Trump fixer Michael Cohen testifies. TRANSCRIPT: 02/27/2019, Hardball w. Chris Matthews.

Guests: Carolyn Maloney, Cynthia Alksne, Stephen Lynch, Noah Rothman, Mara Gay, Sam Stein, Tulsi Gabbard, Jackie Speier

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 27, 2019 Guest: Carolyn Maloney, Cynthia Alksne, Stephen Lynch, Noah Rothman, Mara Gay, Sam Stein, Tulsi Gabbard, Jackie Speier

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That interaction itself is now under federal criminal investigation. Thought you want to know.

That is out show. You have been watching THE BEAT. We will be back tomorrow, 6:00 p.m. eastern. And I`ll be back in just a moment as a guest on "HARDBALL" which starts right now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Crimes and allegations. Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

It was a dramatic day on Capitol Hill where Michael Cohen unloaded on his former boss with a series of revelations and allegations in his first and only public testimony. The former Trump insider painted a devastating portrait of fraud, deceit and greed. He implicated the President in a scheme to buy the silence of Stormy Daniels. Cohen provided the committee with copies of two checks that were used to reimburse him for that payoff. And one of the checks was cosigned by Trump`s son, Donald Trump Jr. and the CFO of the Trump organization, Allen Weiselberg. The other was signed by Trump himself, this months after he had already become President. Here`s Cohen on those revelations today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: The President of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Based on your conversations with him, there any doubt in your mind that President Trump knew exactly what he was paying for?

COHEN: There is no doubt in my mind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Cohen said that President told him to lie about those payments and he testified that the President had advanced knowledge that Julian Assange of WikiLeaks would release hacked DNC e-mails, something Trump allegedly learned from Roger Stone before the first batch of those e-mails was released.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: A lot of people had asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked documents of the Democratic National Committee e-mail ahead of time, and the answer is yes.

Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just got off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told he told Mr. Stone within a couple of days there would be a massive dump of e-mails that would damage Hillary Clinton`s campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect wouldn`t that be great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: If verified, Cohen`s account of that conversation would directly contradict the President who told the "New York Times" last month that he never discussed WikiLeaks with Roger Stone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES: Did you ever talk to him about WikiLeaks? Because that seemed to be what Mueller was - you never had a conversation with him?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I didn`t. I never did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: More significant, however, is that Cohen`s account could possibly contradict the President`s sworn testimony submitted to prosecutors last November. That is because according to CNN, quote "Trump told special counsel Robert Mueller in writing that Roger Stone he did not tell him about WikiLeaks. Ultimately, Cohen said he did not know whether the President actively collaborated with Russia. But he gave this answer to hypothetical question post by the former of the DNC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), CALIFORNIA: Would he have the potential to cooperate or collude with foreign power to win the presidency at all cost?

COHEN: Yes. Mr. Trump`s desire to win would have him work with anyone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Joining me now is Democratic congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York. She was in that oversight committee hearing today. Ari Melber is our chief legal correspondent and host of THE BEAT, right before this show. And Cynthia Alksne, a former federal prosecutor.

Congresswoman, let me start with you. A lot of different pieces to this. But it seems that the most clear and direct thing that`s immerged before your commit a today certainly is this issue of the pay off, the issue of campaign finance violation, the issue of Trump`s signature being that check to reimburse Cohen.

One of your colleagues, Eric Swalwell from California was on this network a few hours ago. He said when it came to a potential impeachment push against the President, he didn`t think that would be the basis of it because people would think that was private matter ultimately there in terms of Trump having an affair. Do you think an impeachment case could be built around that revelation?

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D-NY) OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I tell you, there are so many pieces were put forward. And personally, I want to wait until the Mueller investigation reports back. But it was a riveting day, Steve. It is - you had a person that is the closest to the President throughout for ten years, who is counsel calling him a racist conman and a cheat and coming without specific allegations, not only an a campaign finance violation but also an ethics form violation that he filed official financial disclosure forms fortunately and left off the debt that he owed to Cohen to do the secret payoffs right before the election, tying to pay offs to an election offense to help him through the election.

He was saying, no, it is my wife. I didn`t wanted her to know or whatever. It was an election offence and also information on possible fraud, insurance fraud, other allegations of really knowing everything that happened.

He testified that the President knew everything that happened in the campaign significance and everything in the Trump administration. So any of these meetings that he was denying that he knew anything about, Cohen testified that he clearly knew before and after each event.

KORNACKI: Ari, in terms of the campaign finance question as well, I`m just curious to - we are always looking for this question of whether there`s a precedent here on these things in terms of being attached to impeachment. You had the issue with Bill Clinton 20 years ago. The accusation there was a felony, perjury, to cover up a politically embarrassing extramarital affair, the accusation. Here would be a felony to carry - to cover up the distinction being campaign finance before the election. How big does that distinction mean here?

MELBER: look. I think when you drill to that issue, which is one of several today as you pointed out in your lead, number one the Bill Clinton/Ken Starr precedent is not generally thought of as a great example of something that is worth impeaching or removing a president over, albeit serious to many people for many ways. And two, on the idea that these should have been funds, there is a case for John Edwards actually was not convicted because the jury ultimately decided that whatever he did, however despicable, it didn`t seem like that kind of money should be counted as a campaign expense.

So on that narrow issue, I`m not sure that people think the President leads it to a high crime. The question I think from today is how many other things came up that the Congress and obviously Mueller and the New York feds are continuing to digging into that might be even bigger?

KORNACKI: And speaking of that, although Cohen today said Trump never overtly directed him to lie to Congress, he did say that Trump made clear what he should and should not say about the Trump tower, Moscow project.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: At the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him. He would look me in the eye and tell me there`s no Russian business. And then go on to lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way he was telling me to lie.

He doesn`t give you questions, he doesn`t give you orders. He speaks in a code and I understand the code because I have been around him for a decade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it`s your impression that others who work for him understand the code as well?

COHEN: Most people, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Cynthia, from a legal standpoint, where does that leave things? If you have Michael Cohen there saying he did not tell me to lie. He didn`t order me to lie. But basically there`s a code there. I believe I interpreted the code. I believe he wanted me to lie. But there`s no apparently direct evidence that Trump had asked for that. Legally where would that leave things?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It would lead things - it would depend on what you do to convince the jury or the members of Congress. But there is - it isn`t surprising. I thought actually on this point he was particularly persuasive that Trump had a manner in which he essentially suborned perjury and that it was very effective. And that he understood it. He explained it well. And he was particularly articulate on that point.

He was a pretty good witness. He was really credible on this point and the Republicans kept going after him. You are a liar. You are a liar. And he just really absorbed it and almost put it back at them in in a way that was very effective. He was humble. And on this point I think he convinced most people that the President would tell him what to do in this exact manner.

KORNACKI: Right. I notice this was almost a theme that came up in a couple of his answers there because there was also -- he described saying he thinks he witnessed a moment where Donald Trump Jr. came in and whispered to Donald Trump about the June 2016 Trump tower meeting. Saw him walk behind the desk because he said he never saw anybody walked behind the desk. He assumes that is what it is, but he doesn`t know since he didn`t see any direct evidence there, never witnessed any direct collusion.

I`m just curious, in term of of creating the impression and creating sort of a credible impression, verses proving the case legally, what`s the next step?

ALKSNE: I mean, you prove it by all the little details you can get. I have to say, honestly, I thought business of going behind the desk in that section of his testimony and thinking that he knew exactly what that was. That was maybe the weakest part of his testimony in my mind. But when the President was suborn perjury either on this or on how he wanted him to answer on the Stormy Daniels was very effective.

KORNACKI: Ari, all the questions that are sort of raised today, you know, you take it with this question here just of Trump, you know, did he in some way tell Michael Cohen to lie? Cohen has talked with Mueller`s team. Cohen has been through the southern district of New York. He is facing prison in a couple weeks from now. Are these questions that Bob Mueller and that the prosecutors in New York have answers to already?

MELBER: Almost certainly. And you saw a tale of that really near the end of the day when he was asked about his final interaction with Donald Trump, and he said quite ominously, I can`t even described that to you because it is under criminal investigation in New York. We never heard that before.

And Steve, as you know, we all have been following this closely when you think all of the other people, whether they flipped or not, Manafort, Gates, Flynn, none of them have testified in public under oath. This is the first time we have heard from any of these people.

So Cohen is just one among many. In journals, we have two source rule. Well, in federal investigations it`s usually a higher bar than that. So you can bet that basically Mueller and the New York feds are cross referencing all this stuff. They are not going to hang any single case only on Michael Cohen.

And the code discussion, I think the questions you raised, Steve, are so important because the code flips all the way back to where you started your broadcast tonight, which is that one of the most ominous things that Michael Cohen did today was outline his eye witness accounts of what he says was Roger Stone telling Donald Trump over a speaker phone about WikiLeaks. Because the code if you apply, again, that same logic, well, the code was Donald Trump publicly disputing that, publicly laying out a potentially either the truth if it is true or a cover story.

Now I say it`s a cover story because Bob Mueller has already indicted Roger Stone for lying about that very thing. So both things can`t be true.

And if stone and Trump were coordinating basically talking to each other through TV interviews and other ways is that these folks that are non- traditional strategy but one that Michael Cohen says is all about lining up stories and getting the code communicated without actually formally saying, hey, go live for me to the authorities, that`s something that Mueller is going to zero in on. I think that is one of the most significant things tonight that has got out White House lawyers nervous.

And the question I wonder tonight that we can`t answer is did Donald Trump`s lawyers know all this when they let him write those written interrogatories and answer to Mueller or not? Did they not even know because he might think he can out smart anyone. That is a case where sometimes clients in about smarting himself.

KORNACKI: Yes, I do understand on this. And again, that is -- I saw your show a few minutes ago. You set that up as potentially the most explosive thing that could be revealed from this. But again, that is something, if I am understanding it correctly, Mueller would know that right now.

MELBER: Mueller would have the evidence on that right now. Mueller is charging something similar against Stone saying he lied about this and that he did in fact have contact with broadly the Trump campaign officials.

What`s new tonight, the big blinking light here and it is new is Michael Cohen saying under oath that one of those officials was then candidate, Donald Trump himself. And then add to that something that I think going to get played a ton more and I`m sure our colleagues will be digging into it tonight as we did on my show, Steve, which is Roger Stone came out in public and made this odd remark that he knew Donald Trump`s secret interrogatories to Mueller also denied that they ever discussed WikiLeaks. Why would Roger Stone know that?

Well now, it is seems that at least potentially if you believe the Michael Cohen account under oath, it is because they both knew they talked about it and they both decided to lied about it. If that holds up, then Mueller does have potentially a new crime against Donald Trump.

And I spoke as you know if you were watching the show, a lot of people have a lot of good guess, we have Mueller`s former chief of staff on it and if he has that, he is going to make sure Congress knows about. That is not going to get buried.

KORNACKI: All right. Ari Melber, Cynthia Alksne, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney down there in D.C., thank you all for joining us.

Coming up next, Cohen`s bombshell allegations about President Trump`s character.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: And he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And the unbelievable political theater from one Republican on the committee defending the President. That is straight ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump`s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience. I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a con man and he is a cheat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Michael Cohen painted an unflattering personal portrait of the man he worked for, for nearly a decade including these allegations about the President`s views on race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: Mr. Trump is a racist, is private. In private, he is even worse. He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn`t (bleep), this was when Barack Obama was President of the United States. And while we were striving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: The hearing was often tense with Republicans and Democrats trading attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JODY HICE (R-GA), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: There is an agenda for all of this happening here today. And I think frankly that is to bring the President down, to impugn the President.

REP. STEPHEN LYNCH (D-MA), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Today for the first day we have one witness who voluntarily is coming forward to testify. Your side ran away from the truth and we are trying to bring it to the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And for more I`m joined by the man you just saw in that clip there, Democratic congressman Stephen Lynch from Massachusetts, Mara Gay, "New York Times" editorial board member and Noah Rothman, "Commentary Magazine" associate editor.

Thanks to all of you for being with us.

Congressman, let me start with you. You heard this thing from your Republican colleagues over and over today on that committee, the idea that Michael Cohen lied to Congress before, that he worked for Donald Trump by his own admission in his testimony today. He done all sorts of seedy things in the employee of Donald Trump. I`m just curious. Listening to him today, did you find him believable on all fronts? And why do you think -- what do you think motivated him, as you said, to voluntarily come back?

REP. STEPHEN LYNCH (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, when we first noticed this hearing, I thought it would be a very tough day for Michael Cohen.

I thought he`d be coming into a hostile environment. Obviously, I knew that the Republicans would attack his credibility.

But, all said and done, I think, at the end of the day, he did a very, very good job representing himself. And I thought that his opening statement, he laid it all out there. He took full responsibility. And he asked for forgiveness and apologized to the American people and to Congress.

I think he went a fair way to hold his own today in some very tough circumstances.

KORNACKI: Did you -- were there any moments, any answers he gave, any allegations he put out there, claims he made where you have questions about his veracity, about his truthfulness?

Or did you find the testimony today entirely credible?

LYNCH: No, I think he was very measured.

There are a couple of times when my Democratic colleagues were trying to get him to say things about collusion or -- or made other comments regarding the president, and Mr. Cohen, in fairness, pushed back on those and said, no, I don`t -- I can`t say that.

And so he was very thoughtful. I thought that gave him more credibility, that he wasn`t all out just trying to smear the president. He was just trying to deliver the facts.

KORNACKI: What did you make of it, Noah, because it was interesting?

There were moments there. We show all these explosive claims. There were moments there when Cohen sort of stuck up for Trump. There were a couple allegations that were run by him. He said, he wouldn`t do that to the first lady, he wouldn`t treat her that way. This whole question of whether he was in Prague and how that ties into the whole thing with the dossier, he seemed to shoot that down as well.

So, there were some areas there where Trump folks could point to it and say, this almost bolsters the Trump case.

What did you make of his testimony?

NOAH ROTHMAN, "COMMENTARY": Yes, for the most part, anything that had to do with the dossier, he was very explicit on that that was not something he could corroborate. That, to me, speaks to self-interest, because he`s -- he`s pretty tied up in that as well.

The character attacks on the president, I think, are pretty valid. I think, if you`re just tuning in, and you think that the president -- you didn`t know that the president is a man of low moral fiber, you have got a lot to catch up on.

The notion, however, that this is not dedicated entirely to self-interest, that he is very contrite here, was betrayed, I think, in a lot of ways by what he stuck up for himself on.

He was -- he acted very pridefully when he said, I was, you know, the man who pretty much helped the president launch his 2011 campaign, while at the same time saying that this was a man who said a lot of racist things around me, and I profoundly regret it.

Well, perhaps he`s not aware of the fact that Donald Trump`s 2011 campaign was predicated on a campaign alleging that Barack Obama was not born in this country. That was really essentially the foundation of that campaign.

These things struck me as incongruous.

KORNACKI: So, what was he trying to do today?

ROTHMAN: Well, I think, in a lot of ways, he`s trying to ingratiate himself with the anti-Trump left.

And he`s been singing the sermons of the resistance to the hilt with a convert`s zeal since he found out that he had to tell prosecutors everything he knows in order to avoid an extraordinary sentence for his own personal misconduct.

Anybody who tells you exactly what you want to hear in the exact way you want to hear it at every turn should make you raise an eyebrow. And Mike Cohen does that with a lot of frequency.

KORNACKI: What do you -- what do you make that assessment, Mara, that Noah just said, that the resistance wants to hear this, and he gave them the testimony they wanted to hear?

MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think that Michael Cohen made a very compelling case that he came there to Congress today to tell the truth, to redeem himself, to make good his name again, or try, to try and make up his crimes to the American people.

He actually has no self-interest to lie to Congress at this point. That could lead to more jail time. And I think that we do need to open -- hold open the possibility for redemption, which in this case is backed up by evidence.

We know, for example, that Trump is racist. That`s an easy one. But there`s other evidence, obviously, that Michael Cohen has given to investigators that suggests that there is great truth behind his claims.

I think the problem for President Trump is that no one knows President Trump like Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer and fixer for 10 years. And to hear Michael Cohen talk about being mesmerized -- that was his word -- by Donald Trump and by being around Donald Trump is really a sad commentary on where too many Americans, I think, unfortunately, are right now themselves.

And to watch their representatives in Congress fail to do their duty that they are sworn into when they take that office, that oath of office, you know, is a sad day for America.

But I -- but I actually think this is a moment that we`re going to be telling our children about.

KORNACKI: Well, also, in order to push back on Cohen`s claims of racism on Trump`s part, North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows brought in Lynne Patton, a former Trump family party planner, current Housing and Urban Development Department employee.

Take a look at that exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I asked Lynne to come today in her personal capacity.

You made some very demeaning comments about the president that Ms. Patton doesn`t agree with. She says that, as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, that there is no way that she would work for -- for an individual who was racist.

How do you reconcile the two of those?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: As neither should I, as the son of a Holocaust survivor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And several members of the committee took umbrage with that tactic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BRENDA LAWRENCE (D), MICHIGAN: To prop up one member of our entire race of black people and say that that nullifies that is totally insulting.

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Would you agree that someone could deny rental units to African-Americans, lead the birther movement, refer to diaspora as (EXPLETIVE DELETED) countries, and refer to white supremacists as fine people, have a black friend and still be racist?

COHEN: Yes.

PRESSLEY: I agree.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib then made this comment that Meadows initially tried to have stricken from the record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D), MICHIGAN: Just to make a note, Mr. Chairman, just because someone has a person of color, a black person, working for them does not mean they aren`t racist.

And it is insensitive, that some would even say it`s -- the fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee is alone racist in itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Noah, I`m curious, what did you make of that -- that tactic from Mark Meadows got a lot of attention today. What did what did you make of that?

ROTHMAN: I mean, it seemed like it was falling flat, and he knew it.

He pivoted very quickly away from that and to a much more -- a very animated series of questions about something entirely unrelated. I think he read the room, appropriately, that it wasn`t -- it wasn`t really working for him.

KORNACKI: What is your reaction to that?

GAY: You know, what really upset me is when he seemed to take more umbrage at being called a racist than he did at the actual impact of the racism that he has been trafficking in since apparently several years ago, in 2012, when he, you know, is on camera essentially endorsing the birther -- the birther movement.

You know, I think the reality here is, to hear people talk about Donald Trump`s racism and Donald Trump talking about how black people are -- are too stupid to vote for him is really ironic, because black Americans are some of the first and most outspoken Americans to recognize Donald Trump for exactly who he is.

KORNACKI: All right, thank you to Mara Gay, Noah Rothman, Congressman Stephen Lynch from Massachusetts.

And still ahead: Cohen`s dramatic testimony threatening to eclipse the president`s high-stakes summit with North Korea`s leader set to begin just 90 minutes from now.

More on that dramatic split-screen when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump`s first bilateral meeting with Kim Jong-un in Vietnam is scheduled to begin in just over an hour, 9:00 a.m. local time, in Vietnam. But the summit is threatening to be eclipsed by Michael Cohen`s testimony today in Washington.

NBC News reported an administration official called the president 100 percent dialed in for his meeting with Kim.

But just after their first big photo-op this morning, Cohen apparently was on the president`s mind. He tweeted this: "Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me. Unfortunately," he added, "he did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time."

I`m joined now by Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS, and Sam Stein, politics editor for The Daily Beast.

Thanks to both of you.

Well, Yamiche, let me ask you. You`re standing in front of the White House there. Any indications, beyond that Trump tweet from this morning, about what kind of reaction we`re getting from the president himself or from those most closely around him?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, "PBS NEWSHOUR": Well, that was an incredible split- screen, where you have the president trying to focus on Vietnam and wanting that to be the center of attention today, but really the center of attention was Washington, D.C.

And I was at the White House, where only a few people were left in the communications team, but they were -- they were scrambling to make sure that people knew that the White House was pushing back on this idea of Michael Cohen and calling Michael Cohen a liar.

And I have been texting with allies of the president, including his -- his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. And they all say that Michael Cohen shouldn`t be believed.

So, even though he`s abroad and tweeting about Michael Cohen, there are people here trying to have his back.

KORNACKI: Yes.

I mean, Sam, what are you expecting here? I mean, he -- look, the word from the -- the official word here is 100 percent dialed in on North Korea, on Kim. You got that high-stakes meeting set to begin here.

Is this something Trump is going to have to sort of be uncharacteristically quiet about until he`s on his way back, until he`s back here?

SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST: Who knows, right? Trump could do anything, and it wouldn`t surprise me at this point.

I think the idea that he`s 100 percent dialed is obviously absurd. His Twitter feed obviously contradicts that fact. And, also, there`s -- to a large degree, he does prep for these things.

But one of his things, one of his signature trademarks is that he`s guttural about this. He tries to do things on the fly. He trusts his gut. So that is he`s negotiating tactic. That`s what he`s done in past meetings with Kim. And it`s possibly what he is going to be doing this go-round, which makes it a little bit disconcerting, I guess, that what is preceding this is six hours of testimony that can`t be weighing well on his brain.

KORNACKI: Well, back in Washington at that hearing today, Michael Cohen made reference to the pending summit in Vietnam.

He testified about President Trump`s deferments from the Vietnam War draft.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: Mr. Trump tasked me to handle the negative press surrounding his medical deferment from the Vietnam draft.

Mr. Trump claimed it was because of a bone spur, but when I asked for medical records, he gave me none and said that there was no surgery.

He finished the conversation with the following comment. "You think I`m stupid? I`m not going to Vietnam."

And I find it ironic, Mr. President, that you are in Vietnam right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Sam, we showed that line, that little extra line he adds right there at the end.

STEIN: Right.

KORNACKI: I was separating in my mind watching this testimony from Cohen today. There were the -- all of the sort of specific legal issues and questions that he spoke to and that will arise from this testimony.

But this also looked like a guy in a moment like that who wanted to hit Trump where it hurts.

STEIN: Yes, I mean, it`s not ironic.

What Cohen represented was a man of immense privilege who was able to use that privilege to get ahead in life. And one of the ways he got ahead was by getting out of the Vietnam War. And one of the ways -- and he kept getting ahead, until he actually got to become president.

And part of the job of being president is to do summits like this. So, it`s not ironic. It just paints a picture of someone who used all the advantages that he was given, often to the extent that it was potentially criminal, and now wound up with the presidency.

KORNACKI: Yamiche, there`s the question here of the Mueller investigation, if and when we`re going to get a report on that.

You had Cohen today making reference to the prosecutors back in New York, the Southern District of New York. And maybe there`s more going on there than we realized. Maybe there`s something brewing there.

Is there a sense in the White House a particular area where they`re focused on, where they`re most concerned? Is it Mueller? Is it the Southern District? Is it something else?

ALCINDOR: Well, I can tell you, as someone who spent the whole day at the White House, that the television screens on almost every single television in the White House were blasting live Michael Cohen talking about all these issues.

And then, when it comes down to it, the key question here is, what are the criminal implications of Michael Cohen`s testimony? And I can tell you that the White House, as well as I think people around President Trump, even if they don`t want to admit it, have to be a little bit worried about the Roger Stone and WikiLeaks connections.

They have to be worried about the Trump Tower and the fact that President Trump -- President Trump was talking to Michael Cohen about Trump Tower Moscow, and this idea that the president could have at some point colluded with Russia through this meeting that Donald Trump Jr. had at the Trump Tower. Michael Cohen`s story is that the president knew about all of that.

And it`s -- and he was saying every single day today -- or every single moment today, I should say, that the president knew about every single thing that was going on in the campaign. So, it`s hard to think that if Mueller comes out with a report that says the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, that President Trump wouldn`t have known about that.

KORNACKI: All right, Yamiche Alcindor at the White House, Sam Stein, thank you both for joining us.

STEIN: Thank you.

KORNACKI: And up next: President Trump called Kim Jong-un a great leader and a friend today. What can we expect when those leaders finally meet tonight?

That`s straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Formal talks between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un are scheduled to get underway in just a few hours.

As the leaders opened their two-day nuclear summit in Vietnam, President Trump was full of praise for the authoritarian ruler he now calls a friend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s an honor to be with Chairman Kim. It`s an honor to be together. I thought first summit was a great success, and I think this one hopefully will be equal or greater than the first. And we`ve made a lot of progress and I think the biggest progress was our relationship is really a good one.

I think you will have a tremendous future with your country and great leader, and I look forward to watching it happen and helping it to happen and we will help it to happen.

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KORNACKI: And new tonight, NBC News now reporting that U.S. negotiators have already dropped a key demand ahead of the summit, that North Korea agree to disclose a full accounting of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Joining me is Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii and 2020 presidential candidate, Tulsi Gabbard.

Congresswoman, thank you for joining us.

First, let me just start -- we have been talking all show all day about what went on in Washington today. The Michael Cohen testimony before the House Oversight Committee. The president weighing in on Twitter. All the accusations that were leveled his way.

Do you think, as we are now counting down the hours and minutes to Trump and Kim Jong-un sitting down together, do you think this is going to have an effect -- what happened in Washington today is going to have an effect on that summit in Vietnam?

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: That remains to be seen. I think what`s most important and what I`ve been focused on is the summit and the reality of the situation that we`re facing with North Korea. Unfortunately, I think it`s highly unlikely that Kim will be willing to give up his nuclear weapons for two main reasons.

First is, you know, Kim saw what happened in Libya. He saw how we promised Libya`s dictator, Gaddafi, that if he gave up his nuclear weapons program, that we would not overthrow him. Well, he gave up those weapons -- he gave up that program and we blew him away. And so, Kim`s not going to make that same mistake.

The second reason is, Kim has seen how President Trump tore up the Iran nuclear agreement, tore up the INF treaty and therefore will not have any faith in whatever kind of agreement Trump presents to him.

KORNACKI: Well, if that`s the frame work for looking at this, then no matter what you think of Libya, it can`t be undone. It happened. It`s on the record.

So, what is the path to denuclearizing North Korea? Is there even one?

GABBARD: Well, the problem is not only has Kim seen what happened in Libya, he has seen how United States continues, President Trump has continued this policy of regime change in the world. This continues to undermine any kind of promises that President Trump tries to make to Kim Jong-un, saying we`re not going to overthrow you as long as you give up your nuclear weapons.

This policy of the United States of regime change is what causes dictators like Kim to hold on even stronger to their nuclear weapons.

KORNACKI: You`re talking about a policy of regime change here. The policy, the posture we`ve been hearing, just watching the president in public toward Kim Jong-un is one of almost -- it sounds like flattery, talking about him as a friend, talking about him as a great leader of this country, all the potential he has over there. What do you make of that?

GABBARD: Well, the point is whatever Trump says is not really what`s at issue here. What`s at issue is the reality of U.S. foreign policy, and this continued policy of regime change is actually undermining our national security, that`s undermining the ability for such an agreement to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, to take place, and that change in that policy is what needs to happen.

KORNACKI: Tulsi Gabbard, Democratic congresswoman, Democratic presidential candidate -- thank you for taking a few minutes.

GABBARD: Thank you.

KORNACKI: And up next, more from Michael Cohen`s bomb shell testimony today, including his assertion that Donald Trump would have worked with anyone in order to win the election.

And new questions about the jeopardy Donald Trump Jr. might be in.

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REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Is it likely that Donald Trump was fully aware and had every intent of working with Russia to help make sure that he could win the presidency at all costs?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Let me say that this is a matter that`s currently being handled by the House Select and Senate Select Intelligence Committees. So I would rather not answer that specific question other than just to tell you that Mr. Trump`s desire to win would have him work with anyone.

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KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Michael Cohen alleged today that President Trump knew in advance of the WikiLeaks dump of hacked DNC e-mails and he said that the president`s son, Donald Trump Jr., likely told his father about that infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russians in June of 2016.

Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a member of the Oversight Committee, where those hearings were today, and the Intelligence Committee, that is where Cohen will appear in a closed, not public hearing tomorrow.

Congresswoman, thank you for joining us.

Well, first you had a crack at him today. That whole world got to watch it. You asked some interesting questions. You get another one behind closed doors today. Anything you learned today that`s going to shape what you talk with him tomorrow?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: What we learned today was that there was a relationship between Roger Stone and the president that continued all through the campaign. That there were conversations that took place all the time, that Michael Cohen`s testimony before the Intelligence Committee was reviewed and edited by the attorneys for Donald Trump in the White House and was restricted.

So, all that is suggesting that there is a grand conspiracy here. We need to follow up with many of these leads. But I think we`re getting closer and closer to being able to put all the puzzle pieces together and have a pretty profound picture to show with the American people.

KORNACKI: You`re saying a grand conspiracy is where you think this is leading. Is that something realistically that you and Congress and these committees are going to put together? Or is this something he`s already been through, Cohen talking with Mueller with that team? He`s already going through the Southern District of New York, have they already figured out whatever there is to figure out here?

SPEIER: Well, certainly, the Mueller report is going to be a very important component. There are a number of people who testified in the Trump orbit who have to be called back because their testimony appears not to be accurate anymore, just like Michael Cohen`s testimony turned out not to be accurate and he`s going to jail because of the now.

And I think that you will see more and more people that are in the Trump orbit that end up willing to lie for the president and then they`re the ones that pay the price. And that`s precisely what Michael Cohen said today.

KORNACKI: What do you make of that, that argument he`s making. He`s saying, look, when he lied to Congress about Trump Tower, about those discussions about the Trump Tower Moscow, he`s saying when he lie -- Trump didn`t tell him to lie but he inferred Trump wanted him to lie. Trump basically communicates in a code, he believes he understands the code. He says he doesn`t -- he didn`t actually witness what was said but he believes he saw Donald Trump Jr. come into Trump`s office, walk around the desk, whisper to him something about the June 2016 meeting.

There`s a lot of sort of aspersions being cast there, but do you need more than that, than him saying, I think I understood it this way, I thought I heard that?

SPEIER: So, the fact that the Trump Tower Moscow Project went on all through 2016, he said he had no dealings with Russia, and yet he had a letter of intent that had been signed in the fall of 2015, and was still in effect in 2016 and his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee was reviewed by White House counsel and edited to reflect that there wasn`t any business going on in 2016 in a conspiracy to defraud.

And I think that`s going to become crystal clear as we go forward.

KORNACKI: Who do you want? Who do you want to hear from in testimony that you haven`t yet heard from?

SPEIER: Well, I want to hear from Jay Sekulow, Abbe Lowell. I want to hear from Donald Trump Jr. again, from Ivanka Trump, Steve Bannon should come back. Roger Stone should probably come back.

All of the very intense inner circle of Donald Trump needs to come before the House Intelligence Committee. This was a very small universe of people that were involved in this campaign. And when Michael Cohen said today that Trump saw this as a big, fat infomercial that was going to help him with his business in the future, I think that was very enlightening.

KORNACKI: All right. Congresswoman Jackie Speier from California, thank you for joining us.

And up next, today`s hearing was explosive. What effect will it have on the president and his standing with the voters?

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KORNACKI: Welcome back. The scene the whole world witnessed in front of the House Oversight Committee today would have rocked any other presidency to its core. Michael Cohen called Donald Trump a criminal, a fraud and a racist, and suggested federal prosecutors may be putting a case together.

From a legal standpoint, there are obvious open questions here. We will see what special counsel Robert Mueller does or doesn`t do. We will see what, if anything, emerges from federal prosecutors in New York, maybe even from the New York state attorney general. Action on any of these fronts could dramatically change Trump`s presidency.

But when it comes to the politics, it is still far from clear what effect if any a day like today will have. The charges from Cohen were absolutely explosive, no question. But were they actually surprising?

This is one of the things makes the Trump presidency so different from those that came before it. Most voters, including many of Trump`s own supporters already believe that Donald Trump had exceptionally low character, even before he became president. In 2016 exit poll, just 33 percent of voters said they considered Trump honest. One in five of his own voters considered him dishonest. Only 35 percent said he had the temperament to be president, just 38 percent said he was even qualified for the office. In polling before the election, only 1/3 of voters said that Trump shared their values, 59 percent said they agreed that, quote, Trump talks in a way that appeals to bigotry. Forty-four percent said they considered him an out and out racist.

Remember the "Access Hollywood" tape. Trump`s comments about what he could get away with because he was famous. That tape play for the whole world to hear, just weeks before the election, and yet here we are. By the slimmest of margins and with huge number of Americans convinced he was a lousy person, Donald Trump was still elected president.

And while there`s no evidence he has gained any support since becoming president, his numbers have been pretty stable. An approval rating that never really falls lower than somewhere in the high 30s, never really gets higher than mid-40s. Just like his support in the polls during the campaign.

So, yes, the kinds of things we heard today would have been ruinous for any past president. But what was shocking in the past may almost be expected in the Trump era.

That`s HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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