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State John Kerry plays Hardball. TRANSCRIPT: 1/13/20, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Eric Swalwell, Larry Pfeiffer, John Gans, John Kerry, MargaretCarlson, Eugene Scott

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: So check it out.

Thanks for watching THE BEAT. "HARDBALL" starts right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Romney to vote to hear from Bolton. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

We have some breaking news right now. Within the last hour, Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah said publicly that he will vote as a senator to hear testimony from Trump`s former national security adviser, John Bolton. Here he is.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT):  I support the Clinton impeachment model, which is a vote on witnesses later. But as to which witnesses I`d want to hear from and so forth, that`s something which I`m open to until after the opening arguments.

REPORTER:  Including John Bolton?

ROMNEY:  Pardon?

REPORTER:  Including John Bolton?

ROMNEY:  Including John Bolton, yes. I mean, he`s someone who I would like to hear from and presumably I get the chance to vote for that.


MATTHEWS:  I get the chance to vote for that. It comes as the speaker of the House sends a shot across the bow if Senate Republicans hold a fair trial, call witnesses, or we`ll make you pay for it in the November elections. This is how Pelosi is setting the stage for the president`s impeachment trial, which could start within days.

She meets with her caucus tomorrow to talk the next steps, which includes the naming of impeachment prosecutors and sending over the articles themselves. That will leave it to the Republican-controlled Senate to decide whether they`ll hear new evidence or witness testimony at trial.

Pelosi has warned yesterday the choice will come with political consequences. Here she goes.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA):  Well, they take an oath to take -- have a fair trial and we think that would be with witnesses and documentation. So that dynamic has -- now the ball is in their court to either do that or pay a price. The senators who are thinking now about voting for witnesses or not, they will have to be accountable for not having a fair trial.


MATTHEWS:  Well, this comes as CBS News reports that the White House is already bracing for some Republicans` defections over there in the Senate. Senior officials say, quote, they increasingly believe that at least four Republicans and likely more will vote to call witnesses. We already lost one already. It`s Romney today. He`s the first of the four to break the ice.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Chuck Schumer -- Minority Leader is planning to keep up the pressure. According to Politico, Schumer will force a series of votes designed to squeeze vulnerable Republicans and harm them on the campaign trail if they side with Trump. So both Democratic leaders are together on this.

Meanwhile, the president can`t seem to settle on a defense. For weeks, he`s been fixated on calling his own witnesses and now he wants to avoid them altogether. Yesterday, Trump tweeted, many believe that by the Senate giving credence to a trial rather than an outright dismissal, it gives the partisan Democrat witch hunt credibility that it otherwise does not have, I agree. Well, he says, I agree. He wants to cancel the whole trial altogether. It`s likely McConnell will weigh that proposal given his stunning admission last month that he`ll coordinate a strategy with the White House.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  Everything I do during this, I`m coordinating with the White House Counsel. There will be no difference between the president`s position and our position.

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

Again, I`m going to take my cues from the president`s lawyers.


MATTHEWS:  Isn`t that amazing? A member of the jury is saying he`s going to side with the defense and listen to the lawyers for the defense as to what he does, incredible statement.

I`m joined right now by Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, member of the House Intelligence and also Judiciary Committee, and Heidi Przybyla is a Corresponent for NBC News, of course, Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor.

Congressman, let me ask you about these new developments that Romney is joining now those who -- in fact, he`s the first Republican to break and say, I`m going to vote to hear a witness and the witness I`m going to call to hear is going to be John Bolton, probably the prime possible witness.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA):  The point is, Chris, it`s not just any witnesses because Republicans called for, you know, irrelevant witnesses to come forward just to make a spectacle of it. This is a witness who has raised his hand who did not do so before saying, I`ve seen things, I have something to say and Republicans are burying their heads in the sand and saying, we don`t want to hear this. And so what a concept, you`re going to have a relevant witness come forward.

So it`s a courage call right now and it`s a matter of whether other Republicans will answer that call.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a sense he might break the ice? Because 47, now is 48, they only need three over there to get a fair trial and get witnesses. You`ve got apparently a whole batch of them. We`re going to get to all of them but maybe seven or eight Republican possibilities that will shift and say, yes, we want a real trial.

SWALWELL:  He may not break the ice, but he may break public opinion on this because it continues to go up since we voted on impeachment and we`ve withheld sending it over to get assurances of a fair trial. The public demand for a fair trial has gone up.

A Quinnipiac poll today, 71 percent -- 66 percent of Americans saying they want to hear from John Bolton. I think many senators are going to look at one thing, What do my constituents want at home. So if you`re in one of these states, Colorado, Arizona, Alaska, call your senator, tell them, we demand a fair trial. And even the president deserves a fair trial.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, hold on. We`re going to let you go and vote right now. Please come back in a moment.

I`m going to go right to Heidi Przybyla on this. Romney, I`ve said the other day, rather wistfully, he flirts with greatness. Every once in a while, you think this guy is going to break with the party and be the independent candidate, the independent Republican.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, he probably will. He said right now that he`s going to commit most likely to voting for Bolton, but you need three more. And here is the thing. Even though the congressman is right that these members face really tough general election fights, anybody can primary them at this point that this trial is going to be going on. That primary window is still open.

And actually, I`ve looked at some of the statements that the top four most vulnerable Republican senators have made. And guess what? They`re not too optimistic about witnesses. Thom Tillis, just last week, was pooling (ph) the idea. He`s in the top four. Cory Gardner, in December, called the whole impeachment venture a circus. Martha McSally has also said she hasn`t seen anything after the entire House testimony that would convince her that impeachment is merited. And so you need to get to four. Mitt Romney --

MATTHEWS:  Okay. Let me give you some candidates. Ready? This is it. Murkowski has more guts than anybody I know.

PRZYBYLA:  Correct. That`s why I think we`re watching the wrong people. It`s not necessarily the most vulnerable Republicans who are sitting for re-election, it`s those who are considered people who have broken with the party in the past, people of character, principled people, Lamar Alexander is another one.

MATTHEWS:  And one who is fearful, Cory Gardner, purple state, Colorado.

PRZYBYLA:  But here`s the thing again. You have to distinguish between the broad concept of witnesses because witnesses like the congressman said could be anybody. And these four, whoever the four are, digging in and saying, we want Bolton and then assuming that the president doesn`t invoke executive privilege, and then block Bolton.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, let`s go.

Let me go to Joyce Vance on this. What do you make of this case? Because it seems to me the argument about whether to have a fair trial or not, and now the argument is still improbable that we`re going to win there, but it looks like it`s starting to go in that direction. Do you think Pelosi has won her argument, that holding this thing up for three weeks, a couple of weeks now, has really raised the issue of fairness and that is beginning to break people who are on the edge?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  You Know, Chris, when people study the history of this era, I think one of the principles that they`ll derive will be never bet against Nancy Pelosi, because although people criticize her at the moment, in hindsight, her moves have always been solid. And public opinion has changed, particularly as more information comes out. We learned over the last couple of days that Lev Parnas, the American- Ukrainian associated with Rudy Giuliani has shared some information from cell phones, from What`sApp communications. So there will probably be an increasing crescendo, a demand for a fair trial with witnesses and Pelosi may well get her way in the end.

MATTHEWS:  Well, right now, we`ve got two-thirds of the country doing exactly that. They say they want to hear from Bolton in the Senate trial, two-thirds, 66 percent.

By the way, tonight, we`ve got another breaking story. We couldn`t put it out front, but here it is. The New York Times is reporting tonight that the Russians have hacked the Ukrainian gas company, Burisma. That`s the company linked to Hunter Biden. He`s working for them by lots of money per month.

According to security experts, the hacking attempts against Burisma began in early November as talk of the Bidens, Ukraine and impeachment was dominating the news in the United States. Experts say the timing and scale of the attacks, the hacking attacks, suggest that the Russians could be searching for potentially embarrassing material on the Bidens, the same kind of information that Mr. Trump wanted from Ukraine when he pressed for an investigation into the Bidens.

We`re going to get to this. The Congressman will be back in a moment.

Congressman, are you there? Let me get to you about that. What`s the significance? Could it be -- imean, they`re only looking for dirt, if there is any dirt, we don`t know, but they`re looking. Are they trying to find some internal conversations within Burisma about why they hired Hunter Biden? What are they looking for?

SWALWELL:  I would say the Russians are back, Chris, but they never have left. They`ve persisted to do this because we don`t have a president who will defend this. And, yes, what they`re looking for is to continue to influence the upcoming caucuses and primary elections.

And what if we had a president who told them, enough, you`re not going to do that to us? What if we have a president who told them there will be consequence? And what if we had a president that put our national interests over his own? Donald Trump is not going to do that. And so now, it`s incumbent on Congress to do all we can to protect America, as it looks like I`ve just got a real sinking feeling about this that Russia is going to do all they can again to elect Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Heidi, if there is a parallel purpose here, the purpose, of course, according to Rudy Giuliani, was to get dirt on Joe Biden. He was front running in the polls at the time he was doing his dirty work over there, looking for dirt. Now, the Russians who may be a bit behind schedule, but the fact is they think Biden is still the frontrunner, they`re going after him.

PRZYBYLA:  Look, we want to be level-headed about this. Unless they find an email from Joe Biden saying, you need to hire my son, highly doubtful. Then any level-headed person would look at the information that they`re going to offer here and say, it cuts against the narrative because the narrative is that President Trump is saying that Joe Biden helped his son and got this prosecutor fired. So it`s highly unlikely that they`re going to come back with that kind of information.

But if this was a successful hack, there is a parallel, and that is what the Russians did to Hillary Clinton in 2016 with her emails. And, you know, the media ate it up and published these innocuous exchanges about her food, her dietary preferences, and it all amounted to a lot of big bag of nothing.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well not all big bag -- there was some stuff in there that was anti-catholic conversations going on.

PRZYBYLA:  There were a few things that were damaging, like in terms of her ties to lobbyists, but there was no huge kind of smoking gun that if you ask a person on the street if they remember what the takeaway was from Hillary`s emails that they`re going to be able to tell you what that was. But the concern here would be that they come back with something similar that could be spun up into something.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Joyce, it looks to me like you go looking through the baggage of some sleazy oligarch over in the extractive industries business in Russia. The heart of everything bad over there is a gas station with nuclear option over there. You might find something that doesn`t look very kosher, just a thought. What do you think? They`re looking for anything dirty, they can make it look dirtier.

VANCE:  So I think, like Heidi, I would caution restraint here. This is the first that we`ve heard about this hack. We need to be careful about the forensics and make sure that it actually is attributable to Russia, not someone else. And then if damaging information is brought forward, and I suspect it`s not there because this story talks about a hack during October and November, that would have been the time to leak it if they found it. But if something shows up late, then we`ll need to be very careful to determine that it`s authentic before anyone gets too spun up over it.

There`re too many opportunities here for Russia to be a bad actor and they proved in 2016 and thereafter, and probably before, that that was exactly their goal. Their goal is to sow dissent here. We shouldn`t let them do it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we`ve got to report what they`re doing. Anyway, it`s The New York Times` big story tomorrow, probably top of the fold.

Anyway, Pelosi said yesterday that regardless of what happens in the Senate, the president will be forever tainted by the stain of impeachment. Here she is putting the knife in.


PELOSI:  We have confidence in our case that it is impeachable and this president is impeached for life, regardless of any gamesmanship on the part of Mitch McConnell.

We feel very proud of the courage of our members to vote to impeach the president. There`s nothing the Senate can do that can ever erase that. Ten months from now, we will have an election if we don`t have him removed sooner, but, again, he will be impeached forever.


MATTHEWS:  That is so interesting in a rhetorical way, Congressman, because the president, we all have been assuming, if he gets acquitted in the Senate, in other words, they don`t get the votes against him, the two- thirds, which would be a big chunk of Republicans as well, that he would come out like a mobster on the courthouse steps and say, I`ve been exonerated, not just acquitted, I`ve been exonerated. And that will be his headline. And I think Pelosi, as she often is as sharp to get ahead of him and say, no, no, you will always have been impeached. Your thoughts.

SWALWELL:  Well, the goal is to remove him because he`s hurting our national security. But, Chris, we at least exposed him. And what we`ve learned with the president is when you expose him, you can actually stop his corrupt ways.

And the example I`ll give you is that Ukraine was not getting the aid they needed until Donald Trump got caught. Then they got the aid. If he had not gotten caught, they would not have gotten the aid. Only because people stood up to him, Ukrainians who needed it got the aid. So we have now exposed him for the cheat, for the corrupt leader that he is, and hopefully that prevents and heads off other corrupt schemes that he may be trying to run as president.

So you have to keep exposing him. And, ultimately, if he`s not removed, yes, it will be a judgment for the American people.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell, Heidi Przybyla and Joyce Vance. This look is really going to be on tenor hooks. We may well get a real trial in the Senate thanks to the leadership so far of Mitt Romney. He might bring in another three Republicans.

Coming up, no one wants a trigger happy president. New polling shows that a majority of Americans feel less safe since Trump ordered the drone strike that assassinated an Iranian general.

And what about all the mixed messages coming from the administration? Here`s what former Secretary of State John Kerry had to say about that.


JOHN KERRY, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  We`ve heard all kinds of different stories about imminence, about embassies, no, there aren`t embassies. This is a shifting story, but so shifting that I think it`s beginning to look like a cover-up.


MATTHEWS:  Well, more on this from Secretary Kerry tonight on this program. By the way, he`s backing his chosen candidate, that`s Joe Biden.

Plus, a fight on the left as Bernie Sanders takes the lead in the new Iowa poll, the Vermont senator is now in the attack against Elizabeth Warren.

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


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

After a week of shifting rationales for the attack on General Soleimani, the contradictions continued over the weekend. This time, it was Defense Secretary Mark Esper contradicting the president, telling CBS he was never shown any specific evidence that Iran was planning an attack on four American embassies.


MARK ESPER, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Well, the president didn`t say it was a tangible -- he didn`t cite a specific piece of evidence. What he said was probably he believed --

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS HOST:  Are you saying there wasn`t one?

ESPER:  I didn`t see one with regard to four embassies. What I`m saying is I share the president`s view that probably my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies.


MATTHEWS:  Well, his statement there from the secretary of defense came two days after the president told Fox News that he believed the threat was real. Once again, he provided no evidence for why he felt -- felt is probably the right word -- that way.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS:  Did he have large-scale attacks planned for other embassies?

And if those were planned, why can`t we reveal that to the American people? Wouldn`t that help your case?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies.


MATTHEWS:  You know what I thought watching that? Laura Ingraham pushed him harder than he thought she was going to push him, and he just B.S.ed his way through that interview.

He didn`t have any idea how many embassies. Probably, he didn`t have any idea about the evidence.

According to "The New York Times," several officials said they did not have enough concrete information to describe such a threat as imminent, despite the administration`s assertion. But they did see a worrying pattern.


Since launching the strike, the administration has scrambled to put forward a coherent offense. Late this afternoon, President Trump told reporters the administration has been totally consistent.



QUESTION:  What did the intelligence show?

TRUMP:  Well, first of all, I think it`s been totally consistent. But here`s what`s been consistent: 

We killed Soleimani.


MATTHEWS:  Well, a new poll conducted by Ipsos asked voters if they believe the killing of General Soleimani has made American safer. Only 25 percent agreed with that.

The majority, 52 percent, said they felt that it made us less safe.

For more, I`m joined right now by Larry Pfeiffer, former chief of staff to the CIA Director Michael Hayden, and John Gans, former chief speechwriter at the Pentagon under Ash Crawford (sic) and author of "White House Warriors." There it is.



MATTHEWS:  ... is this B.S.?

I mean, I ask you. He comes up with under pressure. He says four embassies. I`m not sure he knows which countries these embassies are in. I`m not sure he has any visual notion of what he`s talking about.

And why is he playing defense? For the first time in a long time, this president is sitting around saying, imminent, imminent, imminent, because what?

Nobody believes him it was something where -- it`s like a Hitchcock movie, where a guy is about to assassinate somebody, and they shoot the assassin. It doesn`t look like that`s what happened here.

PFEIFFER:  Well, absolutely a gigantic credibility gap with this administration on any issue, number one.

Number two, I think we have an administration that has got to have the worst communications team and communication planning ability of any administration.

If this truly was a plan that was approved seven months ago, they have had seven months to come up with a coherent communication plan that they all should be executing on, and they`re not.

Getting back to your first question, is the president just pulling this out of his ear, I think that`s a very distinct possibility.

The thing I fear is that there has been some really sensitive, really good intelligence that has talked about some specific threats that everyone is trying to protect, and the president perhaps slipped, as he`s been prone to do in other instances in the past.

If you look at the folks who attended the Gang of Eight briefing, if you look at their public statements, they have been largely circumspect, or, if they have been complaining about anything, it`s been more about the process, should have briefed us first, or you didn`t study the consequences enough. But they haven`t really addressed the rationale.

And so that leads me to believe that there may be something to this, but...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me tell you, I question that.


MATTHEWS:  Let me go to John.

I have watched this for years. Every time there is a question whether to go to war or not, or to kill somebody or not, the onus is always on those who don`t want to do it. The hawk always wins the argument. The hawk is always popular, because if you didn`t support the assassination of this guy, then you would be weak. Nobody wants to look weak. So, you say, of course, I have got no problem with it, Democrats as well as Republicans.

We`re seeing the problem with Biden now. We see the problem with Kerry. Hillary Clinton had the problem. All supported the Iraq War, because that was -- in "Godfather" language, that was the smart move. Always back the war.



GANS:  Yes. Well, I think...

MATTHEWS:  That`s always the soft, easy answer, back the war.

GANS:  Yes.

Well, I think the one thing that`s changed is the Iraq War situation. Right? Even my students at the University of Pennsylvania, who were barely born when the Iraq War started, know that it was based in part on trumped- up intelligence.

So, I think that the American people are pretty sort of smart consumers on this, and they`re starting to ask hard questions, as the polling is showing, and I think...


MATTHEWS:  Two-thirds said it makes us more -- more vulnerable.

GANS:  Exactly.

And so I think the other thing is, is that what the Trump administration is trying to do is put out a story of an organized process that tries to sort of say, Trump got together with the smartest people, the defense secretary and everybody else.

But every time they come out and say something about this story and the intelligence, they screw it up. And so I don`t think you can sell an organized process when you keep messing up the basic messaging.


MATTHEWS:  Suppose they were honest. That`s a hell -- hell of a presumption.

PFEIFFER:  That`s a big presumption.

MATTHEWS:  Suppose -- Larry, suppose they said, they have been doing these small-time operations, harassing us, killing a person here, going after a contract person here, just constantly nibbling at us.

And we got to brush them back, like in baseball. We got to brush them back. We got to teach them a lesson. This isn`t for free, buddy, and we knock off their top guy, we kill this guy. They say, OK, next time you go into these operations, be careful. We`re going to kill you.

Why don`t they just say that? That`s an honest -- it seems to me that`s the honest assessment of what they did.

PFEIFFER:  I`d have to agree with you.

It seems to me like a logical thing to say. And I think the Joe Six-Pack walking the street is going to say, bad guy killed equals good. One would think that it could be a compelling argument.

There seems -- they seem to be wrapping themselves around this notion of legality associated with imminent threat.


PFEIFFER:  And somewhere along the line, someone decided, we have to say there was an imminent threat, because those are the key words.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think that`s fascinating. I agree, first time he`s on defense.

On the defense himself, President Trump`s administration has offered contradictory justifications for killing that general.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  We know it was imminent. This was an intelligence-based assessment.

TRUMP:  Soleimani he was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military person.

POMPEO:  You know, it`s never one moment. It`s never one instance. It`s a collective. It`s a -- it`s a full situational awareness of risk.

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.

TRUMP:  They were looking to blow up our embassy.

Soleimani was actively planning new attacks. And he was looking very seriously at our embassies, and not just the embassy in Baghdad.

POMPEO:  We don`t know precisely when, and we don`t know precisely where. But it was real.

We had specific information on an imminent threat, and that threat stream included attacks on U.S. embassies, period, full stop.


MATTHEWS:  OK, here`s something after that full stop. Mr. Secretary.

After we kill Soleimani, their most beloved general, right, they still show restraint in their missile attack on the base in Western Iraq that killed nobody. OK? They showed restraint.

He`s arguing that, before the killing of Soleimani, they were playing to blow up four U.S. embassies. I would consider that an act of war by Iraq -- Iran -- who would want to go to war. Why would a country blow up four embassies and not expect to be at war with a country they blew up their embassies?

It`s an insane proposition.

GANS:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Why would Iran do this?

GANS:  Well, I think you`re adding -- trying to use rationality as a way to...


MATTHEWS:  Well, the president of the United States is saying it. They`re going to blow up four embassies.

GANS:  Exactly.

But I don`t think they were exactly -- and he`s not actually making a rational case for this. Right?

MATTHEWS:  So we just discount everything Trump says as B.S., and move on?

PFEIFFER:  Well, I think, if you actually isolate what Secretary Pompeo is saying, whether you agree with it or not, he has had a consistent stream of logic behind what is happening here, that there has been...


MATTHEWS:  Excuse me, Larry.

He said, we`re going to attack four embassies, the president.

PFEIFFER:  The president did, yes. I`m saying...


MATTHEWS:  I`m sorry. He is the chief executive.


But if you isolate what Pompeo said, he actually has laid out the -- I think the most articulate story.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but the president`s the one who OKed the killing.

PFEIFFER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  He fingered him.

PFEIFFER:  Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  He killed him. He killed the guy. Well, he did it -- if you don`t explain it.

Larry Pfeiffer, thank you. John Gans.Thank you, gentlemen.

Up next:  I talked to former Secretary of State John Kerry about Iran, impeachment and Iowa, the big -- the three I`s.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s been 10 days since President Trump assassinated Iranian General Soleimani, and the administration is still trying to get on the same page about why the attack was carried out.

I spoke with former Secretary of State John Kerry today. And I asked him if he can trust the Trump administration to simply tell us the truth about this.


JOHN KERRY, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  Well, Chris, obviously, they have been all over the place.

And, in fact, the decision, we now learn, to go after Soleimani was made in June. We have heard all kinds of different stories about imminence, about embassies. No, there aren`t embassies.

This is a shifting story, but so shifting that I think it`s beginning to look like a cover-up over their original choices. And it really raises extremely serious questions about avoiding the responsibility to engage Congress, when you have a calculated program for assassination that you have decided to implement months ahead of time, and you haven`t even shared that, because of the consequences potentially of going to war.

And we literally came to the brink of war based on that decision. And I think Congress and the American people have every right to be deeply upset over yet again another cover-up from the Trump administration.

MATTHEWS:  Well, how dangerous is four more years of this president, especially on the front -- on the Iran front?

Could we bumble ourselves, could he bumble himself into war?

KERRY:  Yes, obviously, he could.

I mean, he almost did. And the fact is that it`s a sad day, when the United States of America has to rely on the decision of a regime that we neither like nor trust, to have them be the ones who behave somehow in a way that saves Donald Trump from his own decision.

I think outsourcing America`s security to a regime like Iran is a dangerous thing. So I think people can see for themselves now, if you measure this administration in the last years, the president pulled out of the TPP. He didn`t even bother to negotiate a better deal. He is supposed to be the world`s best negotiator.

He pulled out of -- according to him, obviously. He has not achieved anything with North Korea, except two major publicity coups for Kim Jong- un, without achieving anything moving the nation, our nation, into a safer place, because Kim Jong-un has been using this time to build a larger arsenal of weapons that are dangerous to the region and to us.

He pulled out of the Paris agreement. Everybody in the world knows that the evidence of what is happening in terms of climate change facts on the ground is growing and growing and growing with extraordinary danger to the world.

Americans are already dying from this in fires, in floods, in storms, in mudslides. And the president is sitting there saying, this is a Chinese hoax.

So we`re in a very dangerous place. I mean, nuclear arms agreements have been chucked away, the INF agreement. Now the START treaty is also at risk.

I mean, when you start running the list -- and what`s worse, our president, the president of the United States of America, the leader of the free world, ostensibly, goes to a meeting of NATO in England, and the leaders of the rest of the world are laughing at him, so much so that he picks up his marbles, like a kid in a schoolyard, and goes home, and then starts to just tweet in solitude.

We are in a dangerous place, and I think people know it.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about the Democratic fight for president against president who could well get reelected, if you get the...

KERRY:  Do we have to? No, I`m joking.


MATTHEWS:  No, but you get the wrong -- you get the wrong candidate, you might lose the whole thing.

What about Bernie Sanders? Do you think he`s a danger as a president, as a candidate? You`re out there fighting like hell for Joe Biden. How much of danger is it that Bernie Sanders, who`s now leading in the polls, in the latest poll out there in Iowa, how big a danger would he be to the country or to the party, the Democrats?

KERRY:  Well, Chris, I made a vow to myself that, in coming out here, I`m not going to be drawing distinctions between the candidates. That`s up to them. They have a debate tomorrow night. And I`m confident that those distinctions will be drawn.

But I will say there`s a reason I`m here. And the reason I`m here is that Joe Biden, Vice President Biden, I think is the only candidate who comes to the table with a skill set, with the experience, with the relationships, with the knowledge of exactly how to get things done, so that he can begin on day one to put the world back together.

And, literally, the world is coming apart right now. It needs the leadership of the United States of America. And one of Joe Biden`s great strengths is his experience and knowledge in foreign policy.

He has been the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee for eight years. And one of the reasons I think Bernie and others are criticizing him is because they know they don`t have what he has, which is eight years of experience as the top surrogate for the president of the United States, as the person the president asked to help get the troops out of Iraq, as the person the president asked to help resolve the problem of migrants flowing over our borders, which he did, working with the presidents of Latin American countries and Central American countries.

So I think Joe Biden comes to the table with exactly the set of qualifications that Americans want right now. They want to calm things down. They want somebody who can work across the aisle. They want somebody who can bring people to the table, who is not a polarizer, someone who has the ability to be able to get things done.

MATTHEWS:  Ted Kennedy, by the way, your colleague, the late colleague for everybody, I think, said that was the most important vote of his career, voting against that war.

Where do you stand? You voted for the authorization. How do you deal with that charged from Bernie?

KERRY:  Well, again, Chris, as I said, I think -- I think Bernie is striking out at Joe because he doesn`t have all of the things that I just listed, the qualifications of having had eight years sitting on the National Security Council and working as effectively as he did with countries all around the world.

But the fact is that, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Joe used the committee to expose what was happening in Iraq. He used the committee with hearing after hearing in order to figure out how we were going to get out of that mess.

And he knew full well that the reason we got there was the administration made a bunch of promises to all of us about what it was going to do with respect to building a coalition, with respect to exhausting the channels of diplomacy, and going to war as a last resort.

And that is not what they did. In fact, I think that Joe obviously acknowledged he thought, because of what happened, it was a mistake. But he made up for that with his leadership and the effort to try that get us out of Iraq, bring the troops home, and deal with the -- with the fake or badly interpreted, contrived evidence that was put forward with respect to what was happening in Iraq at the time.

And everybody now knows that it wasn`t a slam dunk. It was anything but. It was -- it was totally trumped up, no pun intended.


KERRY:  And, as a result, Joe and I and a whole bunch of others opposed the war once George Bush decided to go, notwithstanding the vote.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much.

By the way, one quick question. I think it`s yes or no. Do you think Mitch McConnell will run a fair trial in the U.S. Senate on this impeachment?

KERRY:  So, it appears as if Mitch is working with the White House to set up the rules.

And, obviously, that raises a serious question about the impartiality. He is a senator.


KERRY:  He also takes the oath to be an impartial juror.

And I`m very, very concerned about what is happening.

I hope senators will decide that they have to have witnesses. This is a very different situation from the Clinton impeachment, which I sat on as a juror. This is a situation where they haven`t heard the evidence in the way that they had in the Clinton impeachment. And it is critical. There is no way Americans will trust that there was a fair trial if they don`t hear witnesses.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much. Former Secretary of State John Jerry -- 

KERRY:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  -- campaigning in Iowa right now for Joe Biden. Thank you so much, sir.

Up next, two new polls out of Iowa show two different candidates in the lead.

Plus, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are disputing details of a 2018 meeting they had. Warren says Sanders told her he didn`t believe a woman could win in 2020. The senator denies that. That`s coming up next.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Iowa caucuses are now just three weeks away from today. And a new poll shows the race for Iowa voters remains a free for all.

The Monmouth University poll just out today shows former Vice President Joe Biden has taken the lead in that poll with 24 percent. He`s up five points since November. Senator Bernie Sanders is also up five points and second at 18, six points separating those two.

However, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg is down 5 since November, and 17 falling from first to third. He also lost in another poll we showed you on Friday. And Senator Elizabeth Warren is a close fourth at 15 in this poll. All these numbers, put these four candidates within the margin of error.

The pool of candidates, Hawkeye States will choose from got smaller again today after New Jersey Senator Cory Booker announced he`s suspending his campaign, citing fund-raising challenges complicated by not qualifying for tomorrow night`s debate in Des Moines, which is a killer for most of the candidates not getting into the debate.

The last qualifying poll for that debate, "The Des Moines Register" poll released Friday showed the same four leading with Senator Sanders moving up to first and Warren at number two in a statistical tie with Buttigieg there and with Biden.

Anyway, the swords are out right now tonight on the left.

Stick with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With just 21 days until the Iowa caucuses, that`s three weeks from tonight, it`s a fight between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, finally a real fight, an end to a long-standing nonaggression pact between these two.

Over the weekend, "Politico" reports the Sanders` campaign is giving volunteers a script to slam Warren as the candidate of the elite, saying, quote, people who support her are highly educated, more affluent people.

Well, tensions escalated today amid multiple outlets reporting that according to Warren, that`s the senator, Senator Sanders told her in a private meeting in 2018, that`s two years ago, that a woman would not win the presidential election. That`s it. That`s what he said, according to her.

In a statement to NBC News, Senator Sanders called the charge ludicrous. I`m not sure that`s a denial.

Moments ago, Warren responded in a statement confirming the meeting, adding, among the topics that came up what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate?  I thought a woman could win. He disagreed.

I have no interest in discussing this private meeting any further because Bernie and I have far more in common than our differences on punditry.

For more, I`m joined by Eugene Scott, political reporter for "The Washington Post" and Margaret Carlson, columnist for "The Daily Beast".

Margaret, I`ve been waiting for a real fight. I like fights in politics. This is about a fact. This isn`t about a philosophy or an ideology or a policy or Medicare for All. This is about what did you say in that room.

She says, the senator from Massachusetts, that the senator from Vermont said, a woman can`t win in 2020. She said that`s exactly what he said. This is great stuff.

MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST:  Yes. And, you know, we want to sharpen differences between candidates without it being totally negative and not helpful. I -- my instinct is to believe her because Sanders had a campaign in which he had to apologize to the women who worked for him for not treating them as professionals and giving them responsibility.

MATTHEWS:  How about contemporaneous comments, she told people right after that meeting what he said. That`s usually the way we suggest credibility in our business.

EUGENE SCOTT, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Indeed. I think tomorrow Sanders` team is going to try to position him to respond to this in a way that makes it look like he does believe that the Democratic Party can nominate a woman --

MATTHEWS:  That`s not the issue here. The issue is what did he say in that meeting? 

SCOTT:  Right. But I think what he`s going to have to do is convince voters that he is not a sexist in the way that these comments are coming off to his critics.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. That`s what I would do. That`s a good smart move. But it is B.S. because the issue here isn`t what he thinks in a meeting with the woman who is going to run, because clearly they had a meeting in minds.

They`re two very smart people. Both want to be the candidate of the Democratic left, right?  So, one says to the other, I don`t think you can win. I think that`s what he said.

CARLSON:  You know, so far nobody`s laid a glove on Bernie. Nobody goes after Sanders the way they go after -- well, Bernie -- Bernie has two things in common with Trump. One is he has a rock solid base and they get mad and don`t -- and vote for Jill Stein.

MATTHEWS:  You mean come November, if you`re the Democratic nominee, you don`t want Bernie`s troops out against you? 

CARLSON:  You do not. And he can shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose one of the bros. They`re with him forever.

So people don`t want to have that kind of shooting match with Bernie on stage, and this is -- that Elizabeth Warren did this, she`s the progressive, she`s the professorial populist. He`s the populist`s populist. And they`re going after the same voters.

At a certain point, they were going to have to drop the -- 

SCOTT:  It was inevitable.

CARLSON:  It was inevitable.

MATTHEWS:  She was really smart for months and loving and -- 


CARLSON:  Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS:  She would love the Dems with everything on everything. It`s about I`m younger and better candidate.

Anyway, the Sanders campaign also escalates its attack on former Vice President Joe Biden over the Iraq war. This is a sitting duck opportunity here. Sanders senior advisor Jeff Weaver released a statement on behalf of the Sanders campaign on Saturday, calling it appalling -- I can just hear that from him -- that after 18 years Joe Biden still refuses to admit he was dead wrong on the Iraq war.


SCOTT:  Yes, I think this is -- 

MATTHEWS:  Has Biden admitted he was wrong? 

SCOTT:  Well, it doesn`t appear that he clearly admitted that that he was wrong. What he`s going to do moving forward with the current situation I think is of most concern to present voters.

But, yes, will this be an issue to progressive voters who, of course, are upset still about Iraq?  Of course. Is this going to make people leave Biden and start supporting Sanders because of what he did in 2003?  Not likely.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Ted Kennedy, before he died, said the most important vote of his life was voting against the Iraq war. It`s hard for a Democrat running for president to deny the importance of those votes.

CARLSON:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  In fact, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry, a whole bunch of them all voted for the Iraq war.

CARLSON:  Seventy-seven people voted for the Iraq war. The best explanation I`ve heard --

MATTHEWS:  Which vote (INAUDIBLE), 77? 

CARLSON:  Seventy-seven people voted for the Iraq war.

MATTHEWS:  Seventy-seven what?  Senators?

CARLSON:  Members of the Senate.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, some top grade presidential types, too.

CARLSON:  Yes, the best explanation I`ve heard and response was from your interview with John Kerry just now in which he said that Biden spent his time as Senate Foreign Relations chair explaining what went wrong, why the administration -- why the Bush administration didn`t follow through. It was Dick Cheney`s war. Dick Cheney fooled a lot of people --

MATTHEWS:  Dick Cheney lied. He said they had nuclear weapons before the vote. I mean, he said it before they went to war, they had nuclear weapons.

By the way, godfather talk. It was the smart move.  I`m glad when people make the smart political move, get shot out of water. Thank you, Gene Scott.  Thank you.

You know what I`m talking about. When they get too clever by half, I won`t vote for the war because they can`t get hurt. We`ll see what happens. You get hurt.

Margaret Carlson, thank you, my friend.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, Trump and his people have been successful in one area at least, always letting us know how they`re taking the low road. That`s one thing they`re honest about. They take the low road and they let us know it.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Let me close tonight with a calibration of just how low Donald Trump and his people are willing to go. And if it upsets you, try to take heart from the fact that history has never made more clear what kind of people are now leading this country. This administration has been successful in just one regard, letting us all know precisely who they are on television, on Twitter, and elsewhere.

Here`s today`s edition of the people now in the White House. The president`s press secretary was asked today why she retweeted and why the president retweeted a doctored picture from an unverified source of Speaker Pelosi and Senate Democratic Schumer dressed in traditional Muslim dress with the caption "Democrats 2020."

Here`s what she said.


STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I think the president is making clear that the Democrats are -- have been parroting Iranian talking points and almost taking the side of terrorists and those who were out to kill the Americans. I think the president was making the point that the Democrats seemed to hate him so much that they`re willing to be on the side of countries and leadership of countries who want to kill Americans.


MATTHEWS:  Again, that`s the spokeswoman for the president of the United States making a scurrilous attack on the leaders of the United States Congress. Your tax dollars at work.

Isn`t it nice to know how your tax dollars are being spent on this kind of political garbage? 

That`s HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.