Manafort to cooperate with Mueller. TRANSCRIPT: 9/14/2018, Hardball w Chris Matthews.

Guests: Brenda Bethune, Seung Min Kim, Nicholas Confessore, Nan Hayworth, Mara Gay

Show: HARDBALL Date: September 14, 2018 Time: 19:00

Guest: Brenda Bethune, Seung Min Kim, Nicholas Confessore, Nan Hayworth, Mara Gay

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Witness for the prosecution. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews. And we are following two big stories tonight.

As we speak, the Carolinas are feeling the devastating effects of what is now tropical storm Florence which continues its slow push along the eastern seaboard. We are going to get to our breaking coverage of that storm and its impact in just a moment.

But first, to the explosive news out of special counsel`s investigation. After his conviction in Virginia last month in an imminent second trial on additional charges, Paul Manafort struck a deal today with Robert Mueller`s team. A deal that could have big implications for the Russia probe.

The President`s former campaign chairman today pleading guilty to two federal counts filed in Washington, D.C. and also admitting his guilty on charges that a jury in Virginia last month could not settle on. The broad terms of Manafort`s cooperation agreement show that he is now obliged to cooperate with prosecutors in full which appears to include flipping against the President potentially.

As the plea makes clear Manafort must now cooperate quote "in any and all matters as to which the government deems the cooperation relevant."

In his first statement reacting to today`s development, Trump lawyer, Rudy Giuliani saying quote "once again, an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason, the President did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth."

Minutes later though, Giuliani revised that statement and removed the language at the end that stated quote "Paul Manafort will tell the truth." Of course, one way to read that is that it could be an indication of the Trump team is bracing for testimony for Manafort potentially detrimental to the President. Manafort is now become the fifth Trump campaign associate to cooperate with the special counsel after pleading guilty to criminal charges. That was includes former Trump attorney Michael Cohen who was been talking to the Mueller team according to a new report from "Vanity Fair" out just late today.

And joining me now is Tom Winter, investigations reporter for NBC News. Michael Schmidt, Washington correspondent for "the New York Times." Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney. And Betsy Woodruff is a political reporter at "the Daily Beast."

Thank you all for being with us.

Tom, let me start with you. So just in terms of laying out the road forward for Manafort, the guilty plea and what sounds like an open ended cooperation agreement. Every question is on the table here. He can`t say I don`t want to answer anything.

TOM WINTER, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER: Right. No, I mean, the agreement is very clear. Federal law enforcement agents can speak to him, government attorneys can speak to him. They can have him in front of a grand jury. They can him testify in trial, maybe for somebody else who might be charged down the line. So it`s really open ended.

I think the interesting thing here and it is toward the bottom of the plea agreement and we really get this kind of in writing so to speak is that Paul Manafort has already offered, either he or his attorney has already given them a written proffer which means that Paul Manafort or his attorney has already told the Mueller team, hey guys, you know, this is kind of general sense of what I have here. That`s typically what those written proffer agreements bring. So - and that was on Tuesday of this week. There`s also some indications for the plea agreement that they first started having some discussions on Monday of this week. So this is not going to be a situation here where Mueller is coming into the office on Monday and says, what does Paul have?

KORNACKI: So when you say proffer, too, do we know, do we have a sense of what that information might pertain to? He is telling them, hey, I have something that`s useful to you potentially, in what specific area.

WINTER: Yes. So typically the ways that these are laid out, they will lay out at first. Hey, these are the general topics. Usually an attorney will do that. This is what Paul Manafort might be able to speak to, these particular topics. At that point, typically, according to federal prosecutors that I have talk to, typically, then you would actually bring in the defendant and in this case you would bring in Paul Manafort and say, OK, we understand you want to talk about this. Tell us a little bit about what happened on that day. You want to kind to test that person`s knowledge and see how they are going to talk with you and see if they will come forward and provide those dell tai provide those details. We don`t have that written proffer agreement. That is something that is going to be under lock and key under Mueller`s team. They would love that because it would be great to know what Paul Manafort would be willing to tell them. But that is not something that we are going to see in a public space any time soon.

KORNACKI: Well, we have the good fortune. We can think that (INAUDIBLE) our producers of this having a former federal prosecutor with us, maybe who can answer this and shed some light on that next step.

So Barbara, you hear Tom Winter outlining there this proffer. So from the prosecutor`s standpoint, from the Mueller team standpoint then, they have got this cooperation agreement, what next for them?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Typically, what happens next is have been proffered sort of the topic. These are things that Paul Manafort knows about. I would imagine that what would happen next is a series of meetings over the coming days and weeks where they would spend considerable amounts of time with Paul Manafort going over every one of those topics and really drilling down in detail, showing him document, confronting him with the testimony of other witnesses, to determine the veracity of what he has to say because not only do they want to know the whole story, they want to make sure that it`s all true. And so, they will test it against other records, other witness testimony that they had.

It will be exhausting process. The plea agreement even says that some of these may occur with their permission without the presence of the defense attorney. So they may spend lots hours with Paul Manafort, sitting down, combing through documents and really probing the extent of all the things he knows so that they can go forward. And then they may come back to him as they learn other things as the investigation goes on.

KORNACKI: Yes. And in terms of what he may know, what he may be able to shed light on, the usefulness he may be able to provide to the Mueller team in this Russia investigation, Manafort could potentially provide information about any potential conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. That`s certainly something we know Mueller has been looking at. He was among those who are at top campaign officials who attended that June 2016 meeting with Russians at Trump tower. That was arranged on the promise of Kremlin dirt on Hillary Clinton. Shortly after that, Manafort offered private briefings to a Russian oligarch about the progress of the Trump campaign. Manafort may also know about the changes made to the 2016 Republican convention platform that weakened the language on U.S. assistance to Ukraine since he was among the earliest to deny that the campaign was responsible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody on the platform committee said id came from the Trump campaign. If not you, who?

PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: It absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign. I don`t know who everybody is. But I guarantee you --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody from the Trump campaign wanted that change in the platform?

MANAFORT: No one. Zero.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: A Republican delegate though later told NPR that the Trump campaign was involved in that platform change. Manafort also offering unconvincing denial when it came to Trump`s potential business relationships with Russian oligarchs, an area Mueller is likely scrutinizing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So to be clear, Mr. Trump has no financial relationships with any Russian oligarchs?

MANAFORT: That`s what he said. That`s what our position is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: That is why he was serving as Trump`s campaign chairman. Manafort was also in touch with a business partner who according to court filings maintained quote "ties to a Russian intelligence service throughout 2016."

So Michael, just in terms of the potential areas here and we don`t know yet exactly what Mueller might be looking at here but there`s a broad range of Russia related topics that the Manafort name comes up in.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. And the biggest one being the 2016 Trump tower meeting. And if you are Mueller and you want to someday finish this investigation, you really needed to speak with Manafort. Even if he doesn`t have anything that can lead to another prosecution, his testimony in knowing everything that he knew is essential because you have to turn over all of these rocks to make sure that you`ve run down every lead. So just by simply cooperating, he helps move Mueller along.

KORNACKI: Barbara, that raises a question though what Michael is saying. From the standpoint of Mueller to agree to a deal like this, and we can talk to at the time of a little bit more in details, but my understanding is this doesn`t look like a lot of prison time in the future for Paul Manafort. So to agree to this kind of deal, do you have a high degree of likelihood not only that he is going to sit down and talk to you but that you are going to get from that actionable items. Items that are going to be very helpful in a potential case you are building?

MCQUADE: Yes, I think so. That`s the reason for the proffer. You don`t, you know, agree to this until you know that the person has some information that you think he might be interested in.

But to Mike`s point, I agree with him that we ordinarily think of cooperation as providing what is known as substantial assistance in the investigation and prosecution of other people. You know a snitch to sort of get somebody else. But you can also get cooperation credit if you provide information that has intelligence value. So if you can provide information about what Russia`s game plan was in reaching out to the Trump campaign during the election, that also has value.

And so, depending on what those things are, no doubt whatever it is that Manafort and his lawyers have suggested through the proffer that is something that Robert Mueller has already assessed would have value to him.

KORNACKI: And Betsy, we know the President was out there praising before today`s developments. The President was out there praising Paul Manafort for not buckling, for not giving in to Mueller, to federal prosecutor, for not cutting any kind of deal when his former business partner Rick Gates cut that deal earlier this year. Turned on Paul Manafort. Manafort made a statement to the effect of, you know, he strongly suggestion it was not something he himself found to be honorable course.

In terms of this twist then, do we know what was it that brought it about from Mueller`s standpoint? What did Mueller say to him to bring this about?

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: We don`t know for sure. And that conversation, of course, would be extremely closely held.

But one thing we can safely assume could be part of Paul Manafort`s calculus here is just the financial strain of going through this kind of protracted federal investigation. Manafort was facing the potential loss of a host of his properties, a host of money he has this bank accounts. So the automatic substantial expenses there as well as the cost of legal fees. Hiring legal attorneys to represent you through protracted federal trials is really, really expensive.

And going as far back at year ago, people in Manafort`s inner circle have been saying this entire process of just being federally prosecuted is extremely financially onerous to him. No one is going to hire Paul Manafort to lobbies at any time in the immediate future. So it`s hard to see how he would get other sort of your financial resources. And it is almost certain that part of his calculations certainly unlikely all of it, but safe to say a significant part of it was probably just the financial burden of having to pay for lawyers to represent him through a second trial.

KORNACKI: Michael, I thought that change in the statement from Rudy Giuliani that we put up there today was very striking. At the end of it, originally saying they have confidence that Trump team has confidence that Manafort would sell the truth then deleting it, sending the statement back out. What do you make of that?

SCHMIDT: Obviously, they don`t want that to come back someday where the testimony has shown and they say, well, here is Rudy Giuliani saying, you know, he is going to be truthful. So they are clearly trying to protect their blind side.

But yet another just bad development here today. And I think sometimes we lose track of all of the things that have added up against the President. But with Cohen and now this, Mueller will have essentially full control over Manafort. And Manafort will be trying to prove to Mueller how much he is helping them. And I just don`t know how that`s a good development.

KORNACKI: Do we know what`s going on inside because there`s been so much talk before today`s developments that this was building towards a pardon, a Presidential pardon of Paul Manafort. That`s how you could read the comments that Trump was putting out there. That`s how you could read Manafort`s refusal before this to strike some kind of a deal. In terms of how the White House is processing this inside, do we have a sense of that?

SCHMIDT: No, we don`t. We do know, we had reported earlier this year that John Dowd had had conversations last year. John Dowd being the President`s former lawyer with Manafort`s lawyer about a pardon. We do know that that is something that Mueller is looking at itself.

And if this would set up a very interesting thing where if Manafort actually had things against the President and the President tried to pardon him, would that be part of obstruction?

KORNACKI: And Tom, we mentioned this too, just in terms of what Paul Manafort is facing now after this deal, eight convictions last month in Virginia. Pleading guilty to two counts and a ten counts, federal charges and very little, maybe no prison time. Is that possible there?

WINTER: Right. So the way to look at is the only thing he has plead to today as part of this plea agreement is just two counts in Washington, D.C. And according to the plea agreement, if we get to the end of this, if he has been cooperative, if he hasn`t broken any fur further laws and we get to that sentencing day, then all the Virginia charges get dismissed. All the Washington, D.C. charges get dismissed. So it is just these two counts.

And remember that Paul Manafort is in jail and has been in jail for several months. So that may also come into the picture when it comes time for the judge to sentence him. She may say, you know what, you have done a significant amount of time served. It may only be six months. It may only be a year. It may even be less than that.

So I think when you look at this, at the heart of it, and this is why it raises some questions as to whether or not Manafort has anything to significantly offer here is that it`s only going to be two charges that he pleads to at the end of the day. So I think that`s something that we are going to have to watch.

To Mike`s point, one of the things that I pointed out today, I think that Paul Manafort`s knowledge of Russian oligarchs, his knowledge of Ukraine, his knowledge of how things work in that part of the world, how money is moved, money laundering and those type of things that moved, he might be able to provide information, Barbara`s point, that may never lead to a specific prosecution but might help them go down some avenues that I think potentially might be fruitful for them.

KORNACKI: And we mentioned how the White House is processing all this. Well, reacting to the news today, the President Donald Trump telling "the Wall Street Journal" I got hit with an artificial witch hunt that should have never happened.

So Betsy, you see sort of the repetition there, the recitation of a very familiar theme from the President. I imagine we may be at a turning point here. The shift in that statement they put out. Rudy Giuliani did about Manafort where Manafort goes from being somebody the President praises, maybe to somebody the President speaks about in different terms.

WOODRUFF: That`s right. It certainly seems to be some sort of pivot there as far as the way the President`s legal team is talking about Manafort and his new found cooperation. That said, people close to the President`s legal team, familiar with the thinking there will say, which is what you would expect them to say, they will say that the President`s legal team isn`t worried about Manafort`s potential cooperation. That they know everything he knows. That there`s been lots of communication between the President`s lawyers and Manafort`s lawyer. And they don`t view the President as someone who would be in the crosshairs based on any information Manafort has.

That said, of course, you have to take that with a very sizable grain of salt because of the people who are making those assertions, but it is important context here.

Additionally, though, what I think is important is that the prospect of a Manafort pardon had always been something that was very much in the gray area. And I recently spoke to a person close to the President who said that his view of the President`s thinking was if the President was going to pardon Manafort, it likely would have been after the 2020 reelection bid because it was just so politically toxic.

KORNACKI: All right. Betsy Woodruff, Tom Winter, Michael Schmidt, Barbara McQuade, thank you all for joining us.

And coming up, the latest on tropical storm Florence as the catastrophic storm moves along the east coast. We are going to check in with reporters on the ground to get an update on the storm.

Plus, supreme intrigue. Chaos and confusion in the confirmation process as a new but still very unclear allegation surfaces against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. All of this less than a week before the Senate judiciary committee is set to vote on his nomination.

And more on tonight`s breaking news. What does Paul Manafort`s cooperation mean for President Trump? The HARDBALL round table weighs in on that.

And Trump`s credibility problem, will Republican voters tire of conspiracy theories?

Finally, let me finish with an accusation that ended up changing American politics forever. This is HARDBALL where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Now to the storm threatening millions along the east coast. Tropical storm Florence now downgraded just a few hours ago, but it continues to slowly, slowly creep inland from the Carolina coast and bringing with it torrential rain and life threatening storm surges. Powerful wind gusts up to 85 miles an hour. At least five deaths have so far been confirmed as a result of the storm including a mother and her baby who were killed when a tree fell on their home.

We have already seen catastrophic flooding. And parts of the region could see as much as 40 inches of rain. Rescue teams have been out all day assisting those who are caught trying to ride out the storm. Hundreds have already been rescued. Thousands are holding up -- holing up in shelters across the area.

In South Carolina this afternoon, there were more people than cots available. More than 700,000 in North Carolina now without power, and at least another 100,000 in the dark in South Carolina.

The White House noticing this afternoon that President Trump is expected to travel to the storm area next week.

Let`s go to Tammy Leitner, who is in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

And, Tammy, boy, you are in the middle of it right now. We can see what this looks like on the air. But just set the scene for what it`s like to be there in the middle of it right now.

TAMMY LEITNER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Steve.

Even though it`s been downgraded to a tropical storm, it doesn`t feel like it here in Myrtle Beach. They are starting to get hit. You can see the wind has really picked up here.

It`s low tide here in Myrtle Beach. And I want to turn around and give you a shot here, a look another the ocean. The waves are really choppy. And because the wind is picking up, blowing in all directions, the sea is just an angry mess out here.

Folks that live here said they have never seen the water like this before. What will be really interesting is, they have spent a lot of money building up these sand dunes behind me, because the beaches here in Myrtle Beach, obviously, this is a tourist town, very important to them.

These sand dunes are supposed to keep the water from coming up onto the shore. But it will be really interesting, with the storm surge over the next few hours, to see if the sand dunes keep the storm surge from getting up onto the coastline.

The big concern was flooding. They are expecting 20 inches. This rain is supposed to continue through tomorrow. So, there`s a lot of unknowns, how much flooding they will get here in town. We will be keeping an eye on that, Steve, throughout the night -- back to you.

KORNACKI: All right, Tammy Leitner right by the water there in Myrtle Beach. Thank you for that, Tammy.

The eye of the storm is expected to be just north of Myrtle Beach within the next hour. Residents who didn`t evacuate the area are now told to shelter in place.

Joining me now on the phone is the mayor of Myrtle Beach, Brenda Bethune.

Mayor, thank you for joining us.

Well, let me just ask you. On that question of evacuations, of getting folks out of there, how successful was that, that effort to convince people to leave?

BRENDA BETHUNE, MAYOR OF MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA: Very successful. We -- people listened to the warnings. They took it seriously. And they left. The problem we have right now is, are we going to be able to get them back? And that`s just because of this flooding situation that we are facing and the fact that we do not have a major interstate to get them home.

And all of our major roads coming into the city are going to be flooded within the next three to seven days.

KORNACKI: And that -- it sounds like my understanding is, is that we keep getting these reports, a couple successive downgrades in this thing to just a tropical storm right now, but that even in the face of those downgrades, there`s this slow-moving nature of the storm and the intense rainfall that comes with that.

That is the big threat to you, isn`t it?

BETHUNE: Absolutely, the biggest threat right to us right now is the rainfall, because it is not letting up one bit. And it`s just a very dire situation right now.

KORNACKI: Can you think a parallel in your area, another storm of this magnitude with this kind of potential that`s -- that you have been through?

BETHUNE: Matthew was bad for us. This is so much worse, because this storm literally is affecting every single road that we have coming into our city.

And what is so important about that is the fact people who work in Myrtle Beach can`t get into the city. And the businesses that are located in Myrtle Beach can`t get out of the city or will not be able to, to get to their customers. So, this is going to hurt us very, very badly.

Tourism is our number one and only industry. And the fact that we don`t have an interstate to help get people in and out of here, this storm has really brought a lot of things to light for us.

KORNACKI: All right, the Mayor of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Brenda Bethune, thank you for taking a few minutes. And good luck to you. Our thoughts certainly with you in the coming hours and days, as you brace for the worst of that storm.

Take a quick break here, but up next: The Senate Judiciary Committee is going to vote on Brett Kavanaugh`s nomination of the Supreme Court in less than a week. Will an allegation dating back 30 years throw a last-minute wrench in the works?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will move ahead with a key vote on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, despite a cryptic allegation that has injected confusion and new controversy into his Supreme Court confirmation fight.

Yesterday, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the committee, issued this statement -- quote -- "I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further. And I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities."

Two sources tell NBC News that the allegation was sexual in nature. The allegation was -- quote -- "not specific" and dates back to the judge`s high school days in the early 1980s.

In a statement shared by the White House, Justice Kavanaugh said -- quote - - or Judge Kavanaugh -- excuse me -- said -- quote -- "I categorically deny and unequivocally deny his allegation. I didn`t do this back in high school or at any time."

The White House also issued a statement defending the judge and the vetting process -- quote -- "Not until the eve of his confirmation has Senator Feinstein or anyone raised the specter of new information about him. Throughout 25 years of public service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has thoroughly and repeatedly vetted Judge Kavanaugh."

Now, the FBI has not opened a criminal investigation into the matter, but added a letter to the judge`s background file.

For more, I`m joined by Beth Fouhy, NBC News senior editor for politics, and Seung Min Kim, White House reporter for "The Washington Post."

Thank you both for being with us.

Seung Min, let me just start with you in terms of, this is -- it`s very cryptic here. It sounds potentially explosive, but we don`t know. What are the odds of finding out more about this?

SEUNG MIN KIM, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, the letter is not public. Let`s make it clear.

The allegations haven`t been substantiated publicly. And so it`s difficult to say -- reveal much information about what is in this letter. I mean, our sources match up with NBC`s sources that this does seem to involve misconduct sexual in nature.

But, again, with -- people are just not talking about it. And I think that Senator Feinstein, who`s been really in the -- in the middle of all this, she has stressed in her public statements about the matter that she really wanted to protect the confidentiality, required, or in the situation.

But she, through a spokesman, commented more today, saying she herself want these allegations to be public. She thinks it`s important to be aired, especially, particularly as we barrel toward final confirmation votes for Brett Kavanaugh in the next two weeks.

But she also stressed that the woman has made it clear that she doesn`t want these accusations to be public. Now, that makes it very difficult for us publicly to know more about these accusations. As you say, Judge Kavanaugh has categorically denied these allegations.

And for now, that`s what we can go with.

KORNACKI: Yes.

And it seems, Beth, just in terms of looking ahead to -- the confirmation vote is next week. This has obviously been a contentious process. And in terms of whether this will have any bearing on that, we`re in this moment right now, we don`t know who the individual is. We don`t know what the specific charge is. We have these reports of what it may be in nature.

And she is saying apparently, Dianne Feinstein, she doesn`t want to come forward. It seems there needs to be more that is sort of fleshed out here for this to have a direct bearing on the process.

What`s your read on it?

BETH FOUHY, SENIOR EDITOR, NBC.COM: Right. Well, the fact that there`s an accuser and some -- some accusations that we don`t know specifically, and there`s an accuser who doesn`t want to be made public is very problematic if there`s going to be some effort to try to stall or halt these -- these - - the confirmation process, in order to get a little bit more detail.

We just don`t know. In the meantime, the Republicans on the committee have -- Chairman Grassley actually released his own evidence today. He got 65 signatories on a letter from Judge Kavanaugh`s youth, young women who knew him when he was in high school, to attest to what a good guy he was, and how he had treated women with respect back then.

So, clearly, Republicans are ready to fight here, even if Senator Feinstein is not ready fully to come forward with what she has. And we have an accuser who`s not willing to step forward and publicly acknowledge what`s going on.

So it`s a very sort of asymmetrical situation right now between the Democrats and the Republicans on the committee.

KORNACKI: And, Seung Min, in some of the reporting I have seen -- I`m curious what you have heard about this -- suggests that, even among the Democrats, there may be some dissension in terms of how this was handled.

This came to Senator Feinstein`s attention over the summer, I believe through Congresswoman Anna Eshoo from California. And Feinstein didn`t share this with her fellow Democrats or anybody else on the committee. Is that -- is that your understanding?

KIM: So, according to our reporting, yes, the letter was initially -- according to our sources, the letter was initially sent to Congresswoman Anna Eshoo of California.

That material -- material was subsequently relayed to Senator Feinstein because of her role as the California senior senator and also her role on the Judiciary Committee vetting Kavanaugh`s nomination.

We know -- we can confirm that the letter was dated in July. But the reason why this is coming up now is, just privately over the last several days, some of the Democrats on the committee had heard murmurings of some sort of a letter, that there was this existence of this mysterious letter that may or may not say something.

So what happened was that they had asked Senator Feinstein for more details. She called this emergency last-minute meeting of Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats just after Senate chamber on Wednesday night to talk a little bit more about the matter.

But, at least publicly, I talked to some of the -- some of the senators on the -- Democrats on the Judiciary Committee about just the handling of all this. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who is himself a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I asked him about how she has gone about this. And Senator Leahy told me that she had had -- he absolutely supports how she has done this process. She`s not out to do a smear job on anyone. She is just doing her job with integrity.

KORNACKI: Yes, and, Beth, just it seems to raise a question here I`m not sure how to answer from Feinstein`s perspective. If you -- if you`re given this information, if you`re given this letter, and the individual doesn`t want to come forward, doesn`t want to be connected with this, but it`s given to you, how do you handle something like that?

FOUHY: Right.

And why it`s suddenly emerging now so late in the process. I mean, we have talked a lot about sort of comparing this to the Clarence Thomas situation, where there was an accusation of sexual harassment that came fairly late in the process at that time as well, 1991, when he was very close to being confirmed for -- become a Supreme Court justice.

And that opened up a whole enormous new avenue of questioning. And -- but, in that case, you had an accuser, Anita Hill, who stepped forward publicly. She made her very specific allegations in front of the Senate committee, and took questions about it.

Now, that doesn`t seem to be the case here, unless some change has happened this week, that this accuser is going to step forward and sort of like everything may change, kind of go off the rails with this nomination.

We know the Republicans very much want him to be on the committee. This is -- excuse me on the court. This is a much more partisan Senate than it was back in 1991. Back then, 11 Democrats voted for Clarence Thomas to confirm him even after Anita Hill came forward with her allegations.

Now it`s almost an entirely partisan process. But it doesn`t look like the Democrats are really going to step out there and fight on this one, unless we have an accuser ready to support, or Senator Feinstein decides to take things one step further and make these -- make these allegations public.

And it doesn`t seem that she wants to at this point.

KORNACKI: OK, a very, very sort of the hazy and confusing situation right here, obviously, but very, very high stakes, certainly, politically when it comes to the court.

Beth Fouhy, Seung Min Kim, thank you both.

And up next: Now what? What does Paul Manafort`s plea deal mean for the Russia investigation and for the president?

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the reasons I respect Paul Manafort so much is, he went through that trial.

You know, they make up stories. People make up stories. This whole thing about flipping, they call it, I know all about flipping. For 30, 40 years, I have been watching flippers. Everything`s wonderful. And then they get 10 years in jail, and they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go.

It almost ought to be outlawed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was President Trump praising his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort after his conviction on financial charges last month.

Now, though, Manafort has flipped, and his cooperation with Robert Mueller`s Russia probe could pose new legal jeopardy for the president and his campaign team.

President Trump reacted to today`s news in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal." He denied any wrongdoing, said the case had nothing to do with him, saying -- quote -- "I got hit with an artificial witch-hunt that should never have happened.

I`m joined now by the HARDBALL, Mara Gay, editorial -- editorial board member for "The New York Times," former Republican Congresswoman Nan Hayworth -- she sits on the board of the directors of The Independent Women`s Forum -- and Nick Confessore, political reporter for "The New York Times."

I guess I`m trying to gauge how today`s development with Manafort stacks up with everything else we have seen in the Russia probe. I mean, just last month, it was the news of Michael Cohen. Now there`s another report, I think from "Vanity Fair," tonight that Michael Cohen may be talking to Mueller`s team.

The news that Manafort has struck this deal and the news that he has a cooperation agreement, how does -- is this the most significant development we have seen yet?

NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think possibly.

The problem is that the prosecutor is keeping his cards so close to his vest, that it`s hard to know what he`s extracting out of these agreements in terms of information.

But there are three things that could be very important here, first of all, that Manafort can speak to the Trump Tower meeting, which is critical to any question of collusion or conspiracy. Second, he`s close to Roger Stone, or used to be, and he can speak to the question of WikiLeaks and the release of the Podesta e-mails.

And then, finally, he himself is a font of knowledge about Russian oligarchs and Russians and their wealth deployment in the U.S. and abroad. Those are all three important subjects for Mueller.

KORNACKI: Nan, we had on this network earlier today -- I was interviewing Alan Dershowitz. And Dershowitz has taken in many cases a more skeptical, sort of contrarian approach to interpreting...

NAN HAYWORTH (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: A libertarian approach.

KORNACKI: But about I was struck by what he said today, because he said this was a big win for Bob Mueller. He said this opens new doors for Bob Mueller.

And his tone in terms of the implications of this, it seemed to me, just on the receiving end of it, to be different than what we have been hearing from somebody who has been defending Trump from a legal standpoint in the court of public opinion.

Do you view this as different in nature than some of the developments we have had?

HAYWORTH: Well, I think Nick`s obviously laid out a list of possibilities.

I will add another, because, of course, Paul Manafort worked and collaborated for years with John Podesta. He also knows an awful lot about the interactions of Russians with Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state. Half-a-million dollars went to President Clinton when Uranium One wanted to do business in the United States. I mean, there`s a lot of...

KORNACKI: But is there any indication that -- is there any indication, though, that that is where Mueller...

HAYWORTH: We don`t -- but you know what? We don`t know.

His remit is endless. I deed, Alan Dershowitz just said, we have a situation in which this investigation could go kind of anywhere Robert Mueller wants to take it. We don`t know.

But what we do know is that every bit of evidence that has been made public to date does not support a claim that the Trump campaign collaborated with, colluded with the Russians. And that is the most salient point.

And, in fact, the walls are closing in on folks in the DOJ and FBI in the Obama era and beyond, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page.

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KORNACKI: But let`s stick...

HAYWORTH: Right?

KORNACKI: Let`s stick on today`s, though.

And, Mara, it does seem, this question of, was there collusion, what kind of relationship was there, if there was any kind of relationship, between the Trump campaign and Russians, it does seem that if there is a case to be built there, this would be the key, to have Paul Manafort cooperating and being able to answer any question that Mueller has. MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, that`s right.

And, as Nick pointed out, we don`t know all that Bob Mueller knows at this point. Let`s be clear. This is the fifth Trump aide or adviser who has pleaded guilty or been convicted in relation with this special counsel probe. So there`s more to come, most likely.

What I`m curious about, as well as what Bob Mueller -- I`m sorry -- what Manafort might be able to tell Bob Mueller about how he came to serve for free on the Trump campaign, when he was apparently in debt to a Russian oligarch.

KORNACKI: Yes, it had been 20 years, I think, since Manafort had been involved in a -- it was the Dole campaign in `96, Trump 2016.

President Trump`s -- switching gears here -- President Trump`s tweet yesterday that the death toll in Puerto Rico was being inflated by Democrats to -- quote -- "make him look bad" brought swift condemnation from two Republican candidates for statewide office in Florida.

Governor Rick Scott, he, of course, running for the Senate, tweeting: "I disagree with POTUS. An independent study said thousands were lost."

Through a spokesman, Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidate for governor of Florida, said in the statement he doesn`t believe any loss of life has been inflated.

Late today, Trump again questioned the Puerto Rico death estimate, quoting FOX News host Geraldo Rivera in a tweet, saying: "They say all these people died in a storm in Puerto Rico, yet 70 percent of the power was out before the storm. So when did people start dying? At what point do you recognize that what they are doing is a political agenda couched in the nice language of journalism?"

Nan, you been a Republican candidate for office.

HAYWORTH: Yes.

KORNACKI: If you`re a Republican candidate for office in 2018, is there any way this has a positive effect on your campaign, that the president decides this is what he wants to be focusing on?

HAYWORTH: Well, Steve, look, every candidate runs his or her own campaign in the environment which they find themselves.

What these candidates can call attention to effectively is what was written in "The Orlando Sentinel" by Luis Rivera Marin, who is the deputy governor of Puerto Rico. And, remember, the New Progressive Party. He is not a Republican -- who praised the Trump election administrations efforts, which have been extraordinary.

We have never invested this much in recovery of any region.

KORNACKI: But I guess what I`m asking, though, is the way he`s choosing to bring this up right now, you have a hurricane, now a tropical storm bearing down on the East Coast of the United States.

And he goes back to Puerto Rico and starts talking about, this is the Democrats, this is the media trying to get -- is that a message Republicans are comfortable with their president running on essentially?

HAYWORTH: I think it`s fair to say that, yes, much of the media has tended to cast whatever the president does in a negative light.

But the fact is that the resources that have been brought to bear in Puerto Rico have been extraordinary, $34 billion worth of resources. Every department of government that can be mobilized has been. And the deputy governor of Puerto Rico has taken pains to praise the administration after the initial tweets came through, because he understands what`s important.

And what`s important is the results.

KORNACKI: It is striking to me, Nick, to show those comments from the Republican candidates down there in Florida, though, because they`re both in winnable races for them. And Scott`s approval rating I have seen with Puerto Rican voters in Florida has actually been pretty high, relative to what you might expect for a Republican down there.

It seems they don`t see it as good politics.

CONFESSORE: No.

And, look, what Trump says is terrible for the families of those who died and terrible for him personally as a politician. It`s going to come back and haunt him if he runs for re election. But it`s not going to hurt Rick Scott, because Rick Scott understands that those voters are actually very important to him. And he has spent about a year now cultivating them, reaching out to them, trying to provide services those refugees from the island who are settled in Florida.

He`s done a very good job because he understands that he needs those voters in some degree.

KORNACKI: All right, the Roundtable is staying with us.

Up next, these three are going to Tell Me Something I Don`t Know.

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KORNACKI: And we`re back with the HARDBALL Roundtable.

Mara, Tell Me Something I Don`t Know.

GAY: Sure.

So more people voted in yesterday`s New York Democratic primary, which was about 1.6 million Democrats -- more people voted yesterday than voted for Andrew Cuomo alone when he won in 2014.

KORNACKI: It was -- it was -- he won yesterday, but there was huge turnout all around. No question there.

Nan.

HAYWORTH: New York has not one, but two great candidates who are running for -- one who`s particularly great -- running to be our first African- American attorney general.

And I will call attention to Keith Wofford, who came from a working-class family in Buffalo, Harvard undergrad, Harvard Law, has the right ideas for New York. Definitely would be history-making and deserves people`s support.

KORNACKI: The New York Republican being a good team player there.

Nick Confessore.

CONFESSORE: I also have a New York fact, in honor of the New York primary election yesterday.

If Andrew Cuomo goes on to win election in November, as he`s favored to do, a Cuomo will have held the governor`s office for 24 of the last 40 years as of 2022 in New York.

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KORNACKI: Cuomo dominance.

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GAY: So sorry, if more people voted for Cynthia Nixon yesterday.

KORNACKI: Oh, than voted for Cuomo in 2014.

GAY: Than voted for Cuomo 2014. That`s right.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Yes, in a losing cause, but that much energy. The overall turnout was enormous.

Mara Gay, Nan Hayworth, Nick Confessore, thank you for being here.

When we return, Let Me Finish tonight with a Supreme Court confirmation and the explosive allegation that changed American politics forever.

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KORNACKI: Let me finish tonight with this.

The hearings are over. The votes are lined up, a confirmation of a Supreme Court justice all but assured, and then an allegation, hazy at first. It explodes into public. It had been shielded from everyone, it turns out, even members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And now, suddenly, Democrats say it should call everything into question, while Republicans suspect a dirty trick.

And, no, I`m not talking here about the still murky last-second drama that`s erupted around Brett Kavanaugh`s nomination. I`m talking about an accusation that emerged at almost this exact same moment in almost this exact same way.

And it ended up changing American politics forever. It was back in the fall of 1991. Clarence Thomas was George H.W. Bush`s pick for the Supreme Court. And he was going to swing it to the right. There was no question about that. And liberals didn`t like it.

But Thomas was a blank slate. They held his confirmation hearings. No one laid a glove on him. And that`s when the report hit. There had been a claim of sexual harassment against Thomas made by a woman who had been his assistant in the 1980s. Anita Hill was her name.

Now, Hill had quietly talked to investigators with the Senate Judiciary Committee a month earlier. She signed an affidavit, but she also insisted on remaining anonymous. And, because of that, the committee`s chairman, Joe Biden, decided not to bring up or accusations during the hearing.

But then the affidavit leaked. And when it did, all hell broke loose. Women in particular were outraged. Why had this all-male committee kept all of this quiet? Biden reopened the hearings. Hill testified.

Thomas, she said, had subjected her over and over to graphic, unwelcome and overtly sexual comments. Thomas testified again too. He denied everything. And tens of millions of Americans watched it all, transfixed by a high-stakes political showdown like no one had ever seen before.

The details Hill offered were vivid and jarring. And Thomas` denials were emphatic, embracing. At one point, he said he was the victim of a -- quote -- "a high-tech lynching."

Every network carried the hearings live. It was the middle of October. CBS was supposed to be airing the baseball playoffs. But even they put up a split-screen, Braves-Pirates on one side of the screen, Hill and Thomas on the other side.

When it was over, it remained a he said/she said controversy. Thomas was confirmed 52-48. He`s still on the court today.

But it also set off a backlash. The next year, in 1992, women mobilized. They ran for office. They supported each other. They did it in numbers unheard of. The Year of the Woman, they would come to call it. Patty Murray, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, many more, they all made their big leaps in politics in 1992.

It was a development that shaped the decade, the decade I write about in my new book, "The Red and the Blue." It`s coming out on October 2. You can pre-order it now. I`m super excited for it. I hope you will.

And while we are in the midst of another year of the woman right now, 26 years later, in 2018, and, for now, whatever exactly the Senate Judiciary Committee was told about Brett Kavanaugh is very murky. It may well remain that way, the exact accusation still unknown. It goes back more than three decades. We may never learn who the accuser is.

This may not deliver another Hill-Thomas moment. But if you have got a long memory, it is impossible to look at these new developments and not recognize that this was the setup to that extraordinary drama back in 1991.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.

And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END