Show: HARDBALL Date: December 27, 2017 Guest: Evan Siegfried, Basil Smikle, Emily Ngo
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: That`s our show. "Hardball" is up next.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Plan of attack. Let`s play "Hardball."
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki for Chris Matthews who is on vacation.
As a cooperating witness, former national security advisor Michael Flynn has been a wild card in the special counsel`s ongoing probe ever since he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, legal experts have said that the leniency of that single charge indicates that Flynn may have offered significant information to the prosecutors.
Tonight the "Washington Post" now reporting that President Trump is ready to throw his former national security adviser under the bus. According to three people familiar with the President`s legal strategy quote "President Trump`s legal team plans to cast former national security adviser Michael Flynn as a liar seeking to protect himself if he accuses the President or his senior aide of any wrongdoing."
According to the Post, the administration has been strategizing how to neutralize him in case the former national security adviser does make any claims. However, Trump`s attorneys are confident that Flynn does not have any evidence that would be damaging to the President. The new strategy marks a reversal for President Trump who up until now has praised his national security adviser in his public statements.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Michael Flynn, General Flynn, is a wonderful man. I think he has been treated very, very unfairly by the media.
I do feel badly for him. He served the country. He was a general. This man has served for many years. He is a general. He is a -- in my opinion a very good person.
Well, I feel badly for General Flynn. I feel very badly. He has led a very strong life and I feel very badly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And I`m joined now on the phone by the author of that new report Carol Leonnig from the "Washington Post."
Carol, thanks for joining us. Let me key in on these words here, this perspective strategy of painting Flynn as a liar is contingent apparently on whether, you say here, he accuses the President or his senior aides of any wrongdoing. Is Trump`s legal team getting some indication here that that`s where this is going?
CAROL LEONNIG, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST (on the phone): I don`t think that there`s any way anyone knows exactly where this is going. The Mueller investigation is very much a black box, but everyone has a contingency plan for things break bad. And in this case the lawyers for the President, the lawyers for other senior Trump administration aides are eyeing what happens if Flynn`s cooperation agreement includes information that accuses them of something untoward and criminal.
And if that`s the case, my understanding from talking to multiple sources familiar with this is the plan is to cast Flynn as a person who is not credible, a person who is lying to save his own skin, to seal his cooperation agreement and do as prosecutors asked him to do to avoid multiple criminal charges he could have faced that he was not charged with.
KORNACKI: Yes. And I think that`s what I`m trying to figure out here. I think probably a lot of people are as well. If what you are describing here really is sort of basic lawyering 101, you prepare for a contingency, you prepare just from a strategic standpoint for a worst case possible scenario or if there is some sense here that may have changed on the part of Trump`s legal team, some sort of indication maybe not from Mueller himself but from, you know, other sources they may have, some specific reason why they are now talking this way.
LEONNIG: Well, any lawyer who is watching this case, even from the outside, not reviewing the internal emails and records, anybody watching from the outside looks at the deal that Michael Flynn, the President`s former national security adviser received and secured and wonders, wow, what kind of great dirt does he have? Because he could have been charged reasonably with four or five counts of lying and misleading, defrauding the U.S. There were many, many instances in which the prosecutors could have gone harder on him and could have conceivably, although it might have been hard to do, could have conceivably charged his son.
Flynn`s son was his chief of staff in many of his business consulting arrangements, was a person who filed some of the information that turned out to be inaccurate about Michael Flynn`s business dealings, that later had to be amended and corrected in which he didn`t discuss all the work he did on behalf of foreign governments. He was paid by an institute that was essentially funded by the Russian government. He was paid to do something at the behest of Turkish ministers and he worked with Turkish ministers directly and his son was familiar with that.
So anybody watching this, how do you get a deal in which you are going to be charged with one count of lying, one felony count and you are facing a recommended prison sentence of zero to six months, and they presume, every single person I have spoken to presumes that Michael Flynn has quite a bounty of information to provide to Bob Mueller and his prosecution team. What is it?
So it makes sense that if you are a good lawyer, and certainly there are many in this team of defense lawyers, you are eyeing what is the worst thing that can happen. And they don`t know what the worst thing is yet, but they are preparing for it.
[19:05:50] KORNACKI: And, again, in terms of what Trump`s lawyers are saying, what you are hearing from them, they are saying, look, he would have nothing to offer. Anything he says to implicate the President would be a lie. Has there been any shift even at a subtle level in the way they have talked about that where they concede, maybe there is something that could be open to interpretation? Maybe he would say it this way but we would defend it that way or is this just steadfast them saying, no, he has got nothing.
LEONNIG: So, Steve, such a good question. I love the way you phrased it. I`m going to be careful in the way I answer this. And I`m just going to say it`s clear to me that there is a plan B if things go badly in terms of what Michael Flynn might say about the Trump administration and about the President himself.
It doesn`t mean that anything has changed in terms of the information they have at their disposal. In fact, they say they`re quite confident based On the Records that there`s nothing to corroborate or to suggest a conspiracy on the part of any senior transition or campaign officials including Donald Trump himself. But that doesn`t mean you don`t consider what could be asserted and what could be claimed.
Remember two of the major things that are still a mystery in this investigation are did anyone in the Trump transition -- I`m sorry, Trump campaign team coordinate at all with WikiLeaks? That`s a big open question. Those emails from the DNC were hacked. Some people say that was a crime. Some people say the Russian government did that and provided them to WikiLeaks and then WikiLeaks provided them to the benefit of the Trump campaign. Did anybody in the Trump campaign coordinate or know about that or arrange that? That`s a big unknown.
The second big unknown is why did Michael Flynn lie to the FBI about his communications with a Russian ambassador about sanctions? Did the President know? Did the President ask? Did the President suggest to Michael Flynn that he have that conversation with the ambassador? And that`s also a question mark we don`t know the answer.
KORNACKI: OK. Carol Leonnig, again, writing that story tonight in "the Washington Post" reporting. That is going to certainly has all of the political world talking right now.
Carol, thank you for taking a few minutes.
Let`s bringing us up to speed in that. Joining me is now Chris Buskirk. He is a Trump supporter as well as the editor and publisher of the website "American Greatness."
Chris, thanks for joining us. So let me get your reaction to this. And I think you just heard Carol sort of spelling out there why this particular angle is being watched so closely. I know you have the plea to the lying charge about the context post-election. The plea from Flynn. She said, look, one felony count of lying. Recommended sentence here is zero to six months. A lot of people saying this is leniency and there is reason for Trump to be nervous about what Flynn might say. How do you feel about that?
CHRIS BUSKIRK, CONSERVATIVE BLOGGER: Well, the same way I feel about the Mueller investigation in general, which is that there`s this -- there`s sort of this predetermined conclusion and then all of the facts around it are kind of force fit together in order to -- in order to support a conclusion that everybody who sort of dislikes the President has already come to. That`s the issue with this bit of reporting.
It`s great reporting, but it`s also -- and Carol said this, it`s also not a surprise. If the President`s going to maintain and his legal team is going to maintain they did nothing wrong, then if Michael Flynn makes allegations against him, of course they are going to say he lied. And that`s part of it.
I think the other part of the story that`s really interesting here though, Steve, is this. Is that we have on the one hand we have got the President saying in public on a number of occasions I support Michael Flynn, I think he has gotten a raw deal. All of these things that are sort of publicly support of. I think that`s sort of the carrot. This is a reminder to Michael Flynn the President has the power to pardon.
And in this reporting we see that, you know, there is a stick, too, which is to say that if you make false allegations then your reputation is at risk too.
KORNACKI: Does it give you pause, though, just watch this. And again, look, we are all doing this sort of from a bit of distance here. We don`t know exactly what`s going on inside of that Mueller investigation. We do know it`s a pretty serious deal. You have, you know, some pretty serious pleas and some charges that we have seen out there already.
But does it give you some pause as a supporter of the President that somebody he selected to be his national security adviser, somebody who is in that role albeit for a briefly period of time, has now pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI? And again, does it give you some pause when you look at the apparent leniency here of what the prosecutors are looking for? Does it give you concern that he might have knowledge that would change our understanding a bit of this administration?
[19:10:28] BUSKIRK: Well, it`s -- look, there`s always - remember what (INAUDIBLE) likes to call the there is the known unknowns and there is the unknown unknowns. And so, we don`t`, of course, know the unknown unknowns and then. So that, I guess, is always a cause for a bit of concern. But I can tell you my top 100 things to worry about, it just isn`t there.
One of the things that people don`t seem to think about when they look at the Michael Flynn plea deal is number one is that there is the possibility that they didn`t charge him with other things because they didn`t think that they could prove them. That just never seems to factors in to the equation. That`s a possibility.
The other element with Flynn is that, you know, this is somebody who just was not part of the administration that long. And I think the legal team around the President understands exactly what they have to deal with on the defense side and that they feel like they can go the distance on this.
KORNACKI: You mentioned that prospect there that everybody has been chattering about. Does this or any other phase or aspect of this investigation ultimately end with the President issuing some kind of pardon? Two weeks ago the President refused to rule out the pardon for Flynn. Let`s watch that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About Michael Flynn, would you consider a pardon for Michael Flynn?
TRUMP: I don`t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We`ll see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That was two weeks ago. Now Flynn`s brother, Joseph Flynn, is making a public appeal to the President in a tweet yesterday which he later deleted.
Flynn`s brother wrote quote "about time you pardon General Flynn who is taking the biggest fall for you all given though the illegitimacy of this confessed crime in the wake of all this corruption."
He later took a more conciliatory approach writing to the President quote "I personally believe that a pardon is due to General Flynn. Thank you and keep up the good work."
Chris, you raised this sort of interpretation game when the President`s talked the way he did two weeks ago, people are wondering is this going to lead to a pardon. When you see a report like this about possibly casting him as a liar, you wonder the White House is thinking in different terms here.
I wonder though in terms of the President`s credibility on this issue, if he were to issue a pardon to general Flynn here and sort of cut off Flynn`s involvement in this investigation, what would that do to Trump`s credibility on this question?
BUSKIRK: I think that is a great question. I mean, that really is - that is the calculus and calculation that they need to be going through in the White House. Because that has become not so much a legal question but a political question.
The President may believe in his heart that General Flynn does in fact deserve a pardon. But there`s a political aspect that place out as well. And so that affects whether to do it or not do it. And then also, of course, the timing if he decides to do it.
I think that - I think the President needs to be careful here about when he does it - I mean, obviously, I have no information to say whether he would or not, but I think if he is going to, you need to be very careful about when and how he did so and structure it in such a way and pretend in a way that he was only doing the right thing. And then he had have to make the case to the American people. Ultimately, these are political questions that I think get decided politically and not legally.
KORNACKI: All right. Chris Buskirk, a Trump supporter, editor at the site "American Greatness," thanks for joining us.
BUSKIRK: Thank you.
KORNACKI: All right.
And coming up, former President Obama sits down for a wide ranging interview with Britain`s prince Harry of all people. And then he seems to issue a stark warning. It looks like Obama is calling out President Trump although not by name.
Plus, another twist in that race that could decide control of the Virginia House of Delegates. Election officials have now postponed a tie breaking draw. Now the Democrat in that race has filed a motion asking to be declared the winner. We are going to talk to her later in the show.
And the fight for the soul of the Republican Party. Will 2018 bring with it another round of upstart right wing candidates wreaking havoc against the establishment?
And out in Utah, keep an eye on this. Is Mitt Romney going to challenge President Trump`s newest ally Orrin Hatch?
And finally, the "Hardball" roundtable is going to be here with three things I don`t know.
This is "Hardball" where the action is.
[19:15:26] KORNACKI: President Trump today made an impromptu visit to a fire house in West Palm Beach Florida. And while there, the President touted passage of the Republican tax bill. They made this claim about his legislative achievements.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We have signed more legislation than anybody and broke the record of Harry Truman. It was like, if we get this -- because that`s a legislation of all legislations. We have more legislation passed including the record was Harry Truman and we broke that record.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: According to Gov Track, a website to track legislation in Congress, President Trump has signed the fewest bills into law of any recent president going all the way back to Eisenhower.
We will be right back.
[19:00:00] KORNACKI: Welcome back to "Hardball."
It has been nearly a year now since Barack Obama left the White House. And since then he has remained mostly out of the public eye making only rare public statements. Today though, we got a glimpse into his at post- presidency thinking. He gave his first interview since leaving office to of all people Britain`s prince Harry. Discussion was actually taken September but it aired today for the first time on BBC radio.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRINCE HARRY, BRITAIN`S PRINCE: Can I take you back to the 20th of January 2017? You sat in marine one, Presidential helicopter flying over Washington. You sat through the inauguration with your game face on without giving much emotion away as we all saw. What`s going -- what`s going through your mind?
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, the first thing that went through my mind was sitting across from Michelle how thankful I was that she had been my partner through that whole process. The sense that there was a completion and that we had done the work in a way that preserved our integrity and left us whole and that we hadn`t fundamentally changed I think was a satisfying feeling. Now that was mixed with all the work that was still undone and concerns about how the country moves forward. But you know, over all there was a serenity there more than I would have expected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Yes, Obama never mentioned Donald Trump by name, but there was this warning about the dangers of social media and the internet that could apply to Trump arguably, a prolific user of twitter after all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: All of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the internet. One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be dis-cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And for more now, I`m joined by Sam Stein, politics editor for The Daily Beast and an MSNBC contributor, Shannon Pettypiece, White House reporter for Bloomberg News, and Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer with "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor.
Sam Stein, we will start with you.
Prince Harry getting the big scoop. Who -- by the way, that should be a rule. The first interview post-presidency, go to a domestic outlet. Do the Brits second. That`s my...
SAM STEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Now you know how to score an Obama sit-down.
KORNACKI: That`s my -- yes, inherit the throne. I think that`s the key.
What do you make of that message on social media there? Is that just a general warning about our culture or that is his way of getting in something about Trump?
STEIN: It was obviously directed at Donald Trump, right?
STEIN: Although there are broader cultural lessons to be learned from overusing and abuse of social media which we should all take to heart, and I do, too.
But it`s just remarkable how delicate the entire interview was. If that is the extent of his criticism of Donald Trump, he is clearly going out of his way not to try to anger Donald Trump.
And what struck me is that despite this respect for the office that Obama seems to have and clearly does demonstrate, how much Donald Trump is driven by what seems to be a very clear and clean hatred of Obama`s legacy and his desire to dismantle it.
And you have these two people, one of whom is incredibly respectful of the current occupant of the White House, and then the occupant of the White House who just could not care less about his predecessor.
And it just seems like they`re passing in the night on that.
KORNACKI: Yes, Shannon, what do you make of that dynamic that`s sort of been here for the last year?
I mean, there`s always this awkward dance between the president and his immediate predecessor. But with Trump, he`s going out of his way to invoke Obama I think probably more than past presidents have invoked their predecessors. Is he trying to bait Obama? You think Obama has been tempted to take that bait?
What do you make of that dynamic?
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, Obama is taking the traditional approach, one president at a time. You`re no longer president. Step back and let the next guy do his job, do it his way.
And, of course, Trump is taking the completely unprecedented approach, as everything of his presidency has been. It is completely off the normal script.
PETTYPIECE: I feel like one consistency of this past year, despite what`s really seemed chaotic at times, and an administration trying to find its way, has been the undoing of Obama`s legacy.
If there`s something that the Obama administration did, from a small regulation to a trade deal to a climate agreement, this administration has consistently, consistently, consistently undone that. So, when you look at this year and what the Trump doctrine is, yes, you can say America first, but you can also say undo Obama.
KORNACKI: So, Jonathan, what do you think -- the calculation from Obama`s standpoint, is it that, hey, if I take a more active role, if I`m addressing Trump`s actions, Trump`s criticism, his references to me, if I`m addressing that more directly, is the calculation here not that that`s just sort of a break with past tradition with former presidents, but is it also a calculation that maybe that would be playing into Trump`s hands strategically?
Does he think he actually weakens Trump by not engaging?
JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, I think President Obama is taking the traditional route.
Second, I think the president, if he were to comment on everything that president -- if President Obama were to comment on everything that President Trump has said, tweeted, done, things that he`s done to try to erase President Obama`s name from everything, he wouldn`t get anything done.
And then sort of this movement that`s out there around the country, particularly among Democrats and the progressive left, about opposing everything President Trump is doing would look to President Obama to be their leader.
And I think President Obama and folks around the president are very cautious about putting him out there if -- for -- the sole reason is to sort of have people understand that they can`t turn to Barack Obama to help lead or help solve every problem, that they have to look within themselves to oppose things that they don`t like coming from this administration.
KORNACKI: Sam, what do you think Barack Obama`s role is going to be in this debate that`s going to play out in the Democratic Party that`s already started?
They need a new face of the Democratic Party, a nominee in 2020, in their minds, to be the next president of the United States. Is there going to be a public role for Obama there? Is he going to try to influence this privately? Is he going to just stand back? What do you think his role is going to be?
STEIN: Well, when you talk to people around Barack Obama and people who still work with him and talk with him, it seems to me that they`re still trying to find out what their role actually is in the current political climate.
I remember during the height of the efforts to repeal Obamacare, I was fascinated by the idea that Barack Obama was basically -- he was not weighing in at all. And this is his signature piece of legislation. And I talked to people about it.
And there just was -- they felt that if they engaged too strongly, it became a Trump vs. Obama dynamic. And then, therefore, all this goodwill that was bubbling around Obamacare would dissipate, because people would say, oh, it`s Barack Obama.
So, there`s this hesitation that they have about weighing in too deeply in these partisan matters. Now, that changes, of course, when you`re talking about a Democratic primary. Right?
He could with his finger on the scale really tilt it for one candidate or another. But I just don`t think it`s in his interest or in his demeanor to weigh in on that party debate. There is a sense, talking to people around Barack Obama, that he feels very strongly that he has to allow a new crop of leaders emerge, and that if he were to do some sort of implicit or explicit endorsement, it would actually hurt the party in the long term, because it`s time for someone else to come and take over the leadership role.
KORNACKI: That`s an interesting thing when you look back at 2016. I do wonder what Barack Obama thinks about that now.
His vice president -- the tradition, obviously, in the past, the vice president for two terms would usually go and run if he wants to. Biden looked like he wanted to. President Obama never gave him that public I`m with you if you`re in, Joe.
And that kind of shut down the process there. I wonder if there`s a regret there on his part, if that affects his thinking and how he will approach it in 2020 at all.
PETTYPIECE: Well, there were certainly a lot of issues going on with Vice President Biden at that time, too, so who knows what the conversations were like behind the scenes.
But, of course, here we are again three years out from the next election, and everyone is talking about, will Biden run? Is he too old? Is he going to run?
And that does get to this bigger problem, as Sam was mentioned, with the Democratic Party, of, who is the leader of the Democratic Party? That is something Democrats are actively trying to figure out. Is it Barack Obama? Is it Bernie Sanders? Is it Elizabeth Warren?
Who is the leader of the Democratic Party? They still need an answer to that. And I think there is the risk that they go to Obama, and the idea being that the American public, the people, they may have moved forward. It might not be that you can go back in time and use the leader that you had. You might need to find and move forward.
KORNACKI: We want to show you this too also from this -- I guess a feature of any interview with Prince Harry apparently is the lightning round.
And Barack Obama was subjected to that as well. Take a listen to that.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PRINCE HARRY, UNITED KINGDOM: What do you miss the most, the cinema or the bowling alley?
OBAMA: Cinema. We called it a movie theater, but that`s fine.
PRINCE HARRY: Boxers or briefs?
OBAMA: Sorry, we don`t answer those questions.
PRINCE HARRY: LeBron James or Michael Jordan?
OBAMA: Jordan, although I love LeBron, but I`m a Chicago guy.
PRINCE HARRY: Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner?
OBAMA: Aretha is the best.
PRINCE HARRY: Kim or Khloe?
OBAMA: This one, I have to defer on.
PRINCE HARRY: OK.
Harry or William?
OBAMA: William right now.
PRINCE HARRY: "Suits" or "The Good Wife"?
OBAMA: "Suits," obviously.
PRINCE HARRY: Great, great, great answer.
Cigarettes or gum?
OBAMA: Gum now, baby.
PRINCE HARRY: Gum.
White House or Buckingham Palace?
OBAMA: White House, just because Buckingham Palace looks like it would take a really long time to mow.
PRINCE HARRY: OK. Fair enough.
OBAMA: A lot of upkeep.
PRINCE HARRY: Queen or the queen?
OBAMA: The queen.
PRINCE HARRY: OK. Good answer again.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KORNACKI: All righty. Misses the cinema, I guess. Interesting lightning round there.
We just thought -- we thought we would show you that interesting glimpse into President Obama in his post-presidency now.
Thank you to Sam Stein, Shannon Pettypiece, and Jonathan Capehart.
And up next, that pivotal race for the Virginia House of Delegates, it was supposed to be decided today by a random drawing. But the Democrat in that race isn`t leaving it all to chance. She`s taking it to court. She`s asking to be declared the winner now.
We`re going to talk to her next. This is HARDBALL, where the action is next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger. Here`s what`s happening.
Forecasters are warning of dangerously cold weather in the Midwest and Northeast. The arctic blast of subzero temperatures is expected to last through the end of the week.
Russian officials say 10 people were hurt when an explosive device detonated at a supermarket in St. Petersburg.
And the IRS is updating its guidance for people who want to prepay their property taxes before the Republican tax overhaul takes effects. Those prepayments will only be allowed under -- quote -- "certain circumstances" -- back to HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Hey, and welcome back to HARDBALL.
Political control of the Virginia House of Delegates is up in the air tonight, this after a tie-breaking draw was postponed. Now, the random draw was supposed to settle the race between Democratic candidate Shelly Simonds and Republican incumbent David Yancey, who currently represents a district made up of parts of Newport News, Virginia.
Today is just the latest twist in a dramatic recount that at one point showed Simonds winning by a single vote.
Now, the stakes here are high. A victory for Simonds would shift Republicans` control of the 100-member House of Delegates to an even 50-50 split. That would force a power-sharing agreement between the parties.
Democrats have already made historic gains in the Virginia Statehouse. They have already flipped 15 Republican-held seats in the House of Delegates. At issue is this single ballot in which a voter selected both the Democrat and the Republican candidate. Originally, it was tossed. A three-panel judge allowed it to be counted, though, for Yancey because there was a cross in the bubble for Simonds.
Simonds is asking the court to throw out that ballot, saying her opponent did not properly follow recount rules. The court is not set to hear the arguments today. If they do hear the case, which is unclear, the they could do it later this week or even next week.
For the latest on this, I`m joined by the Democratic candidate in this race, Shelly Simonds.
Shelly, thank you for taking a few minutes.
Look, look, the stakes here are high. You got a Democratic governor coming in. If you win this race, Democrats have a piece of that legislature and they can move an agenda here. If you don`t win this race, you could be looking at gridlock in Richmond. So, those are the stakes.
We put the ballot up on the screen. The Republican argument here and the one that this three-judge panel accepted is, OK, there`s a cross-out of your name. There`s a cross-out through the bubble. That`s the voter saying, nah, I didn`t mean to fill that one in. Count the Republican.
What do you say of that?
SHELLY SIMONDS (D), VIRGINIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Oh, I think that ballot really should not be counted at all, because there`s no consistent pattern there.
There`s an X and a bubble. There`s just a bubble. There`s the slash. Some people say that`s a check mark. So, I think it`s really a classic example of an overvote, which should not be counted.
KORNACKI: So, where does this go for you if this is counted? Because the initial ruling from these judges was, that`s it, that`s a Republican vote, we got a tie. We got to have a random drawing. That`s how this is going to be decided.
If you`re not able to get this ballot tossed, do you go to a random draw, or do you go try to go find some ballots and say, hey, maybe you want to take a look at these too?
SIMONDS: Well, I think the options right now before us include what we have already done, which is asking the judges to reconsider their decision.
There are a lot of reasons for them to reconsider this. We feel the integrity of the entire recount system is at stake, because what we`re going to end up with is this downward spiral of challenging every single ballot up to judges.
And I think the citizens in a recount should be the one deciding on these ballots through the recount process, not just giving everything over to the judges to decide.
KORNACKI: Well, if you`re successful -- excuse me -- if you`re not successful, though, this goes to a random drawing. Are you ultimately satisfied that that would be a fair -- I`m trying to think. It seems a strange way to seat somebody.
But then I`m thinking, if you have got a tie, if you have got something that`s been declared a tie, how else do you break it?
SIMONDS: You know, I would have been fine with the random drawing if it really had been a tie.
But I won the recount fair and square. And I played by the rules. The rules in Virginia for recounts are very clear. But my opponent made an end-run around those rules. So, yes, if we have to go to a random drawing, I think it will be a very sad end to our story in Virginia.
KORNACKI: Tell me about the stakes of this, because, again, you have got Ralph Northam, a Democrat, who won that election. One of those issues that`s paralyzed Virginia has been, does the state expand Medicaid under Obamacare?
You had Republicans running the legislature with a Democratic governor the last four years. The Democratic governor wanted it, couldn`t get it. If you guys get a piece of the legislature, with you being seated, does that partial control, does that power-sharing agreement allow you to expand Medicaid?
SIMONDS: Possibly. I hope so.
And I really think that it will be a positive thing for Virginia to have power-sharing. It means that we`re going to have to compromise and we`re going to have to work together to get them some things done.
The way this system is right now in Virginia, many good ideas have died in these subcommittees that are controlled by the Republicans. So we`re going to be able to get things out of subcommittee that have never been voted on in the House.
And I will give you an example. The Equal Rights Amendment has been stuck in the Privileges and Election Committee for a decade. We`re going to be able to have a full and fair vote on that.
The Equal Rights Amendment was something my grandmother was working on in the 1920s. So, yes, the stakes are very high for all of us in Virginia.
KORNACKI: All right, Shelly Simonds sweating out one of the recounts for all time.
KORNACKI: Thank you for taking a few minutes and joining us. Appreciate it.
SIMONDS: You`re welcome.
KORNACKI: All right.
And up next: In the wake of Roy Moore, are we going to see more upstart candidates taking on the Republican establishment in primaries and winning? And out in Utah, will Mitt Romney make a move to challenge the new Trump ally Orrin Hatch?
We`re going to get to all of that and more with the HARDBALL Roundtable.
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STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: And welcome back to HARDBALL.
After big losses for Republicans in the Virginia governor`s race this fall, and that Alabama special election, the upcoming 2018 midterms could shape up to be a battle for the soul of the GOP.
"The Washington Post" reports an intraparty clash could be taking shape in Mississippi. A Senate race there in 2018, quote, if State Senator Chris McDaniel, the hard right`s top recruit for the seat, decides to challenge U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, he will be up against the incumbent`s well- funded allies and President Trump, who has pledged Wicker his support. It will also pit President Trump against his former chief strategist Steve Bannon who has encouraged McDaniel to run.
Meanwhile, another intraparty battle could be in the works in Utah. On Tuesday, "The Salt Lake Tribune" published a scathing editorial, urging incumbent Senator Orrin Hatch to call it a career, adding that if not, quote, the voters should end it for him.
Now, Mitt Romney is reported to be weighing a Senate bid but only if Hatch steps aside. Earlier this most, "Politico" reported that President Trump is privately urging Hatch to run in part in an effort to keep Romney out of the Senate.
Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable. Evan Siegfried is a republican strategist, Basil Smikle is a senior adviser to the New York state Democratic Party, Emily Ngo is White House reporter for "Newsday".
Emily, let me start with you on this question of Mississippi and I think it could be bigger than Mississippi where you have the potential dynamic of Donald Trump and does he defend these establishment Republican senators like a Wicker in Mississippi, like he tried to do with Strange in Alabama and you got Bannon and these guys in the grassroots trying to get the insurrections started. Is that a dynamic that we`re going to be seeing a lot of races in 2018?
EMILY NGO, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NEWSDAY: I mean, absolutely. When I think of President Trump`s world view he sees it as winners and losers. He never wants to be associated with losers. And to him, everything is either a win or a loss. And so, after what happened in Alabama, at the Alabama special election, he wants to be careful about who he`s going to support and how vocal he does it, and much weight he throws behind it, because h doesn`t want to come out as a loser again.
KORNACKI: And, Basil, as a Democrat, this is got -- that Senate match six months ago was supposed to be impossible for -- you guys are defending I think 10 seats in Trump`s state. It looked like there were one or two vulnerable Republican seats. You got the prospect and we just saw this in Alabama of, do the Republicans nominate a series of -- Roy Moore is an extreme example obviously, but did they nominate a series of candidates who pose electoral challenges for them in races that weren`t going to be on the map?
BASIL SMIKLE, FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW YORK STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, I think what`s going to be difficult for the Republicans going forward in this case is they`re going to have to, as Emily eluded to, walk this fine line between whether or not they adhere to very strict conservative ideology or do they actually become the defenders of Donald Trump.
And as a Democrat, I would love that, because I can get to paint that Republican with everything that Donald Trump does and Steve Bannon, even they maybe supporting different candidates, I get to paint them -- a Republican candidate with a very broad brush in that respect. The challenge for Democrats after Alabama, for example, is that when you have this -- you`ve seen the number of African-American votes that have come out. And the challenge for us then is, are these states going to be posing restrictions for a lot of these African-American voters that are going to come out to the polls I think because you have a motivated Democratic electorate which is the first time I`ve seen this motivated in a long time.
KORNACKI: And, Evan, inside the Republican Party, let`s got before the Roy Moore scandal part of it, we`re talking won that runoff against Luther Strange, it seemed to me what was powering Moore is something that`s a big challenge to sort of the Republican establishment and that is the Republican base, if you had any link to McConnell, if you have any link to Ryan, if you have any link to sort of the Washington class of the party, there is a huge opening in this party, in the Republican Party, whether it`s in Alabama or someone else to come in and just say, I`m against all of them. I want to fight them, send me there because they don`t want me.
That`s something that could cause all sorts of problems all across the map in 2018.
EVAN SIEGFRIED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That has been the civil war that`s been going on in the Republican Party for the past few years. We saw it come out in 2010, where we want to have these Tea Party-like candidates who are going to fight and never compromise on anything because it`s the establishment that has been really putting our thumb at their eyes.
KORNACKI: It hasn`t died down. That`s what I think I`ve seen here, yes.
SIEGFRIED: It hasn`t died down. And, you know, they would say we need to have a true conservative run for these races. When Ed Gillespie lost in Virginia, there was a lot of mumbling and grumbling among the Republican base saying, well, he wasn`t a true conservative. He adopted to suit the times. And then we ran Roy Moore, and he was meeting that mold of true conservative minus the accusations of him being a child predator.
I think that when they realized the Roy Moore lost, they said, well, it was rigged. You know, there was something voter or things. Roy Moore still hasn`t conceded. It`s almost two weeks later, or it is way past two weeks later and he still hasn`t conceded. There`s this mindset in the Republican Party with the base of, we need to get rid of anything and everything that is remotely establishment, and that`s hurting in the general election.
KORNACKI: That`s the recipe for taking a candidate that didn`t look like they were going to be in play in 2018 and putting them in play.
I want to get to this issue, though, we talked about in the intro of Utah, of Mitt Romney, of Orrin Hatch who has been in the Senate, it will be 42 years next year, he`s going to be 84 years old, I think. It sounds like he may actually want to run again. It looks like he`s forged an alliance with Donald Trump.
And then you got Mitt Romney, Orrin Hatch was instrumental to Mitt Romney`s political career, starting a couple of decades ago, this whole dynamic of would Romney try to push him out? Would Hatch try to fight him off?
What about the White House`s involvement in that? This idea they don`t want Mitt Romney going to the Senate.
NGO: I think whether Mitt Romney runs or not, he`s still going to speak out very vociferously against the president. Utah is unique in that it`s a red state and they went for Trump in 2016. But one-fifth of the voters also backed Evan McMullin, who was a third party candidate. So, as much as -- it`s not Trump country. So, they needed to thread -- the White House and President Trump need to thread carefully (ph) when it comes to --
KORNACKI: That`s right. It`s probably one of the anti it`s a pro- Republican state in the country.
But, Basil, Mitt Romney, if he does go to the Senate, is this every Democrat`s new favorite Republican?
SMIKLE: He might be. You know, he`s sort of the last of the Northeast moderate Republicans --
SIEGFRIED: That`s not how you guys were talking about it in 2012.
SMIKLE: Why would I? Because my man Obama was in the race. But he`s the last of the Rockefeller Republicans, right?
And so, I think from the Democratic standpoint, yes, we work with Mitt Romney. But the question is with the poll thing that voters don`t want Orrin Hatch to run again, does he challenge Orrin to a primary?
KORNACKI: Yes. I mean, the polling out there for Hatch has been poisonous so far. But we`ll see what happens.
The roundtable is staying with us. Much more to get to. Up next, we`re going to take a look at a Trump sweep that hasn`t necessarily aged well.
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KORNACKI: President Trump has made a point of saying the new Republican tax bill he signed essentially does away with Obamacare and according to a brand new "Economist"/YouGov poll, 31 percent of Americans believe Trump has actually repealed the Affordable Care Act.
Now, to be clear, that new tax bill does do away with a key piece of the law. Obamacare is very much intact right now. Nearly 9 million Americans have signed up for health care plans for 2018, topping expectations. We will see if the repeal the mandate affects its longer term stability.
And we`ll be right back.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump spent part of his morning at his International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. NBC News has been tracking President Trump`s golf habit, noting that today marked his 86th day at one of his golf properties out of 341 so far in office. Trump spent years, of course, attacking President Obama for golfing, tweeting back in 2014, can you believe that, with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent a day playing golf. Worse than Carter.
During the campaign, Trump promised he would never go golfing or take vacations. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m going to fight for every American in every last part of this nation. We have a president who doesn`t fight. He goes out and plays golf all the time.
I love working. I`m not a vacation guy, right? Like Obama. He plays golf in Hawaii, he flies in a 747.
I promise you I will not be taking any long vacations if I take any at all. There`s no time for vacations. We`re not going to be big -- we`re not going to be big on vacations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: I mean, it`s tough not to say he didn`t walk into any criticism he`s getting right now.
SIEGFRIED: He`s in the rough as they say.
At the same time, I don`t think it was wrong for President Obama to be going out and playing golf. Presidents, no matter what party they`re from, need some sort of a stress relief. It is the most stressful job on the planet. I think if anything Democrats should be happy when President Trump plays golf because that means he`s not working and he`s not doing the things that everybody hates about his agenda.
So, what`s the complaint here?
KORNACKI: I mean, the complaint is hypocrisy. But I do wonder, Basil, I think that is a good point in principle for any president. Now, Trump`s forced the issue here. But it is a good idea for any leader, whether it`s Trump, Obama, whoever comes next to be able to carve out some space.
SMIKLE: You know, I thought this was one of the vexing narratives of the last couple of years. I hated having to defend President Obama. Going and taking an actual vacation because the man could do two things at once.
But that said, the same argument you make for Democrats is actually the argument I would make for Republicans. Donald Trump, just liked the W, if he just wants to win, I would say, to tell the Republicans just send him to play golf so that they can work out the details behind his back, without his interference and then come back and let --
KORNACKI: Be happy he`s on the golf course.
SMIKLE: Let him go play.
NGO: The White House and Trump`s space would actually argue that he`s conducting business o on the golf course, and a lot of can be done on the course.
Whether you`re Barack Obama or Donald Trump, if you`re golfing, it`s not a really populist kind of vibe. You`re with the donor class, you`re with lawmakers. You`re not with coal miners. You`re not with middle class voters and flyover country. It doesn`t jibe well with -- it`s not for the people.
KORNACKI: All right. Roundtable is staying with us.
Up next, three scoops. One from each of these reporters or pundits you`ll be talking about tomorrow. You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: All right. We`re back with HARDBALL roundtable.
Evan, tell me something I don`t know.
SIEGFRIED: Everybody is talking about how President Trump is trying to clear a path to fire Robert Mueller. Everything isn`t about firing Robert Mueller, it`s giving Congress cover to defund him. You can fire him without actually firing him.
KORNACKI: All right. Basil?
SMIKLE: For all the talk about bipartisanship with potential infrastructure legislation and policy. You had a great story with a deeper dive about why it`s going to be difficult. Thanks to the tax bill, 3/4 of the funding comes from cities and states. And it`s -- with the tax bill, it makes it actually harder for states and municipalities to promote municipal funds to actually pay for the infrastructure improvements they want.
KORNACKI: Yes, 2017 was the year they passed tax reform, 2018, we`ll see what they actually does.
NGO: This primary coverage area of Long Island, you have two Republicans who are polar opposites in terms of playbook on how to Steve Bannon. Lee Zeldin has embraced him and held -- had him headlined a fund-raiser that produced an eye-popping amount of funds for a House race.
And then we have Peter King who has very vocally, very vociferously, very vehemently rejected him. So, we`ll see how that works out for them in the midterm.
KORNACKI: Pete King, go back 20 years with him. Newt Gingrich in the `90s, watch him do with Bannon today. Very extreme to watch him in action.
Thank you to our panel. Evan Siegfried, Basil Smikle, Emily Ngo, thanks for being here.
I`m Steve Kornacki filling in for Chris Matthews who`s on vacation.
That is HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.
And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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