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Michael Bloomberg launches Presidential bid. TRANSCRIPT: 11/25/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Jill Colvin, Michael Steele, John Sipher, Ray Mabus, EleanorRandolph

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  The way they wanted to reach out people, it turned out to blow up in their face.  It was a failure.

And the investigation, well, that now is reaching millions of people.  What they think about it, what they do about it, well, that`s up, as always, to the American public.

Thanks for joining us on quite a busy news night.  I`ll be back 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow.  HARDBALL starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  The damn is breaking.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

There`s breaking news tonight that could have huge implications for the Trump White House and the Ukrainian investigation.  A federal judge has ruled in the last hour that executive branch officials are not absolutely immune from compulsory congressional process even if the president expressly directs such official`s non-compliance.

Well, this ruling which dealt with former White House Counsel Don McGahn could mean other administration officials could be forced to honor subpoena and testify in front of Congress.  This is a big deal.  The Justice Department has said it would appeal, of course.

And even bigger news today, the impeachment train is moving on schedule.  House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff reported that his committee has completed its work and has found evidence pointing towards presidential abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

In a letter to colleagues, Schiff wrote, the committees are now preparing a report summarizing the evidence we have found this far, which will be transmitted to the Judiciary Committee soon after Congress returns from the Thanksgiving recess.  That`s next week.

Meanwhile, the president`s personal lawyer who spearheaded Trump`s agenda in Ukraine is speaking out about his role in the unfolding scandal.  In an interview Saturday, Rudy Giuliani denied the possibility that he would be made the fall guy for this president.  And in doing so, he made what appeared to be a threat.

Giuliani said, he`s got insurance, that`s his word, that will protect him if Trump decides to throw him under the bus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Have you talked to President Trump in the last week or two?  Have you met with him?  Are you still his counsel?

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S PERSONAL ATTORNEY:  I do not discuss my conversations with my client.  You can assume that I talked to him early and often.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

GIULIANI:  And I have a very, very good relationship with him and all of these comments which are totally insulting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

GIULIANI:  I mean, I`ve seen things written like he`s going to throw me under the bus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.

GIULIANI:  When they say that, I say, he isn`t, but I have insurance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But I have insurance.

Hours later, however, Giuliani tried to deny the implication, the clear implication of what he just said.  In a tweet, he said, he was being sarcastic, adding that his insurance policy really refers to, catch this one, files in my safe about the Biden family.  I don`t think so.  Giuliani has a good reason to fear that he could be made a scapegoat in the unfolding scandal.

Over the past two weeks, witnesses in the impeachment hearings have described Giuliani`s meddling in Ukraine as explosive, alarming and problematic.

ABC News is also now reporting that Giuliani`s indicted business associate, Lev Parnas, has provided the House Intelligence Committee with, quote, audio, video and photos that include Giuliani and Trump.

Yet it appears the president still has Giuliani`s back at least for now.  Here`s Trump today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  What do you make of Rudy Giuliani saying he has insurance?

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  Oh, I don`t know.  Rudy is a great guy.  Rudy is the best mayor in the history of New York, in my opinion, the strongest mayor, the best mayor.  Rudy is a great crime fighter, corruption fighter, probably the best in 50 years.

I think that maybe the press isn`t treating Rudy very well, and I think that`s unfair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I`m joined by Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for the Associated Press, Robert Costa, of course, National Political Reporter for The Washington Post, and Joyce Vance, former U.S. Attorney.

I`ve got to go to you, Joyce.  This question, this judge ruling that McGahn has to testify, could this reverberate through this very high Ukraine question, this impeachment question for the president?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  It could.  It`s a really stunning opinion on this level.  It rejects the theory that this administration has put out there that its witnesses are absolutely immune from testimony.

The judge still leaves open the possibility that witnesses might show up, which she has said that they have to do, and still have some privilege to exert.  But, Chris, you can imagine how powerful it would be to have witnesses testifying in Congress, sitting down at the table and over and over again as they`re asked questions, refusing to testify on the basis of executive privilege or because of their Fifth Amendment rights.  This is what Republicans have been trying to avoid all along.  And the judge has put it back on the table.

There is still an appellate process in the works.  It could be expedited.  But this notion that we`ll soon have these witnesses faced with the choice of responding or over and overtaking a privilege to avoid answering, I think, could be some compelling -- very compelling testimony.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let`s get to it.  We`re getting towards Thanksgiving this week.  We`re looking towards the holidays, the Christmas holidays coming up in just a few weeks.  And we have an impeachment process moving which is moving to the House Judiciary Committee next week.  They`re about to mark up, I think, in the next couple of weeks articles of impeachment.

So put all of this simultaneous equation together.  Could we have further rulings by judges at the high level that would require or whatever the word is, permit, for example, John Bolton to show up and testify what he was doing with Ukraine in time to make a difference in these proceedings for impeachment and possible -- well, certainly going to be a trial in the Senate at this point?

VANCE:  I think that that`s entirely possible.  If the court uses the expedited appeal process, it could rule relatively quickly.  This ruling is rock solid as a legal basis.  It seems very unlikely that the Supreme Court would have any rational reason for hearing this sort of case on appeal.  So, yes, if the sun and the moon line up, it`s possible that we could have witnesses being compelled, more likely this is a little bit lengthier of a process that lingers into the New Year though.

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk about the White House, the big story tonight with Robert here.  Robert, Giuliani and the president, are they lock solid?

ROBERT COSTA, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST:  They are.  They remain very close friends, though the president is relying more in Pat Cipollone, his White House Counsel, for legal guidance, than Rudy Giuliani.

MATTHEWS:  What about all the other entanglements that Giuliani is involved with?  I think he`s living off the land over there in the east.  If he goes to Ukraine, he hooks up with these people, they pay him a lot of money.  Does that pay for his transport around these hotels and everywhere he`s going?  Who is paying for all of Giuliani`s dig for dirt?

COSTA:  It`s a huge target for every reporter in town to figure out what exactly Giuliani has been doing in terms of his foreign entanglements.  But when we ask people at the White House is he prepared to let Mr. Giuliani sail away, to cut ties, people say close to the president that he`s going to stick with Giuliani because he`s his confidant and he is also willing to go on television constantly to defend this president amid impeachment.

MATTHEWS:  Whose idea was it to hang all of the money and hold up the money to get the dirt on Biden?

COSTA:  Well, The Washington Post has dug into this and found out that Mick Mulvaney and acting OMB Chief Russ Vought have been involved in these email exchanges about whether they can hold up the aid, whether they --

MATTHEWS:  But whose idea was it to do it to get the dirt?

COSTA:  Well, it`s been clear on testimony that it`s President Trump`s decision.

MATTHEWS:  But who?  Was it Giuliani who came up with the idea?  Who came up with the idea to squeeze, let`s shake them down?

COSTA:  Well, there has been an ongoing effort for months from Giuliani in particular to pressure Ukraine.  The president was listening, and then he had Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, following through.

MATTHEWS:  I keep falling back to Watergate and Haldeman, how he got Nixon in all that trouble.  Nixon -- Haldeman got Nixon.  His whole idea of saying the CIA has got the case.  Stay off and FBI.  That was all on Haldeman.  He took it.  Then Nixon did it.

Is Giuliani the perpetrator here or the agent?

JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS:  I mean, look, there are a lot of people in the White House who said repeatedly, we need to get Giuliani out of the president`s ear on this.  He`s feeding him all of these conspiracy theories that are --

MATTHEWS:  Well, the Ukraine theory.

COLVIN:  -- based on anything, the Ukraine theory being one of many conspiracy theories that Giuliani talks to the president about and then the president gets these ideas and chooses to act on them.  But I don`t think we know at this point the full story of exactly how it came to be.

MATTHEWS:  Well, in a bombshell report, Reuters now reveals how federal investigators are also scrutinizing Mr. Giuliani himself.  According to a grand jury subpoena, quote, federal prosecutors in New York are seeking records of payments that Rudy Giuliani is part of an active criminal investigation.  And while the subpoena does not indicate Giuliani is suspected of wrongdoing, the subpoena shows that, quote, the crimes being investigated include money laundering, wire fraud, campaign finance violations, making false statements, obstruction of justice and violations of the Foreign Agency Registration Act, that`s FARA.

Joyce, here we are again.  And I just -- how much grime is this guy picking up along the way in his partial service of the president?  Because I think Giuliani has got his own fish to fry over there in terms of making money?

VANCE:  Giuliani really looks like the new Michael Cohen.  And I think the question that you asked Jill is actually one of the central issues here.  Was Giuliani acting throughout all of this time at the president`s direction or was he sort of Michael Cohen-style close to the president and selling access and selling influence and is that where a lot of these potential charges, which we don`t know for certain that they reached Giuliani?

But when you`re looking at wire fraud and money laundering and sending out subpoenas to all of these associated companies and individuals, it begins to look like Giuliani is more of a target than a suspect.

So this really doesn`t bode well for Giuliani.  Ultimate question, if he is caught, if he is indicted, will he flip on the president?

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of his claim that he has insurance against Trump?

VANCE:  It was such an odd claim.  Of course, it`s illegal for an attorney to engage in that sort of a practice, vis-a-vis a client.  And this really strange shift where initially he`s very clearly talking about the president and somehow on Twitter, it becomes that he`s got four decades worth of information on Biden really doesn`t make any sense.  It looks more like he`s grasping at straws than anything else.

MATTHEWS:  Robert, you said that they`re still close.  You don`t threaten somebody you`re close to in public, and he just did.  Giuliani did.

COSTA:  They`re not close in a sense that they`re watching a ball game together, though they both like sports.  These are two people who live entirely public lives and are politically aligned.  And they think their interests still are aligned.  And so this is not a friendship that`s deep.  It`s a political, transactional relationship for two people who believe they`re in constant fight with their enemies.

MATTHEWS:  I want to get back to you, Joyce, because there is so much popping tonight.  We`ve got Adam Schiff who is doing superlative job of driving this train.  It`s just moving.  It`s already going to be out of his committee by the end of the week.  He`s pointing now he`s got -- he thinks he`s got abuse of power.

In his letter, in fact, today, Schiff cites significant evidence, keep moving, significant evidence showing the extent of the president`s abuse of power.  He addresses Trump`s stonewalling of Congress, saying, such obstruction was the base of the third article of impeachment against President Nixon.

And then he adds, we will be forced to infer from this obstruction that the testimony of these witnesses would tend to incriminate the president further since he would have encouraged rather than block the testimony of senior officials if he believed it would somehow be helpful to him.

Well, clearly, is that legal for a prosecutor to say, because I always think you couldn`t say Fifth Amendment communist back in the `50s when Joe McCarthy was saying that kind of stuff, if you take the Fifth in those days, he just called you a Fifth Amendment Communist.

Today, can you call someone who basically takes the Fifth, he stonewalls, basically a part of an impeachment crime?

VANCE:  So the setting is a little bit different because this is not a criminal case.  It`s impeachment proceedings.  And the Fifth Amendment applies only to the defendant in a criminal case.

So here, the inference that Schiff is drawing is that these witnesses, these are the firsthand witnesses that we heard the president complaining for so long that the Democrats weren`t bringing to testify.  And lo and behold, it turns out that the reason we didn`t hear from the firsthand witnesses is because the president wouldn`t let them testify.

So now, Schiff has the president in a little bit of a box.  Either those witnesses come in and testify, and presumably their testimony is not helpful to the president or we would have already heard from them, or Schiff can draw the inference saying that the reason that they`re not testifying is because they have nothing good to say about the president.

You know, this is one area where Congress has actually managed to outrun Trump.  The Intelligence Committee is actually running more quickly than Trump can spin new conspiracy theories.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about the politics.  Jill first then Robert, we have to finish up with this.

The Democrats have been more effective and more efficient than anybody thought.  In two weeks, they`ve put together a very well constructed argument that the president was part -- actually was leading an effort to basically abuse his power, to get some political dirt by using the threat or shakedown of foreign aid.  And the fact that he since also, as part of this, has been obstructing justice by refusing anybody to participate in these hearings.  It`s going to be in the Judiciary Committee`s hand next week, probably Tuesday.

And in a matter of a couple of weeks, we expect they will write up articles, I think maybe one to two, maybe three, they`ll go to the House, pass.  This will go to a trial of the United States Senate with John Roberts, the chief justice, perhaps requiring more witnesses like John Bolton to come in there, and they`re not going to be helpful to the president.  Is the president handling this well the fact that this thing is moving and moving and moving?

COLVIN:  Well, clearly, they have been very slow to respond to this.  It was only last week where the president sat down, or the president`s top aide sat down with a group of Republicans to try to hash out what their strategy might want to be for the Senate hearings, deciding whether they want this to potentially drag out into the beginning of the primaries, keeping those Senate candidates away from the campaign trail, maybe instead we want a two-week hearing, make it go quickly.

Clearly, the Democrats learned from the Mueller hearings, where it was just month after month of drip, drip, drip.  It wound up confusing the public.  Here, they spent two weeks delivering their argument.  It`s going to go quickly and it`s going to be in the Senate hands to respond.

MATTHEWS:  What does the White House want?  They want a short trial or a long trial?

COLVIN:  So at this point in my reporting, I don`t know what you have been hearing, is that they haven`t decided yet.  It will be the president`s decision, and he hasn`t made that call yet.

MATTHEWS:  I just wonder whether the president prepared for an effective Democratic opposition like he`s now facing, first time, really effective.

COSTA:  And he knows that some of these witnesses may be called.  But the answers and the action, Jill and I are going down to Florida tomorrow to cover -- President Trump is going to Sunrise, Florida near Miami for political rally, an arena real, grievance politics, going to Florida, a state that has growing elderly population, older voters, white voters.  It was a struggle for Democrats to win the gubernatorial and Senate race.  Republicans picked both of them up at 2018.

So what`s he doing?  He`s going to his base and he`s saying to the Republicans, look at these crowds, look at how they`re responding to me, stay with me in the Senate trial.

MATTHEWS:  And he`s also going to a no-tax state, where people go if we don`t want to pay taxes.  And you can bet their attitude about people like Elizabeth Warren is not good.  They`re going to go to get away from taxes, right?

COLVIN:  Just like Trump.

MATTHEWS:  Just like Trump.  He`s just moved his address down there.

He looks like -- well, he doesn`t look like these people.  But he does ape (ph) them in certain ways.

Thank you, Jill Colvin.  Thank you, Robert Costa.  Thank you. Joyce Vance.  Thank you very much, Joyce, for the whole effort of letting us understand the implication of the new court ruling that could bring all these witnesses to the stand.

Coming up, with friends like Lindsey Graham, who needs enemies?  What happened to friendship?  Graham and Joe Biden used to be closest of  =buddies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  He`s a decent really man.

But we`re not going to live in a world where just Donald Trump and his family gets looked at, we`re going to look in a world where everybody gets looked at if there is a question reasonably to be asked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, they used to be buds, used to be.  But now, in the era of Trump, Graham is calling for his friend, Joe Biden, to be investigated by the U.S. Senate.

Plus, Trump`s strong man tactics, defending military criminals, and firing the Navy secretary who knows more about honor, order and discipline than Trump ever will.  This guy is going to act more like a strong man than a president.

We got much more to get to.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM:  If you can`t admire Joe Biden as a person, then probably you got a problem. You need to do some self-evaluation, because what`s not to like?  He`s the nicest person I think I have ever met in politics. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is that right? 

GRAHAM:  He is as good a man as God ever created. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "As good a man as God ever created" -- well, that`s a nice encomium from Lindsey Graham. 

And that was Lindsey Graham with his friendship with then Vice President Joe Biden, and not a million years ago, in 2015.  And that was then. 

And now he is standing by President Trump, instead of his old friend, calling for the Senate, the U.S. Senate, to investigate the former V.P. and his son Hunter`s work with a Ukrainian energy company. 

Well, last week, Graham requested documents from the State Department regarding Joe Biden`s communications with Ukrainian officials.  "The Washington Post" reported the request "suggests he is seeking to legitimize Trump`s accusations that Biden, then vice president, put pressure on Ukraine to fire its lead prosecutor to protect his son Hunter, a claim without evidence" -- close quote. 

Well, three weeks ago, Graham, chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he wouldn`t turn the Senate into a circus by investigating the Bidens. 

In an interview on Friday, Biden said he was embarrassed for Graham over his new change of heart. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am disappointed and, quite frankly, I`m angered by the fact.  He knows me.  He knows my son.  He knows there`s nothing to this. 

Trump is now essentially holding power over him that even the Ukrainians wouldn`t yield to.  Ukrainians would not yield to -- quote -- "investigate Biden."  There`s nothing to investigate about Biden or his son. 

And Lindsey is about to go down in a way that I think he`s going to regret his whole life. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, today, Senator Graham waved off 18 contradiction between his prior comments about Biden and his now push to investigate him. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM:  My conscience is clear.  I love Joe Biden as a person.  He is a really decent man.  He`s had a lot of tragedy in his life.

But I have a conscience very clear right now, and I have a duty.  If the House is going to shut it down, the Senate is going to pick it up.  I didn`t start this. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by Michael Steele, former RNC chairman, and John Sipher, former CIA senior officer. 

Michael, here`s the story.  Friendship doesn`t mean nothing now.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Not anymore, not when the friendship has been supplanted by a relationship with Donald Trump, because I hope the senator knows he doesn`t have a friendship with Donald Trump.  He has a relationship. 

It`s a transactional engagement, in which Trump gets the master benefit.  And, you know, he gets to say, I can play golf.  At the end of the day, that`s what it is.

What was the relationship with Joe Biden that had you sitting in the back of the car saying he`s the finest man you have ever known? 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

I have been following politics a long time.  And my -- one of the things I have discovered is, arguments rarely change people`s mind.  So, what you do is, you change the topic.  And if you get a good topic, you can`t lose.  Right? 

If you are a Republican, you talk about taxes all the time.  You talk about the taxes all the time.  If you are a Democrat, you talk about health care.  You`re going to win, eventually, because Democrats trust people on health care and they trust Republicans on taxes generally. 

So they are going to talk about Hunter Biden.  And the very fact of talking about Hunter Biden helps Trump. 

JOHN SIPHER, FORMER SENIOR CIA OFFICER:  It helps Trump and it also helps the Russians. 

What`s unfortunate about this Ukraine narrative is, it`s the Kremlin`s narrative.  And we saw in "The New York Times" recently that the senators were briefed specifically by the intelligence agencies that this narrative is a Kremlin disinformation narrative that Putin and his intelligence services have been pushing. 

So the fact that they`re continuing to go down this road... 

MATTHEWS:  What is their argument?  What is their push, the story?

SIPHER:  Whose story?

MATTHEWS:  What do they want us to believe, the Russians? 

SIPHER:  They want us to believe that the Ukrainians were involved in our election, that they were meddling in the United States` election in 2016. 

MATTHEWS:  But what about the Joe Biden -- Joe Biden, Hunter Biden connection? 

SIPHER:  Well, I don`t know that the Hunter Biden piece was a Russian narrative, or Russian disinformation narrative. 

But, nonetheless, they know that it`s creating friction in the United States.  And as these wounds open up, it`s a place that the Russians can go again and again and again. 

And what is sad about this is, these senators and congressmen know better. 

MATTHEWS:  Anything that makes us divided makes the Russians happy. 

Senator Graham is far from the only Republican, however, carrying water for the president.  On Sunday -- these guys are unbelievable.  I respect a lot of these guys.

Louisiana John Neely Kennedy pushed the debunked conspiracy theory you were talking about that Ukraine meddled in the 20 -- a Russian push, a Russian kompromat, despite President Trump`s former top adviser on Russia Fiona Hill`s warning that it`s a fictional narrative pushed by the Russians. 

There she is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY":  Senator Kennedy, who do you believe was responsible for hacking the DNC and Clinton campaign computers, their e-mails?  Was it Russia or Ukraine? 

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA):  I don`t know, nor do you, nor do any of us.

Ms. Hill is entitled to her opinion.

WALLACE:  Well, met just interrupt to say, the entire intelligence community says it was Russia. 

KENNEDY:  Right.  But it could also be Ukraine. 

I`m not saying that I know one way or the other.  I`m saying that Ms. Hill is entitled to her opinion, but no rebuttal evidence was allowed to be offered. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There is new technique by the -- your former party -- your current party, in a sort of estranged way...

STEELE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... that if you muddle it up, if you confuse it enough, you conflate it enough, people are somewhat confused about it. 

And so let`s talk about Hunter Biden.  So they will talk about, let`s -- Hunter Biden.  And at the end of Benghazi-style hearings -- we had weeks of Benghazi-style hearings with Trey Gowdy.  We never heard of Trey Gowdy again.  He was out the door.

STEELE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Because they didn`t find anything. 

But did they accomplish anything on Benghazi?  I still don`t know what Hillary Rodham Clinton was actually accused of on Benghazi.

STEELE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  What did she do wrong?

STEELE:  After, what is it, 11 hours of testimony, at the end of the day...

MATTHEWS:  What did she do?  Did she finger these guys?  Did she go to dinner?  Did she forget about them?  You know?

STEELE:  But that`s really the crux of it. 

When the senator says that he doesn`t know what this is about, that he doesn`t know whether or not this is true that the Ukrainians had something to do -- he knows that`s not the case.  They have been briefed.

To your point, they have been briefed on this.  So he`s sitting there telling a bold-faced lie.  Let`s just call it what it is.  You do know.  You do know the Ukrainians did not do this.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Two or three days of hearings with Lindsey Graham holding hearings on the Bidens, it probably will get nothing more than we know, that the son probably shouldn`t have taken the job. 

STEELE:  It`s not going to be anything.

MATTHEWS:  The father never did anything to help him.  The kid never asked the father for any help.  And then we go to nothing world. 

And what -- do they win?  I guess they win because we talked about it for a week. 

SIPHER:  And I hate to continue to bring it back to the Russians here, but this is a part of the game.

They`re throwing so much information, so much junk into the system, that nobody seems to be understand what`s true, what is not true.

What they want us to do is throw our hands up and say, well, both sides are lying, therefore, there is no truth. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SIPHER:  When, in fact there is truth here, and this narrative is created and promulgated by people who should know better. 

MATTHEWS:  How did they figure this out about the West?  Because we have...

SIPHER:  They -- defector after defector during the Cold War, actually, and before and after has come and told us that their goal is to undermine us from within. 

They have created stories during the Cold War that the U.S. created the AIDS crisis, that we were selling baby parts in Latin America, that we were assassinating people, that we were anti-Semitic and racist. 

They were pushing these things, hundreds and hundreds of stories.  Nowadays, they can weaponize this on social media.

But what`s really unfortunate is, it`s taking hold now because our elected officials are spreading this stuff that the Russians used to spread themselves. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STEELE:  That`s the key thing.

The political leadership has taken up that mantle for the -- for the Russians.  I don`t call it -- the Soviets, because this is the Soviet-style approach to politics.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.

STEELE:  And our own people sitting in elected office are the ones, like Senator Kennedy, getting up there saying, well, there are good people on both sides.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Well, the Russian system is awful.  And their politics is awful.  And they want us to make us look sort of like them. 

SIPHER:  Yes, everybody`s corrupt.  That`s the goal.

MATTHEWS:  Bring us down to their level, yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It`s great to have you on, John Sipher, for your history.

SIPHER:  Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS:   Thank you, Michael Steele.

Still ahead:  Trump stirs up even more chaos and controversy, this time inserting himself into a military court case and forcing out of his job the secretary of the Navy, because the secretary of the Navy disagreed with him, because the secretary of the Navy understands the honor of the military. 

And that`s next on HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have to protect my war fighters. 

I have been -- gotten a lot of people have -- a lot of war fighters and people in the military have thanked us very much. 

These are not weak people.  These are tough people.  And we`re going to protect our war fighters. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Our war fighters. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was President Trump this afternoon commenting on his intervention into the military justice system, which has now resulted in the firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer. 

Defense Secretary Mark Esper today confirmed that Trump ordered an end to all disciplinary actions against Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher.  Gallagher was acquitted of alleged war crimes, including the murder of a teenage ISIS captive and firing a sniper rifle at civilians.

But he was found guilty of a lesser charge after posing for a photo of himself with the body of that teenage ISIS captive he had stabbed.  The Navy decided to demote Gallagher, until Trump intervened. 

In a tweet last week, the president stated he would not let the Navy take away Gallagher`s trident pin, which represents his status as a Navy SEAL. 

"The New York Times" reported that Navy Secretary Richard Spencer had threatened to resign if Trump intervened.  Secretary Esper says that Spencer was fired for going behind his back by trying to negotiate a deal with the White House to allow Gallagher to retire as a SEAL.

In his resignation letter, Spencer writes: "Unfortunately, I no longer share the same understanding with the commander in chief who appointed me in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline.  I cannot, in good conscience, obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took to support and defend the Constitution."

And, tonight, Spencer told CBS the president`s decision is sending the wrong message to the troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD SPENCER, FORMER U.S. NAVY SECRETARY:  That you can get away with things.  We have to have good order and discipline.  It`s the backbone of what we do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But that message didn`t appear to be bothering the president at all.  He has long pushed for a more confrontational military. 

And the president`s continued interference in the Gallagher case has prompted criticism that he is endangering our standing abroad and putting our people in harm`s way. 

And one of those critics, the former secretary of the Navy under President Obama, joins us next. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Trump`s repeated involvement in the case of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher has prompted concerns about how it`s affecting our standing around the world. 

The president`s strongman tactics in defense of Gallagher is something you might expect from Turkish President Erdogan or Philippines President Duterte, rather than from leaders like French President Macron or German Chancellor Merkel. 

The president`s been clear where he stands on military conduct, like the kind seen in Gallagher`s case. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  See, the problem is, we have the Geneva Convention.  We have all sorts of rules and regulations.  Our soldiers are afraid to fight.

But our military, don`t forget, can`t act like a military would act, because, if they got a little rough, everybody would go crazy. 

And the other thing is, with the terrorists, you have to take out their families.  When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.

We`re the laughingstock all over the world.  Our military doesn`t perform, because it`s not allowed to perform. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined right now by Ray Mabus.  He served as secretary of the Navy under President Obama.  And Eugene Robinson, of course, columnist for "The Washington Post." 

I want to start with you, Mr. Secretary. 

Go at it.  What`s -- what does military justice mean?  What does honor mean?  What`s the president doing here? 

RAY MABUS, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF THE NAVY:  Well, everything you see is bad.  You can`t spin this in a good way. 

Throw accountability out the window.  Throw military justice out the window, dishonor the tens of thousands of Americans who have served in both these theaters and served well, and didn`t think it was necessary to break the law or commit war crimes. 

And then, if you can reach down and tell a unit like the SEALs, I`m going to decide who`s in your unit, I`m going to decide who`s got the right to be there, I`m not going to let your peers decide, I`m not going to let your commanders decide. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, in this case, the president basically exonerated him.  He keeps all his medals. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  He keeps his rank.  He keeps everything.

ROBINSON:  Yes.  Yes, we got to protect our war fighters, you know?

MATTHEWS:  What is it a war fighter, by the way? 

ROBINSON:  No, it`s -- look, the president has -- from that montage you showed, he has this sort of juvenile, comic book, 13-year-old vision...

MATTHEWS:  Rambo.

ROBINSON:  ... of what the military is.

MATTHEWS:  It`s Rambo.

ROBINSON:  The military, by the way, that lieutenant bone spurs never bothered to serve in. 

But, yes, it`s from, you know, from B movies.  It`s not from reality.  He doesn`t understand the chain of command.  He doesn`t understand order and discipline and he is the commander-in-chief. 

And so, yes, he has the power to do this.  But is so ill-advised, it`s such a bad thing for our military, for, you know, our allies are looking at this.  It`s just -- it`s awful.  It`s like a 13-year-old. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I`m sorry, I`m not in the military, but growing up as a kid, I always took pride in the fact that our POW camps were probably the best they were.  If you were a German, you come to Kentucky or somewhere, you`d have a better life than in a Soviet place you`d probably not survive.  We did treat prisoners pretty well comparatively.  And we were the good guys, and that was the one of the ways we knew, we did observe the Geneva Conventions. 

RAY MABUS, CEO OF THE MABUS GROUP:  And that set us apart, the fact that we did obey the law.  We did try to do these things in the right way, fought just to win but win in the right way.  And again, let`s just throw all this out the window.  We don`t have the moral high ground anymore. 

And I think to your point, we`re putting people at risk, we`re putting our troops at risk by doing this. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that used to be the Geneva Convention worked both ways. 

Anyway, Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher appeared on Fox yesterday with some strong words for the military leaders.  Here he goes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDDIE GALLAGHER, U.S. NAVY SEAL:  This is all about ego and retaliation.  This has nothing to do with good order and discipline.  They could have taken my Trident at any time they wanted.  Now, they`re trying to take it after the president restored my rank and after we just filed an I.G. exposing all the corruption that`s been going on during my case. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let`s bring this home, Gene, because this guy is consistent.  Remember how he makes fun -- even in the movies and television shows.  They put the guy in the back of the squad car, they hold his head down so he doesn`t bang his head going into the car.  Little extra judicial punishment there. 

ROBINSON:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Trump doesn`t like that.  He said let them bang their heads on the way to the car.  That`s him. 

That his weird obsession with being Mr. Tough. 

ROBINSON:  Yes, because, you know, where does it come from?  Some deep- seated insecurity or something like that?  I don`t know where it comes from.  But it`s -- you know, it`s really awful.  And you have Gallagher there talking about his superiors, his chain of command, you know the leadership of the Navy SEALs and on TV because through TV he has a direct line to the president of the United States, that`s who gives the president of the United States his orders. 

MABUS:  What is this guy doing on TV when he`s on active duty?  And he`s trashing his chain of command. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about service, Secretary, like you.  The role of the secretary of the Navy is what?  Is it to protect -- what do you do?  You protect -- the --

MABUS:  You train and equip the Navy and the Marine Corps and, yes, you protect the traditions, but you also stand up for the rule of law.  You also protect your people by demanding accountability, that if somebody does something that is terrible, if somebody goes just against everything that we stand for, that there is accountability, that you can`t do this because we`re going to catch you.  And we`re going to make you responsible for these things.  That`s just gone. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much for everything you`ve done.  Thank you, Ray Mabus of Mississippi, the former governor, and Eugene Robinson. 

Up next, Michael Bloomberg launches his presidential bid this weekend with a massive ad campaign targeting key primary states.  Why does he think he can win and what weaknesses does he see in a field of Democratic candidates that gets him in the race? 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Today, I`m glad to announce that I am running for president to defeat Donald Trump and to unite and rebuild America.  We cannot afford four more years of President Trump`s reckless and unethical actions.  If president Trump wins another term in office, we may never recover from the damage that he can do.  The stakes could not be higher.  We must win this election. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Actually, he`s better than that. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his first campaign stop after announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president this weekend. 

Bloomberg is worth approximately $54 -- approximately would be $50.  It`s $54 billion.  Has launched a there are $31 million ad buy, which is the most money of any candidate ever to spend in a single week of political advertising.  It`s like an average person of spending 57 bucks.  According to Advertising Analytics, which tracks political ad buys. 

He is currently polling nationally at about 2 percent, according to RealClearPolitics polling averages.  But he plans on taking a different path than the other candidates by forging, foregoing the early states and focusing on Super Tuesday of March 3rd, which has 16 races in one day and has 34 percent of the primary`s total delegates, all in one day, compared to 4 percent of delegates awarded during the four early states which begin in Iowa. 

It remains to be seen, it does, if that strategy will work without the momentum candidates traditionally get from winning states like Iowa.

I`m joined right now by Cornell Belcher, who`s a Democratic strategist, and Eleanor Randolph, the author of "The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg". 

I have to go to Eleanor, my friend, and ask you, because you wrote the book -- why? 

ELEANOR RANDOLPH, AUTHOR, "THE MANY LIVES OF MICHAEL BLOOMBERG":  Why is he running? 

MATTHEWS:  Is this guy at the age of 77 going into a race, he`s never been a public Democrat.  He may have grown up one.  He`s always run as a Republican or an independent.  Why is he running for president at that age? 

RANDOLPH:  Why not?  I mean, you know, I think he`s at this point in his life, he says, you know, if I don`t do it now, how am I going to do four years later? 

But the main reason he`s running is that his people have been doing polls in the key states, you know, that Trump won and that Hillary was supposed to win in 2016, and they found Trump winning in virtually every one of these states.  And, so, Bloomberg said, I`m getting out there.  I`m going to be on the campaign trail.  I`m going to fight the good fight and I`m going to aim all my gun power and a ton of money at Donald Trump. 

MATTHEWS:  My talks with him which are generally casual has led me to believe that he doesn`t want to lose and that would, you know, Eleanor said there is a sort of a courageous Horatio at the gate.  I`m going to stop the enemy from taking over the country again. 

But that, I think he does it -- I once said, why don`t you become secretary of treasury under Obama?  He said, I don`t like working for somebody.  He has very strong prides about things.  I have to win.  I have to be the boss. 

Why is he running?  I want to try it on you.  Why is he running?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, he`s worth $54 billion.  I don`t think he wants to work for anyone.  But I think he`s running because -- look, he has smart people around him.  I think it`s the pathway. 

I think we are at a very unusual time --

MATTHEWS:  Is he Ross Perot? 

BELCHER:  No, no, he`s not Ross Perot because he`s actually entered our Democratic primary and I think he sees a pathway.  Look, I think this could happen, Chris.  We could have the winner of Iowa not be the winner of New Hampshire and the winner of Iowa, and New Hampshire, either one of those people, not be the winner of Nevada or South Carolina. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, it`s March 3rd. 

BELCHER:  I think it`s wide open. 

MATTHEWS:  All these states on Super Tuesday.  Does he have the money to just blow the money through the system? 

BELCHER: He, with $30 million -- he`s already popped in $30 million.  And, look, we are at a time when retail politics, I hate to say it, guys, it doesn`t mean what it used to be. 

MATHEWS:  Shaking hands.

BELCHER:  Yes, retail politics, kissing babies, Donald Trump didn`t kiss any babies or shake any hands and he won the Republican primary.  I think Bloomberg puts in that sort of money and that sort of effort, and infrastructure, don`t underestimate how powerful and how profound an impact he can have on this race. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe as a pollster, just as analytics, that you can buy the presidential nomination with big TV advertising. 

BELCHER:  I don`t like the term buy it, but communications and communication dollars do impact.  Advertisements do have an impact. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you imagine a person voting for president, somebody who just heard about in an ad?

BELCHER:  Yes, I -- yes, actually I can.  But he`s got to do more than that.  He`s got to introduce himself.  He`s got to tell his story.  He`s got to give his rationale. 

And part of his rationale is, you know what, I`m the number one guy that can go up against Trump and beat him, and that`s going to resonate with Democratic voters. 

MATTHEWS:  What is -- what hill would he die for, Eleanor?  I know he`s big on the big gulp.  He doesn`t like people drinking big sodas at the movies.  I`m serious.  I think it`s ridiculous.

But he was very good at smoking in New York.  I never thought you could clean out the smoking in New York bars but he stopped smoking in bars and restaurants.  That`s pretty good, because that`s healthy as hell.  He`s also good on guns. 

But when you put all that together, it sounds like nanny state, a lot of it together.  Your thought?

RANDOLPH:  Well, look, you know, as he says, he gave New Yorkers three extra years.  Most New Yorkers last three years longer than the rest of you guys out there.  And part of that is that he cut back on smoking and trans fats and, he -- you know, he advised people to walk up the escalator. 

You know, he did a lot of stuff to -- he was the public health mayor of New York City.  And he`s carried that on to guns and gun control and to climate control.  And, you know, if you look at what he`s done, he has a pretty expansive record.  You know, what we`re going to hear, I think, shortly is the things that he did wrong.  But he did an awful lot of stuff right. 

MATTHEWS:  How does he take credit for lower crime in New York, New York City, at the same time he`s apologized for stop and frisk? 

RANDOLPH:  Well, you know, I mean, he -- for a very long time, he thought stop and frisk was the only way to lower crime in those high crime areas.  And, you know, it was part of his gun control policy, and it just -- it went way too far.  I was glad to say even though the timing was late, you know, and it was close to the campaign, I was so glad to see him actually apologize, because it paves the way -- it`s not that Mike Bloomberg doesn`t have any black support.  He has lots of black supporters. 

And, of course, many of them are mayors of cities around the country.  He`s supported cities as he`s sort of this mayor emeritus, who`s gone around and helped mayors across the city, and many of them are already supportive -- to the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, and Augusta, Georgia, both black mayors, have come to his support. 

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER:  Chris, he`s going to need -- he`s going to need more people.  I`ve talked to more friends but also someone who`s worked the Democratic primary before.  If you cannot compete strongly for the votes of minorities, you`re not going to be the Democratic nominee. 

RANDOLPH:  That`s right.

BELCHER:  He`s got -- he`s got to have a conversation about stop and frisk that is -- that is real and explains to Americans not only sort of apologize but explain how it`s going to be different.  I think it is the number one hurdle. 

MATTHEWS:  I know from police experts, stop and frisk only makes sense in a particular case when you have two gangs fighting with each other.  Killing on one side and the other kids are out to go revenge and in those moments like Friday night, you got to do something, the guns off of people.

RANDOLPH:  They can be done, but it has to be done. 

MATTHEWS:  It can`t be a general method. 

Thank you, Cornell Belcher.  Thank you, Eleanor Randolph.

Up next, how Adam Schiff cemented his role in history this week.  In fact today, he did it. 

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Schiff is German for ship, which makes perfect sense for the historic role Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is now playing.  He`s shipping this impeachment to its necessary destination.  With his letter to congressional colleagues today, he`s sending President Trump on his way to a trial in the U.S. Senate.  He`s putting Trump where he least wants to be, facing the solid evidence against him, evidence that Schiff`s committee has now put on public record.  And not only that, there`s a decent chance that the Senate trial of Donald J. Trump will include testimony, sworn testimony from those he has placed around him.  Those who have been his palace guard could be by January star witnesses for the prosecution and his removal from office. 

So, ask yourself if you`re Mike Mulvaney -- Mick Mulvaney or Rudy Giuliani or Mike Pompeo or any of the rest of this bunch, would you prefer to tell the truth or face a stiff term in federal prison for perjury?  Because if the chief justice who will be presiding in the Senate decides to demand their appearance, that`s exactly the choice they will face. 

All this is going to happen for one prime reason, because Adam Schiff has kept the ship of state on course.  And for that he deserves an historic credit. 

That`s HARDBALL for now. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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