Ex-Trump aide Nunberg testifies before Mueller. TRANSCRIPT. 03/09/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Bill Richardson, Susan Page; Nayyera Haq, Clarence Page, Ginger Gibson, Gabe Debenedetti

Date: March 9, 2018
Guest: Bill Richardson, Susan Page; Nayyera Haq, Clarence Page, Ginger Gibson, Gabe Debenedetti


Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

It`s been a dizzying 24 hours for the White House with developments on
multiple fronts. First, the story of the President and the porn star. NBC
reported today that President Trump`s personal lawyer used his Trump
organization email days before the 2016 election to arrange to pay the
adult film star, Stormy Daniels.

Then there is the curious case of former Trump aide Sam Nunberg. Earlier
in the week, he stormed cable news to say he would not cooperate with
Robert Mueller`s investigation despite a subpoena. Well, today, cameras
were rolling as Nunberg did arrive at the federal courthouse in Washington
prepared to talk to a grand jury. There he is.

And finally, the dramatic announcement last night that President Trump had
agreed to meet with North Korea`s Kim Jong-un within months. It came just
hours after his own secretary of state had told reporters we are a long way
from negotiations.

All the more startling, the announcement was made by South Korea`s national
security adviser who is at the White House to brief officials on his recent
talks with the North Korean leader. Shortly after 5:00 p.m., President
Trump popped his head into the press briefing room to tease a major
announcement on North Korea catching White House staffers off guard. Two
hours later, the South Korean national security adviser told reporters Kim
Jong-un is committed to denuclearization and will refrain from any further
nuclear tests. He made this announcement.


eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible. President Trump
officiated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to
achieve permanent denuclearization.


MATTHEWS: Well, the White House statement came about a half hour later
saying President Trump will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un
at a place and time to be determined.

Trump tweeted about 30 minutes after that. Quote “Kim Jong-un talked about
denuclearization with the South Korean representatives, not just a freeze.
Also no missile testing by North Korean during this period of time. Great
progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is
reached. Meeting being planned.

Well, today, Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered a more cautious message
insisting there won`t be a meeting until North Korea takes concrete
actions. Let`s watch her.


promises to denuclearize. They have made promise to stop nuclear and
missile testing and we are not going to have this meeting take place until
we see concrete actions that match the words and rhetoric of North Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there a possibility that these talks with North
Korea`s Kim Jong-un may not happen?

SANDERS: Look. They have got to the follow through on the promises that
they have made. And we want to see the concrete and verifiable action on
that front.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it possible that could not happen?

SANDERS: I mean, there are a lot of things possible. I`m not going to sit
here and walk through every hypothetical that could exist in the world.
But I can tell you that the President has accepted that invitation on the
basis that is we have concrete and verifiable steps.


MATTHEWS: Well, as senior administration official later told NBC News,
there is no new conditions such as weapons inspections being added to the
talks. In other words, it goes back to what was said last night.
Denuclearization is a long-term goal.

Well, Bill Richardson is a former governor of New Mexico, former ambassador
to the U.N. He has negotiated with the North Koreans in the past. Susan
Page is Washington Bureau chief for “USA Today” and Nayyera Haq is a former
state department official under President Obama.

Bill Richardson, governor, thank you so much. You were the first name I
thought of this morning and I mean it. So tell me, what do you make of

confused. I came out yesterday saying that this summit was a good idea
with a lot of risks, but I commended the President because we need a game
change, a Hail Mary pass in a Korean peninsula that is very, very, very
tenuous and very tense. Now, with this had new statement by the White
House press secretary, I`m confused. What does it exactly mean?
Denuclearize before the meeting? Concrete steps.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s been overruled. Bill, in the last few minutes,
they have come out and said ignore Huckabee Sanders. We are going back to
what was said last night. The meeting is to establish a denuclearization.
It doesn`t come before the meeting.

RICHARDSON: OK. Well, that`s good.

MATTHEWS: I think it is good. Yes, go ahead.

RICHARDSON: That`s good. But at the same time, you know, the secretary of
state obviously was not consulted. He is in Djibouti in Africa, you know.
And he should be back. What the President needs to do, get your act
together, White House. Get the White House and the Pentagon and the state
department especially on a coherent strategy. What do we get before the
meeting? Because the White House press statement, I`m glad it`s been
corrected, is very confusing. He is not going to denuclearize before the
meeting. We will be lucky if he denuclearizes at all.

MATTHEWS: I know. What are they going to do at the meeting, have
cupcakes? I mean, it is all over by then.

Susan, you have been doing great reporting. I saw all your paper went to
bed before this I noticed last night, before this. What got? You go to
bed at 3:00 in the afternoon?

publication and online all of the time.

MATTHEWS: All right. Just teasing. What do you make of this? You did a
great analysis this morning. What do you make of this?

PAGE: Well, I think that both these leaders get something they want which
is international acclaim, stature. And for Kim Jong-un this is already a
victory for him because he is going to meet face-to-face with meeting goes
forward with the U.S. President.

And you know, for President Trump, this is one more example of his willing
to be very disruptive. This is not the way our policy toward North Korea
is usually developed and rolled out. This is something quite different and
maybe it will come to a bad end. But at least as governor Richardson is
one of the few people who actually negotiated with North Korea in the past
has said, maybe it`s got the potential to shake things up.

MATTHEWS: Yes. What was an alternative for the President once the word
came through the South Koreans that the North Korean lead, the dictator,
wanted to meet and was talking denuclearization and agreeing to end all his
testing and showing good faith, what was the alternative answer? No,
forget about it or what was it?

alternative answer is let`s do something concrete in the meantime. Let`s
actually see you spend a couple months not doing missile testing. Why
don`t you consider opening up to weapons inspectors. Let`s do something
that actually works towards –.

MATTHEWS: Not in a million years he would do that.

HAQ: He`s saying he is going to. But let`s actually see what happens.
This is the challenge with diplomacy. You have to go back and forth.
Welcome any type of move towards diplomacy. The challenge we are seeing
here is that is Kim Jong-un is probably the more rational actor of the two.

MATTHEWS: You mean that.

HAQ: Yes. We have a President of the United States right now who is a
chaos agent. We don`t know what he will say from one day to the next. We
absolutely know that Kim Jong-un has always seen it as a marker of success
to be seen side by side with the President of the United States, to be seen
as a legitimate state. He is banking on this to be not seen as a rogue
terror threat.

MATTHEWS: But he doesn`t get any of that unless he deals because - let me
go to back to governor Richardson.

HAQ: How he is going to get this other than he has agreed to it.

MATTHEWS: If he pulls some number in Hawaii or wherever they meet in the
DMZ (INAUDIBLE), wherever they meet on the 38th parallel and he pulls some
of the tantrum and starts banging his shoe on the table or he pulls some
number that`s obviously not serious, he doesn`t get any respect, does he,
just for the meeting itself? Even if he looks like a fool?

RICHARDSON: Well, I believe Kim Jong-un did this meeting for the following
reasons. One, he wants to stay in power. He wants to be like his
grandfather Kim Ill-sung. Secondly, I think sanctions are biting. They
are hurting him. The Chinese have done a little more. And third, Chris, I
think what he wants is to be an equal with the United States. Of course,
he isn`t. But he is always said, and the North Koreans when I have been
there they always say, you know, the big powers in the region are not
China, South Korea. They are us, North Korea and you, the United States.

So, I think this meeting has to be carefully planned or it`s going to be a
disaster. It`s got to be probably I would think in (INAUDIBLE) so both
sides can say this is the DMZ, you know, or in China or in Geneva.
Although I doubt Geneva because it`s in Europe. That`s always been a
neutral site. But I think it`s important that this summit take place.
Things can`t be going worse in that peninsula. I think the South Koreans
deserve the main credit for getting the summit with the North Koreans and
then brokering perhaps a summit with Kim Jong-un.

And Kim Jong-un, you know, he has gone from a bomb thrower to being I won`t
say a rational actor, but a man with a plan that knows where he wants to
end up. I think he has been underestimated.

MATTHEWS: Do you think he is willing to give up nuclear weapons?

RICHARDSON: No, no, but I think it`s still worth to talk to him about
curbing their use. He is not going to dismantle them. He has got about
20. But I think it`s worth talking about missiles, talking about stopping
research, stopping the work of missiles with the warhead that could hit the
United States. Conventional weapons. Stop threatening South Korea. I
mean, there are 25 million South Koreans. American troops in Japan and
South Korea. I think there are a lot of positive steps.

Also, we have got three Americans detained there. Get them out. We have
got American remains of our soldiers from the Korean War. I got seven out
in 2007 under President Bush. We should push to get agreements on those
soft power areas that I think might lead to serious reductions in their
nuclear arsenal. But they are going to have a price, Chris. They are not
going to do this for free. So let`s get ready.

MATTHEWS: Well, Neyyera, I want to go to Neyyera. You have been through
this whole – what`s on the table? Would we recognize them? Would we
normalize relations if they get rid of their nuclear program or vastly
limit it? Is that on the table?

HAQ: Normally, the pact would be you have an ambassador level
conversation. We don`t even have an ambassador.

MATTHEWS: No, no. I`m talking about ultimately. Will we recognize North
Korea? Will we accept the fact that they run that part of Korea?

HAQ: This is so far beyond what the expectation of foreign policy and how
we operate altogether as an international community. Everything about
foreign policy in this administration fits under that rubric right now.
But there is zero benefit to the United States for acknowledging North
Korea particularly this early. I also argue that there is zero benefit to
the United States to dangle out a meeting, a confirmed meeting with the
President of the United States.

MATTHEWS: And ultimately, are we better off where they recognize North
Korea without nuclear weapons.

HAQ: We are better off with a North Korea that feels under threat and that
the United States has a top dog position. We are not better off when we
are seen as equals.

MATTHEWS: How do they do that? They keep building nuclear weapons.

HAQ: The sanctions are (INAUDIBLE).

MATTHEWS: Under Obama, under W, they kept building nuclear weapons. So
that approach didn`t work. Why are you speaking with such confidence here?
Nothing worked before.

HAQ: The effort to denuclearize North Korea is a direct result of years
and years of sanctions that have crippled the economy, that have hurt him
politically in his own country. This is the fact that we are at a position
where they are willing to negotiate they are the ones throwing the Hail
Mary pass is an opportunity for the United States. We should be using it
smartly. We should be planning for it and be strategic.

MATTHEWS: Who gets credit for this coming together, Obama or Trump?

HAQ: A combination of every presidency before this.

MATTHEWS: Including Trump.

HAQ: Every presidency before this and South Korea.

MATTHEWS: Including Trump. You are not going to give him anything.

HAQ: No. Not on this one because - I`m not going to give him this one
because even the following day, his own administration is stepping on its
own potential bold move. If this is going to be a bold move, (INAUDIBLE)
and do it. But instead, you have a White House press secretary who has
gotten stuck with getting talking points from the Pentagon, from the state

MATTHEWS: I agree with you. What do you think about that?

PAGE: I was going to say Governor Richardson said things couldn`t be
worse. I think the fact these things could be worse. Because one of the
great risks on the Korean peninsula is an accidental war because we have
such a lack of trust. And if you have a meeting that breaks down in mutual
recriminations, it seems to me we could end up in a worse situation.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I think – I don`t think the little guy benefits from that

Anyway, former governor Bill Richardson, my friend, thank you, sir, so much
for coming on short notice. And here where they want we went to. You were
our first responder, sir. Thank you.

Susan Page and Nayyera Haq, thank you both for your expertise.

Coming up, the latest on the Russia probe. Trump`s lawyers are reportedly
looking to strike a deal with the special counsel. They think. This
President will agree to an interview as long as Mueller wraps up his
investigation. Fat chance. Who thinks Mueller is going to agree to these

Plus what, does Putin really think before President Trump? Megyn Kelly
just returned from interviewing the Russian President. She will be joining
us live tonight.

And later, the NBC exclusive. The President`s lawyer Michael Cohen used
his Trump organization email, isn`t that familiar, while arranging a hush
money payment top adult film star Stormy Daniels. Sounds like he was
working at the Trump tower. Is there a crime here?

And Trump`s decision to meet with Kim Jong-un shows he wants to do things
his way even if that means leaving everyone else in the dark.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. This is “Hardball,” where
the action is.


MATTHEWS: Florida governor Rick Scott, a lawmaker with an a plus rating
with the NRA defied the gun lobby today by signing into law a sweeping new
gun control bill down there. Among other things, the legislation raises
the minimum age for all gunfire arms purchases to 21 years of age. Imposes
a three-year waiting period for most gun purchases and bans butch stocks.
It also allows, that`s the word, some school employees to carry guns on
campus. However, that provision is dependent, catch it upon buy-in from
the each local school district. You don`t want to do it, you don`t.

Governor Scott said today these action stands in mark (ph) and contrast to
what we are seeing in Washington.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: This is a far different way of operating
than the typical inefficiency we see from the federal government in
Washington. Politics in D.C. seems to always get in the way of actually
enacting measures that will help American families. As a businessman, I
have always rejected the idea that government has to be slow. Today should
be as an example to the entire country that government can and must move


MATTHEWS: Well, the NRA is reportedly already filed suit against him
claiming that the new law in Florida violates the rights of 18 to 21-year-

We will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to “Hardball.”

It`s been a busy week. And the special counsel`s Russian investigation on
Monday, we were introduced to this guy Sam Nunberg. What a character. The
former Trump campaign aide who said in at least nine different interviews
on prints and TV interviews that he would refuse to comply with a grand
jury subpoena from Mueller.

Well, after that media spectacle, however, Nunberg said he was backing down
and did cooperate with the subpoena testifying today. But the way, there
he is going to testify before grand jury for seven full hours. I think the
whole thing may have been a bluff.

Anyway, most memorably, Nunberg said on Monday that he thinks special
counsel Robert Mueller already has the goods on President Trump.


SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: They probably have something on
Trump. Trump did something pretty bad. I would assume.

MELBER: What do they have?

NUNBERG: I have no idea but they have something.

MELBER: Do you think they were more interested in Trump related to the
criminal hacking which occurred and we know there were stolen emails or in
relation to all the social media.

NUNBERG: I think they were interested in something with his business.


MATTHEWS: Wow. Well, meanwhile, “the Wall Street Journal” is now
reporting that President Trump`s lawyers are seeking the deal that they
hope will bring the Russia probe to an end, they say.

According to a person familiar with the discussions quote “the President`s
legal team is considering telling Mr. Mueller that Mr. Trump would agree to
a sit down interview based on multiple considerations including that the
special counsel commit to a date for concluding at least the Trump related
portion of the investigation. One idea is to suggest a deadline of 60 days
from the date of the Trump interview.”

Well, a Trump attorney tells NBC News the report is totally false. It
comes after Trump`s legal team has repeatedly promised that the
investigation would soon be over. First they said it would end by last
thanksgiving, then by last Christmas, then by the beginning of this New

I`m joined now by an expert who can be see through all the vines, Ken
Dilanian, investigative reporter for NBC News. This is such nonsense.
But, you know, first – you know, first of all, I have no idea, the new
millennial phrase, the catch-all. When he`s asked, do you have some
evidence what they have got on Trump? And then he says, “I have no idea
what it is.”


MATTHEWS: “I have no idea.”

Well, what is – is this guy worth listening to?

DILANIAN: Nunberg?

MATTHEWS: This guy Nunberg?

DILANIAN: Nunberg? I mean…

MATTHEWS: Does he know anything?

DILANIAN: The most interesting thing that he said was that he thinks
they`re using him to build a case against Roger Stone, his old mentor.

MATTHEWS: It`s the domino thing. Get Roger, you get Manafort, get Flynn,
get the president.


He seemed legitimately – and also, he`s telling us that he believes they
have something on Donald Trump related to his businesses. It was cryptic.

MATTHEWS: I think that must be right.

What about this Manafort guy walking around in leg irons? They have given
him two electronic legs.

DILANIAN: Two ankle bracelets, one for Virginia, one for D.C.


MATTHEWS: Use your intuition here, intuition. Is that to make the guy
feel really good about spilling the beans? Like, come on, do you want to
live like this?

DILANIAN: That was actually his choice. He fought the consolidation of
the two cases. So, now he`s facing a total of 30 years in prison.

That`s not some…


MATTHEWS: And wearing two chains.

DILANIAN: Yes, and wearing two ankle monitors. But that 30-year sentence,
that is the guidelines.

So I can`t imagine him not pleading. Legal experts are saying this is a
really strong case against him. Either he thinks he`s got a pardon or I
think we`re going to see a plea at some point.

MATTHEWS: He`s going to be like the Count of Monte Cristo. He`s never
getting out.

Anyway, this week, we also learned about Erik Prince. He`s the unofficial
adviser to the President Trump transition, whose story about a meeting he
held with a Russian oligarch over in the Seychelles is appears to be
unraveling in the face of new reporting.

According to “The Washington Post,” a cooperating witness has told special
counsel Mueller that the meeting was set up in advance so that a
representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from
Moscow. Well, that`s pretty clear. People familiar with the matter say
there`s evidence showing the purpose was to establish a back-channel
between the incoming administration – that`s Trump`s crowd – and the

Prince, however, told the House Intelligence Committee in November that he
only had a chance encounter with the Russian out there in the Seychelles
and that he was not representing the incoming administration.

If you lie to Congress, that`s a felony, right?

DILANIAN: Absolutely. This is really interesting.

MATTHEWS: So, they have got Erik Prince now.

DILANIAN: Well, it depends on the strength of that evidence. Right?

They would need a lot. But, yes, they have a transcript of Erik Prince
under oath saying I was just at this meeting by chance. This wasn`t a back
channel. I wasn`t even representing the Trump campaign. I just came to
meet with the UAE folks.

It`s fascinating. And this guy George Nader, this Lebanese businessman who
is now cooperating with Mueller, is an interesting character. But you know
what this shows? This investigation is expanding.

MATTHEWS: Of course.

DILANIAN: We have reported that.

MATTHEWS: It`s an octopus. Yes.

DILANIAN: And it`s now about like Jared Kushner`s meeting with UAE people
and Qatar people and Turks and – it`s incredible.

The idea that they`re wrap it up and do a 60-day deadline…

MATTHEWS: Do you think Trump get his Nobel Prize for peace before they
grab him? What is coming first?


MATTHEWS: Just kidding. I`m sure he`s thinking about all of this.

Ken, you`re the best. Thank you so much, Ken Dilanian.

DILANIAN: Thank you, Chris. Thanks.

MATTHEWS: One of the big unanswered questions throughout this
investigation has always been why President Trump continues to show such
niceness towards Vladimir Putin, who is not a nice guy?

NBC`s Megyn Kelly put that question, that question to Vladimir Putin. She
put it to Putin himself as part of a prime-time special on NBC tonight, by
the way, called “Confronting Putin.”

Let`s watch.


MEGYN KELLY, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Let me ask you about President Trump. Any
time he says anything about you, it is supremely differential. Never a
harsh word for you, although if you look at the way he speaks about members
of his own party, even of his own staff, never mind other political
leaders, he frequently personally insults them.

Why do you think he`s so nice to you?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I don`t believe he
treats me personally with reverence. I believe the he`s an experienced

He`s a businessman with vast experience. And he understands that if you
need, if it is necessary to establish a cooperative relationship with
someone, then you have to treat your current or potential partner with

Otherwise, nothing will come of it. I think this is a purely pragmatic
approach, firstly. Secondly, despite the fact that he`s a first-time
president, still, he`s a quick study after all. And he understands very
well that this level, where we are, engaging in mutual accusation and
insults, this is a road to nowhere.

And if you have noticed, I always treat my colleagues, not only in the
United States, but in Europe and in Asia, with unwavering respect.


MATTHEWS: Megyn, thank you for joining us.

Great get, as we say in the business. Great get.

I always like to ask the same question after a big interview. What didn`t
we see? Was there something about this KGB guy`s aspect? Is he
intimidating? He`s a little guy, by the way. I forget he`s 5`6. He
weighs about 150 pounds. And yet he looks like a guy who has been in
torture rooms.

He knows what it is to terrify somebody. Your thoughts about meeting him?

KELLY: I have to tell you – first of all, I like your name for our
special better than our name.

“Confronting Putin” was ours. Yours, putting it to Putin, that was better,
very pithy. I like that a lot.


KELLY: I would say what was surprising about him this time, and when I saw
him in St. Petersburg in June, was just how kind he was when the cameras
weren`t rolling, you know, like a gentleman.

And he can appear extremely polite, thoughtful. He offered us a grand tour
of the Grand Kremlin, which we took, and we took our cameras there too, so
the audience will see that tonight.

So, a charmer is how he wishes to be – to project, because what you see in
Putin is what he wants you to see. But then you get him in front of the
cameras, and he`s this fiery, combative leader that we all have seen so
many times.

MATTHEWS: W. said that he could see into his soul. What did you make of
that? Maybe that`s what he was talking about, the charm, the attempt at

KELLY: Absolutely not.

Putin sees – you see in Putin what he wants you to see. The man was in
the KGB. He knows how to manipulate people. His whole life, he spent
doing it.

So, even when we were in St. Petersburg the last time, he spent time off-
camera telling me about his love for his children, his love for his mother.
Now, I`m a mother of three young children. I mean, he`s very smart. And I
– you get the impression he`s the smartest man in every room.

And so, you know, you should not try to outwit Vladimir Putin. I don`t
think that is going to happen. But you can, as I did in this interview,
try to box him in a bit, because I have facts. And with all due respect to
the Russian president, he wasn`t telling the truth about the matters that I
was examining him on.

And we knew that. He knew it, and I knew it. And so it led to – there
was almost a silverback gorilla thing going on between the two of us where
we were looking at each other. And he knew I was coming for him with
facts, but he`s slippery.

And yet this time, I was able to actually show him, this is what the
indictment says. This is what the e-mails say. This is the proof that
ties you to this person and so on and so forth.

And we really got into it.

MATTHEWS: Well, the old Marxist, Leninist mentality is you do – you don`t
serve the truth. You serve what serves the state.

Anyway, you also asked Putin about President Trump`s Twitter habit. Let`s
watch that exchange.


KELLY: Do you ever read his tweets?

PUTIN (through translator): No.

KELLY: Do you ever tweet?

PUTIN (through translator): No.

KELLY: Why not?

PUTIN (through translator): I have other ways of expressing my point of
view or implementing a decision. Donald is a more modern individual.

KELLY: Would you say he`s more colorful than you are?

PUTIN (through translator): Perhaps.



MATTHEWS: Well, that was an easy one.



KELLY: Can I say, that was actually a moment of levity.


MATTHEWS: Is there a bromance there? Is there a bromance between these
guys? Do they like each other? Can you read that part? Or is it just
really rivals, simple as that?

KELLY: I don`t – I wouldn`t go that far. I really wouldn`t.

I would not say that Putin likes Trump. I did not glean that at all from
him. I do think – I did glean that perhaps he has something on Donald


KELLY: And if you watch the special tonight, you will see perhaps what
that might be, because we have done a lot of research. It`s not just
Vladimir Putin tonight. It`s a lot of experts who understand Putin and
Trump and the relationship between the two.

And so when I was asking him, why do you think Donald Trump never says
anything unkind about you ever, I think it`s more than just he admires this
Russian strongman, Chris. I think there`s a very good chance Putin knows
some things about Donald Trump that Mr. Trump does not want repeated

MATTHEWS: In the dossier, do you think? Or is it going back to money? Is
he in hock to him?

KELLY: My money is not on the dossier.

Just having done the research we did for this piece and this investigative
report, I think it has to do with money and Trump`s early years dealing
with the Russians back in the `90s, his facilities here in the United


KELLY: And I asked Vladimir Putin about that as well. So, it`s pretty

I did want to tell you that I give it to him pretty good on the election
interference and so on. And you will see him dance a bit. But can you
imagine I actually did get a question in about the shirtless Putin and
what`s up with all that?


MATTHEWS: I will let that you have that – that line on country.

But I did think it`s interesting that you have got into something with your
questioning and your sense of interpreting it that maybe this Sam Nunberg
guy, who has thrown out that thing this week that there`s something on the
business end.

KELLY: Thought that was interesting.

I really didn`t – as I watched Nunberg and I watched Erik Prince and all
of this, keep in mind, all of this, all of this ultimately links back to
Vladimir Putin. That`s why we`re talking about Manafort and Flynn and
Nunberg and all these guys.

It`s because of what Vladimir Putin did in our presidential race and, let
me tell you, what he`s planning to do in `18 and `20 as well, because when
you listen to him talk tonight, you don`t get the impression that the man
has been chilled in any way from his robust approach to our elections.

And that`s because we haven`t done anything. We have done nothing to push
back after his interference.


Megyn, great thing. Megyn Kelly, big get and a big use of the get. Thank
you so much.

KELLY: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Everyone will be watching tonight.

You can watch more of the exclusive interview we`re talking about here with
Vladimir Putin tonight at 10:00 Eastern, 9:00 Central, on NBC.

And up next: NBC News has learned that the president`s lawyer Michael
Cohen used his Trump Organization e-mail, got that, while arranging that
hush money to Stormy Daniels, the $130,000. Is there a crime here? Is
this something that Mr. Mueller is going to go after? Is it a crime that
could put this guy in jail and make him talk a lot?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Over the past few weeks, a slew of stories relating to adult film actor
Stormy Daniels have continued to plague this president.

And today, in an NBC News exclusive, we learned that Michael Cohen, Donald
Trump`s personal lawyer, used his Trump Organization e-mail as he made
arrangements to pay that $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels.

NBC has also learned that Stormy Daniels` attorney at the time addressed
correspondence to Cohen as – quote – “special counsel to Donald J.
Trump.” So, he didn`t do it on his own, at least not the way she and her
lawyer saw it.

Anyway, Cohen back in February told NBC News – quote – “Neither the Trump
Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with
Mrs. Clifford” – “Ms. Clifford,” rather. “And neither reimbursed me for
the payment, either directly or indirectly. The payment to Ms. Clifford
was lawful and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by

In an opinion piece published two days ago, the government watchdog group
Common Cause argued opposite to that.

“By failing to report the payment as a campaign expense, the Trump campaign
violated multiple federal disclosure laws and, depending on the source of
the $130,000 paid to Daniels, the payment may also have been an illegal

Well, the president`s press secretary has denied allegations of an intimate
relationship between the president and Stormy Daniels.

For more, I`m joined by Katie Phang, MSNBC legal analyst.

Katie, I guess a lot of people watching right now are wondering, OK, what`s
this mean? Does this mean that Robert Mueller, the special counsel,
looking for any crime by Trump involving the 2016 election, certainly –
and that`s a much wider orbit than that, but it`s certainly in that target
zone – was law broken by somebody paying $130,000 to this person to keep
quiet about something that would have hurt his campaign?

And the payment being made a week before the actual election, in November
in `16, makes it look like a campaign-related event.

Your thoughts about the exposure, as you lawyers say, exposure of Mr. Trump

KATIE PHANG, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, exposure seems to be a word that
is probably bandied about a little bit when it comes to Stormy Daniels as a
porn star. But we will put that aside.

To your question, Chris, does anybody remember John Edwards?


PHANG: Because John Edwards got indicted for doing exactly the same thing,
taking campaign contributions and money to basically silence his mistress,
so as to influence the outcome of the presidential election that he was
running for.

And so is that we have got going on here?


MATTHEWS: But that was a hung jury. That wasn`t resolved in court. That
jury couldn`t decide.

And, by the way, Bunny Mellon, who is interviewed, said she just liked John
Edwards and she did it as a favor. She didn`t see it as a campaign
contribution. But that`s her point of view, of course.

PHANG: But here`s the thing, though. It always begs the question,
because, remember, Michael Cohen just came out a few minutes ago and said
he took out a home equity line of credit for the $130,000 to put it in an
LLC corporate account to be able to pay off Stormy Daniels.

Why? Why is he randomly paying $130,000? And so now you have a problem,
because people like the FEC is interested in this. The House Judiciary
Committee just sent a letter to Michael Cohen and to two other gentlemen
basically saying, hey, you might want to be able to explain why you gave
this money.

And, hey, by the way, there might be tax issues, because the tax treatment
on this money would also trigger other violations of federal law. So
Michael Cohen`s now opening a huge Pandora`s box, because he keeps on
opening his mouth and he keeps on trying to give excuses that don`t have
legal viability in terms of being credible.

MATTHEWS: Just to make an argument against it, is every aid you give,
every contribution you make to a candidate a campaign contribution? You
could say I drive his kids to school or anything that helps him. I helped
his wife carry the groceries home. Anything – is anything a contribution
– to the well-being of a candidate a campaign contribution?

PHANG: Well, here`s the thing.

It has to be a reported in-kind contribution. And there`s a certain
valuation amount that gets triggered. But $130,000 that was pursuant to a
settlement agreement that Michael Cohen, the LLC, and this Dennison guy,
who we all know is Donald Trump, is implicated, we know that this is hush
money and that it was paid to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet.

So, now we`re going to go back to the litigation. We`re going to figure
out where this goes. But here`s the problem for Michael Cohen and here`s
the problem for Donald Trump and here`s the problem for the Trump campaign,
and here is why Mueller might be interested.

Through the course of the discovery process, Chris, you`re going to have
depositions. You`re going to having discovery requests and you`re going to
have bank statements turned over. And you know that Mueller is the key guy
to follow the money.

So, here`s the essential question, Chris. Where did that money really come
from? Did it really come from a HELOC? And if it was, think about all of
the rules of professional conduct that Michael Cohen is also in violation
of in his home state of New York, where he is currently a licensed

MATTHEWS: Oh. And, therefore, the attorney general of New York state
might be interested.

PHANG: Exactly.

And so he`s triggering a whole lot of interest.

MATTHEWS: And you can`t – and the president can`t pardon his own behavior
in New York state.

PHANG: He can`t do it. Exactly.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Katie. You followed it. You followed it all the
way. Thanks so much, Katie Phang, for being our expert.

Up next: President Trump`s go-it-alone approach. Trump`s decision on
North Korea shows that he`s willing to rely completely on his own instincts
– that`s what he did yesterday – even if it puts him at odds with
everyone around him, his experts, his secretary of state, his national
security adviser. They were all ignored, I think, yesterday when he went
to town on this North Korean gambit.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



better than me – which is why I alone can fix it.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump at the Republican National Convention in 2016,
claiming that he was the only person who could fix America`s problems.
Trump put his go-it-alone strategy on display this week first with his move
to impose new steel and aluminum tariffs then to meet with North Korean
leader Kim Jong-un.

Time and time again, the president has made it clear it`s his own judgment
alone that matters.


TRUMP: I`m an outsider. Used to be an inside to be honest with you, OK?
I know the inside and I know the outside. And that`s why I`m the only one
that can fix this mess, folks.

Nobody is going to be able to do the kind of things I can do.

But let me tell you, the one that matters is me. I`m the only one that
matters because when it comes to it, that`s what the policy is going to be.
You`ve seen that strongly.


MATTHEWS: Well, “The New York Times`” Peter Baker writes whether it`s
Middle East peace or trade agreements, Mr. Trump has repeatedly claimed he
can achieve what he has eluded every other occupant through the force of
his personality. So far, he has little to show for it. That was “The
Times`” Peter Baker.

But could North Korea be the exception? There`s one crucial variable at
play this time around. And we`ll get to that variable next with the
HARDBALL roundtable.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Earlier this week, President Trump was asked about the motivation behind
the initial diplomatic overtures from North Korea.


REPORTER: To what do you owe this recent openness to talk?

TRUMP: Me. Nobody got that.

I think that they are sincere. The sanctions have been very, very strong,
and very biting. And we don`t want that to happen. So I really believe
they are sincere. I hope they`re sincere. We`re going to soon find out.


MATTHEWS: While President Trump was joking about his role in opening
nuclear talks, you could say, the decision to accept Kim Jong-un`s offer
was Trump`s alone.

And just a short time ago, Trump tweeted: The deal with North Korea is very
much in the making and will be if completed a very good one for the world.
Time and place to be determined.

Well, let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable.

Clarence Page is a columnist for “The Chicago Tribune”, Ginger Gibson is
political correspondent for “The Reuters” news service, and Gabe
Debenedetti is political reporter for “Politico”.

All of you, jump in to this. Where are we headed?


MATTHEWS: What do you think?

PAGE: Well, I think he`s going to try – this is something that Trump
really wants. He doesn`t know very much about how to get there, but it`s
going to take longer than he thinks though. I think he`s already conceding
that. And this is just an opening something Kim Jong-un wants.

I can`t help but think like a lot of people do that Kim is just waiting to
get into a room with Trump and roll him, and Trump doesn`t want to be

MATTHEWS: You know, if little Kim decides he`s going to make an ass out of
himself before the world, I don`t see how that`s a victory for him. If he
pounds his shoe on the table like Khrushchev or does some stupid thing,
doesn`t he need a resolution to look good, Ginger?

learning in his time as president that negotiating as the chief executive
is not the same as negotiating the price of windows whenever you`re
building a new hotel. It`s a lot more complicated and comprehensive than
that. You can`t just have one meeting where you say, yes, you`re going to
give me a good price? Look, everyone else, work out the details and we`ll
call it a day.

That`s what he`s used to. And you`re right, there`s a ton of variables
that could make this look different or feel different. I mean, he`s
already seeing his own White House walk back some of the things he`s said.

MATTHEWS: Well, yes, but they were walked back themselves an hour later by
the White House.

GINGERS: Already more complicated than that.

GABE DEBENEDETTI, POLITICO: But that`s specifically why the thing to watch
here is not what`s going to happen when the meeting happens, it`s what the
rhetoric out of the White House and some of our allies across the world,
including in Asia is over the next few weeks. So, there was a lot of
consternation when it came out. And as we`ve seen the president –

MATTHEWS: The Chinese don`t like it because they don`t want us to be
friends with – they don`t want peace in the peninsula there.

DEBENEDETTI: But forget the Chinese for a second. Even the members of the
president`s own administration don`t necessarily like this. Let`s not
forget that he has clashed with Secretary of State Tillerson over the North
Korea issue before.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I don`t care about that stuff. I don`t care about the
bureaucratic problems. I`m wondering about, are we going to end the
nuclear threat from North Korea and is this going to get us there?

GIBSON: What`s he willing to give up? I mean, that`s the question.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s what he wants. He wants to be part of the part of
the world. He wants to be able to travel the world and live like a normal
world leader.

PAGE: He wants the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

MATTHEWS: He wants to be recognized. He wants to be recognized, he may
want that. He wants to be guaranteed we won`t invade him.

GIBSON: What`s Trump willing to give up is the question. And a man who
railed against –

MATTHEWS: That`s giving it up. To recognize North Korea is not going to
be popular on the right.

GIBSON: He`s going to have to define success. He`s going to have to
define what success means and what`s a fair trade? He controls a lot of
that image and discussion.

DEBENEDETTI: But let`s – I mean, the reason that I bring up the
bureaucratic infighting earlier is that there is real substance aligned
with that. Whenever two leaders of countries meet, especially in
situations like this, it tends to be after months and months of
negotiations behind the scenes with their teams.


DEBENEDETTI: Very clearly, that has not happened. This time or not in the
way that it traditionally does. So, that`s why I say, we have to watch
what`s happening behind the scenes for reports but also in public what some
of our allies say, because that will give us real hints as to what this is
actually going to look like. If that doesn`t happen, there`s a chance they
sit down in a room, you know, with no cameras and we have no idea what`s
going to comes out of it.

Obviously, Kim Jong-un wants to be recognized on an international stage.
Obviously, that`s not ideal for Donald Trump but we don`t know what he
wants out of this except for recognition that he`s sitting down with Kim
Jong-un which Obama did not do.

MATTHEWS: They want to avoid war, I hope. Don`t they both want to avoid a

GIBSON: Trump wants a place in history.

MATTHEWS: Don`t they both want to avoid a nuclear conflict?

PAGE: I would hope so, but how you do that.

There`s very interesting commentary about how if these talks do fail, we go
back to the default position now, which is already our threatening possible
strikes that – or some type of combat.

MATTHEWS: I heard that. The danger of these talks coming apart is that it
will make Trump angrier and Kim Jong-un more unstable.

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us.

Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Clarence, tell me something I don`t know.

PAGE: Well, watch for Louis Farrakhan to be the litmus test in this
midterm election.

MATTHEWS: A Chicago man.

PAGE: A Chicago man. I`ve been covering him since the early `80s when he
was disrupting Jesse Jackson`s campaign and then later became a litmus test
around Barack Obama`s campaign. And now, we`re seeing on the right to pick
out Congressman Danny Davis and various other folks. Where we shook hands
with Louis Farrakhan in the past now. So, it`s like this is going to be
something we`re going to see.

MATTHEWS: That`s not going to defeat him, is it?

PAGE: Depends on the district, because certainly Danny Davis` district
won`t make a difference. But those swing districts out there, you never

MATTHEWS: That`s kind of old school. Ginger?

PAGE: Very.

GIBSON: The fight over tariffs is not over. American lobbyists are
gambling on E.U. retaliation methods changing the president`s minds. At
the end of the day, these tariffs that the president has signed off on this
week could end up being something he does a lot more talking than actually

MATTHEWS: What about peanut butter? I was amazed.

GIBSON: Peanut butter, whiskey, I mean, that`s a big one.

MATTHEWS: Yes, they won`t buy our peanut butter.

GIBSON: Or our whiskey. And we`ll be stuck of market of whiskey that will
disrupt the price here in America.


DEBENEDETTI: I want to bring everyone`s attention to a Senate race that
might tell us more about the future of the Democratic Party than a lot of
people are expecting. And that`s the one to replace Jeff Flake in Arizona.
So, Bernie Sanders is going out to Arizona this weekend. He`ll do a rally
with two progressive congressmen out there, Congressman Grijalva and

But I was on the phone with him yesterday and I asked him what he thinks
about Congresswoman Sinema, who`s the Democratic standard bearer out there.
She`s pretty conservative. She said that the party is moving too far to
the left. She doesn`t like all of his ideas about free college.

And he said, no comment. I don`t want to talk about this. I`m not talking
about the Senate right now.

There`s some clear tension there and that`s something we`re going to have
to watch.

MATTHEWS: That sounds like a smart move by him. Don`t get in the way of a
race you can`t help.

PAGE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Clarence Page, thank you, Ginger Gibson and Gabe Debenedetti.

When we return, let me finish tonight with Trump Watch. You`re watching


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Friday, March 9th, 2018.

President Trump is aiming high. He`s hoping to kill the nuclear threat
from North Korea and a high stakes meeting with the country`s dictator.
Who among us doesn`t want him to succeed, who among us doesn`t worry that
it could fail, leading perhaps to an even more heightened state of danger?

In agreeing to parlay, Trump is committing himself to a historic challenge,
he is now the little boy President Kennedy once imagined who throws his cap
over a wall to force himself to climb over it. Once having agreed to a
meeting, Trump must contend with all the consequences. He`s not the first
president to trap himself into a contest that offers swift victory but also
colossal embarrassment or something worse.

Richard Nixon went to China in `72, splitting the world`s twos greatest
communist powers and opening the door for us to Beijing. Jimmy Carter
invited Egypt`s Anwar Sadat and Israel`s Menachem Begin to Camp David, a
conclave that forged the treaty between the Jewish state and what was then
it`s greatest strategic danger. Ronald Reagan forged the historic personal
tie with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signaling the end to the Cold War.

Before all these events, there was one directly affecting Korea. In the
midst of the Korean War, with 20,000 Americans already killed in that
conflict, five-star General Dwight Eisenhower made this promise on the eve
of the 1952 presidential election. I shall go to Korea.

Within months of taking office, President Eisenhower succeeded in brokering
armistice on the Korean peninsula that has sustained to this day. Ike made
that promise in `52 based on a certain unique track record. He, Dwight
Eisenhower, was the allied leader who accepted the Nazi surrender just
seven years earlier.

For Donald Trump, success in North Korea would be less of a proven leader
delivering on his track record than that of a nuclear stakes case of
beginners luck. Then again, what normal person isn`t hoping it works.

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

ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES starts right now.


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