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McConnell-Schumer clash over trial. TRANSCRIPT: 12/19/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Ben Rhodes, Susan Page, Dana Milbank, Eric Swalwell Chris Coons,Cory Booker


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  That does it for me.  I`ll see you back here on THE BEAT, 6:00 P.M. tomorrow.  HARDBALL with Chris Matthews is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  The trial on Donald Trump.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

Here`s where we are right now on the upcoming trial of President Trump in the U.S. Senate.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer today held a meeting with his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, to discuss how impeachment will proceed in the Senate, which will hold the president`s trial, of course.

According to a statement from Senator Schumer`s office, the senator, quote, made clear to McConnell that the witnesses and documents are necessary to ensure a fair trial in the Senate.  So he wants witnesses, he wants documents to make it fair.  And late today, Senator McConnell said the two sides were at an impasse.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  We remain at an impasse because my friend, the Democratic leader, continues to demand a new and different set of rules for President Trump.

My colleague wants a special pre-trial guarantee of certain witnesses whom the House Democrats themselves did not bother to pursue as they assemble their case.

I`m not sure what leverage there is in refraining to sending us something we do not want.  We`ll see whether House Democrats ever want to work up the courage to actually take their accusations to trial.


MATTHEWS:  Well, McConnell`s position is that the Senate will or should decide on witnesses during the course of the trial itself.  That would, of course under, parliamentary rules, leave it up to his majority of 53 Republicans to decide during the course of the Senate trial whether or not to have witnesses at all, whether or to demand documents at all.  It will all be up to Mitch McConnell if he gets it his way.

Well, this comes after the U.S. House of Representatives last night rendered, of course, the gravest constitutional check on any president a president can face with two historic votes, they passed articles of impeachment against Donald Trump.  And the record now shows and history will always remember that this president was the third chief of executive to ever earn this rare dishonor.

Now, in the wake of that vote yesterday, House Democrats are weighing whether they would delay sending that impeachment resolution over to the Senate citing the need for a fair trial over there.  At the very least, Nancy Pelosi made clear last night that she won`t name impeachment managers to make the case against Trump who will serve as prosecutors, of course, in the trial until she knows how the Senate intends to conduct itself.

Here she is.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side.

So far we haven`t seen anything that looks fair to us, so hopefully it will be fair and when we see what that is for the managers.

REPORTER:  So you would withhold -- you would wait to send the articles until you understand what the Senate is going to do?

PELOSI:  We`ll make the decision as a group, as we always have, as we go along.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Democrats are considering to delay because McConnell effectively promised last week that the Senate would allow the president and his lawyers, the defendants in this case, to set the terms of his own trial.  Here he goes.


MCCONNELL:  And everything I do during this, I am coordinating with White House Counsel.  There will be no difference between the president`s position and our position.

Exactly how we go forward, I`m going to coordinate with the president`s lawyers, total coordination with the White House Counsel`s Office.

Again, I`m going to take my cues from the president`s lawyers.  The president`s counsel may or may not decide they want to have witnesses.

There is no chance the president is going to be removed from office.


MATTHEWS:  Step back and you realize that there is a juror, a member of the hundred-person jury in the U.S. Senate saying, I`m going to take my orders from the defendant and his lawyers.  Well, that`s a hell of a trial.

Anyway, in dueling remarks earlier today, McConnell and Pelosi, the speaker, engaged in a rhetorical showdown over the next steps in Trump`s impeachment.  McConnell said any delay reflects badly on the Democrats` case.  Well, Pelosi held firm.


MCCONNELL:  Speaker Pelosi suggested that House Democrats may be too afraid, too afraid to even transmit their shoddy work product to the Senate.  Mrs. President, it looks like the prosecutors are getting cold feet.

PELOSI:  We would hope there would be a fair process just as we hope that they would honor the Constitution.

Our founders, when they wrote the Constitution, they suspected that there could be a rogue president.  I don`t think they suspected that we`d have a rogue president and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same time.


MATTHEWS:  I`m joined right now by Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell, of course, of California, a member of the House Intelligence Committee and also the Judiciary Committee.  Congressman, thank you for being on all the time when we needed you.  And you`re a great narrator of what`s going on.

So help me out here.  The United States Constitution under Article I gives all the power over the trial of a president in an impeachment matter to the Senate.  So how does the speaker set the terms which is what`s going on right now?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA):  Yes.  The Speaker, like any prosecutor, doesn`t want to walk into a courtroom where the foreperson of the jury is working with the defendant.  She wants to make sure that it`s going to be a fair trial.  And after all, don`t we owe that to the courageous witnesses who came forward and risked their careers, their livelihood and even their lives to tell the truth about what happened, and don`t we owe that to the president who deserves a fair trial, but more importantly, the American people, 70 percent of whom said earlier this week that they want the president to send his witnesses forward, which means that they want Mitch McConnell to have a trial that includes witnesses.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Congressman, you know that even if you ask most Republicans in the country who are down the line for Trump, they want a fair trial too.  At least they say that to pollsters.  So the principle she`s after is clearly established and clearly admirable.

The question is how many days can she hold out?  The House did not name managers before you recessed for the year.  You can`t do it again apparently according to the rules until the Tuesday after new year`s, which is the 7th, okay.  So the House comes back and you`ve named managers.  If you don`t name managers, how long can you put it off and say -- because Mitch McConnell looks like he`s not giving in right now.

He says, I`m going to do what I`m going to do, my same old way, I`ll decide somewhere during the trial itself if we`re going to have witnesses or not, and, of course, that would leave his 53 Republicans on his side of the aisle in complete charge in probably going along with him as the foreman of the jury, as you`ve just said, and they won`t have any witnesses, and it will be too late to stop.  So how do we get past this impasse?

Pelosi says we`re not sending the managers over to the Senate.  He`s saying, live with it, we`re not going to have any witnesses in this trial, basically.

SWALWELL:  And, you know, Chris, it hasn`t even been 24 hours since the president has been twice impeached by the Congress.  However, I think the speaker is trying to get assurances from the majority leader and she`s hoping that the Mitch McConnell of 1999 during the Clinton impeachment trial who said that trials have witnesses is going to be the Mitch McConnell of this impeachment trial.  And I don`t think it`s unreasonable to ask that, and I don`t think that means it`s going to be a delay that goes on and on, but she should have assurances that the American people and the president will have witnesses at this trial.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I don`t know.  I don`t know.  I`m thinking of something to say but I`m not going to say it about frogs and kisses.  But let me just tell you, nothing is going to change McConnell, nothing.

Anyway, the president is now fundraising off this impeachment --

SWALWELL:  Well, McConnell cares about McConnell, Chris.  And when 70 percent of Americans are saying the president should send witnesses, I don`t think Mitch McConnell cares about the president at all.  I think he cares about holding his majority and being re-elected.  And if Kentuckians and every day Americans want to hear from these individuals about the president`s abuse of power, I think that`s going to mean something.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here he is.  It might be disgusting to you and me, but here he is, the president is now fund-raising off his impeachment.  A Trump campaign email to supporters today, today, the day after he`s been impeached on two articles contains the subject line make, them pay and refers to Democrats who voted against the president last night, calls them traitors.  So anybody who votes against the president in an impeachment matter in a due process of Congress is a traitor to him.

And he`s now the -- what do you make of that, Congressman?  He now refers to himself implicitly as the republic.  If you vote against him, you vote against the country.

SWALWELL:  And that`s exactly why he was also impeached on the second article for obstructing Congress that he believes that he has the same Powers as Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un, two dictators right now.  He doesn`t believe he has to answer to anyone else.

But, Chris, he also cannot imagine why anyone would do the right thing even if it meant risking their job.  He has never surrounded himself around courage like that.  He`s never shown courage like that.  And it is quite, I would say, dizzying and bewildering to him because it`s something he doesn`t recognize in himself or anyone that he knows.

MATTHEWS:  You know, he did say something, which is objectively totally dishonest.  He said, you people, Democrats, are trying to get witnesses in the Senate you never called yourself.  When everybody knows people on your side of the aisle, the Democrats say, we wanted John Bolton, we wanted Mick Mulvaney, the people you most wanted to testify in the Senate, you tried like hell to get through subpoena in the House side during the impeachment process itself.

SWALWELL:  Chris, if those witnesses could have helped the president, he would have sent them to us.  And the best evidence that the president does not care about executive privilege, he`s no constitutional scholar who`s being principled in this even if it means he`s impeached.  He sent the call record because he thought the call record was perfect.  If he believed that John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney violated executive privilege, he would have applied the same principle to the call record.  The call record was not perfect.  He realized he`d gotten caught and that`s why he put the brakes on anyone else coming forward.

MATTHEWS:  My old rule, if it`s better than it looks, they`ll show you.  He doesn`t want to show you.  Thank you, Congressman.  It`s great to have you on.  Have a Merry Christmas and a happy holidays, U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell of California.

SWALWELL:  You too.  Merry Christmas.  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, sir.

Senator Schumer told NBC News earlier today that he`s onboard with Speaker Pelosi if she decides to delay in sending those articles of impeachment to the Senate.  He said, if the speaker wants to hold onto them, it`s fine with us.  And he blasted Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor for daring to block witnesses with knowledge of the president`s conduct from even testifying in the trial.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY):  Is the president`s case so weak that none of the president`s men can defend him under oath.  If the House case is so weak, why is Leader McConnell so afraid of witnesses and documents?

I have yet to hear one good argument why less evidence is better than more evidence.


MATTHEWS:  I`m joined right now by Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.  Thank you, Senator, for joining us.

What do you make of this back and forth tonight between the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader over whether there will be a Senate trial even of the president?  It seems like the Senate Republican leader is saying, well, we really don`t want the articles.  This is a strange conversation so far.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE):  Well, Chris, it`s been a striking week here in the Senate.  Obviously, the House has impeached President Trump on two articles.  We`ve also passed a whole bunch of other bills that are I think well worth talking about, but we are leaving for the holiday break without clarity about when the impeachment articles will come over and when the Senate trial will begin.

Majority Leader McConnell, Senator Schumer need to negotiate what are going to be the rules around evidence and witnesses.  And it`s my hope that they`ll get that done before we return on January 6th.

MATTHEWS:  But Mitch McConnell`s position is you don`t negotiate any of that until the trial begins.  You don`t even talk about witnesses until you`ve gotten the trial under way.

COONS:  Well, I think this is Majority Leader McConnell`s effort to block witnesses and block evidence.  Frankly, one of the striking things to me last night was that after President Trump was impeached, Vladimir Putin gave remarks in Moscow that, frankly, very closely followed President Trump`s denunciation of the whole impeachment process.  It should concern my Republican colleagues that their talking points and Putin seem to be so familiar.

President Trump blocked any presentation of real evidence in his defense in the House.  That`s the grounds for the second article, the obstruction of Congress, which prevents the American people from gauging whether the president has a defense or not.  If he believes he`s innocent, Republicans should want him to have evidence and witnesses presented in the Senate.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, and the Putin thing, do you think Putin is a member of Trump`s party or Trump is a member of Putin`s party?  I mean, really, this is weird.  You brought it up.  it`s weird to have a foreign leader, especially an adversarial leader, talking of presidents being impeached and trying to defend the president against his impeachment.

COONS:  It is really striking, Chris, that we`ve got this long history now over several years of President Trump choosing to believe Putin over his own Intelligence Community or his own security advisers and President Putin coming to Trump`s defense on this sensitive, political matter.

One positive note from this week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on a very strong bipartisan vote, passed the defending against Kremlin -- Defending America`s security against Kremlin attacks or DASKA Bill, which would impose far tougher sanctions on Russia.

The challenge is that we believe neither Majority Leader McConnell nor President Trump will support it even though there were seven Republicans who voted for it.  We`re clear that Russia is our adversary.  I wish President Trump were as clear.

MATTHEWS:  Last question, I want to give you some time on this.  I watched and you probably watched it as much as you could yesterday.  I watched it all day, listened all day, heard from all, there were many, many, dozens and dozens of Republican members of the House and not one spoke up for the president`s character.  Not one said the president was a good man, an honest man, someone who wouldn`t do things like this, who is patriotic.  Did that surprise you that lack of any moral support for this president by people who say they are politically aligned with him but not morally in bed with him at all, they don`t seem to really like his morality?

COONS:  Chris, that is really noteworthy that his defenders really don`t defend him.  They attack the process.  They make a lot of different attacks so they didn`t seem to have a coordinated message or theme other than to attack and denigrate Chairman Schiff, who I think did an excellent job leading the House Intelligence Committee process or Chairman Nadler or Speaker Pelosi.

Chris, one last thing, an important development this week, the fifth circuit case, which means that the Republican-led litigation against the Affordable Care Act continues, and 130 million Americans are at risk of losing their protections against pre-existing conditions, discrimination, all of this going on in the Capitol matters deeply, but that matters to more than a hundred million Americans.

MATTHEWS:  What a good fight to make.  I hope they can save ACA.  Thank you so much Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.

COONS:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Merry Christmas, Sir.

COONS:  Merry Christmas.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the stain on Trump`s presidency.  Years ago, he called impeachment an absolute embarrassment.  Well, now it`s happened to him and he wants revenge.

Plus, in his first public appearance as an impeached president, which is what he is, Trump goes off the rails in Michigan attacking deceased Congressman John Dingell, a beloved figure in that state and then attacking his widow as well.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  He calls me up, it`s the nicest thing that`s ever happened, thank you so much.  John would be so thrilled.  He`s looking down he`d be so -- thank you so much, sir.  I said that`s okay, don`t worry about it.  He was looking up, by the way.


MATTHEWS:  How low do you go?

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


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Many questions remain, of course, about the path ahead for a Senate impeachment trial.  But one thing is no longer in question.

President now Trump -- well, President Trump is now and will forever be an impeached president.  That`s in the record books forever. 

President Trump`s own actions led us to this point, of course, his decision to pressure a foreign government to investigate his political rival for his own personal benefit -- well, we know that -- while holding up military aid as leverage. 

His actions are preserved, by the way, in that July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, when he stated, "I would like you to do us a favor, though."

As "The New York Times" editorial board writes: "By any reasonable measure, Mr. Trump`s own conduct in office clears the bar for impeachment set by the founders.  By the sworn testimony about his actions and by his own public statements calling on China and Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, he has shown not only that he tried to cheat to win the 2020 election, but that he has continued to do so" -- well, continued to do so.

The Republicans in Congress spoke less in defense of the president`s actions, and more in complaining about the process.  Do you notice? 

Here they go. 


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA):  The truth is, in the 243 years of this republic, there has never been a single-party fraudulent impeachment process like the one being used today. 

REP. DEBBIE LESKO (R-AZ):  I believe this is the most unfair, politically biased, rigged process that I have seen in my entire life. 

REP. JIM BAIRD (R-IN):  This has been a secretive, misdirected process from the very beginning.  And the American people see right through it. 


MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," and Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to President Obama. 

He`s always going to be impeached. 

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY":  It`s going to be in the first paragraph of any account of his presidency. 

His unexpected election made him historic.  His historic impeachment did the same. 

MATTHEWS:  So, he goes down in history books, Ben, in two ways, 45th president, fourth -- or third impeached. 


But I think it`s important how much he earned this impeachment.  You will remember, Nancy Pelosi was very reluctant to pursue impeachment.  She was bucking some in her party throughout the Mueller investigation, throughout the revelation that Trump was Individual 1 and a potential felony in the Southern District with payments to Stormy Daniels. 

It was only when this shocking case emerged of him pressuring a foreign government to investigate a political opponent, that`s what forced Pelosi`s hand.  And, frankly, the evidence was open and shut and clear for all to see here.

So, not only was he impeached, but this was about as clear-cut a fact case as you could get and one that really did, I think, compel the Democrats to follow their constitutional duty. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here`s Donald Trump back in 2014, not a million years ago, talking to FOX News about his Obama impeachment fantasy. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Do you think Obama seriously want to be impeached and go through what Bill Clinton did? 


TRUMP:  He would be a mess.  He would be thinking about nothing but.  It would be a horror show for him.  It would be an absolute embarrassment.  It would go down on his record permanently. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, you never see him in those "FOX & Friends" interviews, because he`s in his bubble bath.  He is.  He`s in a bubble bath doing this. 

But every morning he gets up now for the rest of his life, especially the next couple of weeks, where you don`t know what he`s going to do, he wakes up, and the first thing he remembers is, I`m president, and I have been impeached. 

My question to you is, how wild will he get to get reelected, which is the only way he can expunge it in his heart, is to get reelected by the American people?

PAGE:  Well, I...

MATTHEWS:  Will he do anything? 

PAGE:  Well, I think it`s pretty clear that this -- that what he was describing as the effect on President Obama is the effect it`s had on him, because you see that in his fury on Twitter, the number of tweets he sends out and their increasing anger, the two-hour campaign rally...

MATTHEWS:  Last night.

PAGE:  ... that we saw last night, and some of the language he used in that. 

So this has definitely consumed him.  So, the contrast is so clear with the Clinton impeachment, which I covered, where Clinton was pretty disciplined about pretending that it was not consuming him, although we know now that, behind the scenes, it was front and center on his mind. 

There`s been no attempt really by President Trump to pretend that this is not the first thing he`s thinking about, and the thing he is most concerned about, and the thing that is consuming him.

And, of course, what is the best way for him to counter being impeached?  It is being reelected. 

MATTHEWS:  Ben, how far will he go?  I really think is a big question, because we have seen he`s ruthless.  But maybe we haven`t seen the real ruthless Trump yet, the one who will say, I want Michigan.  I will get it at any cost.  I want Pennsylvania.  I will get it at any cost. 

He`s already going to Russia for help.  He`s gone to Ukraine.  Well, he hasn`t gone to Ukraine, has he?  Yes, he has.  He`s gone to Ukraine for help.  That`s what we`re talking about. 

This guy will go anywhere in the world to get some dirt. 

RHODES:  Yes.  No, this is what worries me, Chris. 

I mean, we know, from our intelligence community, unanimous view, that, in 2016, Russia interfered to help him.  And we also know that there were Trump contacts and associates who were trying to work with Russia in that effort. 

We know he`s already asked both China and Ukraine to help him in this election.  He will go to any length.  And we also know that there are things that we don`t have information about, like what is he talking to Vladimir Putin about?  What other calls have been put in this secret server in the White House?  What lengths will he go? 

Because, clearly, he does not feel constrained.  It does not feel like Donald Trump learns from these episodes and decides to restrain himself. 


RHODES:  And part of what is so concerning in this impeachment process is, the Republican Party has shown that they will go to any lengths to defend anything Donald Trump does. 

They didn`t even say that the conduct was troubling, but it didn`t rise to impeachment.  They just attack the process, attack the process, defend Trump.  And that sends a message that, if he is reelected, he can count on the uniform support of a major political party, which makes it very difficult to enforce accountability in our system. 

So I think this election really comes down to whether we think we live in a democracy in which the rules of accountability should apply to a president, or whether we`re OK with a president who will do anything, cheat, break any rule to try to get elected, knowing that he has the full support of his party. 


Well, I asked Senator Coons this.  I`m going to ask you.  Is Trump in Putin`s party or is Putin in Trump`s party?  I have never seen such collaboration, politically, as of today. 

RHODES:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Well, here he is.

"The Washington Post" reporting tonight that multiple former White House officials say they fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin directly influenced President Trump`s views about Ukraine and the 2016 election. 

They say his views may have been shaped when the two leaders met privately on a G20 summit -- at the summit in the summer of `17. 

"The Washington Post" writes that: "One former senior White House officials said Trump even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because `Putin told me.`"

That`s how he gets this information. 

Meanwhile, Putin is coming to Trump`s defense on impeachment, saying: "The party that wants the 2016 election, the Democratic Party, is trying to achieve results by other means."

They`re working together in tandem. 

RHODES:  Yes, that`s right, Chris.

And I -- it`s very much Trump in Putin`s party, because Putin is the one who`s writing the music, and Trump is just the one singing the tune here. 

This whole idea that Ukraine was behind the 2016 interference in the election, that`s a Russian disinformation campaign that Trump is repeating.  What we don`t know is why.  And there are only two reasons.  One could be corruption and financial interests. 

And the other could be that Donald Trump feels an affinity for this autocratic leader of Russia who jails, his opponents, governs a country where journalists have been killed.  Either one of those answers is very alarming. 

And, frankly, I think the Republican Party that used to stand up against Russia...


RHODES:  ... has fundamentally transformed itself to defend this conduct. 

MATTHEWS:  Susan, maybe this calls for too much interpretation, but why would Trump buy Soviet propaganda, the Russian propaganda?

PAGE:  I think, in a...

MATTHEWS:  Because it is still the KGB.  It`s still the Soviet Union in terms of lying. 

PAGE:  Yes. 

I think it is, in a way, the most fundamental question we don`t have an answer to, is, why has President Trump from the time he was a candidate had such a friendly attitude toward Russia, unlike anything we have ever seen in modern times between an American leader and either a Soviet leader or a Russian leader?


PAGE:  And I don`t think we know -- I don`t think we know the answer to that. 

I think that the day will come when we do.


PAGE:  I believe in history`s judgment on these things. 

But it is the conundrum that has led -- and what has led President Trump to this sad state of being impeached?  It is because -- at least in part because of his faith in Russia and his willingness to attack Ukraine.


Yes, I think Medvedev is more independent of Putin than he is.

Anyway, thank you, Susan Page.  Merry Christmas to you.

Ben, thank you so much, sir. 

Happy holidays to everybody out there. 

Still ahead:  If Trump was banking on cultlike loyalty carrying him through this impeachment process, it looks like he called it correctly, cultlike behavior by the Republicans.

Running down some of the rhetoric they use to defend this president -- next on HARDBALL.  Some of it is actually messianic about this guy. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Last time, President Trump boasted about the fact that zero Republicans voted for the articles of impeachment in the House. 

Republicans spent the day yesterday going overboard in their condemnation of impeachment itself, with some comparing the president`s plight to Pearl Harbor and what the lord went through. 


REP. MIKE KELLY (R-PA):  On December 7, 1941, a horrific act happened in the United States.  And it`s one that President Roosevelt said, this is a date that will live in infamy.  Today, December the 18th, 2019, is another date that will live in infamy. 

REP. ROGER MARSHALL (R-KS):  The impeachment of a legitimately elected president of the United States. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It`s tantamount to a coup. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They hate this president.

REP. BARRY LOUDERMILK (R-GA):  When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers.

During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this president.


MATTHEWS:  I thought I had heard everything.

Anyway, Republicans may have been good to stay in lockstep with Trump to avoid attacks like the one he made on the campaign trail last night, when he mocked a deceased former U.S. congressman, deceased, suggesting he was in hell. 

That`s what you get when you break with Trump. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

At his rally last night in Michigan, a two-hour rally by him, two hours of talking, President Trump went after the late Democratic Congressman from that state of Michigan John Dingell. 

Trump insinuated that Dingell was looking up from hell at his widow, U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, who is actually a friend of mine, who voted to impeach the president yesterday. 

Let`s go. 


TRUMP:  Debbie Dingell, that`s a real beauty.

So, she calls me up like eight months ago.  Her husband was there a long time.  But I didn`t give him the B treatment.  I didn`t give him the C or D.  I could have.  Nobody would have -- you know?  I gave the A-plus treatment.

She calls me up.  It`s the nicest thing that`s ever happened.  Thank you so much.  John would be so thrilled.  He`s looking down.  He would be so thrilled.  Thank you so much, sir.

I said, that`s OK.  Don`t worry about it. 

Maybe he`s looking up.  I don`t know. 




MATTHEWS:  Well, Michael Steele, thank you.  That`s your party, former RNC chair.  I love to remind you of that. 

Dana Milbank, how can you do satire in an age where the president behaves grotesquely like this? 

DANA MILBANK, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST":  Well, the president is the satire now, and we just record what he does. 

Seven minutes before he did that, he received a note -- you could see him looking off stage -- that the vote had occurred, he`d been impeached on the second article.  So, probably, in his head, he`s in something of a rage now.

And you see where he goes, into the most vicious possible direction.  To pick on the widow or whatever, one thing, popular character in town, but to pick on John Dingell, the dean of the House, there for six years, and everybody loved him. 

He was all about...

MATTHEWS:  He was the number one defender of the auto industry.  And everybody depends on the auto industry in Michigan.

MILBANK:  They love him.  They love him in Michigan.

But his whole shtick was, you can fight, you can fight bitterly, but with a modicum of respect.  In fact, he dictated those words, you need a modicum of respect, on the day he died.  And Debbie Dingell published it posthumously in "The Post."

And the...

MATTHEWS:  That`s what John believed in.

MILBANK:  That`s what he believed in.

And Trump is the very polar opposite of that. 


MATTHEWS:  Yes, he really was one of the beloved figures.  And he was old- school. 

STEELE:  He was old-school. 

MATTHEWS:  He looked out for his district.  He looked out for the industry.  But everybody liked him. 

STEELE:  But noted -- but note the reaction of the crowd.  It was not... 

MATTHEWS:  The people behind him -- are we supposed to laugh at that? 

STEELE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Then, when they got the cue, though... 

STEELE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... when they said he`s down in hell, they realized -- because this is what he talked about -- this is how he talks about John McCain. 

STEELE:  Yes, exactly. 

And I -- but some of this is wearing thin on folks out there.  We have know that has been reported.  The question becomes, I think, at some point, does it grow into something where Trump feels he has to check? 

Now, I don`t think it does and I don`t think he does.  But it does say something about where we are right now as a country that the president of the United States can go up on a stage like that and say that and feel he could get away with it. 

I think you`re right, though.  I think that was the only way he could release the anger that he was feeling once he realized that he was fully impeached.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But -- but...

STEELE:  It didn`t matter.

MATTHEWS:  But, Michael, he`s not alone in this cult behavior, cultlike behavior. 

STEELE:  Of course he is.

MATTHEWS:  He has a guy -- he`s not alone. 

He got a guy the other day -- we just watched him -- from Georgia, a member of Congress, comparing him to Jesus in his trial with Pontius Pilate.

I`ve never -- I`ve been watching politics all of my life, I`ve never heard anybody compared to Jesus.  I mean, what`s going on here?  It`s crazy talk. 

DANA MILBANK, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST":  It`s the insult culture.  I mean, some of it is to appeal to Trump.  But I think it`s happening to all of us. 

I catch myself in a column that`s name-calling, stop doing it, but we all get caught up --

MATTHEWS:  Is this grievance culture, that he`s being treated like a century first Christian, he`s being fed to the lions kind of thing?  I mean, what -- who are the people who buy into this? 

MILBANK:  He`s fed it.  But it`s this idea of vulgarity.  He said four times words last night that we can`t say on the airways that he`s saying, and he`s tweeting now other words we can`t say on the airwaves to 65 million people. 

MATTHEWS:  Again, is that -- is that the grievance of the anti-PC crowd?

MILBANK:  Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Because they know we can`t say it.  They`re not supposed to say it.  They root for a guy that says the awful. 

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, who says the awful that they think and have been told generation after generation they can`t express openly. 

So now you have a leader like Trump coming out and saying what people around their bars and neighborhoods, at the dinner table say when they pick up the newspaper or turn on the television and react to things. 

MATTHEWS:  Van Drew from South Jersey, we always went to Ocean City growing up New Jersey.  I love the place. 

I`ve got to tell you something, this guy Van Drew was a Democrat yesterday, today is a Republican, but not only is he a Republican, he`s offering undying support.  He just switched parties, but this is undying.  He can switch parties every three days, but not with the president.  He has an undying support with the president. 

MILBANK:  He`s a gambler from Atlantic City, in for a dime, in for a dollar.  I was watching --

MATTHEWS:  I just won 900 bucks at a wedding.  I got a problem --

MILBANK:  There you go. 

I was watching the impeachment debate from the gallery yesterday, look over, there he was in this policeman buoyant blue plaid suit, hang out, yakking it up with Steve King, his new buddy.  So, he`s going like, I`m going to be Republican.  I`m going to do Louie Gohmert.

MATTHEWS:  Go all the way.


MATTHEWS:  I`m more of a convert.  I`m all the way with this one. 

STEELE:  There`s a reason for it, though, because in typical fashion what would happen is he would be primaried in a Republican primary as an interloper.


STEELE:  And so, what he`s doing right now is going no, no, I`m a full on Trumper. 

MATTHEWS:  I`m a full MAGA guy. 


MATTHEWS:  That is so smart.  Now he said he`s not crazy, because if you`re really in with this guy, Trump, you go all the way. 

MILBANK:  Well, this will be a testament.  He voted against Trump 93 percent of the time.  I mean how stupid are Republicans going to be to say oh, suddenly this guy is --

STEELE:  That`s what he`s hedging a bet against because the Republican Party in New Jersey right now has a problem and he`s it, and so they want the seat, but they don`t want him necessarily in it. 

MATTHEWS:  The great Michael Kinsley once said, the best flattery was total phony flattery because it really shows you`re kissing the guy`s butt.  You will say anything to get this guy -- in other words, if you don`t like Trump but you say you like him, he likes it even better. 

Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele, in a sick world. 

Anyway, thank you, Dana Milbank.  You are a great writer. 

Up next, presidential candidate, Senator Cory Booker, joins us to talk about impeachment and the status of his -- there he is.  Great guy.  He`s waiting for us. 

Cory Booker, we`re going to talk about the debate tonight, in which he will not be taking part, unfortunately. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As Donald Trump became the third president in history to be tarnished as he would call it the ugly blemish of impeachment that`s his word on this, it`s ugly, seven Democrats are getting ready to make their case to the American people to replace him in the big debate tonight in Los Angeles.  It`s a pared down debate.  It`s at the DNC, because the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, has tightened the rules by demanding higher polling numbers, higher percentages, and higher fundraising thresholds for more people. 

In fact, one of the people not able to make tonight`s debate because of those threshold rules is New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.  He joins me now from Des Moines, Iowa.

Senator, it`s great to have you on. 

And I want to tell people -- tell you what I tell people about you, because every time I met with you, I like you, you`re a very likable guy.  You`re a charismatic guy.  I`m not blowing smoke here. 

Why haven`t you caught on -- I mean, you must have -- it must be driving you crazy.  You`re a Rhodes scholar, you`re a senator from New Jersey, you`re a former jock, you`ve got some game footage to show, you -- a great passing receiver -- I`m just kidding -- but what is this game about?  And we don`t have any minorities left on that stage tonight.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, first of all, in terms of my football career, the older I get, the better I was, and I appreciate that. 


BOOKER:  Look, we are -- we are surging right now.  Our campaign has had the best six weeks.  We have -- it`s so funny because the polls they had to qualify, it was like the desert.  There`s fewest amount of polls between the last debate which we did really well and won a lot of independent, undecided voters and focused groups, and this.  There`s very few polls. 

Now there are.  We hit 4 percent.  We hit the qualifying numbers as soon as they closed this and we started seeing more polls.  Even more than that, we`re seeing a surge online, our best online fundraising days, because Americans don`t want to see me off that stage.  So people are going to and helping out. 

Here in Iowa where I am right now, we are now raising up in the top three or so in net favorabilities. 


BOOKER:  Most Iowans haven`t made up their mind yet.  So just a popular candidate, and we are one of the leaders in Iowa and New Hampshire for endorsements from local elected leaders.

So, we`re having a great moment.  It`s a shame that we`re not on that stage tonight, and I think there`s a lot of things this says that billionaires using the criteria can buy their way onto the stage but others can`t.  I`m very confident about our run into Iowa to win. 

And the last thing I want to say is polls have never been predictive.  We`ve never seen someone leading in the polls at this point from our party going to the White House.  John Kerry, John Edwards polling sixth and seventh, 4 percent and 2 percent, in 2003, go on to finish one and two in the Iowa caucuses a month later. 

So this is wide open, and I`m excited about our pathway to win and I hope more people will support me at 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, ratings are valid, even if polls aren`t.  And the race we`re showing, you got a 1.5 million to 2 million people listening right now.  So, talk about impeachment. 

Do you think we could have a fair trial in the U.S. Senate without witnesses?

  BOOKER:  I think we`re going to be cheated out of all the evidence that is there.  There are first-hand witness, people like the acting chief of staff, Mulvaney.  There were people that were in the room when it happened -- 


BOOKER:  -- that can speak to the damning evidence that we have already.  And it`s a shame that they`re not coming before the United States Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Pelosi is right to play hardball here? 

BOOKER:  Yes.  She has been a light worker in this very dark time for our republic.  This is very sad sobering time, and she`s dealt with this with the kind of gravity and deft it deserves.  So, I thin, she`s doing -- she`s almost flawless in the way she`s dealing with this. 

It`s going to come to the Senate eventually and I think she`s right to try to use whatever leverage she can to make sure there`s fairness on the Senate side.  And it`s a shame that Mitch McConnell now, even though we will literally swear an oath to be impartial jurors he`s already saying to the American public this is about politics and my fealty to Donald Trump and not to what the Constitution dictates.  It`s unbelievable. 

MATTHEWS:  What about -- more to that point, Senator, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader who has 53 votes, is now saying he`s going to do what they tell him to do from the White House, the president`s lawyers to defend him in the Senate trial for the continuation or not continuation of this presidency.  He`s going to take his orders from the president, the defendant`s lawyers.  He said it. 

BOOKER:  I mean, it is shameful, and history, you know, is going to look back on this as for what it is.  For a person that`s in the United States Senate that has an obligation to conduct themselves in accordance with the rules that were spelled out by our Founders, for him to say, I`m sorry this was going to be a coordination between him and the White House to make sure that Donald Trump is not convicted, that is ridiculous. 

What are Republicans afraid of?  Let there be folks that come before Senate and swear under oath and tell the truth.  Let us see it.  They`re afraid of the truth. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let`s talk about when we were raised I believe as kids by good parents.  Don`t make -- don`t make fun of people`s physical, you know, handicaps if you will, challenges.  Don`t make funs of people`s appearance.  Don`t make fun of the dead. 

The president honors none of these rules.  What`s that doing to the country? 

He`s doing it in public.  Making fun of John Dingell, saying he`s in hell.  Telling his wife your husband is in -- your late husband is in hell, saying that to her on national television.  What do you make of that and what it does to our decency levels for our country? 

BOOKER:  So I think there`s moment coming in this country, and I know many of us have passed it already where enough is enough.  I think that this election that we have right now is not a referendum on him, it`s a referendum on us and who we are and we`re going to be to each other.  My whole campaign has been about this idea that we need a revival of civic grace in our country, we need to show a more courageous empathy for each other because these rifts, these fissures, it`s not becoming partisanship.  It`s getting tribalism. 

That if we`re going to get big things done again, like beating the Nazis, going to the moon, these were always things did with new American majorities. 


BOOKER:  Where we saw each other not as enemies, but coming together.

Give a president that is whipping up hate, divisiveness, demeaning and degrading people.  We need -- we need to turn a corner in this country, and revive those elements of decency and grace.  We are a great nation because we are a good people.  And we need our politics to better reflect that. 

And that`s why I`m running.  That`s how we accomplish big things.  That`s how we take on big challenges.  I think the next president of the United States has got to be someone who can heal and bring out the best of American character. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I do root for you, sir.  And I want to ask you this about this crazy alliance you had, erstwhile alliance with Van Drew, the congressman from South Jersey.  He switched today, he switched parties. 

You endorsed him.  I think -- I`m sorry, he`d endorsed you.  What is going -- he also said having switched parties he said I may switch parties he`s implied, but I`m going to be with Donald Trump until I die. 

What kind of comment is that in this weird world -- a congressman yesterday compared himself to Jesus facing Pontius Pilate?  Now, this guy says I`m with you until I die.  It`s a strange world. 

What do you think of it, a Jersey guy? 

BOOKER:  Yes.  Again, this speaks to that tribalism.  This is becoming a politics more about the cult of personality than about the ideals of our nation.  And I think this is sad day for my state and I think what we`re seeing right now, this should not be a gleeful time what we just saw yesterday.  This should be a sad time for our country. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, merry Christmas.  God be with you, sir.  I hope you get on the trail here -- you`re on the trail.  Get back in these debates.  We need you there.

BOOKER:  Yes.  You`ll see me in January, especially with folks` help.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, sir. 

Up next, what I did not hear yesterday from those opposed to impeachment.  The big dog that didn`t bark yesterday.  Anything good about the president`s morality. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  As I said last night during our live coverage, I spent the day yesterday listening gavel to gavel to those members of the House opposed to President Trump`s impeachment, but I didn`t hear what you would expect to hear on such a day.  It was a statement all of us would expect from allies of someone being charged with betrayal of the office, of having traded public trust for personal gain -- in this case, of abusing the country`s highest office. 

It was a single solitary defense of the man`s character.  I didn`t hear a single Republican man or woman from any region of the country stand in the well of the House of Representatives and say that Donald Trump is a good man.  And he`s an honest man, that he isn`t the kind of man that would exploit his power for something for himself. 

I think this is important, a fact of the case that belongs in the history books that opposing impeachment down the line, that the entire political party would not say word in defense of this president`s character.  I believe this grievous moral deficiency, this lack of basic human decency, which Trump held out there again last night and speaking so of Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and her late husband, John Dingell, will be his downfall.  It will be a question members of the Senate confront this January, and the voters will confront next November, when their leaders tell them to vote for Trump even as they refuse to vouch for his basic character. 

Think about it.  Trump can say the Republican Party is united behind him, but not one Republican member truly defended him morally. 

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.