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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 8/28/17 Catastrophic flooding in Houston.

Guests: Al Green, Richard Ruelas, Julia Ainsley, Julia Ioffe, Tom Hamburger, Susan del Percio, Michael Hopkins, Shelby Holliday

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 28, 2017

Guest: Al Green, Richard Ruelas, Julia Ainsley, Julia Ioffe, Tom Hamburger, Susan del Percio, Michael Hopkins, Shelby Holliday

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Trump tackles storms.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

There is big news to tell you about tonight on the Russia investigation. We`re going to get to that story, all of those details in just a moment.

We begin, though, with the massive devastation in Texas after what is being called a historic storm. Houston remains paralyzed, much of it under water tonight. Thousands have been rescued from their homes. The governor has activated the entire Texas National Guard to help in the response. And much more rain is still expected.

I`m joined now by NBC`s Maya Rodriguez just outside of Houston. And Maya, we see all of that rain around you, obviously, with the forecast still calling for more.

MAYA RODRIGUEZ, NBC CORRESPONDENT: It is calling for more, and it has been raining like this literally for days now, Steve. And you know, this is a neighborhood where people have been trapped in their homes. Neighbors have been coming out to basically help them, bringing their own personal boats to go and rescue people.

Joining us right now is Suzette Boyd. She has lived in this neighborhood for 30 years. Have you ever seen anything like this?

SUZETTE BOYD, LOCAL RESIDENT: Not ever. Never. No. It`s unbelievable. It`s a nightmare.

RODRIGUEZ: What is going through your mind right now as you see this, as you see people ferrying others out of the neighborhood, as they were earlier today?

BOYD: Well, that`s what we`re trying to decide, if we should get out of here or just bunker down? We have a two-story, you know, so we could go upstairs. But you know, at this point, we just don`t know what to do.

RODRIGUEZ: And that is a concern out here, Steve. I mean, a lot of people have been asking themselves, Should I evacuate, should I not evacuate? What is the water going to do next, again, because of all this rain?

BOYD: And the weather. You know, what is it, going to rain two more days, three more days, you know, what? And the sad part about it is it`s like this everywhere in Houston. And Houston`s a huge area. So it`s just -- it`s heart-breaking, absolutely heart-breaking.

RODRIGUEZ: Are you afraid of being trapped on your second floor? Do you have a plan possibly for...

BOYD: No, we don`t have a plan. You know, we`re just taking minute by minute, you know? And if we have to go upstairs and stay, we will. But you can`t go anywhere. You know, if we were to leave our home, we can`t -- you know, we can`t go anywhere. So you know, we almost have to stay here.

RODRIGUEZ: All right, Suzette. We wish you so much luck, and all of the residents out here...

BOYD: Thank you.

RODRIGUEZ: ... in this subdivision where we are, which is in northwest Houston and the northwest suburbs of the city. As you can imagine, this rain has been torrential. It has been doing this all day long, Steve.

KORNACKI: All right, NBC`s Maya Rodriguez there in the Houston area. Obviously, just so much devastation there. We will have much more on that during the hour.

For the moment, though, we will move on to the other major stories tonight, NBC News now reporting that investigators led by special counsel Robert Mueller are looking into whether President Trump attempted to hide the purpose of that June campaign meeting with Russians at Trump Tower, last year, June 2016. Specifically, Mueller is looking into the president`s role in crafting the initial public response for his son, Donald Trump, Jr., while aboard Air Force One.

Quote, "A person familiar with Mueller`s strategy said that whether or not Trump made a knowingly false statement is now of interest to prosecutors."

Meanwhile, "The Washington Post" has revealed that the Trump organization pursued a deal to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow at the same time that Trump was running for president in 2015 and early 2016.

This comes after Trump on multiple occasions has denied having any business relationships in Russia.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don`t have any deals in Russia.

I have no relationship to Russia whatsoever.

I have nothing do with Russia. I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever. I don`t have property in Russia.

I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we`ve stayed away.


KORNACKI: Now, despite the president`s assertion that he has stayed away from deals in Russia, his lawyer, Michael Cohen, told congressional investigators that Trump signed a letter of intent with a Russian development company in October of 2015. E-mails reportedly turned over to congressional investigators today also reveal that Cohen discussed the project with Russian-born real estate developer Felix Sater.

According to "The New York Times," Sater told Cohen that the deal would help Trump get elected. Quote, "Our boy can become president of the USA, and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin`s team to buy in on this. I will manage this process."

"The Post" further reports that Cohen even contacted Putin`s personal spokesman for help with the deal. However, it was abandoned before the first presidential primaries in early 2016. Cohen told NBC News today, quote, "It was a building proposal that did not succeed, and nothing more. To the best of my knowledge Mr. Trump was never in contact with anyone about this proposal other than me on three occasions, including signing a non-binding letter of intent in 2015."

Much to talk about here. Joining me now to help me with it, Tom Hamburger of "The Washington Post." He reported the story we were just reading from. Julia Ioffe is a staff writer at "The Atlantic." Julia Ainsley is a national security reporter for NBC New. And Ken Vogel, a reporter with "The New York Times." Thank you to all of you for being with us.

Tom, let me just start on the story we finished up with there. You guys have it here in "The Washington Post." These contacts between Michael Cohen, lawyer from Trump with the Trump Organization, trying to reach, apparently, Putin`s spokesman at some point, also having this, whatever you want to call them, and intermediary and ally, Sater, who`s saying, Hey, we can get this -- we can get this deal all brokered.

Take us through the timeline. This played out late 2015, early 2016. What exactly happened here? And what is the status of this project?

TOM HAMBURGER, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, Steve, to jump to the bottom of the timeline, the status is that since January 2016, nothing has moved on the project. But what we now know, thanks to this series of e-mails that were turned over to congressional committees today, is that the Trump Organization was actively seeking to build a tower in Moscow. It was to be one of the largest towers in the world.

We`re told by those who these e-mails reveal it would be perhaps the largest structure in Europe. So it was a very ambitious tower.

And Felix Sater, long-time associate of Donald Trump, who, as you mentioned, is Russian-born, is in Moscow encouraging the deal with a Russian partner. And his contact in the Trump Organization is Michael Cohen, long-time lawyer, counsel to the Trump Organization, and a person who informally sometimes supported Donald Trump during the campaign, sometimes speaking for him on television network interviews.

And what we know is that they desired, starting in late -- in 2015 and through January 2016, to build this structure in Moscow with Sater often encouraging his boyhood friend and his ally back in Trump Tower, Michael Cohen, to encourage a meeting with Vladimir Putin, at one point suggesting they could get this deal done and they could get -- they could help elect Donald Trump as president of the United States.

KORNACKI: So Sater -- you have Sater here making all these claims, We`re going to get this done, got to get you in touch with the Russian administration here. Is there any indication -- is there any evidence of reciprocal interest from the Russian government?

HAMBURGER: So there is -- we know, as you mentioned a moment ago, that one of the things that Michael Cohen did in the e-mails turned over to the congressional committees reveal this (ph), is that he reached out to Dmitri Peskov, who is the spokesman for Vladimir Putin, but really much more than that. He`s been with Putin since the year 2000 and is considered a vital sort of go-between.

Now, he wrote him at a kind of generic Kremlin e-mail address, so it`s not clear that they actually knew each other. But there was outreach on the part of Michael Cohen, this figure in Trump Tower and counsel to the Trump Organization, to a top-level person at the Kremlin.

KORNACKI: OK. We`ll come back to this. We`re juggling a bunch of things here. But Julia Ainsley, this other major breaking story on Russia -- you reported it here for NBC News. Let me get to this with you. You have Robert Mueller, the special counsel, his investigators looking at this question of, Did Trump -- did the president play some role in crafting -- and let`s be clear here. You`re talking about crafting a misleading, potentially, public statement. This isn`t a statement under oath. This isn`t a statement to congressional investigators, correct? This is a public statement he may have -- according to investigators, he maybe played a role in crafting.

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, that`s right. So this is different, of course, from if he had made false statements to investigators or under oath to Congress.

But what`s really interesting here is that this statement, investigators believe, could be a tell into what Trump knew when. If at the time he came up with that first response to "The New York Times" story, where he said that his son did not meet with Russians about a campaign issue -- if that - - if it turns out that at that time, Trump knew the real nature of this meeting, which, of course, was to come up with dirt on Hillary Clinton, his opponent -- if he knew about that then, he may be involved at a level where he is seeking to conceal the real goings-on of his own team that time -- of course, his campaign team.

And so they want to look at this perhaps not for a crime but at least to show what he may have known. And it could be, as one person said, that this is later used against Trump just to show his conduct. If there are other charges that could arise at another time, this could be attached to it to show how he conducted himself as president in a nature that could be potentially concealing.

KORNACKI: And to be clear on the timeline, we`re talking about two events a year apart, correct? This meeting takes place in June of `16, and then a little bit more than a year later, the press starts to find out about it, questions are being asked, and Trump comes up with this initial statement that is later sort of contradicted by further reporting.

AINSLEY: Right. If we can remember back to last month, after "The New York Times" had reported on this meeting, there was a statement that we know that Trump weighed in on -- the White House has confirmed that -- drafted on Air Force One when this news was breaking, and Trump was very quickly trying to come to his son`s defense and saying, This was a small meeting, no campaign issues were discussed.

And then just a day later, "The New York Times" followed up and said, No, that`s incorrect. They actually met to discuss what they thought would be damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

So the timeline of this is key. It`s not that investigators are looking into this statement to figure out if Trump knew about the meeting ahead of time, but they`re looking into whether or not he knew the nature of his son`s meeting and then intentionally tried to conceal it after the fact, of course.

KORNACKI: Let me bring Ken Vogel in, who`s been reporting on a lot of things related to Trump Russia business dealings. And Ken, this question here from this "Washington Post" reporting about Sater, about this friend of Michael Cohen, who`s basically saying, Hey, look, this can win us the election. Got to get you an meeting with -- got to get you a meeting with the folks around Putin.

What do you make of this? Because I`m looking at it, too, and I`m saying, Well, it looks like you had the Trump folks reaching out to Putin`s inner circle but not hearing anything back, the deal fizzling out. What do you make of this?

KEN VOGEL, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, certainly, Sater is a guy who`s known for a lot of bluster, and that was Michael Cohen`s sort of framing of this. And his response to the congressional investigators was that this was a guy who talked a big game, didn`t necessarily deliver, so he didn`t necessarily feel the need, Cohen didn`t, to flag these things up the food chain.

Of course, we know he did talk to Donald Trump at least three times -- Cohen did to Trump at least three times about this Trump Tower Moscow project.

The most interesting thing to me, I think, Steve, is that it really shows the degree to which in working in the former Soviet Union, working in Russia, business and politics are conflated. That`s the way Sater thought about it. He talked about working this Trump Tower Moscow deal on the same track as he talked about winning Donald Trump the election, suggesting that the two might somehow be linked, if there could be support from Putin for this project, there could be support from Putin or in some amorphous way support that would help Donald Trump win the election linking those two things together.

And then, you know, frankly, you see it a little bit with Michael Cohen, as well. He`s not going in through the front door to some low-level bureaucrat in Moscow`s planning and zoning office, or whatever it is, to get some permits. He`s going straight to Vladimir Putin`s confidant, his spokesman, in trying to grease the skids here.

That`s not the way that we like to think about business functioning as being separate from politics, but it is sort of revelatory. As this investigation, this Mueller investigation, focuses more on the business side of things and not necessarily the campaign side of things, this would seem to be fertile ground.

KORNACKI: Well, another key element here, at least potentially to the timeline here -- bring this out there, as well -- during the time that the Trump Organization was pursuing this real estate deal in Moscow -- this is late 2015, early 2016 -- Donald Trump then a candidate for president -- he was praising Vladimir Putin in public. Take a look.


TRUMP: I think I`d get along very well with Vladimir Putin. I just think so.

I think in terms of leadership, he`s getting an A and our president is not doing so well. They did not look good together.

I got to know him very well because we were both on "60 Minutes." We were stablemates.

He`s run running his country, and at least he`s a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country.

Putin called me a genius. That`s good. But I don`t know if he`s playing with me. We have to figure that out.


TRUMP: But I think I`ll get along great with Putin.

The other day, Putin -- he said Donald Trump is brilliant and Donald Trump is their real leader.


KORNACKI: Well, Julia Ioffe, you know how business is done in Russia, in Vladimir Putin`s Russia. If there is a foreign businessman who wants to do a big business deal in Moscow and that foreign businessman were Donald Trump, were publicly saying positive things about Vladimir Putin have bearing on his ability to get it done?

JULIA IOFFE, "THE ATLANTIC": I think maybe Trump and the Trump campaign people thought it would have bearing. I think Ken is absolutely right. You need -- for something of this size to go forward in Russia, you need political approval. You need a green light from the very, very top for the thing to go forward, for the local authorities to get out of the way and to grant the permits, the zoning, et cetera, and to not, you know, choke the process bureaucratically.

The fact that they were not able to build anything in Russia, even though Trump has been trying since the late `80s, when everybody else that -- you know, Hyatt, Ritz Carlton, the Four Seasons, Hilton, everybody has built something, more than one thing in Russia, and Trump was not able to, and the fact that Michael Cohen e-mailed Peskov through the generic e-mail he found probably on the Kremlin Web site speaks to a lack of political connections in Moscow, that this was -- these were kind of one-sided overtures, kind of sucking up, as it were, to the Kremlin.

Again, Peskov is close to Putin, but if you wanted political approval for your business deal, that`s not who you would go to. This would be like e- mailing Josh Earnest when, really, you should be e-mailing Valerie Jarrett, or e-mailing Sarah Huckabee Sanders when really, you should be getting in touch with Jared Kushner or Ivanka.

KORNACKI: Tom -- you know, let me just -- Tom Hamburger reporting the story, let me ask you about that quickly. This idea that and then reaching out to, basically, Putin`s right-hand man is using -- I saw somebody on Twitter today say it`s the equivalent of, what, Is that accurate? Does that tell you something about the nature of this -- of this outreach and supposed contact?

HAMBURGER: Well, Steve, our Moscow correspondent does confirm that the address that Michael Cohen used was indeed a sort of a general address that would be used by reporters and the general public to reach Mr. Peskov. Nonetheless, you -- one would -- we don`t know for sure, but we`re told in Cohen`s statement, he says he does not recall receiving a response from Peskov to this outreach.

But I think the important thing here is -- the important context is what you led off the segment with, which is Donald Trump and campaign aides repeatedly denying any connection, economic ties to Russia. There were also denials of any knowledge of attempt by Russia to influence the presidential campaign.

And yet what we`ve learned now in this latest e-mail batch that`s been turned over by Michael Cohen is that there were a series of communications with Russians. The one that we were just referring to a moment ago was involving Donald Trump, Jr., and a Russian lawyer who came to a meeting telling Donald Trump, Jr., that she had information, dirt, on Hillary Clinton.

We learned earlier that General Flynn, the president`s national security adviser, while at one point denying conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States, in fact, had them.

And now we learn that while Donald Trump said, I have no deals in Russia, he was actively pursuing through January 2016 a very ambitious project and one that caused his lawyer to reach out to a top guy in the Kremlin.

KORNACKI: All right. Tom Hamburger, Julia Ioffe, Julia Ainsley, Ken Vogel, thank you to all of you for joining us on this very busy night.

And coming up, we will have much more on the devastation in Houston and the race against time trying to save residents, many of whom are still stranded in their homes. It comes amid news that the devastating storm is expected to make landfall yet again.

Plus, President Trump denies that he was trying to bury the news of the Joe Arpaio pardon, saying he assumed the TV ratings would be higher than normal because of the ongoing hurricane coverage last Friday night.

And the Arpaio pardon isn`t the only move designed to appeal to the president`s base, but it is all coming at a price. Trump`s cabinet members, including his secretary of state, seem to be breaking with him in some public ways.

And finally, the HARDBALL roundtable is going to be here with three things you might not know.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


KORNACKI: There is also breaking news out of North Korea tonight.

U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed that North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan. The Japanese government sent a text alert to citizens about the launch, advising them to take protective cover. The missile appears to have landed in the sea. It was not immediately clear where.

We will be right back.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will be going to Texas tomorrow.

I look very much forward to it. Things are being handled really well. The spirit is incredible of the people. The coordination between all of the different services, as you know, has been going very well.

QUESTION: Are you surprised at the magnitude of the storm?

TRUMP: It`s the biggest ever. They are saying it is the biggest. It`s historic. It`s like Texas -- really like Texas, if you think about it.

But it is a historic amount of water in particular. There`s never been anything like it. So the people are handling it amazingly well.


KORNACKI: That was President Trump today praising the response to Hurricane Harvey and saying he will visit Texas tomorrow.

It`s been widespread flooding that has paralyzed the city of Houston. Thousands have been rescued from their homes. Tens of thousands have been forced into temporary shelter. Up to 20 more inches of rain still in the forecast for Houston and that area.

The scenes on the ground, they are simply devastating. The flooding is being described as among the worst in American history.

I`m joined on the phone now by Congressman Al Green. He`s in Houston.

Congressman, we have been seeing pictures and just hearing some of the stories. But, in your own words, maybe you could just describe what it is like to be on the ground there, what you`re seeing, what you`re watching.

REP. AL GREEN (D), TEXAS: I have seen pictures on television as well.

And I thank you for having me on. My prayers and my sympathies go out to the many persons who are in harm`s way.

And the pictures that I have seen are quite disturbing. But you really have to be on the ground to see the reality of what is going on. People are hurting. There is a flood that has consumed Houston, Texas. Houston is over 600 square miles. And when you have that much land covered with water, you have an epic circumstance that has to have an epic response.

I believe that all of the persons at the genesis of this process were acting in good faith. I believe that everyone wanted to do as much as they thought necessary to get this done.

But all of the resources at the state level and at city and the municipal, the county level have been stretched to their limits. And this is one of those times when a Cat 4 hurricane is going to require a Cat 4 response.

This is a Category 4 response that we need. And I`m calling upon the federal government to do more. They just have to do more.

KORNACKI: Well, let me just ask you about that, because the president was asked about the federal response today, specifically about money coming through Congress, being sent down there.

He expressed -- he said confidence that there would be all the money that Houston, that Texas needs coming through a bipartisan majority in Congress.

Do you share that view? And what do you make of his response to this?

GREEN: Well, I hope that he`s right. That`s my desire.

And I have talked to my colleagues locally about that. But what I don`t want to see happen is for us to find ourselves having to cut some other program that is needed to take care of this circumstance.

This is unusual. It is an exigent circumstance. It`s unlike anything we have ever seen before. And we need a response unlike anything we have ever seen before.

So, I`m just calling on my colleagues, but, more importantly, I`m calling on the federal government to give us a response that is equal to the challenge that we are going to confront. This will not go away in the next few months, maybe not within the next many years.

This will be with us for a long time, and we need the resources necessary to make sure that we have a complete recovery.

KORNACKI: All right, Congressman Al Green joining us by phone from the ground there in Houston, Congressman, thank you for that.

And President Trump, as I was mentioning a minute ago, he said today that officials are handling the disaster -- quote -- "amazingly well."

Over the weekend, the president tweeted about Texas nearly 20 times. At the same time, he also sent out tweets about the wall, NAFTA, an attack on Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and an endorsement of a book written by a political ally.

For more on the president`s reaction, I`m joined by Republican strategist Rick Tyler. He worked on the presidential campaign of Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Rick, thanks for joining us.

Look, in one way, it`s a story we have been -- it`s not new to us, this president and his use of Twitter in a moment like this. Does it make a difference in terms of the federal response? Does it make a difference if the president is tweeting about things that are off-topic?

RICK TYLER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it makes a lot of difference.

The president sets his priorities by the way he communicates to the country. And his response has been a little bit bipolar. He is focused on the events on the ground in Houston. And then he talks about how well he did and is going to Missouri. Or he talks about things that aren`t related to the storm.

What I thought was most revealing about the press conference today, Steve, is he actually talked about what -- when he pardoned Joe Arpaio, he talked about, well, maybe he did it because ratings would be higher with the coverage of the storm.

That is an extraordinarily revealing, because instead of focusing on the storm and the people who are suffering in the storm, which he doesn`t seem to be able to generate any compassion or empathy toward, he is using -- he is saying he is using that opportunity of pardoning Joe Arpaio during the hurricane because it would get more eyeballs. That`s astonishing.

KORNACKI: Well, he is scheduled to be there in Texas tomorrow.

TYLER: Right.

KORNACKI: What is -- in a moment like that for a president -- let`s ask it this way. In a moment like this for this particular president, what can he do down there on the ground tomorrow?

TYLER: He can set the tone.

In these situations, where there`s a lot of resources that are necessary to still save lives -- and it is remarkable that the loss of life has been limited to what it has been. And, remember, 90 percent of what you are seeing on the television is citizens, Texans helping Texans, which has been extraordinarily remarkable.

The response will come by the federal government is in rebuilding. And, as Al Green said, it will take years and years, because when these buildings get flooded, there are structural issues, there are mold issues, and they will all have to be rebuilt.

And the president needs to set the right tone. In some ways, Bill Clinton in Oklahoma City after that disaster, although it didn`t require the same type of response, he regained his footing as president in Oklahoma City because of the way he set the tone about Oklahoma City.

And the president has an opportunity to do that here. My question is whether he can do it.

KORNACKI: OK. Rick Tyler, Republican consultant, MSNBC contributor, thank you for joining us.

Quick break.

Up next: Trump forcefully defends his controversial pardon of Joe Arpaio. Is he setting the stage for future pardons?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



TRUMP: a lot of people think it was the right thing to do, John.

And, actually, in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally. The hurricane was just starting.

I stand by my pardon of Sheriff Joe, and I think the people of Arizona who really know him best would agree with me.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump this afternoon defending the timing of that pardon for Sheriff Joe Arpaio last Friday night.

The president also justified the decision by calling Arpaio a patriot and by comparing it to the pardons that past presidents have granted.

Let`s watch.


TRUMP: President Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, who was charged with crimes going back decades.

President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who leaked countless sensitive and classified documents to WikiLeaks, perhaps, and others, but horrible, horrible thing that he did, commuted the sentence.

Sheriff Joe is a patriot. Sheriff Joe loves our country. Sheriff Joe protected our borders. And Sheriff Joe was very unfairly treated by the Obama administration.


KORNACKI: I`m joined now by Richard Ruelas, who is reporter for "The Arizona Republic," knows all about the story of Joe Arpaio well.

Richard, I wonder if you could just put in context a development like this. Around the country, Sheriff Joe, we know him as sort of the character.

In Arizona, though, talk about something like this goes over there, because this is a guy, obviously controversial. He won election five times. He was also defeated in 2016 for reelection. I know that county, Maricopa County, is like half the state. How does something like this go over with people in Arizona?

RICHARD RUELAS, "THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC": Thanks for having me on, Steve.

It looks like the population here was bracing for this. You may have heard there was a bit of a rally and a protest following his speech here. Much of that was crowds bracing for what they thought was going to be the announcement of the pardon that night.

And there is a large and increasingly large vocal Latino population here in Phoenix that was not very happy with sheriff`s policies and isn`t very happy with the pardon.

KORNACKI: Here is the interesting twist on this, though.

We know Arpaio obviously, especially after this, an ally of President Trump. Also, Senator Jeff Flake, Republican from Arizona, he and Donald Trump have had their differences. The president took some shots at him as recently as a few days ago in Arizona.

There is reporting today that Arpaio might be interested in running for the Senate next year in Arizona in the Republican primary against Jeff Flake. Within that universe of Arizona Republican voters, if Joe Arpaio were to run for Senate next year, would he have a chance against Flake?

RUELAS: Well, before we get to that point, we have to know that here in Arizona, we know that the sheriff has threatened to run for higher office repeatedly. He`s made threats at running for governor, seeking higher office, and has never done so.

He enjoyed being sheriff. He liked being sheriff, teased the media about seeking higher office. Never did it. So, first, we would have to get over that hurdle.

How he would do in a Republican primary, given the support of Donald Trump, remains to be seen. Last time the voters had a chance in Maricopa County, they voted for John McCain, for Donald Trump and against Joe Arpaio.

KORNACKI: Yes, that issue of he has talked about it before, maybe he`s not serious, he`s just flirting with it, I remember we had to get over that hurdle with Donald Trump too. So, sometimes, those things do come to fruition.

Richard Ruelas down there in...

RUELAS: There are some -- there are some interesting parallels between them and their use of the media to get their point across.

KORNACKI: Yes, absolutely, a lot of stylistic similarities there.

Richard Ruelas down there in Arizona, thank you for that.

A quick break here.

Up next: Is the Cabinet cracking? We are going to show you the jarring response that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave when asked about Trump`s values.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



President Trump`s pardon of Joe Arpaio is just the latest instance of him trying to appeal to his base. It came on Friday night just hours after Trump signed a memo barring the Pentagon from accepting any more transgender individuals into the armed services. And then, today, the administration made another overture to Trump`s law and order supporters, planning to reinstate a program that provides local law enforcement with military surplus equipment.

All of this comes as several of Trump`s cabinet members, though, seem to be distancing themselves from the president following his response to the violence in Charlottesville.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson became the latest on Sunday. Let`s listen.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don`t believe anyone doubts the American people`s values or the commitment of the American government or the government`s agencies to advancing those values and defending those values.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: And the president`s values?

TILLERSON: The president speaks for himself, Chris.


KORNACKI: Video is also surfaced of remarks that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made to a group of U.S. troops abroad last week. Look at that.


JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You`re a great example for our country right now. It`s got some problems, you know it and I know it. It`s got problems that we don`t have in the military, and you just -- you just hold the line, my fine young soldiers, airmen, marines, navy.

Just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it, and being friendly to one another, you know, that Americans owe to one another. We`re so doggone lucky to be Americans.


KORNACKI: All right. Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable.

Susan Del Percio is a Republican strategist, Michael Starr Hopkins is a Democratic strategist and Shelby Holliday is a business and politics reporter for "The Wall Street Journal".

Susan, that clip we just had a little hard to hear there, but you have the secretary of defense talking to American troops abroad and saying, your job is to hold the line until people, leaders back in the United States, can get back to understanding and respecting each other -- incredible statement there from a defense secretary.

SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: And that is secretary who is committed and dedicated to the United States of America first and foremost. He is not going to put the people who he is responsible for, nor his reputation on the line for Donald Trump, because anyone who does knows they can probably get burned by it, but he is above it. I think at this point, while he may have a lot of frustrations, he`s been asked to stay on and work hard by a lot of different people, Democrats and Republicans, because we need him in our government right now.

But this is clearly a very frustrated person, and the same can be said of Rex Tillerson, who also has another complication in his tenure of secretary which is the president`s son-in-law, who has been like a shadow secretary of state. I mean, right now, he went to Middle East. This is not the job of a son-in-law.

KORNACKI: And there`s some reporting today as well from "Axios" I think the president may be souring a little bit on Tillerson. But, Michael, this gets to a bigger debate I think -- this scene is playing out a little bit among Trump`s critics.

And I wonder what you make of this, this idea, for instance, in the wake of president`s comments about Charlottesville, a lot of his critics said this isn`t just about Trump. This is about the people who choose to serve with Trump that take top level positions in his administration. They need to resign. They need to register their protest of this president by resigning.

So, that`s one option the critics put out there. The other one, though, and Susan just gets it, and says, you look at Mattis. If you`re a critic of the president and you`re in the administration, if you`re not necessarily happy with it, maybe there is still a role for you to play within the administration short of resigning.

MICHAEL STARR HOPKINS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, in the wake of Charlottesville, I was one of those who said Cohen, Mattis, all these people needed to really step down and send a message to Republicans. But once I got past the emotional response to it, you know, it made sense that people like Mattis, people like Tillerson haven`t stepped down, because I think that they are the only thing keeping the president from going full-on crazy.

You know, we`ve heard Tillerson talk about some of the conflicts that are going on with North Korea, some of the things going on in the Middle East. And I think that he is kind of one of the few things in the State Department that is keeping the president from going --

DEL PERCIO: And let`s not forget Cohen, when there was a rumor of him walking away, the markets started to tank.

HOPKINS: Absolutely.

KORNACKI: And again, we have seen it also, that`s another story within the administration. The market volatility based on the event of the hour. But the other question this raises, Shelby, too, is simply how much leeway, whether it`s Tillerson, whether it`s Mattis, whether it`s somebody else, how much leeway will this president give to members of his cabinet to top advisors, to air any sort of dissatisfaction, however they couch it, because you can read the Mattis one between the -- so, a lot of reading between the lines there. But president can probably read between the lines when he sees that clip.

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Right. The president is no fan of criticism, particularly against himself, but also anyone loyal to him. He`s been lashing out. He actually sent a fund-raising e-mail today based on I think the subject line was isolated, question mark. He is trying to fight the fake news. Anyone saying he is isolated.

And he`s not just isolated from his CEOs or Republicans in Congress, but his own cabinet secretaries are distancing themselves. You can read between the lines. But they`re all saying, this man does not speak for America, which is shocking. That never happens. This is something we haven`t even in modern history.

So, I mean, I don`t think he`ll give them much lee way. I also think he understands he needs them at this point.

KORNACKI: That`s my other question.

HOLLIDAY: We`re dealing with this massive crisis Texas, who better to help you with this than Rex Tillerson, who`s a former oil CEO.


KORNACKI: There`s a practical question there but also this. If you look at sort of institutional Washington, establishment of the Republican Party, I know Trump has run against them. That`s the nature of his appeal.

But to the extent they have expressed comfort, some sort of grudging comfort with this administration, it`s because of Mattis. It`s because of Tillerson. It`s because of some of these appointments.

DEL PERCIO: Because they were happy with a lot of the cabinet choices, because they were people who were respected in their fields. Even moving, you know, even though getting rid of Priebus, the establishment was upset about that --

KORNACKI: Does Trump value that, though? Does Trump value that the establishment on some level has some stake in this administration?

DEL PERCIO: I don`t think Trump values anyone or anything except for his reputation. And he knows that if he does have -- if Mattis were to step down, he would really find himself in a really difficult situation because once he starts having the military -- and let`s not forget he was law enforcement slash military nominee -- once he starts losing the military, that`s going to really hurt him.

HOPKINS: And who`s going to replace any of these individuals? We`ve already seen people don`t want to go into the administration, the legal fees. There`s no one to replace them.

KORNACKI: And yes, for confirmation positions as well, there`s the question depending on the circumstances of one of these folks leaving what those confirmation hearings would then look like and Republicans don`t have a lot of votes to spare in the Senate, as we know.

Still ahead though, the roundtable is sticking with us. They`re going to weigh in on tonight`s breaking news, all sorts of breaking news on Russia and Trump.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


KORNACKI: Well, President Trump is also taking some new heat from a very prominent Democrat. In a blistering op-ed published yesterday in "The Atlantic", the former Vice President Joe Biden declared that President Trump`s, quote, contempt for the U.S. Constitution and willingness to divide this nation knows no bounds.

Biden writes, quote, we have an American president who has emboldened white supremacists with messages of comfort and support. This is a moment for the nation to declare that president can`t with any clarity, consistency or conviction, there is no place for these heat groups in America.

Be right back.


KORNACKI: And we`re back with HARDBALL roundtable, and that late-breaking news on the Russia investigation.

NBC News now reporting that Robert Mueller`s team is focusing on whether President Trump may have attempted to hide the purpose of that meeting between his son, Donald Jr., and Russians at Trump Tower last summer.

Also, "The Washington Post" reporting that Trump Organization was pursuing a development deal in Moscow as Trump was running for president in 2015 and early 2016. "New York Times" adding that one Trump associate even bragged the Moscow deal would get Donald elected.

The roundtable is back with me.

Shelby, this issue you of the real estate deal, the proposed real deal, we should say it didn`t happen, looks like it fizzled, but this was apparently something that they were trying to get -- the Trump folks were trying to get in the pipeline late `15, early `16. I`m trying to figure out how to interpret this because some of these details, just they look so klutzy. When you talk about this guy, Michael Cohen, writing to Putin`s right-hand man and using the equivalent of --


KORNACKI: -- who does that?

HOLLIDAY: I know. You got to wrap your head around it. The timing here is what`s so interesting because President Trump had already declared he was running for president. He was already doing very well in the polls. It looked like he would be Republican nominee at this point. It is not like he was this little underdog no one had heard of.

So, the fact that this is happening in late 2015 is stunning. However, President Trump tweets a lot as we know and he doesn`t delete those tweets. He tweeted about Trump Moscow for years. What is very interesting is he has a tweet @agalarov, the man who helped set up the meeting at Trump Tower with Don Jr. and Kushner and Manafort, saying the Trump pageant in Moscow is great and what`s coming next is Trump Moscow.

So, you start to put the pieces together and all of the people, it`s very complicated but the web, you know, gets more and more clear as you look at all of these dealings.

KORNACKI: That`s the other thing, go back to that time and yes, Donald Trump in late `15, early `16, he is leading in all the polls. And I also remember that all the smart folks like me on TV were saying he is not going to be leading when the voting starts. So I -- did that thinking, you wonder Michael, did that extend into Trump world? Was there sort of a parallel track thing where he is out there running for president but even he, and even the folks in the Trump Organization don`t think it`s going to last, so they are still pursuing business deals at the same time? Is that a possible explanation here?

HOPKINS: I mean, it is. I was on the Hillary Clinton campaign and we didn`t think he was going to win. I have heard from many Donald Trump insiders that he never expected he was going to win. And I think that this is just more evidence that Donald Trump has continued to try to use his run for presidency and now the presidency as a platform to enrich himself over and over again.

But toward the lies, I think that goes towards a consciousness of guilt. You know, looking back on my public defender days, innocent people don`t lie. And what Trump campaign and Trump administration has repeatedly done is lie over and over again about ties to Russia. And the question has to be why? Why is he lying?

KORNACKI: What is -- is there a -- one answer that I can think of, Susan, you know, I`m not defending it or anything, but just recognition that any acknowledgement of deals or contacts with Russia would have been politically toxic in 2016. Does that answer the question why?

DEL PERCIO: Well, I think right now when you take it from the viewpoint of the Mueller investigation, and the fact that Donald Trump Jr. lied at the get-go about what he today do with that meeting, the fact that Jared Kushner forgot to put it on his forms when the get-going for his position, his security clearance forms, I think that this indicates that this is much worse when you see this much lying, there is a lot more at stake than even just whether there is he doesn`t think he would win. It was self formation.

The Trump folks are very, very afraid. There is no way you would see this amount of lying from so many different people. This is something to really consider. And Mueller will get to it.

KORNACKI: We got the one report from NBC tonight of where the Mueller investigation might be going. That Mueller investigation is obviously very active. So, I assume we will have more in the future, what we`re going to learn.

Up next, these people are going to tell me something I don`t know. This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


KORNACKI: Back with HARDBALL roundtable.

Susan, tell me something I don`t know.

DEL PERCIO: Sebastian Gorka, while he was fired this past Friday, it was a long time in the making. He had just came off a two-week vacation. No one takes a two-week vacation in the White House unless you`re really asked to.

KORNACKI: All right. Michael?

HOPKINS: It`s not a matter if but when Republicans start actually releasing statements suggesting -- distancing themselves from the president.

KORNACKI: OK. And, Shelby?

HOLLIDAY: First of all, I got to say, praying for the people of Houston. Everyone hang in there.

But also, we will feel the pain of this storm all across the country. Gas prices could go up as much as 25 cents a gallon.

KORNACKI: OK. Susan del Percio, Michael Hopkins, Shelby Holliday, thank you for joining us.

That is HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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