IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Bolton Manuscript TRANSCRIPT: 1/28/20, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews

Guests: Chuck Schumer, Zoe Lofgren, Christina Greer

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  I`ll see you back here tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. But don`t go anywhere, Senator Chuck Schumer is on HARDBALL with Chris Matthews, which is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Can Mitch Bolton down the hatches? Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York. It`s unclear as we go on the air tonight whether Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has nailed down those 50 votes he needs from his caucus to block witnesses at the president`s trial. With pressure mounting, Senate Republicans discuss the written (ph) issue in a closed door meeting where leadership whipped their caucus against calling witnesses.

Several news outlets are currently reporting that McConnell said he doesn`t yet have the votes he would need yet Republicans are, tonight, projecting confidence that they`ll get there.

At the center of the debate is former National Security Adviser John Bolton, whose testimony could make history, if not, change the ultimate verdict here. According to Bolton`s unpublished manuscript, President Trump said that U.S. aid to Ukraine would remain frozen until he got the help he wanted investigating the Democrats. And that revelation directly contradicts the arguments we`ve heard from Trump`s legal team.

All this comes after Senator Pat Toomey, among other Republicans, yesterday proposed a one-for-one witness swap with Democrats. That proposal appeared to have support from Senator Mitt Romney today.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT):  I`d like to hear from John Bolton and I think the idea that`s been expressed in the media about having each side be able to choose a witness or maybe more than one witness on a paired basis has some merit (ph).

Well, I think if you`re going to have one side call witnesses, the other side ought to be able to do the same.

REPORTER:  Susan Collins said there are a lot of conversations happening among senators. Can you just take us behind the scenes? Are senators discussing this in any form?

ROMNEY:  No, I`m not going to take you behind the scenes. And are we discussing this? Absolutely.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Politico also reported that, quote, Romney made a strong pitch for witnesses during a closed-door lunch of Senate Republicans yesterday.

Amid the battle over Bolton, a new Quinnipiac poll shows that 75 percent of registered voters, that`s A3/4, say the Senate should hear from witnesses, only 20 percent said otherwise.

Well, the Bolton revelations have also irritated Senate Republicans. The New York Times reports that according to people familiar with Mitch McConnell`s thinking, he was angry at having been blindsided by the White House about Mr. Bolton`s manuscript, which aides said had been there since late December at the National Security Council.

I`m joined right now by Senate Minority Leader, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

Senator, it`s great to have you on. You have been so much through -- you have been through so much in your career, it`s unbelievable. And here we are at this critical moment. It`s Wednesday tomorrow, it will be Friday in three days. By the end of the week, where are we going to be at? Do you think Mitch will be able to come up and corral 50 or not? Because that`s what he needs to stop witnesses.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY):  You`ve got two forces here. I think our Democratic caucus has done a really good job at talking about witnesses and documents, at telling America all we want is a fair trial. All we want is the truth. In something as important as this, that`s what you need.

And, frankly, we`re not trying to be dilatory. These are the four witnesses who were eye witness to what happened, these are the documents underlying the contemporaneous notes of these four people and they know that. And that`s why you just cited the Quinnipiac poll. Every day, it goes up. And a majority of Republicans, close to 60 percent of Republicans think witnesses and documents are fair. So that`s what`s pushing us to get the four Republicans that we need.

Against is Donald Trump. They all know that he can be a nasty, vindictive person. He bridges no compromise. You have to be with him all the way or you`re gone, and Mitch McConnell, who has basically just become Trump`s hatchet man in all of this. So it`s up in the air.

Is it an uphill fight? Yes. Would I say, oh, yes, we`re going to win? Absolutely not. But do we have a chance and a better chance than we had a few days ago before the Bolton revelations? Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  It`s been said by pundits, from people who know inside either caucus, but you can defect from Mitch one or two or even three, but the fourth is the killer, because if he gets a fourth against him, that person will get the full scum treatment from Trump and from everybody. Is that a hard thing? Does that fourth person have to bring along three or four with them like a witness, like somebody in a jury, like in 12 Angry Men, where you have to bring Henry Fond. You`ve got to bring some other people along with you. You don`t want to be the fourth.

SCHUMER:  Well, look, I think there are 10 to 12 Republicans who are in play. And these are 10 to 12 people who have never said a negative word about witnesses and documents.

So there`s a real chance here to get more than four. There`s also a chance to get less. But I`d make one difference from what you said. Even if you`re the single person who votes against Donald Trump for witnesses and documents, McConnell may forgive you, Trump never will. And you see these articles in states, the hard right Trump people say they better be with Trump or we`re not supporting them. So there`s a lot of pressure on these folks.

But I think some of them sort of realize the right thing to do at this moment in history and it weighs on different shoulders in different ways is to at least get witnesses and documents. That is only fair.

MATTHEWS:  When I think of recent history, Senator, I think about John McCain when he put his hand, his thumb down, his arm hurt by the war, his imprisonment in Hanoi as a POW. He put his hand down with that thumb down. That was courage in sight. We could see it. But look what Trump -- he followed him beyond the grave, Trump.

SCHUMER:  Yes. Well, and -- but he has, but you know what? Mitch McConnell will be remembered in history as a great man for what he did there. And he will not be remembered for all the times he went along with Trump, particularly when, you know, the right wing reluctantly. That`s a historical lesson for people. This is a moment. This is a moment.

MATTHEWS:  You mean John McCain?

SCHUMER:  Yes, John McCain. I`m sorry. Yes John McCain will be remembered.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. In an interview with CBS earlier along these sides (ph) just yesterday, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said she`s likely to vote for witnesses. Here she goes.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME):  It is very likely that I`m going to conclude that, yes, we do need to hear from witnesses.

I for one believe that there`s some gaps, some ambiguities that need to be cleared up and more information tends to be helpful when you`re making such a weighty decision.


MATTHEWS:  However, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who`s retiring, could be the crucial fourth Republican vote, said late tonight he still hasn`t made up his mind.


SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN):  As far as I`m concerned after I finish hearing the answers to the questions and consider the record, I`ve now heard the arguments of both sides, and I`ll make a decision about whether we need more evidence in terms of documents and witnesses.


MATTHEWS:  What do you think the pressures are like on him right now?

SCHUMER:  Well, the pressures are on everybody, I mean, some more than others. There are some who are just going to vote with Trump no matter what. There are some on the hard right who are so angry at the left that they just support him no matter what happens. But there are a good number who aren`t that way, and thank God.

I would say this, when they sat there, any Republican who is fair-minded and heard Jay Sekulow, the president`s lawyer, get up and say, one of the reasons you can`t vote to convict is there are no eye witness accounts. And at the same time his -- the client he`s working for is stopping those eye witnesses from coming. The hypocrisy, the failure to deal with facts, reality, truth is just overwhelming when he can say something like that. It`s so two-faced. It`s irresponsible. It`s hypocritical.

MATTHEWS:  Finally, Senator, you`re the minority leader, Democratic leader, do you think you have 47 Democrats in your caucus, everybody in the caucus, men and women, to vote for witnesses?

SCHUMER:  I believe, yes. There is unanimity and strong unanimity. The only reason we`ve been able to punch through, why are we talking about witnesses and documents? Well, four weeks ago, I sent a letter. I called Nancy, told her I was doing it, I sent a letter to McConnell and all of the senators saying this is what we need for truth. We don`t know what they will say. They`re Trump appointees. They might be exculpatory for Trump. They might be further incriminating for Trump, but we want the truth. And our caucus, from Joe Manchin to Bernie Sanders and everyone in between has been unanimously strong on witnesses.

And here`s an interesting thing. There are like 150 Democrats who went on T.V. talking about the need for witnesses, for documents. Very few Republicans go on because they know we`re right and they don`t want to carry the argument and very few of them argue directly against witnesses and documents. They come up with these shiny objects, Hunter Biden or something like that.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you so much, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democratic leader of the United States Senate. Thank you so much for coming on tonight.

SCHUMER:  Good to be with you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I`m joined right now by Peter Baker, New York Times Chief White House Correspondent, Andrew Weissmann, former Department of Justice prosecutor, Maya Wiley, former U.S. Assistant Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Philip Bump, Washington Post Political Reporter, and Michael Steele, former Chair of the RNC.

Peter Baker, you have to write the big analysis piece. Where are you on this one, because we`ve been tracking this up to our deadline tonight? There`s a story coming out, we had one at NBC. The 50 votes were there to stop witnesses. And then everybody else is coming up saying, no, we don`t quite have it. Where are you? It`s 7:09 Eastern Time. They`ve got the votes to stop the witnesses?

PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Yes, I think it`s right there on the razor`s edge right now. And I think the sign of that is all of these different proposals people are coming up with, let`s have witness swap or let`s subpoena the book itself. The fact that people are sort of throwing out these ideas just shows you how uncertain the situation is right now.

And it`s going to depend a lot on these questions. I think, the next two days, the senators have 16 hours, over two days, to submit questions in writing on note to both sides. That could influence the conversation. There will be backroom conversations over those next two days as well. But it`s very possible that you could see John Bolton testifying. I think that would really change the dynamics of this trial at some point.

MATTHEWS:  Of course, if it does. But I get the sense that things have settled down in the Republican caucus. Two days ago, they were -- yesterday, certainly, they were shook. I get a sense there`s a calming going on now. They may be stronger even tomorrow in the mood to hold the 50. I haven`t seen the fourth Republican defection`s name yet. And when I see that, I`ll be confident that we`ll have witnesses. Where are you on that? Do we know the name of the fourth person? That`s the hardest thing, to be the deal breaker for the Republicans.

BAKER:  No. And I think once you get the fourth, you could have a fifth, or sixth, or seventh. It`s the fourth one, as you put it, correctly is so key. Nobody wants to be the one person that puts it over the edge for fear of breaking with the president and offending him.

But, look, Mitch McConnell told him yesterday, take a breath, stay calm, we`ll get through this. And that`s been the key to his success in rallying Republicans again and again, every time they get nervous about some new revelation about President Trump, whether it would be during this trial or over the past three years. Stay calm, be patient, we`ll get through this. Somehow this president managed to get through things other politicians haven`t been able to. And so he`s saying, don`t panic just because of this one report.

MATTHEWS:  Well, thank you so much, Peter Baker of The New York Times. We have other panelists joining us now.

While Trump`s legal team, however, largely ignored the news of John Bolton`s account yesterday, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow downplayed its significance today, saying it should be inadmissible.


JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP DEFENSE TEAM:  Responding to an unpublished manuscript that maybe some reporters have an idea of maybe what it says. And that`s what the -- if you want to call that evidence, I don`t know what you call that. I call in inadmissible.

Are you going to allow proceedings on impeachment to go from a New York Times report about someone that says what they hear is in a manuscript?


MATTHEWS:  Michael, I have no doubt who he`s talking to there. And he`s not talking to people who pay attention. This thing that drives me crazy about journalism today, the reporter`s job today is not just to report but to record to keep reminding people what we reported two weeks ago.


MATTHEWS:  He acts like we don`t know who Bolton is and the Time might be wrong about this. I mean, give me a break. They have got the manuscript.

STEELE:  Yes, they`ve got the manuscript and the country knows. That`s why the number is sitting at 75 percent of American people saying, yes, we`d like to hear from Bolton and we`d like to hear from some of these other people.

A lot of folks have sort of second guessed and looked around the corner about what Nancy Pelosi did, but this all goes back to a very critical decision in December of 2019 by the speaker of the House to say, you know what, I`m going to take this piece of paper and this is going to sit on my desk for a little while, ecause what happened is a lot of other things that were sort of sitting up there, the good reporters and journalist investigators were out there doing began to sort of bubble up and surface and here we are.

And you can just see right now Bolton is two things, one, he`s annoyed as hell because of how the president is sort of coming at him. And more importantly, men and women that he`s been in the trenches with for over 30 years here in Washington now taking Trump`s side over his and so he`s ready to chomp at the bit and he has something he wants to say.

MATTHEWS:  He dumps on these people the minute he thinks they`re going against him. So then they definitely decide to go against them. He doesn`t give him a little space. Your thoughts?

MAYA WILEY, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY FOR SDNY:  Clearly. I mean, he intimidates witnesses by Twitter. And so I think that one of the things that`s so interesting here, I just want to go back and repeat something Claire McCaskill said earlier, is the Republicans can have witnesses any time they want because they have 53 votes. So if they really want Hunter Biden or Joe Biden, make a vote for him right now. The reason they don`t is that they don`t want witnesses. They just don`t want witnesses. They don`t want any witnesses.

And what Bolton did was give them no choice, obviously because Bolton had formalized an agreement with the White House about a book, he was planning it all along, not necessarily knowing what it would say, but that means the White House also knew it all along.

MATTHEWS:  But did they -- do you think it`s reasonable to assume that the lawyers at the NSC, whoever have to clear the -- what`s top secret or not, would pass, hey, guess what, Mr. President, we`ve got the guy`s book who may be ratting you out? He is ratting you out.

WILEY:  He is -- well, if that`s what truth telling is called, I`d like us to call it truth telling. Because the most important thing isn`t protecting a person with the ultimate power in the country from wrongdoing, from being held accountable for wrongdoing, and that`s ultimately why we need witnesses.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they wanted to keep it from Mitch McConnell, which is so true right now.

My guests are sticking with us.

Coming up, John Bolton has once again -- he was once a neo-con ally of the highest order of the Trump forces, but now that Trump sees him as a threat, Republicans are undermining Bolton and calling him a liar and a Democratic tool. That`s an unusual role. I would never call John Bolton that.

Also, Republican Senator Joni Ernst gives away what this whole Ukraine scandal was about. It`s about smearing Joe Biden. Here she is letting the cat out of the bag.


SEN. JONI ENRST (R-IA):  Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening and I`m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucus goers. Will they be supporting Vice President Biden at this point?


MATTHEWS:  So that`s the word from the Republican in Iowa. The whole idea of this whole scandal was to make sure the moderate Democrat didn`t get the nomination coming out of Iowa. That`s what she says. Some say this could be a big political opportunity for Biden. He could stand up right now and make a strong speech defending himself and the honor of his family. My big question, political question, should he do it, just get out there, shoot the moon, take a chance? Don`t come in second or third, come in first, maybe.

A lot to get to tonight. Stick with us.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In the wave of the -- in the wake, actually, of the bombshell reporting by "The New York Times" that Ambassador Bolton`s memoir confirms the Trump- Ukraine dirt-for-aid scheme, the president and his allies launched an all- out assault on, guess who, John Bolton.

President Trump led a multipronged or pincer counteroffensive, which included TV hits and Twitter taunts.

Trump tweeted: "I never told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations of the Democrats. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book."

Trump was eventually joined by his traditional allies and sycophants, who spent the past few days portraying Bolton as a lying turncoat.


STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I think the timing of all of this is very, very suspect. And it`s very clear the president did nothing wrong.

And then, suddenly, this manuscript has magically appeared in the hands of "The New York Times" making very, very big claims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It`s amazing the forces that seem to be working against the president.

LOU DOBBS, FOX NEWS:  The RINO resistance raised in, raging on and trying to give credence to concerted efforts of one John Bolton, the deep state, and those radical Dems trying to overthrow the president of the United States.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA):  It doesn`t even matter what "The New York Times" allegedly says happened.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY):  I think he has a reason, a monetary reason to lie.


MATTHEWS:  Of course, that was all led by "FOX & Friends," which the president watches every morning while he`s on the telephone in his bubble bath.

There was one notable exception, however. Retired General John Kelly, who served as the president`s chief of staff for a while, defended his former colleague John Bolton during an event in Florida.

When asked if Bolton should testify at Trump`s impeachment trial, Kelly told an audience: "John is an honest guy. He`s a man of integrity and great character. I think if there are people that could contribute to this, either innocence or guilt, I think they should be heard."

He added: "If John Bolton says that in the book, I believe John Bolton."

I`m now back right now with Andrew Weissmann, Maya Wiley, Philip Bump of "The Washington Post," and Michael Steele.

Philip, it`s fascinating that the president just directly denies the account in a book which is for the ages of his recent national security adviser.


MATTHEWS:  Just denies it, 180.

BUMP:  Right.

Well, the fascinating thing here, of course, is, A, the book is going to come out anyway. So we`re all going to get to read it.

MATTHEWS:  In March.

BUMP:  Whether or not it`s after the impeachment trial.

But, B, the way to adjudicate this is to have Bolton sit down and ask him questions. Like, that`s the entire point of calling witnesses, is then you can say, hey, you said this, or did you not say this, or poke holes in his story.

Otherwise, the book is just going to be sitting out there making this claim anyway, without it having been questioned by...


MATTHEWS:  When -- just to get the fact, Andrew, when -- if John Bolton were to be brought in, yes, it`s a iffy question tonight. At the end of the week, we will know.

If he`s called in next week or because the -- somehow, he gets through the privilege issue, the executive privilege, who questions him and cross- examines? What kind of a situation would he go through?

ANDREW WEISSMANN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  So, I think it`s going to work that the House Democratic managers will ask questions, and then the president`s lawyers will get to cross, friendly cross.

MATTHEWS:  Can they rubber-hose him? And how rough would it be?


WEISSMANN:  Oh, I think that -- I think you got a sense of that already.

I think the rubber-hosing, that will happen in the press. I think it`s a -- that is a hard sell with John Bolton to say that he is -- I think I saw one clip that said he`s a Democratic tool. That has to be a first for John Bolton.


I think we have spent -- I have spent maybe 20 years attacking him as a neocon supporter of the Iraq War, a total neocon. He wanted to go to war with Iran. I mean, he`s not on anybody`s liberal side that I know of.

WEISSMANN:  So, one thing I think it`s important for everyone to realize is that I don`t think that the Republicans really will be able to lock this down tomorrow.

It`s useful to remember there are 16 hours of questioning. And that gives the Democrats an enormous ability to point out that the president hasn`t in fact said anything in the Senate trial, either in writing or under oath.

There`s -- and the vice president hasn`t. Pompeo hasn`t.


WEISSMANN:  So, I mean, there`s a real opportunity to point out just how much Bolton is needed.

MATTHEWS:  The one escape edge, or last redoubt, or fallback, whatever you want to call it, is, it doesn`t matter, because it`s not impeachable.

Remember, he didn`t do it, but if he did do it, OK. And that`s their double -- and that`s the Dershowitz fallback position.

WILEY:  Right.

Well, that would have actually been a more legitimate defense than, you can`t impeach for abuse of power, and that there`s no evidence that there was a quid pro quo.

I mean, there`s tons of evidence in the record that there was a quid pro quo. Everybody on his team thought that they had to, in order to get the Ukraine the money and support it needed, and by meeting and by aid, that they had to get these investigative -- investigations done.

Mayor Giuliani in the public record back in May making clear that his job, to defend the president, was to go to Ukraine. So, all I`m saying is that if they had said -- I would not agree or support it, but if they had just said, look, he did it, there`s no -- let`s stipulate to the facts.

MATTHEWS:  Can they stipulate? That`s a great word.

WILEY:  They can stipulate to the facts.

MATTHEWS:  Can they stipulate right -- OK.

You say to the four Republicans who might defect, Andrew, you say to them, OK, Mr. Possible Defector or Ms. Possible Defector, I stipulate everything that Bolton in the book is true. Let`s move on. Should this guy get impeached for what he did?

WEISSMANN:  So, I mean, the real problem is that the president`s never going to allow that.

STEELE:  Right.

WEISSMANN:  I mean, the president`s going to want a defense which is on the facts and the law.

He`s going to -- remember, he`s running for reelection.

MATTHEWS:  But he can win this way. He could be at the Super Bowl with a -- quote -- "acquittal" by then, if he says, OK, I agree, it`s all true, let`s move. Let`s...


WEISSMANN:  Well, one of the things that people have been floating around is whether this would somehow end up with a censure.

And, again, the president is never going to allow that, to your point, that he`s going to really go after anyone who`s not on his team. That`s the problem.

MATTHEWS:  Michael?

STEELE:  No, I think that`s exactly right.

Trump, remember, wanted this to be done like this, very quickly, but he also wanted it to be a big, like, affair. He wanted a lot of noise and screaming.

So this idea that you`re going to stipulate that he actually committed a crime or did something bad, he`s not going to -- because he sees himself as being innocent.


OK. Well, let`s talk about the timing, because a lot of this isn`t law. It`s theater. The president`s envisions a weekend like this. Tonight, he`s in South Jersey. He`s in either Cape May or Wildwood somewhere with a big crowd.

So that leads up to where he wants to be on Sunday.

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  He wants to be on FOX with Sean Hannity.

STEELE:  Doing the Super Bowl interview.

MATTHEWS:  For a nice interview with a huge audience going into FOX television on broadcast, right?

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Not on cable, huge audience.

And then come in and be seen maybe in the crowd somewhere, if he decides to go the Super Bowl. And then the next night, he`s watching the Iowa caucuses. And then the next night is State of the Union.

It`s a hell of a week for him.


MATTHEWS:  If they vote for witnesses, it`s not going to be like that.

STEELE:  Right, no. And that`s the problem.

And it won`t be like that, because 75 percent of the country wants something different than what the president wants.

MATTHEWS:  And he will look -- he will be looking forward to a trial.

STEELE:  Right.

And the problem he has is reconciling the difference between what he wants and what the American people wants, because the advantage he`s always had in these scenarios is that he could always reach into his back pocket and at minimum pull out his base of 38, 40 percent of the people who make a lot of noise.

Now it`s 75 percent on the other side.

MATTHEWS:  OK. This is why I think he might concede the point, the argument, because, Tuesday night, next Tuesday, he will be there with Nancy Pelosi, of course, Pence and his sort of beatific eye look.

But he will be sitting -- he will be standing below Pelosi, who has just impeached him. And the trial is coming up still.

STEELE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  She looks like the winner. It will drive him crazy.

BUMP:  I mean, in the moment, potentially, yes.

I mean, it`s hard to sort of evaluate how the optics will play...


MATTHEWS:  Well, you can imagine.


BUMP:  He`s not going to be exactly thrilled about it.

I do want to say, on the polling question, I think it`s important to note, though, the CNN poll that had similar numbers, similar level of support nationally. Republicans disagree. They thought Democrats only want witnesses to hurt the Republicans.

So I think the Republicans want witnesses, but they want Hunter Biden and Joe Biden. They don`t want Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton, whereas the Democrats want these other witnesses.

STEELE:  Right. Right.

BUMP:  And so I don`t think that Donald Trump`s going against his base by opposing witnesses, because they don`t want to see Bolton.

STEELE:  No, he`s going against his base.

But the problem is, it`s all mixed up in the collective view of the American people. So no one`s parsing out what percentage of that is, oh, we want Biden vs. we want Bolton.

WILEY:  But he also doesn`t get acquittal with no witnesses.

STEELE:  And he doesn`t get acquittal. That`s right.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he has 20,000 people in Wildwood. But you will get 20 million watching Hunter Biden and watching John Bolton.

Thank you, my guests, Andrew Weissmann, Maya Wiley, Philip Bump, and Michael Steele.

Up next:  Trump`s defense team has rested its case. But the longtime reality TV star himself reportedly found some of their presentation -- this is his own crowd he`s talking about -- boring.

So, do we expect more fireworks now to keep the president more entertained by his team for the next 16 hours of debate starting tomorrow?

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump`s defense team wrapped up their opening arguments today, using less than half of their allotted time. They rested their case not with a defense of the president`s behavior, actually, but with an argument that what he did isn`t impeachable, and that the process should come to an end.


JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:  There is no violation of law. There`s no violation of the Constitution. There is a disagreement on policy decisions.

To have a removal of a duly elected president based on a policy disagreement, that is not what the framers intended.

And if you lower the bar that way, danger, danger, danger.

PAT CIPOLLONE, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  Overturning the last election, and massively interfering with the upcoming one, would cause serious and lasting damage to the people of the United States and to our great country. The Senate cannot allow this to happen.


MATTHEWS:  Well, after mostly ignoring the new John Bolton revelations about his new book on Monday, today, the president`s attorney Jay Sekulow tried to minimize them amid calls for Bolton to testify.


SEKULOW:  It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts. That`s politics, unfortunately.

And Hamilton put impeachment in the hands of this body, the Senate.

Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, even if true, would rise to the level of abuse of power or an impeachable offense. You cannot impeach a president on an unsourced allegation.


MATTHEWS:  I`m joined right now by one of the -- I`m joined by one of the House impeachment managers, of course, U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California.

Congresswoman, the argument seems to be, at this mature date in this trial, he didn`t do it, but, if he did, it`s OK.



LOFGREN:  It`s pretty stunning, and I think clearly wrong as a matter of law and history.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the sort of strange -- like, if you follow sports -- and I`m sure you do, I`m sure you do -- it`s like the team has to get ready for the other team`s offense.

And it looked to me like the Republican defenders of the president weren`t quite ready for the assault this week. They didn`t readjust their defense for the John Bolton expose.

LOFGREN:  Well, I don`t know.

I mean, the manuscript, apparently, according to the press reports, has been at the White House since the end of December.


LOFGREN:  So it`s inexplicable why they wouldn`t have been prepared for Mr. Bolton`s willingness to come to the Senate and give his testimony that the president told him directly that he was withholding the aid to get the Democrats.

I mean, that`s the essence of what is being said here. And I think they have got to call him. And I was surprised that the president`s lawyers essentially put his testimony at issue, making it even more imperative for the senators to call Bolton in to testify.


LOFGREN:  And to think that that kind of abuse of power is not impeachable, not -- is -- I mean, it`s preposterous, especially when we had Mr. Starr the other day talking about a president who lied about a sexual affair.

Yes, that you could impeach, but a president who would misuse his power, threaten Western Europe with Russian aggression to get a benefit for his election, that`s OK?

That`s ridiculous.

MATTHEWS:  Well, in a tweet yesterday morning, President Trump encouraged Americans to tune in as his legal team resumed their arguments.

But "The New York Times" reports that Trump later complained to associates that the presentations from his defense team were boring.


MATTHEWS:  I don`t know how you can react to that, because there he is trashing his own side.

I have to -- I will just say, watching this rather relentlessly the last couple weeks, I thought the House managers did a really good job.

LOFGREN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  And I thought -- led by Mr. Schiff and you.

And I thought that it was intellectual. It was aimed at people who do read the papers, who do follow this event. It was accumulative. It went from one stage of knowledge to another stage of knowledge.

On the other side, what is so disturbing is this new pattern -- it`s in the media now too -- where you just ignore yesterday. You erase the blackboard every day and start over.

And so it`s not even exactly lying. It`s just ignoring the truth over and over again, as if you didn`t just hear it, playing to people`s attention spans. It just -- do you sense this, that they don`t really address your charges directly? They sort of skip them, pick one or two they like...

LOFGREN:  Completely.

MATTHEWS:  ... ignoring most of it, of the points you make.

LOFGREN:  Well, and then -- and they distort it as well, not only the case that we have made, but the history.

I mean, Dershowitz`s long law school lecture was wrong on the history, was wrong on the Constitution, was wrong on the law. It was -- and it also wasn`t gripping TV, which I guess is what the president was referring to.

So they ignore our arguments. They ignore the law. They ignore the Constitution. They ignore the record of the Constitutional Convention.

It`s not a great presentation, in my opinion.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president`s team has argued that the hold on U.S. military aid to Ukraine was rooted in President Trump`s concerns about corruption, corruption generally in Ukraine.

Today, Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin, a member of the president`s defense team, was asked what specifically Trump was concerned about.


HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  It`s a hard question, because he -- the president is not on the record mentioning anything other than Biden, CrowdStrike. That`s it. And you haven`t mentioned anything else.


REP. LEE ZELDIN (R-NY):  OK. I`m happy to answer your question.

But all I was asking was -- because you have a lot of colleagues here.

PRZYBYLA:  You guys want the answer, right?


PRZYBYLA:  Yes, they do.

ZELDIN:  OK. I`m happy to.

Listen, first off, you had a lot of testimony yesterday from -- you heard great remarks from Pam Bondi, from Eric Herschmann, going into the details as it relates to Burisma and the Bidens.


MATTHEWS:  They keep trying to bring it in, don`t they?

LOFGREN:  Well, they`re trying to get in the Senate trial what they couldn`t get the Ukrainians to do in this shakedown scheme, which is to do damage to Vice President Biden for political purposes.

Really, there`s no case to be made. The president never pursued corruption in Ukraine. And this crazy CrowdStrike, because that`s ridiculous.

One of the things, I wish people, someone, maybe you, Chris, would explain to people, there`s no one server. There were -- a server is a computer. There were over 100 computers used as servers at the DNC.

And the FBI came in, and they mirrored them. Nobody in law enforcement takes the computers away from the hacking victim, so they can`t do their work. And they don`t need to, because they have already got it. They have mirrored it.

And the computers have long since been decommissioned. Nobody runs an organization on 5-year-old computers.

So, it`s just weird that this --


LOFGREN: -- conspiracy theory is out there.

It`s just crazy.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it works for them, I suppose, for some --

LOFGREN:  I guess.

MATTHEWS:  -- there in dreamland.

Anyway, U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California

Up next, did she just say that? Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa gives away the game. She lets the cat out of the bag. The whole idea, the whole scam, the whole thing with the Ukrainians was to smear the Bidens.

Senate Republicans think they`ve succeeded where Trump`s Ukraine shakedown failed in throwing mud on his potential Democratic rival.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There`s no surprise that former Vice President Joe Biden became the focus for President Trump`s defense team. They tried to make the case that Trump`s request to Ukraine for investigations in the Biden and his family was justified and not political.

But Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa who`s up for re-election in November seemed to give away the game when she spoke to reporters yesterday.


SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IA):  Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening and I`m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, the Democratic caucusgoers. Will they be supporting Vice President Biden at this point? Not sure about that.


MATTHEWS:  Well, those are the kinds of comments politicians usually think privately but don`t say publicly. Ernst isn`t the first Republican to make that mistake. It`s reminiscent of White House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, what he said about Hillary Clinton when she was running in 2016.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA):  Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers ever dropping. Why? Because she`s untrustable, but no one would have known any of that happened had we not thought --




And now, Biden is seizing on the comments from Senator Ernst. Here he is this morning in Iowa.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  By the way, did anyone see what your Senator Joni Ernst did yesterday? She spilled the beans. She just came out and flat said it.

You know, the whole impeachment trial for Trump is just a political hit job trying to smear me because he is scared to death to run against me and he has good reason to be concerned, let me tell you something. You Iowa caucusgoers get a chance for a twofer. You can ruin Donald Trump`s night by caucusing for me and you can ruin Joni Ernst`s night as well.


MATTHEWS:  We spoke to Iowa Democratic voters and some agreed with Republicans actually calling for Biden to testify, but it`s not the reason you might think. That`s next. You`re watching HARDBALL.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would like to see Joe testify call them the liars that they are.

KATY TUR, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  So you want to see him punch back?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, god, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don`t think there`s a problem. At the same time, he`s Irish for Christ`s sakes. Be charming and be a little bit (INAUDIBLE) look him in the eye and (INAUDIBLE) Trump.


MATTHEWES:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Those were just a few Iowa Democrats reacting to Republican attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden in the impeachment trial, with only six days until the Iowa caucus, I can`t believe six days.  Those attacks could create a make or break moment for Biden as he makes his final pitch to the voters out there.

According to Real Clear Politics average of Iowa polls, Biden is in second place slightly behind -- that`s an amazingly close race there, slightly behind Bernie Sanders in Vermont.

For more, I`m joined by Susan del Percio, a Republican strategist, and Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University.

Christina, first, I don`t know why Joni Ernst announced that the purpose of the entire scam over to get dirt on Biden was to make him lose because Republicans thought he was the toughest one to beat. So they wanted him to lose in Iowa. That`s what she said.

CHRISTINA GREER, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE:  That`s literally what she said out loud for all to hear and that`s clearly part of their strategy. Now that the news cycle as reported on that, and we know that she was performing for an audience of one, yet again, as most Republicans, she`s performing for the president. The next strategy will be Biden should come then in front of the senators and justify, you know, his interactions with Ukraine and his son, and I think a lot of Democrats and even Joe Biden are saying that`s not going to happen. It`s a bad idea.

MATTHEWS:  Excuse me for having an interest in this, but he could come on a program like this one and get a decent amount of time and make his defense. Why isn`t he out there using the media that would give him a platform? Whether "Meet the Press", whatever, "Face the Nation".  Wouldn`t he this weekend be better coming off coming out if it were a straight reporter and just making his case.

SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  He hasn`t been able to that since the first day this information came out against his son, Hunter. He`s not - - he`s defended it but not strong enough.

And the thing is that he already has gained enough from it because he is the one who says Donald Trump is coming after me because he`s scared. The polling we saw Quinnipiac poll come out that 44 -- he`s double digits ahead of Bernie Sanders at 44 percent, that he`s the best to take on Donald Trump.

I think Joe Biden`s problem in those polls is he`s not connecting with voters and he`s just like that clip.

MATTHEWS:  We`re not three years old. I`m not three years old. You guys are younger. But I`ve got to tell you something, I`ve been through a couple of these. Dukakis in `88 was attacked as un-American. They de-Americanize the guy. 

They said he wouldn`t support teachers leading their classes in the pledge of allegiance, that he was a card-carrying member. That was a nice phrase of the ACLU. He led Willie Horton go.  I mean, on weekends.  I mean, he never come -- he never came back.

GREER:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And John Kerry, when he was swift boated 24 years later, he didn`t come back.

Haven`t they learned the lesson you must respond?

GREER:  Well, I mean, there`s responding.  Joe Biden is essentially saying, you know what, yes, I`m a front runner. Yes, I make Trump very nervous, but let me also just talk to you all about strategies. Let me try to connect with voters because the polling says that I`m doing well.

But let me -- we all know that Joe Biden is not at his fighting weight the way he was in 2008. We know that.  We see it. We hear it.

And so, he`s trying to do more retail politics and not get in the mud. As Mark Twain says, you know, you start -- are you the crazy person?


MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that? Do you believe like shots go unanswered?  Do you believe in that strategy?

GREER:  Well, that`s not my strategy, but I`m not running for the presidency.

MATTHEWS:  Advise candidates.  If you were teaching a class to a candidate right now, when you are hit hard with some mud, what do you do?

GREER:  Listen, I only respond if I see someone as my equal. If Joe Biden is not responding, worse than being told off is being ignored. So, in many ways, he`s ignoring these petty attacks. I`ve dealt with them, let`s move forward and actually put together a strategy for the Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  Susan, what`s your theory? What would you advise?

DEL PERCIO:  I would advise if the candidate was capable to deliver a strong message.

MATTHEWS:  You are still cruel.  You are still cruel.

DEL PERCIO:  But he has not shown he is able to deliver that punch well, so I would not have him go out that way because he has had a lot of mistakes happen along the way, and he can`t afford another one.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I think I`d like to hear him say something as a voter and a pundit. I`d like him to come on and just say, you know what, it was a tricky situation when I found out that Hunter took that job. I didn`t like it, but he`s a grown-up kid and he`s a grown-up adult.

And I couldn`t -- It was too late for me to stop it. I`ll tell you one thing I did. And I`m serious about this. I never once had a single conversation with him about how I can help him with that job. I never once talked to him about Ukraine and the politics over there. I never made one call or one conversation. I did nothing to help him, nothing.

And that was tough for the father. Not to help him a bit. People would say, you know what, that`s very good.

GREER:  Look, Chris, I think that`s a straightforward logical way to explain a logical situation and Joe Biden does not articulate himself in that fashion. I also do not understand why any Democrat is even entertaining this conversation without saying, before, Republicans, before you say anything, let`s talk about this $120 million that Jared and Ivanka made. If we`re going to start talking about children, let`s talk about all the children then.

MATTHEWS:  You can do that. It won`t work. I mean, it might work. I think it`s fair to say, what about your kids. I think that`s very fair.

But, you know, I don`t -- I think -- I think they kept pushing it. They won with swift boating.

They won against Mike Dukakis. They made him look un-American and against our defense treaties, against our national defense. I have seen this stuff work.

And afterwards, we said, that was rotten. Well, we`re still before so now we give advice. Your advice is fight back?

DEL PERCIO:  Fight back in very limited settings.

MATTHEWS:  OK, your advice is let the crowd go?

GREER:  Articulate a vision for the voters to actually be inspired to come out and vote for you.

MATTHEWS:  Both well side. We`ll see what`s right.

Susan Del Percio, Christina Greer, we`ll be right back after this.


MATTHEWS:  With the Iowa caucus in less than a week, I wanted to let you know about my new podcast. It is called, "So you want to be president?" 

And here`s what it`s all about. I break down the six most important lessons learned from presidential campaigns that win. And I talked to campaign veterans who have had front row seats to presidential history. They explain why these lessons matter and how they separated winners from losers.

Well, the first two episodes are available right now, so listen and subscribe for free on apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. I`ll see you again tomorrow morning at 11:00 Eastern for MSNBC`s continuing coverage of the impeachment trial.

"ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.