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Trump tries to distance himself from Giuliani. TRANSCRIPT: 11/27/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Shelby Holliday, Berit Berger, Gabby Orr, Rick Tyler, Azi Paybarah,Danielle Moodie-Mills, Frank Bennack

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  So something a little bit out of the realm of politics but we think very worthwhile.  You can check out that interview.

Also, to you and yours and all the families out there, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving tomorrow.  I hope you`re having good times with your family.

Thanks for watching THE BEAT.  "HARDBALL" starts now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  The Rudy connection.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.

With the House drive towards impeachment kicking into high gear and hearings in the Judiciary Committee set to begin next week, new information is emerging about President Trump`s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.  Even as the president himself is trying to distance himself from the man who he is increasingly at the center of it all.

From The Washington Post and The New York Times, both report that Giuliani was pursuing business deals in Ukraine with Ukrainian officials at the same time that he was trying to dig up dirt on President Trump`s political rivals, this according to documents and people familiar with the matter.

According to The Post, Giuliani, quote, negotiated earlier this year to represent Ukraine`s top prosecutor for at least $200,000 during the same months that Giuliani was working with the prosecutor to dig up dirt on Vice President Joe Biden.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Giuliani said he decided he couldn`t represent the prosecutor because, quote, he believed doing so would pose a conflict with his representation of the president.

The revelations come just days after The Wall Street Journal and Reuters reported that federal prosecutors are looking into Giuliani`s business dealings in two of his now indicted business associates.  Giuliani has denied any wrongdoing.

On Tuesday, President Trump tried to put some daylight between himself and Giuliani in an interview with former Fox Host Bill O`Reilly.


BILL O`REILLY, FOX NEWS FORMER HOST:  What was Rudy Giuliani doing in Ukraine on your behalf?

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  Well, you have to ask that to Rudy.  But Rudy, I don`t even know -- I know he was going to go to Ukraine and I think he canceled a trip, but Rudy has other clients other than me.  I`m one --

O`REILLY:  So you didn`t direct him to go there on your behalf?  You didn`t --

TRUMP:  No.  But you have to understand, Rudy is a great corruption fighter.

O`REILLY:  Giuliani is your personal lawyer.  So you didn`t direct him to go to Ukraine or do anything or --

TRUMP:  No, I didn`t direct him.  But he -- he is a warrior.  Rudy is a warrior.  Rudy went.  He possibly saw -- but you have to understand, Rudy has other people that he represents.


KORNACKI:  Well, the president now tries to claim Giuliani was acting on his own in that July 25th phone call with the Ukrainian president.  President Trump explicitly stated this.  Quote, Rudy very much knows what`s happening and he`s a very capable guy.  If you could speak to him, that would be great.

And last week, Ambassador Gordon Sondland repeatedly told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee that he worked with Giuliani at the direction of the president.


GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE E.U.:  Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the president of the United States.

We worked with Mr. Giuliani because the president directed us to do so.

When the president says, talk to my personal lawyer, Mr. Giuliani, we followed his direction.

When the president says, talk to my personal attorney and then Mr. Giuliani as his personal attorney makes certain requests or demands, we assume it`s coming from the president.

KORNACKI:  For more, I`m joined by Shelby Holliday, Business and Politics Reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Philip Bump, Political Reporter for The Washington Post, Berit Berger, former federal prosecutor.

Shelby, I`ll start with you.  We have know since even before we found out about the president`s phone call, even before this transcript was released, Giuliani was out there talking with his interest in Ukraine on behalf of President Trump, on behalf of his client at the time.

Now, we find out that some time maybe in this same period, he was in discussions to represent a Ukrainian prosecutor.  What do we know about the timeline here?  When those discussions were taking place, how close they came to actually come into fruition?

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, BUSINESS AND POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Right.  Timeline is really important.  So earlier this year, the journalists were reporting today, Lutsenko, the former prosecutor in Ukraine, met with Rudy Giuliani in New York and they had a conversation about the Bidens and about the 2016 investigation that Rudy Giuliani went on to publicly pushed for.

But Lutsenko had also floated the idea of paying Rudy to work for him.  And so that`s very interesting because Rudy Giuliani, this whole time, has said he didn`t have clients in Ukraine, everything he`s done has been to help his client, President Trump.  And now, we`re seeing through some of the reporting today that it was actually the Ukrainians who wanted help getting this information to the Justice Department, and they wanted Rudy Giuliani to do it for them.  And that raises a lot of questions.

We broke this story the other day of subpoenas mentioning Giuliani and Giuliani Partners.  And the language was interesting.  It was actually or potential payments or agreements with Giuliani or Giuliani Partners, his consulting firm.  And the reporting sheds a little more light on what prosecutors are looking at.  Because these payments and these -- sorry, not these payments.  These draft agreements and potential payments go right to the heart of the investigation.  Was Rudy Giuliani working on behalf of a foreign government or a foreign person to influence the U.S. government, which is illegal.

KORNACKI:  Right.  So here`s the question too.  So we know Giuliani`s interest potentially at least on the behalf of Trump was to get the investigation going into the Bidens, into Burisma, all that.


KORNACKI:  Okay.  From the standpoint of this prosecutor, Lutsenko, his name came up a lot in these hearings.  Remind us who he is and what he would have wanted Giuliani to be doing for him.

HOLLIDAY:  So a number of the officials and former officials who testified in the impeachment hearings last week referred to him as a corrupt prosecutor.  He was somebody previously in the Ukrainian administration.  He no longer serves.  He got replaced.  But he was somebody who Marie Yovanovitch said was corrupt and didn`t necessarily like Marie Yovanovitch, the ambassador who got fired because, she was blocking some of his activities and pushing him to clean it up and do the job that he was supposed to be doing.

So it makes sense he had been pushing for her ouster, that`s another focus of impeachment.  And the Southern District`s investigation is why was Rudy Giuliani pushing so hard to get Marie Yovanovitch out.  So Lutsenko sort of starting this is potentially interesting if he did.  If he did go to Rudy and say, I want these things I want to bring this information to the FBI, I also want to get Yovanovitch out.  That`s very bad if that happened.

KORNACKI:  So, yes.  So, Berit, pick up on that then, because that`s a new way of looking, again, at something we`ve already known.  We had the hearings, we had Yovanovitch telling her story.  And I think there was a general understanding out there with the Yovanovitch situation that, hey, was Rudy trying to run this campaign to get her out of there?  Because then that would have helped get dirt on Biden, it would have helped get the Ukrainian government to start investigating Biden.

But now, looking at it from this angle, the potential there is this would be Rudy acting on, excuse me, a potential client`s behalf to do something that he wanted.

BERIT BERGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  And, Steve, the first thing that jumps to mind when you hear about all of this is, is this is why we have conflicts of interests screening for government workers when they`re doing and conducting foreign policy.  That is why government workers have to undergo these extensive background checks so that we know if there are potential conflicts of interest, who`s getting paid, what monies are coming.

And, ultimately, what this is is a national security risk to have a conflict of interest like this when you are supposedly conducting foreign policy on behalf of the United States.

Giuliani could also find himself for these same actions in hot water with the Southern District of New York.  Because if you`re conducting business on behalf of a foreign government, you are required -- and you`re trying to lobby the United States, you`re required to register as a foreign agent.  If you don`t register, you`re in violation of the law.  So as you --

HOLLIDAY:  Even if you`re not getting paid.

BERGER:  Even if you`re not getting paid, if you`re actually doing the work, it`s still the same.

So I think this could be evidence that the Southern District is absolutely looking at and it would not surprise me if this is a potential charge that they`re considering.

KORNACKI:  Well, Giuliani told The New York Times the president was, quote, his only client back in May.  Since then, Giuliani has insisted that his efforts in Ukraine were in support of his client, the president.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S PERSONAL ATTORNEY:  I went there as a lawyer defending his client.

Because I`m his lawyer and I know how to investigate.

As his defense lawyer, it`s my job to show if there`s an alternative explanation that proves him innocent.

I am defending my client the best way I know how.

Everything I did was to defend my client.  I am proud of what I did.


KORNACKI:  And last weekend, Giuliani insisted that he had no business interests of his own in Ukraine.


GIULIANI:  I have no financial interests in the Ukraine.  I`m not going to financially profit from anything that I know of in the Ukraine.

I have no business interests in Ukraine.  It is untrue.  It is false.


KORNACKI:  So, Philip, look at this now from the angle of Trump and Giuliani.  This is what Giuliani has been saying publicly.  Now, there`s this new reporting, a new twist on this.  Also, the president`s comments with Bill O`Reilly versus what the president has been saying, what do you make of where that relationship stands right now?

PHILIP BUMP, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  So President Trump has an established track record of as soon as someone becomes inconvenient, he doesn`t know them very well.  He didn`t get quite that far with Bill O`Reilly, but he certainly was heading down that path of, well, I`m not really sure, he`s got these other clients, I didn`t really tell him what to do.  You see him do this over and over and over again.

In this case though, it`s so obviously not the case.  As you pointed out, he specifically said to the president of Ukraine, hey, work with Rudy Giuliani.  He made this infamous meeting on May 23rd, told the so-called three amigos, including Gordon Sondland, who we saw earlier, you need to work with Rudy Giuliani.

He kept pointing people towards Giuliani as someone to work with.  And so it defies all credulity that he would now all of a sudden not really be aware of what Giuliani was doing.

I think the more fascinating aspect of this is there`s this whole soup (ph) of people that Giuliani is interacting with on the side who aren`t really related to President Trump.  There`s a couple of other attorneys.  There are these two indicted associates of his, Fruman and Parnas.  There is this reporter for The Hill, John Solomon.  There is this oligarch named Dmytro Firstash.  All these people sort of interact financially from one another, all of whom are aimed at the same direction, which is digging up this dirt, talking about what`s going on in Ukraine, all of which sort of filters its way back to the president.

And I think that one of the things we`re learning here is just how intricate those ties outside the administration actually worked.

KORNACKI:  And there`s sort of a chicken and the egg question then too.  What started what here?  Was this Trump and Rudy interested in the idea that, hey, Ukraine had something to do with the 2016 campaign, has something on the Bidens, we want to get to that, or was this Rudy starting to have a potential client relationship and then the interest in the Bidens in 2016 growing out of that?  Which was leading which there?

HOLLIDAY:  You know, I`ve watched a lot of clips for Giuliani for videos that we`ve done at The Wall Street Journal, and he has a slightly different story every time.  He`s maintained that this effort started last November.  In some cases, he said that Ukrainians dropped some information in his lap, in other cases, he said some Americans brought it to his attention.  Things really started picking up in January and February where he actually sat down and met with these Ukrainians to talk about the Biden investigation and the investigation into 2016.

You heard him say, I was doing this to defend a client and come up with an alternative explanation that clears my client.  That`s a little strange because President Trump was ultimately cleared by Robert Mueller.  They didn`t find any evidence of collusion with Russia.  So what Rudy Giuliani was doing with respect to Ukraine and this debunked theory that Ukraine had interfered in the election doesn`t make a lot of sense.

KORNACKI:  Well, in an interview on Fox last weekend, Giuliani, for his part, he said he has insurance should the president throw him under the bus.


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

GIULIANI:  I do not discuss my conversations with my client.  You can assume that I talked to him early and often and have a very, very good relationship with him.  And all of these comments, which are totally insulting -- I mean, I`ve seen things written like he`s going to throw me under the bus.  When they say that, I say he isn`t, but I have insurance.


KORNACKI:  Now, Reuters is reporting that Giuliani`s lawyer made him call the president to emphasize he was not serious.  His attorney told Reuters, he shouldn`t joke.  He`s not a funny guy.

Berit, what do you make of what Giuliani was saying there and this explanation now?

BERGER:  Well, I think his lawyer is giving him some good advice by saying, you should stay away from joking on a subject like this, I mean, when you say you have insurance against somebody that you`re representing that is the target of this impeachment.  So, I mean, it sounds like a threat, right?  It sounds like --

HOLLIDAY:  The president of the United States.

BERGER:  Exactly.  If you come forward, I`m going to release all this dirt that I have on you, which is never a position that an attorney should be in talking about their client.  I mean, to the extent that he has information about his client, Donald Trump, that was presumably made in confidence and would be something that an attorney or at least an ethical one would not breach and certainly would not joke about.

So I think he`s getting good advice from his lawyer.  I hope he follows that advice and steers away from making threats like these.

KORNACKI:  And there is a bigger question here.  Not a question but I think sort of a bigger theme here with Giuliani just in terms of he has made a lot of money through the years going overseas, dealing with foreign governments, dealing with folks abroad.  Picking up and going into Ukraine was sort of an extension in some ways of how he`s been making money.

BUMP:  Yes, that`s exactly right.  And Giuliani has seemed to be pretty opportunistic in terms of which clients he takes on.

And I think that part of what we`re seeing is that while he represented to the United States that he was working on behalf of President Trump, I think it certainly was the case that his eyes opened for other opportunities.  And that while he was making these presentations on cable news broadcast, he was at the same time trying to work a side hustle, which I think is very on brand for Rudy Giuliani as well.

And the question just is how much that, A, gets him into trouble and how much, B, it bleeds over into what he was doing for the president of the United States.

And I just want to add as a journalist, I`m happy to have him keep talking, get on the news, talk all you want, we want to learn more about what`s going on.

KORNACKI:  Yes.  We have certainly seen not just on the news, Twitter.  We`ve seen quite a few from Giuliani.  It`s one of the interesting aspects of this era.

Shelby Holliday, Philip Bump, Berit Berger, thank you all for being with us.

And still ahead with a new phase set to begin in the impeachment investigation, there is new reporting on what President Trump knew and when he knew it.  The New York Times reporting the president knew about the whistleblower complaint before he released the military aid to Ukraine.

Plus, ten weeks from tonight, we will be talking about the winner of the Iowa caucuses.  And coming up, what the polling tells us about the state of the race for each of the top candidates.  There is some good news, there is some bad news.  We`re going to go through each piece of it for all four of those candidates.

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


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The impeachment inquiry is moving into a new phase as the House Judiciary Committee takes up the case.  The committee is set to hold its first hearing next Wednesday on, quote, the historical and constitutional basis of impeachment.

Meanwhile, a new reporting from The New York Times cast doubt on Donald Trump`s earliest denial of a quid pro quo and raises new questions about what led to the release of security assistance to Ukraine.  According to two people familiar with the matter, quote, President Trump had already been briefed on a whistleblower`s complaint about his dealings with Ukraine when he unfroze military aid for the country in September.  That briefing came from White House lawyers in late August.

The implication is that, by September, the president was likely aware that the whistleblower had alleged a link between the freeze of military aid and the president`s quest for dirt from Ukraine.  That could have influenced Trump`s decision to finally release that aid.

But Trump`s knowledge of that allegation may have also prompted his unsolicited denial of a quid pro quo to Ambassador Sondland on a phone call on September 9th.  Even Sondland didn`t know why the president brought up a quid pro quo in that conversation.


SONDLAND:  And I asked him the open ended question as I testified previously, what do you want from Ukraine?  His answer was I want nothing, I want no quid pro quo.

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL):  Do you know what prompted him to say that?  You asked him what do you want, and he goes directly to there is no quid pro quo as opposed to going directly to the list of things that he wanted.  What prompted him to use that term?

SONDLAND:  I have no clue.


KORNACKI:  However, the president is still relying on that denial as a chief line of defense against impeachment.  Here he was last night.


TRUMP:  Last week, Sondland testified that I told him, quote, what do you want from Ukraine?  And I said I want nothing.  This is a quote.  I want no quid pro quo.  I want nothing.


KORNACKI:  And I`m joined now by Gabby Orr, White House Reporter for Politico, and Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist.

Gabby, yes, so the significance here of this reporting is exactly what we just heard the president saying there, and we heard a number of Republicans on that committee during those hearings the past couple of weeks point out:  Hey, Trump was on the phone with Gordon Sondland.  He told him directly no quid pro quo. 

The significance here now is, this reporting suggests the president knew, when he was saying that, about the whistle-blower complaint. 

GABBY ORR, POLITICO:  Right, Steve. 

And one of the biggest parts of the Republicans` defense so far of the president is that there couldn`t have been a quid pro quo because foreign aid to Ukraine was eventually released. 

But now that we know that the president was fully aware of the whistle- blower complaint before the foreign aid was released on September 11, it does poke holes in that defense, because now the question becomes, was the president releasing that aid out of benevolence for Ukraine, or was he releasing that aid because he wanted to begin a cover-up, because he knew that this whistle-blower complaint was going to land him in trouble?

KORNACKI:  Rick, there is a gap there, a number of days, between, the reporting suggests, when the president learned of the whistle-blower complaint and then when this aid was finally released. 

Is that enough?  Is that enough of a gap for Republicans to stick to this line, or do you think they`re going to abandon it now? 


And, look, are the facts really in dispute here?  Anybody with a lick of common sense and has known Donald Trump or spent 10 minutes with him know exactly what his motivations were here.  And all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together. 

And the fact that we now know that the whistle-blower -- he had been briefed on the whistle-blower before he released the aid just tells you he got caught.  And it`s as simple as that. 

KORNACKI:  Well, in a letter yesterday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler set a Sunday deadline for the president to choose a lawyer to represent him in the Judiciary Committee`s impeachment proceedings. 

However, "The New York Times" reports that -- quote -- "A person familiar with deliberations among the president`s legal team said no decision had been made about whether to engage in a public defense of the president during those hearings."

Gabby, this seems a very significant question.  We`re talking about these Judiciary Committee hearings beginning next week.  It would be the Judiciary Committee that would draw up articles of impeachment, if that`s where this is ultimately going, which many people suspect it is. 

This seems like there is a very basic decision the White House needs to make here about whether it wants to acknowledge and participate in these -- these hearings as a legitimate exercise or just to say, hey, we`re not going to do this. 

ORR:  Right. 

And White House officials will acknowledge that there are internal deliberations happening right now over whether or not they should get involved and defend the president before the House Judiciary Committee. 

The tough spot that they find themselves in, though, is that, for the past several weeks, they have claimed that this is an illegitimate investigation, that this whole process has been a sham, and that it has the president the due process that he is afford -- he would typically be afforded. 

And so for them now to get involved and to claim that this is something that they need to take seriously, it becomes difficult to reconcile both of those approaches. 

And I think that`s why you`re seeing the White House Counsel`s Office behind the scenes determine whether or not it would be wise for the president to have an attorney represent him before the House Judiciary Committee. 

KORNACKI:  Rick, watching those Intelligence Committee impeachment hearings over the last couple of weeks, I think folks were trying to see if there were any signs of cracks on the Republican side. 

A lot of attention was paid to Will Hurd from Texas, who was seen as perhaps the most likely to break, if it was going to come to that.  He didn`t.  No other Republican on that committee did.

We`re now starting to get some of the post-hearing polling, is starting to come out.  What is your sense of the temperature politically on the Republican side?  It is still lockstep behind Trump.  Any potential for breaks here? 

TYLER:  Look, I don`t think so. 

I think the Republicans are going to stick with Trump because they feel that Trump is their ticket to staying in power and reelection, which I think is rather sad and shortsighted. 

I don`t know that the lawyers -- you know, what lawyer is going to want to go and defend Trump in this thing?  So that`s probably the internal deliberation. 

And, by the way, they will have jumpy Jim Jordan, who will be -- make a fool of himself defending the president. 

I mean, the facts here -- the reason -- the only reason not to show up is because the facts aren`t in your favor, and you can`t -- and you can`t defend this.  And that seems to be the line that they`re going in. 

But, remember, this is a process, Steve -- and people need to understand, because the White House has done a pretty good job of trying to undermine the process.  We are now at the point in the process where the president gets to defend himself. 

He has been trying to say that he has not been represented, because that they were on a fact-finding mission.  Now comes the point where he can send someone to defend himself, tell the story.  And if the facts are on their side, they will send someone, and they will prove that the whole thing, as the president says, is a hoax.

But they`re not going to do that, because the facts are not on their side.  No one disputes the elements of the story.  And so the only thing they have left is to, A, undermine the process or, B, say, yes, it happened, so what?  What are you going to do about it?  Or it`s not that bad, or everybody does it.

And so that`s where -- that`s where we`re at.  And we will see how that plays out. 

KORNACKI:  Well, meanwhile, there is also news about the expected findings from the review of the FBI`s conduct in the Russia probe.

That was conducted by the Justice Department`s inspector general, Michael Horowitz.

And NBC News has tonight confirmed reporting from "The New York Times" that Horowitz -- quote -- "found no evidence that the FBI attempted to place undercover agents or informants inside Donald Trump`s campaign in 2016," as the president and his supporters have claimed.

Separately, "The New York Times" also reports that Horowitz -- quote -- "also found that FBI leaders did not take politically motivated actions in pursuing a secret wiretap on a former Trump campaign adviser."

However -- quote -- "He unearthed errors and omissions when FBI officials applied for the wiretap."  The story notes the draft report is not final.

Gabby, it`s interesting.  A lot of folks here have drawn comparisons in terms of what Trump defenders were hoping for and expecting from this inspector general`s report to what Trump critics were hoping for and expecting from the Mueller report. 

ORR:  Yes, it is a good comparison, because a lot of people were looking at the Mueller report to be far more damning than it ultimately proved to be for this president, if you ask his political advisers and people involved in his campaign.

The reaction that President Trump will have to the Horowitz report should be interesting, because, on the one hand, I think that a lot of White House officials and members of his campaign will ultimately do exactly what they did when the Mueller report was released, which is find the evidence that works to fit their narrative and then elevate that and drive it home to the president`s base and to independent voters and people that they need to bring into the fold in 2020. 

Wait for them to sort of cherry-pick the things that they find most interesting.  And we do know, just based on reporting leading up the public release of this report, that Horowitz will be critical in some instances of FBI operations. 

And I think that`s exactly what you can expect the president and his team to hone in on when they try to build out their narrative, even if there are other elements of this report that do not vindicate the president`s claims that he has been making about internal spies inside his campaign. 

KORNACKI:  And, Rick, also, the inspector general`s report -- there is also the review that Barr, the attorney general, is conducting that Republicans are also looking at. 

TYLER:  Yes, that`s Durham. 

And that`s the report I have been told over and over by Trumpers that I`m to wait for and all the revelations that are going to come out from it.  Of course, they said this about the Horowitz report. 

The Horowitz report is very important because it puts into perspective what happened.  It sets the record straight.  And long after Trump is long gone, historians will look back and say, aha, a president claimed that the former president had wiretapped him, was spying on his campaign, and the I.G. did a report, and it`s simply not true.

Surprise, surprise. 

KORNACKI:  All right, Rick Tyler, Gabby Orr, thanks to both of you for joining us. 

TYLER:  Thank you. 

ORR:  Thank you. 

KORNACKI:  All right.

And up next:  With less than 70 days to go until the Iowa caucuses -- how about that, 70 days -- going to head over to the Big Board.  We`re going to break down the good news and the bad news for the top-tier candidates. 

We got a bunch of polls this week to tell us where the race stands.

You are watching HARDBALL. 


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Well, we said it.  About 10 weeks from now, we`re going to know who won the Iowa caucuses.  We`re going to be on the verge of the New Hampshire primary.  This thing is going to be off and running.  The Democratic presidential primaries will be under way.  Maybe we will get a nominee quickly.  Maybe it`ll take a long time.  Maybe it`ll go all the way to the convention. 

But we figured we would take the temperature right now, where this race stands.

So, why don`t we look at the four candidates right now?  There are four candidates on the Democratic side who are really in double digits.  They`re really kind of popping in the polls.  And we thought we would take a look at, when you look at their numbers, what`s good for them right now and what`s bad for them right now, because, really, it`s kind of a mixed picture for all of them. 

So let`s start with Joe Biden, right?  What is good for Joe Biden in the polls right now?  It`s the obvious one.  This is the national polling average.  And Joe Biden`s ahead.  He`s ahead by double digits.  He`s in the high 20s.  His numbers have been stable around there for a while right now.

Remember, a little bit more than a month ago, Elizabeth Warren was charging up.  She even caught him for a day or two in the national average.  Again, she has fallen back.  Biden is the clear leader in the national polling average. 

That`s not a bad place to be, especially if you have been there for a while. 

So, what`s the bad news for Joe Biden?  He is not the leader in the first two states that vote.  In Iowa, this is the polling average.  Look at this.  You got to go down to fourth place.  It`s a little tight in there, but fourth place, Joe Biden fourth place in the leadoff state, and also fourth place in New Hampshire. 

And you can see, that is the risk for Joe Biden.  Does he underperform in Iowa?  Does he look like -- he`s running as the idea of electable, running as the idea of a winner.  Does he look like a loser coming out of Iowa?  Does that spill over to New Hampshire?  Does he do terribly in Iowa, terribly in New Hampshire? 

And does that affect his support in other states?  That firewall in South Carolina, his campaign is always talking about.  So, Biden looking good nationally, but not necessarily in the first two states. 

OK, let`s take a look at Elizabeth Warren.  What`s good for Elizabeth Warren in the polling?  Well, it says New Hampshire up here.  This was actually a -- this was the national polling average, actually, it should say.  A little typo there.

But this was the polling in the middle of October.  She is capable of moving up in the national polling.  At least she was at one point capable of it.  She got into the lead nationally. 

But, again, what`s bad -- again, this should say nationally.  I apologize.  But what`s bad is, her support has fallen in half.  Basically, over the last six weeks nationally, Warren has gone from 28 percent down to 14 percent. 

That is a major problem for her campaign, the trajectory now.  It was up, up, up for her for months, and now it is down, and down sharply. 

OK, Bernie Sanders.  What`s good for Bernie Sanders right now in the polling?  Well, it`s this.  He`s back in second place.  We mentioned Warren falling off.  Sanders in second place.  And, remember, less than two months ago, we were talking about Bernie Sanders, heart attack, health scare, oldest candidate in the field.  Was he going to have to drop out of the race?

Well, instead, he`s moved back to second place.  Again, given everything he`s been through, given where this thing stood for him about two months ago, not a bad place to be.

What`s the bad news for Sanders?  It`s this.  This is the biggest problem when you look inside the numbers for him.  It`s the age gap.  This is his support, recent national poll, youngest voters, 28 percent, very solid, 35 to 49 down to 18, 50 to 64 down to 7, 65-plus 3 percent. 

Here`s the thing.  More than half of the votes in the Democratic primaries are going to come from these age groups right here.  And he`s at 7 percent and 3 percent with them.  We saw this with Sanders in 2016 as well.  Older voters -- there are a lot of older voters -- they are very skeptical of Bernie Sanders.  That`s a bad sign for him. 

Pete Buttigieg, good news, bad news.  Good news for Buttigieg, well, take a look at this.  Among white voters in the Democratic primary, new poll came out this week, Buttigieg is now in first place.  He`s ahead of Biden, Warren.  He`s ahead of everybody.  First place with white voters. 

What does it look like in the first state where black voters make up a major part of the electorate, though?  Where`s Buttigieg?  Oh, zero percent.  South Carolina, zero percent.

South Carolina, 60 percent of the electorate is black, nationally 25 percent.  Buttigieg has not shown any traction there yet.  He`s got to, if he wants to win the Democratic nomination.

So, there you go, four candidates popping right now.  What`s good, what`s bad?  We still got a ways to go, but we thought we would check in.

Up next:  What do these big polling shifts and discrepancies mean at this point in the race?  What does it tell us about the current field of candidates? 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Nobody in the first three years of a presidency has done what we have done, nobody, nobody. 


TRUMP:  That`s very important. 

But with your help, we`re going to complete the mission.  And we are draining the swamp, indeed. 


TRUMP:  On Election Day 2020, the crazy Democrats are going down in a landslide. 


KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With the Iowa caucuses just a little more than two months away, President Trump is eager to face off with his Democratic challenger, whoever it ends up being.  Given the string of recent polls, it is not quite clear who it will be or when the nominee will emerge.

For more, I`m joined by Azi Paybarah, "New York Times" metro reporter, Danielle Moodie-Mills, co-host of the "Democracy-ish" podcast, and John Podhoretz, editor at "Commentary Magazine".

Azi, I`ll start with you.  When we`re putting all the numbers up.  The Biden one is interesting because it`s almost a Rorschach test, right? 

Do you want to be Biden or do you want to be the candidate who`s leading national right now or has been?  Or do you want to be the candidate who`s losing fourth place in both Iowa and New Hampshire?  Which one of those is more important right now? 

AZI PAYBARAH, METRO REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Everybody loves a come back story.  And we`ve seen it time and time again, somebody comes out of Iowa, people write these headlines anointing a frontrunner.  New Hampshire says, we have a voice in this, too.  Somebody comes out of there leading, South Carolina says, we have a voice. 

Nobody wants to feel as a voter that things are wrapped up before they vote, that they`re not sort of being sought after as a constituency.  And one thing that is very helpful, everyone likes to take shots at the front- runner.  If you`re at the bottom at some of those polling, one of the best things is you have nowhere else to go but up, and the challenge is actually doing it. 

But you at least get to have this narrative of building momentum, starting at the bottom, moving all the way up. 

KORNACKI:  I`m curious, let`s spend a little time here on Biden, because I -- how do you assess his political standing, John, because there`s a theory that, wow, it`s been six months, he`s still in first place.  And there`s a theory that, wow, if you`ve seen him in these debates and when you get a week or two out from the first contests and people are paying close attention, those numbers are going to drop? 

JOHN PODHORETZ, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE EDITOR:  I don`t know -- look, it seems like there was a floor under Biden and the floor is 28 percent.  That is what you look at from April until now.  He was at 28 percent. 

Like if you drew a line through the graph, of course, you want to be that guy.  I mean, would you prefer to be that guy and in first place in Iowa, and first place in New Hampshire, yes, but it`s not that far behind and they`re kind of clumped the four of them a bit, and we have this kind of Buttigieg bubble particularly in Iowa, and he`s going to have to sustain that. 

But it`s just as easy to say that Biden could come in a close second in Iowa or, you know, the three people could effectively tie in Iowa, and then he could do perfectly fine in New Hampshire, and then he goes South and he devastates the field from South Carolina through Super Tuesday.  And that 28 percent carries him to the nomination. 

KORNACKI:  Yes.  I mean, Danielle, I think it seems likely that if Biden can win or certainly two of those early states or be seen as succeeding, as John says, you don`t necessarily have to win.  Clinton got second in New Hampshire and famously called himself a comeback kid.  It was as good as winning New Hampshire.  And then that support he has in South Carolina and beyond should hold. 

But I think the question is what if he does come in a distant third in Iowa?  He`s 10, 15 points behind?  What if he does come in a distant third, fourth place in New Hampshire?  What if he`s not at good showing in those states? 

His campaign talks about South Carolina, his support from black voters is a firewall.  Is it? 

DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS, DEMOCRACY-ISH PODCAST HOST:  No, it`s not.  I think that here`s the thing we have to understand about black voters right now is that we are not a monolith.  There are young black millennials who are not for Biden and have not been for Biden because he doesn`t speak to any of their issues.  He doesn`t speak to student debt relief, he doesn`t speak to climate change in an aggressive way. 

You have older black voters on his side because they are looking to see where are the white voters who voted for Trump going to go. 

Here`s the thing: we understand what oppression and discrimination looks like on a daily basis and we understand Trump to be a lethal threat to our way of life.  And so, we are going to go, some black voters as it`s polling right now in South Carolina, we`ll go the way that seems the safest.

But it doesn`t seem that if Joe Biden comes out of Iowa in fourth, comes out of New Hampshire in fourth, that South Carolina is going to save him.  No, they`re going to look at him and say, wait a minute, you know what, maybe we should be taking a look at Elizabeth Warren because she has a plan for black women and HBCUs.  Maybe we should look at Bernie Sanders, right?

And for Pete Buttigieg, I mean, he`s at zero percent with black people and he really needs to think about that, because what we`ve seen with him is that there`s a pattern that comes out of Pete Buttigieg`s campaign where he doesn`t naturally speak that well to black issues or to black people.  And that is something that we`re seeing.  Zero percent right now is not where he should be at all. 

KORNACKI:  It`s interesting.  You both mentioned Buttigieg.  The movement that we`ve seen in the polling in this race really has been among college educated white voters.  Kamala Harris had a big jump with them over the summer, seemed to shift to Warren, now seems to be shifting to Buttigieg. 

Are those voters finding a home there do you think, Azi, or is there going to be another candidate who emerge -- is it going to be Klobuchar?  Is it going to go back to Warren?  What do you think about that? 

PAYBARAH:  It is -- I have no idea.  That is the one thing I`m absolutely sure of. 

But it seems like what happened with Republicans in 2016 was that they cycled through a couple of different candidates, it turned out to be Donald Trump and they did something that not many people expected, they coalesced because they wanted to beat Democrats more than they care truly about who was their standard bearer. 

And I wonder if that`s the same thing that`s going to happen with Democrats.  There`s going to be a very intense fight, very strong fight about values, about principles, about strategy.  And I think when voters start thinking about how pure of a candidate they want coming out of a primary versus Donald Trump, when they speak to those kind of issues about an existential threat from the administration, I truly wonder how much are they going to make a strategic choice versus a values choice because a statement.

PODHORETZ:  OK.  Let me give you the ultimate 2016 history.  Trump enters the race in June, by August, he`s in the lead and he never surrenders the national lead.  And every pundit, me, everybody else is like he`s going to die, he`s going to collapse, something`s going to happen, he`s going to make a fool of himself, people are not going to take it seriously. 

Once they really focus after the Super Bowl, after the World Series, after this, after that, and it didn`t happen.  And that is Biden`s potential ace in the hole, that we`re all sitting around waiting for him to collapse.  He has not collapsed.  There have been four debates.  Everyone thinks he did badly, doesn`t seem to have mattered a whit. 

I mean, maybe if he done really well, he would be at 40 percent, and this race would effectively be over.  But he has not.  It`s not that he`s defied gravity, it`s that he`s achieved some kind of equilibrium in the polls, I`m sorry, that has him in the lead. 

KORNACKI:  Let me -- a minute left here.  Let me go around and let me ask you this, the same question all of you.  If not Biden, who do you think is best positioned to take this? 

MOODIE-MILLS:  Elizabeth Warren.  She`s best positioned.  She has the best policy ideas.  She`s a strong candidate: 

And aside from the fact billionaires are attacking her left and right, which everyone should be paying attention to who`s attacking her and why, it makes her an incredibly strong candidate.  And I think it`s patriarchy that may get in her way, not necessarily her. 

KORNACKI:  One for Warren.  What do you think, Azi?

PAYBARAH:  Sanders seems to have this kind of rock solid support base.  He didn`t win in 2016.  He does have some support.  There are Warren supporters and Sanders supporters who have some affinity for each other, I wonder if he could actually put this one out.

KORNACKI:  Same question, John.  Quickly.

PODHORETZ:  I`m going to say that if it`s not Biden and if things don`t really shake-up, we`re heading to a (INAUDIBLE)

KORNACKI:  Well, there it is.  There it is. 

PODHORETZ:  No one is popping.  That`s the simple matter.  No one is popping.  Three people at 22 percent or something like that. 

KORNACKI:  All right.  Well, we`ve been -- all the false alarms for four decades, maybe it`ll actually happen. 

Azi Paybarah, Danielle Moodie-Mills, John Podhoretz.

And up next, Chris talks to a giant in the media business about journalism in the age of Trump. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

I`m here now with one of my heroes, Frank Bennack.  Frank was the CEO of the Hearst Corporation from 1979 to 2013, overseeing its newspapers, magazines, television affiliates, digital businesses throughout massive changes in the media landscape. 

It was during that time that I served as Washington bureau chief for the Hearst`s own "San Francisco Examiner", and later as national columnist for "The San Francisco Chronicle". 

Frank now is currently the executive vice president of Hearst and he`s out with a new book, "Leave Something on the Table: And Other Surprising Lessons for Success in Business and in Life". 

Frank, thank you. 


MATTHEWS:  You know what you represent, you represent that golden age of newspapers all around the country, the San Antonio paper that you ran and the whole collection of Hearst papers.  And you were the guy who I hold -- well, I give you credit like everybody else on the planet to saving the Hearst Corporation through all these changes, right?

BENNACK:  Been massive, been massive.  Been a great run, great trip. 

MATTHEWS:  And everybody talks about the death of newspapers and yet every night on this program, we rely on newspaper accounts.

BENNACK:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And stories breaking.  How`s that working out? 

BENNACK:  Well, as I`ve said in the book and elsewhere, our papers are profitable, not as profitable in their heyday, but as we get it right on the digital side, it`s really now a combination of the reader paying more and succeeding in digital.  And if you can have your website, the newspaper website be the leading one in the marketplace, you can do reasonably well. 

Newspapers in general used to garner about 25 percent of all advertising.  Today, that`s a teen number, maybe 13 percent or 14 percent.  So, we`re having to do without less advertising, so the reader has to pay more and we`ll have to do better on the digital. 

MATTHEWS:  How important is it we have a free press?  Simple question but you`ve been around. 

BENNACK:  Super important.  I really can`t imagine the United States or a world without a free press.  And we`re under as much duress right now as we`ve ever been, and I guess that`s maybe an overstatement because --

MATTHEWS:  Well, no, because you`ve got a -- I know you`re not partisan, but a president -- not professionally partisan, but we have a president who calls it fake news every day, (INAUDIBLE) your papers.


BENNACK:  Well, and a true larger part of the population buys into that as being real.  And it`s the reason we have to be better than we ever were, not only in our newspapers but in our television stations and our radio stations.  And everything we do because the scrutiny that we undergo every day, it exceeds anything that -- in my lifetime appreciably (ph).

MATTHEWS:  Do you think journalists now are more or less opinionated than they were when you first got into it? 

BENNACK:  Well, it became OK to become o opinionated.  I`m all right with that, except as long as it`s marked opinion.  But it slips into the column, it`s not so good. 

And I think the really good ones that you and I admire know how to write opinion and make it clear that that`s opinion.  But I think it`s a different -- a different world.  And through the years, the objectivity of at least trying to say that we were right down the middle, that we were neither partisan on either side of the ledger, and of course that`s gone away in today`s world. 

MATTHEWS:  You know we`ve got the Jeff Bezos, who`s a billionaire.

BENNACK:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And he runs "The Washington Post" here in the Washington.  We`ve got the family up in New York, "The New York Times", the Salzberger is, of course, "The New York Times" for all these years, and the Hearst. 

BENNACK:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  How many -- is this something we can count on in the future, wealthy families who are basically willing to be philanthropic and back a big newspaper, any newspaper?

BENNACK:  I think so.  I think that the problem is going to be where it was the livelihood of families that aren`t that rich and have not been as well, and if you can`t attract capital, it`s hard to stay in business. 

But I think the families that are devoted to it are really devoted to it.  And they pass it along and it`s up to guys like me who can be sure that culture survives me. 

One of the reasons I didn`t retire, or even I flunked retirement and became the executive vice chair instead of president and leaving is that I believe in what we`ve done over the past eight years because I`m going to be there to do everything I can to preserve our independence and the job we do for our community. 

MATTHEWS:  It`s a book, a book by a guy who knows how to save newspapers, save TV, save everything.  He put it all together, "Leave Something on the Table" by the great and I mean that, the great Frank Bennack. 

Thank you, Frank.  Thanks for coming on our program.

BENNACK:  Thank you, Chris.  Great to see you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

BENNACK:  Thank you.

KORNACKI:  Chris Matthews with former Hearst CEO, Frank Bennack. 

Stay with us.  You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI:  That`s HARDBALL for now.  I`m Steve Kornacki.  Thanks for being with us. 

Chris Matthews returns on Monday.  He will be joined by former Secretary of State John Kerry. 

Also, be sure to check out my podcast.  It`s called "Article II: Inside Impeachment".  It`s a great way to catch up on the impeachment investigation as you travel through your holiday destination.

And speaking of that, we wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.