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Election night in some key states. TRANSCRIPT: 11/5/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Glenn Kirschner; Yamiche Alcindor; Elise Labott; Roberta Jacobson,David Jolly, Donna Edwards

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  But don`t go anywhere.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  A Trumper confesses it was quid pro quo.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington on the week of the 20th anniversary of HARDBALL on MSNBC.

First, he said he didn`t know it was a quit pro quo for military aid, and now he admits that he did.  And that`s how a crucial witness in the impeachment inquiry has just blown President Trump`s cover.

The U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, now admits that he personally spelled out the terms of the a quid pro quo to Ukraine, a fact he omitted from his testimony of last month.

In a stunning move, Sondland amended his testimony to House impeachment investigators, saying that other witnesses have now refreshed his recollection about certain conversations.  He now confirms that he made clear to a top Ukrainian official that military support was contingent on Ukraine`s willingness to deliver on Trump`s demands.

According to Sondland`s updated testimony, he now recalls telling a top aide to President Zelensky, quote, the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement, a statement committing Ukraine to investigate Trump`s political opponents.

With this revelation, Sondland has become the fourth witness to affirm a quid pro quo, military aid in exchange for political dirt.  And this comes with the release of Sondland`s testimony of last month, which paints a damning picture of how the president extorted Ukraine, through his personal lawyer.

Sondland says that Trump repeatedly ordered him to, quote, talk to Rudy Giuliani, last month, saying Ukraine is a problem.  He portrayed their squeeze of Ukraine as an escalating set of demands, which became conditions for American support.  And Sondland said that those demand, quote, kept getting more insidious as the timeline went on.

And while Sondland said he could not pinpoint when he finally realized Trump and Giuliani were seeking dirt on the Bidens, the conditions on Ukraine came to include an investigation of both the 2016 election and Burisma, the company linked to Hunter Biden.  The damning statement, Sondland said, those conditions would have to be complied with prior to getting a meeting between Trump and Zelensky.

And he testified that after realizing what was afoot, he believed the demands on Ukraine were improper, if not, illegal.

I`m joined right now by Josh Lederman, NBC News National Political Reporter, Yamiche Alcindor, White House Correspondent for PBS NewsHour and Glenn Kirschner, former federal prosecutor.

Josh, tell us the story of Gordon Sondland and how he switched from a guy who seemed helping out Trump to a guy who is now going 180 from his and says there was a quid pro quo, no military aide without dirt on Biden.

JOSH LEDERMAN, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Right.  So Sondland had said previously and Republicans have really seized on the fact that in those text messages, he had said that he had spoken to Trump and he had been clear that there had been quid pro quo, no quid pro quo.

And so now what Sondland is saying is, look, all I was doing was representing what the president had told me, and that might not have been the case.  In fact, he didn`t think it was the case because we know that right around that same time, he was telling the top aide to Zelensky, you need to do X if you want to get Y.

Actually, I spoke to a source that`s close to Sondland today who laid it out this way.  He said, look, if I tell you I`m pretty sure the mafia is going to break your windows if you don`t pay up, that`s neither extorting you nor is it excusing the mafia, because it`s just passing along my best sense of the situation as it happens to be.

So Sondland is trying to split the difference by saying, I conveyed what the president told me but it also was not the case and I told the Ukrainians what I knew was the situation.

MATTHEWS:  But now he was telling the Ukrainians, you better do this, you won`t get that.

LEDERMAN:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  He was executing the quid pro quo.

GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Yes.  And I think we can take the term, quid pro quo, ball it up and throw it in the trash and let`s call this what it is, it`s bribery, because bribery, Chris, is nothing more than providing money or some kind of inducement to a government official to take an act or decline to take an act.

That`s what Trump did.  He was trying to induce President Zelensky to stand up in front of cameras somewhere, somehow, and say, we`re investigating the Bidens.  That`s bribery.  Let`s start calling it what it is, it`s one of the three or four in the Constitution, treason, bribery, other high crimes and misdemeanors.  What are the Republican senators going to say now?

MATTHEWS:  Well, we now have four witnesses, including one who we thought was a Trumpee.  This Trumpee has now said quid pro quo.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR:  What Republicans are going to say now is that they`re going to continue to be nimble, is the easy way to put it, the nice way to put it, they are going to continue to adjust their message.  The message seems to be moving towards this was problematic for President Trump, but it wasn`t impeachable.

And all my conversations with Republicans, none of them are saying that these people aren`t credible.  No one is saying that these people are making this up or that these transcripts are fake, as the president said.

And this was a remarkable change by Ambassador Sondland here.  You have him the day before his transcript is coming out saying, actually, I want to add a little bit here.  Now my memory is kind of refreshed here.  I`ve been talking to his attorney most of the day and his attorney essentially says, I was pressing him on this idea, what do you make of people who would say that he`s contradicting himself, that this is really self-serving.

He didn`t really want to engage on that but he did basically say that this is someone who wants to just do what`s right and talk to the Congress an present his side of the story.

MATTHEWS:  Does anybody believe politicians or people like this anymore?  Does anyone believe he had his memory refreshed, Josh?

LEDERMAN:  Absolutely not.

MATTHEWS:  Refreshed.

LEDERMAN:  That`s the argument.

MATTHEWS:  Nobody would believe this stuff.  He`s covering his butt.

LEDERMAN:  Right.  After reviewing these other people`s opening statement, suddenly, he can recollect, recall this conversation.

And, look, I think Sondland`s team knows that does not make him look like a great witness.  And I think we`ll have to see whether House Democrats --

MATTHEWS:  Or have a great lawyer.

LEDERMAN:  Right.  His lawyer sounds like a rinky-dink.  I mean, this guy, he says, just tell them you don`t remember.

LEDERMAN:  And will have to say whether House Democrats even decide to put him forward in those open hearings that they plan to have or whether they decide that some of these other decorated career servants might be better.

MATTHEWS:  What`s President Trump -- I got to talk about the prime defendant here, the guy who may well be impeached within the next month.  What`s he thinking?  Can anybody defend me?  Nobody wants to defend me, nobody, not even this Trumper.  I gave him the job of, what, ambassador to the European Union, and he still won`t stand up for me?

ALCINDOR:  Well, first of all, I was at the White House all day, and it was a very quiet White House.  This was a president who didn`t have any public event today.  And that tells you in some ways that the president isn`t even out defending himself as these transcripts come out.

The other thing to note is that the president is essentially wanting Republicans to display this fierce loyalty.  And Mitch McConnell did say today that he thinks that President Trump, if he gets impeached and it gets to the Senate that he will be acquitted.

So you have Republicans says, look, we are seeing all of this, we still think we know how this is going to end and it`s going to end with President Trump still not --

MATTHEWS:  Is it a rope-a-dope Senate trial where they say, that`s all true, that`s all true, that`s all true.  And then they give the Seinfeld defense, not that there is anything wrong with it, I mean, that absurd defense.

KIRSCHNER:  I love Yamiche`s word, nimble.  I don`t think you can nimble your way out of bribery.  The question is are they going to follow the rule of law or are they not, and if they`re not, at what cost to our republic?

And the one thing I like about Sondland giving the president up, he`s not a never-Trumper.  He was an always Trumper until perjury seemed to be a little bit more important and then he had to tell the truth.  So, you know, but will it matter?  Will the rule of law matter?

LEDERMAN:  But the emerging (ph) argument Republicans in the Senate are going to make is, look, quid pro quos happen in foreign policy all the time.  The question here is, is the thing that we wanted from Ukraine a legitimate foreign policy ask pursuing corruption or was this a personal thing?  And if there is any wiggle room there, that`s where Republicans are going to try to --

ALCINDOR:  The transcripts say that it`s personal, right?  The transcripts say that the president said these are bad people, that they wanted to take me down.  He`s talking to the Ukrainian officials directly.  There are direct quotes of President Trump these transcripts saying that.

So what you`re saying is makes a lot of sense because this is, in some ways, very, very personal for this president.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, as Josh just mentioned, Sondland confirmed that his September denial of a quid pro quo in a text message to Ambassador Bill Taylor came directly from the president himself.  And describing that conversation with the President, Sondland says, I asked him one open-ended question, what do you want from Ukraine?  He said, I want nothing, I want no quid pro quo, I want Zelensky to do the right thing.

Well, Sondland added I don`t know if it was the truth or it wasn`t the truth.  That`s what he told me.  He was only obeying orders.

KIRSCHNER:  Yes.  That`s like every bad mafia line.  Listen, I`m not telling you to hurt anybody, I`m just saying.  That`s what we have here.  I mean, it`s so transparent that it`s laughable.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do we make of this -- Volker`s testimony today coming at about Rudy Giuliani, having to tell them everybody this, do what Rudy tells you to do?

LEDERMAN:  Yes, that`s right.  And we also learned from these transcripts that came out today that Pompeo was essentially rolling his eyes at Giuliani saying, this is a problem we`ve got to deal with, and that the impression from folks around him was that Pompeo and the State Department wanted Giuliani out of this but had to hit, quote, a brick wall in trying to get Giuliani removed from the Ukraine policy process (ph).

MATTHEWS:  But then we`re getting the word to everybody.  The word is passed among foreign policy civil servants, foreign policy officers, do what Rudy wants.

ALCINDOR:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, this is mob stuff.  Rudy is the enforcer.  Do what this guy wants.

ALCINDOR:  The president in the meetings after meetings with State Department officials are essentially saying two things.  One, Rudy Giuliani is going to handle this, talk to him.  But he also is, in some ways, implicating people around him.  There is this mention of the attorney general, there`s this mention of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  So I think it will be interesting to see what other characters emerge and whether or not those people are going to be as loyal to President Trump as he thinks they`re going to be.

MATTHEWS:  It looks more and more like that drug deal that Bolton called.

Anyway, furthermore, Ambassador Volker, he`s one of the three amigos, one of the three henchmen here for the president, he testified that he warned Giuliani that the former New York mayor was off base when it came to his theories about Joe Biden.

According to transcript of his deposition, Volker told Giuliani it is simply not credible to me that Joe Biden would be influenced in his duties as vice president by money or things for his son or anything like that.  He also said, quote, the negative narrative about Ukraine, which Mr. Giuliani was furthering, was the problem.  It was, in my view, it was impeding our ability to build a relationship the way we should be doing it.

And, Josh, back to this, and this is the hardest thing for me absorb.  There are human beings, including the president, who believe that somehow the Democratic National Committee server somehow found its way to Kiev and it`s sitting over there somewhere in physical space, in reality, and that is, in fact, and what happened to the hacking.  It wasn`t a hacking by the Russians.  It was a hacking by, I guess, the Ukrainians who somehow got the server over there, and that`s what they wanted investigated, this whacky theory.

LEDERMAN:  And I just got back from Kiev on Friday night, Chris.  And I can tell you, I did not find the server anywhere over there.  I did look for it.

But, look, this is very similar to something that we know that --

MATTHEWS:  People buy crazy theories.  There was one, and I said this before.  I remember the cover of the National Enquirer.  They took a picture of Jack Kennedy when he was alive and they made him a little older, like in a high school play, they dusted him up and made him look grey and they had this older Jack Kennedy photograph looking out through a curtain.  Jack Kennedy the alive in Poland.  This crazy talk is in the president`s head.  He buys into this kind of stuff that they run in the National Enquirer and those tabs.

LEDERMAN:  And the president`s Homeland Security Adviser at the time, Tom Bossert, explicitly told him this was a debunked theory that there was no evidence of this.  But what we see time and again is it doesn`t matter.  This gets in his head.  We heard from the testimony that was revealed today that the president said over and over again, these guys tried to take me down.  He has an image about Ukraine and you can`t shake it.

MATTHEWS:  Is that because Manafort was working for them and had to sell that story to him?

LEDERMAN:  Probably because of that, it seems like Rudy Giuliani played a large role in fermenting that as well.

ALCINDOR:  I also have some sources tell me that the president basically heard some Ukrainian officials criticizing him.  And as a result he decided that, essentially, the whole country was against him.  And that is also informing why he feels to personally aggrieved by Ukraine.

MATTHEWS:  I think his whole body rejects truth.  He couldn`t accept the fact that Barack Obama was elected president.  So he said he was a birther.  He was from some other country.  It wasn`t legal.  It didn`t actually happen.  It didn`t happen.  He has to say, the Russians didn`t help me, so he has this one (ph) with this cockamamie Ukraine theory.  Anything to get out of his head, he lost.  He`s not the winner.

Anyway, Josh Lederman, great reporting.  Thank you, Yamiche, as always, and thank you, Glenn Kirschner, as well.

Coming up, more on today`s impeachment bombshell as Ambassador Sondland reveals new details on Trump`s Ukraine shakedown, including how Rudy Giuliani and his forfeited American diplomacy in Ukraine for Trump`s political benefit.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are unwavering in their support for President Trump.  And after today`s developments, they`re already practicing their new spin.  Wait until you hear this.  Well, I don`t want to call it.

Plus, it`s election day in America today, believe it or not.  Polls closed in Kentucky and Virginia for governor just moments ago, these key races.  What did they give us?  Probably a verdict on Donald Trump.  We may not like it.  We may like it in some states.  We will get the latest numbers from Steve Kornacki later this hour.  Say with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Today`s transcripts continue to paint a damning portrait of a president and his henchmen willing to withhold millions of dollars in taxpayer money to extort a vulnerable ally in exchange for dirt on political opponents.  What is now coming into sharper focus is the extent to which President Trump and his allies employed multiple government agencies to further his own political gains.

A key figure in the expanding scandal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose credibility as America`s Chief Foreign Affairs officer has been called into question.  That`s putting it lightly.

According to Ambassador Gordon Sondland`s testimony, Pompeo was aware that Rudy Giuliani was running a shadow foreign policy but did nothing.  Sondland testified that he discussed Giuliani`s actions with the secretary of state and then, quote, Pompeo rolled his eyes and said, yes, it`s something we have to deal with.

Sondland adds the State Department was fully aware of the issues that was there and there was very little they could do about it if the president decided he wanted his lawyer, that`s Giuliani, involved.

For more, I`m joined by Roberta Jacobson, former U.S. ambassador of Mexico and senior adviser at Albright Stonebridge Group, and Elise Labott, journalist -- it it Labott?

ELISE LABOTT, JOURNALIST IN RESIDENCE, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF FOREIGN SERVICE:  Labott.

MATTHEWS:  Labott is better.

LABOTT:  I have been called worse.

MATTHEWS:  Journalist in Residence at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.  By the way, Elise sent me flowers.

LABOTT:  I think they were chocolate-covered strawberries but the gesture was there.

MATTHEWS:  Well, It`s something good.  I was making a list of all the good people.  Thank you very much.

Ambassador, thank you, over there in Mexico.  You`ve got a sense of -- I know you have expertise here.  What happens when a president of the United States decides to ignore the State Department, ignore U.S. foreign policy, subjugate it all to his political interests, brings in somebody, a henchman, Giuliani, and Giuliani is told -- everyone is told, take orders from Giuliani, he`s the real boss here?

ROBERTA JACOBSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MEXICO:  Well, I think, Chris, first of all, congratulation on the 20 years.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

JACOBSON:  But I think one of the things that you end up with is foreign policy that doesn`t serve the American public or the American interests.  We saw in the Iran/Contra scandal in the mid-`80s what foreign policy or operational policy run out of the National Security Council instead of the State Department means.  And we had convictions in those cases.  Now, we have it taken a step further.  It`s not even run out of the White House, it`s private.

That is deeply demoralizing to career foreign service and career diplomatic professionals who serve multiple presidents across parties and who have suddenly been, you know, completely disempowered from pursuing the aims that they believe were their instructions when they went to those countries.

MATTHEWS: So, we have U.S. policy based upon alliances ever since NATO and all the other -- SEATO and all the other alliance pacts that we have had over the years that have worked pretty well for us, the U.N., everything.

Everybody sort of knows what our policy is.  We are trying to keep peace in the world, or not -- keep aggression at bay, all the good stuff, like Russian aggression at bay. 

And all of a sudden, you find out when you are working on the Ukraine desk, which is the most vulnerable country for Russia`s goal for the restoration of the inner empire, which everybody knows Putin wants.  And all of a sudden there is a Giuliani over there, a former mayor of New York, who is over there trotting around, whose purpose is to get dirt on Joe Biden. 

ELISE LABOTT, FOREIGN AFFAIRS JOURNALIST:  That`s right. 

And you see these diplomats trying to do this careful dance, like some of them, like Sondland, very loyal to Trump and wanting to make him happy.  Others like Kurt Volker...

MATTHEWS:  Well, he paid a million bucks for his inauguration. 

LABOTT:  Well, he`s...

MATTHEWS:  I wouldn`t call that really natural loyalty.  But...

LABOTT:  Well, it`s this toxic mixture of fear and loyalty and wanting to stay in power. 

But -- and then you see those diplomats like Kurt Volker who exercised some bad judgment, but I think thought that he could manage it and thought that he could kind of placate Trump and show a little leg to Trump with this statement, but also get the Ukrainians what they wanted in terms of the aid. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

LABOTT:  And so this is the whole thing that these diplomats, they work regardless of administration.

And I can`t even remember whether it was a Republican or a Democratic administration when I met Roberta all those years ago.  But they serve any administration.  And this is the first time that diplomats are actually saying, I cannot honestly say that the commander in chief is working on behalf of U.S. interests, regardless of what party they serve. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Secretary of State Pompeo has played a central role in this evolving scandal and has not been credible in his denials, of course.

In September, he evaded questions about the call between President Trump and Zelensky.  Here he goes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS:  What do you know about those conversations? 

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  So, you just gave me a report about an I.C. -- a whistle-blower complaint, none of which I have seen. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Catch this.  You notice how he plays dumb there.  I don`t know nothing to Martha Raddatz. 

Two weeks later, that same Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged being present for the call himself.  He played dumb on national television on Sunday, knowing -- didn`t he know he`d be caught?

Well, anyway, yesterday we learned that a former aide to Pompeo, Michael McKinley, told members of Congress that he spoke three times with Pompeo about a public show of support -- he wanted one -- for Ambassador Yovanovitch, who was the target of Rudy Giuliani`s smear campaign, but failed to get that commitment. 

In October, Secretary Pompeo told ABC he never heard anything from McKinley.  Here he goes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POMPEO:  You know, from the time that Ambassador Yovanovitch departed Ukraine until the time that he came to tell me that he was departing, I never heard him say a single thing about his concerns with respect to the decision that was made.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS:  So, you were never asked to put out a...

POMPEO:  Not once, not once, George, did Ambassador McKinley say something to me during that entire time period. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, he`s not telling the truth. 

JACOBSON:  No, he`s not. 

And I think one of the things that we have seen over the last few weeks is that the career diplomats who have testified on Capitol Hill who have given depositions under oath have been proven right consistently. 

And so I guess the assumption is that people won`t believe these folks who are faceless bureaucrats or the deep state.  But, in fact, what we have seen is that their major allegiance is to the truth and to advancement of U.S. objectives. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but the other guys, like, Pompeo`s major allegiance is to Trump. 

Remember that line in "Man For All Seasons"?  If I were as loyal to my lord as I was to my king, I would not now be naked to my enemies.  At some point, Pompeo is going to be naked to his enemies.  Why has he done this?

LABOTT:  I think he is stripping down. 

I mean, look, he also -- when Kurt Volker and other diplomats went and told him what Giuliani was doing, and that they were trying to keep the Ukrainians on the straight and narrow, he`s like, thanks, I`m glad you are doing that. 

And it`s kind of in these horror movies where you find someone and then you say to them -- and he says, oh, I will protect you, and then he`s the villain all along. 

I think there has -- I have never heard of a instance where secretaries of state are not standing by their people.  You know, we all know about his political ambitions. 

MATTHEWS:  Will this sell in Wichita?  Will this sell? 

LABOTT:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  When they find out this guy has been hog-tied by a president of the United States?

LABOTT:  Well, look at the editorials.  Look at the editorials are already saying he`s made four trips this year.  And they`re saying...

MATTHEWS:  To Kansas. 

LABOTT:  To Kansas. 

He thought he was going to get to go talk about some nice -- you know, nice things.  And already the reporters are questioning him about immigration -- excuse me -- impeachment.  He`s like, I`m not here for that. 

(LAUGHTER)

LABOTT:  And don`t forget that editorial just the other day that said, Secretary Pompeo, if you want to run, run.  If you want to be secretary of state, be secretary of state. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

"The New York Times" is reporting that Pompeo is facing a revolt in the State Department, itself.  Confidence in his leadership has plummeted among career officials, who accuse him of abandoning veteran diplomats criticized by Mr. Trump and letting the president`s personal agenda infect foreign policy.  In fact, many diplomats now contend Mr. Pompeo has done more damage to the 75,000-person agency, the State Department, than even his predecessor, Rex Tillerson. 

Ambassador -- he`s worse than Tillerson.  This is going downhill. 

JACOBSON:  Well, I think this is going to be a tough race. 

But I think, in the end, what really, really gets to the career diplomats is not standing behind people when they`re doing their job.  And so, even if they may have disagreed with a policy aspect or, you know, not thought something was in the best interests, 99.9 percent of the time, they salute and do what they`re asked by a president and a secretary of state. 

But you have a State Department right now where people are uncomfortable with decisions for personal political gain or for things they think are against international law. 

MATTHEWS:  You were ambassador to Mexico, our ambassador.

Was there ever a chance that they were going to pay for the wall? 

JACOBSON:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

Ambassador Roberta Jacobson, I thought it was a pretty easy one.  I thought I`d love to get it on the record.

Elise Labott, thank you -- Labott.

Coming up:  Republicans are twisting themselves into almost comical knots trying to put a benign face on Ambassador Sondland`s damming reversal of testimony that maybe there is a quid pro quo for the military aid.  He`s admitting it all now. 

It is like it is a Perry Mason moment.  We keep waiting for them.  Oh, yes, my memory has been refreshed.  I`ll tell you the truth. 

Great lawyer, by the way.

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

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MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

As the House Democrats have continued to turn up the heat in the impeachment inquiry, Republicans have been defending President Trump mostly by changing the subject.  Unable to defend the president on the merits, they`re resorting to distraction, you know, like the fans at a basketball game using their hands, signs, anything to make the player miss the foul shot. 

Lookit, they all do that.  I don`t like those people.

Anyway, their latest obsession, by the way, the Republicans have been trying to out the whistle-blower whose complaint sparked the inquiry in the first place, and whose identity is protected by federal law. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY):  We also now know the name of the whistle-blower.  I say tonight to the media, do your job and print his name!

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  We need to know who this person is, because, without the complaint, there would be no impeachment inquiry. 

QUESTION:  To call out in a rally -- for a fellow senator of yours to say, do your job, name him, is that responsible? 

GRAHAM:  Yes, I think it`s very responsible.  I think it`s irresponsible to allow an impeachment process to be generated based on an anonymous source. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Notice the bad contact -- eye contact there. 

But with Ambassador Gordon Sondland now having changed his testimony, trying President Trump to a quid pro quo with Ukraine, how will Republicans now try to deflect and spin this one?

We already have the answer from one top Republican.  And that`s next. 

You are watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

After we learned today Ambassador Gordon Sondland`s amended admission of an explicit quid pro quo with Ukraine, congressional Republicans were eager to change the suspect. 

Asked about Sondland`s testimony this afternoon, North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows, a Trump ally, offered up this pivot:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC):  It`s interesting that, from your vantage point, you are wanting to focus on Ambassador Sondland, instead of focusing on Ambassador Volker, who was the Ukrainian envoy, who actually talked to the Ukrainians, who actually had the responsibility. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And in a tweet a short time later, Meadows argued: "The Volker- Sondland transcripts lay it out.  President Trump wanted to clean up Ukraine corruption in Ukraine.  Only D.C. Democrats could spin protecting taxpayer money into an impeachable offense.  Blatant partisanship."

So, there he switches from it didn`t happen to it did happen, but there is nothing wrong with it, the old -- as they say the Seinfeld defense. 

Anyway, Senate Republican Mitch McConnell wouldn`t comment on the latest developments, but he did speculate on what happen if a Senate impeachment trial were held today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  I will say I`m pretty sure how it`s likely to end.  If it were today, I don`t think there is any question it would not lead to a removal. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  For more, I am joined by Democratic Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland, who is a contributing columnist for "The Washington Post," David Jolly, of course, former Republican congressman from Florida,

David, let me ask you about the Republican Party here.  It seems like they have got this sort of pivot they do.  They will either say it didn`t happen.  But if it did happen, it`s OK.  It`s like, in the early `50s, I`m not a communist, but if I am, so what?  But the pivot is familiar.  I didn`t do it, if I did do it, so what?

I`m not accusing them of being communists, but the pivot is familiar.  I didn`t do it.  But if I did do it, so what?

And they seem to -- that guy Mark Meadows did exactly that in about an hour. 

DAVID JOLLY, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  Sure.

And it was a shameless moment by Mark.  And it`s a shameless moment by the likes of Lindsey Graham as well. 

You know, we`re three years into seeing them twist themselves into a defense of Donald Trump.  And, Chris, I think it`s appropriate at times not to ask why, but to simply contextualize their behavior and condemn it.

Just like we can contextualize the fact that Donald Trump lies when he talks to the American people, we now contextualize that and say that the president is lying.  I think it`s important that we condemn moments like this by Mark Meadows, what we saw from Lindsey Graham today, and acknowledge that we are a weaker nation tonight because of the behavior of congressional Republicans. 

They are defending the man, in Donald Trump, and, in doing so, are turning their back to the nation.  What the testimony of these diplomats continues to show is that there was rampant, widespread corruption within the Trump administration. 

We know that.  And, frankly, it probably touches the vice president and the secretary of state as well.  And instead of defending the nation in the midst of this peril that the president has put us in, they continue to obfuscate to try to destroy critical thinking and destroy truth for the American people. 

And it is shameless behavior.  And we need to condemn it each time we see it. 

MATTHEWS:  Donna, I use again -- I now do it again.

I compare it to those idiots behind the foul line at an NBA game or a college game.  They can`t play basketball, so they sit in the stands and they wave those stupid things to distract the guy from taking the foul shot. 

The Democrats have a foul shot here.  They caught the Republicans.  They have a right to put that ball in the basket. 

So, what do the Republicans do?  They lost the play, and they wave those stupid things.  Now they will bring up any subject.  Who was the whistle- blower?  As if that`s relevant.

DONNA EDWARDS (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN:  Well, so, this is why it`s really important for Democrats to be very focused.

Begin the hearings, bring out the testimony, continue the release of the transcripts, so that the American people can see for themselves what happened here. 

MATTHEWS:  What percentage of the manner people are open-minded to getting the truth? 

EDWARDS:  Well, you know, I don`t know that. 

MATTHEWS:  Fifty? 

EDWARDS:  Half, maybe 51. 

But the point is that you have to put the evidence in a clear and cogent way before the American people.  And I think that`s going to happen, and not be distracted by Republicans. 

We expect them to play all kind of shenanigans.  They have already said they`re going to move other people who were contentious onto the committee, so that they can disrupt. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Mark Meadows. 

EDWARDS:  Let them do that.  But Democrats don`t have to respond in kind. 

Get the questions out, let Adam Schiff tell the story, and let the counsel ask the questions. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that sounds perfect. 

Anyway, Senator Lindsey Graham offered this assessment of the memo of Trump`s call with the Ukrainian president`s back in September. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  If are you looking for a circumstance where the president of the United States was threatening the Ukraine with cutting off aid unless they investigate his political opponent, you would be very disappointed.  That does not exist. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, asked about today`s revelation, however, Graham told CBS he wouldn`t read any of the transcripts and dismissed Ambassador Sondland`s reversal, adding: I`ve written the whole process off, I think this is a bunch of B.S. 

Senator Graham later told NBC News that Ambassador Sondland was just some guy presuming something. 

You know, I don`t know about this guy, Lindsey Graham.  I think he`s capable of saying anything -- Dave. 

DAVID JOLLY (R-FL), FOMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  I think Lindsey Graham should resign if he`s not going to do his job.  He`s the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and he said he`s not going to take the time to look at the facts of an allegation against the president of the United States that he worked with a foreign nation to corrupt the domestic elections in 2020.  If Lindsey Graham is unwilling to do his job, he needs to quit the United States Senate and he should hand in his bar license to the state of South Carolina. 

We will never understand why Lindsey Graham has abandoned the conviction of old, but instead chosen to embrace Donald Trump.  And, Chris, this is the challenge that we face, that Democrats, frankly, face.  A lie is much easier to sell to the American people than the truth is.  A lie can be sexy. 

Look what they`ve did around the Mueller report.  No obstruction, no collusion.  When we actually know there was obstruction.  It`s shown there.

And kudos to the Democrats for leaning in on this, you are hearing them use words like betrayal, and bribery.  You are seeing them talk to the press each day because they do have the facts on their side.  But in the face of a Republican Party led by Donald Trump and Lindsey Graham who are lying to the American people, who are saying that truth doesn`t matter, Democrats have to be able to sell the American people on the damming truth that the president conducted or committed impeachable behavior. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Richard Nixon when he was caught in Watergate with the tapes, June 23rd tape, he said later, I gave him the sword and they shoved it in with relish.  He admitted he got caught.

This guy, Trump, will never admit he was caught. 

EDWARDS:  He will never admit he is caught.  And he`s not going to just you know sort of lie there. 

I think that that`s why it`s really important to put this in front of the American people.  I mean, Lindsey Graham has basically said, I`m going to be a juror, but I refuse to look at the evidence. 

MATTHEWS:  That`s a good one. 

EDWARDS:  Mitch McConnell said the same thing.  I know the outcome, but I refuse to look at the evidence.  This is not acceptable.  And the American people will see it for what it is. 

MATTHEWS:  All I can figure out is these people have constituents back home, including South Carolina and Kentucky that hate the liberal Democrats so much, so much they`ll put up with any crap from these guys.  Any crap. 

Donna Edwards, thank you. 

It must be the explanation.  They can`t like these guys. 

David Jolly, thank you for your political position. 

JOLLY:  Thanks, Chris.  You bet. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, the polls are closing several big races across the countries.  President Trump has put himself right in the middle.  He`s going to be the savior.  He`s going to be Chinese Gordon going into Kentucky. 

Steve Kornacki joins us next with the latest returns from the states having governor`s election, and Virginia with their entire legislature tonight.

You are watching HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Hi, Chris Matthews.  It`s Michael Bennet from Colorado coming from New Hampshire to congratulate you on 20 years of HARDBALL.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Chris, congratulations on 20 amazing years.  Looking forward to see what`s the next 20 be like for you.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Hey, Chris.  Happy 20th anniversary of HARDBALL and thanks for always throwing the fast pitches. 

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I cannot think of a better time to have Chris Matthews on the air than right now during this Trump era, because you don`t take any bull.  You keep pushing through.  And mostly, you cover what matters.  I can`t wait to see the next 20 years. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You got to vote, because if you lose, it sends a really bad message.  It just sends a bad -- they will build it up.  Here`s the story if you win, they`re going to make it like ho-hum.  And if you lose, they`re going to say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world.  This was greatest.  You can`t let that happen to me! 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  All politics is Trump. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump just last night rallying his base in Lexington, Kentucky, ahead of that gubernatorial election making the case that all politics is Trump.  The president won Kentucky in 2016 by nearly 30 points.  But polls show a much closer race for governor tonight. 

Mississippi is also holding out a competitive governor`s race tonight.  And in Virginia, control of the state legislature, the entire legislature, is up for grabs. 

Polls are already closed in Kentucky and Virginia as we speak.  Both parties are watching these races for early indicators heading into 2020. 

Joining me now with what we know is MSNBC national political correspondent Steve Kornacki. 

Steve, teach us. 

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, we have got a real race here. 

In Kentucky, you mentioned Trump won the state bishop 20 points.  What you are seeing is half the vote is in.  Matt Bevin, the incumbent Republican, you see a five-point lead here statewide right now. 

We expect this to end up a lot closer than that, let me tell you why.  First of all, that lead just in your introduction there, that lead shrunk significantly.  Why?  This is one of the reasons -- largest county in the state, Jefferson County, this is where the city of Louisville is.  A bunch of votes just came in there. 

You can see, this is Democratic county.  These aren`t too many Democratic counties in Kentucky.  This is the mother of them all.  Andy Beshear.  He is leading it by 17,000 votes right now over Matt Bevin in Jefferson County. 

But look at this number right here.  Only 21 percent of the precincts in the largest county in the state are reporting.  Already, you can see Beshear has a plurality of 17,000.  So he is going to add a lot to that in Jefferson County before the night`s over. 

That is also the story here in Fayette County.  This is where Lexington, the University of Kentucky.  This is also a Democratic county.  And you see again very early, only 5 percent of the vote is counted here and already you see Beshear is up to more than a 1,500 vote over Matt Bevin.  So, he`s going to add a lot there, too. 

And so, with the two large ones -- I just want to see if it changes again, it`s 32,000 right now.  We expect that`s going to shrink.  One of the stories, the reasons why this is so close, beside the suspense there in Louisville and Lexington, it`s the story we have been telling the last couple years.  Why Democrats have been making gains in some places in the Trump era?  The suburb, suburban areas. 

And let me point to one particular part of the state.  Right here, see these three counties.  This is sort of the Cincinnati metro area up here.  These are large, densely populated, almost 10 percent of the voting population, almost 10 percent in the state will come from these three counties. 

These are typically Republican counties, suburban Republican pocketbook issues, that sort of thing.  Let me show you what`s happening there tonight. 

You do see red in this one, Boone County.  Bevin wins with 56.  But the last time Bevin ran for governor four years ago, he got 66 percent here.  So, his support came down 10 points in a sort of core Republican county. 

How about next door, Kenton County right now, 87 percent is in.  The last time Matt Bevin ran, he got 57 percent of the vote here.  He`s down to 47, he`s down 10 points. 

Similar story, we can go next to Campbell County, 75 percent is in.  Bevin got 54 percent here last time, all the way down to 42 percent. 

So, you have pretty significant movement in some pretty big suburbs here away from Bevin toward Beshear.  The story that I`m seeing tonight, rural strength for Bevin being offset by suburban strength up there for Beshear and the Beshear campaign hopes, and let`s see if there`s been update, hopes for monster numbers out of Louisville and Lexington. 

MATTHEWS:  What about Trump`s impact last night?  Any way to determine the last-minute switchers, the last-minute deciders? 

KORNACKI:  Well, I mean, again, there is rural strength that you can find in here.  Just to give you an example, there is some rural strength here.  You`ll see for Matt Bevin just in coal country here, this is traditionally Democratic country. 

This is -- here`s Harlan County.  Bevin here got 69 percent, 100 percent is in.  Bevin got 69 percent.  Four years ago his number here was 62 percent, so he`s got gains. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this, big national question.  I get a sense watching Trump`s numbers nationally that he probably lost some women in the suburbs over the last three years.  But I think -- I get the sense since the numbers are holding, he must have been picking up white guys and very conservative women in the rural areas. 

Is he picking up certain places and not just losing?  I get the sense it`s balancing out. 

KORNACKI:  This is -- well, this is the story we`re seeing here in Kentucky tonight.  And it`s results -- Harlan County, for instance, and I can find some other rural counties here, there is more strength for Bevin now than there was a couple of years ago. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that`s what I think.

KORNACKI:  And it`s getting closer to that Trump level.  But you say balanced out, those suburbs, Republicans depend on those suburbs. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think it`s going to be a close election.  I`m sure you agree.  Next year looks very close for this president. 

Thank you for this.  You are the best, Steve Kornacki.  You are.  I do not say anything but the truth here and that is the greatest truth.  You`re the best.

KORNACKI:  That`s really nice.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Steve Kornacki.

Up next, a look back at 20 years of HARDBALL college tours.  Wait until you see, this is when young people get involved, which we always try to do here, get them involved. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  Chris, 20 years in and you are still throwing the heat on HARDBALL.  You`re the first thing I watch after I finish my broadcast each evening.  Your unique ability to cut through the daily heapings of political word salad has never been more important. 

So, to you and the entire HARDBALL staff, congratulations on a remarkable milestone, 20 years and wishing you many more.  Go get `em, pal. 

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, congratulations on 20 years of HARDBALL on MSNBC.  As a Philly girl, you have always been one of my biggest inspirations.  You`ve turned tough interviews into an art.  You are one of the true pillars of our democracy. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  Twenty years of HARDBALL?  That is just amazing.  Congratulations, Chris Matthews, the entire HARDBALL team, for your success for your 20th anniversary. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  When you first wake up in the morning, when you first wake up and first become Al Gore at the break of dawn, does that Al Gore want to be president and wonders why he`s not? 

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT:  I`m actually Al Gore while I`m asleep also. 

MATTHEWS:  What are you dreaming of, the White House? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That was my college tour with Al Gore at Lehman College back in 2002. 

College tours have been a feature on HARDBALL since the show first aired on MSNBC back in `99.  Let`s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome.  We`re at memorial auditorium here at Stanford University. 

From George Mason University in Virginia. 

Live from Chapman University in southern California. 

Live from the University of Albany. 

Live from the Citadel. 

From Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. 

Live from the University of Denver. 

The University of Notre Dame. 

From Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. 

Senator John McCain, let`s play HARDBALL.

Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

John Kerry. 

Robert de Niro. 

Matt Damon. 

Robin Williams. 

The Georgetown Band. 

Joe Biden of Delaware. 

Live from Westchester University outside Philadelphia, the HARDBALL college tour with our special guest, Senator Barack Obama. 

Let`s play HARDBALL.

I promised you the president of the United States, and he`s here.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Hillary Clinton. 

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  Hi, Mr. Matthews. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome to this exclusive town hall.  Tonight, with a full hour, our guest is the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I think he wished he didn`t go through that door. 

Anyway, be sure to follow HARDBALL on Twitter and enter to win exclusive HARDBALL prizes. 

That`s HARDBALL for now.  I love the glory years. 

"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