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Moving the line in 2020. TRANSCRIPT: 12/20/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Richard Blumenthal, Barbara Boxer, Noah Feldman, Mark Galli,Katrina Mulligan, Greg Brower


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  You know where to find THE BEAT.

But don`t go anywhere right now because HARDBALL with Chris Matthews is up next.


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

Tonight, the articles of impeachment are in possession of the speaker of the House.  The U.S. Senate, which is to try the impeached president, is unable to act, so there will be more history left to write once the president faces trial in the Senate, but it remains unclear when that will be, because, as I speak, there is a standoff between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  Pelosi has yet to transmit the articles of impeachment over to the Senate.

And the standoff comes as Congress departs for a holiday recess, look at the calendar, almost three weeks, effectively freezing the state of play on this constitutional moment.  Pelosi says she`s weighing a delay in order to get a fair trial in the Senate and won`t select impeachment managers until she knows how the Senate intends to conduct itself.

But Mitch McConnell contends that it`s decided House Democrats are afraid to bring their case.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  Speaker Pelosi suggested that House Democrats may be too afraid, too afraid to even transmit their shoddy work product to the Senate.

We`ll see whether House Democrats ever want to work up the courage to actually take their accusations to trial.


MATTHEWS:  well, according to Politico, the Politico Magazine, an emboldened Pelosi was dismissive of McConnell`s charge saying fear is never a word used with me.  You should know right away I`m never afraid and I`m rarely surprised.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the speaker said of Trump, he`ll be impeached forever no matter what the Senate does.  He`s impeached forever because he violated our Constitution.

I`m joined now by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, of course, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, former Senator Barbara Boxer of California, host of the Boxer podcast, and Noah Feldman, of course, Professor at Harvard Law School.  He was one of the four witnesses to testify to the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month about the legal arguments on impeachment.

I want to start with Senator Blumenthal about this.  Where do you stand on the constitutional question, does Pelosi have the prerogative to hold back the articles?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT):  This decision is indeed Nancy Pelosi`s to make.  And her position is fully understandable that she wants some assurance there will be a full, fair, honest trial with witnesses and documents.  After all of the extraordinarily able work done by the House committees and the courage of those dedicated public servants who have come forward, she wants to make sure that we will have more than the sham charade that Mitch McConnell is promising.

Keep in mind, he has said there is no chance that Donald Trump will be removed.  He has promised he will take his cues from the White House, and he has enablers in my Republican colleagues.  He cannot do this sham without their 51 votes.

But I will tell you something, Chris, there`s a court of appeals here.  It`s the electorate, the court of public opinion, and they`re saying 51 percent of all American people want those documents, more than 60 percent of Republicans, and the fact of the matter is my Republican friends and colleagues are doing a little soul-searching.  Courage is contagious, and they`re going to be going back to their home districts, their states this holiday for two weeks, and they`re going to be hearing about those 71 percent of Americans who say we need documents and witnesses.

MATTHEWS:  Barbara Boxer, former senator of California, let me ask you a question.  This is about guts, it`s about nerve.  How long can Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, as a person, because she`s making this decision personally, how long can she hold those documents?  When they get back to the House coming back into session next year, January 7th, first Tuesday back, how long can she hold onto those documents politically and get away with it?

BARBARA BOXER (D), FORMER CALIFORNIA SENATOR:  Well, it`s a great question.  But right now, I think Senator Blumenthal is right.  For her to just send those articles over to the Senate after the foreman of the jury essentially stepped out to the microphone and said, there`s no difference between the way I feel and the way Trump`s lawyers feel, what she`s done is remarkable.  And I don`t think she`s out there on her own, Chris.  I think she is -- I know how she works.  She`s got people around her who understands the Constitution, who understand the gravity of the situation.

The last point I make right now is when I sat through that Clinton impeachment, it was -- it was horrible.  I -- as a Democrat, obviously, I was so disappointed and so upset.  And Trent Lott and Tom Daschle worked hand in glove and they, guess what, had witnesses.  And those were three witnesses and they took depositions, and their testimony was used in the trial.

So Nancy, what she`s doing here, Speaker Pelosi, what she`s doing here is she`s shining the spotlight where it needs to go now, and that`s on Mitch McConnell who calls himself the grim reaper.  But he better step up to the plate and stop playing party politics.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to the same question to Professor Feldman.  How long can Pelosi make this?  Right or wrong, she is taking a dramatic stand here.  She`s saying, I`m not sending over the documents.  How long can she get away with it?  If it`s two, three months, does she even hold the sort of Damocles she can at any moment declare the president impeached at her will?  Does she have that authority?

NOAH FELDMAN, PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW:  Well, under the Constitution, the House has the authority to impeach.  And the House basically put that power in the speaker`s hands because the impeachment proffer takes place when someone from the House goes over to the Senate and impeaches the president at the bar of the Senate.  That`s the way it`s always been expressed for a couple of hundred years.

So until she does that, he`s not technically impeached.  When we stated the president has been impeached, that`s a kind of shorthand.  We mean the House has voted to impeach him, but the actual impeachment takes place when the articles go over there.

MATTHEWS:  Okay.  But I`m just asking there because this is HARDBALL, and it`s not just about the Constitution but it`s within the constitutional framework.  If Mitch McConnell plays the usual way and says nothing, he doesn`t speak again on this subject, he says, I`m waiting for the documents to get her, Pelosi, what leverage does she have at that point?  If she says, I`m not negotiating, I`m not sitting here with Chuck Schumer, saying, two witnesses, we`ll give you two, you give us two people we want and we`ll give you -- you give me a couple of Bidens and maybe a whistleblower.  He says I`m not going to negotiate that way, guys.  What`s the Pelosi operation there going to look like?

FELDMAN:  Well, she doesn`t have any formal leverage -- sorry, forgive me.  I think she has no formal leverage.  The only leverage she has is to hope that there is a response from the Senate and eventually to impeach when the time comes.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Senator Boxer.  You have a thought there, because I wonder if this becomes a standoff.  It`s a barricade situation.  She`s saying, we`re barricading up, we`re not giving you the document.  The danger of a barricade, I know this from Irish history, the danger of it is, eventually, you have to break out of your own barricade.  You have to get out of there yourself.  Because once you say, I`m not giving you the documents, at some point, she has to turn over the documents.  And my question is Pelosi gets nothing for that.  That`s right.  I`m talking politics, Barbara, pure politics right now.

BOXER:  No, I hear you.  Her leverage, that is pretty straightforward to me.  It`s the people.  The people want to have witnesses.  There are polls that show that.  Her other leverage is there are several members of the United States Senate who know they`re in a tough spot.  They`re up for election in purple states.  They will fight for a fair trial.  So I think the genius of this -- she won`t wait forever, but the genius of this is to put the spotlight on the process.

And if Mitch McConnell says, this is it, I think that there will be a lot of pressure on those purple state senators.  So if she didn`t do this, let`s just take it that way.  If she had just sent it over, okay, just sent it over, then I don`t think anyone would even be tuning into this because everybody knows we don`t have the two-thirds vote so no one would be paying attention to Mitch McConnell.

And the way he runs the Senate, which is, as my good former colleague whom I miss, will tell you is with an iron fist and he`s the self-described grim reaper.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me Senator Blumenthal.  You just referred to the Senator.  You`re on the Judiciary Committee.  Suppose Mitch McConnell, who`s what he is, we know what he is, sometimes he`s Elmer Fudd, sometimes Bugs Bunny, I don`t what he`s up to on this one.  Suppose he comes back like Bugs Bunny and says, okay, you want witnesses?  I want two witnesses.  I want Joe and Hunter Biden.  And by the way, I also want the whistleblower.  And for that, I`ll give you John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney.  What happens if he comes outright there?  What do the Democrats -- what do you say if he says, here`s the deal, I want all the witnesses, not just yours?  How do you respond?

BLUMENTHAL:  Chris, that`s a great question.  And what we have ultimately is the power to call for vote and put our Republican colleague on record, and that`s exactly what we will do because they will be judged by --

MATTHEWS:  But you`re on the record too.  They`ll say, you protect the Bidens, you protect Joe Biden, you protected -- top in the class right now in terms of the polling.  You`re protecting your possible nominee, you`re protecting his son and you`re protecting the whistleblower.  And how do Democratic senators respond to that?  I`m just trimming (ph) this out.

BLUMENTHAL:  What the American people want -- what the American people want and what we want is witnesses who have relevant evidence.  Trump has blocked every one of the -- up to 12 witnesses that were sought by the House.  He has blocked every single document that was sought by the House.  Every single one of them from the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of State, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, those documents, those witnesses, we will vote to have.

Hunter Biden has no direct evidence as those witnesses that we want Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton, Robert Blair, Michael Duffey, everyone them, responsible officials who have knowledge of this corrupt activity, bribery, soliciting something of value, namely an investigation of his political opponent in return for an official act, his releasing that money, our taxpayer money to support an ally fighting for its life, Ukraine.  And that`s why we want those documents and witnesses.

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is just out.  Tonight, The Washington Post is posting an article by former U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona.  He addressed his old Republican colleagues saying, quote, President Trump is on trial, but in a very real sense, so are you, and so as the political party to which we belong.

He warns that, quote, the danger of an untruthful president is compounded when the coequal branch follows that president off the cliff into the abyss of unreality and untruth.  If there ever was a time to put country over party, it is now.  And by putting country over party, you might just save the grand old party before it`s too late.  Anyway, Senator Flake concludes by saying, if there ever was a time to put country over party, it is now.  Professor How do you resolve this?

Professor, thank you.  Professor Feldman, how do you resolve this?  How does this come out of the wash in two weeks?  Now the recess is not until the first or second week really in January.  This could go on.  How can you see it resolved?

FELDMAN:  I think it`s only resolved by some negotiated solution in the Senate where the senators figure out exactly what the procedure is going to be is come to terms with who`s going to be called.  And then the articles will be transmitted and the trial is going to happen, and that has to happen.  It`s necessary under the Constitution at this point for there to be an actual trial in the Senate.

And so I see the resolution coming when a negotiated solution is reached, which will have to be reached.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Blumenthal, how do you get Republicans to look at this as a conscientious decision that they really are jurors, they`re not just politicians?

BLUMENTHAL:  Well, of course Mitch McConnell has said that he is not going to be impartial.  In fact, he is going to put the president in charge of his own defense and in charge of the trial by, in effect, his being the president`s defense team.

How do we force our Republican colleagues to search their conscience?  Well, ultimately, it`s public opinion, and the court of public opinion.  That is the ultimate appeals court here.

And I firmly believe that my Republican colleagues are going to be under enormous pressure, as Barbara Boxer has just put it so well.  When they go home over these next two weeks, when they hear over the next two, six, eight weeks from American people who want a full, fair trial.

And, ultimately, there will be some negotiation, but it can`t be the kind of trap that Mitch McConnell is trying to set, and it can`t be the charade or sham because we should absolutely refuse to be part of this complicit scheme.

And it is ongoing.  That`s what comes across so dramatically in the House impeachment articles that the president is continuing to solicit help from the Russians.  He is continuing to sustain and support these crack pot conspiracies about the Ukrainians not the Russians attacking our country, and it is a danger to our national security that we must resist and reject.

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe one of your recurring colleagues, Senator Mitch McConnell of Utah is going to stand forth and be a profile in courage -- Mitt Romney rather.  Mitt Romney, he could make a difference.

Thank you so much, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.  Thank you.  It`s always great having you on.  And my friend, Barbara Boxer, please keep coming back.  It`s great having you on.  Professor, I was so impressed by your testimony.  Thank you for coming here on HARDBALL.  Again, it`s a perennial request for your presence here.

Coming up, an influential evangelical magazine receives the wrath of Trump for an op-ed calling for his removal from office.  Christianity Today cites Trump`s abuse of power, his lies and his, quote, grossly immoral character.

Plus, how Trump is continuing to weaponize the Justice Department, Bill Barr`s partisan investigation into the origins of the Russian probe now reportedly has former CIA Director John Brennan in his crosshairs.

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


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Christianity Today, an influential evangelical magazine, is calling for President Trump`s removal from office.  In a surprising editorial, the magazine describes the president as, quote, a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.

The magazine calls for his removal because, quote, we believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear in a way that the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath.  The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president`s moral deficiencies for all to see.

Well, the editor ended the piece by asking their evangelical readers this.  If we don`t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?

The piece struck a nerve with the president, of course.  In a string of twitter attacks, Trump accused the magazine of being a far-left magazine or very progressive that, quote, knows nothing about reading a perfect transcript of rather a routine phone call.  That`s the president`s tweet words.

He added, the fact is no president has ever done what I have done for evangelicals or religion itself.  That`s Trump talking.

Despite what the president might say there, however, Christianity Today was founded in 1956 by the reverend, Billy Graham, who wanted to, quote, plant the evangelical flag in the middle of the road taking the conservative theological position but a definite liberal approach to social problems.

According to exit polls, by the way, 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for President Trump.

And, for more, I`m joined by the person who wrote that editorial, Mark Galli, the editor in chief of "Christianity Today."  He`s retiring in a few days. 

Mr. Galli, thank you for joining us. 

And I really want to know about your thinking, your feeling, your moral sense about this whole question of the president. 

I want to preface this by saying, I watched the whole day of hearings two days ago, and I didn`t hear a single Republican member of the House say one good word about the president`s basic goodness, his honesty, his character, no defense of him as a person, as a human being under God, nothing. 

And I felt that to be a very serious deficiency on the part of those who defended him.  Your thoughts about your own thinking? 

MARK GALLI, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "CHRISTIANITY TODAY":  Yes, my thinking runs along the same lines. 

It`s not just Republicans.  Of course, my constituency is because -- evangelical Christians.  We`re -- Mr. Trump is obviously woefully ignorant about "Christianity Today," because we`re hardly a progressive or leftist magazine, nor are we a -- particularly a political magazine.  We`re a religious magazine with theological and spiritual purposes. 

In fact, I`d like to emphasize that the point of this editorial was not to enter the political fray, as much as to raise the conversation, the level of the conversation above the political fray, and rest it on a kind of an ethical and moral basis that would -- I would hope that any evangelical audience could resonate with and appreciate.

Naturally, because it`s in the middle of a partisan political debate, a lot of people are missing that.  But a careful reading will indicate, we don`t have any political animus against Trump.  I don`t have any personal animus against them. 

I just think the president of the United States, more than most leaders -- but this would be true of almost any leader -- has a responsibility to lead, not only politically, militarily, economically, but also morally. 

And from our perspective, as Christians, we happen to think the moral part of it is the most important part.  And if that`s deficient, the rest can`t, in the end, be helpful for our nation. 

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about the ends justifying the means.  I was taught that was wrong.  It seems a lot of support -- the president gets a lot of support from people who believe it`s important to change the direction of the Supreme Court to being pro-life.

And he has done a lot of that changing.  And he may be on the road to a 7-2 conservative court, pro-life court.  Is there a Faustian deal at work here, where people who have the Christian faith are willing to accept this president`s moral deficiencies personally in order to get the court they want? 

GALLI:  Well, actually, I would be a little more sympathetic to that argument, because that`s the argument that my friends on the -- among conservative evangelicals have been making. 

And that`s true of pretty much any political situation.  There is some give and take.  There is some -- you have to accept some of the bad and some of the good with any candidate or platform or particular bill. 

So I`m not so much concerned about that, as such, because that`s just part of the nature of political life. 

But I think, with the revelations that happened at the impeachment hearings, we crossed some sort of line that I felt kind of deep within myself that, up to now, the argument that, on the one hand, he`s helping pro-life, he`s helping religious freedom, on the other hand, he`s a person of questionable moral character, we will just kind of weigh that in the balance, and then we will we will just accept him as it and hold our nose. 

I felt that, after the impeachment hearings, when it was clear and, to me, unambiguous that he had used the office of the presidency to manipulate a foreign -- a leader of a foreign nation for his own political gain, that was not simply a violation of the Constitution. 

As such, it`s a -- it`s a moral -- it`s a huge moral problem, because one of the things he vows is to uphold the Constitution.  So, there is the -- there is a place for the give and take and political life.  But there also comes a time when the ends do not justify the means. 

And as I argued in my piece, I think we have gotten to that point, where that argument about the ends justify the means no longer holds water, at least in my view.

MATTHEWS:  When you heard the transcript or the phone records that showed the president going to a president of a foreign country, a vulnerable country, vulnerable to the Russian aggression there, military aggression, and he said, there`s something -- I want you to do us a favor, is that when he saw that he was interjecting his personal interest into public affairs, at the expense of public affairs?

GALLI:  That was one moment, but the whole notion of withholding funds and the -- obviously, the pressure applied was done subtly, but it was -- it seemed to me, between the phone call and the various witnesses, it`s unmistakable that that`s what was going on. 


GALLI:  It would be a -- it would be foolish to think that nothing else but that was going on.  And that`s what was so disheartening and disappointing. 

MATTHEWS:  We know this president said things that we were not -- we were told not to do as kids.  Don`t make fun of someone`s appearance.  Don`t make fun of someone`s certainly handicaps.  Don`t basically try to be cruel as a way of making a joke, if you will. 

And the other day, the president talked about John Dingell, the longtime member of the Congress from Michigan.  I knew the guy, a good guy.  I liked him.  He -- he`s a tough guy.  The president referred to him being in hell, basically, as a way to taunt his widow, who is now a member of Congress. 

Where does that fit in your way of looking at Trump? 

GALLI:  Well, that`s a classic instance. 

I mean, it`s one of many instances in the Trump presidency in which he`s had an opportunity to use the office of the presidency to do something bigger than himself and even bigger than the occasion. 


GALLI:  And that is, in a moment when people are -- this would be a moment when people are grieving, but even when people are at odds with one another, the one thing the president can do is remind us that we are a country that holds certain values, and we have things in common.

And to try to -- in the midst of the democratic debate -- and it should be a good debate.  It should be a forceful debate.  It should be an energetic debate. 

But the president is one of those figures who says, but we`re doing this debate as a we.  We are debating.  It`s not an us vs. them.  And if we win, the godless left or right is gone, and vice versa.  This is our country, our debate, our conversation.

And he has repeatedly had an opportunity to do that.  And it`s just -- it`s so sad to me that he has failed to take advantage of those opportunities.  He seems to be incapable of actually -- incapable of doing it, which is one of the reasons I argued I don`t think he`s fit to be president. 

I mean, this is not a surprising view for "Christianity Today," to anyone who`s read our pages.  We made the same basic argument during the Nixon impeachment trial.  We made the same argument during the Clinton trial. 

Anyone who reads this would yawn and say, well, that`s kind of what they do when it`s discovered that a national leader has lied to us. 



GALLI:  Yes.  Well, that`s a problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Mark, I think this is very good, what you`re saying here.  It sounds very consistent with your religion and your philosophy. 

Thank you -- and your editorial positions over the years. 

Mark Galli, thank you so much for joining us here on HARDBALL tonight. 

Up next:  Trump is reportedly using the Justice Department now to go after his perceived enemies.  He`s using it as his weapon.  Attorney General Barr`s handpicked investigator is now digging around in former CIA Director John Brennan`s role in sounding the alarm about Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The highest levels of government, they were spying on my campaign, which has, as you know, Dan, gone on long before I won the election.

QUESTION:  Yes.  Yes. 

TRUMP:  It was actually long before.

The John Durham investigation is a very important -- I feel one of the most important investigations in the history of our country. 

Investigate the investigators.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was President Trump.  He has been trying to undermine the intelligence community`s assessment that Russia interfered on behalf of his campaign in 2016 in that election since the very beginning of his administration.  It`s been his white whale.  I got to get those people.

Calling for an investigation of the investigators is what he says.  Well, he got what he wanted in October, when the Justice Department, led by loyal Trumper Bill Barr, the A.G., announced a criminal investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.

And, for Trump, this killed multiple birds with one stone, allowing him to discredit the Russia investigation and any shadow it placed on that campaign, or his campaign, while going after the people he sees as his political enemies, including former CIA Director John Brennan. 

A new report from "The New York Times" reveals the John Durham, the federal prosecutor scrutinizing the Russia investigation, has begun examining Brennan`s role in how the intelligence community assessed Russia`s 2016 election interference. 

I`m joined now by Greg Brower.  He is a former senior FBI official, as well as a former U.S. attorney, and Katrina Mulligan, who`s held positions at the DOJ, the NSC and the DNI.

Katrina, your thoughts about this?  It seems like the Justice Department has become the president`s weapon.  He just use -- Barr will do anything he wants.  Go after Brennan.  Brennan doesn`t like me.  I don`t like him.  Let`s go hurt him.

KATRINA MULLIGAN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  I mean, this is not what the Justice Department is supposed to be doing. 

I mean, if there is a real concern about anything that may have happened, that concern is most appropriate to be explored by the inspector general.  And if there`s a criminal referral, which we don`t have in this case, then it makes sense for it to move to a U.S. attorney, not the other way around. 

MATTHEWS:  Greg, what would be the prime -- the crime they`re looking for?  I mean, Brennan was the head of the FBI. 

He led -- he oversaw an investigation of possible collusion between a political campaign and the Russians.  There were so many Russian figures involved in this.  It seems like it was probable cause or whatever prima facie evidence.  There was something fishy going on with all these meetings. 


MATTHEWS:  How do you call that criminal, to investigate that? 

BROWER:  It`s hard to make sense of this.

And Katrina`s right.  I`m a former I.G. and I`m a former federal prosecutor.  So I have been on both sides of that.  And what it appears that Durham is doing, it`s hard to know exactly, but it appears that whatever he`s doing should really be done by a combination of the DOJ I.G. -- we have seen his report -- and then the ICIG, if concerns go beyond the FBI and to other intelligence agencies.

And then if, and only if, the I.G.s find evidence of a crime, then a referral is made to the relevant U.S. attorney with jurisdiction.  That`s the normal way it should work.

MATTHEWS:  Jurisdiction is a great word, Greg. 

BROWER:  There you go.

MATTHEWS:  What is the guy -- the U.S. attorney up in Connecticut got to do with this, except he`s willing to take orders and do what he`s told by the president, in effect, through Barr?

MULLIGAN:  Well, by all accounts, Durham has a pretty sterling reputation, but there are...


MATTHEWS:  He`s about to lose it, I think. 

MULLIGAN:  Well, that`s the question. 

I mean, his statement after the release of the DOJ I.G. report, it`s difficult to square with the reputation that he has.  And so, I will be looking with interest at how he handles this. 

I mean, one thing that`s troubling to me is the timeline here.  You have -- it seems like, every time there`s a political event that the president doesn`t like, an anonymous source is suddenly telling -- revealing details about this criminal investigation. 

You had that when the Republicans stormed the impeachment private deposition when...

MATTHEWS:  Sure, the SCIF.

MULLIGAN:  That was back -- yes, that was back in October.  That came out the day after.

There was also Quinnipiac poll that day showing a big surge in public approval for impeachment.  And then, the very next day, you hear, oh, now it`s going to be a criminal probe.  The same thing happens.  The president gets impeached by the House.

MATTHEWS:  Are you saying that all these players are just pawns in the president`s hand?  They`re just -- they go out -- even members of Congress, like Devin Nunes, become operational all of a sudden?  They`re not legislators.  They`re willing to go bopping around wherever he tells them to go?

MULLIGAN:  Look, I really don`t want to be thinking that.  But I think the timeline here is troubling. 

BROWER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, President Trump has also used another scapegoat -- that would be Ukraine -- in his denials that Russia interfered in his behalf in 2016. 

"The Washington Post" reports that, almost from the moment that he took office, this president, Trump, has seized on a theory that troubled his senior aides, that Ukraine had tried to stop him from winning the White House.

According to "The Washington Post": "The president`s intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies, all 17 of them, that Russia systematically interfered the 2016 election and the blame he casts instead on a rival country, led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself help spur the idea of Ukraine`s culpability."

Is it possible -- and we have been through the whole question of collusion -- that the president has somebody whispering in his ear, it`s Ukraine, it`s not us, and that person is Putin? 

BROWER:  Well, it appears that that has been happening. 

What is surprising is that -- not that the Russian president would try to influence the U.S. president that way, but that the U.S. president would in fact be influenced that way, apparently, despite...

MATTHEWS:  Because he wanted to hear it.

MULLIGAN:  ... despite the fact that every classified briefing he`s had since before he was even sworn in tells him the opposite. 

MATTHEWS:  But he wants to believe he won the election in the Electoral College, which is fair and square, Electoral College, but he wants to believe he can pound the table long enough to be able to say, OK, the Russians had nothing to do with you winning. 

MULLIGAN:  Look, I mean, the fact of the matter is, the president seems to be the only person with access to classified information who believes that Russia was not involved in the 2016 election. 

MATTHEWS:  Because he`s perfect.

MULLIGAN:  His -- all of his Cabinet officials have said that it happened, multiple independent agencies. 



MATTHEWS:  Have you ever had a perfect phone call? 


MATTHEWS:  Trump has these words like perfect and excellent and beautiful.  Everything he does is beautiful, perfect.  You can`t even talk to the guy.  Anyway, that`s a little bit narcissistic, I think. 

Anyway, Greg Brower, thank you.  Thank you, Katrina.  Have a nice holiday, both of you, Katrina Mulligan.

Still ahead:  Seven Democratic candidates faced off in the final debate of this year last night -- I watched all of it -- and gave Buttigieg the front-runner treatment.  You know how you`re -- know you`re the front- runner?  Everybody`s pounding you.

We`re going to have the headlines and lowlights next on HARDBALL. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

As President Trump faces the reality of being only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached, which he is, the Democrats faced off in their final debate of this year last night, with three of his potential jurors right on the stage, all U.S. senators. 

And it was no surprise that the president`s impeachment led the debate.  Here they go. 


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We need to restore the integrity of the presidency, the office of the presidency, and it`s about time we get that under way.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This is beyond public opinions.  This is beyond polls.  This is beyond politics.

The president left the House with no choice.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We cannot have a president with that temperament who is dishonoring the presidency of the United States.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If the president claims that he is so innocent, then why doesn`t he have all the president`s men testify?  Richard Nixon had his top people testify.


MATTHEWS:  But, with only 45 days until the Iowa caucuses, many on that stage last night were giving that front-runner treatment, which means the bad time, to Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who leads in the polls in Iowa. 

Here goes.


SANDERS:  Good friend, Joe, and he is a good friend, he`s received contributions from 44 billionaires.  Pete, on the other hand, he`s trailing, Pete.  You only got 39 billionaires contributing. 


SANDERS:  So, Pete, we look forward to you.  I know you`re an energetic guy and a competitive guy, to see if you can take on Joe on that issue.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The mayor just recently had a fund-raiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine. 

We made the decision many years ago that rich people in smoke-filled rooms would not pick the next president of the United States. 

BUTTIGIEG:  This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass. 


BUTTIGIEG:  If I pledge -- if I pledge never to be in the company of a progressive Democratic donor, I couldn`t be up here. 

Senator, your net worth is 100 times mine. 


MATTHEWS:  I love it.  It`s personal, wasn`t it?

But it was Senator Amy Klobuchar who may have hit Mayor Pete at his biggest vulnerability.

And that`s coming up next.  You`re watching HARDBALL. 



KLOBUCHAR:  I want to be president of the United States.  And the point is, we should have someone heading up this ticket that has actually won.

BUTTIGIEG:  If you want to talk about the capacity to win, try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80 percent of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence`s Indiana. 


KLOBUCHAR:  Again, I would -- Mayor, if you -- if you had won in Indiana, that would be one thing.  You tried, and you lost by 20 points. 


MATTHEWS:  She`s talking -- that`s Amy Klobuchar, the senator, talking about how Buttigieg ran for state treasurer and lost rather badly. 

That was a scene from last night`s Democratic debate.  And I thought it was pretty good. 

According to NBC News, Buttigieg got the front-runner treatment, of course.  Everybody was attacking him.  They were all leveled at him, all the attacks from his fellow candidates.  We see there`s only seven up there.  It`s getting better. 

That honor, by the way, previously belonged to former Vice President Joe Biden.  He used to get hit by everybody who had that many calling out about him. 

But a lot of people thought last night was Joe Biden`s best performance so far. 

Here`s Biden defending his calls for bipartisanship after Trump`s eventual departure. 


BIDEN:  We need to be able to reach consensus.  And if anyone has reason to be angry with the Republicans and not want to cooperate, it`s me, the way they`ve attacked me, my son, and my family.  I have no -- no -- no love.


BIDEN:  But the fact is, we have to -- we have to be able to get things done.  And when we can`t convince them, we go out and beat them, like we did in the 2018 election, in red states and in purple states.



MATTHEWS:  For more, I`m joined by Adrienne Elrod, of course, former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton`s campaign, Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist, and Yamiche Alcindor, a correspondent, of course, White House correspondent, of "PBS NewsHour" and a moderator of last night. 

I have got to start with you, Yamiche, my friend. 

And it did seem to follow the pattern that, if you`re leading the polls, especially with the Iowa caucuses coming up February 3, you`re the target of all the other people on stage. 

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, "PBS NEWSHOUR":   I think that`s right, Chris.

What you saw last night was candidates really, really focusing in on Mayor Pete Buttigieg.  And that`s because he`s leading in the polls in Iowa.  He might even win Iowa.  There were people close to Joe Biden who were telling me, you know what, the vice president`s really looking at other states that are more racially diverse, like California and Nevada. 

But what you see there is other candidates essentially saying, yes, he might actually win Iowa, which is a big deal.  So you saw Amy Klobuchar, who is someone who made herself very clear that she wanted to be the moderate alternative. 

We have had a lot of conversations about progressives battling for that corner of the party. 

But, last night, what we saw was a debate of moderates, and Amy Klobuchar essentially saying, look, if you had won and you had been a statewide -- a statewide candidate, and you had shown that you could someone who has the experience, then maybe we could consider you, but that you don`t have that resume.  Instead, what you have it`s a small town that you have been able to help, but I am someone who has won statewide in a big state.  And I`m the type of person who can carry this mantle. 

So what you saw in Amy Klobuchar was someone who was really taking it to Mayor Buttigieg.  I kept remembering her saying the mayor, the mayor, the mayor.  She kept on saying that to really bring that home. 

And then you saw, of course, Elizabeth Warren.  Everyone was waiting for -- and I think I was waiting for -- the fireworks to go off between Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren.  They have been trading barbs all -- for several weeks about kind of demonizing the private sector work. 

And you saw Elizabeth Warren making that winter -- that wine cave reference there, and it started trending on Facebook.  But I think the big takeaway there was that Pete Buttigieg was going to be attacked and that people are worried about the fact that he`s a front-runner. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you who you think are the front-runners now.  Is it Biden, Buttigieg and Warren?  Are they the three that really can win this thing?


MATTHEWS:  Sanders can still win the nomination?

ELROD:  I don`t know that he can win the nomination, but he is going to be a front-runner.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s what I`m talking about.  Who can still win the nomination?

ELROD:  I don`t know if Biden -- I mean -- I`m sorry -- Sanders can win the nomination. 

But, yes, I do think it`s down between Biden, Warren and Buttigieg.  And I think that`s what you saw kind of play out last night.  Amy Klobuchar knows that she needs to get in that top four.  Right now, she`s in the top five to six, right? 

The only way that I think she sees her path to doing that is to go after Mayor Pete`s voters.  And that`s why you saw her draw a contrast.  You guys will remember...

MATTHEWS:  Because they`re the same voters.

ELROD:  In large part, they`re the same voters, those pragmatic Midwestern moderate Democrats. 

You guys will recall, during the Detroit debate just a couple months ago, Mayor Pete, with a strong assist from Amy Klobuchar, held the mantle for defending Obama era policies.  It wasn`t Joe Biden.  It was the two of them sort of in a tag-teaming effort going against Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. 

We saw a complete opposite situation last night, between the two of them really going after each other, and Amy Klobuchar, of course, also making it clear, hey, listen, you`re the mayor of a town of 100,000 people.  I have won several times statewide in a state that is largely, or at least to an extent, a Trump state. 

So she`s trying to draw that contrast.  It`s going to be fascinating to see how this plays out. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you notice the shift?  We were talking about Medicare for all, a tough defense for -- certainly for Senator Warren. 

So, she shifted the target away from herself over to Buttigieg, no, and it`s not about whether Medicare for all will work or not.  And I`m sort of compromised on that, delayed it for three years.  But it`s about who`s getting -- who is paying for you. 

Why didn`t he fight back and say, no, let`s keep talking about Medicare for all?  I`m winning on that one.  Why did he let the topic shift over to who is paying it? 

RICK TYLER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  He shouldn`t have.  Well, it was interesting...


MATTHEWS:  I think he weakened out on that one, Buttigieg.

TYLER:  Because Elizabeth Warren backed off of Medicare for all.


TYLER:  She was like, I want to get as much as I can as fast as I can.  It was a real -- it was a capitulation.

And Bernie Sanders went all in again on Medicare.  I will do it my first bill.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think that -- is he trying to leapfrog her to the left?

TYLER:  He`s trying to get all those -- he`s trying to get all those progressive back. 

Remember, there was really -- positioning-wise, there`s only two progressives left on the stage.

MATTHEWS:  Has she fallen between the cracks right now? 


TYLER:  I think she was hurt the most last night.  And I will tell you why.

The reason -- and some people will hate this -- but the reason Joe Biden had such a great debate last night, because he wasn`t the front-runner and he wasn`t attacked.  And guess who showed him how to be a front-runner and get attacked?

Pete Buttigieg, because he took it all ways, and he had answers for everything.  By the way, I don`t think the mayor thing hurt him at all.  Pete Buttigieg is on the stage not because he doesn`t -- because of his resume, as she wants to say.  He`s on the stage because he got support -- he`s got support. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I`ll tell you -- Yamiche, I want to talk to you about this. 


MATTHEWS:  We`re talking about basic political talent. 

And one thing I have watched politics for a hundred years of my life.  I`m not that old, but I can remember almost everything.  Voice matters.  Roosevelt had a fabulous voice.  Ike had a fabulous voice.  Reagan, of course, had a fabulous voice.  Those who had weak voices like Carter did not do well in politics. 

I`m impressed by Buttigieg.  He has a broadcaster`s voice.  I don`t know where the hell he got it.  But when they`re -- when they got into the thick of things last night, he seemed strong.  And I think Klobuchar sounds really good too.

What did you think about Buttigieg when he was under attack last night?

ALCINDOR:  I think he was someone who showed that he could be nimble, someone who also showed that he could be turning the tables on someone. 

I think the -- one of the most memorable things he said was, Elizabeth Warren is trying to issue purity tests that she can`t herself pass.  And he basically made the case, look, you`re trying to attack me, but, remember, I`m the poorest person on this stage.  You`re a millionaire, and you had millionaire donors just like me. 


ALCINDOR:  So I think there is -- we did see Pete Buttigieg get attacked from all sides. 

Some people did say that he was -- at times when he was mocking Amy Klobuchar, that it came off as a little bit -- a little bit of just annoying and a little bit of mean-spirited there. 


ALCINDOR:  But I think, overall, he was someone who showed, if you put him on the stage with President Trump, he might be able to hold his own.

And that`s, of course, what Democrats are looking for. 


I think there`s three guys making pickups last night.  Amy Klobuchar picked up points, definitely.  I think Buttigieg definitely went up a bit.  And who else?  Biden.  Biden had a good night.  He did not have a bad night, which is, for him, a good night.

Thank you, Adrienne.

ALCINDOR:  But he wouldn`t say that he would run for a second term, which is, I think, something that voters are going to think about for a while. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

Well, I think the best answer when you`re his age is to say, we will think about it when the time comes. 

Thank you, Adrienne Elrod, veteran of the Hillary Clinton campaign, Rick Tyler, a Republican talking about Democrats, Yamiche Alcindor, fabulous work as a moderator this week.

Up next:  While this country seems divided, I see a path forward.  I do.

You`re watching HARDBALL. 


MATTHEWS:  This week made history.  It also points to the true possibilities for 2020.

The partisan vote in the House of Representatives on the two articles of impeachment shows the clear line of division in this country.  But it also masks the possibilities for moving that line. 

There are millions in the middle who are capable, in other words, are voting differently than they did in 2016.  One notch of the electorate are those who simply want to do the decent thing, like those Republicans who voted for Barack Obama in 2008.

Another notch are those whose politics leans toward the center and could well find a Democrat who`s closer to them than they are to Donald Trump.  I can easily imagine these voters going to someone like Joe Biden.

Still another group is Republicans or conservative independents simply disgusted by Trump`s behavior, the insults, the attacks on people`s looks or handicaps, the attacks even on the dead, the sheer indecency of the man now in the White House. 

There is good reason to believe that the Democratic candidate for president in 2020 could appeal to all kinds of voters as simply a designated driver to take this country home next November, home to a country whose leaders stand guard on the country`s moral dignity, rather than assault it. 

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

"All In with Chris Hayes" starts right now.