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Cohen expected to split with his lawyers. TRANSCRIPT: 06/13/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Eric Swalwell, Susan Page, Eugene Scott, John Feehery, Jennifer Wexton

Show: HARDBALL Date: June 13, 2018 Guest: Eric Swalwell, Susan Page, Eugene Scott, John Feehery, Jennifer Wexton

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That does it for our show. HARDBALL starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The fixer is in a fix. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Tonight, the tourniquet is tightening on Donald Trump. His right-hand man, his fixer Michael Cohen now in a fix himself may be about to flip. Rather than take the fall for the man who has cut him off, Michael Cohen could be ready to tell what he knows from payoffs to women to deals with the Russians. The President who made a new friend in Singapore now sees an old friend saving himself from sing sing.

Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

There are signs tonight that Trump`s long-time attorney and personal fixer Michael Cohen may be closer to flipping on the President. Under federal investigation in the southern district of New York, Cohen is suspected of possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations.

And today, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News was first to report that the law firm defending Cohen will not continue to represent him after Friday of this week. Most explosive, however, is ABC`s reporting that quote "Cohen now with no legal representation is likely to cooperate with federal prosecutors in New York," sources said. This development which is believe to be imminent will likely hit the White House, family members, staffers and councils hard.

NBC News has not independently confirmed that Cohen intends to cooperate but has verified that Cohen is parting ways with his legal team. That rift according to "The New York Times" concerns the payment of legal bills to his lawyers and their relative lack of experience with the federal prosecutor`s office in New York.

The Times also reports that Mr. Trump research himself has told people he is angry at Mr. Cohen over the messiness of the situation. But the President has also indicated to allies that he is worried that if he push Mrs. Cohen away too hard, it could increase the likelihood that Mr. Cohen been offer information to the government.

Cohen has not been charged with any crimes and people familiar with the matter tell NBC News he has yet to speaking with federal prosecutors involved in the inquiry. Cohen is best known for facilitating that hush money payments to Stormy Daniels to keep her from discussing an alleged affair with the President.

Well last April, the FBI raided Cohen`s home, office and hotel room seizing among other things, electronic devices that may contain recordings of his telephone conversations. Today`s reporting indicates his defense will remain on the case till this Friday when they`re expected to finish their review of seized materials.

Joining me right now is Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell, who sits on the House intelligence committee, Greg Brower is a former U.S.; attorney and former senior FBI official. Phillip Bump is a national correspondent with the "Washington Post" and Kate Phang is an MSNBC legal analyst.

Katie, I want to start with you because I think you have been watching this Cohen guy for a while now. And you know, I was reading "for whom the bell tolls" the other night. Try to catch up. And they said when they are fighting the fascists when you have a sad look on your face, be careful. That`s the one that`s about to switch. That`s the one about to turn. It`s a giveaway. And I have heard that from an actor who has been playing him lately, too.

What is this? What is going on with Cohen? Can you tell?

KATIE PHANG, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: The reasons we are hearing this fur of whether or not Cohen is going to be, you know, replacing the lawyers at McDermott Will and Emory that are currently representing him.

I mean, here is the bottom line, Chris. It`s expensive. I mean, these lawyers in Washington and New York are charging upwards of almost $1,000 an hour to be able to represent Michael Cohen. So it could just be something as simple as the almighty dollar and that is the reason why Cohen is dropping these lawyers on Friday.

But here is a possible wrinkle. It could be the lawyers dropping Mr. Cohen actually. So you know --

MATTHEWS: They have been looking, Katie, they have been looking all that stuff. All those statements, all his stuff, all this perhaps payoff information, all the Russian connection. This could be just too much to handle for these people.

PHANG: I don`t think it`s from a quantitative standpoint is too much. I think it could from an actual ethical standpoint that it could be too much. Remember, when you hire a lawyer as a client, you make representations to that attorney. But attorneys have ethical obligations that are higher than beyond the client.

And so, if Michael Cohen, while his team of lawyers have been going through a million documents and only a tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of them have been deemed to be privileges, can you imagine what these lawyers have seen.

So it could be an issue with the lawyers themselves cannot continue to represent Mr. Cohen because of what they discovered or it could be the lawyers for Cohen have said Michael Cohen, you need to cooperate. You should take a deal. You don`t have an opportunity to really fight this and Cohen could say eh, you know what, I`m a fixer. I don`t have to take a deal.

Who knows it could be a strategic decision in terms of a no meeting of the minds, irreconcilable differences as we call it sometimes, when we as lawyers dump our clients. It could be a lot of reasons. We hear its money. In fact today, Judge Kimbal Wood in the southern district of New York case with Michael Cohen issued an order (INAUDIBLE) on her own and she basically said hey, parties don`t forget you got to pay that special master her money when it comes due.

So who knows, if it`s related to the money. It could be something more than that. We do know today Michael Cohen was in California meeting with his lawyers in the Stormy Daniels case. So it`s not just the southern district of New York case that Michael Cohen has going on. He has defamation, Stormy Daniels and the Mueller investigation.

MATTHEWS: Cutting your gram.

Let me go to Congressman Swalwell. Is this a case where the HARDBALL being played by Mueller is going to take fruit? They are going to get information from Michael Cohen.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: He better start talking soon. Because the longer he waits, the more they question his motivations to cooperate. But Chris --.

MATTHEWS: What do you mean by if he switches now, is it too late to be creditable?

SWALWELL: No. And there are people who have done very bad things who can still be honest about what they saw around him. Happens all the time. We proved a lot of cases.

MATTHEWS: Velacchi.

SWALWELL: Yes. Happens all the time.

But Chris, take a step back here. The President has a fixer. Innocent people don`t have fixers. The last President who had a fixer, he didn`t fare so well. And so, I think this guy knows a lot.

MATTHEWS: Who was the last President who had a fixer?

SWALWELL: I think it was probably Richard Nixon, right?


SWALWELL: Yes. Didn`t fare so well. So he has seen a lot. He knows a lot. If he starts talking, I think the President`s in real trouble.

From what little we saw in our intelligence committee investigation, what little we saw about Michael Cohen, he was all too willing and eager to work with the Russians. It is just the Republicans were all too unwilling to learn more about his bank records, his travel records and his phone logs. Bob Mueller is going to learn all that.

MATTHEWS: Greg, I`m looking at this. I`m looking at this treasure trove. They got (INAUDIBLE). Apparently, you know, Cohen was recording telephone conversations that probably with his client. All this stuff is now in the hands of the master deciding how much it`s going to be used in this investigation.

GREG BROWER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes. There`s clearly a lot there. He clearly knows a lot about all things Trump. And so this will be interesting in terms of what exactly is going on with this changing in legal team, time will tell.

What will be telling I think, most telling, is who he hires next. If he hires a first price first rate legal team, we know that he is serious where fighting this or he is serious about cooperating and wants a team who can cooperate effectively with the U.S. attorney`s district in the southern district. So we will see who he hires and that will tell us a lot.

MATTHEWS: It might ever been in (INAUDIBLE). Big time.

Anyway, Cohen`s cooperation could pose a number of possible dangers for Trump when it comes to the payoff for Stormy Daniels, the President professed to not know where the money came from, that is until his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, revealed it didn`t come from him.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S LAWYER: They funneled it through a law firm. Funneled through a law firm and the President repaid it.


MATTHEWS: The President paid it. Well, Cohen could also shed new light on his connections to Russia and what the President knew about those relationships as we recently learned Michael Cohen received a $500,000 payment from Columbus Nova, a company connected to Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg who reportedly was close or is close to Vladimir Putin.

We also learned that Cohen`s efforts to build a Trump tower in Moscow went on far longer than he has publicly acknowledge, at least till June of 2016. And that means, of course, Trump was trying to build a hotel over in Russia and get some Russian rubles at the same time he was psyching American votes. That`s complicated.

And then there`s the story from McClatchy last April a couple months ago that appeared to corroborate part of Christopher Steele`s dossier, the report the special counsel has evidence that Michael Cohen secretly made a late summer trip to Prague during the 2016 Presidential campaign.

NBC News has not confirmed that reporting.

I have got to go to Philip on this.

Philip, tie it all together. This guy is a, I don`t know, a pinata of information from Russia to women to payoffs to God knows what. And all they have got to do is crack him. It all comes out.

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: He didn`t even mention the fact that he worked for almost a decade for the Trump organization even prior to the campaign beginning. There`s probably no one in Donald Trump`s inner circle who knows more about Trump`s dealings before, during and after the campaign than Cohen.

Michael Cohan has his finger in nearly every report out there that is potentially bad news for Donald Trump. There is a Michael Cohen angle to it. I mean, if you look just at that the campaign period, we have on one end of the scale this payoff to Stormy Daniels of $130,000 where there are very likely campaign finance violations that were involved in that. We don`t know Donald Trump`s awareness of that.

Then the other end you have the Steele dossier and his allegations that Michael Cohen was central to collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Those are unproven in the public eye at this point. We don`t know that`s true. But these are -- those are the two polls of information just within the campaign period that obviously Robert Mueller and federal investigators would love to know more about and beyond. And on either end of the campaign, he knows all sorts of things, as well.

MATTHEWS: How do you think George Stephanopoulos and ABC got the story that he is about to switch, about to go state`s evidence?

BUMP: Well, I mean, based on what the story actually says, it suggests that they have someone close to Michael Cohen, it`s not really clear. I mean, it is, you know. But there are certainly --.

MATTHEWS: Certainly the president -- could be the President of the United States?

BUMP: I mean, I wouldn`t speculate on that.

MATTHEWS: Say to George or somebody, I haven`t talked to him. It`s just trade craft here. George was just over with the President. Did the President tell him Michael about to switch?

BUMP: It`s certainly possible and this is --.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know.

BUMP: We`ll find out down the road.

MATTHEWS: It`s a big story that ABC is standing behind.

Let me go Greg again on this thing. What would you rather do if you were Michael Cohen? Would you make a deal with Mueller and hope for a reduced sentence or no prison time or wait for your pardon from the President? Which side do you join here?

BROWER: Well, expecting a pardon is a dicey proposition to say the least. There`s a bit of a track record of late of issuing pardons by this President but that`s a tough thing for a target like Cohen to anticipate and expect.

He is under a lot of pressure. I mean, he is potentially, you know, he hasn`t been charged with anything yet as you mentioned in the outset. But potentially he is facing a lot of exposure. And so, he has to be feeling the pressure and thinking about his future, his family`s future and hopefully listening to his lawyers going forward.

MATTHEWS: You hear bank fraud, mail fraud, I mean, to a civilian like me that sounds like serious federal crimes involved.

BROWER: It`s very serious. And I would assumed that he is a very, very valuable witness for Bob Mueller and his team and there`s a lot there. So.

MATTHEWS: Congressman, let`s talk about the politics of this. In the end it`s going to come down to a report from Mueller? It`s going to go to the house, your house where you sit. How does this -- when you get witnesses like Cohen, witnesses like Manafort potentially, witnesses like Flynn already, is that going to carry any water with your Republican colleagues?

SWALWELL: Not until they pay a price. That price is coming in November but they right now are looking at what happened to Mark Sanford last night. And they figure --.

MATTHEWS: Don`t deviate.

SWALWELL: We better go all in with the President right now. But they are going to pay a price.

MATTHEWS: Why do these Republicans march like they are in the North Korean army, in a smiling in unison? They have the same facial expressions. Every time you see a bunch of them together, they are the same face.

SWALWELL: It`s very cultish. The President`s attorney has a bingo card of crimes that he is exposed for and none of them want to speak up and say anything. So we are not going to change their minds at this point. We have change their seats. But I think--.

MATTHEWS: You are talking about the Republicans, not the North Koreans.

SWALWELL: Both of them. But come November, I think we change a majority - - we go into the majority and change their seats. I think a lot of them are going to see that Trump can`t save them. And they should start collaborating.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s likely he will get charged.

Meanwhile, with the North Korean summit out of the way this week, there`s new pressure on the President to testify before the special counsel`s prosecutors.

According to Bloomberg News, Mueller`s intent on quickly resolving a central issue with Trump`s legal team, whether the President will sit voluntarily for an interview after months of negotiations, the two sides must find common ground or gear up for an precedent legal fight likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Let me go to that to Phil Bump. What does it look like? Why would Trump ever agree to go and testify under oath if he could avoid it? Because then he would have to say under oath what he says publicly which no one believes.

BUMP: Well, I mean, it is certainly the case that Donald Trump has presented that he is willing to speak with Mueller in the past. And I think there`s probably some aspect of truth to that. Donald Trump clearly thinks that he is very good at negotiating and he can get in a room and sort of work his way through these things.

MATTHEWS: Bill Clinton is a lot of smarter.


BUMP: I mean, it is actually true that Bill Clinton thought that he could get around it, as well.

Yes. No, that is true. I mean, certainly, there is no one that I have seen who is offering legal advice to President Trump who recommends this is a good idea. But that potential Supreme Court fight over a potential subpoena from the Mueller team, it`s not clear that Trump`s team would actually win that fight. And so, it could actually protract the entire Mueller investigation well. They fight this in the Supreme Court which Mueller wouldn`t but certainly Trump wouldn`t want that either. And so --.

MATTHEWS: I wouldn`t put it past Trump to say no to a subpoena and test it. To say no --.

BUMP: Then he has to deal with this for month after month after month. Whereas sitting down with them, he doesn`t have to do that.

MATTHEWS: He is trashing every institution pf government right now. He might as well go after the Supreme Court.

Anyway. Thank you congressman Eric Swalwell and Greg Brower and Philip Bump and Katie Phang.

Coming up, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee says his party is like a cult when it comes to falling in line behind President Trump. Corker is the way out of course so he can talk honestly. But the number one sin in today`s Republican Party is crossing Donald Trump.

Plus, Trump is bragging that there`s no more nuclear threat from North Korea. He is telling everyone here at home that they can sleep well tonight. But does he really believe his own hype after giving so much to North Korea for so little in return?

And the HARDBALL roundtable takes on the Republicans cult-like mentality tonight.

Plus, it sounds like a broken record but Scott Pruitt`s at it again, this time raising new and more ethics questions and now a big name on FOX says he has got to go.

Meanwhile, let me finish tonight within Trump watch. This is HARDBALL where the action is.


MATTHEWS: The House of Representatives will vote next week on two competing immigration bills. The news comes after a group of moderate Republicans fell just two votes short of the 218 need for a discharge petition. That would have given moderate Republicans the ability to circumvent leadership and force on votes wide ranging immigration measures including protections for Dreamers. That`s what the moderates want. And instead, the House will consider a hard line immigration bill as well as compromise legislation still being written.

We will be back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

A senior Republican senator is now calling his own party cultish for their blind loyalty to President Trump and fear of upsetting him. Here was Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee earlier today.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Look, we are in a strange place. I mean, it`s almost you know, it`s becoming a cultish thing, isn`t it? And it`s not a good place for any party to end up with a cult-like situation.


MATTHEWS: Well, Corker`s scathing attack comes a day after he criticized his fellow Republicans for not supporting legislation to prevent Trump from imposing tariffs on some of our closest allies. Let`s watch.


CORKER: A lot of them would vote for it if it came to vote. But no, no, no, God, we might poke the bear is the language I have been hearing in the hallways. We might poke the bear. The President might get upset with us as United States senators if we vote on the Corker amendment. So we are going to do everything we can to block it.


MATTHEWS: The bear used to be the Russians.

Anyway, of course, Corker feels free to criticize the President because he, Senator Corker, is retiring at the end of this year. And one reason many of his fellow Republicans are less inclined to speak up, they want to get reelected.

Well, last night, South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford, who once said that the president should just shut up and stop focusing on his critics, lost to primary challenger Katie Arrington. She made Sanford`s criticisms of the president a centerpiece of her campaign.

Well, the president weighed in on that race just hours before the polls closed, tweeting: "Mark Sanford has been very unhelpful to me in my campaign to make America great again. He is missing in action and nothing but trouble."

Meanwhile, in Virginia, another Trump ally, Corey Stewart, won the Republican Party`s nomination to take on Senator Tim Kaine in the fall. Kaine, of course, ran with Hillary Clinton as vice president last time. Well, Stewart has a history of promoting the birther conspiracy theory about President Obama. He`s also been a vocal supporter of Confederate monuments.

What a sweetheart he is.

For more, I`m joined by John Feehery, a Republican strategist, and Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster and MSNBC political analyst.

Well, Corker is not exactly a bomb thrower and he`s out comparing this guy to James Jones and drinking the Kool-Aid and cults. And that`s pretty deep.


MATTHEWS: But you don`t think it`s true?

FEEHERY: Well, listen, I think that upsetting the Trump voter, not necessarily the president, but the Trump voter, is bad politics.

MATTHEWS: You mean the bear?

FEEHERY: The bear.

MATTHEWS: He`s talking about the bear.

FEEHERY: The bear is the Trump voter.

MATTHEWS: Oh, really?

FEEHERY: Sanford -- it`s easy to complain when you`re leaving or get on your soapbox.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s my point. That`s the point.

FEEHERY: And that`s the easiest thing to do. The hardest thing to do is run again and compete and win these voters and actually appeal to them on the issues they care about.

And what they care about jobs. They care about national security. They care about rising wages. And they care about immigration. And, you know, Mr. Corker is leaving, and, you know, no one cares what he says.


MATTHEWS: Well, you`re making his point.

Cornell, I think John just made the point. The only guys free to speak their minds are the ones leaving.


CORNELL BELCHER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, there is something different about this president and what we`re seeing.

Certainly, Bush didn`t hold the base of the Republican Party this way. And as someone who worked for Barack Obama, let me tell you, he certainly didn`t hold the base of the Democratic Party this way.

There is something very different that`s going on here. And he said it himself. Trump said, I could stand in the middle of Times Square and shoot someone and I wouldn`t lose any support.

So, there is something textually different from what -- with Trump than what I think we saw from Bush and Obama. But the question for me becomes, can you be the party of Trump?

And I think Speaker Boehner has got it right. This is Trump`s party now. Can you be the party of Trump and also be the party of Middle America? Yes, you can do well in these primaries.

But I can tell you right now, the Republican they nominated to take on Virginia is way out of line with Virginia. And I think...

MATTHEWS: Is he still a birther, this guy?

BELCHER: Well, once a birther, aren`t you always a birther, right?

MATTHEWS: Well, I think Trump switched.

BELCHER: Did he?


FEEHERY: I think, if you look at Corey Stewart, he had pretty big name I.D. And the guys he ran against, no one had heard of before.

So, that actually helped...


Can you run in the Republican Party this November without Trump`s blessing?

FEEHERY: I think it`s awfully difficult to run against Trump in any way and win anything.

MATTHEWS: You are proud of this party?

FEEHERY: Listen, this is the party...

MATTHEWS: Are you proud of this party?

FEEHERY: What I`m proud of is very low unemployment.


MATTHEWS: Are you proud of your party?

FEEHERY: I`m always proud of my party.


MATTHEWS: My party, right or wrong?

FEEHERY: I think my party is representing its voters very effectively.

BELCHER: But what`s the party, right? Is this the party of Bush and Reagan, or is this now the party of Trump?

And I think, by the way, listen, I don`t have...


MATTHEWS: OK. I have never seen anything like this.

Your party was good on trade. It was a free trade party. It was good on deficits and it always for fiscal responsibility. Trump just comes in and changes all the rules, and you guys say, yes, sir.


BELCHER: And law and order.

MATTHEWS: You guys say, yes, sir. You say, yes, sir. You are proud of that? It`s a heel-clicking party.


FEEHERY: The evolution of trade has been pretty substantial over the last 20 years. Look at what Rob Portman did.

He was USTR, trade ambassador. When he ran for reelection before Trump, he talked about steel. He talked about the importance of steel.

MATTHEWS: You just told me that anything Trump wants, he gets.

FEEHERY: Well, I think, right now, he is extremely popular. He`s extremely popular.


MATTHEWS: Well, that is not exactly principle. Where is the principle in, I will do anything the boss tells me to do? Where is the principle in that?

FEEHERY: He`s extremely popular with the Republican...


MATTHEWS: There`s no principle there.

Anyway, during his concession speech, Congressman Sanford, who is looking pretty good actually, defended his past positions like down in Buenos Aires. Let`s watch.



REP. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There`s been too much made of, are you for one personality or against it?

What we`re about as a nation is not being for or against one personality. Again, we`re a nation of laws and not man, as the founding fathers said. And I stand by that belief, though, in this case, it may have had significant electoral consequence.


MATTHEWS: Yes, he lost the primary. He`s not going to be a congressman anymore.

Sanford`s opponent, by the way, Katie Arrington, had backed Senator Marco Rubio during the 2016 presidential election. Last night, however, she declared the Republican Party of Trump, while attacking Democrats who stand in the president`s way. Here she is.


KATIE ARRINGTON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: They believe in higher taxes, bigger government, fewer jobs, and that`s the problem.

It`s not -- it`s the job of Washington to fix it. We are the party of President Donald J. Trump.


MATTHEWS: Well, there it is.

FEEHERY: Well, there`s no doubt about it.


FEEHERY: If you look these primaries.

But also, you at the -- all the popularity ratings, Trump has about 90 percent approval rating with the Republicans, which is pretty high.


MATTHEWS: I think the only guys taking on the president right now are going to be Michael Flynn, probably Manafort and probably Cohen.

FEEHERY: I don`t think they`re going to take on...


MATTHEWS: Oh, anyway, we will see.

Thank you, Feehery, for being in the barrel one more time. Thank you, Cornell Belcher

As I mentioned earlier, Virginia was one of the five states to hold a primary last night. And come the midterm elections, the state is expected to host one of the most closely watched congressional races in the country.

Last night, Democratic State Senator Jennifer Wexton beat out five other candidates for the right to take on Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock in Virginia`s 10th Congressional District.

Comstock, of course, is viewed as one of the country`s most vulnerable House Republicans and one of the toughest incumbents. Hillary Clinton won that district by 10 points during the 2016 election. If Democrats have any hope to take back the House, the path goes directly through the 10th District in Virginia.

For more, I`m joined by state Senator Jennifer Wexton, who won 42 percent, very powerful.

Senator, thank you for coming on tonight.

Let`s talk about you and Barbara Comstock. Comstock is one of these tough incumbents that they`re survivors. How are you going to knock her out? JENNIFER WEXTON (D), VIRGINIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Well, I have deep roots in the district and a record of winning tough elections and then delivering for my constituents once I`m elected.

I think those things really resonate in the district. Barbara also is out of touch. She says one thing and does another. She...


MATTHEWS: How about guns? Talk about your guns difference.

WEXTON: Absolutely.

I mean, that`s a big area of contrast. Barbara Comstock has an A rating from the NRA. She`s one of the top recipients of money from them, despite having been in Congress for only a short time.

I, on the other hand, have been fighting for gun safety legislation in Richmond for years. And I`m going to continue to do that on the trail and in Congress.

MATTHEWS: OK, what about immigration? Talk differences. What`s the difference between you and the incumbent Republican you have to beat this November on immigration? What`s the difference?

WEXTON: Well, we live, here in Virginia 10, in a very diverse district. We have a big Muslim population.

And Barbara Comstock was silent when Donald Trump started the Muslim ban. We have a big international airport, Dulles Airport, in our district. I was there, along with many members of Congress, other elected officials, and hundreds of people from the district, protesting and lawyers, and Barbara, not a peep.

MATTHEWS: What about this MS-13 thing that Trump keeps talking, MS-13, the gang from Latin America? Is that a danger you`re not facing up to? Let`s talk about it.

WEXTON: Republicans want to equate MS-13 and immigration. They want to conflate those issues.

They did it in 2017 in our statewide elections, and it failed miserably. Voters are smarter than that. And they really don`t respond well to this race-baiting and fear-mongering.

I think what`s really important are things like the fact that Barbara Comstock is refusing to sign on to the discharge petition for DACA protections.


WEXTON: She is -- and rather than take a stand on something, she stands for nothing.

MATTHEWS: Do you want Trump to come in the district and campaign against you? Would that help you?

WEXTON: I don`t think anybody can control what the president does.

MATTHEWS: Give me a word for him.

WEXTON: Divisive.

MATTHEWS: Senator? Huh?

WEXTON: Divisive.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Can you go any further than that?


WEXTON: I mean, his whole...

MATTHEWS: You`re running against this guy. Go ahead. Go ahead.

WEXTON: His whole persona is about dividing, dividing us, and making us weaker by dividing us. I think that we need to come together, and we`re stronger when we focus on our commonalities.

MATTHEWS: That`s a good message.

Thank you so much, state Senator Jennifer Wexton, who won a very impressive victory yesterday, 42 percent against a very wide field. That`s a good number.

Congratulations, Senator.

WEXTON: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next: President Trump is back in Washington, D.C., and selling the deal he made with Kim Jong-un. He says everybody should sleep well tonight because there`s no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. Does he actually believe his own stuff, his hype?

I don`t know. Do we ever figure that one out? Does he ever believe anything he says? How would we know?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump returned from his summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and immediately went on, became a salesman for the guy. But his claims on Twitter this morning seemed wildly premature, don`t you think, even naive.

Trump wrote today: "President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer. Sleep well tonight."

That`s the president.

"And everybody can now feel much safer," the president tweeted today, "than the day I took office. There`s no longer a nuclear threat from the North Korea," says the president.

For the record, experts believe North Korea has as many as 60 nuclear weapons, and last year they tested long-range missiles that could reach here.

Senator Chris Van Hollen responded: "This is truly delusional. It has some arsenal today -- same arsenal today as it had 48 hours ago. Does he really think his big photo-op ended North Korea`s nuclear program? Hope this does not equal reality. Hope does not equal reality."

Well, joining me right now is Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund and an MSNBC nuclear security analyst.

Well, we were arguing about this, I with the producers -- that often happens -- today arguing about, if he can no longer sort of stand out and threaten people with nuclear weapons, does that reduce the threat that he actually will use them?

In other words, can he saber-rattle after coming out of Singapore?

JOE CIRINCIONE, MSNBC NUCLEAR SECURITY ANALYST: No, Kim is not going to saber-rattle. But that does not actually reduce the threat.

Historically, the way the military evaluates threats is on capabilities, not intentions? Why? Because intentions can change.

Yes, I would say the threat is reduced. I would say the world is safer now. But it is not gone. This summit process didn`t eliminate the North Korean threat. They have a vast complex. They spent five decades building it up, missiles, nuclear weapons, nuclear production facilities.

We`re a long way from eliminating that threat.

MATTHEWS: Well, in a newly aired interview on FOX News late today, Donald Trump again offered some startling praise for the autocratic ruler of North Korea Kim Jong-un. Let`s watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Chairman Kim wants to resolve the problem, because he knew that we weren`t playing around. I wasn`t playing around. He`s not playing around.

I think we have a very good relationship. We understand each other.

QUESTION: You call people sometimes killers. He is a killer. He`s executing people.

TRUMP: He`s a tough guy. Hey, when you take over a country, tough country, tough people, and you take it over from your father, I don`t care who you are, what you are, how much of an advantage you have.

If you can do that at 27 years old, you -- I mean, that`s one in 10,000 that could do that. So he`s a very smart guy. He`s a great negotiator. But I think we understand each other.

QUESTION: But he`s still done some really bad things.

TRUMP: Yes, but so have a lot of other people done some really bad things.


MATTHEWS: What in the world does that mean?

That is Michael Corleone right out of "The Godfather" one, when Kay says something about senators -- well, senators kill people.


MATTHEWS: He`s talking like we`re as bad as he is.

CIRINCIONE: Right. This is...

MATTHEWS: Why does he say that about this country, our country?

CIRINCIONE: The far right has -- and many other people have long denounced this kind of moral equivalency. Well, everybody does bad things.

No, they don`t do things like this.


MATTHEWS: Who is the last president to poison somebody in an airport?

CIRINCIONE: Who is his half-brother.

MATTHEWS: And his uncle.

CIRINCIONE: Kill his uncle.


MATTHEWS: He kills his uncle -- 300 people, he`s not -- presidents of the United States cannot knock people off.


So, what`s going on here is two things. One, he genuinely admires tough autocrats. It`s very clear who he likes.

MATTHEWS: Dictators.

CIRINCIONE: Dictators, ruthless thugs, people who can run a syndicate. Right?

And the second thing is, he`s doing a sales job. He`s trying to draw Kim in. I`m going to love you. Come with me. We can be friends. Just agree to what -- this paper.


MATTHEWS: So, he shows this -- he puts a movie together for the president. Anything that works for me.

He shows a movie of how North Korea is going to flourish and become some happy hunting ground for travelers and tourists and young couples. It`s going to be the home for whatever.

What is that about?


MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at it here. But he showed him a flashy four- minute video produced like a fake movie trailer showing how great it`s going to be.

The White House said the National Security Council actually put this together. Look at this, majestic. Look at the future of North Korea. Look, symphonies, science, everything. Look at this.

CIRINCIONE: The two of us together, right, on the road.

MATTHEWS: Ski slopes.

CIRINCIONE: Don and Kim.

MATTHEWS: It`s amazing.

Anyway, it`s meant to convince the North Korean leader to end his country`s isolation.

Let`s watch part of that video now.


NARRATOR: Destiny Pictures presents a story of opportunity, a new story, a new beginning, one of peace, two men, two leaders, one destiny.

Will this leader choose to advance his country and be part of a new world, be the hero of his people? Will he shake the hand of peace and enjoy prosperity like he has never seen?


MATTHEWS: Well, there`s the luge there and cigarette boats and all this future.

I was thinking, is it going to be like Club Med over there now?


MATTHEWS: Is that what he -- he is talking about their beachfront properties and how good they are going to be for resorts. He`s talking to a thug, to a communist.

CIRINCIONE: And talking about condos and developments, maybe a Trump Tower in Pyongyang. He hasn`t quite mentioned that yet. But you know that that`s the next move.

This is like the film you see in a time-share office. This is a real estate salesman`s con job.


CIRINCIONE: Look at how your family could be here in this beautiful world. Just sign on the dotted line. That`s what he`s doing.

MATTHEWS: See how they are going to put the water lines and the sewer lines in and all that?

It does remind me of -- it`s like an old movie with a bad guy, Alec -- what`s the one about -- the real estate movie?

Anyway, thank you, Joe Cirincione.


CIRINCIONE: My pleasure, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, up next, is the Republican -- "Glengarry Glen Ross."

Anyway, is the Republican Party becoming more like a cult than a political party? Boy, that is hard news for the Republicans. You`re in a cult. This is Jonestown?

The HARDBALL Roundtable sticks with us.

Plus: Scott Pruitt`s at it again. First, we learned he wanted to land his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise. Now there`s reporting that he elicited EPA staff, people working for the government, to go find donors to find her a job.

Boy, he`s using his people, isn`t he? Is he going to last?

You`re watching HARDBALL.



We`re back with more on today`s top story. Signs tonight that Trump`s long time attorney and fixer Michael Cohen may be closer to breaking to cooperating with prosecutors. "The Washington Post" is now reporting late tonight that the pressure on Cohen has intensified and the focus of the investigation, adding that amid his escalating legal concerns, Cohen is feeling neglected by the president, his long-time patron for whom he has long professed his loyalty.

For more, I`m joined by the HARDBALL roundtable, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," Eugene Scott, political reporter for the "Washington Post," Sam Stein, politics editor for "The Daily Beast."

Susan, this is -- it begins to look like a mob movie. You`ve got the guy in there, Johnny Five Angels. You know?

Remember him? Johnny Five Angels, you know? He`s caught. He knows the mob`s after him. He`s got to go somewhere. He`s ready for witness protection.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Family dynamics are a complicated thing, especially when you`re paying lawyers with big fees, you`re out of money, you`re under pressure, you`re being investigated on two fronts.

MATTHEWS: And where does that lead?

PAGE: And are you alone? It`s a -- you know, that`s perilous for Michael Cohen. Kind of perilous for everybody.

MATTHEWS: What is stopping the president who has proven lately his willingness to say, I can pardon anybody on earth, and I`ve been doing it. Give me Muhammad Ali who doesn`t need a pardon. I`ll give it to anybody, you know, Jack Johnson. I`m just thinking this stuff here.

Why doesn`t he just do it? Nobody`s explained this to me. Get this guy out of the way, give him a total pardon for life like Gerry Ford gave Dick Nixon and walk away for the trouble.

EUGENE SCOTT, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, he may end up doing that, but I think there`s been some concern that Trump isn`t as loyal to Michael Cohen as Michael Cohen is to Trump. Perhaps this was a very one-sided friendship and maybe that`s what Cohen is seeing and feeling right now.

MATTHEWS: He goes, if you pardon a guy totally, then they don`t have to talk. They can just not talk.

SAM STEIN, POLITICS EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: I`m not a lawyer, but doesn`t Cohen have to be decided or charged with something before?

MATTHEWS: Nixon was never indicted.

PAGE: Nixon wasn`t indicted.

STEIN: OK, well, go ahead and do it.


STEIN: No, I --

MATTHEWS: What are you looking at this guy -- you`re working on ABC`s report tonight, courtesy of George Stephanopoulos, some have speculated he may have gotten the tip from the president who was just with him. Who the else --

STEIN: There`s very little obvious respect for the norms here going on.


STEIN: And certainly wouldn`t shock the system if there was back channeling here.

What`s striking to me about all the stuff is sort of the context in which it was taking place where the assumption is that if Cohen flips, it will be a catastrophe for the president. There`s a line in "The Post" piece, a prospect that them see as potentially dire. The only reason you would see someone flipping as potentially dire is if there were guilt there.


STEIN: And this seems to be the pretext for basically everything.

MATTHEWS: We keep hearing about mail fraud and bank fraud.

STEIN: Why would you have to pardon someone and keep them from flipping unless he knows something?

MATTHEWS: That`s right. Don`t you assume it?

STEIN: I mean, at this point, yes.

MATTHEWS: Rudy was out there, Rudy Giuliani was talking about this sort of M.O. with the president when he wasn`t president. He had a girl situation, a woman situation. There was a method for dealing with that. He had the regular draw of $35,000 a month, basically laid it out for as Rudy did. He did.

SCOTT: Well, I`m sure that wasn`t the best thing that he could have done but it certainly gave the suggestion that something happened. That`s why I think why we also see the president panicking and constantly tweeting saying nothing happened. It`s behavior that you wouldn`t expect from someone who is innocent.

PAGE: In fairness, he was his fixer before he was a presidential -- a president who needed to worry about some of the optics of things you might fix, right? So, Michael Cohen will know things presumably knows things about previous chapters of Donald Trump`s life that may not be the best thing to have.

STEIN: Yes, but the undertone --

MATTHEWS: Especially if you`re a pro-life president.

STEIN: The undertone of this article is there are two competing investigations and the one that is happening about the previous White House experience previous campaign experience will feed into the next one and Mueller was trying to parlay that into getting Trump to talk about things like this peace plan that he got from Ukraine.

MATTHEWS: You`re so sophisticated.

STEIN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: You know, outgoing -- putting things together like that, outgoing Republican senator, I love this phrase, outgoing, they actually start talking when they`re outgoing, they become outgoing. Anyway, Bob Corker calling out his fellow Republicans as being like a cult, like Jonestown or something under President Trump. Let`s watch.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: We have a lot of people who are willing to do the things that they feel are right for our country. We have some who are fearful of upsetting the president. Again, it would mostly be around the leadership, but it`s not a good place for us to be.


MATTHEWS: Well, Corker said part of the cultish behavior comes from concerns over getting re-elected, of course. South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford who lost his primary last night after poking the bear told "The Washington Post" today that Republicans don`t want the tweet I got last night. There`s no motivation like self-motivation.

Gene, they don`t want it, this guy -- Roosevelt couldn`t get rid of people. He couldn`t purge them when he tried in `38. It wasn`t -- it wasn`t doable in the old -- maybe the Democratic Party is a little more loosey-goosey but they don`t take orders like the Republicans do.

SCOTT: Well, right now, I think they`re seeing that the voters are with Trump, far more than the voters had been with Congress, and they`re just nervous and they`re afraid. And I think what`s been interesting to me --

MATTHEWS: Don`t they want a local person to be a little bit independent.

SCOTT: No, not at all. We haven`t seen that at all.

But I thought -- one of the things I find interesting about Corker`s words and even Flake`s words is that this personality cult was happening way before what we have now, back when Corker was encouraging people to get on the Trump train. And so, I haven`t seen a lot of self-reflection admitting what role they played in creating this political climate.

MATTHEWS: Another week, another scandal for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt today. "The Washington Post" reported that Pruitt had a top aide an EPA aide, official person, contact Republican donors, people with money, to help his wife, Pruitt`s wife land a job with a conservative political group.

Sam, this guy like a PEZ dispenser keeps coming out one after another.

STEIN: This has to be the sixth segment that you and I have done in which one of the topics is another Pruitt scandal. And it is remarkable, the extent to which he, you know, just sort of brushed aside ethical considerations in his actions, but also remarkable is the extent to which Trump seemingly doesn`t care.

And what I have been able to suss out in my reporting is that one of the things that binds these two together is the mutual conception that they are targets of an unfriendly press corps, an adversarial press corp. And so, Trump almost empathizes with Pruitt`s plight in the sense that he believes --

MATTHEWS: It`s all your fault, Sam. You guys in the press.

STEIN: Yes, we were the ones who made Pruitt go.


MATTHEWS: Yes, I know. I think it`s going to be a verb to Pruitt. That`s going to be my word. He keeps doing it, an active verb.

The roundtable is sticking with us. Up next, these three tell me something I don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Take a look at this. Tonight on "Jeopardy!", look who showed up in one of Alex Trebek`s clues.


CONTESTANT: Folks for $600.

ALEX TREBEK, HOST, JEOPARDY!: This host of HARDBALL gives a behind the scenes portrait of a presidential brother in "Bobby Kennedy." Nick?

CONTESTANT: Who is Chris Matthews?



MATTHEWS: And the name of the book is "Bobby Kennedy." We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the roundtable.

Susan, tell me something I don`t know.

PAGE: So, you know, you just said don`t people want a local person when they vote for somebody for election. Well, we`ve got a new poll out of Ohio, a "USA Today" network/Suffolk University poll. And we asked, do you want your vote in November to be a message that -- to change where Trump is going or support where Trump is going?


PAGE: Forty-eight percent of Ohio voters, a Republican state that went for Trump, say my vote is intended to change where Trump is going. Only 28 percent said it`s to support where Trump is going.

And here`s another interesting thing. Only one in five voters say my vote is not related to my message about Trump.

MATTHEWS: So everybody`s admitting.

PAGE: Trump is driving even Ohio in local elections.

MATTHEWS: Both sides. Yes.


SCOTT: Dennis Hoff, a brothel owner in Nevada, who also wrote "The Art of the Pimp" --

MATTHEWS: New name to me.

SCOTT: Yes. Won his GOP primary last night and it`s crediting Donald Trump with paving the way for people like him to get into politics.

MATTHEWS: Is nothing sacred?

Go ahead, Sam?

STEIN: How do I top that?

As of this morning, according to the president, there`s no longer a nuclear threat from the North Korea, something you didn`t know, because it`s not true. There still is a nuclear threat. It looks like Secretary Pompeo says they`re hoping to get the start of denuclearization by the end of the president`s first term.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m still responding.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you. We don`t have a list -- let me ask, I guess no more time. Thank you, Susan Page. Thank you, Gene Scott. And thank you, Sam Stein.

When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch". It`s pretty tough tonight on Trump. Not surprising because he`s really getting over his -- ahead of his skis, I love that. That`s an old Obama phrase.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Wednesday, June 13th, 2018.

The Republican Party is in the process now of purifying itself, purifying itself of anyone who doesn`t march in step with President Trump. Listen to them. They all sound like they`ve been scripted by Sean Hannity, all marching along in stiffed, locked cadence and regimental discipline, speaking in one voice, smiling in unison, contorting their faces into the same expression as the man next to them, you know, like scared to death soldiers marching at a parade up in Pyongyang.

Look at what happens if you get out of step? You`re gone like Senator Bob Corker or Senator Jeff Flake or Congressman Charlie Dent or Congressman Ryan Costello or Trey Gowdy. If you`re not in step with the Trump marches, not in tune with the line from the White House, if you can`t lip sync with Sarah Huckabee Sanders, you`re dead in Trump`s eyes.

None of this has anything to do with what we used to consider Republican values. The GOP stood for free trade, Trump stands for trade wars. The Grand Old Party was proud to be calling itself the party of fiscal discipline, that before the new guy decreed his trillion and a half tax cut.

It used to be for things like NATO and the Marshall Plan and alliance building against the enemy. Now it`s lunch and communiques and smiles and bromances with the enemy.

One has to ask -- if it is still possible to ask -- what will happen to all this heel clicking when Trump`s gone? Will the Party of Lincoln and Reagan be proud that it knelt before Donald Trump`s altar?

Whatever you want to say about Mark Sanford, who Trump`s people knocked off in yesterday`s primary, you need to add this -- at least when he embarrassed himself a few years back, at least the love was real. The Republicans now beckoning to Trump`s allure cannot even claim that.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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