George Kent to testify publicly next week. TRANSCRIPT: 11/7/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Elise Jordan, Ned Price, Carol Leonnig, Howell Raines, NadeamElshami

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

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Witness after witness.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Tonight, more damning evidence that the president tried extorting political dirt from a foreign leader by denying him desperately needed military aid.  In testimony released today by the House Intelligence Committee, George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, said it was made clear to him that the president wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to a microphone and say three things, investigations, Biden and Clinton.

Earlier this week, Gordon Sondland testified that military aid approved by Congress would not be released until that message was delivered by Zelensky.

And now, in an explosive report, The New York Times reveals that President Zelensky was so desperate that he was prepared to deliver that message in an interview scheduled with CNN.

Unwilling to lose the military aid he badly needed, Zelensky decided to bow to Trump`s demands yet he was spared when the funds were mysteriously released this September.

Kent was so alarmed by the prospect of the United States requesting a politically motivated investigation that he memorialized the conversations in a State Department memorandum expressing his concerns that it was injurious to the rule of law.

Kent will join Ambassador Bill Taylor next week as the first witnesses when the Intelligence Committee of the House brings its impeachment inquiry out into the open with public hearings.

For more, I`m joined by Elise Jordan, former aide to George W. Bush in the White House there and in the State Department, Shannon Pettypiece, NBC News Digital Senior White House Reporter, and Ari Melber sticking with us, MSNBC Chief Legal Correspondent and host of The Beat on MSNBC.

Elise, I want you to start here.  This guy now has laid it out.  The words were direct, go to the nearest microphone and say what the president wants you to say, that you`re conducting a national investigation by the Ukrainian government of the president`s enemies.

ELISE JORDAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AND STATE DEPARTMENT AIDE:  In a way, that one detail almost nails Trump more than anything simply because Donald Trump is so obsessed with television.  And it doesn`t seem like a national security official or anyone else would have come up with that exact idea as this has to be on T.V., it`s made for T.V., those three words.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Ari, thanks for sticking around.  Ari, I think that is a great image.  It`s like the district attorney in some big town, a big city, a metropolis, I am going to bring charges up and it gives sort of a reality that would endure all the way through next year`s election.  He`d have always that picture to use of a top leader of a country saying, we are now investigating just like, you know, in a classic big town story.

MELBER:  Bingo, and good to stick around and play HARDBALL, Chris.  You give me the pictures, I`ll get you the war.  You give me the pictures, I`ll get you the conspiracy theory.  The conspiracy theory --

MATTHEWS:  I worked for that company.  That was Hurst.  Thank you.  Go ahead.  I`m sorry.

MELBER:  No, yes.  And the conspiracy theory in politics, as you know, Chris, it doesn`t have to be true, it doesn`t have to be half true, it doesn`t even have to be all that believable.  If there is smoke, if there`re pictures, if there`s enough to get it going, as Elise said, this has the fingerprints and feel of the Donald Trump campaign because it`s got to be public, locked and got to be televised.  And that`s why it`s a misreading of all this to say, oh, was it true or not.

Donald Trump famously attacked all of his rivals in the primaries with nicknames, with attacks, went after Ted Cruz over a JFK conspiracy theory.  At no point was there a Wikipedia fact-check, right?  It`s all about getting the smoke, the fire, the heat on the other people.  And this has those fingerprints and that`s why this testimony that`s adding up is damaging, Chris, because what we`re seeing is more and more people who were on the inside, who were in the room, on the call, dealing with the money and they`re confirming not just one bad phone call, not just one bad idea, not just one bad request, do me a favor, they`re confirming step by step by step by step the bribery conspiracy plot.

MATTHEWS:  And in this case, we`re getting the news just today that the president of Ukraine was ready to take that next step in this conspiracy because he was so desperate to get those Javelin missiles to offset the Russian tanks coming, that he was ready to walk up to that microphone.  He was going to do it until he got the word this September, two months ago, that they`re going to get the aide anyway, so he didn`t have to make an ass of himself.  He didn`t have to do it but he was ready to do it.

MELBER:  Right.  And that goes to, look, bribery, quid pro quo is this for that.  It`s bad to ever request any investigation into your rival.  It`s an abuse of power.  Legal scholars can disagree about whether that request alone becomes an impeachable high crime.

But I can tell, you the Constitution doesn`t answer that question on the nose, Chris.  Whereas once you get the quid pro quo, as you just put it, the investigation for the money, hold up the money, The New York Times reported tonight saying, because of the money, they were going to do it, well, now, you have the quid pro quo bribery and lead it to Donald Trump to find only one of the only two offenses that`s explicitly listed as impeachable in the Constitution.  One is treason, the other is bribery.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Ari, you`re a great journalist.  And every night, I watch you and you prove that you were right to go to law school.  Thank you, sir.  This whole country has become illegal.  It`s become a criminal court.

Anyway, let`s bring in former National Security Council Senior Director Ned Price.  Ned, you`re getting to this question now that not only was this president -- the newly inaugurated president of Ukraine feeling the nerves, feeling the pressure, he was ready to walk up to that microphone and do exactly what Trump wanted to do until he got the word serendipitously, oh, great I don`t have to make a fool of myself, we`re getting military aid.

NED PRICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SENIOR DIRECTOR:  Yes, Chris, he was saved by the bell.  There are very few comical elements of the transcript that was released today.  One element that you can`t just help but laugh at is George Kent is recounting how the Ukrainians were somewhat perplexed about what exactly they were supposed to do.  They cited the fact that Trump routinely called CNN fake news.

And so they thought that perhaps they shouldn`t go on CNN, but then they also saw a Trump tweet where President Trump was disparaging Fox News.  And so for a while, they were sort of in this position of well, what do we do.  You guys told us to go out and to make this public, we`re willing to do it, but how exactly do we do that?

I think the broader point here though, Chris, is that every single one of the defenses the Trump administration has put forward from the fact this was only about corruption, from the idea that this was a means to get Europe to do its full share, and finally bringing us to this other defense that, you know what, the aid actually flowed, no harm, no foul.

I think what was reported today really obliterates that argument because it shows that the Ukrainians knew that they were in a vice, they knew they were in a bind, and they knew they had to go out and publicly declare that they would undertake these politically motivated investigations or else this aid wouldn`t flow.  It was only the clock that ran out.  If that had not have happened, I think we would have a very different ending to the story.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I think they should put the picture of this president next to the word, extortion, in the next Webster`s Dictionary.

In his testimony released today, George Kent describes his conversation with Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman about Trump`s call with the Ukrainian president.  According to Kent, Vindman`s read account was different than any read-out call that I had received.  I could hear it in his voice and his hesitancy that he felt uncomfortable.

Kent adds that Vindman would not share the majority of the call but did say that the conversation went into the direction of some of the most extreme narratives that had been discussed publicly.

Shannon, it was worse than we could imagine.  It is the drug deal.  It is the smelly demand that a country under duress, facing an existential challenge, literally, not the way it`s used by the neo cons in this country but really was under one, and Trump was holding them up.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, MSNBC DIGITAL SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  You know, it`s interesting.  That is a recurring theme you hear from people in the White House.  As crazy as it looks on the outside, it is even more crazy on the inside is a motto I have heard through this administration.

So there is some very damaging stuff that came out in this transcript and the other transcripts.  And that will have the ability to be public testimony next week, so the nightly news can get a sound bite on some of these things and print can now be brought to life on television.

But I do think there is a risk for Democrats here, and at least this is what Republicans are hoping, is that they will now also get their public crack at these witnesses, and that, like we saw with the Mueller testimony and with the Kavanaugh testimony, having these public hearings might not go as well for the Democrats as they hope.

MATTHEWS:  How so?

PETTYPIECE:  Well, if Republicans feel like they`re able to chip away at these witnesses, chip away at the credibility --

MATTHEWS:  How do you chip away at Vindman?  How do you chip away at Taylor?  How do you chip away at this new guy, Kent?

PETTYPIECE:  I mean, we`ll see.  I mean, look at how they went after Christine Blasey Ford trying to bring up things about how she had a fear of flying or whether not she did.  Look at the way Lindsey Graham was able to grand stand and have the sort of moment --

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But everybody believed the heart of her testimony.  Everybody on the other side said, well, she can`t name the place and the time but she damn well remembered it happen.

PETTYPIECE:  And Kavanaugh ended up getting confirmed.

So they`re hoping to follow a similar model to that, that once these witnesses get in front --

MATTHEWS:  He`s going to be impeached?

PETTYPIECE:  Well, but will he be removed from office?  And as long as the Republicans support him, behind him, yes.

MATTHEWS:  That is the goal.  The goal is to impeach the guy.

Anyway, let me go back to Elise on this question.  You know, when you were kids, at least when we were kids, you picked up a rock and under the rock you`d see a lot of bugs.  And as you are portraying the White House, you pick them up and you see all these bug life going under there.  All these people scrambling around, they`re trying to piece this president in doing anything he wants.  And in this case --

JORDAN:  No (INAUDIBLE) at all.  It`s really unbelievable to me that so many people witness this initial request and it actually took as long as it did to come to light, that it wasn`t a bigger deal that hundreds of millions of dollars that had been congressionally mandated in the name of our national security interests could be held up for the political whims of the president.  If that isn`t a gross abuse of power, nothing is.

PETTYPIECE:  And it makes wonder what -- wait, if not for this whistleblower, we would not know about it.  So what else is there that has not come to light?

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me get back to Ned on that.  And the question is, people got the drift.  Well, Sondland got it, he didn`t want to say about it, but he did get the drift of what was going on.  He was deputized basically to join the three amigos and become one of them to be working under Giuliani in this sort of hijacked foreign policy.

And I`m impressed at the consistency of the testimony of these 13 people that have spoken to the Intel Committee in the SCIF, in this private room in the Capitol.

And I`m wondering, do you agree with Shannon if there will be problem, headwinds of the Republicans just stirring up this thing and confusing it and distracting it and detracting from the witnesses and smearing people that they can actually put a dent into this testimony?

PRICE:  We have no doubt they`re going to try.  And, in fact, we`ve already seen that.  We`ve already seen that even against decorated patriots, men and women who have served this country and the State Department and the Department of Defense, including in uniform.

But I think, Chris, what they`re going to do, and we`ve seen a resurgence of this in recent days, I think, because the testimony has been so damning, they`re going to go back to what they think is the original sin.  They are going to go back to the whistleblower, an individual who, by now, is entirely irrelevant.  And that is precisely because every single claim that was put forward in that original whistleblower complaint has since last month been actually put on the record by these various individuals who have under the threat of perjury provided testimony that actually attaches a name to each and every one of those things.

And beyond that, beyond what was in the whistleblower complaint, we have learned so much more about the scope and scale and really the audacity of this plan to shakedown one of America`s partner, a partner that, by the way, is on the frontlines of Russian aggression.  So even if this question isn`t about Ukraine and protecting Ukraine`s territorial integrity, it`s about pushing back on Russia, a country that has revisionist aims and ambitions that if it could, would take it far beyond Kiev.

MATTHEWS:  I just wonder whether Devin Nunes is a match for Adam Schiff.  We`ll see.  Shannon may be right.  This could be a real cacophony from hell coming up.  Thank you, Shannon, for that unpleasant news, Shannon Pettypiece seeing all sides of what`s going to happen here.  Elise Jordan, thank you, and thank you, Ned Price.

Coming up, President Trump reportedly wanted a repeated performance from his attorney general, Bill Barr, hold a news conference and tell the world I`m an innocent man, just like he did with the Russian probe and obstruction of justice when he said he didn`t do anything wrong.  So why did Barr finally say, no mas, too much, a bridge too far?

Plus, the return of Trump`s former attorney general, Jeff Sessions wants his old Senate seat back.  And Trump has reportedly vowed to make life difficult for him as he tries.  I`m betting on Jeff.

Much more to get to, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Explosive new reporting from behind the scenes at the White House portrays an embattled president seeking a way out.  According to The Washington Post, the president made an unusual personal request of the Justice Department shortly after the early details of the Trump-Ukraine scandal broke in late September.  Trump wanted Attorney General William Barr to hold a news conference declaring that the commander-in-chief had broken no laws, though Barr ultimately declined to do so.

And that`s according to people familiar with the matter who say, Trump`s request traveled from the president to other White House officials and eventually to the Justice Department.  And now advisers to Trump say the president has mentioned Barr`s demurral to associates in recent weeks saying he wished Barr would have held a news conference.

The president may have been hoping for a repeat performance, in fact that I think he was, of Barr`s decision last spring to publicly clear him, Donald Trump, of obstructing justice even before the Mueller report was released publicly.  And while Barr did not issue the statement Trump requested, we do know the DOJ blocked the whistleblower`s complaint from Congress and decided not to investigate the call themselves.

For more, I`m joined by co-author of that report in The Washington Post, Carol Leonnig, National Investigative Reporter for The Post, and Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor.  Thank you both.

I don`t have a lot of time, but this story, not only did he try to get him to cover for him again, to give an exoneration, have you got an idea why Barr finally had some stones and said, I`m not going to do it, finally said, I`m not doing what you want?

CAROL LEONNIG, NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, what we can tell from the outside, Chris, is that, basically, Barr did not get this directly from the president but it was passed along.  Very similar to the way the president has asked Don McGahn and other --

MATTHEWS:  Or Corey Lewandowski to fire Jeff Sessions.

LEONNIG:  Yes.  Please get Comey to announce -- get him to announce that Iƒ_Tm not under investigation, right?  Dan Coats, please tell everybody that I`m not under investigation, all of the ways at which --

MATTHEWS:  What does that tell you about his M.O., his character?  He can`t tell people to their face what`s going on?

LEONNIG:  I don`t know, because sometimes he does tell them to their face.  But what we can tell in the Barr situation is Barr was uneasy about all of this and you can imagine why.  Remember that Mick Mulvaney stepped to the podium at the White House briefing room and essentially acknowledged a quid pro quo. 

And, after that moment, you got a statement from the Department of Justice and from Bill Barr saying:  We weren`t aware about a quid pro quo. 

How uncomfortable must it be, if you are the attorney general, you have said there`s no crime here, and the chief of staff announces that there was indeed a quid pro quo?

MATTHEWS:  Could this be a good lawyer -- not a great person, but a good lawyer.  Who knows?

In the case of the Mueller report, he was able to skate.  He said, there`s just enough wiggle room in this thing for me to say he`s clean, just enough.  I can claim it, which he did in packaging it to put it out, the way he did that. 

In this case, there`s 1,000 witnesses saying they had the conversation with the -- with the president of Ukraine holding him up. 

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  I think that`s right, Chris. 

So I think that Barr is reading the writing on the wall.  It`s obvious that the president will be impeached for conduct that is...

MATTHEWS:  In this matter.

BUTLER:  In this matter for conduct that is clearly corrupt.

And so he`s making this last-ditch effort to salvage his reputation.

MATTHEWS:  Can he fence this off?  Can he fence off this matter of behavior from the other behavior the president was engaged in?

BUTLER:  I don`t see how.

It`s true that the evidence in this case is even more compelling.  But, of course, Mueller found 10 instances in which Trump probably committed obstruction.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, probably.  Well, he said, if it`s probably, then he didn`t, according to this lawyer.

BUTLER:  Yes, that`s right, because that`s how Barr acts, has been acting, as the president`s lawyer/fixer. 

And so, again, if he`s finally trying to show some integrity and represent the interests of the United States, as opposed to President Trump, high time, but too late.  His legacy is ruined. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Trump`s own account of the conversation with the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, shows that he urge Zelensky five times to speak to Attorney General Barr about the dirt he was seeking from Ukraine.

Barr denied any involvement, according to a statement, but he didn`t -- it didn`t end there.  The DOJ then distanced itself from the White House again last month, when Trump`s acting chief of staff implicated the department in a quid pro quo. 

As Carol mentioned, Carol Leonnig, Mick Mulvaney claimed that, in withholding military to Ukraine, the president was trying to gain their cooperation in an investigation that DOJ was already carrying out. 

Yet a senior officials said: "If the White House withholding aid from Ukraine with regard to any investigation by the Justice Department, that`s news to us."

The president is flying loose out here all by himself, saying, just call this guy Barr.  He will handle that matter.  He`s got an investigation under way.  You can work right into that. 

He never told Barr how he was setting him up to be a collaborator in this scheme. 

LEONNIG:  Well, it`s pretty uncomfortable, if you`re the attorney general.  Shades of Nixon, right?

I told my attorney general he`s going to handle this.  Meet with him and we will get it all wrapped up. 

It`s so different this time around than the Mueller probe, Chris, because, obviously, what`s happening here is, all of this information is actually coming out.  Witnesses are going to give their information.

And what does it say, one after -- one after the next, what are they alleging?  This claim that we were interested in corruption Ukraine is baloney.  This claim that there was no quid pro quo is a hockey. 

MATTHEWS:  Extortion.  Extortion. 

LEONNIG:  The -- George Kent`s testimony is so striking, because he basically said, all that the president wanted was an announcement at the microphone that they`re going to investigate, because announcement is all he needed.

An announcement he wanted.

MATTHEWS:  Before we take him out of this mess, it was his Justice Department that put the kibosh on the whistle-blower in the beginning.  Remember, the guy went over there, the general counsel, the auditor -- not auditor general -- what do those call those guys?

BUTLER:  Inspector general.

MATTHEWS:  Inspector general goes over there to the White House and gets the word from the Justice Department, actually, don`t go any further with this.  Hold this.

BUTLER:  Yes. 

So the Barr Justice Department summarily dismissed the whistle-blower complaint.  Now, Barr can say that the only complaint was that he investigated, a crime, was about campaign financing.  So the extortion and bribery stuff hadn`t happened yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BUTLER:  Really, I think the only difference is that the whistle-blower complaint is public, because Barr has still been defending the president with regard to Ukraine, not just summarily dismissing the whistle-blower complaint before it was public, but Barr`s been gallivanting around the world trying to investigate this bizarre conspiracy theory about somehow Ukraine, Italy and France were involved in the start of the Russian investigation. 

So he`s still doing the president`s bidding.  He`s still, again, representing Trump more than he`s representing the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  I just want to say, Carol, it`s reporting like yours, edited by real professional editors at great newspapers, that is making this story for this country, because they understand it.  They read the paper.  They watch this program and others.

And they get it because of sharp reporting like yours.  And thank you for coming on tonight. 

LEONNIG:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Carol Leonnig.

BUTLER:  Congratulations to Carol. 

Happy anniversary to Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Twenty years.

Paul Butler, thank you for that, sir. 

Up next:  Former U.S. attorney Jeff Sessions is looking to make a political comeback down in Alabama.  And President Trump isn`t happy about it.

By the way, President Trump makes fun of people with Southern accents.  You hear that down there?  He makes fun of you.  Nice guy. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

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BARBARA BOXER (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  When I first met you, you were sharp, you were smart, you were incorrigible. 

And after all these years, you`re still smart, you`re still sharp, and more incorrigible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Chris, congratulations on 20 years.  I have learned a lot about politics and about caring about the right things from watching you.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If I had one do-over, it would be, I would not have appointed Jeff Sessions to be attorney general.

Jeff Sessions didn`t have a clue. 

The attorney general says:  I`m going to recuse myself. 

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP:  And I said, why the hell didn`t he tell me that before I put him in?

The only reason I gave him the job, because I felt loyalty. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The only thing I gave him the job, so he would be loyal to me. 

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Those were just some examples of President Trump`s public attacks on his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was forced out last year by the president.

Sessions now wants his old job back as senator from Alabama.  He is expected to join what is an already crowded field, however, down here of Republicans trying to unseat Democrat Doug Jones in 2020, next year.

"The New York Times" reports that President Trump sent word to Sessions -- quote -- "He would publicly attack him if he ran."

What is the point of this? 

And "The Washington Post" reports that the president has even joked to senators and White House aides that he would move to Alabama and compete against Sessions himself in the primary.  What does that mean?

For more, I`m joined by Robert Costa, "Washington Post" national political reporter, and Howell Raines -- there you are -- former executive editor of "The New York Times." 

Let me ask you, Robert, because you`re the Trump expert.  Robert, why would a president talk about going down and competing in a primary in for a Senate nomination, when he`s already president of the United States, just out of spite?

ROBERT COSTA, "THE WASHINGTON POST":  Just a few days ago, on the way to that Kentucky rally, President Trump was musing with his allies on the flight on Air Force One about Senator Sessions and his reentry into politics later this week, was saying maybe he shouldn`t get involved.

He didn`t want to mess with his own voters in a state like Alabama, but he certainly wasn`t going to endorse Senator Sessions, and he made sure that Senator Sessions, through different emissaries, got that message. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of it, Howell, down there?  You`re a local down there in that state.  You`re over in Pensacola now.  But you`re from there. 

And what is it about -- I thought this guy was unbeatable, that the guy won with 96 percent of the vote or something last time he faced the voters of Alabama.  Wouldn`t he win in a primary and a general? 

HOWELL RAINES, FORMER EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES":  I think Jeff Sessions immediately becomes the front-runner in the Republican senatorial race. 

The vote is early March.  And I think he`s as close to a sure thing as you see in an Alabama contest at this point.  He also represents a very serious threat for Doug Jones, who ran a brilliant campaign in 2017 to defeat both Trump and Roy Moore. 

But this is hardball politics Alabama-style.  And the fact is, defiance is the single trait that Alabama -- white Alabamans treasure most in a candidate. 

Fighting Trump will remind them that Sessions is a little banty rooster reminiscent of George Wallace.  And so -- but it`s important for people who understand politics back in conventional rules to understand that Alabama voters have what Kyle Whitmire, a local columnist, called sustained cognitive dissonance when it comes to political races. 

So they will vote for Trump at 62 percent or better, as they did previously, and they will send Jeff Sessions back to the -- at least give him the nomination for the Senate, without feeling any conflict at all. 

And the -- I think the real danger for Trump -- he`s going to carry this state anyway.  But if he keeps calling Jeff Sessions a jerk and an idiot and a dumb Southerner and mocking his accent, that will hurt Trump, and it won`t hurt the Sessions at all. 

COSTA:  Well, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  You know, Robert, I -- Robert, I think all the time, will Trump straighten out and fly right the last month, three months in the general election next year, and act like a normal president?

Because he could do the -- he could get reelected perhaps by doing that.  And my question is, here, he`s clearly suggesting he`s not going to change.  He`d rather follow his hatreds than his interests, because this could cost his party a Senate seat in what could be a 50/50 race for the Senate control. 

He could lose the Senate over his anger against Jeff Sessions. 

COSTA:  Well, based on my reporting, Senator Sessions is going to face real competition in this primary.  You got Congressman Bradley Byrne.  You have Tommy Tuberville, the former coach of Auburn football.  He`s in the race. 

The White House and Mitch McConnell are averse to Senator Sessions running.  They think there are other candidates in this race who could be the outsider candidate, could be the favorite of Trump voters. 

So there`s not going to be an embrace of Sessions.  The only person you see wrapping their arms politically around Senator Sessions at this moment is a longtime senator and his former colleague Senator Richard Shelby, who has pledged his support. 

But, beyond that, this is a competitive race.  And if the White House doesn`t endorse another candidate, they may attack Senator Sessions and make sure Trump voters maybe turn their eye to another.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I`m betting on -- Howell Raines here. 

And I`m betting on Shelby.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Shelby is one of the great survivors in American history.  Shelby has been through both political parties.

RAINES:  I don`t disagree...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead. 

Howell, go ahead.

RAINES:  Chris, I don`t want to -- I don`t want to disagree with Robert`s knowledge of Costa -- I mean, of Washington, but the facts on the ground and an Alabama are very different. 

Bradley Byrne`s supporters are hoping he will withdraw tomorrow and refile for his old House seat.  I talked to lots of affluent Republicans here on the Gulf Coast, and this is Sessions` home ground, and they all agree that Sessions is going to kill Byrne`s chances, and most of them believe he will be the Republican nominee. 

The -- and let`s touch on Senator Shelby.  Shelby`s endorsement, preemptive endorsement, of Sessions last week was a very important event, for this reason.  Alabama has a split Republican Party along populist lines.

Sessions` base is in the churchgoing, rural Republicans.  Shelby is the guru of the affluent suburban Republicans in Birmingham and Montgomery and Mobile. 

And his signal to them is, to all you Birmingham law firms and the other people who count in the Republican establishment, Sessions is our guy.  We need him for NASA in Huntsville, the medical center in Birmingham, and the shipbuilding industry in Mobile, and that`s who I want in. 

MATTHEWS:  I love the way you talk, Howell.  I love knowing this inside stuff.  Thank you. 

And, Robert, as always, thank you for your analysis of the national politics here.

Robert Costa and Howell Raines, what a duo. 

Up next:  It looks like Republican lawmakers are taking a page from the Trump playbook:  Attack the investigators. 

With evidence continuing to pile up, real evidence, that may be their only option to save at least something of themselves. 

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  In their campaign to transform America, Democrats are becomingly (sic) increasingly totalitarian, suppressing dissent, defaming the innocent, eliminating due process, staging show trials, and trying to overthrow American democracy to impose their socialist agenda. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was President Trump last night at a rally in Louisiana attacking Democrats over the impeachment inquiry. 

Public hearings begin in the House next week, as we`ve told you.  But the Democrats -- or the president`s Republican allies are still tying themselves in knots to come up with a defense of him. 

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REPORTER:  If one witness says there`s no quid pro quo but multiple others says there is, what do you do with that? 

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH):  We`ve got the transcript where there`s no quid pro quo. 

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-SC):  It`s actually getting easier to defend the president from a standpoint there is no linkage between aid.  In fact what we`re hearing today is this a part of a broader analysis of foreign aid in general in terms of what we should do.  It wasn`t just Ukraine where the aid was held up. 

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MATTHEWS:  Well, unable to defend the president on substance, Republicans have moved on from attacking the process or perhaps nobody has embodied the Republican slippery spin quite like Senator Lindsey Graham whose defense of Trump has evolved over the past two weeks. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  Show me something that is a crime.  If you could show me, you know, that Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing. 

I`ve looked at the phone call, I found nothing wrong here.  I`m not going to entertain impeaching the president over this matter.  Period, done.  I`m not going to read these transcripts.  The whole process is a joke. 

What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward Ukraine, it was incoherent.  It depends on who you talk to.  They seemed incapable of forming a quid pro quo. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What kind of a defense is that?  With evidence piling up against President Trump, Republicans are resorting to some kind of -- well, some of Trump`s tried and true tactics like smearing the other guy.  And that`s coming up.  You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In the six weeks since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, Republicans have turned themselves into pretzels trying to defend the president.  But with every day bringing more and more evidence of indefensible behavior, some of Trump`s fiercest defenders are turning to Trump`s favorite tactic, attacking the investigators. 

In an interview last night, Senator Lindsey Graham tried to claim that Ambassador Gordon Sondland changed his testimony to affirm a quid pro quo with Ukraine because he`s in cahoots with Democrats. 

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GRAHAM:  Now, here`s a question.  Why did Sonderland (ph) change his testimony?  Was there a connection between Sonderland and Democratic operatives on the company?  Did he talk to Schiff?  Did he talk to Schiff`s staffers?

I`ve been a lawyer for a very long time, and when somebody changes their testimony, they suddenly recall something they didn`t know before, it makes me incredibly suspicious. 

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MATTHEWS:  Well, appearing with President Trump at a rally last night, Louisiana Senator John Kennedy took his cue directly from the president himself going after Speaker Pelosi. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA):  And you know what our Democratic friends have done for him?  Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to impeach him. 

(BOOS)

I don`t mean any disrespect but it must suck to be that dumb. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  For more of that, we turn -- we`re joined by Rick Tyler, Republican strategist, and Nadeam Elshami, former chief of staff to the aforementioned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

You know, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of your heroes said there`s such a thing as defining deviancy downward.  So, even guys like this respected senator is talking like he`s on a street corner yelling crap at somebody out the window. 

NADEAM ELSHAMI, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI:  It`s unbelievable.  It is a complete change of the Republican Party, and it`s unfortunate. 

But Democrats should not take the bait, right?  They should not be talking back to these senators or to the members of the House.  They should keep the focus on what`s really important, and that`s this impeachment process, this impeachment inquiry. 

I know it`s hard, right?  It`s hard not to fight back, hard not to push back, but don`t take the bait. 

MATTHEWS:  Explain the politics of thrash talking.  Can you ignore the evidence?  Do you just bolster your base?  What do you do?

RICK TYLER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  When you don`t have an argument you attack people.  And that has worked for Trump to some degree.  But, you know --

MATTHEWS:  Like his father of Ted Cruz killed Kennedy.  There`s nothing that`s too atrocious --

TYLER:  It just seems -- at the time, it seems so ridiculous but then you realize a lot of people actually believe that.  I mean, they look in the tabloids and they think oh, my god, this really happened. 

But these guys, they don`t -- they don`t have a case.  A normal communication where you have a comms team that would coordinate with the senators and all the members and they say we think this is the best way, they go out and poll test it, they do all the right.  And then the president is sort of like, you know, comms is like landscaping.  If the grass is cut and hedges are trimmed they don`t pay much attention to it. 

But Trump is going to do his own comms, but people won`t go out and take the risk because he`ll simply change the message.  Or they`ll understand, look, I know you did something wrong, what are you going to say about it?  Here`s what we`re going to say about it and we`re going to stick with that. 

That`s not how Trump operates.  He`s going to change the story and everybody`s going to look foolish.  So everybody`s afraid. 

So, now, you have a dysfunctional comms delivery system, so there`s no message.  So, you were just saying in the last segment, you know, the consistency of the testimony that`s been given is remarkable.  The inconsistency of the argument against impeachment by the Republicans has been abysmal. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Lindsey Graham, for example, the guy -- he`s been around for a long time.  I used to think he wanted to be one of those classic southern senators, serve their whole life and end up having a building named after you.  You know the history of those guys.  Richard Russell and all those guys, and now he just looks like he`s working for Trump, not for history. 

ELSHAMI:  Well, that`s exactly right.  That`s the point I want to make.  The communication strategy is pretty simple for Republicans right now.  It`s an audience of one, right?  You are not talking to the people on the outside.  You are talking to one and one person only and that`s President Trump. 

So if he says what he wants you to say and/or he hears what you`re saying, then check that mark for communication strategy.  You don`t need to poll test that.  You only have one person to poll test and that`s President Trump, and that`s unfortunate, right?  Because these members and these senators are not looking into the future.  They`re looking at today. 

MATTHEWS:  What about legacy?  The reason to be a senator is to have a legacy, to your family.

ELSHAMI:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  I think in the long run, you get some things done and in the long run, you`re respected as somebody who said in the world`s greatest deliberative body.

Anyway, President Trump, Jr. -- well, Donald Trump, Jr., not quite president went on "The View" with his girlfriend, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, to promote his new book.  He echoed Senator Graham in questioning Ambassador Sondland`s refreshed memory. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Did Gordon Sondland lie then when he changed his testimony yesterday? 

DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Well, I don`t know why he changed his testimony.  It`s sort of interesting.  It almost -- you know, he says something on the record -- or he`s afraid of being attacked like so many of us have for so long by a vicious left that`s running a one-sided --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I had to put my money.  She`s not intimidated by this guy. 

TYLER:  I watched that same segment, I`m cheering for Behar and thinking what`s going on. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Your ally of opportunity.

So let me ask you about your old boss, Nancy Pelosi.  She`s still full- fledged campaigning.  I just said to you during the break, she`s up campaigning for the Democratic Party of Maryland.  She`s campaigning for the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania on a weekend.  How can she keep doing it? 

ELSHAMI:  She doesn`t stop.  The work doesn`t stop.  Just because you`re dealing with impeachment, dealing with USMCA, just because you`re dealing with -- you know, closing a -- a potential shutdown of the government, it doesn`t stop.  She has to hit the road and raise money for Democrats because it`s important.  It`s the system we`re in.  And there`s no one better, right? 

MATTHEWS:  I think she`s a legislative wonder. 

WILSON:  I was at her book signing twenty-two weeks ago and I kept saying there`s no way she`s coming, she was there. 

NADEAM:  If she`s going to be there, she`s going to be there.

MATTHEWS:  When I first started with the "San Francisco Examiner", she showed up.  I mean out of nowhere.  I thought she was -- Elshami, Nadeam Elshami, Rick Tyler.

Up next, 20 years of HARDBALL."

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NORAH O`DONNELL, CBS NEWS ANCHOR:  Chris, congratulations on this anniversary.  Playing HARDBALL for 20 years. 

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  You know every nook and cranny about Washington politics and I love hearing all the stories, sitting next to you on a flight to the next debate or primary, while paying respect to a former president lying in state.  History unfolds in front of us here.  Happy 20th. 

Here`s to many more playing HARDBALL.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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MATTHEWS:  I can see the first black president there.  The reason I say that is I think the immigrant experience combined with the African background, combined with the incredible education, combined with his beautiful speech, not every politician gets help with a speech, but that speech was a piece of work. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It sure was. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was in 2004 up in Boston after I listened to then Senator Barack Obama give his rousing keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. 

That was a historic night.  And over the past two decades, I`ve had the honor of not only a front row seat to history but to have a voice in the national political conversation. 

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MATTHEWS:  I never thought I`d still be saying this the night after the election but this race is still too close to call.

It`s only five weeks, a few recounts and a few trips to the U.S. Supreme Court but tonight this country will have a new president-elect. 

One week has passed since terrorist attacks destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon, and hope for finding survivors in the rubble is fading fast.

The big story tonight, countdown to war.

Welcome to this special edition of HARDBALL.

It`s 2:30 in the morning Baghdad time right now and we`re in the fifth day of this war. 

President Trump declares that the era of Saddam Hussein has come to an end. 

NBC News now projects that California Governor Gray Davis from office -- he`s out of office, and they chosen Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace him. 

Americans reelect President Bush and give him a majority vote mandate for the next four years.

A historic day in Congress as Democrats take the gavels of power in both the House and the Senate for the time in 12 years.  California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi elected the first woman speaker of the House ever, making her second in line to the American presidency. 

In two hours, the president sells America on escalation on our partner Iraq in civil war. 

Watching history, standing in the frigid cold of southern Illinois and Lincoln Country, I saw Barack Obama declared for president. 

Tonight, huge political news, John McCain has pulled the most stirring come back since the big screen come from behinds of Rocky Balboa.  With today`s dropping out of Mitt Romney, the senator of Arizona looms as the presidentially nominee of 2008. 

Hillary Clinton, over and out, the news broke out last night.  Hillary Clinton is suspending her campaign and endorsing Senator Barack Obama this Saturday. 

Our 44th president is going to be Barack Obama.  It has actually happened.  We watch this develop like an old Polaroid film for two years now and there it has. 

Tonight, we have an hour to get on top of this horrific tragedy in Connecticut, to get our heads around, to understand why it happened, how things like this happened.

With this tragic shooting up in Sandy Hook Elementary School, which will always be known for this, unfortunately. 

A history of Americans is being written tonight.  The Supreme Court of this country heard arguments, and when the two people of the same sex should be allowed, the public recognition of their marriage.

It`s happened, after four campaigns of promising to enter a presidential campaign, Donald Trump has made the leap at least into the first debate. 

The election is over, of course, and Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.  Proving nearly all the polls wrong, Trump racked up victories in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida. 

Well, today was a day of history.  The country`s top investigator of an American president shifted the verdict on the president`s guilt or innocence to the U.S. Congress.  As I said earlier in the show the question now is to impeach or not to impeach? 

Today, the United States speaker of the House made the decision to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president. 

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MATTHEWS:  And that`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us all these 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