACKI: Yes, it was interesting. I think it was Lamar Alexander who today put out a statement saying, impeachment was a bad idea because the election is next year.
I`m interested to see if other Republicans pick up on that theme.
Peter Baker, Philip Rucker, thank you both for joining us. Appreciate it.
And up next: the legal case for a quick impeachment investigation.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
More than a dozen prominent conservative lawyers, including George Conway, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, released a joint letter today calling for an expeditious impeachment of President Trump.
The lawyers, many of whom have worked in previous Republican administrations, say the evidence already presented makes the -- quote -- "undisputed case that Trump violated his oath of office."
In the letter, they write -- quote -- "We have not just a political candidate open to receiving foreign assistance to better his chances at winning an election, but a current president openly and privately calling on foreign governments to actively interfere in the most sacred of U.S. democratic processes, our elections."
For more, I am joined by one of the lawyers who signed that letter, J.W. Verret, who`s also a former Trump transition member, and Gregg Nunziata, a former Republican Senate Judiciary staffer.
Thank you to both of you for joining us today.
J.W., let me start with you.
I -- the word expeditious, saying you would like a quick, a speedy impeachment process, what do you have in mind there? And why is that so important?
J.W. VERRET, FORMER TRUMP TRANSITION STAFFER: Well, I think if Speaker Pelosi has decided to focus impeachment solely on the Ukraine issue, we already have an admission from the defendant.
We have got an open-and-shut case. He admitted he put pressure on the Ukraine president to open -- to provide dirt on his political opponent. He openly admitted that. That`s also noted in the notes of the conversation and is consistent with the whistle-blower`s report.
We know that he worked to remove a legitimate ambassador to facilitate that illegal activity. And we know that he`s been noncompliant with subpoenas. That`s already three counts in the articles of impeachment.
I`m not sure there`s much left to develop. Of course, we want a thorough work here. But this is not the trial. This is just the indictment stage on the House side. And so we hope that the process will be expeditious.
KORNACKI: Let me ask you, too, just given the nature of who is signing this letter, you and others, backgrounds in conservative side, the Republican side, the hope here -- correct me if I`m wrong, but the hope here is that you are reaching specifically Republicans in Congress?
VERRET: We hope that they will listen to us. And we hope the American people will listen.
I have been disappointed with a number of House members who I used to admire, frankly, although I will draw a sharp contrast with some of your prior guests, in that I think it`s appropriate for Senate Republicans to remain silent, because, of course, their role as a juror in the essentially trial phase of the impeachment is important.
And so I think it`s appropriate for them to either remain silent, certainly not aggressively defend the president.
But the House members need to get involved here, because I think the judgment of history has already begun.
KORNACKI: Well, you mentioned George Conway. He`s also part of this letter.
He also spoke out yesterday about White House efforts to block the impeachment inquiry, specifically that eight-page letter from the White House that explained why they`re not willing to cooperate.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GEORGE CONWAY, HUSBAND OF KELLYANNE CONWAY: This was trash. I mean, this was trash.
I mean, basically, the thrust of -- the trust of it is that there are some kind of constitutional obligations that the House has failed to meet that therefore -- that therefore render its impeachment inquiry illegitimate and unconstitutional, which is complete nonsense, because all the Constitution says is that the House has the sole power over impeachment.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Gregg, you tweeted that the White House letter was -- quote -- "bananas."
You wrote this: "No member of Congress should accept it, no matter his or her view on the behavior of Pelosi, Schiff or Trump."
I think you have said, you don`t consider your position on this anti-Trump; you consider it pro-separation of powers.
It sounds like you`re trying to make the institutional case here for this process.
I guess what I`d be curious is, in the age of political polarization that we live in, where you look at Trump`s standing with Republican voters, and it seems to guide how Republican politicians approach him, does the institutional case hold any weight?
GREGG NUNZIATA, FORMER SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHIEF NOMINATIONS COUNSEL: Yes, the way our politics have gone, it`s harder and harder to make that case.
And we have certainly seen this, not just with this administration. In past administrations, members of Congress are increasingly inclined to support the president of their party, even when that president commits misdoings, even when that president exceeds his constitutional authority.
But we really need a Congress to do more than that. We need a Congress to stand up for its own power. We need a Congress to think to the future.
I would ask Republicans in Congress to consider the fact that we had a Democratic president just a few years ago. We will have another Democratic president in the future. And they are going to want those powers that this White House letter so casually dismisses and tries to claim an executive branch veto over the oversight and investigation functions of Congress.
And congressmen needs to think longer and think institutionally. And, yes, it`s very important that Congress has those powers in order to do its job.
KORNACKI: What is your sense?
You are familiar with how the political process works. What is your sense of what it would take for Republicans to publicly say what you`re saying?
NUNZIATA: Well, to publicly argue for that for the power of Congress to have a legitimate proceeding, I don`t know. I`d like to hear more of them say that. I don`t think there`s a big risk in that.
I think Republicans should feel comfortable saying that they have not heard the case made for the impeachment, much less removal, of the president yet, but they are -- respect the powers that the Constitution gave Congress, and that they want to hear the facts, and they want the White House to allow people to testify and explain what happened around these series of events.
KORNACKI: All right, Gregg Nunziata, J.W. Verret, thank you both for joining us.
NUNZIATA: Thank you.
KORNACKI: And up next: President Trump is getting ready for that rally in Minnesota. It`s a state he says he can flip to his side in 2020.
Well, can he? Can Minnesota go from blue to red? I`m going to head over to the Big Board and take a look at the numbers.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A state that I`m going to win, Minnesota. You know that one.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: I almost won it last time. We came with -- just about a point.
That`s a very -- because Minnesota is a very hard one for a Republican to win. We almost won it. One more night. I wanted to go there one more time. I said, I`m telling you, we`re going to win in Minnesota.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
He calls it the one that got away in 2016. Donald Trump, you hear him there talking about Minnesota. Of course, he`s on his way to Minnesota right now, his first rally since the start of the impeachment probe.
The president says his campaign believes that, if there`s a blue state he can flip in 2020 and add to his column, it`s Minnesota.
You remember election night 2016 what the map looked like. You remember, look, Trump flipped Pennsylvania. Hadn`t gone Republican in about 30 years. He flipped -- he flipped Michigan. He flipped Wisconsin. He did not succeed in flipping Minnesota.
But as he mentioned there, this is what it looked like. He came pretty close. He certainly came closer than a lot of people expected. The margin was inside of two points. So, certainly, in 2016, Trump came very close to picking up ten more electoral votes from the state.
And if he were able to flip Minnesota in 2020, that could have a significant impact on the Electoral College maps. So, let me take you through. First of all, when Republicans and the Trump campaign look at Minnesota, why do they think there`s opportunity there?
A, obviously, because it was close in 2016. Remember, Obama won this state by eight points back in 2012. It closed inside of two with Trump, so it moved towards Trump between 12 and 16.
The other thing Republicans see, though, is this. This is last year`s midterm election, the 2018 midterms. You remember, I was standing at this board election night and it was one district after another going from red to blue, red to blue, flipping to the Democrats.
Well, guess what? You had something in Minnesota, you barely had anywhere else on the map in 2018. Two districts, two congressional districts that went from blue to red. Both of these districts were represented by Democrats in Congress. Republicans managed to win them.
This is the Iron Range, they call it, sort of southern Minnesota. You`re talking about districts with a lot of rural, blue collar, working class, white character to them. So, these are the areas filled with the types of voters that demographically Trump has done best with. Trump did well in these places in `16, and that Trump effect was very much in effect in the 2018 midterms. Republicans were getting slaughtered everywhere, not in these parts of Minnesota.
So, that`s the opportunity that Trump and his campaign seek. The story is little more complicated than that, though, because look at this, there were also two districts, you see `em right here, the third and the second, there were two districts last year, it went from red to blue in Minnesota. These were Republican districts heading into 2018, and the Democrats managed to flip both of them.
And you can see here you don`t see the label but you`re talking about basically getting into the Twin City suburbs here, the Twin City metro area, Minneapolis, St. Paul. And you`re talking demographically there, the types of voters that have been going away from Trump`s Republican Party and towards the Democrats.
So, what Democrats will tell you is, yes, sure, Republicans were able to make gains in rural parts of Minnesota. But those gains will be more than offset pie the Trump era Democratic gains in the suburbs, in the metro area where by the way the population is growing. So, they think there`s also an advantage there for them.
So, you`ve got the story of two Americas encapsulated there in Minnesota. By the way, Minnesota has voted for one Republican presidential candidate since Kennedy in `60. It was Nixon in `72. Otherwise, all Democratic, of course, in `84, Mondale from Minnesota was the Democratic nominee. Three thousand-vote margin for them there.
If Mondale hadn`t won Minnesota in `84, Reagan would have gone 50 for 50. Anyway, a little bit about Minnesota, the president there tonight will be talking about it in 2020.
Up next, while Republicans seem almost in lock step with the president on impeachment, Trump is facing a growing chorus of opposition from his own side on Syria.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The president has abandoned the people who helped us destroy ISIS. Chaos is unfolding. This is worse than what Obama did. When Obama left Iraq all hell broke loose.
And if you think, Mr. President, ISIS is only a threat to Europe, you really don`t understand ISIS. ISIS is wanting to come after all of us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That was Senator Lindsey Graham slamming President Trump earlier today in South Carolina. Graham leads a diverse caucus of bipartisan critics which includes Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Christian televangelist Pat Robinson.
Republican Congressman John Shimkus of Illinois, he is retiring in 2020, he told a St. Louis radio station that he can no longer support Trump, accusing him of stabbing our allies in the back.
Despite these appeals, Trump is standing by his decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have no soldiers in Syria. We`ve won, we beat ISIS. We beat them badly and decisively. We have no soldiers.
The last thing I want to do is bring thousands and thousands of soldiers in and defeat everybody again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: "The Washington Post" notes that President Trump, quote, is cleaving his political coalition at the very moment. He`s trying to fortify his standing to survive the intensifying impeachment.
In an attempt to calm Republican nerves, three Trump advisers tell "The Post" that Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, quote, is planning to help Trump begin a quiet charm offensive with congressional Republicans, hosting private dinners, meetings and gatherings.
For more, I`m joined by Zerlina Maxwell, senior director of progressive programming for Sirius XM, and John Podhoretz, editor at "Commentary Magazine".
John, all of the outrage that`s been expressed the last couple of days by Republican voices, by voices that are typically out there supporting the president. Is that going to have any affect on U.S. policy in Syria and Turkey?
JOHN PODHORETZ, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE EDITOR: I`m going to propose something here which is that in a weird way this helps Trump with Republican senators on impeachment. Here`s why. They can say, you know, I`m not with the president on everything. I`m really upset about this thing in Syria with the Kurds, I`m an independent thinker. He`s done the wrong thing here, but I`ll tell you right now, it`s not the right to impeach him on this Ukraine thing.
This gives both --
KORNACKI: This becomes the outlet for expressing --
PODHORETZ: Yes. In other words, they`re given some things. It`s not that they wanted -- this is like thought through. I`m saying, this gives them a thing to say to prove that they are not simply, you know, slavishly following him down the road, even though pretty much they will be.
KORNACKI: Well, so, Zerlina, what do you make of that? Because the other school of thought on it this becomes the breaking point for Republicans with Trump and it`s the worst time for him to be in this position?
ZERLINA MAXWELL, SIRIUSXM, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF PROGRESSIVE PROGRAMMING: Well, I`ve been critical with Republicans for not breaking with the president sooner. There have been plenty of opportunities. Charlottesville probably was the most obvious one in his tenure.
And I think that it shows that they obviously can criticize the president, they are capable of criticizing the president, but they still refuse to answer the simple question about whether it`s appropriate for a foreign government to interfere in an election, whether or not the president asking foreign government to do so is appropriate.
They cannot answer that simple question. So while I think it`s perhaps -- yes, they can take one silver lining, piece of silver lining from the fact they can say, yes, I broke with him on the question of Syria. But I think that both of these issues deal with Trump betraying the interests of either our allies and betraying our allies and also the country.
Because interference in our election undermines our democracy and it flies in the face of every single citizen who is putting their faith into a system that people have literally died to protect.
KORNACKI: I want to follow up on what you say. It`s the first time I`ve heard that and it`s an interesting thought. You`re not saying this was a grand strategy.
KORNACKI: This becomes a by-product of --
MAXWELL: I don`t think there is a grand strategy.
PODHORETZ: No, there is no grand strategy, and I believe that everybody who is expressing outrage about the Syrian decision is on the level and is doing so out of -- out of conviction. I`m saying that there was a bizarre way in which this helps them deal with the impeachment question, which is - - sort of goes certainly to Zerlina`s point, which is people say, well, what on earth can he do that you are not going to apologize for or figure out some way to evade?
And this gives them something to say, see, I`m not evading this, this is terrible, this is absolutely terrible -- and he has done -- you had Lindsey Graham say this is worse than Obama.
PODHORETZ: When has a Republican said that anything that Trump has done is worse than Obama? That`s a pretty serious thing for him to have said. But when he says that and then a week later says, I`m not impeaching him over Ukraine, he then has this slight plausible --
KORNACKI: It`s interesting. You say this gives them a way to say, hey, look, I`m not always rubber stamping things he says.
MAXWELL: Yes, but it is a serious thing. We`re talking about civilian casualties today, John, right? We`re talking about the fact the American government has made a -- or Donald Trump has really made a decision because even his Defense Department is like what are you doing. So, Donald Trump has made a decision resulting in the deaths of civilians and that`s what we`re learning about today, and so, it`s a more serious situation than simply the question of Ukraine and talking about life and death.
PODHORETZ: Of course. Oh, totally and I think it`s --
MAXWELL: And we don`t know whether or not he`s making this decision because of his personal financial interests --
MAXWELL: -- which has been always the underlying question since the beginning of this presidency, which is why this is national security crisis that we are living through --
MAXWELL: -- and we still don`t necessarily know how to handle it appropriately. I`m glad to see Republicans break with him, but I want them to take this a lot more seriously because Donald Trump has the nuclear launch codes. And if he is making foreign policy decisions where we`re questioning whether or not he is doing it in the best interest of his country versus the best interest of his bank account, that is terrifying reality to live in.
PODHORETZ: OK. Fair enough, I don`t think we need to go to the nuclear codes. The only thing I would say --
MAXWELL: No, we do need to do that.
PODHORETZ: I don`t think we do.
MAXWELL: That is the real world we`re living in.
PODHORETZ: The problem is that you -- if you go there, you`re taking things --
MAXWELL: That`s not a fact?
PODHORETZ: Of course he has the nuclear codes. What does that have to do with the question of whether not he pulled a few --
MAXWELL: It has to do with the fact that whether or not he`s making --
PODHORETZ: -- you know, he pulled a few score Americans out of a position in Syria where it was --
MAXWELL: -- human beings.
PODHORETZ: Yes, it was incredibly -- right, this was an incredibly low cost high delivery policy. That is we didn`t have many men there, they`re there, they`re preventing a civil war between the Kurds and the Turks.
And the Kurds are keeping these ISIS fighters in prison and away from causing any peril. And in a world in which Trump has no particular -- anyway, a world in which Trump won`t make a big policy shift, this was an easy goo for that he just pulled away.
KORNACKI: All right. Zerlina Maxwell, John Podhoretz, thank you both for joining us.
Up next, the history of Rudy Giuliani. You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Earlier this year, Rudy Giuliani mused about what his final legacy might be.
I am afraid it will be on my gravestone, he said. Rudy Giuliani, he lied for Trump. Giuliani said that would be an undeserved epitaph, but he also said if it is, so what? I don`t care? I`ll be dead. I figure I can explain it to St. Peter.
What`s interesting is that not that long ago, Giuliani`s legacy secured for all-time. He was the mayor of New York City when it was attacked, when this whole country was attacked on September 11, 2001. Anyone my age or older remembers that terrible day.
There was fear, panic, uncertainty and it was that Rudy Giuliani in those days and hours after the attacks who was front and center in a moment when every American was desperate for a leader to show them the way, Rudy Giuliani was steady, confident and determined to see his city through and to see all of us through. He became America`s mayor and the acclaim was universal, from Democrats, from Republicans, from the media, even from the famously liberal entertainment world.
Everyone was looking to get back to normal after 9/11, but no one quite knew how. When "Saturday Night Live" returned to the air, it was only with an on-air blessing from Giuliani himself.
"Time Magazine" named him Person of the Year. His eloquence under fire, they wrote, has made him a global symbol of healing and defiance. Adding, Giuliani`s performance ensures he will be remembered as the greatest mayor in the city`s history.
A poll from NBC News and "Wall Street Journal" asked Americans back then what they thought about Rudy. Eighty-four percent had a positive view, his negative score just 2 percent.
Rudy tried a few years later to parlay this into the presidency, but it didn`t work. Still, his role in those dark days in 2001 seemed sure to forever define him no matter what.
But now, well, it`s fair to look at the last two years and wonder if he managed to rewrite his own legacy -- personal lawyer to a president whose actions have been central to an investigation that may lead to a president`s impeachment. We don`t know yet how the Trump story will end, where Rudy`s part in it, but Giuliani`s own story is an example of how dramatically reputations can change.
The day before 9/11, his popularity was fading in New York and he was headed to political oblivion. Then everything changed. And now, all these years later, it may be changing again.
That`s HARDBALL for now.
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