Show: HARDBALL Date: August 21, 2018 Guest: Caroline Polisi, Glenn Kirschner, Susan Page, Dana Milbank, Vivian Salama, Bret Stephens, Ken Vogel, Katie Phang, Tom Winter, Omarosa Manigault Newman
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews from Washington.
Attorney Michael Cohen has now sworn under oath that Donald Trump told him to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election. This puts Donald Trump himself at the heart of a crime of illegally concealing the payment of a presidential campaign expense.
The news of Cohen`s testimony is part of a double barrel of bad news for the president today. Late today came word to the White House and the country that both Trump`s top former campaign chair and his personal lawyer/fixer now stand guilty of federal charges. Paul Manafort was convicted of eight felonies today, including filing false income tax returns, failing to report foreign bank accounts, and another foreign bank fraud charge. Michael Cohen pled guilty also on eight counts today of federal campaign violations and other charges. He faces up to five years in jail. Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami had this to say about the Cohen case.
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ROBERT KHUZAMI, DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY: These are very serious charges and reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over an extended period of time. We are a nation of laws, and the essence of this case is about justice, and that is an equal playing field for all persons in the eyes of the law. And that is a lesson that Mr. Cohen learned today.
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MATTHEWS: It is a very bad day for the president. At this hour, he`s holding a rally in West Virginia. If he says anything, we`ll go to it live.
Michael Cohen, who once said he would take a bullet for the president, told a judge today he made hush money payments to two women at the direction of Trump. He said he did it knowingly as a campaign expense. The two women said they had affairs with President Trump. The White House has denied those allegations. But according to the New York Times, advisers to President Trump viewed the investigation into Cohen as more dangerous to the presidency than even the special counsel`s investigation. We might soon now why.
For more, we`re joined by Ken Vogel, political reporter for the New York Times; Katy Fang, MSNBC legal analyst; Tom Winter, investigative reporter for NBC News, who`s at the courthouse in lower Manhattan; and Omarosa Manigault Newman, author of "Unhinged: An Insider`s Account of the Trump White House." Omarosa, I wanted you on tonight because you`ve been very close to these matters. You`ve been very close to Trump, very close to Cohen, to Michael Cohen, who`s now sworn under oath the president was a co- criminal with him in terms of using money to shut up women so it wouldn`t hurt his campaign. In other words, as a campaign expense, a criminal law violated.
They concealed it. It`s now come out that it was done purposely as a concealed matter to help his campaign. It`s a crime. He`s pointing the finger at the president. How`s your reaction to that?
OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Well, I think that for Donald Trump, he should be very concerned today, because Michael Cohen has made a commitment so that he is going to look out for himself and his family over his extreme loyalty to Donald Trump. And we all knew this was going to be used as a hush money kind of payment from campaign finances.
MATTHEWS: You knew at the time?
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Oh, we knew. And Michael Cohen...
MATTHEWS: So, the $150 to McDougal and the $130 to Stormy Daniels. All that money, it`s a quarter million, lot of money, all that money was taken effectively to get him elected.
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Oh, absolutely. And unfortunately, there are a lot of donors, a lot of people who gave to this campaign expecting it would go towards the victory, but instead it was going to shut these women up. And that is illegal.
MATTHEWS: How`s this going to sell among Kellyanne and people in the White House? The people in there who work very close to the president are still tied to him. How are they going to react when they watch the news tonight? Do they believe Cohen or they believe the president?
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Well, Kellyanne believes in alternative facts, and so she`ll twist this any way...
MATTHEWS: In her own head?
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: In her own head, but also in Trump World that`s what goes. The truth is relative to them, and they battle with reality. But the reality today is that the hammer came down on Donald Trump, both with Manafort and with Cohen.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Tom on this. Tom, what are your thoughts about the crime? It seems to me that Mr. Cohen faced thousands of years in prison, practically. Why would you take a plea deal that said you can never vote again, can never be on a jury again, and you`re going away for hard time for five years. Why would you take that as the best deal you can get unless you face horrendously longer time, I would think?
TOM WINTER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, NBC NEWS: Yeah, Chris, I mean, and I think that area that you just talked about, when the judge read to him and asked him as part of this process, do you know that you`re not going to vote again? Do you know that you can`t run for office again? When Michael Cohen was answering those questions, that was one of the few points where his voice kind of wavered a little bit. I think the gravity of what was happening today hit him.
But in case that gravity didn`t hit him, Chris, the gravity of, as the judge explained it, if he was to sentence Michael Cohen to the maximum for everything that he was charged with today on consecutive terms, he faced up to 65 years in prison. So, he faced a tremendous amount of jail time if he did not plead guilty to these crimes and if the sentence was served consecutively. So, I think Michael Cohen was looking at some serious time here.
The other thing is, Chris, these were the crimes that he pled guilty to. Perhaps there was some other crimes that may have been on the fringe that could have been included into an indictment if he didn`t plead to it.
WINTER: So, he may have been on the hook for a little bit more trouble than what we were able to find out, too, in court today.
MATTHEWS: Let`s get into the heart of this thing involving the President of the United States. That`s why we`re covering this case, is the President of the United States involved.
He`s been fingered as a felon here, and the question is, this interpretation here - in other words, we`re listening now to a man under oath. Michael Cohen, who knew the president, he was his fixer, his lawyer, saying under oath, swearing, that the President of the United States paid that money to those two women that he had the relations with, $150 and $130k total. He did that money as a campaign contribution. In other words, he has to know that that was the motive of the president, not to pay off women so his marriage would be intact, or the usual attempt to make your life seem cleaner than it is, but to get himself elected.
How do you explain that in court? That`s an amazingly particular charge that gets to the heart of this president`s lack of credibility.
WINTER: Exactly. I`m so thrilled you honed in on that specific part of it, because this is not just a payoff. This absolutely has to do with the campaign itself. And you know, Chris, when you have something like this and you say, well, you know, could Michael Cohen one day perhaps testify to something involving the President of the United States? Who knows? We may never know. And we`ll see what ends up developing.
But one other thing that underlies testimony and makes Michael Cohen potentially very credible here is that we`re talking about payments, which means that there`s transactions, which means that there are records, which means that there`s documentation. So, when you look at this, Chris, in its totality, not only are the things that Michael Cohen allocated to in court today very damning, but on top of that, these are banking allegations. These are things that have to do with payments. So, I think these particular counts, as it relates to Michael Cohen and his implication of the president today, I think there`s a lot of credibility to that just based on the evidence.
MATTHEWS: It came to that point. We know that the president compensated him for the second $130. For some reason, he paid the $150 out of his legal stream of things (INAUDIBLE) the money was poured through as part of a draw, you know, retainer kind of situation. But the second time, the president paid the bill.
KEN VOGEL, POLITICAL REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Yeah, that`s where you get that coordination. It`s not just, you know, there`s two counts here. One is an excessive contribution from Michael Cohen. The other...
MATTHEWS: The $150.
VOGEL: Right. The other is a corporate contribution, also excessive, also illegal. You get kind of the one-two punch there.
Now, what I think that the - you talk about Michael Cohen`s credibility, and we don`t know what kind of additional proof beyond just his allocation and his sworn testimony he may have. But we can expect the Trump folks to come after that and say, no, he misunderstood that, he did that on his own, or he`s mischaracterizing that. And so, a lot it will come down to his credibility, provided he doesn`t have some kind of communication that might show definitively why this was done and to further a federal campaign.
MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go back to Katie Phang. Thank you for joining us with your expertise. I mean, the question for most of us who grew up during the Watergate, and I did live through it and we`re all aficionados of Watergate. A co-conspirator. It sounds like it. What do you make of it in this case? The President of the United States was working up with the money to keep the women quiet so he could get elected president, as part of a concealing effort in violation of federal laws and requirements.
KATE PHANG, LEGAL ANALYST, MSNBC: So, let`s be clear. There was no direct identification of Donald Trump today, during the plea and in the plea agreement. But let`s be obvious...
MATTHEWS: The candidate for federal office.
PHANG: Come on, yeah, exactly. We know that it`s Trump.
And so, Trump is an unnamed co-conspirator right now in the southern district of New York. We`re interested in this because there`s this old saying, Chris, right? Money often costs too much. Well, today was a costly day not only for Michael Cohen and for Paul Manafort, and so is Trump. Trump is directly like the center of the spokes of all of this wheel of implication of all of these people, Manafort and Michael Cohen.
So, we`re looking at Donald Trump now, and we want to know what is out there in terms of evidence? Because remember, this system worked, Chris. The raids on Cohen`s home, hotel, and office worked. The raids produced evidence. The raids produced evidence that was turned over to the government after the system worked for the benefit of the government, but still protecting Michael Cohen. And so, now we know that there`s evidence that the southern district of New York has, but can the president be indicted? Isn`t that really what the ultimate question ends up being?
MATTHEWS: Can this evidence in court bring a RICO charge against the president, running a criminal enterprise? You mentioned the phrase.
PHANG: Yes, so, here`s the deal. The president - a sitting President of the United States, DoJ guidelines currently say you shouldn`t and you won`t be indicting the current President of the United States. Doesn`t mean he can`t be indicted after he sits in office.
But the idea, Chris, is that Congress can impeach the president if the acts by the president are bad enough. And so, why would a grand jury sitting there indict a president? But, I mean, talk about indictment in the court of public opinion, it can`t get any more close in terms of a guilt by association than the words that came out of Michael Cohen`s mouth today under oath.
MATTHEWS: Well, I asked Omarosa to come on tonight because I`ve known here all these years, and I think you were on the inside and we`re all on the outside. Look at this. Last week, it was reported that you have an extensive stash, in fact, of videos and e-mails and other forms of documentation, e-mails of all sorts.
Tonight, let`s take a look at one of these videos. It shows Michael Cohen boarding Donald Trump`s plane in September of `16, a pivotal time in the campaign. Let`s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: And there he is, Omarosa, going to the front of the plane. He`s on the campaign plane. This is in September of 2016, right in the midst of all these negotiations and machinations.
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Oh, yeah.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of this tape? What`s it tell us?
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Well, the first thing the campaign is going to do...
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: And the first thing the president`s going to say is that Donald - that Michael Cohen had nothing to do with the campaign, he was just a coffee boy, he wasn`t involved. The reason I wanted to share this with you is, first of all, to show you that he was, in fact, involved with the campaign.
Not only was he involved, he organized this particular trip to Cleveland. He spoke at this event. And then, as you can see, is horsing around kind of after on the plane, and he sat and met with the president during that trip. He was very involved, he was directing some of those things that were happening, and he was impacting the decisions that the president made, as well as the president telling him to fix things.
MATTHEWS: OK, give me a preview of coming attractions. Because you are - and as it has been accurately reported that you have all kinds of things in terms of evidence.
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Well, that was the first video I ever shared. And the reason I wanted to share it is, one, people are kind of demonizing Michael Cohen when, in fact, Donald Trump asked him to carry out these acts. And I think that`s important to know.
MATTHEWS: Do you know that the president told him to lie about the purpose of paying off those women, that it was a campaign contribution?
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Well, I can`t say if he asked him to lie, but he certainly asked him to protect Donald Trump. To protect him from his wife, to protect him from the country, and help him to get elected by hiding these lascivious (INAUDIBLE).
MATTHEWS: Did he know about the Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 with the Russians?
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: I believe so, and as...
MATTHEWS: How do you believe it? How do you know?
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Michael Cohen was very involved in helping to organize this, but not only that, during the campaign...
MATTHEWS: You know that`s a fact.
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: I know that to be a fact. But also, during the campaign Donald Trump didn`t his his affinity for Russians. And I think it`s ludicrous for people to say that we didn`t hear about his desire to have a relationship with Putin during the campaign.
MATTHEWS: Was it part of the scuttlebutt of the campaign that he was trying to get dirt from the Russian government?
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Well, I`m going to tell you that there was a time when we found out about these e-mails, and there`s a debate as to when Donald Trump found out about them. But what`s interesting...
MATTHEWS: You mean about the hacking of the DNC?
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: The hacking of the DNC.
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: And that`s a big part of the Mueller investigation. I`ll be very careful there because I certainly have been participating with them and cooperating with them. But, I will say that...
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, has Mueller (INAUDIBLE) of this kind of thing? Every day?
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Well, I`ve had an opportunity to sit down with them. They asked me a wide range of questions, and as I said, I will continue to cooperate with them so I`ll be very careful. But I will say that today changed everything. This is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump.
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Because he knows that the person who knows everything about him, about his relationships with these women, and others that people may not know about, are going to come to light.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Ken on this whole thing, and then I want to go around the room here, because I think this guy knows a lot. And I get the feeling that his charges are light. I mean, he is a felon now. He can`t vote, he can`t be on a jury, can`t run for office although that thing was not on the horizon for a while now.
But Michael Cohen knows a lot. And if Omarosa is backing this up and everybody else, this guy was very much on the inside of everything with Trump. Isn`t he Trump`s worst nightmare, especially with all the documents that the FBI grabbed from his office, his hotel room, everything?
VOGEL: Yeah, that`s absolutely right. He has visibility into a wide range of subjects of interest to Mueller and to the investigators in the southern district. And we`re not just talking about the payoffs to the women. We`re talking about throughout the campaign, as Omarosa`s documented on this video. He was in there.
And we`re talking about his business, Trump`s business dealings before that. We know that he traveled the world. He rejects the claim that he was in Prague. We knew it first, but we know he was all over the world on behalf of Donald Trump and Donald Trump`s business interests.
We just see the tip of the iceberg of the types of things that Mueller might be interested in that he has visibility. I mean, he even worked with Elliott Broidy, the top fund raiser for Donald Trump, who also, the Washington Post reported, has been a subject of interest for investigators. So, his tentacles are really all...
MATTHEWS: I agree. Well, let me talk about those tentacles, because I want to tell - you see, this Tom guy, Tom, has - the southern district of the lower court. They`ve cut the deal, and they`ve got him in their tentacles, to use the phrase that Ken used. They`ve got him in their clutches. How do they feed him now to provide information on Russia and everything else in this Pandora`s Box over to Mueller?
WINTER: Sure. So, Chris, any time that you cut a deal with the government, you can cooperate at any time with them. And any information that you share federally, you know, it`s all one system.
WINTER: So, if he`s told them one certain thing that may be helpful to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, that`s something they can share back and forth. And actually, there`s a lot of crossover in the personnel between the two offices. So, as far as information finding its way back to the special counsel, that`s not going to be a problem here.
MATTHEWS: Katie, last question to you. Is this man, Michael Cohen, who seems sympathetic, and I think Omarosa`s been sympathetic to him of late, right?
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Yes, of course.
MATTHEWS: That he was a tough guy. He was basically a tough guy for Trump in the good old days there, old good old days. But now, is he in the control, basically, of the U.S. attorneys? Is he not a free man anymore? Does he basically have to talk when they tell him to talk, and talk about what they want him to talk about or else he faces real trouble beyond this? Your thoughts.
PHANG: He`s still in the driver`s seat, though, Chris, because he has valuable information. And for purposes of your sentencing, the more you cooperate, the more your sentence is going to be lightened. And so, five years could be less if he gives more valuable information on a variety of different topics.
MATTHEWS: If everybody knew about this situation, are they all liable? I mean, it seems to me - Katie, stick with me on this. How many people knew about it besides Trump and his fixer/lawyer? Just the two of them? The amount of money, the payment, the deal they made to shut them up, to quiet them, to hush them up so that he could get through the election? Get through the night, basically?
PHANG: Well, remember, you also have Keith Davidson, who was the former lawyer that represented both Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. And so, there`s more people, including Keith Davidson, that might have information that would implicate Donald Trump, as well.
VOGEL: And additionally, Chris, you know campaign finance laws speak to who had liability in this case. And the candidate in this case, he is actually - Cohen is actually singling out the candidate, but a treasurer of a campaign committee also would have liability for an illegal transaction like that. And there could be others...
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) how much did you get?
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Well, I`ll tell you, I was on the receiving end of one of these hush deals where Lara Trump called me to offer me a cushy job, $15,000 per month.
MATTHEWS: $180 a year.
MANIGAULT NEWMAN: Yes, so that I could keep quiet and not say anything against this president. So, they`re in the business of trying to silence people, and using campaign dollars to do that, which is illegal.
MATTHEWS: It is consistent. Thank you, Omarosa Manigault Newman, for coming on, as always, or as before. Ken Vogel, thank you, sir. Katie Phang and Tom Winter, for your expertise.
We`ll have much more on Michael Cohen. And then we`re going to keep an eye on the president`s rally in West Virginia.
Most importantly, up next, today`s other big story, double-barreled story today. Paul Manafort going down for eight counts. This guy`s got a lot of problems. He`s still got to go to D.C. for another round of trials with a lot more evidence against him. Huge documentation piling up against him.
Will the president give this guy a break and pardon him? Who knows?
This is "Hardball," where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Paul Manafort, the president`s former campaign chairman, has been found guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud charges, I think a lot of being not paying his taxes. That includes five counts of failing to file tax returns, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failing to file a foreign bank account.
The judge declared a mistrial on the remaining 10 counts -- it would have 18 against Manafort -- when the jury declared they couldn`t reach a consensus on the other counts.
President Trump had this to say about today`s verdict:
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Paul Manafort is a good man. He was with Ronald Reagan. He was with a lot of different people over the years. And I feel very sad about that. It doesn`t involve me, but I still feel -- it`s a very sad thing that happened.
This has nothing to do with Russian collusion. This started as Russian collusion. This has absolutely nothing to do -- this is a witch-hunt and it`s a disgrace.
This has nothing to do what they started out, looking for Russian involved in our campaign. There were none.
I feel very badly for Paul Manafort.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the charges stem from Manafort`s work overseas with the Russian-backed government of Ukraine, where Manafort was paid $60 million over 10 years, but failed to properly pay taxes on that income.
And later, Manafort lied to banks in order to get loans once the money had dried up.
Well, this was the first big test for Robert Mueller`s special investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 election, even though the charges against Manafort predate his time on the Trump campaign.
I`m joined right now by Ken Dilanian, NBC News investigative reporter from the Virginia courthouse itself, Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor -- he`s with me -- and Caroline Polisi, a criminal defense attorney.
In order of the three of you, what do you think the trial means today? And how do you think that jury got through where they got through? They seem to have had a hard time with a lot of the documentation.
KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Last question first, Chris.
This jury meticulously went through the evidence. And the reason we know that is, you can glean some things from the verdict. One is that they did not believe Rick Gates, because the conspiracy counts of bank fraud, where Gates was key, they could not come to an agreement on.
Secondly, the tax evasion was pretty clear. They convicted him on all five counts of tax evasion. On the foreign bank account charge, it`s really hard to understand what they were doing there. They convicted him on only one of four potential failure file to foreign bank account reports.
The evidence, I thought, was very strong there. But what`s clear is they went through count by count, and they found some evidence more persuasive than some other evidence. And they did their due diligence.
And they don`t appear to have been affected by any of this outside noise, any of the Donald Trump comments or any of the -- the previous coverage of Paul Manafort.
In terms of what it means for Manafort, he`s looking at seven to nine years in prison under the guidelines. And the judge can take into count all the charges, even the charges that he wasn`t convicted of, in the sentencing. So he`s looking at a hefty prison sentence and another trial in Washington, where the prison term is even more.
So the question how really, Chris, is, does he pack get in? Does he cut a deal? Or does he keep fighting? And how is he paying for this defense. This defense must be costing him enormous sums of money, particularly if he tries to appeal this conviction.
So I think the next shoe to drop is looking at whether Paul Manafort decides to cut a deal with the special counsel.
MATTHEWS: Glenn, how do you see it right now?
GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So, right now, Chris, this kind of a lose-lose for Paul Manafort, because, first of all, yes, he was convicted of only eight of the 18 charges. But guess what?
The other 10 charges, one, the government could retry those if the government chose to. But, even more importantly, as Ken mentioned, the government can use that conduct as what we call relevant conduct. And that can actually enhance his sentence. All we have to prove at a sentencing hearing regarding relevant conduct is that it`s more likely than not that he committed those acts.
And just the fact that he was indicted...
MATTHEWS: Is that fair, actually, to say that if someone gets a hung jury, and not prosecuted -- and not convicted of, that that is somehow held against him, even if there`s no proof that he did it?
KIRSCHNER: Fair or unfair...
MATTHEWS: Are you innocent until proven guilty?
KIRSCHNER: Those are the rules in federal court.
And it`s not that he would be exposed to the entire sentence that he would be exposed to if convicted of those counts, but he does get a sentencing bump, if the prosecutors can prove it by a preponderance of the evidence.
So -- and not to mention, Chris, I have to believe that Manafort is going to be that rare defendant who`s looking at a hat trick of indictments, because I have a feeling Bob Mueller, once he decides to return the conspiracy indictment, Manafort will likely be rolled into that as well.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to -- let me go to Caroline Polisi on this.
Caroline, your view of this case as a human thing. You look at a guy who is -- he looks kind of tough. He doesn`t show much emotion. Manafort looks like he`s been through a lot in his life. He`s a tough guy.
How much can be tough? He`s 69. He`s facing at least now almost a decade in prison, if nothing worse happens. The judge can throw the book at him for the other charges and try to win indictments on them or win convictions on those. He has got to go to Philadelphia, maybe a more liberal -- just guessing -- a more liberal jury, more tough jury.
Philly is tough town. I lived there. And you never know what you`re going to get in a jury, and maybe liberals. Who knows? They don`t like Trump. I don`t know. But I wouldn`t be very happy about it if I were him.
And, secondly, there`s apparently a hell of a lot of documentation being thrown at him in the next trial. If he skated through this baby with maybe some help on that jury -- maybe he did, maybe didn`t -- he may not be as lucky next time. He may face the rest of his life in prison within a month.
CAROLINE POLISI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Absolutely, Chris.
I think Paul Manafort is likely taking a long, hard look at himself in the mirror today, thinking about that decision that he made not to cooperate. Remember, Rick Gates got on that stand and said, we both had this option. I chose a different option than Manafort, so the idea being obviously that he refused to cooperate with prosecutors.
I think, to the extent that prosecutors were planning on using Rick Gates in that second trial coming up, they better rethink that. Clearly, he didn`t play well to the jury. He -- his credibility was undermined.
He also -- Paul Manafort has been in pretrial incarceration prior to the next trial coming up.
POLISI: So she`s got a taste of what prison life is like.
If I had to get, I would say he`s going to be cooperating sometime soon.
MATTHEWS: Yes, by the way, I made a big mistake. I`m going to a Phillies game tomorrow night. It`s D.C., the next trial. But it`s equally a big city court. And it`s going to be tough on him.
I just remember, again, through Watergate, those guys did not do well going into D.C. court.
Let me get back to Ken on that.
Your thinking about that, Ken? The difference between a North Virginia court, which is a mixed bag of somebody from the inner counties and some from the outer counties. What do you -- do you have any sense at all that jury yet and who they are?
DILANIAN: I think the jury pool is going to be less -- even more predisposed to being hostile to a Republican political consultant, Chris. You`re right.
And, also, this judge, it`s been very clear to us that this Manafort defense game is afraid of the D.C. Judge Ellis, Judge T.S. Ellis, in this case in Alexandria was widely seen as favorable to the defense. You`re not going to see that in Washington, D.C.
But here`s the other wild card, Chris. And I have been thinking about this through the trial. And Paul Manafort -- you`re right -- showed no emotion as this verdict was read. Is Donald Trump going to pardon Paul Manafort? He certainly laid the groundwork. He certainly talked about how Manafort has been treated unfairly.
We`re going to see the spectacle of two trials against Manafort, tax fraud charges. Tax prosecutions are rare in this country, Chris. And if Donald Trump was willing to pardon Joe Arpaio and Dinesh D`Souza, who have been both convicted of felonies, what is he willing to do with Paul Manafort?
I think that remains to be seen.
MATTHEWS: Well, Glenn -- and then I want to go to Caroline on the same question -- it`s harder to punish -- to pardon someone when you benefit from the pardon personally. It`s one thing to help out Jack Johnson or somebody from yesteryear, right, because nobody holds that as a personal deal for you.
MATTHEWS: But when you`re -- when you`re pardoning a guy who could testify against you, everybody`s going to say, you`re Jerry Ford at best.
And you know what? A pardon can equal obstruction of justice. It just can. Some people say, well, he has unfettered, unlimited pardon power. Yes, he does, but that doesn`t mean, once he exercises it, Bob Mueller can`t look at his intent in granting the pardon.
For example, you pardon somebody because you think they have a just cause, they were unfairly convicted, great. You pardon that same person because that person`s relative gave you a million dollars, that`s corrupt. That is unlawful.
MATTHEWS: Is there a limit on the -- I didn`t know there was a limit on the pardon power.
KIRSCHNER: So, it is an unlimited power. You can exercise it in any way you see fit.
But, once you do, we`re not trying to limit the power. But we`re looking behind it to your intent. And if your intent is corrupt, you may have the power, but it could also be used against you, depending on how you exercise it.
MATTHEWS: But the person still gets pardoned.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
And your thoughts on that, Caroline? I don`t want to leave you out of that whole question.
POLISI: Yes. No, it`s...
MATTHEWS: Because everybody`s thinking pardon, when the president came out and started shouting from the aircraft today...
MATTHEWS: ... out there on the tarmac, like he cares about this guy.
He probably doesn`t care at all about Mr. Cohen at this point, to say the least.
If you look at, again, the groundwork that Trump has laid -- just, for example, take the Dinesh D`Souza pardon. D`Souza didn`t argue that he didn`t commit the crime for which he was convicted. It was -- the argument was, it was a vindictive prosecution, a selective prostitution on the part of the government.
And that`s really the idea that Trump is ginning up here in this witch-hunt narrative. He`s going to say, of course these had nothing to do with -- with the Russian collusion, and, therefore, he was treated unfairly.
So -- and the idea of the corrupt intent, it`s the same exact idea we have been talking about with the firing of James Comey. Was that obstruction of justice? He is the president of the United States, and he has unfettered power both to pardon and to fire whom he sees fit.
But the question is, what was the underlying motivation?
MATTHEWS: And he may be saving the pardons for his kids, I`m thinking.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Ken Dilanian.
A bad day for the president, all the president`s men guilty today.
And, Ken Dilanian, thank you, sir, as always. I watched you all day today. Great reporting.
MATTHEWS: Glenn Kirschner and Caroline Polisi -- or Polisi.
Up next: The walls are closing in on President Trump, with Michael Cohen copping a plea, Manafort getting guilty for eight counts, the White House counsel talking to Mueller, and Donald Jr. reportedly being squeezed by investigators right now, as we speak.
Is this Trump`s worst day on Earth?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The existential threats facing President Trump now are closing in from every direction. His longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, of course, has now pleaded guilty, admitting to federal prosecutors in New York he violated campaign finance law in that hush money payment to Stormy Daniels and fingered the president as a co-conspirator.
His former campaign chairman -- that`s the president`s -- Paul Manafort is now a convicted felon as well, found guilty on eight counts of tax and bank fraud as of today.
That`s two former advisers from the top who are now facing jail time, prison time, actually, in just one day. It all happened today. Neither is cooperating with federal prosecutors.
White House -- well, they are actually -- counsel Dan McGahn already has. He`s provided 30 hours a testimony to Robert Mueller. Certainly -- certainly, Mr. Cohen is cooperating.
"Vanity Fair"`s Gabe Sherman reports that the McGahn news may have motivated the president`s increasingly unhinged behavior of late, noting: "A lot of what Trump is doing is based on the fact that Mueller is going after Don Jr., a person close to the Trump family told me. They`re squeezing Don Jr. right now."
So it`s all happening at once right now.
For more, I`m joined by the great Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for the "USA Today," Bret Stephens, a columnist for "The New York Times," Vivian Salama, White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal," and Dana Milbank, columnist for "The Washington Post."
So we have got a heavyweight gang here.
I want to start with Bret, though.
Bret, you said something here. You just tweeted this out in the modern means of communication: "I have been skeptical about the wisdom and merit of impeachment. Cohen`s guilty plea changes that. The president is clearly guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. He should resign his office or be impeached and removed from office."
Do you want to elaborate on that rather dramatic final statement of yours on the guilt of the president?
BRET STEPHENS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I don`t think -- I think it`s difficult to reach any other conclusion.
You know, for a long time, I have wondered whether the evidence of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia would be so clear, so black letter, as it were, that it could rise politically to the level of impeachment, and it could convince a critical mass of Republican lawmakers to impeach, and then, of course, convict the president.
But I think the Cohen story is in a different league altogether. This a clear black letter violation of campaign finance laws. We have powerful evidence that the president was aware of these payments, that -- and that, later, as president, he suppressed information about the payments until "The Wall Street Journal," to its great credit, broke the story -- broke the Stormy Daniels story earlier -- earlier this year.
Now, you can make an argument that these campaign finance laws are vague or badly worded, but, then again, they were used against -- for the prosecution of a former vice presidential nominee and senator, John Edwards, in a strikingly similar case.
So, I think Republicans ought to be asking themselves in a serious way if they believe in the rule of law and the separation of powers, which, as I remember, are core conservative principles.
STEPHENS: They ought to be considering impeachment as the constitutional mechanism to remove an unfit president who has committed or seems to have committed criminal acts.
MATTHEWS: Of course, we didn`t get a commitment -- a conviction in the John Edwards case involving the contribution from Bunny Mellon. And she gave money, which I talked to her, I interviewed her about. She said she didn`t think it was for a campaign purpose. But, clearly, a lot of people in the jury did.
Let me ask you about the interpretation here. Do you -- did you find convincing -- apparently, you did -- the sworn testimony that`s apparently going to be forthcoming from Michael Cohen that the president not only approved the payment of the $152,000 to Ms. McDougal and the $130,000 to Stormy Daniels, Stephanie Clifford, but that he did so as a purposeful, deliberate, knowing campaign contribution?
Talk about that, because that`s where it really gets into the law here and the criminality.
STEPHENS: The president is known for stiffing all sorts of -- all sorts of people. The fact that this payment so place so close to the election, along with the fact that we have a recording which seems to indicate president`s knowledge that he was committing -- he was committing a criminal act, therefore -- therefore, the payments in cash and the elaborate methods to disguise the payment, all suggest to me criminal intent.
Now, remember, we`re not going -- in the event of impeachment, the standards are -- here are political. Ultimately, the jury is the Senate. We`re not talking about a case that would stand or fall before a jury.
MATTHEWS: I understand.
STEPHENS: But the weight of evidence seems clearly to suggest that the president knew exactly what he was doing.
By the way, it`s worth remembering that, back in 2000 -- in 2000, Bush nearly lost the election account of a DUI. This is essentially similar behavior.
Can I get to really a tough question for you? This may hit you in the solar plexus, but do you believe the Republican Party, do you believe the Republican Party of 2018 is willing to do what the Republican Party back in 1974 was willing to do with Nixon, act on the evidence?
Do you have confidence that the Republican Party, the Grand Old Party, will look at evidence like this and consider it, or will they do what they have been doing all along, this sort of goose-stepping to Trump?
It`s awful, what -- but they have been doing it. They do -- whatever he says, they accept it as an order. Will they change from taking orders from Trump in this regimental manner, or will they actually look at evidence the way at least Republicans did in `74?
STEPHENS: I doubt it. Where is our Howard Baker to go to the president? Where is our George H.W. Bush, who was then head of the RNC?
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you.
Well, trouble is, you have said something really dramatic about you think he ought to be impeached, and then you have told me a really desultory notion, it won`t do any good.
Thank you, Bret Stephens. Well, you will be -- you will stick with us.
Susan, Dana, and Vivian, lots more with you -- in fact, some from you.
Up next: "Lock her up" was a favorite refrain of Trump and his supporters throughout the campaign, and now Trump`s looking at five people tied to his campaign all pleading guilty or being found guilty of serious charges. It`s all there, all the president`s men all guilty.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
"Lock her up" became a common refrain at Trump rallies in 2016 as a dig at Hillary Clinton.
And, tonight, supporters at Trump`s rally returned to the familiar chant while Senate candidate Patrick Morrisey in West Virginia was talking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AUDIENCE: Lock her up! Lock her up!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, it turns out that the Trump team has accumulated quite a rap sheet of its own. Don`t you think?
In less than two years in office, five people connected to the president or his campaign have pleaded guilty or been found guilty of various charges, including his personal lawyer now today and fixer, Michael Cohen, and his former campaign chair Paul Manafort again today, his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, his definitely campaign chair Rick Gates.
I`m back with the panel, Susan, Vivian, and Dana.
Is this like the Titanic, when only so many compartments can flood, and sooner or later, the ship goes down? How many convictions can Trump take?
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": You know, this -- what I thought today reminded us of, with the -- with Manafort being convicted and with Cohen pleading guilty is that there is a legal system that is immune to political spin, and it doesn`t care what you post on Twitter.
And it is proceeding apace. And we`re going to see this happen...
MATTHEWS: You mean evidence and juries.
PAGE: Evidence, juries, facts, documents, cooperating witnesses.
And this was -- this was, of course, the special counsel`s first prosecution in court. It is not going to be his last. We`re going to see these headlines again, with additional figures. So I think your question is a good one.
MATTHEWS: Vivian, how long will the Trump people believe he`s telling the truth? Or don`t care? I asked the wrong question. Do they care if he tells the truth or not?
VIVIAN SALAMA, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": As far as his supporters, there isn`t a lot of appetite, once we leave D.C., the Beltway area, in terms of this investigation.
A lot of people do believe what President Trump tells them at the rallies and on Twitter, that it`s a hoax and a witch-hunt.
MATTHEWS: They believe he didn`t have the affair with these two women and paid them off to keep them quiet? Come on. They`re as worldly wise as any of us are.
SALAMA: Even if they believe it, his core supporters ultimately do not care.
As long as he is helping the economy grow, as long as he`s getting -- creating jobs, that`s all people care about when it comes to his base, now that we`re talking about...
MATTHEWS: Just to flip it, if Hillary had relations with a couple gigolos, which is unimaginable...
MATTHEWS: I`m sorry.
MATTHEWS: It`s unimaginable. Would they say, get her, put her in jail, and covered it up?
SALAMA: There`s not a lot of logic behind it, when you have clear evidence of certain issues that are taking place. But these are ultimately die-hard supporters for a reason.
MATTHEWS: Again, they do not judge Trump as they judge humanity.
SALAMA: It`s -- when you`re a die-hard supporter, then a lot of times, you`re willing to overlook a lot of things.
And that`s what we keep seeing here.
DANA MILBANK, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": As a wise man once said, truth isn`t truth.
MILBANK: And we may look at this and say, OK, this is pretty damning. But we were watching in the green room this rally, so your viewers didn`t have to do it.
And not only were they chanting the "Lock her up." They were also chanting, "Drain the swamp."
So, irony is clearly dead in West Virginia, in talking about locking...
MATTHEWS: But didn`t they wake up to today?
How come those people in West Virginia didn`t live through today? They have radios. They get Sirius FM or Sirius whatever. They can hear what is going on.
MILBANK: They are hearing it. They`re hearing something in parallel.
I think Bret is right on impeachment. But there is zero chance that they`re going to -- that the Republicans in the Congress are going to do this, until and unless...
MATTHEWS: We have never seen a political particularly -- I know a lot of people covered for Bill Clinton. I used to fight with those people.
But the idea of walking along in goose-step, if you will see -- it`s a crude way of putting it -- marching, marching, marching, as if nothing matters, except their loyalty to this guy, nothing.
PAGE: And don`t -- see, I don`t think President Trump`s core supporters think that he didn`t have affairs with these two women or he didn`t pay them money.
They think, OK, I`m going to look at this, and I have got a tax cut, and the economy is strong, and he`s putting the people I want on the Supreme Court.
MATTHEWS: Is that it? Did they get the tax cut? Did they get it?
PAGE: I think that is the argument that is keeping them...
MATTHEWS: I don`t think they got it.
PAGE: I don`t think it`s that they believe he didn`t do these things. It`s that they discount it because they care about other things.
MATTHEWS: Well, late -- late today, California Congressman Duncan Hunter - - he is a Republican -- the second member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump -- and his wife were both indicted for misusing $250,000 in campaign money and falsifying the financial records.
Chris Collins, by the way, the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, was indicted two weeks ago for insider trading and lying to the FBI.
Dana, this is rich material for you. This is a gold mine.
MATTHEWS: What is it about the early people, the early money people for Trump, that seem to be most vulnerable?
MILBANK: Well, in Duncan Hunter`s case, the lesson was clearly, if you`re going to fly your pet rabbit across the country, do not do it with campaign dollars. I think that is literally one of the things he did. And that seems to have brought him down.
It has that sort of feeling of 2006, with Mark Foley, the Abramoff scandal going on.
MILBANK: You keep -- you want to say, well, the wheels have fallen off the bus. But I`m not sure the wheels were ever entirely on the bus.
But it definitely seems like there is nothing imaginable that would that could happen -- tomorrow that could happen that we could...
MATTHEWS: Well, our panel is sticking with us.
And up next: President Trump is under attack from all sides. Which of these assaults is most likely to keep him up at night? Even he must be worrying about Michael Cohen. This guy knows everything. We just saw him on the plane, thanks to Omarosa. He was an insider all the way, on Russia, everything.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: We`re back with our panel.
And today could be one of the most consequential days of the Trump administration. But it`s also perhaps the worst.
Susan, August 21 of 2018, what does it mean?
PAGE: An acceleration of the news and of investigations on different fronts, and what they have in common is that they are increasingly affecting and spotlighting...
MATTHEWS: What is the biggest, Eric -- Jr. getting squeezed?
PAGE: No, the biggest is Michael Cohen, his fixer, saying he was involved in a felony.
MATTHEWS: I shouldn`t say Eric. Jr.
Biggest thing is him?
SALAMA: I agree that the biggest thing is definitely Michael Cohen.
And you could tell, even when President Trump got off the plane in West Virginia today, he was very keen to address the Manafort situation.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but not the other.
SALAMA: Because he feels like he -- it`s separate from him. It doesn`t touch him.
He completely avoided any questions on Cohen. It`s making him nervous.
MILBANK: I don`t think it`s the beginning of the end, as Omarosa told you tonight, but it may be the end of the beginning.
No longer can you plausibly say rigged witch-hunt. They have -- now have five witches caught with broomsticks in their hands facing jail time.
MATTHEWS: Flying, actually.
MILBANK: They were actually flying and caught in the net.
MATTHEWS: Do you buy that, Susan? You`re the front page guy. I mean, you write on the -- this guy`s an opinion guy, and sometimes satire.
You`re right on the front page of "USA Today."
MATTHEWS: Where does this mark in terms of the investigation of Donald Trump?
PAGE: This is -- this is a big day.
This is a day where, as you say, you can`t call it a witch-hunt. You can`t say it`s rigged. People actually pleading guilty, getting convicted, and not the -- not the end of this. That`s the thing.
We shouldn`t think this is the end.
MATTHEWS: They`re pleading.
PAGE: This is the beginning of a series of convictions that I think we`re going to see.
MATTHEWS: Well, justice grinds slowly, but finely.
Anyway, thank you, Susan Page, Vivian Salama, and Dana Milbank.
When we return, Let Me Finish Tonight With Trump Watch. I think it`s a big one tonight. I hope you stick around for a few minutes.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Trump Watch, Tuesday, August 21, 2018.
Fifty years ago today, Russian tanks tore into Czechoslovakia, destroying the Prague spring, killing the notion of freedom under communism in its crib.
Well, today, the president of our country, under mortal investigation for collaborating with the Russians, saw his defenses destroyed, his pack of allies ripped asunder.
One top aide, his former campaign chair, is going to prison for years. Another trusted aide, his lawyer/fixer, has said he paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars at the direction of then candidate Trump for the specific purpose of keeping up his candidate`s image on election eve.
We`re talking here about a felony charge confessed to by one of the defendants that now lies against the president himself.
I`m wondering, as many are, whether this horrendous reality is what the president and his henchmen have been piling up sandbags against for weeks now. Knowing what was coming, they needed to pile them high.
Will the levees hold? Will the sandbags piled up by Trump, his lawyers, his staff, his sycophants, and his pathetic Republican allies hold off against the rising wave of awful truth just now beginning to crest over the high barriers of denial and self-deception with which he has so nastily divided this country?
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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