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No monopoly on patriotism. TRANSCRIPT: 1/8/20, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Tim Kaine, Cory Booker, Joaquin Castro, Valerie Plame, Ted Deutch

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Thanks for joining us on THE BEAT tonight.  We`ll be back tomorrow covering all the news, including what is a scheduled House vote to limit the president`s war powers.

Don`t go anywhere though.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Not buying it.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

24 hours ago, America was on the brink of war with Iran.  Today after six days filled with fear and anxiety, President Trump took a step back from the edge telling the American people he would refrain from a retaliatory attack on Iran for now.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT:  No Americans were harmed in last night`s attack by the Iranian regime.  We suffered no casualties.  All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.

Our great American forces are prepared for anything.  Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.

The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime, your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer.


MATTHEWS:  Well, the president`s remarks came hours after Iran launched 16 short-range ballistic missiles at two Iraqi airbases housing American troops.  When last night`s missile attack was retaliation, of course, after President Trump approved the assassination of General Soleimani, the head of Iran`s Quds force, the administration has not provided the public a detailed explanation, however, for conducting that strike on the general.

A senior administration official tells The Washington Post that, quote, the lack of casualties gave administration officials more confidence that the Iranians had intended to make a public show of force largely to save face at home.

However, during a briefing with reporters, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, said that his own personal assessment led him to believe that the Iranians intended to kill personnel.  The speech which at times veered into a laudatory campaign event by the president was riddled with factual inaccuracies and took aim at the president`s favorite target, former President Barack Obama.


TRUMP:  Over the last three years under my leadership, our economy is stronger than ever before and America has achieved energy independence.  This historic complement (ph) shades our strategic priorities.  These are accomplishments that nobody thought was possible.

The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration.


MATTHEWS:  Well, the Associated Press said the president`s speech, quote, fell short on the facts, noting that he, quote, wrongly dismissed the continuing threat of the Islamic State group and spread a false tale the U.S. paying out billions of dollars into Iran as part of the multinational deal or freezing rather its nuclear program.

Early today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would take up a resolution that would limit the president`s military actions with Iran.  Well, the Senate has a companion bill that was introduced by Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine.  He`ll join me in just a moment.

But, first, I`m joined by Richard Engel, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent who is over in Erbil, Iraq.  Richard, it`s hard tell now whether we`re lucky here by no American service person being killed and that happening.

RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  So we`re lucky that there were no casualties here but we are on a cycle of violence.  And anyone who has covered the Middle East or anyone who has served in the Middle East knows once you start these cycles of violence, they are very, very difficult to break.

And the president set up this threshold that is probably impossible to meet.  There are tens of thousands of troops and contractors in harm`s way and he is now set up a scenario where effectively there is a zero acceptance of casualties, that while pursuing an aggressive foreign policy against Iran and attacking the most senior military leaders of the Iranian system.  We are setting ourselves up for a cycle of crises.

So, yes, we got past this crisis, but I could see us in the same scenario a week from now.  Just a few hours ago, there were two rockets fired at the green zone where the U.S. embassy is in Baghdad.  They didn`t hit anything significant.  They didn`t cause any damage or casualties, according to Iraqi officials.  But what if they had?  What if they had hit a couple of contractors because these -- by the way, these short-term rockets are not even guided.  You just put them in a direction and fire them.

And they are being fired by Shiite militia groups that are more or less allied with Iran.  If those -- if there had been an incident tonight, a deadly incident, we`d be right back here tomorrow or we`d be right back here right now.

So I don`t see the -- a very good ending here.  Sure, we got past this crisis, but are we going to be back again waiting for President Trump to come out and brief the world if he`s going to take the United States to war or not?

We`ve been down this road before and it doesn`t end well.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Richard Engel, over in Erbil, Iraq.

Shortly after the president`s remarks today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others headed to Capitol Hill to provide members of the House and the Senate the justification for last week`s assassination of general -- the general from Iran.  After briefing the House, which we will get to later in the show, they headed to the Senate where Trump supporters gave the briefing rave reviews.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I thought it was a good briefing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I just sat through one of the best briefings I have had since I`ve been here in the United States Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was very well done.  I think they`ve done an excellent job of outlining the rationale.


MATTHEWS:  But Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, excoriated the administration, calling the briefing we just saw there insulting and demeaning.


SEN. MIKE LEE (R-UT):  Which I would add was probably the worst briefing I`ve seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I`ve served in the United States Senate.

It is not acceptable for officials within the executive branch of government.  I don`t care whether they`re with the CIA, with the Depart of Defense or otherwise to come in and tell us that we can`t debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran.  It`s un-American, it`s unconstitutional and it`s wrong.


MATTHEWS:  Well, joining me right now is Democratic Tim Kaine of Virginia.

Senator, if you catch somebody in a bank robbery, an armed bank robbery and you shoot them, that`s one thing.  If you got away their living and find some guy you hurt blew up some banks or robbed some banks and kill you them in cold blood, that`s murder.  This looks more like an assassination and it looks like stopping what someone in the commission of a crime.  Your thoughts after getting that briefing?  Which is it, an assassination or are we really stopping in the act of somebody blowing up somebody?

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA):  Well, Chris, look, I`ll tell you.  You know, was Soleimani a despicable killer, yes, and is Iran a bad actor, yes, but the question is should the United States be at war with Iran?  And here was my take on the briefing.  The administration did a very poor job of suggesting there is an imminent threat, a very poor job.  They suggested that Iran and Soleimani in particular was carrying out plans against the United States just as we have all kinds of war plans against Iran, but the imminence or any decision being made to carry out these threats, that was weak.

Second, the administration didn`t acknowledge.  They kept saying, well, we ought to red line and Iran crossed it when an American contractor was killed but they didn`t acknowledge that the United States is also taking military action against Iran, killing 25 militia members at the end of the year, killing not only General Soleimani but killing an Iraqi parliamentarian in the strike last week.  So they sort of said, we get to have a red line but nobody else does.

But the thing that I think really infuriated members of Congress was how dismissive they were about Congress.  At some point, there was a sort of a challenge and this isn`t classified.  There was a challenge, you know, you should seek authority for war from us but, at a minimum, consult with us, and one of the briefers said, well, I`m here now consulting, yes, but six days after this major, major escalatory action.

So what we need, Chris, is we need not escalation, but deliberation.  And the framers of the Constitution understood that the best antidote to unnecessary escalation was deliberation by Congress.  We`d be more likely to get it right if we had a debate in front of the public and voted and that`s what I`m trying to force.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it seems to me that this tit-for-tat began at least in the latest round with our killing of the general.  The president today said, however, no, it was because Barack Obama, his predecessor in the White House, financed the ballistic missiles that were launched yesterday, last night.  I mean, was it Obama`s fault that we got hit overnight?

KAINE:  Well, in the president`s comments, and I will say, the one good thing about them was that they were a little bit of a climb down the ladder of escalation, thank God, but the president`s comments were really wrong in so many ways.  The opening line is Iran will never get a nuclear weapon as long as I`m president.

When President Trump came into office, Iran had signed on to a deal, Chris, that said they would never seek to a purchase, acquire or develop a nuclear weapon forever.  And now, President Trump is saying, for the next year, they`re not going to get a nuclear weapon.  That`s supposed to make us feel good?

By tearing up diplomacy, President Trump put us in a place where he maximized or increased the risk of unnecessary war.  We predicted at the time if you tear up the deal, you`ll increase the risk of war.  If you engage in a maximum pressure campaign, you`ll raise the risk of retaliation against Americans.  And importantly, if you tear up diplomacy with Iran, the mountain that you`re going to have to climb to get a deal with North Korea is going to get much steeper.

All those things happened because the president torched diplomacy and that`s why we are where we are right now.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we have a president, basically, as you said, tore up the deal on nuclear arms with Iran.  He`s talked about going after people`s wives and children if we don`t like them.  He`s talking about going after their religious and cultural relic space, like going after our Statue of Liberty and pyramids, and basically saying we`re going to go after it.  He looks like he`s going into war with the Iranian people.  It`s a policy to risk war.  How does the Congress -- is there any real way to stop them in his direction right now?

KAINE:  Yes, and we need to because you`re right.  What would the Iranians think as they contemplate?  You know, do they escalate after General Soleimani is killed?  If all they -- if they think that all Americans are like President Trump, that hate Iran, want to abandon diplomacy, want to carry out military strikes, if that`s who America is to them, that`s one thing they have to deal with.

But if Congress says, hey, look, we think we should de-escalate, we think deliberation is the answer, so that`s what I`m trying to do.  I filed a privileged resolution of the War Powers Act, and you know it well.  The War Powers Act says that if a president initiates hostilities and those hostilities aren`t covered by a previous congressional authorization, then any member can file a resolution that says, stop the hostilities and get a privileged vote on the floor by simple majority within a reasonable period of time.

We are in hostilities.  Those hostilities are not covered by a previous authorization, so I`m filing this motion saying, fine, we want to have a vote.  We want to terminate U.S. hostilities against Iran.  And there`re only two circumstances under which we should be engaged in those hostilities, defense against an imminent attack, the president can always do that, or if Congress passes its own declaration.

We`re trying to reclaim from this executive, who like other presidents, let`s be honest, believes they can do things on their own.  We`re trying to reclaim to Congress the power to initiate war because that`s what our troops and their families deserve.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.

Coming -- let`s bring back now Shannon Pettypiece, NBC Senior Digital White House Reporter.

Shannon, this question about the justification probably precedes anything about War Powers Act, because that`s always going to be a court issue whether the Congress can stop the president.  But the Issue now they`re raising is, and Mike Lee`s dramatic statement, it`s all over the video now, we have seen it, a conservative from Utah coming out and saying this is a joke.  They don`t have a justification they can present for why they assassinated this general.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, MSNBC DIGITAL SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  I think it`s a reflection of a broader feeling within this administration of not viewing Congress as a legitimate branch of government.  We saw this in impeachment with how they responded to the House inquiries, essentially saying, you know, this is not a legitimate investigation, you`re not a legitimate body of Congress of the government.  We don`t have to respond to you.

The same thing when they did not brief members of Congress before and one of the justifications that the administration gave was, well, they would just leak the information, why would we tell them?  They singled out Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.  Why would we tell Adam Schiff?  He`ll just leak it.  Well, he is an elected member of Congress, he is on the House Intelligence Committee.  There is this sense that, you know, they`re not legitimate members of Congress, really, that just because they were elected doesn`t mean they have to share information or get their authorization from them.

And I think it does fit in this bigger power struggle between the executive branch and the legislative branch that we`ve been seeing play out for three years now.

MATTHEWS:  The president can basically do what he wants to do even in the area of starting a war, because, as everybody has been saying, starting with Richard Engel tonight and the beginning of our report tonight, if another fire is shot from the other side, some militia person who shoots somebody, kills an American, according to the latest threshold of war, we`re at war again, big time.

PETTYPIECE:  Right.  And as we have seen over the past three years, what is anyone going to do about it?  If the president oversteps his bounds and the executive branch, what are you going to do about it?  Well, you could impeach him, which Congress -- the House is trying to do now, but are you going to remove him from House in the Senate?

So there`s no real -- I think we`re seeing this test not the checks in place on the executive branch that I think people thought there were.

MATTHEWS:  And I think it takes such a decision by the Congress, according to courts, a two-thirds vote in both Houses plus one in this case to override what is implicitly a presidential veto because you`re basically replacing the president`s war-making powers by the Congress.  That`s a tough threshold to reach.  It`s a nice effort by the Senator, senator from Virginia, Tim Kaine, but I`m not sure it will stop this president.

But it does raise the question, why did they assassinate this general?  Was he in the act of doing something or are they simply wanting to hit him hard because of what he`d done in the past and to send a message of vengeance, really, to the Iranians?

Thank you so much, Shannon Pettypiece.

Coming up, Trump has averted an all-out war with Iran this time.  Luckily, no one got killed last night in the western -- U.S. base in Western Iraq.  But who can predict this president or can predict the Iranians?


TRUMP:  Finally, to the people and leaders of Iran, we want you to have a future and a great future, one that you deserve.


MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes?  Well, those words are a far cry from a president who just recently threatened the blowup of Iranian cultural treasures.  And it`s not at all clear if the president has a long-term Middle East strategy at all or he`s just winging it.  I`m going to talk about that Senator and Presidential Candidate Cory Booker.

Plus, pressure is growing on Speaker Pelosi now to give the Senate those two articles of impeachment.  What`s her next move?

And can Republican senators get away with blocking witness testimony from John Bolton and others?  It`s going to be a tough vote for a Republican to say, I don`t want to know the truth.

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


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Over the last two weeks, the conflicting statements, crossed signals and mixed messages from this administration have left our allies confused about what Trump`s strategy on Iran actually is.  Is there a strategy? 

"The New York Times"` Peter Baker points out: "The president, who promised to bring troops home from the Middle East, is now dispatching more instead.  The Pentagon sent a letter saying it was withdrawing from Iraq, only to disavow it as a mistake.  The State Department talked about de-escalation, while Mr. Trump beat the war drums, describing all the ways he would devastate Iran if it harmed Americans -- more Americans.  And even then the president was forced to back off his threat to target Iranian cultural sites after his own defense secretary publicly said doing that was a war crime."

For more, I`m joined by Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times,"

Peter, I guess it`s hard to predict events, but it`s also to predict this president.  I mean, we have been hearing from Richard Engel just now and Senator Kaine.  The information we`re getting, if you put it all together, if there is another shot fired to kill from the other side in any front over there now from Iran, we`re back at war. 

PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES":  Yes, certainly could be the case, absolutely.  He wants that to be the impression. 

But one of the reasons why it was important for him to take this action at this time, according to his advisers, was to reestablish deterrence.  And by that, they mean that the fact that the president hadn`t responded to previous provocations over the last number of months, in fact, at one point ordered an airstrike, and then called it off 10 minutes before it was supposed to get started, may have left Iran with the impression that he wasn`t going to respond to anything like this.

And so that`s one of the things that you heard them say in explaining this strike.  But, as you pointed out, and as we wrote about in this morning`s paper, the messages have been at times conflicting.  And it`s hard for our allies to get a sense of, what is the broader picture here?  What is the broader strategy in a region that he says he wants to get out, but we find ourselves entangled in just as much, if not more, than ever?

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know from American history, like Roosevelt deploying our ships into the North Atlantic, basically, we were saying to the German, go ahead, make our day.  And they didn`t do it.  The Japanese attacked us. 

But when a president sets these thresholds, these red lines out there, sometimes, he wants the other side to cross them.  Sometimes, he doesn`t. 

What`s Trump want? 

BAKER:  Yes, that`s a great question. 

You know, he has been one of these really interesting characters who talks a big game when it comes to military confrontation.  He uses terminology no other president has about annihilating other countries and wiping them off the map and all that kind of thing, very, very bellicose.

And yet there is a part of him that clearly has been reluctant to commit to a major kind of military operation, said that the 2003 invasion of Iraq by George W. Bush was the biggest mistake in history, has been very adamant that we don`t have a stake in a lot of these things that are happening in overseas countries, and we should be focusing here on America at home. 

So, trying to reconcile these different strains of Trumpism, I think, has been a tough thing for many Americans, not to mention our friends and adversaries overseas. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Peter Baker. 

For now, I`m joined by Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey who`s running for president, of course.

Senator Booker, thank you for joining us. 

Well, here`s a presidential moment.  Put yourself in it.  What would you do? 

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, first of all, I wouldn`t do what I did in front of the United States Senate right now, when you send high-level officials, members of your Cabinet to brief us, to show us your justification for using military force, and you really give no adequate justification.

The answer of an imminent threat, I can tell you, as a United States senator, coming out of a classified briefing, they did not show us that they had -- were dealing with an imminent threat.  I saw no evidence of that whatsoever. 

And so this is what`s got me really angry, if you look at this region under this president`s leadership.  Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon right now, as they`re breaking out to better enrich, than they were before he was president. 

We now have an Iraq that has -- excuse me -- an Iran has greater influence in Iraq than before he wasn`t president.  We now have our allies like Israel at greater danger because of Iran than when -- before he was president.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BOOKER:  And I can go on and on and on. 

And so he has been a foreign policy disaster in the Middle East, somebody who said he was going to detangle himself from the Middle East, moving more troops there right now, somebody who said he was going to defeat ISIS, and tear them up by the roots, now has put us in a worse position to prevent their resurgence. 

There are so many problems under this president because of his inability to have a strategy to conduct foreign policy.

And as a guy who`s visited this region, Chris, who`s been meeting with our generals and our leaders from Afghanistan to Baghdad, they will tell you that this is going to have to be solved with a diplomatic solution. 

This president has shown no ability to do diplomacy, from North Korea to the Middle East, and, frankly, has tore up one of the most important diplomatic agreements we have had that enabled us to have a stronger relationship with our allies in Europe and even with the Chinese and the Russians, because now Iran is doing naval exercises with the Chinese and the Russians. 

Talk about putting us in a weaker position. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, conflicting foreign position statements from this president is nothing new. 

Here he is during the 2016 presidential campaign playing both hawk and dove. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My foreign policy will emphasize diplomacy, not destruction. 

I`m going to bomb the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them. 

You`re tired of the reckless foreign policy, the crazy wars that are never won. 

I`m the most militaristic person in this room, believe me.  Our military is going to be so big, so strong, so powerful, nobody`s going to mess with us.



MATTHEWS:  This president doesn`t do his homework.  I think we all agree on that, Senator. 

And here`s the problem.  I`m not playing an elitist here.  I`m not an elitist.  But it seems to me you ought to learn something you can`t in business school, is, when you shoot a guy, you assassinate a top general beloved by the Iranian people, so that the streets of Tehran are filled with tens and hundreds of thousands of people weeping with emotion about the loss of one of their heroes, it would be nice if our president knew he was one of their heroes, and knew what he was igniting in the last week. 

Do you think he knew who the hell he was killing here, who he was killing? 


MATTHEWS:  Do you think he knew it?

BOOKER:  Look, this president is weak.  He`s weak of mind.  He has no impulse control whatsoever.

I do thought think he has a mastery of the issues in this region enough to conduct himself in a way that`s going to keep America safe.  So, again, I do thought think this president, as we saw during his campaign, can even name world leaders, not to mention understands a bigger strategy on how to deal with the complex issues going on right now, from the Middle East, frankly, to Asia. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I don`t think Wharton teaches you who to kill. 

Thank you so much, Cory Booker.  Good luck in the race.  It`s always great to interview you, sir.  I really love meeting you on the trail out there. 

BOOKER:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  And you have been great whenever we have interviewed you.  Thank you so much. 

BOOKER:  Thank you, Chris.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Very few congressional Democrats are willing to take the president`s word for why he ordered the assassination of General Soleimani.  We still want to know, what was he up to? 

Did he want to ignite this cycle of terror?  Congress heard from several administrations (sic) today, and they weren`t happy.  They weren`t satisfied with what they heard, not even Mike Lee, the conservative from Utah.  He thinks it was a joke, what they heard today.

We`re going to -- we`re going to ask one of them next one, of the senators.

Back on HARDBALL. 



TRUMP:  Last week, we took decisive action to stop a ruthless terrorist from threatening American lives. 

In recent days, he was planning new attacks on American targets, but we stopped him.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was President Trump again defending the killing of Iranian General Soleimani. 

Members of Congress, U.S. congressmen, were briefed this afternoon the intelligence that the administration says justified the assassination, as the administration faces increased pressure for details about what prompted this whole cycle of violence. 

The briefing by four top members of the president`s national security team, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, CIA Director Gina Haspel, comes amid objections that Congress was largely kept in the dark. 

Of course it was.

In the hours before Iran`s retaliation last night, Pompeo and Esper offered mixed messages publicly -- publicly -- about the urgency of last week`s assassination. 


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  If you`re looking for imminence, you need to look no further than the days that led up to the strike that was taken against Soleimani. 

And then you, in addition to that, have what we could clearly see were continuing efforts on behalf of this terrorist to build out a network of campaign activities that were going to lead potentially to the death of many more Americans. 

QUESTION:  Can you clarify?  The attack Soleimani was planning, was that days or weeks away? 

MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY:  I think it`s more fair to say days, for sure.  He was clearly on the battlefield.  He was conducting, preparing, planning military operations.  He was a legitimate target, and his time was due. 


MATTHEWS:  He was at Baghdad Airport.

Anyway, for more, I`m joined by Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, and Valerie Plame, a former CIA covert operative and Democratic candidate for Congress out in New Mexico. 

Thank you both for joining us. 

Congressman, what did you make of the briefing today?  Did you hear a justification for stopping an imminent attack against the United States or anything like that? 


In general, the briefers were very vague.  They were evasive of the questions posed by the members of Congress.  And there were at least two failures there, number one, providing a sufficient legal justification for taking the action that the president did, and then, secondly, demonstrating that there was an imminent risk to U.S. personnel, a justifiable reason for taking the action that they did in assassinating Soleimani. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I used the example of a bank robber.  If somebody is shot in the act of an armed robbery -- bank robbery, that`s one thing.  It`s awful, but it happens, and it`s appropriate sometimes. 

But if you go looking for somebody in his house or his apartment, and you go searching for a guy you think robbed some banks, and you kill him in his apartment, that`s a murder. 

So it sounds like it`s more like an assassination in this case. 


They certainly -- they certainly didn`t provide ample justifications for why they did things the way they did. 

MATTHEWS:  Valerie, let me ask you about this whole thing in terms of your background in intelligence. 

And I don`t think they`re giving us any intelligence here.  According to Mike Lee, the conservative Republican from Utah who stormed out of that briefing in the SCIF today, he said, even in the SCIF, which is secure and nobody else can hear what`s going on in there, they wouldn`t even tell them why they did this, not really. 

VALERIE PLAME, FORMER CIA COVERT OPERATIVE:  Hi, Chris.  Thanks for having me. 

Absolutely.  It sounds like there is absolutely no justification.  This imminent -- we have been lied into war before.  Unfortunately, I had a front-row seat to that. 

And I know how that was approached.  And I see this all over again, where the intelligence is so thin. 

And I want to point something out that I don`t think anyone`s really noticed, which is, on one hand, you have Trump denigrating the intelligence community if they do something that he does not deem in his favor.  On the other hand, now we`re supposed to take everything they say as, trust us, the intelligence community told us that we have imminent information about an imminent threat.

You can`t have it both ways. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about what we should have known.

I will go back to the congressman on this. 

When some people die, we -- you don`t know what the impact is going to be.  When Princess Diana died, for example, there was a huge emotional outpouring.  These kinds of -- Elvis Presley in our culture. 

It turns out that this general he killed was a beloved hero of the Iranian people, to the point where -- look at the people we got pictures of now, these enormous crowds coming out. 

There`s no American emotion in this case, but there`s a hell of a lot of emotion on the other side. 

Should our leaders know what they`re doing when they kill somebody, Congressman?

CASTRO:  Yes, they very much could have anticipated that Iranians would react in this way, both the Iranian public, but also that the government would strike back. 

And this speaks to a much larger issue, Chris, which is, the president has had a very chaotic and erratic foreign policy, and especially with respect to Iran.

You think about what he did, he replaced the Iran deal, the Iran agreement, which was containing their nuclear program, replaced that with what is now being called a maximum pressure campaign. 

Well, that foreign policy, if you can call it that, has failed, although this administration considers air force bases -- or bases being bombed by the Iranians, it considers losing the respect and moral authority for the United States around the world as some kind of success for its maximum pressure campaign. 

But it`s clear at this point that the president`s strategy has failed. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me get back to Valerie on this question.

And it`s really a question of intelligence in the way we use it normally, like knowing what you`re doing, having the information you need to proceed, the ability to pass a driver`s test, just basic information. 

A president of the United States, man or woman, Democrat or Republican, right-winger or left-winger, they have to know what`s going on when they do something.  They have G2s.  They have got intelligence people that tell them, if you do this, this is going to happen. 

Does this team look like they`re working that way, the ones in the White House now?


PLAME:  I think that`s called a leading question. 


PLAME:  No, it`s complete chaos.  There is no foreign policy, per se.  He`s -- Trump is impulsive, impetuous, and the consequences are profound. 

And what I was really taken with today was -- with the briefing of the senators of the intelligence was how dismissive the White House, the executive branch, is of the congressional branch.

I learned in eighth grade civics class there are three co-equal branches of government.  And we have seen, in both -- under both parties, Democrat and Republican, in the White House, there`s been a gradual ceding of a power -- power toward the executive. 

And I think it`s time that Congress reassert itself, not -- and rebalance those three co-equal branches of government to steady the ship, because at the helm right now, we have a very erratic leader. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much.

U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro, by the way, your brother ran a heroic, historic campaign for president.  You should all be proud, as family members and brothers, as a sibling. 

CASTRO:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  And, Valerie, what can I say?  I have known you for a long time.  You have served your country under incredible conditions.  You have risked your neck overseas undercover.  I hope you do well in this race for Congress. 

I can`t vote out there, but I`d be glad to be your character witness.  You are the greatest.  Thank you so much.


PLAME:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  It`s all true.  Don`t laugh.

Up next:  How much longer can Nancy Pelosi hold onto the articles of impeachment before sending them to the Senate?  It`s getting a little rough out there.  A growing number of Democratic senators, in fact, are already saying it`s time to move this thing along to a trial. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure.  We will not cede our authority to try this impeachment.  The house Democrats` turn is over.  The Senate has made its decision. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell doing what he does, needling Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the articles of impeachment which she has yet to turn over to the Senate for the president`s trial in the Senate.  It comes after McConnell announced yesterday he has the votes to set the rules of the trial without Democratic support.  He`s got his 53 votes.  That means Republican intend to postpone a decision on whether to call witnesses in the trial well into the trial itself. 

Yet the trial can`t begin until Speaker Pelosi actually sends over the articles physically and she made clear again today she wants to see McConnell`s proposed rules before doing that. 


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  When we see the arena in which this will happen, we will then be prepared to send articles, the pay-fors, and the managers. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, meanwhile several Senate Democrats are now saying publicly that Pelosi would -- should not want to send the articles -- should not wait, rather.  They want them over there now.  However, they`re also making clear that they`ll continue to fight for witnesses under McConnell`s rule.  Senator Chuck Schumer, for example, has promised repeated votes because any member of the Senate can simply say I move we bring for these witnesses in.  We bring witnesses in, the ones that matter like John Bolton.

And Joe Manchin, the moderate Democrat said the trial would be a sham without these witnesses. 


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV):  I would say to Mitch McConnell say, majority leader, don`t you think if you`ve got a person with firsthand knowledge, how can you have a trial without witnesses or without evidence?  I want witnesses to come and I want evidence to be produced.  If not, then it`s just basically truly a sham of a trial. 


MATTHEWS:  A sham of a trial. 

Amid all this, Senate Republicans appear ready to use any excuse to suppress new evidence from being presented at Trump`s trial in the Senate.  That`s next on HARDBALL.

Stick with us. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Senate Republicans are putting off a decision on witnesses at the president`s trial.  But doing so despite the news that former national security adviser, there he is, John Bolton, is willing to testify under subpoena.  And as we`ve seen several Republicans have already made clear they`ll use any excuse to suppress the new evidence. 

Here`s Lindsey Graham, for example, just yesterday. 


REPORTER:  Do you think hearing from John Bolton would be helpful to the president?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  I`m not going to add anything to the record.  They had a chance to call John Bolton in the House.  They chose not to and I don`t intend with my vote to reward them for doing this. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, they`re now saying they`re unwilling to hear from firsthand witnesses like Bolton but the House Republicans had spent the last three months complaining about hearsay evidence from what they claimed were secondhand sources. 


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL):  It`s hearsay.  Somebody told somebody told somebody else that created some concern about the president`s conduct. 

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA):  No impeachment should ever proceed on the basis of hearsay and conjecture and speculation. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The impeachment articles rely almost exclusively on hearsay. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  An attempt to undo the 2016 election based on hearsay. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In record speed, this majority has assembled hearsay. 

REP. TOM COLE (R-OK):  They are based on hearsay. 

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA):  The Democrats` case is based on secondhand opinions and hearsay. 


MATTHEWS:  I`m now joined by U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch, Democrat from Florida, former Congressman David Jolly as well, who`s left the Republican Party. 

Congressman Deutch, it takes four Republicans to join the 47 Democratic senators to get these witnesses before the Senate trial.  What are the chances? 

REP. TED DEUTCH (D-FL):  Well, I don`t understand why the Senate Republicans are so opposed to getting to the truth.  Look, there is an abundance of direct evidence that let us to impeach the president of the United States for abusing his power for personal again.  But the fact is, so many of these direct witnesses didn`t appear because the president banned them, barred them from doing it, said you can`t come. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

DEUTCH:  That`s why we -- that`s why the second count is obstruction of Congress.  The only reason not to call these witnesses and to hear from them is because you`re afraid of what you can say.  That`s the only conclusion that we can draw here. 

MATTHEWS:  David, do you think you can shame the Republicans, at least four of them, in joining Democratic senators so we have these witnesses?  Because what the congressman just said is true. 

But shame doesn`t seem to matter.  The Republicans say, I don`t care what you`re saying.  I`m sticking with the president.  That`s their answer on everything.  I don`t care what you say. 

It`s not about values.  It`s about my loyalty to the president.  I am a lemming.  I will do what I`m told. 

FORMER REP. DAVID JOLLY (R-FL):  It is about loyalty or I would even say fealty to Donald Trump.  But I think it`s actually more selfish and even smaller if you will.  It`s covering up for themselves. 

Look, the House arguments about hearsay, though, they were wrong, because as Ted said, the impeachment was based on witnesses who were on the call, based on a record of facts.  The fact is that they were saying what allowed them to take the vote they knew they wanted to take. 

Senate Republicans, sure, they`re covering for Trump.  But they`re covering for themselves.  They don`t want witnesses because they don`t want all this evidence to be on display, have compelling testimony of witnesses and then take the vote to acquit, which they already know they`re going to do. 

And, Chris, the foolishness of Republicans in this moment is that it would be so easy to say to the American people, we`re going to have a fair trial and we are going to have witnesses and 71 percent of the country wants a fair trial with witnesses.  So, we`re going to do that. 

And in the end, through the partisan lens, which our Founders knew we may evaluate this case, we are likely going to vote to acquit the president, we know that.  But you can do that following a fair trial.  It would be so easy to do that.  But they are intimidated by the president and, obviously, won`t do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Congressman Deutch, looks like the president has a plan here, settled things with the Iranians for a short term, maybe couple of days, couple of weeks.  But he gives the State of the Union the day after the Iowa caucuses and he comes prancing into the floor of the House where you work everyday, and says, I`ve been exonerated by the U.S. Senate.  That`s the plan. 

Apparently, he wants it all over by the State of the Union day, the day after the Iowa caucuses, on the fourth of February.  The president gets a standing O from the Republican side of the aisle and some Democrats and he`s a hero.  He`s Julius Caesar. 

I mean, this is the plan.  They`re going to get away with it. 

DEUTCH:  No, of course not.  Look, remember, regardless of what happens, Chris, the president of the United States is going to appear before the country as a president who was impeached by the House of Representatives.  And I don`t believe that rushing through -- trying to ram this through, as McConnell is trying to do, trying to show that his devotion is first and foremost to the president rather than to the Constitution is going to work, as Dave just said. 

The overwhelming majority of people in this country believe there should be a fair trial.  They want witnesses.  They want evidence put on.  As the Senate weighs the decision of whether to remove this president from office for abusing his power, for soliciting involvement of a foreign government in our elections. 

All of that is what everyone knows.  The pressure, I think, will only increase on the Republican senators to recognize that they`re actually -- they may think they`re helping Donald Trump.  They`re doing an enormous disservice, obviously, to the country, but they`re going to wind up hurting themselves as well. 

MATTHEWS: Well, the choir is with you, congressman.  The people outside the church don`t want to hear this stuff.  They`re walking past the church. 

Thank you so much, Congressman Ted Deutch, as always. 

DEUTCH:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  David Jolly as always.

Up next, my question for President Trump, Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence, I`ve got a big one for these guys, this trio. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  It`s hard to imagine it`s possible to make our relations with Iran worse but President Trump, Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo have managed to do just that. 

It was one thing to subvert their elected Democratic government back in 1953 and give them a quarter century of the shah.  But even then, after the revolution of 1979, that brought the ayatollah to power, we got one report after another of how the people of Iran have retained their goodwill toward us, the people. 

Until very recently, the people in Iran were divided toward their own government.  Demonstrations in cities large and small were calling for an end to the Islamic Republic`s government and downfall of its leaders.  Well, those people in the streets there now protesting us. 

So, how did Trump get the people of Iran hating us again?  He assassinated one of the country`s most beloved heroes and threatens to destroy the country`s cultural sites. 

Now, think about what that means.  Imagine telling the Egyptians we`re going to destroy the pyramids, telling the French we`re going to destroy the Eiffel Tower, or the Italians, we`re going to destroy the Coliseum or someone telling us we`re going to destroy the Statue of Liberty. 

Threatening to destroy a country`s heritage isn`t about one government shouting threats to another government.  It`s about an enemy shouting threats to a people.  In this case, the Persian people, whose culture goes back thousands of years. 

My question for the president, the vice president and the secretary of state, why do you want to stir up the hatred of the Iranian people?  What is it that makes you want them enraged at U.S., at us? 

Again, I`m not talking about the country`s current government, the ayatollah and the rest.  Why are you targeting the country`s soul?  Why do you want them to hate us and them us hate them?  What`s with the blood war you`re trying to start? 

I don`t get it.  I see those thousands of Iranians in the streets right now, is anyone in America -- is anyone in America out on our streets?  Nobody.  There`s not a single American out on the streets calling for blood with Iran.  None of us. 

No, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President and Mr. Pompeo, the people who got Iran to the boiling point at this point are you three. 

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.