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Cohen forced to reveal Hannity as client. TRANSCRIPT: 04/17/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Eric Swalwell, Michelle Goldberg, John Podhoretz, Jon Meacham

Show: HARDBALL Date: April 17, 2018 Guest: Eric Swalwell, Michelle Goldberg, John Podhoretz, Jon Meacham


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That`s it for me. I`ll see you back tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. eastern.


STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: High anxiety for President Trump and his inner circle. Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

President Trump spent the day down at Mar-a-Lago with the prime minister of Japan. But according to news reports, he is still stewing over the FBI raid of his personal attorney Michael Cohen.

According to "Associated Press," Trump and allies hit a new level of anxiety after the raid on his personal attorney`s office. Fearful of deeper exposure for Trump, his inner circle and adult children and more than concerned they don`t know what is in those record and electronic devices seized last week.

He is reportedly worried that Cohen may strike a deal with prosecutors out of concern about his own prospects. A person close to Trump told "Axios," the guys that know Trump best are the most worried. People are very, very worried because it`s Michael f`ing Cohen who knows what he has done.

Michael Avenatti, that is the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, predicted that Cohen will eventually flip.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS` LAWYER: I think the amount of information that was obtained is significant from what I have heard, from what I have seen. There`s no question that Michael Cohen is going to be charged. It`s only a question of when. And I think it is going to happen within the next 90 days. Based on my experience innocence white collar criminal investigations and prosecutions, the likelihood of him not rolling over is very, very slim.


KORNACKI: And this all comes after yesterday`s stunning courtroom drama. A federal judge ordering Cohen to reveal that one of his three clients was FOX News host Sean Hannity. Hannity addressed that bombshell on his show.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Let me set the record straight. Here`s the truth. Michael Cohen never represented me in any legal matter. I never retained his services. I never received an invoice. I never paid Michael Cohen for legal fees. I did have occasional brief conversations with Michael Cohen. He is a great attorney about legal questions I had.

My discussions with Michael Cohen never rose to any level that I need to tell anyone that I was asking him questions.


KORNACKI: Hannity who spent the prior week attacking the raid on Cohen`s office never disclosed his relationship with the lawyer. FOX putting out a statement today that said while FOX News was unaware of Sean Hannity`s informal relationship with Michael Cohen and surprised by the announcement in court yesterday, we have reviewed the matter and spoken to Sean. And he continues to have our full support.

For more, I`m joined by Eugen Robinson, columnist for "the Washington Post" and an MSNBC New contributor, Philip Bump, political reporter also with the "Washington Post," Caroline Polisi, federal and white collar criminal defense attorney and Daniel Goldman, former assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York.

Thanks to everybody for being here.

Phillip, I`m going to start with you because you were in the courtroom yesterday. And I think the status of all of the material that the government got from that raid on Cohen`s office, that was up in the air, that was sort of the purpose yesterday. Where does that stand? You have got Trump`s side that wants at it. You want the government that wants at it. What emerge from that hearing yesterday?

PHILIP BUMP, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. So the important factor is less who has control of the documents than who gets to go through the documents and determine which things are subject to attorney/client privilege. That`s what the two days of hearings have been about so far.

Essentially where we ended yesterday was that the judge Kimba Wood determined that the material in possession of the government should be shared with Cohen`s attorneys. They were absolutely taken from Cohen`s office. The government seemed to be under the impression that he still had copies of everything that was on his computers and so and so forth. It turned out he didn`t.

All that materials can be shared so that all sides can sort of go through and give an estimate of how much stuff they think is going to be privileged. So basically it slows down the process for at least a few weeks while Cohen`s people get access once again to the things that were taken from them last Monday. And everyone can start going through it and figuring out how much of this stuff, because Michael Cohen is an attorney, needs to be set aside so the government can`t look at it.

KORNACKI: So in terms of what this means, Daniel, what is the interpretation? How do you look at this? Was this a victory for the Trump side? Was this a victory for the government? Who made out better here?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: I think that the Trump Cohen side made out much better here. What they wanted was unprecedented which is essentially to convert a search warrant into a subpoena. But second best is to get access to the materials which they got. And once you get access to the materials, then the cat`s out of the bag. And there will be litigation about this. They have access. The will continue to file motions.

So even if the judge were to say now, you know what, I`m going to go back to the usual process and let the government decide -- go through their filter team and decide what`s privileged and what`s not.

Cohen`s team has these documents and they will be peppering the judge. And it will be very difficult for any judge to just disregard an application that something is printed without weighing in on it. So it`s both going to delay the process significantly. And I think it will ultimately, and this was not ruled on yesterday, but reading the tea leaves where this is going, it will ultimately allow Michael Cohen and Donald Trump sort of through Michael Cohen to make an application to the judge to keep documents away from the government and away from this investigation.

KORNACKI: Wow. Let me try not to knock that over.

Caroline, what do you make of that? He is saying Trump got the better end of this yesterday. What is your take?

CAROLINE POLISI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I agree with Dan in some sense. But I think if you call it a victory, I really think it was a victory in that. Look, the government has already raided Cohen`s home, office and hotel room. So we know that they have a substantial level of evidence to even get that search warrant as we have it.

So the question is, what did they need? Did they need corroborating evidence from, you know, the documents that they are going to get? I think they already probably have a pretty solid case against Michael Cohen. Otherwise they wouldn`t have received this extraordinary by all accounts measure of getting the search warrant, getting a federal magistrate, an independent body. Rod Rosenstein signing off on this to go forward.

So look. Michael Avenatti has been pretty pressure in all his predictions and we saw that clip there. He predicted a criminal indictment against Michael within the next three months. I got to agree with him. I think this is coming fast and it is coming furious.

KORNACKI: Let me pick on that in a second. Let me bring Eugene Robinson.

You know, the bigger picture, Eugene, in all of this, so we say we have it in the opening there. I think everybody has been hearing a line that this is the one, the Trump team is particularly worried about. You have got Michael Cohen, the southern district of New York not necessarily that this Mueller thing per see politically. This is an administration that really almost before it took office, there has been all of this sort of controversy, the sort of cloud that has been over it. Does this one politically feel any different to you?

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, potentially. Potentially. I think right now, I mean, it doesn`t politically feel different yet to me in that don`t this is, for example, eroding away the Trump base or anything like that. The opponents to Trump are fired up enough and don`t need this to motivate them. So it doesn`t have that political impact.

But you know, who was Donald Trump before he ran for President? Well, he ran the Trump organization. And by all accounts, the Trump organization, you know, played fast and loose. Played you know, they were not sort of a buttoned down by the book kind of firm. They have hundreds of shell companies and moving money here and there and that sort of thing. Donald Trump Jr. said they were getting a lot of Russian money at one point, I mean.

So when you start looking back, when you start looking into Michael Cohen`s records, one understands why the President would be nervous because there is going to be stuff in there. And probably stuff that`s chargeable it seems to me. I mean, that is -- I`m not a lawyer, but you know, I know who Donald Trump was. So I think there`s probably stuff in there.

KORNACKI: And so, and Caroline mentioned this a minute ago. You got Avenatti there, you got Stormy Daniels` lawyer out there saying hey, look. I think Cohen is going to flip. I think they are going to charge him - he is not exactly a neutral bystander in all this. We got to point that out.

But Dan, what do you make of the idea that Cohen who sometimes when you read about him, he is supposedly the most loyal, one of the closest guys to Trump supposedly telling folks I will never turn on this guy. When you hear Avenatti say I think he is going to flip, what`s your reaction to that?

GOLDMAN: Well, I think in part, this is where Cohen and Trump`s interests diverge a little bit. I think Caroline`s right. There`s already a good case that the government has against Michael Cohen. Remember they already obtained his emails through a prior search warrant. So - and they represented that there were no emails with Trump in that. So I think Trump is right that this raid is of more concern to him.

Cohen, there`s already a case against him likely. There`s already an investigation. So then it gets to the timing of it. I think Avenatti is probably right that he is going to get indicted. But I think that`s particularly with this ruling. I don`t think the government`s going forward until they are able to be go through this information.

The key that I would pay attention to with Michael Cohen is the number of times that he references how difficult this is for his family. And when in my experience, when defendants start worrying about their family, they are thinking about how do I protect my family? And the best way to protect your family is to cooperate because it`s going to significantly reduce your sentence. So that concern is a valid concern.

KORNACKI: We also have the news of Donald Trump communicating with Michael Cohen right now, which for everything, I`m a layman here, but every lawyer I ever talk about this says you should never be doing that, but he is apparently.

BUMP: I mean, you know, you give advice to Donald Trump and he does the opposite, right. I`m not terribly surprise to hear that he bump (ph) that.

I do want to pull out one thing. You spoke briefly with Eugene about the politics of this. And there`s an aspect of politics here which I think is worth highlighting which is that Donald Trump, in Cohen`s also letter yesterday, he made a pointed reference to the toxic political atmosphere which surrounds this and how the government itself, Americans would be skeptical of the government weighing in and evaluating this information on their own which is essentially is an argument that Trump himself made.

And in court yesterday, assistant U.S. attorney (INAUDIBLE) said look, there are only two parties that were raising this issue after the raid and that was Cohen and Trump essentially. But it seemed as though that argument actually carried some weight with Judge Wood and she said, you know, I`m not entirely committed to having this third party potentially come and review this stuff but because I want to preserve the appearance of fairness, he wasn`t necessarily worried about fairness but the appearance of fairness. Because of that toxic political atmosphere, she was leaning toward giving essentially a victory to Cohen and Trump`s teams which I think is a fascinating that we always talk about Trump`s tweets and so on and so forth and what effect do they have. This was a tangible effect I think that happened that we saw in the court.

KORNACKI: So in terms of strategy, just legal strategy right now for Trump, for his team, what is the best legal advice they could get for how to handle the situation? I mean, what is the best end game for them? We are talking about the possibility here of somebody who is closer to him than just about anybody else, getting indicted, feeling the kind of pressure that Dan is describing. What do you do if you are Trump`s legal team?

POLISI: Right. Well, I mean, we saw him give a pardon to Scooter Libby recently last week, so. And I think a lot of people are intimating that may have been a signal to Michael Cohen.

But not. I mean, if you are Trump`s his legal team right now, you are happy about this ruling. You are getting a sense of the universe of documents that the government has. And you are just building your case to make that attorney/client privilege argument.

Now, I will say the crime fraud exception eviscerates the attorney/client privilege. So to the extent that there is any wheel room in there, if there`s fraud being committed, they are not going to get that privilege. They are going to get the coverage of the privilege. So it is, you know, the ship may have sailed in terms of legal advice at this point.

KORNACKI: And we mentioned that news yesterday, Eugene, about Sean Hannity, the FOX News host who was mystery client.

I want to ask you about that because we got that statement. So FOX News puts out their statement today and say we didn`t know the about this either. We have now talk to - we have reviewed it. We are OK. He is back. No problem there on our end.

Let me run the defense of that that I record. Alan Dershowitz say, you know what, you have disclosed it. But with Sean Hannity, you know what you are getting. You are getting a guy who is going to defend Trump no matter what, who is going to defend the administration no matter what, who is going to defend Michael Cohen no matter what. So yes, he should have disclosed it, but really not that big of deal. I heard Alan Dershowitz say that. What`s your reaction to that defense?

ROBINSON: Well, you know, back up for a second. He is client number three, right? According to Michael Cohen, Sean Hannity was his client. He was one of his three clients. He can count to three. So he had only three. So it seems to me, Cohen is alleging a more sort of definitive legal relationship than Sean Hannity it acknowledging.

Be that as it may, any sort of relationship between the two the clearly should have been disclosed. And yes, Sean Hannity is not a journalist. He is a commentator. He is a political actor. Nonetheless, he appears on television every night and talks about Michael Cohen and Donald Trump. And so we all knew he was friends with Donald Trump. But nobody knew that he was being represented or at least had some legal relationship with Michael Cohen. And that should have been disclosed.

And if you actually read that FOX News statement, I mean it seems that FOX is also saying, well, it should have been disclosed to us. Now they give him their full support by pointing out they were surprised by this. Instead, indicates to me at least that they are not thrilled that this was sort of pulled on them liking this.

KORNACKI: Yes. Let me -- Philip, I know you bring about this. Let me ask you could be the bottom line. What do we actually know, how much do we know about what that relationship was, Hannity and Cohen? Because he is downplaying it as up as he can on his show. Do we know anything what it was?

BUMP: Well, it seems clear it was an attorney/client relationship. And for the legal thing, the fight under way right now, that`s the important thing.

Hannity himself at his radio show yesterday repeatedly, four times I think, said this wasn`t attorney/client thing, I would, you know, I essentially asked him to make sure this was kept quiet. So we know that there was that relationship.

Hannity has said this he was mostly is asking real estate questions and so on and so forth. We are not really sure at this point. I will say though to the FOX News statement, I was sitting in the courtroom yesterday when the name was read. In front of me was a woman from FOX News and as soon as it was read, she was out of the courtroom. So I`m not surprise to hear that this was actually surprised to them.

KORNACKI: Sometimes you want cameras in the courtroom in moments like that, I guess.

Eugene Robinson, Philip Bump, Caroline Polisi, Daniel Goldman, thank you all for being with us.

And coming up, one day after his U.N. ambassador announced new sanctions against Russia, President Trump rejected them. The White House says Trump wants a good relationship with Moscow and isn`t ready to approve those sanctions. And that move is raising more questions about why he is resistant to punishing Vladimir Putin.

Plus, it is the biggest demographic divide of the Trump era. The college versus non-college whites, the suburbs is versus blue collar. As we head into the midterm elections, our NBC poll shows their enthusiasm has basically flipped since the last midterm four years ago. I wonder if it was good for Republicans. That may not be good news for Trump. I`m going to head over to the big board and show you all those numbers.

And James Comey is fighting back against President Trump`s suggestion that he, Comey, belongs behind bars. And how much is Comey risking by getting into the mud with Trump.

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

This is HARDBALL where the action is.


KORNACKI: During a meeting with the Japanese prime minister earlier today, President Trump confirmed that the U.S. has had high level direct talks with North Korea. That news comes ahead of a planned summit between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Earlier today, Trump said that those talks would probably take place in early June but it`s also possible a meeting will never occur.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will probably be, depending on various meetings and conversations. We will be having meetings with Kim Jong-un very soon. It will be -- that will be taking place probably in early June or before that assuming things go well. It is possible things won`t go well and we won`t have the meetings and just continue to go along this strong path we have taken. But we will see what happens.


KORNACKI: All right. And we go from that picture earlier today to a live picture. This is at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. We are seeing the President there. His wife on the side of the screen. And also the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He is visiting Mar-a-Lago.

Those are live pictures. They are greeting each other before taking what we are told is called a friendship walk together. They are going to take a walk together, presumably have some conversation on the grounds on Trump`s estate. After that later on tonight, the two of them are going to have dinner there.



NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: You will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down. Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn`t already.

And they will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons used.


KORNACKI: And welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley promising Sunday that the Trump administration would implement another round of sanctions against Russia for their support of the Assad regime in Syria.

But despite her announcement, no new sanctions were rolled out yesterday. Instead, the White House contradicted Haley, suggested she spoke out of turn and that no decision had been reached.

This morning, the newly minted White House adviser, Larry Kudlow, told reporters that -- quote -- "She got ahead of the curve. She`s done a great job. She`s a very effective ambassador. There might have been some momentary confusion."

Now, according to a spokesperson, Ambassadors Haley responded to that by saying: "With all due respect, I don`t get confused."

And Kudlow has now reportedly apologized tonight, telling "The New York Times": "The policy was changed and she wasn`t told about it. So, she was in a box."

This comes as "The New York Times" also reports that the president has rejected new sanctions on Russia for now, describing the reversal as "a course change that underscored the schism between the president and his national security team."

"The Times" reports that Mr. Trump was annoyed with Ms. Haley for getting out in front of that policy.

I`m joined now by Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, who sits on the House Intel Committee. Elise Jordan is a former NSC aide and MSNBC political analyst.

Congressman, I will start with you.

We got a hint of one policy -- not -- more than a hint -- we got a statement of one policy essentially from the U.N. ambassador. Now we have a different policy from this administration towards Russia when it comes to sanctions here. What do you make of what we have heard over the last 48 hours?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Good evening, Steve.

The ambassador is correct. We should put sanctions in place against Russia. If you are involved in the Trump-Russia investigation and you are looking for a quid pro quo, this is what a quo looks like. This is a president who is just incapable of coming down on Vladimir Putin.

He says flattering things about him all the time. He talks about diminishing the role that NATO would play in the world against Russia. He can`t impose congressionally passed sanctions against Russia. And so you have to wonder, what do the Russians have on this president?

The whole country, our country, would benefit if he would just state clearly that our policy is to counter Russian aggression here and abroad, and, to achieve that, he will directly confront Vladimir Putin.


KORNACKI: Let me just -- I want to make sure I heard you right.


KORNACKI: Did I hear you right? Do you believe that the change we have seen here in the last 48 hours is because -- you`re saying the Russians have something on Trump?

SWALWELL: I believe that the reason the president cannot clearly articulate a policy towards Russia is because he has been so invested in them over the years. They`re so invested in him. They helped him in the last presidential election.

It seems pretty obvious to me that he can`t tell us where he stands on Russia. And it`s likely because of how close he has drawn our country and himself to a foreign adversary.

KORNACKI: Elise, you have been inside government when it comes to these sorts of things. So, take us through this.

Do you have any sense, just looking at this from the outside, what Haley says Sunday, what the administration then does, this back and forth with Kudlow, how in an administration something like that could happen.

ELISE JORDAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, within the Trump administration, chaos rules the day. And sometimes the staffing process doesn`t seem like the normal process that would be implemented from the National Security Council and across interagencies of government.

However, Nikki Haley is a very careful actor, and she`s very deliberate when she speaks publicly. And I have no doubt that this was discussed and it was agreed upon as part of the toolbox that President Trump was using to attack Syria. And this was -- she came out.

These was -- the RNC also distributed talking points that said that sanctions, new sanctions were part of this response, as reported in Politico by Eliana Johnson. And so it just shows the confusion of the Trump administration, if they are sending out a Cabinet official, an ambassador to the U.N., with incorrect information.


KORNACKI: I don`t mean to interrupt, Elise, but we are -- I just want to take you -- live, quickly, the president speaking there at Mar-a-Lago, having dinner. Let`s just take a quick listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But we have had talks at the highest level. And it`s going very well. But we will see what happens.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, thank you, everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everyone.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let`s go. Let`s go. Make your way out.

KORNACKI: Getting a very quick listen there at the end there.

The president, again, he is sitting down at dinner there, you see, with Shinzo Abe, the president -- excuse me -- prime minister of Japan. That`s at Mar-a-Lago. That was happening live.

Elise, if you`re Nikki Haley, what do you do now? It looks like you have been undercut.

JORDAN: Well, she has been incredibly masterful.

You consider how many high-ranking individuals have come into this administration, Rex Tillerson, a titan of industry, his reputation completely destroyed. She is very politically savvy and sharp on the job and has managed to raise her profile.

So, it will be interesting to watch how she navigates this. And she has deftly -- she`s really been able to navigate the chaos so well throughout the course of her tenure. But you do have to wonder at what point is enough enough?

And she clearly thinks that we should be stronger when it comes to our posture towards Russia, but she`s out of step with the president, who, like the congressman just mentioned, it`s unable to discern if he has financial interests with Russia that are driving our foreign policy right now.

KORNACKI: Let me ask you and follow up on that point, then, Congressman, because I know you were saying, look, the argument there, the case that, hey, this is a president, there`s the pattern here of not being willing to stand up or call out or take action against Russia.

I think a defender of the administration might say, OK, well, look, there are some things that have happened here, for instance, arming Ukraine, those anti-tank missiles that went over to Ukraine, a step the previous administration wasn`t willing to take, certainly not one welcome in the Kremlin, the military action that has been taken in Syria, certainly not something welcome in Russia.

The idea that, hey, he might be reluctant on the sanctions you`re talking about or unwilling, but it`s not like there`s nothing, what would you say to that?

SWALWELL: Yes, Steve, it feels like it`s a, he loves me, he loves me not policy, where there`s a lot of questions swirling around about how close he has drawn us to Russia. And then, here and there, he will support tougher stances on Russia, and then he will start to back away from them.

And, again, we need a consistent policy. He should directly confront Vladimir Putin, use the sanctions that Congress has passed, and also unite the country in allowing investigations to take place into what the Russians did, so that we can better have a shield at the ballot box, so that we deter them in this upcoming election.

KORNACKI: And, Elise very quickly, just in terms of Syria right now, we have had these strikes now. What is next?

JORDAN: Well, look, President Trump doesn`t hesitate to launch an ineffectual strike that isn`t changing the battlefield rhythm at all, that hasn`t made any real impact, but he hesitates when it comes to Russia financial sanctions.

So, you`re still seeing where President Trump is personally hesitant when it`s anything that is going to actually affect the economic interests of the leadership of Russia.


Elise -- Congressman Eric Swalwell, Elise Jordan, thank you both for joining us.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.

KORNACKI: Up next, I teased it earlier. We`re heading back over to the big board. Going to take a look at the demographic group that was key to Donald Trump`s victory. And we`re going to ask the question, what about their enthusiasm this time around, in this year`s midterms? Some interesting numbers you are going to want to see at the big board.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


KORNACKI: All right, folks.

Well, maybe you heard we got an election coming up this fall, the midterm elections, 2018. The big question, can the Republicans hang onto that House majority they have? Do the Democrats actually have a shot of taking back the Senate?

Well, we got a brand-new "Wall Street Journal" poll this week. We want to go deep inside those numbers to get the question here, the real big question here all the time, the enthusiasm factor. Who is really interested in this election? Who is going to show up in this election?

Let`s take it through in a couple different steps here. First of all, let`s take a look at different groups and how they view Donald Trump. This is in our new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll.

His approval rating. We talk about these divides all time. Remember, this is the group, white noncollege, he did really well with these voters, won them by like 40 points in 2016. His highest approval, not surprisingly, with these voters, 52 percent in our new poll.

You go down to white college graduates, sort of suburbanites, white-collar professionals. Again, this was the big gap in the 2016 election. No surprise, continues to be a big gap there now, only 36 percent approval.

Latino voters, African-American voters, much, much lower. So, that is one thing. This is pretty consistent with what we saw in the 2016 campaign.

But the question becomes, of these different groups of voters, who is the most motivated right now? Who is the most likely to turn out? Who is the least motivated? Who is the least likely to turn out?

So, we had a very interesting question, I thought, in this poll. Look at this way. Let me explain how this worked, first of all, sort of an intensity scale. We asked folks in this poll, on a scale of zero being not interested at all to 10 being very interested, how interested are you right now in these midterm elections coming up in November?

So, we took a look here at the ones who answered nine and 10, the ones who gave the highest level of interest, a nine or a 10. We will call them very interested.

Let`s take a look at those groups again. Who was the most interested and who is the least interested in this year`s midterms?

Take a look at this. Remember, this is the group here, white noncollege, that Trump does the best with; 52 percent of them said nine or 10. But look at this. The group he doesn`t do quite as well with, that big gap, white college, a little more motivated.

And how about this? Latinos at 50 percent, African-American voters at 61 percent, the group he`s at 10 percent with. By way of comparison, if you went back to 2014, the last time we had a midterm election, Republicans did great in 2014, remember.

At this same point, if you asked this same question of black voters, the score was 20 points lower, so big difference in intensity there, a little bit of a gap for Trump in terms of these two groups. He doesn`t want to see it that way.

That`s one of the big questions. We know his approval rating is shaky. We know there`s these big demographic divides. But who actually shows up more than who doesn`t show up? Some interesting findings here.

Anyway, we will be back here many, many times between now and November. That was tonight`s trip to the big board -- but much more ahead on this show on HARDBALL tonight.

Up next: former FBI Director James Comey hitting back at President Trump`s suggestion that he should be tossed in jail. Comey continues to counterpunch, but isn`t he at risk of hurting his own image by jumping in the mud with Trump?

You`re watching HARDBALL.



JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: There is a nonzero possibility that the Russians have some -- some sway over him that is rooted in his personal experience.

I don`t know whether that`s the business about the activity in a Moscow hotel room or finances or something else. But, again, I don`t want to overstate it. I`m not saying it`s likely. I`m saying, to be honest with you, I have to say it`s possible.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was former FBI Director James Comey offering his assessment of President Trump`s potential exposure with Russia.

Comey`s new book, "A Higher Loyalty," is officially in stores today. But his scathing attacks on the president have driven Trump`s fury in recent days, mostly on Twitter.

Trump even suggesting the former FBI director should be jailed. Comey responded to that today.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: He says you should go to jail.

COMEY: Yes, that is not normal. That is not OK.

First of all, he`s just making stuff up. But most importantly the president of the United States is calling for the imprisonment of a private citizen, as he`s done for a whole lot of people who criticize him. That is not acceptable in this country.

We wake up in the morning and see the president of the United States is accusing of people of crimes without evidence and pronouncing them guilty and saying they should be in jail. That should wake all of us up with a start.

But there`s been so much of it, that we`re a little bit numb, and that`s dangerous.


KORNACKI: All right, let`s bring in the HARDBALL Roundtable.

Michelle Goldberg is columnist for "The New York Times." John Podhoretz is editor of "Commentary" magazine. And Beth Fouhy Is senior politics editor for NBC News and MSNBC.

Thanks, everybody, for being here.

Michelle, I will start with you.

I`m trying to figure out how Comey is being received by the public. We put this poll up the other day. We showed this. If you asked a year ago after the election, all the Democrats hated him. Then Trump fired him, and all the Republicans hated him, and the Democrats turned around.

Is he being received here? He seems to fancy himself as sort of a nonpartisan truth-teller. Is he coming across that way or is he coming across as a guy who is getting in the mud with Trump?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, to be honest, he comes across that way to me. He comes across as an honorable person to me, even though I remain, like most left-leaning people, furious about what he did in the 2016 election.

But I think his actions in the 2016 election stem from his sense of himself as this upright, nonpartisan, you know, defiantly, kind of centrist person.

And so, I think he was overly affected by either noise on the right, you know, noise from kind of pro-Trump people in the New York FBI office, or fear that if the Hillary Clinton investigation or the reopening of the Hillary Clinton investigation came out after the election that the right was going to go nuts and there would be endless hearings like Benghazi, which was a legitimate fear.

I m, to me, his greatest fault is that he was so susceptible to sort of right wing mow-mowing. And there is no equivalent force on the left that you can tell by the fact that Obama basically comforted him after the election instead of reaming him. So, I think, in some ways he`s a tragic person, right? It`s the same flaws.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: I`m sorry, Michelle, I need to break in. We have some very sad news we need to report now.

The former first lady of the United States Barbara Bush has passed away. This is according to a statement from the Bush family. Barbara, of course, the wife of the 41st President George Herbert Walker Bush, the mother of the 43rd President George W. Bush.

NBC`s Peter Alexander has more on the life of Barbara Bush.


PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Barbara Bush, the former first lady was always known to be candid and caring. With her white hair and signature pearls, Mrs. Bush was often thought of as the nation`s favorite grandmother. Aides called her the national treasure, the treasure for short.

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: I`ve been the luckiest woman in the world truthfully. And I know it.

ALEXANDER: And it was her husband who saw her as matter of fact of fact and direct, lovingly call her Miss Frank.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: She earned and won the respect of a lot of American people because they saw her for what she is, down to earth, loving mother and setting an example.

ALEXANDER: But Mrs. Bush saw herself more in the role of family enforcer, something her granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager teased her about.

JENNA BUSH HAGER, GRANDDAUGHTER: Why do we call you the enforcer?

BARBARA BUSH: Because I enforce. If you`d do something bad, I point it out to you.

ALEXANDER: She had quite a bite, disarmingly candid, self-deprecating and wickedly funny. On Sarah Palin for instance.

BARBARA BUSH: And I sat next to her once and thought she was beautiful and I think she`s very happy in Alaska and I hope she stays there.

ALEXANDER: On the "Today" show, months before son Jeb announced a presidential run, Mrs. Bush said she didn`t miss one thing about the White House and didn`t want another reason to go back.

BARBARA BUSH: There are other people out there that are very qualified and we`ve had enough Bushes.

ALEXANDER: Mrs. Bush, of course, already had a place in history. The only women since Abigail Adams --

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: President of the United States.

ALEXANDER: -- to marry one president --


ALEXANDER: -- and give birth to another.

GEORGE W. BUSH: They used to say, you know, he`s got his daddy`s eyes, but his mother`s mouth -- which means I`m about to talk a lot.

ALEXANDER: Born Barbara Pierce, she grew up in Rye, New York, her father Marvin Pierce, a distant relative of President Franklin Pierce, was publisher of "McCalls" and "Red Book" magazines.

Within weeks of Pearl Harbor, when Barbara was just 16 years old, she met George Bush, one year her senior, at a Christmas dance at Round Hill Club in Greenwich, Connecticut.

BARBARA BUSH: I could hardly breathe I thought he was so beautiful.

ALEXANDER: They were secretly engaged and three years later married when he was home on leave from the Navy, reluctantly admitting she married the first person she`d ever kissed.

BARBARA BUSH: Strange I admit.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Still staying with your story.


ALEXANDER: After the war they headed for Texas, raising six children. And while her husband built his oil business, Barbara Bush was very much in charge at home, but she was changed forever when her 3-year-old daughter Robin died of leukemia.

BARBARA BUSH: After she died, it was a terrible time in our life. And George put his arms around me and did not let me step away.

ALEXANDER: Cancer became a family cause and throughout her political service, Barbara Bush played a critical role on causes ranging from AIDS to illiteracy.

BARBARA BUSH: You`ve got two choices in life, you can like what you can do or you can dislike what you do. I`ve chosen to like what I do. And I think I`m the luckiest woman in the world.

ALEXANDER: The Bushes were dog people. Barbara brought their Springer spaniel Millie to the White House, describing in a book how Millie might have seen the day in the life of the president and the White House. And when she drew criticism from feminist who found her message of traditional family service too old fashioned, she responded, offering this advice.

BARBARA BUSH: At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.

ALEXANDER: Barbara Bush, a woman of strong opinions, ultimately left politics to her husband and sons. She`s remembered for her maternal persona, Yankee frugality and maintaining her role as ferocious protector of the Bush family name.

Peter Alexander, NBC News.


KORNACKI: Again, the breaking news here, former First Lady Barbara Bush has passed away at the age of 82.

Jon Meacham is a presidential historian. He wrote a biography of the 41st president, George H.W. Bush. He joins us by phone.

Jon, thank you for taking a few minutes.

That -- start, if you would, just describing that marriage, that relationship. It goes back so far, Connecticut to Texas, all the way to thee top in Washington, all the way to the year 2018.

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN (via telephone): It`s one of the great love stories in American politics you. They met not quite three weeks after Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Mrs. Bush was 16 -- Barbara Pierce of Rye, New York, was 16 and George H.W. Bush who was known as Poppy Bush was 17. She had wonderfully the moment he heard the news of Pearl Harbor, he wanted to serve. He was told he had to wait until he was 18.

He went home for the Christmas holiday and there was a pretty girl across the room in a red and green holiday dress. And he asked an acquaintance from Rye, the Bushes were from Greenwich to introduce him. And the friend said, you mean you want to meet her? The 41st president said, yes, that`s the general idea.

And that was really it. Neither really looked back from that very moment. As Mrs. Bush would say, she married the first man she ever kissed. And her children would as she put it, want to throw up when they heard that.

But they married in January of 1945. At a point really when she didn`t know and he didn`t know whether he would survive the year because, of course, the war in the Pacific was still going. And there could have been an invasion of the home islands that he would have been part of. She worked in the -- she was kind of a Rosie the riveter, worked on an assembly line during World War II.

Then in 1948, they moved to Texas -- Odessa, Texas, way out in west Texas. Her mother who was a Rye matron, used to send them boxes of soap and detergent because she wasn`t sure they had those kinds of things in Texas.

They moved to California. They moved to Midland. They moved to Houston, back and forth to Washington, to New York for the United Nations, Washington for Congress. Beijing, of course, where he was the U.S. envoy. Came back, he ran the CIA.

And then they really hit the campaign trail for the 1980 presidential nomination. And it came down to the last minute in Detroit at the Republican National Convention in 1980. When Ronald Reagan called George Bush at the last possible moment to ask him to join the ticket.

And that the moment, much of our political history was set because as both Presidents Bush have said, they don`t think either one of them would have been president if they hadn`t gotten that call. And the wonderful detail about that week which shapes so much of our lives was the next morning, the Thursday morning after George Bush went on the ticket with Ronald Reagan and they had been opponents. They had sort of a peace pipe meeting.

And at the end of it, there was still tension. At the end of it, Barbara Bush walked up to Ronald Reagan and said, Governor, don`t worry. We`re going to work our tails off for you. At that moment, all the tension evaporated and that set a course for all the political history that`s unfolded since.

KORNACKI: And in 1988, after two terms as vice president, George H.W. Bush runs for and wins the White House as his own -- on his own. Barbara Bush is the first lady from 1989 to 1993. And I always thought one of the interesting things was you heard it in that obituary from Peter Alexander there, that sort of behind the scenes she had a reputation she could be an enforcer.

But publicly as first lady, she was wildly popular. I remember at the 1992 Republican convention, they gave her a primetime speaking spot.

MEACHAM: She was far more popular than her husband was by the time the 1992 campaign came along. And in fact, there were buttons re-elect Barbara`s husband for a long time.

Her popularity as first lady was based on really three things I think. One was she was a very relatable figure, that is she didn`t dye her hair. She told it like it was.

I think a lot of people, despite the obvious differences, she had grown up in a printed background. They felt they knew someone like Barbara Bush and felt they could sit down with her. And not that many people who didn`t know President Bush personally felt that way about him. So, that was important.

Secondly, she was a tireless worker for charitable causes. That sounds almost trite. But you have to remember, in the culture of politics, the late 1980s, for instance, HIV/AIDS was very misunderstood, was stigmatized.

She got up one morning at the White House, went over to Logan Circle to a home for HIV infected infants and hugged the babies in front of the cameras, hugged an adult man who was infected. Those pictures went around the world. Mrs. Bush to the last years of her life would hear from people who said how much that meant to them.

And I think that the third is she was with a kind of wink and a nod more socially moderate than the Republican Party was then and certainly is now. And so, she was able to make it OK I think to some extent for voters who might be uncomfortable with the orthodoxy of the party to say, well, you know what, these are decent folks, these are good people. I think I can trust them.

KORNACKI: That`s right. It was the year after she and her husband left the White House, left the White House, that she wrote in her memoir, that she was pro-choice on the issue of abortion.

John Podhoretz, you wrote a book about the Bush administration. What`s --

JOHN PODHORETZ, EDITOR, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE: Well, I`m struck by the fact, when you think about the fact that they got married in 1945 and then they hustled, when -- you know, they`re barely out of their teens, that these are people, this is a type we do not have at the sort of in the leadership positions in the United States anymore.

These are people who were never young in the sense that we understand youth. They didn`t have periods of self-reflection and self-discovery. They got married. They went off to make their own way in Texas. By the time George H.W. Bush became president, these were dignified people who were always older than anybody younger.

And so, when `92 came around and it was Bush versus Clinton, there was a real sense of generational change because Clinton was sort of the anti-Bush in that sense. He didn`t go off to war. He struggled with his identity. He and his wife had this new kind of modern marriage.

And there was a real generational transition and we`re still in that period in which we can`t really look, even though we have a 72-year-old president, we can`t look to the presidency and say, that is a paternal figure, that is sort of like the kind of person you`re supposed to grow into. And that very much was a sense that you had from presidencies.

Even Jimmy Carter who was a man in his 40s when he became president seemed much older than 40-year-old people seem today.

KORNACKI: It does seem, Beth, here, we have Jon Meacham was talking that union of Reagan and Reagan represented that rising sort of grassroots conservatism in the South, in the West, Christian conservatism. And the Bushes, especially that 1980 version, Bush and his wife and their family stories, they represented that sort of -- we don`t think of it as the Republican Party anymore, that sort of old money New England aristocracy, Protestant aristocracy, you know?

BETH FOUHY, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR: Right. But also when I think about George Bush the father, he was Reagan`s vice president, one of the things I think about when it comes to Barbara Bush is what an edge she had and how that came out in that historic run against Geraldine Ferraro and Walter Mondale. Suddenly, Vice President Bush was running against a potential woman vice president, Vice President Geraldine Ferraro and there were all sorts of pitfalls and traps that was very hard for him to sort of navigate around. It was an unprecedented situation. Obviously, it would have been hard for anybody.

And then there was Barbara Bush, he sort of stepped into it at one point and she said of Geraldine Ferraro, I don`t know what to call her but it rhymes with rich. And that really stuck out that suddenly she was sort of sticking the sieve right into Geraldine Ferraro. Perhaps, she wasn`t, perhaps it was just kind of a function of what was going on at that time. And nobody really knew how to run against a woman candidate. But she is her -- as the vice president`s wife played a role in that dynamic that was unusual.

KORNACKI: And the interesting cover of that story is, is about 20, or 25 years later, Geraldine sort of reconciled with the Bushes, went up to Kennebunkport and had a nice time with them. They sort of became --

FOUHY: President Clinton was reconciled with President Bush.

KORNACKI: That`s right. There`s annual visit there.

We have a statement just coming in here. This is from Barbara Bush`s, one of her sons, George W. Bush, the 43rd president.

The statement says: My dear mother has passed on at the age of 92. Laura, Barbara, Jenna and I are sad, but our souls are settled because we know hers was. Barbara Bush was a fabulous first lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love and literacy to millions.

Excuse me, you`re going too fast. You got to slow down so I can read it.

To us, she was so much more. Mom kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end. I`m a lucky man that Barbara Bush was my mother, a family will miss here dearly and we thank you all for your prayers and good wishes.

PODHORETZ: One startling fact about her is there are indeed their eldest child Robin got leukemia and died at the age of 3. In the months as she nursed, as she nursed Robin to her death, her hair turned white.

KORNACKI: That was when --

PODHORETZ: And she did not I think in part as a tribute to Robin, she never colored it.

KORNACKI: And talking about these transitions, Michelle, I`m remembering the 1992 election that John`s talking about and that contrast between Hillary Clinton who became the first lady and went to a political career of her own. And Barbara Bush, you know, her career was the career of her husband and her family to the end there, but I do remember there was a moment in the transition when the Clintons first visited the White House in December of `92 when Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton bonded.

And it was picked up by the president where Barbara Bush warned her about the press. And Barbara Bush did not like the press. She thought they were too intrusive. She thought they thought the worst of people too often. And Hillary Clinton said don`t I know it.

GOLDBERG: Yes, I mean, Hillary Clinton certainly hates the press. And, you know, Hillary Clinton is a lot more traditional I think than people realize. And so, you know, as hot as those divisions seemed at the time, you know, they actually are kind of more at peace than this new group of people that we have in the White House now.

KORNACKI: Do we -- do we still have Jon Meacham with us, by the way?

MEACHAM: I`m here.

KORNACKI: Yes, Jon, let me ask you, was she ready for -- I mean, look, this was a marriage of prominent families there in New England. George H.W. Bush`s father, of course, was Prescott Bush, who went on to be a U.S. senator. Did she expect the political life?

MEACHAM: She never really knew what you to expect with George Bush except it was going to be a great adventure. And in fact, there`s a wonderful little detail. In the spring of 1948, they became infatuated with the idea of going out to the Midwest and farming of all things. They very much wanted to break out of the New England world you`re talking about.

I talked to both of them about this a lot over the years, because we all know people, good and noble people who give -- that led great lives who went to Andover, went to Ashley Hall, who went to Yale, who went to Smith, who stayed in that world. It would be very easy to see George H.W. Bush at Brown Brothers Harriman, his father`s investment firm, investment bank, living in Greenwich, riding the train in, you know, he would have been at the Council on Foreign Relations, he would have played tennis at the River Club. Everybody would have absolutely understood what that world looked like.

But both George and Barbara Bush, though they came from that universe, wanted to do something on their own. They wanted as the president used to say to have adventures to go out -- to do something outside the family shadow.

And one of the most moving moments I worked on the book about the president for on and off for almost two decades, was I asked him, I said, did you ever think that Barbara Pierce from Rye was going to be this resilient to have 27 moves in 73 years, to survive the loss of a daughter Robin to leukemia, to raise those five children while he was off building a business and a political career and ultimately to preside over the most intense fish bowl, if you will, in the White House.

And he started to cry. He said, no. I wasn`t sure. I couldn`t have known. You know, debutante from Rye, strong. But she was always there, always there for me, always there for the kids.

And what President Bush 43 will tell you and the other children is George Bush is the hero of that family. George H.W. Bush is a remarkable figure but it was Barbara Bush who raised that family.

PODHORETZ: You know, the other -- another point that gets lost is the Bushes moved to Texas. Bush was the first Republican to be elected in Texas -- and Jon would know better than I. I mean, was it 100 years or whoever practically --

KORNACKI: First house seat he won that seat in Houston, yes.

PODHORETZ: First House seat. And so, yes, they brought sort of Connecticut values to Texas to some sense. But they -- George W and George H.W. Bush and Barbara opened the door for the Republican Party in that area of the south that was solid Democratic and did it in a way that was not what we think of, which is he didn`t go in as a hard right winger or a Christian or anything like that. He went in and made a route and the Republican Party in Texas slowly began to become a force and she played a role in that. He played a role in that. The Republicanization of Texas is a key fact in American political history.

KORNACKI: To this day, we just had the news just a couple of weeks ago, it was a Bush grandson who`s running for office and surviving a Republican primary there in Texas so that Bush family name carries on.

Jon Meacham, thank you for joining us. Michelle Goldberg, John Podhoretz, Beth Fouhy, appreciate you being with us.

Again, the breaking news at this hour: the former First Lady Barbara Bush, she has passed away at the age of 92.

Chris Hayes is here to pick up our coverage.


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