Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 7/21/17 White House Shake-up

Ashley Parker, Leonard Lance, Ellen Nakashima, Azi Paybarah, Catherine Rampell, Carolyn Ryan, Annie Karni

Date: July 21, 2017
Guest: Ashley Parker, Leonard Lance, Ellen Nakashima, Azi Paybarah,
Catherine Rampell, Carolyn Ryan, Annie Karni


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Matthews.

The Spicer show is over. The White House press secretary known for his
combative stance with the press was mocked by “Saturday Night Live” and
other late night shows. His daily briefings became a form of must-see
television these last few months. His performance at the podium was
reportedly criticized by the president himself. Spicer`s message was
occasionally undermined by a tweet hours later, and rumors of his demise
have been swirling for weeks, maybe even months.

Well, the end came today with the hire of a new communications director.
His name is Anthony Scaramucci. He`s a long-time Wall Street financier
also a Trump loyalist who served on the transition team. Spicer had
threatened to quit over the pending appointment of Scaramucci. Chief of
staff Reince Priebus also firmly opposed the move. The president, though,
chose Scaramucci anyway.

In an interview today, Sean Spicer downplayed any tension in the West Wing.
Take a look.


folks to help rev up the communications operation. And after reflection,
my decision was to recommend to the president that I give Anthony and Sarah
a clean slate to start from.


MATTHEWS: Today, the newly named White House press secretary, Sarah
Huckabee Sanders, read statements from the president on Spicer and


for Sean`s work on behalf of my administration and the American people. I
wish him continued success as he moves on to pursue new opportunities.
Just look at his great television ratings.”

“Anthony is a person I have great respect for and he will be an important
addition to this administration. He`s been a great supporter and will now
help implement key aspects of our agenda while leading the communications
team. We have accomplished so much, and we`re being given credit for so
little. The good news is the people get it, even if the media doesn`t.”


MATTHEWS: All right, joining me now, two White House correspondents who`ve
spent months in those briefings with Spicer, “The New York Times`s” Glen
Thrush and Politico`s Annie Karni. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Glenn, let`s just start with Spicer himself. With this move – we saw that
clip. He went to Fox News for an interview today. He sounds like he`s
going to try to be the good soldier here, a lot of expectations when that
news first broke this afternoon, that, Whoa! Wait until he gives the first
tell-all interview. Certainly doesn`t sound like that`s coming.

Take us through what you know about what led him to leave today and if you
expect that`s going to be the posture he takes going forward, nothing
negative to say about Trump.

been a flack in this town for going on 15 or 20 years. He`s also had a
long career in the Naval Reserve. I`m not expecting him to run around
ranting and raving, but we know that his public account is, as we would
say, at variance with the factual record.

He was very upset that the president picked Scaramucci, that he was going
to layer him over with Scaramucci. And in general, this is not just a
battle about Scaramucci and Spicer. It really moves up the chain one
level. Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, the former RNC chairman who is
Sean`s patron, is in the crosshairs of Jared Kushner and other people in
the White House, and this more than anything else represents a diminution
of his power.

And Scaramucci, I should say, has a very easy relationship with the
president, is much more of a peer, though he`s not really a peer. He`s a
rich guy. He`s good-looking. The president listens to what he has to say.
And the fact of the matter is, Steve Bannon, the chief strategist, and
Reince Priebus do feel threatened by Scaramucci, who now represents an
entirely new and distinct power center in the West Wing, as if we needed
another one.

KORNACKI: So yes, Annie Karni, let`s follow up on that point then because
that`s been a lot of topic of the conversation today. It`s about what does
this say about Bannon, about his influence, maybe waning influence? What
does it say about Priebus? I know Priebus came out and said he`s behind
this move.

But take us inside there and play this out a little bit because a lot of
people are looking at this and saying this maybe is just the start.
Scaramucci`s influence grows. Those other two fade out.

Is that the – I don`t know the expectation, but is that the talk right

ANNIE KARNI, POLITICO: Well, it`s certainly a new, like, prime player
here. Scaramucci is someone who has been talked about as a potential
replacement for Reince as chief of staff, so as someone who`s ambitious who
would want to move up the ranks there.

Our reporting showed that Reince Priebus and Bannon were both upset with
his addition to the team today. Reince is trying to play nice. I think
he`s going on a joint interview tonight on Fox to show that, you know,
they`re brothers, as Scaramucci called them in the briefing today.

But it`s – it`s a – it`s a shake-up also that`s a long time coming.
We`ve been talking about Spicer moving out of this role since Trump`s first
foreign trip. And Spicer`s been sort of setting the stage that he might
leave for months with reporters, saying if he didn`t get control of the
entire communications department, if this didn`t go the way he wanted, he
might walk.

So his walking isn`t – is in reaction to Scaramucci himself but was also
planned before Scaramucci`s name was totally in the mix for this job. But
it`s certainly another prime player who`s as ambitious as the Bannon-
Reince-Jared crew that have been he duking it out since January.

MATTHEWS: And I think we`ve got Hallie Jackson, NBC News chief White House
correspondent, with us now. Let me make sure. There he is. There`s
Hallie in front of…


KORNACKI: … the White House. Hallie, thanks for taking a few minutes
here. Let me ask you this. I think a lot of people today – they heard
the news last night this might happen with Scaramucci. It was confirmed
today. Then he shows up in that briefing room today. And I have to say,
just looking at the sort of the style of the presentation today, Scaramucci
seemed more poised, more polished, more glib certainly than we are
accustomed to seeing in these Spicer briefings the last few months.

But if I understand this right, this is not the role that Scaramucci`s
going to be playing. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is going to be the one day to

JACKSON: Correct.

KORNACKI: … in front of the press. So what is Scaramucci`s role going
to be here?

JACKSON: But don`t be surprised to see Scaramucci do some television,
right? That is his strength. That is what the president likes, Steve,
even though it`s going to be Sarah Huckabee Sanders doing the briefings.
We might see a more visible role for this communications director than
you`ve seen in the past for other communications directors.

And I`m going to apologize for being late for your show here. I literally
sprinted up the driveway. I was just having a couple of conversations
inside the West Wing with senior administration officials.

So let me share with you a little bit of what I`ve learned here. Number
one, regarding Anthony Scaramucci`s performance, the one that you`re
talking about and referencing here, I am told, perhaps unsurprisingly, from
a source close to the president that he thought that Scaramucci did a nice
job. He was pleased with the performance. And I think people watching
that could have predicted that that would be president`s reaction.
Scaramucci played to the cameras. He joked. He was fairly smooth with the
reporters, with the assembled media in the room.

And I`ll tell you, sitting in that briefing room, that felt like, you know,
week one of this administration, right, you know, the front row all
standing up, doing live shots at the same time, networks cutting in for
special reports. We haven`t necessarily seen that level of interest in a
long time, really since the Comey firing, I think, for a particular
briefing. And this one being on camera, number one, this one obviously
being with Scaramucci made it a fairly big deal.

Let me walk through a little bit of what I`ve learned about the tick-tock
of how today went down. And this is from somebody who`s familiar with how
all of this unfolded between Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci and President
Trump, that the discussions happened, as you`re talking about, as Glenn and
Annie are talking about, yesterday and into the evening, that the president
had brought in Anthony Scaramucci, had had a conversation with him.

I`m told by one source it was fairly impromptu. And the president liked
some of these ideas. He directed his team to try to figure out a way to
get Scaramucci on board. He`s going to come onto the team, that idea that
was going. We want to figure out a way to make this work.

At that meeting in the Oval Office this morning, that was the directive to
senior staff members. That`s my understanding of this. Scaramucci`s
coming on. Make it work. I am told that at that point, Sean Spicer walked
back into his office, printed out his resignation letter, brought it back
into the Oval Office and had a conversation with the president. I`m told
that the chief of staff was present for part of that conversation towards
the end of it, when at that point, Sean Spicer offered the resignation
letter, then submitted it.

And Steve, I know you have some breaking news. So I`ll toss it back to

KORNACKI: Yes, thanks for that, Hallie. I mean, if you thought of being
7:00 o`clock on the East Coast here on a Friday night in the middle of the
summer would insulate us from breaking news, we have this now to tell you
about, just in the last few minutes, a new report appearing in “The
Washington Post.” It says that Russia`s ambassador to Washington told his
superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including
policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016
presidential race.

Now, that would be contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney
general. This information “The Washington Post” is getting they are
sourcing to current and former U.S. officials.

Let`s bring in Ken Dilanian, intelligence and national security reporter
for NBC News, investigated the – NBC News`s investigative unit. Ken, I am
just skimming the story now, I think, along with a lot of other people out
there. What can you tell us about what exactly is being reported here?

telephone): Sure, Steve. I`ll bottom line it for you. This is a major
development, but there`s an important qualification here.

This story says that the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, told his
superiors that he and Jeff Sessions had this conversation and that that was
picked up by American intelligence agencies. It doesn`t prove that the
conversation actually happened, and Sessions adamantly denies it.

And this goes back to the April 2016 encounter at the Mayflower Hotel that
NBC News and other news organizations have reported on. And we reported a
few weeks ago that Congress and the FBI were interested in this meeting.
Now, don`t forget there was a Trump campaign event at this hotel. Donald
Trump gave a foreign policy speech, and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian
ambassador, was there.

And there was a VIP reception. Jeff Sessions was there. Jared Kushner was
there. Sessions had said he had no meaningful encounter with Kislyak
during this event. And that`s where it stood.

But then we began hearing rumblings that there was some evidence that there
was a meeting. There was some kind of encounter between Sessions and
Kislyak. And we and others reported that Congress and the FBI were
investigating that.

Now “The Post” is saying it`s based on the signals intelligence that
Kislyak reported back to his bosses in Moscow that he had a meeting, he had
an encounter with Sessions, that they talked about substantive campaign
issues, which is important, about Trump positions on Moscow and other
things that would be of great importance to the Russian government.

Now, again, Sessions is adamantly denying this, and as “The Post” points
out in their story, just because Kislyak reported it back to his superiors
doesn`t prove that it happened. And so you know, U.S. officials are still
trying to weigh this evidence and – and determine what exactly happened
and whether it`s true.

KORNACKI: And again, let me just make sure this is clear. You`re saying
Sessions is adamantly denying it. So Sessions is denying that there is any
kind of conversation, or is Sessions acknowledging, Hey, yes, there was
some kind of conversation that tangentially involved the campaign? How
much is he denying here? Let me just be clear on that.

DILANIAN: Well, you`re asking a very interesting question because
initially, his people were adamantly denying that any meaningful encounter
took place. But when he was asked under oath, when he testified before
Congress about this, he did hedge a little bit. He said, you know, I can`t
recall every conversation. I don`t recall meeting Sergey Kislyak, but it
might have happened. So under oath, he didn`t explicitly deny any possible

But – but I mean, if there was a substantive, meaningful conversation
about the Trump campaign of interest to the Russians, that would be a hard
thing for anyone seemingly to fail to recall, especially, you know, when he
had already gotten in trouble for failing to disclose previous – or rather
subsequent contacts with Sergey Kislyak.

So if turns out that this did happen, that`s going to be a big problem for
Jeff Sessions. But right now, there isn`t proof. What there is, is
signals intelligence about reporting by Sergey Kislyak back to Moscow.

KORNACKI: All right, Ken Dilanian, NBC News reporter, thank you, Ken, for
taking a few minutes and updating us. Appreciate that.

Let`s stay on this story, go back to our panel we`ve got here. Glenn
Thrush, let me just go to you. I know we – we called you on to talk a
little bit about the communications shop. Look at this. News happens even
on a Friday night in this administration, seems to happen always on a
Friday night.

Let me ask you, though, Jeff Sessions here, obviously, his own status in
this administration has been called into question by the president`s
comments this week. What do you think a story like this could do?

THRUSH: Well, actually, Steve, this intersects with the Sean
Spicer/Scaramucci story because how is Scaramucci going to deal with this
in any way that`s different than anyone else in the administration? You
know, how would Scaramucci, for instance, have dealt with the aftermath of
the Comey – the Comey firing, which Hallie alluded to? These things just
keep on happening.

And the president obviously sat down with three members of our staff this
week and really dumped all over his attorney general at a moment of great
vulnerability for Jeff Sessions.

Jeff Sessions is not exactly in the greatest light in the Senate right now.
Republican senators are angry about his failure to disclose things during
his confirmation hearings.

So Sessions now is facing a double squeeze. As revelations like this come
out, he will continue to get hit by investigators, by Democrats and
Republicans on the Hill. And at the same time, the president remains angry
at him for recusing himself, which set into motion this whole chain of
events that led to the appointment of Robert Mueller.

Sessions is in a very tight situation. And what it really raises the
question of is if Sessions isn`t there, who could the president get through
the Senate as attorney general? And who would want that job?

KORNACKI: Hallie Jackson, that issue of Russia did come up a little bit
today with Anthony Scaramucci there in the White House.


KORNACKI: He said he wanted to defer to the White House counsel on it.
But the idea of bringing him in to run the communications operation – are
you picking up, is there any sense here in the White House? Did they have
a new strategy? Do they have a strategy – maybe that`s the better
question – to deal with these Russia questions?

JACKSON: It`s sort of early days for that, right? But let`s get into that
a little bit because you`re right, this was brought up today sort of
obliquely with Scaramucci, who not only said he wouldn`t get into it, he
said, I haven`t really been briefed on it. He hasn`t had these in-depth
discussions, he says, with members of the White House staff, particularly
the White House counsel.

That said, when you talk about the strategy related to Russia, we have
already seen a shift in strategy here, and that is this. Marc Kasowitz, as
we reported first thing this morning as this day has now come full circle,
is stepping away from leading the charge on the president`s outside counsel

I am told by somebody involved in that effort that Kasowitz is still going
to be providing guidance to the president, but at this point, now that the
operation is kind of up and running, they`re handing off, essentially,
tagging out to John Dowd, who`s going to be leading that team now, to Ty
Cobb, who will be working on the inside.

Now, Cobb has not started that position yet. We don`t expect that to
happen for probably another couple of weeks, at least a little bit down the
road. It`s our understanding he`s kind of wrapping up his business before
he moves into the White House. And Jay Sekulow is somebody else who is
going to be the public face and has been the public face of this response
to questions just like this one.

I`ll note that I`ve reached out to the White House for any comments on this
“Washington Post” story, and we will update you, of course, if we hear

But remember, Sekulow and Scaramucci are buddies. They`re old friends, as
Anthony Scaramucci said today. And so I think that this is going to be one
of the, if not the top issue that Scaramucci will be trying to figure out.
How do you get a handle on the messaging here? Do you hand it all off to
Ty Cobb? You`re obviously going to have to have some kind of a
communications strategy on this. So far, the strategy has been put a wall
the White House and the outside counsel, right, refer all questions over to
outside counsel. And I have a feeling we will continue to see that at
least somewhat in these coming days.

KORNACKI: And Annie Karni, just looking at Scaramucci today in that
briefing room and hearing Hallie`s reporting that the president was pleased
with the performance today, the question that hovers over this appointment,
like all others, for how long? This is a president who seems to lose
patience or interest or confidence in folks he surrounds himself with
fairly quickly.

I`m thinking right now of Jeff Sessions. Jeff Sessions went way out on a
limb in the campaign last year to endorse him early. Not many members of
the Republican establishment certainly in Washington were willing to do
that. Now you`ve got the president openly saying, Hey, you know,
basically, I wish I hadn`t appointed the guy. I mean, Scaramucci looks
like he`s off to a good start now, but realistically, how long does this

KARNI: I mean, who`s to say? But people (INAUDIBLE) stick around
sometimes longer than we think they will. I actually think that the
downgrade of Kasowitz in some ways is much more significant than the
shuffling of the press office.

This is Trump actually firing a long-time loyalist, an old New York lawyer
who`s worked with him for decades. I think that shows that they know they
have a serious legal problem on their hands, that a guy who goes to New
York court for you isn`t the guy to go against Mueller`s team.

“The New York Times” and “The Washington Post” reported that they`ve been
doing extensive research into people on Mueller`s team. I think this is
significant, that they know what they`re up against and he`s – he`s making
a change by actually firing a long-time loyalist, showing that the number
one quality he cares about, loyalty, isn`t what he`s going to promote right
now, which in terms of having a legal defense team ready to take on this is
probably smart.

KORNACKI: All right. Annie Karni, Hallie Jackson, Glenn Thrush, also Ken
Dilanian, who joined us by phone there to talk about that breaking new,
thanks to all of you for joining us.

Quick break here. Coming up, though, a lot more on this big breaking news
tonight, “The Washington Post” reporting again that Jeff Sessions, the
attorney general, last year as a senator discussed Trump campaign-related
matters with the Russian ambassador. That is according the U.S.
intelligence intercepts. That story breaking right now in “The Washington
Post” and all around the political world.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


KORNACKI: All right, coming up, much more on “The Washington Post`s” big
breaking news tonight about Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We`re also
getting additional breaking news that Jared Kushner has now disclosed
dozens more of his assets in a revised financial filing. It`s a very busy
night, all sorts of stories breaking right now. We`re on top of them.

We`ll be back to tell you more right after this.


KORNACKI: All right, welcome back to HARDBALL.

We continue to follow this late-breaking news in the “Washington Post”
report that, despite public assertions, Attorney General Jeff Sessions may
have discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important
to Moscow.

“The Post” quotes one U.S. official that Sessions has provided – quote –
“misleading statements that are contradicted by other evidence.”

For more, I`m joined by Ashley Parker, White House reporter for “The
Washington Post,” and Ari Melber, the new host of “THE BEAT WITH ARI
MELBER.” That`s going to premiere Monday night 6:00 right here on MSNBC.

Ari, let me start with you.

I feel we should maybe try to back up here, at least for a second. We have
got a very explosive headline here. If you can play this thing out, you
could play out in a way that is dire for the attorney general and the

But tell us what we do know for sure reading this and some of the questions
that are left unresolved.


I think, as your question very carefully points out, this is something that
sounds really bad, because it is suggestion, at least according to none
anonymous U.S. follow, that Jeff Sessions may have been further misleading
about what he discussed with the Russian ambassador. Sounds bad.

The problem here and what is potentially a good defense for the White House
is, “The Washington Post” is relying on an intercept of Russia`s version of
events. That might be accurate or not.

Do the thought experiment about if Russia, completely on a separate
category, was saying something. Would we accept it as 100 true, probably
true, or quite possibly not true?

You and I were just speaking right before we went to air. And you said,
well, maybe the Russian ambassador is trying to impress his bosses and not
being 100 percent accurate.

So while this is something that merits a lot more study, we should be clear
that the underlying sourcing is more or less hearsay about a Russian

KORNACKI: So, play that out, then.

From a standpoint of any kind of investigation here to figure out what
actually happened, if there is no recording of this conversation, of this
Sessions conversation with the ambassador, is there any way for any kind of
investigator to piece this together?

MELBER: Yes. Yes, there is.

We would expect the special counsel to take something like this, which,
again, is hot in the headline, and try to corroborate and investigate it,
if they see it as an investigative interest.

We have heard from reports that they`re looking at the meeting with Don Jr.
and these Russian officials, these Russian nationals who had previously
represented Russian interests.

Well, this obviously is the kind of thing that could also be of interest,
because it`s the direct representative of Russia. So, interviews could
include people who know about the meeting, contemporaneous records made at
the time, or even potentially – and I`m not saying we`re there yet – but
the special counsel, if they thought it was worth it, would sit down with
Jeff Sessions himself, compare that to the transcripts, try to figure out
who is really telling the truth.

KORNACKI: And Ashley Parker with “The Washington Post,” one of the issues,
I think, when a story like the breaks, one of the issues that Sessions has
to contend with is that, when it comes to the subject of Russia,
conversations with Russians officials, he has been less than forthcoming in
the past.


I mean, one of the reasons he had to recuse himself in the first place,
which put him in this very tough situation with the president, was because
he had failed to mention two meetings with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.

So, already, his credibility is pretty much shot. And he`s in this weird
position where, as you mentioned earlier on your show, a lot of his former
colleagues in Congress, senators, are frustrated that he was misleading to
them when he testified.

The president is furious with him for recusing himself, which Trump
believes basically ended up with the appointment of Mueller as special

And a lot of people at the FBI and Justice Department are also very upset
with him because they also blame him for the firing of Comey. So, it is
hard to see where his allies are.

KORNACKI: Take us through the politics, though, in the White House right

If Donald Trump regrets the pick of Jeff Sessions, doesn`t feel he had his
back in all this, Glenn Thrush in the last segment raised an issue that,
hey, look, if Sessions resigns, if Trump were to fire Sessions, that would
cause quite a storm. Republicans don`t have many votes to spare in the

We just saw that on the health care dispute. Could there be – would it be
possible to get a new attorney general confirmed, or would this White House
ultimately look at that and say, you know what, even if we want to get rid
of him, we couldn`t get a replacement right now?

PARKER: Right. It is an incredibly tricky situation.

And so far, every time the president has fired someone in that world, or
even threatened to fire someone, it has set off a real firestorm, with
actual legal ramifications potentially, and not just shaking up his
communications staff.

And, also, it`s a tricky situation because, in general, the president likes
a fighter. So, normally, what the president would want would be for Jeff
Sessions to fight something like this.

But, as we reported the other day, after the president gave this interview
to “The New York Times” on Wednesday where he really just savaged his
attorney general in quite public terms, senior White House officials were
stunned that Jeff Sessions didn`t resign.

So, the president might potentially be more open to that, or maybe not as
inclined to support him right now, when he perhaps needs it the most.

KORNACKI: We should say, the Justice Department has put out a statement

Sarah Isgur Flores, she is the spokesperson for Jeff Sessions. She says –
quoting here – “Obviously, I cannot comment on the reliability of what
anonymous sources describe in a wholly uncorroborated intelligence
intercept that `The Washington Post` has not seen and that has not been
provided to me, but the attorney general stands by his testimony from just
last month before the Senate Intelligence Committee, when he specifically
addressed this and said that he – quote – `never met with or had any
conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any
type of interference with any campaign or election.`”

And, Ari, just looking at that statement right now, a suggestion here,
campaign-related discussions, we should say, that is a very broad umbrella
of what could potentially fall under that.


Yes, I think you make an important point. And the argument here is, oh,
well, because they touch on the campaign, this is misleading and we have to
look into that.

But, ultimately, what you see here is a discussion of basically what are
described here as – in the “Washington Post” article, which I`m obviously
looking at – as campaign issues.

So, take a contrast to the now infamous Don Jr. meeting, where a terrible
e-mail from a foreign – from someone claiming to represent a foreign
power, said, I`m offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

This is not that. This is basically saying, oh, we talked about the
prospects for relations between Russia and the Trump administration, if
there were to be one.

So, to be clear, that underlying conversation isn`t a bad thing. The
question is, as our colleague was just saying, whether it was lied about,
if Sessions lied about it. But the underlying idea that you would have
this conversation with an ambassador in a formal way isn`t itself alone

KORNACKI: And I said this was the big piece of breaking news we weren`t
expecting today.

There is also more coming in the last few minutes. I think, Ari, you could
take us through this, but there`s new financial disclosure information
coming out from Jared Kushner, the president`s son-in-law.

What can you tell us about that?

MELBER: Yes, this is very interesting.

The Office of Government Ethics, which recently got attention because
Walter Shaub, its director, resigned early, saying he couldn`t really make
progress, he felt, under this administration, has this formal role in every
administration of going over all the property, all the assets of different

So Kushner has a legal obligation to work them on a filing which he made.
Previously, NBC News, we were able to obtain some of the e-mails about this
and found that he really did comply and try to do a good job is what it
looked like.

The new thing tonight breaking just now in “The Wall Street Journal,” among
others reporting it, is that he has missed dozens and dozens of assets.
Now, alone, that wouldn`t necessarily be a big deal, because if you`re very
wealthy and have complex holdings, as he does, you might miss a few in what
lawyers call good faith, that is, not hiding, not on purpose.

The problem here for Jared Kushner, when you look at this story, Steve, is
it seems like every time he has to make a legal filing, he is missing not
one, not five, but dozens, dozens of things that he has to do and which his
lawyers presumably are supposed to help him do right.

So, there`s an emerging pattern with Jared Kushner, who is not there
because of his acumen or government service or graduate degrees. He`s
there because he`s a family member. Everyone knows that. A lot of
attention on nepotism.

And now there`s a pattern of when it comes to contacts with foreign
nationals, when it comes to his own assets, when it comes to his own loans,
when it comes to his property holdings relating to Goldman Sachs as one of
the things here, he seems to keep having to update.

And the question is going to be why.

KORNACKI: OK, news about Jared Kushner, news about Jeff Sessions.

By the way, the big headline today of course was that big shakeup in the
communications department of the White House, again, an extremely busy

Ashley Parker, Ari Melber, thank you both for joining us.

Again, a little plug here. Ari`s new show, “THE BEAT,” that is going to
premiere this coming Monday, 6:00 Eastern. That`s going to be right before
this show. Make sure you tune in for that.

Much more to come this big breaking night of news.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


KORNACKI: All right, for more on tonight`s news, I`m joined now on the
phone by one of the reporters with “The Washington Post” who broke this
story about Jeff Sessions and a meeting with the Russians the during 2016

Ellen Nakashima joins us now.

Ellen, thank you for taking a few minutes.

So, this public statement we have had so far from Jeff Sessions a few
months ago about this issue, he said – quote – “I never had meetings with
Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign.”

That`s the on-the-record statement from Sessions. That`s now being – the
accuracy of that is now being at least called into question by the story
you`re reporting here.

Tell us exactly what you know. When was this meeting in question, and what
do you know about what exactly was said during it?


So, what we know is that Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador,
Sergey Kislyak, at least twice – or three times last year, but at least
twice at times in which this Ambassador Kislyak reported back to his
superiors in Moscow that he had met with Jeff Sessions, they discussed
campaign-related matters, including policy matters, and what Trump`s policy
toward Russia, toward Moscow would be in a Trump administration.

And this contradicts public statements and assertions by Jeff Sessions in
his confirmation hearing and at his June hearing later and after he – at a
press conference, when he recused himself from the Russia investigation.

KORNACKI: Now, again, we`re getting this essentially – this is the
Russian standpoint that U.S. intel is being exposed to right there.
They`re capturing communications among Russians.

And you have got Kislyak telling his bosses back in Moscow this?

NAKASHIMA: That`s right.

These are intercepts of conversations that Kislyak is having with his
superiors in Moscow, not of conversations he had with Sessions.

So, it`s always possible that a diplomat will embellish a little or maybe
make things up in order to make himself look better in his – in the eyes
of his superior.

But from what we know of Kislyak, he has got a pretty good track record
reporting faithfully and accurately on his conversations and activities

KORNACKI: All right, Ellen Nakashima, one of the reporters breaking that
story again tonight in “The Washington Post,” thank you very much for
taking a few minutes and filling us in on that. Ellen, appreciate that.

NAKASHIMA: Thank you.

KORNACKI: For the Republican reaction to tonight`s news, joined now by
MSNBC host Hugh Hewitt and New Jersey Republican Congressman Leonard Lance.

Hugh, let me just ask you your reaction. You heard the conversation I just
had with Ellen Nakashima.

What do you make about this story about Jeff Sessions and what he`s been
saying before publicly about his conversations with the Russians?

HUGH HEWITT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Steve, if it`s true, I think
the attorney general will have to resign.

But if it`s true is a big if. I remind the audience of the February 14
“New York Times” story that counted all the different contacts alleged to
have occurred between Trump campaign officials and the Russians, which
former FBI Director Comey under oath testified was in the main not true.

But if there were a series of conversations between the ambassador and the
attorney general, and they are recorded in a Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act, lawfully intercepted tape, that is the end for Attorney
General Sessions.

And I think you have to look out to Chicago to Boeing general counsel Mike
Luttig`s to see him talking on the phone probably with the president about
coming in to try and right the ship at Justice.

KORNACKI: Congressman Lance, let me ask you. The president made clear
this week he may not have full confidence in his attorney general.

As a Republican, as a member of Congress, do you have confidence in this
attorney general?

REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: Yes, I was the first Republican on the
Hill to suggest that the attorney general should recuse himself in matters
related to Russia. And I`m sure this will be investigated.

It is not unheard of, however, for an ambassador to embellish, as the
reporter who has broken the story has indicated. So let the chips fall
where they may based upon the facts.

KORNACKI: Do you see, though, between – so, his statement at his
confirmation hearing, again, back in March, Sessions`s statement was, “I
never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about
the Trump campaign.”

I guess, do you see any room where he could have – the subject could have
come up in any way in the conversation where he would retain your
confidence, or if this – because, again, we`re getting sort of a vague
report here.

But if there was any kind of conversation here about the Trump campaign,
hey, what do you think of their position on this, what do you think their
chances in this state, does that cross the line?

LANCE: I think that would be very problematic for the attorney general.

And perhaps at the reception after one of the events, if the Russian
ambassador had come up to him and said, how is the Trump campaign going?
And if he had said, it is going really well, I don`t think that would be
substantive. But let the chips fall where they may.

KORNACKI: All right.

And, Hugh Hewitt, you`re already talking there about at least a potential
scenario – who knows what is going to happen here, but the potential
scenario of a new attorney general.

It is interesting the timing on this, because, earlier this week, Donald
Trump made clear he had some regrets about appointing Jeff Sessions.

I do wonder. We raised the question earlier with Glenn Thrush, just given
the tenuous hold Republicans have on the Senate right now, not many votes
to spare, certainly the – how unlikely, I guess, it would be for the
Democrats to get behind a new Trump pick for attorney general, would this
be a circumstance where maybe Trump could get a new attorney general

HEWITT: Well, I absolutely think, if you nominate the right person.

You could go to the bench to Attorney General – former Attorney General
Mukasey. I mentioned former federal Judge Michael Luttig, who is the
runner-up to be the chief justice of the United States, longtime fourth
circuit judge. Very successful general counsel of Boeing, tough as nails.
If it were Michael Luttig, I think he would get the 52 Republican votes. I
don`t know if any Democrat would come along.

I want to go back to the problem of the recusal that the congressman
brought up. These recusals have penumbras, Steve. They go further than
they`re intended to go. Now I think the attorney general will be recused
from surveillance matters with regard to the Russians.

And so, the oil slick spread of the recusal becomes a problem that might
invite a reset at the Department of Justice so that he should not fire Mr.
Mueller. The president should leave Mr. Mueller alone. He enjoys a great
reputation for integrity.

But it would be good to have an attorney general who could supervise
everything else in the department without concern of the spreading recusal.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Let me just, Congressman, follow up on what
Hugh Hewitt said. He said the president should not fire Robert Mueller,
the special counsel. Do you agree with that?

REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I absolutely agree with that. And,
Michael McCaul, a colleague of mine and chairman of the Homeland Security
Committee indicated that as well today.

KORNACKI: What would the consequence be? And, politically, in terms of
the Congress of the United States, what would the consequence be if the
president did that?

LANCE: It would be disturbing on Capitol Hill, not only with Democrats but
with Republicans as well.

KORNACKI: All right. Congressman Leonard Lance, Republican from New
Jersey, Hugh Hewitt, MSNBC host, you can catch his show tomorrow morning
right here on this network.

Hugh, thanks for joining us.

HEWITT: Thanks, Steve.

KORNACKI: A quick break here. Up next, though, the HARDBALL roundtable is
going to be here on what has turned out to be a very busy news night.
We`re still piecing together the breaking news.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, my ears perked up in the last block with something one of our guests
said. Maybe you heard it too. Hugh Hewitt was here in the last block, and
he said if the “Washington Post” report is true about Attorney General Jeff
Sessions and about his conversations with the Russian ambassador during
last year`s campaign, if that report is true, Hugh Hewitt said Sessions
should resign.

Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable. Carolyn Ryan is a senior
editor at “The New York Times”, Catherine Rampell is a columnist for “The
Washington Post”, Azi Paybarah is a senior reporter for “Politico”.

Catherine, the timing on this, I can`t get over, because the story one –
of the stories of the week has been the president in a rather unprecedented
move coming out there and basically saying, hey, I regret appointing Jeff
Sessions attorney general. If he wants to get rid of him, the story that`s
come out, at least we have to see if this is true, if it`s true at all,
he`s got grounds to do that.

cabinet members serve at the pleasure of the president. He could get rid
of him without any – without giving a reason, right? So, he doesn`t
actually need to establish why he would ditch this guy.

The question is, what`s the context? How much of a blowback is he going to
get form his fellow Republicans if in fact he does fire Sessions, and how
difficult would it be to find a replacement and to get a confirmation of a

KORNACKI: That seems to be the issue. It`s the pretense. If you`re Trump
and you want to fire him and you`ve got 52 Republican votes in the Senate,
we just saw they couldn`t get their health care bill through because if you
have three defections you`re done. So, if you just fire Sessions for no
reason and you say, I`m the president, I can do it, I see probably pretty
easy to get three Republicans to say no to a replacement. But if you`ve
got grounds to do it from a story like this, if this turns out to be true,
then the urgency of getting replacement through would be a lot easier to
get those 52 Republicans on board.

and I think – don`t forget, the Senate Republicans, Republicans in general
are feeling frustrated with some of the earlier omissions by Sessions. And
another thing that was striking to me about the story is there was not
strong pushback from the Sessions side. I mean, obviously, we have to see
whether that changes in the first 24 hours.

But again, there`s an omission or an absence of a strong rational or
response. It seemed like “The Post” story was pretty solid and it seems
like Kislyak has been trusted before with these kinds of accounts. We have
to see.

KORNACKI: Yes. I mean, Azi, there are we should say. Look, this is one
report. This is based on intercepts. This is anonymous sources. This is
the Russian side of it.

So, there are all sorts of asterisks here and also there is that issue of,
OK, they talked about campaign related matters. That also was a very big
umbrella in terms of what that could potentially be.

AZI PAYBARAH, SENIOR REPORTER, POLITICO: Right. And there is – if this
was just a passing remark that Kislyak is sort of overplaying for his
handlers to sort of show his bosses that he is doing something, that`s one
thing. But what Carolyn said is actually very important. Republicans are
frustrated on the House, on the Congress. Trump himself is very
frustrated. It came out during his interview with “The New York Times.”

And to have another story coming out, and to keep this conversation, to
keep Russia in the front grounds of what people are talking about when
they`re trying to get health care through, even if it doesn`t turn out to
be as it is first reported, because Kislyak isn`t reliable, you do have
grounds for Jeff Sessions to say, this has become enough of a distraction
to take himself out if that`s what is wanted. Remember, Republicans are
trying to get health care through. It is very narrow and this is keeping
the Russia story alive even longer.

KORNACKI: This is, by the way, a very good introduction I think for the
job for Anthony Scaramucci, because he was the story and his takeover of
the communications department was the story. Seven-forty on the East
Coast, nobody is talking about that right now. Breaking news has overtaken

Quick break. The roundtable is staying with us. This is HARDBALL, where
the action is.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Late today, we learned that Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort will not be
appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee next Wednesday. According
to the committee, quote, both Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, through
their attorneys, have agreed to negotiate to provide the committee with
documents and be interviewed by committee members and staff prior to a
public hearing. Therefore, we will not issue subpoenas for them tonight
requiring their presence at Wednesday`s hearing but reserve the right to do
so in the future.

We have also learned that President Trump`s son-in-law Jared Kushner is set
to occur before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. That after
his Monday interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

We`re back now with tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable – Carolyn Ryan,
Catherine Rampell, Azi Paybarah.

Carolyn, what do you make of this? So, we`re not going to have the big
public spectacle of Manafort and Trump Jr. before the committee. They are
going to be providing information. They are going to be interviewed, but
this is now going to be a private affair on Wednesday

RYAN: It feels like loss for the television networks. It was really the
highest anticipated event, testimony-wise, since Comey. But there`s a
possibility that interviews with the staff and with the committee members
could yield more in terms of some of the intricacies, especially with
Manafort. It feels like there`s a lot to be explored in terms of his
interests, in terms of his ties. Some of which we`ve reported recently to
Ukraine, to pro-Russian interests. And it feels like the substance there
is something that the committee really could be eager to get at.

KORNACKI: And is there a connection here, Catherine? Because he`s got
this other guys, Glenn Simpson, who is behind that Trump dossier that got
so much attention. He is declining to appear before the committee. Is
there a link here in terms of Trump Jr., Manafort to say, well, if he`s not
going to appear publicly, I don`t want to appear publicly?

RAMPELL: Well, they are subpoenaing him, right? Isn`t that what we
learned earlier today? So, they are subpoenaing Simpson. So, the door is
still open for a subpoena to occur for the other folks that we`re talking

I think the question is to what extent does that successfully detract
attention from the potential scandal that is hovering around Manafort,
Trump Jr. and Kushner, right? Because potentially part of strategy here in
going after Simpson. Grassley has said, how come he hasn`t registered as a
foreign agent. His firm was in charge of putting this dossier, right, is
to maybe make it look like both sides were doing something bad. And we
shouldn`t always be focusing our attention stuff that the Trump campaign –

KORNACKI: And, Azi, just quickly, Kushner now becomes a bigger story next

PAYBARAH: Right, he has a very large portfolio. He had to amend his
financial statements. So, for him to come in and explain why he was in
these meetings, what he expected, that`s going to yield a lot of

KORNACKI: OK, the roundtable is staying with us. You`re watching


KORNACKI: All right. We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Look, I don`t want to put anybody on the spot but this story about Jeff
Sessions has everybody talking now. Let`s try to play this a little bit

Carolyn, as this develops, what are you looking for?

RYAN: Well, what I`m looking for over the next 48 hours is whether there`s
going to be any pushback from the Sessions side, any more detail, because I
think if there is not, you`re going to hear more calls like you just heard
from Hugh Hewitt, and I think that will take you right into the beginning
of next week, which is already a high stakes week, and probably pretty
uncomfortable one for the administration. So, this could really become
intense, the pressure on Sessions. If all of these remain solid, could be
very intense.

KORNACKI: What about you, Catherine?

RAMPELL: I`m looking to see how this plays with the Trump base, and that
they have been convinced, it seems so far, that any of these Russia stories
are all conspiracy theories, it`s all #fakenews. If in fact this is being
used as an excuse to oust sessions, will the base buy it if they think it`s
all conspiracy and it`s fake anyway?

KORNACKI: Azi, in 10 seconds.

PAYBARAH: If Sessions holds on, do Schumer and Democrats point to him as a
reason Republicans shouldn`t throw their lot in with Trump. He`s not loyal
to the people that were loyal to him, look at Sessions.

KORNACKI: OK, Azi Paybarah, Catherine Rampell, Carolyn Ryan, thank you for
joining us.

That is HARDBALL for now. Chris Matthews is going to return Monday night.

And “ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.


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