Hurricane Florence slowing. TRANSCRIPT: 9/14/2018, Hardball w Chris Matthews.

Guests: Tony Schwartz, Susan Page, Anita Kumar, Clarence Page, Shannon Pettypiece

Show: HARDBALL Date: September 13, 2018 Guest: Tony Schwartz, Susan Page, Anita Kumar, Clarence Page, Shannon Pettypiece

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: And our special coverage continues on HARDBALL right now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Stormy weather. This is HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

And tonight hurricane Florence begins its descent on the Carolina coast, a massive potentially deadly storm.

In Washington, President Trump, the conspiracy theorist in chief, a man who began his political career questioning President Obama`s American birth, is now attacking victims of an earlier hurricane.

And there`s big breaking news tonight on the Russian investigation. Paul Manafort has buckled. ABC News reports that Manafort has tentatively agreed to a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller, a plea deal that could cause all kinds of trouble for President Trump. More on that biggie in a moment.

Let`s begin with the historic weather. Even before hitting land, hurricane Florence a category 2 storm is making its presence felt with wind gusts up to 110 miles an hour and widespread flooding already. Officials warn that Florence could bring substantial storm surges of up to 11 feet.

And more than 10 million people live right now in the storm`s path. Tens of thousands have already lost their power. While North Carolina governor Roy Cooper made this plea to area residents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ROY COOPER, NORTH CAROLINA: To anyone still unwilling to take this storm seriously, let me be clear, you need to get yourself to a safe place now. And stay there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: We have got reporters all over the coast. Let`s start with Gadi Schwartz who is in Beaufort, North Carolina - Gadi. Oh, my God.

GADI SCHWARTZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that`s right. This has been the situation for the last five or six hours. This isn`t even the worst of it, Chris. We expect the worst of it to come tonight. But these winds we are seeing, they are about 50, 60, maybe 70 miles an hour. Tonight, we are going to see winds over 100 miles an hour. We are also going to see high tide. And we are going to see a storm surge. So those three things are going to be potentially catastrophic around 11:00.

Beaufort is just across the way. We know that there are reports of homes already being flooded by some storm surge. And you were talking a little bit ago about this being a category 2 hurricane. A lot of people have dismissed this as a category 2 hurricane, maybe choosing not to evacuate.

This is the strength of tropical storm force winds, not that hurricane, that 100 miles an hour-plus hurricane winds. Those are coming. They are very close to us and they are going to rake their way through North and South Carolina. So right after this we can see on the radar they are approaching our location so we are going to fall back. So we will send it back to you -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Gadi Schwartz. Hang on there, sir.

Let`s bring in NBC`s Kerry Sanders from North Carolina`s Carolina beach.

Kerry, I have seen you everywhere, but this. This is something. Let`s looks a little calmer where you are.

KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, that`s because I moved to a protected area. Quite frankly, I have been getting beaten up out there. I went step away just for a second. I`m soaked all the way through even with these clothes.

But I want to take you out to the Atlantic here. And you can see sort of the force of the Atlantic. And we have been talking about this, but maybe we can explain a little bit about the concern about what is going to be the storm surge.

An 11-foot dome or wall of water that will come over the sand dunes, over the boardwalk there, and then will come in. And with the force of the Atlantic behind it, it potentially will damage, take portions of homes and buildings.

We are in what is allegedly a constructed building here that is designed to handle up to a category 3 hurricane. So we feel safe where we are. The reason you don`t see the wind blowing me right now is because while that is the Atlantic, the wind is actually coming from this direction. So I`m slightly protected. But as that water comes in, it`s coming in with the hurricane. In fact, the eye is apparently right now forecast to come here in Carolina beach, right about here. So we are going to see the strongest winds. And potentially we might even see the eye wall come over. Of course, that will come in between 4:00 and 10:00 a.m. because of the slow speed of all of this. But it`s that continental shelf out there that starts about 60 miles and it is a 120 feet and it just slopes right up. So as the wind pushes the water on the top, it builds it up. That is exactly what is ultimately the storm surge that folks are going to be dealing with, but not too many folks here, because thankfully most of them evacuated.

MATTHEWS: Can a human being stand up and survive and not drown in a surge? Or do you have to be out of the way to survive?

SANDERS: No. I`m going to tell you that I was in the beginning of a storm surge during hurricane Matthew and there is no way you can stand in a storm surge. I had to dash, fortunately got behind the building. But I want to tell you that when the storm surge is coming in, it`s probably going to rip up portions of the boardwalk there because of the force of the Atlantic Ocean.

Those boards are flying around. There`s other debris in the water. It hits you. There`s absolutely no way -- an Olympic swimmer couldn`t handle this. I mean, this is impossible to stand in. It takes out portions of buildings. And depending on the construction and maybe the age of the construction, we have seen like hurricane, I think it was Ike, that literally leveled an entire portion of Gilchrist beach. There was one house left. So it`s nothing that anybody could withstand. And that`s important. Because so often people say, I want to stay. I want to protect my property. There`s nothing you can do. You can`t protect a single thing.

MATTHEWS: And you can --most people, I guess, if you are trained to do it can breathe up to three minutes or so. But how -- you could I think if you can stand up during these surges, how long does the water stay at that level?

SANDERS: Well, let me tell you that I recently did swift water rescue because I was doing a story with the teams in upstate New York. The idea of standing is actually dangerous, too, because you have the water moving. So it is your natural inclination to try and stand up. But what happens is your feet down there get caught on something. And then you get stuck and you can`t get out. And the water is coming over and down you go.

So there is all types of methods to protect yourself where you come up on your back, put your arms out like this, bring your feet up and then bring your arms out and begin to paddle. But I have got to tell you, these may be methods, but I don`t think it`s possible because you are going to hit something. Your head`s going to get hit. You might get knocked out. This is really why they say, please, please, please, please fall back though shelters. Get away from where the storm surge is going to be. Unless you have a secure location like we have here.

MATTHEWS: I think you made the point. Thank you so much. Kerry Sanders with that public service warning because they want to get out of the way.

Let`s go to Garrett Haake who`s in New Bern, North Carolina.

You know, I never been down there but it looks like a beautiful part of the country, Garrett. But right now, not a place to visit.

GARRETT HAAKE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I would probably stay away for a couple of days, Chris. But it`s interesting. There`s a lot of old historic homes here that have been here for 200 years. One of the folks who live down here say, well, my home has lasted this long, maybe I don`t need to leave. But what we are experiencing right now is some of that storm surge that Kerry and others have been talking about.

This town is wrapped on two sides by the noose river. And all day long, that noose has been tightening, if you`ll forgive the pun. Water has just been coming up out of the banks pressing further and further into this neighborhood. Even on the street I`m standing on now, we already had to abandon one live shot location. It was going turned into an island.

But on the street I`m standing on now over the last hour, I have watch, I think our cameraman Brian can show it here, this sort of crud getting pushed up the street here, pushed up a house and a half-length in the 45 minutes or so.

So this water is creeping down the street in a pace where, Chris, we have not really seen a ton of rain so far. We have not seen the tropical force wind so far. We are on the logging edge of this storm. And already, we are a block and a half in from the river and everything is starting to be taken by the river.

So this is going to be a long night here. And I think the big question for folks, even folks who look like they have been here for 20 or 30 years is how far into the town does the river go? Is this a storm like others that they have seen? Or we just going to have such an amount of pressure and such an amount of water pushing into the town that we are going to see destruction that is beyond what folks who have been through Matthew and some of these other big storms here over the last couple of years recognized.

And frankly, Chris, we are in that same guessing game ourselves here now trying to figure out if our safe house, if the place where we have chosen to stay tonight, is going to be safe enough.

MATTHEWS: I`m looking at the water behind you. It is surging behind you. Why are there lights on in those houses? Are those people sticking it out? Once on that street on both sides, I see lights.

HAAKE: You know, I have got street lights on here. Behind our camera position, there are folks who are still in their homes. I was just talking to them before we came on air to see what their plans are. But I don`t think there`s anybody left in any of the houses behind me, Chris. The power is still on here. This is a place they have got underground lines. It`s not been blown down yet by the wind. At some point, I`m quite certain that will no longer be the case. But the lights have stayed on, the winds have stayed low. And I think that`s part of the reason people aren`t a little bit more panicked at this point. But this water, I`m watching it come. And it`s coming slowly, but it just keeps coming, Chris. I think that`s going to be the story in this part of the North Carolina coast.

MATTHEWS: Well, it is not to be fine in Carolina, but thank you so much, Garett Haake. It`s a beautiful part of the country, though. What a segment and danger we are facing all at once right now.

Let`s turn on now to NBC meteorologist Bill Karns, of course, to find out the latest.

Bill, you are the expert. What`s coming?

BILL KARNS, MSNBC METEOROLOGIST: I`m telling, look at Garrett and we all have the lights on him later on, about midnight tonight. The high tide of the noose river there in the New Bern area is going to be about 30 minutes past midnight. The water level there is expected to be about three to four feet higher than where he is standing right now. So picture with that is going to look like. And how close that water is going to be to going in some of those homes.

So, yes. That`s a picture of the beautiful homes there. They are up a little bit on the bank there but that water that is in the road is going to go up about three or four feet additionally. That will be into the first floor level of some of those homes there. That`s one of the big concerns there on the noose river basin, the Trent River, the river bend area there. I know it well. I lived in New Bern for a couple years. I was there where he was standing when Bertha hit. And it`s already at those height levels. So it is going to be a long night tonight. And then tomorrow we are going to do it again, Chris, at the morning high tide 12 hours later.

So let me get into the latest with the storm. Still a category 2. It`s been wobbling around a little bit here. We are stuck in this outer band with tropical storm force winds. We saw Gadi blown around there in the Morehead city area.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

KARNS: He is located right here. New Bern by the way is located well inland here. So this is not just a coastal event. It`s even far inland that we are going to see this flooding. I`m sure that there will be water rescues taking place at the high tide tonight in midnight, far away from the coast and inland areas where those rivers are getting backed up.

The winds are starting to pick up. Last check 78,000 people without power in eastern North Carolina. Mostly (INAUDIBLE) county and mostly here in Craven (ph) county. (INAUDIBLE) been gusting to 63, 54 in Hatteras. Isn`t being too bad.

We are waiting for it in Wilmington but it starting to freshen up at 47. So the storm is currently 90 miles east/southeast of Wilmington. And it looks like it is heading straight for Wilmington. Landfall predicted by the hurricane center somewhere during the early morning hour, maybe 8:00 a.m. to noon-ish or so if it stalls out a little later than that.

But here`s the 2:00 p.m. position. Almost over top of Wilmington which by the way is about 20 to 30 miles inland from the coast. And then it kind of rains itself out and heads down towards the Myrtle Beach area.

So the key times by the high tide cycles. That`s when we usually have the most fatalities, that`s when the most damage is done with the storm surge. The next high tide is going to be the one I was just talking about. That is coming close to midnight from 11:13 p.m. here near Wrightsville beach, a little further up the coast. High tides is around 11:00 p.m. That`ll be the highest water levels we`ve seen so far with the storm.

Now, I just saw some new information that they are actually calling for the high tide tomorrow morning at 11:00 a.m. to noon to be even higher than the one tonight. So at first it was looking like tonight would be the worst. That`s not the case anymore. So where ever the water level is tonight at midnight, it`ll probably be an additional foot, maybe half a foot higher tomorrow morning.

That`s the problem with this storm, Chris. It is one high tide cycle after the other. So we get the high tide coming in, we get dunes taken out, we get damage to the structures. And then we are going to do it again when there`s no defenses. And you get the wave action on top of it. And then Chris, we talk about the rain and we will deal with this through the weekend. But, you know, a huge area, all the way through South Carolina is going to get two feet of rain out of this.

So yes. It`s too much water, too soon, too you know. It`s a water problem. The wind isn`t going to cause a ton of damage. It`s the water that`s the biggest threat to lives and property.

MATTHEWS: I`m so glad you are from down there to reminds me that. I went to school down there. I have to tell you, there`s one part about this that I do sort of appreciate that it`s very American. It`s this time of year. It`s the time of year for this kind of thing we grew up with. And it`s prince of tides, is Tim Conway stuff. It is America. You got to live with it.

KARNS: East and North Carolina, they gets hit on average once every four years. So they know the drill, just, they just don`t like this one because it`s going to linger so long.

MATTHEWS: Well, it is part of our world. It`s part of America.

Thank you so much, Bill Karns.

We are going to have more on that storm throughout the hour tonight.

In fact, coming up, President Trump`s latest conspiracy theory, 3,000 people did not die, he said, in Puerto Rico due to that hurricane down is there. It`s all a plot of Democrats. He`s a hurricane denier now. It gets worse.

Plus, breaking news in the case of former did the campaign chairman Paul Manafort. There`s new reporting just out now that he has tentatively reached a plea deal. He is buckling with special counsel Robert Mueller. What does this spell for President Trump? Is he going to rat out Trump?

And President versus President. Donald Trump has attacked his predecessor Barack Obama who is currently on the campaign trail making his case for voters to reject the party. So this is like mano-o-mano (ph) now.

Finally, let me finish tonight with Trump watch. He won`t like this when this is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In a series of tweets this morning, President Trump claimed without any evidence at all that he - well, the estimates death toll in Puerto Rico from hurricane Maria was being inflated by his political enemies, catch this, in order to undermine him.

Trump wrote quote "3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the island after the storm had hit, they had anywhere from six to 18 deaths. A long time later, they started to report really large numbers like 3,000. This was made by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising billions of dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico." That`s Trump talking and tweeting, rather.

In fact, that figure was to resolve. That figure of almost 3,000 dead was the result of an independent study. It was commissioned by Puerto Rican officials and estimated nearly 3,000 excess deaths, stemming from hurricane. In other words, people that would not normally have died.

In a statement today, Puerto Rico`s governor said the victims and the people of Puerto Rico do not deserve to have their pain questioned.

In response to the President`s tweet, Trump`s former co-author Tony Schwartz wrote when Trump tells a lie as with the handling of the disaster`s Puerto Rico hurricane, the magnitude and repetition of the lie is in direct proportion to how fully he believes he is guilty of what`s being charged being made against him.

For more, I`m joined by Tony Schwartz, co-author of the "Art of the Deal" and CEO of the Energy Project. We also have -- joining us is, good for us, Susan Paige, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today."

Tony, explain this proportional response. The lie is big enough to cover the embarrassment?

TONY SCHWARTZ, CO-AUTHOR, THE ART OF THE DEAL: Well, I think what happens to Trump is not so much the embarrassment but what lies beneath the embarrassment which is the absolute allergy and that`s a mild word to any evidence that he is weak or he is wrong or that he has failed. That`s intolerable to him. It becomes 100 percent preoccupying and he must attack it. And as we know from the thousands of lies he tells and has told, that`s the way he does it.

MATTHEWS: Put him under sodium pentothal. Put him in a lie detector. Make him tell the truth. Does he know the truth? This is the issue raised by Bob Woodward. One, he says he doesn`t have the capacity to tell the truth. And the other is he doesn`t have an attachment to reality. So which is it as you observed him as a co-author? Does he know how to lie or does he simply lie because he doesn`t know the truth?

T. SCHWARTZ: Chris, he lives on two tracks. One when he is in a slightly saner state and it`s all relative in his case. He is absolutely capable of consciously and intentionally lying for a particular outcome.

One, when he is in a slightly saner state -- and it`s all relative in his case -- he is absolutely capable of consciously and intentionally lying for a particular outcome.

When he is aroused, when he`s feeling under attack, it happens instinctively, impulsively, and with no forethought. He just does what he has to do. It`s a survival mechanism.

MATTHEWS: Show up in the Oval Office today with sodium pentathol, truth serum. Put them into his veins. Will he say 3,000 people were not killed in Puerto Rico during Maria? Will he say that again under the influence of medicine, of medical influence?

SCHWARTZ: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Why? Because he actually now does believe?

SCHWARTZ: Well, he knows. You know, he knows. I don`t think he`s that unmoored from reality.

I do think, in moments of feeling under attack, he loses sight of it. The prefrontal cortex literally shuts down in fight or flight. That happens to him. But I think, when the physiology calms back down, yes, he knows.

MATTHEWS: He knows what reality is.

SCHWARTZ: He knows he`s told 6,000 lies. Put him under -- put him under oath for that, or under sodium pentathol, and he will say that.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, Trump`s tweet this morning was his latest defense of his administration`s response to Hurricane Maria.

Earlier this week, he called it -- quote -- "an incredible unsung success."

His former your homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, told "The New York Times": "The missing part was empathy. I wish he would pause and express that, instead of just focusing on the response success."

Retired General Russel Honore, who managed the military response to Hurricane Katrina back in 2005 under W., had this advice for President Trump today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: If I was his boss or standing next to him as his chief of staff, I would kick him on the ankle and say, look, focus on the future damn storm. Stop looking in the rear-view mirror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Boy, you know, this is what presidents -- this is where the divide is, you know?

I think LBJ went out and handed out water one time when they had a hurricane down there or bad weather down in Louisiana. W. flew over, you know? You only get one shot at this. And Trump is not looking good.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": You know, natural disasters are trouble for politicians, because they -- people expect the public officials to be there if there`s a hurricane, or if there`s a riot.

And politicians get punished for not showing empathy, for not showing up when people are in trouble.

And, also, I have a question for you from your previous conversation.

Which is worse? Is it worse that President Trump believes what he`s saying, opposite all the evidence that we have about how many people died in Puerto Rico, or is it worse if he asserts that and knows it`s not sure?

MATTHEWS: Well, let me get back to Tony, because you worked with him hand in glove.

Let me ask you one. I know I only have a few things that I sort of -- I think Joe Scarborough says I gnaw on these bones. There`s a couple things I do stick to, OK? Like, voter suppression drives me crazy. Stupid wars like Iraq drive me crazy, because I lived through Vietnam. I think all that -- I was around during that.

These -- I hate stupidity by politicians when it comes to war, because so many people die for their country, but they die, and they shouldn`t. And when they deny people voting, they are denying America`s very quality of who we are.

This question. He said, Barack Obama -- I know he has an African name, Barack Hussein Obama. We know how it was a challenge for him to get elected anywhere, to the Senate or the presidency. But why did he keep saying he was born in Kenya, when it was impossible to figure out why a white woman from Kansas would go over to Kenya to have the baby there, so that she could, 35 years later, have him actively available for the presidency under the Constitution?

It didn`t make any logical sense to claim that he was an illegal immigrant, basically. And yet he kept doing it and doing it, until he -- he reached a point of diminishing returns and stopped saying it, and just one Friday said, oh, that`s not true.

You tell me he believed it all those months he was spewing that crap?

SCHWARTZ: No, he didn`t believe it.

MATTHEWS: Why was he doing -- he was lying.

SCHWARTZ: He was lying.

He did it because it served his intention or his hope of running for president at the time. And that`s why he does it. I mean, that`s consistently why he does it.

Just want to go back, Chris, to this issue of empathy, because one of the problems here is that Donald Trump doesn`t have empathy. And that`s not a modest statement. He literally has no empathy. He does not feel emotions like care, and -- and...

MATTHEWS: He`s a sociopath?

SCHWARTZ: Well, as I have said since 2016 in "The New Yorker," when he started to run for president, yes, he is a sociopath.

There is no question he`s a sociopath, meaning he neither has a conscience, nor does he have a heart, or I should say, because it`s more accurate, it`s so deeply buried that even he doesn`t have access to it, because what he feels is to have any of those feelings, compassion, empathy, is to make him weak and vulnerable.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SCHWARTZ: And, as I said earlier, that`s what`s intolerable to him.

MATTHEWS: You know, it makes -- you make it sound like "Blade Runner," when they go to the replicant and they say, what do you feel when you see the bug die? And the replicant knows you have found him out. He doesn`t feel anything.

Anyway...

SCHWARTZ: He doesn`t feel anything. That is -- isn`t that terrifying? And isn`t that so repugnant in a moment like this, the 3,000 people who died and their families suffering, grieving, in part because he did such a terrible job of taking care of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of that storm?

In this case, I believe he has no upside.

MATTHEWS: OK.

SCHWARTZ: I don`t think, if he does it well, it`s going to serve him well. I don`t -- think it`s going to be ignored.

But if he doesn`t do it well, wow, it`s one more -- it`s one more takedown.

MATTHEWS: How many electoral votes does Puerto Rico have?

SCHWARTZ: Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

SCHWARTZ: And how many white people compared to brown or black people?

MATTHEWS: Well, "The Washington Post"`s fact-checker gave Trump`s claim this morning for Pinocchios. It`s the highest rating for a false or misleading statement, a lie, in other words.

Prior to the tweet, the fact-checker reported that Trump had already passed 5,000 false claims since becoming president.

I watch, like you do, and most political reporters and general -- assignment reporters. We look at the approval rating of the president. And it really does -- his guardrails is like mid-30s, around high -- mid- 40s, somewhere in that range. And it just bounces around there cyclically, seasonally.

But these lies don`t hurt him any. Why not?

PAGE: Well, I think his supporters are with him because they are with him because they like his bluster, that like his attitude, they like what he says about trade and about America being cheated and about standing up for a more traditional America.

But I do think there`s some corrosive effect. And I think you see some of it now, his approval rating now down to maybe 40 or so.

MATTHEWS: But it doesn`t -- it seems to have a little ratchet effect there. It doesn`t go much lower.

PAGE: The bottom hasn`t fallen out of it.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PAGE: But I do think there is some question.

And I think that even though he`s been -- said untruths before, if you look at this one, it seems especially painful, because it`s about the deaths of Americans. It seems like it`s a -- it`s worse than the lie about birtherism.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think we have had phrases similar to this.

But this -- hurricane denier might be his new one.

PAGE: And it`s at the moment as another hurricane is about to hit America?

MATTHEWS: I know. It`s a strange denial.

Thank you. I think you have got him figured it out.

Tony Schwartz, you know him close up. Thank you.

Susan Page, great reporter, thank you coming on again.

Up next: Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, as I said, has reportedly reached a plea deal with the prosecutors. That`s with Mueller. What does this mean for Manafort, Trump and the Mueller investigation? I`m sure Trump`s wondering what this means. Has this guy turned?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, there`s breaking news in the case against President Trump`s former campaign chair Paul Manafort, who was convicted of eight criminal counts just last month in Virginia, and now faces additional charges here in a court in Washington, D.C.

Well, ABC News is reporting just tonight that -- quote -- "Manafort has tentatively agreed to a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller that will head off his upcoming trial." That deals with the trial coming up, which was set to take place, as I said, this month.

That`s according to sources familiar with the negotiations, who say -- quote -- "The deal is expected to be announced in court Friday." That`s tomorrow. "But it remains unclear whether Manafort has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors or is simply conceding to a guilty plea, which would allow him to avoid the stress and expense of trial."

Reuters is also reporting that the possible deal is -- quote -- "close, but not there yet," and the special counsel`s office is declining to comment.

Separately, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani suggests to Politico just last night that he`s confident Manafort will not flip on Trump, saying: "There`s no fear that Paul Manafort would cooperate against the president, because there`s nothing to cooperate about, and we long ago evaluated him as an honorable man."

Joining me now is David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and author of "Russian Roulette," a great book out there, this whole question of the Russia investigation. Paul Butler is a former U.S. attorney.

I go directly to Mr. Butler.

What does it mean to you when you hear this?

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: It means that Manafort is asking themselves whether he gets a better deal from Donald Trump or Robert Mueller.

If it`s Donald Trump, that means that he`s confident that Trump will pardon him, and then he makes -- he pleads guilty in order to avoid the expense of a trial, a second trial, which would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that he owes for the first trial.

The other possibility is that he decides that he can`t count on Donald Trump for anything, including a pardon, and so he makes a deal with Mueller. But Mueller says, what you got? Mueller isn`t going to be willing to make a deal with Manafort unless Manafort can give him the goods on Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: They have spending a hair up to five hours now negotiating this. Is that what they`re negotiating: What you got?

BUTLER: Yes, I think so.

Again, Mueller says, something has to be in it for me. I know I have a strong case. We already convicted you of eight felonies in Virginia. This actually an easier case in D.C., because it`s about failure to register as a lobbyist. You either did or you didn`t.

Mueller is saying, you can go to jail for another 10 years, or you can help us make our case against the president.

MATTHEWS: And he could give him a break on the sentences he`s already gotten on the charges already found guilty of in Virginia. He can give him a break on everything.

BUTLER: Yes. That`s his case, too. So the prosecutors could make a recommendation.

MATTHEWS: He could do a big bundle of -- thank you.

BUTLER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: In your reporting, what do you -- what does Manafort know about Trump? Can you tell from your reporting, David?

DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there are a couple of areas.

I mean, he may know about stuff prior to the campaign. But during the campaign, remember this guy named George Papadopoulos.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

CORN: George Papadopoulos says that it was Trump who OKed him reaching out to the Russians while the Russians were attacking the Democratic Party, attacking the election.

And in one of the earlier filings in the case, it says that Manafort knew about that. So, Manafort also sat in on the Trump Tower meeting, in which there was, if not collusion, an attempt to collude between Manafort, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian emissary from the Kremlin.

There`s also a case of Donald Trump Jr. lying, putting out a statement about that, that meeting, that Donald Trump now admits he dictated. This could be an obstruction of justice issue that Manafort might know something about.

MATTHEWS: Wow.

What do you think of this, Paul? This is a lot of stuff. It affects the family. It affects the president. He could incriminate them all, potentially.

BUTLER: He could.

So the question is, how trustworthy he is, not as a witness. He`s never going to show up in a federal courtroom or even before Congress, because he`s damaged as a witness.

But in terms of what information he has, again, the way it works is, his lawyers, Manafort`s lawyers, make a proffer. They say, this is what we would tell you. This is what we would testify to the grand jury if you give us a deal. And Mueller evaluates that and then decides whether there`s enough in it for his side, for the special counsel, to go forward.

MATTHEWS: Well, Politico is also reporting that attorneys for Paul Manafort have been in touch with the president`s legal team. That`s according to Rudy Giuliani, who -- quote -- "confirmed that Trump`s lawyers and Manafort`s have been in regular contact and they are part of a joint defense agreement that allows confidential information to be shared between them."

Well, Giuliani confirmed he spoke with Manafort`s lead defense attorney shortly before and after the verdicts were returned in that Virginia trial a few weeks ago. But the former mayor wouldn`t say what he discussed with the Manafort team.

Back to you, Paul.

BUTLER: Once again, we see the Trump defense strategy out of the mob playbook. So you see these joint defense agreements in organized crime cases and street gang cases.

What they allow lawyers to do is to coordinate, so that all the -- everything that`s said is protected by attorney-client privilege. What they also allow, though, is for the defendants to get their stories straight, to make sure that everybody`s on the same page.

The other significance of this is, it means that Trump understands that his interests are allied with Manafort`s, which I think makes a pardon even more likely.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CORN: But it`s collusion. This is a separate...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You mean a pardon?

BUTLER: Legal collusion.

CORN: No, no, legal collusion between Paul Manafort and Donald Trump.

And correct me if I`m wrong Paul, but in very few of these cases does one of the possible defendants have the ability to pardon the other defendant.

BUTLER: That`s right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You`re being sarcastic.

CORN: I am being sarcastic.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I have a theory about -- so, I`m not a lawyer, I say, admit it. Paul, you`re the expert.

I get the feeling that somewhere down the line in `19 -- that will be next year -- when he has to decide whether to run for reelection or not, the big question before the president is, are you going to protect your family with pardons, and kill the chance of getting reelected, or not?

BUTLER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And you`re going to make that decision.

Thank you, David Corn. Thank you, Paul Butler.

Up next: Hurricane Florence is coming ashore with bands of drenching rain and powerful winds, 11-foot seawalls coming in. We`re going to check in with that with Al Roker. He`s going to be on in just a minute.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We`re keeping a close eye, of course, on Hurricane Florence down in the Carolinas. It begins to hit any moment now, the East Coast down there.

Joining us right now is Al Roker of NBC. Thank you.

Al, the great thing about this -- the only good thing about this storm is we get that view on HARDBALL. But thank you for coming on.

AL ROKER, NBC NEWS: Well, thank you. I appreciate it. It`s always good to see you, Chris.

And we are seeing those bands of rain coming in and the winds are picking up. These are some buoys just off shore, 112 mile-per-hour wind gusts. Wilmington, 27 mile per hour wind gusts, Cape Hatteras 54 miles per hour.

And here`s the latest from the National Hurricane Center. We expect an update in about the next 15 minutes. But in the meantime, it`s a category 2 storm, 85 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, 100 mile-per-hour winds. It`s moving west-northwest at 5 miles per hour.

Here`s the track as we see it now. About 8:00 p.m. -- 8:00 a.m., I should say, Friday, it comes on shore, right across Wilmington. And then continues just to the north of Myrtle Beach. Makes a right turn and heads up into Tennessee on into West Virginia, Ohio, eventually into Pennsylvania. It`ll even be raining here in the Northeast later on early next week.

But in the meantime, these are the extremes. Peak wind gusts of over 100 miles per hour. Significant wind damage expected. And with that, there are going to be massive power outages. Up to 3 million people without power throughout the Southeast.

The greatest storm surge threat is about 7 to 11 feet. That`s in Wrightsville beach, anywhere to the east and west of there. High tide`s around 11:30 tonight to around 11:47. And then tomorrow morning, we got another high tide from about 11:30 to about 12:00 noon. So, that`s going to be the peak time, 7 to 11 foot surge. The sweet spot is on Cape Fear to Cape Lookout.

And rainfall, Chris, we`re talking generally from myrtle beach on up to about Cape Hatteras, we`re looking at 10 to 20 inches of rain but could see isolated totals of 40-inch. Unprecedented rain totals and a flood threat until next week. But the big problem, Chris, going to be the storm surge. That`s where 50 percent of people in hurricanes lose their lives.

MATTHEWS: You know, is this sort of normal? You and I grew up with the hurricane season. This is the hurricane season. It`s that part of the country. It seems very familiar to me. Is this unusually harsh weather?

ROKER: Well, you know, look. It started out as a -- it`s been a category 4. It`s down now to a 2. But we`re seeing these supercharged storms all of a sudden become hurricanes as we are dealing with climate change, as we`re dealing with sea level rise. All of a sudden, areas like the Southeast especially are very vulnerable to this kind of storm.

MATTHEWS: Boy, it reminds me of Pat Conroy, prince of tides. That`s part of the country.

Thank you so much, Al. It`s great to meet you again. Thank you for this. I mean see you again. I`ve seen you a lot. Anyway, thank you.

ROKER: Nice meeting you, too, Chris.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Up next, President Trump -- you`re the celebrity, I`m a little nervous. Anyway, he`s not exactly known as a paragon of truth telling, that man right there, but his latest fabrication is generating outrage from all points of the compass. Trump, 5,000 cases of lies since taking office.

We`ll be right back with that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Earlier today, President Trump dismissed the death toll in Puerto Rico as a Democratic attack to make him look bad. It`s yet another example, I think, of the president`s embrace of conspiracy theories.

Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our current president came out of nowhere -- came out of nowhere. In fact, I`ll go a step further. The people that went to school with him, they never saw him. They don`t know who he is. Crazy.

I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.

His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald being, you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous. Prior to his being shot and nobody even brings it up.

When you look at the people that are registered, dead, illegal, in two states, and some cases maybe three states. We have a lot to look into.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined now by the HARDBALL round table tonight.

Anita Kumar, a "McClatchy" White House correspondent, and Clarence Page, "Chicago Tribune" columnist, Shannon Pettypiece, "Bloomberg News" White House reporter. A great cast of smart people.

Why does Trump say things he knows aren`t true?

ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: He just gets upset about it, right? I mean, the thing that struck me about so many of these things are they`re government findings, right? It`s the government who says Russia interfered --

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Don`t you mean the deep state?

KUMAR: He runs the government. So, it`s just he doesn`t trust his own people and the findings that they figure out.

MATTHEWS: This spooky thing, Clarence, where nobody knew him at school, that goes beyond birtherism. That suggests he`s one of the Ivy League plots where the kids got together with extra money and created a phantom person.

Like no one did go to Columbia, nobody really did go to Harvard Law, he didn`t got to school in Hawaii. He didn`t exist.

What`s the point he`s making there? And all those people cheering.

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, this really underscores how there`s this mysterious guy came out of nowhere. Oh, yes, happens to be black.

MATTHEWS: That part they knew.

PAGE: And somebody in Africa conspired in the late `50s saying we`re going to get a black man elected in 2008. I mean, this whole thing is just so ridiculous.

MATTHEWS: Give him the name Barack Hussein Obama to make it work.

PAGE: Well, remember, when Trump first announced his candidacy, he immediately launched this conspiracy talk about immigration, about Obama, et cetera. And he got applause for it from a set of voters who turned out for him. That`s his base.

And that`s all he wants. He doesn`t reach beyond it and his approval numbers show it. This is how he became a minority president, ironically enough.

PETTYPIECE: Yes, I mean, I think it goes beyond just -- I mean, this Puerto Rico tweet goes beyond conspiracy theories though.

MATTHEWS: Hurricane denial.

PETTYPIECE: It also goes to this idea of branding and he is never wrong. If you talk to people who worked with him in New York in his business days, he was known for hyperbole, for exaggeration, for saying I`m the biggest real estate developer in New York, I have the best buildings.

And in business you can do that. That`s part of the way things are in marketing, especially in the world of real estate. In politics, in government, you can`t.

It also gets to another point, a theme of his life, is he is never wrong. He has never made a mistake. He will never admit defeat. He will never apologize. So saying there`s a problem with -- fits this pattern.

MATTHEWS: Let me try something. There`s a real world he knows. He knows what it takes to get a project going in New York. Pay off the councilman or woman, pay off the mob, the unions.

He knows reality when it comes to making money. So, he is not divorced from understanding if universe he lives in. Why does that part of the world matter to him, and he understands it, but he doesn`t seem to understand anything that might be used against him?

KUMAR: I mean, it`s true. I mean --

MATTHEWS: So he`s lying.

KUMAR: It is the difference, I think, though, between where he came from and what he`s doing now. Here`s the thing that he -- he hurts himself, right? He has talked repeatedly in the last year about how the mayor or the governor of Puerto Rico has been supportive. And he has. He said all these things about the how the administration did all the right things. Today, the governor came out and said the president was wrong.

So, here was an ally. And now he`s lost him, right? Paul Ryan --

MATTHEWS: They don`t have any electoral votes. Wait until the storm gets to Pennsylvania.

(CROSSTALK)

PETTYPIECE: They do have electoral votes in Florida, and where is everyone from Puerto Rico going? They`re moving to Florida.

MATTHEWS: Eight percent of the population declined in Puerto Rico, a lot of them moved to Florida.

PAGE: That`s right.

KUMAR: The man who -- the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, who said he was wrong, the man he supports, Ron DeSantis, he`s supporting him so much in Florida, the Republican. He also said he`s wrong.

MATTHEWS: Well, former President Barack Obama is about to headline an Ohio rally for Richard Cordray. He`s the former official in Obama`s administration. He`s running for governor of Ohio. Obama`s return to the campaign trail sets up a proxy battle, of course, with president Trump, who`s planned an aggressive campaign schedule himself for the midterms.

What are you -- Clarence, this is mano-a-mano. Is this good for Obama?

PAGE: Well, it`s also -- by the way, Ohio is my home state. I`m very close to the situation there.

MATTHEWS: Where did you grow up?

PAGE: In Middletown, home of "Hillbilly Elegy", the J.D. Vance book, he went to the same high school I did, 30 years later. His Middletown is devastated, you had a front line special this week about the Dayton and what`s happened to it with the centralization post-NAFTA, et cetera.

Ohio has always been a swing state, essential for Republicans, Obama won it twice because he was very well aware of the demographics of industry in Ohio and that`s how he beat Mitt Romney at the time.

MATTHEWS: Is he smart to get into a street fight with Trump?

PAGE: Sorry?

MATTHEWS: Is he smart to get into a street fight with Trump?

PAGE: Yes, some people say, you know, well, maybe, he`s going to agitate more Trump supporters. But the fact is, people who are going to vote for Trump already know it. And the swing voters are what people should be going for now and Obama knows that he can reach those folks. He`s done it before.

But he`s always had short coattails. So, this is partly a test now to see if he can help Cordray to win in that state.

MATTHEWS: The independent voters in Florida are heavily for Bill Nelson. It`s fascinating stuff.

Go ahead. Tell me about Ohio.

KUMAR: No, I was going to say about Obama, I mean, like it or not, he`s still the head of the party. There`s 20 people that are going to -- Democrats that are going to run for president against President Trump, but there`s no one defining person. It`s still Barack Obama.

And honestly, it`s surprising he hasn`t done this yet, this last 18 months that he didn`t get involved when --

MATTHEWS: Can he do this when Trump attacks him? Remember that thing he used to do?

PETTYPIECE: There`s this theory out there that Trump`s strongest when he has someone to punch back against. And putting Obama out there gives someone another person to duke it out with.

MATTHEWS: Obama is the reason he ran I think.

PETTYPIECE: Trump has had eight years to discredit Obama. Trump hasn`t found a way to drag down Obama the way he has other contestants.

MATTHEWS: It`s going to get personal. You can bet.

Thank you, Anita Kumar. Thank you, Clarence Page. And thank you, Shannon Pettypiece.

When we return, let me finish tonight with "Trump Watch". Not one of his favorites coming up tonight. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: "Trump Watch", Thursday, September 13th, 2018.

I tweeted today that President Trump is now the Babe Ruth of B.S. What earned him this moniker was Trump`s achievement of just reaching the 5,000 mark in the number of times he has made misleading statements. This, according to "The Washington Post" fact checker.

Trump`s lawyer John Dowd saw the problem way back when he was working for the president. According to Bob Woodward`s stunning new book, "Fear", Trump was ready to be questioned under oath by Robert Mueller`s investigators, but Dowd knew Trump was incapable of giving a straight statement under oath. Quote: You are not a good witness, his lawyer told Trump.

Well, Dowd believed that Trump deluded, that he couldn`t accept reality, that he simply couldn`t be counted on to tell the truth even when his situation demanded it. Trump couldn`t see the problem, he believed he could get through an under oath interview with Mueller. It was the reason Dowd quit.

Mr. President, I`m afraid I just can`t help you, he said. Well, the larger question is, who can help this president? Who can help a president incapable of recognizing or even accepting facts?

Trump reminds me of something Woody Allen once said, what did reality ever do to me? Trump came a long way saying things are not true. He got a big chunk of his early following, let`s admit it, saying that the president of the United States was an illegal immigrant, had been smuggled into the president and set on a plan to one day be president.

He`s jumped from one conspiracy to the next, claiming in his latest rant that those thousands of people in Puerto Rico were not, despite reports, killed by Hurricane Maria. He goes from birther conspirator to hurricane denier, from lawyer to the next, all the while hoping for someone, somewhere to buy his latest claim.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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