Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 8/31/17 Harvey hits Beaumont

Guests: Del Quentin Wilber, Annemarie McAvoy, Josh Dawsey, Suzy DeFrancis, David Jolly, Tim O`Brien

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 31, 2017

Guest: Del Quentin Wilber, Annemarie McAvoy, Josh Dawsey, Suzy DeFrancis, David Jolly, Tim O`Brien

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: The Trump lawyers make their move.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

A host of new reporting over the last 24 hours has shed some new light on special counsel Robert Mueller`s unfolding investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia. We have got some breaking news on the probe into Trump`s former campaign chairman, Mueller`s work with New York state attorney general, and most recently, the president`s legal defense against allegations of obstruction of justice.

"Wall Street Journal" is reporting tonight that, quote, "Lawyers for Donald Trump have met several times with special counsel Robert Mueller in recent months and submitted memos arguing the president didn`t obstruct justice by firing former FBI chief James Comey." One of those memos, quote, "outlined why they believe Mr. Comey would make an unsuitable witness, calling him "prone to exaggeration, unreliable in congressional testimony and the source of leaks to the news media."

According to "The Journal`s" sources, the president`s lawyers hope to get a swift conclusion to the obstruction of justice piece of the investigation and potentially an exoneration of the president. However, continuing here, "There is no indication Mueller accepted the lawyers` reasoning or has dropped the part of his inquiry that is looking at any obstruction."

Joining me now is Del Quentin Wilber of "The Wall Street Journal." Josh Dawsey is a White House reporter for Politico, and Annemarie McAvoy is a former federal prosecutor, adjunct professor at Fordham Law School. Thanks to all of you for joining us.

Del Quentin, let me start with you. So we have these meetings, we have these memos the Trump lawyers are submitting to Mueller`s team. Let me ask you this. Do we know where this started? Did Mueller initiate this and say, Hey, give me your best defense? Did Trump`s team initiate this and say, We want to put a preemptive end to this? What`s the context of these memos and these meetings?

DEL QUENTIN WILBER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, I think,you know, starting in June, maybe a little bit before that -- Mueller was only appointed in mid-May to tackle this investigation -- that, you know, the president`s legal team, outside legal team wanted to present arguments to Mr. Mueller that, Hey, he can`t be charged with obstruction of justice, he was legally justified in doing this.

And they also took the tack of attacking who would be a chief witness in an obstruction case if it was about the firing of FBI director James Comey, and they attacked James Comey`s credibility in these memos. They raised legal arguments and other various things to get their -- it was their effort to put the ball in Mueller`s court, say, Here are arguments, these are our best arguments, and we don`t think you should go this route.

KORNACKI: OK. Now, you say there`s no indication that he`s accepted their arguments. But is there any indication at all how he reacted? Did he reject them outright? Do we know anything about his reaction to this?

WILBER: Well, I think, you know, as anyone who`s covered Bob Mueller for a long time realizes, he keeps -- he plays his cards close to his vest, you know? He`s a consummate poker player. He`s not going to tip anyone off to what he`s thinking. And I think that, you know, Mueller has signaled over many months that he wants to do this as quickly as possible, as efficiently as possible, and you know, as thoroughly as possible. And I don`t think he probably said anything different than that to the White House lawyers.

KORNACKI: OK. Now, Annemarie, former federal prosecutor, from the standpoint of a prosecutor, if the defense team makes this kind of play, comes to you with these memos, with these meetings, tries to make this case, how do you react to this as a prosecutor?

ANNEMARIE MCAVOY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think you listen. You want to see what they have because if you do wind up going to trial or having to fight this case out in a courtroom with motions and so on, you`re going to at least in this process learn what their defenses are going to be, what they`re going to raise down the line. So you`re going to listen very intently.

The other issue for a prosecutor, especially in a case like this that`s getting so much coverage, is Mueller doesn`t want to wind up with egg on his face in the end, either, where he brings a case and then he winds up having the case thrown out, perhaps on a motion to dismiss from the other side. So he wants to make sure he`s got a strong case before he actually files anything.

KORNACKI: Is this a situation -- are there examples in the past where a defense team would come to a prosecutor and the prosecutor actually would hear them and on the spot or relatively shortly after having the meeting say, You know what? Good point. I`m backing off. I`m clearing you. I`m exonerating you? Does that ever happen, or is this just sort of lodged for the record and he moves on all (ph) ways (ph)?

MCAVOY: I mean, it can happen. It depends on how good the information is that that particular potential subject brings to you. So -- and it also depends what other information and evidence they have. If they don`t have any other evidence and then the lawyers come in and they say, Look, you know, this is going to be a big mistake if you go forward, here are some additional reasons why you shouldn`t, it may be just that extra little bit to say, yes, you know what? I`m going to back off of it right now.

On the other hand, if they`ve got a lot of evidence to support going forward, then this type of meeting isn`t going to make much difference.

KORNACKI: OK, now, let me bring Josh Dawsey here from Politico. And Josh, you have reporting here about another new element here. NBC News we can say has confirmed your reporting originally in Politico that Mueller`s working with the state attorney general here in New York, Eric Schneiderman -- of course, Schneiderman a long-time Trump adversary -- on the investigation into Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for Donald Trump.

According to the report, quote, "State and federal prosecutors believe the prospect of a presidential pardon could affect whether Manafort decides to cooperate with investigators." The involvement of New York`s attorney general, quote, "could potentially provide Mueller with additional leverage as Trump does not have pardon power over state crimes."

Manafort, we should note, has not been accused of and has denied any wrongdoing.

So Josh, take us through this. This is a very unusual situation, as far as I know. You have a special counsel. You have the state attorney general...

(CROSSTALK)

JOSH DAWSEY, POLITICO: ... studying financial transactions. Both of them are studying whether Mr. Manafort committed any sort of financial crimes, offshore accounts, you know, various bank transactions. They`ve subpoenaed business partners, family members.

And the last six months -- six weeks or so, they`ve been meeting pretty frequently to talk about their evidence, talk about strategy, talk about how to push a case forward and whether it would make sense to bring charges in New York, where President Trump does not have pardon power or does not have as wide a pardon power, or in federal court where he does have pardon power, and whether the leverage for Mr. Manafort to cooperate with any possible federal inquiry, you know, comes better from state charges or federal charges.

KORNACKI: Annemarie, I`m not a legal expert here, so I`m going to rely on you. Is this situation unprecedented? Because I -- thinking of special prosecutors in the past investigating whether it`s presidential administrations, top-level presidential appointees, to have a state attorney general at the same time simultaneously looking into it -- have you seen an example...

(CROSSTALK)

MCAVOY: We don`t have a lot of special prosecutors out there, so -- but we do have many, many circumstances. And the special prosecutor`s really like a federal prosecutor, so like a U.S. attorney`s office, sort of the equivalent. And in that situation, we do have a lot of situations where the federal authorities or law enforcement, prosecutors, investigators will work with a state.

So I actually used to be in the U.S. attorney`s office. I also used to be in the DA`s office, and in both roles had occasions where we would work with each other as far as the federal and the state to come together and share information.

There are a number of reasons you do this. If one has information, the other has information, you don`t have to recreate the wheel. You can get that information from each other. Sometimes there also are -- the laws are different. So even the standards for money laundering and what`s required for the state versus the federal system is different.

So many times, the feds and the state will then decide, Well, where does it make the most sense to proceed? Where do we get the best bang for the buck? Where do we get -- what are the sentences? What evidence do we need? What evidence do we have? Where does it fit better?

KORNACKI: I guess the question here is, is there a bigger picture message that`s being sent here from Mueller, from the special prosecutor, to Trump, to Trump world, basically saying -- because the issue here that`s been floating over all this is you`ve got a lot of critics of Trump, a lot of Democrats who are suspicious, that, Hey, look, he had that pardon in Arizona last week of his buddy, Joe Arpaio. He`s got the power of pardon. He doesn`t like this investigation. Is he going to try to make some move here where he shuts down the Mueller investigation or thinks he`s shutting down the Mueller investigation by issuing a series of preemptive pardons?

Is this -- can this be read as Mueller trying to send some kind of message that, Hey, White House, if you think that`s what you can do here, guess what? You could try to shut me down that way, but the state attorney general can then take over.

MCAVOY: My thought is that they probably knew that there were other people looking into it. There are rumors that the New York DA is also looking at it, Cyrus Vance. There may well be others out there who have investigations that are open.

So the thought that it`s only the feds that can prosecute -- I`m sure they realize that there are other entities out there, especially with Trump Tower and a lot of the businesses being based in New York and meetings having taken place in New York, New York had jurisdiction. So my guess is that they knew that.

But certainly, it`s something they can think about, and if they are trying to pressure Manafort, but the fact that there`s no potential pardon for the state charges could be relevant to his decisions.

Of course, one of the issues is going to be, though, does he have information. Sometimes people really want to give information. They want to cooperate, but they don`t have anything that`s relevant. So that`s going to be an issue, as well, as to what he has.

KORNACKI: There`s also further reporting to tell you about from "The Wall Street Journal" that reveals that Paul Manafort`s work for pro-Russian political interests abroad was, quote, "broader in scope and ambition," and took place for longer than previously reported. According to "The Journal," that work extends into countries like Georgia and Montenegro. It appeared to some as potentially at odds with stated U.S. positions at the time.

And this comes after McClatchy reported last week on the probe into possible money laundering and tax evasion. Quote, "Investigators are working to confirm information indicating that Manafort and the consulting firms he led earned between $80 million and $100 million over a decade from pro-Moscow Ukrainian and Russian clients." The volume of money said to be involved and the time elapsed could put him at significant risk.

Del Quentin, let me bring you back in here. This issue -- I know you`re reporting here specifically on the maneuverings of Trump`s legal team with Mueller on this issue of obstruction of justice. But again, as I was saying a second ago, the sort of issue hovering above all of this is the president, the power to pardon, would he employ it in this case? Would he do it preemptively if the investigation is just -- is just not sitting right with him? Anything in your reporting that you`ve picked up on that front?

WILBER: You know, your guess is as good as mine. I mean, we all know that the president of the United States has this vast power, and it`s his power. And we don`t really know how he`s going to use it.

And I`m not sure -- I think Annemarie has offered some really cogent legal analysis so far this segment, and I would encourage people to watch it again the way she spoke about the investigation and what Mueller may be doing and why he`d do things. But I think Mueller is going to be very careful going forward in confronting these kind of complex issues, knowing the president has this power.

Now, there is a converse problem. If, let`s say, the president pardons people in this case and says, Hey, I`m going to make sure you`re not going to be charged with anything, you`re pardoned, well, then you lose your ability to, like, take the 5th Amendment and not answer questions. And so those people then would have to be compelled to provide testimony potentially against the president or others close to him.

And so it`s a double-edged sword, and it`s not going to be as simple an analysis as many people are portraying it to be.

KORNACKI: And it sounds like, Del Quentin, there`s an issue, too, about how perfectly legal presidential acts can be interpreted. For instance, I know in your reporting, in the correspondence here with Mueller, the president`s team is asserting that he simply had the power to fire the FBI director.

But then there`s the issue of, does the motive in carrying out that legal act that the president took, on the surface legal act -- does the motive enter into it at all?

WILBER: Yes, exactly. You can take a legal act. For example, I think in our story, we had an example where, you know, someone approved a Navy contract. That`s a legal act. But they accepted a bribe before approving the contract, and that would be illegal. And so also, you can obstruct justice without there being a real underlying crime if your goal is to obstruct an investigation into a potential crime.

And so this is not something that`s as straightforward as many people are portraying it. It`s very nebulous. It`s complicated. And that`s why Bob Mueller has a team of 16 attorneys working on this and a grand jury that`s, you know, taking testimony and issuing subpoenas. And he`s doing search warrants on, you know, suspects` houses -- or at least one suspect`s house that we know of.

KORNACKI: And Annemarie, let me just ask you about this. As a prosecutor, what you make of the argument that`s being made here, this correspondence with Mueller by Trump`s team? They`re saying, Look, he has the power to fire the FBI director. He carried that out legally. They say, Hey, look, you can`t really rely on Comey here because at one point, he had to issue an correction to an aspect of his congressional testimony -- excuse me. Also he had those memos he took, those contemporaneous memos about his interactions with the president. Those were given to the media through an intermediary, through a friend of his.

They`re saying he can`t be trusted, he can`t be relied on as a witness because he leaked things to the media. Those arguments that they`re laying out there, do they resonate at all with a prosecutor?

MCAVOY: Again, it depends very much on what other evidence they have. They certainly will analyze -- you know, if Comey is going to be their main witness, they`re going to take a look at what`s his credibility going to be, how`s he going to come across to a jury, and are there issues relating to whether he`ll be believed? And the fact that he leaked the stuff the way he did, it could certainly put some of his credibility into question.

And if they can -- if -- if -- if they know that Trump`s team is going to say, Look, you know, he lied to Congress potentially, and they`ll go back to the testimony and take it apart and do that in front of a jury, that could certainly impact whether Mueller would be able to get a conviction. So these are things they will certainly take into account.

Depends what else they have. If they have other witnesses, if they have witnesses who turn, if they have nothing, and you know, that`s their one hope, that even makes more important the issue of whether Comey will be believed if he is put in front of a jury at some point.

KORNACKI: All right, a lot of knowns here, a lot more unknowns. Del Quentin Wilber, Josh Dawsey -- we hit some audio difficulties. I apologize for that -- and Annemarie McAvoy, thank you very much for your insight.

Quick break here, coming up, though -- packed show tonight. President Trump has already lost several senior members of his team. Some of ones who`ve stuck it out are now showing some signs of disagreement with their boss. That`s ahead.

Plus, stinging new polling on President Trump. A majority of Americans now say he is, quote, "tearing the country apart." That according to a brand- new poll. And the caps -- that also caps off what for Trump has been a summer of discontent.

And the Democrats` big dilemma for 2012. Their biggest names, three of them, Biden, Sanders, Warren, all of them into their 70s, some well into their 70s when that campaign rolls around. (INAUDIBLE) younger potential candidates aren`t well known. Who will emerge to take on Trump?

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

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The United States flew bombers and fighter jets over South Korea on Thursday in response to North Korea`s missile launch over Japan earlier this week.

I`m joined now by NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. He joins us from Seoul, South Korea. So here`s a new development in a story we were following a few days ago, this apparently constituting the U.S. response. What`s the message here? What`s the strategy here? Do we know?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, there`s a difficult strategy, and U.S. military officials frankly, have been wrestling with it because what we saw overnight was a show of force. The U.S. military, along with Japan and South Korea, flew jets. The Japanese actually didn`t fly over the Korean peninsula, they just crossed the Pacific.

But the American sophisticated aircraft and South Koreans buzzed the -- buzzed over the Korean peninsula, actually went quite close to the North Korean border, so close I`m told that the North Koreans could actually see the aircraft. Then they veered south and dropped bombs on a test field in South Korea -- show of force, signaling to North Korea that the U.S. can attack the North if and when it chooses to do so.

But this will likely lead to an escalation. Most analysts and military experts I`ve spoken to think the North Koreans, Kim Jong-Un is not just going to sit back and accept this. He`s not going to be intimidated. He will escalate. So it leads to a cycle of escalation.

So on one side, that`s not good because it just escalates things further. But what`s the alternative? And I`ve been speaking to officials here who say that showing restraint wasn`t working, either, because even when the U.S. was trying to show restraint, we still saw missile tests, nuclear tests from Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong-un has carried out more missile tests than his predecessor, his father and his grandfather combined.

So you`re in a difficult position. If you don`t do anything and you don`t respond, you still face a North Korea that is being aggressive, and you look weak. If you do respond, then you`re playing into this game of one- upsmanship. So frankly, it is a very difficult position right now, a very tough foreign policy challenge.

KORNACKI: It`s a puzzle it looks like they`ve been trying to solve, different administrations, for decades. No one`s cracked the code yet.

NBC`s Richard Engel over there in Seoul, thank you for that.

And we`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: The president this morning tweeted that talking isn`t the answer. Are we out of diplomatic solutions for North Korea?

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: No. We`re never out of diplomatic solutions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Defense Secretary Jim Mattis responding to a question about North Korea after President Trump tweeted -- quote -- "Talking is not the answer."

Mattis pushed back on the idea that he`s resisting the commander in chief, telling reporters during an off-camera gaggle that he did not contradict anything the president said.

This is just one example of late where the president`s Cabinet members have seemed to contradict something the president has said. Days after President Trump defended alt-right protesters in Charlottesville, many of whom were neo-Nazis and white supremacists, White House economic adviser Gary Cohn told "The Financial Times" -- quote -- "I believe this administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups. Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK."

According to Axios, sources close to the president say that he did not appreciate Cohn`s public commentary.

And, over the weekend, Secretary Tillerson, Rex Tillerson, made this somewhat startling assessment about the president on FOX:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, U.S. 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, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": And the president`s values?

TILLERSON: The president speaks for himself, Chris.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: The uptick in public comments by administration officials led "L.A. Times" columnist Doyle McManus to write -- quote -- "This isn`t a team of rivals. It`s a team anguished dissidents. It`s natural to look at this picture and ask, if they`re so unhappy, why don`t any of them resign?"

For more, I`m joined by Michael Steele, former RNC chairman and MSNBC political analyst. And Hugh Hewitt, he`s host of "The Hugh Hewitt Show" right here on MSNBC, also a radio host as well.

Hugh, let me start with you.

I think it`s safe to say the president has put some folks around him, some folks in the top levels of his administration, in some unusual, at the very least unusual public spots. That question that Doyle McManus raises about, if he`s putting them in spots they`re not comfortable with, and worse, should they be thinking about resigning?

HUGH HEWITT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it depends on who we talk about, Steve.

The secretary of state is clearly in some heavy weather right now. If you go over to "The Washington Post" at this hour, Dan Drezner, who is a very well-respected professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, calls Tillerson an unmitigated disaster who should resign.

That doesn`t have anything to do with his comments with the president. It just has to do with the fact the State Department is a big heaping mess of disasters after nine months of Rex Tillerson.

If you check on General, now Secretary Mattis earlier today, he was asked about disagreeing with the president. He said, "If I said six and the president said half-dozen, the media would say we disagree."

Mattis is dismissive of Doyle McManus` point of view. But right there in the middle, Gary Cohn, he clearly rebuked the president for the Charlottesville thing. So, you have a spectrum of disagreements. I think you have one resignation likely. I think Tillerson just cannot last much longer at Foggy Bottom. It`s just a disaster.

KORNACKI: Michael Steele, I think the broader question here too is, from the president`s standpoint, you have got this reporting that maybe he`s not happy about what Gary Cohn went out there and said publicly.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

KORNACKI: How much latitude is the president going to give people like Gary Cohn to say that?

STEELE: Well, I think there`s some.

I mean, there`s always a degree to which a president, any president knows that sometimes their secretaries are put in a sticky situation, and how they answer that becomes important to the president.

I think, in the case of Cohn, he was very direct, he was very honest, and I think that may be something the president, despite the reports that he was not happy about it, the president probably begrudgingly respects as well.

I think the other side of this coin, though, when you talk about the situation at the State Department, it`s a mess because that`s how the White House has allowed it to grow.

I mean, there are positions that haven`t been filled. The secretary of state does not have the kind of command-and-control over the institution because there is competing interests about what to do with the State Department. So you have those types of dramas that are playing out for these secretaries, in addition to the public statements that they`re also required to respond to when the president makes them.

So, if you`re in a situation like Cohn or Tillerson or Mattis or any of the others, when the president is online and in synch with the policy that everyone has agreed to talk about, that`s one thing. But when the president then tweets something or says something that goes counter to the discussions of the policies, that puts them in a very different position.

KORNACKI: Hugh, let me ask you this.

We have seen a lot of volatility when it comes to these staff positions around the president, folks lasting only a few months on the job. When you get to these top-level appointments, though, whether -- you say Tillerson`s probably on his way out, you think.

But when it`s a Mattis, when it`s the chief of staff, there are some folks there who Donald Trump`s brought into top-level positions who I think have bought him a little credibility with, for lack of a better term, the establishment, the establishment of his own party, the establishment in Washington.

Is your read of Donald Trump that he values that bit of credibility it`s bought him, or does he view them as disposal?

HEWITT: I think he values the credibility he has on national security matters, Steve.

And it`s his national security team which has the highest approval rating, if we have it, among media elites, whether it`s Secretary of Defense Mattis, General McMaster as the national security adviser, Mike Pompeo at CIA, Mike Rogers at NSA, of course, Chairman Dunford, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs before the president became president.

But he`s been elevated in status and in recognition. So that national security team is widely and deeply respected, except for Rex Tillerson. And I do believe that the president values the approval of New York elites and some D.C. elites, not so much the media elites, but a lot of D.C. elites.

And so that national security team buys him a lot of space. I think you wrote an interesting piece a couple weeks ago, Steve, where you pointed out that the criticism Donald Trump is taking, the hostility, is rather unique in the media and the popular culture.

It`s deflected by the shield of Mattis, McMaster, Pompeo, to a certain extent. I don`t think he wants that dented. Tillerson`s not doing him any political good, not doing him any diplomatic good, not doing him any diplomacy good.

It just seems to me that, with the exception of a guy named Brian Hook, who`s probably too low level for our people to understand watching in the audience, there aren`t any tools to use at State. And I think Mike is right to point there and say, look for some change, because if he`s not getting anything out of Foggy Bottom, you have got to move.

KORNACKI: Yes. Yes.

Michael, does Tillerson -- beyond Tillerson, do you see movement happening here?

STEELE: Yes, I do.

I think that given all of the global events that have really come to bear on this administration, this idea of deconstructing the administrative state was as reflected in the State Department in the beginning of the term of this president has taken on a very different meaning now.

And I think that it`s moving away from that and recognizing you need an effective State Department. And to this extent, Tillerson has not been able to stand up in that job. And it has a growing concern for the president, who`s going to want that voice to be in places and spaces that he is not.

And that`s becoming more of a challenge. So there is a little bit more looking inward, Steve, to see who next can move up and move into the space to make this department a little less of an issue for the president.

KORNACKI: And, Hugh, very quickly here, we`re going to tease your show this weekend here on MSNBC, because you have a very special guest, the Fonz, Henry Winkler. But you`re going to quickly see we`re teasing this for some self-serving reasons.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEWITT: Do you like Steve Kornacki?

HENRY WINKLER, ACTOR: I love Steve Kornacki, starting with his incredibly impassioned reporting about the Bridgegate. That`s when he came into my vision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Things I never thought I would hear in my life for 500, please, Alex.

(LAUGHTER)

KORNACKI: But you -- how was the talk with the Fonz? What did you guys talk about?

HEWITT: Barry Zuckerkorn, the Fonz. Henry Winkler`s a very smart liberal, very well-read, very well-respected across the aisle. And people 50 and older like him for the Fonz, and people -- the millennials like him for Barry Zuckerkorn. And other people like him for "The Waterboy."

He thinks a lot. He watches a lot of MSNBC, not just you, but Katy Tur and Ari. And so I think people will find on Saturday a very surprising take on politics and the president from someone with a very high Q factor in America.

But, boy, does he like Steve Kornacki.

KORNACKI: That was -- I thought they dubbed the words in or something over that.

STEELE: Who doesn`t like Steve Kornacki?

(LAUGHTER)

KORNACKI: I wasn`t sure.

Michael Steele, Hugh Hewitt, thank you both for joining us.

And, of course, you can catch Hugh`s interview with the one and only Henry Winkler, AKA the FONZ. That`s this Saturday morning, 8:00 Eastern, on "THE HUGH HEWITT SHOW" here on MSNBC.

This is HARDBALL, where happy days are here again.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: And welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, Harvey has left Texas, but its destruction is still being felt as cleanup begins. It will be felt for a long time, obviously. Helicopter rescues continue in Port Arthur, with flooding expected to persist there.

In Beaumont, a hospital evacuated patients by air, its own water supply now shut down. In some parts of Houston, the water has receded, but much of the city remains submerged, with dangers from the storm lingering indefinitely, as standing water creates a potentially toxic stew of waste and debris, and now new concerns about chemicals after two explosions at a local chemical plant sent smoke pouring into the air.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands remain in shelters. Vice President Mike Pence flew to Texas to survey the devastation firsthand. He toured damage in Rockport. That is where Harvey first made landfall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump sent us here to say we are with you. The American people are with you. We are here today. We will be here tomorrow. And we will be here every day until this city and this state and this region rebuild bigger and better than ever before.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And, today, the White House announced that President Trump has pledged $1 million in personal funds toward Harvey relief efforts.

For more on what recovery and rebuilding will look like, I`m joined by Suzy DeFrancis. She`s the chief public affairs officer for the American Red Cross. And former Representative David Jolly, he represented a district from coastal Florida in Congress.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

So, Suzy, let me start with you.

SUZY DEFRANCIS, CHIEF PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Sure.

KORNACKI: Look, very basic question here. I think everyone around the country watching this the last few days who`s not immediately in the area had the instinct of, what can I do it help? The answer that invariably came back was give money to the Red Cross.

Text -- here`s the Web address, whatever it`s going to be. A lot of people gave money. To somebody who gave 100 bucks to the Red Cross over the last few days, what is that going to mean on the ground?

DEFRANCIS: Well, Steve, as you have seen in the shelters, what we`re doing now is, we`re providing a place for them to sleep, cots, blankets. We`re providing food, water, diapers, wheelchairs, all sorts of supplies.

So that`s what some of that money goes to, providing those basic needs. And then, as we move forward and the water recedes, as your report said, and people go back to neighborhoods and their homes, which are so terribly destroyed, they`re going to need help getting their homes restored.

The Red Cross will be there with all sorts of supplies they can use, whether it`s Clorox or mops or whatever they need. We will also be hopefully giving some cash assistance to help them get through those gaps until the FEMA assistance comes in.

And we will be doing some casework with them. You know, a lot of times, what they`re saying is, what do I do next, where do I go now?

And so we have trained case workers that can help them get a recovery plan in place, so they can begin to rebuild. We will also go through the neighborhoods with meals to serve when they are trying to muck out their homes.

KORNACKI: And I do want to ask you about this as well. I think this was in a piece that ran on "The NBC Nightly News" tonight. It was an interview. I think his name is Brad Kieserman -- or Kieserman. He`s the vice president for disaster operations with the Red Cross.

He was on NPR the other day and was asked a pretty straightforward question just about how much of the money goes directly, that`s donated goes directly to relief from the storm. He said he wasn`t able to answer it. I`m curious if you`re able to.

DEFRANCIS: Well, Brad Kieserman is one of the finest emergency managers that you will ever know, and he`s got a ton of experience.

He can tell you where every truck, every volunteer, everything that we need is. I think what happened is, Brad`s been working for two-and-a-half weeks, and he is tired.

And the answer to the question, though, is that, of the money that -- if you donate to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Harvey, 91 cents of that dollar will go to our relief operations. And that`s the kind of things I was mentioning, the cots, the blankets, the comfort kits, the things like that.

It`s also the gas we put in our trucks to deliver those things. And it`s how we move our volunteers around, so they can be in those shelters. You know, we had such a hard time getting around in these floods that we had to put our volunteers in dump trucks to get to the shelters.

But that`s what we do. And that`s why we`re going to be there.

KORNACKI: Sure.

DEFRANCIS: And that`s what the money`s going for. And people can be proud of how those donations are being spent.

KORNACKI: And that was the answer I was curious about. And I`m glad we cleared that up, 91 cents on the dollar.

DEFRANCIS: Right.

KORNACKI: I appreciate the answer to that.

David Jolly, Congressman, let me bring you in on this.

FMR REP. DAVID JOLLY (R), FLORIDA: Sure.

KORNACKI: From the -- represented the Gulf Coast there on the Florida side of things, and you have been through some storms before as well.

JOLLY: Right.

KORNACKI: Let me ask you. Houston -- the Houston area is now starting to move into the recovery phase.

So much national attention is on the storm itself. The national attention seems to disappear when the recovery starts. Take us through what happens when the media goes away and the community`s left to deal with the aftermath.

JOLLY: Well, that`s it, Steve. It`s the weeks that follow after the cameras go away and, frankly, the political narrative goes away.

And the American people are giving of their heart tonight. As -- it`s the Red Cross or another organization. They should.

But we do have some political conversations that will have to be had. And we need to be sensitive to talking politics in the wake of Texas. But we know, in September, we will approach those. And we are facing a president that I believe lacks credibility in leading this conversation.

You know, part of the difficulty of the past six months is, we have a president of the United States that the American people, less than 50 percent actually have confidence in. And...

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Well, so -- but let`s -- let`s -- but in terms of the recovery effort, then, if you`re raising this as a red flag here...

JOLLY: Well...

KORNACKI: ... let`s talk about specifically what that should mean. If you`re concerned about that, practically speaking, what do you think that`s going to translate into in this recovery effort?

JOLLY: So, here`s what it means. We are going to face several debates in September. We are going to face a disaster recovery bill in the United States Congress. And there will be politics involved in that. We`re going to face an expiration of the National Flood Insurance Program on September 30th. Politics will be involved in that.

Does the Texas delegation demand we just pass a clean recovery effort and not offset it? And what happens with the most conservative wings of the Republican Party as they wrestle with the debt and deficit on that and where does President Trump stand as a leader of policy if he finds a way to be a leader of policy on this issue?

KORNACKI: All right. David Jolly, former congressman, Suzy DeFrancis, with the American Red Cross -- thanks to both of.

And up next, it`s been a rough summer for Donald Trump politically. It is showing up in the newest polls. A majority of Americans now say that the president is, quote, tearing the country apart. That`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Donald Trump`s critics say he spent the hazy days of August alienating opponents and dividing the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there`s blame on both sides. You look at both sides, I think there`s blame on both sides. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

Now, the obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it. But believe me, if we have to close down our government, we`re building that wall.

They asked me, just to finish it, they asked me, what about race relations in the United States? Now, I have to say they were pretty bad under Barack Obama. That I can tell you.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And a new poll here, this one from FOX News, seems to suggest some of his rhetoric may be catching up with the president. Fifty-six percent, look at this one, 56 percent say the president is, quote, tearing the country apart. A third say he is drawing the country together.

And according to a brand new report just tonight in the "Washington Post", there is this. President Trump they say is chafing under some of the controls of his new chief of staff. Quote: Behind the scenes during a summer of crisis, Trump appears to pine for the days when the Oval Office was a bustling hub of visitors and gossip over which he presided as impresario. The writing here.

He fumes that he does not get the credit he thinks he deserves from the media or the allegiance from fellow Republican leaders he says he is owed. He boasts about his presidency in superlatives but confidants privately fret about his suddenly dark moods. And some of Trump`s friends fear the short-tempered president is on an inevitable collision course with White House chief of staff John F. Kelly.

To discuss all of this, I`m joined by the HARDBALL tonight. We have got Beth Fouhy, senior editor for politics at MSNBC. Tim O`Brien is executive editor of "Bloomberg View", author of "Trump Nation". James Peterson is director of Africana studies at Lehigh University. Go Mountain Hawks, right? And MSNBC contributor.

Beth, let`s start with this "Washington Post" story. I was saying in the break I feel like we could almost set our watches to stories like this. There`s some sort of shuffling that takes place in Trump`s inner circle.

This was true in the campaign. It`s been true in his presidency. And presto, a few weeks later a story like this will emerge.

BETH FOUHY, MSNBC SENIOR EDITOR FOR POLITICS: I know. I feel like I`m old enough to remember when he was fuming about Reince Priebus.

KORNACKI: Who?

(LAUGHTER)

FOUHY: And he was fuming about Jeff Sessions. I was starting to put a list together there.

He certainly does not like any sort of restraint. That`s what we`ve seen. He pushes back. He`s eventually going to push back on this, of course.

It`s just -- it`s just not his style. He needs to be Donald Trump. Nobody`s had any luck putting him in a box making him be a conventional president. He`s showing us in every way conceivable eight months now, almost nine months into the job, he`s not going to act that way and anybody who tries to do so does so at their peril.

KORNACKI: And, Tim, the promise of Kelly, at least from the standpoint of sort of institutional Washington, was he was going to have order in the White House. Maybe not the president when it came to tweeting, but when it came to running the White House, there would be order. It looks like according to this reporting that`s not sitting well specifically with Donald Trump, that kind of regimentation.

TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG VIEW: Well, he`s the latest adult in the room with the president. And there`s been in recurring theme since Trump got elected that however wayward he might become and whatever extremes he`s prone to there will be adults around who can manage him. We heard it about Mattis, we heard it about Tillerson. It happened with Kelly. There was this thought Ivanka and Jared would be regulators.

And the reality is, is no one`s a regulator of Donald Trump. He trusts his own gut. He ran a business for decades where he was a solo pilot. He`s got an unflagging sense of confidence in his own judgment.

What ends up happening is when he feels he`s getting fenced in, he goes even further off the reservation. You saw that post-Charlottesville. Everyone was telling him there`s way a way you should speak about this event and he didn`t.

KORNACKI: Yes. And, James, bringing in the poll numbers we were showing in the opening too. This is the latest -- 56 percent, this is a FOX News poll from yesterday. The word was put to them, tearing, tearing apart the country.

JAMES PETERSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.

KORNACKI: And 56 percent agreed with that statement. I`m trying to figure out if that registers at all with the president or the folks around him, and specifically because the wild card here, whenever we see poll findings like this is, there have been other damning numbers like this about him that date back -- I remember one a few weeks before the campaign where people were asked, does Donald Trump the candidate have a sense of decency?

PETERSON: Right.

KORNACKI: And 61 percent said no.

PETERSON: Right.

KORNACKI: And then he got elected. I wonder how he processes this.

PETERSON: I`m not sure if the polls indicate anything that`s actionable in terms of how politics move in the world of Trump. But when you think about the clips we just played, it`s striking to me the proximity of his comments around Charlottesville and his inability to sort of step into any kind of presidential role in that space and then within a week, 10 days, he`s pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I mean, that pardon and his response to Charlottesville I think are part of what we`re seeing reflected in these polls.

I mean, that`s two sort of lightning rod moments where President Trump really reveals himself as someone who cannot stand in the gap as a president when the nation`s in crisis, but also who was sort of giving coverage to the kinds of folks who do tear this nation apart. Whether -- wherever you are on immigration, you can look at what Arpaio has done as sheriff and see that this guy has not conducted himself appropriately as an officer of the law.

KORNACKI: OK, quick break here. Round table staying with us.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Back after this with potential big challenge facing Democrats as they start to look at their options for candidates for president in 2020. Plus, the HARDBALL round table tells us three things you might not know.

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: And we`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

Well, how about this? The Iowa caucuses are only about, wait for it, 900 days away, give or take. So, it`s not too early to look at the Democrat prospects.

And as "Politico" wrote today, the list of names highlights a big potential problem for Democrats. Quote: Old but well-known versus fresh but anonymous. That`s how the 2020 Democratic presidential field is shaping up so far and it is causing anxiety within a party that is starting to acknowledge that President Donald Trump could be harder to beat for reelection than the base would like to admit.

Among the most well-known names, Elizabeth Warren, she`d be 71 in 2020. Joe Biden would be 77 on Election Day. Bernie Sanders who would be 79.

So, James, let me ask you. I think all of the rules we thought we knew about how things work maybe are open for debate here, but those are the three biggest names. If you poll them right now, they`re probably one, two, three. Biden, Sanders, Warren.

Should we be looking seriously at them or should we be looking towards somebody else from the second tier?

PETERSON: Well, it`s certainly worth taking a look at them seriously. I like Warren the most out of there because of her commitment to economic justice and the way I think her appeal cuts across a younger demographic. But I think there are three, pun intended, dark horses we`re not talking about. We`ve got Cory Booker in Senate. I think we`ve got to think (INAUDIBLE) Kamala Harris who is also emerging, and then there`s a former governor from the state of Massachusetts who I think we might see enter into the scene as well.

KORNACKI: Michael Dukakis.

(CROSSTALK)

O`BRIEN: Totally wrong decade.

I think the Kamala Harris is an interesting prospect in all of this and I think pairing her with someone like Joe Biden injects a new generation into the debate. I think the Democrats have to focus on honing their message.

And I don`t think putting out people who are seen as out-to-pasture is a good strong part of that. I think unless they pair those folks with younger members of the party, they`re going to be in trouble.

KORNACKI: And Kamal Harris, we should add, this week, came out for single- payer health care that Bernie Sanders (INAUDIBLE).

Beth?

FOUHY: OK. My vote is somebody old and well-known, but not any of those three, Al Franken. He brings a showbiz quality to politics which I think running against Trump, the Democrats are going to need.

You cannot run a traditional political campaign against Donald Trump. Seventeen Republicans tried it in 2016, one very famous, very powerful Democrat tried it in 2016, didn`t work.

Al Franken, funny. He kind of knows show biz, very smart. He could get Trump off his game a little bit, but he too will be almost 70 by the time.

KORNACKI: Young in comparison to the other three. So, maybe he could run as the next generation somehow.

Roundtable is staying with us. Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. That`s not hard at all.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Back with the roundtable.

Beth, tell me something I don`t know.

FOUHY: So, today, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin sort of seemed to put the brakes of putting Harriet Tubman on the 20. If that`s the case, that means only one woman has been on the face of paper currency in the United States, that`s Martha Washington and no African-American.

KORNACKI: All right. Tim?

O`BRIEN: Donald Trump`s favorite Bond character is Goldfinger.

KORNACKI: All right. James?

PETERSON: We`re back to school this week. Everyone knows that. But what is weighing on the minds of students all across this nation, Charlottesville and obviously Harvey.

KORNACKI: OK. Thank you, everybody.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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