Remembering Rep. Elijah Cummings. TRANSCRIPT: 10/17/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Raja Krishnamoorthi, David Cicilline, Rick Tyler, Robert Pearson,David French, Emanuel Cleaver

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Thanks for watching, as always.  "HARDBALL" is up next.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  Quid pro uh-oh.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

A stunning admission from the president`s acting chief of staff today bolsters the case that the president leveraged a U.S. ally for political purposes.  It was in a press briefing todaythat Mick Mulvaney said Trump froze military aid because he wanted an investigation involving a DNC server in the 2016 campaign, undercutting the president`s denial of a quid pro quo with Ukraine.

Specifically Mulvaney said that aid was withheld in part because of Trump`s concerns about a missing DNC server that according to an unproven conspiracy theory is in Ukraine and that the Ukrainian government tried to interfere in the 2016 campaign here.

Here`s what Mulvaney said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF:  Did he also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server, absolutely, no question about that.  But that`s it, and that`s why we held up the money.

Now, there was a report --

REPORTER:  So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he wanted to withhold funding to Ukraine?

MULVANEY:  The look-back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of what he was worried about in corruption with that nation, and that is absolutely appropriate.

REPORTER:  You were holding the funding?

MULVANEY:  Yes.

REPORER:  To be clear, what you just described a quid pro quo.  It is funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happened as well.

MULVANEY:  We do that all the time with foreign policy.

I have news for everybody, get over it.  There`s going to be political influence in foreign policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Now, what Mulvaney is referring to, the idea that Ukraine is holding a missing server has been called, quote, completely debunked by Trump`s own former Homeland Security director who has also said that he personally warned Trump to drop the matter.

It was one of two politically-motivated requests Trump made of Ukrainian President Zelensky in July, the so-called favor, and it`s now at the center of the ongoing impeachment inquiry.  What Mulvaney said today could carry big implications for the president and clearly alarmed.

Trump`s outside attorney said today, the president`s legal counsel was not involved in acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney`s press briefing.

And then just an hour ago, Mulvaney tried to take it all back.  In a new statement, he said this, quote, there never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.  The problem is that would seem to be a contradiction of what he said just hours earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MULVANEY:  Did he also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server, absolutely, no question about that.  But that`s it.  That`s why we held up the money.

REPORTER:  So just to be clear, what you`ve described is a quid pro quo.  It is funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happened as well.

MULVANEY:  We do that all the time with foreign policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Yes.  This comes a key witness in the impeachment inquiry today pointed a finger at the president himself.  Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., told Congress in his deposition that President Trump directed him to work with Rudy Giuliani to push Ukraine to deliver dirt on Trump`s Political opponents.

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Yamiche Alcindor, White House Correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, Josh Letterman, NBC News National Political Reporter, and former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance.  Thank you all for being with us.

But, Congressman, let me start with you on this news in the last hour.  We read from the statement there, Mick Mulvaney is saying there was no quid pro quo, this aid was not held up for anything to do with the server, the 2016 campaign.  You heard what he said earlier.  Can you square those two statements in any way?

RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL):  No.  I think that he was telling us what really happened in a candid moment earlier today and it was a brazen admission.  It wasn`t just an admission.  It was one of those deal with it, get over it types of issues.  And so I think that`s really what happened.

It really resembles that text exchange back between, you know, I think Sondland and Taylor.  Remember when Taylor says, are you conditioning the military aid based on political investigations, and he says call me, and then he comes up with some answer later on.  This is the type of situation that leads one to believe that there`s more there there in the whistleblower complaint.  And we need to pursue this investigation as vigorously as possible at this point.

KORNACKI:  Yamiche, take us behind the scenes, if you will.  Was the White House ready for Mulvaney to come out and say what he did this afternoon or did he take them by surprise with that, and then what happened between that statement this afternoon and what he`s now saying tonight?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR:  Mick Mulvaney`s briefing was a surprise addition to the White House`s schedule today.  And it was pretty surprising for him to say that out on the podium today, saying that, in fact, President Trump was interested in getting information on the DNC and wanted to pressure Ukraine to get that for in exchange for military aid.

Now, after Mick Mulvaney said that, there was a lot of backlash, including inside the Trump administration.  I had a senior Department of Justice official say to me, we had no idea what Mick Mulvaney is talking about.  They are not -- the DOJ is not aware of any sort of withholding of military aid that has anything to do with the DOJ investigation.  Then you have Rudy Giuliani, I was texting with him.  He said, I also have no idea what Mick Mulvaney is talking about.

So in that span of time, Mick Mulvaney was really getting pushed back from people close to President Trump.  Then he came out with a statement to try to reverse himself.  The problem with Mick Mulvaney`s statement is that we have him on camera.  So now what you have is the acting chief of staff really saying contradictory things that make President Trump look as though he was really going after a quid pro quo.

So the way that this White House usually functions, someone usually gets punished for that.  I`m not saying that he`s going to lose his job but I can imagine that the president is very angry with the performance of Mick Mulvaney today.

KORNACKI:  And, Joyce Vance, you also had that statement from the president`s outside attorney from Jay Sekulow, also trying to create distance with what Mick Mulvaney has said this afternoon.  What did you make of that?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  So I make of the distance that Sekulow is trying to create much like when I make of the distance others are now trying to create.  Everyone knows that this was bombshell.  There are some things that you just can`t unsee once they happen.  Mulvaney acknowledging publicly that there`s a quid pro quo and telling people to deal with it had such a ring of truth to it.

Prosecutors are used to dealing with contradictory statements.  Mulvaney speaks candidly, not really thinking about it deliberately.  It has the ring of truth.  And then later, we have this carefully crafted effort to walk it back.  It`s pretty clear which one of those statements has the ring of truth to it.

And now Sekulow and everyone else will try to find some way to distance themselves because what they don`t want to have to do is start to defend the fact there was a quid pro quo.  They`ve got so much stake built-up in defending the fact that there wasn`t one.  It`s hard to defend a quid pro quo here because it`s a crime.

KORNACKI:  Well, Trump`s push for Ukraine to investigate a discredited conspiracy theory about 2016 was the first of two requests he made of President Zelensky, the other was for dirt on Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.  Yet Mulvaney tried today to strike a difficult balance, insisting that the freeze on military support was only linked to one and not the other.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  So you would say that it`s fine to ask about the DNC but not about Biden?

MULVANEY:  That did not happen here.  But I would ask you --

REPORTER:  No, no, on the call the president did ask about investigating the Bidens.  Are you saying that the money that was held up that had nothing to do with the Bidens?

MULVANEY:  No.  The money held up had absolutely nothing to do with the Bidens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Yes.  Josh, again, confusion here just based on where the day is ending in terms of this statement from Mulvaney.  But this afternoon, it sounded like he was trying to create a distinction, sort of saying there was a legitimate quid pro quo if you`re talking about investigating the origins of the Russia investigation, the 2016 campaign, an illegitimate if it involves the Bidens.  Is that the distinction he was, this afternoon, trying to create?

JOSH LETTERMAN, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Right.  I mean, let`s be clear.  It was only one thing that Mick Mulvaney walked back today and that`s the idea this military assistance was conditioned specifically on looking into this DNC server and this conspiracy theory about Ukraine in 2016.

But he still is not walking back the notion that restoring this military assistance was tied to getting the Ukrainians to investigate corruption.  And we know from a whole parade of officials that have now been testifying before Congress that investigating corruption in Ukraine was basically a euphemism in the Trump administration for trying to dig up dirt on the Bidens, Hunter Biden, that could be used to help the president politically.  We know that because Rudy Giuliani told it to a lot of folks, including Gordon Sondland who testified today.

So even with this walk back, even if you were to take Mick Mulvaney at face value that he somehow misspoke today, you still basically have Mick Mulvaney and the president in their own words doing most of Democrats` work for them by pretty openly acknowledging that there was a conditional transaction here that Democrats have been trying to prove.

KORNACKI:  Well, in his deposition today, we were also talking about this, Gordon Sondland said that Trump asked him and others to work with Rudy Giuliani when it came to matters related to Ukraine.  He described that as the president`s explicit direction which Sondland said he agreed to follow.  Sondland says that Trump withheld a presidential phone call or White House meeting until Ukraine issued a public statement committing to the investigations he was seeking.

When it came to that statement, Sondland said that Giuliani, quote, specifically mentioned the 2016 election, including the DNC server in Burisma, the company linked to Hunter Biden.  Sondland says he went along with the plan even though he believed the meeting between Zelensky and Trump should be scheduled without any preconditions.

Through all of this, Sondland said he understood that Giuliani spoke for the president.  Yet he said that at the time he did not know what was afoot.  Quote, I did not understand Giuliani`s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son.

Congressman, I saw one of your colleagues on our network a short while ago, Peter Welch from Vermont, say that it was his impression that Sondland had been duped by Rudy Giuliani and the president.  Do you agree with that assessment?

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  So I can`t get into specific testimony, but based on his opening statement, we don`t know if he was duped or otherwise, but it`s true that he basically was directed to go to Giuliani, who basically was apparently calling the shots on what was required by the Ukrainian government to get a meeting and get a phone call and so forth.

So I think that this is really important because, all along, we`ve been saying that Giuliani appears to be running a shadow foreign policy, oe that is not necessarily in the best interest of the United States, but what appears to be in the best interest of his private clients, whether it`s Donald Trump or any of a number of cast of characters, in many cases, questionable characters who happen to be his clients, whether they`re in Europe or otherwise.

KORNACKI:  Let me follow up on that because this has been -- the testimony that certainly has leaked into the press that we`ve been talking about before your committee over the last few days continues to point to this idea of a shadow foreign policy when it came to Ukraine being run through Giuliani.

Mick Mulvaney was also asked about that today.  He said his response was, you may not like Giuliani was involved but the president gets to set foreign policy and he gets to choose who to do it.  What do you say to that?

KRISHNAMOORTHI:  That`s fine.  He can choose whatever he wants to be his foreign emissary.  It`s what they do.  If they are basically acting in the best interest of the United States in accordance with our foreign policy interests, that`s one thing.  But if they are acting not in the public interest but in favor of an individual or a client at the expense of the public interest, that`s another altogether.

So, for instance, with regard to Ambassador Yovanovitch, he, publicly, was trying to get rid of this ambassador and, at the same time, he has these clients, now we know them to be Fruman and Parnas who were recently indicted, who had reasons for this person to be removed.

And so this is very bad, to say the least, it`s very disturbing and it just prompts us to ask more questions and interview more witnesses and review more documents.

KORNACKI:  Yamiche, there`s also a bigger picture question about the confusion today.  Mulvaney taking folks by surprise, walking it back, what you`re saying you`re hearing from folks around Trump, does that point to a larger issue in the White House about how prepared or unprepared they are for what`s required during an impeachment inquiry like this?

ALCINDOR:  Well, the White House has really been trying to develop its impeachment inquiry strategy, but they haven`t really settled on anything.  At one point, they were trying to hire former Congressman Trey Gowdy, then the president was surprised by the fact that he couldn`t start until January, which is going to be well into the impeachment inquiry.

And so what you have is a White House that`s still trying to formulate itself.  And I`ve been talking to attorneys that worked for Bill Clinton back when he was going through an impeachment inquiry and impeachment process, and he said that White House had a very clear strategy.  They hired outside lawyers, they had a messaging strategy.  They also made sure that Bill Clinton wasn`t really thinking about the impeachment inquiry, that they are trying to keep him really busy with other work.

What you have is President Trump really laser-focused on this and everyone around him really trying to defend him.  But what you see today is Mick Mulvaney trying to defend the president but then really making this surprising announcement that the president was trying to withhold military aid from Ukraine because he wanted them to look into the DNC.

So because of that, you have a really scattershot strategy that seems to at least not be working for the White House very well, but, of course, President Trump did say today that he was happy with Mick Mulvaney`s performance.  So at least on the surface, the White House is saying that everything is going well, but that doesn`t seem to be the case.

KORNACKI:  All right.  Yamiche Alcindor, Josh Letterman, Joyce Vance, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, thank you all for joining us.  I appreciate it.

And coming up, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney`s admission that U.S. aid to Ukraine was held up in part of because of politics.  But he says no big deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MULVANEY:  And I have news for everybody, get over it.  There`s going to be political influence in foreign policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says Mulvaney`s admission makes things much worse for the president.  Will congressional Republicans agree?

And as Vice President Mike Pence announces a ceasefire in Syria, Republicans joined Democrats in rebuking the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT):  I simply don`t understand why the administration did not explain in advance to Erdogan that it`s unacceptable for Turkey to attack an American ally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  President Trump is calling the ceasefire great news while critics say the damage is done.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MULVANEY:  Elections have consequences and foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.  And what you`re seeing now, I believe, is a group of mostly career bureaucrats who are saying, you know what, I don`t like President Trump`s politics so I`m going to participate in this witch hunt that they`re undertaking on the Hill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney immediately after admitting U.S. military aid was held up in part to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democrats, comments he`s since tried to walk back.  Mulvaney`s comments undercut President Trump`s repeated denials that there was any quid pro quo on the release of nearly $400 million in military aid, a central focus of the ongoing impeachment inquiry.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi at her weekly news conference, again, declined to put a timeline on the impeachment process. 

But "The Washington Post" reports that, during a closed-door meeting yesterday, McConnell prepared Republican senators -- quote -- "to be ready for an impeachment trial of President Trump as soon as Thanksgiving." 

When asked about Mulvaney`s today comments today, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said they were absolutely a concern. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK):  You don`t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative, period. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  For more, I`m joined by Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, and Republican strategist Rick Tyler.

Thanks to both of you for being here. 

Congressman, I will start with you.

From the standpoint of your impeachment inquiry, what Mick Mulvaney said this afternoon, and, for that matter, what he said in the last hour, trying to take that back, what does that mean for your impeachment inquiry? 

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI):  Well, I think, again, it`s more evidence of the really shocking behavior of this president and members of his administration. 

We should not forget the president has admitted that he reached out to a foreign leader in an effort to persuade that foreign leader to interfere in the 2020 election to help him in his reelection by investigating a bogus claim against one of his opponents. 

We know that that was undermining of our national security.  It undermined the integrity of our elections.  It was a terrible abuse of power.  The president has admitted this conduct.  He then released a transcript of that telephone call, which confirms that he asked for a favor while aid was being held up to Ukraine. 

That is confirmed by a detailed whistle-blower report that details the entire scheme.  And now we have Mick Mulvaney, in a press conference, essentially saying, this is just the way it is.  You know, this is done all the time. 

It`s not.  It`s illegal.  It`s shocking.  It`s basis for moving forward with articles of impeachment.

But what we`re seeing is overwhelming evidence that there was a sophisticated scheme, both within the State Department and outside the State Department, to execute this plan to get the Ukrainians to dig up dirt on a political opponent of the president. 

KORNACKI:  Rick, we showed that -- played that clip from Lisa Murkowski, Republican senator from Alaska, saying that she did not like what Mick Mulvaney said this afternoon.  You have had Mitt Romney offer some critical reactions already. 

Beyond that, beyond Murkowski, beyond Romney, do you think other Republicans are going to speak up in a similar fashion about this? 

RICK TYLER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, I think we have to watch Richard Burr. 

I mean, I think he`s got the potential to bring people aboard.  But it also has to be the American people.  They have to look at this and use their -- use their logic and say, what Mick Mulvaney said today from the press podium was exactly right.  This was a quid pro quo. 

The press, by the way, gave him, I think, ample opportunity.  I heard at least three very clear questions, two of them are which were very clarifying, of which he affirmed that the United States, or Donald Trump, essentially, there was a quid pro quo of foreign aid, our aid to the Ukraine, for an investigation into a political opponent. 

I don`t know how you get any more clear than that. 

I also think Mick Mulvaney acting -- because this administration is so stovepiped.  Nobody -- nobody talks to each other.  It`s now clear that the White House -- that Donald Trump`s lawyer did not counsel Mick Mulvaney before he went out there.  It looked like he was running his own strategy, which reminds me of a Giuliani strategy. 

And now he`s had to walk it back.  But I don`t know what he`s walking back.  What he said was just absolutely, fundamentally crystal clear.  Should be clear to everybody. 

And it will probably -- I`m sure it`ll be used in part of this impeachment inquiry. 

KORNACKI:  Congressman, I want to ask you about that line we showed there from Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, telling Republicans that he thinks, as soon as Thanksgiving, a Senate trial could begin.

That would mean articles of impeachment by that point being introduced in the House, brought to the floor, voted on, and presumably passed.  And then it would go to a Senate trial. 

He`s saying that could happen before Thanksgiving.  Does that sound right? 

CICILLINE:  It sounds very ambitious.  But I think the speaker has made it very clear to the committees of jurisdiction that we should continue to work thoroughly and carefully, but expeditiously. 

We recognize that this presents -- these facts present a national security threat to the United States.  This is a president who betrayed his oath of office and who betrayed his responsibility to protect the integrity of our elections. 

So this is deadly serious, but we want to be sure that it`s done right.  We`re continuing to collect the evidence that is necessary to kind of fill in the blanks.  We are -- we have so far heard lots of corroborating evidence.

And additional witnesses will come forward before the committees.  But, look, we want to move forward expeditiously.  We think it`s important that we do this properly and thoroughly, but this is not a process that should take months and months. We already know the essential facts. 

The president admitted to them.  The phone call confirms them.  And now a number of people are filling in the blanks and corroborating that this was an elaborate scheme by the president to force a foreign leader to help him by interfering in an American presidential election. 

Every single Republican should be asked, do you think that`s OK?  And, if not, join us in this effort to hold the president accountable.  No one is above the law, including the president of the United States. 

KORNACKI:  So, on that point, Rick, this is what I`m curious about. 

We keep talking about Republicans in the Senate.  If they all stand together, or the vast majority of them stand together, Trump can survive an impeachment trial. 

I`m getting the sense from their silence and even from some of the comments that you have heard from like a Lamar Alexander, for instance, a lot of them seem uncomfortable with the phone call, seem uncomfortable with Rudy`s role, with the general posture towards Ukraine.

And they seem to be looking for a way to register that discomfort, but stop short of saying they support impeachment. 

And I`m just wondering, what is the White House giving them to work with?  Anything?

TYLER:  You mean in terms of talking points, or...

KORNACKI:  If they want to justify -- if they want to come out and say, I have a problem with this, but impeachment -- it`s that middle ground that Democrats used to stand by Bill Clinton 20 years ago:  I had a problem with his conduct, but he`s repented for that, and, therefore, it`s not impeachable. 

Where -- is there any way?  Has the way has given them any way to find any middle ground where, politically, they can do that?  Or do they just have to choose, I`m either -- I`m OK with what he did or it`s a problem?

TYLER:  Yes, thank you. 

That`s a -- I think they`re going to have to choose.  Normally -- normally, look, Steve, when you have a political argument, there are often good points on both sides.  And they will give -- they will put out talking points and say, here`s what you go out and say.

And it all sounds so reasonable.  And you hear that Washington-speak.  And my guess is, the White House is sharing talking points with senators, but they`re saying -- they`re basically saying to their staff, I`m not going to go out and say this, because it`s indefensible, because you can`t -- they can`t do what Donald Trump does. 

They can`t go out and just flat-out lie.  And they can`t go out and just say, no quid pro, no quid pro quo, and then you have the chief of staff get on national television and basically admit that there`s a quid pro quo. 

So I -- it`s disheartening to me that my party will not confront this and speak forcefully about it, as Mitt Romney did.  And I give him credit for doing that.  But more need to do it.

But they also need to hear from their constituents.  And I suspect the polling is moving, and that`s what those -- that`s what they`re looking at.  They`re looking at sort of a tipping point. 

It`s like a -- it`s like a waterfall.  You know, the water is very slow, right up until it gets close to the waterfall, and then over it goes.  And I think that`s the case of what`s going to happen here. 

KORNACKI:  Mulvaney also announced today that next year`s G7 gathering of world leaders will be held at President Trump`s personal property, his Trump National Doral Resort near Miami. 

That announcement comes as the president accuses Joe Biden`s family of profiting from public office because of Hunter Biden`s business dealings in Ukraine.

But Mulvaney argued that holding the G7 at Doral wouldn`t be a conflict of interests. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  First off, you`re not making any profit.  We have -- I think we have already established that. 

I think some...

QUESTION:  It`s a marketing and branding opportunity. 

MULVANEY:  It`s a huge -- I have heard -- I have heard that -- I have heard that before. 

I would simply ask you all to consider the possibility that Donald -- Donald Trump`s brand is probably strong enough as it is, and he doesn`t need any more help on that. 

This is not like it`s -- it`s the most recognizable name in the English language and probably around the world right now. 

There is no issue here on him profiting from this in any way, shape, or form.  What`s the difference between this and what we`re talking about the Bidens? 

Well, first of all, there is no profit here. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Mulvaney said that administration officials looked at 10 sites before choosing Doral, which he called the perfect physical location for the G7. 

Congressman, I`m just curious, what is your reaction to that? 

CICILLINE:  Well, first of all, this is just the latest example of the president of the United States using the office of the presidency as a moneymaking operation. 

This is just one more example of the president of the United States using his office to enrich himself, enrich his family, enrich his real estate organization. 

The American people want to have confidence that their elected leaders are acting in the public interest, not in their own financial or personal interest. 

This is a classic violation of the Emoluments Clause.  It`s completely unlawful.  It violates ethical standards.  It violates the Constitution, and it constitutes an impeachable offense. 

The American people are sick and tired of politicians who use their office to make themselves rich, to make money.  The president does that virtually every day.  This is the most recent example. 

And it`s going to be direct evidence of a violation in the Emoluments Clause, because foreign powers are going to be required to pay him money to participate in the G7. 

This is so brazen and so improper, that it likely ought to be part of the impeachment considerations when the House takes up articles of impeachment.

KORNACKI:  All right, Congressman David Cicilline, Rick Tyler, thank you both for joining us. 

And still ahead:  That temporary cease-fire in Syria, it comes on the heels of a bipartisan House vote to rebuke Trump for opening these floodgates in the first place.

Details on that and more next on HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Wow, this is tougher than we thought.  When those guns start shooting, they tend to do things. 

But I will tell you, on behalf of the United States, I want to thank Turkey. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was President Trump reacting to the news today of a temporary cease- fire in Syria. 

Almost two weeks ago, during a call with the president of Turkey, President Trump agreed to move U.S. troops out of Northeastern Syria to clear the way for a Turkish military operation in the area.

This week, President Trump sought to create distance from the escalating violence that ensued after that decision. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  President Erdogan`s decision didn`t surprise me, because he`s wanted to do that for a long time. 

It`s a very semi-complicated -- not too complicated if you`re smart, but it`s a semi-complicated problem.  And I think it`s a problem that we have very nicely under control. 

We`re not a police force.  We`re a fighting force. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Today, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who were dispatched to Turkey to figure out a way to put the genie back in the bottle, spent four hours negotiating a cease-fire with the president of Turkey. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  A week after Turkish forces crossed into Syria, Turkey and the United States of America have agreed to a cease-fire in Syria.

It will be a pause in military operations for 120 hours, while the United States facilitates the withdrawal of YPG from the affected areas in the safe zone.  And, once that is completed, Turkey has agreed to a permanent cease-fire. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  However, moments later, the Turkish foreign minister told reporters there was no cease-fire, but rather a pause.

Responding to the Trump administration`s announcement, a national security expert from the American Enterprise Institute tweeted this: "Sets house on fire, calls fire brigade, claims credit."

And that`s just one of many conservative voices slamming the president`s decision.

That is next.  You`re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Utah Senator Mitt Romney took to the Senate floor today to excoriate the president and the cease-fire. 

Let`s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT):  The announcement today is being portrayed as a victory.  It is far from a victory. 

Serious questions remain about how the decision was reached to precipitously withdraw from Syria and why that decision was reached. 

Given the initial details of the cease-fire agreement, the administration must also explain what America`s future role will be in the region, what happens now to the Kurds, and why Turkey will face no apparent consequences. 

Further, the cease-fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally.  The decision to abandon the Kurds violates one of our most sacred duties.  It strikes at American honor. 

What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  In a joint statement issued late this afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer slammed the cease- fire, writing this -- quote -- "President Trump is flailing.  The president`s decision to reverse sanctions against Turkey for brutally attacking our Kurdish partners in exchange for a sham cease-fire seriously undermines the credibility of America`s foreign policy and sends a dangerous message to our allies and adversaries alike that our word cannot be trusted.  President Erdogan has given up nothing and President Trump has given him everything. 

For more I`m joined by Robert Pearson, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, and non-resident scholar at the Middle East scholar, and David French, senior writer at "The National Review".

Thank you both for being with us.

Ambassador, let me just start with you.  That statement we just have from Pelosi and Schumer the contention is, look, there`s a five day pause here and it looks like supposedly during this period, the Kurds will be removed, which was Turkey`s goal all along. 

Is there more to it than that? 

AMBASSADOR ROBERT PEARSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO TURKEY:  No.  I think this is a clear victory for Turkey, that they get territory without having to fight for it.  The Kurds abandoned territory at the request and insistence of the United States.  So, if anything goes wrong with the withdrawal, it will be on the United States` hands to handle it. 

In addition, there was an affirmation that we will remove all military forces from Syria, which is a tremendous victory for Russians and ISIS is set loose and nothing is said or done about the now 160,000, or 175,000 refugees that had been created as a result of this conflict so far. 

KORNACKI:  Well, David, I think lot of Americans who don`t follow this day in and day out over the last week have heard a lot about the Kurds, about the role of the Kurds in helping the United States when it came to the fight against ISIS over the last few years.  What now for the Kurds? 

DAVID FRENCH, NATIONAL REVIEW SENIOR WRITER:  You know, what now for the Kurds is their logical next decision is to make whatever arrangement they can with Russia and with the Assad regime, make -- which will amplify Russian and Syrian and Iranian power in the region. 

I`ve been trying to come up with good analogy to help people understand what happened here and the best I can think of is imagine if someone attacked Baltimore, and we went and we said, we`ll give you in exchange for a cease-fire, you can have all of Maryland.  I mean, this is essentially what was happening is we`ve said in an exchange for a cease-fire, you can have the military objectives that you all -- essentially all the military objectives that you want. 

And this is tremendous defeat.  What this cease-fire agreement does is it seals a defeat.  It is a tremendous defeat.  There`s no way to spin it.  The only silver lining is hopefully possibly, this defeat will result in no further bloodshed as Turkey gets what it wants without further bloodshed.  But even that`s in doubt as we`re already getting reports of perhaps sporadic violation of the cease-fire, but getting reports of the violations of the cease-fire already. 

KORNACKI:  Ambassador, you mentioned a minute ago, one of the implication, you say ISIS set loose because of the events over the last week.  In terms of the threat from ISIS which I think alarmed so many Americans a few years ago, and Americans probably felt was more under control lately, what is the future there? 

PEARSON:  Well, I think there are about 70,000 people in various camps around northeastern Syria who are associated with ISIS.  Some ISIS fighters already were in the fight from the first days of this conflict started.  And so they are now free to make their way into Turkey and make their way into Iraq and to other countries.  They`ll take their cells internationally.  There`s no control over them. 

The U.S. said that it might be able to attack ISIS from Iraq territory.  I think that`s a lot more hope than reality.  So, in fact, this is -- this is the unaddressed question which will be extremely significant as time goes forward. 

KORNACKI:  President Trump today seemed to echo Turkish President Erdogan`s views when it comes to Syria.  He defended Turkey`s desire to remove or in his words clean out Syrian Kurds from the region.  Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You have a 22-mile strip after many, many years, Turkey in all fairness, they`ve had a legitimate problem with it.  They had terrorists.  They had a lot of people in there that they couldn`t have.  They suffered a lot of loss of lives also, and they had to have it cleaned out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Earlier this week, images of alleged atrocities by Turkish backed fighters were circulated on social media.  The images were verified by multiple U.S. officials.

David, that language there certainly the president using the term cleaned out got a lot of attention today.  I think more broadly, the political question I`m curious about with you as is the Republican reaction to this unusual and in the course of the Trump`s presidency to have so many Republicans so vocally displeased with him and it doesn`t seem to be debating with this or is it? 

FRENCH:  Well, I haven`t seen a debating yet.  I mean, of course, in the sort of the hardcore Trumpets regions they were casting this cease-fire defeat as a victory, but the smarter and savvier members of Congress are not buying it.  There should be and I hope there will be a set of willing ears -- a set of receptive ears hearing Mitt Romney`s message that you played earlier.  This has been, I think, certainly in the Trump presidency, the largest policy difference that we have seen between congressional Republicans and the White House. 

And I think one of the reasons is the White House decision is so indefensible, it was so sudden, it was so shocking and the results were so immediately catastrophic that even Trump-friendly Republicans didn`t have anywhere to hide on this. 

KORNACKI:  Quickly, David, I`m curious, does this connect in any way?  We talk about the politics of it.  Does this connect to impeachment at all?  The fact so many Republicans being this vocal, does that -- does one meet the other at some point? 

FRENCH:  I don`t think it will.  Honestly, I think they`ll cast this as a policy difference and impeachment as a completely separate thing.  But I do think it should connect because in the Ukraine situation, in the Syria situation, you`re seeing a combination of corruption and unfitness with incompetence that sort of says -- that says to the American people, this president is a dangerous individual in the Oval Office. 

KORNACKI:  All right.  David French and Ambassador Robert Pearson, thank you both for joining us. 

PEARSON:  Thank you.

KORNACKI:  All right.  And up next, paying tribute to a man seen by many as the moral compass of the Congress. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Across the country, flags are flying at half staff today as the nation mourns the loss of a resounding voice in Congress.  Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee, passed away overnight at the age of 68.  His office said it was from complications due to long-standing health challenge. 

He was known for his moral leadership and abiding passion for public service.  Today colleagues from both sides of the aisle remember the man as we also remember his own words. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  Elijah was considered a North Star.  He was a leader of towering character and integrity. 

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX):  We are broken.  But we are comforted by his instruction. 

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD):  We are better than that.  We must stand together with those who we do not like, with those who we disagree with and recognize that we have more in common than we have that separates us. 

REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC):  Nobody in this Congress worked across the aisle better than Elijah Cummings. 

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA):  We respected him because he was good.  We respected him because he beat us many times.  We respected him because of what he fought for he believed in. 

CUMMINGS:  When we`re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked, in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?  Did we stand on the side lines and say nothing? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Up next, a good friend and fellow House member of the late Congress joins us to reflect on the life of Congressman Cummings. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CUMMINGS:  I only have a minute, 60 seconds forced upon me.  I did not choose it.  But I know that I must use it, give account if I abuse it, suffer if I lose it.  Only a tiny little minute, but eternity is in it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Congressman Elijah Cummings delivering his very first speech on the floor of the House 23 years ago.  And today, the country remembers the stalwart of the House. 

Joining me now is friend and colleague of his for the last 15 years, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri. 

Congressman, thank you for taking a few minutes in I`m sure what is a difficult day. 

I want to start with this, one thing that struck me today, all of the tributes that were pouring in, I noticed some of what I would say the most partisan members of the Republican Party, his most polar opposites of Congressman Cummings when it came to politics and ideology offered genuine, heartfelt tributes.  I think that might have said something about him. 

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D-MO):  It did.  Look, there are some things that death cannot take away and -- with some people, and Elijah Cummings actually ministered to Meadows, Congressman Meadows, who is antithetical to anything and everything one would believe Elijah Cummings did and believed and worked on.  But at a time when he was being called a racist, Elijah Cummings publicly went to his defense. 

And when President Donald Trump attacked him verbally, not only him, attacked his neighborhood, his city, just think an American president attacks an American city and an American member of Congress, and Elijah responded the same way a butterfly does which is to float and do nothing and say nothing.  He never responded.

And, you know, I became more upset perhaps than Cummings because I sat down and talked with him on the floor.  He had just come over in a wheelchair.  It`s the first time I`d actually seen him in a wheelchair.  He`d been on one of those little scooters that he could drive around, but I don`t think he even had the energy to do that anymore.

And we were talking and I said, look, you know, this guy is wrong.  And I now understand it was better to be in a wheelchair on the right road than be in a limousine on the wrong road.  And Elijah was on the right road, the road of justice and not just us. 

And I think Republicans not only could see it, but they actually could express it, and they did it.  A lot of people were surprised how strong they spoke today.  But we all took a hit today.  The Congressional Black Caucus took a hit, the Democratic Caucus took a hit, Congress took a hit.  This country took a hit because Elijah Cummings was a unique individual. 

He and I had some problems because he was getting into my business, he was not ordained and yet he went out preaching.  And I told him all the time, he was a bootleg preacher, and I went to seminary and he went to law school.  I didn`t try to practice law but he still went out and practiced the ministry. 

In fact, he really made name when he did Joe Scarborough and Mikie and -- 

KORNACKI:  Oh, Mika Brzezinski, yes, yes.  Joe and Mika, of course.

(CROSSTALK)

CLEAVER:  Mika Brzezinski`s wedding.  And that`s when I really decided Elijah Cummings had gone too far.  I mean, he`s taken everything in the ministry from me. 

But we loved each other, he was like a brother and I really think that God had a unique purpose for him and he served that purpose.  We`ll never forget him, never forget him. 

And when I was the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus I had the opportunity to get the highest award.  I had never -- nobody in the CBC had never received this award, the Phoenix Award, and the caucus voted unanimously to give it to Elijah Cummings. 

He always said he didn`t deserve it, but you just show a video of me presenting it to him in front of about 5,000 people at our annual dinner, and everybody cheered because everybody believed that he deserved it maybe except him. 

KORNACKI:  All right.  Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, thank you for taking a few minutes in helping us remember Congressman Elijah Cummings, a 23-year veteran of the House.  The country lost him today.  Thank you for your time.  Appreciate it.

CLEAVER:  Good to be with you.

KORNACKI:  That is HARDBALL for now.  Thank you for being with us. 

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

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