ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: House managers will come to the chamber, reading the articles of impeachment. At 2:00 p.m., Chief Justice John Roberts will be formally sworn in. He`ll then swear in the jurors. We`ll have it all covered for you tomorrow.
That does it for THE BEAT tonight. "HARDBALL" starts now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The president on trial. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
It`s a historic night here in Washington as President Donald Trump becomes just the third American president to stand trial for impeachment in the United States Senate. The House of Representatives completed its final step in the impeachment process with the ceremonial procession by the impeachment managers with the two articles against President Trump, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. They walked the articles, as you see, across the Capitol to the Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed the House resolution transmitting the two articles and naming the impeachment managers, shifting the next phase to the Senate. As the articles reached the senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, officially set the trial in motion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I further ask consent that the secretary of the Senate be directed to notify the House of Representatives at the time and place fixed for the Senate to proceed upon the impeachment of Donald Trump in the Senate chamber.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, today`s vote on the House resolution sending the articles to the Senate fell along party lines, 228 to 193, with only one Democrat joining with the Republicans in voting no. It came nearly one month after the House voted to pass the articles initially.
Well, this morning, Speaker Pelosi defended her decision to wait these weeks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): On December 18th, the House of Representatives impeached the president of the United States, an impeachment that will last forever.
Time has revealed many things since then. Time has been our friend in all of this because this has yielded incriminating evidence, more truth into the public domain.
This further evidence insists that -- and we wouldn`t be in this situation had we not waited -- insists that there be witnesses and that we see documentation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, that incriminating evidence the speaker referred to are documents that indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas provide to Congress, including notes, letters and text messages tying the president even closer to the pressure campaign against Ukraine that led to his impeachment. It will ultimately follow the team of seven impeachment managers chosen by Speaker Pelosi to prosecute the case to the Senate for President Trump`s removal from office. I`ll have legal or law enforcement backgrounds chosen for what speaker Pelosi called an emphasis on litigators.
I`m joined right now by Congressman Denny Hack of Washington State, who serves in the House Intelligence Committee, former Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who is also a Contributing Columnist for The Washington Post, former director of the CIA, John Brennan, and Geoff Bennett, NBC News Correspondent. Thank you all.
Congressman, I want to talk to you and have you speak about the moment today of this impeachment articles, these two impeachment articles going over to the Senate. You`ve admitted or confessed to a real emotion to this whole process.
REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): Well, Chris, if there was any wave of emotion today, it was one of frankly being quite somber about it. If I had to put words to it, I would tell you what I was thinking or feeling. It was, we have done our duty and now we pray to God that the United States Senate does its duty.
But there wasn`t much drama. It was more ritual than drama. There was the drama with the revelation of the Parnas notes and memorandum and there is drama now of heightened expectation as to whether or not there will be four United States Republican senators who are going to be willing to subpoena witnesses and reveal more documents because, obviously, the Parnas revelation is the tip of the iceberg. We need to know what the iceberg looks like.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that new evidence that came out in the last 48 hours or so, which really shows the -- we`ll get to it later in the program tonight. It really shows the president`s hand and the hand of his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and his associate, Lev Parnas. They`re all involved in what`s clearly an attempt to smear Biden, Joe Biden, who was then leading in the polls. It shows, I think -- well, you tell me. It makes it very clear. This had nothing to do with reform or getting rid of corruption in Ukraine. This had to do with leveling a political shot at the man they thought was his number one opponent.
HECK: Well, game, set, match in that regard, Chris. But I want to fast rewind to both the deposition which you didn`t see but also the public hearing which you did see with Ambassador Yovanovitch in which it was revealed that she was recalled from Ukraine and told that she needed to come home right away for her safety.
And it was never very clear what was meant by that. Well, it`s pretty clear now and it`s pretty frightening when you hear not just the president having said as he did, she`s going to go through some things, but Parnas indicating and others indicated that with money, you can get things done in Ukraine as they stalked her, which is a crime. As a matter of fact, Chris, I think what ought to come out of this is that a criminal investigation ought to be opened up.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I think it looks more like -- less like a regular street corner drug deal than a real mob hit perhaps involved here, which is pretty frightening, as you`re right, Congressman.
Donna, because it`s interesting that as Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, held back the articles, and it was serendipitous, all of a sudden, on the day when she realized her string ran out, which she basically had to send it over, all this incredibly information came out confirming all the worst aspects, this president was involved with a deal around the U.S. government, like Nixon, like the Plumbers, he was working around to get to his proposed political enemy.
FMR. REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D-MD): Well, I mean, we saw that in the notes from Rudy Giuliani, where it`s really clear that he`s saying, I`m operating on behalf of and at the direction of the president of the United States.
Look, I think what`s really clear here is that there is a mountain of documentary evidence, some of which the House was able to get, and we know that there is more out there and it`s incumbent on the United States Senate to hold a trial to get that evidence in a trial to bring witnesses forward and to validate the documents and to make sure that this president is really held accountable.
And I think if the senators do less than that, then the American people are going to see that they`ve created a sham trial, and as Nancy Pelosi says, a cover-up of this president`s lawless behavior.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Director, it seems to me there`s only one way of ruling on this, with the facts in, the facts about the president`s conspiracy here to basically work with Giuliani and his partner, Lev Parnas, to basically scare or I should say it this way, perhaps mug them. They`re saying, we`re going to get rid of this ambassador so that we can get the dirt on Joe Biden. Either you think that`s not important or not, but you can`t say it didn`t happen now. It happened.
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA: One of the most significant documents that was released last night is that Ritz-Carlton stationery upon which Donald Trump said, get Zelensky to announce the Biden investigation. He didn`t say the Burisma investigation or the investigation on Ukrainian corruption. It was the Biden investigation.
So I think it`s very clear this mounting evidence that indicates that Trump was going after this investigation purely for his own personal political reasons. That`s why I`m aghast that the Republican legislators both in the House and the Senate refuse to acknowledge that this was a very serious dereliction of the president`s authority.
MATTHEWS: And I would argue that politicians of all people can see a political act when they see it. They don`t have any problem when they said, we just want an announcement coming out of Kiev that they`re going after Biden. They don`t care if anything happens. They want to have some dirt they can spread all over the American press.
Anyway, only four Republican senators need to vote, as has been set here, with the Democrats to force the Senate to subpoena witnesses in a Senate trial. And three have signaled to open this idea, Alaska`s very gutsy, Lisa Murkowski, who`s always got guts, Maine`s Susan Collins, who is up for a very tough re-election campaign, and Mitt Romney of Utah, who I like to say flirts with greatness, but that`s three.
Two others have been seen as possible defections from the Republican crowd, Colorado`s Cory Gardner, another guy facing a close re-election, and Tennessee`s Lamar Alexander, who is an institutionalist, who loves the place.
According to The New York Times, Gardner, by the way can ill afford to break with Trump because he needs the Republican money. Alexander is a genuine concern to the White House.
Geoff, we`re doing the study like everybody else and trying to figure this out. It looks like if you get three of these people, if you get Collins, you get Murkowski and you get Kamar -- I`m sorry, if you get Mitt Romney, who`s obviously a much better bet, you get three, that might be enough if the chief justice weighs in and breaks the tie.
GEOFF BENNETT, MSNBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You`re right. There could be four votes out there. I think that`s one of the reasons why you see folks like Ted Cruz, the Republican of Texas, inject this notion of the reciprocal witness to, in effect, scare Democrats to say, look, if you get your John Bolton, we`ll get our Hunter Biden.
I think though for these Republicans, especially the vulnerable Republicans who are up for re-election, when there is a witness, like a John Bolton, who says I`m willing to testify under certain conditions, but he says he`s willing to testify, to be a senator who will, tomorrow, swear an oath, to then say, I`m unwilling to hear it, well, then that senator has to provide a reasonable justification for that position so as not to be seen abdicating his or her responsibility.
And that`s one of the reasons why these seven House impeachment managers that the House speaker has settled upon, why the selection of the seven is so key, because the case that they present, I think, will certainly direct the outcome of the trial but I think will be key in determining whether Republicans get to that point where they say, you know what, they presented the case in such a way where we need to hear more, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Let me throw this out at you. Suppose the Republicans led by the very, well, political man, Mitch McConnell, and they decide, you know what, the game is up, we`re going to have to bring witnesses in. So we`re going to put together a slate of witnesses which include problematic people like Hunter Biden or maybe Joe Biden or the whistleblower, and they put together a slate of witnesses which include John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney and maybe Mike Duffey, the others.
And they put together -- they confect the list the Democrats won`t like but they can throw it at them. They don`t need the Democrats to agree with that. 51 Republicans or 53 of them can just say, this is our slate of witnesses, we`re going to bring them in and you have to eat them, you have to deal with them. What happens then? It looks like Democrats lose the fight, or maybe not. Maybe they win it because they get John Bolton, who will really to turn the president in, if you will, like a star witness.
BENNETT: There you go. That is sort of the blue sky scenario. If you dissect and distill all of the facts in evidence in all of the testimony, all of the relevant witnesses who have either direct knowledge about this Ukrainian gambit, all of the evidence that they provided to House investigators, it all points in one direction. It`s not a partisan statement, it`s a statement of fact. It points to culpability. And so even if you bring in a Hunter Biden and a Joe Biden, they have no direct knowledge of, those are not relevant witnesses to use the phrase that Chuck Schumer would use.
So Democrats, using the scenario that you laid out, would potentially be okay with that. They would think that at the end of the day, even if they had to make that tradeoff, you would still get that valuable testimony and documents that would point to their case, the reason why they say impeachment is the proper remedy for President Trump`s alleged wrongdoings, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Geoff, thanks for your great reporting, Geoff Bennett.
Let me go back to Congressman Denny Heck. What do you make of that scenario? I`ve just been hearing about it through conversations around here that that might be what Mitch McConnell will do as his fallback, put together a slate of witnesses that the Democrats won`t like but they have to buy.
HECK: Well, Chris, I think the watch word here for Senator McConnell ought to be, careful what you wish for. The fact is that Vice President Biden is not on trial, nor is Hunter Biden. President Donald J. Trump is on trial. And if we know anything with a virtual certainty, it is that John Bolton has information that he could reveal and will reveal that is not exculpatory, that, in fact, is damning. He is the one, after all, who said, I`m not going to have anything to do with Giuliani`s drug deal. So careful what you wish for, Senator McConnell.
MATTHEWS: John, this scenario could change overnight. We don`t know because the pressure on those four Republicans -- we may not even need four. We may just need three with Chief Justice Roberts weighing in and saying, no, I want to hear from witnesses.
BRENNAN: Yes. And I think the senators, even though they`re going to go to their partisan corner, they have to be aware that there is the court of public opinion that is looking at these proceedings. I think it`s over 70 percent of the American public believe that there needs to be this fair trial in the Senate to address the articles of impeachment.
So I think you`re going to have a number of the senators who, on the Republican side, are going to try to meet the Democrats` wishes for witnesses. The question is whether or not there`s going to be this combined list of witnesses both that the Democrats want and the Republicans want.
EDWARDS: Look, I don`t think Democrats should balk at having either of the Bidens --
MATTHEWS: That`s a good price to pay.
EDWARDS: It really is. And they are not fact witnesses. They are not relevant witnesses. And I think the Democrats will deal with John Bolton and with Duffey and with Mulvaney, who are direct fact witnesses in the President`s lawlessness.
MATTHEWS: Because they know about the money that was being withheld for the --
EDWARDS: They know about the money. They know about the timing. They`re deeply implicated in the president`s wrongdoing, and they are -- and John Bolton, I mean, they are directly relevant to the issue at hand and I think Democrats will swallow it. It might be embarrassing for the Bidens but it is not the worst thing to happen to be able to bring forward the true fact witnesses.
MATTHEWS: Well, it all moves forward tomorrow with the managers moving to the Senate tomorrow at noon, and it`s all moving forward. Anyway, thank you. And then the chief justice is being sworn in tomorrow too. It`s all moving forward with the impeachment of this president.
Congressman Denny Heck, thank you, sir, for your service to the country and for coming on tonight, former Congresswoman Donna Edwards, of course, Geoff Bennett, great reporting, Director Brennan, he`ll be back with us later in the program.
Coming up, Rachel Maddow`s exclusive, what an interview, we called it a big get today, with one of the men at the very center of the Ukraine scandal, Giuliani associate Lev Parnas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: What do you think is the main inaccuracy or the main lie that`s being told that you feel like you can correct?
LEV PARNAS, RUDY GIULIANI`S ASSOCIATE: That the president didn`t know what was going on. President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all of my movements.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Wow. That`s a Perry Mason moment right there.
We`ve got more of that exclusive interview that Rachel had that`s going to be on tonight at 9:00, of course, her program. We`re going to have a bit of it in our program in a couple of minutes.
Plus, breaking down the historic significance of today`s events with NBC News Presidential Historian Michael Beschloss.
And Donald Trump didn`t know where China was, get this. He didn`t know details like there`s a border between China and India. He had no idea what Pearl Harbor was. He didn`t know what the USS Arizona was involved with when it sunk. He just wanted to meet with Putin. He wanted to fall in love with this guy. He considered Putin, by the way, an expert on anything.
Anyway, those are just a few details from a book out next week by two Washington Post reporters. Talk about candy.
Well, John Brennan will be back with us to discuss the consequences of a president whose own aides say at times was dangerously uninformed.
We`ve got much more to get to tonight. Stick around.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The Parnas papers released by the House Intelligence Committee provide explosive and disturbing new details about the president`s scheme to extort Ukraine for political gain. The trove of materials were seized in October from Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani`s point man, there he is with Rudy, for Ukraine. And 500 more pages were released just tonight.
Among the documents is a letter Giuliani wrote to request a meeting with Ukrainian president-elect Zelensky, a request he said he made with Trump`s knowledge and consent. Those were his words in the letter.
It`s evidence that the president personally approved Giuliani`s adventures in Ukraine, something Trump later tried to deny, in fact, he denied.
Now Parnas is breaking his silence in an exclusive interview with our MSNBC colleague Rachel Maddow that airs tonight at 9:00. You got to watch this thing.
He says that President Trump knew exactly what he was doing in this whole affair.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": What do you think is the main inaccuracy or the main lie that`s being told that you feel like you can correct?
LEV PARNAS, INDICTED GIULIANI ASSOCIATE: That the president didn`t know what was going on. President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all of my movements.
He -- I wouldn`t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.
I have no intent, I have no reason to speak to any of these officials. I mean, they have no reason to speak to me. Why would President Zelensky`s inner circle or Minister Ivakov (ph) or all these people or President Poroshenko meet with me?
Who am I? They were told to meet with me. And that`s the secret that they`re trying to keep. I was on the ground doing their work.
MADDOW: In terms of the president and what he has said about you, he said about you and Mr. Fruman, Igor Fruman: "I don`t know those gentlemen. I don`t know about them. I don`t know what they do."
You`re saying that was not a true statement from the president?
PARNAS: He lied.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Boy. Well, she got to the heart of this question.
The materials from Parnas also shed new light on the smear campaign that led to ouster of the U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Texts suggest that Giuliani and Parnas had a deal with the corrupt former prosecutor Lutsenko of Ukraine. They proved the Yovanovitch -- they were going to get rid of her in exchange for the political dirt on the Bidens. That was the dirty deal, the drug deal that John Bolton mentioned.
Deal, we will get rid of the ambassador if you get his dirt on Biden. As that prosecutor made explicit to Parnas: "If you don`t make a decision about madam" -- that would be Yovanovitch -- "you are bringing into question all my allegations, including about B."
That`s Biden, of course, a possible reference to him or Burisma, where Hunter Biden worked.
In the week following that ultimatum, Republican congressional candidate Robert Hyde, who could be an odd fellow, apparently, appeared to be physically surveilling Yovanovitch through contacts in Ukraine.
In a series of cryptic messages to Parnas, Hyde seemed to detail her whereabouts, saying: "They will let me know when she`s on the move," like he`s spying on her.
I`m joined right now by Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for Axios, and Joshua Geltzer. He is a former senior director at the National Security Council.
Thank you, gentlemen.
Let`s start with the reporting here.
Let`s start with Yovanovitch. They didn`t like Yovanovitch because she didn`t like corruption. She was really the one going after corruption, not this -- our president. And they wanted to get rid of her. And they get rid -- if you get rid of her -- they`re saying to Rudy Giuliani and Parnas -- then we will get you dirt on Biden.
JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: Yovanovitch, the text messages discussing her are the most disturbing communications I have seen throughout this impeachment inquiry, just in terms of pure unnerving information.
The implication very clearly from there is that they were surveilling her, watching her, and also possibly even had access to her computer and phone, said whether her phone was turned off.
I mean -- and it just reads as this thuggish, mobbish dialogue. I mean, it`s really disturbing. This was a senior State Department official, who we heard during the testimony that she had -- there were concerns about her safety.
There is a lot more that needs to be unpacked here and investigated as to what went on there.
MATTHEWS: Every time we go after mob corruption, we try to start at the bottom. You know this. You work your way up.
Here, we got Parnas nailing the president, fingering him. The president knew everything I did.
What more can you want in a Senate trial than have Parnas walk in that room and say the president set up this whole cabal?
JOSHUA GELTZER, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: This is just what Gordon Sondland told the House.
Gordon Sondland said, everyone was in the loop, highest levels throughout, the folks working for Donald Trump on this so-called drug deal. Everyone was in the loop. And these Parnas documents show that in exquisite detail.
Everyone was in the loop. And to your point, Chris, there is new information coming out by the hour at this point, even though we are on the eve of the impeachment trial actually starting.
And that means there`s a need to figure out the full scope of the information. That calls for a real trial, not a sham trial, not a cover-up, getting these people on the stand.
SWAN: In my view, the most important document we have seen so far is that letter from Giuliani to President Zelensky of Ukraine.
And you pulled out the part...
MATTHEWS: Where he said, I`m the president`s man.
But it`s what he says. He says in his personal capacity as a private citizen.
Well, I mean, what possible personal business could private citizen Donald Trump have with the president of Ukraine? I mean, Rudy Giuliani`s explanation is that it was to help exonerate his client.
But the Mueller report was already finished by then. So the idea that this was a public corruption campaign is directly called into question by those lines in the letter.
So that`s why I think that letter is the most important document that we have seen here.
MATTHEWS: Well, this -- not everything parallels with Watergate, but this sure does, the idea of setting up an extragovernmental operation, like the plumbers Nixon set up, that have no responsibility under the Constitution to anybody.
So you get around your role as president under the Constitution, which limits your power, and you set up another government operation, which is totally not even government, extragovernment, under Rudy Giuliani and this guy Parnas, to do the dirty work.
It`s like, OK, I don`t have enough power as president. So let me get this other thing going, just like Nixon.
GELTZER: And that`s -- if you had to sum up this impeachment inquiry in a single sentence, it would be that Donald Trump abused public office for private gain.
And, as Jonathan says, that`s...
MATTHEWS: That is what corruption is.
GELTZER: That is what corruption is. And that`s what that letter is saying.
Giuliani is saying, I am here to do the personal bidding of Donald Trump. I`m not here to represent American interests. I`m here to represent Donald Trump`s partisan interests, and that`s why I want to open this channel.
MATTHEWS: What about the person out there? There`s probably, I don`t know, 20 percent of the country that`s open-minded these days about Trump, maybe. I don`t know.
SWAN: I think that`s pretty ambitious, Chris.
MATTHEWS: OK, 15. OK.
SWAN: Really? That seems ambitious too.
MATTHEWS: I`m talking to them as if they exist. So let`s talk to them.
You now know, in all probability, the president lied, really lied here, when he said he didn`t know these people, when he dismissed any responsibility for this whole cabal.
What do you do? Do you say, it doesn`t matter? OK, he`s a crook. OK, he breaks law. OK, he ignores the Constitution. OK, he goes to other governments for help in his campaign for reelection.
You have to OK a lot of stuff at this point.
SWAN: I mean, but, Chris, we had photos, photographs of -- we don`t need new documents to know that Lev Parnas and Donald Trump had more than -- I mean, there are photographs of the two of them next to each other.
This is all out there. This is why this sort of, OK, we have got this new trove of 700 things -- I mean, we basically know what happened. We have the documentary history of this. It`s all out there. And people are going to decide whether it`s impeachable or not.
And from what I can tell, the Republican Senate -- and we have seen more signs of it -- you had the graphic up that I saw some of comments from Susan Collins today. They`re not going to vote to convict this guy. They`re just not going to.
MATTHEWS: Well, in a text -- well...
SWAN: I don`t care how many more pages Lev Parnas releases.
GELTZER: Whatever the polling is about whether people support removal, I think there`s been one consistently encouraging number, which is a high percentage of Americans have been paying attention to this.
SWAN: Why is that encouraging for you?
If your goal is to get rid of him, if they`re paying attention, and none of these Republicans are feeling the pressure to move, and they`re feeling actually very emboldened to be quite publicly defiant...
MATTHEWS: What do they say when they go home to their loved ones, their husbands or wives?
MATTHEWS: I just wonder, what do they say to themselves? What do they say when they`re in the shower, when they`re thinking, what am I doing? I`m covering for a guy that did all this stuff.
GELTZER: And what do they say tomorrow when they take this oath to be an impartial juror and do their duty, not as Republicans, as Democrats, as people running for reelection campaigns, but as U.S. senators, to stand up for that body and its constitutional...
MATTHEWS: So, what do they say to themselves? I don`t care what the truth is. I don`t want those left-wing -- left-wing bastards to win this one.
Is that what they say to themselves?
SWAN: I mean...
MATTHEWS: They can`t say they`re wrong.
SWAN: If you`re a Republican senator, you`re hearing from constituents or a Republican member who overwhelmingly love Donald Trump. It`s just a fact. They do.
They hear from them. They don`t want him to -- them to convict him. And they would probably vote them out in a primary if they did.
MATTHEWS: Well, down in Naples, Florida. There`s a lot of places in this country that that is true. I just heard from a friend of mine. They love him down there.
GELTZER: But I do think Americans know what it means to exploit a role for your personal benefit.
We all have jobs. We know what it`s like to abuse that position of trust. And if they can see this, now that they`re paying attention, on display, I hope...
MATTHEWS: First question to everybody.
You like presidents that behave like this? I like presidents who cut my taxes. I like presidents who get the economy rolling. That may be the way they answer these questions.
Jonathan Swan, it`s always great, Joshua, thank you for your expertise, Jonathan (sic) Geltzer.
Up next, for only the third time in history articles of impeachment have been sent -- there`s the ritual today a few hours ago, an hour-and-a-half ago -- over to the Senate. How is Donald Trump taking it? It`s real now. It`s a ritual, but it`s real.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1998)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, Mr. Secretary, by direction of the House of Representatives, and pursuant to House Resolution 614, I hereby deliver these articles of impeachment. Would you hold this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As secretary on behalf of the Senate, I accept these into the official record of the Senate, for deliberation later on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we thank you for your courtesy in coming over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That was the scene back in 1998, when the House delivered the articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton.
Well, today, that action was repeated for only the third time in our country`s history.
This morning, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement -- quote -- "The only thing Speaker Pelosi has achieved with this sham illegitimate impeachment process is to prove that she`s focused on politics, instead of the American people"
For more, I`m joined by Jill Colvin, White House reporter for the Associated Press, and Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian.
Michael, I don`t know where to start with this administration and its press secretary, who I talked about the other night. They`re not even -- they don`t even act like government officials. They act like they`re political operatives, trashing the people that criticize them.
This impeachment process has proved itself to be very well-handled by the speaker. They have done it all right. And then they just trash the whole thing.
And this person, this -- I don`t know her, Stephanie Grisham, press secretary. She doesn`t hold press briefings. She doesn`t do her job of telling what`s going on, doesn`t do any of that administrative or ministerial work.
All she does is issue these attacks. And there she is attacking a legitimate constitutional process, which is in the Constitution before the Bill of Rights. It`s essential to the way we do things.
The Congress has a right to remove a president.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes.
And contrast it with a Bill Clinton time, where he appointed people, as you remember, who were spokespeople for him on impeachment who were going to do that differently from his normal press secretary.
And he was able, somehow, to get through this and run the presidency and at the same time wage this battle against him.
MATTHEWS: How about Joe Lockhart, his press secretary, who said the other day his job is to try to help the press find out what`s going on?
MATTHEWS: How`s that for an amazing idea?
BESCHLOSS: It`s a little antique.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Jill.
Let`s talk about this process today, because there is a grudging nature to this. Mitch McConnell, who is, I say, is he Elmer Fudd or is he Bugs Bunny? Sometimes, he`s Bugs Bunny. And he gets away -- he just --, sometimes he isn`t.
Today, he acted like a legitimate Senate leader. He acted like, we will receive it. We`re going to do it. We`re going to do the job.
JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes.
MATTHEWS: We`re going to take the oath of impartiality even, he said.
What do you make of it?
COLVIN: Yes, you really felt the gravity of the situation there, when he stood up there.
MATTHEWS: He had a striped suit on. He got all dressed up for the occasion.
And it really felt like this historic moment. And the flip side, you had the president and his team really not set on a definitive strategy at this point. They held a briefing call for reporters today in which they were really all over the map.
They seem to think that the articles are going to wind up being dismissed, even though it`s -- McConnell and senators have made very clear that there aren`t the votes for that to happen. They`re hoping for a trial to conclude within two weeks, whereas it seems very unlikely that that is possible.
MATTHEWS: What is your bet? You`re a straight reporter, but here`s your -- what is your bet?
Do you think it`s more likely the Senate will just stonewall and say no witnesses, or they will come up with a slate of witnesses that is not too appetizing for the Democrats either? It may have Bolton on it.
It may have Mick Mulvaney on it. It may have Mike Duffey from the OMB, but it also has the Bidens on it.
I mean, look, this is -- we have heard from senators like Mitt Romney, like Susan Collins, making very clear that they have some interest in leaving the possibility to hear from witnesses.
Romney, for instance, would like to see Mike -- John Bolton come in. And the problem is that, as soon as you open the door to witnesses, that means both sides get to call witnesses, 51 votes.
MATTHEWS: I think that`s fair and square. Anyway -- even if they`re not germane witnesses.
Anyway, the White House has not yet announced who will defend President Trump in the Senate trial. Multiple sources tell NBC it`s expected that the White House counsel Pat Cipollone will lead the defense, and he will be joined by Jay Sekulow, one of the president`s personal attorneys. That makes sense.
It`s also expected two of Cipollone`s deputies will be part of the defense team.
There`s also talk about Dershowitz, really making this a show, Giuliani getting in there.
Do you think they will muck it up with all kinds of outside sort of stars?
BESCHLOSS: Well, this is a president with a background in reality television.
And he knows that, if you don`t have stars, it has a little bit of a different texture than it does if you have people -- than if you have people who are unpredictable.
MATTHEWS: What, the dream team?
BESCHLOSS: Dream team, Dershowitz, Giuliani. They may feel that`s the -- that`s the dream team.
MATTHEWS: But I guess the question is, as we report this, because I`m going to be covering it -- we`re all going to -- MSNBC is going to be all over this, and the other networks as well.
We`re going to be covering this gavel to gavel. And I think there`s also so much social press right now, social media all over the place. Everybody`s going to be talking about this. The country is paying attention.
With all this attention, can the president deny a legitimate trial?
COLVIN: Well, look, the president is also somebody who is going to be...
MATTHEWS: Because he can approve it.
COLVIN: He`s going to be watching this incredibly closely. He`s expressed to associates that he`s concerned about how this is going to play out.
He doesn`t like the idea that the nation is going to be riveted by this for the next two, three weeks, concerned about the impact that it might have.
But the president also wants a show, as you`re saying. He`s a reality TV president. He would love the clash up there. He wants this vindication.
MATTHEWS: Well, I remember when Rehnquist was the chief justice, and he had these chevrons.
Maureen Dowd of "The New York Times"...
BESCHLOSS: Gilbert and Sullivan.
MATTHEWS: He had these amazing costuming, where we got chief Judge John Roberts, a more a low-key guy, will preside over the Senate trial starting soon.
His first act will be tomorrow, when he swears in the senators who will act as jurors.
However, beyond that, his role is somewhat murky. This is where it gets interesting. The Constitution only mentions the chief justice once in this context. And that is the context of impeachment.
In Article 1, Section 3, of the Constitution, it states: "When the president of the United States is tried, the chief justice shall provide -- preside."
This is a question. Will he go further and say, you know what, we got 50 people, for example? Three Republicans pop up and say, we want witnesses. That`s 47 and 3. Fifty, that`s close enough. I`m going to give it to them.
I`m going to throw in my vote. And, apparently, that is an argument. The chief judge can say, you got 50 votes. That`s good enough for me. We`re going to have witnesses.
BESCHLOSS: That would be more activist than Chase was under Andrew Johnson or Rehnquist was at the time of the Clinton impeachment.
And because the Constitution does say preside, they really pretty much follow that idea that it really was presiding.
MATTHEWS: But how will he look if he does that?
BESCHLOSS: Oh, I...
MATTHEWS: If it`s 50 votes, and he doesn`t give it to the people who want witnesses and a real trial, and he`s the last one who says no, do you think John Roberts wants to be that person?
BESCHLOSS: Probably not and this is someone who, given the makeup of the Supreme Court right now, is probably very used to having to make decisions like that.
MATTHEWS: Yes. I think -- I don`t know him that well. I know him a very well bit like most people do. I don`t think he wants to be the bad guy.
JILL COLVIN, ASSOCIATED PRESS: No, and if you look at his writings, especially most recently, he`s focused on trying to maintain this idea that the judiciary is independent, that they`re not trying to rock the boat for one side or another. So, he`s got that contending with also having to deal with the president who`s going to be watching and going to be judging him.
BESCHLOSS: And the last thing he wants to be is a controversial chief justice in the way he presides.
MATTHEWS: OK. In my belief, the truest nature of a conservative is to hold society together.
MATTHEWS: If it takes National Health to do it, whatever it takes, if it takes Social Security to do it, you do it. Does it hold society together?
And that`s the chief goal. It`s not to remember the old scriptures. It`s to hold the people together. And I think we need a real trial to do that.
Thank you, Jill Colvin. Thank you, Michael Beschloss.
BESCHLOSS: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Did you say interesting? I`m going to do that.
Up next, a highly anticipated new book from two of the "Washington Post`s" most respected journalists reveals alarming details about the depths of Donald Trump`s disconnect from things taken from past presidents like a basic understanding of geography, American history and the rule of law. Trump, I don`t know nothing about that stuff.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump has approached the presidency with a different level of detail and reverence than his predecessors.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Acting presidential is so easy for me. It`s much easier than what I do. Much easier. And sometimes I have to do it.
Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who`s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more I noticed.
I have an Article II where I have the right to do whatever I want as president, but I don`t even talk about that.
I have President Putin. He just said it`s not Russia. I will say this, I don`t see any reason why it would be.
Believe it or not, I watch my words very carefully. There are those that think I`m a very stable genius, OK? I watch my words very, very closely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there`s shocking new reporting today about the Trump presidency from an upcoming book by "Washington Post" reporters Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker. The book entitled "A Very Stable Genius" portrays the president as erratic and at times dangerously uninformed.
And what point -- at one point, according to excerpts released in the book in "The Washington Post", the president did not seem to grasp the fundamental history surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor.
And after his then staff secretary Rob Porter was accused of domestically abusing two women, the president suggested one of the women might have faked her injuries to, quote, get money out of Porter. That`s his quote.
The president also complained that it was unfair -- this is something -- that Americans companies aren`t allowed to pay bribes to help set up businesses overseas. He thinks they should. And one government official complained that the disdain that Trump shows for our country`s foundation and its principles, the disregard he has for right and wrong, your fist clenches, your teeth grate.
The book is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with more than 200 sources corroborated with calendars, diaries, memos and private video recordings.
And what you just heard is just a tip of the iceberg. Much more after the break. Stick with us.
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MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The new book, "A Very Stable Genius" by "Washington Post" reporters Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker, also details the president with a fundamental understanding for basic geography. According to their reporting in this new book, President Trump told India`s prime minister, the prime minister of India, quote, it`s not like you`ve got China on your border.
Well, India and China share more than 2,000 miles of border. There it is if you look at a book of geography, which has been a source contention across that border for years, decades.
According to one aide, the president`s mistake was so upsetting to the Indian prime minister that his eyed bulged out in surprise. When after the meeting with the prez and the prez of India, the prime minister, the aid explains that after that, the Indians took a step back in their diplomatic relations with us.
For more, I`m joined by former CIA Director John Brennan.
I don`t know what to say. But Trump is not stupid, but he is ignorant in many ways. He just -- I think he went to business school. He went to military school before that. He didn`t take anything like history or literature or geography. There is things he doesn`t know, like that there is a border several thousand mile border between India and China which they have been fighting over for decades.
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, the book provides rich detail of what we have seen every day for the last three years that Donald Trump is the most ignorant, as you said, as well as incompetent individual who ever has held the office of the presidency.
I worked for six presidents. I got to know four of them very well. The two Bushes, Clinton and Obama. Every one of them had an understanding of history and geography. They had a great intellectual thirst.
MATTHEWS: That`s why they ran for president, because they grew up reading histories.
BRENNAN: Yes. But once they became president, also they realized there is a lot more to know and to learn.
BRENNAN: But Donald Trump knows no intellectual curiosity whatsoever about these issues, nor the issue of, you know, the U.S. role in the world. So, it`s not surprising. I mean, he is a person at many respects because he looks at things, you know, his entire life, through the prism of the dollar sign and business.
And, so, it`s, again, unsurprising. But I think we`re all looking forward to reading the book.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, the book, I -- maybe it should scare us about our kids getting too much specialized education. They go to business school, that`s all they want to know, money.
BRENNAN: I couldn`t agree with you more.
MATTHEWS: That`s helpful, actually.
BRENNAN: I support STEM education. But I think liberal arts really exposes one to a lot of issues that you need to deal with on your life.
MATTHEWS: Well, the book also, the new book coming out, also reports that from early on, the president was eager to put -- well, to meet Putin, head of Russia, the strong man over there. According to authors, during the transition, he interrupts an interview with one of his secretary of state candidates to ask, when can I meet Putin? Can I meet with him before the inauguration ceremony?
When is this? You know this better than anybody. This wannabe, this love affair with the idea of being a strongman, a love of other strongman.
BRENNAN: Yes, there`s a lot we don`t know about that Putin-Trump relationship and what Trump is either interested in getting from Putin or afraid that Putin might reveal. So, I think it just demonstrates this, you know, eagerness that he had early on from day one to meet with him and then his subsequent meetings where he dismissed.
MATTHEWS: Do you think Trump -- do you think he`s smart about that or he`s paranoid or does Putin have his number?
BRENNAN: I think all of the above. I do think that -- again, there is a lot that we don`t know about that relationship, but there`s something that drives Donald Trump in terms of the way he interacts with Putin and gives Putin a pass on so many issues, whether it`s for future consideration that Putin may give him even after he leaves the Oval Office or if it`s because he`s afraid about what Putin, in fact, could reveal.
MATTHEWS: You know, I used to think there was a grand deal coming, that that justify some of the kissing, if you will, of Putin, because he was going to cut a deal over Syria and get the Assad government out of there or something like that.
BRENNAN: I don`t think Trump is either interested in those grand deals or understands what is required in order to forge them. So, I think there is something that is very personal, maybe very political that he has.
MATTHEWS: Let`s go back to something that`s really important to me. When he became president, one of the first bills he wanted to pass was to get rid of the rule that you can`t bribe other governments.
The rule was, you had to report all financial aspects to any deal, with -- any company goes in, Pepsi Cola, Coca Cola, anybody, GE, shows up in some country, makes a deal with their president over whatever, crown lands or whatever you want to call them, sovereign lands, every dollar agreed to in that deal has to be made public, so there is no bribes, there`s no sort of kick-backs.
Trump got rid of that. He wanted to get rid of it. He wanted to be able to do kickbacks and bribes.
BRENNAN: Well, as businessmen who have worked with Trump in New York for many, many decades, he is somebody who looks for the ways to forge deals that are outside of ethics, principles, even the law. In terms of bullying, intimidation, corruption, whatever else. So, it`s not surprising that in fact he would try to take that same approach and philosophy in dealings with overseas --
MATTHEWS: And he said it`s unfair not to be able to bribe. Ha! Ha! Talk about victimization.
Thank you, John Brennan. It`s great to have your expertise on.
MATTHEWS: Up correct, why Bernie Sanders is the candidate to beat, I think, in Iowa and New Hampshire. I watched out. I was out there last night.
I think I know what`s going on out there. It may not be what you want, but I think it`s what`s going to happen. Bernie out there.
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MATTHEWS: Six candidates took the stage last night for the seventh Democratic debate. Let me leave you with my assessment of why Bernie Sanders is the candidate to beat in Iowa.
One, his strong anti-war position. He was against the war in Vietnam. He was against the Iraq war. He`s anti-war in his bones. And again last night, he let the world know it.
Two, I checked the numbers. Two-thirds of the Democratic Iowa caucus voters in 2016 called themselves liberal or very liberal. Bernie swept those very liberal caucusgoers in 2016 and should do it again in 2020.
And this explains why Elizabeth Warren is battling with Bernie. She`s trying to get the very votes that he has gotten before. Between the two of them, it is a zero sum battle.
Joe Biden, who is contending for that one-third of the caucusgoers who called themselves moderate or conservatives can`t match Bernie`s potential. The arithmetic is simply not there. He`s battling with Buttigieg or Klobuchar for that third of the vote. So, bet on Bernie in Iowa.
And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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