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Manafort pleads not guilty. TRANSCRIPT: 06/15/2018, Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Philip Bump, Mara Gay

Show: HARDBALL Date: June 15, 2018 Guest: Philip Bump, Mara Gay

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: For more of the interview, we are posting the entire conversation on THE BEAT podcast where we put exclusive content that you won`t see on a TV show and we post that every weekend.

That`s our show. "HARDBALL" starts now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Manafort goes to jail. Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

Tonight, President Trump`s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort is in federal custody and will spend the remainder of his days pending trial in jail. Already facing multiple counts of bank fraud, conspiracy and money laundering, Paul Manafort arrived at a D.C. courthouse this morning pleading not guilty to new federal charges of witness tampering. The judge in the case then ultimately ruled that the severity of the alleged crime violated the terms of Manafort`s bail agreement saying that allowing his release would quote "harm the integrity of the justice system."

NBC News reports that Manafort did not appear to react to that ruling. He was then immediately taken into custody, giving a quick wave to his wife as he was escorted from the courtroom. Manafort will now be held in pretrial detention till September.

Reacting to the news, Manafort`s former client, President Trump was quick to defend his reputation saying quote "wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort who has represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other top political people in campaigns. Didn`t know Manafort was the head of the mob. What about Comey and crooked Hillary and all of the others? Very unfair."

Now Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani is dangling a presidential pardon. Responding to the news of Manafort`s incarceration, Giuliani telling the "New York Daily News" quote "when the whole thing is over, things might get cleared up with some Presidential pardons." Giuliani adding, I don`t understand the justification for putting him in jail. You put a guy in jail if he is trying to kill witnesses, not talking to witnesses." However, he later downplayed those comments in an interview with NBC News saying he would advise against a pardon. Some mixed signals there.

Joining me now, Ken Dilanian, national security reporter for NBC News, Michael Schmidt is a reporter with the "New York Times" and MSNBC national security contributor, Mimi Rocah is a former assistant U.S. attorney and MSNBC legal analyst, and Carolina Polisi is a federal -- a federal criminal defense attorney. Thank you all for being with us.

And Ken, let me start with you. Just in terms of the bottom line now, Paul Manafort`s in jail. He is probably till September at least now. Explain what exactly it was that caused the judge to make that decision today.


It was Paul Manafort`s incredibly reckless decision in February to reach out to some potential witnesses in the case against him that involved allegedly illegal lobbying. And he reached out by phone and through encrypted apps. And one of those witnesses was so rattled by this he immediately called the FBI and turned over these encrypted messages to prosecutors and actually said, look. I think Paul Manafort was trying to tell me to lie. And that was essentially the basis for these allegations.

Not only did the prosecution file a motion to revoke Paul Manafort`s bail, they filed a separate indictment. They charged him today with obstruction of justice. He pled not guilty in court. But that led Judge Amy Berman Jackson to say look, you have already -- the prosecution has already met the standard that I have to follow here which is probable cause to believe that Paul Manafort committed these crimes. And so, she really had no choice. She went through the range of possibilities. She said look, I`m trying to find out what I can doing short of incarcerating you that would deter you from committing these future crimes. And I can`t think of anything. You are already wearing an ankle bracelet. She said at one point, this isn`t middle school, I can`t just take your cell phone. And so she sent him to jail, Steve.

And we don`t know where he is tonight. We have made attempts to try to figure that out but a law enforcement official told me that normally somebody who is a man with the custody in Washington would be sent to the D.C. jail. Now the D.C. jail is a notoriously bad place. It has got a roach and rat problem. It houses murderers and rapists. And it would be just incredible to think of this high flying politico who is known for his $7,000 suits to be spending the night in the concrete cell in the Washington, D.C. jail.

KORNACKI: Let me just follow on that just to explain the procedure here for folks like me who are kind of layman with this. If that is indeed where he is, if that`s the normal procedure, would that also been normally under normal procedure be the place where somebody in Manafort`s situation stays for the next few months?

DILANIAN: Well, it could be. But don`t forget, he is in the custody of the federal marshals. And they have discretion. They could take him somewhere else. They could decide, for example, that you know, there is a threat to him, he is a high profile prisoner. He is better suited in the Alexandria jail which is where a lot of high profile white collar people and up. And also he is facing trial in Virginia. So that would put him closer to that venue.

We just don`t know at this point. The federal marshals are not commenting on his status.

DILANIAN: Caroline, Ken is saying here the judge had no choice. You are a guy who is facing trial communicating with these witnesses being told by another judge not to do that. You got Rudy Giuliani out there, the President`s lawyer now, was the United States attorney 20, 30 years ago in New York, he is saying you only do that when they kill witnesses not when they talk to witnesses. What`s your response to what Giuliani is saying there?

CAROLINE POLISI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, it`s not true. I mean, what Ken is referring to meaning it Amy Berman Jackson had no choice is that under the bail reform act there`s a presumption, a rebuttable presumption by Manafort and his attorneys that have to prove that he is going not to commit crimes when he is out. And she just didn`t see that.

So I think, you know, also in this decision here, this isn`t the first time that this judge has taken Manafort to task. Remember when he tried to ghost write the op-ed with Konstantin Kilimnik.

Well, Konstantin Kilimnik is the person that is in the superseding indictment that he is alleged to, you know, have reached out to alleged witness tamper. So this isn`t like it is a first offense. She really didn`t have another choice, I believe.

KORNACKI: Michael Schmidt, from the bigger picture standpoint here, legally, it`s the question of the Mueller investigation where this all kind of emerges from. How does this development with Paul Manafort today fit into that broader picture of the Mueller investigation and his role in that?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I guess what we are going to find out here is whether Paul Manafort has something to offer or if he really thinks he has been wrongfully charged and wants to go to trial.

Mueller is trying to put as much pressure on Manafort as possible to get him to plead. He has been one of the few people to be charged and not do that. The deputy campaign chairman has pled. The former national security adviser has pled. But Manafort has held out. He said look, I have nothing to give the government. I have done nothing wrong. I want to find this to the end of the earth.

Now he will face the pressure of jail-time. This is before the trial. So the question that remains to be seen is what will happen with Manafort. Will he change his view about this trial coming up in September? Would they go to the prosecutors and say, well, maybe we can help you with something else or will they continue to buckle down and fight this. And Manafort has been steadfast in that.

KORNACKI: Is there any sense if there were some kind of deal with Manafort if Manafort were to cooperate, what it is that Mueller thinks he is going to get in particular?

SCHMIDT: No. And from a very basic standpoint, Mueller may just say look, I want to know everything that Manafort knows. He was someone that had ties to Eastern Europe, had ties to Russia, played an important role in the campaign. I`m supposed to figure out was there a counterintelligence issue here to complete that investigation. I need to sit down within Paul Manafort and know everything that he knows. It could be that simple.

They could think there is something more nefarious. We really don`t know. But if you are going to turn over every rock like Mueller has to, getting Manafort`s testimony and understanding of what was going on in the campaign, remember, Manafort was at the meeting at Trump tower in the summer of 2016 when the Russians offered dirt to the President`s son. If you are doing this investigation, to conclude it, you would need to talk to Manafort.

KORNACKI: Then Mimi, the other piece of this today is Rudy Giuliani, the President`s lawyer and his response to there. So his initial response asked by the "New York Daily News" there is to say hey, ultimately this thing might be resolved with some pardons, seeming to connect the news with Manafort to the idea that a, President Trump could pardon him and could pardon others. He then seemed to walk that back. What do you make of what Rudy Giuliani said today?

MIMI ROCAH, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I mean, he is coming very close, if he isn`t already over the line in terms of getting himself involved in some potential obstruction charges because you know, there are things, Giuliani says things all the time and it`s a little bit hard to take him seriously. But the timing of this to say, to mention the possibility of pardons at the end of this right when Manafort has been sent to jail, it`s clearly him sending -- I won`t even say a signal. I mean, it`s him shouting across the room, hang in there. You know, a pardon is coming down the road.

And you know, I understand that there`s all sorts of legal and constitutional arguments about, you know, the President has the absolute right to pardon. But the President`s lawyer does not have an absolute right to essentially tell a witness, you know, don`t cooperate. We are going to give you a pardon, which is really what he was doing today.

So I think Giuliani has just, you know, -- and his statement about only mob bosses you know go to jail for witness tampering. He is a former U.S. attorney. That`s very disingenuous. He absolutely knows that`s not true. And that this was a serious case of obstruction of justice and Manafort needed to go in.

KORNACKI: Caroline what, do you make of that? Because you could make the argument I imagine that from somebody trying to defend Rudy Giuliani here, that hey yes, the President has the power to pardon. That`s very clear. He can pardon anybody at any time for any reason. So if his lawyer goes out there and simply says, hey, by the way, the President has this sort of unbridled power here, could a case emerge from that.

POLISI: Well, we don`t need to be reminded that he has the sort of unfettered power. That is true. That it says so in the constitution and there are no limits except you can`t pardon. You can`t pardon for an impeachment proceeding.

You know, we have seen Donald Trump sort of use the pardon power with reckless abandon. You know, Scooter Libby Dinesh D`Souza, (INAUDIBLE) pardon for Jack Johnson. I think what he is trying to do is really normalize the pardoning process even though he does it in a way that is inconsistent with the procedures that prior Presidents have done it.

And Giuliani and he are laying the groundwork to make the pardon seem kind of like just a normal thing that many presidents do. So I think Giuliani is coming at it more from a PR standpoint as opposed to a legal standpoint in that regard.

KORNACKI: As we say the President criticized that decision by the judge to revoke Paul Manafort`s bail. However in, a surprise Q&A earlier this morning, Trump also tried to distance himself from his now incarcerated former campaign chairman.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think a lot of it is very unfair. I mean, I look at some of them where they go back 12 years. Like Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign. But I feel -- I tell you, I feel a little badly about it. They went back 12 years to get things that he did 12 years ago. You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time. He worked for me what, 49 days or something? A very short period of time.


KORNACKI: The correct total number of days that Paul Manafort worked for President Trump in case you were wondering during the 2016 campaign, almost five months. It was 144 days. That tenure was longer than Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon, both of them ending up, of course, with White House jobs.

And also Trump praised Manafort on the campaign trail in 2016 a number of times.


TRUMP: I have fantastic people. Paul Manafort just came on. He is great. He doesn`t have to do this like I don`t have to. He didn`t need to do this but he wanted to.

Paul, Corey, Hope, I mean these people what we have been doing has been incredible.

And Paul Manafort has done an amazing job. He is here some place. Where`s Paul? Paul Manafort. Oh, good. You made it.


KORNACKI: And Ken, is there any sense around the President, around his legal team how they look at Manafort right now the?

DILANIAN: Well, Steve, you asked the question earlier what, could Paul Manafort give Mueller. And Mike Schmidt right answered, we don`t know. But in formed speculation suggests that he could be a crucial witness in this question of whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian election interference because he came into the campaign with significant Russian ties. He earned tens of millions of dollars from a Ukrainian politician who is essentially a Russian stooge. And during the campaign, he was trying to monetize his service by offering private briefings to a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska (ph). And we know that he was in contact with George Papadopoulos, that young aide who was told that but a Russian agent that the Russians had hacked Democrat emails before that became public. So one of the questions is did Manafort learned about that? Did he discuss that with Donald Trump? Did he discussed the Trump tower meeting with Donald Trump? Or was there ever any other kinds of discussion about what the Russians had? What helped the Russians were offering to the campaign?

Please don`t forget, Donald Trump didn`t use email. So for Mueller to get the evidence about what Trump knew when he is going to need witness testimony. And I think that`s one of the reasons he is pressing Manafort so hard. He wants his testimony about meetings with Donald Trump.

KORNACKI: Caroline, let me just -- as a defense attorney, let me just ask you from a strategic standpoint, if you are Paul Manafort`s lawyer, if you are anybody else who gets jammed up some way or another in this Mueller investigation who was on Trump`s team at some point, is part of your strategy behind the scenes when you see comments like Rudy Giuliani today saying this might ultimately be settled with pardons, is that part of your strategic thinking in putting your defense together that hey, let`s maybe not go too far in terms of making some kind of agreement with prosecutors because there could ultimately be a pardon that obviates everything.

POLISI: Absolutely not. That it should play any calculus in any criminal defense attorney. I mean, thought process throughout this. If you are Paul Manafort`s defense attorney now, you are telling him he is an idiot and why did he do what he did because it was reckless. I told my clients - -.

KORNACKI: Will they tell him to cut a deal do you think?

POLISI: Yes. I think they must be. Look. Preparing for trial when your client is in custody, the bureau of prisons is supposed to make, you know, federal people that are in detention available for preparing for trial, but it`s very difficult to do so. This is going to hurt them in so many ways and he has two trials to prepare for. They are coming up soon. He is facing a lifetime in prison. Absolutely. I think that, you know, a deal would be behoove him in this instance.

KORNACKI: And Mimi, just from a prosecutor standpoint that, OK, look, if Manafort is key to answering a lot of these questions that is Mueller presumably has about Russia, about meddling, about 2016, about anything, if he offers potential key, potential answers on a lot of those, in terms of giving him a deal from a prosecutor`s standpoint, how does that work? Do you get some assurance up front that the information he is going to give is going to lead to other prosecutions or did he just take a chance that hey, maybe the information he provides doesn`t lead to anything but we still kind of cut a favorable deal for him anyway?

ROCAH: Well, it`s a process. And if we are talking -- by cutting a deal, and if we are talking -- if you meet by cutting a deal, if you mean, you know, allowing him to cooperate, you know, the way it would work is Manafort`s attorney, would say to the government that he wants to come in and talk. He would have what`s called a proffer session with a proffer agreement which means that the statements he gives at that the session cannot be used against him directly to prosecute him. There are some exceptions to that but that`s the general rule.

And they would basically just start, you know, asking him questions and listening to what he has to say. And over time, you know, they would make a decision about whether he had information that was useful. And if so, then he would -- they would negotiate what`s called a cooperation agreement which is a plea agreement that also gives basically a promise that down the road, the government is going to make the judge know and write the judge a letter called a 5K1 letter that lets the judge know about his cooperation.

So it`s not necessarily negotiating a particular sentence or sort of cutting him a deal. It depends on what the crimes are that he would have to plead guilty to, but it`s really more of a process that takes time. It`s not like they would say, he wants to cooperate and then tomorrow he would, you know, or even in a week he would be in court pleading guilty.

KORNACKI: All right. Mimi Rocah, Caroline Polisi, Ken Dilanian and Michael Schmidt, thank you all for being with us.

And coming up, President Trump is blasting the department of justice report on the Clinton email investigation. But he also says it totally exonerates him. We are going to cut through the President`s false claims about the IG report next.

Plus the President says he has solved the North Korea situation. We will run the numbers on what the public thinks of how he handled that summit this week and how he is handling the issue in general.

We will try to make sense also of the President`s bizarre comment that he wants his people to sit up at attention just like Kim Jung-un`s people do.

And then President Trump also trying to blame Democrats for his policy of separating children from their parents at the border even as more Republicans are speaking out against it.

And finally, the HARDBALL roundtable is here to tell us three things you might not know.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.


KORNACKI: The pressure continues to mount on President Trump`s former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen in the southern district of New York. According to court filings, prosecutors have quote "extracted more than 700 pages of messages sent using encrypted programs on phones seized from Cohen in a reconstructed 16 pages from the contents of a shredding machine," comes as "the Wall Street Journal" now reports that Cohen is also being investigated for positive illegal lobbying.

Additionally, there are new signs that Cohen may be closer to cooperating with prosecutors. CBS News is reporting that Cohen believes the President and his allies are turning against him and that he is increasingly feeling isolated from Mr. Trump.

According to Cohen`s associates, he has become quote "irritated by statements made in the media by the President`s lawyer Rudy Giuliani."

Here`s how the President answered questions about Cohen this morning.


TRUMP: I always liked Michael Cohen. I haven`t spoken to Mike in a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he still your lawyer.

TRUMP: No, he`s not my lawyer.

But I always liked Michael. And he is a good person. Excuse me, do you mind if I talk? You are asking me a question. I`m trying to ask it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just want to know if you`re worried he`s going to cooperate with federal investigators.

TRUMP: No, I`m not worried because I did nothing wrong.


KORNACKI: And we will be right back.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

During President Trump`s hour-long media blitz this morning, he made a number of inaccurate or misleading statements about the inspector general`s report on the FBI`s handling of the 2016 election.


QUESTION: The I.G. report came out yesterday. The FBI looked bad.



TRUMP: Well, no, it`s -- actually, it was Comey. But the top people were horrible. You look at what happened. They were plotting against my election. Probably has never happened like that in terms of intelligence, in terms of anything else.

They were actually plotting against my election.

QUESTION: The headline right now from "The Wall Street Journal," "DOJ Clinton report blasts Comey and agents, but finds no bias in conclusion."

TRUMP: Well, the end result was wrong. There was total bias. It was a pretty good report.

And then I say that the I.G. blew it at the very with that statement, because when you read the report, it was almost like Comey. He goes point after point about how guilty Hillary is, and then he said, but we`re not going to do anything about it.

The report, the I.G. report, was a horror show. I thought that one sentence of conclusion was ridiculous.


KORNACKI: Much of what the president said today isn`t true.

According to the roughly 500-page report, there was -- quote -- "no evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the investigation."

Trump also falsely claimed the report exonerated him. That`s something that was not addressed by the inspector general.

Let`s watch.


TRUMP: If you read the I.G. report, I`ve been totally exonerated. As far as I`m concerned

QUESTION: It had nothing to do with collusion. It had nothing to do with that.

TRUMP: Take a little at it. Take -- no, take a look at the investigation.


KORNACKI: For more, I`m joined by Philip Bump, "Washington Post" political reporter, and Benjamin Wittes, MSNBC legal analyst and Lawfare editor-in- chief, from Washington.

Now, Phil, let me start with you.

Let`s be clear what this I.G., inspector general, report covered. This was about the FBI`s handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton and the e- mail issue in 2016. This was not Trump-Russia, the sort of stuff we talk about in terms of Russia and collusion.

PHILIP BUMP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": That`s exactly right.

And it was a little broader than that. It also included, for example, these text messages that were going back and forth between FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. It addressed this other issue of an FBI employee who apparently had given a heads-up to John Podesta about this other thing.

There`s a lot that was in there. But it focused on the campaign. It focused on what had been done during the campaign by the FBI and whether or not there had been a violation of the FBI`s prohibitions against bias in their investigations.

And what it found, as you just heard, was that there were things that they were worried about, red flags that were raised, but they found that these investigations were not actually tainted by that bias.

KORNACKI: Right. So, when the president says he`s been exonerated by it, is there any sense what he`s referring to?

BUMP: Right.

KORNACKI: Is there something in there that he can hang that on? Is there any sense at all what that reference means?

BUMP: Sure.

So, I`m extremely skeptical President Trump spent much time actually reading the document. And what I would guess is that President Trump seems -- he makes broad claims and then seizes upon little things to validate them.

And so he has two operating theories, among many, about the Mueller investigation. One is, Comey was bad. The other is, the FBI was biased.

In that report, you can make arguments to both of those points. You can make points. This "We will stop Trump" text that came out in the report, there`s evidence the FBI had bias. Obviously, there was a lot about Comey in there. Comey is bad; therefore, everything Donald Trump said about Comey and the FBI is accurate. Therefore, Donald Trump is exonerated.

I feel as though we`re all three years into this by now.


BUMP: We have a decent sense of how Donald Trump`s brain works. I think that`s where he may be going.

But there certainly is nothing from a categorical sense that exonerates him about the Russia investigation at all.

KORNACKI: And, Ben Wittes, let me bring you in this, because I -- and I know you -- you have a relationship with Jim Comey. I know you have written about him quite a bit.

I do want to ask you about the Comey piece of this, because if we separate what the president is saying and what the president is claiming, this report does really drill down on James Comey, his conduct during the 2016 campaign as it relates to the Clinton e-mail investigation. And it`s pretty scathing.

It accuses him of insubordination at one point, if you go back to that -- let me ask you about this in particular. This is where they say insubordination. They say that press conference he held in the summer of 2016, where he said he`s not going to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton, but then he essentially in the court of public opinion, it seemed, indicted her anyway, the Clinton people have looked back at that and said that`s something that cost her dearly in the 2016 campaign, something he never should have done.

And this report is saying that the act of doing that press conference without a heads-up to the Justice Department represented insubordination.

Do you think that`s a fair conclusion?

BENJAMIN WITTES, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Look, I think that Jim did the things he did.

I have defended some of them, had anxieties about others. The -- by the way, I was one of a very small number of people to raise anxieties about this publicly about the substance of that of press conference at the time that it happened.

You know, he did the things that he did. He`s accountable for them. The I.G. characterizes them the way the I.G. characterizes them. Jim has responded by saying he respects the I.G.`s work, though he disagrees with the conclusions.

There`s never been a doubt factually about what happened here. These were tough choices. Jim made the ones that he made, and he has to stand up to history and its judgments and response. And I think he`s actually pretty comfortable with that.

KORNACKI: What do you make of it, though, the FBI director giving that press conference in the heat of the campaign and then again, the one the Hillary Clinton folks, and to this day Hillary Clinton herself has said publicly thinks cost her the election, that letter 10 days before the election? Do you think that was proper?

WITTES: Right.

So, I think the merits of these questions are very different. Had I problems with the press conference at the time that it happened. And I still think that that was not the greatest idea in the world.

I also -- you know, I also think, by the way, that it was not in the highest traditions of the Justice Department for the attorney general to play no role in the question of what was said at the end of that investigation.

So, the problem was both that Comey chose to give that statement, but also the problem was also that the attorney general chose to just kind of sit there and let him do it.

I think something very similar about the October letter. I think it was probably not a great thing to do. And I think the problem was both that Jim took it upon himself to make that announcement, but also that Sally Yates and Loretta Lynch didn`t pick up the phone and, you know, knowing he was planning to do it, and say, no, you`re actually our subordinate. Don`t do that.

I think there were a lot of mistakes here, but I`m not -- I think the distribution of blame is a little bit broader than the I.G. describes it, in my view anyway.

KORNACKI: All right. Ben Wittes and Philip Bump, thank you both for joining us.

And we should note that, this weekend, Chris Matthews is going to host a documentary on former FBI Director James Comey. That`s going to air this Sunday, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on MSNBC.

And up next: President Trump says he has solved the threat posed by North Korea. But what do voters think about the summit this week? We are going to head over to the Big Board and show you some brand-new numbers on that. Interesting what they have to say.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



TRUMP: We now have a very good relationship with North Korea. When I came into this job, it looked like war -- not because of me, but because -- if you remember the sit-down with Barack Obama -- I think you will admit this -- he said the biggest problem that the United States has, and by far the most dangerous problem -- and he said to me -- that we`ve ever had, because of nuclear, is North Korea.

Now, that was shortly before I entered office. I have solved that problem. Now, we`re getting it memorialized and all, but that problem is largely solved.


KORNACKI: The president this morning saying he has solved the problem of North Korea just a couple days after that summit.

And, of course, the question this week with that summit, with how the president has described afterwards, what do voters, what do the American people who watched their president sit down with Kim Jong-un this week, what do they make of it?

Well, we got some fresh data. Monmouth has taken a poll on this. Some very interesting findings.

And let`s head over to the Big Board and find out.

First of all, how about just the baseline question. This is after the summit this week, the baseline question here. President Trump`s ability to deal with the problem of North Korea overall, are you not confident, are you leaning toward not confident? A majority are on the not confident side of that divide when it comes to President Trump in dealing with North Korea, which is what he`s doing this week with that summit, trying to deal with it, 46 percent confident or leaning that way.

So, that maybe not a good number there for the president. And also this, who gained more from this summit this week? Who gained more from the meeting? Not a lot of people are saying the U.S. ended up with the better end of that deal, three times as many saying North Korea, a good chunk there saying both equally, but not a lot of Americans looking at this and saying, hey, Donald Trump, who calls himself the master negotiator, negotiated something that is going to favor the U.S. more than North Korea.

So, maybe some negative numbers there. And yet how about this? The bottom line question, probably the bottom line question on most people`s mind when they look at this is that. Did the meeting decrease the threat, the nuclear threat from North Korea?

And here`s one that is interesting. It`s interesting. A slim majority, 51 percent, say that, in the end, it is likely that what happened this week between President Trump and Kim Jong-un did decrease that threat from North Korea and the nuclear threat.

And that may explain this finding. Bottom line, ask folks, was it a good idea? Trump sitting down with Kim Jong-un, was that a good idea? Seventy- one percent landing on the side of, it was a good idea. Very interestingly, when the summit was first announced and this was asked, should Trump have this meeting, is that a good idea, that number was eight points less. It was down at 63 percent.

So, there`s a fair number of people this week who wanted that summit, absorbed the reaction and said, you know what? I changed my mind. I do think it was a good idea in hindsight. So, not a lot of confidence maybe in the president himself, but the idea of sitting down, the idea of talking to people, I think, more on the side there that ultimately that had some kind of or could have some kind of positive impact.

A little bit of a mixed verdict there, Trump`s handling on the one hand, the bottom line for the world maybe on the other hand.

Up next: We have more from Donald Trump`s freewheeling media tour this morning. Trump made a joke about Kim Jong-un, but how much truth was behind his thinking in that joke? Some are saying it`s a little too on the money.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Since his meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore, President Trump has been full of praise for the North Korean dictator. He`s called him funny, very smart and talented. And he complimented his great personality.

Today, President Trump expressed a degree of envy about the attention Kim commands from his people.


TRUMP: He`s the head of a country. And, I mean, he is the strong head. Don`t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.


KORNACKI: Shortly after, Trump insisted to reporters that was a joke.


QUESTION: What did you mean just now when you said you wished Americans would sit up at attention when you spoke?


TRUMP: I`m kidding. You don`t understand sarcasm.


KORNACKI: Kim Jong-un`s human rights abuses are well-documented. His regime jails and kills dissenters.

Earlier this week, President Trump dismissed concerns about those abuses by saying a lot of other people have done really bad things.

Trump was also asked today about Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was imprisoned by North Korea and died shortly after returning home in a coma.


REPORTER: You have spoken so passionately that led to Otto Warmbier`s death. In the same breath, you`re defending Kim Jong-un`s human rights record. How can you do that?

TRUMP: You know why? Because I don`t want to see a nuclear weapon destroy you and your family.


KORNACKI: Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable.

Mara Gay is a member of "New York Times" editorial board, John Podhoretz is editor of "Commentary Magazine" and an MSNBC contributor, and Nick Confessore is a political reporter for "The New York Times" and an MSNBC political analyst.

Mara, I`ll start with you. The president just offered what I think is his justification for all the stuff we showed before that. He seems to be saying all the praise, all the positive things is in the interest of peace, no nuclear war, no confrontation.

MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think it`s in the interest of whatever is in his best interests frankly. I think that`s what he`s doing.

Look, this is the same story, a strange fascination admiration for strong leaders, meaning authoritarian leaders. He was completely dismissive and disrespectful of the G-7, of course, closest allies and then turns around and has nothing but praise for a dictator. You know, he says it`s a joke. I don`t think any -- I think a lot of us are not laughing actually. I don`t think it`s funny.

KORNACKI: John, from the Republican side on this, and I`m curious, what is the thinking in the Republican Party? There`s the question of if Obama did this, if a Democrat did this, I`m sure I know what the Republican response would be. How are folks on the Republican side thinking about this?

JOHN PODHORETZ, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think that they are desperately hopeful that Trump is going to pull some rabbit out of the hat and make North Korea -- pacify the U.S./North Korean relationship and denuclearize North Korea. I don`t think people are happy with this rhetoric. It is cringe-inducing at best and is a complete betrayal of 50 years, 60 years of Republican conservative views of how the United States should talk about and deal with totalitarian dictators.

So I believe that Trump meant it as a joke. I think that the weird part about this is, that he -- he doesn`t understand that that this is not something that a president should joke about because people are standing at attention for Kim Jong-un because he could fire a ballistic missile at you. He could kill you with a chemical weapon as he did to a family member in an airport in Malaysia last year.

I mean, this is -- he is a terrifying person to the people who work for him and live around him and live under his thumb. And it`s not a joking matter. It`s the opposite of a joking matter.

KORNACKI: And I`m looking at those numbers, Nick, in terms of we showed this segment before this in terms of how Americans processed the summit this week and the lesson I took from it seemed to be from a bottom line standpoint, people do like the idea of some kind of engagement, some kind of dialogue, even with enemies even with people like Kim Jong-un. But I do wonder how much latitude they`re willing to offer a president when he comes back and talks this way.

NICK CONFESSORE, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The problem for the president is he swings and veers wildly between extremes. One second he`s threatening fire and fury and amping up tensions and the second he`s lavishing with praise. You can go down the middle once in awhile and just keep it clean which he doesn`t do. He wants to be over the top at all times.

But I saw those numbers to you and my first thought was a depressing thought, which is like a good chunk of the country is always with the president or always kind of against him. What we report on doesn`t really matter sometimes. It`s a depressing thought but it`s probably true.

KORNACKI: Trump also spoke to reporters shortly before his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort appeared in court this morning. He said he felt bad for Manafort and other associates who are being investigated or had pleaded get guilty in the Russia probe. Trump also singled out his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and made reference to his long-time attorney and fixer Michael Cohen.


TRUMP: I don`t think it`s right. I don`t think it`s right they burst into a lawyer`s office on a weekend and early in the morning. I never heard of that before.

Now, I feel badly for a lot of those people. I feel badly for General Flynn. He lost his house, his life. And some people say he lied and some people say he didn`t lie. I mean, really it turned out maybe he didn`t lie.

REPORTER: You say you feel badly. Is there any consideration at any point of a pardon?

TRUMP: I don`t want to talk about that. No, I don`t want to talk about that. No, they`ll run. But I do want to see people treated fairly.


KORNACKI: All right. So, they asked him about the pardon. He doesn`t want to talk about it. Then his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a few hours later said maybe this whole thing will be solved with a few pardons. Then he says I would advise against a pardon.

So, we are talking about pardons.

GAY: Oh you know what? I think this is wishful thinking. I think that the president and his administration are under an immense amount of pressure. Look, I think in some sense the walls are closing in.

Look, the president can talk about this as, you know, Manafort being a victim as much as he wants. But ultimately, what we`re seeing so far is the wheels of justice, the justice system working exactly as it should. You`re innocent till proven guilty.

But there is nothing unusual -- these prosecutors are following by all means just standard practice.

PODHORETZ: OK, so Paul Manafort is accused and is has now been jailed for attempting to witness tamper, right, to get people who worked for him to testify in some fashion or talk to the Mueller probe about him in a way that he wishes. OK.

So Trump has two choices. He can say oh, poor Manafort. He`s 69 years old. This is terrible. He should be treated fairly.

The other way he could have said it is, you know, on August 14th, "The New York Times" comes out with a story that reveals a story that there is a ledger in the Ukraine that shows $12.7 million in undisclosed payments to Paul Manafort and the day after that, Manafort was fired by Trump campaign.

Trump could say, look, I don`t know why you`re bothering me about this. I know this guy. I fired him the day after I found out that he was on the Ukrainian payroll and being an unregistered foreign lobbyist and part of the swamp.

But he doesn`t do that. And that failure to do that is indicative of something. I don`t know what about you something.

KORNACKI: All right. The roundtable is staying with us.

Up next, Trump is pinning the blame on the donkey once again this time when it comes to immigration. We`re going to bring you Trump`s latest wild assertion right after this.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: President Trump earlier today gave mixed reviews to his EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: We now have a very good relationship with North Korea. When I came into this job, it looked like war. Not because of me but if you remember the sit-down with Barack Obama, I think he will admit this, he said the biggest problem that the United States has and by far the most dangerous problem and he said to me that we`ve ever had because of nuclear is North Korea.

Now, that was shortly before I entered office. I have solved that problem. We`re getting it memorialized and all. But that problem is largely solved.


KORNACKI: That is not Scott Pruitt in case you picked up from the context clues that the president was talking about there. That was Kim Jong-un and North Korea.

But Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator is the subject of more than a dozen federal investigations. Today, the Office of Government Ethics requested the EPA`s internal watchdog investigate the more recent scandals swirling around the administrator, including reporting the Pruitt enlisted a government aide to help secure his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise.

We`ll be right back.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Trump administration is facing a major backlash over its policy of separating children from parents who illegally cross border. And now, the president is blaming Democrats. The administration acknowledged today that nearly 2,000 children were taken from their parents in the last six weeks alone. That is a rate of 46 children per day.

Yet, President Trump is distancing himself from his administration`s policy and falsely claiming that Democrats are to blame for it.


TRUMP: I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That`s their law. The children can be taken care of, quickly, beautifully and immediately.

The Democrats forced that law upon our nation. I hate it. I hate to see separation of parents and children.


KORNACKI: We are back now with the HARDBALL roundtable -- Mara, John and Nick.

Nick, if he hates it, it could change.

CONFESSORE: I mean, who is he kidding? Look, this was a policy that they advertised as a deterrent. It`s working the way they wanted it to, unfortunately, now, that they have a huge amount of blowback because these images are horrifying to any parent, to any person. And it`s going to keep taking away from support from this policy day by day. It is a crisis for this White House.

PODHORETZ: Look, I would like to say that the Trump administration is proceeding on ward and is normalizing in various ways even though I don`t like some of their policies. This gaslighting on there issue, this deliberate like looking in the camera and saying something that he knows is a lie -- is kind of like jaw dropping because last summer, John Kelly said, we`re considering doing this and then two months ago, Jeff Sessions made a speech saying don`t come to this country. We will separate you from your children if you come to this country.

He`s -- they`re doing what they said they would do. It`s their policy.

KORNACKI: Right. It was designed as a deterrent. Now it`s in the spotlight and now there`s backlash. Do you think it could change now?

GAY: Actually, that`s -- let me just say this. The editorial board, you know, we came out and talked about this again this week. We feel very strongly about this.

If people are outraged and people should be outraged, they can do a few things. They can call their member of Congress and ask them to hold the president accountable. They can protest. They can donate to organizations that help immigrant groups and, frankly, they can vote.

So, this is a really great issue to not just be outraged about but we can fix this. This is, you know, real people, real government is responsible here. And it`s a moral abomination frankly.

KORNACKI: And it`s one of those, just trying to pin down the president`s exact position on immigration questions. You know, he`ll say one thing in this meeting and a different policy emerges. It`s been one of the more challenging areas to pin him down on. That is for sure.

The roundtable is staying with us. Up next, these three are going to tell me something - - this is the easiest job in the worlds. They`ll tell me something I don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: And we`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Mara, tell me something I don`t know.

GAY: Sure. So, this week in New York City, we are about to approve a budget that is likely going to be higher than $90 billion. Which as it turns out is bigger than the budgets of other of small countries like Chile and I believe Iran.

KORNACKI: All in one city.


PODHORETZ: Harvard University is going to go through a world of hurt because it is being sued on the grounds that it discriminates against Asian-Americans. It is discriminating against Asian-Americans. It is doing something horrifying and something done to Jews in the `40s and `50s and it`s been done to others under quotas. They pretend there are no quotas. They`re going to get slammed and slammed hard.

KORNACKI: All right. And, Nick?

CONFESSORE: Steve, people in the White House are quoting a bible verse today to defend that policy on family separation, Romans 13. That`s submission to the governing authority. It was also used over the American Revolution by loyalist who`s said it meant to stay loyal to the British crown.

KORNACKI: Very interesting historical note there.

Nick Confessore, John Podhoretz, Mara Gay, thank you all for being with us on this Friday night.

And that is HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.

Chris Matthews is going to be back on Monday night.

And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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