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President Trump authorizes new sanctions. TRANSCRIPT: 10/14/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Joe Neguse, Larry Pfeiffer, Carlos Curbelo, Michelle Goldberg,Cynthia Alksne, Robert Malley

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  That does it for me.  I`ll be back here at 6:00 P.M. tomorrow.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  Behind closed doors.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

New depositions in the House`s impeachment inquiry threaten to undercut President Trump`s defense amid the unfolding Ukraine scandal.

Fiona Hill, that is the president`s former top adviser on Russia and Europe, she is still testifying to Congress at this hour under subpoena, this in a closed-door hearing that began at 10:00 this morning.

NBC News reports that Hill was expected to tell lawmakers that Rudy Giuliani and E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland circumvented the National Security Council and the normal White House process to pursue a shadow policy on Ukraine.

We already know that Giuliani worked through American diplomats and others to pressure the government of Ukraine to carry out investigations that would benefit the president politically and he continued to do so as the president froze U.S. military aid to that country.

When it comes to that military aid, we are also learning from The Washington Post that Gordon Sondland`s testimony, which is scheduled for Thursday, quote, will raise the possibility that Trump wasn`t truthful in his denial of a quid pro quo.

According to a person familiar with his testimony, quote, Sondland intends to tell Congress that the content of a text message he wrote denying a quid pro quo with Ukraine was relayed to him directly by President Trump.

At the same time, Sondland was reacting to Ambassador Bill Taylor`s bombshell assertion that I think it`s crazy to withhold security assistance to help with a political campaign.  But before responding to that text, Sondland first spoke by phone to Trump, who told him he, quote, didn`t want a quid pro quo or anything from Ukraine.

Sondland then passed Trump`s assurances along to Taylor in their text exchange saying the president has been crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind, as The Washington Post now reports, Sondland plans to tell lawmakers he has no knowledge of whether the president was telling him the truth at that moment.  Trump has been citing that text message from Sondland as part of his defense.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  The text message that I saw from Ambassador Sondland, who is highly respected, was there`s no quid pro quo.  He said that.  He said, by the way, it`s almost sounded like, in general, he said, by the way, there`s no quid pro quo, and there isn`t.


KORNACKI:  Of course, when it comes to Hill`s testimony today and Sondland`s on Thursday, we know what they`re expected to tell Congress not whether they actually have told Congress that.  Again, that hearing is behind closed doors.  It is still continuing as we go on the air tonight.

Right now, I am joined by Democratic Congressman Joe Neguse of Colorado.  He is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Ashley Parker a White House Reporter for The Washington Post, Larry Pfeiffer is the former Chief of Staff to CIA Director Michael Hayden, and Carlos Curbelo is a former Republican Congressman from Florida.  Thanks to all of you for joining us.

Ashley, let me just start with you.  Again, we have all of this reporting preceding Fiona Hill`s appearance today, the appearance still underway right now.  Do we have any sense of what has been transpiring behind those closed doors?

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  I mean, so far, we have reason to believe that she told the lawmakers what we expected her to tell them.  And, again, there may be some interesting specifics and she may not have said some stuff she planned to.

But our understanding is that she went in there and she did convey what she said she was going to convey, which is that she was incredibly frustrated that Rudy Giuliani and Gordon Sondland were basically running a shadow Secretary of State, doing end runs around her, around the National Security Council, and that this was a real problem, and also that she was incredibly outraged at the way the president handled recalling the ambassador to the Ukraine, who was a career professional and basically who testified previously that her time there was cut short because Rudy Giuliani and two of his associates sort of attacked her personally in part because she believes that they didn`t like her tough anti-corruption stance and they felt these associates that she was preventing them from some of their financial and business dealings in Ukraine.

KORNACKI:  Congressman, I`m curious, what is the significance when Fiona Hill apparently and certainly, according to the reporting in advance of this, was going to testify about her view that there was a shadow Ukraine policy that was put in place there circumventing sort of the normal, established route of setting policy.  What is the significance of that to you?

REP. JOE NEGUSE (D-CO):  Well, it`s good to be with you, Steve.

Look, obviously, we don`t know what Ms. Hill testified to during today`s deposition.  We`ll know that soon, I suspect.  But to the extent that it`s consistent with what the public reporting has already revealed, I think it would, again, add to the substantial body of evidence that there really was a premeditated and comprehensive shadow campaign being perpetrated by Mr. Giuliani at the behest of the president of the United States.  And to me, that obviously is extremely damning and, again, it adds to the clear evidence that shows an abuse of power by this president.

So I think as more and more of these civil servants and witnesses testify and as we learn more about the president`s conduct, I think the American people will conclude that this president did in fact abuse his power.

KORNACKI:  You said something important there.  I think you said, hopefully, we`ll know soon what was testified behind closed doors today.  This was also the situation on Friday with Yovanovitch.  This is something we`re seeing a number of times here.

Critics on the Republican side, some of your Republican colleagues are saying, if this is an impeachment inquiry, these hearings should be in public or transcripts of them should be made available very quickly thereafter so that every member of Congress, not just a few who are behind closed doors for these meetings and for the public to get a chance of what was said.  Do you agree with that?

NEGUSE:  I think it`s a ludicrous argument being made by the Republicans in an effort to obfuscate and distract from the president`s egregious conduct.  At the end of the day, obviously, these transcripts, I suspect, will be released.

But it`s important that witnesses not be given an opportunity to coordinate their testimony, and I think Chairman Schiff has done a masterful job in terms of the cadence, the scheduling thus far of these depositions.  I suspect and he has said that some of these witnesses may very well testify in public hearing as well.

So I think the proceedings, as they have gone through so far, have been done as they should and, again, I think the American people will have the full panoply of facts before them as we ultimately reach some judgments ahead.

KORNACKI:  And I just -- to be clear, because I`ve seen -- I have not seen anything too specific on it, but you`re saying you expect the transcripts to be released.  Is that part of a plan?  Is that part of the Democrats` plan, your understanding, transcripts being released publicly?

NEGUSE:  No.  What I would say, Steve, is I can`t speak as to both whether the transcripts should be released, and if so, on what timetable.

What I am conveying is I am sure that members of Congress will have access to those transcripts and I think, I suspect, that eventually the American public will as well.  But, ultimately, that will be a decision that`s made by the chairman and chairwomen of the respective committees that are heading the impeachment inquiry.

KORNACKI:  Okay.  So that is the testimony.  Again, it is still playing out right now, Fiona Hill today.  And meanwhile a person familiar with the Ambassador Sondland`s testimony, that is coming later this week, told The Washington Post that Sondland and others tried to convince Trump to meet with the Ukrainian president just after Zelensky`s inauguration in May.  However, quote, the president ended the meeting saying, if you want to do something, you have to talk to Rudy.

Sondland is expected to testify that he, quote, worked at the direction of Rudolph Giuliani to secure the investigations Trump were seeking from Ukraine but he will reportedly say that he and others did not know that it was, quote, really an effort to impugn the reputations of Biden and his son, Hunter.

Larry Pfeiffer, I`m curious.  This reporting from The Washington Post, what Fiona Hill apparently is up there testifying about today with this idea of a shadow foreign policy, are you familiar?  Have you ever encountered a situation like that before where according to this testimony from Sondland, the president says you work Ukrainian policy through Rudy, his personal attorney, and not through the normal policy setting mechanisms?

LARRY PFEIFFER, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO CIA DIRECTOR MICHAEL HAYDEN:  No, Steve.  Absolutely an unusual series of events there.  Sure, have presidents in the past relied on private citizens to help conduct foreign policy?  Yes, it has happened, but it`s been done in an above board, public manner.  The individual is given some kind of a title.  They`ll work closely with the State Department.  They`ll work closely  with the National Security Council.  This was clearly an effort done in a hidden fashion.  Shadow is an appropriate term for it.

And I think Fiona Hill is somebody who is going to be able to lay out for the committees how foreign policy is normally conducted, how policy is normally developed, how it was being developed in this administration, and the concerns she had when she and her colleagues started to see reflections of this other activity.

KORNACKI:  Carlos Curbelo, you know many of the Republicans well, either on that committee today or there in general in the House.  I`m Curious.  You saw a few of them today.  I think it was Matt Gaetz who came out today and made a pretty dramatic objection to the procedure, the idea of having it behind closed doors.

But, in general, you know them pretty well.  How do you think they react to hearing from somebody like Fiona Hill about a shadow foreign policy being run through Rudy Giuliani?

FMR. REP. CARLOS CURBELO (R-FL):  Well, the first thing I`ll say, Steve, is I`m not surprised that Fiona Hill offered high praise for Marie Yovanovitch.  I met with the ambassador in 2017 in Ukraine.  She was a consummate professional, very much on top of her game, very knowledgeable when it came to the region and explaining to the delegation that was there what was happening and what our plan of action was.  So it makes sense that someone like Fiona Hill would praise her in testimony today.

I think Republicans, in some cases, are making legitimate arguments about process.  Process does matter here.  I think the Democratic majority has to take into account two elements as they proceed, number one, transparency, and I think Chairman Schiff could do a little better in that space, being more transparent, more forthcoming, and secondly is sobriety.

Now, to the degree that Republicans are using these process arguments to deflect attention from some of the central issues here, which you just mentioned, the way that foreign policy was being carried out, that is unacceptable.  The president seems to think that conducting foreign policy is like trying to put together real estate deal in Manhattan and that`s just not how it works.  And you can understand how professionals like Marie Yovanovitch would be shocked and would be very disappointed in getting caught in the middle of that.

So I think, again, and I`ve said this before there, is a pass/fail test here for Republicans regardless of what they think about impeachment, specifically, is the president`s conduct acceptable or not?  Is this request that a foreign leader somehow get involved in our political process acceptable or not?  Of course it isn`t.  And Republicans can criticize everything they want, they certainly have a right to, but they should be forthcoming and truthful about the central questions that being investigated here and, of course, the president`s conduct is not acceptable.  It`s wrong.

KORNACKI:  Well, related to something you said a minute ago, The New York Times reporting that Fiona Hill, quote, viewed the recall of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch from Kiev as an egregious abuse of the system by allies of Mr. Trump who were seeking to remove a perceived obstacle.  That is according to a person familiar with her account who says that Hill and others objected strenuously to the removal of the ambassador to Ukraine only to be disregarded.

Larry, there are several different pieces here that seemed to be emerging.  You had Yovanovitch`s testimony, you had that opening statement that we all read last Friday.  Now, you have Fiona Hill apparently amplifying that, and then this question potentially coming later this week with Sondland testifying about whether there was a sense that there was a quid pro quo in terms of the president`s intent.

PFEIFFER:  Yes, absolutely.  We have a group of individuals who were working this issue, were working these Ukrainian issues.  They were frustrated.  They were seeing stated policy being undermined.  And I think they worked together probably with the whistleblower to create that whistleblower complaint that got the ball rolling.  I think we`re going to continue to see people come out of the woodwork now to offer their evidence, to offer their testimony, and ultimately weave the tapestry that the story ultimately becomes.

KORNACKI:  Ashley, just looking ahead, again, to Gordon Sondland and his testimony, this is somebody -- we played the clip there, this was somebody whose text exchange the president was citing just a couple days ago trying to say, hey, just read his text.  It clears me, says no quid pro quo.

Now, according to your newspaper, the -- Sondland is going to testify he didn`t know when the president told him that whether it was true or not.  He was just relaying it.  Is there a sense in the White House that what they thought Sondland`s testimony was going to be is turning into something different?

PARKER:  Well, it`s certainly changing.  Originally, not just the president, but you would talk to people in the White House when Sondland was first told that he was unable to testify, that first time, we were disappointed because they thought he would basically be a character witness for the president and exonerating witness.  And now, he is preparing to say that when he said there was no quid pro quo, he was passing on what the president told him and basically he`s going to say it is true that the president told me that there was no quid pro quo.  But I don`t know if the content of what the president told me was actually true.

So when potentially your best witness is now raising the possibility that the president of the United States might have lied to him, it starts to look a lot less rosey.

KORNACKI:  All right.  Ashley Parker, Congressman Joe Neguse, Larry Pfeiffer, Carlos Curbelo, thank you all for being with us.

And coming up, the Giuliani wildcard.  One report says some people close to the president want him to cut ties with his personal lawyer but Trump, at least for now, is sticking by him.


TRUMP:  I know nothing about him being under investigation.  As somebody said, I heard a report today.  I can`t imagine it.  He is a man that looks for corruption and whatever he does, I really believe is a totally -- I mean, I know he is an honorable man.


KORNACKI:  And there is going to be a big stage tomorrow night and some big stakes to go along with it.  The first Democratic debate since Joe Biden got dragged into the Ukraine controversy, also Bernie Sanders` first event since his heart attack.  And on the eve of the new debate, brand new polls.  We`ve got national numbers, key early state numbers, and one question that got some very interesting answers from Democratic voters.

We`ve got a lot more to get to.  Stay with us.


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump`s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is at the center of the Ukraine scandal that has launched the impeachment inquiry and he could potentially face federal charges for his work.

The Wall Street Journal is now reporting that under their investigation, federal prosecutors, quote, are examining Giuliani`s business dealings in Ukraine, including his finances, meetings and work for a city mayor there, according to people familiar with the matter.  Investigators also have examined Mr. Giuliani`s bank records.

On Friday, President Trump did not definitely state whether Giuliani was still his lawyer but he did defend him on Saturday.

First, he went on Twitter and wrote, so now they are after the legendary crime buster and greatest mayor in the history of NYC, Rudy Giuliani.  He may seem a little rough around the edges sometimes but he is also a great guy and wonderful lawyer.

The New York Times reports a short while later, Giuliani had lunch with the president at his golf course in Virginia and then the president gave his strongest praise for Giuliani in an interview with Fox News on Saturday night.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There is some confusion as to whether or not you still consider him your attorney.  Is he your attorney?

TRUMP:  Yes, and he is a great gentleman, he was a great mayor, one of the greatest, maybe the greatest mayor in the history of New York.  He was a fantastic prosecutor.  I know nothing about him being under investigation.  Somebody said -- I heard a report today.  I don`t -- I can`t imagine it. 

He`s a man that looks for corruption.  And whatever he does, I really believe he is a totally -- I mean, I know he is an honorable man. 


KORNACKI:  And "New York Times" columnist Michelle Goldberg explored Giuliani`s efforts during a recent trip to Ukraine, writing -- quote -- "Thanks to Giuliani`s escapades, the domestic grudges of a crooked Ukrainian prosecutor have blossomed into a scandal that is likely to lead to the impeachment of an American president."

And for more, I`m joined by Michelle Goldberg and former federal prosecutor Cynthia Alksne. 

Thank you both for being here. 

Michelle, you went to Ukraine, and you looked at this. 


KORNACKI:  What did you see over there? 

GOLDBERG:  Well, I think, first of all, you have to understand that Giuliani was getting a lot of his information from this disgraced prosecutor named Yuriy Lutsenko.

And Lutsenko is basically feeding Giuliani what he wants to hear.  He has since said as much.  He had since to leave Ukraine because he is under criminal investigation.  He`s also named in that indictment of two of Giuliani`s business associates. 

And he`s told reporters from "The New York Times" that:  I have been in politics a long time.  I was telling Giuliani -- I knew what they wanted to hear. 

So he thought that what they wanted to hear was that Ukraine intervened in the 2016 election by basically framing Paul Manafort, right? 

So, to believe all of this, you have to believe that Paul Manafort, who is in prison for -- in part because of failing to disclose and pay taxes on this money that he took out of Ukraine, you have to believe that the anti- corruption activists who publicized the fact that Manafort had taken this money, you have to believe that they set all that up in an effort to undermine Trump, and that it was somehow false, and that Paul Manafort is wrongly accused. 

I mean, it`s just completely preposterous.  And so there`s -- the whole thing has this up-is-down quality that is sometimes, I think, a little hard to convey, because you can`t expect Americans to keep all these different Ukrainian characters and kind of internal politics of Ukraine straight.

When you`re there, it is just so clear that what Giuliani was doing was basically smearing some of the most devoted anti-corruption figures in Ukraine, because of a very corrupt prosecutor has a grudge against them. 

KORNACKI:  And I`m just curious, how does this story look to folks in Ukraine? 


KORNACKI:  What are you hearing from people there?  How is it playing over there? 

GOLDBERG:  Well, it`s a couple of things. 

I mean, first of all, they`re quite frightened about being dragged into the middle of American domestic politics.  They really rely on American support.  Several people told me that they felt like they were being -- they were afraid of being -- quote -- "left alone" with Russia.

They`re currently locked in this proxy war with Russia.  And so to have the American president basically turn on them is extremely destabilizing. 

And there`s also -- this is a country that has dealt with such a history of corruption.  Five years ago, they had a revolution.  Their very corrupt Russian-aligned oligarch fled the country to Russia.  And they have tried to transcend a lot of that. 

And then you have the American president and his lawyer basically demanding that they behave -- that they become more corrupt.  And then, finally, I think, for the people who`ve been smeared by Giuliani, it`s had real repercussions for them.

Again, because America is so important in Ukraine, the relationship with America, to have the lawyer coming out and saying all these terrible things about you, it can kind of reverberate. 

KORNACKI:  Cynthia, speaking of Rudy Giuliani, so there`s that new report tonight, this from "The Wall Street Journal," that federal prosecutors have looked even at his financial records, his bank records.

What -- potentially, what could really Rudy Giuliani be facing here?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, there`s -- there`s just a host of investigations going on. 

"The New York Times" has reported this foreign lobbying registration act violation that apparently they have been looking into for some time about whether or not he was involved in actually lobbying for this corrupt prosecutor.  That`s one thing. 

Another is, was he involved with this Frick and Frack who were indicted last week?  Was he part of that?  And exactly what was his role?  And how much money did he get?  And what does that mean about conspiracy to commit campaign violations?

And now we know that they`re looking at all his bank records -- or many of his bank records and his business dealings in Ukraine, which could bring up a whole host of other things.  So there`s really three areas of investigation that are going on with him right now. 

And were I he, I would be concerned that it looks like, A, they`re looking at his stuff, B, that it looks like there was some kind of surveillance in the Frick and Frack indictment investigation.  And you can kind of tell that by looking at it.

And, C, that either Frick and Frack might flip on him.  So this is a guy with a lot of problems. 

Oh, and let me give you a quick D.  He hasn`t been interviewed yet. 

And what we know about federal investigations -- and it`s the way we have always done them -- is, they`re sort of like -- they are like a swirling tornado.  And you go around and round and round and round every way you can before you get to the center and actually interview the subject or the target of the investigation.

And that looks pretty much to be where Rudy Giuliani is today. 

KORNACKI:  Well, he has not spoken to federal prosecutors yet.

But in terms of offering a defense, "The New York Times" reports this -- quote -- "Mr. Giuliani said that federal prosecutors had no grounds to charge him with foreign lobbying disclosure violations because, he said, he was acting on behalf of Mr. Trump."

  And, Cynthia, what do you make of that defense?  I know you pointed to several possible areas.  But in terms of lobbying, he says, look, the president authorized me, deputized me to do this. 

ALKSNE:  They are not mutually exclusive.

So he could have foreign lobbying violations, and he could be doing the investigation for the president.  What`s interesting is the presidential -- his comment about the presidential investigation hurts the president. 

It`s just one more piece of proof that they were nosing around improperly in the Ukraine.  So he`s essentially thrown the president under the bus in that.

But don`t think you can`t do A and B and C.  He could have done it all or none of it.  And we will just have to wait and see what there is.  But it`s not a defense, in other words.

KORNACKI:  The arc, Michelle, of the Rudy Giuliani public story, I mean, everybody can think back to 2001-2002, that era, America`s mayor.

I dug up -- there was an NBC poll.  His negative rating was 2 percent back in early 2002. 

And fast-forward 17, 18 years, and this is what we`re talking about tonight. 

GOLDBERG:  Well, I mean, I think everyone -- with very, very few exceptions, everybody who gets involved with Donald Trump disgraces and ruins themselves. 

KORNACKI:  All right, Michelle Goldberg, Cynthia Alksne, thank you both for joining us.

And up next: escalating chaos in Syria, this after the rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern areas of that country.  How long before America`s adversaries, including Russia, Iran and ISIS, move in and exploit the vacuum that is being left behind?

You`re watching HARDBALL. 


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

It`s been a little over a week since President Trump approved a small Turkish incursion into Northeastern Syria.

And, since then, the region has been plunged into violence and confusion. 

One senior Trump administration official told The Washington Post that the situation on the ground is -- quote -- "total chaos."

Facing intense criticism from both parties, President Trump today announced new sanctions against current and former officials of the government of Turkey and any persons contributing to the destabilizing actions in Northeast Syria. 

The president is apparently seeking to get ahead of similar bipartisan sanctions that are making their way through Congress.

And, moments ago, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters that Trump called the Turkish president today to ask for an end to the invasion and for an immediate cease-fire. 

The news comes as Turkish forces plowed deeper into Syria.  Under siege and on the run, Kurds have turned to their old adversary, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and his Russian-backed military for backup to help push back against Turkish fighters.

On Friday, Turkish forces launched multiple artillery rounds near U.S. special operations outposts. 

Video and photographs of alleged atrocities by Turkish-backed fighters have also been circulating on social media.  The images have been verified by multiple U.S. officials.

Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have reported that 800 members of a camp holding families of ISIS fighters had escaped. 

NBC News has been unable to independently verify that claim. 

For more, I am joined by Robert Malley, former senior adviser to President Obama for the counter-ISIS campaign. 

Thank you for joining us. 

Well, so the president initiated this new policy a week ago, now today says he`s preparing sanctions and calling on Turkey to stop this incursion.  Is he going to get his way now? 


But this is -- this is incoherent and abnormal, even by President Trump`s standards, because he`s now sanctioning Turkey for taking actions that he basically endorsed, as you say, a week ago.  He`s calling on them to try to take action to preserve the ISIS detainees, when they`re in no position to do so. 

He`s sending out Mike Pence to try to negotiate a deal between Turkey and the Kurds, which is what had been -- that was what was happening at the time that President Erdogan called and President Trump spoke and they agreed or seemed to have agreed on this incursion.

So it`s incoherent.  There may be still a chance to at least limit the Turkish incursion, but a lot of harm has already been done. 

KORNACKI:  Well, speaking -- you say that a lot of harm has already been done. 

There are these reports -- again, haven`t been verified, but some of these reports about ISIS fighters. 

Your sense of -- you know this issue as well as anyone -- how much damage has been done on that front, just in terms of the ISIS threat? 

MALLEY:  I mean, it`s hard to say.

What`s self-evident is that if the Kurds have to -- who were taking care of those camps and monitoring them -- have to now turn their attention up north because they have Turkish troops that are coming in, by definition, even under the best of circumstances, there`s going to be -- there`s going to be something happening to those ISIS detainees.

Some are going to flee.  I don`t have the numbers.  I don`t know that we could verify them in the fog of war.  But it certainly is a situation far more chaotic.

And what is truly tragic is that all of this was predicted and predictable.  And last December, President Trump said he wanted to withdraw.

And the time -- the last nine months should have been spent trying to organize a withdrawal, rather than do nothing, and now have this precipitous decision which is causing so much harm.

KORNACKI:  A lot of the criticism certainly from both parties over the last week has focused on the Kurds, has focused on the longtime alliance between the United States and the Kurds, the idea of Americans having sort of an obligation there, given what the Kurds had done when it comes to fighting ISIS. 

Now there`s news that, in response to this policy, the Kurds have gone and forged an alliance with Assad.  Is that alliance now here to stay? 

MALLEY:  So, I`m not sure it`s an alliance.  I think it`s a tactical alignment of objectives. 

You have the Kurds, who right now feel defenseless, and the one party that`s on the ground that has the same objective of trying to push back against Turkey is the regime.  There`s no love lost between the two.  It`s -- let`s see how far that goes.  Russia may have to step in to try to reach an agreement between the regime, the Kurds and Turkey. 

But, again, it was clear for some time that the United States was going to withdraw, because President Trump said it.  It was telegraphed.  And there could have been ways of arranging -- of helping the Kurds negotiate a better deal with the regime. 

Now they`re doing it in a state of utter weakness.  And that`s -- that was not at all inevitable. 

KORNACKI:  American commandos working with Kurdish forces have been uncharacteristically outspoken about the situation in Syria. 

One army officer, when discussing his former Kurdish colleagues, told "The New York Times" -- quote -- "They trusted us, and we broke that trust.  The withdrawal is a stain on the American conscience."

Higher-ranking officials, like former Defense Secretary James Mattis and retired Four-Star General John Allen, had these more public warnings. 



We have got to keep the pressure on ISIS, so they don`t recover.  We may want a war over.  We may even declare it over.  You can pull your troops out, as President Obama learned the hard way, out of Iraq. 

But the enemy gets a vote, we say in the military.  And, in this case, if we don`t keep the pressure on, then ISIS will resurge.  It`s absolutely a given that they will come back.

LT. GEN. JOHN ALLEN (RET.), FORMER INTERNATIONAL COALITION COORDINATOR: And so much of what we have done over the last four years has been undone in the last 96 hours.  And it is really frustrating to watch this happening. 


KORNACKI:  I`m just curious, what do you think Turkey makes of this?  They had this goal.  They had this strategic objective, this plan.  The president seemed to sign off on it. 

Now here they are.  How -- what does Turkey make of the United States right now? 

MALLEY:  Oh, they must be as confused as anyone, frankly.

And President Erdogan, who thought he had -- he knew that -- or he felt that the administration was hostile to him, but he felt that he had a line to the president.  And, obviously, that line lasted for as long as one of president`s tweets -- President Trump`s tweets last. 

And now we are in a situation where again he`s threatened to have sanctions imposed as a result of actions that President Trump basically endorsed. 

I mean, I think the broad lesson here is ending these endless wars is one thing that many of us have been in favor of, but the way this is being done, the withdrawal, the precipitous withdrawal, betraying a partner, leaving -- giving ISIS a new lease on life, leaving the region confused, it`s giving ending endless wars a bad name.  And that`s one of the legacies of the president`s decision. 

KORNACKI:  All right, Robert Malley, thank you for taking a few minutes.  Appreciate it. 

MALLEY:  Thank you. 

KORNACKI:  All right.

And up next: Elizabeth Warren coming on strong in some new polling out of some early primary and caucus states, also a national poll today.

I`m heading over to the Big Board to take a look at that. 

And they asked a very interesting question that affects three of these Democratic candidates.  I`m going to show you what that question is and what voters said about it. 

Stay with us.  You`re watching HARDBALL.     


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Guess what?  About 24 hours from now, another Democratic presidential debate.  There`s going to be 12 candidates on that stage tomorrow night.  That`s going to be gigantic, and the stakes are pretty big, too.  Those first primaries and caucuses getting closer and closer. 

How does the Democratic race look heading into this next debate?  Some brand new numbers to show you on the eve of the next Democratic debate here out just a few hours ago, a new national poll on the Democratic side, this one from Quinnipiac. 

And look at that, Elizabeth Warren.  We`ve seen this in a number of polls continuing now to lead.  She has pulled a 30 percent nationally in this poll.  Joe Biden in second at 27 percent. 

By the way, third place, we`re now used to seeing Sanders in third place but no, he`s 20 points almost behind Elizabeth Warren, 16 points behind Joe Biden.  That heart attack he had, the questions it raised about his health, the questions it raised about his campaign, is that having an impact on Bernie Sanders in the polling now?  This poll showing him obviously further behind than we`ve seen in others. 

Nobody else in double digits.  Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, 8 percent and 4 percent.  That`s the national picture heading into this debate. 

How about the early states CBS/YouGov polled?  Three of `em. 

Start in Iowa.  Here`s what they found.  Look at that, almost a three-way tie.  They got Biden, they got Warren, they got Sanders, all within a point of each other. 

By the way, Pete Buttigieg there, 14 percent, Not far off in fourth place there.  So, they got four candidates there who are really sort of in the mix. 

Harris back at 5 percent.  There`s Tom Steyer, by the way, at 3 percent. 

How about New Hampshire?  You can see there.  Next door neighbor Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts.  That media market goes into southern New Hampshire.  There she is.  Eight points ahead of Biden. 

Sanders all the way back at 17 there.  Remember, he won New Hampshire a couple years ago.  Reminds you how big Iowa is, because -- boy, if Warren could ever win Iowa, and then she went to New Hampshire already with a lead, that would put her in pretty good shape to pull off the one-two punch that has proven to be a very good thing to do if you`re trying to win the Democratic nomination. 

They didn`t win Nevada.  They did look at South Carolina.  Biden continues powered by very strong support from black voters.  Biden continues to run very far ahead in South Carolina, Elizabeth Warren, a very distant second place. 

So, the question for Biden, can he get through Iowa?  Can he get through New Hampshire?  Can he get to South Carolina?  Still looking like a strong candidate.  If he does, this could be very big for him. 

By the way, one other interesting question.  You look at Biden, Warren, Sanders -- each one of these candidates if elected would be over 70 years old on election day.  If Biden and Sanders were elected, they would hit 80 during their first term. 

We`ve never had a president that old before.  Ask Democratic voters in the CBS poll, they surveyed 18 different early states.  So, it`s not quite a national poll.  But they got a lot of Democrats in there. 

They asked Democratic voters, do you think any of these candidates are too old? 

So, check this out.  Start with Elizabeth Warren.  She would be 71 at her inauguration, 4 percent of Democrats said they think Elizabeth Warren would be too old to be president. 

How about Biden at 78?  Twenty-eight percent said Joe Biden would be too old.  These are Democrats. 

How about this?  Bernie Sanders, 79.  Forty-three percent.  And remember, this coming after he had that heart attack a couple weeks ago. 

They polled this question before.  The last time they did, Sanders the number was down in the 30s.  It`s now moved up to 43 percent. 

So, again, to the extent that matters to Democrats, not quite clear.  But there is a big difference there -- 71, 79, 43, 4 in terms of saying too old.  Interesting finding there. 

Up next, we`re going to take a look at why tomorrow`s Democratic debate could be a moment of truth for many candidates. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The fourth Democratic primary debate is tomorrow, a record number of candidates, 12 of them, are going to be on stage at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio.  It is the first debate since the impeachment inquiry began and since Bernie Sanders suffered a heart attack. 

As "Politico`s" David Siders notes, quote: With so many candidates responding to circumstances beyond their control, and the threat of a destabilizing moment running high on a stage that`s expanding to 12 candidates from 10, it is raising a specter of a debate Tuesday that finally breaks the Democratic Party log jam.  Siders also notes the debate, quote, comes as many lower polling candidates become increasingly desperate to make a mark on the campaign. 

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard who did not make the stage back in September was originally threatening to boycott this debate.  She accused the DNC and corporate media of rigging the election, but she said today she would participate in the debate. 

This will also be the first debate for billionaire Tom Steyer who has been calling for impeachment for years now. 

I`m joined by Beth Fouhy, NBC News senior editor, and Eddie Glaude, professor at Princeton University. 

Beth, the idea that this could break the logjam open in the Democratic side, where are you looking at?  Bernie Sanders, this is his first one since the heart attack.  Joe Biden obviously has been connected to the whole controversy about Ukraine.  There were all the concerns about his performance in the last debate. 

Who are you looking at specifically on the stage tomorrow? 

BETH FOUHY, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL EDITOR:  Well, it is a little hard to see whether this is going to produce that break in the log jam for a couple reasons.  Number one, 12 people up on the stage it is going to be hard for anybody to really get a lot of time to talk.  So, unless some of the folks on the outer edges are going to start throwing some brick bats, it`s really hard to see how they make that kind of impact. 

Plus, we have the impeachment inquiry going on where Joe Biden is at the heart of it.  That is so much dominating the news cycle for everyone, for our network, for all news.  It is really hard to see how the movement happens among those candidates.  We`ve really got that three person front running team with Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders right there. 

And it`s very, very hard to see how any of that changes while impeachment is hanging over this particularly since President Biden -- excuse me, Vice President Biden and his son are at the heart of the whole conversation around impeachment. 

KORNACKI:  Eddie, I`d ask the same question to you.  You have 12 options to choose from.  Who are you looking for tomorrow night?  What particular -- anybody in particular you look at?  Because Just the dynamics they`re up against here? 

EDDIE GLAUDE, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR:  Well, I generally agree with Beth, but I think two things.  One, I think Joe Biden has to be strong.  He has to show that he can actually fight Donald Trump.  I think he`s been hit in the chin.  And, yes, his response hasn`t been great in terms of the way in which Donald Trump and the campaign, his campaign has come after him. 

I think Biden also has to, in some ways, show, put forward a vision that suggests that he`s not just simply a candidate from the past but someone who can put forward a vision for the future. 

And then I`m looking at Sanders and Warren.  It seems to me that Bernie Sanders has to differentiate himself from Warren, Warren who has now become, in some of the polls, the front-runner.  She is going to have to, in some ways, withstand, I think, a barrage. 

  I`m interested in how she responds to how the centrists will attack her.  I`m interested in how Sanders will differentiate himself from her. 

KORNACKI:  I`m curious about that, too, Beth.  I think you have -- Buttigieg has made a few comments in the last few days that suggests that he may look at -- will go after Warren.  I mean, for the last few months, she has been rising slowly but steadily.  Now, she`s clearly, if not the front-runner, the co-front-runner with Biden.  If she`s going to get more heat on the stage? 

FOUHY:  Yes, that`s right.  And Pete Buttigieg has actually really started to creep up little by little in Iowa.  I know that the Warren campaign definitely has their eye on him.  He`s building up his organization there as you say.  He has sort of taking a little bit of, you know, veiled shots at Senator Warren saying, you know, this is a very dire time.  It`s not a good time for a purity test.  Clearly, sort of she`s taken up that moderate space or trying to and Elizabeth Warren is going in the other direction. 

Elizabeth Warren is definitely going to be a target.  Bernie Sanders is starting to differentiate himself from her as Eddie was mentioning.

Joe Biden saying we need a president.  We don`t need a planner.  Of course, Elizabeth Warren presents herself as a person with all these plans. 

But I think what we`ve all seen throughout all these debates and frankly throughout her entire campaign is she`s very smooth.  She doesn`t trip up.  Nobody has been able to figure out a way to trip her up yet.  So, the question is whether either these guys are even going to try, and if they do, if she does so.  And so far, she hasn`t. 

KORNACKI:  And, Eddie, I was looking at that new poll.  We show the national number out there, Quinnipiac national poll.  And Warren is in first place in that poll.  She`s at 30 percent nationally among Democrats.  You start to look at the groups of voters she`s doing best with, self identified liberal, college-educated white voters.  You look at her vote -- her polling with black voters now in that poll.  She is still almost 3-1 trailing Joe Biden. 

Is that a group she can ultimately break through or is she facing more of an obstacle there than folks appreciate? 

GLAUDE:  I think when we drill down into those numbers, Steve, there`s some generational stuff here.  She seems to be polling well, if my memory corrects -- if my memory is correct, among younger African-American voters.  If she`s successful in Iowa, if she turns the corner in New Hampshire, I don`t -- I`m not convinced that the firewall of African-American voters will hold for Joe Biden. 

I think Joe Biden, for many African-American voters, their loyalty to him, Steve, is tied to President Obama, of course.  But it`s also bound up with the safe choice that we think that we need to get Trump out of office and that Biden may very well be the safest choice that they can make.  But if Biden doesn`t do well in Iowa, if he doesn`t do well in New Hampshire, I`m not sure that logic will hold. 

KORNACKI:  All right.  Well, over the weekend, Senate -- former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave a warning to 2020 Democrats.  He said, don`t underestimate Trump. 


HARRY REID (D-NV), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER:  I used to think that Donald Trump was not too smart.  I certainly don`t believe that anymore.  I don`t think he`s intellectually a powerhouse but he`s basically a very, very smart man.  He -- no matter what the subject, any argument he involves himself in, it`s on his terms. 

Anyone that thinks Trump is going to be beaten easily should have another thing coming.  He is not going to be beaten easily.  It`s going to take a campaign of wisdom and patience, but he is beatable, for sure. 


KORNACKI:  This morning, Trump tweeted about that.  He said: Thank you, harry.  I agree. 

Beth, I`m curious, what do you make of that?  You look at polls right now.  Donald Trump`s approval rating sits there maybe 42 percent, somewhere around there.  We keep showing these head-to-heads.  Biden keeps leading him.  Warren has been leading him lately.  Sanders leads him. 

Do you agree with what Harry Reid saying there?  Or is Harry Reid overreacting to a narrow victory for Donald Trump in 2016? 

FOUHY:  Look, Harry Reid is one of the canniest operators in politics.  He knows a winner when he sees one.  We also know what happens in 2016.  So, Harry Reid is totally right. 

Look, I think, interestingly enough, if these numbers and scenario were played out for any other person besides Donald Trump, we would say that person was sunk.  I mean, Jim Carter, you know, what have you.  He has never been above 50 percent, his numbers with all these other potential Democratic opponents always under water.

But he`s Donald Trump.  He has always managed to get himself out of every jam.  He`s sort of a political Houdini.  And I think everybody has seen that.  That`s what Harry Reid is saying there.  And it`s very smart for Democrats to take that heed. 

KORNACKI:  Yes, how much -- what Harry Reid is channeling there, how much does that weigh on Democratic voters, Eddie? 

GLAUDE:  Well, I think in terms desire to get Trump out of office, I think it matters a whole lot.  I think Harry Reid is implicitly saying that Donald Trump will appeal to resentments.  He will play the cultural war card.  That he will be a formidable candidate. 

But I think at the end of the day, if we`re going to hear what Harry Reid is saying, Democrats need to pay attention to the turnout game, that what`s going to win this election is not worrying about Donald Trump.  It`s worrying about turning out their voters.  And if they concentrate on that, then victory will not necessarily be guaranteed but definitely will be in eye`s view. 

KORNACKI:  All right.  Eddie Glaude, Beth Fouhy, thanks to both of you. 

And be sure to tune in tomorrow night for some post-debate analysis with Brian Williams, Nicolle Wallace, Chris Hayes and Joy Reid.  Coverage is going to start on MSNBC as soon as that debate is over.  Make sure to flip over. 

And we`re back right after this. 


KORNACKI:  Before we go tonight, Chris hasn`t been here the last few nights and he wanted to let you know why.  Chris is recovering from prostate cancer surgery last week.  The procedure went well but is taking a few days to get back into fighting shape.  I know he`s looking forward to being back here very soon. 

And that is HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.