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Ex-Trump Attorney Cohen speaks out. TRANSCRIPT: 7/2/2018. Hardball w Chris Matthews

Guests: Caroline Polisi, Laura Bassett, Emily Ngo

Show: HARDBALL Date: July 2, 2018 Guest: Caroline Polisi, Laura Bassett, Emily Ngo

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: -- and answer the big question everybody wants to know. How will mom vote? We will tell you tomorrow.

That does it for me. You can catch me on social media and tomorrow at 5:00 a.m. on "Morning Joe`s First Look."

HARDBALL starts right now.


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

An epic political battle now shaping up over the President`s choice to replace retiring Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy. Today we learned more about how President Trump is narrowing his list of candidates. He told reporters he`s already interviewed four potential replacements.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will be meeting with two or three more, and we will make a decision on the United States Supreme Court, the new justice. That will be made over the next few days. And we will be announcing it on Monday. And I look forward to that. I think the person that is chosen will be outstanding.


KORNACKI: Talking to FOX News over the weekend, Trump expressed confidence that he can install his pick before the midterm elections.


TRUMP: I think we will go very quickly. I actually believe that. A lot of people think it`s going to be a very -- it`s probably going to be vicious because the other side all they can do is obstruct and resist. You know their whole thing is resist.


KORNACKI: But it`s not just the other side the President may have to worry about. This weekend a key moderate senator, Maine Republican Susan Collins, said she would not support a candidate who expressed what she sees as hostility to roe versus wade.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: A candidate for this important position who would overturn Roe v. Wade would not be acceptable to me because that would indicate an activist agenda that I don`t want to see a judge have.


KORNACKI: President Trump will announce his pick a week from today on July 9th. NBC News has learned that Trump is said to be leaning toward a nominee who went to Harvard or Yale according to individuals familiar with his thinking. So far at least five names, all of them federal appeals court judges, have emerged from the President`s short list.

For more I`m joined by Robert Costa, national political reporter for the "Washington Post." Zerlina Maxwell, director of progressive programming for Sirius XM and Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist. All are NBC political analysts.

Robert Costa, let me start with you. We got the reporting the President wants Harvard or Yale perhaps on this. But there`s a number of names that are out there. What is your sense of this? Is this a pick where the White House kind of knows where it wants to go? How much of this is potential for a surprise here?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: There`s still potential for surprise. The process is fluid. Talking to White House officials and senior Republicans all day, it`s evidence that at this point, end of day Monday, that judge Kavanagh and judge Coney Barrett are widely seen in the President`s circle as probably the top two candidates. But judge Keflidge and judge Steppar and judge Fryer several others are very much still in the mix. The President wants to meet them, see if they have a rapport and also see the public`s response to these reported meetings.

KORNACKI: You mentioned Brett Kavanagh, Amy Coney Barrett, those are the two Robert Costa there suggesting may be getting that most conversation.

Susan, let me ask you. If this were going to go down a Republican at least one of them would have to vote against this. So Susan Collins has now stepped forward and has suggested that she could be that Republican and the issue in that case would be Roe versus Wade. If somebody suggests hostility she could be a no vote.

I`m looking at a senator though in Susan Collins, who has voted for Sam Alito. She voted for John Roberts. And she voted for Neil Gorsuch. So if that`s the standard of who she is willing to find acceptable, are any of these names we are talking about now going to plausibly be unacceptable to her?

SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Probably not. Because if it is party line votes she doesn`t want her legacy to be that of something she cares about the woman who led to the overturn of Roe v. Wade. That being said, however, I don`t think that it`s going to fall strictly on party lines. I think that we will see a couple of Democrats probably go over like Joe Manchin or O`Donnell -- or Donnelley, excuse me. Sorry about that. And maybe even Jones from Alabama. I mean, he --.

KORNACKI: Right. Sure. Those are the Democrats from the democratic standpoint --

DEL PERCIO: That will end up giving her cover to potentially to a no vote. But just to follow up on what Robert said, I think it`s completely possible to see a wild card that we never saw coming. Trump has really been out there kind of running his own shop lately. And the idea he would look for someone who would be a loyalist to him knowing that Mueller is coming down the pike I think is very much in the realm of possibility.

KORNACKI: Zerlina, from the standpoint of Democrats looking to stop this thing and looking to find a Republican vote there, how much hope do you think they can or should take from what Susan Collins is saying?

ZERLINA MAXWELL, DIRECTOR, PROGRESSIVE PROGRAMMING FOR SIRIUS XM: Look. I don`t think we have got to pin our hopes on hope, just for lack of a better expression, because I think that in this particular moment with so many things on the line, voting rights, women`s rights, workers` rights, affirmative action, you have to fight even if you know you ultimately will lose.

And so, I think that it`s not just about getting that one Republican. It`s really about calling those Democrats. They are in moderate states like Doug Jones and Joe Manchin. And also make sure to call Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and ensure that they are going to vote against this particular person or at least delay it until after the midterm elections going based on the Mitch McConnell rule.

And not just because Mitch McConnell set this precedent but also because there are two additional arguments that I think are pretty persuasive. One, you are replacing Kennedy, who is the swing vote. It`s not Antonin Scalia like previously when you had Merrick Garland sitting there and Mitch McConnell not even having a hearing. You are not replacing a conservative with a conservative. You are replacing a swing vote who is conservative with, you know, potentially a very extreme or conservative person. His list is all people who we have an understanding or an opposition to row.

You know, Amy Barnett went to Notre Dame. She is very catholic. She had a famous moment with former senator Al Franken during her hearings about how she spoke essentially to a hate group without really understanding the full context there.

But additionally, as Robert said, the president is under investigation. And so this particular judge that he is nominating to have a hearing in the Senate is someone that`s going to determine his fate in the legal context. And so I think Democrats are not just fighting about all the different rights. Workers` rights, gay rights, women`s rights, they also need focus on the fact this is replacing the swing vote and the president is under investigation and this person is going to determine his fate.

KORNACKI: Well, in terms of the emerging Democratic opposition or the strategy at least, in an op-ed in today`s "New York Times" Chuck Schumer, the minority leader in the Senate, made the Democratic case against a potential trump nominee.

Quote "if you do not want a Supreme Court justice who will overturn Roe versus Wade and undo the affordable care act, tell your senators they should not vote for a candidate from Mr. Trump`s preordained list."

Meanwhile, on Sunday senator Maria Cantwell of Washington state warned her colleagues about the stakes of the Supreme Court vote.


SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D), WASHINGTON STATE: I think that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle know that this vote could be one of the key votes of their entire career. And they know that no matter what spin comes out of the White House if they vote for somebody who is going to change precedent it could be a career-ending move.


KORNACKI: Susan, I`m trying to figure out how the democratic base -- we`ve heard in the clips there, we heard Zerlina go through the issues that most animate the Democratic base now. And I think it`s logical to assume are going to lead the vast majority of Senate Democrats to vote against this. But then you have got that group of Democrats, you were mentioning them before, Joe Manchin in West Virginia. Donnelley in Indiana. Heitkamp in North Dakota. The incentives, the political incentives for them might work differently.

DEL PERCIO: Well, that`s true. And they may also realize it`s an interesting problem for those Democrats. Because yes, they want to keep their jobs. But they are also supposed to represent their constituency. Many of the ones you just mentioned are red states that Donald Trump won. So that will be -- that`s also something to take into consideration and any chance the Democrats have of taking the Senate relies on those three getting re-elected. So it depends really how the Democrats kind of treat each other. They are going to have to duke this out.

KORNACKI: Robert Costa, what is your sense of in terms of what the White House is ultimately looking here, the consideration driving this? I have seen suggestions, you know, that Trump thinks of the evangelical Christian base that stuck with him in 2016, thinks of this as an issue of particular importance to them, wants to deliver to them. We have talked here about the possibility of some kind of wild card. Where is his mind? Is it on how easy it would be to confirm the person and make sure you get Susan Collins in line for this? Where do you think the priority falls there?

COSTA: You are looking at someone with an extensive judicial record because they want to make sure that this nominee could be confirmed before the midterm elections. Important news today to pay attention to, the White House announced it`s going to set up a war room. Don McGahn, the White House council, Raj Shah, spokesman. They are staring to already assemble the coming political war over this confirmation. And you have Don McGahn reaching out to people like Senator Mike Lee on Capitol Hill who is another possible wild card pick. But really when you look at Kavanagh, Coney Barrett, those federal judges are the kind of people the White House believes could both excite the base because of their judicial positions but also be able to sail through relatively easy.

But as I was reporting today, Steve, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has expressed concerns to his associates privately and his advisers that Kavanagh may not win his support. He hasn`t taken a public position. But because of Kavanagh`s writings on the affordable care act, these kinds of issues are already coming up beyond just the issue with Senator Collins.

DEL PERCIO: And Senator Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, the Republican leader in the Senate, he is calling for a vote on Trump`s yet unnamed pick by this fall. Last week "Politico" reported the Senate`s number two Republican, John Cornyn, was calling for a vote after Labor Day. The article noted that quote "the Supreme Court nominees since the Ford administration spent an average of 67 days between their nomination and final confirmation." And I think it was somewhere in the 60s for Gorsuch last year. Republicans ended up killing off the filibuster to get him through.

But Zerlina, in terms of an outcome, if Republicans have the votes on paper and they`ve got the Democrats in those Trump state seats who voted for Gorsuch. We already saw three of them vote for Gorsuch last year, is the best case in your mind for Democrats here if they`re not going to get Republicans to flip over, is the best case that it fires up their base enough to help them in November to somehow flip the Senate after that?

MAXWELL: Yes, absolutely. And I think that that`s the calculation. I think you fight even if you don`t win. And the base is with you. What we saw over the weekend, I mean, it`s not getting as much attention as I thought it would but there were massive protests over the weekend. The base keeps coming out into the streets, and they are going to continue to do that.

I think it`s a good predictor in terms of them going out and voting because if you are willing to whatever is going on in your life, your kids, your job, but you are taking the time on a Saturday, a Sunday to go outside and express your opposition to this administration, then you are very likely to also go outside and vote in November.

DEL PERCIO: And just one thing to add is millennials have never seen this as an issue in their lifetime, especially Roe v. Wade. So we don`t know what they are going to do. We know that they are definitely going to have a horrible view of the Republican Party. So if there`s a way of tapping into that. And actually, if they are as motivated as we think they are, that could prove --

KORNACKI: What about the conservative base that we talk so much about the enthusiasm gap or we have seen Democrats coming out in these elections, we have seen Democrats protesting. You know, we know the administration was actually hoping Democrats would start talking about impeachment, why, to get that conservative base mobilized. If you have got a court fight here, could it have that same mobilizing effect?

DEL PERCIO: Here is the problem when you look at that argument. The Republican base turns out. They know what the numbers are. So Republicans have been focused on this is the number I need to win.

On the Democratic side, and we saw this in New York in the primaries, more than one seat, when you don`t know who is showing up to vote, it doesn`t poll the same and you can get a much wider diverse turnout than you can ever expect. We have seen it in 2017. We have seen numbers 30 percent, 40 percent in districts. Counting exec races is here in New York increase on the democratic side. So that`s what`s the unpredictable part. The Republican side is very predictable. They are not going to appeal to anybody else.

KORNACKI: All right. Thank you, Robert Costa, Zerlina Maxwell, Susan Del Percio.

And coming up, the President`s long-time fixer Michael Cohen speaks out saying family and country come first, not Trump. Cohen used to say he would take a bullet for the President, not necessarily looking that way anymore.

Plus, just two weeks ago President Trump was bragging that we could all sleep well at night because the North Korea situation no longer posed a nuclear threat. Bay stunning new report shows that Kim Jong-un may be defying Trump and ramping up his country`s nuclear program.

And Trump tries to rewrite history when it comes to immigration reform. The HARDBALL round table is going to weigh in on that.

Plus, national security adviser John Bolton`s attempt at explaining the President`s foreign policy. A very interesting piece of tape.

And finally, the round table is going tell us three things we might not know.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.


KORNACKI: As relations between the U.S. and Mexico continue to deteriorate, President Trump is congratulating the winner of Mexico`s presidential election saying he quote "looks very much forward to working with him."

Mexico`s president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is a left-winning populist. He is taking issue with Trump`s border wall and promised voters he would seek friendship and demand respect from the White House.

We will be right back.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Donald Trump`s long-time personal lawyer and self-described fixer is sounding less inclined to fix things these days. Michael Cohen, who famously told a reporter he would take a bullet for Trump, told ABC`s George Stephanopoulos this weekend, my wife, my daughter, and my son have my first loyalty and always will. I put family and country first. This is quite an about-face for a man who has spent years defending President Trump.

According to "Vanity Fair," Cohen has been feeling frustrated. He reportedly told a friend, nobody is watching my back. Cohen was asked by ABC how he would respond to an attack by the President or his legal team. He told Stephanopoulos, I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone`s defense strategy. I am not a villain of this story and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way.

Cohen has not been charged with any crime, but he is under criminal investigation related to the $130,000 hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

For more I`m joined by Ken Vogel, political reporter for the "New York Times," and Caroline Polisi, a federal and white-collar criminal defense attorney.

Ken, let me start with you. When you are in the legal situation that Michael Cohen is in, you don`t just randomly give sit-down interviews to national television networks. There had to be a purpose here. What do we think that was?

KEN VOGEL, POLITICAL REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, there are a couple possibilities. Number one is he is signaling his willingness to strike a deal with prosecutors. Possibly to cooperate, to give them something on Trump. Now this would be an unusual way to do that. Typically those types of deals are reached in private and prosecutors don`t like you going out and talking a lot when you are either cooperating with them or you are in the process of reaching a deal under which you would cooperate with them.

So that leads us to the second possibility that he might be sending a signal to none other than his former boss Donald Trump suggesting either that -- as we said, more than suggesting that he would not sort of sit idly by if the Trump folks tried to roll on him and throw him under the bus either in the media or through legal proceedings or the possibility that he may be signaling that he wants Donald Trump to pay more, foot for of the bill, the burden for his legal bills. We know from our reporting that he is unhappy with the President`s lack of effort on that front. The campaign did pay for some of his legal bills but that was only in the Russia investigation. This of course is a separate investigation by the southern district of New York. And then possibly the furthest reaches of this might be sending a signal to the President, hey, if I do get indicted and convicted, I might be interested in a pardon from you.

KORNACKI: Well, we have a criminal defense attorney here. So, Caroline, maybe you`re the perfect one to ask this.

If you had a client who has been through what Michael Cohen has been through, under what circumstances or for what purpose would you say, good idea to do this interview?

CAROLINE POLISI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Under no circumstances would I say it`s a good idea to do this interview, which is why I think the pardon theory has gained more steam on the Twittersphere as of late, because the question is why -- if you really were interested in the cooperation agreement, Ken`s right, that would be something that his lawyer would pick up the phone and call the Southern District prosecutors.

Now, I tend to think that the pardon theory gives Michael Cohen a little bit too much credit. I don`t think he`s overthinking this. The distinction between the courtroom and the media has been blurred from day one in this case.

I don`t think Michael Cohen knows where the distinction is at this point. Look, this is a 180. As you said, he said he was willing to take a bullet for President Trump. But it`s one thing to say you will take a bullet. It`s another thing when the gun is locked and loaded. And here the ammunition is clearly the threat of a criminal indictment from the Southern District.

Attorneys were finishing up in the SDNY case, in the privilege review of those materials. That`s coming to a close. There`s a deadline looming this Thursday, which means this case is moving apace. And if there`s a time at which Michael Cohen wants to be thinking about his strategy at this point, now is the time. Now is the time he needs to be entering into proffer agreements with multiple, potentially, jurisdictions, with special counsel Robert Mueller`s office, with Southern District prosecutors.

So I think it`s more of an indication that he wants a deal, as opposed to a pardon.

KORNACKI: Yes. And along those lines, Michael Cohen recently retained attorney Guy Petrillo to replace his current lawyer. Petrillo is a federal prosecutor with significant experience in the Southern District of New York. That`s the attorney`s office that`s currently investigate Michael Cohen, as you just heard.

ABC News is also reporting that Petrillo -- once Petrillo takes over, a joint defense agreement Cohen shared with the president which allowed their lawyers to share information and documents with each other will come to an end.

What does that mean? What is the significance there

POLISI: Huge deal. This is a huge deal.

So, the reason you enter into a joint defense agreement with a co-defendant usually is because you want to share attorney-client-privileged material because you`re presenting a combined defense. Your interests are aligned.

Once your interests are no longer aligned and you have antagonistic defenses, as we call it, which is just legal jargon for you want to throw the other guy under the bus, that`s when you break a joint defense agreement. Heretofore, the defense has been, nothing to see here, we did nothing wrong.

Now it looks like the defense is going to be, that guy did it. And that`s exactly when you stop abiding by the terms of these agreements. I think that`s more of an indicator that he`s going to cooperate, as opposed to this interview.

KORNACKI: Also of note here, in this interview with ABC, Cohen made a point to distance himself from the president. He told George Stephanopoulos: "I don`t agree with those who demonize or vilify the FBI. I respect the FBI as an institution, as well as their agents."

He also said: "As an American, I repudiate Russia`s or any other foreign government`s attempt to interfere or meddle in our democratic process, and I would call on all Americans to do the same. Simply accepting the denial of Mr. Putin is unsustainable."

Cohen also said he doesn`t like the term witch-hunt.

Last week, President Trump, who likes to call the Mueller investigation a witch-hunt, tweeted: "Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election."

So, Ken, on multiple fronts here, clearly creating some distance, Michael Cohen has, between himself and the president. Do we have any sense how Donald Trump is interpreting this, how he sees this, how he`s reacting to this?

VOGEL: Well, it can`t be well, Steve.

And let`s not forget this comes after Michael Cohen stepped down from his post at the Republican National Committee, I believe it was last month, because he said he disagreed with the administration`s policy on separating children from their parents, migrant children from their parents at the border.

Now, it sort of begs the question, why was he still in this leadership post at the Republican National Committee when he was under criminal investigation? Nonetheless, he -- it`s part of a pattern of him distancing himself from the president.

It may just be part of this signaling that we`re talking about where he`s saying, hey, boss, or former boss, you can`t necessarily take for granted that I`m on your team, you need to show me a little something, a little more of that loyalty that I have shown you for so long in reciprocity.

Thus far, we haven`t seen that, but we also haven`t seen the patented Trump sort of distancing, stiff-arming -- you know, stiff-arming former allies who played an integral role, as he has done repeatedly with other folks who have come under fire or have come under scrutiny or even indictment in the Mueller investigation, such as Paul Manafort, who the White House famously said had played a limited role for a limited period of time.

That sort of defied credulity. This is a guy who was integral to the campaign. It would really defy credulity if they tried to do the same thing with Michael Cohen, who played an integral role not just in the campaign, but in President Trump`s business affairs for more than a decade before the campaign.

KORNACKI: And, Caroline, how would Mueller, how would the special prosecutor, watching all of this, seeing this interview, seeing it, how would he read this? So, how would he react to this?

POLISI: Well, remember, it`s very important to remember that this was actually a referral by the special counsel`s office to the Southern District of New York, which the indication there is that Mueller didn`t see this as part of his ambit to begin with.

So, likely -- it`s my opinion, we don`t know this for sure -- but it`s that $130,000 hush money payment, which raised eyebrows about campaign finance violations. Potentially, that raised eyebrows here. Mueller said, look, this really doesn`t fall within my mandate to prosecute potential Russian meddling.

But now we know he`s gotten a little bit farther down the line in his investigation, and now we`re hearing reports that, well, Michael Cohen actually was involved in some of this Russia stuff. You know, he dangled the possibility of President Trump`s knowledge about that fateful Trump Tower meeting in summer of 2016, saying that he wasn`t going to answer that, on advice of counsel.

It sounds like he knows a lot about potentially Russia collusion. So, I think Bob Mueller`s going to be listening.

KORNACKI: All right, Caroline Polisi, Ken Vogel, thanks to both of you.

And up next: Trump says there`s no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea, thanks to his self-proclaimed great success with Kim Jong-un. This, of course, flies in the face of new evidence that North Korea may be trying to ramp up its nuclear capability and not surrender it.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading to Pyongyang this week to resume negotiations. But new reports suggest North Korea may be trying to deceive the U.S. about its nuclear efforts.

According to NBC, U.S. intelligence agencies believe the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, may be trying to hide multiple nuclear facilities, and has stepped up production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites.

One U.S. official said -- quote -- "There is no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles or that they have stopped their production. And there is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S."

Meanwhile, according to "The Wall Street Journal," North Korea has moved forward with a major expansion of a key missile manufacturing plant. Reports come after -- just three weeks after President Trump returned from his Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un and boasted, "There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea and we can all sleep well tonight."

As recently as this weekend, the president was showing the utmost confidence in the North Korean leader. Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I got along really well with Chairman Kim. We had a great chemistry. We really had. Chairman Kim...

MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX NEWS: But do we believe him, Mr. President?

TRUMP: I made a deal with him. I shook hands with him. I really believe he means it.


KORNACKI: Joining me now, NBC News intelligence and national security reporter Ken Dilanian.

So, Ken, what is the scope of what you`re learning North Korea is doing here?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Steve, these latest U.S. intelligence assessments tell the American government that North Korea is secretly enriching uranium and other nuclear fuel at multiple secret undeclared sites, one of which the U.S. may have only found out about recently.

And even more important than that, Steve, is that the U.S. intelligence community has picked up evidence that the North intends to deceive the Trump administration and the United States about this. In other words, it`s not prepared to come clean about its nuclear program, and not only the enrichment, about the number of missiles, the number of warheads and other key factors it would have to declare as part of any denuclearization effort.

Now, this kind of cat-and-mouse game is not uncommon in nuclear negotiations. We saw it with the Iran deal. The U.S. intelligence community tries to catch the adversary country, and the adversary country tries to hide stuff.

But what`s interesting here is that Donald Trump does not appear to acknowledge any of this. And even today, when White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about our reporting and other reporting, she just basically blew it off and said, look, there`s possible momentum for change and we`re moving forward.

You know, John Bolton yesterday on television, the national security adviser, said, yes, we understand North Korea plays cat-and-mouse games, but he suggested that they were on track to denuclearize within a year, which no expert thinks is possible.

So it`s really hard to understand what the Trump administration`s strategy is here, Steve.

KORNACKI: In terms of where this stands, too, when they left that, when Trump and Kim Jong-un left that summit in Singapore, there was no formal agreement with specific terms. This would be a violation of goodwill for a future, more comprehensive agreement, is that right?

DILANIAN: That`s absolutely right.

And that`s the confusing thing about this, because Donald Trump essentially told the American public that there was a deal. But there is no deal. North Korea has not agreed to denuclearize. They have agreed to less than they have agreed to in the past. They essentially agreed to get on a path toward denuclearization, without defining what that term means.

And so it`s absolutely true that none of this that the U.S. has found they are doing violates any deal. But analysts have looked at it and said, this does not look like a country that is even moving in the direction of denuclearizing. They are still working on their nuclear program, their missile program.

They`re still expanding facilities, both in open-source reporting and in secret U.S. intelligence reporting, Steve.

KORNACKI: And, as Ken alluded to a minute ago there, despite these reports of deception by North Korea, there are those in the White House who are remaining publicly optimistic about the negotiations.

According to Axios, some White House officials hope a round two with President Trump can be held in New York in September, when world leaders pour into Trump`s home town for the U.N. General Assembly.

And before that, Ken, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is supposed to sit down with North Korean officials, much more -- much closer to right now.

What is the sense, though, in terms of how forthcoming North Korea`s going to be in that sit-down with Pompeo?

DILANIAN: Well, that is exactly what U.S. officials are watching for, Steve. They know things. They would rather that this hadn`t leaked out.

But there are still some things that they know that the North Koreans don`t know they know. And so they`re going to look at this -- if Mike Pompeo gets a declaration from the North Koreans about, here`s our nuclear program, here are the facilities, here`s how many weapons we have, they will look to see whether that matches what they understand about the program.

That will be the first indication of good faith. And look, this is a negotiation, and it`s a much better situation than threatening war. But, at the same time, analysts are concerned that Donald Trump is being duped, is being played, and at some point, he`s going to realize that, and then become angered, walk away.

And then we`re in a worse situation than when we began these talks, Steve.

KORNACKI: All right.

Ken Dilanian, thank you for that.

DILANIAN: You bet.

KORNACKI: And up next: At protests around the country this weekend, some called to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Trump`s response, that, without ICE -- quote -- "People will be afraid to walk out of their house."

The HARDBALL Roundtable digs into the debate over immigration and more after the break.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

After multiple attempts by House Republicans to pass an immigration bill, with the latest failing by a whopping 121-301 margin, President Trump this weekend claimed that he -- quote -- "never pushed" the Republicans in the House to vote for the immigration bill.

That is probably clearly revisionist history on Trump`s part. Just three days earlier, on the day of the immigration vote, he tweeted: "House Republicans should pass the strong, but fair immigration bill."

Politico`s Rachael Bade points out that: "Trump may enjoy campaigning on immigration, but it`s far from what Republican leaders want to highlight as they battle to keep their majorities this fall. GOP lawmakers have repeatedly shown an inability to unite behind any sort of immigration plan, and Trump has failed to lead on the matter as well, creating a constant whiplash, as he changes his position from day to day."

Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL Roundtable.

Beth Fouhy is a senior politics editor for NBC News. Laura Bassett is a senior political reporter for The Huffington Post, and Emily Ngo is a political reporter for "Newsday."

Thanks, everybody, for being here.

So, Beth, the president has been all over the map. He was saying at one point Republicans shouldn`t do anything. Then he was saying they should pass this bill. Then he was saying he never advocated for any bill.

Bottom-line question, heading into the midterms, a Republican Party that had the White House and the Congress for the last two years that has not passed anything on immigration, is there a political price for that in the midterm?

BETH FOUHY, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR: Yes, I see two things going on here, specifically with Trump.

Number one, the policy of separating kids from their parents was a complete debacle. It failed. He knows it. It was a black eye for the president.

Second is he believes there are plenty of people out there who are still very uncomfortable with illegal immigration and he`s going to go all in on that topic. It`s certainly one of the many things that helped him win in 2016.

So, he`s just made a decision, let`s go with fear. He really likes to set people up as an enemy or an adversary. In this case it`s immigrants who are causing crime even though there`s no evidence they cause crime. In fact, they cause less crime than native born Americans. That they bring drugs, they threaten neighborhoods.

All of those things, he reinforces beliefs that perhaps other people have and strengthens the view of the people already right there around him. He`s not reaching out to anybody else, but let`s face, it he`s always been the president of his base. He`s not the president of the broader community.

KORNACKI: And it is, Laura, striking that the Republican Party two years into the Trump era, you look at what was happening in the House there last week, you cannot find, you cannot apparently craft a piece of legislation that you`re going to get 218 Republicans to say, yes, this is what I`m for.

LAURA BASSETT, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, HUFFPOST: I think that`s true. And I think the reason is because this debate is not actually about enforcing the border. It`s not actually about illegal immigration. I think what it`s about is for Republicans this sort of white anxiety about changing demographics in this country. I think it`s actually more about legal immigration than illegal immigration.

I think one of the reasons -- if you look at what Obama -- he was extremely tough on immigration at the border. And the Democrats still lost to the Republicans. And so, I think Republicans, there is no actual legislative fix that can accomplish what they`re trying to accomplish, which is to stop the flow of foreign nationals into this country. They can`t do it.

KORNACKI: Well, it seems you do have this sort of divide in the Republican Party. You look at the front line, the most vulnerable Republicans up this November are in districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. So, you have voters who didn`t like Trump necessarily, didn`t like his message, didn`t like his tone on immigration, and Republicans trying to hold on to their seats, unwilling to play ball with, you know, Steve King and that side on immigration.

EMILY NGO, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, NEWSDAY: The debate when it comes to elections over immigration reminds me much of the debate over Trump and stuff (ph), people are scrambling to be on the right side of the message, scrambling to be on the right side of the issue, on the right side of history. So, it`s all over the map. And they`re trying to avoid answering the questions, the hard questions, including whether they support abolishing ICE until they really have to because they don`t know what the chips are growing to fall.

KORNACKI: Well, speaking of that issue, this weekend, hundreds of marches took place across the country, calling on the Trump administration to reunite families separated at the border. It comes also as that movement to abolish ICE has suddenly built, just over the past week or so, with many Democrats including possible presidential candidates voicing support for that initiative.

No one seems happier about the Democratic messaging than President Trump. Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDEDNT OF THE UNITED STATES: You get rid of ICE, you`re going to have a country that you`re going to be afraid to walk out of your house. I love that issue if they`re going to actually do that. They`re seriously talking about that?


KORNACKI: I do wonder about this, Laura. We looked at the polling on family separation, and just poisonously unpopular, 3-1, even among Republicans you weren`t seeing a groundswell of overwhelming support there. But when you start polling broader attitudes about immigration, about illegal border crossings and what do you do, you see folks, and this cuts across party lines, you see folks siding with the idea of hey, if you detain folks, you detain families together and you send them back together, you don`t bring people in, wait for court dates, that sort of thing.

You see folks, their instinct on this seems to be to take border security, to take the idea of having ICE pretty seriously.

Is there a risk there for Democrats, that, hey, the politics of family separation were overwhelmingly favorable to them, but the broader politics of immigration are dicier?

BASSETT: I do think it is a political risk for Democrats. Actually, at "HuffPost", we did some polling today that showed that a lot of people in the country don`t really -- haven`t heard of this abolish ICE hashtag campaign, they don`t know what it means, and a majority of people aren`t actually in favor of it.

And I think a lot of the reason for that is because when you have -- with hashtag politics in general, you can`t really get into the nuanced conversation about what it really means to abolish ICE. People think it just means chaos on the border, and Trump is seizing on that and saying they want open borders, she want MS-13 to just flood into this country when in fact the Democrats need to talk about an actual solution, a way to either repair ICE, or to talk about what`s going to happen when ICE is gone, what are we going to replace it with?

ICE is relatively young. Before 9/11, we didn`t have it around. It is possible to enforce the border security without it. But I think the Democrats have not done a great job of explaining what they mean.

KORNACKI: The flip side of it I guess, Beth, would be, you could make the argument Democrats are walking into a political trap on this if they were to sort of accelerate their rhetoric and accelerate the move to that position, maybe that would be the case we would see. But the flip side would be, was the coverage, were the emotions around, were the pictures around this issue of family separation so uniquely strong that if you`re assessing political fallout, that`s where it is?

FOUHY: That`s where it is. I very much ago with you that there`s a huge risk for Democrats to take it into being the abolishment of ICE.

Number one, most people, most voters haven`t heard of ICE. They don`t know what it is. So, it allows Trump and the Republicans to sort of define it. Those are the folks that are keeping you safe and Democrats want to get rid of those folks. So, it sets up a trap.

And number two, why not keep the focus on family separation? Saying instead of abolish ICE, how about abolish putting babies in cages? Abolish baby jails?

There`s much stronger messages the Democrats could go on, which has widespread approval as you pointed out from all of this polling. They`re on that side -- the right side of that issue in this case. They go down the rabbit hole of abolishing ICE. I don`t see really where that goes.

KORNACKI: Emily, it is interesting to me, though. This is an issue that was getting basically zero traction among major, you know, sort of mainstream figures in the Democratic Party. And then suddenly in the last week, you`ve had potential presidential candidates endorsing this move.

Is this something where by the end of the summer, we`re going to see a bunch of Democrats out there behind it or does it lose steam?

NGO: I mean, it does feel like it`s losing steam. There are a number of Senate Democrats who haven`t exactly signed on to that call. I mean, I`m thinking of Richard Blumenthal, Tammy Duckworth. Not everyone wants to be part of that message.

And even those who are calling for the abolishment of ICE are trying to add that nuance. It`s difficult after a hashtag where they`re trying to say we don`t want to get rid of U.S. Border Patrol, we want to replace it with something more humane, we`re not trying to leave a void. It`s difficult -- it`s a difficult message to project properly.

KORNACKI: OK, round table is staying with us.

Up next, in the wake of that Red Hen controversy, President Trump has a warning for Democrats. We`ll get to that next.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: Russia faced global condemnation in 2014 after Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine. On Friday though, President Trump floated the possibility of the United States officially recognizing Crimea as a part of Russia.


REPORTER: Do you think the U.S. will recognize Crimea as part of Russia?

TRUMP: We`re going to have to see. Look, this was President Obama. I thought it was very unfortunately handled. Unfortunate.

REPORTER: But how will you handle it now?

TRUMP: We`re going to see. You`re going to have to see.


KORNACKI: And yesterday, national security adviser John Bolton struggled to clarify Trump`s position on Crimea. Let`s watch.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I think the president often says, we`ll see, to show that he`s willing to talk to foreign leaders about a range of issues and hear their perspective. President Putin was pretty clear with me about it, and my response was we`re going to have to agree to disagree on Ukraine.

HOST: But that`s not up for negotiation?

BOLTON: That`s not the position of the United States.

HOST: Right. But saying "we`ll see" suggests it might be.

BOLTON: Well, we`ll see.


KORNACKI: We`ll be right back.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In an interview with Fox News, President Trump warned his critics to, quote, take it easy. Asked about celebrities like Robert de Niro who publicly attacked Trump and the owner of that Virginia restaurant who kicked out Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump had this to say.


TRUMP: I hope the other side realizes that they better just take it easy. They better just take it easy, because some of the language used, some of the words, even some of the radical ideas, I really think they`re very bad for the country. I think they`re actually very dangerous for the country.


KORNACKI: We`re back with our HARDBALL round table -- Beth, Laura, Emily.

Emily, based on Donald Trump`s political style, I kind of think he doesn`t want his opponents to take it easy.

NGO: And it could be perceived as a veiled threat. But everything that Representative Maxine Waters had said could also be perceived as a veiled threat, and I think there`s ramped up rhetoric all around. It doesn`t help the general, like, national discourse but it certainly helps say the president and the congresswoman with their bases because it very much fires up their supporters.

KORNACKI: What do you make of it, Laura?

BASSETT: I think it`s really rich for Trump to encourage civility on either side. He has been -- he has a history of encouraging violence at his own rallies, and he`s been the least civil president we`ve ever had, on Twitter and in speeches and elsewhere. He`s called women horrible things, talked about people`s bleeding faces. I mean, I don`t think that this is a veiled threat from Trump. I think it`s a threat from Trump. And I think the fact that he kind of cozies up to these authoritarian dictators who do suppress anyone their countries who oppose them, I think that we should be alarmed at Trump starting to talk this way.

KORNACKI: It seems, Beth, his political model, and I don`t know if he set out with a premeditated view of this or it just sort of evolved this way, but it relies on tension. It relies on tribalism. I -- we look at the polling numbers on this. There`s never been a president who`s been elected with more of the people who voted for him having a lower opinion of him. And to get that many people to do that they need to have an even lower opinion of the other side.

It just seems like that is the model here.

FOUHY: Right. And he also wants to be a tough guy. I mean, he actually doesn`t go around doing physical violence to people but he certainly threatens it all the time. I just did a little quick search when we were discussing the segment. I found him threatening "Be careful, Maxine Waters, John McCain, Bernie Sanders and to Ted Cruz", he said I may spill the beans on your wife.

So, this is what he does. He likes to threaten. He likes to stand up. He likes to look like the tough guy.

He knows that his folks really like to see him looking tough. They don`t necessarily want to see him physically go after anybody. But he says I`m not going to take any guff from anybody. I`m the guy who`s going to be standing up. If there`s a fight to be had I`ll be the one standing at the end.

Clearly, that`s worked for him on some level with a lot of voters.

KORNACKI: Yes. No, and we know the Trump side has certainly encouraged Democrats, for instance, to go forward with the impeachment talk. So, there certainly does seem to be some political calculation there. Hey, can we ratchet up, the rhetoric on the other side in the interest of motivating on this side. That whole polarization, tribalism thing we`ve been talking about for so long.

The roundtable`s staying with us.

Up next, these three are going to tell me something I don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: And we`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

Beth, tell me something I don`t know.

FOUHY: The hottest place to be on July 4th, Steve, is going to be the Eastport, Maine parade. The biggest parade in Maine. And that`s where Susan Collins is going to be marching and that`s where she`s going to hear from constituents from across the state who are going to be flocking into Maine, into that little town, Eastport, to let Susan Collins know what they think of how she should vote on Trump`s Supreme Court nominee.

KORNACKI: I think the sunrises in Eastport, Maine.

FOUHY: Most easterly place in the United States.

KORNACKI: There it is. Added inducement to go there.


BASSETT: So, there`s a 33-point gender gap leading into the midterms, which is the biggest gender gap we`ve ever seen leading into a midterm. Women are favoring Democrats by 25 points, men favoring Republicans by eight points. So, we`ll see how that shakes out in November.

KORNACKI: It is a huge swing.

And, Emily?

NGO: Trying to replicate the success of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a woman named Julia Salazar, running for the state senate in Brooklyn. She`s 27, she`s Latina, she`s a Democratic socialist. They have similar profiles, similar districts, and she`s running against a long-term incumbent. Today, she was endorsed by Cynthia Nixon, just as Ocasio-Cortez was endorsed by Cynthia Nixon.

KORNACKI: It is so interesting. You try to figure out what the ingredients were in that New York 14th district and where could they be replicated.

There`s one up in Massachusetts I`m keeping an eye on. Congressional primary Mike Capuano is the incumbent. The district has changed a little bit. He`s got a challenger who`s endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez. We will see if that develops into anything this summer.

Thank you to Beth Fouhy, Laura Bassett, Emily Ngo.

That is HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.

And "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.




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