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Awaiting key Manafort sentencing memo. TRANSCRIPT: 02/22/2019, Hardball w. Chris Matthews.

Guests: Gabby Orr, Danielle Moodie-Mills, Nan Hayworth, Sue Mi Terry, Nicholas Kristof; Kim Wehle

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 22, 2019 Guest: Gabby Orr, Danielle Moodie-Mills, Nan Hayworth, Sue Mi Terry, Nicholas Kristof; Kim Wehle


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

At any moment now Robert Mueller`s prosecutors will file a key memo in the sentencing of the President`s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. And that could answer questions at the heart of the Russia probe including whether the special counsel considers Manafort crucial to showing possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

A judge last week ruled that Manafort lied about his communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate with ties with Russian intelligence. In her ruling, the judge questioned Manafort`s loyalty to the United states saying quote "this is a problematic attempt to shield his Russian conspirator from liability and it gives rise to legitimate questions about where his loyalties lie, specifically Manafort lied about sharing internal campaign polling data with Kilimnik and discussing a so- called peace plan for Ukraine that would benefit Russia."

As Mueller`s prosecutor told the court quote "this goes to the heart of what the special counsel`s office is investigating."

All of this, however, begs the question why would Manafort risk spending the rest of his life in jail to keep those discussions secret? Prosecutors have floated the theory that Manafort may hope to be pardoned by the President. There has been reporting to show that a pardon has been considered since 2017. But Trump was most direct about the possibility late last year telling the "New York Post" quote "I wouldn`t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?" Yet, the President can only pardon federal crimes, not state offenses.

And now "Bloomberg" is reporting that to ensure Manafort isn`t let off the hook quote "New York State prosecutors have put together a criminal case against Paul Manafort that they could file quickly if the former chairman of Donald Trump`s 2016 campaign receives a presidential pardon.

I`m joined now by former federal prosecutor, Kim Wehle, Tom Winter is an investigative report with NBC News, Nicholas Kirstof is a columnist with the "New York Times" and Noah Rothman is an associate editor at "Commentary Magazine."

Tom, let me just start with you. As I say we are waiting on this filing here. Take us through what you are going to be looking for what we might possibly be learning here in the next couple of minutes.

TOM WINTER, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, I feel like this is becoming a Friday tradition here waiting for sentencing memos and filings. What we anticipate tonight, and I think it`s -- I don`t know if it`s going to differ much from what we saw last Friday which is when you have a recommendation from the department of probation saying this is what the expected guidelines or the expected range of how long Paul Manafort should be in jail? Then what will be interesting and what we want to see is whether or not the special counsel`s office says we either agree with that, we endorse that, we want more time, we want less time. Typically they don`t died above that but it is possible that they could and whether or not they have anything to say about it at all.

The other thing that would be interesting to see is if any parts this have redacted materials or if any parts of this list additional behavior that Paul Manafort wasn`t charged with things that he did that he was charged with, but things that end up becoming a part of a sentencing memorandum. They can bring in what is called other bad acts. So basically, they can say, hey, here is little things that we didn`t charged him with but here`s all the things that he did that were wrong.

So we could get that in the report tonight. We didn`t see a lot of that in last week`s filing. So you would be curious to see whether or not we get it. But that is something that`s on the table.

KORNACKI: And we put it in the intro there. And the key question, I think hearing just in this entire investigation, we have been asking -- everybody`s been asking all along. You have the whole situation with Manafort, you know, the campaign chairman. You got all these different connections to Russia where constantly talking about the question of whether that adds up to evidence of some other kind of coordination, of some kind of collusion. Is there going to be -- it possible in this filing there will be some kind of indication of what Mueller is or is not thinking then?

WINTER: Well, I think you are thinking on the right path. So I think the thing that we would be interesting to see is whether or not if there`s more about this meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik, somebody that the FBI has identified as being associated with Russian intelligence services. So it would be interesting it see if we hear more about that. Was there anything improper or illegal that occurred in those series of meetings and communications? Or was this just all about more business that Paul Manafort wanted to do in the Ukraine?

I mean, I think once Paul Manafort left the Trump campaign, there were all these questions about him specifically as far as his contacts with Russia, his past business dealings. So I think he was a little radioactive, as the Washington D.C. saying goes. You know, this is not a guy that I think a lot of people were excited to do business with. He is somebody that didn`t last until the end of the Trump campaign. Somebody that reporters including myself and colleagues here wrote a lot about.

So I thing he probably foresaw the need to do business elsewhere. Ukraine is a place that he had a lot of success. So was it all tied to that or was it tied to this internal polling data? Was there more to as far as the information that he showed with Konstantin Kilimnik? And then where did that information go? I don`t think we are going to get it all tonight. I done think we are going to get the full cake. But I think we will get maybe some crumbs or maybe some additional information about it. I think that`s possible.


Here is the interesting question to me, too, on that polling data. Is that what you put in the realm sort of clients service of trying to impress a client? Or is that somebody gets to something more sinister?

Kim, let me bring you in on this, too. Have the judge saying basically that Manafort is putting himself in this position facing of what apparently he is going to be facing here in terms of prison time because he is trying to shield a Russian associate and raises the question everybody is asking. Why would he put himself in position he would be facing what he is facing to shield a Russian associate?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes. And the judge went On the Record well beyond the notion of while maybe he forgot and maybe it was just difficult for him to misremember or, you know, time has passed. She listen, said this is a creation of affirmative narrative that defied the facts. She said that several times. So there wasn`t any ambiguity here as to whether he was lying and not just lying because he just made a mistake, but affirmatively lying.

And we know that the Russians have what is called compromat, right. The notion that we have dirt on you and we can hold that over you and control you. And the question is do they have that on Manafort? And of course, the bigger question is if they have it on Manafort, do they have it on Manafort`s boss, who is now the President of the United States? I don`t think we will find that out from this filing.

One other little wrinkle, though, the judge found, with respect to the allegations of the special counsel that Mr. Manafort had lied about his communications or attempts to communicate with the White House. That was one piece that she said she didn`t believe that the special counsel had sufficient information to show an intentional lie. So it is possible, he let the door open for them to come back on that particular issue which of course bears on a broader question of speculation, but witness tampering or obstruction of justice.

KORNACKI: Yes. I mean, Nick, just trying to look at this sort of the court of public opinion here is a question of how to think about Manafort in all of this. Is this a sort of washed up political operative who found his way in a presidential campaign after kind of being shut out of American politics and saw this incredible business opportunity here and was trying to impress this Russian guy. Look what a big shot I am. I have this polling data. Or was he the key in a conduit in some sort of relationship here?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Man, it sure looks suspicious. And you know, it is hard to know exactly how we connect those dots, but those dots are all over. I mean, you look in particular at an August 2nd, 2016 meeting that Manafort had a dinner meeting with Kilimnik. Kilimnik flew all the way to New York for this meeting. They left by separate entrances. This is where they discussed the Ukraine deal that Russia very much wanted to get out of the Ukraine mess. It was where Manafort apparently may have handed over this polling data which goes to the heart of the concerns about Russian manipulation and the election.

And then of course, what happened after and whether there was some discussion of a pardon, which is maybe why Manafort is -- has been, you know, double dealing with the prosecutor, that goes to the questions of the obstruction of justice. So this is really at middle, at center and I don`t know whether the sentencing memo is going to connect those dots for us. But this is kind of what we have been waiting for.

KORNACKI: You say that waiting on this memo, this filing tonight, there is also this. We have had numerous reports in the last couple days about the potential conclusion of Mueller`s investigation. NBC News is now reporting that the department of justice is not expecting to receive the report from Mueller by the end of next week. Nevertheless, President Trump was asked today whether he has discussed upcoming report with his new attorney general.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Have you spoken to Bill Barr about the release of the Mueller report? Have you spoken to him about that?



TRUMP: I have not.


TRUMP: At some point I guess I will be talking about it. But you know the nice part, there was no collusion, there was no obstruction, there was no anything. So I look forward to seeing the report. If it`s an honest report, it will say that. If it`s not an honest report, it won`t.


KORNACKI: Noah, I`m curious - I mean, we have all been watching this for a couple years now, kind of building towards this moment. What is Mueller going to find? What kind of report? There is a question here of exactly what we will get to see from him. But where are your expectations having in all of this?

NOAH ROTHMAN, ASSOCIATE REPORTER, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE: My expectations are this isn`t going to end with Mueller`s are port, whatever he finds. As we learned tonight, Mr. Cohen is now speaking to the southern district, talking about the Trump organization`s potentially shady dealings before the 2016 campaign.

I suspect that we are probably not going to get the definitive conclusion that everybody wants to have that you will say there was a conspiracy to defraud the government and work with Russian officials.

In the Manafort`s conclusion of his trial here or his sentencing memo is going to be particularly illuminating I think because the President will probably just be one dot in one of those many dots. Mr. Manafort`s relationship with Kilimnik predate 16. They had a relationship that has reported on involving an effort to discredit an opposition figure over there, (INAUDIBLE) which involve European politicians, journalists and especially Russian government officials. And there`s a whole lot of figures here that are going to be tied into the President. He is just going to be ancillary figure there. The political narrative could be very damaging for him, but he might just be a bit player.

KORNACKI: Well then -- and that`s the interesting possibility here.

And Nick, one of the parallels I`m starting to think about in my mind a little bit is in the 2016 campaign when Comey had the press conference with Hillary Clinton and the emails. OK, there`s not going to be charges, there is not going to be a case made here but then he proceeded to make a pretty damaging political case against her. Is it possible that we are going to sort - that`s going to be the upshot of what happens here with Mueller?

KRISTOF: It certainly is going to be complicated, of course, with Trump off in Vietnam trying to deal with North Korea at the one hand as things unfolding next week. I also, I wonder indeed if the focus isn`t going to shift more than the southern district of New York and investigations of the Trump organization finances, of the family and that`s going to be another whole complicating layer on top of everything that we have been talking about. The fact that Michael Cohen was talking about evidence that he had to offer the southern district. I would be deeply concerned with that I think if I were in the White House with that aspect as well.

KORNACKI: On the subject too of Michael Cohen, the President`s former lawyer, the fixer, the term we always use there, expected to testify next week in front of three different congressional committees. One of which on Wednesday with be in an open public hearing.

This comes as the "New York Times" reports that Cohen spoke last month with federal prosecutors in New York quote "offering information about possible irregularities within the President`s family business. And about a donor to the inaugural committee.

According to the Times, that included a discussion about insurance claims the company filed over the years, though there was no indication Cohen implicated the President in any of those irregularities.

Tom, my question about all of this is you had the opportunity for Mueller, the sort of the lead guy here, to talk to Cohen presumably about anything he wanted. If Mueller didn`t take something from Cohen, is there much left?

WINTER: Well, I think this is the point where we need to really remember what special counsel Robert Mueller`s mandate was, which was very specific and we have seen from the cases that he has brought and for the cases that he hasn`t brought that he has turn over to other districts that he kept very much close to that mandate that we know of so far.

And what as that mandate? It was strictly to look in the Russia`s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and whether or not the Trump campaign coordinated any of that or whether or not they had any sort of knowledge of it essentially.

And so, I think if it`s this type of material that Michael Cohen is speaking about to prosecutors here in New York, that`s outside of Mueller`s mandate. So it makes perfect sense that this is a discussion that he would have with prosecutors here.

Frankly, it`s the thing that he needs do if he has a shot of knocking down three years of jail sentence. Because what he is going to serve as far as his sentence tied to the special counsel which is specifically lying to Congress and having to do with the Trump tower project, usually not facing any significant time for that. The significant time is for his - for the crimes he committed in New York that have been prosecuted by prosecutors here.

So from that standpoint, he really needs to try to help them out more because they said he wasn`t very cooperative with them, leading up to his sentencing back in December. So I think for him, it is really important that his priority, if I was his attorney would say hey, give the southern district everything that you can in hopes that you could get a post- conviction some sort of cooperation or some sort of statement from the government saying hey, you know, we would like the knock down the sentence a little bit further because that`s really what he needs right now.

KORNACKI: And Kim, on the subject that the southern district there to that idea that is sort of there is -- it`s almost a backup venue potentially if there`s a pardon of Paul Manafort from the President. At some point, the prospects of a presidential pardon for Manafort. How do you read this?

WEHLE: Well, we have heard that there might be some state charges pending that or coming down the pipe, that would be immunized from the pardon. The President could not pardon him.

But I do think the southern district of New York is really crucial here because if we can`t indict a sitting president, if that OLC guidance is adhere to, if -- I just should note I don`t think it is entirely clear there will be a public report period under the regulations even it is produced. It`s not required that it be made public. So if that`s not made public, then the question has to be a political resolution. And that for a political resolution, I think Mr. Cohen`s testimony is really crucial. A crucial first step and the American public seeing the story here, hearing the narrative from one person`s perspective of what it was like to be involved in the Trump world and in the Trump campaign and of course we have a five-year statute limitations under the federal law. So if Mr. Trump gets a second term, he would escape that statute of limitation.

So to the political implication is not just for impeachment, but for also for a second term of office are absolutely crucial. So I think all eyes should be on the Congress going forward.

KORNACKI: Yes. I said southern district. Anyway, there`s Mueller, there is the southern district, there`s state charges too. That`s what I was trying to get at there in my own clumsy, stupid, way.

Noah, here is the interesting thing too, also, in terms of the political fallout here, you have got Adam Schiff, who is sort of one of the lead investigator in the Democratic side in the House. He is basically he is out with an op-ed now calling on Republicans to stand up publicly against Trump. In terms of what we can expect from a Mueller report potentially, from these filings, whatever is going to be coming in the next couple of weeks, what is it going to take? What would it take do you think to see a shift in how Republicans are publicly approaching this President?

ROTHMAN: Well, it have to be something the bombshell. With respect to Mr. Schiff, he says, that you know, you speak to me in private and say how, you know, disturb you are but you don`t talk about that in public. And frankly, that doesn`t correspond with my reading of events. This President has been subject to quite a bit of criticism from the members of his party, more so than is normal for any particular president who is the leader of his party, which is demonstrative of how abnormal this presidency is.

Up to an including specifically things that Mr. Schiff says Republicans don`t criticize, like how he goes after judges. The Republicans did criticize him when he attacked chief justice - the Supreme Court. They did criticize him when he went after his own justice department for indicting two members of this party ahead of the election. They have them pretty critical at this president. So it is not like there has been no president set. If something really damaging comes out of this report, I don`t suspect Republicans with be inclined to keep quiet about it. They do have a conscience and they had acted on it.

WINTER: I might say, I mean, do we think there is more of a gulf now between what Republicans say publicly about this President, where there is a private way more and so than that gulf and other presidencies?

ROTHMAN: No. There`s certainly political imperatives on Republicans to refrain from excessively damaging the leader of their own party because it we would written down negatively to them and their political prospects. And that`s essentially what happens with every party and every political environment. But the fact that this President is such a departure has been demonstrated in how Republicans reacted to Charlottesville and Helsinki and half of other dozens incidents where Republicans cascaded. And the attack that (INAUDIBLE) in Twitter, half a dozen other incidents where Republicans were very freely critical of this President which I can`t think --.

KORNACKI: Well, we are going to talk about this a little later on. One of the factors here in all of this interparty stuff with Republicans is Republican voters, what do they think of Trump and then how do Republican party respond? Because those numbers, will show of that later, have not budged really for the last couple of years.

Noah Rothman, Kim Wehle, Tom Winter, Nicholas Kristof, thank you all for joining us.

And coming up. House Democrats are set to vote on a resolution to block that national emergency declaration that President Trump gave to get his border wall built. At least one Republican is set to vote no on the emergency. Are there going to be others?

Also --.


TRUMP: They will be doing things. And I think he want to do things. I think he wants to - you would be very surprise, very smart, very goof negotiator.


KORNACKI: President Trump`s praise for North Korea`s Kim Jong-un has been effusive with the next summit just days away now. Some Trump aides are reportedly worried he is about to make big concessions in exchange for empty promises.

Much more after the break. Stay with us.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Two-hundred and twenty-six House Democrats and one Republican have signed on to a resolution to block President Trump`s national emergency declaration on the southern border. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will vote on Tuesday on a resolution introduced by Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro to terminate the emergency.

The resolution already has enough support to pass the House. Then the Senate has 18 days to take up that legislation.

Four Republicans would have to vote with Democrats for the resolution to pass the Senate. Today, President Trump was asked what would happen, what he would do if that happens.


QUESTION: Will you definitively veto that resolution that was introduced today that would block your national emergency, if it passes?



TRUMP: Will I veto it? One hundred percent. One hundred percent. And I don`t think it survives a veto. We have too many smart people that want border security.


KORNACKI: That means you would end up needing a two-thirds supermajority in both houses to get that in over Trump`s veto, if it came to that.

Visiting the border in Laredo today, Speaker Pelosi responded to that veto threat.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Let me be very clear. The president`s attitude is not going to color whether I honor my oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

I wish he would have the same dedication to that oath of office himself. But we will be fighting him on this usurping the power, of violating the Constitution of the United States, in the Congress, in the courts, and with the American people.

So this is a path I wouldn`t recommend he go down.


KORNACKI: And I`m joined now by Danielle Moodie-Mills, radio host for SiriusXM, and Nan Hayworth. She`s a former Republican member of Congress from New York.

Danielle, let me start with you.

So there`s -- there`s sort of two tracks here in terms of Democrats trying to get this declaration revoked. We got the court filing there in the Ninth District, a bunch of state attorneys general trying to get the question to cut this thing off. Looks like that may end up heading to the Supreme Court at some point.

Now you have got this resolution going through Congress. We just talked about the hurdles it`s got there. Realistically, for Democrats who want to stop this thing, are the courts the better bet here?

DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS, SIRIUSXM: Yes, I mean, the courts are going to be the better bet, because I think what`s important that the Democrats are doing right now is putting this resolution out there, is forcing people to go on the record and say that they don`t want this wall.

I know that the purpose of the entire resolution is to get the Senate to vote on it, is to get Republicans on the record. And I think that it`s important.

But to end this battle, this wall, this fake emergency that Trump has created, it`s going to have to end in the courts. And 16 states have filed lawsuits. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit. So it`s headed there.

KORNACKI: Well, Nan, from the -- the objection you hear from some conservative voices, at least that I have heard is, the precedent.


KORNACKI: OK, if Trump gets to declare an emergency and move money around, we Republicans may live like that now, but wait until a Democratic president comes in and decides the Green New Deal is a national emergency, something like that.

With that in mind, do you anticipate there actually will be some Republicans voting with the Democrats on this?

HAYWORTH: It`s a great question, Steve.

I think very few. I think Senator Collins has expressed that she might vote for that kind of a resolution. But, essentially, it`s Congress` job, Steve. The National Emergencies Act can be modified. As it stands now, the National Emergencies Act allows the president wide latitude on defining what`s an emergency.

In fact, it`s basically the president`s call. If the president were not to declare this an emergency -- and I think there`s plenty of facts in his favor. We had over a quarter-million incarcerations in 2017 and 2018 of illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes, including murder.

We do have drugs pouring over the border. We do have upwards of 50,000 people attempting to cross the southern border every month. It is a very important situation. But even if the president didn`t do this, that would not prevent a Democratic president in the future from declaring any of the national emergencies you just mentioned.

KORNACKI: So it sounds like you`re saying they`re going to -- they will probably stick with him. So then that creates this situation here.

Look, if this can`t -- if this resolution ultimately can`t get through Congress over Trump`s veto, if you don`t get a two-thirds supermajority -- that would require a bunch of Republicans defecting.

MOODIE-MILLS: Right. Right.

KORNACKI: And then, on the legal front, works its way through the courts, and it gets up to that, the Supreme Court level, and you have got a conservative majority there, if it doesn`t work on either one of those tracks, where`s that going to leave us?

MOODIE-MILLS: I mean, it leaves it with the people, right?

The people -- 60 percent of Americans have said that this is not an emergency. People that live at the border have said this is not an emergency. I have had people call in from El Paso, from different areas onto my show, that are like, where`s the emergency?

We know that areas are safer that have had -- that have an influx of undocumented people. We know that, statistically, first of all, Pew Research has shown us that in 2016 is the lowest number of immigrants that have been in country, and it has been declining over time.

The president himself said at the press conference, I don`t need to do this.

So we have -- there are so many areas in which, when it goes to the courts, if you`re actually looking at the facts, the facts do not align with Trump`s desire. And this wall is really about his ego and cashing in on a campaign promise. It`s not about an actual emergency.

HAYWORTH: That`s not true.

MOODIE-MILLS: Because, if we were going to talk about a national emergency, we would talk about gun violence. We would talk about the rise in hate crimes.

KORNACKI: See, but now you`re getting -- now you`re getting into -- that`s the warning you hear there from conservative voices. A Democratic president declares one of those...


HAYWORTH: Steve, it`s up to Congress to modify the National Emergencies Act...

MOODIE-MILLS: Yes, of course, yes.

HAYWORTH: ... Danielle, with all due respect, which, of course, they should do. That is Congress` job.

But in terms of the severity of the situation, listen to the Customs and Border Patrol, including President Obama`s former chief of CBP, who said, yes, we definitely have a serious situation here. We have had a rise in attempted entries in 2017 and 2018. A lot of that may relate to the economy, in fact, because, of course, the economy is booming. People want to come here and work.

KORNACKI: But let me ask you, from this standpoint, then.

From the standpoint of a Trump voter who feels what you`re expressing right now, heard him in the campaign say the wall, wanted the wall, OK, for two years, Republican president, Republican Senate, Republican House, and no wall.


KORNACKI: Democrats get control of Congress. Then you get a government shutdown. And he comes out.

It`s like that -- what was that "Seinfeld" episode, remember, when they held out for less? Costanza held out for less. Trump seemed to hold out for less on this.

If you believe -- if you`re a Republican voters who feels what you just -- feel, are you disappointed by what he`s done here?

HAYWORTH: Well, the disappointment lies primarily with the way in which the Senate in particular held onto the filibuster on passing legislation.

And that meant, because they needed 60 votes to pass legislation on immigration, and, as has been the case for decades now, Congress could not come -- even with nominal Republican majorities, we didn`t have a governing majority in the Senate, so, no, they did not get it done. And that is to be regretted, although that isn`t the president`s fault.

The president is now trying to act and protect the country. The situation has become acute. They -- we have a lot of drugs flowing into the country. They do flow across the southern border. There are drugs that are getting past ports of entry.

We know that the apprehensions occur at the ports of entry, but this is a serious situation. A quarter-million, more than a quarter-million incarcerations 2017, 2018 and for serious crimes.

MOODIE-MILLS: It`s -- a serious, serious situation that Trump has created is the separation of families at the border.

A serious situation that has happened...


HAYWORTH: That`s not something that the president created, Danielle. That`s something that was going on.


MOODIE-MILLS: He did. He did create it.

HAYWORTH: That`s something that went on under the Obama administration.


MOODIE-MILLS: And he`s exacerbated the situation.

So the crisis really right now is about giving the U.S. Border Patrol, giving more aid, so that when people are actually crossing, and they`re going into these detention centers, these jails, that they`re actually getting -- that people are actually getting the care that they need, and not dying in their custody.


KORNACKI: It seems to me the most likely outcome of this, of course, is, if you, legislatively, ultimately, this is going to sort of be gridlocked.

If the courts -- if it`s going to land in a conservative corporate that upholds it, it`s going to be a political question again for the 2020 election.

HAYWORTH: Democrats voted for $8 billion in border wall funding these ago.

KORNACKI: And these are the arguments. These are the arguments we will be having through the 2020 campaign.

Danielle Moodie-Mills, former Congresswoman Nan Hayworth, thank you both for joining us.

Up next: For the first time in American history, a new federal election is now going to be held because of allegations of election fraud. What is going to happen next in the only undecided congressional race from to be decided, I don`t know, fall of 2019?

Stay with us.



DAN MCCREADY (D), NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: What can I say? It looks like we`re getting a new election.


MCCREADY: That`s why I`m so honored that you all would come here today for this announcement and to let me share with you that I am running in the special election to represent the people of the Ninth District.


MCCREADY: And I want to say right now that we are in this fight, and we are going to win this fight.


KORNACKI: Well, there you go.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That`s not a candidate announcing the 2020 campaign. That`s a candidate announcing a campaign to settle the final remaining undetermined, uncalled election of 2018.

How the heck did we ever get in this situation? Well, take a look at this. We have been talking for months about that big number, 40, 4-0. Remember, Democrats got a net gain, we said, of 40 seats in the midterm elections, 40 House seats, took back control of the chamber last November.

And it was a big deal for them to get 40, but now, technically, actually, it could end up at 41. And why? It`s because of what you just saw there. It`s this district, the Ninth District of North Carolina. We have been talking about it all week.

Dan McCready, the gentleman you just heard from there, the Democrat, on election night, he fell 905 votes short, appeared to fall 905 votes short, against Mark Harris, the Republican candidate. But there were was no certification. All sorts of reports of irregularities involving absentee ballots emerged.

This week, they had a hearing there in front of the state election board. It was like a scene of an old "Perry Mason" episode. Harris ended up -- he called for a surprise break after a surprise witness came in, and said, I have reconsidered. There should be a new election.

And the board unanimously voted there will now be a new election.

And so this is -- this is a Republican -- going into 2018, Republican-held seat. So if McCready, the Democrat, is able to win this new election that is going to be held a couple months from now, maybe -- maybe into October, in fact -- going to get into that in a little bit.

But, if McCready wins, it means Democrats then have posted a 41-seat net gain for the midterm elections in 2018. Now, the question is going to be, we know McCready is running again. Who will be the Republican candidate? Is Harris going to run again?

At that hearing this week, when he kind of -- his case kind of fell apart there, one of the things he cited at that hearing, he was saying, geez, I`m having some issues here, some health issues, he said.

So that what he cited at that hearing, is that now going to keep him out of a second campaign here? Very possible.

Here`s a name to keep in mind here. How was Harris the nominee in the first place? Last spring, he pulled off a big upset in the Republican primary in this district. He knocked out a congressman, Bob Pittenger, an incumbent congressman. Mark Harris beat him, you see there, by less than 1,000 votes in the Republican primary.

That`s how Harris became the nominee. If Harris doesn`t run again, guess what? Pittenger spoke up today. He said, you know what? I might have an interest in this race.

So, you might see former Congressman Bob Pittenger get in this race as the Republican. See if he could get the nomination. Couldn`t get it last year. See if he can get the nomination now and run against Dan McCready.

Again, the timing on all this, each party is going to have to get a primary. We certainly expect McCready to be the Democratic candidate. We will see who emerges as the Republican candidate here. It may not be, though, until October, believe it or not, October, that you get an actual special election here to determine who wins this seat.

And then, and only then, would we be able to say that every election from 2018, all 435 seats, have been settled. And then, and only then, will we be able to tell you what the number for all time will be of what Democrats actually picked up in the 2018 election.

North Carolina`s Ninth District, the gift that keeps on giving to political reporters.

Anyway, up next: Donald Trump has said he is a master dealmaker. There`s new reporting of some of the president`s own advisers being worried they might get outfoxed next week by North Korea`s Kim Jong-un -- that straight ahead.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Next week, President Trump is set to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Hanoi. It`s been roughly nine months since they last met in Singapore, where both leaders made a vague pledge toward complete denuclearization, they said.

Since then, North Korea has continued to improve its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. President Trump, who told reporters last week that he was in no particular rush to denuclearize, has touted the evolution of his friendship with Kim. Take a look.


TRUMP: We got along really well. We had a great chemistry.

I have a fantastic relationship with Chairman Kim, as you probably know.

Kim Jong-un said some terrific things about me. He said, I have faith in President Trump.

We`re talking. It is very calm. He`s calm. I`m calm.

Kim Jong-un sent me a beautiful letter.

We`re going to go to war. Now he`s a friend of mine.

I would like to thank Chairman Kim for his courage.

We have a very good relationship. He likes me. I like him. We get along.


KORNACKI: But President Trump`s budding friendship with the dictator has some of his own top aides worried he will get outfoxed next week.

That`s coming up. Stay with us.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So, the good news is, is they haven`t conducted missile tests or nuclear tests in now well over a year. So, that`s better than the place that we found it when the Trump administration came into office.

But, as the president said yesterday and as the administration has said repeatedly, this is a long and difficult task.


KORNACKI: That was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday tamping down expectations for next week`s summit between President Trump and North Korea`s Kim Jong-un in Hanoi.

Despite his public assurances, a source tells Politico that Pompeo -- quote -- "has expressed frustration to allies about the lack of diplomatic progress and voiced his concerned that his boss will get outmaneuvered."

For more, I`m joined by Sue Mi Terry, former North Korea analyst for the CIA, and Gabby Orr, White House reporter for Politico.

Gabby, we start with that reporting. What exactly is Pompeo afraid of here when it comes to Trump and this meeting?

GABBY ORR, POLITICO: Well, primarily, the big concern for Pompeo and other senior administration officials as well is that President Trump is going to go into this meeting and feel the need to make some broad concession that he`s not prepared to make and that many people inside his administration and U.S. allies don`t want him to make.

That could be sanctions relief. It could be a drawdown of U.S. troops in South Korea. He told reporters earlier today at the White House that basically everything is on the table. And Pompeo, along with John Bolton, the national security adviser and several others, are extremely concerned that, heading into the summit, President Trump wants more than just a photo-op this time around, and that could lead him to essentially be outmaneuvered by Kim Jong-un.

KORNACKI: And what is -- what is driving -- I assume they are trying to deliver this message to him of, careful what you agree to here.

But what is your sense? What is your sense, through the reporting, of what they think is driving Trump and therefore driving their concern about this? Why does he -- why does he so badly want a deal, in their view?

ORR: Well, take a look back at the coverage that has resulted since the last time that he met with Kim Jong-un, since that first summit.

They came away with basically a verbal agreement that North Korea would work toward denuclearization. And in the months since that summit has happened, we have had both Pompeo and John Bolton acknowledge that denuclearization hasn`t actually happened. They have not taken any serious steps towards that.

And so now they`re going into this summit with far lower expectations. Essentially, they told Politico, in our reporting today, that they want to define what denuclearization means. That is a far lower bar than was set the first time around.

And I think that`s why President Trump is at risk of making a concession, is because he wants to have some type of victory that`s not just a photo- op.

KORNACKI: Sue, for folks watching all this play out next week, realistically speaking, what would -- what would a win for the United States look like coming out of this a week from now?

SUE MI TERRY, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Well, we`re not going to have a win, because what we need is North Korea showing that they`re really interested in denuclearization by giving us an inventory, a declaration of their nuclear missile program, agree on a road -- a road map and a timeline, which they`re not going to do.

What they`re going to do is say, OK, we will continue halt in testing the nuclear -- nukes and missiles, and that they will maybe put a cap on their nuclear program, and maybe they will dismantle a nuclear facility or a missile facility they already agreed to.

So the problem is, from the Singapore summit, there was no agreement. There was this aspirational statement that came out of the Singapore summit. They don`t even have an agreed-upon definition of denuclearization.

North Korea, when they say denuclearization, they`re talking about South Korea too. They`re talking about U.S. extend the nuclear umbrella that we have over South Korea and our troops in South Korea.

When we are talking about nukes, obviously, we`re talking about denuclearization of North Korea`s program.

So, this is insane. After Singapore, we don`t even have an agreed definition of denuclearization?

KORNACKI: Gabby was raising the possibility there of, is an agreed definition on what that means, is it possible that could come out of this?

TERRY: Well, I don`t even think that`s really possible, because North Korea made it very explicit in their New Year`s editorial, and they made it very explicit what they mean by denuclearization.

They mean U.S. presence in South Korea. They mean U.S. extend the nuclear umbrella that we have over South Korea.

So are we willing to withdraw our troops? Are we willing to scrap the -- stop the alliance commitment that we have with South Korea? No, we don`t. So I don`t even think that`s really possible.

So, some sort of a freeze deal that, still President Trump is going to come out and say, this is a success, because we have a freeze deal, they`re not testing. Maybe there will be a peace declaration, which is sort of a political statement that the war is over, and that`s enough, or a joint statement, for President Trump to say he`s been successful.

KORNACKI: Gabby, what do you hear when it comes to the relationship between Trump and Kim Jong-un?

We show you in public all of those sort of positive, effusive things the president has to say about him. What`s the sense from your reporting? Is that a strategic element on Trump`s part, just in terms of, in his mind, trying to butter up Kim Jong-un, or is there a sense in the administration, is there a sense in the folks you talk to you that there`s a genuine affinity there?

ORR: It`s probably a mix of both.

The president has always -- always emphasized the personal aspect of his relationships with foreign leaders. He`s gushed over Kim Jong-un. He`s gushed over President Xi in China. There`s so many different foreign leaders who he has said, I get along with so well, and that is going to lead to fantastic dealmaking.

And, obviously, we haven`t seen that transpire. I do think that part of the reason we`re even having a second summit is because President Trump is the one who has been pushing for it. It hasn`t been the North Koreans. It`s been President Trump, for the most part, wanting to sit down with Kim Jong-un again, wanting to have that photo opportunity, wanting to come back with some -- some type of victory, whether it`s a peace agreement, something that he can play up, just like he did with the return of U.S. troop remains.

He pushed that for months after the Singapore summit, saying that this was a huge victory for the Trump administration, when there were constant reports indicating that North Korea wasn`t fulfilling any of the other broader parts of that verbal agreement, or whatever you want to call it, from the Singapore summit.

And so I do think that this is, in his mind, an opportunity for him to reconvene with Kim Jong-un, sort of reestablish that firm relationship and, no matter what comes out of it, whether it`s concrete or not, to at least say that he`s improved ties with North Korea.

KORNACKI: And, of course, for the domestic audience here, all of this will be playing out next week, Trump over there, Michael Cohen in front of that congressional committee giving public testimony.

ORR: It`s going to be a wild week.

KORNACKI: Two things are going to be simultaneous.

Sue Mi Terry, Gabby Orr, thank you both for being with us.

And you won`t want to miss this, Joy Reid heading out to Iowa this weekend. She`s got an interview with Kamala Harris, Democratic candidate for president. You can catch that on "AM JOY" this Sunday 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

And up next: The governor of Maryland, Republican Larry Hogan, he`s considering a 2020 challenge to the president in the Republican primaries. But, before he does something, he says it has -- something has to change.

We will tell you what that is next.


KORNACKI: You can add another name to the list of potential challengers to Donald Trump from within his own party, Larry Hogan.

The governor of Maryland has been making moves for the past year that have gotten people talking. And now he`s speaking out, making it clear that he at least wants his name in the 2020 mix, for now.

Hogan is in his second term as the governor in Maryland, Maryland, of course, a very blue state, but Hogan is very popular there. He was reelected by double digits last fall. He calls himself a moderate conservative. He doesn`t want to outlaw abortion. He refused to support Trump in 2016.

And now he tells "The Washington Examiner" that -- quote -- "There are a lot of people approaching" him to run against Trump. "I am listening to them," Hogan says. "There are some pretty good arguments."

It`s not a declaration of candidacy, at least not yet. Hogan says Trump is too strong with Republican voters to go up against now, but -- quote -- "I don`t think things are going to stay the way they are."

And when it comes to Hogan or when it comes to former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, who`s exploring a primary challenge to Trump now as well, or when it comes to anyone else thinking of taking on the president in the Republican primaries, that is the question. Is anything really going to change Trump`s standing with Republican voters?

His approval rating right now with Republicans in Gallup sits at 89 percent, 89 percent. Those are the voters who will decide the Republican nomination in 2020. And when you look back at presidents who have had serious trouble with primary challenges in the past, they were a lot lower than 89 percent with their own parties.

Plus, Trump`s numbers are steady with Republicans. Think of all the dramatic turns, the various crises, the blaring controversies that have defined his presidency so far. And yet, with Republican voters, Trump`s approval rating has barely budged. Larry Hogan says that will have to change for him to get in the race. Bill Weld will need that to change if he`s going to have any chance of making any noise.

And you can point to all sorts of possible reasons it might change. The big one, obviously, what if the Mueller report reveals something new or something shocking?

But take a step back, because we have been asking this about Republican voters for three years now. Remember when the "Access Hollywood" tape was going to turn off a huge chunk of Republican voters just weeks before the election? They were going to stay home and not vote. Maybe they were going to vote third party. It was even possible some of them were going to hold their noses -- noses and vote for Hillary Clinton.

Paul Ryan even told Republicans in Congress when that "Access Hollywood" tape broke, he said, abandon Trump, he`s a sure loser, save yourselves.

But, on Election Day 2016, 88 percent of Republicans, after all of that, they still sided with Trump. Nothing changed then after that tape. Not much has changed since then.

And when it comes to the bond between Donald Trump and Republican voters, skepticism is probably a good idea when it comes to any prediction that that bond is about to break, something maybe for Larry Hogan, for Bill Weld, for John Kasich, for anyone thinking of running against Trump in those primaries is going to have to consider.

That is HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.