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Tensions between Trump, DNI Coats. TRANSCRIPTS: 7/20/2018, Hardball w Chris Matthews.

Guests: Noelle Nikpour, Michelle Goldberg, Tara Dowdell, Evan Siegfried

Show: HARDBALL Date: July 20, 2018 Guest: Noelle Nikpour, Michelle Goldberg, Tara Dowdell, Evan Siegfried

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: If he were to get a full written presentation, he might be able to do that representation without a legal conflict. We will keep an eye on the story.

That does it for us. HARDBALL is up next.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Another day, another bombshell. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I am Steve Kornacki in for Chris mat Matthews.

President Trump begin this week in Helsinki claiming he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin over American intelligence. And as the re- precaution of that continue to reverberate, we have a new bombshell tonight.

"The New York Times" first revealing that the President`s personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, secretly recorded a conversation during the Presidential campaign with then candidate Trump in which they discussed a potential payment relating to Playboy model Karen McDougal.

"The Washington Post" spoke to a person familiar with the recording who said that in a September 2016 conversation, you can hear Cohen and Trump quote "discussing a plan by Cohen to attempt to purchase the rights to McDougal`s story from AMI for roughly $150,000." The recordings were seized during the raid on Cohen`s office back in April.

McDougal alleges that she had a roughly ten-month affair with Trump that begin in 2006 and lasted it in 2007. This is what she said earlier this year.


KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER PLAYBOY MODEL: Well I was a different girl. You know, I had fun. I was in the Playboy scene. I was just enjoying life as much as I could. And you know, when I got with him, actually, you know, there was a real relationship there. There were real feelings between the two of us, not just myself, not just him. There was a real relationship there. And I kind of out of sight, out of mind with everything else. And you know, and (INAUDIBLE), I did have a lot of guilt, but I still continued.


KORNACKI: The White House has denied the affair. Four days before the election, the "Wall Street Journal" revealed the "National Enquirer" had purchased McDougal`s story only to hide it from the public, a process known as catch and kill. AMI, the parent company of the "National Enquirer" is run by Trump all and friend, David Pecker.

Hope Hicks who was the Trump campaign spokeswoman at the time told the "Wall Street Journal" that quote "they have no knowledge of any of this."

Today`s reporting seems to undercut those claims. A source familiar with the President`s Legal strategy telling NBC News that the President was unaware that he was being recorded.

And late today, Cohen`s lawyer, Lanny Davis issues the following statement.

Obviously there is an ongoing investigation and we are sensitive to that. But suffice it to say, that when the recording is heard, it will not hurt Mr. Cohen. Any attempt at any spin cannot change what is on the tape.

For more, I`m joined by Michael Schmidt who broke the story for "the New York Times" and joins us by phone . Laura Nahmias is political reporter for "Politico," Tim O`Brien, Bloomberg opinion executive editor and author of "TrumpNation" and Katie Phang, an MSNBC legal analyst.

Thanks to all of you for being with us.

Michael, who reported this to start with, let me begin with you and just begin to take us through the basics here. This is about a conversation that took place in the fall of 2016 during the campaign. At that point, the "National Enquirer" had the rights to this story, to McDougal story, and the conversation was about potentially paying the "National Enquirer" for that? IS that right?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES (on the phone): This was going to be the payment to buy the rights to the story to essentially ensure that it continued remain silent. This was in September just two months before the election.

Obviously, as you pointed out in November, the campaign is denying any type of deal or knowledge of anything, of any type of money that went to her. But this conversation is brought up in the context of the Enquirer payment that was made to the model.

Now, Cohen secretly recorded the President. The President`s lawyer saying that he did not know that Cohen was recording it at the time. It is only two minutes long. Michael Cohen recorded a lot of different things. It appears like this one, regards to the President is the most salacious.

KORNACKI: In terms of the discussion here, but do we know if there actually was a payment?

SCHMIDT: So there is ultimately never a second payment that is made. That is what the President`s lawyers were saying today. That this payment was not made. And what they are also saying the tape indicates that the President did not know. There is no evidence that the President knew that months earlier the "National Enquirer" had paid to buy the model`s story. There is no indication on the tape of that and that is why Giuliani is claiming that it is a good for the President.

KORNACKI: Let me bring in Katie Phang, our attorney legal expert here.

Katie, from a legal standpoint when you look at what is reported today, when you look at all of the other questions that have been swirling about Michael Cohen is roll (ph) with Trump and these alleged payments, what do you make of it legally? Do you see any kind of a crime?

KATIE PHANG, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So the crime that we need to be focusing on is whether or not there has been a violation of federal campaign finance laws. Was there a violation of the contribution limits? And was there a violation in terms of a failure to disclose that the contribution was made?

Now, Giuliani is running around today saying that this is exculpatory and that has benefits Donald Trump. But fundamentally, it doesn`t. You know, you don`t have to be a lawyer to be concerned about a client`s credibility. What we have heard thus far is a denial by the Trump administration in November of 2016 that they even knew about this but clearly that is a lie, Steve. Because in September of 2016, on a tape you have Trump and Cohen talking about it.

So what do we have in terms of legal takeaway from this? Well, now we have an answer to this question. Why was Michael Cohen making these tapes? These tapes were his insurance. It wasn`t just to memorialize conversation he had with a client. These were tapes made to ensure that if he needed to use them later, he would have an opportunity to do so.

KORNACKI: When you say campaign finance violations, for folk trying to put that together, what you are saying there essentially is this is potentially damaging information about Donald Trump during a Presidential campaign and so the campaign finance aspect would be that a payment design to keep it quiet would amount to campaign spending?

PHANG: Absolutely. So it is the idea that you are making a campaign contribution for the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election. And you always to have to not only follow the money but you have to look at the timing of the payment. This payment was done in terms of the AMI payment in August of 2016, two months prior to the presidential election. And in this conversation, we are hearing about, Steve, between Trump and Cohen is. Well, maybe we should buy these rights from AMI. Why? Because Trump wanted to be the gatekeeper of the secrets. He didn`t want anybody to know about this before the election that occurred at the beginning of November 2016.

KORNACKI: Well, as Michael mentioned at the top, Rudy Giuliani, the President`s lawyer confirmed the recordings at "the New York Times` saying the conversation was less than two minutes long. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting tonight, the conversation was taped in person. Giuliani confirmed that Trump had directed Cohen to make the payment, but quote "the payment was never made." Adding that Mr. Trump had told Mr. Cohen that if we were to make a payment related to Ms. McDougal to write a check rather than send cash so it could be properly documented.

Can you know something about Trump world. First of all, the idea that there is somebody this close to Donald Trump, his personal lawyer, the guy they call as fixer, Michael Cohen, the idea that he recorded this conversation and now potentially more conversations, is that something that was ever you think was ever on Donald Trump`s radar? That that could be going on?

TIM O`BRIEN, OPINION EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG: Clearly, I think you know, he said today he was very surprised where he is quoted in saying he was very surprised that Michael taped him. So I think he is clearly surprised. And Trump spent most of his career threatening business acquaintances, other lawyers and journalist if he was taping them. A lot of times that was just bravado.

Trump always had people in his orbit who are fixers, who would go out and tell (INAUDIBLE). And that is the rule that Michael Cohen has played for him.

I think there is, you know, I don`t know legally how much this issue with the payments are going to come home to roost for the President in the way that is actually threatening to him. I don`t think campaign finance law violations are really going to be a threat to him. I think the issue with Michael Cohen goes beyond this sort of thing as what does he know about transactions in Russia. He was involved with Felix Sater and trying to get a new hotel built, anew Trump tower, in Moscow. He and Sater brought Ukrainian peace plans to Michael Flynn.

There are all these odd little moments which Michael Cohen is intercepting around the Russian issue. And that is more what is at the heart of what Mueller is looking at, is Trump`s, you know, inner circle intersecting with Russians or Russian cutouts to influence the outcome of the 2016 campaign.

KORNACKI: So that is the other thing. That is the bigger picture thing, this kind of been hanging here because Michael Cohen, he gave this interview to ABC. He hires Lanny Davis. There has been the sense that he is trying to convey some kind of message to Donald Trump. And one of the sort of guessing games I have been watching today as this all plays out is who is trying to send the message to who here? Is this another example of Cohen maybe trying to send the message to Trump? Is this a message some are saying that Trump and his team are trying to send to Cohen?

LAURA NAHMIAS, POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Right. Well, so, it is a debate over who the source was. I am sure we could ask Mike Schmidt about it. But we don`t want to give anything away.

If it is -- if the source says Michael Cohen and lawyers, it says one thing if it is Rudy Giuliani or the President`s attorney that says another. If it is Michael Cohen leaking it, then I definitely think you could see it as a warning shot or a cry for help or a signal that he is intending to cooperate. And some people suggests that if it is the President`s attorney or Rudy Giuliani, then they see it as potentially good news for the or they are trying get out of a bad news story.

At this point, there are a lot of lawyers who have their hands on the material that was seized in the FBI raid on Cohen`s office and his hotel room. There is a lot of potential sources.

KORNACKI: Well, you know, Michael, look, I know, futile, I was going to ask you to reveal a source or anything. But let me ask you this way. Just is your sense -- do you have any sense of the motive of who is leaking this?

SCHMIDT: No. You know, I think sometimes that some of the statement a little looked at too black and white in the media that things are sort of doled out and handed out.

Look. This is an important part of the current Trump story. Trump (INAUDIBLE). In New York, there is an investigation that is focused on Cohen. But Trump`s lawyers don`t really know the full extent of what the authorities are looking at. They are still fighting over what the U.S. attorney`s office can have and can look at and whether anything is protected and Michael Cohen has. Obviously, Michael Cohen has not formally agreed to cooperate with the government and that the lawyers don`t know the full extent of whether the President has any exposure there.

On the other side, they still have the Mueller investigation in Washington where the (INAUDIBLE) President`s lawyers think they understand the depth of that investigation. But they have a very important decision to make that they have continued to pull off which is whether to allow the President to sit for an interview. One of the issues that they do not want to be questioned about in that interview is Michael Cohen because that is certainly off the table.

KORNACKI: There is also that issue here, again, of the "National Enquirer." AMI, David Pecker, the chairman of AMI which owns the "National Enquirer," he has been friends with Donald Trump for decades.

And according to "New York Times" since the early stages of his campaign in 2015, Mr. Trump, his lawyer Michael Cohen and Mr. Pecker have strategized protecting him and lashing out with his political enemies. In the 2017 "New Yorker" profile, Mr. Pecker denied ever killing stories on behalf of Trump. He did, however, tell the magazine that he consider an attack on Trump to an attack on AMI. And in June, it was reported that AMI had been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors for records related to the McDougal payment.

This is the story onto itself, Tim. The "National Enquirer," I don`t think they typically endorse presidential candidates. They endorsed Donald Trump in 2016. There is a closeness here that extends back to well before Donald Trump was a political character.

O`BRIEN: And speaks to Trump`s history of coddling or cozying up to gossip writers and sort of tabloid press. He did it forever in New York with the tabloid. He always maintain close relationships with the people who wrote those columns which -- and he would dole out little bits of gossip about the business world and the political world or society in exchange for favorable coverage. And his relationship with the "National Enquirer" sort of the grand model version of that relationship. He connected Pecker to things that Pecker was interested in. And in turn, Pecker gave him fawning coverage. It was clear quid pro quos.

KORNACKI: And that is the thing. I think that folks are trying to reading this today, certainly, I have the question. If the "National Enquirer" had this story and there was a discussion potentially about paying, and then there was no payment, why wouldn`t there be? If you are running for President and you are worried about it. And this is what it is going to take to get it buried, why wouldn`t the payment happen?

NAHMIAS: I can`t speak to why the President didn`t pay or there was no agreement reached for a payment. But I do think one of the most interesting aspects of what happened today, is the fact that Michael Cohen taping his client which former federal prosecutors I spoke to today said it is totally unethical and almost completely unheard of.

Undermines this narrative that we have been talking about for months about Cohen`s loyalty to his client. Somebody who tapes their client and potentially exposes them to this. Do they really have that clients` interest at heart? If he really upholding his responsibility to his client, maybe he was not the kind of ride or die side kick that we thought he was.

KORNACKI: Let me ask you, Katie, just very quickly, as a lawyer. Have you heard about that before? A lawyer taping his own client like this?

PHANG: Well, you can do it. And you can do it in New York. You can tape your client. You can tape other people. It is a pone party consensus state. But that is the reason why I say, Steve, why are you doing it? Well, it is true, you want to make sure that you have this information if it has a value for you later on and that is it is a very quickly to answer that question, Steve, why that payment was never made, why do you have to make the payment if you are made President at the end of November. He didn`t have to make that payment. He never had to buy the rights of that life story.

KORNACKI: Well, I knew a lot of people, I think, if they felt their lawyer was recording them, probably wouldn`t have that person as a lawyer much longer.

Michael Schmidt, Laura Nahmias, Tim O`Brien and Katie Phang, thank you all for being with us.

And coming up, the White House in an uproar over comments of Trump`s top spy. Officials claiming director of national intelligence Dan Coats has gone rogue after rebuking Trump over what the President said at the Helsinki summit.

And with Trump digging in and now inviting Vladimir Putin to the White House, other Republicans are speaking out like never before.

Plus, President Trump`s meeting with Putin received wide spread condemnation with some even calling it treasonous. But has it moved the needle when it comes to the President`s poll numbers. We have some new poll numbers. We are going to show them to you over a the big board.

And the question of what really happened in that one-on-one with Trump and Putin. The HARDBALL roundtable going to tackle that. And today`s top story, that new reporting on a secret recording of Donald Trump discussing payments related to Playboy model Karen McDougal.

And finally, the roundtable is going to tell us three things we may not know.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.


KORNACKI: Well, that was quick. The NFL`s two-month old national anthem policy now on hold. Today, this is the league and the Players Association head back to the drawing board. Of course, back in May, the NFL said players could not sit or kneel during the anthem but could remain in the locker room as a form of protest. The players association said not good enough to that. And the two sides are now trying to work out a more acceptable compromise. Of course President Trump felt compelled to weigh in on this in a tweet tonight urging the NFL to impose a stiff penalty on players who kneel.

Be right back.



ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: We have some breaking news, the White House has announced on twitter, that Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall.


MITCHELL: Vladimir Putin coming --

COATS: Did I hear you?

MITCHELL: Yes, yes.



COATS: That`s going to be special.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was director of national intelligence Dan Coats learning that President Trump invited Vladimir Putin to Washington for a second meeting. The invitation comes amid a week of dizzying answers from Trump over Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the answers that put him squarely at odds with his own intelligence agencies.

"The Washington Post" reporting today -- quote -- Inside the White House, Trump`s advisers were in an uproar over Coats` interview. They said the optics were especially damaging, noting that, at moments, Coats appeared to be laughing at the president, playing to his audience of the intellectual elite in a manner that was sure to infuriate Trump. `Coats has gone rogue,` said one senior White House official."

In an interview with CNBC, Trump defended his dealings with Putin.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Getting along with President Putin, getting along with Russia is a positive, not a negative.

Now, with that being said, if that doesn`t work out, I will be the worst enemy he`s ever had.


KORNACKI: But Republican Congressman and former CIA operative Will Hurd of Texas offered a dire warning about the president`s increasingly cozy relationship with Putin.

In an op-ed in "The New York Times," Hurd writing -- quote -- "Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the CIA, I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them."

Despite widespread condemnation, late today, Trump responded to his critics on Twitter, writing -- quote -- "I got -- I got severely criticized by the fake news media for being too nice to President Putin. In the old days, they would call it diplomacy. If I was loud and vicious, I would have been criticized for being too tough. Remember when they said I was too tough with Chairman Kim? Hypocrites."

I`m joined now by Michelle Goldberg, columnist for "The New York Times," and Noelle Nikpour, Republican strategist.

Michelle, let me start with you.

It`s interesting to watch Coats. We showed his reaction to the potential for a Putin visit. There was also the statement he put out without White House clearance earlier this week, when Trump seemed to side against him with Vladimir Putin -- Putin standing right next to him.

Somebody in Coats` position right now, if Trump is watching him, is as infuriated as this reporting suggests, is Coats -- do you think, is there any protection for him, based on the reaction you have seen this week, where Trump would say, you know what, I better not touch this now?

Or do you think somebody like Coats would be in danger of going if Trump didn`t like what he`s saying right now?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I don`t know if danger is the right word. Right?

I mean, it seems to me that he has decided that he`s perfectly willing to step aside if that`s what it takes. I mean, I sort of think the honorable thing to do for Coats would be for Coats to forthrightly denounce him and then resign in protest, although I also understand the argument that, when you have an administration that is this corrupt and this much of a threat to the stability of the world and the national security of the United States, that you want kind of patriots who are in a position to influence things to stay in place.

Although I think that one thing that we`re learning when we find out that he didn`t even know, for example, that Putin was coming is, we can kind of ask questions about how much of an influence is he really able to have?

KORNACKI: In terms of the reaction from Republicans, I have been watching this week. And I was very curious what the reaction would be in conservative media.

And the headline has been Sean Hannity, I think. He`s been the loudest, and he is squarely by Trump`s side.


KORNACKI: But I have noticed, outside of that, I felt like I have seen more dissent than usual. Is that -- is that true on the right, or is this just another -- another thing where folks are basically going to end up lining -- lining up with him?

NIKPOUR: If it`s his base, they are 100 percent whatever he does is right, and whatever the excuse is that the White House puts out on his behalf, they are behind.

If it -- you have got other people in the GOP that they have been outspoken, they have disagreed with them. You have got similar situations with Coats. We were talking a minute ago with Coats and his future. Nobody knows, because look what happened to Rex Tillerson.

There`s been another scenario today as well with Federal Chairman Jerome Powell. Powell -- Trump said on the interview today on CNBC about the rate hikes and he doesn`t think they need to be raising rates, when we -- the market is already positioned for four rate hikes, and we`re going to get another one.

So, it`s another chance for another appointee, somebody else, Powell, is going to be in the same position on, do I raise the rates again?

So you`re going to -- you have got Coats, who`s -- I guess the Trump administration`s looking as gone rogue. And then now you may have another person.

KORNACKI: And Coats said he felt duty-bound to correct the record if the president sided with Putin over him in Helsinki.

Over the past week, top Justice and intelligence officials have all been crystal-clear about their conclusion.


DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It`s undeniable that the Russians are taking the lead on this. I think anybody who thinks that Vladimir Putin doesn`t have his stamp on everything that happens in Russia is misinformed.

It is very clear that virtually nothing happens there of any kind of consequence that Vladimir Putin doesn`t know about or hasn`t ordered. I think we`re pretty sure about that.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: My view has not changed, which is that Russia attempted to interfere with the last election.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential campaign is just one tree in a growing forest.


KORNACKI: And in his "New York Times" op-ed, Congressman Will Hurd, Republican from Texas, denouncing Trump`s failure to condemn Putin despite such unanimous conclusions, writing: "By playing into Vladimir Putin`s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad."

Michelle, you were talking a minute ago about the idea of maybe in -- out of principle somebody like Dan Coats resigning. I guess the case for -- that you hear for him staying from folks who are critical of this administration is, if he goes, if somebody comparable to him goes, then maybe he gets replaced by somebody who doesn`t put out that statement this week that sort of says, hey, the president may have said this over there in Helsinki, but here`s what we`re seeing.

GOLDBERG: And I think that that`s a debate that you see regarding everyone who kind is seen to have had a shred -- who is seen to have had, at one time, a shred of honor who works in the administration.

Should they go because they`re clearly working with something that`s disgraceful, or should they stay and try to mitigate the damage as much as possible?

And I`m sympathetic to that argument, particularly when it comes to national security. People -- like, people who really are in a position to hopefully push back should, say, Trump try to recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea -- of Crimea.

But I also think that, at a certain point, again, given Coats` clear -- I think it`s pretty clear what Coats thinks about Trump`s performance over this last week. You would have a -- it would have a real galvanizing impact, I think, if a few highly placed and highly respected people stepped aside and then spoke out against the situation that is -- that people will say quietly is so outrageous that seems to have come out of some sort of over-the-top Hollywood movie.

But people are slowly coming to terms with the fact that this is reality, and this is really as bad as it looks.

KORNACKI: And there is that suggestion put out there by the president on Twitter -- we started the segment with it -- that there be a visit from Vladimir Putin to the United States, to the White House this fall...


KORNACKI: On top of everything else that`s been expressed by some of these skeptical Republican voices, I got to think they`re looking at that and saying, this fall, on the eve of the election, you want to go through this all over again on American soil?

NIKPOUR: Yes, that`s right. And I think that`s why everybody`s caught a little off-guard, because the midterms are very important.

And Trump should know that the midterms are very important to him, because it`s going -- if something happens to Trump, it`s going to be up to the House and the Senate.

So -- but what you were saying, I`m going to push back a little bit, because the Trump administration, they approved the sale of lethal aid to Ukraine and sanctioned a total of 100 targets in respond to Russia`s occupation of Crimea.


KORNACKI: So, you`re making -- you`re making the case that, look, as close as he is rhetorically and in terms of seeming to personally like Putin, there have been policies from the administration...

NIKPOUR: Right. He is agreeing that -- Trump, I feel like, is hard on Russia.

But the problem of it is, he likes Putin personally. There`s been some sort of bromance with Putin. Look, George W. Bush said that he liked Putin, that they had a good relationship with...


GOLDBERG: Putin wasn`t responsible for George W. Bush`s election.


KORNACKI: So the idea that there is a personal-policy disconnect.


NIKPOUR: Can there not be two things going on at the same time?

GOLDBERG: Nor had Putin funded George W. Bush`s...


NIKPOUR: Can you not be hard on Russia and have a personal relationship with Putin?

GOLDBERG: I think that what you see again and again in this administration is a sort of bifurcation between the administration as a whole`s policy and what the president personally would like.

So, regarding sanctions, we know that they did institute all these sanctions. And then we know, reportedly, Trump blew up and was furious that he had been, he felt, manipulated into doing this.

So, you see his administration trying to carry on a sort of normal hawkish Republican foreign policy, and all the reporting suggests that Trump has tried to curb that in every way that he can.


And you get that reporting. Then he comes out and says no one`s been tougher on Russia and points to those policies, and it becomes dizzying at a certain point.

Michelle Goldberg, Noelle Nikpour, thank you both for joining us.

And up next: Trump says that summit with Putin was a great success. What do you Americans think about it? We got some polling numbers. I`m heading over to the Big Board. I`m going to show them all to you. They might surprise you a little bit.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


KORNACKI: All right, we have been talking about that Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, the fallout, the widespread condemnation, even Republicans speaking up, a lot of them, against what Donald Trump did over there.

The question, what do the voters, what do Americans, what do folks watching all of this in the last week, what did they make of it?

We have got some polls, sort of the instant reaction, the first polls that have come in after that summit, after that press conference. We can give you the readout.

And, first of all, here`s one. This is Axios. Again, nearly 60 percent disapprove of Trump in his handling of the Putin summit, and that press conference, more specifically; 58 percent disapprove in one.

The second big poll to come out this week, CBS News, very similar finding, 55 percent. So clear majority disapproval for the president, for his behavior, for his actions over there in Helsinki.

When you break that down and you look at the party divide, probably not a big surprise here, overwhelmingly Democrats not happy with what happened there. Republicans, 68 percent approve of Trump there in one, 79 percent in the other. Pretty strong Republican support.

And, again, independents that sort of tip the scales here, the independents basically 2-1 disapproving of what they saw there. So that looks like the headline.

But is it a little more complicated than that? There is a third poll that came out this week, and they wanted to see how deep -- how deeply held were these views that folks had. So they added a third option, approve, disapprove, or you know what, I`m not sure, I`m not sure I have an opinion on this.

And it`s interesting what happened when they added that option, because here`s what the result looked like. Suddenly, you have got plurality approving, 41 percent approving, disapprove 35 percent, that not sure option, 24 percent. And that not sure option was taken really by just one group here. It was the independents.

If you look at the Democrats, you look at the Republicans, they had the same polarized response to this. But among independents, look at that. A third of them chose the not sure option, and approve ends up getting a plurality there at 38 percent.

So, certainly, when folks are pushed, do you approve or disapprove, it`s clear the instant reaction, they`re going to choose disapprove. But when you start accounting for maybe how deeply held that view is, it gets a little bit more muddled. That`s the instant reaction.

This is my tease ahead to Sunday, because, on Sunday, there`s going to be the release of a brand-new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, a much more comprehensive look at reaction to the president, to that summit, to his behavior, and his approval rating as well.

So, you will want to look for that this weekend.

Up next, our roundtable is going to join us to talk about the implications of Michael Cohen secretly taping conversations with Donald Trump. What are the potential ramifications for both of them?

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

More now on our top story.

According to "The New York Times," President Trump`s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen secretly recorded a conversation in 2016 with then candidate Trump regarding a payment relating to Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Its development caps a week of bad headlines for the president following his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

The question is, no matter how damaging the Cohen story, will it actually provide a much needed distraction for the president from the fallout over Helsinki?

Let`s bring into tonight`s Roundtable, Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist, Tara Dowdell, a Democratic strategist, and Beth Fouhy, the senior politics editor for NBC News and MSNBC.

So, Beth, never before in American history would you suggest that a story like today`s about Donald Trump and his lawyer and the phone calls and the payments and "The Enquirer" was anything but terrible for -- politically for an administration.

And yet this is a president who there were -- John Brennan was out there the other day saying this president is guilty of treason.

And now here comes a story about something more on the salacious side. Is this actually -- is this part of the Trump formula, that something happens that gets the world going crazy, and then something else happens and it moves aside?

BETH FOUHY, SENIOR EDITOR, MSNBC.COM: Well, he is also tweeting tonight about the NFL and players kneeling for the national anthem.

So, he`s creating yet another distraction of his own from his -- from his golf club in Bedminster.

Look, Steve, we don`t know. We don`t know why this came out now. It`s certainly been theorized that it was -- it was planted out there to just get everybody`s attention off of that Helsinki press conference, as you say.

But it also could just point to something else that`s going on that could be potentially much more serious for the president, which is that Michael Cohen is finally deciding that he is going to cooperate with the prosecution.

We don`t know how this -- how this material was obtained, whether it was -- came out of that raid of his apartment, and he didn`t want it to surface, and there was some pushback on that, or whether he`s finally saying, look, you know what, the writing`s on the wall here, the president is no longer standing with me, it behooves me to get involved in this investigation and to provide what I know.

So, we just don`t know how it got out there. But if he has now decided to go ahead and cooperate with the prosecutors, Trump is in a lot of trouble.

KORNACKI: So, that becomes sort of the longer-term, to the extent there is a longer-term, when we talk about politics these days, the longer-term question.

But, immediately, it does strike me that we had a major event with almost - - with almost no parallel, with no precedent in modern American political history. We have had summits between American presidents and leaders of nations that we had tense relationships with, but they never went like this one`s went.

And yet we end the week talking about this.


But we are still talking about Putin and Russia. He has not knocked this out of -- the scandal, the latest scandal, out of the headlines. Specifically, I mean the Russia scandal.

So I don`t think that it`s having the intended effect, if it was, in fact, put out by the Trump administration. But I think there`s another person that has an interest in putting out stories.

And that is, to your point, Michael Cohen, because everyone knows, if you`re in Trump`s orbit, the way to make contact with Trump, the way to communicate with Trump is through the media. And everyone knows that leaking information to the media helps to get a message across to Trump, whether that message is to try to chide him, like we know that there has been allegations that General Kelly is someone who leaks to the media as a way to try to change Trump`s behavior.

So I don`t think that would be lost on Michael Cohen, because he was in that Trump orbit. So he knows how the Trump orbit works. He knows how to push the buttons. And if you look in his Twitter feed, he is very clearly sending smoke signals to Donald Trump by talking about how he values freedom of the press, how he believes the intelligence community when they say that Russia interfered in our election.

All of those things are clearly targeted at none other than Donald Trump.


I mean, yes, there are clearly provocations here from Donald Trump`s former personal lawyer, his fixer -- we always use that word -- and yet he doesn`t seem to be -- if that theory that Tara just put out there is correct, the president doesn`t seem to be responding to them, the way that Cohen perhaps hopes.

EVAN SIEGFRIED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, that`s because the relationship is already dead.

I don`t think it`s smoke signals. I think Michael Cohen has already made up his mind. He`s facing immense legal bills. We`re talking high six figures. He`s got kids he`s got to put through college. And he`s running out of money. He was not making that much anymore. He doesn`t have any business.

And the amount of time he`s going to be spending on the Mueller probe, as well as the Southern District probe into him, and the amount of money, it`s going to cost a lot.

Same with Lanny Davis. He`s not doing it out of charity in representing him. I think that Michael Cohen, when he`s been attacking the president on Twitter, but indirectly, mind you, is really ready to flip and make a deal.

And with these tapes and the revelation of it, it`s saying, hey, I have got something attractive. Please help me. Let`s strike a deal. So, that way, he can at least save some money.

And he`s also trying to cast himself as the new version of John Dean. It`s like him also believing he`s the next Ray Donovan. He`s not good, like Ray Donovan, at fixing things, because we wouldn`t be in this mess if he were.

And, second, being the new John Dean of this era? No, he is not coming out and blowing the whistle and saying there`s a cancer on the presidency. He`s just trying to save his own skin.

KORNACKI: Although I guess the skeptical take, Beth, would be in terms of Cohen and cooperating and striking a deal, flipping, whatever term you want to use here, would be, he has been sending all these signals, and he keeps sending all these signals.

Does that mean prosecutors maybe are looking at him and saying, there isn`t as much here as you might think?

FOUHY: Well, clearly, there is. There`s a lot there.

I mean, there was -- so much material was taken out of his office. It`s being -- it`s being gone through now by the special master. The vast majority of it sounds like it`s going to be available to prosecutors to sift through.

So there`s there`s so much there. I think it`s more to the point that both of you guys made. He is not only signaling to Trump, to President Trump, but he is signaling to all of us, this is where I`m going, folks, this is - - I`m done. I`m not the guy who`s going to take the bullet for the president, as he -- as he at one point claimed he would.

And he is sort of laying the groundwork for what is probably this eventuality. It does seem to me, though, that it`s not -- there`s not an insignificant chance that this is -- he`s already flipped, and this is -- the surfacing of the tape is not -- it`s not something done by Trump`s team, not something by Rudy Giuliani, but is something done clearly by Michael Cohen to say, it`s time.

SIEGFRIED: There`s also...

KORNACKI: It`s fascinating.

You mentioned the take the bullet for the for Donald Trump comment. Apparently, he was taping him when he said that too, or before he said that. An interesting -- an interesting juxtaposition there.

Our Roundtable is staying with us.

Up next: With top-level officials still in the dark about what was actually discussed at that two-hour private meeting in Helsinki, is it a good idea for President Trump to have a second meeting with Vladimir Putin in Washington this fall?

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: Well, Roseanne Barr is once again courting controversy following a racist tweet about -- about former White House adviser Valerie Jarrett.

In a new video posted to her YouTube channel, Barr goes on an expletive- written rant, saying she thought Valerie Jarrett was white.

Let`s watch.


ROSEANNE BARR, COMEDIAN: I`m trying to talk about Iran. I`m trying to talk about Valerie Jarrett with the Iran deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know. But you have told me this 300 times. Do you that a...

BARR: That`s what my tweet was about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know you have explained this literally 300 times.

BARR: I thought the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) was white! (EXPLETIVE DELETED) I thought the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) was white!


KORNACKI: We will be right back.


President Trump began the week by spending two hours in a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Despite the fact that many U.S. officials are still in the dark about what was negotiated behind closed doors, Trump has already reached out to about a second meeting, this time in our nation`s capital.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has said he doesn`t know what was discussed in Helsinki. And when asked about a second meeting, he had this to say.


COATS: Oh, goodness. I -- I -- first of all, going to ask me what the agenda is.

We will be looking at what the potential intelligence risks could possibly be, and we will make that information known to the president.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Would you recommend that there not be a one-on-one without note takers?


COATS: If I were asked that question, I would, yes, look for a different way of doing it.


KORNACKI: We are back with our Roundtable, Evan, Tara and Beth.

Evan, if -- the idea of having a second meeting, this time in Washington, does Trump have to have something to show for the first one before the second one?

SIEGFRIED: Yes, the president has nothing to show for it. He claims he has all these achievements, but he`s unwilling to list what they are.

We have these great achievements on nuclear, and he`s not saying what it is, where Vladimir Putin`s going out and setting the tone and saying what happened and what he got from Trump. There was the Bloomberg report yesterday saying that Putin wanted to have a referendum in Crimea, and Trump asked him not to make that public.

It`s public now, of course. I think that the president was humiliated in Helsinki. We`re talking about -- or he`s now trying to change the topic and talk about what the NFL players should be getting in penalties for kneeling.

I think that the president should not kneel before Vladimir Putin. I would love to know what the penalty is for that.

KORNACKI: Tara, I got to think, the politics of this, the idea of this fall, which potentially could be before the midterm elections, something like this happening in Washington, something like we saw this week happening middle of October, a couple weeks before folks head to the polls, the politics of this, Democrats have got to be looking at this and saying, are you kidding me?

DOWDELL: I think we are excited. I would say Democrats would be excited about that.

I mean, look, Democrats are running on a culture of corruption. And we already know that there`s polling to suggest that that messaging is working. In addition to running on local issues in the local districts, because the districts are all very distinct and diverse, they`re running on this.

And the polling supports its effectiveness. And another actual indication of its effectiveness is, in the state of Alabama, you had Republicans in the Republican primary running on corruption.

So it is an effective strategy. and, also, Russia speaks to Trump`s corruption. It is yet another indication that he is thoroughly corrupt, just like the salacious sex scandal, just like EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, all of these corrupt officials that he had.

This is all tied into one message for the Democrats. And I think it`s having an impact.

KORNACKI: And, Beth, what`s your sense?

I mean, he clearly -- something resonated with him enough, where he felt like he had to try to make some kind of a statement walking back some of his comments there. And he came up with the idea of, I meant to say wouldn`t and would.

He still seem conflicted about even going that far, but something at least got to him a little bit.

Do you think that any of the criticism he`s gotten from within his own administration, from within his own party, even from some folks on FOX News that I have seen, not Sean Hannity, but some others, do you think that`s registered with him at all?

FOUHY: I mean, that extraordinary moment in the Cabinet Room where he said, I went back and re-looked at my press conference, and the one thing I would change would be to say would, rather than wouldn`t, to me, it -- the term hostage video is a little bit cliche at this point, but that`s kind of what it looked like.

He was reading from notes. He looked rather glum. It didn`t look like something he was excited to talk about. And then just the very next day, we learned that he would like President Putin to come back here.

This is very typical of the president. He seems to -- he might get shamed into making a grudging statement, as he did with that would vs. wouldn`t, but then he likes to sort of lean in and, like, go for it. On the very thing that he`s being most criticized for, he`s going to double down and get right back into it.

But, again, if he`s inviting Putin back, Putin hasn`t said yes yet, hasn`t said yes to this yet. There`s no agenda. These -- even in a normal sort of presidency, with an American president and a Russian president, there would be an agenda, there would be a diplomatic way that -- there would be outreach between lower-level parties before it got up to the presidential level.

Again, he`s throwing out all the rule book. And he knows that his supporters love that. So, why not?

KORNACKI: And you get it -- you get it announced or revealed apparently on Twitter. That`s the other -- that`s the other staple, certainly, of the moment we`re living in.

FOUHY: Again.

KORNACKI: The Roundtable staying with us.

Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: All right, we`re back with the HARDBALL Roundtable.

Evan, tell me something I don`t know.

SIEGFRIED: There`s been a lot of talk in New York state about how, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez victory, that progressives are now ascendant.

But the gubernatorial primary here, new polling is showing that Cynthia Nixon is on -- she`s really on life support. I mean, Andrew Cuomo is dominating her in every region. And in New York City, the most liberal portion of the state, Cuomo performs best against Nixon. I think that Nixon -- it`s a publicity stunt engineered by Bill de Blasio.

KORNACKI: Maybe not as many "Sex and the City" fans as we thought there were here.



DOWDELL: Cairo, Illinois, a place that is considered the gateway to the South -- it`s Southern Illinois -- has had public housing segregation for decades.

And that public housing segregation has continued. Ben Carson`s -- HUD under Ben Carson has made it measurably worse. He`s closing down the public housing that exists there, and now he`s giving people vouchers to try to find housing.

These are people who can`t find housing because it`s an area that`s racially segregated. And so the white public housing in that area has been maintained for decades. There was a point where they even stopped mowing the lawn and cleaning out old apartments and fixing apartments.

And really nothing was done to these people. And the people of Cairo have fought for decades. The first hope they got was under the Obama administration. And Ben Carson has taken that away. And that`s something no one is talking about.

KORNACKI: Cairo, Illinois, is a place with some history there.



So, speaking of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- and there really are other candidates out there in the world, but we do spend a lot of time talking about her.

She and Bernie Sanders, the numero uno Democratic socialist that we all came to know many decades ago, got together today, went to Kansas, and campaigned for two Democratic congressional candidates in Kansas, one outside of Wichita and one right outside of Kansas City.

They were bringing the message that whatever work -- what can work in the Bronx or Vermont can also work in the heartland. And we will see if that`s the case.

KORNACKI: All right, Beth, Tara, Evan, thank you for joining us.

That`s HARDBALL for now.

Chris will be back Monday.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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