Buttigieg, the new Iowa poll leader. TRANSCRIPT: 11/18/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Eric Swalwell, Nicholas Burns, Betsy Woodruff Swan, Kim Wehle,Michael McFaul, Juanita Tolliver, Matt Gorman, Susan Page

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  That does it for me.  I`ll be back at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow.  But don`t go anywhere.  "HARDBALL" starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Witnesses for impeachment.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

This is the most consequential week in the impeachment hearings of President Trump.  There`s a brigade of witnesses set to testify with firsthand experience or actually evidence that President Trump tried to bribe the Ukraine president into investigating his political rivals by withholding military aid.

Starting tomorrow, nine more witnesses will paint a picture for the American public of the president`s interactions with Ukraine.  Three of those witnesses were on Trump`s July call with the Ukrainian president.  Two others heard Trump follow-up on that phone conversation the day after, speaking from the White House to a Kiev restaurant.

And last week, David Holmes, a staffer to the U.S. embassy in Ukraine told Congressional investigators he overheard a phone call between U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland and President Trump on July 26th, in which the president asked Sondland if Ukraine would investigate the Bidens.

Holmes testified that Ambassador Sondland replied that he`s going to do it, adding that President Zelensky will do anything you ask him to.  Holmes` account raises the stakes even higher for Wednesday morning`s testimony from Ambassador Sondland himself, who provides the direct link between President Trump and the effort to pressure to Ukraine.

Tomorrow, at Tuesday, they will be the firsthand testimony from officials who were listening to that first July 25th call with the Ukrainian president.  Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and National Security Council`s top Ukraine expert, that`s him, and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Pence.  That will be an interesting witness.

President Trump attacked Williams on Sunday calling her a never-Trumper who he mostly never even heard of.

Well, in the transcript of her closed-door testimony released on Saturday, Williams told investigators President Trump`s insistence on pushing political investigations during that 25th of July phone call seemed unusual and inappropriate.  That is from a Pence person.

For more, I`m joined by Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, it`s great to have you on again on this eve of this week, after all this sort of dodging and weaving by the Republican members of your committee arguing you don`t have firsthand evidence, this week is all firsthand evidence.  I`ve counted at least five people testifying this week who were on the phone listening to the president talk about this swap of dirt for U.S. military aid.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA):  Chris, so far, the evidence is uncontradicted that the president used taxpayer dollars to ask the Ukrainians to help him cheat an election.  And the complaint that I`ve heard from the Republicans all last week was that you don`t have anyone who heard the call and you don`t have anyone who talked directly to the president.

Well, this week, tomorrow, starting with tomorrow, we have three witnesses who actually heard the call.  One witness thought it was inappropriate, another moved that call into a top-secret server because he thought it was a political liability, and the third describes that this is just not how a leader should conduct himself.

And then as it relates to hearing President Trump`s wishes, Ambassador Sondland will testify on Wednesday about what he said in his deposition, which is the president put everything on the line, that aid and the White House meeting was on the line unless the Ukrainians investigated his political opponent.

MATTHEWS:  Talk to me about three of the witnesses.  First of all, there`s Jennifer Williams who testified over the weekend.  She works for the vice president, who`s very loyal to this president.  How do you think she will respond to questioning on television basically with her boss, the vice president of the United States, and the president of the United States who`s already begun to attack her now watching?

SWALWELL:  It says a lot that she even showed up for her deposition despite the president asking people not to show up.  She`s very credible.  She`s one of these persons, Chris, who you would be next to in the grocery store or sit next to on the subway and not appreciate how big of a role she plays to help her country.  She did not sign up to come to Congress and testify in this way, but she`s going to honor her subpoena.  And she said in her testimony that what the president was asking of the president of Ukraine was inappropriate.

And she`s not going to be shaken by this president`s intimidation.  No one so far from the State Department has been.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about Alexander Vindman.  When he showed up in his dress blues, even walking in to testify in the SCIF, this country was impressed.  What will they think of this guy showing up in his dress blues as a serving officer in the U.S. military basically in the National Security Council testifying against this president?  What`s that going to be like?  That`s also tomorrow.

SWALWELL:  Well, Lt. Col. Vindman is the story of America.  He`s an immigrant from Ukraine, left a corrupt Soviet Union, came to the United States, chased the promise of America, went to war on behalf of this country, was wounded at war and works in the White House today.  He has unimpeachable credibility.  And just like others who heard this phone call, he was bothered by what the president wanted to do and he spoke up at the time and said something.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about Gordon Sondland, because I think he`s going to be a problem for you guys.  I wouldn`t call him a hostile witness but he`s a confused witness.  I`m worried that he`s going to be lawyered up.  He`s going to be one of those guys in the old Cold War days, he`s constantly talking to his lawyer, they`re both putting their hands over the microphone.  I just can`t imagine what this is going to be like.

Are you confident he can tell a straight story having flipped from one side to the other about the president`s role here?

SWALWELL:  He has an opportunity to do that on Wednesday, Chris.  And I`ll tell you, when I was a prosecutor and I sat down with homicide witnesses who were very reluctant to come in and told a different version before they were going to go tell the jury what really happened, I`d tell them, look, it`s never too late to do the right thing.  And what you say on that witness stand will follow you for the rest of your life.  If you`re truthful, that will be liberating for you and the people that know you.  If you`re not truthful, you`re going to have to answer for that.

I see it as encouraging that Ambassador Sondland updated his testimony because it does align with what others say.  And so I`m going to give him the space to come forward and do the right thing on Wednesday.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about witness tampering.  The president displayed it vividly on Friday.  I`ve never seen it -- well, you`ve never seen it.  Like nobody has ever seen a president complete a potentially act basically on television, real-time, while he was being investigated on live television for impeachment.  It`s quite a situation, and it was sort of a Jack Nicholson role we`re not used to in the White House.

What do you think he`s doing to these witnesses this week coming up?  What role do you think the president is playing actively in tampering with these witnesses?

SWALWELL:  This is a crime spree in progress.  We have what the president did, what the Ukrainians and his shakedown scheme of asking them to investigate his opponent.  But he`s obstructing Congress` investigation, he`s intimidating witnesses as they`re testifying or, in the case of miss Williams this weekend, right before they testify.

And, Chris, if you`re someone sitting at home wondering what does it mean, why should I care if he`s intimidating them?  It`s this simple.  Innocent people do not intimidate witnesses.  Guilty people who are worried about what witnesses could say to harm them do.

MATTHEWS:  You`re doing great work, Congressman.  U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, member of the House Intel Committee, what a week you`re going to have and we`ll be covering it right through.

SWALWELL:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  The impeachment inquiry is reportedly causing a riff now between President Trump and, do you believe it, Mike Pompeo, his own secretary of state.  NBC News has learned that according to four current and former officials, Trump has fumed for weeks that Pompeo is responsible for hiring State Department officials whose congressional testimony threatens to bring down his presidency.  Well, I`d be mad too actually.

Adding Trump particularly blames Pompeo for tapping Ambassador Bill Taylor in June to be the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine.  He was supposed to be better than Yovanovitch for Trump.  Well, he wasn`t.

Today, Pompeo was asked why he hasn`t defended State Department officials who have testified, especially former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE:  The State Department is fully supportive not only of what we`ve done but our Ukraine policy moving forward.

REPORTER:  But no defense of your employees?

POMPEO:  I always defend the State Department employees.  It`s the greatest diplomatic corps in the history of the world.  I`m very proud of the team.

REPORTER:  Well, you said you talked about Ukraine policy.  So I`m curious if you think Ambassador Taylor has been an effective envoy of that policy and if he`s going to remain in his job or if the president has lost confidence in him.

POMPEO:  Yes, the State Department is doing a fantastic job.  I think we`ve delivered in a way that the Obama administration has not delivered on Ukraine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was a flip in performance.

Anyway, I`m joined right now by Nicholas Burns, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and adviser to the Biden campaign, Betsy Woodruff Swan, Politics Reporter for The Daily Beast, and Kim Wehle, former U.S. assistant attorney and author of How to Read the Constitution and Why.  This is good for a good premier.

Let me ask you all, Congressman -- Ambassador, let`s just run to the questions I raised about the witnesses you`re seeing.  I mean, this young - - this Jennifer Williams coming out of nowhere from the vice president`s office, from Mike Pence, the most embarrassingly loyal vice president I`ve seen in a long time and how she`s testifying here now, and Officer Vindman, who was so impressive just walking into the SCIF.  And imagine what he`s like with a live audience.  And now -- and Gordon Sondland.  Tell us about the week as you see it.

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS:  Well, Chris, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.  Jennifer Williams is a State Department officer, she`s another foreign service officer, just like Masha Yovanovitch, George Kent and Bill Taylor.

MATTHEWS:  But she`s (INAUDIBLE) to the vice president`s office.

BURNS:  She`s detailed at the vice president and works for the vice president.  So this weekend, the vice president`s office and the White House tried to say, well, she`s really a state person.  She works for the vice president of the United States.  She reports directly to him.  And I think -- I admire her courage.

MATTHEWS:  So the Veep can`t fire her?

BURNS:  Well, the vice president could relieve anybody on his staff and send them back to their departments, but I can`t believe he would do that.  She is showing a lot of courage and a lot of metal by responding to this subpoena and she`s doing the right thing, just as the three people did last week.  And she and Col. Vindman are in the White House.

They saw this whole six-month what I would think of an extortion conspiracy thing by Rudy Giuliani, they saw it all created.

MATTHEWS:  But she was also -- excuse me, she was listening on the phone July 25th.

BURNS:  She was on the phone call.

MATTHEWS:  The infamous notorious phone call where the president said I want a favor from you though.  She heard all and she had a reaction to that, which was this is inappropriate and unusual.  Unusual and inappropriate, she said.

BURNS:  And Col. Vindman had the same reaction, so two people tomorrow who work in the White House, who both had a very highly negative reaction to what the president said because we`ve never heard an American president do anything like this.

MATTHEWS:  Betsy, let`s talk about -- how do you predict Sondland is going to behave?  Because he`s been flipping around like a top -- I mean, spinning like a top.  Is he going to come out for the prosecution here or for the defense?

BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN, POLITCS REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST:  Sondland is likely to have a very stressful day on Capitol Hill.  Remember, he`s not someone who has a history of working in government or being --

MATTHEWS:  He`s a hotelier, right?

SWAN:  He`s a hotel guy, he supported Trump`s inaugural.  This is a very new world to him.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he paid a million bucks for this?

SWAN:  I couldn`t -- I could not allege a quid pro quo.  But we know that throughout the way a lot of these diplomatic jobs get filled across administrations, there`s often preference given to donors who don`t have great experience.

MATTHEWS:  Give a million?

SWAN:  A million is a lot of money.  And it certainly seems to indicate that his friendliness or the White House`s view of him as a political ally probably informed him getting that appointment.

Another thing that`s important though is that the ambassadorship to Ukraine under the Trump administration has only been filled by career officials.  But I can tell you Trump himself has long wanted to install someone more like Sondland, somebody who is a political ally in that spot.  And people in Trump`s orbit, including Rudy Giuliani, have pushed and looked to find someone who would fit description who they could put there.

MATTHEWS:  Kim, I`m wondering how people behave under pressure, because he bought his way into this ambassadorship.  Fair enough, it`s been done before.  But now he finds himself in a stew he never thought he`d find himself in.  Pulled in one direction by Trump, who is basically his patron, and in the other way by the truth and the law, and he`s doing this in front of the entire country.

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY:  Well, and as Congressman Swalwell mentioned, the fact that he shifted his testimony the way he did is significant.  I can imagine the tension in that conversation with his attorney where the attorney saw, had a sense of what the other witnesses were saying.  We saw, of course, last week Roger Stone is going to jail for perjury, for obstruction of justice.  So this is not an insignificant thing to make statements that later could be proven to be false.  So he made that shift.  My guess is, his lawyers are telling him stick with the new plan and actually tell the truth.

MATTHEWS:  A friend of mine once told me that if you`re not running for office again, take the Fifth.  Now, that may be very cynical but that is a small town narrow view of what a lawyer would tell you.  In a big public world where your reputation is everything, is that the smart move for him on Wednesday, just cover it up?  What is the smart move?

WEHLE:  The smart move on Wednesday and the pattern I think that we`re seeing is to actually go in and tell it like it is.  His name is peppered throughout the testimony already.  We know from Ambassador Taylor that he spoke with the president on one occasion around September 1st.  We also know now September 26th, he -- or, excuse me, July 26th, he had another conversation with the president.  It`s going to be very difficult for him to say, I`m not part of this.

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of the testimony the last couple of weeks, a new ABC poll conducted over this weekend after the first week of testimony by State Department people found that 70 percent of Americans now say President Trump`s actions toward Ukraine were wrong.  51 percent want him impeached and removed from office.  So I think the witnessing worked.  I think your colleagues at the State Department were compelling enough to move this thing a little further over toward action.

BURNS:  You know, I think all of us in the foreign service were so proud of them because they did tell the truth, and they have deep substantive knowledge.

And I think they did two things, Chris.  They helped us to put this picture together, at least in its largest dimension, from the political standpoint.  You know, what did the president know and what was he trying to do and does it reach the level of impeachment.

But they also told us about the cost to our foreign policy, particularly George Kent and Masha Yovanovitch.  When they said, look, for 30 years since Ukraine became independent, we`ve been trying to convince them not to be thugs, not to be authoritarian, not to go after their political enemies.  What does Rudy Giuliani and the president do?  They said, go after our political enemies, in this case, Trump`s enemy, Joe Biden.

And I think we`ve lost our credibility when that happens, when we look like we`re an authoritarian country.  And that`s what this president looks like to people around the world.  He`s not supporting a democratic way of looking at things.

MATTHEWS:  Well, everyone who wants to jump in here, but that`s what I think.

WHELE:  I think it`s really important.  There`re almost two narratives here.  One is a quid pro quo, which we`re going to hear about this week, and the other is this sort of side foreign policy that was at odds with official foreign policy towards Ukraine, which is to build democracy.  Then we have Rudy Giuliani on the side, a private citizen, outside the scope of the Constitution, not accountable to Congress, not accountable to the rule of law in the same way as federal officials, basically taking steps that are at odds with what`s best for America.

MATTHEWS:  And it`s called -- in philosophy, it was the difference between commutative justice, which is transactional, back and forth, don`t shoot the guy the guy at the restaurant or in the news (ph).  Distributive justice, it`s about society and what kind of role we want to live in.

This president seems to be underwriting the old world, the power, the two or three strong countries in the world, whether Germany or Russia or whatever it is, or China now, and they kicked the hell out of everybody else and little people are trapped (ph) under them.  That seems what he wants to do.  Every person that comes in, every State Department person -- you know what his biggest knock on them is?  I never heard of them.  Like everybody is on Apprentice.

BURNS:  And yet they`re people of deep, deep quality.

MATTHEWS:  If they`re not in Google, they don`t matter to him.

SWAN:  This dynamic is something that`s very clear to people in the Zelensky administration.  We`ve seen from some of these transcripts and from conversations with sources that people who spoke with American diplomats in Kiev raised the way that Trump and Giuliani were pressuring them and pointed to it when American official diplomats there tried to encourage the Zelensky administration not to engage in political prosecutions.

So this shift that you`re pointing to, which is sort of broad and part of the administration, also has immediate identifiable impacts on the way the United States` relationships with these countries work.

MATTHEWS:  I think he`s doing more to turn us into Somalia than Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch ever did.

Anyway, thank you.  As if either one of us can turn this into Somalia.

Anyway, Ambassador Nicholas Burns, thank you, Betsy Woodruff Swan, thank you, and, Kim Wehle, thank you.

From President Trump`s mouth to Gordon Sondland`s ears, that`s how direct it was, the ambassador at the center of the Ukraine shakedown, will be the first firsthand witness to give public testimony about the irregular channel with Ukraine because he was on the phone with Trump.  Trump says he hardly knows Sondland.  How convenient.  But a witness says they have spoken half a dozen times recently.

Plus the president`s short coat tails.  His endorsed candidates are lost everywhere he goes.  He`s Typhoid Mary.

One big, by the way, takeaway, Trump is losing big in the suburbs, even down south.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Actually, nearly every witness in the unfolding impeachment inquiry has singled out Ambassador Gordon Sondland as a key link, the link, key link, between the president and the scheme to trade arms for dirt in Ukraine. 

In fact, some of those witnesses` accounts have already prompted Sondland to change his own testimony.  As we said, earlier this month, Sondland admitted that he told a Ukrainian official that -- I think it was Yermak -- that military aid would not resume unless they, Ukraine, committed to investigations that Trump wanted. 

And now we`re learning from a former national security official that, throughout his work in Ukraine, Sondland maintained that he was acting on the president`s behalf.  According to the transcript of Tim Morrison`s deposition released this weekend, Sondland bragged that he could call the president whenever he wanted, adding that Trump and Sondland spoke approximately five times during the period that military aid to Ukraine was frozen. 

Morrison testified that Sondland told him that his mandate from the president was to go make deals and that the president was giving him instruction. 

Additional e-mails obtained by "The Wall Street Journal" show that Sondland updated administration officials about the effort to secure the investigations on 2016, Ukraine and, of course, Biden and his son. 

Before Trump`s July call with President Zelensky, Sondland wrote Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and others, saying Zelensky "will ensure Trump that he intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will turn over every stone."

I`m joined right now by Josh Lederman, national political reporter for NBC News, and Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Let me go to Josh on this just to get this reporting done. 

He`s the guy. 

JOSH LEDERMAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  Yes.  I mean, increasingly...

MATTHEWS:  He`s the guy that Trump was using to work this deal, a fellow hotelier, not a government guy, not a man schooled in the culture of either the State Department or government or public life or anything. 

He had another guy like him, and he said, I want you to take this project over.  I want you to squeeze this guy, get some dirt I can use in the next election. 

LEDERMAN:  The more witnesses that come forward, Chris, the more we learn about how central of a role Gordon Sondland played in this, not only the fact that he had multiple conversations with President Donald Trump about investigations, about getting the Ukrainians to make that statement committing to do the investigations into Burisma in 2016, but also the fact that he spoke to the Ukrainian leadership and conveyed to them, no investigations, no aid.

MATTHEWS:  Yermak.

LEDERMAN:  To Yermak, right.  That`s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Yermak.

LEDERMAN:  A conversation he initially did not tell Congress about, and then had to clean it up.

MATTHEWS:  Small detail. 

LEDERMAN:  Small details. 

MATTHEWS:  I`m just teasing. 

Well, let me go to the ambassador on this, Ambassador McFaul, because it seems to me, if you`re a regular ambassador, you worked your way up, you took the exam in your 20s, you worked your way up to an ambassadorship, and you have never had a conversation with the president. 

And this guy gets on the phone with you, and he says, not only can I get on the phone.  I will call him right now.  And I`m over in a Kiev restaurant.  Whenever I want the president, I can get him.  I`m his guy. 

What`s that do to you?  And I would think that would push you out of the way.  Your thoughts? 

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA:  Well, of course, they didn`t like the professionals, so they had to reach out to this guy. 

And let`s be clear.  I should -- I don`t mean to call him this guy.  Ambassador Sondland.  And it seems like he was pretty proud of his role.  I mean, think about it.  He is sitting there.  He could have gone over to the embassy and made a secure call.  That`s what normal ambassadors would do. 

I think he was kind of showing off, say, look, I just got the president on the phone. 

And I just want to underscore how rare that is.  I worked for the president three years at the White House, two years in Moscow.  I knew him well, President Obama.

And even I, a political appointee, never once called President Obama on a cell phone or any other way.  Usually, it`s done within the context of policy-making.  So this was an extremely unusual channel that President Trump was using to do his -- quote, unquote -- "drug deal," as Ambassador Bolton called it, in dealing with Ambassador Sondland directly. 

MATTHEWS:  That what it seemed like, a back alley deal.

Anyway, we have learned right now more about the relationship between the president and Ambassador Sondland from the embassy aid in Ukraine who overheard one of their phone conversations. 

On Friday, a guy named -- a guy -- another guy -- David Holmes told Congress that Sondland -- quote -- "made clear that he had direct and frequent access to President Trump and to Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney."

More damning, Sondland untold Holmes in July that the president only cares about big stuff that benefits himself, like the Biden investigation that Giuliani was pushing. 

Well, that would appear to contradict Sondland`s earlier testimony that he didn`t know he was really pushing investigation of the Bidens, because, as he told Congress, "I never made the connection between Burisma and the Bidens until the very end."

You know, Josh, this ignorance is no defense maybe here.  What do you think?

LEDERMAN:  And exactly when he put together that Burisma equaled Biden is going to be a critical date that Democrats are going to push for, because he`s maintained that it was only recently and that, even as he was pushing for these investigations, he never would have done that if he knew that we were talking about investigating the president`s political opponents. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that plausible deniability or real deniability? 

LEDERMAN:  Well, it was only plausible before all of these other witnesses came forward and said, actually, in July, in August, we heard Ambassador Sondland connect these two things. 

So, now he either has to try to talk his way out of that somehow, to say, these people were lying, or, otherwise, explain how these things can square with each other. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Ambassador, let me ask you about the way we`re going to get this on Wednesday, because he`s going to testify before the whole country.  We will be covering it live on MSNBC.  Everybody else will too.

This guy is going to have to face a reckoning in his life now, isn`t he?  I mean, this is -- maybe this is a psychological question, but at some point do you tell truth to power, or do you tell power`s truth to everybody else?  Whose said you on here? 

He`s still I believe, ambassador, isn`t he? 

MCFAUL:  He is, most certainly.  He`s still serving as the ambassador. 

But I think you just said it exactly right, Chris.  He`s got to decide.  Everybody knows the facts.  Come on.  We all know what happened.  This notion that I didn`t realize it was Hunter Biden`s son, there`s -- that is not credible. 

And so I think he needs to decide, is he just going to tell the truth and live with those consequences, or is he going to continue to pretend?

And, by the way, there`s one other guy that is in exactly the same dilemma.  He`s not getting enough attention, in my view.  It`s Ambassador Kurt Volker.  He`s one of the three amigos here, right? 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCFAUL:  He`s dealing with Sondland in this these negotiations.  And he knows Ukraine.  I know Kurt personally well.  He knows the facts.  He knows what`s going on. 

He also has to decide, am I just going to tell it like it is and apologize to the American people that I went along with this drug deal, or am I going to continue to try to cover it up and say, well, we didn`t really understand what was going on?

Because there`s no way that Ambassador Volker doesn`t know what was really happening. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I like the fact that whatever they say about Schiff and the SCIF, it was one way to get each one of these witnesses to speak without anybody else around. 

LEDERMAN:  Yes, it was.

MATTHEWS:  There was no collaboration here. 

So they all get the chance -- like in a police television show, "Law & Order" or something, they get him in the interrogation room, basically.  And they don`t know what the other guys said about him, but they get -- they damn well know what they have to do to defend themselves. 

LEDERMAN:  Right.

And House Democrats were very strategic in not releasing the transcripts from those private depositions until they`d already had a lot of these folks testify, so that they could then compare these things and not have people inform themselves based on what other people had testified.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

LEDERMAN:  But I talked to a Trump administration official who`s working on impeachment who said, Volker aside, these other folks, Gordon Sondland is the one they are most concerned about, because of the possibility that he will perjure himself or show himself to have perjured himself in his previous depositions.

And they think that that will reflect more on President Trump than some of these other people.

MATTHEWS:  OK, you`re the president of the United States.  You`re Donald Trump, which is the same thing now.  OK?

LEDERMAN:  Right.

But he`s a political appointee.

MATTHEWS:  What is he going to say?  Is he rooting for this guy to tell the truth or to lie? 

LEDERMAN:  I think he has to be rooting for Gordon Sondland to say as little as humanly possible. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I hope Schiff -- I think Danny Goldman knows what he`s doing.  I`m betting on Danny.  This guy is my hero right now.  I think Danny is going to get the answers out of him. 

Thank you so much, Josh Lederman and Ambassador Mike McFaul.  Thank you so much, gentlemen. 

Still ahead: a tortured defense.  Trump`s allies were twisting themselves into knots this weekend, trying to defend the president on impeachment. 

I don`t if you saw "Meet the Press," but there`s a great example of it from the senator from Wisconsin.  We have got the highlights and lowlights for you next on HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEET THE PRESS WITH CHUCK TODD")

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI):  Those individuals that leaked this, you know, if their interest was a stronger relationship with Ukraine, they didn`t accomplish this. 

Having this all come out into public has weakened that relationship, has exposed things that didn`t need to be exposed.  This would have been far better off if we have just taken care of this behind the scenes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s one argument. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

As more witnesses testify and evidence against the president continues to build, Republicans` defense of the president has become increasingly tortured. 

Here was Republican Congressman Jim Jordan this weekend unable to answer if he thought the request for Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden was appropriate or not. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FACE THE NATION")

MARGARET BRENNAN, HOST, "FACE THE NATION":  Are you comfortable with the investigation that was requested?

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH):  The investigation that -- that -- that was requested?  Look, the president...

BRENNAN:  That the president spoke to Gordon Sondland...

JORDAN:  ... I thought that...

BRENNAN:  ... about this request to have...

JORDAN:  ... I thought the...

BRENNAN:  ... the Bidens investigated. 

JORDAN:  I thought we were supposed to be looking...

BRENNAN:  Are you comfortable with that? 

JORDAN:  ... into potential impact on the 2016 election in -- in -- in foreign countries involvement in 2016 election.  So, I`m comfortable with that. 

I think everyone is.

BRENNAN:  Well, this is the 2020 election.  Does that make you uncomfortable? 

JORDAN:  Well, I don`t think that`s what took place here, because there was never an investigation undertaken.  There was never an announcement from President Zelensky...

BRENNAN:  But the request for one that was overheard and testified to?

JORDAN:  But it didn`t happen.  There`s -- there`s all kinds of talk about things, but they -- it didn`t happen.  And, well, remember when this all broke, what did the Democrats tell us?

BRENNAN:  And the attempt itself doesn`t bother you? 

JORDAN:  What did the Democrats tell us?  There was a quid pro quo. 

The scary thing is the Democrats have been out to get this president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was a good interview.  It wasn`t successful.  It was a good interview. 

I`m joined right now by Juanita Tolliver, the campaign director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and Matt Gorman, former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. 

Juanita, it seemed to me that the interviewer there was trying to find out from a man who has asked to get on the Intelligence Committee -- he put himself on it, basically, in the last week -- he wanted in the action -- and he was asked a central question. 

Was it OK for our president to push the president of another country, Ukraine, for dirt on a political opponent. 

JUANITA TOLLIVER, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND:  Seems like a yes-or-no question to me. 

MATTHEWS:  And he didn`t have an answer. 

TOLLIVER:  He couldn`t answer it.  He couldn`t answer it. 

And it`s something that many members of the GOP can`t answer, because there`s no way to refute the substance, there`s for way to refute the information that witnesses, one after the other, are coming forward and presenting, that Trump asked a foreign government to not only interfere in our elections, but dig up dirt on a political rival for his personal political gain. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Matt, 70 percent of the American people this weekend in a poll said they thought it was wrong. 

Now, they don`t -- they can disagree about the remedy; 51 percent want him out of office, but that`s a close call.  But the 70 is not a close call.  Most Americans, more than the required two-thirds to remove somebody from office, think it was wrong for this president to basically shake down Zelensky. 

Where are you?

MATT GORMAN, FORMER NRCC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  Look, I think in...

MATTHEWS:  Where are you on this question?   

GORMAN:  Look, I think...

MATTHEWS:  On this question?

GORMAN:  The process -- you`re seeing see them fight over the process, because it`s a lot harder to...

MATTHEWS:  No, on this question, are you OK about that shakedown?

The question put to Mr. Jordan, I put to you. 

GORMAN:  Well, again, if it happened the way it happened, that`s an issue.  That`s not appropriate, OK?

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

GORMAN:  But, look, I think what you`re saying is...

MATTHEWS:  Wait.  If it -- are you questioning all these witnesses? 

GORMAN:  Look, again, we`re going to have a trial in the Senate.  We`re going to see.  I`m not going to prejudge this thing at all. 

We`re in the middle of the process right now.  We had the first week of hearings.  We`re into the second week.  Who knows what will happen beyond that. 

MATTHEWS:  Which of these witnesses do you disagree with this last week and coming forward, because they have -- their testimony has come out from the opening statements.

GORMAN:  It`s not a matter of disagreement at all. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Vindman?

GORMAN:  It`s not a matter of disagreement.  It`s about hearing all the witnesses, including the ones Republicans have called.  You hear Sondland.

MATTHEWS:  What would you like to hear from another witness that would counter what you have heard already? 

GORMAN:  Again, I think it`s going to depend. 

MATTHEWS:  What would you like to hear that would exonerate the president? 

GORMAN:  It`s not about exoneration.  They have to prove whether or not, like beyond a shadow of a doubt. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, meanwhile -- a shadow of a doubt?  That`s a hell of a statement.  Anyway, it used to be a reasonable doubt. 

Anyway, on yesterday`s FOX News, host Chris Wallace didn`t let Republican Steve Scalise get away with dismissing the witnesses who have testified so far in the impeachment inquiry. 

Here goes Chris against Scalise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY":  A dozen people listened in on the phone call, and a number of them were immediately upset because what the president said about Burisma. 

(CROSSTALK)

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA):  Well, those were Schiff`s witnesses.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE:  Wait a minute.  no, sir.  They`re career Foreign Service officers. 

And these are people who worked in the Trump administration. 

SCALISE:  But they`re Schiff`s witnesses.

The inspector general said that the whistle-blower had political motivations. 

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE:  We`re not talking about the whistle-blower.

SCALISE:  Why don`t we look at the three witnesses who actually did testify this week? 

All three of them were asked, did you see any impeachable offenses?  Did you see any bribery, any of that?  Not one of those things were mentioned.  Not one person said he saw a crime committed.

That`s what this is about, isn`t it, removing a president.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE:  With all due respect, that very badly mischaracterizes what they said. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, in response, President Trump tweeted that: "Steve`s Scalise blew the nasty and obnoxious Chris Wallace, who will never be his father, Mike, away on Chris` lowest rated, unless I`m on, morning show.  This kind of dumb and unfair interview would never have happened in the FOX News past.  Great job, Steve."

That was the president as umpire there.  What did you think? 

TOLLIVER:  Nothing dumb and unfair here. 

Honestly, I think Trump is shook that his beloved FOX News has hosts on it who are the willing to call out his biggest...

MATTHEWS:  Well, Chris works for FOX broadcast network. 

TOLLIVER:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  I agree. 

But there is a -- he is one of the best out there on Sunday morning. 

And what do you think of the president jumping there and attacking him, saying he wasn`t his father`s son and all this personal stuff? 

GORMAN:  Look, Chris is a really good journalist.  I think he`s really good. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this president a good president? 

GORMAN:  Well, it depends. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is he a good president?

GORMAN:  I think he`s done really good things in the economy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is he a good president?

GORMAN:  I think, again, he`s done good things in the economy and judges.  I really do. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we score presidents historically good or bad.  Is he good or bad? 

GORMAN:  Jury`s still out yet.  He has even finished his first term.

TOLLIVER:  I think kids in cages, I think really...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is he a true Republican?

You`re a Republican. 

GORMAN:  I am a Republican. 

MATTHEWS:  Where do you guys agree, by the way?

I have always wondered what you -- how flexible this party has come.  You guys were for fiscal responsibility.  The deficit is through the roof.  You were free trade.  I don`t know what we are right now. 

GORMAN:  Well, Democrats didn`t give a darn about fiscal responsibility.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We used to be defending the West against the East.  We used to defend the West against Russia.  What do we do now? 

GORMAN:  Look, well, a couple things. 

I certainly agree with him on judges, certainly agree with him on taxes, certainly agree with him...

MATTHEWS:  How about Russia?

GORMAN:  On Russia, look, I think Vladimir Putin is an enemy of the country. 

Mitt Romney called it before anybody.  I worked for Mitt Romney.  Called him a geopolitical foe.  Democrats mocked him for that. 

So I certainly believe that Vladimir Putin is an enemy of this country. 

MATTHEWS:  Hey, Trump vs. Biden, who do you vote for?

GORMAN:  I haven`t decided who to vote for.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That is an open mind.  Thank you. 

You will pay for that over the dinner tonight. 

Anyway, Juanita Tolliver, thank you.

TOLLIVER:  Thank .

MATTHEWS:  Matt Gorman, a man who`s not sure he`s voting for Trump after all this. 

Up next: another embarrassing loss for Trump.  He`s voting like -- Louisiana.  Louisiana.  Wait until you hear this.  Trump begged voters to support the Republican candidate for governor down in Louisiana, as he did in Kentucky, with the same results.

Is this a sign of things to come in 2020?  You hope not if you`re Trump.

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Earlier today, President Trump called Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, the Democrat who won, to congratulate him on his re-election this weekend.  Edwards got 51 percent of the vote, beating the president`s endorsed candidate, Eddie Rispone.  I know I had it Rispone.  This is the latest in a string of electoral losses for the Republicans, including Kentucky and Virginia already this last week. 

President Trump has played an active role in all those races.  He attended three rallies in Louisiana alone.  Here he goes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The headlines the next day, Trump took a loss.  I lift them up a lot.  So Trump took a loss.  So you`ve got to give me a big win, please, OK?  OK? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, that`s Jimmy Cagney or somebody. 

According to "Politico", the Louisiana race left Trump with a black eye and intensified concerns from some in the president`s orbit that he spent too much political capital on off-year non-federal races.  In other words, gubernatorial races.

For more, I`m joined by Shannon Pettypiece, NBC senior digital White House reporter, Susan Page, "USA Today" front page reporter, and the Washington bureau chief. 

Let me ask you, Susan, first of all, have you figured out why Trump stuck his neck out and went to Louisiana?  His candidate wasn`t favored.  It wasn`t like he was walking into an upset.  It would have been an upset if his candidate won. 

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY" WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  A winnable race, it was a close race, still a two-point race and he would have gotten lot of credit if after going there three times, he pulled him over the finish line.  I think that President Trump has a lot of faith in himself and his own appeal and so he probably thought that he could do it. 

MATTHEWS:  How big a black eye is it? 

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, NBC NEWS DIGITAL SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Well, one of the things that I know the campaign wanted and that the president wanted I`m told is to get some wins to show the Republicans in Congress that I am still a force in this party, that I can still move people to the polls for you, so stay in line behind me and I will be there to help you.  Look at these wins.  So, they knew it was a risk.  They knew Matt Bevin was a bad candidate.  They knew John Bel Edwards was popular. 

MATTHEWS:  Pro-life.

(CROSSTALK)

PETTYPIECE:  He`s a (INAUDIBLE) Democrat on a lot of issues.  So they knew it was a risk but the reward --

MATTHEWS:  You could be a pro-life Democrat. 

PETTYPIECE:  That`s true, yes.

MATTHEWS:  A lot of them around, not a lot.

PETTYPIECE:  That`s true.  But not reflective of the Democrats will be running in 2020. 

MATTHEWS:  That`s true.  They`ll be pro-choice, yes. 

PETTYPIECE:  So, they knew there was a risk.  But I will say, they have time and they have a lot of money.  And every rally they do is also a fund- raising opportunity. 

So if they can get 10,000 people in a stadium for a John Bel -- to campaign against John Bel Edwards, for example, and he loses, they still got 10,000 people in an audience who they now have cell phone numbers for, who they can text and hit up for money. 

MATTHEWS:  So win or loss for him altogether.  Better right he`d win, better he didn`t win?

PAGE:  For Trump? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

PAGE:  Oh, no, better if he would have won. 

MATTHEWS:  Should he have gone at all? 

PAGE:  Well, then, you know, then no harm, no foul, I guess.  I mean, but he`s -- President Trump is a risk taker. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, let`s talk about two groups that are probably -- I love talking like everybody else.  I hate talking like everybody else. 

African-American vote has got to turn out big-time more than it did in `16 for Hillary.  They`ve got to be much more excited about the race and more involved.  Two, the women in the suburbs, that means college-educated women in the suburbs, mostly white. 

This was an example apparently of that pattern hurting Trump. 

PETTYPIECE:  Right.  And of course --

MATTHEWS:  Both categories, African-Americans, regular people and these people much better off in the `burbs. 

PETTYPIECE:  Yes, and that`s what we`ve seen over -- we saw that in 2018, we saw in some of these special elections, you know, in 2019, the suburban women vote shifting out.  And so, that`s going to be the big challenge for them.  And the African-American vote I would say especially in Michigan -- I was just having an exchange with a strategist today saying Michigan could go red if the Democrat is not able to drive out the African-American vote in Detroit.  But the same thing --

MATTHEWS:  OK, my question, is there anybody -- a two-person all-white team running in 2020, can they bring out the African-American vote? 

PAGE:  Well, Joe Biden has a lot of support among African-American voters. 

MATTHEWS:  If he could do it.

PAGE:  And say you had an all white ticket and you had Barack Obama out there campaigning hard for them, that could do something to turn out African-American voters. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I`ve got something to say about Barack Obama in the close tonight because he said something about moderating the stance of the party a little bit.  He`s pulled back a little, he was saying. 

Anyway, Shannon, thank you so much.  Susan, thank you.  The pros.

Up next, you`re going to stick around for the next topic, which will be about that.  Up next, the president and the White House says President Trump`s visit to Walter Reed Hospital this weekend was routine.  But after flooding conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton`s health in the last election, is Trump`s health in the same -- well, subject to the same scrutiny? 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

On Saturday, this past Saturday, President Trump made an unannounced trip to Walter Reed Medical Center over in Maryland. 

In a statement released to the public shortly after the president left the hospital, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham confirmed that the president had undergone a quick exam, as she put it, a quick exam and labs but said there was no cause for concern because, quote, the president remains healthy and energetic without complaints as demonstrated by his vigorous rally performances in front of thousands of Americans several times a week. 

Well, President Trump tweeted Sunday morning that the visit was, quote: Phase one of my yearly physical everything.  Very good, great, will complete next year. 

Well, it should be noted that President Trump`s past two physical exams were in the public schedule.  They put on his public schedule were not completed in phases like they say this is being done.  The president has not held any public events since his trip to the hospital. 

I`m back with Shannon Pettypiece and Susan Page. 

Susan, historically, is this abnormal? 

PAGE:  Yes.  I`ve never seen -- ordinary Walter Reed physical annual exam handled in this way.  Is it unusual for presidents not to be candid about their health?  That is not unusual. 

There have been several presidents who are less than forthcoming about their health.

MATTHEWS:  Like Roosevelt who was dying in 1944.

PAGE:  John Kennedy. 

MATTHEWS:  John Kennedy hid everything. 

PAGE:  But, you know, it`s the price they pay for not having I think more credibility with reporters who cover them.  If Mike McCurry or Marlin Fitzwater came to the White House press corps and said, I`m telling you nothing to this pre-afternoon (INAUDIBLE) visit.  There would be at least be a willingness to say, oh, well, maybe that`s true. 

This White House does not have the credibility with reporters who cover them for people to take this at face value. 

PETTYPIECE:  And the White House didn`t put out that statement until there was already this buzz, rumor mill on Twitter.  You know, there`s nothing verified but there was already starting to be questions about why he was there.  This White House does a lot of things unusual.  There are a lot of miscommunications, poor coordinations, who knows if that fell into this category?

But I will say the White House physician`s office is quite well-equipped to do things like labs.  They can take blood, a urine sample.  They can do surgery if the president is shot or has a heart attack.  So, you do have an office in the White House that can do a lot of elements of a physical.

So, again, it is strange.  And had the White House come out to your point ahead of time and said the president is going to Walter Reed. He`s going to have some lab work done and he`s going to meet with some patients while he`s there, it would not have been --

MATTHEWS:  Well, hours after the president`s visit to Walter Reed, his press secretary told a Fox News host that he was in excellence health. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There`s no truth to the rumors that it`s something else?  Because the rumors are flying. 

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOSUE PRESS SECRETARY:  Oh, the rumors are always flying.  Absolutely not.  He is healthy as can be. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You know, Stephanie, he`s almost super human.  I don`t know how anyone can deal with what he`s dealing with. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I can`t match that, he`s almost super human.  Anyway during the 2016 -- you don`t go to the hospital if you`re super human.  2016 campaign Trump fueled conspiracy theories by repeatedly questioning Hillary Clinton`s strength and stamina. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  She`s got no strength.  She`s got no stamina.  Remember that.  You don`t need a president with no strength or stamina. 

I think she doesn`t have the stamina.  You watch her -- her life, you watch how she`ll go away for three or four days, she`ll come back.  She`ll go -- I just don`t think she has the stamina. 

But she`s going to do nothing.  And you know what, the truth, she doesn`t have the stamina to do it even if she wanted to, believe me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  As Woody Allen would say in one of the old movies, the keyword here is -- 

(LAUGHTER) 

PAGE:  I caught onto that.  You know, it`s true, President Trump does have a lot of stamina.  I mean, he does these appearances at rallies.  He talks for an hour and a half.  That is really extraordinary. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, as they say down in Louisiana last --

PAGE:  Almost super human. 

MATTHEWS:  We all want to bless his heart.  It`s just the way they talk down there.

I really do wish him well.  Thank you, Shannon Pettypiece and Susan Page. 

Up next, with 77 days until the Iowa caucuses, there`s a shakeup going on in the Democratic candidates.  Something big is happening in the Democratic neighborhood the last couple of weeks.  Have you noticed?  If not, we`ll let you know what`s happening.  Lots of big can stuff going on. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  There`s something happening in the fight to take on Donald Trump. 

For whatever mix of reasons, we`re seeing voters change their minds about the candidates.  First came former President Obama, who warned his fellow Democrats not to lose sight of the fact that most Americans want a government, quote, rooted in reality.  That they like seeing things improve, not having the system completely torn down. 

Another voice is coming from the Democratic voters of Iowa, where the candidates face their first big test on February 3rd.  For a while it looked to be a contest to get to the farthest left rail, that of the most progressive voters.  That looked to be Senator Elizabeth Warren who managed to overtake Senator Bernie Sanders in that lane.  It began to look like she was going to win Iowa, New Hampshire and run away with it. 

And then three weeks ago, we saw South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg make his move.  We all saw the 37-year-old coming up really fast to where he`s now leading the pack in Iowa ahead of Warren by nine, Biden and Sanders by ten. 

It`s hard not to see the Buttigieg bump as showing the Democrats` shift to the center.  This could explain Warren`s shift on Medicare-for-All.  A while back, she was for mandatory national health insurance system and eliminating private health insurance.  Now, she says she wants to have a Medicare for All option with the more revolutionary plan to be considered later. 

Well, this is news.  More than that it signals a shift in Democratic Party thinking, which with all the focus on impeachment still rests on the assumption that the only way to get rid of Donald Trump is to go out there and get the votes to beat him. 

By the way, the fifth Democratic debate hosted by MSNBC and "The Washington Post" will air live on Wednesday.  That`s two days from now.  I`ll be in the spin room, which I love, starting at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.  And then, of course, the debate itself starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. 

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. 

 

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