2020 campaign TRANSCRIPT: 12/30/19, Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Steve Cohen, Charlie Savage, Larry Pfeiffer, Erin Banco, Michael Steel, Barbara Boxer

GEOFF BENNETT, MSNBC HOST:  Fighting the freeze.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Geoff Bennett in for Chris Matthews.

New evidence continues to bolster the case against the president as he awaits his trial in the U.S. Senate.  The New York Times is revealing stunning details about the tug-of-war inside the administration after the president ordered a freeze on U.S. aid to Ukraine.  According to dozens of current and former officials, Mr. Trump`s demands sent shockwaves through the White House and the Pentagon, where opposition to the order was more intense than previously known.

The Times reports that in a previously undisclosed Oval Office meeting, National Security Adviser John Bolton, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried and failed to convince the president to release the aid.

We`re also learning that by late summer, the White House was still trying to develop a legal justification to keep the aid frozen.  The proposed argument was that Mr. Trump`s role as commander-in-chief would simply allow him to override Congress on the issue.

At the same time though, it appears that White House Budget Official Michael Duffey was ready to blame the Department of Defense for the the hold up.  In early September, Duffy emailed the Pentagon suggesting that responsibility for any failure to release the aid should not rest with the White House.  But in a stinging rejection, a Pentagon official shot back with this, you can`t be serious.  I am speechless.

Late today, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the reporting further highlights the need for witnesses to testify at the president`s trial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY):  Simply put, in our fight to have key documents and witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial, these new revelations are a game changer.  The story makes the choice even clearer, will the Senate hold a fair trial, or will it enable a cover-up?  President Trump, if you`re so confident you did nothing wrong, why won`t you let your men testify?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BENNETT:  All right.  I`m joined now by Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, we`ve got Charlie savage, he`s a National Security and Legal Reporter at The New York Times, and Barbara McQaude is a former federal prosecutor.

And, Congressman Cohen, I want to start with you, because this reporting from The New York Times, at the very least, it`s evidence, more evidence that President Trump personally asked for this aid to Ukraine to be withheld despite objections from top aides and that it had nothing to do with national security, because if it did, you wouldn`t have had the national security adviser at the time, the secretary of defense and the secretary of state all encouraging him to release the aid.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN):  Well, it wasn`t about national security and it certainly wasn`t about investigating corruption of anything in Ukraine.  It was about these conspiracy theories that apparently Putin or somebody had convinced Trump had some basis for reality or maybe Putin just wanted Trump to deliver to help Putin get off the hook as if Putin cares about being on the hook for interfering in our elections.  I`m sure he probably likes the idea that he`s credited with that.  But they want to get something on the Bidens for sure.

And this just -- this has been -- this has been on for a couple or three months and they don`t want their folks to testify because they would have to perjure themselves, don`t have to show the American public that the president of the United States did indeed subvert his oath, try to influence a foreign nation to get involved the in our political elections and committed impeachable acts.

And it`s clear this has happened and people in the administration knew what he was doing was wrong.  And people tried to push the blame around.  Duffey tried to get McCusker at the Department of Defense to take responsibility for the delay and have them issue -- order the money to be spent before the September 30 fiscal deadline.  It`s just unbelievable what`s going on.

And it puts McConnell and the Republicans kind of in a trick bag.  If they go ahead and have witnesses, they`ll still vote not to impeach the president and they`ll go back to their second line of defense, but the money was given anyway.  And when they get to that defense, which they use a lot, they`re basically admitting that their first line of defense didn`t work and it`s not successful that the president engaged in trying to force a foreign power to get involved in our elections.  They`re falling back on their last line of defense, but they got the aid anyway.

They still can use that and go ahead and vote that way to not impeach because they want to preserve the president.  But if they don`t have the witnesses and information continues to come out, then they`re going to be seen in the publics` eyes as not only voted wrong and having a sham trial but being conspirators with McConnell and having that trial and trying to keep the information from the American people.

BENNETT:  Let me ask you about that, because is that what the House speaker, is that what Nancy Pelosi was banking on, that if she were to delay the transmission of these articles of impeachment, there would be some sort of evidentiary bombshell that drops in everybody`s lap and it would ramp up pressure on Republicans to have what Democrats would call a fair trial?  Is this now all coming into fruition, her plan, her grand strategy here?

COHEN:  I`m not sure what the speaker`s grand strategy is.  I guess you`re suggesting that she`s playing chess and she`s thinking three moves ahead while President Trump and his people are playing checkers or marbles or something.  And that indeed could be the case.  Speaker Pelosi has really - - she`s just done things that Trump can`t even understand and she`s run circles around him.

She`s one of the greatest speakers in the history of the United States.  She knows policy.  She knows strategy.  And she has a good grip for what`s going on while Trump is just -- he`s just totally lost.  I mean, he`s still dealing with Home Alone and wanting to be  in the movie again.  And he is home alone.  I mean, it`s kind of a strange situation.

BENNETT:  Barbara McQuade, let me ask you a question because one thing I read that struck me was that there`s something about the recording that speaks to what the Democrats see and their theory of the case as the White House cover-up, and that was White House officials trying to come up with some legal justification after the fact for withholding the aid.  Does that speak to a consciousness of guilt, in your view?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  I think it does.  There`s one really critical email that has been released pursuant to this Freedom of Information Act, and that`s the email by Duffey at OMB when he says in communicating with the Pentagon, please don`t share the details of this with anyone due to the sensitive nature of it.  You know, when you keep things quiet and you`re trying to hide the reasons that you`re doing things, it does suggest it`s because you know that if the truth got out, it would be either illegal, unethical or politically damaging in some way.  And so prosecutors, as you just mentioned, often refer to that as consciousness of guilt.

And so you can`t help but wonder that if as time goes on, more and more of this information comes out to fill in the gaps, we will learn more about what was actually going on.  It`s very interesting to see as this information comes out, it demonstrates a motive, perhaps, for President Trump stonewalling that is if the truth were to come out in terms of witnesses or documents that they would be damaging to the president`s case.

BENNETT:  And, Charlie Savage, what about that?  Because based on this reporting, the White House lawyers thought that Mr. Trump`s role as commander-in-chief would simply allow him to override Congress on this issue, on this issue of providing aid that Congress had authorized.  I mean, it`s one thing for people, Republicans in particular, in the White House to have a sweeping view of the authority of the executive, but this seems like it`s something else.

CHARLIE SAVAGE, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Well, this is consistent with the very expansive theory of executive power that William Barr, the attorney general, and Pat Cipollone, the White House Counsel, who`s sort of a sidekick to Barr, have embraced.  It is well outside the mainstream.  But the essence of it is that when it comes to national security, the president is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and that means that Congress cannot bind him.

And so we see here that there was a large group of officials in the executive branch, OMB, the Defense Department who were confused by this aid freeze, who saw it as contrary to American national security interests and stated policy and wanted to get the aid unfrozen and delivered to our ally in its time of need against Russia.

And then there were a very small number of people extremely close to Trump who were acting to help him achieve this thing he was trying to do.  Mick Mulvaney is one of them, Pat Cipollone is one of them.  And the lawyerly part of that is if this thing goes all the way and they never release the aid, it gets to September 30th, I`m sorry, Ukraine, you`re out of luck because you didn`t do what we asked you to do, perhaps, right, announce investigations into Biden.

And they were going to say, well, this wasn`t illegal, notwithstanding the fact that there`s a law called the Anti-Impoundment Act, which says when Congress appropriates money, the Congress has the power of the purse.  You have to spend it.  The president doesn`t just get to put that in his pocket, as he used to back up until the Nixon administration.

And they were going to say, forget it, notwithstanding the reform of the Anti-Impoundment Act during the Nixon years.  When it comes to national security, the president still has the final say.  Congress does not have the power of the purse.  it`s sort of the inverse of what we saw with the wall spending, where the president takes money that was not appropriated by Congress and says he`s going to spend it on to something he wants, a wall, that they didn`t spend it for here.  They want something and he`s not going to spend it.  It`s sort of two sides of the same coin.

BENNETT:  And were it not for the whistleblower complaint, who knows what would have happened with that Ukraine aid, right?

In some ways, this New York Times reporting bolsters what we already know, because you have multiple witnesses who testified in the impeachment inquiry, said that they were surprised to learn of the freeze on this aid Ukraine.  Take a look at all this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID HOLMES, STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I was shocked when on July 18th, an Office of Management and Budget staff member surprisingly announced the hold on Ukraine security assistance.

AMB. KURT VOLKER, FMR. U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO UKRAINE:  I opposed the hold on U.S. security assistance as soon as I learned about it on July 18th.

AMB. WILLIAM TAYLOR, ACTING U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE:  I and others sat in astonishment.  In an instant I realized that one of the key pillars of our strong support for Ukraine was threatened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BENNETT:  So put this in the context of what we spent the last, what, two or three months learning, watching public trials and reading through all of the testimony that had been released.

SAVAGE:  Right.  So we have known that this is the basic narrative and this is not about one phone call and whether or not it was perfect.  This is about a multi-month bureaucratic campaign on different fronts both to get Ukraine to announce investigations and also a struggle here in Washington over this frozen aid that unfolded through many meetings with many different officials fighting and trying to understand what happened.

This new reporting by my colleagues, both the emails that came out from the (INAUDIBLE) lawsuit and then the stuff that they got on their own, has added a rich degree of texture to that, that this is a season-long, a multi-month campaign struggle bureaucratically, not just about one phone call.  It does not contradict anything.  It bolsters the basic understanding of what happened here.

BENNETT:  Yes.  And, Barbara McQuade, there`s another detail in this reporting that when I read it, I had this correction in mind to put to you.  It says this.  It says, Mick Mulvaney is said by associates to have stepped out of the room whenever Mr. Trump would talk with Mr. Giuliani to preserve Mr. Trump`s attorney-client privilege.  Does that seem like that`s on the level to you, because multiple witnesses have described Mick Mulvaney as being one of the three amigos.  It was him, Sondland and Kurt Volker who were in on this entire Ukrainian gambit.

MCQUADE:  Yes.  And that`s a real red flag if you were to step out of the room.  Attorney-client privilege does protect communications between a lawyer and client for the purpose of receiving legal advice.  What it does not protect is discussions to cover-up a crime.  There`s something known as the crime-fraud exception.

And so if Mick Mulvaney is stepping out of the room because he is concerned that they`re discussing things that are illegal that he doesn`t want reveal to the public.  That, to me, is another red flag of consciousness of guilt that they know there`s something here that is amiss, that the reason he needs to be out of the room is to protect privilege so that this information will never be disclosed down the road.

BENNETT:  Congressman Cohen, last question to you.  How is it that reporters at The New York Times can get information like this that your committee apparently can`t?

COHEN:  Well, The Times has done a great job and a great service, and I guess that`s why the president went after the media immediately and said the press was the enemy of the people, and don`t believe what you`re reading because that`s not what`s happening, because he foresaw this.  They`ve stalled us.  They haven`t complied.  We`ve gone to court and the court process has been slow and very difficult.

We will probably get these documents and we will get witnesses, but it`s going to take a long time.  Even the documents The New York Times have got though have been redacted, so there`s a lot more information there.

It`s kind of amazing when I think about what we`ve gone through with these impeachment hearings.  So many people brought up, including myself, the founding fathers in our arguments about this crime and how they saw it coming and they were most concerned about a foreign power influencing our elections.  Everybody in America, all the people were marveling at the founding fathers and their genius and what they expressed.

And it seems like Trump is on the side of King George because he`s trying to get, he and Barr, all the power for the Article II folk, and there was a reason why founding fathers made Congress Article I and gave us the power of the purse and the sole power of impeachment.  He doesn`t understand either, just like he doesn`t understand the so-called emoluments clause.  This is real a shock to the American system of government and the founding fathers` work and hopefully it will come out proper and this man will be held accountable.

BENNETT:  All right.  My thanks to you, Congressman Steve Cohen, Charlie Savage and Barbara McQuade.

Coming up, Rudy Giuliani`s shadow diplomacy now extending beyond Ukraine.  New reporting indicates Giuliani, who is a private citizen, not a representative of the U.S. government, was trying to negotiate an exit for Venezuela`s president.  Giuliani`s efforts are raising serious concerns among the country`s actual diplomats.

Plus, a Republican senator says he does not believe President Trump is someone that young people can look up to.  We`ll explain in a bit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK):  I don`t think that President Trump, as a person, is a role model for a lot of different youth.  That`s just me personally.  I don`t like the way that he tweets, some of the things that he says.  His word choices at times are not my word choices.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BENNETT:  All right.  We`ve got much more to get to so stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BENNETT:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Rudy Giuliani`s dirt digging in Ukraine wasn`t his only attempt to insert himself in U.S. diplomacy.  According to explosive new reporting, his backchannel work extended to Venezuela contradicting official U.S. policy in the process.

According to The Washington Post, Giuliani, along with former Texas Congressman Pete Sessions, participated in a September 2018 phone call with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Now, according to The Post, both were part of a shadow diplomatic effort backed in part by private interests aimed at engineering a negotiated exit to ease Maduro from power.  Giuliani`s efforts reportedly drew the ire of former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who also opposed his work in Ukraine that ultimately set the stage for President Trump`s impeachment.

During the impeachment hearings, Giuliani travelled to Kiev to meet with former Ukrainian prosecutors and later said President Trump wanted him to brief lawmakers on his findings.

Now, as senators get ready for an impeachment trial, some are reportedly wary of Giuliani`s escapades.  The Daily Beast reports senators on Capitol Hill are actively avoiding meeting with Giuliani.  South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said, quote, my advice to Giuliani would be to share what he got from Ukraine with the Intelligence Community to make sure it`s not Russian propaganda.  I`m very suspicious of what the Russians are up to all over the world.

For more, I`m joined by Erin Banco, National Security Reporter for The Daily Beast, and Larry Pfeiffer, former Chief of Staff at the CIA.

And, Larry, first to you, from this reporting, we now know, we didn`t know it before, that Ukraine was no outlier.  You`ve got Rudy Giuliani running shadow policy in at least Venezuela as well.  And this was in September 2018.  This was well before he was trying to sideline Marie Yovanovitch in the spring of 2019, the spring of this past year.

So what stands out to you, as you read all of this and put it all together?

LARRY PFEIFFER, FORMER SENIOR DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE SITUATION ROOM:  Yes.  Yes.  Who knew Ukraine was actually act two of this play, and not act one? 

BENNETT:  Yes. 

PFEIFFER:  What stands out? 

What stands out is, it`s many of the same players.  It`s many the same kinds of activity.  It`s the same thing same possible commingling of national security work with his own personal economic interests.  You have got Lev Parnas involved.

BENNETT:  Yes. 

PFEIFFER:  So, if -- with all of those variables the same, one can only imagine that the other variable that we`re not certain of yet is probably true as well, and that is that this was activity that Donald Trump himself was personally involved in. 

The other thing that really stands out to me, we have had shadow diplomacy for two-plus centuries of American history, but, when it happens, it`s done in coordination with the national security infrastructure of our country. 

The national security adviser is involved and supportive.  The intelligence community is usually briefing the individuals, so that they can go into these discussions in an informed manner. 

But, clearly, if this article is to be believed, and, as we saw with Ukraine, the national security infrastructure is actually opposed to what he`s doing.  That, I think, is what really makes this one different. 

BENNETT:  Yes. 

You touched on something I want to draw you out on.  And that`s the fact that Giuliani so often blends his personal business interests with the work he`s doing for President Trump. 

And during the impeachment hearings, one of the things that we heard Fiona Hill say was that, to her mind, it was a national security nightmare to have people like Rudy Giuliani and Gordon Sondland running around Eastern Europe basically selling access to President Trump to the highest bidder.

  What are the unintended consequences of something like that? 

PFEIFFER:  Well, there`s a significant counterintelligence risk, if these are individuals that are operating outside of the normal national security process.

They are not as well-informed.  If our -- if our American journalists are learning about the activities, well, I guarantee you the foreign intelligence services of Europe, including the Russians and some of the Eastern European countries, they are even more aware of it. 

And as they become aware of it, they can identify vulnerabilities, and these individuals can then be played. 

BENNETT:  Yes. 

PFEIFFER:  Or they can perhaps be compromised. 

BENNETT:  Yes. 

PFEIFFER:  So, a great -- great counterintelligence risk. 

BENNETT:  Hey, Erin Banco, I`m old enough to remember, because it was just, what, two months ago, where Lindsey Graham said he wanted Rudy Giuliani to come testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is the committee that Graham leads in the Senate, in part because Lindsey Graham wanted to have some counterprogramming to put up against the Democrats, the House Democrats` impeachment push. 

Now you have got Lindsey Graham saying that he`s concerned about this information that Rudy Giuliani dug up and brought back. 

ERIN BANCO, THE DAILY BEAST:  Yes, that`s right. 

I was -- had a phone call with Senator Graham, and that was not what I was expecting to hear on the other end of the line.  It`s a new development. 

And as we dug around after speaking to Senator Graham, that this is a sentiment felt by other Republican lawmakers, especially in the Senate, as well, and Democrats who we spoke to as well, that the characters that Giuliani is meeting with in Ukraine, people like Andriy Derkach, Oleksandr Dubinsky, two Ukrainian parliamentarians who are sort of more closely aligned with the Russian bloc of the Ukrainian Parliament, who are known for peddling Russian conspiracy theories on their social media threads, holding press conferences. 

And we know from Giuliani`s trip to Kiev that he met with those individuals and then worked with them on this new documentary that he`s put out.  And that`s what`s really concerning senators before the impeachment trial.  Like, hey, listen, we need to figure out whether or not the information that we might potentially get briefed on is Russian propaganda. 

BENNETT:  Yes.

Well, for his part, President Trump has been supportive of Giuliani`s most recent trip to Ukraine, telling reporters earlier this month his lawyer had found what he called good information. 

Take a look at this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I just know he came back from someplace and he`s going to make a report, I think, to the attorney general and to Congress.  He says he has a lot of good information. 

He has not told me what he`s found.  But I think he wants to go before Congress and say, and also to the attorney general and the Department of Justice.  I hear he`s found plenty. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BENNETT:  And just two weeks ago, just days before the House voted to pass articles of impeachment, President Trump was asked how much Giuliani had shared with him about his visit to Ukraine. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Not too much, but he`s a very great crime fighter.  He was the best mayor in the history of the city of New York.  He`s a great person who loves our country. 

And he does this out of love, believe me.  He does it out of love.  He sees what goes on.  He sees what`s happening.  He sees all of the hoax that happens when they talk about impeachment hoax or the Russian collusion delusion. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BENNETT:  So, Erin, do we know what Giuliani has told Trump?  Is that a knowable thing?  Do we know what he has briefed him on as it relates to whatever he was trying to unearth in Ukraine?

BANCO:  We have certainly asked both Mr. Giuliani, officials at the White House and Giuliani`s lawyer. 

We have not gotten a straight answer about exactly what President Trump and Giuliani have spoken about.  But we do know that they spoke about the Ukraine trip, if not briefly, and at length, for at least an hour, is what we have heard. 

We have also heard that Giuliani has brought back a lot of materials from Ukraine to brief President Trump, documents and other kinds of materials that he`s brought back after meeting with these two individuals in Parliament who I mentioned earlier. 

Now, The Daily Beast previously obtained a 50-page document from one of those Ukrainian parliamentarians.  And that specific dossier has been circulated among top Trump administration officials in the past several months.

And what it lays out are allegations saying that Ukraine actually interfered in the 2016 election and that it wasn`t Russia.  And that is a well-debunked conspiracy theory that has been propagated for at least a year. 

And we know that this kind of material has made its way into Giuliani`s hands and has been briefed -- has been sort of read out to people inside the White House, including President Trump. 

BENNETT:  And, Larry, we`re talking a lot about Rudy Giuliani. 

But, in fairness to Rudy Giuliani, he`s only giving President Trump what President Trump apparently wants, right? 

I mean, help us understand this sort of rumor-to-Trump pipeline, this conspiracy-theory-straight-to-Trump pipeline.  It`s the thing that President Trump himself seems to be demanding. 

PFEIFFER:  True.  And it`s a very dangerous thing. 

During my time in intelligence, senior leadership time in intelligence, it was not at all unusual for individuals who were seeking influence with the president or seeking influence in a foreign country to come to the national security staff peddling information that they had obtained that was going to break open some crisis. 

And that material would routinely be given to the intelligence community to assess.  And they would assess it for -- for its sources.  In this case, if it was documents, they`d be able to look at the documents and in many cases determine if they were counterfeit. 

And they would then be able to provide an assessment.  And more often than not, the assessment was that this stuff was garbage. 

BENNETT:  Yes. 

PFEIFFER:  This case, we have this information going directly to the president.  We have a president who seems inclined to want to consider information from the intelligence community as being establishment or deep state information. 

And, at a minimum, he`s -- he`s taking this conspiracy information and putting it on the same level as exclusive intelligence analysis that`s well-sourced coming from the intel community. 

BENNETT:  Yes, great insights.  Appreciate that. 

My thanks to you, Erin Banco and Larry Pfeiffer. 

Up next:  President Trump`s looking to beef up his legal defense team ahead of a Senate impeachment trial.  His top hiring criteria so far?  Unwavering personal loyalty, and you got to look good on TV. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BENNETT:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The explosive new revelations about President Trump`s freezing of aid to Ukraine could help explain why the Trump administration has blocked witnesses from testifying during the House investigation. 

As Greg Sargent of "The Washington Post" points out: "What makes all of this money new information really damning is that many of these officials who were directly involved with Trump`s freezing of aid are the same ones Trump blocked from appearing before the House impeachment inquiry."

Now, according to "The Wall Street Journal," Pat Cipollone, the president`s lawyer, will play the leading role in an aggressive defense of the president, which Cipollone started laying the groundwork for with key senators back in September. 

"The Wall Street Journal" is also reporting that the president wants to expand his defense team to include -- quote -- "others with television experience he values and some of the president`s staunchest defenders on the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committee."

What that Senate trial looks like is still up in the air, with the possibility of some Republicans and Democrats breaking ranks with their respective parties.

That`s next. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BENNETT:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the press that he would not be an impartial juror because the impeachment trial was a political process, he says.

On Christmas Eve, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski told a local Anchorage station that she was disturbed by McConnell`s promise. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK):  In fairness, when I heard that, I was disturbed.

We have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense. 

I happen to think that that has further confused the process. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BENNETT:  Murkowski`s public grievance is notable.  Given her party`s slim majority in the Senate, it takes only four Republicans joining with Democrats to force Leader McConnell`s hand on any number of thorny issues in a Senate trial. 

Ahead of the impeachment trial, all eyes are on a handful of Republican senators who are viewed as potential defectors.  But they`re not the only ones to keep an eye on.  Three Democrats could also buck their party. 

For more, I`m joined by former Senator Barbara Boxer.  She, of course, is the former U.S. senator from California and the host of "The Boxer Podcast," and Michael Steel, former spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. 

Michael Steel, I want to start with you, because we talk so often -- we talked so much today, anyway, about what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going to do and when she`s going to transmit the articles of impeachment, but let`s talk about Mitch McConnell, because he has a couple of constituencies here he has to keep happy. 

He has the Republican in the White House, and he has the Republican majority he has to keep content and intact to get the kind of fast and forgettable trial he envisions. 

MICHAEL STEEL, FORMER JOHN BOEHNER SPOKESMAN:  Yes, I mean, I think Senator McConnell is fortunate in one sense.  He doesn`t have the sort of ride-or- die pro-Trump caucus that House Republican leaders have to contend with.       There`s no Matt Gaetz, there`s no Mark Meadows, there`s no Jim Jordan in the Senate Republican Caucus.  So that`s a big advantage. 

But at the same time, what he wants, a swift, dignified, senatorial -- un- senatorial in its swiftness, but senatorial in any other sense -- trial, is not exactly what the president wants. 

And I think it`s notable that he talks about coordinating with White House counsel.  He talks about coordinating with the White House or the administration, not necessarily giving the president what he wants, but moving through this in the most politically -- least politically damaging way possible. 

BENNETT:  Yes. 

Hey, Senator Boxer, you lived through the Clinton impeachment.  Help us understand, given your experience then and your experience just in the Senate, what`s the cost-benefit analysis for someone like a Doug Jones or someone like a Lisa Murkowski in trying to decide whether or not they`re going to split with the party, maybe not on voting on whether or not to remove President Trump from office, but on something like having a trial with witnesses? 

BARBARA BOXER (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  Well, Geoff, I`m going to be really from the heart here. 

You can`t do a cost-benefit analysis in a situation like this.  When a president is -- has been impeached by the House -- and this is a very different case than the Clinton case.  We have discussed that before.  One was lying about sex.  The other is abuse of power, shaking down a foreign leader to get dirt on your opponent, very, very different. 

But in all cases, whatever the reasoning is by the House, you need to just sit back and do your duty.  You raise your hand to do your duty.  So, I like the fact that we`re seeing some independent voices on all sides. 

It`s got to be that way, or the system fails. 

BENNETT:  You have got now something like 70 percent of Americans, according to the latest poll, wanting to see a Senate trial with witnesses.

You can`t get 70 percent of Americans to decide or agree on what day it is, and yet you have 70 percent of Americans saying they want a fair trial, as Democrats see it. 

Senator Boxer, do you think that, in and of itself, will be enough to put pressure on Republicans to give Democrats the thing that they want, to have folks like Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton crossing that threshold on the Senate floor and telling the American public what they know? 

BOXER:  I would hope so, because, as we know, and if we look back to the Clinton days, which you raised, there were witnesses.  Now, there was a vote to call witnesses.  And there were witnesses.  And they decided to take their depositions. 

But here`s the thing.  We know that we had many, many witnesses already confirm what the president did, shaking down this foreign leader, endangering national security, giving Putin another victory and all the rest of it, using taxpayer funds.  It`s pretty ugly.

And we`ve had a number of brave people come forward, non-political people, many of them Republicans, to testify.  But still in all, there are many others that were in the room where it happened, and they need to be called.  And yes, I do think that with the public saying that`s the way to go, it could weigh heavily on certain colleagues there. 

I would think the Democrats would vote to call the witnesses And I do think there`s several Republicans who are fair minded who might do that and some others who were frankly scared because they`re in purple states and they need to win. 

BENNETT:  Yes.

Hey, Michael Steel, you said earlier that McConnell doesn`t have to deal with the ride or die Trump caucus -- which, by the way, should be printed on t-shirts or something.  But to your point, Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, he told a CBS station that he doesn`t think that the president is a role model but that doesn`t mean he will stop supporting the administration. 

Take a look at this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK):  I said very early on in the campaign time period when people asked me in 2016 what are you looking for?  I always look for a president who can be a role model?  I don`t think that President Trump as a person is a role model for a lot of different youth.  That`s me personally.  I don`t like the way he tweets, the things he says.  His word choices at times are not my word choices. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BENNETT:  So, that was Lankford and Chris Coons talking to CBS`s "Face the Nation". 

We`ve heard versions of this before, that Republicans say Donald Trump isn`t a good guy, but he`s still my guy. 

MICHAEL STEEL, FORMER SPOKESMAN FOR HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER:  Yes, and you can see that and the ad that the president played during the World Series -- you may not like Trump, he may not -- he may ruffle some feathers, but it takes Donald Trump to get this stuff done.  I think they`re going to be smart to lean into that because there are a lot of people who believe as Senator Lankford does that the president`s record can be defended, record low unemployment, winding down wars abroad, et cetera, but his personal character is indefensible. 

BENNETT:  What about Mike Pence?  He`s waiting in the wings, right?  I mean, so goes the -- 

STEEL:  Yes.

BENNETT:  If you play it out -- 

STEEL:  Well, I mean, one of the -- one of the things that`s very strange in both the Clinton impeachment and this is, is that the parties fight so hard to defend a president who`s probably harder to reelect or probably less likely -- 

BENNETT:  Yes.

STEEL:  -- a successful next election if they stick with that president. 

BENNETT:  Right.

STEEL:  Vice President Al Gore as incumbent president of the United States would have rolled to victory in 2000.  That`s just not the way Democrats chose to play it. 

BENNETT:  You`re right about that.

All right.  Thank you, former Senator Barbara Boxer and my friend, Michael Steel.

Up next, time to get down to business.  We`re just five weeks out from the Iowa caucuses and if you`ve been waiting to get your head in the game, now`s the time.  We`re going to run through some of the biggest moments in the campaign so far to help you get you up to speed. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BENNETT:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Five weeks from tonight, we`ll be talking about the results of the first in the nation Iowa caucuses as the presidential election gets into full swing.  And as we count down the final hours until 2020, let`s take a look back at the highlights of the presidential campaign in 2019. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST:  The calendar says 2019 but don`t be fooled, 2020 is in full force. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A crowded and diverse field of declared or likely Democrats. 

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY):  I`m filing an exploratory committee. 

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA):  I will lead with integrity. 

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You don`t get what you don`t fight for. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Bernie Sanders making it official. 

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I`m running for president. 

CROWD:  Bernie, Bernie! 

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Sanders is facing a completely different primary terrain from last time. 

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am a candidate. 

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  On this snowy day on this island --

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I announce my candidacy. 

ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I`m running for president. 

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), FORMER COLORADO GOVERNOR:  Because we need dreamers in Washington. 

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Good leadership brings out the best in us. 

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That`s what we believe. 

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I`m Cory Booker and I`m running for president --

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA):  Of the United States of America. 

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA):  I`m announcing today --

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH):  I`m going to run for president. 

BETO O`ROURKE (D-TX), FORMER CONGRESSMAN:  I`m running to serve you. 

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA):  Because we have to beat Donald Trump.

MARIANNE WILLIAMSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That`s why I`m running for president. 

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK:  Donald Trump must be stopped. 

GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT):  We will take our democracy back.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Join me if you want to get to work. 

JOHN DELANEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I`m on my 40th trip to Iowa.

  TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  My name is Tom Steyer.  I`m running for president. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Joe Biden nearly slipped up and declared himself a candidate a bit early. 

BIDEN:  I`m the most progressive of anybody running for the United -- of anyone who would run. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This weekend, Lucy Flores upended discussion of his potential bid.

LUCY FLORES:  I felt these hands on my shoulders. 

BIDEN:  The boundaries of protecting personal space has been reset and I get it. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Joe Biden finally makes it official. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I can beat Donald Trump.  That`s the signal they`re trying to send with this roll out. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For a small town mayor, Pete Buttigieg has big ambitions. 

BUTTIGIEG:  They call me Mayor Pete. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If elected he would be the youngest president, the first who is openly gay. 

BUTTIGIEG:  There were times in my life when if you had shown me exactly what it was inside me that made me gay, I would have cut it out with a knife. 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We`re draining the swamp. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  President Trump in front of a capacity crowd kicking off his 2020 campaign with familiar themes. 

TRUMP:  Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice, and rage. 

BIDEN:  Donald Trump has violated his oath of office.  He should be impeached. 

TRUMP:  Sleepy Joe Biden who`s dumb as a rock. 

WARREN:  We need to get rid of Donald Trump. 

TRUMP:  The great Pocahontas. 

WARREN:  Trump is a pathological liar and a racist. 

TRUMP:  Crazy Bernie. 

HARRIS:  There was a little girl in California and she was bussed to school every day and that little girl was me. 

BIDEN:  I did not oppose busing in America. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did Kamala Harris mischaracterize her position on the busing question in particular, sir? 

BIDEN:  Yes, she did. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Get the people that are racist off the streets. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Buttigieg, we said second place in white voters, 18 percent, black voters, wow, zero. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Two American cities in shock and mourning this hour after two mass shootings in less than 24 hours. 

O`ROURKE:  Hell yes we`re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. 

WANG:  I have a 6 and 3 year old.  I was imagining, it was one of them that got shot and the other saw it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That`s kind of been the subtext of this campaign, the issue of the concerns about Biden`s age. 

CASTRO:  You just said two minutes ago they would have to buy in.  Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  One day it`s Joe Biden, the next, Elizabeth Warren. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What do you make this surging in the polls?

WARREN:  I don`t do polls. 

We don`t want each other families bankrupted by medical bills.  I`ve got a plan to fix it. 

BUTTIGIEG:  Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything, except this. 

KLOBUCHAR:  The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done. 

O`ROURKE:   Guaranteed universal --

HARRIS:  Medicare for all. 

BIDEN:  It may be a nice idea. 

SANDERS:  I wrote the damn bill. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Raise your hand if your government plan would provide coverage for undocumented immigrants. 

(APPLAUSE)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Senator Bernie Sanders was hospitalized last night after experiencing chest discomfort. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He`s off the road for a little bit, his appearances have been cancelled. 

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY):  But he`s my feel Bernie Sanders. 

SANDERS:  I am back! 

(CHEERS)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  I think they have got their eye on somebody who`s currently in the Democratic primary.  She`s a favorite of the Russians. 

GABBARD:  She knows she can`t control me. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mike Bloomberg started as a middle class kid. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He launched his campaign with the single largest political advertising buy in U.S. history. 

HARRIS:  I`m not a billionaire.  I can`t fund my own campaign.  I am suspending our campaign today. 

BOOKER:  It is a problem that we now have an overall campaign for the 2020 presidency that has more billionaires in it than black people. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It`s the least diverse Democratic field on a debate stage so far. 

KLOBUCHAR:  I have not denigrated your experience as a local official. 

BUTTIGIEG:  You actually did denigrate my experience, senator, and it was before the break and I was going to let it go because we`ve got bigger fish to fry here but --

KLOBUCHAR:  Oh, I don`t think we have bigger fish to fry than picking a president of the United States. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This year, it is feeling real intense as these Democratic contenders try to get a toehold. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mr. Vice president, why don`t you come on up? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We`re live on MSNBC right now.  We`re live. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bernie Sanders. 

SANDERS:  Walked right in. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Look at that, that`s Vaughn Hillyard in our shot right there. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The question, Congressman, is where is the rental car from? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Behind me, Elizabeth Warren is in that scrum. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I want to show what this event looks like.

BOOKER:  Are you asking me to tell MSNBC exactly what my campaign strategy is? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The president of the United States. 

HARRIS:  America does not want to witness a food fight. 

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  Governor Steve Bullock at the Iowa state fair, don`t eat your way out of it.  Just trust me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you ready to be president? 

BUTTIGIEG:  Well, we better be. 

TRUMP:  Let`s just pick somebody, please, and let`s start this thing. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You`re selling access to the president just like he was. 

BIDEN:  You`re a damn liar, man.  That`s not true. 

WARREN:  That`s right.  I`m tougher than I look.

BIDEN:  What the hell concerns, man?  Do you want to wrestle? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey! 

WARREN:  The bad news is I`ve caught a cold.  Nevertheless, I persist. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He tweeted watching Sleepy Joe Biden making a speech, so boring. 

BIDEN:  He should get a life. 

TRUMP:  We don`t want to be politically correct. 

HARRIS:  He and his account should be taken down. 

SANDERS:  That`s me.  Let me turn it off. 

WARREN:  It`s Elizabeth Warren. 

CASTRO:  Sorry for this fruit fly. 

WILLIAMS:  Thank God this wasn`t Beto`s day to see the proctologist. 

(LAUGHTER)

WARREN:  I`m going to get me a beer. 

HARRIS:  It`s going to be a really long election. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BENNETT:  Well, that was quite a look back.  My hats off to the team that produced that. 

All right.  Coming up next, Congressman John Lewis announced he`s beginning treatment for pancreatic cancer.  The latest on his condition and fight ahead, coming up next. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA):  When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something.  Our children and their children will ask us what did you do?  What did you say? 

For some, this vote may be hard.  But we have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BENNETT:  That was Congressman John Lewis during his most recent appearance on the house floor giving an impassioned plea during the fight over impeachment. 

Now the Georgia Democrat and civil rights icon is facing a different kind of fight.  He announced over the weekend that he`s undergoing treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer. 

In a statement, Lewis writes: I have been in some kind of fight for freedom, equality, basic human rights for nearly my entire life.  I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now. 

Lewis, who was elected to Congress in 1986, is the last survivor of the so- called big six civil rights activists, led by the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  In 1965, Lewis was brutally beaten by police while leading a civil rights march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in what became known as Bloody Sunday. 

And earlier this year, the congressman sat down with Chris Matthews and spoke about the fight for forces of good in our country. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEWIS:  You have to have faith.  You have to believe.  You have to have hope.  You cannot give up.  I will not give up.  I will not become bitter. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BENNETT:  It`s that same resolve that his friends and colleagues say will see him through this latest battle. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi writes in a tweet, quote: Know that generations of Americans have you in their thoughts and prayers and you face this fight. 

Former President Bill Clinton wrote: If there`s anyone with the strength and courage to fight this, it`s you, John. 

And former President Barack Obama added this: If there`s one thing I love about John Lewis, it`s his incomparable will to fight.  I know he`s got a lot more of that left in him.  Praying for you, my friend. 

Congressman Lewis says he plans to return to work in Congress as he undergoes treatment and hopes to be back on the front lines soon. 

That`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us. 

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END