Cohen wraps third day. TRANSCRIPT: 02/28/2019, Hardball w. Chris Matthews.

Guests: Eric Swalwell, Glenn Kirschner, Kelly Magsamen, Sue Mi Terry

Show: HARDBALL Date: February 28, 2019 Guest: Eric Swalwell, Glenn Kirschner, Kelly Magsamen, Sue Mi Terry

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: That contradicts what you just heard from his daughter as well as the President`s on the record denials. Another story bubbling up tonight.

That does it for THE BEAT. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts right now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: More witnesses. Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

Michael Cohen has wrapped up his third consecutive day of testimony today appearing behind closed doors with the House intelligence committee. This as the President lashed out at him from overseas, speaking just after his negotiations with Kim Jong-un broke down in Hanoi. The President accused Cohen of lying in most of his testimony.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He lied a lot but it was very interesting because he didn`t lie about one thing. He said no collusion with the Russian hoax and I said I wonder why he didn`t just lie about that too like he did everything else?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Cohen did tell the House oversight committee on Wednesday that he doesn`t have any direct evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, though he did say he was suspicious. Trump also called it fake hearing and said it could -- shouldn`t have been scheduled to coincide with his trip to Vietnam.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think having a fake hearing like that and having it in the middle of this very important summit is really a terrible thing. They could have made it two days later or next week and it would have been even better, there would have been more time. But having it during this very important summit is very incredible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: The front pages of this morning`s newspapers from across the country played up the revelations and accusations made by Cohen during that public hearing yesterday. Those papers went to press just before the President`s summit with Kim-Jong-un which ended early this morning with little to nothing in the way of results.

In Wednesday`s explosive six-hour hearing, Cohen suggested among other things that the President committed fraud and suborned perjury. That later allegation stemming from the testimony that Trump hinted to him in a code that Cohen understood his desire for Cohen to lie to Congress about the Trump tower Moscow deal. Cohen did testify as well that the President didn`t directly tell him to lie.

The most direct evidence did come in the form of a check signed by Trump while he was President. It was intended to reimburse Cohen for the elicit pay off made to silent Stormy Daniels.

The chairman of the oversight committee said it suggests the President committed a campaign finance crime. Here is Congressman Elijah Cummings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe that the President committed a crime while in office?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Based on what? Looking at the texts and listening to Mr. Cohen, it appears that he did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: But yesterday`s allegations may only be the tip of the iceberg. Cohen also said he knows of more wrong doing currently under investigation in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Is there any other wrong doing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven`t yet discussed today?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: Yes, and again those are part of the investigation that`s currently being looked at by the southern district of New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: In following Cohen`s closed hearing today, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Congressman Adam Schiff said that Cohen will return again to give additional testimony next week. Schiff also announced the upcoming testimony of Felix Sader, a Russian-born American citizen who helped Cohen pursue a Trump tower in Moscow on the President`s behalf.

I`m joined by now by Congressman Eric Swalwell, Democrat from California. He was in that closed door appearance Cohen had before the House intelligence committee today. Shannon Pettypiece is a White House correspondent from "Bloomberg News" and Glenn Kirschner and Paul Butler are both former federal prosecutor.

Thank you all for joining me.

Congressman Swalwell, let me start with you. Just on that news we had at the end there, another closed door appearance before the intelligence committee now set for next week from Cohen. Felix Sader also being called to testify. Explain the reason behind each one of the decisions.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good evening, Steve. There was lot we learned today. New information that Mr. Cohen will bring corroborating evidence to the committee on Wednesday of next week. And it`s just a lot more to learn from him.

I will just, you know, characterize today`s hearing this way. I found him very credible. He showed a carefulness that he did not show when we interviewed him for about eight hours a year-and-a-half ago. And three, he has got a lot to lose. He has got this sort of (INAUDIBLE) hanging over him and not - he seen the special counsel, increase the sentence against Paul Manafort after Paul Manafort was a cooperator and then shows to lie.

So he was very forth right. Answered our questions. And just as we saw yesterday with the oversight committee, this candidate, Donald Trump running for President was very eager to do business in Russia, very eager to receive the help from WikiLeaks and very eager to learn what his son was doing with this meeting that Michael Cohen thought was around the Trump tower Russia meeting June 2016.

KORNACKI: Let me just make sure I understood you correctly there, if I got what you said at the beginning correctly. Are you saying that next week the purpose of having Cohen come back is to provide specific corroborating evidence? Is that the reason for this?

SWALWELL: That`s a purpose, but we still have a lot of different areas to explore with him. Again, he knows a lot. He has seen Donald Trump`s personal life and has acted on his behalf in that regard. He has been deeply involved in his business transactions. And he did place some role in the campaign particularly as it intersected with the Trump tower Moscow project.

So he is going to come back for more questions in areas we didn`t explore. But also he is assured us that he has documents on some of the areas that we didn`t know about.

KORNACKI: OK. And I want to get to (INAUDIBLE) one more question, if you would, on today`s hearing. Because again, yesterday the whole world got to watch this. The cameras were there. People say sometimes the cameras can change the nature of these hearings. How would you describe the scene, the mood in that hearing behind closed doors today? Was it as contentious as what we saw yesterday? Were the Republicans on that committee pursuing the same lines of questioning we saw yesterday?

SWALWELL: Well, yesterday`s hearing, you know, have great public value. And I think it`s important that occurred in that manner. Our hearing, you know, touches on some investigative equities that other investigations, you know, could have. And so Mr. Cohen did not want to go into some of those areas yesterday as he said in his testimony. And we were able to, you know, dive a little bit deeper today.

Now of course, yes, I mean, these are, you know, tense proceedings but they were civil and they were respectful. And I understand Republicans they have job to do. We have got job to do. We don`t necessarily I think see our roles as the same. But we learned a lot today that will benefit the American people in securing the ballot box in the upcoming election and holding accountable anyone who work for the Russians.

KORNACKI: OK. Well, it`s not just Trump who may be in jeopardy as "Politico" points out. A number of Trump associates identified in Cohen`s testimony may also face collateral damage from yesterday`s testimony. Here are just a few of the names dropped in that hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which specific lawyers reviewed and edited your statement to Congress on the Moscow tower negotiations?

COHEN: Jay Sekulo for one. Mr. Trump knew from Roger Stone in advance about the WikiLeaks drop of emails.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who else knows the President said this?

COHEN: Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman and Matthews Calamari (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And who was the campaign official?

COHEN: Corey Lewandowski.

It would either be Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and/or Allen Weisselberg.

Verona Graft (ph), Ivanka Trump, David Picker, Barry Levin or Dilan Howard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And now, the chairman of the House oversight committee Elijah Cummings says he will likely seek their testimonies too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CUMMINGS: All you have to do is follow the transcripts. That there were names that were mentioned or records said were mention during the hearing. We want to take a look at all of that. We go through. We will figure out pick who we want to talk to and we will bring them in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: If any names came up multiple times in that hearing --.

CUMMINGS: They have a good chance of hearing from us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And a source with direct knowledge tells NBC News today that Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump organization will be called to testify before the House intelligence committee.

There are lots of different pieces here, legal, political, different investigations. Let me try to break this down into a few different pieces and draw upon our experts here.

Glenn Kirschner, let me start with you. On the question that we have been talking about for the last couple of years, this issue of collusion, which is sort of the heart of the mandate that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has. What we heard from Michael Cohen yesterday was he said he was suspicious but he had no evidence of collusion. He also had that item in there where he said he had never visited Prague. That seemed to cut into a little bit of this so-called dossier story that has been out there.

In terms of collusion, in terms of Mueller`s mandate there, where does that stand after what we heard from Cohen yesterday?

GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, Steve. I thought that was an interesting piece of testimony from Michael Cohen when he said listen, I didn`t see any direct evidence of collusion. And I tell you, as a career prosecutor, that actually gives me a comfort level with a witness when it would be easy for him to throw some lies into the mix and say, well, of course, I saw evidence of collusion.

The fact that he didn`t over state, he didn`t gratuitously tried to dirty up Trump, I think can give us a certain level of confidence with respect to the credibility of the balance of his testimony. But you know, sometimes, witnesses don`t know the import of evidence that they actually do have to offer.

For example, when he said that he overheard a phone conversation between Trump and Roger Stone talking about future WikiLeaks drops, I can tell you as a prosecutor, when I`m looking to see whether Trump and the campaign coordinated with Russia, with WikiLeaks, with Stone about the release of those stolen and damaging emails, I would assess that as evidence of collusion or conspiracy. Not rock solid evidence on its own. Not evidence that standing alone proves anything beyond a reasonable doubt, but I think he actually may have said he didn`t see any direct evidence of collusion but he sure saw some circumstantial evidence of collusion.

KORNACKI: OK. Now, Paul Butler, on this issue of suborning perjury. The idea of encouraging others to commit perjury. The accusation there made in this hearing from Cohen yesterday. He says Trump did not directly tell him to lie in his testimony before Congress last year about the Moscow deal, but that Trump communicated to him in a language, essentially a code that Michael Cohen, as a decade long employee of Trump understood. That line between, OK, he didn`t directly say it but I inferred it from the way he speaks. Legally where did that land?

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So Steve, experienced criminals and it`s starting to sound like Donald Trump might be in that group, don`t talk about their crimes explicitly. They talked in code in the way that Roger Stone suggest it - I`m sorry, that Michael Cohen suggested.

Michael Cohen also suggested that Trump`s lawyers change his testimony. If that`s true, then those lawyers would not be protected by attorney client privilege. There is a crying fraud exception, gutsy prosecutor could well hall Trump`s lawyers into the grand jury. There would be a legal fight about attorney/client privilege. But if they prevail, they could be asked why did you change Michael Cohen`s truthful testimony? If they say it is because the President, our client, directed us to, then the President is guilty of suborning perjury. He is guilty of what not just a federal crime but an impeachable offense.

KORNACKI: And Shannon Pettypiece, we saw the President`s public reaction in this yesterday. In terms of - what is your sense of the folks around Trump? The folks inside the White House, is there a sense of what they consider the most significant aspect of yesterday`s testimony. Is there a particular aspect of it that they are worried about going forward?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, I would say inside the White House among a lot of the aides and staffers, they are sort of so battle tested at this point that not really -- it takes a lot to sort of get on their radar. I think a lot of people just felt like this was another circus day in Washington and there will be another crisis tomorrow. They will move on to.

But among the President`s advisors who are sort of more well-verse in the legal aspects of this, the growing concern is about the southern district of New York investigation. And Michael Cohen gave us a little glimpse into one of the threats that SDNY might have pulled when he mentioned this inflated financial statements that were used to try to get a loan from the buffalo bills.

Now it seems like Michael Cohen only has a piece of this puzzle. But it`s one of those strands that prosecutors could pull on and unravel and congressional investigators could as well. And I think that`s why we now hear them talking about bringing Allen Weisselberg who by my count his name was brought up two dozen times yesterday. So it would not be a stretch of the imagination to see him brought in.

And there`s not that much that he or the Trump organization we be able to do to prevent a congressional subpoena because they are private citizens. They have no executive privilege like a lot of the other people in this administration.

So, yes, we could see them coming in. And the SDNY thread I think is still out there. And that is something that remains to be a concern to those close to the President.

KORNACKI: And congressman, I say, two. There is legal questions. There is political questions. There are political questions as well. One of them revolves around, as we said, that the most direct and clear piece of evidence that was produced yesterday at this hearing from Cohen was that check which gets to the issue of the hush money payments, which gets to the question of a campaign finance violation, the question of a felony there.

The political question is raised by that. If you have the chairman of the oversight committee there saying, hey, I believe this is a crime, the political question that`s raised is, do you as a member of Congress believe that rises to the level of a high crime which would be an impeachable offense. And if I understood you correctly, I think in our airwaves, you said that particular piece of it, even if you established a campaign finance crime there, you are not sure that rises to the high crime level.

SWALWELL: Steve, that`s right.

And I would be interested what Mr. Butler and Kirschner think as well. As a prosecutor, I think there`s an indictment waiting for Donald Trump when he leaves office on that issue as a coconspirator for a false statement regarding campaign contributions or for the legal campaign contribution.

But what I`m looking at are bigger issues here. What`s at stake for our national security with Russia, what is at stake is to whether this President is financially compromised. And so, these payments to me, I would look at them as prior bad acts. They inform me as to how this shadowy operator of an individual and Donald Trump operates. And if he is acting that way in paying off women, he is probably doing the same with his taxes and the way he deals with the Russians and his oversea investments and cashing in on access to the oval office and just thinking about what the American people care about, and (INAUDIBLE) what is at stake for them. If their national security is at risk, if the rule of law in our count is at risk, I think will have bipartisan buy in and the American people with us if that`s where we are going.

So I`m saying if that is we have, I don`t know if that`s worth pursuing for impeachment.

KORNACKI: OK. Congressman Eric Swalwell, again, who was in the closed door hearing today, appreciate the time.

Shannon Pettypiece, Glenn Kirschner and Paul Butler, thank you to all of you as well.

And coming up, the bad break up. How Michael Cohen went from I would take a bullet for him, lying about Trump, to saying he is a racist a cheat and a conman.

Plus, President Trump once again taking a dictator at his word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I don`t believe that he would have allowed that to happen. Just wasn`t to his advantage to allow that to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: This time he is publicly letting Kim Jong-un off the hook over the death of U.S. Otto Warmbier.

And breaking news as well, to tell you about tonight. "The New York Times" now reporting that President Trump ordered his chief of staff to give Jared Kushner a top security clearance.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump traveled halfway around the globe, only to return empty- handed. His two-day summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un ended abruptly, after they failed to reach an agreement on how to dismantle North Korea`s nuclear weapons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a very interesting two days. And I think, actually, it was a very productive two days. But sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times.

Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety. And we couldn`t do that. They were willing to de-nuke a large portion of the areas that we wanted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Two hours later, in an extremely rare news conference, North Korea`s foreign minister disputed President Trump`s account, telling reporters that country only demanded partial sanctions relief in exchange for shuttering its main nuclear complex.

Despite the collapse in talks, Trump continued to praise Kim.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

D. TRUMP: We spent pretty much all day with Kim Jong Un, who is -- he`s quite a guy and quite a character.

Frankly, I think we`ll end up being very good friends with Chairman Kim and with North Korea. I trust him, and I take him at his word.

There`s a warmth that we have, and I hope that stays. We just like each other. I mean, we have a good relationship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And that praise comes despite Kim`s brutal record when it comes to human rights.

According to international experts, Kim Jong-un has placed more than 100,000 of his own citizens into political prison camps, facing torture and forced labor, while also starving tens of thousands more.

During his press conference, the president dismissed American intelligence reports that North Korea was expanding its nuclear arsenal, while appearing to back off his previous demand of complete and irreversible denuclearization.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: You have seen Chairman Kim increase the number of missiles he`s produced and continue to produce more nuclear material.

D. TRUMP: Well, some people, David, are saying that, and some people are denying that.

QUESTION: Are you still thinking that you want North Korea to give up everything to do complete, verifiable denuclearization...

D. TRUMP: Well, I don`t want to say that to you...

QUESTION: ... before you lift sanctions?

D. TRUMP: Yes. Yes. It`s a good question. I don`t want to say that to you because I don`t want to put myself in that position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: For more, I`m joined by Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times," Kelly Magsamen, former National Security Council staffer under both the Obama and Bush administrations, and Sue Mi Terry, former North Korea analyst for the CIA.

Peter, let me just start with you.

You have got those conflicting versions of events there, the president saying they wanted all the sanctions taken down, North Korea saying, no, hey, it was only partial.

What is your understanding of where this broke down? And, also, was there somebody around the president who sort of prevailed on him ultimately to take this posture?

PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, that`s a great question, exactly, because, in fact, there are people around the president who don`t want any sanctions taken down, whether it be partial or complete, until North Korea has actually accomplished what it has said it wants to accomplish, which is to denuclearize.

They did not favor -- folks like John Bolton, who worked for George W. Bush, opposed it when Bush talked about what he called an action-for-action kind of staged agreement in which the United States would release some sanctions in response to some progress toward eliminating the nuclear program.

That`s been something that was anathema to John Bolton. So you can imagine, in these conversations in the last few days, that he has talked to the president about that, why that would be a bad idea.

And so whether, in fact, the North Koreans were willing to give up or asking for partial sanctions relief or complete sanctions relief, either way, it would have been offensive to John Bolton anyway, who has spoken out against that kind of theory of negotiations for many, many years.

KORNACKI: Kelly, there was speculation coming into this that the president, especially in light of what we have been talking about, what was going on with his former lawyer there before that House committee, that he might be very eager to cut a deal, perhaps to cut a deal more favorable to North Korea than others would like.

There`s ultimately no deal here. So, you can`t make the case that he gave away too much. Nothing was given away in the end. Was anything gained from this exercise, though?

KELLY MAGSAMEN, FORMER DIRECTOR FOR IRAN, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: I actually think that this was a serious embarrassment for the president. This summit should never have happened. It should never been -- he should never been in the position where he was in that room having to turn down any sort of deal.

I think this is bad staff work. I think this is amateur hour. I think the president has this belief that only he can solve big problems like these. And I think it`s just proven to be a folly. And it`s really amateur hour, in my opinion.

And I think, in diplomacy it`s really hard. You have to prepare for setbacks. I remember when, we were negotiating in early 2009 with the Iranians, we came to an agreement on the Tehran research reactor. It fell apart. But we had a plan, a plan in place to deal with that setback.

I don`t get the sense that this team has any plan.

KORNACKI: Assuming he`s going -- if Kim Jong-un is taking another one of those train rides, what was it, a 65-hour train ride -- I don`t know if that`s how he`s getting back to North Korea.

But when he gets back home, how does he look coming out of this summit?

SUE MI TERRY, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Well, he`s going to try to spin it that he didn`t -- he was -- he played hard against the United States.

So he`s going to be fine domestically. And I think the problem fundamentally here is that two leaders misjudged each other. So I think Trump misjudged Kim Jong-un, thinking that he came to the negotiating table because of maximum pressure, because of fire and fury, never mind that he actually got his nuclear and missile program to a certain capability. That`s why he`s coming to the negotiating table.

Kim Jong-un also thought that probably President Trump so eager to have this foreign policy victory, that he was going to give away. I mean, they did request relief from five United Nations Security Council resolution sanctions. That`s most of sanctions.

So I do think, in this case, Trump is actually right to walk away from this, no deal. No deal is better than a bad deal. So, I think I`m OK that President Trump walked away from this.

KORNACKI: This is the second encounter they have had. You said they misjudged each other.

TERRY: Yes.

KORNACKI: Is there any reason to believe there`s going to be a third? Is there any reason to have a third?

TERRY: Well, they shouldn`t have a third unless, like, all of this stuff is worked out.

And I think -- I think Kim Jong-un, after coming out of the Singapore summit, because President Trump gave away the exercises last minute so easily, scrapping the joint U.S.-South Korea exercises, without even coordinating with South Korea, he thought maybe he could do this again with President Trump.

So I think now third summit is very unlikely, unless working level, everything`s worked out. And I don`t see that happening anytime soon.

KORNACKI: And we mentioned this as well, shifting gears a little bit here, but the Michael Cohen news the last two days, the North Korea summit.

Now there is also this being reported tonight from "The New York Times." They are reporting that the president`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was granted top-secret security clearance because President Trump overruled top intelligence officials.

According to "The Times," that decision was so troubling to senior administration officials, that former Chief of Staff John Kelly wrote a memo noting that he had been ordered to give Kushner clearance. And former White House counsel Don McGahn also documented his objections and concerns.

In January, the president denied any involvement. And, earlier this month, Ivanka Trump also denied her father played any role in the process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IVANKA TRUMP, ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: There were anonymous leaks about there being issues, but the president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband`s clearance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And, Peter Baker, again, this news just breaking tonight from your newspaper.

But take us through, if you will, just a little bit about what we know here about what was playing out behind the scenes, with -- with President Trump reportedly giving this order overruling the folks around him.

And what are the implications? If that can be established, and these public denials are on the record, are there -- is there a fallout from this?

BAKER: Yes. No, it`s very interesting, of course.

There was some disagreement among the professionals who had evaluated Jared Kushner for this top clearance, top-secret clearance. Some of them thought that it was fine to go ahead and give it to him. Others thought, no, there were some serious concerns that had to be weighed first and were very reluctant, were not going to recommend that kind of thing.

And the president kind of cut through it and basically said to John Kelly, his chief of staff, make it happen.

It`s interesting that John Kelly made a point of making a record of this in writing at the time, so that there would be no question, at least from his point of view, as to what had happened.

He wrote down in a memo that the president had ordered him to do it. Now, we were in the Oval Office with the president just one month ago, my colleague Maggie Haberman and I, and she asked him about this, because she`d been reporting on this, whether or not he had had anything to do, the president, with Jared Kushner`s security clearance.

And he told us flatly to our face, no, he did not, no, he did not. And so this memo directly contradicts that, a memo in the hand of his own chief of staff. And the second memo that Don McGahn, his White House counsel at the time, wrote out also directly seems to contradict it, in the sense that he talks about the concerns that he had that led him to recommend not giving the highest security clearance to Jared Kushner.

So this is -- this is a big deal, both on the merits and in terms of what the White House and the president himself have said about what happened behind closed doors.

KORNACKI: And, Kelly, this is another case.

We have seen this with the Trump administration I think a number of times on a number of different fronts, but in terms of what goes on behind the scenes, the normal procedures behind the scenes in the executive branch, the Trump presidency, through this -- through this story, through this drama, has shined a light on an area that I think a lot of people hadn`t paid much attention to before.

You`re a veteran of a couple of administrations there. This issue of security clearances, of a president personally getting involved, has something like this -- are you aware of a precedent for this, of this happening at all in other administrations?

MAGSAMEN: I am not aware of any precedent for this.

I mean, the security clearance process is a pretty sacred process. All national security officials and civil servants have to go through that process. It`s done by our law enforcement investigation agencies. And the fact that the president weighed in with essentially a political decision and interfered in an investigation or in some sort of background investigation, I think it`s unprecedented.

I have never heard of anything like it.

KORNACKI: All right, Kelly Magsamen, Peter Baker, Sue Mi Terry, thank you all for joining us.

And up next: The clock is ticking, as Beto O`Rourke inches closer to an announcement. Is he running for president?

I`m going to head over to the Big Board and take -- remember, he was a fund-raising sensation in the midterms. He came up short in his election. If he runs for president, how is he going to stack up against the other Democrats? We will take a look.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY, EXECUTIVE/TALK SHOW HOST: What`s the conclusion? Are you running?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BETO O`ROURKE (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: So, this question about...

(LAUGHTER)

WINFREY: Will you be running for president?

O`ROURKE: So -- so, that`s a big question for us to think through.

WINFREY: What it`s take for you to say, yes, I`m doing it?

O`ROURKE: For me, it will -- it will really be family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to the HARDBALL.

Beto O`Rourke, remember him? For Democrats, he was a sensation on the midterm campaign trail last year. That was recently talking to Oprah Winfrey.

He caused such a stir running for office. Of course, he didn`t win, but he caused such as a stir running for the U.S. Senate in Texas, a very red state, obviously, last year, there had been all sorts of talk, would he turn around and run for president in 2020?

And we have got some new hints, in fact, in the last 24 hours. Beto O`Rourke now says he has made up his mind. A decision will be announced soon. And folks around him, based on some of the reporting that is out in the last 24 hours, seem to be suggesting that his decision is, no, not to run for the Senate again in Texas, but maybe that would then mean he`s not running for the Senate, if he`s going to run for something, maybe he is going to run for president.

So, we are we on the cusp of Beto O`Rourke joining the presidential race?

And, of course, you will remember, this was the kind of coverage he was getting last fall. These are the kinds of crowds he was drawing. You don`t see a lot of Democrats in Texas draw those kinds of crowds.

And then there was this, what caught everybody`s attention last fall during that campaign. There was the money he was bringing in. These are the Democratic candidates last year around the country. Almost $80 million poured in from all over the country, Democrats giving to Beto O`Rourke, double, more than double what the next best Democrat did.

Claire McCaskill -- McCaskill, Nelson, Heitkamp, Baldwin, they were all incumbents. They all had a built-in fund-raising network. O`Rourke , not the case, and yet he doubled up his nearest rival there, if you want to call it that, when it came to raising money.

So that was telling people that he was tapping into something. That`s where this idea of him running for president began to originate. Of course, we say, on Election Day -- he`s not a senator now. He lost by three points to Ted Cruz. For a Democrat in Texas, that`s pretty good.

Hillary Clinton lost the state by nine points. Barack Obama lost it by 16. Last time a Democrat carried this state in a presidential race, you got to go back to 1976. That`s pretty good.

But, look, all that money, all that stir he caused among Democrats, he was the one Democrat running against Ted Cruz, who national Democrats don`t like.

What happens when Beto O`Rourke gets matched up with a bunch of other Democrats? You can see right now, in the initial polling, there he is. He`s running somewhere in the mid-single digits, Biden, Sanders, Harris all of that. He`s got some ground to make up if he gets in this race.

Now, we will see what kind of reaction he gets. But think about it. Think of that 80 million bucks he took in. I bet some of that 80 million bucks came from people who like Joe Biden, who like Bernie Sanders, who like Kamala Harris, who like Elizabeth Warren.

It is one thing to be the Democrat who`s running against Ted Cruz. Then every Democrat is going to love you, every Democrat is going to want in. We saw that last year.

But when you you`re running against eight, 10, 12 other Democrats, maybe it`s a different story. So we will see if Betomania that we saw in Texas last year, if that carries over to a national campaign. We will be finding out soon if there`s going to be one.

Up next: Michael Cohen had a solemn morning yesterday for Trump loyalists in Congress. "Don`t make the same mistake I did," he said, tracing his trajectory from loyalty, blind loyalty, to prison time.

We`re going to go into that -- after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

For more than a decade, Michael Cohen was President Trump`s blindly loyal attorney. He`s so-called fixer and his friend. As recently as September of 2017, Cohen told "Vanity Fair", I`m the guy who would take a bullet for the president.

Cohen reportedly relished his role as a pit bull for Trump. In his testimony on Wednesday though, he outlined a litany of tasks that he handled at Trump`s behest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Threatened his high schools, colleges the college board not to release his grades or SAT scores. He asked me to handle the negative press surrounding his medical deferment from the Vietnam draft pay off an adult film star with whom he had an affair, and to lie about it to his wife which I did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: "The New York Times" described Cohen`s testimony as a nasty public break up of a New York relationship forged over a decade. The acrimony was evident in Cohen`s assessment of his former boss and in a message he had for the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: I regret the day I said yes to Mr. Trump. I regret all the help and support I gave him along the way. I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a con man and he is a cheat.

I have lied. But I am not a liar. And I have done bad things but I`m not a bad man. I have fixed things but I am no longer your fixer, Mr. Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Cohen tried to explain his change of heart and offered a warning to congressional Republican whose defend the president. That`s coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

During his testimony yesterday, Michael Cohen was asked about his change of heart when it came to president Trump. His response included a warning to the president`s Republican defenders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: There are several factors. Helsinki, Charlottesville, watching the daily destruction of our civility to one another. It`s that sort of behavior that I`m responsible for. I`m responsible for your silliness because I did the same thing you`re doing now for ten years. I protected Mr. Trump for ten years.

And I can only warn people the more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did blindly are going to suffer the same consequences that I`m suffering.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And joining me now is Tim O`Brien, executive editor at Bloomberg Opinion and Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist.

Tim, just in terms of -- there are the accusations that he level, there`s the evidence that he brought there. There`s that aspect of it. But when it comes to just Michael Cohen and the idea of a change of heart, he`s citing Charlottesville and these other things. How much of it though -- you got a sense of who this guy. How much of it a sense that this guy got caught?

TIM O`BRIEN, BLOOMBERG OPINION, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: He did caught. And, you know, his sentencing memo from federal law enforcement officials who spent a lot of time with him, said we don`t believe this guy authentically had a change of heart? And they were saying that to a judge who had to decide how severe sentenced they were going to give him.

So, he`s not a perfect messenger, but he did put a messenger out there that I think is spot on, which is that the Republican Party is enabling Donald Trump right now. And he enabled Trump for a decade. I think he`s, you know, he`s inflating his role, he`s making himself more grandiose figure in the Trump Organization than he was.

Put all that aside, what he`s saying is I now feel guilty because I`m seeing the result of enabling someone who`s unethical, lawless and destructive. And if you do the same thing, we`re going to have problems, and that`s not a hypothetical, which already been going on since Trump was inaugurated. The Republican Party, I think put that at the feet, up until this point at the feet of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Ryan has departed now, but both of them essentially put their institutional powers, in checks and balances at the feet of Donald Trump, who is the most ill-informed conflicted president we had in the White House in a generation, probably ever in the modern era.

KORNACKI: Well, so, Susan, pick up on that point because you`re around politicians. You know how they think. You know how they operate. You know, the incentive system. So, this question always gets asked about why won`t Republicans in Congress do "X", do "Y", stand up on this. The answer that I always think of, just in terms of their motivations, whatever you think of as a good or bad, but in terms of understanding the motivation, look at the way this Gallup poll.

What`s Trump`s approval rating with Republican voters? Eighty-nine percent. Nobody in politics stands up to that ever.

SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, and yet, I still think that they never properly test if Donald Trump -- you know, if there was a viable option to Donald Trump. Those numbers change. There is room to soften the support of Donald Trump and let`s look at some of the primaries he got involved in. He wasn`t always successful as we know.

So I wish that --

KORNACKI: Can I just say, the fact, in 2016, he comes into the primaries, not a single Republican member of Congress endorses him before he`s won anything. He got no traditional support, and he wins, psychologically. Is the party not gotten over that?

DEL PERCIO: It has -- I can`t understand for the life of me as a Republican for 30 years, I wish I could say, Steve, this is how the party has, and this is why and maybe I`m not in sync with it anymore but there are too many Republicans that I know of who aren`t necessarily in politics who are frustrated and who are disgraced.

And it`s very hard to say, I`m a Republican in certain circles. Even me, it`s in New York but it`s like, I`m kind of say it a little quietly now. I had no problem with it.

But the Republican leadership is a disgrace because not only are they selling out to Donald Trump, they`re selling out the reason why they were elected. They`re selling out their oath to the Constitution. They`re not doing their jobs in Washington.

Right now, Mitch McConnell, letting the president supporting him to take this emergency action is absurd. This should never have happened. It very well could be unconstitutional. It`s certainly against everything Republicans stand for.

So, it is a disgrace the way elected officials are reacting and if they`re only thinking about their jobs, well, it shows that we need a new crop of elected officials.

KORNACKI: Well, what are the other thoughts, Tim, too? Just watching this yesterday. As you look at Michael Cohen, you look at everything he`s laying out yesterday and just his own life. He seems to be a shattered man yesterday before that committee, certainly seemed that way. None of this happens to him if Donald Trump doesn`t run for president.

O`BRIEN: Well, that`s -- you know, that`s the devil`s bargain, when you enter into a relationship with Donald Trump, most of the people who have long-term relations with him, only people who have long-term relations with him are family members or a small group of people inside the Trump organization. Everyone else, he tends to chew up and spit out.

But you also have to be a certain kind of person to fall into that trap. At one point during Cohen`s testimony, he started waxing poetic about the joys of working for Donald Trump. You felt like you were part of something larger than yourself.

People I think with more healthy orientation to who they are don`t get that easily enamored than of Michael Cohen, but he is a metaphor, going back to the challenges of the GOP face because Trump is not a true conservative. He`s in this for himself. He`s neither conservative nor liberal. He`s just a force of nature who`s profoundly self-absorbed, and to the extent the GOP puts its reputation and its values into his pocket, they`re going to suffer long-term in a way I don`t think --

DEL PERCIO: But, Steve, I do think there`s just -- quickly, one thing that wasn`t necessarily, Craig, he would have ended up here. Let`s not forget. Michael Cohen got investigated because of his involvement with taxing medallions and his business partners owing hundreds of millions of dollars in back taxes. This was a guy who already had his back up against the wall.

KORNACKI: All right. The Trump Tower campaign, there were a number of things involved.

Anyway, Tim O`Brien, Susan Del Percio, thank you for joining us.

Up next, seven years ago. A presidential candidate warned about the dangers of Russia and was ridiculed for it. It turns out, some people now say, sorry, you were right. You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Governor Romney, I`m glad that you recognize al Qaeda is a threat because a few months ago when you were asked, what`s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia. Not al Qaeda, you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because the Cold War has been over for 20 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Welcome back.

That was one of the big lines of attack that Barack Obama and Democrats used against Mitt Romney in the 2012 campaign. It was apparently effective then but to many, it looks very different now and it`s back in the news this week in an interesting way. The background, if you have forgotten, Romney in 2012 was accusing Obama of being soft on Russia and he had called Russia, without question the number one geopolitical foe.

Obama and Democrats say it showed how naive Romney was. Russia they said was a regional nuance and not a global threat. They had a lot of fun with it.

Here was John Kerry at that year`s Democratic convention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: He`s even blurted out the preposterous notion that Russia is our number one geopolitical foe. Folks, Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska. Mitt Romney talks like he`s only seen Russia by watching Rocky IV.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Now, it`s true that in 2012, Vladimir Putin had not launched his invasion of Crimea and, of course, this was before Russia`s meddling in the 2016 president election here. But it`s also true, there were some troubling signs already out there. In 2012, Russia had already invaded the country of Georgia. Putin had already been implicated in deaths, in disappearances, of journalists and dissidents. He was reclaiming the title of president of Russia in 2012, this after four years of being widely seen as the puppet master of that country`s affairs.

Today, few would bat an eye in assessment like Romney`s, but that was not the case in 2012 and that`s the backdrop for what happened this week in a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee. Testifying before that committee was Madeleine Albright, a former secretary of state. And in 2012, Albright was one of those Democrats who ridiculed Romney. She was featured in an Obama campaign video saying Mitt Romney`s claim about Russia showed that he, quote, had little understanding of what was actually going on in the 21st century.

Now, Albright said she looks at that episode very differently. Quote: I think we forget that we forgot we`re dealing with a KGB agent and I think he`s played a weak hand very well and I personally owe an apology to now Senator Romney because I think we underestimated what was going on in Russia.

A lot of people in politics have changed their tune on Russia since 2012 and that certainly includes Republicans who now largely back a president with a very different view of Putin than Romney had back then. But few of them actually do what Albright did this week and admit, and grapple with it in public.

That`s HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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