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President Trump weighs options on Saudi oil attack. TRANSCRIPT: 9/17/19, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.

Guests: Cynthia Alksne, Steve Cohen, Eli Stokols, David Jolly, KimberlyAtkins, Sherrod Brown, Kelly Magsamen, Elise Labott

BARRY BERKE, CONSULTANT ATTORNEY TO HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE DEMOCRATS:  That was not true, was it?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  I have no obligation to be honest to the media just -- because they are just as dishonest as anybody else.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  That is what it sounds like when someone admits under oath that they were lying.  What does everyone want to do about it?  Well, that`s up to you.

That does it for THE BEAT.  Thanks for watching.  We`ll be back here at 6:00 Eastern tomorrow.  "HARDBALL" is up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Hostile witness.  Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

An explosive exchange on Capitol Hill, just minutes ago, President Trump`s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, admitted he was publicly dishonest whether the president asked him to intervene with Jeff Sessions to kill the investigation into Trump`s ties to Russia and possible obstruction of justice.  Here it goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERKE:  That was you saying on MSNBC you don`t ever remember the president ever asking you to get involved with Jeff Sessions or the Department of Justice in any way, shape or form.  That wasn`t true was it, sir?

LEWANDOWSKI:  I heard that.

BERKE:  And that was not true, was it?

LEWANDOWSKI:  I have no obligation to be honest to the media because they`re just as dishonest as anybody else.

BERKE:  So you`re admitting, sir, you were not being truthful in that clip, correct?

LEWANDOWSKI:  My interview with Ari Melber can be interpreted in any way you`d like.

BERKE:  And, sir, it is true in May 2019, you absolutely remembered when the president asked you to deliver a message to the attorney general of a speech for him to give related to the Special Counsel investigation, isn`t that correct?

LEWANDOWSKI:  I`d have to think about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that came -- well, that explosive statement there by Corey Lewandowski came after a day of high political theater on Capitol Hill, in which the Democrats launched what`s being called as an impeachment inquiry.

Committed Democrats pushed Lewandowski to answer questions about the president`s attempt to strangler the Special Counsel`s investigation two years.

According to the Mueller report, Trump directed Lewandowski, that man testifying, to deliver a message to Sessions, the attorney general, asking Sessions to quash the Special Counsel investigation into Trump`s dealings or be fired.  That was the message to the A.G.  Trump even dictated a public statement he wanted Sessions to deliver.  But Lewandowski did want deliver the message in part because he didn`t want a paper trail of his visit to the Department of Justice.

Here`s what he said when asked why he wanted a secret meeting with Sessions to deliver Trump`s message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA):  You didn`t want to meet in the Department of Justice because you knew that if you went into a government building, that there`s a public log of the visit.

So why is that?  Why didn`t you want to leave a paper trail of your visit?

LEWANDOWSKI:  Well, Jeff and I are friends socially and I wanted to have an opportunity to have a meal with Jeff and relay the conversation, which the president asked me to ask Jeff to consider giving.

BASS:  So you`re a private citizen.  You`re delivering a message to the attorney general to limit the investigation.  So if you didn`t think you were doing anything wrong, then why would it matter that there was a public log?

LEWANDOWSKI:  I wanted to have the opportunity to speak with Jeff in a more relaxed atmosphere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, at the end of the hearing today, Chairman Jerry Nadler said the committee would consider holding Lewandowski, that fellow there, in contempt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY):  Mr. Lewandowski, your behavior in this hearing room has been completely unacceptable.  And it is part of a pattern by a White House despot for the American people not to hear the truth.

I`ve been asked several times today whether the committee will hold you in contempt.  It is certainly under consideration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I`m joined right now by Judiciary Committee Member, U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Eli Stokols, White House Reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Cynthia Alksne, is a former federal prosecutor, David Jolly, a former Republican member of Congress.

Let me go to Cynthia on this question.  I think we saw an example today, this will drive the members of Congress crazy but it`s true, this council did a hell of a good job.

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUROT:  He did a great job.  I could be a groupie by the end of the day.

MATTHEWS:  But he got Lewandowski admit on camera for the world, I don`t tell the truth, when interviewed on MSNBC.

ALKSNE:  He got him to admit basically that he was a liar, that he was proud about it that he was a liar.  He got him to admit he had a motive to deliver this message because he was trying to get a job at the White House.  Lewandowski tried to use that shield of whatever the White House said and he pulled out Lewandowski`s book and read him sections of it so he had to admit that he had the motive to try to do Trump`s bidding so he could get the job.  It was masterful.  It was done with a -- first with a sledgehammer and then a scalpel.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Steve Cohen, thank you, because I think Americans tend to understand things from movies more than life sometimes.  And what it reminded me of sending Lewandowski over to the Attorney General`s Office to meet with him outside the building, it`s almost like setting Tom Hagen to the prison to talk to Johnny Five Angels and tell him, we got the goods on you, we got your brother in court.  I`m telling you, it looked like a mob kind of operation.

Why would the president of the United States use a henchman, Lewandowski, to go to the attorney general off-campus and tell him to drop the case against him or he was going to get fired himself?  That seems like mob behavior and a hit man at work.  Your thoughts.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN):  Well, everybody else in the administration who was a character, Mr. McGahn and even Attorney General Sessions refused to do what the president asked.  Sessions refused to recuse himself.  McGahn refused to go and try to -- in the investigation, and fire the Special Counsel.  But Lewandowski was somebody that was the enforcer.  He was admittedly -- he was a loyal soldier.  That`s what he did.

So Trump knew that this was a guy he get to go do his dirty work.  And in essence, he was his Luca Brasi, and he went to --

MATTHEWS:  But how can this not be -- sir, how could this not be obstruction of justice?

COHEN:  It is obstruction of justice.  We saw obstruction of Congress, which was the third charge in the Nixon impeachment today.  With Lewandowski`s refusal to cooperate, to stonewall and to stammer him and haw and that was obstruction of Congress.  And then the obstruction of justice was obviously when he went to Sessions and message to say just do this for future presidents and not for me, that`s obstruction of justice.

So we showed obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice, and we showed the Republicans wanting to do is to buttress Lewandowski and not try to get to the truth of the matter at all.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here`s how the Democrats Counsel, Barry -- what`s his name?

COHEN:  Berke.

MATTHEWS:  Berke, I didn`t him, pressed Lewandowski -- go ahead, Congressman.

COHEN:  Barry Berke was the best impression of Mike Wallace.  He made Mike Wallace, the Great Mike Wallace Show.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he certainly was a Perry Mason, if nothing else.

Anyway, here`s how the Democrats Counsel, Barry Berke, pressed Lewandowski about why he didn`t want a paper trail of his meeting with Jeff Sessions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERKE:  Having a casual dinner with the attorney general has nothing to do why you wouldn`t want a public log of your visit with the attorney general, does it?

LEWANDOWSKI:  It does.

BERKE:  In fact, you don`t want a public log because you knew what you were doing was wrong.  So just as the president went to an unofficial non- government employee, you wanted to make sure there was not a record of it, isn`t that right, sir?

LEWANDOWSKI:  No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Eli Stokols, your view thoughts about this in terms of news value, what`s coming out of this at this late time, it`s almost the fourth quarter of the investigation of the president`s conduct with the Russian and his obstruction of justice.

ELI STOKOLS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, LOS ANGELES TIMES:  Well, I mean, the president was initially cheering Corey Lewandowski`s opening statement and the way that he started off this hearing, which was obvious to everybody that he went in there looking for a fight.  He was performing for the president, audience of one that we always talk about.  The president praised him for doing that this is a guy who is trying to run for Senate in New Hampshire and who, during a recess, tweeted out a link to his Senate campaign committee telling people to follow him.

So his motivation here and the fact that he was planning on stonewalling, planning on making a spectacle and a contentious fight here on television, his moment to demonstrate his loyalty to the president, that was all going really well.

What happened in the last hour came after three, four hours of testimony, and so the question -- you know, I haven`t had time to touch base with people inside the White House to report out what the president thinks of the last hour, but I`m going to guess that they are not as pleased with Corey Lewandowski being exposed obviously as somebody who`s willing to lie to the press and being caught in those lies by a very skilled questioner.  I think the saving grace for the White House might be the fact that, you know, all these fights are going to break along partisan lines and they believe that maybe after several hours, a lot of people weren`t tuned in to see that.

MATTHEWS:  David Jolly, I don`t think -- that was a great analysis.

David, I don`t think the president has ever been stupid enough, he`s not a stupid guy to say, I lie.  This guy went out there having a hotdog for about an hour or two, selling his book and having the time of his life up there, enjoying it like in the end zone, like he kicked a touchdown or something.  And here`s the guy caught up in a lie right on television, which will never go away.  He will always be the guy who said I lied for Trump.

FMR. REP. DAVID JOLLY, (R-FL):  Chris, an hour after, as Eli said, announcing his New Hampshire Senate bid, he announces to the world that he`s a liar.  I mean, he confirmed for the world today, Corey Lewandowski did that he lies to the American people and he`s asking to be a part of the United States Senate.  That works in Trump`s GOP but I think New Hampshire Republicans are smarter than that.

What he also provided though, Chris, was confirmation today clearly amidst all the circus, to Hank Johnson, that the president of the United States instructed him to commit obstruction of justice.  And this is one of those hearings where the transcript, the written transcript, will be much more damning than some of the things Lewandowski actually said.

Lewandowski gave House Judiciary Committee what they needed today for an article of impeachment against the president of the United States for obstruction of justice.

And what he also did, and Nadler kept the hearing open subject to call of the chair, Lewandowski impugned himself.  In that written transcript, we will see he impugned his word to Mueller and the committee, and we saw that through the staff counsel`s questioning at the end of the day.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he may have already done it way back when he was interviewed under oath with the Mueller investigation, right?

ALKSNE:  Well, I mean, there`re lots of information in the Mueller report that he --

MATTHEWS:  Isn`t the record there that he said I went out and did this for the president?

ALKSNE:  Right.  The obstruction of justice was there in the Mueller report but Barry Berke was able to bring it to life.  And then he could add this truth about Lewandowski that he was a liar and he actually brought it to life because he brought in the motive of why he would have tried to do this for the president, and that was really important.

The big shame of the day was that Berke wasn`t the one doing the questioning first.  That`s what should have happened.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he didn`t get elected.  That`s the problem.

ALKSNE:  Nadler should know -- this should be his lesson.

MATTHEWS:  Well, now he knows.  We know who the star is tonight.

Anyway, from the outside of the hearing today, Lewandowski cited a letter from the White House directing him not to answer questions about his conversations with Trump and his refusal to cooperate today led to some heated reactions from members of the committee, Democrats.  Let`s watch them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX):  Did the president tell you that Sessions had already said no, Volume 2, page 107?

LEWANDOWSKI:  Again, Congresswoman, I recognize that the privilege is not mine, but I`ve been asked by the White House -- Congresswoman, I`d be happy to answer your question or you can just have a conversation by yourself.  But if you like to ask me a question, I`d be happy to answer it.

LEE:  No, I am going to continue.  The reason is --

LEWANDOWSKI:  I mean, don`t ask me a question if you don`t hear my answer.

LEE:  I`m reclaiming my time.  This is a house judiciary, not a house party.

LEWANDOWSKI:  The White House has directed that I will not disclose the substance of any discussion with the President or his advisers to protect executive branch confidentiality.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI):  You`re not going to stonewall me in my questioning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, multiple outlets reported in advance that Lewandowski intended to use his platform today for as a launching pad for a United States Senate bid up in New Hampshire.  I said moments ago, in that state, that`s a state that Donald Trump narrowly lost to Hillary Clinton by just three-tenths of 1 percent in 2016.

To that end of his campaign, we heard Lewandowski repeatedly echo the president`s talking points.  He`s running as a Trump surrogate or stand in up in New Hampshire, attacking the investigation today at every turn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEWANDOWSKI:  The American people continue to be sold a false narrative with the purpose of undermining the legitimacy of the 2016 election results.

I think this fake Russia collusion narrative is the greatest crime committed against the American people and our generation, if not, ever

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL):  Do you have a thought as to why we continue to engage in a charade that is overwhelmingly opposed by the American people and fundamentally misunderstood by my Democratic colleagues?

LEWANDOWSKI:  You know, Congressman, I think they hate this president more than they love their country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Steve Cohen, you`re a politician.  What do you think of the Republican politics today?  It seems they went in there with that speech ready.

COHEN:  They were, and Gaetz set him up on one of that statement.  But I think it backfired on them.  I thought they looked terrible.  You had Doug Collins trying to get Trump`s support to make him senator from Georgia and you had Lewandowski trying to get the senate`s position in New Hampshire.

A couple -- three weeks ago, we had a guy trying to get appointed to the security position and he failed.  So we really have Republicans auditioning to Trump for jobs, they failed.  They couldn`t support their position, and they`ve got a situation where obstruction of justice was put in their face and obstruction of Congress as well.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it was a good day for the U.S. Congress.

Anyway, when asked about the communications between the Russians and George Papadopoulos, Lewandowski acknowledged that he believed the outreach was from a potential foreign agent to a Trump policy adviser.  But he said it was not up to him to alert the FBI, that, he said, was the job of Papadopoulos` boss, Sam Clovis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LOU CORREA (D-CA):  Did you report these incidences to the FBI?

LEWANDOWSKI:  I did not.  I did not see that outreach to me as an offer to interfere with the outcome of the election.

CORREA:  What did you see it as?

LEWANDOWSKI:  I saw an outreach from a potential foreign agent to a senior policy -- to a policy adviser and that`s why I asked him to get in touch with Mr. Clovis.

CORREA:  And for the safety, just to be on the safe side, wouldn`t you call the FBI and say, hey, these guys are calling us, please check it out?

LEWANDOWSKI:  You know, I think in hindsight, it`s something that Mr. Clovis probably should have done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  David, let`s talk about the American people who will watch this on the news tonight if they didn`t watch it live, like we did, what will be the reaction today?  Well, they say, maybe there is some life left in this impeachment effort.  What will they say?

This is pretty awful that a toadie of the president, an intimate embodiment, I think his job was in the campaign, was given the job of going for the president of the United States to the attorney general of the United States telling him to call off the dogs, to call off the Mueller investigation or be fired.  This is mob behavior, and this guy did it, the guy we`re looking at right now.  Your thoughts?

What`s the American people -- are they just tired of this issue to the point they cannot be reawakened to what we`re talking about?

JOLLY:  Well, I think they need political leadership to flame the clarity around this.  And, Chris, to your point, it was a perfectly Trumpian moment, right?  Here is Lewandowski basically testifying to, as you said, mob-like behavior, acting like a tough guy until he gets caught and then he`s a weak man that has to point the finger at a colleague and blame somebody else showing a complete irreverence for the truth, also a Trumpian tenant, if you will, surrounded by Republicans.

And we be to put this in context, Chris, once again, every time there is a pivotal hearing like this, House Republicans, here they are, presented by somebody who has testified that the president instructed him to obstruct justice and not a single House Republican cares to ask him about that.  They simply do the president`s bidding.

To your point, Chris, it is up to Democratic leadership, unfortunately, to have to frame the truth for the American people because Republicans will not do that.  The onus is on Democrats to lead the American people in this moment.

MATTHEWS:  We have what`s just described then by David, formerly known as a Republican, a description of the modern Republican Party.  The president who is the only person that matters in their party intellectually, politically, morally, apparently, immorally, has given him an award of excellence for what he did today.

STOKOLS:  Right.  And that`s why he has immunity to go and do that.  They watched the Kavanaugh, they look at this and, you know, there is no consequence.  These are elected officials, and to stay elected in the Republican Party right now is to stay on this president`s good side.  It`s really that simple.

These are not tech CEOs, auto executives, cigarette manufacturers going before Congress with something to lose in the marketplace.  In the political marketplace, the calculation for Republicans is stay with the president.  And it`s the reason that Corey Lewandowski can go in there today and basically, you know, thumb his nose at the entire process.

The only saving grace for Democrats, the fact that, in the last hour, they were able to really expose some of the holes in his story and put him on the defensive, because for the first several hours, it was -- you know, I don`t think Democrats were really getting what they wanted out of that hearing.

MATTHEWS:  It`s Al Capone stuff.

Thank you, U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Eli Stokols of the L.A. Times, Cynthia Alksne, with all her expertise, and David Jolly, formerly known as a Republican.

Coming up right now in the floor of the United States Senate, Democratic members have begun a marathon round of speeches on gun violence.  Good for them.  They`re learning how to use television.  They`re trying to light a fire on Republicans who so far aren`t willing to support any gun safety legislation.

So why are Trump and his conservative allies now talking about gun ownership as a sacred God-given right?  Find that in the scriptures.

Plus brand new poll results were just released, the first since last week`s Democratic debate.  Who`s up, who`s down, well, you`ll be surprised at a couple of things.  That woman in the middle, that Senator from Massachusetts is doing really well.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Left-wing Democrats want to confiscate your guns and eliminate your God-given right to self-defense. 

(BOOING)

TRUMP:  You know that.  I will never, ever allow them to take away your sacred right to keep and bear arms.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was President Trump in New Mexico last night promising his supporters there he`d protect what he called -- this is new one -- their God-given right to their guns.

  He`s far from the only Republican to use that -- to say now what they`re calling God-ordained gun right as a way to appeal to evangelical voters.

Last week, for example, former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted: "We have guns because it`s our God-given right enshrined in the Constitution."

And Texas State Senator Matt Schaefer ignited the debate online when he tweeted in the wake of the Odessa mass shooting: "I am not going to use the evil acts of a handful of people to diminish the God-given rights of my fellow Texans.  Period."

In a tweet, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas described that right as a right to life and a right to liberty.  And he wrote: "Essential to that right to life is the right to defend your life and your family."

Meanwhile, tonight, Democrats are hoping to take advantage of the public support for gun safety.  And right now, they`re in the middle of a series of late-session speeches -- there`s one going on right now from Senator Hirono from Hawaii -- on the Senate floor right now.  They`re going to go evening tonight, through the night, to compel President Trump and Mitch McConnell to do something about gun safety.

McConnell said again today he was waiting for the president to indicate what he supports before bringing any measure to the floor of the Senate. 

I`m joined right now by Democratic United States Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who will deliver his speech from the Senate floor in the next hour. 

Senator, I guess the tough question, are the Democratic senators united for gun background checks, and not going off in the direction of the stuff that Beto O`Rourke was talking about during the last Democratic presidential debate?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OH):  Yes, we will get every Democratic vote on background checks.  I think we will get every Democratic vote on the bill that passed the House.

Here`s what -- when I hear those -- what you just -- I so appreciate how you started that with Cruz and Trump and some of these people I have never heard of in Texas, and I don`t hear of again very often. 

But it is -- they`re just flailing.  I have had a lifetime F from the NRA.  I know that position has cost me votes in my races in Ohio. 

But this has turned.  Now being so much in the tank, so much in the pocket of the gun lobby -- and McConnell and Trump have to break their addiction to gun lobby campaign contributions. 

But if you`re in the pocket of the gun lobby, now it`s going to hurt you at the ballot box.  It`s changed over the last -- really since Newtown, I think, is how that`s changed, that voters that strongly support gun safety, commonsense gun reform, and there`s unity in the caucus, that will be what -- that`s -- we know 93 percent of the public supports the universal background checks.

And a pretty high percentage of the public supports closing the terrorist loopholes and some other things.  And I think you`re going to see that in the months ahead. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Senator, as I mentioned earlier, your fellow -- you and your fellow Democrats are currently delivering speeches on the Senate Florida to call for action on gun safety. 

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand had some very strong words for the Republican presiding over the Senate today, in fact, just two months ago, Arizona`s Martha McSally.

Here she goes, Senator Gillibrand. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY):  Madam President, I`m speaking to you and to every other Republican in this chamber, because we all have a responsibility to do the right thing, and stand up to the NRA, and stand up to the greed and corruption that is in this country today that makes every decision about whether we have a vote on commonsense gun reforms. 

I would like you to look up, because I have to say this is something all of us should be caring about, especially from Arizona, where my dear friend Gabby Giffords was shot for doing her job. 

It`s not OK.  The time for turning a blind eye is over.

I yield the floor. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Senator, let`s talk about the possibilities here. 

The president looks to be between a rock and a hard place, as they used to say.  He is afraid of the NRA.  He`s afraid of the hard right.  He`s afraid of Wayne LaPierre.  It sounds like Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, is waiting on the president. 

The president`s waiting Wayne LaPierre.  And Wayne LaPierre is never going to give him an inch, because then he`s out of a job and out of a mansion and he`s finished. 

BROWN:  Yes.  Well...

MATTHEWS:  How do you get the right to move?

BROWN:  Well, the president`s a fearful man.  It`s -- his whole life, you can see he is a fearful man. 

And it shows every day in the White House.  I think you need to separate this.  And there`s -- there`s -- a bunch of Republicans elected to office, they`re all in the pockets of the NRA.  I get that. 

But most gun owners, most NRA members in Ohio support universal background checks.  It`s only the professional lobbying class, those people like Wayne LaPierre and his minions -- they`re more than just he -- that make millions of dollars a year off lobbying. 

It`s the gun manufacturers that make tens or hundreds of millions of dollars from selling assault weapons and selling all these guns and in selling ammunition and all the things they do.  That`s a small number of people, but it`s the people that have President Trump and the Republicans in the Senate, and especially Mitch McConnell, that have a collar around them.

But, again, it`s -- they have got to break this addiction to gun lobby money.  And if they don`t, the voters need to punish them.  That`s the only way to break that addiction. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you find and develop a cadre of voters who will vote for gun safety with the same focus, the same single-mindedness that the gun people do when they vote to defend their Second Amendment rights, as they see them? 

Can you find that same kind of focus?

BROWN:  Yes, you can.  That`s the difference.  That`s why Democrats are doing increasingly better in suburbs. 

It`s why Democrats are doing better in pockets around Ohio, and especially around the country.  Ohio`s not quite where the country is on some of these issues. 

But, absolutely -- as I said earlier, my lifetime F from the NRA hurt me in my campaigns for Congress and the Senate, until the last few years, when it`s clear that people on our side of this issue, commonsense gun reform supporters, people that care about all the things in our society and the values that make this country great, they`re the ones that are now voting this.

And they are now outvoting the relatively small number controlled by the gun lobby. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Sherrod Brown, I think you would have been a great president.  I think you might make a great vice president.  I don`t know what`s coming next in your future, probably senator for life. 

But thank you so much, Sherrod Brown...

BROWN:  Well, I love this job.  So, thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  ... of Ohio.

Up next -- or at least as long as they like you, at least.

Up next: unpacking President Trump`s bewildering policy positions.  They are bewildering.  Going to war over this craziness?  The confusion only compounded by the president`s propensity to shift positions on matters of fact.  I`m trying to be nice here. 

  You`re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Earlier today, Iran`s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, ruled out negotiations with President Trump, unless the United States returns to the nuclear deal it struck under Barack Obama.  Well, that`s a hell of a standard. 

Trump shrugged off the news, despite his repeated reassurances that the Iranians were ready to meet with him. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I can tell you that Iran wants to meet.

You look at Iran and you look at so many of the things that are happening.  Iran wants to talk.

I think he`s going to want to meet.  I think Iran wants to get this situation straightened out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the public rejection from Iran comes amid escalating tensions over an attack on Saudi state-run oil facilities over this weekend.

And earlier today, two officials familiar with the latest intelligence on that confirmed to NBC News that the attack was launched from Iranian territory. 

The Trump administration is weighing a range of options, of course, for retaliatory action against Iran.  President Trump and his Saudi counterparts would not say unequivocally, however, that Iran was responsible even. 

According to "Washington Post," President Trump`s contradictory positions are emblematic of a president "caught between a political imperative to confront Iran, pleasing hawkish Republicans, and his own political instincts against foreign intervention and toward cutting a deal."

Ultimately, according to current -- current and foreign official, the guiding force between -- behind President Trump`s Iranian policy is to -- quote -- "to get the best legacy" -- to best, actually, the legacy of president -- former President Barack Obama. 

He wants to once again -- once again outdo President Obama. 

For more, I`m joined by Elise Labott, journalist in residence at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.  That`s a prestigious position.  And Kelly Magsamen, vice president for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress, another great position to talk from. 

So, you start, Elise.

What do you make of what we`re -- are we about to go to war?  Are we definitely not going to war with Iran, or what? 

ELISE LABOTT, FOREIGN AFFAIRS JOURNALIST:  I think we`re probably not, unless we see some kind of miscalculation or escalation. 

Secretary Pompeo is headed to Saudi Arabia and the UAE tonight.  He`s going to coordinate on a response.  I understand the U.S. is kind of looking for like the Goldilocks, kind of middle ground of response, not too much that it would escalate, but also tell the Iranians, look, we`re not going to put up with this anymore. 

The Iranians have been...

MATTHEWS:  Why do we retaliate for an attack from Iran on Saudi Arabia? 

LABOTT:  Well, that`s an excellent...

MATTHEWS:  Do we have a mutual defense pact?  I don`t think so.

LABOTT:  Well, that`s an excellent question. 

But, I mean, what they`re basically saying is, this is an attack on the oil supply.  This is an attack on the U.S., as much -- of its allies.  It`s a good question.

MATTHEWS:  But we`re an exporter.

LABOTT:  I completely agree.  I think we`re not...

MATTHEWS:  We`re an exporter.

LABOTT:  There`s no attack on U.S. servicemen.  No Americans were killed.  There`s no U.S. facility.

But this is as much of an attack trying to kind of split the Saudis and the UAE.  But it also is a message to President Trump:  You want to hurt our economy, you don`t want to lift the sanctions, you want to continue this maximum pressure campaign, we`re going to make you feel it right before an election year and deprive you of that economic...

MATTHEWS:  If you`re sitting in Tehran right now trying to figure out our president, like we`re always trying to figure him out, where is he going? 

Does he want -- he wants a deal, doesn`t he, where he can have a signing ceremony?  But why -- he wants to go back to where Barack Obama took us two years ago or three, whatever years it was...

KELLY MAGSAMEN, FORMER DIRECTOR FOR IRAN, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  ... on the Iranian deal. 

MAGSAMEN:  Back to the future.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, doesn`t he want back what we had that he blew away himself?

MAGSAMEN:  I actually think he doesn`t really know what he wants.  I think he feels very stuck. 

And, frankly, it`s his own making.  He has put himself in a position where he has fewer ,rather than more options.  Usually, a National Security Council wants to give their president a range of options.  I think they have foreclosed many...

MATTHEWS:  We don`t have that anymore. 

MAGSAMEN:  ... including diplomacy.  I think...

MATTHEWS:  He`s fired all his national security advisers. 

(LAUGHTER)

MAGSAMEN:  Exactly.  We don`t currently have one.  There are five finalists, I hear, but...

LABOTT:  And no allies.

MAGSAMEN:  And no allies. 

I mean, he has no options on the allied fronts.  There`s no coalition.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he`s got one ally.  And here he is.

Tonight, in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu`s future as the country`s prime minister remains unclear, actually murky.  In an apparent setback, exit polls today show the Israeli leader`s right wing Likud Party has fallen short of securing a parliamentary majority. 

The results posted by Israel`s three major TV stations showed his challenger, Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White Party, slightly ahead.  President Trump, who is popular in Israel, tried to help his friend, the prime minister, tweeting a promise this weekend to work with Netanyahu on a defense treaty even after this election. 

So what do we got? 

LABOTT:  Basically, it`s razor-thin.  It`s unclear, even if Netanyahu wins tonight, whether he can eke out a coalition.  And, if he can, what does that mean for how this coalition deals with the United States?

U.S. about to lay out its famous peace plan.  The U.S. -- President Trump is doing everything he can to get Netanyahu to win.  It`s really unclear if President Trump`s help is going to help at all. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it better that Bibi turns out to be a liar again and doesn`t do what he promised?  Because he promised to basically take over the West Bank. 

He`s going to take the Jordan valley, which cuts off any chance of a two- state solution.  He knows the message he`s sending, but he`s done this before. 

MAGSAMEN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he willing to just rip up any chance of a peace with the -- with the Palestinians? 

MAGSAMEN:  I think possibly.

And he will do anything, I think, to stay in the prime ministership, frankly.  I do think this election is really important for the future of Middle East peace.  I think if...

MATTHEWS:  Who has to win to be peaceful? 

MAGSAMEN:  Well, I think that`s a very good question. 

MATTHEWS:  What is your answer?

MAGSAMEN:  I think it`s Benny Gantz is going to have to prevail in the coalition. 

Now, of course, how they cobble it together is going to have huge implications for whether the peace plan is delivered.

MATTHEWS:  Does Netanyahu go to jail if he`s out of office?

LABOTT:  I think, if he is out of office, he could very well go to jail. 

But you see, in Israeli politics, Israeli politicians can go to jail and then be prime minister in a few years.  I mean, I don`t know...

MATTHEWS:  Well, the presidents haven`t done much better over there.  They have had some hard times, even some very good ones. 

LABOTT:  I don`t really think this Middle East peace hinges on Netanyahu. 

I think what`s going to happen is, the U.S. is going to lay out its peace plan, the Palestinians are going to say, piss off, and this kind of leaves the way for Israel, the Arabs to get back...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Well, wouldn`t say what you just said, P. off, if they say...

LABOTT:  Am I allowed to say that on TV?

MATTHEWS:  Well, you just did.

If they say, you`re not getting Jerusalem, goodbye, you`re not getting any piece of journalism, you`re not getting anything?

(CROSSTALK)

LABOTT:  OK, but isn`t that the whole premise, that this is really -- the new Middle East peace means Israel and the Arabs will go after Iran and live happily ever after?  It has very little to do with the Palestinians, I think.

MATTHEWS:  You know what?  I don`t believe that.  We will see.

LABOTT:  We will see.

MATTHEWS:  When the Arabs join together to go against another Muslim country, I will believe it, when they join with Israel as a partnership.  That`s a coalition I have never seen before.

LABOTT:  They`re dying to do it.

MATTHEWS:  We will see.  We will see.  I don`t think it will ever be public. 

Elise Labott and Kelly Magsamen.

That`s the road to assassination. 

Up next:  A new NBC poll shows some big changes in the Democratic field in the wake of that third debate.  The numbers are coming up.  Has the battle for the nomination just become a two-person fight? 

Well, I guess we`re teasing you.  We`re teasing you.  It looks like it is.

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

A new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll just out tonight suggests the 2020 Democratic presidential contest is increasingly looking like a two- person race.  Look at this -- the fist poll since last week`s debate shows former Vice President Joe Biden still a leader at 31 percent, about where he`s been following very closely now by Elizabeth Warren who`s at about 25 percent.  She is gaining.

And Bernie Sanders, who is not gaining.  He`s at 14.  He`s stuck right there.  Followed by Pete Buttigieg, who`s also stuck where he`s at.

And Kamala Harris who`s going down.  Harris has dropped eight points from the last poll in July, which was released just after the first debate. 

Biden is up 5 points, while Warren is up 6.  Warren drew an estimated crowd, by the way, of 20,000 people at a rally last night in New York City, down in Washington Square at the same time President Trump rallied his supporters out in a state he hopes to pick up, New Mexico. 

In their dueling rallies, Trump and Warren laid out competing populist arguments about corruption and government. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Let`s start with the obvious.  Donald Trump is corruption in the flesh. 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We`re taking power out of Washington and giving it back to the great people of our country. 

WARREN:  He`s sworn to serve the people of the United States but he only serves himself and his partners in corruption

TRUMP:  Every day and you know as well as I do, we`re battling against the corrupt establishment of the past and we`re achieving historic victories for the American people

WARREN:  Corruption has taken over our government, and we`re running out of time.  We must root it out and return our democracy to the people, and yes, I`ve got a plan for that. 

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the Warren pitch to voters is just one element leading to her rise leading in the polls.  She`s working overtime for it, by the way.  And that`s coming up.  Wait until you see how she retails one-to-one the voters. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.

And now to that new poll, the new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll out tonight shows former Vice President Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren pulling away from the rest of the Democratic pack.  Senator Warren drew a crowd of 20,000 people in New York`s Washington Square Park last night, according to her campaign, continuing recent success drawing huge crowds -- look at the noise there, in progressive enclaves like Seattle and New York downtown.

But she also continued another trend, the Warren selfie line.  This is fascinating.  NBC News was on hand just before midnight last night as Warren posed for her very last photo of the night with a fan four hours after her anti-corruption speech had ended.  Four hours of standing there one at a time like Santa Claus at Christmastime, one at a time having selfies with people and each one of them -- of course, Kimberly is already nodding.  I`ll get to that in a minute.

The new poll show, by the way, that Warren with a big lead among Democratic voters saying they -- who say they`re enthusiastic about a candidate.  Thirty-five percent about Sanders, 25 percent about Sanders, and only 23 about Vice President Biden.

But for some reason, the moderates who behave moderately are still with Biden.

For more, I`m joined by Kimberly Atkins, senior Washington correspondent for WBUR, and Jonathan Allen, national political reporter for NBC News Digital. 

Let`s talk about this curiosity.  We always in politics and reporting say there`s good wholesalers like Reagan who can give a set speech and woo the nation, and then there are people like Tip O`Neill and people like that, who are really good in the room with somebody.  They really come across. 

This candidate seems to have it both

KIMBERLY ATKINS, WBUR SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, that`s what she`s trying to show I think one of the biggest questions about Elizabeth Warren is a this idea of electability in terms of broad appeal.  Is she too wonky?  Is she someone who can`t -- who has all these plans but can`t connect with people? 

And I think that`s what the campaign was trying to show last night.  That they can get tens of thousands of people to come out enthusiastically --

MATTHEWS:  Look at her.  She`s rallying the crowd.

ATKINS:  They wait in line.

MATTHEWS:  She`s like a cheerleader out there.

ATKINS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Look at her, she`s rallying the noise, getting the noise level like you do in a football game during a huddle, you know?  So, they can`t hear each other speak.

JONATHAN ALLEN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, NBC NEWS DIGITAL:  Look at this huge energy she`s got.  Part of this is natural enthusiasm, part of this is an incredible organizational her campaign has got going on

MATTHEWS:  How do you get 20,000 people -- Biden can only get 3 for his announcement in Philly.  I was there. 

ALLEN:  Well, you`ve got to have people that are excited about you and enthusiastic.  And, by the way, those pictures she takes at the end of all these events, they`re helping because what happens is people post them online, put them on their Twitter accounts and Facebook and it goes all to their friends. 

MATTHEWS:  I know I can make you laugh.  Like, Kimberly, I know I can make you laugh. 

OK, put the selfies up against a record player for technology.

ATKINS:  Right, it`s a big difference.  And Instagram beats a record player in this sense easily.  And also, you have this crowd all the time.  Every update from the campaign was about the crowd size and we know that that was aimed directly at Donald Trump and that got under his skin.  He responded to that today.

All of these things are boxes that she`s trying to check.  She can go up against Trump.  She can stir enthusiasm, and it`s not just about her plans.  It`s about -- it`s about the momentum.

MATTHEWS:  Let`s talk about the other three candidates in the top five, OK?  The big five.

Sanders is stuck, right?

ALLEN:  He`s in trouble.  He just fired his New Hampshire campaign director.  I mean, they moved him to another state.  But they`re very worried.

MATTHEWS:  Why does he not change anything about his appeal?  Last week in that debate, he was like Christopher Lloyd in back to the future.  He`s waving his arms.  He was using the old language, about oligarchy, and all these ideological. 

He`s not going to get new people with that kind of talk.  That`s old lefty talk.  It`s very old lefty talk.

ALLEN:  He`s not.  And what he`s founds out in this campaign is there`s a lot of people willing to give him a chance last time because there was a lot of anti-Hillary sentiment in the Democratic Party that attracted people to him, or summon people to him.  But this time, he`s splitting his own base with a variety of other people, Warren is leading into it, some of the other candidates are leading into it, and he`s stuck in this place where he`s 14 percent, 13 percent, 15 percent and --

MATTHEWS:  Why?  OK, I worked with a speaker of the house who changed, developed new skills in media.

This guy is smart.  He`s as intellectual as anybody else who`s running.  Why does he upgrade his campaign to beat -- or is he ready to give up to Elizabeth Warren?  Is this somewhere, he`s just going to hand the torch to her?

ATKINS:  I think that`s the lesson.  I think that the campaign went into this thinking they wrote the book when it went to that progressive lane, that they knew and corrected things and knew how to run it.  Elizabeth Warren came in, sort of followed parts of that playbook and recreated other parts of the playbook and has surpassed him. 

And so, like you said, there`s that lane that`s nowhere to go and you have that moderate lane where Joe Biden has --

ALLEN:  If you wrote the damn bill, she amended it.

MATTHEWS:  But I want to talk about age.  That candidate Elizabeth Warren does not look in her 70s.

ATKINS:  No.

MATTHEWS:  She is so animated, so kinetic out there.  The two guys have to deal the age issue, not her.

In other news, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer made his -- oh, do I have to do this? -- debut on ABC`s "Dancing with the Stars" just last night.  Is that him?  Oh, my God.

Appearing in a neon shirt with frills, Spicer danced the salsa to a song by the "Spice Girls", ultimately receiving the second lowest score of the night. 

I`ve got no comment.  I`m not going any further with this.  Let`s kill that one. 

Let`s go to back to a couple of people in the campaign, that you guys no more about than I do.

Jon you first and then Kimberly. 

What`s going on with Beto?  He did not go anywhere with that gun thing the other night.  It was very passionate, like confiscating, mandatory buybacks, nothing happened to him. 

Nothing good happened to Julian Castro for his assault on the vice president -- former vice president. 

Nothing good is happening to any of the lower candidates.  Nothing. 

ALLEN:  No, I mean, I think most of the Democrats have passed on them and decided they`re not going to win the nomination and they probably couldn`t beat Donald Trump and that`s -- look, the big thing for all Democratic voters right now is who can beat Donald Trump?

MATTHEWS:  OK, I have to go to you now.  Kimberly, what is the mystery of the failure of Kamala Harris to get into the lead?  Everybody like me like everybody thought she was an amazing candidate. 

ATKINS:  Yes.  It`s a lot of people, it`s a busy furious news cycle, and it`s very hard to break out. 

This is different.  This isn`t just about going to Iowa and New Hampshire.  These are national campaigns and it`s hard for her to get the bandwidth she had the moment at the first debate, and she was unable to keep it up. 

But all that being said, it is still really early most people are not decided.  Absolutely.  I think you have sort of the head of the class rising with those top five or six candidates.  I think for everybody else who`s still polling at 1 or 2 percent, it`s over.  But I wouldn`t count Harris out yet.

MATTHEWS:  And there`s this piece today about her at Howard University -- 

ATKINS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  -- and sort of choosing to be a member of the black community, the way she came into it from the mixed background, I thought it was fascinating.

ATKINS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And I think that she`s got -- that`s how she has to work, the African-American vote, it`s a huge chunk and she`s got to get a piece of it. 

Kimberly Atkins, thank you, and Jonathan Allen.

Up Next, my thoughts on journalist and historian Cokie Roberts who unbelievably died today. 

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Cokie Roberts, who most of you knew, died today.  And of all the news reporters I know covering politics and writing history, she may have been the one who likes politicians the most.  It may have been because she was born into the political life.  She grew up the daughter of a great liberal congressional leader from New Orleans, Democratic Majority Leader Hale Boggs. 

She came up in a Southern family firmly committed to civil rights and to the hopes of southern blacks.  She also believes strongly in the cause of women.  She praised them in her writing, becoming their champion in the history books she wrote to make up for those earlier books of others that too often overlooked them, had them as history`s orphans.

Most of all, Cokie really believed in what Teddy Roosevelt said about the one in the arena, those whose face is marred by dirt and sweat and blood, who errs, who comes up short again and again but who does actually strive to do the deeds.  She knew what political families go through day after day, and dread cases like that of hers, when her dad was lost in a plane crash campaigning for a fellow Democrat over the mountains of Alaska. 

She saw her mother Lindy take over her father`s congressional seat and carry on the family`s liberal tradition.  And so, for her husband Steve who will miss her dearly and the people who love not just politics but those who have the guts to practice it, here is Cokie Roberts, a true believer in God and country.  Thank you.  Who told us, by the way, what her life, beginning as a young girl had taught her about what good politics can be. 

That`s HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now. 

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