IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

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

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

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


Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

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

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

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

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


CHUNG EUI-YONG, SOUTH KOREAN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible. President Trump officiated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.


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

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

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


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They have made promises to denuclearize. They have made promise to stop nuclear and missile testing and we are not going to have this meeting take place until we see concrete actions that match the words and rhetoric of North Korea.

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it possible that could not happen?

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


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

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

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

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

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

RICHARDSON: OK. Well, that`s good.

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

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

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

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

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: We are a digital publication and online all of the time.

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

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

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

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

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SENIOR ADVISOR: Well, actually, the alternative answer is let`s do something concrete in the meantime. Let`s actually see you spend a couple months not doing missile testing. Why don`t you consider opening up to weapons inspectors. Let`s do something that actually works towards --.

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

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

MATTHEWS: You mean that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAQ: The sanctions are (INAUDIBLE).

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

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

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

HAQ: A combination of every presidency before this.

MATTHEWS: Including Trump.

HAQ: Every presidency before this and South Korea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

We will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball."

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

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

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


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

MELBER: What do they have?

NUNBERG: I have no idea but they have something.

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

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


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

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

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

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


MATTHEWS: "I have no idea."

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

DILANIAN: Nunberg?

MATTHEWS: This guy Nunberg?

DILANIAN: Nunberg? I mean...

MATTHEWS: Does he know anything?

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

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


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

MATTHEWS: I think that must be right.

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

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


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

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

That`s not some...


MATTHEWS: And wearing two chains.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DILANIAN: Absolutely. This is really interesting.

MATTHEWS: So, they have got Erik Prince now.

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

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

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

MATTHEWS: Of course.

DILANIAN: We have reported that.

MATTHEWS: It`s an octopus. Yes.

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

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

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


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

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

DILANIAN: Thank you, Chris. Thanks.

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

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

Let`s watch.


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

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

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

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

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

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


MATTHEWS: Megyn, thank you for joining us.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

KELLY: Absolutely not.

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

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

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

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

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

And we really got into it.

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

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


KELLY: Do you ever read his tweets?

PUTIN (through translator): No.

KELLY: Do you ever tweet?

PUTIN (through translator): No.

KELLY: Why not?

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

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

PUTIN (through translator): Perhaps.



MATTHEWS: Well, that was an easy one.



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


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

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

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


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

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

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

KELLY: My money is not on the dossier.

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


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

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


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

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

KELLY: Thought that was interesting.

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

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

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


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

KELLY: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Everyone will be watching tonight.

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

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

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

And so is that we have got going on here?


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

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

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

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

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

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

PHANG: Well, here`s the thing.

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

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

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

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

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

PHANG: Exactly.

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

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

PHANG: He can`t do it. Exactly.

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

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

You`re watching HARDBALL.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody knows the system better than me -- which is why I alone can fix it.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

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


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

TRUMP: Me. Nobody got that.

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


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

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

Well, let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable.

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

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


MATTHEWS: What do you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

GINGERS: Already more complicated than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

GIBSON: Trump wants a place in history.

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

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

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

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

Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us.

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


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Clarence, tell me something I don`t know.

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

MATTHEWS: A Chicago man.

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

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

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

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

PAGE: Very.

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

MATTHEWS: What about peanut butter? I was amazed.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

PAGE: Yes.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES starts right now.