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Hardball With Chris Matthews, Transcript, 7/5/2016

Guests: Susan Page, Steve Lonegan, Eli Stokols, Molly Ball

Show: HARDBALL Date: July 5, 2016 Guest: Susan Page, Steve Lonegan, Eli Stokols, Molly Ball

JOY REID, GUEST HOST: Obama Trumps e-mail-gate.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, everyone. I`m Joy Reid, in for Chris Matthews.

Hillary Clinton finally got the big moment she`s been waiting for, campaigning for the first time with President Obama this afternoon. The two even arrived in North Carolina together on board Air force One. President Obama gave a fired-up speech, throwing prodigious amounts of shade at Donald Trump without even mentioning his name.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody can tweet, but nobody actually knows what it takes to do the job until you have sat behind the desk!


OBAMA: I mean, Sasha tweets.

This is a choice between whether we are going to cling to some imaginary past, or whether we`re going to reach for the future.

Even the Republicans on the other side don`t really know what the guy`s talking about. You ask them, they`re all, like, I don`t know.


OBAMA: Then they kind of duck the other way.


REID: Now, by any measure, that would be considered a blockbuster event. We`ll have more on the president`s big endorsement speech in the show.

Now, of course, it also comes on a day when there was also a big development in the seemingly never-ending Hillary Clinton e-mail saga. It came in the form of a midmorning surprise press conference by FBI Director James Comey. After nearly a year-long investigation that culminated in a three-and-a-half-hour interview with Clinton herself, over the weekend, Comey said the FBI would not recommend criminal charges against the former secretary of state.


JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.

In looking back at our investigations into the mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts.

As a result, although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case.


REID: May not be appropriate, but Comey also delivered a forceful critique of Hillary Clinton`s use of a private server.


COMEY: Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive highly classified information.

Seven e-mail chains concerned matters that were classified at the top secret special access program at the time they were sent and received.

There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton`s position or in the position of those with whom she was corresponding about those matters should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.


REID: Now, Comey also faulted the security culture at the State Department, and he says it was at least possible that hostile actors gained access to Clinton`s e-mail account.

Clinton`s spokesman said in a statement, "We are pleased that the career officials handling this case have determined that no further action by the department is appropriate. As the secretary has long said, it was a mistake to use her personal e-mail and she would not do it again. We are glad that this matter is now resolved."

Meanwhile, Donald Trump called what happened a total miscarriage of justice and he tweeted, "FBI director said crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow. Rigged system." We`re expecting to hear more from Trump when he takes the stage at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Now, many Republicans faulted Comey for his decision not to recommend charges. Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement, "While I respect the law enforcement professionals at the FBI, this announcement defies explanation. No one should be above the law. Declining to prosecute Secretary Clinton for recklessly mishandling and transmitting national security information will set a terrible precedent."

NBC justice correspondent Pete Williams joins me now with the latest. All right, Pete, you just heard that statement by Paul Ryan. Is he correct that Mr. Comey, that FBI Director Comey, stated that there were violations of law and then didn`t prosecute on them?

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: More or less. What Comey says is that there is some evidence that there were violations here, but that you have to measure that against the standard here of, Have cases like this involving similar situations ever resulted in prosecutions, and he said no.

Now, here`s where I think you`re going to hear a lot of disagreement. There are some former prosecutors who say that the statutes, yes, make it a crime to intentionally give classified information out or put it in a place where it doesn`t belong, but also make it a crime to do so if it amounts to gross negligence.

What some of these former prosecutors say, in essence, is Comey has rewritten the statute here, saying you have to have intent, not gross negligence. But other former prosecutors say, Look at the record, that nobody has ever been prosecuted when the information is given to someone who is legally qualified to have it. So that is a critical point on Comey`s side.

This was information exchanged back and forth between people who actually had clearance, so it`s person A, who has clearance to have the information, gives it to person B, who has clearance, but they use an unclassified conveyor belt to pass it along. That`s where the potential violation comes in, but Comey says that`s not a case that should result in a prosecution.

Now, of course, as you began this with, Joy, it`s his recommendation. It`s the Justice Department`s final decision, but remember that Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said she will go along with whatever the career prosecutors at Justice say. And tonight, officials are saying it would be -- it`s a virtual certainty that they`ll accept the FBI`s recommendation here.

REID: And Pete, I want to talk a little bit about Director Comey. He`s somebody that people may remember from the Ashcroft situation, where he essentially intervened to try to stop Alberto Gonzales from going to the bedside of an ailing AG Ashcroft in the case of warrantless wiretapping. So he`s not somebody that doesn`t have a really sterling reputation in Washington.

What do we know about him? Because Donald Trump is attempting to basically call him a partisan sort of apologist for Hillary Clinton.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I like that question. We`ve been covering James Comey for what, 20 years. And now, suddenly, everybody`s discovered James Comey and wants to know what`s the deal with him.

So he`s a former U.S. attorney in New York. You may remember that he filed the criminal charges against Martha Stewart, which was somewhat controversial. The question was, Was she doing improper trading, and she was prosecuted for misleading the FBI investigating that.

He was the deputy attorney general in the Bush administration under John Ashcroft, the attorney general. He left the government to go into private practice as the general counsel for an aerospace firm, and then was persuaded to come back and be the FBI director. That`s a 10-year position, and he`s, what, three or four years into it.

REID: Yes, absolutely. He threatened to resign over attempts to interfere with the work that he was doing during that warrantless wiretapping situation. I think he`s got a pretty good reputation.

Pete Williams, thank you very much. I really appreciate your time.

All right, and I`m joined now by Howard Fineman, global editorial director for the HuffingtonPost and an MSNBC political analyst, and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today."

Howard, I`ll go to you first on this. What in your mind is the balance of good day, not so good day, in this news about the Hillary Clinton e-mails?


HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST GLOBAL EDITORIAL DIR., MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if at the end of that pretty long excoriation of Hillary Clinton and the State Department, James Comey had said, And we are recommending indictment, can you imagine? The whole world would have been turned upside down and an already chaotic campaign season would have been turned into a version of the Apocalypse 2016.

What would the Democrats have done? Who would they have chosen? How would they have proceeded? Well, that sort of apocalyptic storyline, that version of history can now be put aside.

So the good news for Hillary Clinton is -- and it`s true, I think, that the Justice professionals will not disagree with Comey -- the fact is that she wasn`t indicted, and that`s the bottom line legally.

Politically, I think what Comey said today does nothing to allay the two big problems Hillary Clinton has on the personal side of her campaign. Number one, the trust factor is very weak with her. Current polls -- some current polls show that Donald Trump is more trusted personally than she is.

And number two, it`s this notion that somehow, the system is rigged. The people who hate Hillary are already going to hate her. But some independent voters may still go for that "the system is rigged" argument that Donald Trump is making, and I think Trump will be playing that card as hard and as long as he possibly can.

REID: And Susan, you know, this does come on the same day that President Obama gave that really sort of epically praiseful speech. I haven`t seen a sitting president give that kind of an endorsement to their sort of anointed successor in my lifetime because, you know, presidents haven`t had that close of a relationship, really.

How much does that balance out what you saw earlier with the Comey announcement, Barack Obama coming out with this full-throated defense of Hillary Clinton today, or endorsement of her?

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": You know, some people thought this was terrible timing because the Comey announcement kind of muddied the clarity of President Obama`s message. But maybe it was helpful to her because, as you said at the very beginning, maybe it kind of trumped the earlier news.

We have not seen in modern times a two-term president who was either willing or able to give kind of the full-throated endorsement that President Obama is giving Hillary Clinton, and that is very helpful because, for one thing, he`s popular enough to make a difference. He`s popular enough among some voter groups that she needs some help with, like young people. So that is enormously helpful.

But I would have to say with the Comey announcement, of course, she avoided catastrophe by not being indicted. On the other hand, he presented some evidence that was at odds with the explanation that she has given the American people for the past year about why she -- about how the e-mail server operated and how she turned over all the business e-mails and just deleted personal ones.

So there are things -- this isn`t an issue that`s settled, but I think I can`t -- I think you would agree that President Obama can do Hillary Clinton an awful lot of good in this election.

REID: No, absolutely. And I want to play just a little bit more from the joint appearance that they had today, because as I mentioned, Hillary Clinton and President Obama did do this first joint campaign event this afternoon, and both of them spent a lot of time going after one Donald Trump. Let`s take a listen.


HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), FMR. SEC. OF STATE, PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: But I`ve also known him as the friend that I was honored to stand with in the good times and the hard times, someone who has never forgotten where he came from.


CLINTON: And Donald, if you`re out there tweeting, it`s Hawaii.

OBAMA: But I`m here today because I believe in Hillary Clinton. Hillary understood and continues to understand that just a bunch of tough talk doesn`t replace the hard work of diplomacy. A bunch of phony bluster doesn`t keep us safe.

This is not entertainment, this is real. You can`t be reckless -- you don`t have the luxury of just saying whatever pops in your head. You`ve actually got to know what you`re talking about!


REID: And you know, Howard, you know, I do find it really important that you see this moment of the two of them talking about each other as a friend, Barack Obama expressing great trust in Hillary Clinton even as he`s ridiculing the other guy.

But how important is that validation? Because if the question is, Do you trust Hillary Clinton...

FINEMAN: Right. Right.

REID: ... but you also really like Barack Obama and he trusts Hillary Clinton, that`s got to be helpful to her, right?

FINEMAN: Yes. And I think that this -- for Hillary`s sake and if you`re a Hillary supporter, you hope that this is only the first of many carefully selected, strategic -- not overdone because you don`t want Barack Obama on the campaign trail every day with Air Force One, but I think he can be enormously helpful to her on the trust factor question.

The question about, Is the system rigged, you know, that`s Donald Trump`s thing and he`s going to make whatever he can out of it. And I must say, I have to wonder if James -- if President Obama didn`t know or have at least some inkling of what James Comey was going to say before he scheduled that trip with Hillary to North Carolina. Can you imagine what the story would have been like had Comey gone the other way?

So Trump will be playing those conspiracy theories out there, but if Barack Obama can reassure likely Democratic voters, like the Sanders supporters, young people, as Susan was saying, that they can trust Hillary because they can trust him, those kinds of things don`t always transfer, but these two people are close enough that I think it might make a difference.

REID: Yes, and I can`t imagine what the conversation would have been like on that flight between staff had that Comey announcement gone a different way and they were already on their way to North Carolina to give that speech. So I`m sure everybody all the way around was quite happy at the way this came out.

I think we`re going to (INAUDIBLE) Howard Fineman, Susan Page, thank you much. We appreciate it.

FINEMAN: Thank you.

PAGE: Thank you.

REID: All right, coming up, much more on Donald Trump`s reaction to the FBI decision today not to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton. Trump will be taking the stage in just a few minutes in North Carolina, just as he finds himself mired in another controversy of his own.

Plus, with a deeply unpopular candidate on the Republican ticket, could the Libertarians make some noise in November? The Libertarian ticket, Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, will be with us tonight.

And we saw today why President Obama is Hillary Clinton`s not so secret weapon. In his campaign rally with Clinton, the president offered a full- throated defense of his former secretary of state and a full-on skewering of Donald Trump.

Finally, the HARDBALL roundtable weighs in on our top story of the day. And while the threat of criminal charges may be over, the political firestorm surrounding Hillary Clinton`s e-mails won`t go away.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


REID: We continue to wait for Donald Trump to take the stage in North Carolina. And as we wait, we`ve got two new general election polls to tell you about. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scorecard." (sic)

According to an NBC News on-line poll, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by 5 points. It`s Clinton 48, Trump 43. Similar story in a new "USA Today" Suffolk poll, where Clinton`s lead is 6. It`s Clinton 46, Trump 40.

We`ll be right back.


REID: Welcome back to HARDBALL. FBI Director James Comey`s recommendation not to indict Hillary Clinton today will likely spare the presumptive Democratic nominee from criminal charges, but the decision has been scooped up by Donald Trump to help him continue making his case that the system is rigged.

Now, we continue to wait for Trump to take the stage at a rally in North Carolina tonight, where Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee is also joining the candidate amid speculation about a possible place on Trump`s ticket. NBC has confirmed tonight that Corker is being vetted for vice president.

I`m joined now by Steve Lonegan, former Ted Cruz supporter and spokesman for the Courageous Conservative PAC, as well as MSNBC political analyst Michael Steele, former chairman of the RNC.

And Steve, I`ll start with you. How much is the Corker speculation and the speculation about all of these other potential veeps an attempt to distract folks from the news of the last 24 hours about Donald Trump`s tweeting life?

STEVE LONEGAN, COURAGEOUS CONSERVATIVE PAC: Oh, I don`t think that was on purpose. It`s just a matter of timing. I think his tweeting life certainly stands on its own. But obviously, the big story with Comey takes away Donald Trump`s biggest attack on Hillary Clinton.

I mean, he`s talking about the system being rigged, but you know, Joy, this is going to fade out over the course of the summer. And come September, when Donald Trump wants to bring this back to life again, he`s going to have to spend lots and lots of money doing it. And the problem is, he`s having trouble raising money.

REID: Yes, as a matter of fact, Michael, they`re still trying to sort of go out through their Twitter -- their -- their text feeds, et cetera, trying to raise money. They don`t really have the cash if they want to make this case.

Is there a possibility that some outside group is going to want to burn money attempting to use the Hillary Clinton e-mail-gate against her after, to Steve`s point, it`s already started to fade?

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that -- yes, there may be some who may want to play with that, at least initially, to raise money on top of this event.

But I think Steve is right that in the end, it will be a longer summer in that regard where you`ll pick it up again after Labor Day. There may be some interest to do something there, but whether that comes from the Trump campaign remains to be seen.

Again, Trump doesn`t need to raise money to do that. He just can tweet about it or just talk about it, and it will be in the news cycle. So for other groups, they may have to struggle a little bit on the money side, but I don`t think Trump will really care one way or the other in regard to raising money to talk about this.

REID: Yes.

And complicating matters, in his rallies last month, Trump said that Clinton is guilty and should go to jail, but he also said he has great confidence in the FBI.

Let`s take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think she should be in jail for what she did with her e-mails, OK?


TRUMP: She should be in jail. Folks, honestly, she`s guilty as hell. She`s guilty as hell. We will see. We will see what happens. I don`t know. I have always had great confidence in the FBI, I must tell you. I have great respect. I know some FBI folks.

I always had great confidence in them. I can`t believe that they would let this go.


REID: And, Steve, if he is the guy who is supposed to be in favor of law enforcement and spoken so glowingly about law enforcement -- and Comey is not exactly a hack. I mean, Comey is a very well-respected Republican prosecutor.

So, he really doesn`t have much room to grow for this, right?


And several weeks ago, a lot of conservative pundits were talking about what a man of integrity Comey was, he was going to take his time, he wasn`t going to let things get in the way, he was going to have this long research and do the job right.


LONEGAN: Well, now people could say, well, he did the job right.

Look, we are going into the Republican Convention in two weeks, Joy, and the delegates there are going to have to pick the best candidate to defeat Hillary Clinton. The problem we have right now is that Donald Trump`s biggest issue with Hillary was just taken away from him.

He`s not galvanizing the Republican Party. He needs to energize the Republican conservative base. He needs to pull the party together. That`s what he has to focus on, not sending out tweets that are flipping everybody out, not worrying about calling Hillary Clinton a crook...


REID: Yes.

LONEGAN: ... but galvanize the Republican conservative base.

REID: And to that very point, Trump continues to deflect accusations of anti-Semitism after he defended his campaign`s decision to tweet an attack on Hillary Clinton featuring her, a Star of David and piles of money. The image was lifted from a Twitter user who has a history of posting bigoted tweets.

Now, it first appeared online in mid-June, and it was also featured on a white supremacist Web site. And we should note that there is no known connection between the Twitter user and the Trump campaign. However, while the campaign removed the star from the image within hours, they have maintained the star is really just a sheriff`s badge.


REID: Michael Steel, is that the weirdest explanation you have ever heard?


STEEL: I guess it worked somewhere.

No, it`s a little weird. We all know what a sheriff`s badge looks like. It`s a five-pointed star, not a six-pointed star, but OK.

REID: Yes.

STEEL: We will go with that.

REID: We will go with that.

STEEL: But I think Trump right now -- I agree with Steve. Put the Twitter down, dude. Let`s focus on getting ready for a kick -- a kicker of a convention, get the party organized and rallied behind you.

There will be enough substantive stuff out there to go after Hillary Clinton on. You don`t need to play in this particular yard right now.

REID: To that very point, Michael Steel, House Speaker Paul Ryan once again forced to react to a Donald Trump controversy. And he was on Wisconsin radio saying that Trump has got to -- quote -- "clean it up." Take a listen.



REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Look, anti-Semitism images, they have got no place in a presidential campaign. Candidates should know that. The tweet has been deleted. I don`t know what flunky put this up there. They have obviously got to fix that.

As you know, I was -- one of the few times I spoke out against him during the primary very forcefully was in this area, when he failed to disavow supremacists, white supremacists. I understand this is done by staff, not by he himself, but, more importantly, they have got to get -- they have got to clean this thing up.


REID: But, listen, these are tweets that are going out on the @realDonaldTrump account. They`re going out from his account.

LONEGAN: That`s right.

REID: I can`t imagine how Republicans react if Hillary Clinton retweeted a white supremacist. He`s done it over and over again. It`s not the first time.

So, what do you suppose is at work here? You don`t accidentally wind up on the 4chan where the neo-Nazis are tweeting images of Hillary Clinton and Stars of David. You don`t accidentally do that. What do you think is going on that he keeps on treading into this territory?

LONEGAN: A complete and utter lack of judgment, which you can`t have in a presidential campaign.

I was the mayor of a small town for 12 years. A small-town mayor, a councilman did something like that, you would have to resign from office.


LONEGAN: So, in a presidential campaign, this is just a total lack of judgment. They should take his phone away and not allow him to tweet anymore, best thing that could happen to this campaign. Nothing good is coming out of these tweets.

But there`s another problem. Some people will speculate that that Twitter message was a dog whistle to that anti-Semitism base. I hope that`s not the case. I don`t believe it`s the case. But, unfortunately, it creates these allusions about his campaign.

REID: And, Michael Steel, you have already had neo-Nazi groups, what they call the alt-right groups, saying, no, yes, we own it, we think that Donald Trump is dog whistling at us.


STEEL: Yes, they do. I`m sure they think that. I agree with Steve. I don`t think that this is something deliberate on the campaign, and certainly on Donald Trump`s part, to really play to that.

I think what he sees is, look, he`s taking every means and measure available to get voters to the polls. That`s -- at the end of the day, my sense is that`s the driver here. And he doesn`t care ultimately where you are standing right now. In November, he just needs you at a ballot box.

And so this is part of that effort. It is a dog whistle in that regard. I don`t think it`s playing the racist elements, per se. Unfortunately, what it does, though, is it does elevate them into a national conversation with our nominee and our party. And for that, we are all experiencing a great deal of...


STEEL: ... angina, yes.



REID: He may not think he`s doing it, and you may not think he`s doing it, but they think he`s doing it. And that`s what...


STEEL: They do. They do.


LONEGAN: And in politics, Joy, perception is reality.

REID: Yes. Exactly.

STEEL: Yes, exactly. Exactly.

REID: I should note that Donald Trump`s son-in-law Jared Kushner just released this statement to NBC News -- quote -- "My father-in-law is an incredibly loving and tolerant person who has embarked my family and -- who has embraced my family and our Judaism since I began dating my wife. I know that Donald does not at all subscribe to any racist or anti-Semitism thinking. I have personally seen him embrace people of all racial and religious backgrounds. The suggestion that he may be intolerant is not reflective of the Donald Trump that I know."

That`s the statement that we just got from Donald Trump`s son.

STEEL: Then stop with the tweets. Then stop with the tweets.

REID: Thank you very much, Steve Lonegan and Michael Steel. We appreciate it.

I think Donald Trump is walking out onto the podium. We`re going to take a look at that. Let`s -- let`s listen in.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you very much. Wow. Look at that.


TRUMP: I love you. I love you, North Carolina. I love you.


TRUMP: Unbelievable.

You know, it`s an incredible thing. The system is rigged, but we`re still happy to be together, right? It`s totally rigged.


TRUMP: What a system. What a group. I will tell you what, what`s going on. And we are going to be talking about it.

But, before I do, a great friend of mine, somebody respected by everybody, Senator Bob Corker. Come on up, Bob. Come on up.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I wasn`t going to say anything. I just came to visit.


CORKER: But I have to tell you something. The rallies that I have back home aren`t quite like this.


TRUMP: Pretty good. Pretty...

CORKER: Pretty cool. Yes. This is unbelievable, isn`t it?

Had a pretty remarkable day today. Pretty remarkable day. You know, it says a lot about a -- it says a lot about a person to meet their family, spend time with their kids, if you will, Ivanka and Eric and their son-in- law, and to be around the people that have worked in the Trump Organization for 25 and 30 years, to see the respect that they have for the person they have worked with, the father and father-in-law that they have, to see how he treats the people that are around him.

So many times, in these campaigns, people become caricatures of what the media makes them. And all too often, after a race is over, people realize they never really knew the person.

Somebody once told me it`s not who you know in life. It`s how you know them. And I had the incredible privilege today to spend time with this man, to spend time with his family, and to spend time with those who know him so well. And I figured out the reason that you love him so much is because...


AUDIENCE: Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!

CORKER: I`m taking up his time. Let me just say this.

The reason you love him so much is because he loves you. He loves you. And he wants the best for you.

The president -- the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump!


TRUMP: Great guy. Great guy. Great person.

So, I have to tell you a few things. Numbers just came out, just now. Number one, we`re doing very well in the polls. That`s important, OK?


TRUMP: Very well. Very, very well.

But, you know, the numbers just came out that, during the primary system, during the primaries, the Republicans -- I wonder why -- were up 62 percent. The Democrats were down 21 percent. These are final numbers. Just came out.


TRUMP: That tells you a little bit, a little bit about what`s going on.

And what`s going on very big and big league is what you witnessed today and over the last week, from Bill Clinton going to the plane, just happened to be there, just happened to be there.


TRUMP: I wonder how long he waited. But for Bill Clinton to go to the plane, and then to have what happened today, where essentially I thought, everybody thought, based on what was being said, she was guilty. She was guilty.

And it turned out that we`re not going to press charges. It`s really amazing.


TRUMP: But I will tell you, I will tell you, look, we have a -- we have a rigged system, folks.

Hey, I used to say it during the primaries. We were all together. I won North Carolina big league because of you. Big league.


TRUMP: And not only did the Republican Party go way up from what it was four years ago, way, way up, but Donald Trump, in the history of the primary system, Republican Party, with 17 people running -- a lot of people don`t understand.

Where you say 17 people, I got almost 14 million votes, more than anybody in the history of the Republican Party. More than Ronald Reagan.


TRUMP: More than the Bushes. More than Richard Nixon. More than Dwight D. Eisenhower, who did win the Second World War, or certainly helped a heck of a lot.

We got the highest vote count in the history of the Republican Party. That was such a big thing for me. We won 37 states. We -- I mean, and just got stronger and stronger and stronger. And I think we`re stronger now than ever before. We are fighting a very dishonest media.

AUDIENCE: Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!

TRUMP: Do we have a protester? All right, get him out, please.


TRUMP: Oh, we love our protesters, don`t we? It`s the only time I get the cameras to turn, the only time we get those cameras to turn.

Look at the size of this place. This is really great. This is really great.

Get him out. Get him out. Get him out.

All right.


TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you.

That`s all right. Take it easy. Take it easy, folks.

You know, if I could speak to these people for a little while, what do we want, when you think of it? We want good education. We want a strong military. We want strong borders. We do want the wall. We want to keep our jobs in North Carolina.


TRUMP: We want to keep our jobs in North Carolina. I mean, look at what`s going on, folks.

We`re going to build a wall. Don`t worry.

Who`s going to pay for the wall? Who`s going to pay?


TRUMP: I didn`t hear you. Who`s going to pay?


TRUMP: Better believe it. They`re going to pay. They will be happy to pay. If the right person asks them, they`re going to be happy to pay, no problem. If the wrong person, like crooked Hillary Clinton asks them, they`re not going to pay. But she`s never going to ask.


TRUMP: She`s never going to ask. And I will tell you why.

When it comes to trade -- and I just got a list of companies that have left North Carolina. And they have gone down to Mexico. And it`s a disgrace, what`s happening. It is a disgrace, what`s happening. And we`re going to stop it. And it`s not going to happen any longer. We`re losing our jobs. We`re losing our manufacturing.

We`re going to stop the nonsense that`s going on. And it`s so easy to stop. We will stop it so fast, your heads will spin. Remember that. Your heads will spin.


TRUMP: So, we will talk a little bit about trade later. It`s so easy. The trade is so easy, folks. It`s so easy, the trade of all of them.

We`re going to knock the hell out of ISIS. We have, by the way..


TRUMP: By the way, we have a president who`s out campaigning for crooked Hillary Clinton, and he should be home working on ISIS, where the threat is getting worse and worse.

He should be working on trade. He should be working on the borders. People are flowing into our country from lots of places, but from Syria, no more. No more. OK? They`re not coming. No more. We don`t know who they are. We don`t know where they come from. They have no documentation. They have no paperwork. And who knows? Who knows?

But you know what? We can`t take any more chances, folks. We can`t take any more chances. If you look at -- if you look at crooked Hillary, she wants to increase the immigrants coming in from Syria. Again, they could be ISIS. This could be...


TRUMP: This could be the all time great Trojan Horse. You know the story of the Trojan Horse. This could be the all-time great.

Look at what one person, one person has done in Orlando. Just take a look, one person. Look at the horror that that person has wreaked on our country, the gay community. The LGBT community was just -- they cannot -- nobody can even fathom what took place. That`s one bad apple. We have many people coming in. And you know what? It just takes a small percentage.

But there`s something going on. And guess what? We have a leader that doesn`t even want to discuss the name of the problem, and the problem is radical Islamic terrorism. And it`s a problem. It`s a problem.


REID: All right.

That`s Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina. He took the stage alongside Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, who NBC News confirmed is being vetted to be Trump`s running mate.

Joining me now, tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable.

Eli Stokols is the national political reporter for Politico. Molly Ball is political writer for "The Atlantic." And Perry Bacon Jr. is a senior political reporter for NBC News.

Molly, I will go to you first, because what we have seen there is sort of what we have seen before. Donald Trump sort of plays the hits, right? He has five or six things that he says at each of these rallies. He does build a wall. Everybody cheers. He ejects a protester. Everybody cheers.

He goes into his soliloquy about ISIS and how respected he is and great his poll numbers are, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

This is really the 1.0 Donald Trump. He really hasn`t changed anything at all over the course of this campaign, despite how much Republicans want him to. It doesn`t appear that he can. Am I reading that wrong?

MOLLY BALL, "THE ATLANTIC": Well, I was actually surprised that he spent so little time on Hillary Clinton and her e-mails and on what happened with Director Comey this morning.

I think Donald Trump 1.0 would have leaned into that a lot harder and repeated a lot of conspiracy theories about it. I mean, for Donald Trump, I think this actually counts as staying on message to, as you said, say 10 things that we have already heard him say before and not to go into a full- on lying, crooked Hillary, Vince Foster, yadda, yadda rant.

He actually was -- seemed somewhat restrained, to my ears. I guess that`s the bar we have set for Trump. But I thought we would have spent more time on it.

REID: And, Eli, you know, the conspiracy theories that Donald Trump has delved into back from when he was a birther on forward to all of these sort of conspiracy ideas, this conspiratorial way of looking at the world, to Molly`s point, this was one opportunity for him to really dive into that, to get really conspiratorial about James Comey.

What does it say to you that he hasn`t gone full Trump with that?

ELI STOKOLS, POLITICO: Well, I mean, I just think it speaks to the sort of lack of discipline and focus of his messaging overall.

Yes, he`s staying on message, I suppose, but it`s a message that still seems to be aimed at the Republican base, at the primary audience. He`s in a general election fight now against Hillary Clinton.

He could have gone out there and basically read verbatim the transcript from Director Comey`s press conference this morning, and that would have been incredibly effective.

But he is. He`s playing the hits, but it`s just sort of scattershot around to his favorite issues and his favorite laugh lines and applause lines. He`s not really going at Hillary Clinton.

You hear a lot of Republicans today saying, God, what a more conventional candidate, nominee would be doing with this right now. If Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio were the nominee, they would be just going at Hillary.

And it really is amazing, to Molly`s point, that he sort of brushed by this, said it`s a rigged system, folks, and then just went right into the riff about the wall.

JOY REID, MSNBC ANCHOR: And it`s interesting, Perry, because I wonder how much that speaks to he has had this default of supporting law enforcement, Comey, the ultimate sort of law enforcement figure. But to the point that was just made by Eli and Molly, this is Donald Trump getting free media, right? He`s getting an opportunity to go on all the cable networks that will play his remarks live.

This was his chance to really do what he can`t afford to do with money because they are not raising a lot of money. So, if Donald Trump doesn`t take this opportunity, this free media time, to go after Hillary Clinton in the way that a conventional Republican candidate would, and he`s not raising money, he can`t do it that way, then doesn`t this sort of e-mail scandal, e-mail gate, go nowhere for him as an issue?

PERRY BACON, JR., NBC NEWS SIR. POLITICAL REPORTER: We will see what he does at the convention and going further. But like Eli said, today, Director Comey basically criticized sharply Hillary Clinton for about 15 minutes on national television. I was surprised that Trump did not use any of those comments. Comey suggested Hillary Clinton was misleading the public in some ways about the scandal and Trump sort of ignored that.

REID: He`s sort of ignored it.

All right. Let`s go back. We`re listening to Donald Trump a little more now. He is going after President Obama apparently.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And why is he allowed to come down, get on that very, very, very expensive plane, you know he talks about the carbon footprint, OK? He wants to solve the carbon footprint but he gets on an old Boeing 747 that`s spewing stuff into the air, he gets her on the plane and then they say, we will fight for the environment. We will fight for the carbon footprint. Then he gets back on to the Boeing 747, goes back to Washington.

His greatest, his greatest was when he wanted to play golf in Hawaii, so he takes the 747, by the way, he`s played more rounds just about than people that play professionally on the PGA tour. I mean, this guy.

And he gets on this plane, flies to Hawaii, he`s there for a long time -- golf, golf, golf, golf, more, more, learning how to chip, learning how to hit the drive, learning how to putt, I want more.

Our country`s going to hell. ISIS is laughing at us. They are chopping off heads. They are drowning people in steel cages. And he`s out there playing golf with just about as long a trip as you can make from Washington.

Then after a long extended vacation, he gets back on the plane, flies back, lands, starts talking about the environment.

OK, give me a break, folks. Give me a break. Give me a break.

Now, you know, we need unity in the Republican Party. I have to be honest. I think I win without the unity. But we need unity in the Republican Party. And for the most part, we have unity. We have some pretty good stuff. And we have some great people like Bob, who just came out. And so many others. So many senators, so many congressmen.

REID: All right. Eli, Molly, and Perry are still with me as we listen to Donald Trump at his rally going after President Obama.

And, Perry Bacon, Jr., I see this as sort of shtick. He`s saying this about President Obama in a comedic way. For purposes of contrast, play President Obama today, because he too used humor to sort of point up the differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. He did somewhat of that as well but just did it in a very different way. Let`s listen to President Obama talking about Donald Trump.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This election, you are going to have a very clear choice to make between two fundamentally different visions of where America should go, and this isn`t even really a choice between left and right or Democrat or Republican. This is a choice between whether we are going to cling to some imaginary past or whether we are going to reach for the future. This is about whether we have an America that works for everybody or just a few people.


REID: You know, Perry, forget the contrast between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Talk a little about that contrast as people see this president in his final year with that kind of charisma, that manner of speaking, and even when he was making jokes about Donald Trump, the way he does it versus what we just heard from Donald Trump.

BACON: Trump is obviously a lot more personal in his attacks although the president did make fun of Trump, suggested Trump wants to govern by Twitter and so on. What`s interesting is a campaign about those two in some ways more than Secretary Clinton. You know, last week, Trump gave this very aggressive speech saying globalization is killing America, trade deals are killing America, immigration is a big problem in America.

And the president is very much a globalist person, views the world as one that`s more effective, he thinks trade deal and immigration are positive. In some ways we moved to almost an Obama versus Trump campaign in a very interesting way.

REID: Let`s listen to a little more of President Obama, because I think that`s an interesting point you make, Perry. Let`s listen to President Obama talk about another issue, the issue that has probably catapulted Donald Trump into the mainstream of the Republican Party that`s made him the nominee more than anything else is immigration. Let`s listen to President Obama riffing on that earlier today.


OBAMA: For years, the Republicans who run this Congress, they talk a good game about immigration reform, then they don`t do anything. And now they have picked a nominee whose only plan is to build a higher wall. That`s not a plan.

No, no, no, no. Hold on a second. I was waiting for this opportunity. Don`t boo. Vote.


REID: And, Molly, the president does use that line, don`t boo, vote, a lot. But he`s sort of ridiculing the very sort of foundation of the Trump campaign. This whole build a wall thing, what he gets the whoops for at his rallies.

MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC: I think there`s a clear contrast on immigration and the president is highlighting that. But I think as Perry was saying, you know, President Obama I think takes this personally as a matter of his legacy. It`s about more for him than just his relationship with Hillary Clinton. We have seen ever since the State of the Union Address at the beginning of this year that he has seen the way Donald Trump is campaigning as an affront to his world view and as everything that he`s campaigned on since eight years ago.

So, I think we saw throughout that speech that he gave on behalf of Hillary Clinton not just a very strong sort of character reference on her behalf which in itself is extraordinary and unusual for a sitting two-term president, but also a defense of himself and a defense of legacy that he feels is under attack.

REID: And I wonder, Eli, if you`re talking about voters, you know, both parties do have this feint to the middle where they are trying to get that elusive voter in the middle. They look at these contrasts, Donald Trump who`s doing this raw populism saying the country`s in decline, the country is in terrible shape, retweeting sort of odd racially and religiously offensive people and sort of living almost in the comments section as a campaign, and then you`ve got President Obama with this vision of what he`s created, this America that`s so outrages the base of the Trump campaign.

Where is the middle? I mean, in your reporting, where is that voter in the middle? Which of these polls are going to cling to?

STOKOLS: Well, sometimes, it can seem like there is no middle left in American politics, especially when you cover Donald Trump`s campaign. There is still a middle. There are still voters in the same nine or ten states that are going to determine the outcome of this election.

And I think the president has a voice that still speaks to them. There`s a reason that his approval rating has been going up over the last couple months. Donald Trump may be the biggest reason for that.

But I think usually, you don`t see a two-term president out there on the stump for his party`s nominee to succeed him and you are going to see it a lot this fall because the president still has some appeal. The Democrats need him to turn out that Democratic base, the Obama coalition. And because I think those voters in the middle, Donald Trump continues to offer a lot of divisive, very populist but nationalist rhetoric and what the president is selling more optimistic, more hopeful, more forward-looking.

And I think that is something you look at the formula, I think the Clinton campaign will be just fine if it`s President Obama and Clinton running together rather than Clinton out front. I think the less voters may see of Clinton and the more they see of Obama might just be fine with the folks in Brooklyn.

REID: It`s interesting that that`s the case. If that`s the case, Perry, how ironic that this is taking place today in North Carolina because I think we all remember in 2014, a lot of these red state Democrats, including in states like North Carolina, didn`t want President Obama anywhere near them and today, you now have a lot of down ballot candidates wanting President Obama to be there, wanting him to stand with them including in a state like North Carolina that was so narrow when president won it and when he lost it.

BACON: Right. You have seen a different campaign. The 2014 Democrats tried to run this idea we don`t want to be anywhere near President Obama, you had Allison Grimes of Kentucky wouldn`t say she voted for him. That was most notable.

Today, Deborah Ross, who is running for the Senate in North Carolina and Roy Cooper, who is running for governor, both of them came to the event today and spoke before President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Tells me the Democratic Party views themselves as fused together. Their argument, I know particularly in a state like that, you really need the high turnout of the Obama coalition as Eli said. Not just for Hillary Clinton to win but also for the down ballot candidates to win as well.

Also notable contrast, Richard Burr, Pat McCrory, the senator and governor of North Carolina, are not with Bob Corker and Donald Trump tonight. That tells you the Republican down-ballot candidates a little more wary of their nominee than the Democrats right now.

REID: Yes, that`s exactly right. Donald Trump is having a hard time scaring up sitting Republicans to stand next to him. He`s touting, you know, Bob Corker is so popular that he`s willing to hang out with them. You know, I want to talk a little bit Molly about this question of money, because you have North Carolina, a state that President Obama won by about 14,000 votes in 2008. He only lost it by about 98,000.

If the Democrats can make Republicans sweat in a state like North Carolina, and Donald Trump is not raising money, how much of a crisis is that going to turn out to be for the GOP?

BALL: Well, a lot of senior Republicans fear it`s a very severe crisis and they will not be able to support their Senate and gubernatorial candidates in a lot of these swing states, if the presidential candidate, number one, doesn`t have a campaign to speak of, that is raising money, and number two, is a drag on the ticket. I do think that you`re going to see, if this pattern continues into the fall, a lot of efforts to support the down ballot candidates rather than the presidential ticket.

There are a lot of Republicans who feel like they have to give up on Trump in favor of supporting the rest of the party`s candidates if Trump is not going to sort of pull his weight financially.

REID: Yes. We heard tonight Trump that will win without the unity. So, there you go.

Eli Stokols, Molly Ball, and Perry Bacon, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

All right. We continue to watch Donald Trump deliver what has largely been his stump speech in North Carolina.

And up next, could we see a significant vote for the libertarian ticket in November? Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is coming along with his running mate Bill Weld.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


REID: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The current political landscape is turbulent at best. The latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll says 71 percent of voters show the country is on the wrong track. Now, could that be good news for the Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and his vice presidential running mate Will Weld? The former popular Republican governors are now popping up everywhere.


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REID: It appears that Donald Trump is now talking about Hillary and the e- mails. Let`s listen in.

TRUMP: -- and you`re guilty because with serious stuff. We`re talking about the life blood of our country. We`re talking about the safety of our people, the laws are very explicit. Stupidity is not a reason that you`re going to be innocent. OK? It`s not a reason.


And I don`t happen to believe that it was stupidity, OK? But even stupidity is not a reason. And, boy, what they`ve done.

So I wrote this out, and I`m going to read some of it to you. And I think it makes sense. And I think it`s important for us to understand.

Today is the best evidence ever that we`ve seen that our system is absolutely, totally rigged. It`s rigged.


And I used that term initially when I was running in the Republican primaries, and I was the first to use it, then all of a sudden it became a hot term. Everybody was using the word, rigged, rigged, rigged!

If you remember, I`d win Louisiana, and I find out I didn`t get enough delegates, what happened? And places like Colorado which was so good to me, but all of a sudden, we find out they don`t have the vote. OK, I used the word rigged.

And frankly, I`d be honest, if I didn`t win in landslides, I wouldn`t be standing up here, you`d be watching some politician who would lose to Hillary Clinton, OK, believe me. Believe me.

I started winning -- I learned about rigged very fast, but I used the term "rigged". Then all of a sudden, Bernie started using it and now everybody talks about rigged. But I`m going to keep using it because I was the one that brought it up. And I`m the one -- I asked a couple of political pros, ever hear the word rigged? It`s a rigged everything?

They really -- there hasn`t being used, I guess, it has to be somewhere along the line, but it hasn`t. But think of Bernie Sanders, who is the most angry about this? I think the one with the most to lose is Bernie Sanders, because honestly, he was waiting for the FBI primary, and guess what? He just lost today the FBI primary! He lost the FBI primary!

Bernie, my poor Bernie, oh, Bernie, I feel so badly for Bernie. But, you know what? A lot of Bernie Sanders` supporters are going to be voting for Trump. Because Bernie Sanders was right.


Bernie Sanders was right about a couple of things. He`s right about the system being rigged, but he`s also right about trade. Our trade deals are a disaster. They`re killing our jobs. They`re killing our families. They`re killing our incomes.

I mean, people in this room, many people in this room, and I`m going to fight for you, because there`s going to be change fast. Many people in this room are making less money today than they made 18 years ago, effectively. And they`re working two jobs instead of one.

And this horrible, stupid Obamacare is a killer, which is giving them part time employment, when they never had part time employment in their lives. And the premiums are through the roof, and the deductibles are so high that you`ll never be able to use it unless you die a very vicious, long, slow death. OK? And it`s going to explode in `17 anyway, and we`re going to replace it before it explodes. And we`re going to replace it --

REID: That`s Donald Trump criticizing the decision today by FBI Director James Comey not to recommend charges for Hillary Clinton`s e-mail. He said the system is rigged.

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

We`ll have much more throughout the night on MSNBC.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.