Trump lifts sanctions on Turkey. TRANSCRIPT: 10/23/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Karen Bass, John Brennan, Cynthia Alksne, Rick Tyler, Leon Panetta,Jonathan Swan, Vivian Salama

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Thanks, as always, for watching THE BEAT.  I`ll be back here at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, if you want to join me.

And don`t go anywhere now because "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Attack on impeachment.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews back in Washington.

There`s mounting evidence tonight that the president extorted a foreign ally for political gain, the charge at the center of the impeachment inquiry.  The Associated Press today reported that months before his notorious July phone call with President Trump, Ukraine`s president was wary of Trump`s push for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

And days before Zelensky was sworn, in May, he gathered a small group of advisers where they spent almost three hours talking about how to navigate the insistence from Trump and Rudy Giuliani for a probe and how to avoid becoming entangled in the American elections.

It shows that from the outset, Zelensky was under serious pressure to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.  And that pressure increased dramatically after Trump froze crucial U.S. military support to Ukraine in July.

And now Ambassador Bill Taylor has testified that the release of that military aid was conditioned on Ukraine`s willingness to launch the politically motivated investigations that Trump was seeking.

Taylor described numerous diplomatic communications, each making clear that Ukraine would get the aid in exchange for dirt on Biden.  As Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post today, it is no longer a question whether this happened, it`s now a question of how the president explains it and how lawmakers, especially Republicans, choose respond to it.

We saw how some Republicans responded today when a band of Trump loyalists in the House stormed a secured facility in the basement of the Capitol where a Pentagon official was set to testify on the impeachment inquiry, violating House rules.  Those two dozen Republicans there refused to leave for five hours delaying, the scheduled deposition of Deputy Assistant Secretary Laura Cooper.

Bloomberg reports that stunt had the backing of the president, who has told about it yesterday, a day before it happened.  We`ll get to that shortly.

But, first, growing sense dread among Trump allies as each passing day brings new damning revelations.

I`m joined by Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass of California, who`s on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Peter Baker is Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times, John Brennan is the former director of the CIA.

Congresswoman, I guess it looks like that the Republicans around the president, those who like him, don`t like him, whatever, for whatever reason, are getting crazy like he is.  They`re beginning to do things like that stunt today because they can`t win the argument anymore.  He`s been caught.  Your thoughts.

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA):  Well, I actually think -- I mean, I know that they shared it with him last night that they were going to do that, but I Also think they did that in response to his rhetoric saying that they weren`t defending him enough.  So when I saw the antics, I just thought that they were marching to his orders.

And I think it really was an act of desperation.  They are not going to be able to stop the truth from coming out.  I think it`s really like a dam is breaking right now, and it`s just important that we hear from all of the witnesses so that we can have a clear picture of the damage that`s been done to our democracy.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Congresswoman, the hearings that are being held to get information from top people like Bill Taylor yesterday are all bipartisan, there`s Republicans in every one of those rooms, it`s not like there`s something sneaky going on.  But these people in this sort of Brooks Brothers, this reminds me of 2000 in a recount, another Brooks Brothers protest, showing up like -- it reminds like a 1930s panty raid or something.  It`s so ridiculous.  It`s just a bunch of grown men acting like they`re into hijinx.  What a boring looking group, by the way.  Your thoughts.

BASS:  It was actually embarrassing.  But I do have to tell you, and, Chris, you know this, if you add the number of Republicans from three committees, intel, oversight and reform and foreign affairs, you`re talking about a large number of Republicans.  So it is not like they have not been involved, that they haven`t had complete access to everything.  They just want us to have everything in the open right now so that the witnesses can coordinate their testimony and be bullied by the White House, and we`re not going to do that.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Peter Baker on this because you write the main bar, the piece in The Times, and I want to ask you about this.  It seems to me that Balz of The Washington Post, Dan Balz, has written a pretty solid statement.  And it`s not an analysis, it`s a statement, that it`s now clear on the record that the president of the United States conditioned U.S. military assistance to Zelensky`s government in Ukraine who are facing the Russian tanks on him providing some sort of declaration that he`s going after Joe Biden.  My question is what`s left to argue about?

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Yes, I think that Dan Balz is spot on, as he always does.  I mean, when you get Dan, who`s about as measured a journalist out there making such a definitive statement, it does tell you that something has changed in the debate.  And I think he`s right that basically the question now is what do we make of the facts we that have in front of us?  What do we make of what the president and his people have done in terms of Ukraine?  Is it important enough?  Is it defensible?

And the storming of the barricades, as you were -- today, in terms of the basement, shows the Republican argument right now is one of process.  They don`t want to defend what the president has done in terms of Ukraine partly because they may not be 100 percent sure that all the facts are out there and don`t want to get caught out, but also because it`s very hard to argue at this point, so they focus on the process that Democrats aren`t being fair.

It`s not that different in some ways than in 1998 when the Democrats focused on process when they were defending against President Clinton`s impeachment.  They didn`t want to be seen as excusing his conduct.  So rather than defending his conduct, they said the other side is handling this bad, it`s a way of making it a partisan affair, us versus them.  They`re treating us badly, therefore you have to be with us.

It worked to some extent for President Clinton.  That impeachment was a party line impeachment.  That`s the goal President Trump has here too.  Keep Republicans on his side, make sure it`s a party line debate, as long as it`s a party line debate, then he wins and it gets to the Senate.

MATTHEWS:  John Brennan, thank you for coming on tonight.  It seems to me - - that you`re a public servant for life.  And it seems to me everything that what Trump does, every time you have a really good witness, like Bill Taylor yesterday, who was the our head of mission in Kiev, who testifies very forthrightly and a beautifully developed argument about how he discovered there was this other force out there led by Giuliani and the president to use this leverage we have with this desperate country, a militarily desperate country facing Russia.  When he realized that was going on, he`s finally come out and put it to the public, gave it to the public.

It just seems to me that Trump`s last gasp is to say he referred today, for example, as all Republicans who don`t like him as human scum.  This is the president of the United States talking.  He trashes every individual who speaks against him.

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA:  That`s why I find it very heartening that it`s national security --

MATTHEWS:  He called him scum, human scum, that guy.

BRENNAN:  Yes.  It`s national security professionals or diplomats, like Bill Taylor, like Ambassador Yovanovitch, like Laura Cooper from the Department of Defense, like the whistleblower from the Intelligence Community somewhere who are standing up and speaking out against Donald Trump.  It is very heartening to those of us who did serve in a national security environment for so many years.

And so therefore I think he has to resort to these name-calling tactics because their professionalism, their expertise, their experience, I think, really lends great weight to the substantive argument that Donald Trump engaged in extort bribery with the Ukrainians.

MATTHEWS:  Let me get back to Peter on this, because I think this language is something that, again, you and have been -- I do have some experience in American political life all these years and calling people scum is kind of like the worst street corner lingo and you`re talking about Republicans, including Bill Taylor, who -- he`s not in this for the money like Trump is in it for the money almost all the time.  This guy is in it for public service.  And because he told the truth, he`s human.  Who comes up with these phrases?  I`m sorry.

BAKER:  No, you`re right.  No other president in modern times anyway used this kind of language repeatedly and as extensively and viscerally as this one does.  He talks like a playground, you know, combatant.  He doesn`t speak in presidential tones.  In fact, the other day in Dallas at a rally that he gave down there, he mocked the very idea of being presidential.

So the idea he uses terms like human scum and other very incendiary phrases, that`s part and parcel of his style and his approach to the presidency.  Definitely, he`s a turn off to people who remember the other presidents who behaved in a more unifying way or even when they conducted fierce debates, did so in a higher tone.  This is not the way he rolls.  It`s not the way he operates.  And it`s worked for him as he sees it, so he`s going to keep it up.  But it`s a very different way of looking at the presidency than we`ve seen by Republicans and Democrats going back.

I think it`s hard to make Bill Taylor into a radical, unelected bureaucrat, which is the phrase the White House used last night to describe him.  He`s given 50 years of his life to this country, he went to West Point, served in Vietnam, he was appointed first ambassador to Ukraine by President George W. Bush, he served under Ronald Reagan, Republicans and Democrats.  He`s not a radical partisan.  He`s somebody who`s believed in his service of his country and diplomatic and other forms.  So it`s hard radicalize him or hard to demonize him, but that`s what President Trump tries to do.

MATTHEWS:  Just to make the point, he uses terms like human scum to justify genocide, he uses human scum, phrases like that, to justify totalitarian behavior against your political enemies, anything goes.  It legalizes the people.  It licenses people to do the worst possible things when presidents, leaders of a country uses terms like that.  This is frightening.

Anyhow, Trump is now making the argument that he didn`t engage in a quid pro quo because, as he says, Ukraine didn`t realize they were being leveraged, they were being -- it`s outrageous.  Quoting Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe, Trump today claimed neither Taylor or any other witness has provided testimony that the Ukrainians were aware that military aid was being withheld.  You can`t have a quid pro quo without a quo.  But there`s ample evidence the Ukrainians did know they weren`t getting the aid they expected.  In fact, Ambassador Taylor testified the quid pro quo was spelled out explicitly to a top Ukrainian official on September, on the 1st.

Congresswoman, this president is so desperate and so reaching around for B.S. excuses for what he did.  I sometimes wonder didn`t he say it would be okay to be impeached.  He could use that to get re-elected with.  He clearly now will do anything to avoid what`s coming his way in the next couple of months.

BASS:  Well, absolutely.  And he clearly didn`t understand or believe that it would ever happen.  But I will tell you when I sat in that room yesterday listening to the ambassador, you felt like you were in the presence of a true patriot.  He had been been very clear, he told Secretary Pompeo, I don`t want to go to Ukraine unless the policy is going to be consistent.  So they were forewarned, and they went and asked him to go anyway and he went out of his patriotic duty even though he knew what happened to the previous ambassador.  So he is somebody we need to recognize in the future.

And I think it is so sad and such a tragedy for all of us.  You know I travel a lot because I`m on foreign affairs and every time I go to another country, I have to go to an embassy and try to lift their spirits because they are so demoralized from having their commander-in-chief constantly humiliate and denigrate their work and their service to our country.

MATTHEWS:  Well, John Brennan, it seems to me they are making great witnesses.

BRENNAN:  Well, they are.  And I think all Americans should be proud of these individuals who were willing to stand up.  And I just wish some of the members of Congress who are still the ardent supporters of President Trump would have the courage, would have the spine, would have the honesty to do what these professionals are doing.

And it`s very unfortunate that Trump`s defenders continue to try to explain away his misdeeds and, again, focus on the process right now.  And they are really quite hypocritical also because this was the process that the Republicans had during the Benghazi hearings.  And it does make a lot of sense to be able to do these things without the glaring lights of the T.V. cameras.

So I`m just very pleased that people now are starting to listen to those professionals who can expose the activities and the actions of Mr. Trump.

MATTHEWS:  Well, increasingly, obviously, a historic role as a totalitarian are, which is what he is, a man who will lead his country all by himself with no staff room.  I`m going to get to this later in this show.  There`s no loop with Trump, there`s no people around him, there`s no council of war, he does everything he feels like doing at that moment.  But what he resents are people like you, John Brennan.  He apparently has an obsession with you.  Did you sense that?

BRENNAN:  Well, he can be obsessed with me if he likes.  He`s a badly broken person who has really done a great disservice, not just to this country but to our world in terms of how he has been so irresponsible and reckless and self-centered in the conduct of the presidency.  And therefore I believe there is more than a legitimate basis right now to impeach this individual and also to remove him from office.

I am just hoping that more and more Republicans will find the courage, will find the spine to be able to speak out against what truly is such a dangerous aberration of our great republic.

MATTHEWS:  I hope they`re listening.  Thank you.  U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass, like all you speak, and, by the way, all four of you people, Cicilline and you and Hakeem and Cheri (ph), I think you`re great.  I think -- just keep speaking out for the leadership of the House.  I think you`ve got to get on T.V. all the time.

Thank you so much, Karen Bass of California on Foreign Affairs.  Peter Baker, I love your main bar piece, the big one, the big foot.  Thank you.  Keep doing it.  John Brennan, your passion and your patriotism match up.  Thank you.

Coming up, a new line of defense from Trump supporters, abuse of power is not a crime.  Listen to that one.  It dogged down Nixon, it was one of his articles, but it`s okay for this guy.

And because Republicans can`t defend the president on the facts, they have a new strategy, disrupt the hearings.  Look at this.  This does remind me of the Brooks Brothers protest in 2000 down in Florida or a panty raid.

They are the dullest looking group of people.

Anyway, let`s look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL):  Speaker Pelosi has tyrannically commandeered the House of Representatives.

BUDDY CARTER (R-GA):  Adam Schiff has to stop.  Nancy Pelosi has to stop.  This process has got to stop, and it has to stop now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, Trump has a message from Republicans who don`t support him.  He calls them human scum, isn`t that nice, to your fellow party member.  He`s angry to supporters too, saying they are not defending him enough.

Plus, Trump`s mission accomplished moment in Syria, you`ve got to remember this one the other day, he thinks betraying our allies and getting out of dodge is, quote, big success.  Tell that to the Kurds.

We`ve got much more to get to tonight.  Stick with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  The people, my people are so smart.  And you know what else they say about my people, the polls, they say I have the most loyal people.  Did you ever see that?  Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn`t lose any voters, okay, it`s like incredible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Shoot somebody just like that, and he even shows how he`d do it.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was candidate Donald Trump back in 2016 bragging about the loyalty of his supporters.  And today, one of President Trumps` lawyers agreed with him in a federal appeals court fight over access of the president`s tax returns.  Trump`s lawyers argued that the president can`t even be investigated and enjoys absolute immunity from criminal investigation while in office, which led one judge to ask Trump`s attorney about the president`s 2016 claim.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE DENNY CHIN, UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT:  What`s your view on the Fifth Avenue example?  Local authorities couldn`t investigate?  They couldn`t do anything about it?

WILLIAM CONSOVOY, Attorney:  I think, once the -- a president is removed from office, they will -- any local authority -- this is not a permanent immunity. 

CHIN:  Well, I`m talking about while in office. 

CONSOVOY:  No.

CHIN:  That is the hypo.

CONSOVOY:  There...

CHIN:  Nothing could be done?  That`s your position?

CONSOVOY:  That is correct.  That is correct. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president`s attorney`s argument that he can`t even be investigated or prosecuted in office comes as the president`s Republican allies are failing to respond to mounting evidence in the impeachment inquiry.

In fact, last night, Trump`s former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker made this claim that abuse of power is not a crime. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW WHITAKER, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I`m a former prosecutor.  And what I know is, this is a perfect time for a preliminary hearing, where you would say, show us your evidence.

What evidence of a crime do you have?  I mean, the Constitution -- sort of -- abuse of power is not a crime. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Abuse of power is not a crime.  Tell that to Dick Nixon.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And, today, as I mentioned earlier, a group of House Republicans led by Congressman -- Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz -- he`s a piece of work -- attempted to shut down the process, storming the SCIF, a secure room, delaying Laura Cooper`s scheduled deposition for five hours.

House rules, by the way, mandate that only members of the respective committees can attend these depositions. 

Bloomberg News reports that, according to four people familiar with the matter, President Trump had advanced knowledge.  Trump supported the action,saying he wanted the transcripts released because they will exonerate him.

I wonder what that means.

For more, I`m joined by Cynthia Alksne, former federal prosecutor, and Rick Tyler, Republican strategist.

Cynthia, first of all, those committees, they`re meeting in the basement of the Capitol.  It`s secure, so they can take the testimony down, so they don`t do Menendez brothers` agreement on their testimony, get it all honest. 

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  They`re all bipartisan, as many -- almost as many Republicans as Democrats in those rooms.

Yet this P.R. stunt today makes it look like, oh, we caught you Democrats down there in the hole of the Capitol all by yourselves. 

It`s not true. 

ALKSNE:  Well, it`s more than a P.R. stunt.

When the president goes on the air and calls people human scum, and they tell people they`re not allowed to testify, and there`s all this pressure for these people who are career civil servants not to testify, and then you have this parade of the Brooks Brothers boys on their panty raid, as you say. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I better not say it again.

(LAUGHTER)

ALKSNE:  And you have the threat -- I mean, it is threatening to have to go into that situation, if you`re not the type A person who`s looking to really tell your story.  It`s scary. 

It`s a form of witness intimidation.  And it`s offensive. 

But can we just say one thing about Matt Whitaker?  Has the guy ever tried a case? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ALKSNE:  He`s an embarrassment to the justice system. 

The prosecutor does not say, show me your evidence.  That`s not what they say.  They gather the evidence in the grand jury.  They don`t say that.  The guy is an idiot.  I don`t know how else to say...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Rick Tyler, Nixon, one of the articles of impeachment against him was abuse of power, literally.

It`s like history doesn`t matter with this crowd.

RICK TYLER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, abuse of power can be against the law.  And maybe it is against the law.

But you know what on impeachment?  Impeachment -- articles of impeachment are whatever Congress says it is.

MATTHEWS:  Sure. 

TYLER:  And there`s no lawbreaking required.

MATTHEWS:  But if it isn`t abuse of power, then what would impeachment be for?

(LAUGHTER)

TYLER:  Well, exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TYLER:  And so, look, this stunt today -- and it is a stunt, the Matt Gaetz stunt -- he reminds me of the Pizzagate conspiracy theorist, the Hillary hater who`s looking for a child trafficking ring, only to find pizza-making going on.

These clowns... 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I was just at the Comet Pizza the other night.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... my future son-in-law.

TYLER:  Comet Pizza.  That`s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TYLER:  So, instead of finding a child sex rang, they found what?  Pizza- making. 

What did the Republicans find today?  Deposition-giving.  I mean, oh, my God.  And guess what?  There were other Republicans actually in the room, because they belong there, because they belong on the committee. 

The one thing people forget about the whole process -- and that`s what Trump is attacking, is the process, which he did in the Mueller investigation, right?  They take credible people.  They wear them down.  They take credible processes.  They confuse people about them.

Whitaker`s confusing people about the impeachment process vs. a criminal prosecution.  They`re all just confused, because, as Dan Balz said today in "The Washington Post," there is no question about quid pro quo.  You don`t even need the pro quo.  You just need the quid, right? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TYLER:  And that is done.  It`s over.  We know what happened. 

The question is, are we going to redefine it?  Is it an impeachable offense?  That`s the question.  He did.  And people need to understand this was an arms-for-dirt deal.  He called the Ukrainian prime -- the Ukrainian president and said, I want dirt on Joe Biden, and you will give it to me, or I will pull -- they knew.  They knew what was happening, what was going on.

Even if the president didn`t know about the pulled funds before then, it doesn`t matter.  I can have a conversation with you, and in three days, you will realize what that conversation was about, because you got an additional piece of information.

And the additional piece of information was the money is not coming.  Oh, he must be serious about this investigation.  This isn`t hard to understand. 

So, look, justice grinds slowly.  And it`s supposed to, because -- so we don`t convict people...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Trump had me with what he what said to Zelensky on the phone.  I want a favor, though. 

ALKSNE:  Yes. 

TYLER:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, you want this, you got to give me this.  No.

I mean, it was -- it`s American English.  Yes. 

ALKSNE:  But you know what else about this business about doing the grand jury work first, doing this investigative work first?

TYLER:  Because we don`t have a special prosecutor. 

ALKSNE:  But more than that, we can see exactly why it works, because Sondland goes in there. 

TYLER:  Right.  Right. 

ALKSNE:  He doesn`t know what Taylor`s going to say.  What does he do?  He lies.  He says, I didn`t have any idea what it was for. 

And now they have caught him in that.  Now they have leverage on Sondland to get more information and to get to the truth.  That`s why grand juries work.

(CROSSTALK)

TYLER:  People don`t understand the process.

The reason these -- this investigation is taking place in -- sequestered, away from the public eye, is the same way a special prosecutor would conduct the investigation. 

ALKSNE:  Exactly, so people can`t...

TYLER:  They don`t have that now, so they have do it themselves.

ALKSNE:  Right, especially so people can`t do their -- match up their stories.

MATTHEWS:  All I know, when you surround yourself with men, in his case, who say there`s no -- abuse of power is not a crime, you get people who say you can shoot up Fifth Avenue if you want to -- by the way, how many rounds of ammo can he use on Fifth Avenue before somebody stops him? 

I`m sorry.

ALKSNE:  And let`s not pretend that`s the lawyer`s argument.  That`s the president`s argument.  The presidency sees that.

MATTHEWS:  He is backing that up. 

And while Republicans in the House relied on theatrics today to fight the impeachment inquiry, Senate Republicans are taking a different approach. 

And according to "The Hill" newspaper, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his members in a closed-door meeting yesterday, "This is going to be about process."

Well, today, the number two Republican in the Senate, Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota, criticized how the inquiry is being carried out when asked about Ambassador Bill Taylor`s testimony. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD):  The picture coming out of it, based on the reporting that we have seen, is -- yes, I would say is not a good one. 

But I would say also that, again, until we have a process that allows for everybody to see this and full transparency, it`s pretty hard to draw any hard, fast conclusions. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What`s this? 

TYLER:  Careful what you wish for, because the process...

ALKSNE:  Yes, that`s exactly what I think is coming.

(LAUGHTER)

TYLER:  ... is going to be become transparent.  And it`s going to be pretty ugly for the Republicans.

ALKSNE:  Exactly.

They`re going to say, oh, this is the -- and then they will still complain.  But this...

MATTHEWS:  Show me what you got.  They will show them what they got.

Then you got a problem.

TYLER:  Yes.  Yes. 

ALKSNE:  It`s not going to be pretty when Taylor gets in front -- I personally can`t wait for the process part to be over.

Let`s see it.  But I do want them to finish their work carefully. 

MATTHEWS:  I love this Thune, because I always Thune was impressive as a politician.  He`s a conservative, because he reminds me of what the late Frank Mankiewicz once said.  In Washington, ignore every word somebody speaks before the word but.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Because then he said, yes, you got him.  You got to call him cold, but maybe we can do process here. 

Anyway, thank you, Cynthia Alksne.  And thank you, Rick Tyler.

Still ahead:  He`s a former CIA director, former secretary of defense and former White House chief of staff.  So, our next guest has lots of insights and lots to say about impeachment and Russia and Ukraine and more. 

Don`t go anywhere.  There he is. 

Leon Panetta joins us next on HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Trump`s defense is looking weaker, after the explosive and damning testimony yesterday by career foreign civil servant Ambassador Bill Taylor, a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam.  Taylor was recruited by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to serve as acting ambassador to Ukraine. 

He has served every administration, by the way, since 1985.  Taylor is not the only administration to cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry.  He joins nine other current and former officials who have broken with the White House.  There they are. 

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham called them radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.  President Trump, who hired Ambassador Taylor, accused him of being a never-Trump Republican, referring to those opponents within his own party as -- this is the lowest I think Trump`s gone, although that`s a hell of a statement -- "human scum."

For more, I`m joined by Leon Panetta, who spent much of his life serving his country, most recently as director of the CIA and then as secretary as defense during the Obama administration. 

Mr. Secretary, where do you put Trump`s language -- human scum is a term he used now for all Republicans who oppose him, but particularly the civil servant who testified yesterday, Bill Taylor. 

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Well, look, for a president of the United States to use that kind of language not only lowers the office of the presidency, but I think basically reflects on President Trump himself, as somebody who can`t -- who can`t really speak to the issues that are involved here, but has to attack and basically try to demean people. 

I think the reality, Chris, is that President Trump is an easy read here.  He`s in trouble.  He knows he`s in trouble.  And rather than speaking to the -- to the case that`s being brought against him, he is simply going to lash out at people.  And that`s what he`s doing. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me what you -- you have worked in so many capacities at the highest level, in the House of Representatives, of course, and in the executive branch.

And you have dealt with public servants, Foreign Service officers.  What did you make of Bill Taylor`s presentation yesterday showing the president`s quid pro quo arrangement, where U.S. foreign military assistance was going to be held up unless they agreed at the top level over there, if the president of Ukraine agreed to give a declaration saying he`s investigating Joe Biden?

PANETTA:  Right. 

I think, speaking as a lawyer, this is a very credible witness.  This is a guy who graduated from West Point.  He served with distinction in these diplomatic posts.  He was selected by President Trump, by Secretary Pompeo to do this job. 

He is somebody who`s dedicated to what this country is all about.  And his testimony, I thought, is devastating to the president of the United States, because he essentially builds the case for quid pro quo. 

And when you add up the evidence we have here, the transcript of the telephone call, the whistle-blower`s complaint, and now the testimony of these people from the Department of State, I think they`re building a very strong case.

And that, I think, is what`s bothering the president.  There`s an old saying in the law, Chris -- you will remember this -- that, when the law is against you, you argue the facts.  When the facts are against you, you argue the law.  But when both the law and the facts are against you, you pound your shoe on the table. 

(LAUGHTER)

PANETTA:  And that`s essentially what this president is doing. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the person who`s bringing the case against the president, the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and the fact that she`s saying that we`re going to keep focused here.  We`re going to move this thing along.  We`re going to stay on this question of this president trading U.S. interests abroad, U.S. security, if you will, fighting Russia, so he could get at some political gain for himself. 

What do you think of her whole strategy of keeping it that way and moving along on that one point? 

PANETTA:  I think the speaker is doing a great job. 

She`s a pro.  She`s had a lot of experience.  And, most importantly, the country is her primary interest.  And so she`s going to follow -- she`s going to follow a process here which I think makes a lot of sense. 

They are essentially doing an investigation and trying to determine what these witnesses will say.  They`re doing it with Republicans and Democrats from the key committees in the room.  They`re doing it away from the public, because, frankly, we don`t have an investigation that`s been done here. 

They`re in the process of doing the investigation. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

PANETTA:  And, ultimately, I think she is then going to have that testimony presented in open committee and to the American people, and that`s the way it should be done. 

She`s going to do it right.  And thank God, because, for the sake of the country, this has to be a very professional, careful and cautious process. 

MATTHEWS:  We heard today, Mr. Secretary, President Trump declared victory in Northeastern Syria, after Turkey announced a permanent cease-fire. 

This comes nearly two weeks after the president triggered the escalation by approving a small incursion by Turkish forces. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  This was an outcome created by us, the United States, and nobody else, no other nation.  Very simple.  And we`re willing to take blame.  And we`re also willing to take credit. 

Today`s announcement validates our course of action with Turkey that only a couple of weeks ago was scorned.  And now people are saying, wow, what a great outcome.  Congratulations. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I don`t get it.  I`m missing the whole thing here. 

Mr. Secretary, we went in there to get ISIS.  We don`t like the Assad regime.  We`re worried about Israel.  We have a lot of interests over there, including our own. 

And I just wonder how they were met by this clownish declaration of victory.  Your thoughts? 

PANETTA:  You know, in addition to this impeachment process, one of the things I think we have to worry about is this president as commander in chief, and what he`s doing to this country.

He is weakening this country.  And he`s essentially turning us into a second-class power, and when we were a first-class power.  I mean, he`s claiming victory for what was essentially a surrender.  He betrayed our allies.  He`s turned Syria over to Russia, given them a base of operations in Syria and in the Middle East, turned it over to Iran, which is our -- one of our adversaries in that part of the world, and turned it over to Assad. 

And, more importantly, he`s allowed ISIS to be able to reorganize itself and be a threat to the United States. 

This is the most disastrous foreign policy blunder I have seen a president of the United States make.  And it`s sending a terrible message to the world that you can`t trust the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  We`re not a great ally.  We`re not a great ally under this president. 

Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary, Leon Panetta, coming to us from Monterey.  Thank you so much, sir, for coming on HARDBALL tonight, as always. 

PANETTA:  You bet, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  The White House is struggling to mount a defense, as a stream of damaging allegations emerges from the House impeachment proceedings. 

As Secretary -- as Secretary Panetta just said, this is the investigation they`re doing right now in the pit of the Capitol.  They`re doing it right now.  And this is the basis that`s going to be used to impeach this president. 

An irritated President Trump is calling on Republican allies in the Senate to do more to back him up. 

We`re back after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  What a phony deal it is.  What a phony investigation it is.  And the Republicans have to get tougher and fight.  We have some that are great fighters put they have to get tougher and fight because the Democrats are trying to hurt the Republican Party before the election. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Forty-one percent still support that guy. 

Back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump earlier this week telling Republicans they have to fight harder for him.  According to "The Daily Beast", President Trump, his advisers and his more fervent media allies have grown increasingly irritated with Senate Republicans for failing to counter-program the Democratic-led House impeachment inquiry, pushing for the Senate Republicans to hold hearings and call witnesses of their own, in a broader effort to put Democrats on the defensive. 

Well, Donald Trump, Jr., in particular, has gone on the offense, tweeting and retweeting multiple calls for the Senate to hold their own hearings.  But a senior Senate aide told "The Daily Beast" there has been little that the White House has offered that have given members either direction or confidence. 

And here`s what Lindsey Graham said to reporters today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  Yes, the Clinton White House had a coordinated effort for people who would deliver the message of the day where they would answer impeachment inquiries and they would run it by people who are trained in the law.  That`s not going on. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  As I mentioned earlier, Bloomberg reports the president knew in advance about it, gave his blessing to that House Republicans plan to storm a secure hearing room today.  But the president seems to have a communications issue with the most powerful Republican in Congress, Senator Mitch McConnell, offered a shocking fact check to the president.  That`s up next and that`s coming up next.  Thank you. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Earlier this month, President Trump said the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had told him his phone call with the Ukrainian president was, quote, the most innocent phone call that I`ve heard. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I spoke to him about it, too.  He read my phone call with the president of Ukraine, Mitch McConnell.  He said that was the most innocent phone call that I`ve read. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, but yesterday, McConnell appeared to contradict Trump saying that he didn`t recall having any conversations with the president about that July phone call. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  The president has said that you told him that his phone call with the Ukrainian president was perfect and innocent.  Do you believe that the president has handled this Ukrainian situation perfectly?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  We`ve not had any conversations on that subject. 

REPORTER:  So he was lying about that? 

MCCONNELL:  You`d have to ask him.  I don`t recall any conversations with the president about that phone call. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I`m joined now by Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for "Axios", Vivian Salama is White House correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal," and Jonathan Allen reporter for NBC News digital.  I guess my question is, describe if you could central command of this White House.  They`re facing impeachment.  I think it`s inevitable they will have a vote on impeachment. 

I expect the vote will carry with 230 votes I think right now by the end year certainly.  They know it. 

Who`s calling the shots to try to prevent this being worse than that, like getting kicked out of the White House? 

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS:  Central command is Donald Trump.  It`s really that simple.  Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, to the extent to which somebody is a sort of a point man of impeachment, it`s him.  But there`s been great frustration internally about Pat Cipollone.  People, including the White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, have complained he`s hoarding information, not sharing information with people.  And the other problem is information is not getting to the Hill. 

MATTHEWS:  When did the president meet this flack, Cipollone?  When do they meet, first time in history? 

SWAN:  When did he get to know Pat -- so, Pat Cipollone helped out with some debate prep in the 2016 campaign.

MATTHEWS:  So, he goes back that far.

SWAN:  Yes, but that Trump didn`t really know him. 

MATTHEWS:  Vivian, what strikes me is this guy is not only alone because he deserves to be, but there`s nobody around him with any history, except Jared, his son-in-law.  That nepotism is always around. 

VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  I mean, to Jonathan`s point, look what happens, advisors are too afraid to get head of this president.  And this is not just with the impeachment inquiry.  It`s with issues in general.

So, what we have last week with Mick Mulvaney going out there and speaking to reporters about the --

MATTHEWS:  Saying he`s still in the hospitality business. 

SALAMA:  Saying -- that was on TV but even before that during the press conference, you know, saying, linking the DNC server to investigations over -- the investigations over DNC server over military aid and then having to walk back that comment.  It`s either, you know, you`re getting ahead of the president or you`re undermining whatever message he wants. 

And so, advisers are too scared to get out there.  So, at the end of the day, the message is centralized around Donald Trump.  The lawyers at the White House obviously have some power over this issue because of the fact that, you know, they were trying to formulate this legal argument at the same time.  And so, they were obviously perturbed when Mick Mulvaney went out there last week, too. 

MATTHEWS:  He`s trying to toe -- you do want, when you`re going down, like O.J. did this.  When you`re going down, you say the whole group is attacked, we`re being attacked, right?  You know how you do this, you build a big phalanx around you. 

So, Trump is saying the Republican Party is under attack.  But then he undermines that today pie calling any Republicans who don`t like him as human scum.  He`s not exactly building a party attitude about this.  We`re all together in this. 

It doesn`t seem to have any strategy.  That`s a strategy, the party will prevail.  But he doesn`t seem to even believe in that. 

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS DIGITAL NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  The one unifying strategy he`s had so far is to attack the Democrats and their process.  It`s the one thing --

MATTHEWS:  What does that mean?  It`s the most deadening word there is, process.  By the way, they are going to vote.  It`s going to be in public.  They`re going to have witnesses in public.  They`re going to vote on articles of impeachment in public.

What`s the process issue? 

ALLEN:  I`m not saying it`s going to work.  I`m saying the one strategy he`s had that`s unifying for Republicans at all is to attack Democrats.  He`s not sticking to that.  He doesn`t have facts to put into evidence that will counter to the facts Democrats are producing right now. 

This is the big problem for him.  There`s nothing --

MATTHEWS:  That`s what you put on a press release to send home.  I don`t have a problem with the truth here.  I have a problem with the process.  Come on. 

SWAN:  I`ll just say -- the White House, I think a lot of people in there are overconfident about two weeks ago and basically took for granted these Republicans on the Hill are so terrified of Trump that they`ll cross him so he can do anything.  The last two weeks have shaken some people, and it`s really been a series of decisions that have nothing to do with impeachment, actually, that have -- look, I think the red wall in the Senate is pretty damn strong. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s look at the breaks, the cracks in the hole. 

SWAN:  Syria, Doral -- Doral which he had to reverse. 

MATTHEWS:  It was less important but they very quickly see the emoluments issue there and it would be an embarrassment of the president grabbing the money. 

SALAMA:  Well, and Mick Mulvaney coming out and linking the DNC server to Ukrainian aid, suggesting a quid pro quo although he insists that was not his -- Republicans went and looked at --

(CROSSTALK)

SWAN:  And they started going on the record attacking him, which is very rare. 

MATTHEWS:  How about Mitch McConnell?  He was clearly saying don`t tie me into this goo, I`m not part of this, I didn`t have anything to do with this deal. 

ALLEN:  And he`s not the only one.  Count of the number of Republicans out there actively defending the president right now.  There are very few of them.

All the Republicans have been on Capitol Hill this week.  The Senate is in session, the house is in session.  You saw 30 people attack the SCIF today to try to break in and pull that stunt.  How many of them, 150, or 160 of them are uninvolved.  The senators aren`t defending them.

MATTHEWS:  But who -- you`ve covered the Hill, all you guys.  You`ve all watched it.  How -- who`s impressed by a couple dozen white guys, boring looking guys in suits doing a sort of ersatz demonstration?  What is it supposed to look like? 

ALLEN:  It looked like a fraternity frank. 

MATTHEWS:  Fraternity frank it just seemed like.

Look at these guys.  It`s so boring, and this is supposed to say we caught them in the act.  And what they caught when they got to the basement of the capitol was a bipartisan set of hearings and taking testimony on impeachment with a room full of Republicans. 

ALLEN:  Maybe fraternity with union frank.  They`re a little old.

MATTHEWS:  Vivian, what do you think when you see that picture?  It`ll be in the paper tomorrow, front page that picture. 

SALAMA:  I mean, they`re obviously voicing their dissatisfaction what`s happening and they`re trying to show some sort of a coalition I guess of what`s happening with the impeachment inquiry.  I don`t know about passion.  That`s not the first word that jumps to my mind when I see that.  But I mean --

MATTHEWS:  We say Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.  There they are falling in line, but they say, do we have to do this?

Jon, thank you guys.  They`re celebrating their ineptitude.  Thank you, Jonathan Swan, on your marriage, congratulations. 

SWAN:  Thank you, sir.

MATTHEWS:  Both of you guys.

Vivian Salama, thank you so much as always.  Jonathan Allen, my colleague.

Up next, President Trump`s disturbing and dangerous words.  You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  President Trump said yesterday he`s being lynched, that he has chosen that term so powerful in America`s dark history is instructive because lynching cannot be separated from that history.  Rich white people weren`t lynched.  Black, mostly poor people were lynched.  Being lynched is a means of taking life outside the legal constitutional system.  It was an act of murder. 

Donald Trump`s not being dragged out of his cell and hauled out into the country by a mob.  He`s facing impeachment by those who took the same oath of office to the Constitution that he did.  He`s being impeached for having violated that oath, for using his position of public trust for personal and political benefit to himself. 

And he will get a fair trial.  But not even the grave circumstances he now faces, not even the reckoning that hangs now above him has chastened this president.  Instead of realizing the situation and making his best defense, he tries to shame the forces of justice by acquitting them with those that gathered up the ultimate (ph) injustice on generations of black Americans. 

Facing the truth of his abusive power he hides himself in the historic skin of those who did nothing but be born black in America. 

And that`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us tonight. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. 

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