AMI CEO David Pecker granted immunity. TRANSCRIPT: 8/24/2018, Hardball w Chris Matthews.

Guests: Jonathan Lemire; Allan Smith; Kim Wehle; Jonathan Allen, Mieke Eoyang, Craig Unger, Aisha Moodie-Mills, Evan Siegfried, Gabriel Debenedetti

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 24, 2018 Guest: Jonathan Lemire; Allan Smith; Kim Wehle; Jonathan Allen, Mieke Eoyang, Craig Unger, Aisha Moodie-Mills, Evan Siegfried, Gabriel Debenedetti

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Turning on Trump. Let`s play Hardball.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York.

If the president himself is what`s saving Donald Trump now, who else can he save? His children? Tonight, the walls continue to close in on the President of the United States. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen are both already cooperating with federal authorities. So is National Inquirer publisher and Trump ally David Pecker.

And today, NBC reports that Allen Weisselberg, Chief Financial Officer of the Trump Organization, was granted immunity in order to testify in the Michael Cohen investigation. The Wall Street Journal first reported the news on Weisselberg, the man who they described as "the most senior person in the organization that`s not a Trump."

Well, according to Bloomberg, "Weisselberg is deeply familiar with the Trump Organization`s financial housekeeping," and "was privy to decisions at the Trump Organization that Cohen was never allowed to take part in." Well, Weisselberg`s cooperation is particularly dangerous to the president because of his deep ties to the Trump Organization and to the Trump family itself going back to the 1970s.

It could also be dangerous to the president`s children. Weisselberg currently works alongside Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump, both executive vice-presidents of the Trump Organization. Ivanka Trump was also an executive vice-president until she went to work at the White House.

So, on Thursday the president said cooperating with the federal prosecutors should maybe be illegal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This whole thing about flipping, they call it. I know all about flipping. For 30, 40 years I`ve been watching flippers. It almost ought to be outlawed. It`s not fair, that you can say something bad about Donald Trump and you`ll go down to two years or three years, which is the deal he made.

In all fairness to him, most people are going to do that, and I`ve seen it many times. I`ve had many friends involved in this stuff. It`s called flipping, and it almost ought to be illegal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, in today`s news, another bombshell in a series of mushrooming legal problems for this president. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen are both already cooperating with federal authorities today. Yesterday, it was reported that another close friend, David Pecker, the head of AMI, the parent company of the National Inquirer, was also granted immunity to provide intimate details about his role in helping the president and Michael Cohen hide an alleged affair with Karen McDougal.

It was also reported by the Associated Press that AMI had a safe filled with secret files on President Trump. A secret file - secret safe. All this comes, of course, on the heels of the ultimate betrayal, Michael Cohen telling a federal judge that Donald Trump directed him to illegally buy the silence of two women who allegedly had an affair with him. According to the Associated Press again, the president was under siege, and his aides, quote, "...have grown accustomed to being smacked with bad news when they look up at the television - and their reactions are more muted than when Trump first took office."

For more, I`m joined by Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for the Associated Press; Allan Smith, senior politics reporter at "Business Insider"; Kim Wehle, former federal prosecutor; and Jonathan Allen, of course national political reporter for NBC News Digital. Well, let`s start with you, Alan.

Tell us about Allen Weisselberg. It seems to me that you`ve got the chief bookkeeper, the chief financial officer, who`s so close to the family he`s the only one not a family member at the top of the Trump Organization. What`s his immunity? Give him the allowance to tell, without prosecution, and also makes him basically vulnerable. He can`t take the Fifth anymore.

ALLAN SMITH, SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER, "BUSINESS INSIDER": So, first off, Weisselberg, this is a guy who has been at the Trump Organization since Fred Trump was running the show. When Donald Trump took office, he turned over control of the company to three people: Donald Trump, Jr.; Eric Trump; and Allen Weisselberg. So, you`re looking at this person getting immunity. This is almost as big of a fish as prosecutors could have.

Now, it`s not entirely clear what he told prosecutors. But, what we do know is, with Michael Cohen`s plea deal, prosecutors said they had witness testimony to back up what he was saying and what he was admitting in court. And we know that included now in that witness testimony would have been Allen Weisselberg and David Pecker, two people with intimate knowledge of these payments. So, you have their testimony backing up with Michael Cohen said.

MATTHEWS: OK, give me the reporting in graphic. You`re Donald Trump. You are President of the United States. That`s a big deal.

But at the same time, offsetting being a big deal and President of the United States, you have this coming at you. Everybody you`ve done business with, it seems, that knows everything you`ve done wrong, is about to spill it.

SMITH: Well, we`ve seen Donald Trump`s initial defense to the Michael Cohen admissions was saying, look, Michael Cohen admitted to crimes that are not crimes. That`s what he said in the "Fox and Friends" interview. He was, you know, repeating sort of a line (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS).

MATTHEWS: That`s for a jury to decide, not Donald Trump to decide whether these are crimes or not.

SMITH: Well, we`ve at least seen that this is going to be his initial defense, like Michael Cohen was sort of - he`s trying to claim that he was swindled into making this agreement and admitting these crimes to face a potential less jail time.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

SMITH: So, he is saying this, and really he`s going to try to use the pulpit of being president to try to, you know, push off this oncoming storm.

MATTHEWS: I`m going to go to John now. John, what`s he do now? I mean, he must wonder. He`s a man of enormous ego and self-confidence, and he`s been through a lot of stuff in his life. Now he sees, it seems to me, the vulnerability of his family.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Sure, that`s always been considered his Achilles` heel, the way he cares for his adult children. The people that are now reporting at the AP, and you just referenced some of it, I mean, there certainly is a battle stations mode there in the West Wing. Aides are accustomed to these negative headlines and negative headlines.

We`ve talked to people who have spoken to the president, say certainly he`s frustrated, he feels persecuted, the usual complaints about government overreach with these prosecutions. It`s not a full meltdown yet. He is fuming to his aides about what happened, but still feels like we can fight this, we can escape this.

But he`s also a president who declares time and time again that loyalty is the most important thing to him. We know with him...

MATTHEWS: Not to the people around him.

LEMIRE: Well, we know that, to him, loyalty is sort of just a one-way street. And we have seen here in recent days how many people, some of the closest people to him have all turned. And that started with Omarosa last week, and then, of course, we have this hat trick here of Pecker, Cohen, and Weisselberg, who have all in some way...

MATTHEWS: But the reason they turned is that they feel that they`re vulnerable to prosecution.

LEMIRE: Sure.

MATTHEWS: That they know, or sense, they did something wrong that could be used to put them in jail for a long time.

LEMIRE: Yes. (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS: So, he surrounded himself with people who feel they`re vulnerable to federal prosecution.

LEMIRE: Sure, and that`s not a great trend. Weisselberg is someone who, though, at least reported by the AP, I mean, his - the immunity he got was to testify about Cohen. Now, it is possible there could be cooperation down the road about the president, but that has not yet happened.

MATTHEWS: One of Trump`s sharpest critics, of course, the husband of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, George Conway, weighed in on the significance of Weisselberg`s immunity to the president today, tweeting, "It means that Individual-I needs a real lawyer." That would be the president, Individual-1. Individual-1 is how the president was referred to in the court documents related to Michael Cohen`s plea deal.

Let me go to Kim Wehle. You know, once again he`s the President of the United States, he probably can`t be indicted while he`s president, that`s his one ace in the hole. But he can be indicted down the road, and his kids. It just seems to me, who`s he got on his side at this point in terms of evidence? Who`s going to testify on behalf of this president on any question of fact? Now, granted, there`s only one juror holdout this week who seemed to have a question with reasonable doubt as a notion, but he mat not get another juror like that for a while. Your thoughts?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, well, I mean, I`m not so sure that he can`t be indicted. I mean, if he went around assassinating political rivals and Congress was cowed into fearing for their own lives so they wouldn`t start impeachment process, I don`t think anyone would say, "Well, we`ve just got to wait until the next election to stop this rampage." I mean, I`m not saying that we`re at that point, but (MULTIPLE SPEAKERS).

MATTHEWS: You think Brett Kavanaugh would say that?

WEHLE: I think Kavanaugh would (laughs) we can talk about that another time.

MATTHEWS: Right.

WEHLE: But the Constitution is flexible on this idea. But, sure, there`s a lot of discussion on that. Option two is impeachment. The Republicans aren`t interested in that right now; the Democrats are worried about November. Option three is resignation and, you know, I`ve said for months, I repeated months ago, that that`s the most realistic option here, I think because, you know, it`s not just Trump himself.

We`ve got the organization, which he cares a lot about. He can`t hide behind executive privilege for that. He can`t argue, well, obstruction of justice doesn`t apply to me because I`m the head of the Justice Department with respect to those decisions. That`s outside of it. And, of course, he also has his children.

And so, these prosecutors are being smart and sort of moving in, kind of outflanking him in other places. And he`s going to, at some point, be left standing alone. And if the idea behind not indicting a president is that under Article 2 the executive power would be interfered with by an ongoing criminal investigation, I think this insanity that we`re living through is an interference with the ability of the executive branch to function. It`s all anyone can talk about. We have to ask ourselves, how is the rest of the government even functioning at this point?

MATTHEWS: Let me go to John Allen, because you`ve got a wide view of the whole politics of this. Here`s a guy that got every break in the campaign. I mean, all the states we watched election night in `16 went his way. Well, he didn`t get Minnesota or North Carolina. He basically got everything that was in play and they all broke his way in the last week or so. He`s been a beneficiary of good luck in his life, I would say.

It does look like it`s evening out this week, doesn`t it? The bad luck is catching up to the good luck in about five days here. What a week for this guy!

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS DIGITAL NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Chris, that`s the understatement of the century that Donald Trump has benefited from good luck. And you`re right, I think it`s turning.

I think on a political level, when you zoom out from this a little bit, this is so dangerous for Donald Trump. He`s now got Michael Cohen, who is - who has pleaded guilty to these crimes and said the president directed him to do that. This is a very different scandal today because - than it was just a few days ago because what was abstract and static is now very much real and very much closing in on him.

And the problem politically is it`s going to hang out there for a while. We`re going to see more developments out of Michael Cohen`s cooperation with prosecutors. We may see more out of Weisselberg and David Pecker. We`re going to see more in the next Manafort trial. It will be more and more and more, his problems are going to mount, not fade. And as you know, in politics when something like this is out there, when there`s a legal problem it is very toxic politically.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

ALLEN: Especially if it lasts for a long time, and especially if it bears fruit. And earlier this week, it bore fruit in Michael Cohen.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about Allen Weisselberg. We had learned about him over the last couple of weeks. He`s the bookkeeper, he`s the chief financial officer, he`s the one, basically one with the kids, with Donald, Jr. and Eric, who run that company. Kim, your thoughts on how much he will be used. Now, the fact that he`s cooperating with the southern district of New York, the U.S. Attorney there, and the fact that he is given immunity there, how does this work for Mueller?

WEHLE: Well, we don`t know the scope of the immunity, even though if it`s relating to Cohen, we know Cohen has said enough in court to point his finger at the president as the one that actually directed that he make a violation of the federal election campaign statutes. So, this is someone, as was said, that goes back for many, many years. He knows about what goes on the tax returns. He`s been involved in all the financial transactions from day one. He knows a lot about what Donald Trump knew and when he knew it.

And it`s also interesting this comes out of the southern district of New York. So, all of this attack on the notion of a witch hunt is not going to apply to the southern district. It`s Jeff Sessions who was actually in charge of the southern district of New York. And, of course, if he lets Sessions go down, (INAUDIBLE) political response, but Jeff Sessions had some information about, presumably, Russian contacts with the election leading up to the election. That`s the reason that he recused himself, because of his own context.

So, he`s really getting cornered. I mean, we`re a little bit close to checkmate mode with this president. And, of course, it really becomes, how do we as a country get through this and heal from this. And hopefully, I think that we will all hold out, but then the fallout comes.

And the question is, what`s going to happen to his base, I think? Because we`re on that path.

MATTHEWS: Allan, big question. I guess every progressive right now, everybody I know practically, wants to know why doesn`t the government have Donald Trump`s tax returns? Well, now they`ve got something perhaps better. They`ve got the guy that helped put them together.

They`ve got the guy that knows all his financial dealings. Everything with Russia, every deal, every - if there was any money laundering, anything going on with Russia. Anything with collusion with regards to money and he would do it and his motive. This guy, Weisselberg, knows it.

SMITH: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: He knows it all.

SMITH: I would say a really key thing here is that prosecutors wrote in the Michael Cohen plea agreement that the reimbursements from the Trump Organization were counted as legal fees, which could be tax-deductible. Now, we know that this money was not for legal purposes, so if they did deduct it from their taxes, that could be a violation of the law. If they were breaking tax laws, that`s sort of the avenue in to opening up the books there. But we know that the Manhattan district attorney is sort of opening up an investigation...

MATTHEWS: That`s news today, yeah.

SMITH: That`s news that they opened up an investigation into the Trump Organization stemming from the SDNY investigation, so...

MATTHEWS: Last question to John. I really appreciate your work for the AP. Is he scared now? Trump, is he finally scared?

LEMIRE: There`s been a sense around him for a while that Cohen presented more of a problem, potential problem, than even Mueller, that they...

MATTHEWS: Because they opened up his - they got all the records when they raided that place.

LEMIRE: Right, and because it dates back from a decade, not just, you know, some interactions from the campaign. And now that has borne out.

Cohen, though he`s not struck a deal yet to cooperate with Mueller, is waving his arms in the air and basically saying, "Please, I`d like to do this." We`ll see if Mueller wants that, if Mueller wants to - sees him as a trustworthy witness. Can Cohen prove anything? That`s something we`ll find out down the road. But now, also, with Weisselberg, if he becomes part of that investigation, as well, that`s doubly frightening for this president.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think the wagons are circled around him, not protecting him. Thank you, John Lemire, as always. Nice to meet you, Allan. Great reporting for us. Kim Wehle, of course, your analysis is great stuff. Jonathan Allen, my buddy from Washington, thank you.

Coming up, we have President Trump`s war with the Justice Department. He praises and pardons his friend, of course, while obstructing Jeff Sessions - remember him, his attorney general - to go after his political enemies. He`s telling him to go after Democrats, just like he told the Russians about Hillary`s e-mails, remember? This is a strange kind of chief executive, don`t you think? Chief enforcement officer of law enforcement (INAUDIBLE) that`s the president, sort of.

Plus, the New York Times best-selling author, Craig Unger, joins me to tell us about the untold story of Donald Trump and the Russian mafia. I`ve always wanted to know, why is this guy so into Russia? We`re going to find out tonight.

And why does the president`s rhetoric often sound like it`s out of "Goodfellas?" "Gotta go out and get the papers, get the papers." He talks like one of those guys at the club. Finally - the social club.

Finally, we finish tonight with a great American hero, John McCain. I`m going to show you something from him tonight. If it doesn`t make your heart melt, you`re not really with us. This is John McCain, the good John McCain, at his best. We`re going to show you a bit of that tonight at the end of the show.

This is "Hardball," where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Everyone, everyone sees what`s going on in the Justice Department. I think we should spell "Justice" now with quotes. It`s a very, very sad day. Jeff Sessions recused himself, which he shouldn`t have done. Well, he should have told me. Even my enemies say that Jeff Sessions should`ve told you that he was going to recuse himself, and then you wouldn`t have put him in. He took the job, and then he said, "I`m going to recuse myself." I said, "What kind of a man is this?"

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to "Hardball."

That was, of course, President Trump escalating his attack on the Justice Department and personally on Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions fired back at the president, you might say, saying in a statement, in part, "While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations."

Well, today, Trump ramped up his war of words against Sessions. In a tweet, he mocked Sessions` statement about refusing to politicize the department: "Jeff, this is great, what everyone wants. So look into all the corruption on the other side."

Well, Trump then listed the political opponents he wanted the department to investigate. But compare that with Trump`s tweet Wednesday, when he wrote: "I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. Justice took a 12-year-old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him. And unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to break."

So Trump wants to pardon his friends and then go after his enemies. According to Axios, that kind of disconnect reflects Trump`s fantasy legal system, noting: "Trump wants a top law enforcement official, his attorney general, to be far more sympathetic to his views on laws and loyalty."

Well, the report goes on to add: "A source close to Trump said the expectation of unwavering loyalty is a core operating principle for Trump."

For more, I`m joined by Mieke Eoyang, vice president for the National Security Program at Third Way, and Charlie Sykes, contributing editor at "The Weekly Standard."

Charlie, this is pretty overt, isn`t it? The president basically -- like he told the Russians to go after Hillary`s e-mails, now he`s telling his attorney general to act like the old-time attorney generals and start going after his political enemies, doing it just that way.

CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I think it`s hard -- it`s hard to overstate the contempt and ignorance that he has about the concept of the rule of law or the independence of the Department of Justice.

But I keep thinking that Donald Trump is saying out loud what somebody like Richard Nixon might have said in private.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SYKES: That we`re seeing -- we`re seeing this -- this attitude of using the Department of Justice, using the legal system as a cudgel to attack your enemies, and then basically protect your cronies.

And he`s actually saying it in public, not caught on tape. He`s saying it on cable television. It really is extraordinary. And the irony, of course, is that Jeff Sessions is the Trumpiest member of the Trump Cabinet, right? I mean, he`s the most closely aligned.

And yet he lacks the one thing that really matters to Donald Trump, which is this glandular, unthinking, personal loyalty and willingness to protect the president.

MATTHEWS: rMD-BO_Mieke, do you back that up? Because it seems to me that`s right, that his anger against Jeff Sessions is not that he`s not tough enough on immigration. They`re both tough on illegal immigration. Let`s face it. They`re both right-wingers. They both have that sentiment on the hard right.

His problem, according to Trump, is he didn`t protect Trump from prosecution. That`s his problem.

MIEKE EOYANG, FORMER STAFF DIRECTOR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: That`s right.

And what you see with Jeff Sessions is somebody who`s very loyally pursuing the Trump agenda. And that policy agenda means nothing to the president. He doesn`t care that Jeff Sessions is banning Muslims and helping to separate families at the border and doing all these other things and reviewing people citizenship status, all things that are really outside of the American norms.

All he cares about is that this attorney general is settling scores about who Trump cares about. He wants it to be very personal to him. And that is not something that we have ever seen historically. We have seen attorney generals take on a president`s policy agenda, never their personal agenda.

MATTHEWS: And, rMD-BO_Mieke, I don`t know if you watch gangster movies, but I don`t know if you saw "The Untouchables," where Robert De Niro goes around with a baseball bat at one of his meetings in his capos and knocks the head and kills a guy off one of his guys.

Why doesn`t president just get rid of -- I`m sorry -- why doesn`t he just get rid of Jeff Sessions, fire him tomorrow morning, tonight at midnight? Why not? It`s Friday night. Why not do it?

EOYANG: I think that he`s been warned by all of his closest associates and his -- Republicans in the Senate that if he fires Jeff Sessions, he`s really going to be in an uphill battle.

And one of the things that he can`t afford to have...

MATTHEWS: Worse than he is?

EOYANG: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Really?

EOYANG: Because one of the things he can`t afford to have are the Republican senators turn on him if the House starts impeachment proceedings and they vote to remove him from office, because then all of that immunity that he is getting from that OLC memo as the sitting president won`t apply anymore.

He will be in able to be indicted and prosecuted if he`s not in office. But the senators are the one standing between him and that fate.

MATTHEWS: Well, yesterday, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said he expects Sessions to be fired after the midterms, after November.

Politico reports that Tennessee Senator Bob Corker echoed that sentiment, saying: "It`s apparent that after the midterms he will make a change and choose someone to do what he wants done."

Sessions does have his share of defenders on the Hill, of course. Here`s Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: The attorney general`s job is not to be a political hack. The attorney general`s job is to defend the Constitution and to follow the rule of law.

And that`s what Jeff Sessions is doing.

The idea that Jeff Sessions might be fired because he`s not a political hack is a very, very bad idea. It`s a bad idea for the Constitution. It`s a bad idea for public trust. It`s a bad idea for the Department of Justice.

And, frankly, it`s a really bad idea for the president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Charlie, I wonder who`s alone there. Is Corker and Lindsey Graham the majority, or is this Ben Sasse the majority in the senators?

Who`s -- are they on Trump`s side, or are they on the side of Jeff Sessions? Whose side are they on?

SYKES: I think they`re standing there with their finger in the wind trying to see which way the -- which way this all blows.

Look, the Republicans are divided on this, but, ultimately, it will come down to them. And it will come down to whether or not they`re going to draw a bright line.

What I thought was stunning about Lindsey Graham`s comments was the timing. Here you have the president who is sounding like a mob boss, after these convictions, expressing his contempt for the rule of law. This would be the moment you would think, right, that Republicans in the Senate would caution him, if for no other reason than political self-preservation, do not exercise the nuclear option, do not try to decimate the leadership of the Department of Justice.

MATTHEWS: But Lindsey didn`t do that.

SYKES: No, he not only didn`t do that. He appeared to give a green light to something that would be -- set off a political firestorm and a constitutional crisis.

And this -- I really get the sense that folks have not completely internalized all of the events of this week, and what they mean, the threat to the president, how things have changed this week. I don`t think that voters have fully understood -- have taken it on board.

And I think that members of Congress are still waiting to see what the fallout is going to be, because, look, this was Donald Trump`s worst week, but it`s going to get worse.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mieke Eoyang. And thank you, Charlie Sykes.

I agree.

Up next: Trump has repeatedly denied any connections with Russia, but a new book out maps out the many links between businessman Donald Trump and Russia`s criminal underworld over the years, in fact, over the decades.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia. I have no investments in Russia, none whatsoever. I don`t have property in Russia.

A lot of people thought I owned office buildings in Moscow. I don`t have property in Russia. I had the Miss Universe Pageant, which I owned for quite a while. I had it in Moscow a long time ago. But other than that, I have nothing to do with Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump last year speaking to Lester Holt, of course.

While the president`s repeatedly denied he has any ties to Russia, a new book puts that claim into question. In "House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia," author Craig Unger alleges that Trump`s ties with Russia goes way back more than 30 years, and includes Russians using Trump properties here to launder millions of dollars for the Russian mafia.

Unger writes: "It`s hard to imagine Donald Trump had no knowledge whatsoever about what was going on."

Well, Craig Unger joins me right now.

Thank you. And I have to thank you for coming on, not for just being here, but for writing a book that answers my question I have had for months now.

What is this thing that connects Trump to Russia? Why is he always wanted to have Miss Universe, he wants a hotel over there, he`s always doing with Russians? They show up at meetings. His kids show up at meetings. What`s this -- I don`t think I have dealt with two Russians in my life.

What`s this guy`s problem with Russia? What is his connection with Russia?

CRAIG UNGER, AUTHOR, "HOUSE OF TRUMP, HOUSE OF PUTIN: THE UNTOLD STORY OF DONALD TRUMP AND THE RUSSIAN MAFIA": Well, as you know, Chris, the dark prince of the McCarthy era was Roy Cohn, who happened to be Donald Trump`s lawyer.

And he was also a lawyer for the Italian mafia, for the Gambino and Genovese families. And in the `80s, they began pardoning with the Russians. And the Russians were making so much money, they needed to launder it.

So, in 1984, a Russian guy with ties to the Russian mob named David Bogatin went into Trump Tower. He met with Donald Trump. He handed over $6 million in cash and bought five condos. That`s the equivalent of about $15 million today.

And according to the state attorney general of New York, that was money laundering. And that`s continued for more than 30 years and is probably well over a billion dollars.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So the Russians have a lot of money they make, ill-gotten gains, since the fall of the Soviet empire. They have made a lot of money off utilities and oil and everything else.

Why do they have to clean it over here? Why is it all -- why do they have to launder it? What`s their motive?

UNGER: There is a trillion dollars in flight capital from Russia since Vladimir Putin has been president. That`s a lot of money to launder.

And, essentially, the Russian mob and the oligarchs seized the natural resources of Russia. They have been siphoning off money for years. This is the patrimony of the Russian people and Ukrainian people.

And...

MATTHEWS: So they`re looting that country.

UNGER: They`re looting that country, and they need to launder it somewhere. And the best way to launder money is real estate.

If you -- there are almost no regulations in real estate, in terms of you can buy it anonymously through shell companies, pay all cash transactions. Bam, when you sell it, it`s laundered.

MATTHEWS: So Trump has a record in your book that you -- can you documented that he bought real estate with cash?

UNGER: This is -- I can`t penetrate all the -- all the shell companies.

And this was one of the interesting things today, with Allen Weisselberg flipping.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

UNGER: I`m sure -- obviously, I don`t have subpoena power. But I think you`re going to find that they will -- those records are going to be opened by the prosecutors now.

MATTHEWS: So if you`re Vladimir Putin, based upon -- if he read this book, and he knows what you know -- I think you would know more than you know, because he knows everything -- what he`s got on Trump?

UNGER: He`s got a lot on Trump.

Trump is essentially owned by the Russian mob. When he went into Atlantic City, he ended up being $4 billion in debt, with six bankruptcies, couldn`t get a loan anywhere. And suddenly he comes back to life. A firm called Bayrock, which has very interesting ties to the Russian oligarchs and various mobsters, actually moved into Trump Tower.

They started doing business with him. And they brought him back to life. A guy who is $4 billion in debt is not going to be elected president.

MATTHEWS: What did you make of when you heard him say that to Lester Holt, that he didn`t have any dealings with Russia?

UNGER: Well it`s a lie. It`s, frankly, just a lie.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s provably not true, so why would he say it? Just for his people?

Why does Trump say things that are provably not true?

UNGER: I can`t get into his head.

But I think the Russians...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK.

I want to ask you to project your book. Where`s this all going to lead? A guy who spent a life with Russia, Russian mobsters, getting all the money, using it to make money here, bail himself out, how`s that going to turn out to be a bad decision his part?

UNGER: I think we`re on a collision course. He`s going to either be forced out of office, or he will be forced to do extraconstitutional measures that are that are pretty horrifying.

MATTHEWS: Well, you`re a serious writer and it`s a serious book. And it`s serious for us to think about. I`m glad we finally got the record here.

Thank you, Craig Unger.

The book is called "House of Trump, House of Putin." You can go to a bookstore this weekend and get it.

Up next -- or else go to Amazon.

Up next: Two of President Trump`s former advisers now facing felony convictions. It looks like Republican lawmakers are digging in their heels and supporting him, instead of -- why do the Republicans hang on this guy`s tail? What is it about Trump that scares these Republicans?

This is Trump doing -- what`s he doing to earn that kind of loyalty? He doesn`t show much of it downward, does he?

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: It`s just not a good week. I mean, there`s no way you can spin it any other way.

And I think that for us to pass it off as Republicans as no big deal, that`s just not right. This is a big deal, and we ought to treat it seriously, and it can`t be dismissed. So we will move ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake yesterday summing up the state of the Republican Party after a week of legal troubles about the president.

But as "The New York Times" pointed out today -- actually, earlier this week -- "For those wondering if the latest disclosures from the Trump legal file are finally weighty enough to cause top congressional Republicans to break with the president, the answer is no."

Boy, that`s sad.

In an interview with "The New York Times," Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said: "Eight years ago to 10 years ago, Trump was not what I consider to be a pillar of virtue. I think he has changed a lot of his life once he was elected. I think Trump is a much better person today than he was then."

Well, Senator Hatch told "The Times" that the president -- quote -- "comes from a slam-bang, difficult world, and it`s amazing he is as good as he is."

Let`s bring in...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: What a low bar.

Let`s bring on tonight`s HARDBALL Roundtable, Aisha Moodie-Mills, a Democratic strategist. Evan Siegfried is a Republican strategist. And Gabriel Debenedetti is a national correspondent for the "New York Magazine."

Thank you all.

Assessment of the Republican Party. We have been looking at them. Are they breaking with him or holding with him?

Aisha?

AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the leadership has given their folks out in the field who have tough races permission to finally break with him, and albeit delicately.

So, I think that what we`re going to see come September, early parts of October, is more aggressive running away.

MATTHEWS: Evan?

EVAN SIEGFRIED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think that they`re going to stay right...

MATTHEWS: Is Trump a great president?

SIEGFRIED: No.

MATTHEWS: OK, good.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SIEGFRIED: I mean, am I dating Jennifer Lawrence? Of course not.

MATTHEWS: Is he a good president?

SIEGFRIED: No, he is not a good president whatsoever.

He...

MATTHEWS: Did you vote for him?

SIEGFRIED: Of course not.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Big Republican here. We`re trying to balance this thing out. I`m looking for somebody.

SIEGFRIED: I`m just being honest. I`m one of the few in the party who is actually standing up and saying there`s something wrong here with this guy.

MATTHEWS: Why do all the senators go along with him?

SIEGFRIED: Because the base is absolutely in love with him, and same with the House. They are scared of the base.

They`re taking a very big calculation of, if we stand up and say something against President Trump, we`re going to be taken out by the base in a primary. Look what happened to Jeff Flake, Bob Corker and even Mark Sanford in South Carolina.

So they`re thinking, if we just keep our heads down, we can wait it out. Democrats will win and we will be able to go through.

MATTHEWS: Let me get this straight, while you bring up Mark Sanford.

He -- look, I`m trying to give the guy credit. He fell in love with somebody, but he was married. He shouldn`t have, but he did. That`s not - - but Trump`s behavior is not falling in love with somebody.

I`m sorry. There`s no romance with this guy. How does your party defend that and go after -- they dumped Sanford like a bad habit. And then your president gets away with everything.

SIEGFRIED: Yes, he does, because they won`t hold him accountable.

Devin Nunes is subservient to him. It seems he`s going to the White House and saying, yes, sir, what can I do to help you?

It`s so frustrating, as a Republican.

GABRIEL DEBENEDETTI, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE": Yes, but you have touched on it.

It`s fear. It`s -- but it`s not necessarily fear that they`re just going to lose. It`s fear of the unknown, because he`s so unpredictable. No one wants to get lashed out by...

MATTHEWS: Are they afraid of a nickname?

DEBENEDETTI: They`re absolutely afraid of a nickname. That`s one of their greatest fears, which actually tells us quite a lot about the state of things right now.

But we really have to stop every two weeks saying, is this going to be the thing that lets them break?

MATTHEWS: But we have to.

(CROSSTALK)

DEBENEDETTI: We can keep asking, but...

MOODIE-MILLS: But, guys, they`re afraid of losing the House now.

Absolutely, there`s fear.

MATTHEWS: Well, they`re going to lose the House.

MOODIE-MILLS: But they`re also afraid of losing the House.

And I think they`re getting hip to that. So they can worry about their base all they want. But in some of these districts, they got to worry about...

(CROSSTALK)

SIEGFRIED: But you`re missing one key thing, which is President Trump doesn`t have the self-discipline to muzzle himself when Republicans candidates go after him.

And you saw last week in the Ohio 14th Congressional District, Dave Joyce ran an ad saying that he stood up to President Trump on certain issues.

MATTHEWS: And what happened to him?

SIEGFRIED: And, thankfully, they haven`t said anything yet.

But if you see anything else in these districts where there are Senate candidates going out and saying, hey, that Donald Trump, I`m going to be a check on him, he`s not going to be able to contain himself.

And with his stress level rising with this investigation...

MATTHEWS: I agree. The frenzy is there.

What happened to profiles in courage?

Anyway, meanwhile, California Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, who was indicted this week, along with his wife, for misuse of more than a quarter- million dollars in campaign money, is now blaming his wife for saying he had nothing to do with it.

Let`s watch this gentleman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: When I went to Iraq in 2003 the first time, I gave her power of attorney, and she handled my finances throughout my entire military career.

And that continued on when I got into Congress, because I`m gone five days a week. I`m home for two. So -- and she was also the campaign manager. So whatever she did on -- that -- that`ll be -- that`ll be looked at too, I`m sure.

But I didn`t do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s MeToo, and but then there`s not me.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I mean, what is it going on here? He`s blaming her?

MOODIE-MILLS: What a class act, right? It`s no wonder that this guy was one of the first to hug Donald Trump. I mean, clearly, he`s disloyal. He`s disgraceful.

And now he`s throwing his wife under the bus. I mean, how can you trust anyone like that?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He`s sending her to the can. She`s going to prison, according to his testimony. She`s the one working the checkbook.

Evan, you`re laughing. This is outrageous.

MOODIE-MILLS: No.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s one...

SIEGFRIED: From a P.R. perspective, it`s a nightmare.

From a legal perspective, I suspect that they have -- or the couple have separate journeys. And this is a move of, it`s not me, it`s her. It`s him trying to stay out of jail. And he`s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: He`s probably going to get reelected in that district. Wouldn`t you think, Gabe?

DEBENEDETTI: He very well could.

He`s still favored to by quite a large margin.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So, he gets reelected, and the step two is, they deal with the legal thing.

DEBENEDETTI: Well, that`s right.

But one of the things is, that there`s no real mechanism in California right now to get him off the ballot. So, even if he`s in jail, if this gets that far, he could still be reelected.

But, really, the lesson here is just how sad this is. And it does speak to just how corrupt a lot of these systems are. The fact that we could get this far and...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We have a lot of congressional districts which are rotten boroughs.

DEBENEDETTI: Yes.

MATTHEWS: You cannot be defeated in a general election. The only chance is in a primary to clean the house.

SIEGFRIED: But what type of message does it send to women when we already have a problem as a party with women, and it`s gotten even worse because of the women`s march and the organizing across the country?

(CROSSTALK)

SIEGFRIED: Blame the wife.

MOODIE-MILLS: Well, given that more than 55 percent of white women are still voting Republican, I would really ask the party what is the deal with their women. It`s interesting.

SIEGFRIED: And we`re bleeding them in the suburbs.

MATTHEWS: I think it gives new reference to the term prenup.

Don`t blame me.

Anyway, "The New York Times"` Mark Landler writes: "As Mr. Trump faces his own mushrooming legal troubles, he has taken the using of vocabulary that sounds uncannily like that of John Gotti and his fellow mobsters in the waning days of organized crime."

Let`s watch the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have had many friends involved in this stuff. It`s called flipping, and it almost ought to be illegal.

ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR: It took your first pinch like a man, and you learned the two greatest things in life? Look at me. Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.

QUESTION: He says in a tweet: "The failing `New York Times` did a fake piece today implying that because White House counsel Don McGahn was giving hours of testimony to the special counsel, he must be John Dean-type rat."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Come out and take it, you dirty, yellow-bellied rat, or I will give it to you through the door.

TRUMP: One of the reasons I respect Paul Manafort so much is, he went through that trial. They make up stories.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Unlike Cohen," he tweeted, "Manafort refused to break, make up stories in order to get a deal."

AL PACINO, ACTOR: Fredo, you`re my older brother, and I love you. But don`t ever take sides with anyone against the family again."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the patois of this president seems very much resonant there with that kind of mob movie.

DEBENEDETTI: Absolutely.

But I don`t think this is really a story about mob movies.

MATTHEWS: The mob.

DEBENEDETTI: I think it`s a story about headlines in the New York City tabloids in the 1970s, `80s and `90s, when he was coming up in the New York business world looking for his own name in the tabs and reading other people`s names and about -- all about this mob stuff.

This is a world that he did come up with. Not saying that he`s directly connected with it, though there have been instances there that have been proven.

But, listen, this is a world that he knows. And this is the business world and the business lexicon that he came up with. He`s not used to talking like a politician. News flash there.

MATTHEWS: My wife`s from out in California. She doesn`t know this stuff. She grew up out there.

And I always read "The Philadelphia Inquirer" on Saturday just so I could get the latest on mob killings.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: South Jersey monster, reputed capo and this, all this lingo, Joey Two Times, whatever, Jimmy Two Times, all these nicknames.

It sounds like Trump talks in this "Guys and Dolls" language.

MOODIE-MILLS: But here`s the thing is that it`s not just how he sounds. He`s not just talking the talk is. Here`s the thing.

If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, then it`s probably a duck.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You think he`s mobster? What are you saying?

MOODIE-MILLS: His entire career, there`s a -- there`s a Politico article from 2016 about this looking at his entire career.

All of his real estate was built essentially by the mob. He has close ties with the leaders of the Genovese family.

MATTHEWS: Which mob? Be careful here.

(CROSSTALK)

MOODIE-MILLS: With the Genovese family.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You got to slow down a bit.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Who are you saying on -- what is your authority here? You`re saying that he has gotten money for the Italian mob, the Sicilian mob?

MOODIE-MILLS: I`m saying that the people that he has hired to lay his concrete and build his buildings, it has long been documented that these are folks who have been connected to the mob.

And I`m telling you guys, pull up the Politico argument from 2016 about that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I know. It takes about 5 percent of a construction job to move something in New York. I have heard these things over the years, that it takes a little bit of juice to move something.

Go ahead.

SIEGFRIED: There was an "Atlantic" piece yesterday that ran that talked about Donald Trump and the mob.

And what "Sammy the Bull" Gravano was quoted as saying was, I was the guy you had to run through for concrete and drywall. And I have stories to tell you about Donald Trump, the Cushmans (ph).

And this is the `80s, the `70s, when Donald Trump was coming up. And Donald Trump has made it known that he will work with some shady characters. So I`m sure that he was absolutely having to make deals with these guys.

MATTHEWS: It used to be ice, because you couldn`t open up a restaurant if you didn`t have ice in the old days, before refrigeration.

Mob controlled the ice. Now it`s concrete.

DEBENEDETTI: But regardless of the actual individuals who are involved in this, we should look at the larger lesson here, which is really a question about how you do business and the way that you run an organization, whether it`s the Trump Organization or the White House.

And very clearly the way that he talks about these things suggests that this is a very similar way to how some of these criminal organizations were run. And that is something that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Like you`re going to have to some labor troubles?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, the Roundtable is sticking with us.

And up next, these people tell me something -- I`m learning already -- something I don`t know.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We finally got the results from that closely watched special election in Ohio`s 12th Congressional District.

This was the reliably Republican district that ended up being too close to call until the very last vote was counted.

As of today, that count is complete now. And Republican Ohio State Troy Balderson has eked out a win over Democratic challenger Danny O`Connor. Look at the numbers, very close.

Balderson will serve out the remaining months of retiring Congressman Pat Tiberi`s term, but will face O`Connor again in November to decide who will serve the next two-year term starting 2019.

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL Roundtable.

Aisha, tell me something I don`t know.

MOODIE-MILLS: Well, Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Well -- I have never had anybody say well. Go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

MOODIE-MILLS: Well, right now, the Trump administration and the White House is holding up a bipartisan-supported bill to deal with election meddling.

And so instead of saying, well, we know that Russia was involved, we know that something nefarious was happening, let`s figure out how to safeguard our actual last election system before we go into the elections, the midterms, what they`re doing is saying, ah, we`re going to wait until after the midterms to even think about it. And it has bipartisan support.

MATTHEWS: Why would anybody oppose -- oppose stopping meddling?

MOODIE-MILLS: That`s a good question, Chris.

I mean, that`s the question we all continue to ask, is, why is this president not more aggressively engaged in preserving our democracy.

MATTHEWS: But Republicans always want to make sure nobody cheats. That`s their big thing. They assume a lot of minorities and everybody are all cheating in the big cities. And yet they don`t care about the Russians. They just care about the big city ethnics.

Interesting.

MOODIE-MILLS: Things that make you go hmm.

MATTHEWS: Make you hmm.

Evan.

SIEGFRIED: Well, foreign investors are not really investing in United States businesses right now.

We have seen a decline since Trump took office. They`re worried about Trump tweeting about them.

Additionally, foreign investors are not buying U.S. treasuries, because they are too very concerned about the budget deficit and the expanding national debt.

MATTHEWS: Well, what is the interest rate? One?

SIEGFRIED: But they really are concerned that credit rating agencies are going to downgrade us from AAA to AA.

MATTHEWS: Oh, wonderful.

Gabe.

DEBENEDETTI: Well, here`s something that I think you know about, but I think the vast majority of the viewers and people in America may not know about.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

DEBENEDETTI: But they really should not treat this as a niche issue.

This weekend in Chicago, leaders of the Democratic National Committee are meeting. Tomorrow morning, they`re going to basically have to come to some sort of conclusion about the issue of superdelegates.

And what that means...

MATTHEWS: Who is going to win?

DEBENEDETTI: I think what`s going to happen is that there`s going to be less of an influence of superdelegates in the next presidential nomination.

MATTHEWS: Aren`t they going to cut some kind of compromise?

DEBENEDETTI: They will, likely.

And that`s already where they are now.

MATTHEWS: You know how I know that?

DEBENEDETTI: How do you know that?

MATTHEWS: My wife is chair of the Democratic Party of Maryland.

DEBENEDETTI: I knew that you knew about this.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Aisha Moodie-Mills, Evan Siegfried, and Gabe Debenedetti -- Debenedetti.

When we return, Let Me Finish tonight with my thoughts on the great Senator John McCain.

Please stick around for this. It`s real.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let Me Finish tonight with something that Senator John McCain said in the final weeks of his 2008 presidential campaign. It concerned the man he was up against, his fellow senator, Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I don`t want it getting out of this room, but my opponent is an impressive fellow in many ways.

Political opponents can have a little trouble seeing the best in each other. But I have had a few glimpses of this man at his best. And I admire his great skill, energy and determination.

It`s not for nothing that he`s inspired so many folks in his own party and beyond. Senator Obama talks about making history. And he`s made quite a bit of it already.

There was a time when the mere invitation of an African-American citizen to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage and an insult in many quarters. Today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time. And good riddance.

I can`t wish my opponent luck, but I do wish him well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, put that in a time capsule of proof there was such a time when American political leaders spoke that way about their rivals.

Better yet, put it in your brain and lock it there, as we will continue to endure the lack of mutual respect in American politics.

This country has been sustained over the generations by a characteristic flow, if sometimes only a trickle, of national greatness.

Of this, John McCain is now a part.

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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