Show: HARDBALL Date: February 19, 2019 Guest: Joseph Moreno, David Cicilline, Benjamin Jealous, Susan Page, Joe Crowley, Hector Balderas
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That does it for THE BEAT. We will be back at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow.
"HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Trump`s war. Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.
We have a lot to get to tonight, including a big 2020 announcement. Bernie Sanders is running for the Democratic nomination again.
But first, the "New York Times" is out with a major report tonight on a steps that President Trump has taken to discredit, impede or otherwise control the investigations of him and of his campaign. Not the President has long waged a very public war on those inquiries, "Times" says it has revealed the quote "the extent of the more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement." An effort that the President quote "has turned into obsession."
Among the revelations the "Times" reports on misinformation that the White House provided about the firing of Michael Flynn. They report on conversations between the President and Republican lawmakers about a campaign to attack Robert Mueller, the special counsel. And most significant, the news that the President attempted to install a loyalist to lead the investigation of Michael Cohen in New York.
That last episode occur late last year as prosecutors were closing in on the President who they implicated as individual one in that case.
Quote "Mr. Trump called Matthew Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general with a question. He asked whether Jeffrey Berman, the United States attorney for the southern district of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation." Whitaker, however, could not fulfill the President`s request to put Berman in charge because Berman was recused.
Following that rebuff, according to the report, the President soon soured on Mr. Whitaker and complained about his inability to pull levers at the justice department that could make the President`s many legal problems go away. And the President is contesting that story, flatly denying that he ever asked his acting attorney general to change his prosecutor in the Cohen case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Did you ask acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker to change the leadership - the investigation into your former personal attorney Michael Cohen?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, not at all. I don`t know who gave you that. That`s more fake news. There`s a lot of fake news out there. No, I didn`t.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: However, Trump`s reported outreached to Whitaker may contradict Whitaker`s sworn testimony last month which House Democrats are scrutinizing for possible forgery. Among other things, Whitaker told the House Judiciary Committee that no one from the White House reached out to express dissatisfaction about the Cohen investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did they reach out in some way to express dissatisfaction?
MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And I`m joined now by Democratic congressman David Cicilline who asked Matt Whitaker that very question. We just played for you there. Joseph Moreno is a former federal prosecutor, Elise Jordan is an MSNBC political analyst. And Michael Schmidt who co-wrote that story in the "New York Times." He joins me now by phone.
Michael, let me start with you. This is your reporting that you and your colleague`s reporting that we are talking about here.
So, well, first of all, just on that exchange right there that we played from the hearings last a couple weeks ago with Whitaker, Whitaker asked if anybody at the White House reached out to express dissatisfaction with the way the Cohen case was being handled. Is your reporting that dissatisfaction was expressed to him?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES (on the phone): Correct. It shows that there was discussion that went on between Whitaker and the President. The President obviously concerned about the direction of the investigation and looking at the possibilities and what could be done in terms of that and turning to someone in the U.S. attorney Berman, in the hopes that they will -- whatever relationship they had or whatever loyalty he thought Berman may have may be important.
In the entire story in which we have looked at obstruction going all the way back to 2017, there`s different teams, and one of them is loyalty. The President wants loyalty for those who are overseeing the investigations into him. Whether it was Jeff Sessions, whether it was Jim Comey. Whether it was Andy McCabe, who was going to be the interim FBI director and whether that his acting attorney general or this investigation in New York.
This is something that`s incredibly important to the President. He believes and has said that it is his view that the investigators should be more loyal to him than to following the facts in the rule of law.
KORNACKI: So Michael, just to get the sequence of events straight here, the Cohen case as what you are reporting on here is playing a. The Cohen case is going on. The President goes to his acting attorney general Whitaker and he says he make as request to put in a new prosecutor, to put Berman who is Trump`s ally in charge of the prosecution of Cohen. What is the response that which back to Trump and what`s the exchange there?
SCHMIDT: Well, Berman - you know, nothing changed. Nothing came of it. This is sort of a theme that happens a lot of times with Trump and obstruction where he tries to do something. He tries to get Comey to end the investigation. He tries in this case to talk to Whitaker about having Berman un-recuse himself. And he ultimately failed. He sort of soured on Whitaker.
Whitaker falls out of favor with the President. The President sees Whitaker as someone who can`t do the things that he hoped he would be able to at the justice department. Sort of the limitation of even being an acting attorney general which he think would be a powerful condition.
And this is another thing. The President tries different times to get different folks to go along with whether, you know, was instilling loyalists here or there and has not always been successful and has struggled to damage the investigation.
KORNACKI: Do you have reporting -- is your reporting that when Trump was told no about getting Berman in charge of this investigation, that when that didn`t happen, you say he soured on Whitaker, did he express that explicitly to him that there`s a connection there? Gee, you let me down on this. You didn`t come through on this. I expect you to have Berman in there?
SCHMIDT: I don`t know that. We don`t know that in our reporting. We don`t know that the President made that point directly to Whitaker. And I guess this may receive what will happen with Whitaker. He is actually still at the justice department in an advisory role under in the new attorney general and Whitaker is someone who really has spent a lot of time appealing to the President. He started on television many, many months ago, advocating against the Mueller investigation. Then after Sessions being fired, put in as the acting attorney general. The President had high hopes on that and by the time he left at the end of the investigation, from at least what we know publicly, everything remain intact.
KORNACKI: All right. Joe, so you have got the situation here where the President has this. There is this investigation going on of Cohen. We see what that ultimately led to. So it is ominous for the President, clearly as it is going on. He wants to get somebody he thinks is an ally, somebody he thinks is a loyalist. He installed there. That guy has been recused from the case. So the suggestion there is, OK, this is potential reflex, potential obstruction on the President by the fact that he didn`t get his way though. Does that take obstruction off the table in that situation?
JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Short answer is no, OK. And this is the parallel to the James Comey situation, right. The President may have thought that by firing James Comey, he would have stopped the Russian investigations, it didn`t. It doesn`t change the fact that he thought he was putting something into motion that may have a corrupt intent behind it.
So it is really a parallel. And there is a pattern here as you can see. So no, obstruction is not off at the table because you can have attempted obstruction. You don`t have to actually --.
KORNACKI: I guess, how could you -- what would it take to prove or to establish something like that if what could come back at you is hey, he is the President. He has not be in government before. He didn`t like the investigation. He thought it was unfair. He asked about get this guy out and they told no, we can`t do that and it didn`t happen.
MORENO: I think you had a career as a defense lawyer. You just made great argument.
KORNACKI: Well, so what would it take then to overcome an argument like that?
MORENO: So you have to show the actions. You infer someone`s intent by their actions, right. So obviously, you can`t get into their mind. But you can say why else would they have done these things but for a corrupt purpose? Why would you keep working the internal DOJ leavers of power but not for the fact that you are trying to stymie a DOJ investigation? That`s how you do it. You look for a pattern and then you say why else would someone take these actions if they weren`t trying to do something that was corrupt?
KORNACKI: Let me bring the congressman in here, David Cicilline from Rhode Island.
We played that exchange you ad with Matthew Whitaker when he was the acting attorney general there a couple weeks ago. What is your reaction to that now? How do you look at that response you got right now?
REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, I think it`s pretty clear that Matthew Whitaker`s testimony and the reporting that explosive reporting cannot both be true.
Mr. Whitaker evaded important answers. He clearly tried to create the impression that he was not influenced by the President. We asked him repeatedly did the President or anyone on the President`s behalf express any dissatisfaction, her said no. Clearly, the change of counsel at the southern district of New York was not to reward the U.S. attorney there but because the President was dissatisfied. So it`s hard to believe that was done for any other reasoning than because the President was frustrated about the direction.
But this is a pattern. This is a President who thinks the attorney general, U.S. attorneys, other members of the justice department have a loyalty or a responsibility to protect him. They take a loyalty and an oath to the constitution of the United States. He fundamentally misunderstands this from the very beginning with Jeff Sessions` recusal to his effort to fire Mr. Mueller to this recent reporting about trying to change out the U.S. attorney.
This is a President who continues to think that these individuals owe individuals owe a loyalty to him and have a duty to protect him. They have a duty to protect the constitution and they are doing their job. And the President should understand that it is inappropriate and may constitute obstruction of justice to attempt to interfere with their work.
KORNACKI: Do you have plans? Do you now have plans in your committee to follow up at all with Whitaker?
CICILLINE: Yes, I mean we attempted to get information about exactly what he heard from the President, what direction he was given. He refused to disclose conversations to the President but he certainly created the impression that no one expressed any dissatisfaction on what was happening with Mr. Cohen`s plea and the identification of individual one.
We have many more questions. The chairman of the committee sent a letter to him already seeking clarification based on what we have learned subsequent to his testimony and indicating to him to he is either going to provide that clarifications or he should expect to come back before the committee in a sworn deposition to answer our question so we can get the truth.
KORNACKI: OK. Another episode in this reporting we are talking about tonight from the "New York Times." It occurred when former White House press secretary Sean Spicer briefed the press about the resignation of Trump`s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn.
According the "Times" White House lawyers had told Spicer what to say. However quote "when Mr. Spicer`s briefing began, the lawyers started hearing numerous misstatements, some bigger than others, and ended up compiling them all in a menu. The lawyers` main concern was that Mr. Spicer over stated how exhaustibly the White House had investigated Mr. Flynn and what he said wrongly that the administration lawyers had concluded there were no legal issues surrounding Mr. Flynn`s conduct.
Elise, you know a little bit about the inner workings of government - of the White House. The scene there described with Spicer. The press deciding it seems that this is my story, Spicer going on. What did you make of that?
ELISE JORDAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, any careful press operative wouldn`t want to be On the Record saying something that could put themselves in personal legal jeopardy. And you look at Sean Spicer had a flagrant disregard for the truth during his tenure as press secretary. But it really seems like in this particular instance, he was taking pains to go further than even the White House counsel`s office was comfortable with, which is clearly a huge problem for the White House and possibly for Mr. Spicer. But that would be something that you would know more about.
KORNACKI: Let me just -- I think we still have Michael Schmidt on the phone with us.
Michael, just in terms of this piece of it. The fact that Spicer went so much further, apparently per your reporting as Elise is saying there, what is it that prompted that?
SCHMIDT: With well, you have to sort of look at it through the frame of what was going on. This was February 14th. Mike Flynn had just been fired, former national security advisor. This is the first time the administration was confronting the Russia investigation publicly. The White House counsel office was concerned that Spicer would go out and not give an accurate portrait. And what happened was there were questions about why did it take the White House so long to deal with the Flynn issue after they were told by the justice department he had these contacts with the Russian ambassador and could be subject to blackmail.
So it is in Spice telling to the public from the podium of how the White House handled it that the White House counsel`s office says, hey, that`s a too far too favorable account of how this was dealt with. We were not as on top of it as we made it out to be. We haven`t made these determinations about Flynn`s legal standing. And because of that, they documented it and told him afterwards. Now, the White House never corrected the record on this. But what the feeling was, was it is one thing to go out and say stuff about crowd size that it is inaccurate, it is one thing to say on the campaign trail. The White House can`t be out on such an important national security investigation not telling the whole truth.
KORNACKI: Joe, the totality of this story, and I encourage everybody who hasn`t who is watching now and hasn`t already gone and read it to read the entire thing. But the totality of it suggest a possible set of avenues that could be used to make a case of obstruction of justice against the President. Another defense that a suggestion of the story from the White House`s standpoint is basically that the President has been very public about his dissatisfaction with all of this, with all of the investigation that have been swirling with the sense that he feels he is a victim of a witch hunt. He is the victim of out of control prosecutors.
The fact that he has been articulating all of this in public while doing all of this in private, it is being revealed here, does that have any bearing again on this issue of obstruction?
MORENO: Well, it is an interesting point because you can see some of these public statements. Had they not been made in public, but instead we are in a text message or an email or memo or a private conversation, they would sound horrible, right. I mean, what you would do with information like that? And yet, the fact that it`s tweeted to tens of millions of people, it somewhat seems to negate it.
But at the end of the day, it shouldn`t make a difference, right. I mean, if you are making those statements and those statements have an intended effect, whether it is too stymie (ph.) or impede or intimidate an investigation or shuts something down or tamp down political enemies, it has the desired effect.
So it definitely adds a different kind of spin because you don`t think of obstruction as something that is done in plain sight. But at the end of the day, if it as the intended intent, if it has possibly the intended effect, that could be the basis of your case.
KORNACKI: All right. Well, thank you Congressman David Cicilinne from Rhode Island, Joseph Moreno, Elise Jordan, Michael Schmidt joining us on the phone again with that reporting. Michael, thank you for taking a few minutes.
And later tonight, former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe is going to join Lawrence O`Donnell live on "THE LAST WORD." That is 10:00 p.m. eastern time right here on MSNBC.
And coming up the guy who crashed the party last time is back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Bottom line is I think it`s imperative that Donald Trump be defeated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Bernie Sanders is in. He is talking aim at President Trump. He has got a lot of Democrats to worry about too, this time around. The new challenges facing Sanders in his second White House bid.
Plus the growing resistance to President Trump`s national emergency declaration. How states are using the President`s own words against him in court.
And new polling on just how much support the President has for that emergency declaration.
There is much more ahead. You are watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, is back, and he is launching a sequel to his 2016 presidential campaign. The senator announced his 2020 news early this morning in an e-mail to supporters, along with this video message:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hi. I`m Bernie Sanders. I`m running for president.
We are running against a president who is a pathological liar, a fraud, a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe, and someone who is undermining American democracy, as he leads us in an authoritarian direction.
I am running for president because now, more than ever, we need leadership that brings us together, not divides us up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Shortly after the news broke, the 77-year-old senator appeared on CBS News and was asked why this time would be different than the last one.
This is what he said:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: What`s going to be different this time?
SANDERS: We`re going to win. We are going to also launch what I think is unprecedented in modern American history. And that is a grassroots movement, John, to lay the groundwork for transforming the economic and political life of this country. That`s what`s different.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Sanders now joins an already crowded and diverse field of 10 Democratic candidates. That number will probably grow some more. That`s something he clearly didn`t face in 2016.
A majority of Democrats already seeking the nomination have fanned out across the country, touting popular progressive messages, like universal health care, raising the minimum wage, and combating climate change.
Sanders, running second in the polls right now behind Joe Biden, remains a force to be reckoned with, though. Within hours of his announcement, he raised more than $3 million from donors.
For more, I`m joined by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," former New York Congressman Joe Crowley, and Ben Jealous, former national president and CEO of the NAACP. He was a supporter of Bernie Sanders back in 2016. Curious if he`s on board for the second one.
Well, why don`t we start with that?
Ben Jealous, I remember talking to you in 2016.
BEN JEALOUS, FORMER PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: Sure.
KORNACKI: You were one of his surrogates. That`s the word we use.
Are you -- are you going to be a Sanders supporter in 2020?
JEALOUS: You know, I signed up in New Hampshire in 2016.
This year, I ran for governor of our state. And as the standard-bearer for our party in our state, now, out of respect, I have got to look and see to endorse when we get close to the Maryland primary. And we want to make sure that Maryland matters.
With that said, as you know, I`m a good friend, I`m a big fan of Bernie. And he`s going to be a real force. He`s exactly where the voters are on health, on education, on jobs. And he can -- he`s showing that he can raise real money and, frankly, do it from the people of the country, and probably in the smallest denominations of anybody.
So everybody should take it very, very seriously this time.
KORNACKI: All right, well, it sounds like you got a lot of help from some of his rivals in your own campaign. That might -- and you want to be gracious about that at least, so no endorsement right now.
JEALOUS: Well, look, Cory and I go back. We`re both black Rhodes scholars. We go back a long way.
Kamala, I have known for 15 years. Liz Warren and I fought to pass the CFPB together. Great friends, great friends. But the -- we have to -- right now, when you look at Bernie rolling out, he is absolutely formidable. And it starts with his message.
What makes Bernie unique is that he`s been courageous on these issues for a very long time. And, quite frankly, you have seen, I think, candidates across -- across the party move towards him. He clearly is where the voters are.
KORNACKI: All right.
Well, Susan, let me ask you. One of the questions I have got with Sanders and is being debated right now is, like, in 2016, he was the only alternative in most of those primaries to Hillary Clinton. Anybody who didn`t want Hillary Clinton got to vote for Bernie Sanders.
So, you probably got a lot of folks who maybe didn`t like him particularly. They just didn`t like Hillary Clinton. So the conventional wisdom is, hey, crowded field, a lot of other choices in 2020, that works against him.
The other way I look at that, though, is, crowded field 2016, look at the Republican race, Donald Trump could win primaries with 30 percent of the vote, 35 percent of the vote.
Can Sanders turn around and do that in the Democratic race?
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Well, it`s possible
And he starts out with a base of support. He starts out with phenomenal fund-raising ability. But one thing that strikes me, Republicans often choose the person who came in second in the previous election. You got a lot of examples that.
I was trying to think today of examples of Democrats who came in second for the nomination who got it then the next time around. And the only one I could think of is Hillary Clinton, because I think Democrats like to fall in love with somebody new.
And that is not going to be Bernie Sanders this time. It`s going to be one of the 10 other people who have not run for office before who are a generation younger than Bernie Sanders and who espouse pretty similar political views.
KORNACKI: Joe Crowley...
JEALOUS: I think that`s kind of creative to make Bernie the Clinton in this race.
JEALOUS: I mean, I just -- I would just point that out. That`s -- that`s a stretch.
KORNACKI: Well, let me -- let me get -- take Joe Crowley`s temperature on this, because it seems, certainly, in 2016, we saw this. There was a lot of reluctance, at the very least, on what you -- on the part of what you would call the Democratic establishment to support the Sanders campaign.
How much reluctance, or even if the word is, how much resistance is there going to be from those same quarters towards him in 2020?
JOE CROWLEY (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Well, Steve, I have news for you tonight. Bernie Sanders is running for president of the United States.
Bernie`s been running ever since he lost. There`s no doubt. There`s no doubt about that.
I do think there was a great deal of resistance. Obviously, I think the relationship that Clinton had built certainly in New York, as the senator from New York, those relationships were there, but as the first lady, as -- and, again, as the former secretary of state, there had been a lot of touch to the Clintons certainly that benefited her.
But Bernie is formidable. There`s no question about it. Bernie has really -- you saw it with the numbers that he`s raised just in a few hours, of the millions of dollars, and grassroots that he has out there.
I still think -- and I think maybe even more so with all these Democrats running -- it kind of is going to stand out that day that Bernie is still an independent engaged in a Democratic primary.
And I do think there are some new faces here that, when they get more exposure, I think that may drown out a bit of the Bernie effect.
KORNACKI: Is he somebody you could support?
CROWLEY: Look, I could support.
I disagree with Bernie on a number of issues. But, overall, the core values that Bernie has are similar to my core values. So, yes, I could.
I do think, though -- and I think it`s interesting that Ben has mentioned that he`s not quite yet there, although he was very close to Bernie, and that there are -- there are nuances to this race.
JEALOUS: Well, Bernie hasn`t asked. I mean, to be clear, Steve asked me, but Bernie hasn`t asked me, just to be clear.
CROWLEY: No, I appreciate that.
I guess what I`m saying, though, is that there are -- there are a lot of folks that Ben has relationships with, that we all have relationships with. I`m not prepared to say tonight who I would support either.
But I do think that this field is, this very crowded, very competent field, is something that is going to be very interesting to watch.
KORNACKI: One of the other -- when you look at Sanders and any potential path to the nomination, obviously, nearly won Iowa in 2016, won New Hampshire in 2016.
Overall, though, if you look at all those primaries, Hillary Clinton defeated Sanders. She got 16 million votes across all the primary, Sanders about three million fewer than that. It was June 14 when Clinton became the presumptive nominee.
She won California, Florida, New York, a lot of the big states. Here`s the interesting stat, though. Both Clinton and Sanders received almost the same share of the vote when it came to white voters. It was African- American voters where Clinton absolutely clobbered Sanders.
Look at that, a 3-1 margin with black voters. You saw that`s how she pounded him in South Carolina, across the South, states with heavy black populations. That`s where she was really able to run up the score.
Ben Jealous, we talked so much about this in 2016.
KORNACKI: Bernie Sanders...
JEALOUS: Well, don`t forget that Bernie won Michigan, which has a big black population. He also won Missouri.
KORNACKI: Right. OK. He narrowly won Michigan, but, overall, you can`t deny the pattern there.
JEALOUS: He won Michigan and Missouri.
KORNACKI: Seventy-five percent, 23 percent across all primaries among black voters. Why will that be different this time around? Or will it not be?
But then if you look at black voters under 30 -- you look at black voters under 30, Bernie won them. You look at black men under 50 most places, Bernie won.
There`s -- the black community was getting to know Bernie Sanders. He`s from Vermont. It`s just like Howard Dean. Really don`t know this guy. He`s not where we are.
That was four years ago. And now folks have gotten to know him. And what they see is that he`s absolutely consistent on education, on health care, on the environment, on jobs.
We got teachers going out on strike in West Virginia. We have got teachers about to go out on strike in Oakland, California. There`s not a teacher out there who doesn`t know that, when it comes to the kitchen table issues, Bernie Sanders stands with them.
And so that`s what makes him so powerful, is that he`s terribly consistent. His brand has become much more familiar across this country. And people know that, when it comes to their kitchen table issues, he`s in their corner every time.
KORNACKI: Susan, very quickly, I saw comments from the president today, Donald Trump. He clearly was trying to reopen those wounds in the Democratic Party from 2016, talking about Bernie Sanders, he says, getting a raw deal.
The president there, and I imagine Republicans more broadly speaking, maybe have some hope that you will see some of that repeat of what you had there in 2016, where Bernie and his supporters vs. the rest of the party.
PAGE: Well, you may, although you have got to say he lost the nomination last time. He won the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party has moved to the left since 2016. And the only question is, how far left did they move? And that`s where you see the divisions.
KORNACKI: All right, Susan Page, Joe Crowley, Ben Jealous.
Day one of the Bernie 2020 campaign. A lot to talk about tonight. There will be a lot to talk about going forward. I appreciate all of you being with us tonight.
CROWLEY: Thanks, Steve.
KORNACKI: And up next: President Trump`s emergency declaration now on its way to court. How is it faring in the court of public opinion?
I`m going to head over to the Big Board. We have some fascinating numbers to show you and a breakdown.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued, and they will sue us in the Ninth Circuit, even though it shouldn`t be there.
And we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we`ll get another bad ruling, and then we`ll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we`ll get a fair shake, and we`ll win in the Supreme Court.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: That was President Trump just a couple days ago declaring a state of emergency, and then saying, hey, this thing is headed to a court of law, or -- you heard him there -- several courts of law.
And it looks like that is proving to be the case. It is also, though, being judged in the court of public opinion. And, on that front, we have some brand-new polling information we can share with you tonight on the emergency declaration, this an NPR/"PBS NewsHour"/Marist poll.
Look, overall here, you see that? Decision to declare a national emergency to get that wall built, 36 percent approve, 61 percent, a very solid majority, disapprove, a very stark partisan breakdown -- Democrats almost universally against the move, Republicans heavily, overwhelmingly for, independents breaking against it.
You can see, on other questions related to this, similar numbers here. Here`s the question. Just the idea, is he misusing his power as president? Is Trump misusing it? Again, 57-39, with a very dramatic, very clear and, frankly, very predictable these days, party divide.
And the question of, hey, what`s this going to mean for you in 2020? You`re watching all this. You`re seeing the president declare an emergency. Is it going to make you more likely or less likely to vote for him? Fifty-four percent say less likely. Of course, that`s about the number who say in any poll they`re just not going to vote for him at all.
So maybe it just kind of continues that trend.
Here`s the one thing to keep in mind, though. I got to say this. You think back to the 2016 campaign. Just keep this in mind a little bit. That question of the wall, Trump`s signature issue as he`s running for president, 36-61, 36 favor, 61 oppose, that number pretty much exactly the same as the number on this decision with the emergency declaration.
Ultimately, even in the face of numbers like that, narrowly, narrowly, narrowly, Trump was able to get himself elected in 2016. Again, I have been saying, if he`s going to get reelected in 2020 with numbers like this that we keep showing, it`s going to have to be just as narrow, just as precise.
Doesn`t mean it can`t happen. It happened once. Doesn`t mean it`ll happen again. But keep in mind, he did win in 2016 with numbers like that, as bad as they look right now.
Up next: New Mexico shares 180 miles of border with Mexico, putting it front and center in the upcoming legal challenge to that national emergency declaration.
New Mexico`s attorney general joins us to explain why he is one of 16 attorneys general getting ready to challenge the president in court.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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`d rather do it much faster.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Trump saying he knew he didn`t have to declare a national emergency. And now those comments are part of lawsuit filed by 16 states against the national emergency, which the suit calls a flagrant disregard of fundamental separation of powers principles. The lawsuit directly cites the president`s comments, noting that, quote, the president candidly admitted that the emergency declaration reflected his personal preference to construct the wall more quickly, rather than an actual urgent need for it to be built immediately.
Here`s how the president reacted to the lawsuit today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We have absolute right to do that. I have an absolute right to call national security. We need strong borders. In the end, we`re going to be very successful with the lawsuit.
So, it was filed. It was filed in the Ninth Circuit and I actually think we might do very well, even thin ninth circuit, because it`s an open and closed case. I was put here for security, whether it`s space force which we`re doing today or whether it`s borders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And I am joined now by the Democratic attorney general from the state of New Mexico, Hector Balderas, one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.
General, thank you for joining us.
Let me -- with the president saying -- he`s saying open and closed case and I think it`s because if you look at the National Emergency Act, which is this law from 1976 where he`s claiming this power, it doesn`t define an emergency. It gives the power to declare one. It says Congress can revoke it if it wants. Congress could take vote and override him if he vetoes it, but it doesn`t define it.
Doesn`t that sort of mean that emergencies whatever the president says it is?
HECTOR BALDERAS (D), NEW MEXICO ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, first, thanks for having me. And no, actually he has to follow the rule of law. We don`t have kings in this country and this is not about the king`s funding. Article I in the Constitution clearly has the purse with Congress and he`s not allows to cry over a funding fight and then transfer, appropriate military dollars that are in New Mexico, going to missile bases and special national security projects just because he doesn`t get his way.
KORNACKI: How do you get around that law, though? Again, just looking at it, saying that the secretary of defense may undertake construction projects basically at the president`s discretion, if the president deems there to be an emergency? And again, you say in the court of public opinion, he`s contradicting himself like crazy here, but if the law doesn`t specify what an emergency is, how can he over step it?
BALDERAS: Well, he will have great deference in the court. However, an article two, he`s also required to be a truthful commander in chief. And so, he cannot have fake emergencies. This is not like 9/11 or national disaster like Katrina.
These are already legally appropriated dollars governed by law that are already going to strategic projects. Now, if he wants to use immigration funding to build a wall, that`s a different question. But I do believe that this case will turn on the source of funding and it`s required that he has to comply and not violate the separation of powers.
KORNACKI: There are, as we said, a number of states, 16 that are going to be part of this lawsuit. I think California`s taking the lead, that means this is being filed, as you heard in that clip there from the president, in the Ninth Circuit. He has been bashing the ninth circuit. He was saying last week, excuse me, hey, they`ll just send it over to Ninth Circuit and Ninth Circuit will invalidate it.
Was there any thought -- there are 16 states here, having a different state take a lead, not doing this in the Ninth Circuit, that that might sort of bolster your position a little bit more maybe in the court of public opinion, just given the president`s always bashing the Ninth Circuit?
BALDERAS: No, we don`t necessarily play games with his words. California and New Mexico are lead plaintiffs because we understand that there needs to be sound constitutional law followed and more importantly, we are on the border. And so, we have New Mexicans, Americans being harmed by his fiscal irresponsibility.
He simply doesn`t want to follow the Constitution. But there will be a test in court making sure his fake emergency is at least reviewed. He is abusively committing executive overreach, and I think he`s going to be held accountable.
KORNACKI: Do you think this will make its way to the Supreme Court?
BALDERAS: I believe so. I do believe the president is right. We will experience victory I believe in the court but ultimately, Article II requires him to be a truthful commander-in-chief. And I think as you can see from pubic opinion, and the justices are going to be involved in the case. If it doesn`t pass the smell test, he`s probably violating the separation of powers.
KORNACKI: We saw that case with his travel bank. That took a few months to sort of work his way throughout the courts. How long do you think this is going to go to the Supreme Court eventually, how long until you get a final decision that settles this?
BALDERAS: Well, I`m hoping the court will act in an expedited way. I think what`s different in the travel ban is clearly we have him talking out of both sides of his mouth and I do believe there is a big difference. He has the right to declare an executive emergency. What we`re disputing is that he`s stealing money that`s already been lawfully appropriated. He should go back and get lawfully appropriated dollars for his immigration wall. And he`s not allowed as a king to steal money. We have the Constitution and the rule of law and we`re governed by those standards.
KORNACKI: All right. The attorney general of the state of New Mexico, Hector Balderas -- thank you for joining us. Appreciate it.
BALDERAS: Thank you.
KORNACKI: And up next, day two of hearings on alleged election fraud in the ninth congressional district of North Carolina. The only election in 2018 we never got around to calling, because it`s not settled yet.
The big question now, how much did the Republican candidate, Mark Harris, know about this and how will it effect the outcome? Is there going to be a new election down there?
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KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The second day of testimony is now over in the election tampering case involving North Carolina`s ninth congressional district. That seat remains vacant.
Now, three months after the midterm elections, at the center of hearing, is work done by a man named McCrae Dowless. He`s a political operative who worked for Republican candidate, Mark Harris. This afternoon, the head of the political consulting firm that paid Dowless said that, quote, he sounded like someone who knew the law very well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDY YATES, FOUNDER, RED DOME GROUP: He told me at no time were his folks ever touch, handle, put their hands on, collect, mail an absentee ballot. And he knew that was illegal, that he made sure all of his folks knew that was illegal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: But yesterday, Dowless`s own step daughter testified that she and other workers had illegally collected and filled out ballots at Dowless`s direction.
Joining me now from Raleigh is Leigh Ann Caldwell, political reporter for NBC News. She is in the room for all of the action down there.
Well, Leigh Ann, just given that testimony from yesterday, talking about this. What has been put on the record here right now in terms of irregularities. Mark Harris leads officially by 905 votes. He`s trying to somehow get this thing certified, the Republican.
What is the response in that hearing from his legal team? Are they contesting still that there were any irregularities? Are they consulting that at all? Or are they making a different argument here?
LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, MSNBC POLITICAL REPORTER: They`re making a different argument. They`re not contesting that there was sketchy, unlawful activity happening regarding these absentee ballots and they`re acknowledging that McCrae Dowless was the center of this. But what they`re arguing is that their client, Mark Harris, knew nothing about it, eve though Mark Harris hired Dowless through a consulting firm. They`re saying that Harris knew nothing about it, that he didn`t know what steps that Dowless took on a daily basis regarding these absentee ballots.
And so, what they`re trying to do is set that record straight and separate Harris from McRae Dowless in this absentee ballot operation and what they`re also trying to say is that yes, part of this election might have been tainted, but it was just regarding absentee ballots, a small number in two rural counties. They`re saying it was not enough to change the outcome of the race and they`re saying that`s reason there should not be a new election and that Mark Harris should be seated.
KORNACKI: That`s the key question here because the official margin, again, 905 votes for Harris over McCready. Has there been an attempt -- is there going to be an attempt to quantify exactly what all these irregularities were, an exact number of votes? Is McCready side, the Democrat trying to put that together?
CALDWELL: Yes, not necessarily, Steve, and the reason is because they are arguing that the board doesn`t have to prove, or doesn`t need to be evidence to prove for the board that the outcome of the vote would change, that there is actually 905 votes that were tampered with or went missing or whatever the case might be. They`re saying that the only thing they have to prove is that the race was tainted enough that voters have lost confidence in the election. And that is actually in the statute that North Carolina state law says and that`s one of the things that board just has to look at in their decision.
KORNACKI: All right. Leigh Ann Caldwell, keeping tabs on all of the drama down there. Thank you for keeping us posted on all that. Appreciate you joining us.
KORNACKI: And up next, Bernie Sanders is hoping he can turn his deja vu candidacy into a winning strategy.
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KORNACKI: Welcome back.
And as we were talking about a couple of minutes ago, Bernie Sanders is back for more. And he`s trying to pull off something we`ve seen a few times in the recent past. A candidate running for president and coming in second place in the primaries and then turning around and running again the next time around.
This was a winning formula for two of our recent presidents. Ronald Reagan just lost out in the 1976 Republican nomination, and then he won it in 1980, and then he won the general election, of course, and became president of the United States. And the guy who came in second to Reagan in the 1980 primaries, George H.W. Bush, he became Reagan`s V.P. Then he won the whole thing in 1988 and others came close.
Bob Dole lost out to Bush in the `88 Republican primaries. Then the next time the nomination came open in 1996, Dole won it, although he ended up losing to Bill Clinton in the fall.
John McCain came in second in 2000 to George W. Bush, and then he won the next open GOP nomination in 2008. And in the 2008 primaries, McCain beat out Mitt Romney who then turned around and won the Republican nomination in 2012.
These examples, of course, are all Republicans. Susan Page was alluding to this a few minutes ago. There used to be a saying in politics that when it comes to taking a presidential nominee, Democrats fall in love, while Republicans fall in line.
But then 2016, well, Democrats pretty much fell in line. Hillary Clinton had come in second to Barack Obama in 2008, she become his secretary of state, she repaired broken relationships in the party, and she took another shot in 2016, and she won the nomination.
And, of course, it was Bernie Sanders who she beat out. So can Sanders get Democrats to fall in line the way these other candidates all did?
Well, the good news for him, he does have a real base of support. He runs second in Democratic polls right now, usually in the high teens, behind only Joe Biden. That`s not as high as say Reagan was, or even Romney was when they started out, but it`s not nearly as bad as Rick Santorum who came in second in 2012, ran again in 2016 and didn`t even register in the polls.
Plus, Democrats say they like Sanders. Their voters do at least. Seventy- five percent have a favorable view of him right now. It`s pretty close to Joe Biden`s level.
There is a baggage, though. There are Hillary alums who blame Sanders for Trump`s win, activists how recent that he`s still a political independent, party leaders who have no interest in backing him. The only person who over came that was McCain who was deeply distrusted by a lot of the GOP establishment and activists.
Sanders` challenge may be steeper though. He`s got a solid floor of support. The question now is whether his detractors in the Democratic Party will succeed in building a low ceiling over that floor.
That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
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