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Trump ramps up divisive rhetoric. TRANSCRIPT: 12/23/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Elise Labott, Jonathan Swan, Elizabeth Holtzman, Rick Tyler, DonnaEdwards

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST:  All right.  Elise Labott, thank you very much.

That does it for me.  I hope everyone has a safe and happy holidays.

"HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  A fair trial.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

With plans for the Senate trial stalled now, the evidence against Donald Trump keeps rising.  In an explosive new revelation, facts emerge about Trump`s scheme to extort Ukraine for personal gain.  We have learned that the White House implemented the freeze on military assistance to Ukraine just 90 minutes after Trump asked the Ukrainian President Zelensky to investigate his political opponents in that July phone call.

According to internal emails obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, order to suspend the aide came from a political appointee in the White House Budget Office, Michael Duffey.  He told the Pentagon to please hold off on any additional obligation of these funds.  Duffey then instructed the Pentagon officials to keep quiet, saying, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute the direction.

The timing of this order, just 90 minutes after Trump`s call with Zelensky, raises new issues about the president`s use of foreign aid to pressure Ukraine.  A senior administration official tells The New York Times that, quote, the timing of the email was coincidental.

But Michael Duffey`s personal role on suspending aid to Ukraine has long been under scrutiny.  That`s because the authority over Ukraine was inexplicably given to Duffey, political appointee, over the career officials at the OMB.  And he was among the many officials that the White House blocked from testifying in the House impeachment inquiry.

Minutes ago, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer cited Duffey`s emails to push Republicans to commit allowing witnesses at the president`s trial.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY):  What happened over the weekend with Duffey`s emails that were made public has only bolstered the case that documents should be produced and witnesses testify.

If everything was on the up and up, if the call was perfect, as President Trump said, why does one of his top aides who is a political appointee say, let`s keep it hush-hush?

MATTHEWS:  I am joined right now by Heidi Przybyla, NBC News Correspondent, Jonathan Swan is National Political Reporter for Axios, and former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman was a member of the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate.

I want to go to Heidi on this.  Tell us what this tells us as a missing piece of the puzzle, the fact that this guy, Mike Duffey, was the one that said no more money for Ukraine.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  It is critical because it pushed aside the person who is responsible for writing those notes.  That person testified, Mark Sandy, that he was very bothered, that he was forced to write this note saying he was going to have to put a hold on this.  He also testified that two officials quit because they were concerned.  One of them was a legal guy who said this might be a violation of the Federal Impoundment Act, which is the president has to explain to Congress when he inexplicably decides to hold back money that`s been appropriated.

To the timeline, I want to make this clear.  All right, so you have the president asking for the investigation.  90 minutes later, you have the formal hold, which had been under discussion within the administration that this was for all intents and purposes, the formal hold.  And then, Chris, a day later, you have Gordon Sondland pulling Zelensky`s deputy, Yermak, into a private meeting, throwing out embassy officials, throwing note takers, coming out and then he`s heard loudly on a cell phone consummating the deal, telling Trump, yes, he is going to do it, he will do anything you ask.

So within 48 hour timeframe you have the ask, you have the hold and you have an agreement to the investigation.  Those are firsthand facts.

MATTHEWS:  When I worked in politics, later I learned more about politics.  You have follow-up people, follow-up guys, follow-up women.  Their job is to follow up of what the principal decides.  You just -- usually, they do it instinctively.  They hear that the boss says, no more money for Ukraine, they make sure Ukraine gets no more money.  How has this been (ph)?

Heidi gives us a sense of what would happen in a trial.  In a real trial in the Senate, if we have a trial, this kind of chain of command, this kind of chain of custody of an order from the president would be clearl delineated.  You would watch it at this point at 7:00 in the morning, this happened, this happened at 9:00, this happened at 10:00, and you would have a clear line.  Can we get --

JONATHAN SWAN, NATOINAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS:  It doesn`t work that way in the Trump administration.

MATTHEWS:  How do people follow-up?

SWAN:  I will tell you how it works in practice having covered this administration very, very closely for the whole time it`s existed.  Trump will say things in meetings, like we should cut off the money to the Ukrainians.  He doesn`t put it in a sentence so we can get leverage for X, that`s not how he talks.  And often what happens is people around him don`t want to execute it, often the White House Counsel`s Office thinks this is a bad idea, maybe it`s illegal.

MATTHEWS:  Like in this case --

SWAN:  I am not saying it happened in this case, this exact thing, but, generally speaking, when Trump says stuff like that, often the people around him have that reaction.

The Office of Management and Budget, as we have reported, is this island of yes men.  And we actually wrote a piece called, Trump`s Yes Men.  They`re the office when Trump has an idea and the lawyers say, you can`t do it, they say, yes, we can.  And they look for lateral ways --

MATTHEWS:  Okay.  How do they get it from -- okay.  He is on the phone with Zelensky, he says, I want you to do us a favor though.  How did that get to the OMB.

PRZYBYLA:  Well, that`s why we need documentation to come out.  These documents did not come out because the Trump administration decided we can have them.  They were forced through Freedom of Information Act that also includes many, many blacked out emails.  And so we don`t have exactly an explanation because all of the witnesses and all of the paper documentation is being blocked.

But one of the witnesses who testified before the Intelligence Committee also said that he overheard an unidentified OMB official saying the president ordered this.  These are the things that would come out.

MATTHEWS:  If it works the way you say, just like will now rid of this troublesome priest (ph), if it`s like that, just rhetoric, and then somebody -- it isn`t covered by executive privilege, there is no conveyance of an order?

SWAN:  Well, this is --

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) conversation.  I`m going to Elizabeth Holtzman about this.  This is the kind of thing we would have if we have in January, this coming January, a real trial, where you have witnesses come in, they tell us what happened with the president and how do this go about, the prosecutors come in from the House, probably Adam Schiff.  He is the head of the Prosecution team.  He is saying, we believe and we charge that this president squeezed a foreign leader to get some political dirt for his own personal gain, for his personal gain.  And here is how it happens.  And they would bring in witnesses.  Our witnesses will include -- what`s this guy`s name?

SWAN:  Russ Vought.

MATTHEWS:  Russ Vought and this guy, Mike Duffey, and he`s going to bring each one of these people and say, this led to this, led to this, led to this, this is how the president squeezed off that money.  Your thoughts, are we going to get a trial like that with the Republicans running the show over the with 53 votes?

FMR. REP. ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN (D-NY):  Well, I think this process, what Nancy Pelosi did, has slowed things down so that the American people have a good idea now of what`s happening, about the cover-up that started from the get-go, and that is continuing to this point.

It`s quite clear from the polls that American people want the facts to come out.  Trump says he`s innocent.  Trump said it was a perfect phone call.  Trump said no pressure.  So all of the people who could prove that should come forward and testify.  But he says no.

Now, the American people are beginning to understand that.  That could have a major impact on what the Senate does.

I think the interesting thing about that email is that the president said, oh, there was no pressure on the phone call, but that phone call was kind of the iron fist in the velvet glove.  The email is when that glove comes off and you see the iron fist, the iron fist that was there all the time.  In other words, this was the bullying, this was a he coercion, this was a duress to force Ukraine to get involved in U.S. elections and tip the balance in Trump`s favor.

MATTHEWS:  Elizabeth, how do you stop him from lying, because a White House high level officials sounds like the president himself said it was just a coincidence?  It`s happened within 90 minutes, the president cutting off money, or telling the guy, I want you to do a favor, then 90 minutes later, obviously, they get no money.  The spigot gets turned off.

This White House find somebody -- probably somebody not in the no, who won`t be charged with perjury to say, that`s a coincidence.  They`re a lying pack of whatever.  How do you stop them all from lying?  I guess threat of going to prison.

HOLTZMAN:  Well, first of all, you need the documents too, and that`s the other important thing.  And Chuck Schumer has called for that sensibly and remarkably as well, because the documents -- all this stuff was done through email or a lot of it, the documents would show that.  And so those have to be turned over.

You cannot have this cover-up, which is what`s going on here now, and that would be a disaster for the country, a tragedy, for the Senate, a tragedy for our democracy.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I`m glad to hear the documents would seem so formal in 1960s are now being replaced by email.  So people may not be writing formal business letters, but they are dealing an email, which is the fastest way to talk.

Anyway, the House and Senate remain deadlocked, of course, during a congressional recess, looking forward, while Speaker Pelosi weighs whether to delay transmitting those articles of impeachment to the Senate when she comes back from recess on the 7th.

This morning, Pelosi tweeted, the House cannot choose our impeachment managers until we know what sort of trial the Senate will conduct.  President Trump his own witnesses and documents from the House and from the American people on phony complaints about the House process.  What is his excuse now?  That`s the speaker talking today.

Minutes later, the president tweeted, Pelosi gives us the most unfair trial in the history of the United States Congress, and now she`s crying -- I love this word, crying -- crying for fairness in the Senate and breaking all rules while doing so.  She lost Congress once, she will lose again.  It`s a typical below the belt punch than he usually delivers.  She lost election, like, you never ran before.

Who is winning that standoff right now?

PRZYBYLA:  Anybody who has been paying attention knows that the president`s whole argument and parroted by Mitch McConnell was that he wasn`t getting any due process in the House.  So now that everything, which, by the way, wasn`t true, because they got all of their fact witnesses, all of the fact witnesses that they requested they got, they just didn`t get people like Hunter Biden who have no knowledge.  So now that things move over to the Senate, this is their chance to control everything.  And now we`re being told no witnesses.

So what Speaker Pelosi is doing here reflects the fact that she knows that once the articles are sent over, Democrats lose a lot of leverage because they have to depend on the mercy of two to three sympathetic Republicans who would have to agree with them to dig in their heels and say, we want witnesses and we want those witnesses.

MATTHEWS:  Okay, (INAUDIBLE) for Christmas.  So a week after new year`s, who is winning?  Can they both sustain the standoff, both Pelosi and McConnell?

SWAN:  Trump has what Richard Nixon could only have dreamt about.  He has a totally loyal and unified Republican Party.  And I see people put up these polls, you have 50 percent of the country wants him impeached.  That`s true.  Zero Republicans want him impeached at the moment.  I can`t name one, maybe one in the Senate.

PRZYBYLA:  Here`s her game, okay?  70 percent of Americans want these witnesses and think these witnesses should testify, including 64 percent of Republicans.  So let me just tell you what Pelosi`s strategy here is.  I`m not saying she`s going to win and she`s going to get the witnesses.  But what I`m saying is that she`s drawing it out so that the public knows full well that these witnesses are being blocked.

MATTHEWS:  What`s the pressure point?  Is the pressure point people like Mitt Romney?  Is the pressure point Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, those Republicans that might flip over with 50 percent --

PRZYBYLA:  I am not saying it`s going to happen.

SWAN:  Susan Collins was angry at what Schumer did, saying they`re going to the press with that letter.  I don`t see that --

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think is kind of one (ph) for a while.  A New York magazine today, by the way, released an interview with Rudy Giuliani, who adds color to this, this was conducted just after his return from Ukraine.  In it, the president`s lawyer, that`s Rudy, goes off on a range of topics.  Quote, he said, former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch is controlled by George Soros.  That`s Rudy talking.  He put all four ambassadors there.  And he is employing the FBI agents.

The reporter added, I told him -- that`s Rudy -- that he sounded crazy, but he insisted he wasn`t.  Well, Giuliani then said, don`t tell me I am anti- Semitic if I oppose him.  Soros is hardly a Jew.  I am more of a Jew than Soros is.

He also weighed in the reported investigation to his business activity, saying, if they think I committed a crime, they are out of their minds.  I have been doing this for 50 years.  I know how now to not commit crimes.  And he said he may represent the president`s Senate trial, quote, if it`s a very aggressive case, he would be more confident with me.

Elizabeth, this is one joyful ride of crazy from, first of all, the idea of him appearing in the Senate is Looney Tunes.  The idea that -- I can`t remind myself of the nuts in that bag -- stuff of his.  I mean, George Soros, somehow, under a Republican administration, named all these ambassadors?  How is that done?  The fact that he is really more Jewish than Soros, George is jewish, and Rudy is not, but what do they mean, I`m more Jewish?  I guess he meant, more hawkish on the Middle East politics.  I don`t have any other explanation.  Your thoughts.  It`s terrible question to put to you, but how crazy is Rudy?

HOLTZMAN:  I think Giuliani is losing it.  And I think maybe that`s his appeal to the president because he`s really become a kook now at best, if not, a very malign person.  I mean, to say that he is more Jewish than a Jew, really?

MATTHEWS:  Well, that`s cute.

HOLTZMAN:  I mean, Hitler wasn`t going to send him to a concentration camp, that`s for sure.  So we know that that`s --

MATTHEWS:  You`re picking a point here.  Just kidding.  What do you make about the whole -- the crazy -- where do I start here -- that he was going to be the president`s lawyer in the Senate, if we ever have a trial?

SWAN:  I`m personally aggrieved because I`ve been trying to -- Rudy Giuliani used to always talk to me.  He`s blanked me out.  And now he is doing -- drinking Bloody Marys with Olivia Nuzzi at New York Magazine.  I think it`s -- I`m personally offended.

MATTHEWS:  The guy loves ink.  Anyway, thank you.  Rudy -- Happy New Year, Mr. Mayor, America`s Mayor, formerly known as America`s Mayor.  Thank you, Heidi Przybyla, great reporting, as always.  Jonathan Swan, as always, sir, thank you.

SWAN:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Congratulations on your year.  You got married this year.

SWAN:  I`m also the biggest Jew at this table.

MATTHEWS:  Let me think, yes.  And, Elizabeth Holtzman, thank you.  But I think, Elizabeth, maybe a confirm (ph) in that regard.  Anyway, thank you so much, Elizabeth, Happy New Year to you, and happy holidays to everybody here.

Facing impeachment now, President Trump is stoking rage, of course, to fire up his base, pushing the argument, it`s us against them.  He doesn`t worry about the facts.  In fact, he has got a person out there in Michigan who said, facts don`t matter.  What do you hear from that?


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  But at the top of the FBI, you have dirty cops, deep state sabotage, 18 angry Democrat prosecutors, these were all put in there to destroy us.


MATTHEWS:  It sounds pretty scary, doesn`t it?

Plus, the Iowa caucus is just around the corner, February 3rd.  The Democratic race is wide open.  We`re going to see a photo finish, I think.  The winner becomes the instant frontrunner.  If you win Iowa, you`re on the way.

Can Biden turn his people out on a cold winter night in Iowa or will it be Mayor Pete Buttigieg`s big moment or Bernie or Warren or Klobuchar, maybe?

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



TRUMP:  Each of you is a fighter on the frontlines of defending our way of life, but we are in a battle of survival of this nation.

They`re waging war on the values and principles that have always defined America.  They`re trying to silence, censor and punish anyone who dissents from their oppressive ideology.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, who else, President Trump over the weekend speaking at a conference of conservative high school and college students.  The president talks the same, by the way, to all his rallies for older people, stoking anger to energize the base, especially now that he lives with the reality every morning he gets up, I`m an impeached person.  He knows that now.

As the Associated Press describes it using stark us versus them language, President Donald Trump and his re-election campaign have begun framing his impeachment, not as a judgment of his conduct but as a referendum on how Democrats regard him and his supporters. In other words, it`s against the deployables -- the deplorables.  I`m sorry.

Heading into 2020, Trump is the first president to seek reelection, of course, after being impeached.  And that has not hurt him with Republican lawmakers, at least not publicly so far. 

In fact, as "The New York Times" reports, Trump has been able to obtain total loyalty from his party.  How is that?  Total loyalty from his party - - quote -- "The president demands complete fealty.

That`s a medieval term.

"And as the impeachment hearings showed, he has largely attained it.  To crush him is to risk losing a future in the Republican Party."

Well, could impeachment actually help the president in 2020, as Trump has claimed?  The president`s favorite morning show, "FOX & Friends," spoke to voters in Michigan the day after the president was impeached. 

And here`s how one, incredibly, thinking resident framed it:


QUESTION:  Does impeachment help or hurt Trump in 2020? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think it`ll help him among people who don`t care about facts. 


MATTHEWS:  I love it. 


MATTHEWS:  It will help him among people who don`t care about facts. 

That`s a Trump supporter talking.  People who don`t care about facts. 

For more, I`m joined by former Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who is also a contributing columnist for "The Washington Post" now, and Rick Tyler is a Republican strategist.

I go to you, Rick.  I go to you.  These are your people out there.


MATTHEWS:  I mean -- I mean, seriously, this is a Republican woman, I believe, saying people who don`t care about facts.

Is this move completely to the tribal?  In other words, what side are you on is the only question that matters to people, no matter what comes out in trial, no matter what Trump was involved with, with selling out the country to get Joe Biden or Hunter Biden or whatever?  It doesn`t matter now, because all that matters is, are you a Trumpite or not?  If you`re not a Trumpite, I`m going to get you. 


I have likened it to team sports.  So let`s just say you`re in a stadium, and the JumboTron represents truth.  And you can see that the ref made a call, and half the stadium thinks it`s a great call, and half the thing that stadium thinks it`s a terrible call, depending on which team you`re on. 

Everybody saw the call.  Everybody saw that the player stepped out of bounds or whatever it was.  They know what the truth is, but that doesn`t matter.  Did it help my team or did it hurt my team?

MATTHEWS:  But these are -- this is not a case of pass interference, which is always a judgment call.  Yes, I can`t even tell what pass interference is sometimes.  You get your arms through the other guy`s arms.  You`re moving around.  You`re in his face.  And somehow that didn`t interfere with the ability to catch. 

But if you find out the president of the United States traded public office for personal gain, you know the definition of that.

TYLER:  Except we have a media echo chamber now, right?  So you can wake up every morning as -- from ideology or the other, left or right, and you can listen to that -- your point of view all day long and never hear the other side. 

MATTHEWS:  I understand that .

TYLER:  It`s like listening to -- it`s like -- like -- so, if I switch over from FOX to MSNBC sometimes, it`s like two different universes.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but it`s sort of like turning the pillow over.  It`s the cool side you like, right? 

TYLER:  Yes. 


MATTHEWS:  Just kidding.

People don`t turn the pillow over anymore.  They used to.  They just stick with the same side of the pillow.  I think it works like that.

Donna, what good does it do to have a conversation?  Back in the 1984 reelection campaign of Ronald Reagan, when he was getting a little old, and people worried about it, and he had a very bad performance in that first debate with Walter Mondale, who was not a great debater, but Mondale won.

And Lee Atwater, who was the Mr. Scary Guy in the Republican Party, said, if Reagan loses the second one, and people will say he is just not up to the job anymore, just go crazy and use our ballyhoo boys to spread the word it doesn`t matter whether he`s smart or not, or too old or not. 

What said are you on?  Are you on Reagan`s side or the lefties on the other side?  And that was the whole plan.  It seems like that`s the plan they`re in now.  Don`t let people think.  Don`t let them follow the debates or trials or anything.  Just to say them, you`re on our side.  Fight these people. 


But, I mean, it`s also still true that a very slim majority of people still believe that he should have been impeached and that -- and 51 percent, by some polls, that he should be removed.  That is true, but people are in their camps. 

What really is striking to me is that, right now, in this debate about whether Pelosi is going to turn over the articles or not to the Senate, that most people believe that there really should be facts and witnesses and testimony and all of that in front of the Senate. 

And so I do think you still have folks there, even if they`re on Trump`s side, who say, you know what?  There`s still a fairness question.

MATTHEWS:  Who is that going to move, though, Donna? 

EDWARDS:  Well, I don`t...

MATTHEWS:  Is it going to move four or five Republican U.S. senators?

EDWARDS:  You know what?  It`s not going to move enough to remove him, but it could move enough, a handful, who are in vulnerable places...

MATTHEWS:  That`s what I meant.  Will we get a trial, then? 

EDWARDS:  Well, I think there is going to be a trial. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean a real one, with witnesses?

EDWARDS:  I think maybe there are going to be witnesses. 

MATTHEWS:  That`s a great question. 

You think four Republicans -- do you think Susan Collins and Cory Gardner and maybe Mitt Romney, I mean, could they actually join the 47 Democrats and come up with 50 and say...


TYLER:  They could.  Absolutely, they could.  Why wouldn`t they do that? 

I mean, if the president has had a perfect call, then he will send people over who will say that he had a perfect call. 

But what we know now is, 17 witnesses, most of them, or if not all of them, were Trump appointees, appointed by appointees or officials, and they were all Trump -- these are Trump`s people. 


TYLER:  And all of them gave information that Trump didn`t like.

And so the complaint was, here we have a -- we`re speeding this, rushing this through.  We don`t get my witnesses to, by God, we better hurry up and not have witnesses, because we know what they`re going to say. 


TYLER:  So...

MATTHEWS:  He can put on his best witnesses.  He can put on Mick Mulvaney.

He can put on this guy Duffey.  He can put on these guys.  But they`re all going to hurt him.  And, by the way, they will be under oath.

TYLER:  I want to make a distinction.  I want to make a distinction about loyalty, though.

I mean, political -- all those -- I have worked for many politicians.  There is an expectation of loyalty.  But we don`t expect people to go out and debase themselves, as Marc Short did, the training tape this weekend on how to humiliate yourself for your guy.

MATTHEWS:  Like when you say it`s OK to make fun of a dead guy...

TYLER:  Yes, because it`s cowardly, because he can`t defend himself.

MATTHEWS:  ... because, in his closing days -- by the way, it sounded like the reality show mentality has crept in. 

Nobody refers to some of the last days of their life as their closing days.  This is a language that`s been up -- it`s reality TV, the last days the "Seinfeld" series, the last days.

TYLER:  It`s scripted that way.

EDWARDS:  And I think Trump -- Trump talks like that because then he expects everybody to fall in line behind him. 

And so we`re not going to move a lot of people, but I`m counting on five. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, here he is on the -- this is Trump going crazy.

In a bizarre rant during his speech to those conservative kids this weekend, President Trump went on an attack against wind -- wind turbines. 



I know windmills very much.  I have studied it better than anybody.  I know.  It`s very expensive.  They`re made in China and Germany mostly.  Very few made here, almost none. 

But they`re manufactured.  Tremendous -- if you`re into this -- tremendous fumes, gases are spewing into the atmosphere.  We have a world, right?

So the world is tiny compared to the universe.  And if you own a house with a vision of some of these monsters, your house is worth 50 percent of the price.  They are noisy.  They kill the birds. 

You want to see a bird graveyard?  You just go.  Take a look.  A bird graveyard?


MATTHEWS:  It`s not the first time the president has gone after wind energy.

Earlier this year, the president also claimed that noise from those wind turbines causes cancer.  Fact-checked, it doesn`t. 

Donna, we talked about fact.  We quoted that woman today from Michigan who said facts don`t matter.  This president is Professor Irwin Corey, the world`s greatest authority now on birds, on wind energy, how cancer is caused.

And don`t people say, we don`t need wacky?

EDWARDS:  Well, in some other universe, we would be laughing at this guy.  This is really not funny. 

He`s in front of a group of young people basically just making stuff up.  And what he said there was completely made up.  There is not a single bit of scientific or fact-based evidence behind what he described about wind turbines.

MATTHEWS:  But the thing is that people can see that wind turbines are just like windmills.  They`re just as old as modern civilization. 

We had windmills, and they didn`t kill anybody.  And his concern about birds is ridiculous. 

Anyway, Donna and Rick are staying with us this next -- we`re going to politics in a minute.  We have already been talking politics.

This is going to be a photo finish in Iowa, I think.  This -- you cannot predict what`s going to happen in about a month-and-a-half now.  We`re talking Iowa, and it`s coming at us. 

We will be right back.



MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We`re six weeks out from Iowa and the caucuses there, and we still don`t know a clear front-runner.  No one`s popped really.  In the weeks leading up to the very first political test of 2020, the remaining 15 Democratic presidential candidates have been canvassing this state.

That means going door to door pretty much making the hard sell.  Here they go. 


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We have to heal this country.  Our democracy is in trouble.  It`s not about me.  This is about the country. 

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think, as we look at this primary and what our choices are in this primary, it boils down to, yes, the best ideas. 

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think we all know why it is imperative that we get a different White House.  And I am meeting Democrats, independents and Republicans ready to make that happen. 

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If we want to make this whole election about one guy and one office, it`s a recipe for losing.  We can`t talk always about what we`re against.  We need to start talking about what we`re for and who we`re for. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, here`s how it looks, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg has a small lead -- I mean small -- at 22 percent, followed by Bernie Sanders at 20.  He`s holding up there.  Bernie is.  Vice President Joe Biden is at 19, which is basically the same.  And almost basically the same, Elizabeth Holtzman -- Elizabeth Holtzman.  No, she was just here.  Elizabeth Warren.  She`s at 16. 

So if you look at those top four, they`re all bunched.  They`re all within two or three.  You can`t predict any finer than that six weeks out. 

Anyway, the Iowa caucuses have traditionally set the tempo for the contests that follow, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, onto Super Tuesday a month out. 

Donna Edwards and Rick Tyler, OK, have some fun.  It`s Christmastime. 

What do you think? 

EDWARDS:  I don`t know.

MATTHEWS:  Who`s moving up?  Who has got any -- who`s got the mo` here, the big mo`?  Anybody? 

EDWARDS:  Well, I mean, I think clearly coming out of that debate, Buttigieg continues to demonstrate that he`s got some momentum there. 

But I was actually struck by Joe Biden`s strength coming out of the debate and his numbers now.  I think it`s anybody`s game in Iowa, and it`s really going to be about who organizes their people to get out to the caucus and caucus for them. 

It`s an organizing game.  Obama found that -- found that out.  And so we could have a situation where we get a one, two, three that are different one, two, three in all of these early states.  And then you go into Super Tuesday into the spring, and I think it`s up in the air.

TYLER:  I think Buttigieg did come out of that debate, and he showed that he could punch back.  And I think that he got hit as the front-runner.  He learned -- he showed that he can handle it.

But it`s -- is he peaking too early, six weeks?  There`s oppo dumps to come.  And Biden, as you say, has held on.

And you brought it up earlier, Chris, is that one of Biden`s big liabilities is his age.  And I remember, when Ronald Reagan had a problem with age, he would just go out and make fun of himself.  He would tell jokes about himself. 

And that ended that.  And if he would just be a little bit self-deprecating about it, I think it would work well for him. 

MATTHEWS:  The old rule in politics is, if you take a shot at another candidate, the third candidate out there benefits from it. 

So, I noticed Warren after Buttigieg.  Does that mean that maybe Klobuchar picks up a few points, or -- because usually you do hurt the other opponent when you hit him or her.  And what do you think?  How does this triangle go -- work this time?


EDWARDS:  Well, maybe, but Klobuchar also hit at Buttigieg as well.

And I think who came out of that on top, frankly, was Joe Biden in that debate. 


EDWARDS:  I mean, he was above the fray.

TYLER:  Yes, because no one was going after him.

EDWARDS:  Nobody was going after him.


EDWARDS:  And he had a little bit more time.  And I think his debate performance actually did improve.

MATTHEWS:  How many people who go into the voting booth, who go out on a cold night in Iowa -- and it is cold out there in February -- it`s cold everywhere.  I have been out there.  It`s really cold. 

You go out there at night, you spend three hours with people you may know, may not know.  And you tell them all how you`re going to vote.  My parents never told anybody how they would vote.  They didn`t tell each other how they would vote, from what I could tell. 

So that`s a unique kind of person.  Is that a Biden-type person, that kind of person who is that politically committed, that they`re willing to go at, suffer the cold, suffer the public exposure of how they`re going to vote? 

TYLER:  No, I think that it falls more to the progressive candidates.


TYLER:  Because, as you say, it`s a commitment.  It`s not like -- it`s not like, oh, I`m going to vote in the morning, honey, and it`s going to take 15 or 20 minutes.


MATTHEWS:  These are people wearing T-shirts.

TYLER:  You got to sit around for an hour.  You have got to listen to all the speeches.  I have given one at an Iowa caucus.


TYLER:  And then they literally pass a basket around, where you dump your - - that your candidate is.


MATTHEWS:  OK, same question to you, last question. 

How -- you know what solipsistic means?  It`s a philosophical term.  It means you think you`re the only one in the universe, and everything is just reverie, just dreaming, that nobody else exists but you.

How much does the voter in Iowa know that he or she is really speaking for millions and millions, tens of million of people, because they`re deciding basically which way this thing`s going?  Do they think like that?  I`m voting for the country? 

EDWARDS:  I don`t think so. 

I mean, I talk to Iowa voters.  And I have been at caucuses.  And I think people take their responsibility really seriously.  They look at their state as having a national responsibility.  But, for them, it`s personal. 


EDWARDS:  And it`s a demonstration of a thing for a candidate, but it`s not the only thing. 

And you go into then a New Hampshire primary.  I have been in New Hampshire in a primary too.  You have got to get your voters out when it is really cold.  I mean, it...

MATTHEWS:  OK, Buttigieg is gay and he`s married.  Everybody knows this.  He wants us all to know it.  He is a solid, honest guy that wants people know to exactly what they`re getting. 

Do people say, this might work in Iowa in a Democratic Caucus?  It may well work.  In fact, I think he`s the front-runner in many ways.  Will it sell in the South?  Will it sell in the more traditional parts of the country, where they`re going to -- are they thinking like that?  Or just  they know, I like this guy, I`m going to vote for this guy?

TYLER:  That`s a really good question.  I don`t know the answer. 


EDWARDS:  We don`t know that.

TYLER:  I don`t think we will know the answer. 

MATTHEWS:  But we will know. 

All I know is, Iowa counts.  I have watched it.  Only in cases where there`s a regional candidate from like...


TYLER:  I remember Barack Obama.


MATTHEWS:  If you win it, you`re on your way to winning the nomination.  It is so powerful.  And it`s a white state, largely, to be blunt. 

EDWARDS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  It just is. 

EDWARDS:  Yes, but people have gone from Iowa, and then you go to New Hampshire, and it`s totally...


TYLER:  It`s always different.  It`s totally different.  They`re going to have their say.


MATTHEWS:  But, in the end, the Iowa guy wins.



MATTHEWS:  Iowa counts.  You got to give Iowa a try, as they said in "The Music Man."

Anyway, thank you. 

Merry Christmas to you both, Donna Edwards and Rick Tyler.

Still ahead, Tom Brokaw joins us to talk about his work covering the impeachment of President Richard Nixon and how that administration`s approach to impeachment compares to Trump -- the Trump administration`s. 

Big differences.  You will see them in a minute. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Ukraine scandal driving President Trump`s impeachment has drawn inevitable comparison to Watergate.  In President Nixon`s case, his looming impeachment and near certainty to being removed from office led him to resign before Congress could act.  There he goes. 

Back in June, President Trump said the big difference between he and President Nixon is that he, Trump, wouldn`t quit. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When you look at past impeachments, whether it was President Clinton or I guess President Nixon never got there, he left, I don`t leave.  There`s a big difference.  I don`t leave. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, Nixon said the thing a year before he resigned, speaking to his staff in July of 1973, he dismissed the prospect he would ever resign before the end of his term. 


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT:  I was rather amused by some very well intentioned people who thought that perhaps the burdens of the office and, you know, some of the rather rough assaults that any man in this office gets from time to time brings on an illness, and that after going through such an illness, that I might get so tired that I would consider either slowing down or even some suggested resigning.  Anyone who suggests that -- that`s just plain poppycock.  We`re going to staying on this job until we get the job done. 



MATTHEWS:  Well, my colleague, Tom Brokaw, covered Richard Nixon`s impeachment for NBC News and has his own thoughts on comparison between Nixon and Donald Trump. 

My interview with Tom Brokaw is next. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.



TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS:  History shows Andrew Johnson gave up everything that the Congress asked him for when he was the subject of impeachment inquiry.  So Mr. President, I ask you this, aren`t your statements to that matter historically inaccurate or at least misleading?


NIXON:  Mr. Brokaw, it is true as you say the only other president who was exposed to an impeachment inquiry was Andrew Johnson.  However, in insofar as the principle of confidentiality is concerned, that principle stands. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was then White House correspondent Tom Brokaw of NBC News asking President Richard Nixon how he could withhold material from Congress during an impeachment inquiry.  And just as we`re seeing today with President Trump, Nixon`s defiance of congressional subpoenas to one of the three articles of impeachment brought against him, though Nixon resigned before being formally charged.

It`s all part of a new book, "The Fall of Richard Nixon" by Tom Brokaw, highlighting his recollections and observations from the Watergate era. 

I`m joined right now by the author of the book, NBC`s Tom Brokaw. 

Thank you so much, Tom.

BROKAW:  Glad to be here. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, remember you were in Washington on the front of the National Archives, says the past is prologue.  How much is Watergate like or unlike what we have been through this fall? 

BROKAW:  There`s significant differences.  First of all, got to remember, by the time I asked him that question, his principal aides were on the way to prison.  We had tape recordings of the attempt was in the White House itself, including from the president to try to cover up everything. 

So the evidence was much harder at that point, and much more obvious to everyone.  Now, it`s become this kind of game, he said/she said.  That`s not what we meant kind of thing. 

So I think that`s the difference.  And the same time, the conduct of Donald Trump versus conduct of President Nixon, Nixon was always aware of being presidential and the way he spoke and the way he responded to me there.  Trump, you know, plays from the gutter frankly.  I mean, you know, ready, draw, shoot, whatever you need to do. 

So it`s a different time.  It`s also a different time in terms of, Chris, what people have access to because of social media.  That`s a huge difference because everybody can tune in, see what`s going on, you don`t know whether it is authentic or not what you`re reading, people are fiddling with it constantly.  And so, we`re a much more divided country now than we were then. 

MATTHEWS:  Back then, I think you -- well, I`ll ask you, three branches of government worked well together by summer of `74, the most damning tape against Nixon, June 23rd tape where he was asking the CIA basically to interfere with the FBI investigation, clear case, that was delivered to the Congress and country.  Right now, it seems like the courts are not playing that role.  Everything is slowed down to the point we`re not getting the evidence. 

BROKAW:  And we`re not getting the evidence.  The other thing is that everybody is operating on separate islands, if you will.  There`s no cooperation across agencies and across departments of government. 

The other very important part of it, the Republican Party at that time did not speak out in a way they`re speaking out now.  Most of them stayed quietly in their offices and took in the evidence that was coming in on a daily basis.  They didn`t get out there and show their sharp elbows, say this is outrageous how the president is being treated.  They wait until they saw things.  I remember Senator Scott from Pennsylvania. 

MATTHEWS:  Hugh Scott, yes. 

BROKAW:  Somebody you know very well.  When they came out with the transcripts that had been edited at that point, there was so much stuff that was still left over even after the editing, he almost threw up.  You know, he wrote a letter to his fellow Republicans and said, I cannot support this.  You wouldn`t hear that today.

MATTHEWS:  And now, we have a president who talks out loud like he spoke this private with the expletives. 

BROKAW:  Exactly right. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, you mentioned in your book while speaking about the poor quality of the recordings picked up by the White House taping system, Richard Nixon joked that he wished he never had a taping system at all inside the White House.  Here it goes. 


NIXON:  As far as those particular recordings are concerned, the reason that you have heard that there are difficulties in hearing them is that the system itself was not a sophisticated system, and I just wish we`d have had a better system.  I frankly wish we hadn`t had a system at all.  Then I wouldn`t have to answer this question. 


MATTHEWS:  But, Tom, this isn`t a reporter`s question.  It`s a commentator`s question.  Suppose we never got those tapes.  Suppose we never got to June 23rd incriminating tape, would Nixon have been forced from office? 

BROKAW:  I`m not sure.  I don`t -- I really don`t know.  You have to remember, however, that before we got to that moment, Donald -- people, his principal advisers, John Ehrlichman was going to prison and other people as well.  John Dean, his principal lawyer at that point.  Bob Haldeman was going to prison.  His former law partner in New York was going to prison. 

There are a lot of people who are going to prison based on what they`re able to find out at that time.  But the president himself might have been able to avoid it.  By the way, that speech that he was making there, it was to newspaper editors.


BROKAW:  And he was trying to defend the idea that he not paid a full compliment of income taxes, and it was at that speech that he looked at the cap camera and said the American people deserve to know whether their president is a crook.  I am not a crook.  And when you talk about a headline, that was it. 

MATTHEWS:  Never forgot it. 

Anyway, you later interviewed Nixon at the dedication of his presidential library in 1990, asking him about the geopolitical situation at the end of the Cold War.  Let`s watch that. 


BROKAW:  Mr. President, let me ask you about the current situation.  The world has changed enormously in the last year and a half.  The Germans are now striking deals with the Soviet Union.  The Japanese are about to provide massive aid to the Chinese.  Is there a dang that the United States is being dealt out of the first great deals of the post-Cold War era? 

NIXON:  Neither Germany nor Japan is a super power in the total sense.  Neither has nuclear weapons, neither will ever acquire them, or be allowed to acquire them.  The United States is the only true super power, and the United States is needed in Asia and in Europe at this time. 


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you another philosophical question since you wrote the book.  You stuck your neck out on this one.  Nixon, I think you point out, was really focused on foreign policy.  He was an intellectual about that.  He really took pride in his knowledge of the world, his ability to do a tour for an hour without notes. 

Did he have to end up the guy saying I`m not a crook?  Did he have to end up by that?

BROKAW:  Well, we`ll never be able to figure him out completely, what motivated him, why he was so insecure about who he was.  He did have a genius about the big picture, the sweeping issues that had to do with foreign policy and with the global contests between the United States and the Soviet Union, and when I look at that, I remember that very, very well.  I thought that`s where he was comfortable. 

He ran for governor of California and lost, but he said at the end privately, I had to talk about all the damn things that had to do with drugs.  I didn`t care about that.  I wanted to get to foreign policy.  That`s who he was. 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, your mood right now is exactly what this book is about.  It`s kind of -- I wouldn`t say it`s uplifting, but it`s joyful because of your love of the system and how it could be and this is a good holiday read actually.  I got to tell you.

BROKAW:  Thanks.

MATTHEW:  Buy this book, because you can read it and it`s a page turner.  Those of you who have had trouble with turgid books over the year, this one moves and it`s a great find.  And it tells a sad story but also tells a story about our country and who really are. 

Tom Brokaw, author of "The Fall of Richard Nixon: A Reporter Remembers Watergate". 

Back right after this.  You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  On normal nights here in Washington, we bring you a member of Congress from what we call the Will Rogers site in the Capitol Building. 

If you look to the left of our guest on those nights, you`ll see him, Will Rogers, standing in bronze looking at every bit the American cowboy, comedian, writer, every man.  He can also be a reverend certainly.  When asked his political affiliation, he said rather solemnly, I am not a member of any organized political party.  I`m a Democrat. 

I say tonight here that a current leader of that Democratic Party has proved the great Will Rogers wrong.  She did it passing the Affordable Care Act almost a decade ago.  She did last week uniting the Democrats in the House of Representatives to pass the impeachment of Donald Trump.

Uniting the Democrats, that`s a phrase to write history around.  How many times before have we seen the party of Thomas Jefferson divided against itself?  I can remember how in 1968, the anti-war forces refused to back Hubert Humphrey and gave us Nixon.  I can remember 1980 when a disappointed Ted Kennedy supporters failed to gather around President Jimmy Carter and gave us Reagan or failed to go all out for Hillary Clinton and gave us Donald Trump. 

And I can imagine a failure to unite in 2020 behind either a nominee of the left or even one of the center left.  So, it may take one of those party leaders of lore to bring the Democrats together come next summer in order to beat Trump.  It could take a real unifier, someone like Nancy Pelosi.  It could take Nancy Pelosi.

And that`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  Have a Merry Christmas and a happy Hanukkah.

And, Mr. President, you better watch out because Santa Claus is coming to town, and he knows who`s been good or bad. 

"ALL IN CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.