Show: HARDBALL Date: July 5, 2018 Guest: Ruth Marcus, Ramesh Ponnuru, Shermichael Singleton, Asawin Suebsaeng, Adrienne Elrod, Jen Kerns, Gabe Debenedetti
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Pruitt out. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening, I am Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.
Embattled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is out of a job. Faced with an avalanche of scandal and embarrassing headlines over Pruitt`s spending and ethics, President Trump broke the news this afternoon with a tweet.
I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Within the agency, Scott has done an outstanding job and I will always be thankful for this. The Senate confirmed Deputy Ad EPA Andrew Wheeler will on Monday assume duties as the acting administrator of the EPA. I have no doubt the Andy will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda. We have made tremendous progress. And the future of the EPA is very bright.
The President tweeting that out just a shortly ago. Pruitt, meanwhile, has been a subject of at least 15 investigations regarding his practices at the EPA including his spending on travel, questionable use on personal security detail. The room that he rented from a wife of a lobbyist at $50 a night. And the installation of a soundproof booth in his office.
For months, President Trump had stood by his EPA administrator. Just last night, Pruitt in fact was a guest at the White House Fourth of July celebration where we got a friendly shout out from his boss. As recently as last month, Trump was praising off questions about Pruitt`s future and praising his work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Scott Pruitt is doing a great job within the walls of the EPA. I mean, with setting record outside he is being attack very viciously by the press. And I am not saying that he is blameless, but we will see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: In his resignation letter to President Trump, Pruitt said it is extremely difficult for me to cease serving you in this role first because I count it as a blessing to be serving you in any capacity, but also because of the transformative work that is occurring. However, the unrelenting attacks on me personally, my family are unprecedented and have taken a sizeable toll on all of us.
For more, I`m joined by Heidi Pryzbyla, national political reporter for NBC News, Asawin Suebsaeng, White House reporter for "the Daily Beast," Republican strategist Shermichael Singleton and Beth Fouhy, senior politics editor for NBC News.
Heidi, let me ask just you, we had the President there with what he said a couple of weeks ago, we had Pruitt at the White House last night, the Fourth of July celebration, what changed in Trump`s thinking and when did it change?
HEIDI PRYZBYLA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, USA TODAY: On his words, he too spoke with the press today. He said there was no final straw, Steve. But as an observer, we have to say there was some major stories that broke recently including about Pruitt actually abusing his staff. Putting charges on his credit card and not reimbursing him for them.
Then over the weekend, I think, you know, the President has very visual person. He watches a lot of TV. And what was playing all over the holiday this past, you know, the past couple of days was that mother confronting him at the diner. A few hours ago that we just found out from the ranking member on the House oversight committee, Elijah Cummings, that there was even more information to come out about him coming out about scrubbing his calendars including potentially a meeting with the cardinal who had been accused of sex abuse. So there was still more revelations to come.
KORNACKI: I guess though, Beth, it still does raise the question, I mean, there had had been so much that was already out there, what is the definition of too much be?
BETH FOUHY, NBC NEWS SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER: Right. And think about it, the first one of these big cabinet people to come down, Tom Price, he was gone so quickly once news has broken that he had been flying around on military jet and renting charter planes and the way overspending and he was gone. It was clearly that he had to go.
This has been going on for months and months, so many more allegations that were leveled at Tom Price. The dripping, dripping, dripping, constantly going. And Trump always staying in his camp. As Heidi said, President Trump spoke about this resignation of Pruitt on air force one tonight and basically said great guy, love the guy, he just couldn`t take it anymore. Things were tough on him. There was no apology whatsoever in his letter, Pruitt`s letter to the President. So it is very unclear what broke finally at this point.
And honestly, Steve, Pruitt in many ways was sort of like President Trump even though he didn`t have the wealth of President Trump. He was sort of that let`s see how if I can push it as far as I can, get away with things, the sort of grifting that many people complain about what the President, something that Pruitt was doing as well. So Trump always sort of seem to sort of being in his camp even though the things he was doing were so hard to justify.
KORNACKI: Well, long longtime ally of Pruitt, Senator Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma. That`s Scott Pruitt`s home state. He had last month said that it could be time for the EPA administrator to leave his job. He complained the conservative FOX News host Laura Ingraham. And every day something new comes up. Inhofe later backed off that criticism. But Ingraham herself tweeted last month in Pruitt`s bad judgment is hurting Trump and that he has got to go.
And on Tuesday, Ingraham weighed in again writing simply, Pruitt is the swamp, drain it.
Is that -- Shermichael, we bring you as Republican voice here. If we don`t see -- we see controversies all the time around this President, what we do not see all the time are allies like Laura Ingraham saying, hey, Mr. President, there is something to this. You better do something here. Is that why Scott Pruitt calling it tonight?
SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well because it appears to be a bit hypocritical when one of the President`s key promises or campaign components was he was going to quote-unquote drain the swamp. He is going to make Washington run more efficiently and beholden to the American people. And yet you have an alligator in your own administration that thrives in this quote-unquote swamp.
And so, I think Laura Ingraham recognizes and there have been other conservatives that have publicly called for the President to remove Scott Pruitt. That you cannot articulate this message and yet you say the left has done x, y and z things wrong. And yet, you are hypocrite on a major campaign promise and conservatism at one point in time, stood for law, stood for order and yet you have a President who has essentially disregarded all of those foundational privileges of what it once meant to be a conservative in this country, to say it don`t matter. We will allow individuals to run amok. I think, finally, folks have said we have had enough.
KORNACKI: What does that divide look like, by the way, on the conservative side, on the Republican side? Because we have Laura Ingraham out there, say Inhofe have raised concerns. I think Joni Ernst, the senator from Iowa had some things. There were Republican conservative voices out there saying things like this. At the same time, I am seeing conservatives right now just going and getting some immediate reaction from, you know, activist, tot leaders, however you want to say it, you know, saying he got a raw deal, saying, you know, Pruitt was basically railroaded by the press, by you know, by liberal villains here. What is the divide on the Republican side? How many thought he should go and how many shouldn`t?
SINGLETON: I think right now the Republican Party is in a mess of a paradigm shift. But I think a lot of individuals are beginning to wonders is this a temporary moment or is it a permanent moment? I think for all accounts, this is now the party of Trump and that is why you do have so many leaders who are now going to the activist realm of the party. They are trying to figure out what folks who stay on the ground because no one wants to get out there too soon and sort of anger that base if you will who we know are loyal it the President.
KORNACKI: Asawin, I`m curious how you read the politics of this one. Is this the President looking at growing concerns with his base and acting on it? Is the President who perceived the wider political threat and said what do you think it is coming from?
SINGLETON: I think the President has realized this is too much. We know for a fact that Donald Trump doesn`t like anyone to get more negative coverage than himself. And despite the fact that you can actually point some tangible things, that the service may have agree to as far as the job has done. I think the other core issues have sort of overshadowed those things. And the president in the midst of so many other things lingering with his White House right now, finally making the decision that, you know, what, it is time for him to go. I can choose somebody else who can do the exact same thing.
KORNACKI: Asawin, I guess this solve a political problem for the President that is outside of his party or does this sort of the President reacting to his party.
ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, DAILY BEAST: Well, it certainly gets rid of a big political headache not just as for the President, who as you correctly point out has publicly has been pretty formally behind Scott Pruitt for the past several months, even when this avalanche of scandals for a starter mode. But if it were up to White House officials such as chief of staff John Kelly and basically everyone from there on down, Scott Pruitt would have been ousted from the EPA yesterday if not weeks and weeks beforehand. This is someone who top west wings officials have want him gone for a while now. But every time a negative story bubbled up until very recently, there are been people whisper in Donald Trump`s ear, who has Pruitt`s allies on Capitol Hill conservative media and the conservative movement that he had to stay. Obviously, that only took Pruitt so far, but took him a long way.
What ultimately brought Scott Pruitt down was among other factors, him waging war on his own staff. Many, some of whom have come out publicly to speak out and blow the whistle against him. If he has not engineered this campaign of smearing, there is a chance of this torrent of leaks and testimony wouldn`t have come out so aggressively towards him.
KORNACKI: So what is going to happen right now, Heidi? Because we know that tweets from the President, he gets those two words in there, Senate confirmed for the replacement, Andrew Wheeler. The deputy who takes over as the interim, President pointing out he has been confirmed by the Senate.
Now, there is an issue here with the 51-49 Senate department where the policies have been contentious as they are as EPA here. Are we looking at the permanent EPA administrator here or do you think this is the White House is going to look elsewhere?
PRYZBYA: It depends on how much pressure he comes under from his President. Wheeler is quoted as having said that he did not want the job, that he never wanted the job. But there are a lot of insiders who think he can actually be even more effective than Pruitt was because he is low key and but he has the same agenda. And that, you know, just be more effective, it is not going to draw all of the attention.
I think this is a teaching moment as well, Steve, in terms of what draining the swamp actually means. Look at what it took to bring Pruitt down. It was never about his job. The job that b was doing was never or the drain the swamp was never about corruption because of all of these things that the President was putting up with. It was about draining the agencies.
If you look at Donald Trump`s comments, he thought Pruitt was doing an excellent job. He had rolled back 22 regulations. He was holding a lot of new regulations at bay and even folks like Christine Todd Whitman had said when Pruitt came in, that was going to be a danger to the environment, to human health. That is the mission of the EPA, is to protect human health and the environment. And yet what you see a lobbyist like Scott Pruitt and now Wheeler who is co-lobbyist coming in to push through this agenda which is essentially starving the agency, pushing out civil servants in favor of this more lobbyist-driven agenda, that is going to continue. That is not why Scott Pruitt was fired.
KORNACKI: Just quickly Beth, thought, on that point, to use the Democrats for policy reasons, it did not like the idea for Pruitt here. Do you see a continuation of these policies the way Heidi was describing?
FOUHY: Of course. And that is why it is strange that Pruitt was able to hang on as long as he was. Because the next guy or the woman who is going to come in to replace him is going to proceed the exact same agenda.
But the other thing I want to talk about, Steve, is look at this. This is our list of all the people in Trump`s orbit who have gone, who were disappeared since he became President. This is a very long list compiled by our White House unit of all the many names of people --.
KORNACKI: Chain departures from the administration.
FOUHY: From the administration and from cabinet officials to staff to spokes people. This is an administration that just bleeds people if they just go. And it is remarkable that he hung on as long as he did. But he just joins this very, very, very long list of people who have started I some way in Trump administration and had since departed.
KORNACKI: All right. Beth Fouhy, Heidi Pryzbyla, Asawin Suebsaeng and Shermichael Singleton, thank you all for being with us. We are going to have more on this story later I the hour.
Also coming up, set your DVRs I guess because the President says he is planning to announce his Supreme Court pick on Monday at 9:00 p.m. as (INAUDIBLE) in the middle of prime time, probably not coincidentally there. Sources are saying we should expect someone quote "straight out of central casting."
Plus, new signs in the special counsel`s probe maybe be expanding as Bob Mueller faces a big decision? Will he subpoena President Trump to testify in the Russia investigation?
And President Trump is holding a (INAUDIBLE) in Montana. At his hour difficult addition. He has been launching some blistering attacks on everyone from German chancellor Angela Merkel to Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren. We are going to get that with the HARDBALL roundtable. They will also tell us three things we might now know.
This is HARDBALL where the action is.
KORNACKI: Scott Pruitt may be out, but President Trump made a senior staff appointment today, tapping Bill Schein as the new assistant to the President and deputy chief of staff for communications. And if that may have sounds familiar to you as speaker Bill Schein is the former co- president of FOX News and FOX Business. He was forced out of that job last year over his handling of sexual harassment claims. Schein will be the first formal head of communications at the White House since Hope Hicks left that job back in March.
Be right back.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
And then there were three. According to NBC News, President Trump has narrowed his list of Supreme Court finalist to three appeals court judges, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barett and Raymond Kethledge. President tease the big announcement at that rally going on at Montana. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you know there is now a vacancy on the Supreme Court. If you tune in Monday at 9:00, I think you are going to be extremely happy with the selection. And they are all great. And I want to thank Justice Kennedy for his lifetime of truly distinguished service. And he had confidence in me. He left because he said you are going to pick somebody great. And it is so nice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The prime time announce that with Neil Gorsuch too, remember?
So when it comes to qualifications for this one, a source close to the White House tells "Politico" the President is looking for someone who picks a central casting image for a Supreme Court nominee. With so much at stake, the President`s pick will certainly become a rallying cry for the base in both parties.
Of the three finalist, Amy Coney Barrette is being pushed the hardest by some of the President`s more conservative supporters because of her past decisions of overturning president.
"Washington Post" columnist Ruth Marcus cites those positions as evidence you would overturn Roe versus Wade. She writes, it is already a court that has proved its willingness to overrule inconvenient presidents by a single vote. Adding Barrett would pose a clear and present danger to abortion rights.
The column for Bloomberg, meanwhile, were mentioned Ramesh Ponnuru, backs Barrett for the open slot because quote "if Roe v, Wade is ever overturn, it would be better if it were not done by only male justices with every female justice in dissent."
Ramesh Ponnuru and Ruth Marcus, both joins us now.
Thanks to both of you for being with us. This is interesting. You are both looking at the same issue and the same potential nominee and then coming to completely different conclusions.
Ramesh, I will start with you. Someone was looking what you just wrote when we put it on the screen and said here is a conservative making the identity politics case for Amy Coney Barrett. Is this a fair way of looking at it?
RAMESH PANNURU, COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, some conservative have said as much to me in criticism, my argument. I just think in politics representational claims get made and have a certain amount of legitimacy. The fact is about a quarter of the U.S. population is pro-life women. They have never had anyone on the Supreme Court who represents them. And it has created the kind of distorted picture of what public opinion on this issue really is.
KORNACKI: Well, Ruth, let me turn that around on you then, the energy that we have seen directed towards opposing a potential Barrett nomination on the left, is that the reason? Is the reason that there is a fear that it would be more politically palatable for a court to overturn Roe with a female justice being part of that?
RUTH MARCUS, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I don`t think so because I don`t think it has gotten that far.
I think the direct -- most direct and real fear -- and I don`t think that Ramesh and I really disagree about this -- is that she is, I think, measurably more willing to do the deed than perhaps some of the other leading candidates, including Judge Kavanaugh, not -- but let`s be clear.
There is not like a wide spectrum of choices that the president is choosing problematic along the ideological spectrum. It`s the choice between very, very conservative and super conservative.
And I don`t think that you look at Judge Kavanaugh`s visions on abortion- related things, it`s not like he`s apt to be a huge fan of Roe, but he might be more willing to eviscerate it by finding no burden that he can find undo, rather than outright overturning it, which I think, if that were your call in picking a justice, and you wanted somebody who was willing to just take the plunge, it seems to me you would going for Judge Barrett, whatever her gender.
I think Ramesh is right that her gender is a plus, in the sense, as a political matter. And, honestly, I think it would be great to have a fourth woman on the Supreme Court. I think it would be very healthy for the court, if you were going to have another conservative justice, to make that a female justice, because, you know what, women span the ideological spectrum too.
And, meanwhile, on this topic here of a Roe and how it could affect the Senate vote, yesterday, a key vote there, Maine Senator Susan Collins, was asked what she was looking for in a candidate when it comes to Roe vs. Wade. Here`s what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I think I have made it pretty clear that if a nominee has demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade and has said that they`re not going to abide by that longstanding precedent, that I could not support that nominee.
But it`s not -- we don`t even know who the nominee is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And, meanwhile, two key Republicans, Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, voiced their concerns about another finalist, Judge Kavanaugh.
According to Politico, Senator Cruz warned that Kavanaugh is the sort of unreliable jurist by whom Republicans have been disappointed in the past.
And the Associated Press has learned that Senator Paul has told colleagues he may not vote for Kavanaugh if the judge is nominated, citing specific issues during his time as associate counsel for George W. Bush.
This is always the interesting part. Right before the announcement, every stakeholder is trying to get the message out there to push the decision one way or the other.
Ramesh, let me give you a shot at that, talking about these three finalists. You clearly think Barrett is the pick you would like here of the three. But, as a conservative, on that question of who`s likely to go wobbly from a conservative perspective, which of the three makes you the most nervous?
PONNURU: The thing is, it`s a frustrating process for activists on all sides, because you can`t just ask people what they`re going to do.
There`s a series of conventions that prevents them from having to give you straight answers. And so when people say, oh, Kavanaugh`s unreliable, they`re not really so much saying he`s done this opinion which shows he`s got the wrong views on X, Y and Z. It`s the body language is wrong. He doesn`t seem like a tough enough conservative. He seems like he`s a little bit more comfortable with the establishment, more of a go-with-the-flow guy.
I don`t know that we have a ton of evidence. I think we`re all -- we`re just taking bits and pieces and trying to read a lot into them. And I think that`s true with Judge Barrett as well. I don`t think that her articles about precedent have really given us a strong sense that she`s eager to overrule a ton of constitutional precedents.
That said, my sense of where they fall on the conservative index, I think they`re all bunched up pretty close together. My guess is that Kavanaugh might be a little bit more moderate.
But, as I have said, we`re all just going based on very slim pickings here.
KORNACKI: Yes. And, Ruth, you made the same point a minute ago.
Clearly, you don`t think there`s a David Souter in this mix, going to be nominated by the Republican, then vote with the liberals on the court.
But, OK, if you think Barrett is the one who`s the biggest threat to Roe, of those other two, who would you hold the most hope out for in terms of being a surprise?
MARCUS: Well, I really don`t even think of it that way.
And, by the way, I covered the David Souter confirmation hearings. And I`m really confident that none of these nominees is going to turn into a Souter. Probably, anybody on that list of 25 is not going to be David Souter, alas, from my point of view.
I would say that, of those three, Barrett to me is clearly the biggest risk to Roe. I have some doubts myself about whether the chief justice is wanting to overrule a case like that explicitly with just five votes. I think it would be just a toss-up between Brett Kavanaugh and Judge Kethledge -- I`m sorry I didn`t call Brett Kavanaugh judge also -- on who would be more likely to do the deed.
Just flip a coin. But they are not going to, I don`t think, follow the Anthony Kennedy model in terms of sticking with a kind of serious undue burden test in looking at abortion regulations.
Justice Kennedy surprised all of us when he found some regulations, not only stuck with the undue burden test, but applied it in a pretty aggressive way. I will be surprised to see that from any Trump nominee.
KORNACKI: And that is an interesting question too, when this new nominee, whoever it is, if that nominee is confirmed, does it affect anybody else on the court? Does it affect the chief justice at all in terms of how they start ruling going forward? Does it change their calculation at all?
Ramesh Ponnuru, Ruth Marcus, thank you both for joining us.
And up next: President Trump may call it a witch-hunt, but there are new signs tonight the Mueller probe might be expanding. We will get to that next.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
As the special counsel`s investigation of the Trump campaign continues into its second year, there are new signs now the workload of the federal probe may be growing.
Bloomberg News reports today that -- quote -- "Mueller is tapping additional Justice Department resources for help with new legal battles."
According to current and former U.S. officials, he`s making more use of career prosecutors from the offices of U.S. attorneys and from Justice Department headquarters, as well as FBI agents, a sign that he may be laying the groundwork to hand off parts of his investigation eventually.
Much of that extra manpower has gone toward prosecuting or sentencing the 20 people who`ve already been indicted in the probe.
Meanwhile, Mueller is still awaiting a decision on whether the president will testify before his prosecutors. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani had previously said there would be an answer by July 4. However, CBS News now reporting that, as of Giuliani`s deadline yesterday, he had no decision to announce, which could set the stage for a potential confrontation over a presidential subpoena.
Joining me now, Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney and an MSNBC contributor.
Barbara, first on this issue of more resources and what that signals in terms of where this investigation is and where it may be going. How do you read that?
BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I don`t know exactly, but I can think of three possible reasons that he might be adding more lawyers.
And one is that he`s got big charges coming, and he needs additional bodies to work on that. A second theory, and maybe more likely, is just he already has a lot on his plate. We have got the July trial of Paul Manafort coming up. There have been lots of motions, motions for discovery in the Internet Research case.
And so I could see just needing additional manpower to handle that. And the third reason is that there may be parts of this case that are more tangential and might -- once he closes up shop as special counsel, can be farmed out to U.S. attorney`s offices, so that they can remain continuity on those.
So those are three possibilities.
KORNACKI: The issue of Trump, the issue of the president talking to prosecutors, Giuliani saying, July 4, we will have an answer.
It is now July 5. How much time can Giuliani and the Trump legal team string this out before they have to give some kind of a definitive answer?
MCQUADE: Yes, they seem to keep moving the goalposts every time a deadline comes, extending it further.
At some point, Robert Mueller is really going to have to make a decision whether -- how much he wants this testimony. Does he serve a subpoena on the president, or does he let him move on without even talking to him?
And I think he has been keen to negotiate some sort of voluntary sit-down, so they can avoid what many people may describe as a constitutional crisis. That phrase gets used a lot, but I think, if you were to subpoena President Trump, and if he were to refuse to comply with that subpoena, we might actually have that constitutional crisis, where you would have this very strange scenario of a judge potentially ordering marshals to arrest the president, who is protected by the Secret Service.
So I think Robert Mueller will try to avoid that at all costs and try to negotiate it. Or he may at some point just say, this I his chance, President Trump`s chance to tell his side of the story. And if he doesn`t want to avail himself of that opportunity, maybe Robert Mueller just moves on and files his report with Congress or indictment or whatever he decides to do.
KORNACKI: And, meanwhile, yesterday, more hints that Michael Cohen may be close to cutting a deal, may be even potentially flipping on the president.
Cohen, who once described himself on Twitter as a personal attorney to President Donald Trump, has scrubbed his profile page, removing his affiliation with the president. Similarly, Cohen revised his profile on LinkedIn to show that his work for the president ended in June.
This comes as NBC tonight confirms a report from "The New York Times" that Cohen has hired attorney Lanny Davis, prominent Democratic operative, a close Clinton ally.
In a statement, Davis said that: "Michael Cohen deserves to tell his side of the story, subject, of course, to the advice of counsel."
Barbara McQuade, I`m just curious, what you make of the maneuverings from Michael Cohen the past week, the online activity, the interview with ABC News, this thing about Lanny Davis right now? I think there`s been some debate here about whether this is about the court of public opinion or the court of law that we`re talking about.
What do you make of what he`s doing? And does it say anything about his legal situation to you?
MCQUADE: It`s interesting.
It seems that Michael Cohen is working very hard to rehabilitate his public image, as much as anything. I don`t think that the Southern District of New York is going to much care about or find value in what`s on his Twitter account or what he says to George Stephanopoulos.
But I do think that it seems that Michael Cohen is trying to -- as he has said, I won`t be the villain in this story. And Lanny Davis is not only a lawyer, but he also runs a P.R. firm. And so Michael Cohen already has a very fine lawyer in Guy Petrillo to handle the legal matters.
Adding Lanny Davis to this case seems like an effort to win over the court of public opinion, as much as anything. So I`m not sure what`s going on there, other than maybe repairing his reputation.
Maybe he believes that it adds to his value or his credibility as a cooperator in the case with the Southern District of New York. But, at any rate, he does seem to be signaling a severance with Donald Trump. And that probably bodes well for anyone who is hoping that Michael Cohen will cooperate against him.
KORNACKI: All right, Barbara McQuade, thank you.
MCQUADE: Thanks, Steve.
KORNACKI: And up next: more on today`s top story, Scott Pruitt out at the EPA.
Plus, as protesters across the country demand sensible immigration reform, President Trump is doubling down on his demand to deport undocumented immigrants without due process. Will Congress be forced to act on this latest immigration move?
That is straight ahead.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
More now on our top story.
Embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has now resigned, following months of mounting scandals and negative headlines.
In his resignation letter, Pruitt said his decision was because -- quote -- "The unrelenting attacks on me personally and my family are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us."
The president had been publicly supportive of the job Pruitt was doing at the EPA, though aides said he was concerned about the various news reports regarding -- regarding ethical lapses.
Let`s listen to how President Trump has responded to questions about Pruitt over the past few months.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Scott Pruitt, sir? Do you support Scott Pruitt?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope he`s going to great.
I think that Scott has done a fantastic job.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you still have confidence in Administrator Pruitt? Mr. President?
TRUMP: Yes, I do. Thank you.
Thank you, Scott, very much. EPA is doing really, really well. And somebody has to say that about you a little bit.
Scott Pruitt is doing a great job within the walls of the EPA. I mean, we`re setting records. Outside, he`s being attacked very viciously by the press. And I`m not saying that he`s blameless, but we will see what happens.
I`m not happy about certain things, but he`s done a fantastic job running the EPA, which is very overriding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And I am joined now by the HARDBALL Roundtable.
Adrienne Elrod is former director of strategic communications for Hillary For America. Jen Kerns is former spokeswoman for the California Republican Party. And Gabe Debenedetti is national correspondent for "New York Magazine".
Thanks, everybody, for being here.
Jen, I`m -- what we just heard the president saying there a couple weeks ago where he says I`m not saying he`s blameless, but the press has been very -- is that what the delay has been here in terms of this resignation coming -- just reflexively the president saying, if there are critics of him, there are critics of me, and I`m not giving them anything. Is that what this was?
JEN KERNS, FORMER CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN PARTY SPOKESPERSON: Well, I don`t think so. I think it has more to do with this what I think is going to be the straw that broke the camel`s back, which is this upcoming IG report on Pruitt. I think that is going to be the key here.
And I hate to -- I`m from Oklahoma. I hate to critique a fellow Oklahoman, but I think Pruitt brought a lot of this on himself. He became the epitome of the swamp creature. This is that what people hate about Washington, D.C. This is how President Trump got elected in the first place.
And so, it`s hard for Republicans like myself who came up through the Tea Party movement, who wanted fiscal responsibility in Washington and then you have a member of Trump`s own cabinet spending, you know, $40,000, $100,000 on the desk and office furniture.
But I will say this: this also underscores what the president just said, which is this nastiness now that exists in Washington, D.C., and around the country quite frankly. People calling on people to go protest cabinet members at their home, confront them in restaurants and push back on them in the streets. This is part and parcel of this, and I think that`s a little bit why you saw President Trump sticking with Pruitt for a while.
KORNACKI: But again, the number of investigations we`re talking about here, over a dozen, I think, Gabe, one of the things I`m trying to figure out watching this is -- but where is the line here, because until today, everything was already out there was not enough to prompt a resignation and exit anything like.
Now, what is the -- is it just this IG`s report because already, there was so much on the record?
GABE DEBENEDETTI, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Why would we think that there`s a line here? I mean, realistically speaking, every time that the president has been pushed to get rid of someone or someone has resigned because of pressure, it`s because the president has essentially said this person is taking too much attention away from me, this person is distracting essentially from my administration`s goals.
And that`s clearly what you saw here, which was this looming IG report, the sheer number of investigations into Pruitt and the, you know, suggestion that these stories about his conduct we`re not going to stop anytime soon sounds like the president essentially said, listen, this is finally getting to the point where it`s counterproductive.
He`s had to answer questions about Pruitt, as we just saw for months and months now. So, if anything the line is, well, this is just not helping the administration. In fact, it`s actively hurting the administration.
And you know what? As we`ve said, as we`ve seen over and over, the president wants the headlines to be about himself. When they`re about the swamp, when they`re about his cabinet, doesn`t like that so much. If there`s a line, that`s probably it.
KORNACKI: Is this something -- I mean, we`re sitting here, it`s a big story today, on July 5th. We see how fast the news moves these days, how new things enter into the conversation, is this something people remember in November?
ADRIENNE ELROD, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. And I think, you know, to Gabe`s point -- first of all, I think Trump never likes it when somebody else, whether it`s good news or bad news, in this cabinet or his administration is getting more press than him.
Secondly, there`s nothing that taxpayers Democrat Republicans dislike more than when they feel that their hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being abused, and that is what you saw time and time again from Administrator Pruitt. Whether it was -- you know, the -- you know, speeding down 14th Street to get to live diplomat, or you know, or paying for expensive furniture in his office, he was constantly abusing taxpayer dollars. And that is unforgivable to a lot of taxpayer dollars or taxpayers, and I think that was also unforgivable to Trump.
KORNACKI: And also on this issue of immigration, something else very much in the headlines continued public outrage over children separated from their parents at the border, a woman scaled the Statue of Liberty on the 4th of July yesterday in protest of President Trump`s immigration policy.
Police say the woman had planned to stay until, quote, all the children have been released. She was taken into custody after a two-and-a-half-hour standoff. The president called her out during that rally going on tonight out in Montana. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You saw that clown yesterday on the Statute of Liberty, you see the guys that went up there? I wouldn`t have done it. I would have said, let`s get some nets and let`s wait until she comes down. Just get some nets.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And earlier today, President Trump doubled down on his demand to deport undocumented immigrants without due process. He wrote on Twitter, when people with or without children enter our country, they must be told to leave without our country being forced to endure a long and costly trial. Tell the people out and they must leave, just as they would if they were standing on your front lawn.
Jen, we had a poll we put up yesterday, I think it was yesterday, it might have been two days ago -- in fact, it was two days ago. It had asked a simple question, the president`s handling of the issue of immigration which obviously has been all over the headlines, do you approve or disapprove, it was 39 to 58, 39 approved, 58 disapproved.
Is this hurting the president, not just the president but the Republican Party as you look towards November?
KERNS: Well, I actually looked toward the Rasmussen poll which was out last week which polled about a thousand likely voters and that`s the best indicator we know from Gallup and other organizations, that the 45 percent of all voters think that the parents of these illegal immigrant parents are actually to blame and that the Trump administration is not to blame. The interesting number out of that Rasmussen poll was actually percent of independence also thought that.
I think that`s an alarming number for Democrats who think that they`re doing the right thing by taking the sharp left turn on immigration, sharp left turn calling for the abolishment of ICE. Boy, it`s not my job to interrupt my opponents while they`re making a mistake as a GOP strategist, but if I were advising Democrats, I would say be very, very careful on this issue --
KORNACKI: Let me ask you and I want to get Adrienne on the Democratic side. But in terms of the level of outrage, because I take your point -- I`ve seen some polling that says when you get away from the separation issue, it`s more complicated.
KORNACKI: But does the separation issue touch people at a particularly emotional visceral level in a way that it outweighs the other issues at work here?
KERNS: No, in fact, this included the separation issue. This was taken the end of June, the last few days of June when the separation issue was already at --
KORNACKI: No, but what I`m saying is we know the separation issue polls terribly, and we know that I`m broader attitudes towards the border, there`s a lot more complexity in public opinion. What I`m asking though is the emotional impact of seeing children separated from their parents, of reading stories about this is going on for month after month after month, I have to take a DNA test maybe now to go see my kid, that sort of thing. Does that reach people in a way that nothing else in this issue does?
KERNS: Well, the numbers don`t show that it does and that`s why I say if I were advising Democrats, I would tell them to be very careful. Emotionally, it might be a good issue, I know the Democrats out there believe in it. But by the numbers, and that`s how I`ve lived and died at the ballot box, the numbers do not represent --
ELROD: Well --
KORNACKI: Do you see the numbers?
ELROD: I think we`re looking at different polls here. The polls I have seen is that this is the one issue that is actually gotten into the -- dipped into the evangelical base that has been a stalwart supporter of Trumps since the very beginning since he announced that he was running for president. This is the one issue that has caused a lot of the evangelical voters to have some major concerns about him, because they cannot -- they simply cannot live with the fact that parents are being separated from their children, and these are parents who are also seeking asylum.
And yes, there, of course, there are people who are coming over here illegally, but the majority of the people as we know that are coming over here are seeking asylum from horrific situations and that is where you`re seeing a major, major dip into the evangelicals.
KORNACKI: All right. The round table is sticking with us. There`s much more to come though, don`t worry. They`re not going anywhere, and you shouldn`t either.
Up next, Trump also wrapping up that wild rally in Montana. We`ve shown you some of that. We`ll take a look at that more of it -- that`s with us when we come back. Did I finish a sentence here? Sorry.
KORNACKI: During this evening`s rally in Montana, President Trump railed against our country`s cost sharing in NATO and had some particularly sharp words for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And I said, you know, Angela, I can`t guarantee it but we`re protecting you and it means a lot more to you than protecting us because I don`t know how much protection we get by protecting you. They want to protect against Russia, yet they pay billions of dollars to Russia, and we`re the schmucks that are paying for the whole thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And we`ll be right back with more of the HARDBALL roundtable.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
At his rally in Montana tonight, the president launched into a tirade against Democrats, accusing them of obstructing his agenda.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It`s brutal with these people. They don`t want to -- they know it`s the right thing to do, but they think you will help me. It`s not even in the Republican -- it`ll help Trump. If we do it, it`s good for Trump, let`s not do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: The president again mocked Senator Elizabeth Warren for her claim about her heritage. Let`s watch that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: In the middle of the debate, when she proclaims that she`s of Indian heritage, because her mother said she has high cheekbones, that`s her only evidence that her mother said she had high cheekbones. We will take that little kit and say -- but we have to do it gently, because we`re in the Me Too generations, you have to be very gentle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And nearly two years after the 2016 election, Trump also continued to talk about his loss of the popular vote and to advance that baseless claim that fraud is what kept him from winning the most votes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Winning the electoral college is very tough for a Republican much tougher than the so-called popular vote where people vote four times.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: We`re back with our HARDBALL roundtable -- Adrienne, Jen and Gabe.
And, Gabe, I haven`t heard the full speech yet, but you`re sort of seeing some of the greatest hits there if you want to call it that from Trump. It is interesting to see him in Montana. He`s trying to get Jon Tester, the incumbent Democrat out there, in a state Trump carried by 20 points.
DEBENEDETTI: Yes, absolutely, and of course, his opponent Matt Rosendale`s platform is all about the election and Senator Warren and all these other things, right? Of course not. Donald Trump was again talking about himself and about the things that he likes to talk about.
And, yes, sure, these are the greatest hits and it is true that he won Montana by 20 points. But Jon Tester is a two-term senator. Montana has a history of electing Democrats, including its current governor who got elected in 2016, along Donald Trump. It`s going to take more than this to win over an electorate that`s not necessarily sold on what its going to do in 2018.
But again, greatest hits, not surprising.
KORNACKI: And Tester is interesting because unlike some of these other Trump state Democrats, he`s not been voting with the administration of much. He voted against Gorsuch last year. You got the Supreme Court nomination coming up. He`s running for reelection, Tester is. He`s in a Trump plus-20 state.
Trump there -- can there be enough -- can Trump turn up the political heat in Montana in a way that makes Tester change on this vote?
ELROD: Well, I guess because -- I mean, you know, to your point -- I mean, Montana does elect Democrats, but at the same time, you know, I mean, republic -- but it is, you know, largely Republican state, Trump won it by 20 points in 2016.
This is what he does. He goes in. He delivers red meat to a base that fully supports him but what he`s not for realizing here in the speech tonight is that there`s a whole other population in Montana that is turned off by this kind of rhetoric.
They don`t like to hear in trash Elizabeth Warren. They don`t like to hear make misogynistic comments, you know? So, I don`t know if it`s going to work, but I don`t think that it`s actually going to bring in more voters for Tester`s opponent.
KORNACKI: And quickly, Jen, there`s a risk here for Trump. I mean, Tester`s up high single digits in the polling I`ve seen, and again not necessarily cowed by the administration.
KERNS: Yes, I think the Trump administration is rightly depending on the good news that`s come Republicans way this last week. You have a socialist a card-carrying socialist to win an election here in New York.
Believe me voters in Montana, they turn on MSNBC, they turn on the other networks, that is their evening news, and it`s not just local news anymore. So, what Republicans are seeing is the far left movement of the Democratic Party. I think that`s going to help in states like Montana and states everywhere else, where people like Maxine Waters also inciting violence. People are paying attention, they don`t like it.
KORNACKI: Well, Montana is going to be an interesting test this November because this is a state Obama nearly carried in 2008, three points, and it went up to 20.
Quickly, Gabe, 10 seconds here.
DEBENEDETTI: But if we`re talking about like civility and violence in these races, Montana just elected Greg Gianforte who body-slammed a reporter the night before election night. He`s up for reelection now. Donald Trump Jr. is out there campaigning for him nonstop.
Let`s not pretend that there are really sides there.
KORNACKI: And he`s, by the way, in political trouble too. His reelection by no means assured out there.
Stay with us. You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: And thank you to Adrienne Elrod, Jen Kerns and Gabe Debenedetti.
That is HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.
And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2018 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.