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McCabe: 25th Amendment was discussed. TRANSCRIPT: 02/18/2019, Hardball w. Chris Matthews.

Guests: Eddie Glaude; David French; Barry Grissom, Sam Stein, Hagar Chemali, Christine Todd Whitman

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 18, 2019 Guest: Eddie Glaude; David French; Barry Grissom, Sam Stein, Hagar Chemali, Christine Todd Whitman


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: We are out of time. You can blame it on the rain if you want to. I will be back at 6:00 p.m. eastern tomorrow.

But don`t go anywhere. HARDBALL starts now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Donald Trump tweets about treason and an illegal coup attempt against him. Let`s play HARDBALL."

Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in Matthews.

Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe is speaking out about the investigation of the President. And in enraged Trump is now claiming quote "treason."

In his interview on "60 Minutes" which aired yesterday, McCabe described the chaotic aftermath of James Comey`s sudden firing by the President in May of 2017. Most importantly McCabe explained why Trump`s actions prompted him to open an obstruction investigation and a counterintelligence probe of the President.


ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY FBI DIRECTOR: There were a number of things that caused us to believe that we had adequate predication or adequate reason, facts to open the investigation. The President had gone to Jim Comey and specifically asked him to discontinue the investigation of Mike Flynn which was a part of our Russia case. The President then fired the director.

These circumstances were particular (ph) facts that indicated that a crime may have been committed. The President may have been engaged in obstruction of justice in the firing of Jim Comey.

All those same sorts of facts cause us to wonder, is there an inappropriate relationship, a connection between this President and our most fearsome enemy, the government of Russia?


KORNACKI: The story that`s received the most attention, however, is McCabe`s account of a discussion about invoking the 25th amendment to remove the President from office. That prospect which would have required the support of the vice President and a majority of the cabinet was never carried out.

However, McCabe said deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein floated the idea in the wake of Comey`s oust for.


MCCABE: It was really something he kind of flew out in a very frenzied chaotic conversation about where we were and what we needed to do next. The deputy attorney general was definitely very concerned about the President, about his capacity, and about his intent at that point in time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rosenstein was actually openly talking about whether there was majority of the cabinet who would vote to remove the President.

MCCABE: That`s correct. Counting votes or possible votes.


KORNACKI: Today President Trump targeted both McCabe and Rosenstein calling the revelations quote "illegal and treasonous" in saying quote "wow, so many lies by the now disgraced acting FBI director Andrew McCabe."

He quoted a commentator on FOX claiming quote "this was an illegal coup attempt on the President of the United States." And he also went after the special counsel quoting Rush Limbaugh on a tweet saying quote "these guys, the investigators, ought to be in jail. This is one of the greatest political hoaxes ever perpetrate perpetrated on the people of this country and Mueller is a cover-up."

I`m joined now by Betsy Woodruff, politics reporter for "the Daily Beast," Eddie Glaude is a professor of Princeton University, David French is a senior writer at "The national Review" and Barry Grissom is a former federal prosecutor.

Thank you all for being with us.

Betsy, let me just start with you. On that issue of the 25th amendment that you have got President Trump tweeting about right there, might be it`s a moment here just to take a step back, folks to remind them exactly what the 25th amendment is when it comes to this issue of removing a President. What it would involve? What was actually being discussed there? Take us through that. Because the President is saying this is treason but this is something that`s there in the constitution.

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: That`s right. The constitution in the 25th amendment explicitly says that if the majority of the members of the President`s cabinet as well as his or her vice president all agree that the President is unable of carrying out the duties that that office requires, then they can remove the President and replace him with, I believe, the vice president.

This is part of the constitution. It was put in place when there were concerns that a President might have health problems that would prevent him from holding his place in that office. Of course, it`s never been used. And the question of what the word unable means in that amendment is something that`s up for debate. Of course, it hasn`t happened before. So we don`t know when cabinet members would define the word unable. But it`s very much something that`s legal. The constitution is the law. And it specifically says that this tool is available to the executive branch if the President can no longer do his job.

For President Trump to say that talking about using this legal mechanism is illegal just on a definitional level doesn`t make any sense. Military coups are illegal, but following a method the constitution lays out is squarely and well within the law.

KORNACKI: That said, the fact Eddie Glaude, it reaches to the point here where you got, you know, the former acting director of the FBI there on "60 Minutes" talking about this discussion taking place in 2017 about the 25th amendment, I`m thinking about what are the other cases where we have even had this kind of conversation reaching the surface? There was a brief blip in 1987 when Reagan was President. There were some concerns about his mental faculties back then.

The President claiming this would be treasonous. OK, we have addressed that from the definitional standpoint. But I do think what can a President, what can Donald Trump, what should the President do when this kind of conversation is out there taking place in public about him?

EDDIE GLAUDE, PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Well, I think what he has done -- let`s answer it in this way, Steve. What he has done is kind of appeal to an already expanse suspicion that certain actors who are part of the deep state are in some ways trying to undermine his presidency and undermine the will of the American people after they duly elected him as president. So in some ways, what he is doing is he is appealing to a set of suspicions and skepticism out there that could delegitimize, right, legitimate questions about his presidency.

What we know is very clear and what McCabe has done in the "60 Minutes" interview is to simply confirm some things that we already knew. And that is most folk were, I think, surprised and stunned at what Donald Trump was up to and what they had come to learn.

And so we see in interesting sorts of ways folks in a panic trying to figure out what`s within the realm of their power. What`s legal and what`s not legal in order to address something they had never seen before.

So on the one hand, we haven`t - this is -- I don`t think we learned anything that was terribly new in the interview on "60 Minutes." But on the other hand, what we hear when Donald Trump, you know, spout treason and all these other stuff, is that he is appealing to those extent symptom that is about the deep state and those actors who are trying to undermine his presidency.

KORNACKI: All right.

David French, well, in the interview, sort of big picture here. You had McCabe basically laying out his case, his justification, his explanation for launching these investigations, point to a couple of events there, the firing, the abrupt firing he is saying by the President of James Comey. The fact that the President publicly an interview here on NBC, our sister network here that he linked it to the Russia investigation, that he bragged about it to Russians visiting him in the White House.

Listening to McCabe in this interview, do you think he made a strong case for the reaction there in terms of launching these investigations to begin with?

DAVID FRENCH, SENIOR WRITER, NATIONAL REVIEW INSTITUTE: There`s an elephant in the room about McCabe that we haven`t brought up yet. And that`s - that he was fired for not being truthful. And so when I hear McCabe speak, I don`t -- he doesn`t persuade me of much of anything. What I hear from him is an accusation that`s very, very serious or an accounting of facts that part of it was publicly known, part of it wasn`t previously publicly known. Of the things that were not publicly known, what I think is let`s have open hearings about this.

So if there was a conversation about the 25th amendment, that`s a very serious thing. Who said it, why exactly did they say it, who else participated in the conversation? Because this is something I think the American people have a right to know about. If serious people in the administration believe the 25th amendment could potentially come into play, we need to know.

But you know what we also need to know? We also need to know if this story is frivolous or if this story is exaggerated because otherwise what he says alarms an awful lot of people. That`s why I think this is the first step or should be the first step of a diligent investigation where people are called in under oath to figure out what happened here.

KORNACKI: And Barry Grissom, it`s interesting, too. It occurred to me here watching the interview here, McCabe is describing, you know, sort of a frantic, high-stakes set of events. A lot of which played out two years ago. 2017 relatively early in 2017, the firing of Comey. The alarm bells that he says it set off by, is the President trying to shut down something getting that might be getting close to questions about him and Russia he doesn`t want getting addressed.

Does it look different, I wonder, two years later? The fact that Mueller has been on the job two years now since then. We have all the question, is the President going to try to shut this down? Is he going to fire Mueller? But he hasn`t. Does that change the fact that we had that two years sort of post-script to this, if you will? Does that change the way the events of 2017 look at all?

BARRY GRISSOM, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I think right now the President has been advised and advised correctly to have continued firing folks will only make the case stronger against him.

The thing that struck me last night with Andy McCabe, if you have ever been in the United States attorney`s office or assistant United States attorney and you have had an agent come in and do a pitch for their case, why should it be investigated and looked into, that was Andy McCabe.

If you look at his cadence, you look at how he methodically went through each step that led to the next step of why he was going to make a recommendation of this nature, that part from my perspective just watching his body language and cadence was believable.

Now, as to whether we should have an investigation, we are having an investigation. We have an ongoing investigation with someone who has seen all of the evidence, Mr. Mueller. We haven`t seen it yet because the investigation is not completed. But when Andy McCabe did what any good investigator does which is, he made contemporaneous notes after his discussions with the President. And those notes have been turned over to Mr. Mueller. I think those notes will probably speak volumes as to what happened, when it happened, and who was involved in those conversations.

KORNACKI: Well, according to McCabe, another red flag was the President`s willingness to believe Vladimir Putin over the word of his own intelligence officials. Here`s how McCabe recounted a story of an official who recently briefed the President.


MCCABE: Essentially the President said he did not believe that the North Koreans had the capability to hit us here with ballistic missiles in the United States and he did not believe that because President Putin had told him they did not. President Putin had told him that the North Koreans don`t actually have those missiles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And U.S. intelligence was telling the President what?

MCCABE: Intelligence officials in the briefing responded that that was not consistent with any of the intelligence our government possesses. To which the President replied, I don`t care. I believe Putin.


KORNACKI: Betsy, I guess what`s interesting about this is with any other President, I suppose the revelation, that sort of statement from somebody like McCabe, you would be absolutely stunned and absolutely shocked. On the other hand, this is something the whole world watched the President essentially do at that joint appearance with Vladimir Putin last summer.

WOODRUFF: I think this particular moment was the most significant part of the "60 Minutes" interview and then the comments that McCabe made. It`s really extraordinary to hear the characterization of a conversation where the President points to a specific knowable fact and specifically says that he disbelieves the assessment of the American intelligence community directly because Putin told him it was wrong.

At the Helsinki summit, of course Trump very widely intimated that. He sort of hemmed and hawed. He made it clear that he put a significant amount of weight in Putin`s claim to him that the Russians didn`t meddle in the 2016 elections. Something we all know is a lie.

What makes the characterization that McCabe represents here really extraordinary is that it`s so simple and it`s Trump just simply saying, I believe that Putin is right and the intelligence community is lying to me. And these are the kind of characterizations, these are the kind of conversations that just cause extraordinary concern within the upper levels of the American intelligence community.

People in IC take extraordinary risks to gather intelligence that the President is the ultimate consumer of. It`s expensive. It is time consuming. In many case, it is dangerous. And for the President of the United States to say that he believes that the head of state of one of our most significant adversaries, rather than he believes our own intelligence professionals collect is something that - for people in the IC really couldn`t be more chilling.


And I guess Eddie, too, that is, you know, and Barry makes the point we are going to find out ultimately, probably, assuming we see a public report of some sort, public accounting of all of this from Mueller exactly what he has learned, exactly what he has been able to put together. So we may get a lot of answers to these questions we`ve been talking about for a couple years now.

But one of them that`s sort of been at the heart of this is the sorts of things, the idea of believing Putin over U.S. intelligence, the idea of Trump sort of putting on that show in Helsinki last year with Putin up there next to him. What a motivating that? Is it at its core just something that we saw in the campaign from Donald Trump where he has some kind of affinity for Vladimir Putin? Some kind of affinity for dictatorial, autocratic leader, you know, that sort of thing or is there something deep or something that goes beyond that?

GLAUDE: It could be or some combination of the two, right. So there`s a sense of which -- what I -- my response to McCabe last night with regards to the Putin statement is this was consistent with everything we have seen over the last two years. And so part of what we have seen over the last two years has in some ways raised the question what is the relationship between Donald Trump and Russia? Why is he so consistent in his in some ways defense of Russia? And many of us have tried -- many people have tried to make the argument that he`s just naturally inclined to identify with (INAUDIBLE), not really inclined identified with dictators. And then we learned about Trump-Moscow. And then we know there is Manafort. And then we know all the other people who tried to deny their relationships and contact with Russia. And so part of what we are seeing here and this is what McCabe - what made the interview so interesting as a whole is that it`s simply confirming what we already have come to know two years later. And so part of what it does in some way is it just deepens our desire to go ahead and get a sense of what Mueller knows and get a sense of what actually happened.

KORNACKI: Right. And ultimately, that`s, you know, we have been waiting on that report and waiting and waiting. There have been all sorts of stories saying, hey, it is coming. It`s going to be any week here now. Eventually there will be some more clarity hopefully on all of this.

Thank you, Betsy Woodruff, Eddie Glaude, David French and Barry Grissom.

And coming up, nationwide protest against the President Trump`s emergency declaration with at least a dozen states joining a lawsuit to block it. Who is likely to win this legal test of the President`s powers?

Also stunning testimony in North Carolina of alleged absentee ballot fraud. A seat in Congress hanging in the balance.

And the President goes for the gold.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Prime Minister Abe of Japan gave me the most beautiful copy of a letter that he sent to the people who give out a thing called a Nobel Prize. He said I have nominated you.


KORNACKI: A Japanese newspaper reports the prime minister did nominate Trump. And at whose request? Take a guess.

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


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Days after announcing a national emergency, President Trump jetted off to Mar-a-Lago and spent part of his holiday weekend golfing in Palm Beach.

While active on Twitter, he left it up to his closest aides and allies to defend his declaration on television. During a testy interview on FOX News, Stephen Miller, the president`s senior policy adviser, insisted there was in fact an emergency, while dismissing the administration`s own evidence to the contrary. He was also asked if there was any precedent for this kind of move.

Let`s watch what he said.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Answer my question. Can you name one case where a president has asked Congress for money, Congress has refused and the president has then evoked national policy to get the money anyway?


WALLACE: Just yes or no, sir.

MILLER: The current situation pertains specifically to the Military Construction Authority.

WALLACE: I`m just asking...


WALLACE: When Congress asked for money for military construction, Congress said no and he`s then...

MILLER: The meaning of the statute, Chris, is clear on its own terms. If you don`t like the statute or members of Congress don`t like the statute...


WALLACE: But you agree the answer is no that...


MILLER: But the premise of your question is also false, because Congress has appropriated money for construction of border barriers consistently.

This is part of the national security...

WALLACE: But they`ve never done this under a national emergency.


KORNACKI: Another Trump confidant, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, also defended the president`s decision. He was asked if there was any concern that the money being reappropriated from the Department of Defense to build the wall would take funds away from those in need.

Here`s what he said.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, the president will have to make a decision where to get the money. I would say it`s better for the middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border. We`ll get them the school they need. But, right now, we`ve got a national emergency on our hands.


KORNACKI: According to "The Washington Post," President Trump and his reelection team want to make finishing the wall a central part of his reelection campaign.

Meanwhile, a number of rallies against the declaration were held across the country and made a growing number of legal challenges.

For more, I`m joined by Robert Costa, "Washington Post" national political reporter, and Sam Stein, politics editor for The Daily Beast.

Thanks to both of you for being with us today on a holiday.


KORNACKI: Robert, let me start with you.

This idea of a campaign strategy built on finishing the wall in 2020, is there a larger strategy here, other than just getting out of the shutdown mess of the last couple months? Is there a larger strategy about basically continuing this conversation all through the 2020 campaign on the part of the White House?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The president debuted this message at his El Paso rally last week.

And talking to his political confidants, it`s the start of the 2020 campaign, of making finishing the wall the central tenet of that campaign, trying to make sure that the conservative voter who rallied behind the wall in 2016 remains with President Trump in 2019 and 2020 through the churning political waters of Robert Mueller`s investigation and everything else that could come.

By underscoring the commitment to the wall, they hope to keep that base with them.

KORNACKI: So, Sam, I guess that`s the question.

If from now until Election Day 2020 -- in 2016, the message you heard from Trump was build the wall, build the wall. If, in 2020, the message is, OK, I tried, the Democrats in Congress blocked me, I fought them, there was this shutdown, I tried to do the emergency thing, a court blocked me, if that is what ends up happening here -- we will see -- and now you, the voters, need to deliver a message in 2020 that you want this wall, and you`re really serious this time, how do you think that goes over?

STEIN: Well, it depends, right?

I mean, in 2018, they had a variation of this. It wasn`t build the wall. It was, look at this caravan that`s brewing on our southern border. Now we need to construct some sort of barrier to stop it.

I mean, that -- and we know the results. The results were a 40-seat swing to Democrats in the House. So I don`t know the potency of this issue as much anymore, I think.

But I do think that this is what Trump has. I mean, Trump has built his political appeal on a nativist fear-mongering of immigrants. And part of the reason I believe he wants the issue of the wall more than he wants the actual wall is because it`s so foundational to his political appeal.

I don`t know if you can translate that, though, into the courts are prohibiting me from doing this. Who are you going after that point? Some faceless judge. I think what he would rather have almost in a way is for Democrats to be the one that are stepping in front of him, so that he could say, vote these people out, so that I can get my money.

But , again, this is the one note that Trump hits all the time. And I fully expect this will be the main note that he hits in the months leading up to the 2020 election.

KORNACKI: Yes, and, Robert, when you talk about that idea of trying to keep that base together, it`s a 2020 sort of orientation there.

You think back to the model for Trump in 2016, what got him elected, lost the popular vote, about 46 percent nationally, got just the right combination in those three states there in the Midwest.

Past presidents, the strategy has been, you try to build from that. You try to expand your support. Is this also essentially the White House saying, hey, we`re going to try to win in 2020 exactly the same way we did in 2016; it`s got to be some narrow combination like that?

COSTA: They are saying that, once again, they want to use an emotional message and an anti-establishment message.

We saw that in 2016. As Sam said, we saw it in 2018. But they`re looking at the conservative voter, the Republican voter. And they know, in 2018, overhauling the federal judiciary, not enough, the tax cut bill, not enough.

So it`s coming back to the wall, not talking about deregulation, coming back to the wall, talking about the caravan, and, as we saw in the State of the Union, bringing up the idea of socialism. These are emotional targets for the Republicans as they look ahead.

KORNACKI: All right.

Well, over the weekend, "Saturday Night Live" poked fun at President Trump`s national emergency. Take a look.


ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: Folks, we need wall, OK?


BALDWIN: We have a tremendous amount of drugs flowing into this country from the southern border, or the brown line, as many people have asked me not to call it.


BALDWIN: That`s why we need wall, because wall works, wall makes safe.

You don`t have to be smart to understand that. And, in fact, it`s even easier to understand if you`re not that smart.


BALDWIN: So, you can all see why I got to fake this national emergency.


KORNACKI: The president must have seen the show, because he then tweeted - - quote -- "Nothing funny about tired `Saturday Night Live` on fake news NBC. Question is, how do the networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows. Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real collusion."

Sam, the use of the word retribution, I mean, there`s a story of Trump and the ongoing war between Trump and the media, Trump and popular culture, Trump and Alec Baldwin, whoever, name your celebrity. There`s any number of them who are always sort of -- he`s going after on Twitter.

I guess what jumped out there, though, was the use of that word retribution and what he might be referring to there.

STEIN: Right.

It`s vague enough that he could say, oh, I`m talking about libel laws, right? But let`s be honest, he`s been ginning up anger, animus, even violence towards the press since he started running.

And there have been instances where the press has been targeted in physically and violent ways. And this is, for lack of a better term, messed up, and he shouldn`t do it.

Now, putting that aside, there are some things that we should note about this. One is that he initially promised that Mexico would pay for the wall. The emergency declaration is an admission in many respects that that central campaign promise will not happen.

And the other thing that I think "SNL" got at, which is a risk that I believe Trump does run, if you remember, back in 2008, when Rudy Giuliani was running for president, the theme of his -- the central theme of his campaign at that point in time was: I was on the ground on 9/11.

And he hit it over and over and over again, and it had resonance early on, but, because he hit it so often, it almost became a laughing line. And then it certainly did when Joe Biden said famously, it`s just an adverb and 9/11 with this guy.

I do wonder if Trump sort of has -- runs the same risk by going to the wall so many times in the course of an initial campaign, in the course of a midterm election, and now in the course of a reelection campaign.

KORNACKI: All right, Sam Stein, Robert Costa, thanks to both of you for being with us.

STEIN: Thank you.

KORNACKI: All right, up next: Investigators in North Carolina started laying out their evidence today of what they say was -- quote -- "a coordinated and remarkably well-funded attempt to commit election fraud" in the only unresolved congressional race still left from 2018.

We`re going to bring you the latest after this.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


Guess what, folks? We`re in the middle of February 2019, and we still don`t know who won every election from 2018.

Look at this. We were here all last year, every U.S. House race in the country, whether Democrats are going to take control. We had election night. We had absentee ballots afterwards. And guess what? You can see it. There remains one unresolved congressional election from 2018. It is right there in the state of North Carolina.

Let`s zoom in, remind you, if you have forgotten here, the 9th District of North Carolina. This is where things have stood since last year, Mark Harris, the Republican, leading right now by 905 votes. But this race was never certified.

The original state board of elections that was supposed to do it actually got dissolved. There is a new state board of elections right now that`s hearing this. Basically, the dispute has to do -- let`s see if I can get it in there. I can`t seem to get that county map up.

But it`s in this pocket of the district here. There are two counties. There`s Robeson County and Bladen County. And there`s all sorts of questions there about absentee ballots in those counties.

The idea that a man named McCrae Dowless, a local political consultant there working for the Republican, Mark Harris, in this race, was he running essentially an absentee ballot harvesting operation that illegally either produced votes for Harris or took votes away from Dan McCready, the Democrat, some combination of those things?

There were all sorts of irregularities that were discovered. And then today, finally, in the middle of February, after this election that took place last November, a hearing. The newly constituted state board of elections held a hearing today.

And you can see, the executive director of this new board of elections laid out a case that there were serious irregularities.


KIM STRACH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NORTH CAROLINA STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS: We believe the evidence that we will provide today will show that a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme operated during the 2018 general election in Bladen and Robeson counties.


KORNACKI: And joining me now from Raleigh, North Carolina, where that hearing took place today, Leigh Ann Caldwell, political reporter with NBC News. She was present for the hearing.

So, Leigh Ann, we have known about the idea that there were these irregularities for a long time.

The question that we were all asking coming into this hearing is, is there any chance the board of elections is going to look at this and say, well, OK, we`re still going to certify Harris as the winner? Is there any chance they`re going to call for a new election here?

What emerged from this hearing today?

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, NBC NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Steve, it was pretty explosive testimony today.

And what we found is, there was illegal election fraud that happened in the North Carolina 9th Congressional District. The state investigators came out with a strong statement of unlawful activity.

And then we heard from a key witness, Lisa Britt. She is the step-daughter of McCrae Dowless, who is at the center of this absentee ballot get-out- the-vote operation.

And she admitted to ballot tampering. Here is what she had to say.


STRACH: So, if it was unsealed and ballot not completely voted, you would fill in the other offices?


STRACH: And who would have directed you to do that?

BRITT: We were directed about Mr. Dowless. Basically, what we would do -- well, what I would do would be just to vote whoever was the Republican.


CALDWELL: And so, Steve, while today is just the first day of the hearing, it could go definitely until tomorrow and possibly until Wednesday.

There`s a lot more witnesses that are to be called. But, at the end of this hearing, we will know if the board is going to certify this election for the Republican, Mark Harris, or if they are going to call for a new election.

And so while we think that we`re moving on to the 2020 election, we still have 2018 to figure out, Steve.


And, Leigh Ann, too, my understanding of this -- and tell me if I got this wrong -- you got three Democrats on this board there, two Republicans, Democratic governor making these appointments.

But to make any kind of a decision here, they`re going to -- you need to have -- one of the Democrats has to vote with the Republicans, one of the Republicans has to vote with the Democrats. It has to break through, or there`s a possibility maybe of a stalemate here?

CALDWELL: Yes, sure.

So if they want to call for a new election, it`s going to be -- it`s going to call for four of the five board members. That means one Republican has to vote with the Democrats to call for a new election. If they`re going to certify the election, it just needs three of the five board members.

And so, yes, since there`s two Republicans, a Democrat would have to side with the Republicans. What they`re looking for is if the election was tainted enough to make -- to get the -- get the public to not trust the results of the election. And that is a standard that they`re likely going to be looking at on if they`re going to call for a new election, Steve.

KORNACKI: All right, Leigh Ann Caldwell down there in Raleigh.

Of course, we remind you, the House ultimately does have the power to seat or refuse to seat any member. File that one away if it ever comes to it.

Up next: The ever-growing rift between Trump and European leaders not named Putin was on full display this weekend in Munich, or, in the words of a former German ambassador to the United States -- quote -- "We have a real problem."

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

"The New York Times" is reporting that the rift between Europe and the Trump administration became open, angry, and concrete during this weekend`s security conference in Munich. President`s daughter Ivanka was in the audience when German Chancellor Angela Merkel received a standing ovation for her speech rebuking America`s recent foreign policy decisions. It was a sharp contrast from the reaction Vice President Mike Pence got when he passed on greetings from the president.

Let`s watch.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I bring greetings from a great champion of freedom and a strong national defense who has worked with these members of Congress to strengthen America`s military might and strengthen the leadership of the free world. I bring greetings from the 45th president of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.


KORNACKI: And Pence was met with similar silence in Poland a few days earlier when he called for Europe to exit the Iran nuclear deal.


PENCE: The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join with us as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region, the world peace, security, and freedom they deserve.


KORNACKI: However, members of the Trump administration weren`t the only Americans representing America in Munich. "The Times" points out that, quote, to show solidarity with Europe, a record number of Republican and Democratic lawmakers attended the conference. Meanwhile, Trump told reporters on Friday that the Japanese prime minister had nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Prime Minister Abe of Japan gave me the most beautiful copy of a letter that he sent to the people who give out a thing called the Nobel prize. He said I have nominated you or respectfully on behalf of Japan. I am asking them to give you the Nobel Peace Prize. I said thank you. Many other people feel that way too. I`ll probably never get it.


KORNACKI: Well, there was some new reporting that emerged this weekend on who may have asked Abe to nominate Trump. That`s up next on HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

After President Trump said on Friday that the Japanese prime minister had nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize, a Japanese newspaper reported that Shinzo Abe did so at the request of the White House. When asked about that reporting this morning, Abe said, quote, I am not saying it`s not true.

I`m joined now by Hagar Chemali, the former spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations and former Republican governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd-Whitman. She also served as the administrator of the EPA.

Hagar, I`m trying to parse. I am not saying it`s not true. Does it ring true to you, this reporting?

HAGAR CHEMALI, FORMER SPOKESPERSON U.S. MISSION TO THE UNITED NATIONS: You know? When I read this sentence, if you take out double negatives, usually, it`s right, if you take out not and not, you should say, I am saying it`s true. But -- let`s pretend. Let`s say it may be true. When I was in the White House, I was not aware of President Obama`s team asking somebody to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize. It is entirely possible. It wouldn`t surprise me.

It certainly doesn`t surprise me for President Trump, though, to do that because in his world, I think he does think he deserves it. And I think that he wants an award that was also bestowed on President Obama.

KORNACKI: Yes, Governor Whitman, you have first-hand experience dealing with Donald Trump from your days in New Jersey when you had those casinos down there in Atlantic City. The idea because he has brought this up himself, the idea of, you know, Barack Obama getting that Nobel Prize in 2009 a couple months into his presidency. What`s your read on him when it comes to that being a potential motivating factor?

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Oh, I think it`s a very real motivating factor. He has got to do everything bigger and better than everybody before and particularly Barack Obama. I mean, what we see in the way of this administration is approaching policies, anything that Obama touched, had anything to do with, we`re going to do away with it.

And -- I mean, he should have the common sense to be embarrassed this has gotten out. He should feel humiliated. As a nation, it`s sort of embarrassing to have the president of the United States ask another leader, world leader to nominate them. Or he didn`t do it. OK, somebody else in the White House, and that could have happened, I doubt without his knowledge, but it could have happened.

But it puts Abe, too -- for him to have mentioned it, because the nominee - - the people nominated shouldn`t be revealed for 50 years after the nomination -- after that decision is made. It`s got to make domestic politics a little awkward for him because he doesn`t want to be seen as a tool of the United States. It`s something that China could exploit. It`s something North Korea could exploit against him.

This is everything this administration seems to be doing is not necessarily in our best interests as a nation and our security.

KORNACKI: Well, on this broader question, then, of the rift between the U.S. and traditional allies in Europe, we were talking about that in the last segment. You saw the reaction to Mike Pence there. Also, the fact that there were Democratic and Republican members of Congress who went to Munich for the security conference to basically deliver by their presence almost a rebuttal to sorts to what has been coming out of the White House the last couple of years.

Governor Whitman, I wonder within the Republican Party, one of the stories of Donald Trump`s rise it seemed to me was that there was more sympathy among Republican voters for his view of those alliances than maybe there were of the rest of the Republican leaders. What is your sense? What is the audience in the Republican Party for dissent with Trump when it comes to his attitude towards these alliances?

WHITMAN: Well, audience, Trump`s audience, Steve, is his base. And that`s 30 some odd percent of identified Republicans, which is an ever shrinking base, oh, by the way, because Republicans are -- the Republican Party is losing member as is the Democrat Party. I mean, it is independents and nonaffiliated who were -- that`s the section that`s growing because people are throwing hands up and saying a pox on both your houses.

And I believe the Republicans in the House and Senate are desperately trying to hold things together. I mean, this is a nation that rebuilt Europe. We saved Europe. We rebuilt it. We have been strong on the alliance.

We are making -- Europe wants us to be strong. Europe wants the rest of the world does. I was at dinner the other night when F. de Klerk, a former president of South Africa who actually did away with apartheid was speaking.

And he ended up by saying America doesn`t need to get strong. America is strong, is great, doesn`t need to be great. It is great. And the world needs a great and strong America.

And that`s not where this kind of single-minded, I`m going to do it all myself, it`s one-on-one. There is nothing wrong with getting Europe to take on more of the responsibility for their protection. But to say things like imply that we might not be there for them and NATO if they are to honor the alliance should there be an attack opens the door for Russia, opens the door for China.

We`re making it difficult for those countries such as Ukraine and Georgia that want to join NATO and the E.U. because Russia is in there with propaganda trying to tell people that all sorts of terrible things will happen to them if they join NATO or the E.U. And the leadership and the majority of the country so far still want to join and they just had a vote on that in Georgia -- Ukraine, I`m sorry.

This is something that we`re making the world unstable. This policy is not helping us and our security.

BLITZER: All right. Former Governor Christine Todd Whitman from New Jersey, Hagar Chemali, thank you both for joining us.

And up next, Joe Biden is definitely a household name, but if he jumps into the 2020 race, would that be enough to put him ahead of his many Democratic rivals and, by the way, the president if it comes to that?

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: Welcome back.

There are nine Democrats already running for president and more are on the way, but there is one name everyone is waiting on, Joe Biden. Is he actually going to go through with it or not for the first time is he going to walk up to the starting line and then just walk away?

Before they run, every candidate has to ask himself or ask herself this one question, do I think I can win? But Biden`s case is different because he has more to lose. He is a former vice president and elder statesman of his own party. He has stature the other candidates don`t have, stature that will be at risk if his campaign goes badly.

So, what are the chances that things go badly if he does run? Well, start with the general election. If Biden gets there, into a race against Donald Trump. On the one hand, it would be a no brainer, Trump is president because he narrowly won three traditionally Democratic states Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin. His total margin across those three states was just 77,000 votes. So, surely, Scranton Joe could flip that around, right?

Plus, Biden is popular now. The last time Gallup checked in, 61 percent of Americans had a favorable view of him, just 30 percent unfavorable. But then there is this.

One of the reasons Biden is so popular now is because he didn`t run in 2016. He didn`t have the media scrutinizing him, Republicans attacking him, Trump throwing every piece of dirt he could find Biden`s way. Hillary Clinton got all of that and you saw what it did to her. Biden was on the sideline for all of that.

And as Hillary flailed, he got pretty good press coverage. Republicans and Trump mostly laid off him. When Hillary lost, Biden became the what might have been candidate for Democrats.

But remember, before all of that, before the 2016 campaign began, Joe Biden wasn`t always this popular. Go back to the start of 2015, 39 percent in Gallup said in favorable view, 39 percent unfavorable.

That`s why Democrats weren`t exactly lining up to beg Biden to run in 2016. His numbers, didn`t look that great. Now, it is possible Biden and his style would be a very good matchup with Donald Trump. It`s also possible his long history in politics and penchant for what they call gaffes, I`m sorry for using that word, would make him the perfect foil for Trump. We just don`t know.

We also don`t what Democratic voters think of all of this. In polls, they say now more than ever that they care about electability. But if Biden gets in and gets all that scrutiny that he didn`t get in 2016 and if his fellow Democrats start going after him, well, how electable will he look to Democratic voters then? Take a poll now and Biden leads the Democratic field.

And again, it`s possible he would stay there if he runs. That he`s got a reservoir of good feelings with Democratic voters and he`ll be just fine. But we just don`t know. There really aren`t many test cases like this.

A former VP, 78 years old in 20, two previous presidential campaigns, one that he left in scandal, a couple more that he almost enter. He`d be running in a media and political atmosphere that upended so many assumptions and supposed rules about what actually works in politics.

Run and win in Biden`s stature vaults to a whole new level. Run and lose badly, that stature plummets, or just stay away and be happy with what you`ve already got. That is a tough decision for anybody. It`s no wonder Joe Biden is taking his time here.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.