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Senate takes up articles of Impeachment. TRANSCRIPT: 1/16/20, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Chris Van Hollen, Nadeam Elshami, Peter Baker, Betsy Woodruff Swan,Frank Figliuzzi, Caroline Fredrickson, Susan Page

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: If you can't catch it live on Sunday, please consider DVRing it just like we hope you DVR THE BEAT every night. In fact, you can do it right now just before HARDBALL.

I'll see you tomorrow at 6:00 P.M. Easter. And as mentioned, HARDBALL with Chris Matthews starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Can the Trump defenders handle the truth? Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews in Washington.

Today marked a solemn beginning to the Senate's impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. For the first time or just the third time actually in American history, the members of that historic body lifted their right hands as the chief justice of the Supreme Court swore them to be impartial.

Yet, amid the pomp and circumstance the day showcased a real tension between form and function. We saw the form today, but the function of a trial is to get to the truth. And that prospect is in question tonight. With the new revelations from Lev Parnas, it's becoming harder for the Senate to ignore the new rush of evidence against the president. That's because as Rudy Giuliani's right-hand man, Parnas was central to the crime itself, not an incidental bystander.

And as Parnas confirmed to Rachel Maddow last night, all their efforts were aimed at Joe Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEV PARNAS, INDICTED GIULIANI ASSOCIATE: It was all about Joe Biden, Hunter Biden and also Rudy had a personal thing with the Manafort stuff, the black ledger. That was another thing that they were looking into. But it was never about corruption, it was never, it was strictly about Burisma, which included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, it should be noted that Parnas still faces serious criminal charges and was arrested while trying to leave the country.

And while his allegations might still be corroborated, the trove of documents he's provided to Congress is harder to dispute. Among those papers, Giuliani's letter to Zelensky contradicts the defense that Trump's quest for dirt in Ukraine was part of the U.S. effort to root out corruption. As Giuliani said, just to be precise, I represent him as a private citizen, that him being the president, not as the president of the United States.

Most explosive is that Parnas says he personally relayed an ultimatum to the incoming administration over in Ukraine, announce the investigation of Biden or Vice President Pence will not attend Zelenky's inauguration. And here is what Parnas says he told an aide of Zelinsky in May.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PARNAS: I told him that if he doesn't -- the announcement was the key at that time because of the inauguration that Pence would not show up, nobody would show up to his inauguration.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Unless he announced an investigation into Joe Biden, no U.S. officials, and particularly Vice President Mike Pence would not come to the --

PARNAS: Particularly Mike Pence.

MADDOW: I believe it was the following day that, in fact, Vice President Pence's visit to the inauguration was cancelled?

PARNAS: It was after my phone call.

Obviously, when Pence cancels, they get a word that Pence is not coming. So now they realize that what I was telling was true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, in his interview last night, Parnas so implicated Attorney General Bill Barr among others, and his documents show he communicated regularly with numerous Trump allies, revealing how expansive this scheme really was.

Amid all of this, Senator Susan Collins of Maine today issued her clearest statement yet about possible witness testimony. She said that once arguments have been made, quote, it is likely that I would support a motion to call witnesses at this point in the trial. That's a big development.

I am joined right now by Peter Baker, New York Times White House Correspondent, Betsy Woodruff, of course -- Betsy Woodruff Swan, Politics Reporter for The Daily Beast, and Frank Figliuzzi, former Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at the FBI.

Peter, I want you first here. The solemnity of today's occasion was very much a ritual, it's almost as a sacrament today, watching it the way the chief justice was sworn in and how he sworn in all those senators, all hundreds of them, practically, I think they were all there with their hands in the air all taking the oath of office. And yet there is a question whether form is going to lead to function. Are we going to get truth? Are we going to get witnesses and documents to fill the vacuum of information so we can have a real trial?

PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, I think that's a great question. Think you're right. The solemnity of the moment was striking, it was powerful. And the arrival of the chief justice and the swearing of that oath really brought home to everybody who was there in the chamber including all 100 senators that this is a serious moment and a serious issue under our Constitution. That doesn't mean suddenly they are not going to be political or partisan. It doesn't mean that they have suddenly given up the point of view they brought onto the floor. They may swear to do impartial justice, but the truth is all 100 are partial in some fashion or another. It's a political process after all.

And I think that you're right, that Senator Collins saying she wants to hear witness is important. We'll see if there are enough other Republicans that agree with that. Lev Parnas' comments and revelations underscore the gaps in the story we know so far. You can say the maybe House Democrats should have spent more time on the investigation, you can say maybe they were thwarted by the president of the United States who tried to block them. But either way, there are questions we haven't gotten answered yet.

And the biggest question is whether the Senate will try to answer those.

MATTHEWS: Well, this may be too metaphysical, but I'm going to throw it at you, Peter. What do you mean by impartial when everybody is voting party line? And I'm thinking of the recount vote in 2000 where the same ballot would come up and one person would say, oh, that's Gore on there, and the other person is saying, no, that's Bush on there, What does impartial mean when it's purely partisan?

BAKER: Yes It's a funny thing to -- it's funny to ask these senators to be impartial when, of course, they're not. I mean, look, the history of this is these are not regular jurors, they're not excluded because of bias. For instance, in the Andrew Johnson trial, his son-in-law was a senator who voted to acquit his father-in-law. Another senator would have become president had Andrew Johnson been convicted because there was no vice president at that time, and he would have been the next line in that order of succession at that time.

In the Clinton trial, you had Senator Schumer who had already voted on the articles of impeachment as a member of the House, then he got elected to the Senate and then cast judgment on the very same articles he had already voted on.

Tim Hutchinson was a member of the Senate, even though his brother was a House manager at the same time.

So there is no such thing as a conflict of interest that gets these senators off the hook, if you will. They are partial. They do come at this with a political perspective and other biases.

But I think taking the oath does remind them at least for one day, anyway, they have an obligation to go beyond their party to at least consider and think about what they're up to and what's at stake here. And what's at stake here is the very nature of our constitutional system, accountability, separation of powers and, you know, how we run our democracy.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Peter, despite you were here last time, so it's good to have your perspective. You were here during the Clinton affair.

Anyway, despite growing evidence, in the contrary, President Trump repeatedly insisted today that he doesn't know Lev Parnas. He doesn't know him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: What is your response to Lev Parnas who says that your efforts in Ukraine were all about 2020? You just wanted Joe Biden out? What's your response?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't know him. I don't know Parnas other than I guess they had pictures taken, which I do with thousands of people.

I don't know him at all. I don't know what he's about. I don't know where he comes from. I know nothing about him.

But I can tell you this --

REPORTER: He described a situation that was more than just taking pictures, Mr. President. He says that --

TRUMP: I don't know him. I don't believe I've ever spoken to him.

REPORTER: He was with Giuliani while you were on the phone with Giuliani, and he said that --

TRUMP: I don't believe I've ever spoken to him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, responding to the president, Parnas' lawyer tweeted a video showing Parnas right there with the president of the United States. There he is, very recognizable, those two gentleman. There is also an email showing that the president gave his former lawyer the okay to work for Parnas.

While Trump's current attorney, Jay Sekulow, wrote John Dowd saying, the president consents to allowing your representation of Mr. Parnas.

Betsy, this stuff goes back to the old stuff of the communists, the hearings back in the early '50s. I mean, you don't say you don't know somebody as your defense when it's clear you do know them. You can argue about whether you're a communist or not or (INAUDIBLE) or not, but don't say you don't know somebody because that's how you get perjury charges against. That's how you end up in prison.

Why is this president completely denying somebody he clearly does know? What's the point?

BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE DAILY BEAST": It's certainly unusual. I spoke with Lev Parnas this afternoon here in Manhattan. And we specifically talked about the fact that President Trump has now said that he doesn't know him, as well as other sort of issues that informed Parnas' confidence about -- frankly about going public, including your first on this network, on Maddow's show.

Parnas told me that some contributing factors to the reason that he now is speaking out publicly, one, of course, was the fact that the president said he doesn't know him. Parnas is emphatic that that's a lie.

But in addition to that, he also told me that the silence from some of his former friends was really galvanizing for him. Over the course of the entire Ukraine situation, he worked really closely with Rudy Giuliani as well as with a husband/wife legal team in Washington, Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing.

And Parnas said that when he got out of jail after he was arrested on campaign finance charges, he realized that none of those folks had spoken out in his defense. He told me these are three lawyers who are often very confident, engaging to defend controversial people on T.V. They're not media shy. But in his case, Parnas said they were radio silent. He said it felt like his family had abandoned him. And that's part of the reason that he's gone public now.

And, of course, his going public is a key moment in this entire impeachment saga because it's really amped up the pressure on Senate Republicans to potentially vote in favor of having witnesses in the impeachment trial. Whether or not that trial has witnesses, of course, is a definitive issue in how this impeachment process moves forward.

MATTHEWS: Did he take any heat last night after being on Rachel's show?

SWAN: He hasn't heard from them. It's been radio silence. Giuliani has made a few comments to reporters. Giuliani reportedly has said that he feels bad for Parnas and that he thinks he's a liar. But that's a dramatic change from someone who was working with this person multiple days a week, who was traveling with him, who was in constant contact with him. All of a sudden, as soon as somebody gets arrested, to turn around and say, oh, well, he got charged with a crime, he must be a liar.

If anything, criminal defense attorneys are the people who are supposed to be the least likely to assume that just because the Justice Department makes an allegation means it's true. But in this case, that's part of the reason, as Lev described it to me, that he felt so surprised by what he characterized as real abandonment.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Frank Figliuzzi. Frank, it does remind me of Valachi opening up the whole map of the mob of the Cosa Nostra. But here's a guy coming in as part of the crime. He wasn't a bystander. He's not somebody's friend. He's somebody's relative. He was the guy doing the business. He was the translator in Russian for Rudy Giuliani and all this dirty business. How powerful is this evidence that he's brought forward in document and also in public testament on television now?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE, FBI: Yes. Parnas has become a poster boy for why the Senate needs to consider witnesses in the impeachment trial. He is Exhibit A for the argument that not only do we need witnesses, but we need the Senate to consider new evidence as it developed during the trial. Americans know what a trial looks like, they know what a real trial looks like. And a real trial is when you have witnesses and you have corroboration.

So it's not only Parnas that needs to testify, but it's all the people that he's pointing us toward. He's talking about Pence. He's talking about Giuliani. He's talking about Barr. We need to hear from him and let the American people and the Senate consider his objectivity and his credibility. If he's not credible, so be it.

But, Chris, I can't remember 25 years in the FBI when I had to put an Eagle Scout on the stand as the lead witness in a criminal trial. You don't get - - it doesn't work that way. These are exactly the people you need to hear from, because, as you said, he was in the thick of it.

MATTHEWS: Well, to your point, here is what Parnas said when asked if Vice President Pence knew why his trip to Ukraine for Zelensky's inauguration was canceled?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Do you know if Vice President Pence was aware that that was the quid pro quo, that that was the trade and that that, in fact, is why is inaugural visit was called off?

PARNAS: I'm going to use a famous quote by Mr. Sondland, everybody was in the loop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, according to Parnas, you just saw there, everybody, including Attorney General Bill Barr.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Did Rudy Giuliani tell you he had spoken to the attorney general specifically about Ukraine?

PARNAS: Not only Rudy Giuliani. I mean, Victoria and Joe, they were all best friends. I mean, Barr was -- Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, last night a spokesperson for Attorney General Barr called Parnas' allegation 100 percent false.

But let me go back to Peter on this. Peter, it bothers me when public officials play the role of flax when you have one of these cases. I mean, I don't know why somebody working in the Justice Department has the job of putting out something as nonsensical, he doesn't know this guy, he was not in the loop when you clearly know they're just covering for somebody in not quite a criminal case but certainly a political scandal, public officials doing this for their living.

BAKER: Right, yes. I think the preview, what we've seen, unfortunately, in the last few years is that there is no sense of the Justice Department being a neutral actor anymore. The president himself thinks the Justice Department ought to be his function on his behalf basically as much as the country's. He's, you know, repeatedly crossed over lines, other presidents saw there. And so I think that the problem is there are credibility issues when you have a Justice Department statement at this point.

MATTHEWS: How do we know so much more than the senators are intended to know? The way this Senate so-called trial is being cooked up, put together, confected, whatever the word, they're not going to be able to hear from live witnesses. They're not going to hear documents from documents, which are appearing in other papers right now. They're not technically -- like they've got blinders on them, these senators. They're not supposed to know what we know, what we are talking about now. This is the craziest trial in the world.

Everybody in the country knows what's going on. Everybody else is making a judgment based upon all the information available. But senators are told, no, you can't have that. Mitch McConnell says no new witnesses, no new documents. This is just going to be an argument, like a British-style debate, just rhetoric back and forth. That's what Mitch seems to want, a rhetorical debate.

BAKER: Yes. I mean, look, these senators won't be recused. It's not like they won't be watching Rachel Maddow's show or seeing articles in the newspaper. But you're right, if you don't end up having -- not just having witnesses, it's having witnesses who have apparently a testimony to give, evidence to give that we haven't heard. John Bolton, of course, comes to mind, the president's former national security adviser. And we've heard from other witnesses that he objected in the Ukraine pressure campaign as a drug deal and thought that Rudy Giuliani was kind of a hand grenade that was going to blow up.

Well, we haven't heard from him either on a public interview much less in a House hearing or a Senate trial what he talked about with the president of the United States about this. Did the president order him to suspend the aid to ukraine explicitly in order to get information about the Democrats that will be harmful or did he not? We don't know. And to have John Bolton offer to testify and then have nobody take him up on that, it means that you're leaving money on the table, in effect, you're leaving information on the intentionally undiscovered and we'll have to wait until he puts his book out, I suppose. But that will be long after the trial is over.

MATTHEWS: Well, if we don't get this testimony and we don't get these documents, this is going to be, what they say in New England (ph), is a Fosse (ph). This is going to be a Fosse (ph).

Peter Baker, thank you, Betsy Woodruff Swan and Frank Figliuzzi.

Coming up, the Democrat's case for impeachment may have just gotten a little stronger. The independent Government Accountability Office just confirmed today that the Trump administration broke the law by withholding critical military aid from Ukraine. Does this crank up the pressure any higher for those Republican senators to allow for witnesses to be called? After all, we're getting new evidence that matters.

One of the jurors, by the way, on the Democratic side joins us next.

Plus, will the GOP put loyalty to Trump above the oath of impartiality? You tell me. What can be coming down with a showdown of rules and witnesses? What's it going to look like, this big fight in the next couple of days?

And what kind of role will Chief Justice John Roberts play in the trial? I hope he plays the good judge and gets the facts out.

We've got a lot to get to tonight. Stay with us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The impeachment is a big hoax. It's become a laughingstock all over the world. There was nothing done wrong.

The two articles that were sent are not even serious. And, by the way, they're not a crime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: There is nothing done wrong. Did you hear that from the president? Nothing was done wrong.

And that was President Trump just last week on what he expected from the Senate impeachment trial, apparently nothing.

The president and his Republican allies have repeatedly argued that he did not break the law. Here it comes.

But, today, a nonpartisan government watchdog says the Trump administration broke the law in freezing millions of dollars of U.S. aid, military aid, to Ukraine.

In a decision released today, the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that reports to the Congress, said: "Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law"

In a statement, the Office of Budget -- an Office of Budget -- Management and Budget spokesperson said: "We disagree with GAO's opinion. OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent" -- catch this -- "consistent with the president's priorities and with the law."

In other words, it's up to the president where money gets spent.

I'm joined right now by Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, who requested the GAO look into the withholding of aid the last month.

Thank you, Senator, for doing this.

First of all, what is the implication, as you see it, of the fact that the president broke the law here?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Well, it's good to be with you.

This is a big deal, because, as you know, the Government Accountability Office is a nonpartisan independent entity. And they came down with a blockbuster decision, beyond a doubt that the president's administration violated the law when they withheld money from Ukraine.

That was an illegal act. And we also know from public evidence that it was President Trump himself who gave the order to the agencies to withhold those funds.

So, he ordered his agencies to commit an illegal act as part of his overall scheme with respect to Ukraine. So this is a very, very big deal.

It's not Democrats saying it. It's not Republican saying it. It's an independent, nonpartisan entity saying it.

MATTHEWS: In the Senate, where you're going to be a juror -- in fact, you have been sworn in as a juror.

VAN HOLLEN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Will it have an impact on your Republican colleagues, the fact that the law has been broken by the president in the act that he has been impeached for?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it should.

I mean, you would think that law-breaking is something that Republican senators would agree was a bad thing. And this was a law broken as part of the president's overall abuse of power.

It just showed he was willing to violate the law here and there in order to accomplish his overall goal of trying to pressure the government of Ukraine to involve itself in the election for him.

So, I don't know. But the first question is the one you have been talking about. The first test for our Republican colleagues before we get to the final verdict, which I will wait to see all the evidence before rendering a final decision -- the first test is whether they will support the calling of fact witnesses and relevant documents, because you cannot have a fair trial without that.

MATTHEWS: Well, today, Senate minority leader, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, said the GAO decision and the revelations from Lev Parnas strengthens Democrats' push for witnesses.

In his interview with my colleague Rachel Maddow, Parnas said former National Security Adviser John Bolton would be a key witness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PARNAS: Zelensky was supposed to make another announcement, and that didn't happen. And that's when Bolton, Secretary Bolton, went over there. And I think he has a lot to say.

I know Mr. Bolton was definitely involved in the loop because of the firing of Marie Yovanovitch, also his interactions with Rudy Giuliani. They started butting heads.

MADDOW: But you believe he knows what the administration was pressuring Ukraine to do?

PARNAS: Bolton?

MADDOW: Yes.

PARNAS: A hundred percent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, what would it be like to have him testifying to you guys in the Senate, you jurors, I mean, actually a regular -- I mean, he seems real, this guy.

VAN HOLLEN: No, he does.

I got to tell you, Chris, I watched that whole interview with Rachel last night, and my jaw just dropped. I went, oh, my God.

And after seeing that, it would be a gross dereliction of their constitutional duty for Republicans to say, we can't call any additional witnesses.

It's not unusual at a trial to have new information and new evidence and documents that are important to come forward.

And the House managers will have to decide whether they want to call him as one of the witnesses.

MATTHEWS: Right.

VAN HOLLEN: But the bigger test is going to be Republican senators.

Bolton, Mulvaney -- President Trump back on December 3 said he wanted Mick Mulvaney to testify at this trial.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

VAN HOLLEN: All of a sudden, his lawyers are telling him, no, that's way too dangerous, if Mick Mulvaney is sworn in under penalty of perjury.

MATTHEWS: It reminds me of Valachi opening up the books on the mob, and you don't want to hear from the guy? He's like in this witness protection. You don't want to talk to the guy?

Anyway, today, senators took an oath to render impartial justice as jurors in the Senate trial.

Last night, Texas Senator Ted Cruz argued this impeachment is a partisan sham.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): I don't know if there's going to be 51 senators to bring witnesses in or not. I think there's plenty already to reject these ridiculous articles of impeachment.

But if they are going to bring witnesses in, we're not going to do what the House did of a one-sided show trial. And I think it should be at a bare minimum one for one.

So, if the prosecution brings a witness, if they bring John Bolton, then President Trump can bring a witness. He can bring in Hunter Biden.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What do you think of this? Because I heard about this from a senator the other night, a Democratic senator, the word out that Mitch may -- Mitch McConnell may figure out, OK, you guys want witnesses? I will give you four or five, two of mine, two of yours.

Well, I went the Bidens. You -- I will give you Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton.

Suppose you're confronted with a choice like that. Would you take the whole slate?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, look, we all know that Joe Biden, that whole request is a red herring when it comes to who had knowledge about President Trump's decision with respect to withholding aid to the Ukraine.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but he was the president's target.

VAN HOLLEN: So, yes, but what's at stake here in the articles of impeachment, obviously, is his abuse of power.

MATTHEWS: I know.

VAN HOLLEN: But, look, if Mitch McConnell and Republicans want to call Joe Biden, we will have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

VAN HOLLEN: But there is a big difference between relevant fact witnesses, which is what we have asked for, Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton, and these other ones.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: If you sat on the other side of the aisle, wouldn't you want to say -- wouldn't you want to ask Senator Biden, just to give him a chance to clear himself, did you ever talk to your son about taking that contract with Burisma? Did you have anything to do with him doing it? Did you ever tell him not to do it?

Did you ever get a -- did he ever call you and ask you to do a favor for it? These seem to be relevant questions, germane.

VAN HOLLEN: Look, it's all -- it's a total sideshow and distraction, as you know.

MATTHEWS: But it's not entirely, because this whole thing is the Republican attempt to smear the Bidens.

You have to say, were they fairly going after them or unfairly going after them? I think the president was unfair, because he was saying, all I want is an announcement from the president of Ukraine we're investigating the guy.

He didn't want the truth.

VAN HOLLEN: Right.

So -- right. What the president wanted was to withhold taxpayer dollars that Ukraine needed, right, in order to try to get them to interfere -- interfere on his behalf.

Look, with respect to witnesses, if Republicans get to the point where they're willing to get relevant fact witnesses and documents, then let's have a conversation.

MATTHEWS: Yes, OK.

VAN HOLLEN: McConnell has been the one who is stonewalling.

And right now, they have been conspiring with the president to rig the trial. They shouldn't be doing that.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

VAN HOLLEN: That is a violation of the oath they took today.

MATTHEWS: Is he going to get away with it?

VAN HOLLEN: Who's that?

MATTHEWS: Mitch, who always seems to get away with it.

VAN HOLLEN: The issue -- the issue is not going to be how Mitch votes. It's going to be how some of the other Republican senators vote.

MATTHEWS: OK.

VAN HOLLEN: And their public will hold them accountable in a lot of these states.

And they will be asked, why did you vote to conspire with the president, rig the trial, and deny the American people a fair hearing with all the evidence?

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, I'm betting on -- I'm hoping for Lamar Alexander. I'm hoping for Murkowski. I'm hoping for Mitt. I think you got three maybe there, and maybe Collins now, as of today. We will get to Collins later on the show.

VAN HOLLEN: We will watch them very closely, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. You know these guys better than I do.

Thank you. Chris Van Hollen, my senator.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. Great to be here.

MATTHEWS: Up next: The stage is set for what shaping up to be a real fight over witnesses and documents in the next couple days.

How many, if any, Republican senators will put their oath of impartiality ahead of their party loyalty, actually their loyalty to Donald Trump?

You're watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With the impeachment trial now under way, really, all eyes are on a quintet of Republicans, five of them who could determine whether the Senate hears new witnesses or not.

It's a topic that's become increasingly relevant with John Bolton's willingness to testify and that trove of documents just released from Lev about -- Lev Parnas.

And, this evening, Maine's Republican Senator Susan Collins came the closest she's ever been to saying she should vote yes for new witnesses.

In a statement put out this evening, Collins said: "While I need to hear the case argued and the questions answered, I tend to believe having additional information would be helpful. It is likely I would support a motion to call witnesses at this point in the trial, just as I did in 1999."

That would be the Clinton trial.

Collins said she decided to clarify her statement due to -- quote -- "a lot of mischaracterization and misunderstanding about my position."

Well, this came after she faced backlash yesterday for questioning why the Parnas evidence was released so late by the House, even after reporters told her that the information had only been recently made available by the courts, who have been holding it.

This puts Collins much closer on his -- to the position of Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who has explicitly said that he'd likely want to hear from Bolton and vote for that, in fact.

That's two out of the four Republican votes Democrats need to call witnesses. They got 47 Democrats. They need 51 altogether, four Republicans needed.

Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Tennessee's Lamar Alexander, who's retiring, have said they're open to hearing from witnesses.

There's also speculation about vulnerable Republican Senator Cory Gardner, who's consistently refused to answer questions about where he stands.

Mitch McConnell has made it clear that he'd rather not extend the trial by having witnesses at all. But that's not what he argued during Clinton's impeachment.

Wait until you catch the disconnect here between the old Mitch and the new Mitch. I like the old Mitch.

That's up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Many Senate Republicans have made it clear that they want this trial to be as short as possible. That's not what Mitch McConnell said, by the way, back in 1999.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): There have been 15 impeachments in the history of this country. Two of them were cut short by resignations. In the other 13 impeachments, they were witnesses. It's not unusual to have a witness in a trial.

It's certainly not unusual to have a witness in an impeachment trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I'm joined right now Michael Steele, former RNC chair, and Nadeam Elshami, former chief of staff to Nancy Pelosi and former spokesman -- well, you have done everything -- for Dick Durbin.

He wanted to know all the nitty-gritty of Bill Clinton's malfeasance. He wanted to get more. Let's talk more about Monica. He liked lots of witnesses, lots of information. Not this time.

NADEAM ELSHAMI, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO NANCY PELOSI: Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: He wants a shorty.

ELSHAMI: He wants to control the process. He wants to put this under the rug and move on.

Look, his -- this is not going to change until his senators, those four or five senators that you have talked about, come to him and say, Senator, would need this for our reelection.

And they're starting to feel the heat. And maybe Senator Alexander, because of his...

MATTHEWS: He wants it because he's got values.

ELSHAMI: That's exactly right. That's exactly right.

But you have senators like Paul, Senator Paul, threatening...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why is -- what's your hunch about why Rand Paul, who's a real independent -- he's a libertarian -- why has he become the hatchet man for the president in making sure he's going to punish every Republican who votes for witnesses?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this is kind of makeup for swinging out there on the whole war thing with Iran.

MATTHEWS: Oh.

STEELE: So, this is -- now we're swinging it back the other way. So I'm going to stand and defend the president on this idea of not having witnesses come to the table, whereas, last week, he was out there slamming the president for his ventures into Iran.

So, folks should see the politics here for what it is. None of this is being taken seriously by Republicans at this point. I think, to your point, the sooner we get it done, the better. It is sort of huddling together to protect the clan, as it were, keep it -- protect everyone inside the room.

And so it's going to be important if a Murkowski or a Collins, a Lamar Alexander comes and says that this is bigger than what you think it is, and we need to have the witnesses. We need it for our own protection at home.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEELE: But I think we need it for the country as well.

MATTHEWS: Well, I want to be fair.

I think a couple of the guys who've come forward, men in these cases, Mitt Romney and Lamar, I think, is going to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He's not just worried about -- I know, it's a partisan comment, you just think they're only going to save their butts.

Some actually have consciences, I think Mitt Romney flirts with greatness, he doesn't get there. He likes to get around the edge. Like in this case, I think he will push for witnesses. Will he push other members to get the four we need or three we might need?

NADEAM ELSHAMI, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I don't know. It's too early to tell right now. But I think what the senators are grappling with is an oath to President Trump or an oath to the Constitution. I think that's --

MATTHEWS: I agree with you. Well said. This morning, a CNN reporter got an unexpected response from Arizona Republican Senator Martha McSally when he dared to ask her about whether we need new evidence, here it goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Should the Senate consider new evidence as part of the impeachment trial?

SEN. MARTHA MCSALLY (R-AZ): Man, you're a liberal hack. I'm not talking to you.

REPORTER: You're not going to comment?

MCSALLY: You're a liberal hack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Ha! Well, shortly after that, McSally doubled down on her comments about the so-called liberal hack, tweeting at the reporter that you are a liberal hack. McSally may have been hoping to rile up Trump's base there because she's out there fundraising off the comments she made to that reporter.

The Trump campaign war room tweeted, three cheers for Martha McSally, donate now. What do you make of this?

ELSHAMI: One word, re-election. She is worried --

MATTHEWS: She's never been elected, though.

ELSHAMI: But she's worried.

MATTHEWS: She's appointed.

ELSHAMI: Yes, appointed, that's right. So she is worried. She is worried about 2020. So, she's trying exactly that.

MATTHEWS: Do you think she picked a fight with that reporter? That was a reasonable question. He wasn't snarky.

ELSHAMI: No, absolutely not.

STEELE: I think it's certainly behavior unbecoming for sure. Look, you are an elected official, more importantly, are you a United States senator.

And so, what this says to me is that senators like McSally feel that they need to show their behinds like Donald Trump does every day and get down in the ugly and think that that's going to be, somehow cool and keeps their base tight to them.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEELE: But your reelection is in trouble -- rather, your election is in trouble. She knows it. So, this is going to fund raise off it. It's going to -- you know, there is applause back in very small corners, but the broader electorate she has to face this November when her opponent is playing this videotape over and over again and saying, is this really what we want in Washington?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STEELE: What we want in Washington?

These folks aren't thinking about what Trump does to them longer term. And they're all right in the moment. They're feeling all the juices.

MATTHEWS: Arizona is not a wild state. There are a lot of retirees there. There are people worried about fiscal responsibilities, things that maybe liberals don't care about, but they don't like this kind of behavior.

ELSHAMI: Absolutely not. But this is a historical moment in our country. I agree with Michael. You know, if you are a United States senator, you have to be thinking what you are saying, not just to your voters, but, you know, 50 years from now what are they going to say about you?

MATTHEWS: I don't think your old boss, Nancy Pelosi, would say, I'm not talking to you right wing hack. She'd probably say I'm not talking.

Anyway, Michael Steele, thank you, and Nadeam Elshami.

Up next, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will play an essential role, or will he? Is he just going to be there as a potted plant or is he going to be a good judge? Clarifying just what he could, what we should and should not expect from Roberts next on HARDBALL.

We're going to figure this guy out, a little prediction, will he be the big star of this or not?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE: Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are life umpires. Umpires don't make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules but it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Earlier today, Chief Justice John Roberts stepped into his role as a presiding officer. There he is, of the impeachment trial of President Trump. In that capacity, according to the Senate's rules and impeachment, they shall direct all the forms of proceedings while the Senate is sitting for the purpose of trying an impeachment.

And during the trial, according to those same rules, he will have the power to, quote, rule on all questions of everyday, including but not limited to questions of relevancy and materiality and redundancy of evidence and incidental questions, unless some member asks to overrule a justice. In a few days, we'll see what kind of justice, what kind of judge the chief justice will choose to be.

We are joined by Caroline Fredrickson, former president of the American Constitutional Society, and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today".

So, there are questions of law, precedent, constitutional and, of course, political here. In light, as a student of John Roberts, the chief justice, how much do you think he will play the traditional role of judge? Will he say, if Adam Schiff, the chief manager says, I'd like to bring in evidence now some documents involving Mr. Lev Parnas that had just been released to the public, I'd like bring them into evidence, I'd like to have Mr. Parnas come into this hearing. What does the chief justice have the liberty to decide at that point? He says I want to bring a witness in right now, to get this information to the jurors?

CAROLINE FREDRICKSON, FORMER PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL SOCIETY: Well, the state rules make it clear that he has the power to admit evidence. He can actually issue subpoena. He has an extraordinary amount of power under the way the proceedings are constructed.

The Senate can overrule him. But I think if that were to happen, well, actually, I don't think it's going to happen, because I think you'll have senators like Susan Collins and Cory Gardner and the others think about what that will mean for their constituents if they vote to overrule this chief justice on a vote so important as to whether to admit evidence that's clearly relevant.

MATTHEWS: So he can make the first call?

FREDRICKSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Susan?

FREDRICKSON: I think it would be surprising if he chose to exert those powers. I think he would say, let's have a vote on the Senate on whether to allow these witnesses to come in. Up to him, right, he has the power to do that. But he follows the example that Justice Rehnquist, that Chief Justice Rehnquist did in the Clinton impeachment, he would see his role as minimalist, not maximalist.

FREDRICKSON: He could certainly do that, but I think that would be such a punt in this case. In the Clinton impeachment, remember, there was a general agreement among the managers of how to proceed. In this case, we clearly don't have that. We have all sorts of new evidence that's come forward.

He has also been very outspoken in defending the independence of the judiciary, including his annual report again this year, talking about how important it is that judges provide equal justice under law. I mean, what could be a better example of him doing than issuing a ruling on evidence that has come forward that is clearly relevant and incredibly material to the exact issue being considered by the Senate.

PAGE: So, we'll see if he chooses to do that. I'll tell you, there's one thing that I think the Founders had in mind when they made the chief justice the person who would preside over impeachment trial, and that was to underscore kind of the importance, the solemnity of this -- of this exercise, and I think that actually happened today.

You know, we've had this heated ferocious debate over impeachment that makes it seem like a sporting event, but when we saw those articles brought over from the House and the Senate, and we saw the chief justice come in and swear in the senators, I think it took on a bigger moment than it's had the last few weeks.

FREDRICKSON: And that's really why I think we should expect the chief justice, we should certainly hope that the chief justice lives up to the oath that he also took, which is to do impartial justice.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a big question, it's not a legal question as to what's constitutional. It has to do with philosophy. I think a real conservative, it's not a right winger, or reactionary, a true conservative, maybe in the British sense, is someone who wants to keep the society together, because that's the chief goal of a conservative. Keep things together, don't let society come in to division, or civil wars or fragmentation, or massive bitterness, try to bring the country and hold it together.

What's more unifying in this country, a trial that continues to get some evidence, or they slam the door with no evidence coming in and no witnesses? Is that going to keep the country united?

PAGE: I think, no. I mean, I think this is likely to divide the country no matter what, but if the Senate proceeds in a way that doesn't allow this new evidence that has come forward since the House vote last month, I think there will be forever be questions --

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PAGE: -- about what they could have learned had they allow the witnesses.

FREDRICKSON: Well, and I think we've already had Mitch McConnell announce that the proceedings already rigged. That he's already in the thank for --

MATTHEWS: That he's rigging them.

FREDRICKSON: That he's rigging them. Right. And, you know, again, this is why I go back to -- you know, certainly my hope, but a demand I think of the chief justice that he actually make sure that it's not a rigged process.

MATTHEWS: If he makes the first call and says, OK, let's bring in -- Mr. Schiff, bring in your first witness, we're not going to follow the rules set by Mitch McConnell which says, we're going to wait to all the discussion, all the going back and forth, after all that's done, arguments, then we'll decide whether to bring witnesses in. But suppose the judge says, no, we're not going to wait from the end, we're going to have witnesses from the beginning, f you want to overrule me, go ahead, is that possible?

FREDRICKSON: Well, absolutely. I mean, he has plenary -- I think the rule set out, he has really plenary authority to determine the direction of the proceedings, and whether or not to admit evidence, whether or not to have witnesses, whether he can subpoena himself. It's sort of implies in the way those rules are written.

So, certainly, that could be very appropriate. I mean, there is so much new evidence that what a sham it will be if that's not heard.

MATTHEWS: Yes, here's a political question, a journalist question. How do you close the door when the floodgates are already open? This Parnas thing last night with Rachel Maddow, I mean, imagine that happens on the Senate floor. I mean, it's incredible what would have been the reaction.

PAGE: You know, even if the Senate decides to not have witnesses, we're going to continue to hear from these people, from Lev Parnas, from John Bolton. The story is -- more of this story is going to come out. It's coming out in a remarkable way now that builds the case that Democrats started to build and comes up with more and more evidence about the president's own involvement.

MATTHEWS: I think nobody can deny that there's a cabal here, to squeeze the new president of Ukraine for some kind of dirt on Joe Biden. The only question is, you have to answer yourself, is that impeachable? Because the facts are plenary, they're all over the place.

Thank you, Caroline Fredrickson. Thank you, Susan, as always. I'll see you soon. I see Susan all the time. She's great.

Up next, what did Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders actually show us when they thought we couldn't hear them less, Wednesday, two nights ago? It's always better what they say when they don't think you're listening.

You're watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Politicians are people first. The best of them have pride in their words, pride in what is said about them by people they respect.

Two nights ago, we saw Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders try to downplay their dispute over what he told her or didn't tell her two years ago, that a woman can't beat Donald Trump in 2020.

Well, that might have been the end of it. It wasn't.

Following the debate, with the stage microphones killed, we heard through another mic her personal indignation and Bernie Sanders' retort in kind.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think you called me a liar on national TV.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What?

WARREN: I think you called me a liar on national TV.

SANDERS: No, let's not do it right now. You want to have that discussion, we'll have that discussion.

WARREN: Anytime.

SANDERS: You called me a liar. You told me -- all right, let's not do it now.

TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't want to get in the middle. I just want to say hi, Bernie.

SANDERS: Yes, good, OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the point is, neither chose to make this a scene in their two-hour debate on television. Both seemed well to make that claim and move on, but that was politics. Both thought they had bigger fish to fry on television. Besides, Iowa voters are celebrated to penalizing presidential candidates they see going negative.

But as the great senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan once put it, we are we are entitled to our opinions, but not to our own facts. And this fight between Senators Warren and Sanders is not over candidate's opinion, it's over facts. Senator Warren told people that Senator Sanders said a woman can't be elected in 2020.

On Tuesday night, before a huge debate audience, he denied ever saying any such a thing. It strikes me based upon record (ph) between the two afterward that she didn't expect this, didn't expert her colleague to make such a sharp denial, to the point of her words, of calling her a liar on national television. Well, I suspect the reason is she believes Senator Sanders said what she said he did, and he would when forced to confront it face-to-face confess to it. Senator Sanders said, all this is being driven by, as he put it Wednesday night, some of the media. Well, that's not what it looked like or said it like when both thought the mic was off.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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