Mueller report expected as soon as next week. TRANSCRIPT: 02/20/2019, Hardball w. Chris Matthews.

Guests: Michael McFaul, Shane Harris, Jon Ralston

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 20, 2019 Guest: Michael McFaul, Shane Harris, Jon Ralston

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: We are going to talk Russia. We are going to talk the Mueller probe as well as all kinds of issues about him, Comey and 2016. I promise you it will be a real interview. Nothing off limits on THE BEAT tomorrow, 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

That does it for us. "HARDBALL" starts right now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Striking a nerve. Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

The steady drum beat of headlines about the Russia probe is striking a nerve with the President. Today, he is lashing out at former FBI director Andrew McCabe and "The New York Times" after their report raised serious questions about whether Trump obstructed justice.

The President tweeted quote "The New York Times" reporting is false. They are a true enemy of the people."

Yesterday, "The Times" revealed that the President has asked about appointing an ally as the prosecutor overseeing the case of Michael Cohen. The report also suggested did Trump`s attacks on the probe could put him in jeopardy.

According to a tally by the "Times," Trump has publicly attacked the Russia probe nearly 1200 times. Among those attacked, Trump has targeted Robert Mueller, James Comey in various law enforcement agencies. While the President has also defended figures involved in the probe, person Trump defends the most is Vladimir Putin and his government in Russia. Something he has done according to the "Times" on 61 occasions since taking office.

At the same time the President continues to belittle the former acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, saying quote "remember this. Andrew McCabe didn`t go to the bathroom without the approval of weaken James Comey." And this comes after McCabe voiced concern about Trump in his most blunt terms to date.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Do you still believe the President could be a Russian asset?

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY FBI DIRECTOR: I think it`s possible. I think that`s why we started our investigation and I`m really anxious to see where director Mueller concludes that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: The "Daily Beast" further described the President has quote "beyond obsessed with McCabe reporting on a White House meeting about immigration early last year.

Quote "during the start of the meeting all Trump wanted to talk about was how much he hated Andrew McCabe," according to a source in the room.

Here is what Trump had to say about McCabe in the oval office today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Andrew McCabe has made a fool out of himself over the last couple of day. And he really looks to me like sort of a poor man`s J. Edgar Hoover. He is a -- I think he is a disaster. And what he was trying to do was terrible and he was caught. I`m very proud to say we caught him. So we will see what happens but he is a disgraced man. He was terminated, not by me. He was terminated by others. The IG report was a disaster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: As the President said, McCabe was fired from the FBI after the department`s Inspector General concluded he violated justice department policy, repeatedly mislead investigators and quote "lacked candor."

McCabe has suggested without evidence that inspector general`s report was influenced by the President and should be noted that the inspector general who investigated McCabe, Michael Horrowitz was appointed by Barack Obama.

Here is McCabe`s reaction to the President`s criticism

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCABE: This one is really interesting to me. The President and, you know, he goes to his tried and true you are a disgrace. You are disaster. These things that he likes to say. But in this one, he actually starts talking about the IG investigation. He seems to make some effort to distance himself in a way from my firing, in a way that I find to be just patently ridiculous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: I`m joined now by the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, Paul Butler is a former federal prosecutor, Michelle Goldberg, a columnist at the "New York Times" and John Podhoretz is the editor of "Commentary magazine."

Thanks to all of you for being with us.

Michelle, I will start with you, trying to make sense of Trump verses McCabe in the court of public opinion. What exactly is going on? We know that Trump -- anybody that comes after him in any way, we know he comes after him in the most blunt and raw of terms. Is that what we are watching here or are we watching something that goes a little deeper than that?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Look. I think on the one hand, it is never clear whether you are just watching an old man have a tantrum. But it`s also true that Trump needs to discredit basically the entire leadership of all of our intelligence services because they are almost unanimous in their abhorrence of his conduct, right, I mean.

So, we have this situation where the fact that the former FBI director, the acting director of the FBI, you know, all the former leadership of the NSA, the CIA, they are all unanimous in talking about how Trump is likely a threat to national security, you know, may be compromised in any sort of normal political environment, that unanimity would seem a sign that we should be alarmed about the President.

What Trump and his allies have done is make that unanimity itself kind of something that we should hold against the intelligence services, right. So the unanimity is a sign of a deep state conspiracy. Instead of a sign that the more people understand about Russia, about counterintelligence, about organized crime, frankly, the more alarm they are about Donald Trump`s conduct.

KORNACKI: The question, John, and again, we have been pointing to this Mueller report that at some point, we are getting some glimpse, and we would talk about that later. But the question here, for a lot of this has been looking at Trump`s actions. The lashing out in public. The decision to fire Comey. Is this Trump being Trump, acting in haste, not thinking things through, creating worse problems, creating perception problems or, again, is he trying to hide something?

JOHN PODHORETZ, EDITOR, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE: I think it`s totally Trump. If he is trying to hide anything, this is the worst possible way to hide anything is to go and attack the people who are saying or hiding something.

If somebody had written a really nasty book about me that he was on a book tour about, I wouldn`t be tweeting and yelling about him five time as day and putting the book at the bestseller list. That is Trump`s lesson from Roy Cohn 40 years ago. You never let anything lie. You are always on the attack. You are always attacking. And Trump does get positive feedback from his most ardent supporters. They love this stuff. But again, it goes to the question of everybody who is not his ardent supporter listens to it and goes what`s going on here? Like is he doing this? He`s the President. Why is he -- if he is so disgusted by McCabe and so contemptuous of McCabe, why is he lowering himself to attacking him this visually four time as day, just like when you are like on the Amazon site thinking about buying the book. Click.

KORNACKI: Michael McFaul, met me bring you into this one, too.

Look. We know in this Trump-McCabe public dispute, we know the President`s issues with credibility. That`s got to factor your judgment, if anything that he says. The question with McCabe though is his own credibility.

I saw there was an interview with him. I think it was on "The View" the other day. Megan McCain look at him and said, look, I just don`t think based on what the inspector general found that you are a necessary a reliable narrator here.

When you look at McCabe, when you look at some of the claims that he is putting out there, how reliable do you think he is?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: I`m not an expert on Andrew McCabe. I`m an expert on Russia. What he says about Russia and what he says about Vladimir Putin and what he says about our President not listening to the intelligence community comports with a lot of other information we have out there. And I think that is what we need to focus us on.

It is extraordinary that we have a President of the United States that consistently attacks his own intelligence community and his own government officials, including the FBI. There`s no period in history that I can remember when the President was doing that. And when I look at it from a national security perspective, I say who does that serve? Whose interests is that serving? It is serving Vladimir Putin`s interest to see the disarray. And then the question becomes that has been raised over the last couple of days, why is the President doing this for Vladimir Putin?

I`m not prepared to answer that question. I don`t know the answer yet. I think we need to wait for Mueller`s report to be released. It is very -- the circumstantial evidence is very strike that he is always supporting Putin and people are beginning to wonder, what is the motivation for him to do that?

KORNACKI: Speaking of that report, you may remember that NBC News reported back in December that Mueller could submit that report as early as this month. Now new reporting today from CNN seems to affirm that timetable quote "attorney general Bill Barr is preparing to announce as early as next week the completion of Robert Mueller`s Russian investigation."

Here is what the President said today when he was asked about that pending potential release.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Should the Mueller report be released while you are abroad next week? TRUMP: That will be totally up to the new attorney general. He is a tremendous man, a tremendous person who really respects this country and respects the justice department. So that will be totally up to him. The new attorney general, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And the "Washington Post" reported late tonight that quote "an advisor to President Trump said there is palpable concern among the President`s inner circle that the report might contain information about Trump and his team that is politically damaging but not criminal conduct.

You know, Paul Butler, let me bring in you because I have been trying to figure out what we can actually expect in terms of what kind of a report will be viewable by the public. I know this issue came up in Barr`s confirmation hearing a few weeks ago. This is going to work a little bit differently than the last much anticipated special counsel`s report, you know. That was Ken Starr with Bill Clinton years ago. That went straight to Congress. Congress could vote to release the whole thing.

This goes into the justice department. So there`s a question here about what any of us in the media, in the public are going to get to see. What is your sense to that?

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So the President actually said something today in a press conference that was true. When asked should the report be released, he said it`s up to William Barr. So this is a man who has a huge amount of power.

This is the most consequential investigation, criminal investigation, national security investigation in American history. How much do the American people get to know about what Mueller has been doing this two years? So during his confirmation hearings, what Barr said wasn`t confident inspiring, you know. There`s a theory that that confirmation hearing was an audition for Barr to be in this position and he is going to do the right thing, which I think would be consistent with grand jury secrecy, allowing as much of the evidence to be transparent, at least, you know, given the light of day as possible.

KORNACKI: Also, Michelle, speaking of that reporting from the "Washington Post" tonight. The White House, may be, you know, wondering what political damage potentially from this report. Their reporting saying political damage but nothing criminal. Is that something everybody should be prepared for the possibility here? Because it seems that the story of the last two years and we had our own reporting about the Senate intel committee looking at this and apparently not finding any direct evidence of collusion.

Just the idea there`s going to be a whole bunch of stuff that looks really bad but nothing actually tangibly criminal definitive.

GOLDBERG: Right. Well, there`s two, collusion and criminal are two different things, right. So collusion -- there is no kind of law against collusion. So it could be that they have plenty of evidence -- we have plenty of evidence in public domain of collusion. I guess the question is whether they prove a criminal conspiracy or else they just show kind of noncriminal acts to, you know, subvert the election and collude against, you know - work against the American people with the help of foreign powers, right.

I mean, I can`t imagine any outcome that`s not ugly. And I hope the bar shouldn`t be criminal conspiracy, right. I mean, there are kind of high crimes and misdemeanors that are not necessarily breaking the law. And so if the report shows that they both worked, you know, kind of actively welcomed the help of Russia in helping Donald Trump to get elected, then provided Russia with all sorts of things they wanted including the relaxation of sanctions and that they then kind of tried to cover it up. And I can`t imagine how, you know, there`s evidence of public domain of all those things. That should be enough.

KORNACKI: Well, that is the question. A good example of this that is in the public domain is the Trump tower meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

KORNACKI: The email comes in. This is part of the Russian government`s effort to help the campaign. Do you want ta meeting? OK. Let`s have the meeting. Then apparently nothing actually comes out of the meeting. So how do you bounce this?

PODHORETZ: Well, we don`t know what`s going on inside the Mueller office. But we know that previous special investigations have been concluded with a written report that provide as narrative of the events and the indictments and tries to wrap everything into a kind of story of what the investigation was about. And we have, I don`t know, it was 34 indictments, 14 convictions. I can`t remember all the numbers. And we have got Manafort. We have got Roger Stone now. We have got Papadopoulos. We got Flynn. We got so and so.

And so he could be writing an account that says there was all this smoke and there was all this stuff and all these people around Trump did all these things that were weird and bad and in some cases criminal.

We don`t have anything that ties Trump to any of this directly. But he was the person that top. And it is now up to the political system to decide whether or not he bears responsibility for the behavior of the people under him. I think that`s the likeliest of scenarios and it could be politically extraordinarily damaging. But the White House can always say they came up with nothing. They even got paid.

BUTLER: Steve, I want to respectfully dissent. I think there`s plenty of information in the public domain that the president of the United States has committed serious felonies. So the "New York Times" report today that he asked the acting attorney general to switch prosecutors in the New York investigation to one that would go easy on him. That means that Matt Whitaker is an eyewitness to a felony by the President of the United States. His dangled pardon for --.

KORNACKI: Can we stay up for a second because I`m curious about that. Take me through that. You are saying that`s a felony. What if the defense from Trump, I imagine would be, I asked a question. I thought can I get this guy in there and I was told no and I didn`t do it. It still a felony?

BUTLER: Yes, it is. So, if you try to corruptly with a corrupt motive impede an official investigation you are guilty of the five or ten year felony of obstruction. You don`t actually have to accomplish it, you just have to try. And the issue with Trump is always, well, how can you prove corrupt intent? How do you prove that motive?

But we know, again, he has dangled pardons in front of Roger Stone and Paul Manafort. He said mean things, intimidating things about Michael Cohen and his family. So there come as time when the evidence is so cumulative that it becomes obvious.

PODHORETZ: Well, it can be but it can also be not. In other words, if you don`t have anything but a series of presumptions that he wanted to do this for corrupt intent. He was literally dangling pardons, as opposed to saying things, as I say Mueller can say everything leads to some of these ideas, but we don`t have binding glue that will lead to, you know, indictable offences and that actually is really the bailiwick (ph) of the House and its investigations into impeachment.

If Mueller provides enough information that can be used by the, you know, by the House judiciary committee to look into obstruction charges. But I don`t think from what we know about what Mueller is doing if he is stopping next week, but we should be expecting him to say Donald Trump committed five felonies.

PODHORETZ: I mean, it doesn`t feel that way. It seems like if he had that, he could have announced it a month ago.

KORNACKI: And I guess that is the other thing. There is - we have been saying this all along with this investigation. There`s this stuff that emerges in the press and gets us all talking about one thing we have seen a bunch of times out. Then there`s some kind of action from Mueller that gets us talking about something else. If the report does come out, in the next week or two, maybe we will go through that even potentially on a bigger scale.

Thank you, though, to John Podhoretz, Michelle Goldberg, Paul Butler and Ambassador Michael McFaul, appreciate you all being with us.

And coming up, Trump`s top intel official could be on his way out. The President reportedly questioning the loyalty of Dan Coates, the director of national intelligence. Not to his loyalty to the country but to Trump.

Also, for years Republicans have tried to make liberal a dirty word and may have had to the big board and show you some interesting polling on Democrats. I don`t seem scared of that label anymore. And interesting divide among Democrats on that as well.

And Bernie Sanders comes fast out of the gate. His eye popping fundraising numbers on day one of his president -- I remember when candidates took months to raise what he just raised in a day.

So much more after the break. You are watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: We have some breaking news.

The White House has announced on Twitter that Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall.

DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Say that again.

(LAUGHTER)

MITCHELL: Vladimir Putin coming to the...

COATS: Did I hear you? Did I hear you?

MITCHELL: Yes.

COATS: Yes. OK.

MITCHELL: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

COATS: That`s going to be special.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats last July reacting the news that Russian President Vladimir Putin had been invited to Washington.

It`s one of several times Coats has found himself at apparent odds with President Trump.

In a hearing last month on security threats to the United States, he contradicted President Trump on a host of issues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we have won against ISIS. We have beaten them, and we have beaten them badly.

COATS: ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.

TRUMP: It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement.

COATS: We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.

TRUMP: We have made a lot of progress as far as denuclearization is concerned. Things are going very well with North Korea.

COATS: We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: The president later claimed that Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel told him they had been misquoted.

But new reporting suggests that tension remains.

"The Washington Post" reports -- quote -- "Privately, the president has continued to fume. And this weekend, he told an adviser that Coats is not loyal and he`s not on the team."

When asked about Coats and his fate today, President Trump said he -- quote -- "hadn`t even thought about firing him."

I`m joined now by Shane Harris, national security correspondent and co- author of that report in "The Washington Post," and Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA.

Thanks to both of you for being with us.

Shane, let me start with you.

The idea that the president doesn`t think Coats is loyal, is it because of what we just showed there, Trump making claim X in public, Coats saying this in his testimony before Congress, or is there something more to it?

SHANE HARRIS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think that`s largely part of it. The president doesn`t like to be contradicted or embarrassed in public, or in private, for that matter.

But we also understand that, in briefings where the DNI, Director Coats, has been present, he`s also been sort of forceful and candid in his views as well. And I think -- gather that, in some of those instances, it`s turned somewhat argumentative, where the president has gone off on tangents, and the DNI can`t kind of bring him back in.

I think he sees him, frankly, as somebody who is there to try and maybe school him or one-up him. He`s felt threatened by him, embarrassed by him in those public remarks. And they just never really clicked internally.

There are other people in the administration at national security levels and positions that the president has, for whatever reason, gotten along better with. And now I think Dan Coats is the latest one to be sort of in the crosshairs with this president. He frequently tends to turn on senior officials, one after the other.

And it looks like it`s Dan Coats` turn right now.

KORNACKI: Well, and that word, too, loyalty, it always does seem to come back to Trump`s perception of whoever it is, his loyalty to him.

Jeremy Bash, just in terms of the testimony we`re hearing, Trump makes a claim in public, whether it`s about North Korea, whatever the subject is, when it involves national security, and then Coats goes in there before Congress.

Tell us about what it is Coats doing in those sessions. These are national intelligence estimates -- assessments, I should say, that he is -- that he`s preparing and providing to Congress?

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO LEON PANETTA: Yes, I think there are two settings, Steve, where the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, is causing some problems for the president.

First, as referenced, in the public setting, in front of all of the cameras, in front of the public and the Senate Intelligence Committee, the director of national intelligence, flanked by all of the leaders of the intelligence agencies, they are providing unclassified, coordinated assessments on the big issues.

ISIS remains a threat. Iran is complying with the nuclear deal. North Korea is not denuclearizing. Russia continues to attack our democracy and other democracies.

And that obviously is contrary to what the president says. And herein Dan Coats is saying something that you don`t say as a Trump official. He said the truth.

Second, in the closed, classified settings, in the National Security Council, in the Oval Office, or in the White House Situation Room, I think they`re preparing the president for this summit with Kim Jong-un. And before every summit, the intelligence community come forward with a number of assessments.

Are they complying? Are they doing what they said they would do? And I bet -- I don`t know this for certain -- I bet the assessments are saying, Mr. President, they have not been complying, they have not been denuclearizing.

And that undercuts the president`s core thesis about what is at stake at this summit here coming up.

KORNACKI: Right.

Well, on that subject, Trump was asked today about that pending meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un next week in Vietnam, and how hard it would be to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I don`t think this will be the last meeting, by any chance. But I do think that the relationship is very strong.

I don`t think they`re reluctant. I think they want to do something. I haven`t taken sanctions off. I would love to be able to. But in order to do that, we have to do something that`s meaningful on the other side.

But Chairman Kim and I have a very good relationship. I wouldn`t be surprised to see something work out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And, meanwhile, the AP reports that President Trump may be considering a peace declaration and an end to the Korean War in the meeting to persuade Kim to commit to denuclearization.

Well, Jeremy, if you`re -- if you`re right there, if he`s getting pessimistic assessments there about North Korea, and he is saying what we just heard today, is that -- could there be a strategy of some sort behind that, in terms of a negotiating strategy, or is that just a president who`s looking to put a -- sort of a good face on this?

BASH: Yes, normal presidents, Steve, are prepared, they receive these briefings in advance.

I think what is probably happening here is, the president doesn`t like the preparation. He doesn`t like what he`s hearing. And so he`s dismissing the briefers, and he`s saying, I don`t have to listen to them. I can go my own way.

But Dan Coats is a highly honorable public servant, obviously a former Republican senator, a former Republican ambassador to Germany. He`s got longstanding credibility with the intelligence community and our government. And I think he`s just telling the truth.

KORNACKI: Well, Shane, in terms of Coats` standing, I say the president now has sort of set his sights on him, calling him -- saying behind the scenes that he`s not loyal.

What is your sense of the job security for Dan Coats? Is this something where the president`s attention might shift after the meeting next week, might go on to something else, maybe this Mueller report we were talking about comes out, and Coats just sticks around? Does Coats want to stick around?

HARRIS: Well, the president has gone after certain officials publicly, and then they hang around for a lot longer than we thought their shelf life would be. Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, comes to mind there as well.

So, it`s possible the president could just move on to something else. The director has clearly understood that the relationship with the president is not great and not as strong as maybe he would like it to be for some time.

But now the president is voicing this publicly. This follows a pattern that we have seen before where he sort of puts them on notice, and now begins this sort of process of public humiliation, where the official has to hang on and do his or her job, despite all of it, or try to sort of quietly move towards the exits.

I don`t think the president would try to stop him if he left. None of this is news to the director, I have to say. But I think now we`re entering that phase where it`s kind of kicking it into Dan Coats` court, and it`s up to him, ultimately, how he wants to go out.

I`m sure, as Jeremy said, those briefings are going on prior to the North Korea summit, and that the director is taking that very seriously. I can`t expect that he`s just going to quit while that`s happening.

But I would not expect that he is much longer for that job. But, in Trump land, I mean, anything`s possible.

KORNACKI: It`s interesting too. There is sort of a ritual-like quality to some of these things. You can recognize patterns kind of across the last couple years.

Shane Harris, Jeremy Bash, thank you both for joining us.

And up next: The number of Democrats who call themselves liberals is on the rise. I`m heading over to the Big Board. I`m going to break down who among Democrats in particular is saying that and what it could mean for 2020.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: And welcome back to HARDBALL.

Let`s talk about the L-word. Democrats used to run in terror from it. Republicans used to try to tag it on every Democrat running for every office in the country. It used to be a politically lethal word.

The question is, does liberal still have the same bite it used to? A lot of evidence things have changed. One of the big pieces of evidence that things have changed, the number of Democrats who now call themselves liberals.

Some interesting new polling information from Gallup. They track all of these trends over time. You can see how the -- really, the whole world, the whole political world changes thanks to these numbers.

So let me take you through here. The use of the word liberal, Democrats who would say that, when you say, hey, what are you politically, who would call themselves liberal, well, look, you go back. This is from 2006. This is about a dozen years old, 13 years old.

About a third of Democrats, 32 percent, said they were liberal. Two-thirds said either moderate or conservative. That`s how it was. George W. Bush was president back then. Remember, he had just been reelected in `04.

Here`s what it is now. Look at that number. It`s gone in the last dozen years from 32 to 46 percent of Democrats who call themselves liberal. You see moderate falling down there, conservative falling off a little bit. Almost half of Democrats now call themselves liberal.

Here`s the other interesting thing, though. This is not necessarily evenly spread out across the Democratic Party, where this movement is happening. Check it out this way.

Used to be, if you looked at sort of the racial breakdown in the Democratic Party, about a third of white -- it was pretty even here, between a quarter and a third black -- black, white, Hispanic call themselves liberal.

Here`s the shift in the last 12 years. Look at this. Among white Democrats, it`s now a majority, a leap of 20 points. A majority of white Democrats now call themselves liberals. Among African-Americans, among Hispanics, there has been an increase. It has not been as dramatic. It`s not nearly at majority state yet. Among whites, it is, though.

You see this, 54 percent of whites who call themselves liberal. Other characteristics, it looks like you find in there, according to the polling, folks with college degrees. With graduate degrees, then you really start to see it. Folks maybe who aren`t as religious as we have seen in the past, secular, that also seems to tie into it.

How about this? Break it down this way. The people who identify as liberal Democrats, two-thirds of them are white, 17 percent are black, 13 percent are Hispanic. Two-thirds of self-identified liberal Democrats now are white.

Flip it around. Look at the other end of the party. There are still a fairly significant number of conservative Democrats out there, and, actually, whites are barely a plurality; 40 percent of them are white; 35 percent of them are black; 22 percent are Hispanic.

So it`s interesting to see that. Liberal Democrats tend to be overwhelmingly pretty heavily white. Moderate, conservative, a little bit more diverse. Think about that.

We talk about all these different groups, how they`re going to react to all the different candidates out there for the Democratic side in 2020. We do a lot of demographic breakdowns. That`s something to keep in mind there, how you ask people, ideologically, where they stand, how that has changed and how that breaks down now, something to keep in mind there.

And speaking of 2020, up next, Bernie Sanders, his fund-raising haul pretty impressive, you got to say. Mind-blowing, maybe, even is the word for the first 24 hours of his candidacy. We will tell you exactly how much he raised.

I think they might still be counting the cash -- what it could mean for his candidacy, what it could mean for his many other opponents in this race. Even the Trump campaign seemed to take notice today.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Twenty-four hours after announcing his 2020 presidential campaign, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has raised a record setting $6 million, most of it from small dollar donors, according to the Sanders` campaign. Sanders entered a crowded field of Democrats. Several of them are already campaigning on similar progressive ideas. Republicans have seized on his entrance into the race to paint the entire party as out of touch with American values.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONNA MCDANIEL, RNC CHAIRWOMAN: Bernie Sanders is going to force Democrats to lurch further to the left, further to the progressive socialist side of the Democrat Party. You`re already seeing candidates trying to out-Bernie Bernie.

I think they`re all terrible. I like them more in (ph), I want a long drawn out primary. I want this to go well into the summer of 2020 so that it takes them a long time to pick their candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And the "Washington Post" writes that Democratic candidates will be pressed by opposing forces, quote, voters hungry for leftist policies and the need to court centrist voters who could be alienated by the party`s turn to the left. Recent polls show the majority of Democrats and Democrat leaning independents want someone new and someone who can beat Trump. The question now is who is the most in touch with the party they`re running to represent.

For more, I`m joined by Kimberly Atkins, senior Washington news correspondent at WBUR, and Jon Ralston, editor of "The Nevada Independent."

Thanks to both of you for being with us.

Kimberly, let me start with you. I mean, we talk about, center lane, left, progressive. But the question to me is when you`re looking at the polls and we just mentioned it there, Democrats say electability, somebody who beat Trump. That quality polls off the chart right now.

But that`s the open question. In the age of Trump, when all of the rules and assumptions we`ve had about politics seem to be up for debate, what qualifies as electable anymore? That`s sort of the question that the candidacy like Sanders raises, because 10 years ago, we would have said no question he can`t win.

KIMBERLY ATKINS, WBUR SENIOR WASHINGTON NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, that is a standard loom over the entire primary process, right? That`s what the person who comes out of this primary on the Democratic side has to worry about, the ability to beat the incumbent president, the ability to beat specifically, Donald Trump. And we saw four years ago the way that Donald Trump campaigns during a general election, you have to have somebody who can stand up to that.

But right now, it appears that Democrats are focusing not just on that. They really don`t seem to be talking about Donald Trump as much as they are talking about policy. They seem to be having this general hashing out as to where they`re staking their campaigns and it won`t be a lot of time for them to do this, unfortunately, to focus on this policy, because pretty soon, Donald Trump is going to come in and start inserting himself more and more into the Democratic side. We saw seen him call Bernie Sanders a name after the news of his big fund raising haul.

So, Donald Trump is going to make himself known on this side. But in the meanwhile we see Democrats staking out their claim as to what they see the party, where they see the party as moving and where they stand. I think you`re absolutely right. You`re seeing them not being afraid to back the more left-leaning policies like the Green New Deal, like Medicare-for-All, and a less of a fear about getting labels and being labeled as a progressive.

KORNACKI: And, Jon Ralston, what Kimberly has mentioned there caught my attention yesterday. Trump made a couple comments about Bernie Sanders. One thing he talked about is this idea of, you know, hey, Sanders was treated poorly by the Democratic Party in 2016. I think there`s some Sanders supporters that echoes with.

I guess the cynical side of me senses that`s a president who see as chance to drive a women through the other party`s primary.

JON RALSTON, THE NEVADA INDEPENDENT EDITOR: It`s not the cynical side. It`s the experienced side of you. We both know what he`s doing there. And as Kimberly said, he`s going to insert himself into this primary every chance he gets.

Let`s be clear about something, Steve. We`re not normal talking about this so long from the election, right? There are so many wild cards out there on the Democratic side and to some extent on the Trump side of the equation. We don`t know whether Joe Biden or Beto O`Rourke are auditioning for the role of Hamlet when they`re going to decide what to do that could throw a wrench into all of this.

We don`t know how some of this fist-time candidates, Bernie is not a first- time candidate here, are actually going to perform under the crucible and the heat of all of this that`s about to come down, not just from Trump but from others and as you mentioned, all the rules have changed, not just because of Trump but because of what goes on in social media and how things that we never considered being pushed out to the forefront are going to have. So, there`s just so many wild cards out there, but as you mentioned, Bernie being able to raise that much money that quickly is a hopeful sign for him.

But there is still -- and you know this better than I do, Steve, a lot of bitterness that is residually there from 2016 within the Democratic Party about what happened.

KORNACKI: Yes, right, and this thing plays out, obviously, if Sanders does start getting traction and actually looks like he`s got shot at the nomination, be interesting to see what kind of forces emerge there, remember that on the other side and maybe try to stop him too and see how that plays out. But that`s getting way ahead of ourselves.

John Ralston, Kimberly Atkins, thank you both for joining us.

And up next, the son of a Republican congressional candidate says he warned his father the absentee ballot operation in ninth congressional district in North Carolina could be illegal. It was an explosive third day of hearings down there in Raleigh on potential election fraud. A seat in Congress hangs in the balance.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Republican Mark Harris thought he`d be serving in Congress by now. Instead, he is expected to testify tomorrow about questions of potential election tampering by a political operative that he hired to win North Carolina`s ninth congressional district race. Over the past three days, election officials have been trying to determine to what extent that operative, McCrae Dowless is his name, may have collected and tampered with absentee ballots and exactly what the Harris campaign knew about his efforts.

Harris has maintained that no one raised any red flags about the past accusations against Dowless.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never heard one red flag?

MARK HARRIS (R-NC), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: No, not in that meeting. In that meeting, it was very clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not all, ever?

HARRIS: No, except -- I mean, they -- I would later learn that obviously there had been things that in the past that had been looked into, but everything that had been looked into, everything had come out just perfectly fine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: But today, Harris`s son, an assistant U.S. attorney in North Carolina contradicted his father`s claim. He testified that he raised a red flag with his father before Dowless was hired to work on the campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN HARRIS, CANDIDATE MARK HARRIS` SON: I expressed my concerns based on everything that I did know up to that point, mainly my belief that McCrae had engaged in collecting ballots in 2016. Now, that belief was based on my review of absentee voter data that I`ve already described. I told him that collecting ballots was a felony.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: For more, I`m joined now in Raleigh by Leigh Ann Caldwell, political reporter for NBC News. She has been covering all of this hearing.

Leigh Ann, that surprised me. Was that expected? That testimony today? And what has it done to this case?

LEIGH CALDWELL, NBC NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER: Oh, Steve, the hearing took quite a turn this afternoon when Mark Harris`s son took the stand. Not even Mark Harris knew his son was going to testify and he essentially testified against him. He said that he had warned his father about Dowless and he advised him not to hire him but Mark Harris did not listen to his advice and here we are today. So, I think that dramatically changes the direction of this hearing. Mark Harris is expected to take the stand tomorrow under definitely new circumstances.

KORNACKI: Speaking there -- you mentioned that scene today. At the end of the testimony, Harris` son added this emotional appeal. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN HARRIS: I love my dad. I love my mom. OK. I certainly have vendetta against them, no family scores to settle. OK. I think they made mistakes and they certainly did things differently than I would have done them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Quite a scene there.

And, Leigh Ann, just quickly, what are you hearing from lawyers for both sides about where they think things are going now?

CALDWELL: Yes, this is quite a change and it was an unexpected change. I mean, central to Mark Harris`s entire argument is that that he had no knowledge of any illegal activity that Dowless participated in during his campaign or in the lead up, and this totally obliterates that argument. And so, I know the McCready camp is quite happy with these developments and now, the Harris campaign is going to try to figure out what their defense is going to be before he talks the stand in just about 13 hours.

KORNACKI: OK. Well, that is something we are not going to want to miss tomorrow. Glad you are down there following it.

Mark Harris to testify tomorrow. All eyes will be on that.

Leigh Ann Caldwell in Raleigh, thank you for keeping us updated on this all week.

Up next, Virginia`s three top officials are still in office despite facing major, to put it mildly, controversies. New polling tells us why.

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KORNACKI: Ralph Northam is still the governor of Virginia tonight and when you take a step back, that`s pretty surprising. It was three weeks ago that an old yearbook photo appeared to show Northam either wearing blackface or dressed as Klansman. He couldn`t recall which when he initially admitted to being in the photo.

Then a day later, he changed his story, he denied being in the photo at all. But at that point, just about every Democrat with any kind of a title in Virginia and across the country -- they were all demanding that he`d step down, and yet he hasn`t. And it`s looking like he`s not going to.

And here`s the part that most experts did not see coming. A lot of his constituents are OK with that. A new poll today from Virginia, it`s from Quinnipiac. A plurality of Virginians, they found, there are 48 percent of them in this poll say that their governor, that Northam should not resign. Only 42 percent say that he should.

To understand why, well, it`s not a simple story. For instance, look at this, this is the break down by race. Ask white Virginians if Northam should go, and 46 percent of them say yes, that`s the same number who say no. It`s an even split.

Ask black Virginians and a majority, 56 percent say no, the governor should not resign. Thirty-one percent say that he should.

Understanding that disparity, why Northam is getting the benefit of the doubt from more black voters than white voters, that would require a discussion much more expansive than we can tackle in this segment. An obvious complicating factor here is that Virginia`s lieutenant governor, the man who would succeed Northam if he does quit, Justin Fairfax, is now facing two sexual assault allegations, both of which he denies, but which could obviously add to voters` reluctance to turn out Northam right now.

But this also makes me think back to the numbers I show at the board earlier this hour, that among Democrats, it`s white voters who are quickly and dramatically aligning themselves with liberalism, much more than black voters. It`s black voters disproportionately who are more likely to call themselves conservatives or moderates. It runs counter to a lot of assumptions you see in political commentary.

We think of black voters as a bedrock Democratic Party constituency and it`s true, black voters are a bedrock Democratic Party constituency. But too often, that then gets automatically equated with a whole host of liberal values, attitudes and policy positions.

The new poll from Virginia, though, is yet another reminder of something we should all know by now, that reality is a lot more complicated and a lot of interesting than conventional wisdom often suggests it is.

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

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