Show: HARDBALL Date: March 28, 2018 Guest: Sue Mi Terry, Philip Bump, Zerlina Maxwell, John Podhoretz
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: I have a programming note. This Friday, 6:00 p.m. eastern, we have a live BEAT special with a big breakdown of the crisis hitting Donald Trump`s digital firm and a very special guest who hasn`t spoken before. This Friday at 6:00.
As for right now, it`s HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Talk of a pardon. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.
New revelations relating to the special counsel`s probe have today raised serious questions about whether President Trump or his attorneys considered an attempt to pardon witnesses in a possible effort to silence them. This comes as the President announced his latest cabinet shake-up, firing his Veterans Affairs secretary and promoting the White House doctor in a tweet. Much more on that in just a minute.
But the breaking news first tonight. "The New York Times" is reporting Trump`s now former lawyer John Dowd discussed the prospect that the President could pardon two of his former top advisers, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. Those discussions last summer with the attorneys representing Flynn and Manafort quote "came as the special counsel was building cases against both men." They raised questions whether the lawyer John Dowd was offering pardons to influence their decisions whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.
Times adds that quote "the talks suggest Mr. Trump`s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel."
It is not clear whether the President directed Dowd to discuss the possibility of a pardon or whether he knew about the conversations at all. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders addressed that question today and also said the conversations can described by the "Times" have not taken place.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did the President direct John Dowd to you talk about the attorney for Manafort and Flynn about potential pardons.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I`m not aware of any conversation of that nature at all.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did the President have a reaction to these revelations of "New York Times"? Did you ask him specifically?
SANDERS: I did not talk to him about it specifically. But again, I have been in a number of conversations. It has never come up. And Ty Cobb who would be the lead representative for the White House on these matters is also gone On the Record to discuss and declare that these conversations haven`t taken place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: For his part, however, Trump attorney Ty Cobb today said only that the President is not currently weighing such an option. Quote "no pardons are under discussion or under consideration at the White House."
Dowd himself also denied the conversations with Flynn and Manafort`s lawyers ever took place telling the "Times" there were no discussions, period. He also said however, as far as I know no discussions.
I`m joined by Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney and MSNBC legal analyst. Eli Stokols is an MSNBC contributor and Heather McGhee, she is the president of DEMOS action and an MSNBC analyst.
Thanks to all of you for joining us.
Barbara, let me start with you. So the unknowns here, quite an explosive story, but the unknowns here we don`t know if this did happen. We have these denials here. If it did happen, we don`t know if the President knew it happened. If the President knew it happened, we don`t know if he ordered it to happen. If he ordered it to happen, we don`t know what his motive was. Those variables right now, how significant from a legal standpoint are each one of them?
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Very significant. First, you know, did it happen? That`s the first thing we`d have to figure out. But assuming that it did, it`s one, hard to imagine that John Dowd would have this conversation without first discussing at least with President Trump. There`s a duty of a lawyer to communicate on significant matters with your client. And so I can`t imagine that he would make this offer or discuss pardons with them without at least consulting with President Trump. Whether he ordered it is another matter. But he must at least have advised him that he was going to have this conversation.
And then as you said, the intent is incredibly important here. Was it the intent to trade a pardon in exchange for not cooperating with Robert Mueller? But I think the mere fact, if this conversation occurred, the mere fact that you would raise the issue I think creates at least an impression that there was an expectation that they would do something in exchange for President Trump because he has the power to pardon them without getting their agreement. There`s no need to discuss it with them unless you want to elicit something in exchange.
KORNACKI: And that`s where this starts is, just looking at this sort of as a layman here, Heather. This is where it gets a little foggy to me because that Presidential power to pardon, it`s absolute. A President can use it for anyone at any reason at any time. And it sort of always there in a situation like this. Any President who is under investigation could at any moment say you know what, this person is a potentially a threat to me in some way. I`m going to pardon them and take care of it that way. So in a way, it is already there that line. And if you are going to broach it at all, if that indeed happen, if this lawyer brought it up somehow, if Dowd did bring it up somehow, is there any specific line a prosecutor might be looking at here?
HEATHER MCGHEE, PRESIDENT, DEMOS ACTION: Well, part of the problem is it happened, to my understanding, while the grand jury was empanelled, when it was really clear that Flynn was in the crosshairs. And we know what did happen months later. Flynn flipped and decided that he would both plead guilty and cooperate with the Mueller investigation. So there was a sort of clear and present threat of what exactly did happen which is cooperation.
I also think on the question of the pardon. Yes, it is a virtually unlimited power but like everything in our politics, it`s also limited by norms. The President of the United States has to stand in front of the American people and justify why he thinks this person has to be pardoned. And we have not yet heard a decent in fact even colorable explanation for why he would pardon Michael Flynn.
KORNACKI: And Barbara, let me bring you back for a second, too, because another piece of this, it becomes from the -- there`s -- from the standpoint of what would happen next, this supposedly happened, you know, over the summer. These are still ongoing active cases. Is there a way to read this, too, that there`s sort of an attempt here maybe to communicate something that`s almost more of an ongoing offer?
MCQUADE: So in other words, making this public so that Paul Manafort knows that this is out there and that Mike Flynn knows this is out there? That`s an interesting theory.
KORNACKI: Yes. This topic of the pardon has sort of been an ongoing thing. And of course, we ask about it, too. So it`s not just Trump is bringing this up, but we ask about it. But just, again, it is sort of the fact that it`s out there, it could, theoretically, Trump at any moment could do it.
MCQUADE: Yes. In some ways, that`s really a brilliant strategy because if you make it really overt like this, you can say there`s nothing underhanded about it whatsoever. It was just in the public domain. So that is a really interesting theory. But I suppose to the extent Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn know that that`s a possibility, it`s something to think about.
But I think if this report is true that John Dowd did communicate to them directly, I think that makes it much more compelling that there was potential obstruction of justice because there would be no reason to have that conversation with them unless you were seeking some quid pro quo because the President has the power to pardon them at any time even without their approval.
KORNACKI: And Eli, the relationship between the President and his now former lawyer John Dowd, can you talk about that a little bit? Because Barbara made the point that, you know, it would be sort of unlikely from her view for John Dowd to have done anything like this without the President knowing. What do you know about that relationship between them, what that was that like last summer as this was playing out?
ELI STOKOLS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, at the time, John Dowd was the top lawyer defending the President in terms of the special counsel`s investigation. And everything I know about it is that they had a pretty close relationship at least in terms of Trump somewhat deferring to Dowd following the strategy in terms of sort of you know, holding back his fire against Bob Mueller publicly. And yet, it is hard to conceive of a situation like there in which Dowd and Trump did not have a conversation about this. They talk about all kinds of things.
And just from what we know about the President and the way he approaches things, he is always taking the temperature talking to everybody, trying to figure out what might work, sort of sending up trial balloons, testing things out. His defenders will say, he is just asking, you know, he doesn`t know. He is just trying to figure out, you know, what`s possible.
But it`s pretty clear from this report if it`s true that the President was not acting with a completely clean conscience. Because if you have a clean conscience about this, you are not contemplating pardoning people to prevent them from rolling over and spilling everything to the special counsel`s investigation.
KORNACKI: And the big question here, Heather, too, is how the special counsel, how Robert Mueller, if this is what happened, if he determines this is what happened, something like reported here, how he would react to that, how he would treat it. Because one of the jobs of the special counsel is ultimately to report back to Congress and say, you know, here is what I found and maybe in some cases we saw this with Ken Starr two decades ago to say, hey, I found things that I think might be impeachable offenses. But impeachable offenses are ultimately subjective too, how you define what obstruction of justice is or anything like that. That is the wildcard here though, even if this is established. How does Mueller look at it?
MCGHEE: I think Bob Mueller is methodically building a case on two separate streams, both of which are primary importance to the American people. And I think we will look back at this time with a lot of respect and gratitude for the way that he has kept this going.
First of all, what happened between Russia and the Trump campaign potentially parts of the RNC to undermine our democracy? I mean, this is still something that because of the partisan fog, because of the propaganda coming out of the right wing media machine is going to be told in the history books as a major breach of our sovereignty, and yet, we still have basically one man sort of looking clear-eyed and trying to connect all the dots.
So first of all, that has to be a part of the recommendation. That has to be a part of the report. And I think it`s going to be up to the bipartisan committees to actually take that, supplement it with what they have done, and of course, it will be up to people in the media to make it clear to the American people how secure our elections are, how complicity or not very powerful people were in this breach of American sovereignty.
KORNACKI: And having been rebuffed by several top lawyers in Washington, the President is promoting a little known member of his legal team Andrew Ekonomou to a bigger - I don`t know if I said right.
But according to Reuters, he doesn`t have much experience with high profile cases. Quote "in an interview, Ekonomou told Reuters that he prosecutes a lot of murders for the DA in his hometown Brunswick, Georgia. However, when asked about the biggest cases of late, Ekonomou said that is basically it, nothing earth shaking. He also shared this detail about his life following what he called a midlife crisis. He said he went back to school and got his doctorate in medieval history from the Emory University in 2000."
Barbara, how significant legally is this? We are used to Presidents, senators, high powerful members of government when they get into legal trouble they call on sort of the highest priced most well-known, well- established attorneys. There are some sort of high profile defenders out there of various government officials. Not what we are seeing with the White House from a legal standpoint from the President`s standpoint. How significant is it that sort of talent he is relying on, positive or negative, not traditional?
MCQUADE: You know, it`s been reported that many of these very well-known high priced lawyers have turned Trump down for a variety of reasons, conflict of interest. And I think some like Ted Olson just don`t want to be affiliated with President Trump and their law firms don`t want to be affiliated with them. And that it harms - I have been told the recruiting efforts of these law firms to be affiliated with President Trump. So instead, he has to look at another tier of lawyers who are less well-known.
I don`t know anything about this particular lawyer and I wouldn`t assume just because he is not one of the very big names that he is not effective. He is a former federal prosecutor and a former acting U.S. attorney. Though it has been some time.
So I think there are plenty of lawyers out there whose reputations are not quite as well-known who are likely to be effective. But I think what he should be looking at is the qualifications as opposed to the reputation. Is this someone who has experience? And recent experience might be helpful. It sounds like maybe he doesn`t. Recent experience dealing with the department of justice in negotiating plea agreements and negotiating terms of things like interviews and grand jury appearances and a close understanding of the way those things work. So I don`t know that reputation matters so much as qualifications.
KORNACKI: And Eli, just again behind the scenes, we know the President wasn`t ultimately too happy with his last attorney. How he feels about his legal representation right now? Do we have clues of that now that he is sort of changed course here?
STOKOLS: I think he will (INAUDIBLE) say that everything is fine. He tweeted a few days ago, don`t believe the fake news. There are a lot of lawyers lining up to work for me. But that is obviously not the case. Most of the more qualified experienced Washington lawyers want nothing to do with representing the President at this time. And you know, I think that he, you know, a lot of times this President formulates his own assessment of himself and his own situation based on what`s being reflected back to him in the media. And I think that to some extent, bringing on this other attorney or elevating this other attorney is a reaction to a lot of news coverage. People, you know, stories -- people writing stories saying that this President has basically one lawyer now. One or two lawyers who are representing him as he faces you know, a special counsel investigation that seems to be gaining steam.
KORNACKI: And there is, speaking of that, also renewed concern on Capitol Hill that the President may try to remove the special counsel, Robert Mueller. In a bipartisan press release late yesterday, Republican senator Tom Tillis from North Carolina, Democratic senator Chris Coons from Delaware both called on Congress to pass legislation to protect the special counsel from interference by the President. And this comes after the President lashed out at Mueller by name earlier this month, a move that instigated a pressure round of attacks from conservative media circles.
And Heather, that is the other -- this story today, the possibility of pardons, even if it`s from last summer, that again, I think would only accentuate the concern of those senators are expressing there.
MCGHEE: I think what you are seeing here in the fact that the statement that bipartisan statement needed to be happen - needed to happen today is actually a reaction to what`s happening in the conservative news media cycle.
Bob Mueller is a very popular American right now. You have the majority of the American people who say that his investigation should continue without interference. Seventy-eight percent of Americans say that if asked, Donald Trump should sit and testify under oath including the majority of Republicans.
This is something that the American people even though they don`t think it`s as important as the economy or healthcare, they want to get right on this. We don`t - we actually feel a certain way about the potential violation at the highest levels of our American democracy. And so there has been a very concerted effort on the conservative news media to tarnish the investigation. And it`s starting to take root.
It`s not going to affect independents and Democrats as much. But what they want is a Republican base that is no longer what they think is pretty scarily towards the center in adding to those poll numbers that show the majority of Americans think if he has nothing to hide, then he should go ahead and testify in this investigation should continue.
KORNACKI: All right. Heather McGee, Barbara McQaude, Eli Stokols, thanks to you all for joining us.
And coming up, we haven`t seen President Trump at a public event for five days and counting now. Why is he staying out of the spotlight? Does it have anything to do with Stormy Daniels? That`s ahead.
Plus, Trump raises expectations for his summit with North Korea`s Kim Jung- un. He says Kim will quote "do what`s right," suggesting peace and denuclearization is within reach? Was he setting the bar too high? Could he possibly deliver?
And culture warrior. Trump hopes to lead Republicans to victory this November by picking cultural battles. And today he is fighting on two fronts, the second amendment and the border wall.
And finally, the return of Rose Anne. It was a huge hit in the ratings last night. Maybe a surprise there. Was that because unlike most things in the age of Trump, the show is trying to reach out to both sides of the political divide.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
KORNACKI: Well, there has been yet another shake-up in the Trump administration, this time at the department of Veterans Affairs. President Trump today fired the VA secretary David Shulkin. This comes after a scathing inspector general`s report found that Shulkin had misused taxpayer funds on a trip to Europe. Trump announced the staffing change on twitter saying he plans quote "to nominate highly respected admiral Ronny Jackson as the new secretary of veterans affairs."
Now Dr. Jackson currently serves as the President`s personal physician. This is a job he has held in the White House since 2013 for Barack Obama before this. Earlier this year, he gave President Trump a clean bill of health and touting his excellent genes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADM. RONNY JACKSON, PRESIDENTIAL PHYSICIAN: In summary, the President`s overall health is excellent. Some people have just great genes, you know. I told the President if he had a healthier -- he might live to be 200 years old. I don`t know. He has incredibly good genes and it just like (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And Dr. Jackson will need Senate approval before he takes over at the VA.
We will be right back.
KORNACKI: And welcome back to HARDBALL.
Donald Trump has spent much of his adult life seeking the limelight. But over the past five days, he is doing just the opposite. The last time the president held a public event was all the way back on Friday. That was two days before "60 Minutes" aired its interview with Stormy Daniels, who alleges a sexual relationship with Trump.
White House officials denied that allegation again today.
White -- press -- excuse me -- White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also addressed Trump`s notable absence the last few days.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Why haven`t we seen much of -- so much of the president? Will he commit to doing a formal news conference? He hasn`t done one of those in more than a year.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, the president has got a major speech tomorrow. He`s been incredibly active all week long. We have taken major actions in trade negotiations, as well as expelling had intel officers from Russia out of the country this week.
There have been a number of major things that the president has taken action on and been engaged on. He`s giving a major speech tomorrow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: As "The Washington Post" reports, Trump has complained the Stormy Daniels controversy is a political hoax, but he hasn`t responded to any of the salacious taunts from Daniels` lawyer.
Early this morning, that lawyer, Michael Avenatti filed, a new motion seeking to depose the president and his lawyer, Michael Cohen. A judge must now decide if that can happen.
Cohen`s lawyer, David Schwartz, called the motion -- quote -- "a reckless use of the legal system in order to continue to inflate Michael Avenatti`s deflated ego and keep himself relevant."
For more, I`m joined by Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the "PBS NewsHour," and Bret Stephens is an op-ed columnist at "The New York Times." Both are MSNBC political contributors.
Yamiche, let me start with you.
So, Sarah Huckabee Sanders says, hey, nothing to see here. The president`s going to be back out there tomorrow.
OK, it has been five days, though, since we have heard from him. Is it just a coincidence, or is your sense that it is related to what happened on "60 Minutes" the other night?
rMD-BO_YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, we can`t say for sure whether or not the president is silent because of Stormy Daniels.
What we can say is that it`s highly unlikely and highly unusual for him not to comment on something that is such a big news story. The idea that we have -- I have been sitting in briefings where Raj, the deputy press secretary, said that -- he wouldn`t answer whether or not the president actually saw the interview.
But then he start saying that the president also refused what was said in the interview. So, obviously, the president has seen the interview with Stormy Daniels. He has seen reporting of it, and he`s not saying anything, which is just completely abnormal.
And the fact that Stormy Daniels` lawyer is not only talking about deposing him, but has literally said, you need to get up on the podium and call my client a liar, and if you don`t, then you`re sticking by -- then you know that she`s telling the truth, so I think it`s going to be remarkable the first time that President Trump actually peeks his head out again in the public, because he`s going to be inundated with questions about Stormy Daniels.
And, Bret, that strikes me too. This is a president who has never shown restraint. And, see, I remember in the campaign, it was Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe -- I think that was his pageant -- could not resist getting into a multiday back and forth with her.
Nothing like that here. So, the question becomes, if that`s the case, why? Is this a president who, from a legal standpoint, feels that there`s a risk to him in engaging in a public fight with this lawyer? Who knows what the lawyer might produce next, something like that?
Is it a president who feels strategically, maybe if he ignores this, it`s more likely to go away? Do you have any sense of that?
BRET STEPHENS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Look, it`s speculation. Maybe it`s out of respect for his wife and his young son. That might be a consideration.
Or the alternative is maybe Stormy Daniels has in effect read the president his Miranda rights. Anything he says can and will be held against him. And Trump has to be very careful about making statements that might end up being legally actionable.
One of the ironies here is that some of the sort of case law that might hold comes to us, of course, from the drama of Bill Clinton and Paula Jones and later Monica Lewinsky, going back to 1998, when this time it was Republicans who were eager to get a Democratic president on account of alleged sexual peccadillos.
Well, those very -- the very sort of legal case that Republicans made back then about the ability to indict a president, depose a president, catch him on lies, what is the meaning of the word is, all of that now comes back to haunt them with the president and the porn star.
KORNACKI: Right. There was that effort by Bill Clinton to avoid giving a deposition and testifying in that Paula Jones lawsuit midway through his presidency.
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer we have been talking about, says he`s been playing a game of chess with the president and his lawyer, and he has called out the president directly. Here`s a taste what he has had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: If she`s not telling it the truth, let the president take to the podium and call her a liar. Let the president come forward and say it never happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And, Yamiche, I always -- any lawyer, sort of high-profile lawyer, I always try to take what they say with a grain of salt, because there`s always some element of hype there. They`re always going to give you sort of one version. But that`s the job of a lawyer certainly in the limelight like that.
But I wonder, what`s your sense talking to folks around the White House? What do they make of him? What do they make of these sort of threats that he`s hinting at of more to come potentially?
ALCINDOR: People that I have talked to make it seem as though this lawyer wouldn`t be making these threats if the president wasn`t in some real issues, especially when you think about the fact that added just yesterday, with Stormy Daniels yesterday saying that the president and/or his lawyer may have violated actual law.
They may have violated campaign finance laws by the way that they paid that $130,000. And they also added to the lawsuit that the president or his lawyers were seeking to influence the 2016 election. So we`re not just talking about someone who is saying, OK, yes, you might have cheated on your wife. They`re saying that he might actually be going -- this might be something that`s criminal.
So, I think that that`s why people in the White House at least are kind of dancing around this idea. Sarah Sanders has said several times that the president denies these allegations. But the president himself not standing up and taking to the podium, as this lawyer threatened him to do, is remarkable, because we know who President Trump is. He is someone who wants to punch back, and he`s not doing it.
KORNACKI: And, Bret, quickly, from a public opinion standpoint, it does raise the question to me, though, does any of this ultimately matter? Was a judgment made about Trump`s character before he was elected that this merely affirms, or does this change something fundamental how people look at him?
STEPHENS: Yes, I saw a poll that said that 61 percent of Republicans even now see Donald Trump as a role model.
But, of course, what really matters isn`t the consensus view. It`s opinions at the very margins which ultimately end up deciding elections. And I think a lot of parents, those of us with young children, faced with a conundrum of having to explain to 10-year-old, 11-year-old children exactly what Ms. Clifford`s profession is, have a very hard time then justifying the president.
It`s certainly one of the reasons why you see so many Republican incumbents in the House leaving and, therefore, putting those seats that might otherwise be safe seats into play. I think that`s where you`re going to see the potential of a real political flip.
KORNACKI: Yes, Ryan Costello the latest Republican top announce his resignation, retirement from the House. He said he didn`t want to be out there talking about that.
Yamiche Alcindor, Bret Stephens, thanks to both of you for being with us.
And up next: Trump setting high expectations for his talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. He says there is a good chance that peace is within reach. Could he possibly deliver?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump raised high hopes this morning for his upcoming meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. He tweeted: "For years and through many administrations, everyone said that peace and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was not even a small possibility. Now there is a good chance that Kim Jong-un will do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting."
This came after Kim Jong-un recently visited China. It was his first known visit out of North Korea since he took over from his father back in 2011.
President Trump tweeted: "Received message last night from the Xi in China that his meeting with Kim Jong-un went well and that Kim looks forward to his meeting with me. In the meantime and, unfortunately, maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all costs."
For more, I`m joined by Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She was a senior analyst on Korean issues at the CIA from 2001 to 2008.
Sue, thank you for joining me.
So, the president did raise some expectations there in that tweet I just read. He said two things . He said peace and the -- I would show you two fingers, but I can`t show you these fingers. They`re wrapped up -- but peace and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. He said that could happen.
Is that a realistic expectation for this meeting?
SUE MI TERRY, FORMER CIA ANALYST: I`m glad he feels optimistic, but I feel that we need to temper our expectation here.
North Korea has been pursuing a nuclear program for decades. Since Kim Jong-un came into power, six-plus years ago, he conducted 90 missile tests, four nuclear tests, including a hydrogen bomb, three intercontinental ballistic missile tests.
He didn`t just wake up one day and decide to give it all up. And when he`s talking about denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, what that means is not just North Korea. That mean decoupling U.S.-South Korea alliance, maybe kicking the U.S. forces off the Korean Peninsula, to stop the extended nuclear umbrella over South Korea.
So, we need to temper our expectation a little bit here.
KORNACKI: Well, so, with that in mind, when President Trump goes and sits down for this meeting, what is the most important message he should be prepared to deliver?
TERRY: I think that if Kim Jong-un will be serious, if he could be serious about potentially denuclearization, giving up nuclear weapons, that there would be rewards, as well as a bad path forward.
I think that message has to be very, very clear. But, also, I think we need to sort of -- I think the most optimistic scenario, honestly, is that they meet and agree on something in principle, and then sort of step back from that.
I think it`s really unrealistic if you think we can solve this crisis in that one meeting with Kim Jong-un. It`s not going to happen.
KORNACKI: All right, Sue Mi Terry, thank you for joining us. Appreciate that.
And coming up: President Trump is trying to rev up the GOP base ahead of the midterms. And that means he`s returning to an old playbook. That is next with the HARDBALL Roundtable.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump is looking to help Republicans avoid a blue wave this November. And he`s revving up his base by playing up the culture wars.
Of course, the cornerstone of Trump`s presidential campaign was a promise to build a wall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: We`re going to build a wall. Mexico`s going to pay for the wall. We`re going to stop drugs from coming in.
The Trump administration will also secure and defend the borders of the United States. And, yes, we will build a great wall, and Mexico will pay for the wall, 100 percent.
So, a lot of politicians said, you can`t get Mexico to pay for the wall. I said, oh, it`s going to be so easy. Going to be so easy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And Trump has since found that it isn`t that easy to convince Mexico to pay for the wall, but he publicly at least remains undeterred.
"The Washington Post" reported Tuesday that Trump is privately pushing the U.S. military to fund construction of his signature project. Meanwhile, the president is eager to make the Second Amendment a campaign issue. Trump responded to an op-ed written by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment.
Trump wrote on Twitter: "The Second Amendment will never be repealed. As much as Democrats would like to see this happen and despite the words yesterday of former Supreme Court Justice Stevens, no way. We need more Republicans in 2018 and must always hold the Supreme Court."
Let`s bring in the HARDBALL Roundtable. Philip Bump is a political reporter for "The Washington Post." Zerlina Maxwell is director of progressive programming for SiriusXM and an MSNBC political analyst, and John Podhoretz is editor of "Commentary" magazine.
Zerlina, let me start with you on the second thing we talked about there, guns.
ZERLINA MAXWELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
KORNACKI: Because that the op-ed from John Paul Stevens got a lot of people talking yesterday.
Now, he`s 90-something. He`s no longer in office. But I think it`s clear from that tweet that what Trump is looking for and I think what Republicans are looking for is for folks on your side of the aisle here to start staking out turf that`s not necessarily that safe, to feel emboldened, and to sort of move on guns from, hey, we want background checks to, hey, look what they`re doing in Australia or, hey, Stevens has a point here.
Is there a chance in this climate, in this atmosphere, with what we saw in Florida, with just the Trump atmospherics, that that does happen on the left?
MAXWELL: I don`t think so. And here`s why.
I think what we saw on Saturday with the March For Our Lives is where the progressive movement is going. And I say -- and I say that in terms of an intersectional, a younger, and more diverse coalition of interests, where they understand that guns are a cultural issue in which people -- there are studies.
Like for example, in 2015, the University of Chicago did a study where they found correlation between an opposition to more rights and privileges for people of color and women correlated with in opposition to gun safety legislation. So, the idea that the folks who on the right support the Second Amendment and say we don`t want any regulations, don`t take away our guns, they`re in opposition to this diverse coalition of young people who are saying, we just want common sense regulations on guns so that we`re not shot in school.
So, I don`t think that the left is moving to the position of Stevens. I think that`s actually an outlier, which is helpful to that coalition of diverse students because they have a more mainstream position.
KORNACKI t gets to a broader question, John, in terms of motivating the Republican base to turn out this fall if you`re a Republican, if you`re Trump. Is the way to do that by pointing to something positive, you know, the tax cuts or the economy, something like that? Or does it require sort of hey, remember who the Democrats are. You don`t want them getting near power.
JOHN PODHORETZ, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE EDITOR: It totally requires that. The John Paul Stevens` op-ed was a gift to the Trump and Republicans, though probably too early. The key to understanding what`s going to happen in November is not just the Democrats are charged up which they are, but whether Republicans are going to be depressed, and whether Republicans are saying, I`m not going to bother going to the polls and then Democrats will ride away.
If Republicans can get heated up and if the argument is going to be they got to turn out to the polls because the Democrats are moving on guns, they`re moving on this, they`re moving on that, they are on the charge, and if you don`t stop them, terrible things are going to happen. That is exactly what the RNC, the National Republican Campaign Committee, that`s what they want.
KORNACKI: What about, Phillip, the first part of that when he was talking about the wall? Is this -- does he have to deliver something on that or show something? This is clearly on track to happen. Does he have to be able to deliver that message to the base this fall or will they let him skate on that? Because there was a lot of talk about that in `16 whether they expected 2,000 miles of a wall or this was getting at something more almost symbolic?
PHILIP BUMP, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I`ve seen no indication his base is deeply frustrated about the wall not moving forward. It seems as though they`re giving him a ton of slack on that issue and a lot of other issues. You know, his favorability remains high among Republicans, remains pretty clearly high with his base, as well.
And I think it`s important to remember that we tend to attribute to Donald Trump a lot off intentionality that I think may often be unjustified, right? And I think that his response to the wall was, there are reports that he basically spent the weekends watching FOX News, seeing that the response to the omnibus bill that passed was negative in part because the spending increased so much.
And I think that he feels as though he got burned a little bit on wall funding in that bill as well. And, you know, this is a president well before he was engaged in politics, electoral politics, he spent all of his time talking about politics on Twitter. That`s why I feel like there`s an aspect to this as well which is not him being intentional and thinking about November, but him being mad about something he saw on TV and tweeting.
KORNACKI: And I`m also thinking, we talk about the culture wars playing out this fall. I`m thinking back to how that whole national debate that`s played over, what, two, three weeks last fall about the national anthem, the NFL players kneeling, that was the product it seemed to me of Donald Trump riffing at a rally in Alabama and thinking, hey it`s a football crowd. And he starts talking about college football. And the next thing, you know, he gets them going.
I mean, he`s going to be out there campaigning this fall. That could happen October 20th. He could just land on something by happenstance that defines the fall election.
MAXWELL: You know, I think he likes to pander to his base and uses these cultural issues like the national anthem and kneeling or guns. I think that the coalition of voters that are going to come out in the midterms and the young people we saw on Saturday who tied their protest with voter registration, which I think is the key element that will make a difference, I think the coalition of voters is going to be different than we`ve seen in the past. I actually think the young millennial voter we think about in every election, are young people going to show up, I think this year might be the year that that actually problems true.
PODHORETZ: Yes, but this is a dialectic, right? So, what happens is, Trump pushes a button and then Democrats respond. And if Democrats respond, over-respond or respond in a way that will trigger a Republican Party regular voter counter assault like they`re coming at us culturally in a way we don`t like in October, you know, when he riffs an the at a rally, then that could be helpful because it is not just that they want to come out to support Trump. I don`t think anyone is going to come -- that`s not how people vote in the midterm.
But if they`re afraid, if they think that they are at risk and they are at threat, that there is a real threat from the Democratic takeover of the House and that the threat is immediate and Trump can really flash a light on that, then Republicans do have a natural -- have historically in the last ten years, had a natural advantage in midterm elections. They turn out more. They turn out -- they tend to turn out in higher rates. So --
KORNACKI: That is the wildcard, too, is the turnout disparities we`ve seen.
MAXWELL: That`s correct.
KORNACKI: Do they persist?
The roundtable is going to persist. They are staying with us.
And up next -- I`ve been looking forward to this one all day -- "Roseanne" back on TV and getting mass -- I mean, these were monster numbers this show put up last night. The question is, the secret to the show`s success, its ability to reach both sides of the political divide. I`m going over to the board to show you the politics of the world of "Roseanne".
That`s next. You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How could you have voted for him, Roseanne?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He talked about jobs, Jackie. He said he`d shake things up. I mean, this might come as a complete shock to you, but we almost lost our house the way things are going.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you looked at the news because now things are worse.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not on the real news.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, please!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Were you watching that last night in the return of "Roseanne" 20 years later. A lot of people were, almost 20 million last night. Network, sitcoms do not get numbers like that anymore. But this one did and not coincidentally this is a show that got very political in that debut last night.
The setup, you know, Roseanne the character, she plays a Trump supporter in the show. I think in real life, she is a Trump supporter, too. You saw her sister there. Not a Trump supporter.
You`ve got the tension that a think a lot of families feel right now. But the other thing is the setting for the show represents in some ways what was the story of the 2016 election. Why is Donald Trump president?
Well, the easiest answer is you look at the voters who turned out for him and flipped who normally voted Democratic or just weren`t voting in the past. And they were in a particular part of the country, you could draw a circle if you want to call it a circle around this area, sort of the northern tier of the country.
This is where you saw a lot of Democrats flipping, white working class urban -- exurban or rural and Illinois here. That`s where "Roseanne" is set. It`s a blue state. There are red parts of Illinois and parts that got a lot redder because of Trump. That is the world of "Roseanne", that white working class world.
Where exactly in Illinois is "Roseanne" set? We got conflicting signals on that show. Sometimes they placed down here, sometimes more up in this part of the state. It`s a fictional town.
But the key is, you look at all those red counties outside the Chicago area, a few other pockets in the state. That`s the "Roseanne" world -- white, working class, the Conner family. Those are the sorts of people, the sorts of voters in 2016 in that region of the country that flipped made Trump president.
And that`s what makes it in part that show so interesting to me to watch now in the age of Trump. So, we`re going to talk about this a little bit with the panel. We`re going to talk about the politics of "Roseanne".
And also the bigger question, you got liberals and conservatives on the same show. How often do you see that in culture anymore? Is that why it was such a ratings hit last night?
We`ll talk about it in just a second.
KORNACKI: And welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, the "Roseanne" revival as we said, it premiered last night to sky high ratings, 18 million people tuning in. "Entertainment Weekly" reports that according to ABC, this is the highest rated comedy telecast in any network in nearly four years.
The roundtable is back with me.
I`m just going to throw it out to anybody. I give you just the bottom line thing that I took away from the show is we see so much of pop culture right now one way or the other. You`re either on this side or you`re on that side. You play to one side of the aisle.
That episode last night for that first episode that aired last night, I think it was something compelling for both sides of the aisle. They could each feel represented. And look at those ratings numbers. I mean, this is something bigger picture we don`t see the in pop culture that much anymore.
PODHORETZ: OK, but I think the story is that this is the first pop culture fictional representation of a world in which Trump voters are working and living and existing that was sympathetic to them. In which they were not made fun of. And I think this is a gigantic, big, semaphore flag wave at American pop culture domos (ph) about whether or not they understand if they can talk about these people and portray their lives in a way that isn`t simply paretic and calling them racist and monsters that they might get a hearing and they might get an audience that they have underserved.
BLITZER: And I think a lot of people watching that last night could probably in their own families relate to it. You`ll have Trump supporters and you`ll have relatives calling them crazy.
MAXWELL: Well, I think that the important thing that they showed is the debate between the two sisters because I`ve talked to so many people since the election who say, well, I stopped talking to my uncle who voted for Trump, or I stopped to this particular family member because of their political views.
And I think it`s important for us to not stop talking to our relatives if we disagree with them. We have to have the debate. We have to speak to people who are on the other side. Otherwise, we`re never going to get anywhere.
And I think what the show demonstrates is that it`s important for us to speak to people who have opposing views and try to come to a common sense understanding because we`re all Americans.
BUMP: So, I would say to John`s point, one of the fascinating tidbits about those ratings is that the three cities where the ratings were the highest were Tulsa, Oklahoma, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, right? These are the sort of, to your point, Trumpy areas. I mean, not Pittsburgh itself, so much as outside Pittsburgh, but you get my point.
And the thing that struck when I heard about this coming is, well, of course, they`re bringing back "Roseanne", it`s all those nostalgia right now. They`re bringing back "Full House". There`s "Full House". I mean, there are all these ways in which that is what Hollywood is doing right now.
But what`s fascinating about "Roseanne" is it`s not just nostalgia. It is the same nostalgia that Trump brought to the campaign. It is nostalgia for a working class world that "Roseanne" represented during her heyday, which she was the most popular -- I mean, it was -- it`s important to remember, this was a bananas popular show when it was first out, right?
BUMP: So, nostalgia, and a nostalgic moment for an extremely popular show that also reflects exactly the nostalgia that Donald Trump himself is trying to capture, I think all of those things combined helped contribute on it.
KORNACKI: It`s also, I decided, the most optimistic show in all of America because it proves there`s life after death, because in the final episode of the original, they killed off the John Goodman character. Voila, he`s back and he`s with us again. So, that was exciting too.
The roundtable is staying with us. Up next, these three are going to tell me something I don`t know.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
BLITZER: And we`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.
And, Philip, tell me something I don`t know.
BUMP: So, the Republicans are very hopeful with tax cuts they passed in December will help them in November. CNBC had new poll though that showed that 52 percent of Americans don`t see anything in their paychecks yet from those cuts. However, 52 percent of Republicans said they did see something in their paychecks.
KORNACKI: Everything is polarization.
MAXWELL: That`s funny. Next week is the commemoration of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. And this week, I actually confirmed a really funny family anecdote that I have when my mom was 8, Martin Luther King came over for dinner. He gave her $5. It was her birthday.
She has always told me she was grossed out by the fact that he puts ketchup on his mashed potatoes. I confirmed this week, I talked to Xernona Clayton, a long time activist with the SCLC, a friend of Coretta Scott King, and she said he does put ketchup on his mashed potatoes.
I think it was a fun little anecdote about an icon --
KORNACKI: Yes, I never tried it but it doesn`t sound that good.
PODHORETZ: My god, how could I top that.
PODHORETZ: I mean, you know, I was going to say that I believe if you come back to me in three months, Trump will never tweet or mention Stormy Daniels` name. He will never do it, never. He will never do it.
KORNACKI: He`s certainly up to an un-Trump-like start on the subject of Stormy Daniels. We`ll see. That`s the bet John is making.
Thank to you to Philip Bump, Zerlina Maxwell, John Podhoretz.
And that is HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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