Rudy Giuliani under scrutiny. TRANSCRIPT: 10/11/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Ned Price, David Frum, Charlie Sykes, Anita Kumar, Denny Heck, GregMiller, Susan Page

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Sunday night, the Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Crisis, 9:00 p.m. Eastern on Sunday.  I`m anchoring it and we have a lot of great guests.  And right after it, Richard Engel has his own special on what Giuliani was doing in Ukraine.  It`s called Trump and Ukraine, Fact and Fiction, Sunday 10:00 p.m. Eastern, so a lot this weekend.

Don`t go anywhere though.  HARDBALL starts now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  Defying the White House.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.

Defying an 11th hour bid by the White House to block her appearance, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is still testifying to Congress right now after nearly nine hours.  She is delivering a damning account of the administration`s handling of foreign policy.

Yovanovitch served in Ukraine for almost three years and her abrupt removal back in May was among the earliest red flags in the Trump Ukraine scandal, coming two months before Trump`s now infamous call with Ukrainian President Zelensky.

Speaking today of her firing, Yovanovitch said that she was told, quote, there had been a concerted campaign against me and that the department had been under pressure from the president to remove me since the summer of 2018.

She denied multiple unsubstantiated allegations that have been leveled against her, calling them fictitious.  And she said she was, quote, incredulous that the U.S. government chose to remove an ambassador based as best as I can tell on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.

Her scathing rebuke of those who targeted her comes as we learn the scope of the lobbying campaign that Rudy Giuliani waged to get her fired, an effort he mounted with his two business associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, both of whom were arrested this week.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Giuliani wanted her fired in part because he believed, quote, Yovanovitch had been an obstacle to efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden.

The Associated Press also reveals that she was eventually removed after insisting that Giuliani`s request to Ukrainian officials for investigations be relayed through official channels.

That said, Yovanovitch told Congress to, quote, I do not know Mr. Giuliani`s motives for attacking me but she warned of a, quote, unfortunate alliance between Ukrainians who continue to operate within a corrupt system and Americans who either did not understand that corrupt system or who may have chosen for their own purposes to ignore it.

For more, I am joined now by Congressman Denny Heck, a Democrat from Washington State, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee and who took part in today`s deposition, Geoff Bennett, a White House Correspondent for NBC News, Greg Miller, a National Security Correspondent for The Washington Post, and Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today.  Thanks to all of you for being here.

Well, Congressman, we are talking about this hearing today that you have been a part of for the past eight hours or so.  So let me begin with you and ask you what you heard today from Yovanovitch, from the former ambassador.  Does it, in any way, advance the case, in your view, for impeaching Donald Trump, and if so, how?

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA):  Well, Steve, first of all, we`re not talking about any of the specifics which the ambassador shared with us today, but 8.5 hours later, let me say this -- let me say three things.

Number one, this woman oozes integrity.  Number two, if anyone wants to bead it all on our character and our values, they have to read the opening statement, which she shared with us and now in the public domain.  It speaks eloquently to this woman`s commitment to this country, her patriotism and her dedication to her profession.  And finally, number three, this nation owes Ambassador Yovanovitch a big, big apology for what happened to her.

KORNACKI:  Well, what is your -- I know you don`t want to talk about the hearing but, I guess, what is your sense of what happened to her.  She`s saying she was fired no -- not for Cause, for the cause being that Giuliani potentially was out to get her.

HECK:  Correct.

KORNACKI:  Does that -- I guess, what I`m asking you beyond though is when I say your case for impeachment, does that affect your view on it?  Does that make a stronger case in your view?

HECK:  Look, Steve, fast forward, what, a week or ten days, after the record of the call between President Trump and President Zelensky came out, there were an awful lot of people asking us, well, what more do you need to know, what more is there to know than this?

And think about what`s happened in the ten days or so since that was release.  We had the Volker texts, we had the indictments of these two associates of Rudy Giuliani, now, we have four national security officials who we have learned also were ringing the alarm bell.  It seems as though every two to three days, we learn something new that deepens and gives breadth and depth, frankly, the story and the narrative about, frankly, how complex this conspiracy, if you will, this effort, if you will, was to get Ambassador Yovanovitch out of Kiev for all the wrong reasons.

KORNACKI:  Geoff Bennett, let me go to you.  The picture being painted here what was going on potentially inside the administration, Giuliani, not officially a member of the administration but the president`s personal lawyer though playing this outsized role when it comes to Ukraine, when it comes to trying to get this investigation started, Giuliani agitating the president to get rid of the ambassador, the president ultimately having her recalled.  What is the bigger picture that`s emerging here?

GEOFF BENNETT, MSNBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  And I think one way to think about this, Steve, is that as Democrats make the public case for impeachment, the work they`re doing right now is they`re piecing together the how.  How it was that President Trump leaned on those Ukrainian leaders to, in effect, do his dirty work, to do his political bidding?  That`s the argument.  That`s the thesis of the argument that Democrats are making.

And so what they heard today from Ambassador Yovanovitch, according to the prepared statement she gave, the opening statement that a colleague and I obtained, what she says is that her ouster is a direct result of the pressure that President Trump put on folks at the State Department.  Why did they do that, because the ambassador was one of the people who was concerned about the influence campaign that Rudy Giuliani was running.

She makes the point that there is a standard operating procedure to elevate American interests abroad but that Rudy Giuliani wasn`t doing that.  He was operating in his own personal interests and at the behest of President Trump, and working with those now two indicted associates.

And so that`s the point that she makes.  And she says very clearly that at one point, she met with the number two person at the State Department and that person told her, you`ve done nothing wrong but take the next flight home.  You`ve lost the confidence of President Trump.

And then from there, she does a top to bottom rebuke, this is according to her opening statement, top to bottom rebuke of the Pompeo State Department that she now says is -- all these pressures, political pressures put on otherwise apolitical career folks.  And she describes a hollowing out of the State Department that is inherently dangerous and does not work at all in America`s interests, Steve.

KORNACKI:  Well, last week, the president seemed to allude to Giuliani`s lobbying campaign to have Yovanovitch removed when he confirmed he had been hearing, quote, very bad things about her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  Mr. President, why did you recall the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine?  Was she a problem?  Why did you recall her?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I heard very bad things about her.  And I don`t know if I recalled her or somebody recalled her but I heard very, very bad things about her for a long period of time, not good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  So, Greg, what we`re learning today from her statement, from what she`s saying about Rudy Giuliani and his sort of campaign there to get her out, when Trump says he heard very bad things, are we to assume he heard that from Rudy Giuliani?

GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Yes, I think that`s obvious.  I mean that`s -- he`s hearing things from Rudy Giuliani, and Rudy Giuliani is a conduit for things that he is hearing from officials or former officials in Ukraine who are not pleased with the ambassador`s position trying to fight corruption in that country.

I mean, Trump not only says he heard bad things about her, but if you go back to the rough transcript of his call with the leader of Ukraine, he tells the president of Ukraine that bad things are going to happen to this ambassador.

I mean, this is just a -- this all fits together, right?  People who are not onboard with this effort to get political dirt from Ukraine are moved out of the way or are marginalized.

KORNACKI:  Susan Page, we mentioned at the top as well that she appeared today despite the administration essentially trying to tell her not to.  She defied the administration and appeared anyway.  What do you make of that?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY:  You know, we may find out.  I`m sure we will find out later what she`s saying in this extraordinary hearing.  I think it`s still going on, nine hours later.

But the fact her appearance before the committee is as important as whatever she tells them.  Because she is, as you say, defying the administration, told the administration has tried to keep witnesses from testifying before various Congressional oversight committees.

Once she was subpoenaed, she said she would comply with the subpoena.  We have another example next week, the E.U. ambassador who is a Trump appointee, saying he will testify before the committees.  That is a powerful statement on her part.  And, by the way, a brave thing for her to do, really, puts at risk her lifetime career.

KORNACKI:  Yes.  Congressman, let me ask you about that.  Do you think just the significance of that, that the White House saying don`t show up, and she shows up anyway, does that portend anything for some of the other witnesses you folks have -- your committee or other committees have been hoping to hear from who the administration has indicated they don`t want talking?

HECK:  I hope so and I think so, Steve.  But let`s remember, first, we had one whistleblower, then we had two whistleblowers, then we had the inspector general, I think, also engaging in an act of bravery by coming forward and refusing to accept the acting Director of National Intelligence as directive that he`d not inform us of what had happened.  And then we had the four national security officials who have now indicated that they were ringing the alarm bell.  There are cracks in the walls and the walls are closing in on the president.

KORNACKI:  Well, in her testimony today as well, Ambassador Yovanovitch defended career foreign officers.  She said this, quote, today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within.  State Department leadership, with Congress, needs to take action now to defend this great institution.  She warned that, quote, harm will come when private interests circumvent professional diplomats for their own gain.

Hours before her testimony, The Washington Post reported that a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, that`s Michael McKinley, the senior adviser`s name, quote, resigned his position amid rising dissatisfaction and plummeting morale within the State Department.

According to a person familiar with the situation, quote, McKinley was disappointed in the secretary`s lack of public support for diplomats who had been named in the Ukraine controversy.  And it comes as Secretary Pompeo refuses to answer questions about Yovanovitch`s removal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  Did you do enough to defend the ambassador privately and publicly against this smear campaign that was being waged against her, and will you speak to that now?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE:  Ma`am, you have some of your facts wrong.

REPORTER:  Did you support ambassador -- the ambassador being recalled months before her tenure was up?

POMPEO:  I supported every mission that the State Department has been engaged in and will continue to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  So, Greg, the ambassador, Ambassador Yovanovitch, says when she was recalled, it wasn`t Pompeo who did it, it was one of his deputies.  What do you make of Pompeo and his role in this?

MILLER:  I mean, this is -- I think that Pompeo, we are learning more, he was on the call.  That took him two weeks to admit that he was on the call that Trump had with Zelensky.  He won`t answer questions about when he was in Poland, whether he met with Rudy Giuliani.  He can`t really point to any evidence that he stood up for this ambassador in Ukraine.  It`s no wonder that that department appears to be really rattled and the morale is really plunging there.

And if you look at the other chess pieces that moved around under his leadership, you move out Ambassador Yovanovitch and in comes a millionaire donor to the Trump campaign to seize control of that relationship with Ukraine, Ambassador Sondland, who`s supposed to testify next week.  I mean, these are all moves designed to meet the president`s sort of political objective, not America`s foreign policy objectives.

KORNACKI:  Geoff, I`m curious what you`re hearing from the White House.  The administration didn`t want this testimony to happen today.  It happened anyway.  Were they surprised by what came out?  Were they shocked that this happened?  Were they bracing for it in some way?  What`s been the reaction inside the administration?

BENNETT:  As to whether or not the ambassador would show up, and it was an open question apparently to some White House officials too, who learned of her arrival just as we were, when she showed up on the house side of the U.S. Capitol here.  The White House put out some talking points that they again mistakenly to Democratic offices, and so we were able to read them.

And I`ll tell you a lot of the talking points all spoke to process.  Why it is that Adam Schiff, they say, would bring up the ambassador here without a State Department counsel?  She might say things that are privileged and he`s going to going to run roughshod over a longstanding tradition and protocol.

Nothing that the White House has said really has spoken to the underlying argument, and that`s that the president, so goes the Democratic argument, you know, risked the national security and undermined the election -- the integrity of our elections by inviting foreign interference into an election.  You don`t see any sort of rebuttal in the talking points that the White House put out today, Steve.

KORNACKI:  Susan, I`m curious too, the politics of this when we keep wondering reaction from the president`s own party, from Republicans.  Obviously, there was the initial revelation of the call itself, the transcript that came out.  Now, you`re at a point where you`ve got details like this Giuliani coming in from the former ambassador, the possibility of more coming out.  Are Republicans -- do they feel that they were ready for this?  Do they feel surprised, caught off-guard by this?  Is this changing the equation at all when it comes to their reaction?

PAGE:  Well, I think they feel they`re getting very little guidance from the White House about what a unified response should be.  You see a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill mostly trying to jump into the bushes when they see a reporter approaching with a question.  You may have seen yesterday`s clips with Cory Gardner, the Republican senator from Colorado, seven times dodging the question about whether this would be proper behavior for the president.

You don`t see many Republicans criticizing the president.  Mitt Romney would be the prime example of the exception to that rule.  But you also don`t see them saying, hey, the president -- they don`t either say the president did nothing wrong addressing the substance of the complaint or it`s outrageous to think the president would do something like that.  Of course, he wouldn`t.  You don`t hear that kind of defense from Republicans.

I think they are still sticking by and large with the president, but you see a lot of nervousness among Republicans, especially Republicans who represent swing states and swing districts, have suburban voters, those college-educated voters who are most dismayed by what they see with the president.

KORNACKI:  And, Congressman, you heard from Yovanovitch today.  What is next?

HECK:  Well, we`re going to hopefully talk to a number of other people.  We have tentatively scheduled Fiona Hill, who was at the National Security Council.  I hope that that is able to actually be realized because I would be looking forward to that as well.

Look, Steve, the earlier conversation is important, frankly, to broaden a little bit.  Not only is Ambassador Yovanovitch asserting has the State Department been hollowed out and that great institution that has served America`s national security interests and diplomatic interests for so long is being compromised and degraded.  But think about what he did over the weekend by turning his back on the Kurds and frankly unlocking and opening the door for Turkey to invade Syria and attack the Kurds.

In the future, our allies are going to look at us and say, how can we trust you?  You are either acting in your own political self-interests, not the interest of your nation and your values, or we can`t trust your word because you`re going to change it on a whim as the president did last weekend.

These things matter.  This is not just a matter of the scandal of the president clearly having violated the law that says he cannot solicit aid from a foreign nation but our institutions are being damaged and our relations are being damaged.  That`s why this is so very important.

KORNACKI:  All right.  Congressman Denny Heck, again, who was in that hearing today with the former ambassador, Geoff Bennett, Greg Miller, Susan Page, thank you all for being with us as well.

And coming up, the next big witness in the impeachment inquiry, you just heard about it a minute ago, set to testify on Monday.  President Trump`s former top aide on Russia and Europe is expected to tell Congress about a shadow Ukraine agenda inside the White House with policies that reportedly set off alarm bells among national security officials.

Plus, animated, agitated and profane, President Trump goes to Minneapolis and hits his rival Joe Biden with a flurry of low blows.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Hunter, you`re a loser.  And your father was never considered smart.  He was never considered a good senator.  He was only a good vice president because he understood how to kiss Barack Obama`s ass.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Plus, which Republican senators might be swayed to vote to convict if there is an impeachment trial?

We`ve got much more to get to.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Following today`s testimony from former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, another key player is expected to testify on Monday.  And that is the president`s former top aide on Russia and Europe, Fiona Hill. 

And sources tell NBC News that Hill plans to give a stunning account of how the White House tried to pursue a shadow foreign policy on Ukraine.  According to a former senior White House official, her appearance -- quote -- "has stoked fear from people close to the president, given her central role overseeing Russia and Ukraine policy throughout her time working for the administration."

She is expected to tell lawmakers how the president`s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland -- quote -- "circumvented the National Security Council and the normal White House process for communicating with Trump on Ukraine issues."

That alleged shadow policy has raised concerns among diplomatic and national security officials, including then National Security Adviser John Bolton.

"The Washington Post" reports that Bolton went ballistic after a July White House meeting that included advisers to Ukraine`s new president, where Sondland blurted out there were -- quote -- "investigations that were dropped that needed to be started up again," referring to those involving former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. 

For more, I`m joined by Ned Price, former National Security Council senior director, and David Frum, senior editor at "The Atlantic." 

Thanks to both of you.

Ned, let me start with you.

This idea of a shadow policy, a shadow foreign policy, I think folks have a pretty good sense what that means, just based on what they`re hearing from Yovanovitch`s testimony today. 

But take us through whether it`s what she`s saying about Rudy Giuliani and what he was doing in her situation or about potentially Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U.  What role should they have, people like that, people with those portfolios, when it comes to setting U.S. policy with Ukraine?

NED PRICE, FORMER NSC SENIOR DIRECTOR:  Well, Steve, I think we can talk distinctly about Rudy Giuliani and Gordon Sondland. 

Obviously, Rudy Giuliani is a private citizen and shouldn`t have any role when it comes to U.S. policy.  Gordon Sondland is -- still is the U.S. ambassador to the E.U.  Of course, Ukraine is not a member of the E.U., so it`s curious that he was involved in this in the first place. 

I think more broadly, though, Steve, look, there`s a lot that differentiates our men and women of the State Department from the likes of Rudy Giuliani and his now indicted business partners who were part of this as well, integrity, principles, intelligence, to some extent.

But there is something that is very specific in this case.  Our State Department professionals, our career professionals, have sworn an oath, an oath to protect and defend the Constitution.  And that`s what they`re there to do day in and day out. 

They are public servants in both -- in every sense of both words.  They are serving the public.  Of course, when Rudy Giuliani goes out to do his own bidding, he is not doing the bidding of the United States.  He`s not doing the bidding that is in order to advance our national interests.

Instead -- and he said this quite explicitly -- he said that, I am out there to fulfill only my client`s wishes. 

These are the personal prerogatives of Donald Trump that are coming into conflict with what`s in our best national interests.  And it seems, with this shadow foreign policy, every time those two collided, Donald Trump and those around him, to include Mr. Giuliani, prioritized what would in the end help President Trump`s political ends, even if it was to our national detriment. 

KORNACKI:  David Frum, the fact of Yovanovitch testifying today, despite the administration not wanting to her to, the fact of Sondland, blocked last week, potentially offering testimony last week, we`re saying Fiona Hill on Monday, it looks like, does it seem that people who previously had been unwilling to are starting to talk?

And what`s the significance of that? 

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:  Right.

Well, the relatively decent people inside the Trump administration -- and Fiona Hill would top that list -- made a kind of devil`s bargain, where they said, I understand the president I`m working for is probably not very patriotic and not very honest, but, if I am here, at least I can do some good.

And so -- and -- but the problem -- and that`s a very laudable impulse or a somewhat laudable impulse, but it connects you to a web of moral compromises. 

And we have been seeing how, for example, somebody Kurt Volker, who`s an eminent person, a true patriot, cared about Ukraine and Ukrainian democracy, he had to make a series of pretty ugly compromises in order to get weapons to Ukraine that they needed and the Congress voted. 

I think, as the failure of that approach has become clear, a lot of people who held their tongues, in an effort to do good, at the price of some bad, are deciding, you know what, the price of bad is just too high. 

This was not a shadow foreign policy that the president was running.  It was a shady foreign policy.  This is not about organizational charts.  It`s not about the president spending -- sending a personal envoy around the back of the regular governmental apparatus. 

Sometimes, that`s a good idea, sometimes not.  This was -- this is extortion.  This is an attempt to use the power of the United States for the personal financial advantage of people around the president, for the personal political advantage of the president himself. 

The problem with it is not that it`s not the proper channel.  The problem is that it`s not the proper purpose. 

KORNACKI:  Ned, the bar has certainly been raised for Fiona Hill`s testimony on Monday, just based on what`s being reported right now.  How important is her testimony going to be? 

PRICE:  Well, their testimony is important. 

I think it`s also important to emphasize that she was actually on the way out on July 25, when President Trump placed that now infamous call to President Zelensky of Ukraine.

But that`s also sort of the point, Steve.  We tend to think of this as singularly focused on that 30-minute phone call between those two individuals.  And I think what we have learned over the past couple weeks is that it`s much broader than that. 

It`s not just that 30-minute phone call.  And the "Washington Post" reporting from last night, I think, hammered it home.  This was a conspiracy that was developing and advancing and mushrooming in many ways over the course, not of 30 minutes, but over the course of weeks and even months. 

In fact, "The Washington Post" reported last night that, during Fiona Hill`s tenure, in May, officials within the National Security Council first began to grow alarmed at the dismissal of Ambassador Yovanovitch. 

They watched in growing concern, as Rudy Giuliani traipsed around Ukraine and publicly bragged about his efforts to dig up dirt on Vice President Biden`s son. 

And this, of course, culminated in the July 25 phone call.  But you also mentioned previously the meeting in early July at which Gordon Sondland raise this issue of reopening investigations that had been closed that actually led John Bolton, of all people, to go ballistic. 

So I don`t think that Fiona Hill will be able to shed a whole lot of light on that particular phone call, just given its timing.  But she will be able to add color and context to what was happening in the weeks and even months that preceded that call that raised the alarm bells even deep within the Trump White House. 

KORNACKI:  Well, Rudy Giuliani, as we have been talking about, obviously, at the center of this Trump-Ukraine controversy, is coming under more scrutiny following yesterday`s arrest of his two business associates. 

The two have been charged in a scheme to make illegal political donations to influence U.S. relations with Ukraine and reportedly helped Giuliani pursue allegations against Joe and Hunter Biden on the president`s behalf.

A video of the trio enjoying themselves at the president`s D.C. hotel last year has now surfaced.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi, Moisha.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:  Moisha, how are you, baby?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Here with Rudy.  Congratulations. 

(CROSSTALK)

GIULIANI:  I love that picture.  I love that picture.

(LAUGHTER)

GIULIANI:  I can`t wait to come back. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  See you in Ukraine soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  David, I hear a lot of people asking how loyal Trump might be to Rudy Giuliani, but let`s turn the question around.  How loyal do you think Rudy ultimately is to Trump? 

FRUM:  Right. 

Rudy will not be very loyal to Trump, but he is beholden to Trump, that there is a kind of -- that they each have secrets on each other.

If they split, this fiction that what is going on here is an attorney- client relationship, I mean, there`s no meaningful sense of the word in which that is true.  Donald Trump is not retaining, has not retained Rudy Giuliani. 

What Rudy Giuliani does is not exactly the practice of law.  And -- but there is -- there is the legal privilege.  If they split, that begins to un-fray -- begins to fray.  It is striking.

And here`s what is coming next.  If you go through, there are lists -- people keep these lists -- of how often Donald Trump has said about something, "I know everything about that," whether it`s infrastructure, whether it`s the tax system, whether it`s modern technology.

Donald Trump will tell you, I know everything about it, meaning he knows nothing about it. 

But when there`s a guilty secret, when he`s done something wrong, something we all know that he knows -- he knows these two people.  He`s had them frequently at Mar-a-Lago.  He was up to his eyeballs in promoting their schemes in Ukraine. 

When Donald Trump tells you, "I don`t know somebody," watch out.  And just today he said he did not know for sure whether Rudy Giuliani was his lawyer or not. 

That is the sound of the bus being revved up to be thrown under. 

KORNACKI:  All right, David Frum, Ned Price, thanks to both of you for joining us. 

And up next:  President Trump said last week that he`s confident that, if the House votes to impeach him, he will win in the Senate. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  We will get it to the Senate, and we`re going to win.  The Republicans have been very unified.

This is the greatest witch-hunt in the history of our country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  But Politico reports that, behind the scenes, Republicans in Trump`s informal circle of advisers are tempering the president`s bravado, expressing concern over whether the president can truly count on a GOP-led Senate to keep him in office. 

So, which Republicans could potentially be in play when it comes to impeachment?

Well, I`m going to head over to the Big Board and try to break down that question. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Do you think it was appropriate for the president to solicit help from a foreign leader to research a potential political foe? 

REP. MARTHA MCSALLY (R-AZ):  Yes, again, what I`m concerned about is how there was decisions made about moving forward. 

QUESTION:  Is it appropriate?

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R-CO):  You see a very partisan process taking place. 

QUESTION:  Do you think it`s appropriate that the president asked a hostile foreign power like China to investigate his opponent?

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R-ID):  Oh, I`m not going to do an interview -- I`m not going to -- I`m not going to do an interview on that.

Let`s talk about business today. 

QUESTION:  I`m asking you if it`s appropriate for a president to ask a foreign power to investigate his domestic political rival.  Yes or no?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I would say that I don`t know that we have that information in front of us. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Well, that tell -- welcome back to HARDBALL, by the way.

And that tells you something about the politics at the heart of this impeachment inquiry. 

Look, there has been an assumption going into this that, hey, if the Democrats, who control the House, have the votes there, keep their people in line, they could impeach -- impeach Trump in the House, but then you kick it over to the Senate, in the Republican-controlled Senate, and, surely, Republicans, who do not want to offend Donald Trump supporters, will stay in line and will keep the president in office. 

But you heard it right there, the question at the heart of this impeachment inquiry, the question at the heart, potentially, of any vote to impeach and then remove Trump from office.  Republican senators don`t want to answer it. 

It certainly raises the question, are you sure, are we all sure Republicans in the Senate would just automatically fall in line if it comes to a Senate trial? 

Look, you know the basic math.  There are 53 Republicans.  It`s going to take 67 votes.  If there`s going to be a successful bid to remove Trump from office, it takes 67 votes.  That means you`re going to need some not just 47 Democrats.  I mean, it`s not a given all 47 Democrats would be on board with impeaching and removing.

But it would take significant Republican buy-in. 

So what we have done is, we have broken these Republican senators into three groups here, basically.  This is not a comprehensive list, but it`s sort of three types of Republican senator you might want to keep an eye on, because, if there`s going to be movement, it`s probably going to come from one of these three types. 

Let me take you through. 

First of all, these are the Republican senators who are in the most danger of losing reelection next year.  You just saw McSally.  You saw Cory Gardner in those clips we just played.  They don`t want to answer this question. 

Look, Cory Gardner running for reelection next year in a state that Trump lost, Colorado, in 2016.  Martha McSally in Arizona, a state that will be a premier battleground state in 2020. 

Collins up in Maine, that was a Clinton state in 2016.  Tillis in North Carolina, certainly a close state.  So they have to worry about general election implications here, depending on how the politics play out.

The flip side for them, though, they also have to worry potentially about primary challenges if they break with Trump. 

So how do they balance that?  But, obviously, these four come to mind. 

Then there`s this group.  This is an interesting group here too.  Paul Kane at "The Washington Post" wrote about this.  You might think of these as sort of more elder statesman types within the Senate who don`t have to worry about facing the voters again, because Lamar Alexander not running for reelection next year, Enzi not running for reelection next year, Pat Roberts not running for reelection next year, Johnny Isakson retiring at the end of this year.

Richard Burr, he`s up in the year 2022.  But he said, that`s it, I am out 2022.

None of them have to worry about those political implications that we always talk about.  They`re more institutionalists generally.  So that might be an interesting group to look to as well. 

And then there`s this third group here.  I don`t know, call it kind of the wild card group.  Look, Romney has been the most outspoken.  You know his history with Trump.  Being in Utah insulates him, just because Utah, very rare among Republican states, Republican voters in Utah very cool toward President Trump.  You don`t see that in basically any other state, but you do in Utah.

Murkowski, look, she lost a Republican primary back in 2010, ran as a write-in candidate, a write-in candidate, with a -- Kornacki, Murkowski, those are tough names to spell.  She won with Murkowski as a write-in candidacy. 

So she`s probably a little bit safer from some of those political implications we talk about.  Rob Portman, he`s expressed some concerns about the president`s behavior here.  And Ben Sasse, certainly, early on, a fierce Trump critic, he`s sort of picking his shots right now, but he`s one you might want to keep an eye on as well. 

So, three different groups there.  If there is ultimately going to be movement, look for it to start to come in one or -- one or more of those.  Again, there would have to be about 20 Republicans voting with every Democrat if there was going to be impeachment and removal.

But we started this process saying, no way is that going to happen.  Are you absolutely sure of that?  We will see.

Up next, so much for Minnesota nice.  A fired-up President Trump held his first rally since the start of the impeachment inquiry last night in Minneapolis.  Nancy Pelosi, the media and the FBI were among the targets, but his heaviest blows were aimed at the Bidens.

Will his scorched-earth strategy help stem the increasing tide toward impeachment?

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Last night in Minneapolis, President Trump held his first campaign rally since the launch of the formal impeachment inquiry. 

For more than 90 minutes, he unleashed a torrent of profanity-laced personal attacks and unsubstantiated claims about his favorite targets, including the media, the FBI, Democrats, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who he called -- quote -- "really stupid."

But the president`s most vicious and dubious attacks were aimed at former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  But let`s do another T-shirt.  Where`s Hunter? 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP:  Where is he?

Hunter, you`re a loser.  And your father was never considered smart.  He was never considered a good senator.  He was only a good vice president because he understood how to kiss Barack Obama`s ass. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  And the president told his supporters that Democrats are trying to erase their voice with what he called the Ukraine hoax. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  They know they can`t win the 2020 election, so they`re pursuing the insane impeachment witch-hunt.

The Democrats` brazen attempt to overthrow our government will produce a backlash at the ballot box, the likes of which they have never, ever seen before in the history of this country. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP:  These are bad people.

My phone call, as an example, with the president of Ukraine was perfect.  Democrats are on a crusade to destroy our democracy.  That`s what`s happening.  We will never let it happen. 

(BOOING)

TRUMP:  We will defeat them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  The president is trying to convert the impeachment threat into a reelection argument, but he will have to stem the turning tide of public opinion first.

That is coming up next.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  The do-nothing Democrat con artists and scammers are getting desperate.  Thirteen months, they got to move fast, because they`re not beating at the polls, and they know it, despite the phony -- despite the phony polls that you see all the time. 

Polls are no different than crooked writers.  They`re crooked polls.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was President Trump last night in Minneapolis.

Despite a FOX poll this week showing a majority of voters, 51 percent in their poll, say they want Trump impeached and removed from office, the president made the argument that the Democrats are pursuing impeachment because they can`t win in 2020. 

Yesterday, a key Republican senator cited the upcoming election in urging caution on impeachment. 

In a statement, retiring Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander said -- quote -- "It`s inappropriate for the president to be talking with foreign governments about investigating his political opponents, but impeachment would be a mistake.  An election which is just around the corner is the right way to decide who should be president.  Impeachment has never removed a president.  It will only divide the country further."

For more, I`m joined by Anita Kumar, White House correspondent for Politico, and Charlie Sykes, editor at large of The Bulwark. 

Thank you both for being with us.

Charlie, let me -- let me start with you. 

That Lamar Alexander statement yesterday caught my attention, because it seems to me we have all these Republican senators who`ve been unwilling to give an answer to that question, should the president have even been having that kind of phone call in the first place? 

There`s Alexander saying what I sense a lot of them on some level want to say, which is, it wasn`t appropriate, but then coming up with a rationale for why impeachment is too far.  He says because the election is next year.

Do you sense this is going to become the argument that Republicans who want to defend Trump default to?

CHARLIE SYKES, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE BULWARK:  Yes, well, that seems to be a safe place for a lot of Republicans to settle on.

And, actually, the contrast with Cory Gardner -- watching Cory Gardner flail around with this is, how afraid of those tweets is he, that he can`t say what Lamar Alexander said?  Because that seems defensible, except that, apparently, the dynamic right now within the Republican Party is that you cannot break with the president at all on this issue. 

You can`t even say that the conduct that he`s -- that`s he engaging in is inappropriate.  So -- so that is interesting.

Look, but in terms of the election and impeachment, you know this better than anybody, that, up until this week, the president has seemed -- his poll numbers have seemed impervious to the news cycle and to his own conduct. 

And you feel that maybe that`s changing right now.  And the last week has been an exercise in self-impeachment.  So I do wonder whether senators like Lamar Alexander, who are sitting there -- and I think your analysis, by the way, of the Senate was exactly right. 

They`re sitting there looking and saying, do we want four more years of this?  Do we really want another half-decade of this? 

And I think that you -- this impeachment process is going to have a lot of voters asking themselves whether they can take another four or five years of Donald Trump. 

KORNACKI:  Anita, I wonder.

Folks around Trump, folks in the White House, folks around him, his supporters in general, how do they feel?  How confident do they feel about keeping Republicans in line, about the polls staying, I`d say, where they are, and not getting any worse for them?

I imagine this -- this could be a different story if they even move five more points, let`s say.  But staying where they are now, how confident are they can keep all those Republicans in line? 

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO:  Well, I do feel like they`re -- they are confident, but they`re probably a little bit less confident than they were, as one -- as a couple more people keep -- come out and talking. 

But you have got to remember they have all these Republicans that are worried about facing primary opponents.  They`re worried about not having the president, both the apparatus of the RNC and the president`s support for their reelection. 

You have got to remember, last week or in these -- this last few days, we have seen, while the polls are dipping a little bit, and -- Republican support is still pretty high.  It`s at 80 percent or so. 

So that`s still a lot of Republicans that are supporting him.  You have seen record breaking fund-raising numbers.  So all of those things feel very strong to them.  And they -- Republicans would have to be without that wave if they decided to cross him.

KORNACKI:  And, Charlie, I want to put this up, too, because this is interesting. 

The numbers really have moved when it comes to impeachment.  There been some reasons.  There`s some Democratic reluctance, but there been some Republicans, independents who have moved on this as well. 

But look at this.  President Trump`s approval rating, the average approval rating, if you went back to the start of the year, it was a 43 percent average approval rating.  And if you look now, it`s 43 percent. 

I mean, this has been the story of his presidency.  From day one until now, by any historical standard, he has not had great numbers, but there`s -- when you look at the approval rating, you do start to ask how much has really changed.

SYKES:  Well, something is changing. 

And I do think it is -- it is this coalescing of all of the people who have been disillusioned with Donald Trump, but also who are exhausted by Donald Trump. 

But Anita is exactly right.  The numbers to look at are the Republican numbers, the fund-raising numbers.  It`s hard for me to imagine any Republican running for reelection daring to break with the president, because even if they`re running behind the Democrat, they cannot risk alienating the base.

So, the senators that you need to look at, I do -- I think -- are the old guard senators.  And I would throw one other senator into the mix that you didn`t mention, Steve.  I would keep a close eye on Lamar Alexander. 

But watch somebody like Mike Lee from Utah.  If you had a principled constitutionalist who`s watching the numbers, but is somewhat immune from some of these poll numbers, say, as a matter of principle, we need to hold the president accountable, I think you would start to see a critical mass of people saying, we don`t need to go along with this.

And, at some point, if Republicans started saying, so, what about -- do we want to go with Donald Trump, what`s wrong with a Mike Pence-Nikki Haley ticket, when they start thinking like that, the numbers could actually start moving?

KORNACKI:  Yes, it`s interesting too. 

And I give credit.  Paul Kane at "The Washington Post" did put that possibility out there.  Everybody thinks the Republicans up next year in blue states or in near-blue states, but it may come from somewhere else in the Senate, if there is going to be the kind of cracks you`re talking about, Charlie.

SYKES:  Right.

KORNACKI:  Charlie Sykes, Anita Kumar, thank you both for joining us.  Appreciate that.

And coming up: next week, a very big one in the impeachment inquiry.

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  Next week will be a very busy one when it comes to the impeachment inquiry.

On Monday, Fiona Hill, that`s President Trump`s former top aide on Russia and Europe.  On Monday, she`s expected to tell Congress about how the White House tried to pursue a shadow foreign policy when it came to Ukraine. 

Rudy Giuliani`s business associate Sam Kislin is also scheduled to give a deposition Monday.

And Monday is also the deadline for Ambassador Gordon Sondland to turn over documents to Congress, which he has indicated he won`t do.

Tuesday, then, is the document deadline for Rudy Giuliani, Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and acting OMB Director Russell Vought. 

Wednesday is the deadline for Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman to turn over documents.  And Ambassador Gordon Sondland has agreed to give a joint deposition on Thursday to the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees.

And Friday is the deadline for White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Energy Secretary Rick Perry to turn over documents. 

And on top of all of that, the fourth Democratic debate is on Tuesday night.  We`re going to be here to cover all of it. 

That`s HARDBALL for now.  Thank you for being with us.

And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

 

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