ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: And it`s also led to what we`re going to track for you tomorrow on Thursday, which is this coming floor vote on impeachment in the U.S. House of Representatives, so a lot going on all around the world.
I`ll see you back here tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Star witness. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Powerful new testimony from an army lieutenant colonel who listened live to that notorious July 25th conversation between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky. It delivers a striking blow to the president today, shattering one of his main lines of defense.
In a sworn deposition, House investigators heard from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated Iraq War veteran who`s currently the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. Vindman testified that President Trump`s demand -- that`s his word, demand, for political dirt from Ukraine was so damaging to U.S. national security that he had the duty to relay his objections up the chain of command.
Most importantly, he`s the first witness to have listened in on President Trump`s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky as it happened and he reacted in real-time to what he heard.
According to his prepared remarks today, Vindman told Congress that I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen. And he expressed his concerns to the NSC`s lead counsel. In other words Vindman shared the concerns that were first expressed by the whistleblower. And as a firsthand ear witness, if you will, to Trump`s call with Zelensky, his testimony demolishes the Republican assertion that it was the whistleblower`s complaint that was somehow the basis for this whole unreliable information.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: The whistleblower said terrible things about the call, but he then -- I then found out he was secondhand and thirdhand. In other words he didn`t know what was on the call.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s not based on firsthand knowledge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything they had was either second or third hearsay.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first whistleblower, it was hearsay. He wasn`t even on the call, secondhand knowledge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a third party who wasn`t in the room.
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: This phony whistleblower is giving hearsay evidence.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): It`s all hearsay. You can`t get a parking ticket conviction based on hearsay.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A press report from a secondhand person who thinks they heard something, and that`s the most you`ve got?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: As I said, that was his main line of the defense, the president saying it was all secondhand. Now, we`ve got firsthand testimony from the lieutenant colonel.
In his deposition today, Col. Vindman also described an earlier NSC meeting with a Ukrainian official at the White House, a meeting attended by U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, among others, who were carrying out Trump`s agenda in Ukraine.
Vindman says that Sondland started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure a meeting with President Trump, at which point Ambassador Bolton cut the meeting short.
Afterwards, Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 elections, the Bidens and Burisma, that`s Biden`s son`s firm, I stated to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate the son -- Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security. In other words, Sondland was forewarned that what he was doing on behalf of the president was wrong and yet he did it anyway.
Meanwhile, House Democrats today released a resolution that brings the impeachment inquiry to a new public phase. The full House is expected to vote on that measure this Thursday, two days from now.
I`m joined right now by Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois who is on the House Intelligence Committee, Joyce Vance is a former U.S. attorney who has prosecuted public corruption cases, Yamiche Alcindor is the White House Correspondent for PBS NewsHour, Katrina Mulligan has held senior positions at the DOJ, NSC, and the Office of the Director of National Intellgience.
Let me start with the congressman. A star witness today, a witness to the conversation. What more do we need?
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Well, you`re right. He is a very compelling witness. He`s credible. He`s a Purple Heart awardee. And he`s dedicated his life to service of our country. And he`s risking his career by coming before us to testify about the wrongdoing that he witnessed.
And as you saw in his opening statement, he was very specific, and I found him to be, as I said, very credible today, another in a string of career public servants who are coming forward who are apolitical with evidence of wrongdoing.
MATTHEWS: How does he confirm the wrongdoing aspect? How does he confirm the wrongness of Trump`s shaking down a foreign leader for dirt on a political opponent?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, as you said earlier, he was actually a witness to the phone call. He was actually a participant on the phone call. But he was also a participant in conversations surrounding the phone call.
And so you pointed out in his opening statement, he talked about a July 10th meeting at the White House where Mr. Volker, Ambassador Sondland, Rick Perry, as well as John Bolton, Fiona Hill and others were present with the Ukrainians, where Ambassador Sondland said, according to his opening statement, that in order to get a White House meeting, you have to deliver certain investigations. And these are bogus investigations, but they`re investigations to benefit the president politically here in the United States for his re-election. That`s wrong.
MATTHEWS: Well, the last point I have and maybe the biggest one is he used the word demand. He said that the president in the phone call of July 25th with Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, he heard the president demand -- that was his verb -- demand dirt on Joe Biden. How do you take that?
I don`t know if you`re allowed to divulge that our not but it may have been in his opening statement.
MATTHEWS: It was in his opening statement. I think that -- what I would say is, first of all, you don`t need a quid pro quo for that alone to be illegal. Pressuring or even requesting foreign assistance to participate or to help in domestic re-election effort is illegal. That being said, he did use words in the call transcript that would also suggest a quid pro quo. And, of course, that`s illegal as well.
So Mr. Vindman, Col. Vindman, was a first party participant to the call and could speak directly about what was said and what were the atmospherics for the call.
MATTHEWS: Katrina, I want you to come in here and talk about the atmospherics. You`re in the NSC staff. You`ve been in that world your whole career, all through that world. Here`s an officer of the U.S. military assigned to the NSC staff, he`s listening to the phone call, he hears something he thinks is really wrong by the president of the United States, all the way up to the chain of command, to the top, commander-in- chief. And he calls up the counsel to the NSC and says this is wrong. What`s that like to do that?
KATRINA MULLIGAN, NATIONAL SECURITY AND INTERNATIONAL POLICY DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, there are a couple of things that come to mind. First, that is not an easy thing to do. It is not an easy thing to go to the NSC legal adviser and report the president of the United States.
One of the key questions that I have is what did the counsel do? I mean, here you have lawyers -- I`m a lawyer, and we`re notorious for taking meticulous notes, for documenting everything we do certainly in a situation like this.
So one of the questions that I have is what documentation did he make of the complaint that he received, which, again, wasn`t just one complaint, there were two. There was a complaint after that initial --
MATTHEWS: And the whistleblower, whoever that is, also got that word.
MULLIGAN: That`s right. And we also know that Fiona Hill raised concerns.
So what did the NSC counsel, Eisenberg, what did he do? And to the extent that he doesn`t have records, why not?
MATTHEWS: Well, because he`s a toady.
Okay, let me go to the great thing. I love television because we could show all those toadies out there starting and ending with Lindsey Graham, all saying about you don`t have an eyewitness, and then we have an eyewitness to all that stuff. In other words, they`re basing all their game on you can`t trust the whistleblower because it might be an anti- Trumper or something. And now we`ve got a witness to the conversation who complained about it in real-time. Doesn`t that just vitiate, doesn`t it knock all that stuff off the table as relevant?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: It certainly looks that way. You have now this lieutenant colonel who describes himself as getting a Purple Heart because he was serving his country and attacked and wounded in the IND (ph). This is someone who understands serving your country. He`s coming to the United States to say, look, I had a real problem with this and I went to this person twice and I heard this call and immediately thought this is not what we do, this is not in the national security interests of the United States.
So I think what you have are Republicans really throwing a lot of things at the wall and hoping something will stick. You had them first saying that the whistleblower was only a secondhand account, then before that had them saying the president never pressured Ukraine, the call came out. Then they said, well, maybe Ukraine didn`t actually know what we were doing when we were holding up that money. The reporting is that Ukraine understood from the very beginning why this military aid was going to be held up.
So I think what Republicans are doing now is really saying, what else can we do to try to show the president that we`re loyal to him? Because the president is saying, look, Republicans, you need to be stronger. But, really, this is all, in some ways, really falling apart because we`re seeing witness after witness now come forward and really make the claim that this was wrong.
MATTHEWS: Joyce, as a U.S. attorney, you`re familiar with the opiates cases, a drug case. This has been called a drug deal. This is a deal operating outside the United States government basically by the three amigos, Volker and Perry and this guy, Sondland, who`s a paid -- well, he paid for his ambassadorship to the E.U. He was one of those guys.
And now we find out that they had these meetings beforehand. We know what it was setup to be. This is all about squeezing or shaking down this Ukrainian president. We`ve got now a voice, basically, recording of it by this lieutenant colonel who`s listening in on it and he can verify the conversation, in fact, real-time evidence that he complained about it, went to his higher ups, to the attorney, the counsel for the NSC to complain about it. What more do you need in a court of law to say Donald Trump is impeachable?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I think when Lt. Col. Vindman testifies publicly, when the country can hear from Vindman, it will be one of those compelling moments where the country will come to a stop and people will be watching his testimony from T.V.s all over the country.
One of the problems Democrats have faced up until now is that a large part of the country has simply ignored the narrative. It hasn`t touched close enough to home. But hearing this decorated military veteran tell his story, a really active duty service member tell his story will be compelling. He will be credible. He is a first-hand witness.
You asked what more do investigators need to bring this case home and point out that the president should be impeached. One thing I would caution against is cutting off investigation too early. It`s always a delicate balance, right? There`s always a rush to the finish line. But you have to make sure that you`re thorough. You have to make sure that you understand all of the criminal or in this case abusive conduct that you took place. You don`t want to miss key witnesses. You, in fact, want to be fair to the person that you`re investigating and ensure you get their full story.
So this isn`t something that can come to a conclusion in 30 days. I think it inevitably has to go after the first of the year. But at this point, we know the story and it`s a question presenting it --
MATTHEWS: You think they will not vote on articles of impeachment until the election year, the presidential election year?
VANCE: No, I suspect that they`ll vote on articles of impeachment before the end of the year, Chris. I don`t think that we`ll see a trial in the Senate before the close of the year --
MATTHEWS: I agree with you. I agree with that. I agree with that. I`m just hoping we get the big baby behind us because I think this thing is hot.
Let me go to the congressman about this question.
For weeks, not just days but weeks, we`ve talked about the authenticity and completeness of the transcript, if you will, the summary of that conversation which will be at the heart of this whole case. How good is the summary from what you heard from the testimony by Col. Vindman today?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I can`t comment on the specifics of the testimony, however, I think it`s fair to say that there are more questions about the transcript and then there`s also questions why it was stored on the server in the way that it was stored.
And I think that at this point, you know, we`ll continue to ask questions about what is potentially a cover-up of the underlying evidence.
MATTHEWS: Okay. Let`s talk about that because you`ve got some reporting on that. But what we heard from Lt. Col. Vindman today from the NSC, he`s a military man, he said that Burisma was in his notes. He wrote down the reference to the company that Hunter Biden was working for at the time as a consultant or as a board member was actually mentioned in the conversation by the president with Zelensky, the president of Ukraine. But it did not appear that word, the word company showed up apparently or corporation, or whatever, but not the name of it.
So that suggests perhaps there were some gaps, some liberties taken in the note taking. What do you have to report on that in the transcript?
MULLLIGAN: Well, it`s important to remember that it`s not an actual transcript. It`s a memorandum of conversation.
MATTHEWS: Is it honest?
MULLIGAN: And I think one of the things that we`re hearing, as the rumors start to get out about what happened during today`s testimony, is that there may be daylight between his contemporaneous notes, Lt. Col. Vindman`s, and the call memo that was ultimately released by the White House. And I think it will be up to investigators to go back and to try to figure out exactly what made it into that call memorandum and what may not have.
MATTHEWS: Who in the works over there on NSC or in the sit room would have the power to clean up the president`s crap? Who would be able to say, we better not say Burisma because that really looks political?
Yamiche, who has the -- I know on the Hill you can fix member`s speech because I used to do it. You could fix them afterwards, make the syntax right, help the grammar, help the sentences parse, you could do that. But you weren`t supposed to take out reality.
ALCINDOR: I mean, I think, in some ways, speculation because it`s really about who has access to that memo. I agree with you it`s not in the transcript, and it says that very clearly that was not in the transcript. I will also say in my conversations with White House officials today, a senior official told me he finds Vindman credible.
So my question to them was, as you were -- as they`re -- we have allies of the president calling this person a spy, President Trump says he doesn`t know who this person is, he`s a never-Trumper. People inside the White House are saying, look, this is someone we respected, this is someone who`s credible.
And I think that you have to look at that when you think about the daylight between his notes and this memo. There is this fact that the White House is very cautious about attacking someone who literally has a Purple Heart for saving (INAUDIBLE) the country.
MATTHEWS: Do we trust the alterations in that transcript done by the White House people?
ALCINDOR: I think we have to figure out whether or not there`s going to be daylight there.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, if you hear rumors, as you call them, which will become reporting by around 6:30 tonight, by some -- thank God, for some great reporting, we`re going to get it from the major papers. We`re going to know whether somebody is screwing around with those reports, because I wonder how a 30-minute conversation gets reduced to a ten-minute conversation, but we`ll see.
Anyway, according to prepared remarks, Vindman also told Congress today that he watched outside influencers promoting a false narrative about Ukraine, which was harmful to U.S. government policy. Additionally, Vindman was reportedly concerned about the freeze of U.S. military support to Ukraine. Documents obtained by The New York Times showed that Vindman acted at the direction of superiors to draft a memorandum in mid-August that sought restart security aid that was being withheld from Ukraine. But Mr. Trump refused to do so.
Congressman, this is pretty interesting. Here is a member of the NSC staff, a military guy in uniform, writing up a memo to restart our military assistance, the Javelin missiles especially, I guess, the anti-tank missiles to that country and their need to fight the Russian tanks and nothing happened.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: That`s exactly right. You know, basically, in mid-August, you know, Vindman is trying to coordinate an interagency process that involves the State Department, the Defense Department and others. And, basically, they`re told, you know, this aid has been frozen and all of them are scratching their heads as to why. And they`re basically saying, we better get this aid restarted ASAP or this hold removed ASAP. So they`re writing these memos. They`re trying to get their secretaries to weigh in with the president and so forth.
This is very serious, and pretty much everyone at Vindman`s level was equally alarmed. And so, again, it`s going to be further developed with more testimony I`m sure.
MATTHEWS: Well, today convinced me once again that the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is right on course here doing the right thing, keeping the focus tight and sharp on this conversation, this betrayal of American interests and public trust for personal political gain. I think it`s great this witness makes the case. We`ll hear more, I`m sure.
Thank you U.S. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, who is on the committee, Intel Committee, Joyce Vance, great for the work you`ve got as expert here on prosecution of such cases, Yamiche Alcindor from PBS, and thank you, Katrina Mulligan, for your inside perspective on the atmospherics at the NSC in such situations.
Coming up President Trump and his defenders are attacking impeachment witnesses, calling distinguished diplomats and military officers, catch this, double agents, deep state conspirators, human scum. How long can Republicans in Congress continue to defend such ruthless attacks?
And here`s a good one, Vice President Mike Pence struggles to answer a simple question. Was it appropriate for Donald Trump to ask Ukrainians for dirt on Joe Biden? His inability to provide a simple answer to a simple question is telling.
Plus, new reporting that Republicans fear a wipeout in 2020, meaning they lose the White House, Trump loses, they lose the House again, and they lose the U.S. Senate to boot.
We`ve got much more on that tonight. Stick with us.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Before Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman delivered damning firsthand testimony on President Trump`s effort to pressure Ukraine today, President Trump was already attacking him.
The president tweeted this morning that -- quote -- he "never even heard of Vindman," before proceeding to accuse Vindman -- without evidence -- of being -- quote -- "a never-Trumper." Well, he knows him somehow.
Several Trump loyalists took their character assassination further, with attacks on Lieutenant Colonel Vindman`s motives as a Ukrainian immigrant at the age of 3, by the way.
"The New York Times" reports that Vindman and his twin brother, also a lieutenant colonel in the Army, were 3 years old when they fled Ukraine with their father and grandmother.
It adds, since Vindman is fluent in the language, Ukrainian officials sought him out for advice about how to deal with the president`s attorney Rudy Giuliani.
But the president`s hard-right defenders -- catch this, this is fascinating -- questioned the decorated Iraq veteran`s -- well, they didn`t. They supported it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS: We also know he was born in the Soviet Union, emigrated with his family, young. He tends to feel simpatico with the Ukraine.
SEAN DUFFY (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don`t know that he`s concerned about American policy, but his main mission was to make sure that the Ukraine got those weapons.
I understand that. We all have an affinity to our homeland, where we came from. Like me, I`m sure that Vindman has the same affinity.
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: Here we have a U.S. national security official who is advising Ukraine while working inside the White House, apparently against the president`s interests.
And, usually, they spoke in English. Isn`t that kind of an interesting angle on this story?
JOHN YOO, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: I find that astounding. And some people might call that espionage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So our ally Ukraine is somehow dealing against us? What`s the story here? Ukraine`s our ally.
House Republican Conference Chair -- and here`s someone to straighten it out -- Liz Cheney called the attacks on Vindman shameful.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LIZ CHENEY (D-WY): Questioning the patriotism, questioning the dedication to country of people like Mr. Vindman, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, who will be coming today, and others who have testified, it is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation. And we should not be involved in that process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Good for Liz Cheney anyway.
But Rudy Giuliani once again showed he is without shame, on Twitter writing: "Another Schiffty backfire. A U.S. government employee has reportedly been advising two governments? No wonder he`s confused and feels pressure."
Talk about yourself, Rudy.
For more, I`m joined by Robert Costa, national political reporter for "The Washington Post," and Michael Steel, former spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.
Robert, to start with you on the reporting end of this, I find fascinating that there is a division here between the hard-right hawks, like Liz Cheney, who care mainly about our alliances in the world, especially against Russia, more than they care about the current political health of the president, and those who just care only about the political health of the president.
There seems to be division there.
ROBERT COSTA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And that division has been growing ever since President Trump made his decision on Syria.
The hawkish wing of the Republican Party, led in part by Representative Cheney, have seen their bonds with the president fray, especially in policy. Politically, they know the president remains in tight control of the GOP.
But they`re speaking out with increasing regularity about his decisions and about the conduct of his allies, if not the conduct of the president.
MATTHEWS: And I want to go Michael. Back to you in a -- Robert.
Michael, it seems to me this character assassination, which was what Trump used in his campaign -- he would destroy his opponents, not just beat them, make them look like idiots.
Well, OK, that`s part of the rough game, I guess, of politics.
But here you`re going after noncombatants, witnesses. You`re going after military people. And you`re destroying them by attacking them as,, what, anti-Trumpers, as if they sit around in the bushes planning how to get this guy?
MICHAEL STEEL, FORMER JOHN BOEHNER SPOKESMAN: Or if he somehow -- as if he somehow retains loyalty to a country he fled at the age of 3?
This guy is the conservative ideal.
STEEL: He escaped from behind the Iron Curtain. He came to this country. He got an education. He served in the military. He was wounded defending our country and he now works at the highest level in the White House.
This man is exactly what conservatives traditionally want to aspire to.
MATTHEWS: I wonder about the newspaper business still having tremendous power, Robert, not just reporting like your own.
But tomorrow morning`s paper is going to have top of the fold this guy in dress blues. There`s some -- there`s power there, because the one institution the American people all agree on is the integrity of the U.S. military people.
And I wonder, how is that going to shatter -- will it shatter people like Kevin McCarthy, who have to go home and attack this guy in their districts? I wonder, how far will they go for this president?
COSTA: When I talk to House Democrats, they don`t expect tomorrow`s headline or front page to change the dynamic in a dramatic way, but they think, inch by inch, witness by witness, they`re making a case to the American people.
And they want to get it public as soon as possible, because they know, Chris, that it`s not just about the one-day story. And they know Ambassador Taylor, now with the lieutenant colonel, there is a case against the president`s conduct the Democrats are building.
But they want to see these people eventually, quite soon, if they can, out in front with their hands in the air taking the oath to tell the truth in front of the American people. But, for now, they have to least collect the facts. That`s what they`re telling reporters behind the scenes.
Well, meanwhile, the president`s Republican defenders in Congress are reportedly looking to shift their impeachment strategy.
According to "The Washington Examiner" -- I`m not sure about that paper -- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that, rather than focus on attacking the process, as they have been doing -- quote -- "In a new phrase" -- "new phase, Republicans` defense of Trump would revolve around the facts in a coordinated campaign to undermine the Democrats` case for impeachment."
But, today, McCarthy again blasted the process and this week`s upcoming House vote on the impeachment resolution.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I applaud the speaker for finally admitting it is an entire sham, but you can`t put the genie back in the bottle. A due process starts at the beginning.
It doesn`t affirm a missed, sham investigation all the way through. If you were in a legal term, it`d be the fruit from the poisonous tree.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What would be the Republican argument on substance, that there wasn`t such a phone call, there aren`t witnesses, there isn`t such a transcript?
STEEL: There is no argument on substance.
MATTHEWS: They didn`t put this cabal together?
STEEL: No, there is no argument on substance.
These guys are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. The president wants them to defend him on substance. But he keeps hearing these process arguments. He`s frustrated hearing the process arguments. He wants to be defended, they say -- he wants them to say the call was perfect.
And they can`t do it because the facts don`t support it. That`s why they keep going back to these process arguments and why Democrats are belatedly -- I think it`s been a mistake to do so much of this behind closed doors -- belatedly moving to have a vote and hopefully move into a more open and transparent process.
MATTHEWS: Robert, in Tom Brokaw`s new book -- I was reading it this morning and last night. It`s about Watergate.
And there`s a phrase in there I really like, which was the assumed power of a president. What a president personally assumes is his power is not, by definition, constitutional.
Nixon was wrong when he says, if I do it, it is legal. And the -- I wonder, can you tell in your reporting whether Trump thinks it was OK to do what he did, to shake down Zelensky for dirt on Biden? Does he think that was within his power?
COSTA: Based on my reporting, talking to the president`s confidants, they believe he`s such an outsider, someone who`s never served in government, that, when he came into office, he was willing to not only shatter the norms of American politics, but test the limits of executive power.
And he did it in ways that even his confidants say they`re sometimes alarmed, that he`s not operating by the norms of the American presidency. And they even believe inside this White House history will look back and wonder, did he test it, did he bring these institutions to the brink in how he was operating on foreign policy?
If that conversation was legit, then why did they squirrel it away in that terminal or whatever the hell it was that was only good for hiding stuff from posterity? Why did they hide it, the conversation?
COSTA: Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
At "The Washington Post," we believe all the truth should come out, and we`re trying to report out all the truth of this story and other stories.
And so that is behind the scenes, the White House argues, for national security reasons. But they haven`t made a coherent case yet about exactly why the full transcript can`t be released to the public.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, it sounds to me like a damning admission of guilt that they have to hide it away in that crazy machine that nobody`s ever allowed to look into.
But I think you might be right. I think Trump`s assumption of power is so broad, that it is truly frightening.
Thank you, Robert Costa. Thank you, Michael Steel.
Still ahead: The witnesses are plentiful, credible and willing to testify, as we have seen, and the evidence appears indisputable. So, what happens now? And how will it affect next year`s presidential election?
Looking ahead at impeachment 2020 with presidential candidate Tom Steyer. He is coming here live, right here in just a minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDY WOODRUFF, "PBS NEWSHOUR": In that transcript, Mr. Vice President, the president mentions Joe Biden. And he says to President Zelensky, "I hope you will look into this," in a reference to what happened to Joe Biden`s son, to Vice President Biden`s son, and to Mr. Biden.
Did you think that it was appropriate for the president of the United States to bring up a political rival?
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think the president has made clear that his discussion in that matter was all about looking to the past.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that got to the bottom of it.
Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was Vice President Mike Pence dancing, continuing to evade questions about whether President Trump`s request to a foreign government -- in this case, Ukraine -- to dig up dirt on his political rival raised any red flags for him.
The V.P., he is a moral man, isn`t he? Isn`t he?
Well, the vice president also pushed back on the damning account given by the top U.S. diplomat of Ukraine, William Taylor, by trying to make it about -- here`s the favorite Republican word now -- process.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: Well, I -- we can`t really count on that, because all we have from the committee are leaks.
WOODRUFF: Well, we have his statement.
PENCE: I mean, Judy, the -- the process that`s going on in Congress today is a disservice to the American people, and it`s a disgrace.
WOODRUFF: Again, it wasn`t leaked. It was in his statement that he released to the public.
PENCE: Well, yes, according -- look, the American people have a right to know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Well, those remarks came as the White House was still not -- has still not released a transcript of Pence`s call with the Ukrainian President Zelensky, something Pence said he`d have no objection to almost three weeks ago.
For more, I`m joined by Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer.
Mr. Steyer, thank you.
Let`s talk turkey.
You know, John Dean once said back in Watergate days there was a cancer on the presidency.
You spotted the cancer. What is it essentially in the Trump presidency that led to this today, this latest symptom of unconstitutional behavior? What did you spot early?
TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Chris, from his very first day in office, this president was putting his interests ahead of the interests of the American people, and he was using the office for his own benefit.
MATTHEWS: That`s corruption.
STEYER: And it`s absolutely corruption.
And then, as you pointed out in the previous segment, he was covering it up intentionally. We saw that in the Mueller report, that there were numerous examples of obstruction of justice.
But he`s someone who cannot understand that his job is to put the American people first in every single instance, and he`s never to put himself ahead of them.
That is what I spotted from day one, that he is a deeply corrupt man and that it`s absolutely critical for this country to draw that distinction and for the democracy itself, the American people, to get a chance to...
MATTHEWS: Why do two out of five Americans in poll after poll put up with this indecency?
STEYER: I don`t think the evidence is clear, has been made clear, and there`s a question now about having televised hearings.
MATTHEWS: Do you think televised hearings, where you basically force-feed, like a goose, you force-feed information to people who don`t want to receive it, do you think that Trump people want to hear the truth?
STEYER: Well, I think -- I think that the American people are decent, and when the evidence gets in front of them...
STEYER: ... in the way that the Kavanaugh hearings are, there -- with no intermediation by anybody, will come to the conclusion that there`s deep corruption, that it`s absolutely unacceptable, and that he has to go.
And that will put enormous pressure on every elected official. To me, the court that counts is the American people in the court of public opinion.
MATTHEWS: You, sir, are going to go down in history as the one man who bankrolled the effort to impeach a president. You personally did it.
How much have you spent so far?
STEYER: I don`t know.
MATTHEWS: No, come on. How much have you spent overall, starting at your -- beginning of the campaign?
STEYER: On impeachment?
MATTHEWS: Your ads are on our TV all the time. I know what you`re spending. How much does that up to so far?
STEYER: I literally don`t know, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Give me a ballpark. Give me a ballpark.
STEYER: I think someone in the campaign said there was 100 million bucks for...
MATTHEWS: So far?
MATTHEWS: How far will you go?
STEYER: Look, my point on all of this...
MATTHEWS: Because you`re -- you`re doing well. You have gotten into the next debate.
STEYER: Oh, you mean -- oh, just in terms of the campaign, not impeachment.
STEYER: I think the campaign, we have spent -- I think the number was I was 47 or 48 million bucks.
MATTHEWS: So far.
STEYER: Look, I`m doing the exact same thing in running for president that I was doing in impeachment. I`m doing the exact same thing running for president that I was doing taking on climate over a decade ago.
I`m doing the exact same thing I am doing running for president when I tried -- when I have been organizing young people to vote. There`s something wrong in the United States.
No one wants to deal with it. Corporations own this government.
MATTHEWS: Well, that`s what I was at -- and you were denying it.
STEYER: No, no, no.
MATTHEWS: You`re saying truth will win out?
STEYER: I`m saying someone has -- just like the impeachment, someone has to go tell the truth.
Corporations own the government. They have bought the government. We`re not getting the American people to be served. And everybody in the country knows it, Chris.
You -- I was literally asking -- talking to a 25-year-old at 11:00 p.m. three days ago in New Hampshire.
MATTHEWS: I don`t think corporations own AOC and Tlaib and people like that.
STEYER: No, but they get the outcome.
MATTHEWS: Who do they own? Who do they own?
STEYER: Well, look, if you take a look, why do we have the drug prices we do?
MATTHEWS: ... accept that. That`s corporate power, sure.
STEYER: Why have we never dealt with climate? Why have we never dealt...
MATTHEWS: Fossil fuels.
Why have we never dealt with our gun violence that has been going on for decades?
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you.
MATTHEWS: But, roughly -- I want to ask you a question without...
STEYER: Go ahead.
MATTHEWS: Would you spend your last dollar to get rid of this president?
STEYER: I would spend my last dollar to save the American democracy in a heartbeat and never regret it for a second.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, you got something there, cancer on the presidency. You saw the stream, the strain of evil there early on and it`s now in full fruition.
STEYER: But can I say something else, Chris?
MATTHEWS: Do you like the way Pelosi is handling this?
STEYER: Look, I`ve been pushing for what we`re talking about now, televised hearings, bringing the American people --
MATTHEWS: We`ll get to them. We`re going to get to them.
STEYER: I know, but that`s what we need --
MATTHEWS: We`ll get to them.
STEYER: It`s --
MATTHEWS: Hey, I want them in prime time, even though it`s going to hurt us. I love prime time because people actually watch television at night.
STEYER: Let the truth roll.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Tom Steyer.
STEYER: Chris Matthews.
MATTHEWS: You`re a John Brown to this whole thing. You started this thing.
Still ahead, remember him?
STEYER: Oh, God --
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you.
Still ahead, the Republican majority in the Senate was once considered relatively safe. Mitch McConnell was unbeatable. He had his 53 Republicans. He couldn`t be beat.
But this impeachment thing under way right now has Republican strategists looking at a new battlefield and not liking what they`re seeing. We could see a blue wave that takes the House again for the Democrats, takes the White House and takes the Senate, too, for a Democratic government, a post- Trump government becoming a possibility as early as 2021.
Stick around. That`s next on HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Republicans are growing increasingly worried about 2020 and sounding the alarm bells about what some are calling a nightmare scenario.
Next year`s election will setup an epic battle, of course, for control, not just to the White House but both chambers of Congress. Democrats are hoping to maintain their majority in the House, of course, and needing to flip four seats to control the U.S. Senate. Four. They only need three seats because the vice president cast the tie breaking vote, if it`s 50-50.
According to "Axios", a growing number of Republicans are privately warning of increasing fears of a total wipeout in 2020, that means all three -- House, Senate, White House.
Republican strategists point to three warning signs right now. One, a wave of Republican retirements, creating vacancies in competitive districts. Troubling fund raisers for Senate incumbents in those key vulnerable states. And sagging support for the president in some of those same key swing states. You`re looking at them.
Will voters punish the party of Trump?
That`s next. You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.
Congressional Republicans are growing increasingly concerned right now about 2020 and how they stand. "The National Journal" warns, quote, given the trajectory of Trump`s presidency right now and the trend lines and battlegrounds, Republicans don`t have much room for error right now. Control of the U.S. Senate past 2020 looks awfully close to a toss up.
But one Republican strategist tells "Axios" that Republicans are all worried about Democrats` fund-raising prowess. But will it translate into a Republican wipeout?
For more I`m joined by Republican congressman from Florida. Carlos Curbelo, and Joel Payne, who`s deputy national press secretary for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and helped push through Obamacare.
Let me go to Carlos in this. Your party, sir, you`ve got a 3-seat advantage. It`s 53-47 in the Senate right now.
Are they really worried or not about a sweep against them including the White House and House?
FORMER REP. CARLOS CURBELO (R-FL): They`re worried, Chris. And they`re also tired. There`s Trump fatigue all over the country and that includes the House Republican Conference and the Senate Republican Conference. That`s why you see in part some Republicans walking away, choosing not to run for re-election. Some of them think it`s going to be difficult to get re-elected and others are just tired of having to defend Donald Trump, of having to answer for all of his conduct.
So there is a growing concern. It kind of feels the way it did about 6 to 7 weeks out of the 2016 election when some Republicans started creating some distance between themselves and the president. Of course, that election took a number of interesting twists and turns after that.
MATTHEWS: Sure did.
CURBELO: But certainly, a lot of Republicans understand that this is serious, that there`s real potential political peril out there for them when it comes to this issue. This is not like the Russia probe where Mueller came in, and in a way kind of bailed Republicans out.
This is different. The only ones that could potentially bail Republicans out of this is Democrats by mishandling it, and it appears that Nancy Pelosi is being extremely careful, and that`s unlikely.
MATHEWS: You know, Joel, the more we`ve gotten into these fights about the Constitution, the Electoral College, the whole works, the Senate setup -- the U.S. Senate is setup to protect the more rural states. Its idea is not to be democratic. The big states like California have got two members of the Senate. Idaho gets two members of the Senate.
That`s how it works, to keep the rural, more conservative part of the country represented.
JOEL PAYNE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Sure.
MATTHEWS: That`s what it`s about.
MATTHEWS: And that`s why skeptical generally about the Democrats grabbing the Senate in this contentious atmosphere which is so ideological out there right now.
PAYNE: Also, it`s also setup to be cyclical, right? So, it wouldn`t surprise me if Democrats made natural progression in the Senate. One, I think this story is a bit of Republicans trying to bring down expectations a bit with the Senate map. I think they`d rather be the come back kid as opposed to the person being the front-runner going into 2020.
So, I think there`s a little bit of that going on here. Why would Republicans go on the record talking about how scared they are about 2020? So, it`s a little bit of that for one. The second --
MATTHEWS: So, Mitch McConnell can give us one of those Bugs Bunny laughters like he would get away with it again?
PAYNE: Yes, of course. Secondly, look, they have a president that won`t allow them to run away from him. Like Donald Trump won`t give the high sign, hey, run the race you need to run. In 2012 when Barack Obama was a bit toxic with some Democrats, he actually gave permission for Democrats to run away from him and to run away that made sense for their district.
Donald Trump doesn`t have the political discipline to do that. And so, that`s the real challenge here for some Republicans.
CURBELO: Chris --
MATTHEWS: Well, there`s some hope for Democrats. Yesterday, a three -- excuse me, a three-judge panel in North Carolina blocked the state from using its current gerrymandered map in next year`s election. The ruling seems to ensure the state will have to redraw its congressional districts in a more transparent way, a more fair way.
The Republican-controlled state legislator drew the current map and openly talked about the advantage it gave the Republicans. The GOP controls ten of the state`s 13 congressional seats right now despite an even split in the popular vote.
Dave Wasserman, House editor for "The Cook Report", tweeted: A new map could net Democrats an additional 2 to 3 seats.
Carlos, it looks like the Democrats are going to hold the House. That looks strong. Your thoughts?
CURBELO: Yes, right now, it certainly looks like we`ll see probably a status quo election in the House. Of course, as this Ukraine inquiry, impeachment inquiry advances, that could change depending on which party figures out how to navigate this.
I think for right now, Republicans are going to struggle, some of them with this vote coming up this week. A lot of people thought this was going to be a tough vote for centrist Democrats, maybe. But it`s certainly going to be a tough vote for Republicans representing vulnerable districts --
MATTHEWS: Give me a ball park. How many Republicans? Carlos, you sat in that chamber. How many Republicans will vote on the resolution to have the inquiry -- the impeachment inquiry move go forward?
CURBELO: It`s a little early to tell, Chris, because this was just recently announced. Republicans were caught off-guard. A lot of people are talking about this. But certainly I think there`s a handful of Republicans in the House who are looking at defecting.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you. That`s news. Thank you much, Carlos Curbelo. Thank you, Joel Payne.
Up next, all eyes on the star witness tonight.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Have you noticed this president`s penchant for attacking heroes? It`s like an addiction with him. Remember going after Senator John McCain?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He`s not a war hero. He`s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren`t captured.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: McCain was shot down over the capital of North Vietnam, suffered all kinds of broken bones in the crash, was fished out of the lake by people who were primarily interested in beating him up even further, then spent 5 1/2 years being tortured in a Hanoi prison, much of the time in solitary.
And then there was Khizr Khan, the gold star parent of a son killed in Iraq. Trump loved going after him in 2016, even made disparaging comments about his Khizr wife.
And now, today, it`s Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a decorated Iraq war veteran and national security official who listened and alarmed that Trump`s July call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, and reported to his higher ups that he saw something terribly wrong in the sound of the U.S. the president shaking down a vulnerable foreign leader for campaign dirt.
Lieutenant Colonel Vindman is an immigrant who came to the United States at a young age and then dedicated his career to serving this country. He and his twin brother were highlighted in Ken Burns` 1985 film "Statue of Liberty." Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEXANDER VINDMAN: Our mother died so we went to Italy and then we came here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That was Alexander Vindman.
So true to the Trumpian M.O., Trump and his allies have setup to destroy Alexander Vindman, destroying him as a person, anything to protect Trump from the truth.
And this is the Trump way, of course, to destroy anyone who questions him. It`s a level of ruthlessness we haven`t seen before. And what`s truly scary is two out of five American voters who poll after poll sign-off on this indecency, and not the answer for that.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END