Trump declares National Emergency. TRANSCRIPT: 02/15/2019, Hardball w. Chris Matthews.

Guests: David Cicilline, Noah Rothman, Danielle Moodie-Mills, Spike Lee

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 15, 2019 Guest: David Cicilline, Noah Rothman, Danielle Moodie-Mills, Spike Lee

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  And finally tonight in Supreme Court news, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was back at work.  This is the first time in over a month following a surgery to treat lung cancer.  That`s the first time she had missed courtroom arguments since joining the court in 1993.  We wanted to give you that update. 

That`s it for THE BEAT.  "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now. 

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  Constitutional.  Let`s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews. 

We have got lot of news to get to tonight, including some breaking developments in the Russia investigations. 

But first, as expected today President Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border to secure money to build a wall and to address what he calls an invasion. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  So we are going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border and we are going to do it one way or the other.  We have to do it.  Not because it was a campaign promise, which it is.  It was one of many, by the way, not my only one.  It is a great thing to do because we have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people and it`s unacceptable. 

Everyone knows that walls work and there are better examples than El Paso, frankly.  You just take a look almost everywhere.  Everybody knows that.  Nancy knows it.  Chuck knows it.  They all know it.  It`s all a big lie.  It is a big con game.  We don`t need a military because we would have a wall. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  The President later signed the bipartisan spending bill to avert a second government shutdown.  He would not concede the emergency declaration is because he can`t get a better deal from the bipartisan compromise which was a fraction of the $5.7 billion he had been demanding. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I went with through Congress.  I made a deal.  I got almost $1.4 billion when I wasn`t supposed to get $1, not one $1.  He is not going to get $1.  Well, I got $1.4 billion.  I don`t have to do it for the election.  I have already done a lot of wall for the election, 2020.  And the only reason we are up here talking about this is because of the election because they want to try to win an election which, it looks like they are not going to be able to do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  The President is hoping to unlock roughly $6.5 billion to add to the nearly $1.4 billion Congress has already provided for fencing.  But this morning, he made a notable admission. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  On the wall, they skimped so I did -- I was successful in that sense but I want to do it faster.  I could do the wall over a longer period of time.  I didn`t need to do this but I would rather do it much faster. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  House speaker Nancy Pelosi respond to the comment.  Trump saying I didn`t need to do this with a tweet asking clearest sign that Donald Trump`s fake Trump emergency is not legitimate?  She added, it is just a faster way to force taxpayers to put the bill after Congress wouldn`t let him have his way. 

In a joint statement with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker Pelosi vowed quote "the Congress will defend our constitutional authorities using every remedy available and called on Republicans to join in opposing the measure." 

In fact, two Republicans, Senator Mike Lee of Utah and Tom Tillis of North Carolina both expressed their disappointment with the President`s decision. 

I`m joined now by Democratic congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Danielle Moodie-Mills, radio host for Serious XM, Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for the Associated Press and Noah Rothman, associate editor for "Commentary Magazine" and the author of "Unjust, social justice and the unmaking of America." 

Thanks to everybody for being with us. 

Congressman, let me start with you.  We just put that statement up there from your leader in the House, the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, her counterpart her on the Democratic side in the Senate.  They both said they are going to use every tool they have at their disposal to paraphrase there in order to fight this.  What are those tools?  What are you going to do to fight this? 

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Well, first of all, we should make clear there is no emergency at the border.  Border crossings are at 40-year low.  The President`s own intelligence community when they did their worldwide threat assessment of all the national security challenges barely references the southern border and certainly don`t identify as an emergency. 

So what we will do is we will do a resolution of disapproval of a Congress in the House and the Senate that will disapprove of the President`s invocation of this emergency.  If that is impasse vetoed by the President, then there will be a legal challenge. 

But look.  This is the President attempting to circumvent the will of the American people through Congress.  We have the power to make appropriations.  That`s our constitutional duty.  The President is trying to circumvent that process by making up a fake emergency in order to take money and ironically taking money from military construction and counter- narcotics work.  The very things he claims that he is worried about.  He is taking away billions of dollars of resources from them. 

This is really about the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances.  This is a very fundamental question.  And whether or not our Republican colleagues are going to join us in standing up to protect the prerogative of Congress and the American people to make decisions about how taxpayer money is spent. 

KORNACKI:  Well, that is the question.  You are talking about a resolution of disapproval here.  I have also seen this idea put throughout that maybe legislation would be offered that clarifies more specifically what powers the Congress is giving the President in terms of what counts as an emergency. 

But the question there is assuming any of that would face a veto from the President, at that point from your standpoint, you would either need two- thirds super majorities to override that veto.  Meaning, you would need a significant more Republicans than we have seen.  Break with this President on anything would have to join with you or failing that you would need the courts to intervene.  Is that really the end game here from your standpoint?  Are you going to need the courts to step in? 

CICILLINE:  Well, I mean, I hope our Republican colleagues will join us in this effort.  We haven`t seen a lot of willingness to hold this President accountable and to call out the abuse of power by this administration. 

There have been some Republicans already expressing displeasure with the President`s decision.  Whether we would have enough to sustain a veto is unclear.  But I think it is likely to end up in the courts.  And we will fully litigate this to protect the prerogative of Congress to make this decision.  Make sure this President doesn`t think he is an imperial king that just gets to deliberate (INAUDIBLE) and circumvent the constitution, circumvent the checks and balances and the rule of law in this country. 

KORNACKI:  Noah, speaking of that question of how this is playing on the Republican side, Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, he is going back the President on this.  We have Mike Lee there saying he wants to revisit these powers.  Tom Tillis, potentially.  I think Lamar Alexander.  How much breakage, how much slippage do you think Trump will have there on the republicans side?  Is it only going to be a handful or is there a chance it grows anything more than that? 

NOAH ROTHMAN, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE:  There were a lot of Republicans who expressed displeasure with the President`s move.  Mitch McConnell is a very good shepherd of his conference.  I suspect that there won`t be very much breakage.  But that`s extremely frustrating. 

I think that just about everybody including the President wants this to end up in courts.  I don`t think they want to go to the motions of expropriating property along the border of having to defend the efficacy of a physical barrier in the event that it actually gets billed.  I think everybody wants to outsource their powers, their constitutional prerogatives to the judiciary. 

And it`s an extraordinarily damming set of conditions here.  The Mathesonians (ph) scheme is falling apart.  No longer is Congress, a jealous steward of its own authority and no longer the executive branch, assuming the powers and consulting with Congress.  It`s demonstrating contempt for Congress` verdict on this measure.  So, you know, this is all- in-all, it is not going to resolve itself with a satisfactory. 

KORNACKI:  What you are kind of getting at there was I think that the cynical sort of forecast for this was all along and it was, OK, they are going to be an impasse here.  Trump is going to have to reopen the government at some point.  It is going to basically be on the Democrat`s term because they see no political incentive to fold and so, therefore, Trump will reopen the government and then he will do this executive action, declare this emergency.  Some court will strike it down and he will be able to say to his base, to his folks, hey, I fought on this.  Are you getting any indication from the White House that that is what is basically is going on here? 

ROTHMAN:  People close to the President believed that the most important here is not the wall but the fight for the wall.  That`s exactly right.  I mean, this is sort of Intel for a while.  This is where we are going to end up.  I mean, certainly, the argument can be made that the White House has really botched the first couple years of their term when the Republicans held the House. They could have done much more in terms of obtaining funding for the wall.  They are now left with the Democratic House that didn`t want to give much of anything. 

So - the President, you heard him today.  He tried to spin it like, well, I got billion dollars.  That is something.  And we will figure out the rest for national emergency and use another executive powers. 

There is no question it`s a defeat.  But he couldn`t afford another government shutdown.  The last time that last more than a month, took an absolute toll on his poll numbers.  Derail moment of private conversations.  He has showed an awareness of that.  That he knows that was bad.  He can`t do it again.  So this is sort of his way to try to wiggle out of that, to kick the can down the road, eventually, he is going to end up with the courts.   And he can go on the campaign trail for the next two years and talk to his supporters about how he fought for that wall.  The Democrats are weak on border security and maybe they will be some courts and judges who will rule against him that he can blame that person. 

KORNACKI:  You already heard him today invoking the ninth circuit --. 

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI:  Yes.  And before he became President, too, Donald Trump, he said he was no fan of the executive orders President Obama issued. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Obama signs his executive orders all day long because he can`t get along with anybody.  It is not the way it is supposed to work as you understand. 

We can`t always sign executive orders.  You can`t do it.  That`s not the way our founders set up this country.  You understand that.  That`s not part of the deal. 

Just as executive orders and I guess he says take us to court in five years some judge will make a determination.  It`s so wrong. 

I will terminate every single illegal Obama executive order.  I will restore constitutional law to this country. 

It certainly did something that was unconstitutional.  I think certainly, he could be impeached. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Danielle, something I have been hearing from Democrats here is basically, OK.  Hey, if President Trump is going to say I have the power to declare an emergency, I`m going to say the border is an emergency, I`m going to say I don`t have to do this wright now but I`m still going to call an emergency, then I`m going to take money that was appropriate for "x" and I`m going to spend it on "y," if that ends up somehow holding up when the courts review this and that exists, then why can`t the next Democratic President say climate change is the emergency.  Gun control is the emergency.  It take any item on the progressive wish list that you are going to have trouble getting through Congress.  Here is your answer. 

DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS, HOST, #WOKEAP, SIRIUS XM:  This right now that is happening is political cat nip, right now.  The idea that this president is declaring an emergency that he himself is saying is not really an emergency, he just wants to expedite the process, is setting a dangerous president for the next Democratic president, for the next Republican president.  To decide on a whim whenever they want to that something is a national emergency. 

We are one year yesterday from Parkland.  Mass shootings and gun violence in this country is actually a national emergency.  A hundred people die every day from gun violence.  There have been 25 shootings since the beginning of the year and we are only at February 15th. 

So if you want to declare a national emergency, now would have been the time to do that around gun violence.  But we are not doing that.  We are doing what Trump wants, which is to appease his base, right.  Because that this all anybody cares about. 

Because you look at the numbers but we know that they don`t believe in facts or read.  But the idea here is that, I don`t know.  Since we have had the lowest, the lowest immigration rates since 2016 that we know that crime by undocumented people is actually very low in areas where there is an influx of undocumented people. 

And so, here are the numbers.  The numbers tell the truth that there is not an invasion that is happening.  You just did coverage yesterday at the wall.  It looked quite calm and pleasant, not like an invasion or a caravan was on marching down the path.  And so when we look at the truth and the facts of the case, it`s up to Democrats to lay that out for the people. 

KORNACKI:  Is it - I guess the question I`m asking though is longer term.  Is this something -- I think one of the stories here with the Trump era that I`m sort of seeing is Democrats have changed in a lot ways sort of in response to what Trump has almost revealed is possible, maybe, in our air of politics.  Democrats are going to say, OK, two can play at this game.  The next time that it changed it. 

MOODIE-MILLS:  But that`s dangerous.  It`s dangerous for our constitution.  It is dangerous for the American public.  I don`t want a two can play at this game type of political maneuvering that is happening right now.  This is about our constitution and it is about the powers of the executive branch.  There are the checks and balances for a reason. 

But sure, down the road when something happens, when there is a Democratic President, God willing in 2020, and we have - we are looking at climate change which by then would have been eight years until we are headed towards a meltdown, why wouldn`t they declare a national emergency.  Why wouldn`t they say, OK, maybe no cars on the road?  Maybe no one can - it is just, the idea that you can do whatever you want when with you want it as a whim or with your ego is not what the founding fathers thought about when they declare it, you know, the presidency.  It`s not right. 

KORNACKI:  In terms of the Republican base and the conservative base, Noah, the other question I have is I`m looking at this.  Take the members of Congress out of it and look at sort of the talk show crowd, if you will. 

Ann Coulter is going at Trump as hard as I have seen her go at him on this.  Does that - we are always talking about this question of Trump`s base.  You know, are they going to turn on him on this?  Is he going to lose his ship?  Does this have any bearing on that?  What Ann Coulter out there saying now?  Because she has been, in terms of his supporters, until relatively recently, when it came to the wall, she was right there at the forefront. 

ROTHMAN:  Yes.  There`s a misapprehension about who the President is here.  Donald Trump is the President.  It is the second time he has told Ann Coulter where she can go.  If the Trump base was going to abandoned him over the wall, they would have abandoned him a long time ago.  This is not about the wall.  The wall is (INAUDIBLE).  The wall is what the protagonist wants. 

Trump is the protagonist.  It`s not about border security.  It is not about a crisis on the border.  It is about whatever the President seeks.  And what the President has done he is erode the civic compact, on several different ways and particularly national security. 

KORNACKI:  Yes. 

ROTHMAN:  He has invoke national security now on multiple occasions to reward constituencies.  He did so in order to label Japan, for example, a threat to American national security in order to tariff heavy metals.  He did so in order to reward farmers who were hurt by his tariff trade war.  He almost did so when -- he almost ordered the department of energy to buy above market price power from inefficient coal and nuclear generations.  And now he is has invoke national security in order to get his campaign trail promise met. 

These are precedents that cannot be unset.  Power is a one way ratchet.  When you strike these - you ring this bell, you cannot be un-rung.  And the next President, unfortunately I think will incline to invoke these president and build upon them because the base will demand it. 

KORNACKI:  Well, mentioned that role of conservative media in August, it feature in to what the President was saying.  That he spoke about the influence of conservative media in his decision. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Could you tell us to what degree some of the outside conservative voices helped to shape your views on this national emergency? 

TRUMP:  I would talk about it. 

Look.  Sean Hannity has been a terrific, terrific supporter of what I do.  Not of me.  If I changed my views, he wouldn`t be with me.  Rush Limbaugh, I think he is a great guy.  Ann coulter, I don`t know her.  I hardly know.  I haven`t spoken to heir in way over a year.  But the press loves saying Ann Coulter.  Probably if I did speak to her, she would be very nice.  I like her.  But she is off the reservation, but anybody that knows her, understands that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  And again, Coulter has been criticizing Trump for not getting the wall done.  Today, she said that the wall is his mandate. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL COMMENTATOR:  No one thought oh, look, he was governor of the biggest state in the union.  He was used to run the CIA, he was Reagan`s vice president, you know, he was with FDR`s.  No, it was one thing.  The promise he made every single day, every single speech. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  On his campaign trail, yes. 

COULTER:  So forget the fact that he is digging his own grave.  This is just -- look the only national emergency is that our President is an idiot. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  And remember, Ann Coulter, during the campaign --. 

MOODIE-MILLS:  That`s the only thing I have ever agreed with her on, ever. 

KORNACKI:  She was more than his peers` defenders until relatively recently. 

John Lemire, more broadly, though, this event today, even people who are I think a little more sympathetic to Trump voices I was hearing today were saying this performance by his standards was uneven.  What was going on behind the scenes there? 

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS:  That was a kind phrase, I think.  You knew White House reporters who gathered in the rose garden today knew we were in for something when we realized, there were no teleprompters up.  And that the President was going to be speaking more or less off the cuff here, (INAUDIBLE).  And he proceeded to go on for 50 minutes, beginning with a very rambling defense of his administration`s accomplishments.  That they have nothing to do, whatsoever, with the issue at hand, with the border security or the wall.  And then he proceeded to joust with reporters as we saw him.  We saw the fake news slur and be toss time after time.  And of course, he has the sing song of rendition of what is going to happen to this piece of disaster emergency if it winds to the courts. 

I do think, the people that I talk to, Republicans, were a little but unnerved.  I mean, again, will any of them take that moment and step forward?  We will see.  There were some, as you said, there were some Republican senators in advance of this declaration, who expressed some reservation, Marco Rubio and others.  Will they now stick to that now that the declaration has been declared?  We have seen a few Republican voices do it already.  But Senate majority leader McConnell, he is unlikely to let there be too much slippage. 

But this is not a day - the President needed to go out there and sell this.  As someone said to me, one of his advisors said tome today who is disappointed today.  He said this is one of the most important moments of his presidency so far.  He is declaring a national emergency.  You got to sell this to the public.  You got to be able to tell them why this is.  And instead, it was sort of a rambling defense and that turn into a campaign rally and I don`t know that he has told it at all. 

KORNACKI:  All right.  Thank you then to Jonathan Lemire, Danielle Moodie- Mills, Noah Rothman and Congressman David Cicilline.  Thank you all for being with us.

  And coming up new information tonight in the Mueller probe.  Another prominent player in the Trump White House has spoken on the special counsel.  Roger Stone is ordered to keep talking - to stop talking, not keep talking, stop talking in public.  Plus, it wouldn`t order him to keep talking. 

Plus, a possible primary challenge to President Trump, former Massachusetts governor, William Weld, faces long odd but intra party challenges often can inflict damage on the incumbent. 

Later in the hour Spike Lee plays HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Come on.  America would never elect somebody like David Duke, president of the United States of America. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Coming from a black man that`s pretty naive. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Could the legendary filmmaker make history at the Oscars with BlacKkKlansman? 

We have got a lot to get to tonight.  Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We`re following developments in the Russia probe today. 

The first involves the case of Roger Stone, Trump`s former political adviser who was indicted last month.  A federal judge today issued a partial gag order, ordering Stone to refrain from making any statements to the press -- quote -- "that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case."

Stone has used several colorful analogies to describe the probe and has recently pushed the conspiracy theory that the FBI tipped off CNN prior to his arrest. 

Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed that she was interviewed by the special counsel`s investigators, telling NBC News that - - quote -- "I was happy to voluntarily sit down with them."

There is no indication she`s in legal jeopardy.  However, one area of scrutiny may relate to the White House`s response to news of the Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer in June of 2016, specifically the misleading statement the president drafted aboard Air Force One on behalf of his son. 

At the time, Sanders publicly defended that statement as being true.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The statement that Don Jr. issued is true.  There`s no inaccuracy in the statement. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Finally, the special counsel today asked a federal judge in Virginia to move up the sentencing date in the case of Paul Manafort, asking for a sentence of 19 to 24 years. 

Joined now by Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA.  Cynthia Alksne is a former federal prosecutor.  And Susan Del Percio is a Republican strategist.

Thanks to all of you for being with us.

Well, Cynthia, let me just start with you on that news at the very end, 19 to 24 years.  That`s what the prosecutors will apparently seek for Paul Manafort.  What do you make of that?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Ouch.  Ouch.

What I make of it is, we knew that was coming, because -- as soon as the cooperation agreement was torn up.  The big question is not the years.  And I understand that the fine is $24 million.  It`s not that.

It`s, why?  Why would he take this risk?  Why would he go be a 69-year-old man who would take 20 years?  What is so important that he has had to lie and to hide that?  And that is the most important question, not how much money is in the restitution.

And we just don`t know the answer to that.  But it`s the burning question. 

KORNACKI:  Is that -- do you think that`s a question that`s going to be answered? 

ALKSNE:  I do.

I have faith in the justice system.  They turn -- the wheels turn slowly, but they do turn.

KORNACKI:  Jeremy, in terms of that situation there with Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she says she voluntarily talked to the special counsel`s folks.

The fact that they were talking to her -- again, people are looking at that statement she made in her capacity as the press secretary for the White House about that Trump Tower meeting.  You see in the clip there she was essentially saying that what Donald Trump Jr. had said in the statement was literally true.

The counter to that would be, well, it left out a whole lot as well.  But what do you make of that news today? 

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO LEON PANETTA:  Well, she`s a government official.  She`s paid by the taxpayers.

I would hope that she would voluntary -- voluntarily cooperate with a federal criminal investigation, where senior high-ranking government officials are the subject of that investigation, including the president. 

Look, I think clearly she was not telling the truth from the podium when she said that Don Jr.`s recollection of that meeting was correct.  Of course, that meeting was a Russian government delegation meeting with the high command of the Trump campaign to talk about sanctions relief.

The Trump campaign met at the senior levels with this Russian delegation, after it was made clear that it was part of the Russian government`s effort to support Donald Trump.  I think, if you combine that, along with the Roger Stone connection with the Russian intelligence officers through WikiLeaks, as well as the meetings between Manafort and Kilimnik, including the one in August of 2016, there I think you can see what the prosecutors are focusing on when they think about a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian Federation. 

KORNACKI:  Well, you mentioned Roger Stone.

Today, the -- this partial gag order apparently being imposed on him, what effect do you think that`s going to have? 

BASH:  Well, look, it said that the lawyers have to keep their mouth shut.  But, of course, they have to do that anyway, under the rules of the court. 

But, more importantly, it said that, when Roger Stone goes into and out of the courthouse, basically like 1,000 feet from around the courthouse, he can`t speak to the media.  And then, at the end, the judge said something very interesting.

She said, and I urge him to also keep his mouth shut on the talk shows and on the Twitters, because if he ever asks for relief because of bad pretrial publicity, which sometimes defendants do, I`m going to look skeptically at that, because, in fact, he may have been the one to have engendered that publicity. 

KORNACKI:  Well, Susan, it`s interesting to watch the Roger Stone sort of spectacle.

And you know, from New York politics, this is somebody with quite a bit of history here, obviously quite a bit of history with Donald Trump. 

And the impression I had, just watching all of this, is that all of the traditional threats that prosecutors could make about, you will do this much time, your reputation will be destroyed, he seems to relish that this will be his reputation.  He seems to relish the potential to fight this in public. 

And, in that sense, this gag order, I can`t imagine, just -- not from a legal standpoint, just from a standpoint of how he seems to define his reputation...

(CROSSTALK)

SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I almost -- I almost thought he would plead guilty right then and there, just so he can talk about it. 

(LAUGHTER)

DEL PERCIO:  I mean, to gag Roger Stone is a big deal for Roger Stone.  But what drives him is, let`s not forget, he`s -- he`s always been an outlier in history.  He`s always kind of been a footnote.

He likes being front and center.  He wants to be told -- be part of the story when it`s told in the history books.  He loves the attention.  He -- this is the first time he will actually really be relevant.  Of course, he may go to jail and be relevant, but he will finally have that moment.

And that`s what drives him.  And that`s what also makes him so dangerous.  When you look at who the president has chosen to put himself around, or who he`s put around him, whether it be Manafort or Roger Stone, these are all people who have had questionable reputations -- I will be kind -- and he likes that.

He likes people who play dirty.  So, they also know a lot.

KORNACKI:  And Stone too is somebody with Trump, this relationship -- maybe you can shed a little bit of light on it, too. 

He`s somebody who`s kind of been -- he`s been on the inside with him.  He`s been estranged, but he`s been there since way back.

DEL PERCIO:  For decades.

KORNACKI:  Manafort was somebody who sort of came into Trump`s -- during the campaign in 2016.  But Stone`s been there from the start.

DEL PERCIO:  He`s been there for decades. 

But don`t forget, Manafort and Stone have a relationship that goes back to the `70s.  Manafort lived in Trump Tower.  I mean, there are these circular kind of -- these things, that their histories kind of fall around each other -- follow around each other.

So it just makes sense that of course Manafort would be welcomed into that inner circle with Donald Trump, with Roger Stone`s OK, because, like you said, he`s been with him for decades.

KORNACKI:  And, Cynthia, the partial gag order, just take us through legally exactly what would -- what would separate a partial gag order from a full gag order, and how unusual is it for this be imposed by a judge?

ALKSNE:  Well, Jeremy`s right.

The gag order on the lawyers is really just their legal obligation, their ethical obligation.  So I don`t really see that as a big deal. 

And in looking at the gag order for Roger Stone, it`s -- I mean, clearly, Judge Jackson is not setting this up as a trap, but it may turn out to be a trap for him.  It`s a -- you are going to behave in a way that is acceptable.

And I think we all guess that he`s going to violate the order.  And then she`s going to slap a larger order on him.  So, to me, this is just a stair-stepping way to back into a full gag order.  That`s what I predict will happen. 

There will be a hearing at some point once he goes on some television show and again repeats that it`s all a conspiracy and he was treated worse than Osama bin Laden and El Chapo, which is apparently what he`s been doing. 

He just won`t be able to have the little rallies out front.  But it`s only a matter of time, in my opinion, until there`s a full gag order on him.

KORNACKI:  All right. 

And, meanwhile, former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe appears to have gotten under the president`s skin.  In an interview for "60 Minutes," McCabe confirmed that, just after James Comey`s firing, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein raised the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. 

As McCabe told CBS, according to a newly released transcript -- quote -- "Rod raised the issue and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other Cabinet officials might support such an effort."

Tagging McCabe in a tweet last night, President Trump quoted Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, saying -- quote -- "Trying to use the 25th Amendment to try and circumvent the election is a despicable act of unconstitutional power-grabbing, which happens in Third World countries.  You have to obey the law.  This is an attack on our system and our Constitution."

Jeremy, you have another statement coming out today from McCabe sort of seeming to try to downplay the significance of any discussions that did take place.  But it clearly was raised in some context, at some point.  I`m trying to think of other examples of this. 

The only thing I could think of was, in the final -- in the second term of Ronald Reagan`s presidency, Howard Baker, the chief of staff, got a memo basically saying the president was very distracted, they weren`t sure he was mentally up to it. 

Baker observed him for a day on the job, I think, without even telling him, and concluded, nothing to this.  We`re not going to go forward with this,.

But to even have the subject raised with a president -- I know there`s been some reporting about this before -- a pretty extraordinary thing. 

BASH:  Well, Steve, it shows you, I think, the extent to which career national security professionals were concerned that the president had been compromised, that the Russian Federation had such significant leverage over the American president that in some way he did not have the capacity to discharge his oath of office. 

Now, the 25th Amendment is an extraordinarily high bar, right?  And it basically says the president has to be incapacitated.  And it requires a majority of the Cabinet and a number of procedural aspects that we have never seen in our history. 

So I don`t think it was a real realistic possibility to attempt to do that.  But it does show you how concerned the FBI, the Justice Department and very senior officials were about why the president was seemingly acting at the behest of Vladimir Putin, after not only giving a big return on the investment for their support during the campaign, but actually trying to obliterate the investigation into that conduct. 

KORNACKI:  All right, Jeremy Bash, Cynthia Alksne, Susan Del Percio, thank you all for being with us. 

And up next:  A former governor, a Republican, is considering a primary challenge against President Trump.

I`m going to head over to the Big Board to look at how past primary challenges against sitting presidents have fared and what it means for what Trump may be up against in 2020. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL WELD (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR:  I`m here actually because I think our country is in grave peril.  And I cannot sit any longer quietly on the sidelines. 

I have established an exploratory committee to pursue the possibility of my running for the presidency of the United States as a Republican in the 2020 election. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Well, there we go.  We have been talking about all those Democrats, one after another, getting in the race for president, and now today a Republican, someone who was a Republican for a long time, left the party, just came back to it.

You heard him there, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld saying today in New Hampshire that he may run against Donald Trump for the Republican nomination next year, a primary challenge on the Republican side, potentially.

Weld forming an exploratory committee, usually the first step toward a candidacy.

Who is Bill Weld, in case you don`t know, because he hasn`t been really around for a while.  He was the 2016 Libertarian Party candidate for vice president.  He ran with Gary Johnson.  Remember him.  That was Weld`s most recent foray.  Before that, it had been a long time for him. 

He was the governor of Massachusetts in the 1990s.  He was elected in `90 and `94.  He lost a Senate race to John Kerry in 1996.  He also ran for governor of New York in 2006, and that went nowhere.  Now Weld, as a Republican, says he may go against Trump.

So, how do these things usually go?  It`s not every day that a sitting president gets a primary challenge.  They don`t all get them.  In fact, the last one who really had a primary challenger who got traction, you got to go back to 1992.  George H.W. Bush was challenged from the right by Pat Buchanan. 

Pat Buchanan put a scare into Bush in the New Hampshire primary.  Didn`t actually win any primaries, but he got more than three million votes.  The Bush folks certainly felt that Buchanan was one of the reasons that Bush didn`t end up winning reelection.  Others say, hey, Buchanan, he was a symptom of the problems Bush had.  But, either way, Buchanan got some traction.

Before that, you got to go to 1980.  Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, that was a famous one.  You go back to `76, Ford, he was the unelected president, took over after Nixon.  He was challenged by Reagan.  In `72, Nixon got -- from the left, he got Pete McCloskey.  From the right, he got John Ashbrook.  But Nixon had no trouble beating either one of them. 

In `68, the famous one, Eugene McCarthy embarrassed Lyndon Johnson in New Hampshire.  Johnson dropped out of the race after that. 

Here`s the thing to keep in mind, though.  All of these presidents, what was their approval rating with their own party, the folks voting in these primaries when these challenges came into being? 

Well, today, Trump is 89 percent with Republicans.  You think back.  Jimmy Carter, that was a serious primary challenge.  Carter was at 40 percent with his own party.  Ford, that was a serious one.  He was at 60 percent inside the Republican Party. 

Trump sitting at an 89 percent approval rating.  That number right there, that`s what Bill Weld, that`s what any Republican who steps forward to try to run against Trump, that`s what they`re up against. 

All right, still ahead, Chris Matthews talks with the legendary filmmaker Spike Lee about his Oscar-nominated film "BlacKkKlansman" and issues of race and politics in America. 

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The legendary movie director Spike Lee has been at the forefront of our cultural discussions for decades, with movies like "Do the Right Thing," "Jungle Fever" and "Malcolm X."

His latest is "BlacKkKlansman".  It`s the story, true story, of how an African-American police detective in Colorado went undercover in the 1970s and became a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

The movie has been nominated for six Oscars, including best director and best motion picture.  This is the first time Spike Lee has received nominations in those categories. 

Here`s actress Kim Basinger at the Academy Awards protesting the Academy overlooking Lee`s film back then, "Do the Right Thing."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIM BASINGER, ACTRESS:  We have got five great films here.  And they`re great for one reason, because they tell the truth. 

But there is one film missing from this list that deserves to be on it, because, ironically, it might tell the biggest truth of all.  And that`s "Do the Right Thing."

(APPLAUSE)

BASINGER:  Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Nearly three decades after that moment, Lee could become the first African-American to win an Oscar for best director.

The cultural icon and filmmaker Spike Lee talks to Chris Matthews after this break.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "BLACKKKLANSMAN")

JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON, ACTOR:  Hello.  This is Ron Stallworth calling. 

Who am I speaking with? 

TOPHER GRACE, ACTOR:  This is David Duke.

WASHINGTON:  Grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, that David Duke?

GRACE:  God.

Last time I checked.  What can I do you for?

WASHINGTON:  Well, since you asked, I hate blacks.  I hate Jews, Mexicans and Irish, Italians and Chinese. 

But, my mouth to God`s ears, I really hate those black rats, and anyone else really that doesn`t have pure white Aryan blood running through their veins.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was from a clip from director Spike Lee`s new movie, "BlacKkKlansman."  It`s the true story of how Ron Stallworth, an African-American detective, was able to infiltrate the KKK back in the `70s.

Joining me right now is Oscar-nominated director Spike Lee.

Spike, thanks for coming on tonight.  It`s an honor to have you.

SPIKE LEE, DIRECTOR:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me what it means artistically to be nominated for -- for best director.

LEE:  Well, this is the first time my many years is in this industry I have been nominated for best director and best picture.

A lot of other my fellow filmmakers have firsts, Terence Blanchard, composer, longtime editor Barry Brown.  Newcomer Adam Driver, my guy, he got nominated.

So it`s a really, really good feeling.  The film has had an impact around the world.  And we`re going to L.A. to have fun. 

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of which, the movie has a comic aspect. 

There`s no doubt most people, black or white, watching that conversation on the telephone and him hoodwinking -- John David Washington is the actor -- hoodwinking the Klan leader of all times, David Duke, because of his manner of his speaking tells a lot about the assumptions made by the Klan leader and about our culture and about the way you put this movie, comedy mixed with the tragedy of people wearing hoods and burning crosses and killing people.

LEE:  Jordan Peele of "Get Out" fame called me up and said, "Spike, I have an -- I want you to look at something."

And I said, "What?"

And he said, "Six words I`m going to give you:  Black man infiltrates Ku Klux Klan."

Very intriguing, absurd.  And that`s where, organically, the humor comes from, just that crazy premise.

MATTHEWS:  And he gets in the Klan, and it does seem to make these guys almost like cartoon characters, they`re so stupid.

LEE:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  But yet I remember even Clarence Thomas, who you may agree or disagree with politically, he even said, that`s not free speech, that`s violence, the Klan, and using of the burning cross.

LEE:  Well, this is a true story.

And Ron Stallworth did speak to David Duke on the phone, and the grand wizard thought that Ron Stallworth was of Aryan race.  So, make up your own mind how smart they are.  They`re not Einstein.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the news now, because you wrote "Bamboozled."

It`s a movie about the minstrelsy, the whole history of minstrels and white people putting on blackface.

LEE:  Came out in 2000 -- 2000, that film came out.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you were a prophet.  You`re like Paddy Chayefsky here.  You`re way ahead of your time, with "Network" in our business. 

But the business of blackface -- I grew up as a kid, a white kid, obviously.  And I remember my dad, we watched -- he had us watch "The Jolson Story."  And I go, what`s this all about? 

And I noticed that the second Jolson, the sequel, in the late `40s, they didn`t use blackface.  So something was changed in the industry.  This was verboten by just a couple years.  You`re not supposed to do it. 

LEE:  Well, that`s true.

But I think that, when we look at it, it never went away.  It never went away.  So it`s reared its ugly head again.  And it`s with these fashion brands and politicians who are -- I think every politician in America had their assistants go find their yearbooks, second grade, high school, college, law school.

(LAUGHTER)

LEE:  I mean, this thing broke out.  But it`s amazing to see what people have in the past. 

If you go to my yearbook, you will see a big, big afro.  That`s all I got on me.  That`s all you got.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Spike, good luck.

LEE:  Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS:  And I`m sorry, like everybody is, about this blackface thing. 

I don`t know what it is, this story.  We have had our own problems up in Philly, but it wasn`t this.  It was different stuff.  But this is -- this is...

LEE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:   There`s some weird thing about white people thinking, if they put the blackface on, they could do stuff they normally wouldn`t do, and somehow that`s funny.  And I don`t know. 

What is the bottom line?  Why did they do blackface? 

LEE:  Well, number one, they never thought of African-Americans, or before that, slaves, as human beings.  We were considered three-fifths of a human being.  It`s in the Constitution. 

So we`re dealing with slavery.  And the reason why I`m wearing -- you see 1619 on my hat...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

LEE:  ... and on my hoodie, 400 years ago, Chris, the first slaves were brought to Jamestown, Virginia, 400 years.  And I think it`s something that we need to talk about, 1619 to 2019. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Spike Lee.  Good luck with the movie.  Good luck with the Oscars. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KORNACKI:  And there`s more ahead.

When we come back: the huge field of Democrats running for president in 2020 and what lessons the party may have learned from Republicans when it comes to debates.

You`re watching HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  Welcome back. 

The Democratic presidential field is already big, nine candidates so far, and it`s only getting bigger.  Is Bernie Sanders going to go through with a second campaign?  How about Joe Biden?  Those are just the big names we`re waiting on, Terry McAuliffe, Steve Bullock, Jay Inslee, Bill de Blasio maybe even, and more than that.

There`s still practically endless lists of potential candidates who are still eying their options.  When all is said and done, it is not out of the question that the 2020 Democratic field will match in size what we saw from Republicans back in 2016, 16 candidates. 

That was more candidates, of course, then Republicans knew what to do with, especially when it came to debates.  Logistically speaking, there was just no way to get 16 candidates on the same stage at the same time and have any kind of a meaningful dialogue between all of them. 

And so Republicans in 2015 came up with a solution.  They took all of the polls, and they figured out who the top 10 candidates were.  And all those 10 candidates went into one debate together, the main debate, the one in prime time, the one with the largest audience.  They even stood them on stage according to their position in the polls.  Remember, Donald Trump used to brag about being in the middle. 

And as for the rest of the candidates, well, they got relegated to a smaller debate, took place a few hours before the first one.  People started calling it the kids table debate.  And the candidates stuck at the kids table hated it.  They railed against the criteria that was being used.

And the whole setup was generally considered a bust. 

And so the question has been, what will Democrats do if they have an equally enormous field in 2020? 

And now we know.  The announcement from the DNC came yesterday.  The first debate, it will be held this June.  And the eligibility will have something to do with polling.  Anyone getting 1 percent in at least three polls between now and the debate will get in.  And, already, I count 11 candidates or potential candidates who meet that criteria. 

Or, if the candidates don`t have those poll numbers, they can also prove they have grassroots support by getting 65,000 donors, at least 200 unique people in 20 different states.  That gets you in too.

But the real change is this.  There will be no kids table debate.  The DNC says that, if there is a surplus of candidates, then the first debate will be a two-night affair, two debates airing at the same time on the same network one night after another, two equal debates.

As the DNC points out it`s never been done this way before.  It raises an obvious question:  Do voters have the appetite for that?

There`s reasons to doubt it, but I will bet they do; 116 million people just voted in a midterm election, after all.

And shameless plug here.  If you`re one of those who wants to see those debates, well, the first one this June is going to be on NBC and MSNBC, both nights of it.

That`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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