STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Witness tampering? Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews. We have breaking news tonight in the Jeffrey Epstein case involving possible efforts of witness tampering.
And another major shake-up in the Trump White House, Alex Acosta is out as Trump`s Labor Secretary amid unrelenting criticism that the former federal prosecutor helped to cut a lenient plea deal in that sex crime case against Jeffrey Epstein.
Tonight in a new court filing though, this is the breaking news, federal prosecutors are now accusing Jeffrey Epstein, who was arrested for allegedly trafficking underage girls, they are accusing him now of witness tampering.
Prosecutors say that Epstein wired $350,000 to two of his possible co- conspirators just days after the Miami Herald began publishing a series of articles about Epstein`s conduct and the circumstances surrounding that lenient non-prosecution agreement he cut with federal prosecutors.
Prosecutors write this, quote, Epstein`s efforts to influence witnesses continue to this day. As in the past, within recent months, he paid significant amounts of money to influence individuals who were close to him during the time period charged in this case and who might be witnesses against him at a trial.
Government lawyers obtained bank documents showing that Epstein wired one $1,000 to one individual two days after that Miami Herald story. And three days later, Epstein wired another $250,000 to another alleged co- conspirator.
Prosecutors wrote, quote, this course of action and in particular its timing suggests the defendant was attempting to further influence co- conspirators who might provide information against him.
Revelation comes a day after Epstein`s lawyers argue that Epstein was entitled to bail and request that he be released into home detention.
For more I am joined by NBC Correspondent Tom Winter. Tom, I know you have been working the phones and trying to figure out exactly what`s going on here. Take us through these two possible co-conspirators within days of the Miami Herald writing this story that kicked all of this back into the news in the last year or so. They`re saying prosecutors that Epstein swung into action and cut some big checks.
TOM WINTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, what`s important about this, how do we know that they`re possible co-conspirators. Well, they`re identified in the filing tonight, and they`ve been identified previously as being in the non-prosecution agreement that Jeffrey Epstein was able to get as a result of Alex Acosta. He authorized that non-prosecution agreement. The two possible co-conspirators were identified in there.
And then, apparently, between the two of them, within five days of that Miami Herald -- the series of Miami Herald articles coming out, they received $350,000. One received a $100,000 payment. The other got a $250,000 payment.
And what`s interesting to me is that, within the filing tonight, prosecutors specifically talk about how that these were kind of one-off payments that did not occur at another time. So they say neither of these payments appears to be recurring or repeating during the approximately five years of bank records presently available to the government, that being the federal prosecutors. It tells me that they likely have suspicious activity reports from Treasury identifying these payments, or at the very least the bank flagged these payments.
And it`s just indicative of an overall trend they say that goes back to when this case was first prosecuted or first investigated by the Palm Beach Police Department that noticed several attempts to perhaps intimidate or coerce victims. They talk about payments back then. And then you have more recent activity. And here`s why it`s most important. This is in response to Epstein`s efforts or his attorney`s efforts to get him a bail package.
Now, prosecutors are saying, whoa, the bad activity that we`ve highlighted, the things that we`ve charged, the things we are investigating back in `05, `06, `07 and `08, that activity has not stopped. We`ve got suspicious activity that`s occurring with his possible co-conspirators within the last six, seven months. So this is going to be very damning when it`s presented and was filed with the judge when it`s talked about at the bail hearing on Monday.
KORNACKI: So we`re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars here coming from Jeffrey Epstein. And we are also getting a better picture, a clearer picture of what he has financially. What do you know now? Hundreds of millions of dollars we`re talking about in terms of net worth, hundreds of millions potentially at his disposal.
WINTER: Exactly right. So prosecutors tonight also say that, according to records from an institution, a banking institution, that they`ve obtained, he has at least $500 million of assets and cash available to him on hand.
In addition, they say that he has made $10 million just in that specific institution on an annual basis, and that`s the money he has coming in, that`s income that he has coming in.
So his income that`s supplanting the money that he is spending on the private jets, on the money that he is spending to keep up his mansion here in New York, the $77 million mansion, his property in Florida, his island in the U.S. Virgin Islands and to fly those planes. So prosecutors are saying, look, it`s not just that he has money, he also has money coming in.
And this is the first time we`ve seen a real detailed accounting of exactly how much money Jeffrey Epstein might have. And it`s worth noting, it`s only from one institution. It`s likely he has other institutions that he has done banking with.
We don`t know about offshore accounts. Obviously, he`s got the -- in the U.S. Virgin Islands, whether or not he has other accounts. And this raises questions about exactly how much --
KORNACKI: That money is a floor maybe, not necessarily the ceiling.
WINTER: Perfectly put.
KORNACKI: Could be more here. Okay, Tom Winter, thank you, great reporting there. I appreciate that.
And meanwhile, the other big news in Washington today, Alex Acosta, Donald Trump`s embattled Labor Secretary, has now resigned. Acosta joined the President who teed up the announcement while on his way to Marine One earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I just want to let you know, this was him, not me because I`m with him. He was a -- he is a tremendous talent. He is a Hispanic man. He went to Harvard, a great student. And in so many ways I just hate what he`s saying now because we`re going to miss him.
ALEXANDER ACOSTA, U.S.SECRETARY OF LABOR: I do not think it is right and fair for this administration`s Labor Department to have Epstein as the focus rather than the incredible economy that we have today.
And so I called the President this morning. I told him that I thought the right thing was to step aside.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And just two days ago, Acosta had tried to shore up his standing with the President by holding an hour-long news conference, but apparently it did little to quell the public criticism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Why is there no need for him to resign?
TRUMP: There is no need at all, as far as I`m concerned. I would have -- I watched Alex yesterday. I thought Alex did a great job. And, you know, you can always second guess people and you could say it should have been tougher. They do it with me all the time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And NBC News is reporting that the President sought input from friends and allies on whether or not Acosta should be fired or if he could weather the storm.
For more, I`m joined by Yamiche Alcindor, White House Correspondent at PBS NewsHour, Danielle Moodie-Mills, Sirius XM host, and John Podhoretz, Editor at Commentary Magazine.
Yamiche, let me start with you. The President said of his soon to be former Labor Secretary, it was him, not me. You heard him in the clip there saying, in my mind, he did not have to resign. Of course, the President could have refused the resignation, I suppose. Behind the scenes, take us there behind the scenes. Was a message delivered to Acosta from somebody close to the President, somebody inside the administration that it was time to offer a resignation?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: Well, this was really an incredibly moment and an incredibly awkward moment at the end of an incredibly awkward week for Secretary Acosta.
The President pushed Acosta, and sources tell me he encouraged him to go before the cameras, to make a public case to try to defend himself to keep his job. It was essentially a tryout to say, if you can go before the cameras and I like what I`ll see, I`ll keep you, sort of like The Apprentice.
Instead, the President looked at that, he didn`t watch it live. But then after a few days, he was watching it, talking to people and decided, essentially, Acosta didn`t do a great job. As a result, the President essentially walked him out there and really was this was in some ways a walk of shame for the Secretary of Labor.
And what we saw was the President, while he was praising him, essentially saying, this guy is going to be leaving. He has to go. And they`re trying to say, and White House sources have been telling me, this was all about Acosta. It was completely his idea. But, essentially, the President said, yes, I agree with you, you should resign.
And this is really the President trying to put space between him and Jeffrey Epstein. But, of course, as Tom said, there are these new charges about Epstein witness tampering. There are probably going to be more charges coming. And President Trump was a very close friend of Epstein. So even with Acosta out, this is going to be something that President Trump is going to continue to be asked about.
KORNACKI: John, that seems to be the key here. The President, if you accept their version of events here, and Acosta got the idea himself, called up the President and said, I want to resign, the President could have said, no, you don`t need to, I refuse the resignation. I want you to stay on. So at the very least, he didn`t put up much of a fight here, apparently. Is that an indication that from Trump`s standpoint, politically, there was no tenable way to go forward with Acosta in that position?
JOHN PODHORETZ, EDITOR, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE: I mean, it would have been stupid for him to argue that Acosta should stay, like the obviously clean break is a way to distance himself from the story and to make sure the administration isn`t asked daily about why isn`t Acosta resigning yet.
KORNACKI: But is there anything Acosta realistically could have said or done in that press conference just given the realities of this situation that might have changed what you`re describing?
PODHORETZ: Once the Miami Herald published the story about the deal that Acosta struck with Epstein in 2008, any resurfacing of the story in which the story became active, which is what happened this week when the Southern District of New York indicted him, was going to mean that Acosta had to go.
I mean, there is no -- he gave a credible summary of his case the other day at his press conference that, you know, he was trying to make sure that Epstein didn`t get off scot-free. It didn`t strike a lot of people as all that credible, but it was the best possible argument he could make, and I didn`t resolve anything.
KORNACKI: So, Danielle, just in terms of the politics of this, if the move, politically, from the President`s vantage point was to try to create some distance here as this Acosta -- excuse me, as this Epstein story plays out, did he achieve that? Does getting rid of -- does having Acosta exit the administration create any new space?
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS, SIRIUS XM HOST: No, there is no space to be created. And then the President tried to do that when he said, I haven`t spoken to Jeffrey Epstein in 15 years. We had a falling out.
But the reality is that, look, Epstein is doing exactly what the President did before he became President of the United States, tampering with witness, paying them off. Does that sound familiar? It`s out of the Trump playbook. And so the more that we dig into this sex trafficking, this child abuse scandal, the more that we`re going to recognize how many more recognizable names are involved in this.
He did not start this ring just for himself, right? There are many other men that participated in this. And the idea that the President of the United States in the 1990s was at a party, just him and Jeffrey Epstein and about a dozen women, some of whom, I`m sure, were underage is really problematic.
So I don`t think there is any room that is going to be made between him, between Epstein and the President of the United States just because the Secretary of Labor resigns.
And more than that, this comes a couple of weeks after E. Jean Carroll`s bombshell report on the President. So it`s one sex scandal after another. I don`t think this goes anywhere any time soon.
PODHORETZ: I have to disagree with you, not because I want to defend Trump`s behavior in any way, shape or form, but we know in 2016, the entire country heard the Access Hollywood tape, and he got elected president a month after or four weeks after.
So the idea that more sex scandals are going to level him unless there is some credible case to be made that we don`t know of that he participated in something really horrendous with an underage person, this is now all been filed. This is -- I wish it weren`t the case, but it is.
MOODIE-MILLS: Right. And I think that the reality is that this isn`t just another sex scandal. This is actually involving children between the ages of 13 and 16, and I think that we do -- I think that we do it a disservice to say. These are the people -- remember growing up and your parents used to say, be careful who you hang around. When you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas. The President right now is in need of serious ointment. Everybody that is around him has been involved in some way, in some hideous scenarios, whether it is domestic violence and now it`s child abuse and sex trafficking.
PODHORETZ: Everyone? You can`t say everyone around him. I mean, not everyone.
MOODIE-MILLS: Enough people for it to be a consistent story.
PODHORETZ: Sex scandals and pedophilic or ephebophilic sex scandals are two different things. They are not a continuum. People who are interested in that kind of horrendous behavior have a separate etiology and a methodology. And until we have any reason to believe that that is a taste of Trump`s, you are stretching the boundaries of what is acceptable.
KORNACKI: I think if we can reset it though to where we started here, just on the basic question here, from the administration`s standpoint, trying to change the subject, trying to create some distance here, I think there is that open question, politically, that the 2016 campaign has put out there on this issue and on so many other issues. How much was out there in the 2016 campaign that would have killed off politically any other candidate? And Donald Trump -- it raises the question where the divisions that were sort of set in place in that 2016 campaign locked in place. Did they live with us throughout this presidency? That`s one of the questions the next election is going to tell us.
But also, there is Epstein`s arrest. It has renewed focus on his relationship with President Trump. As we`re talking about here, some context to The New York Times, the two had a years` long friendship with Trump famously telling the New York Magazine that Epstein was a terrific guy at one point. The President says that years later, they did have that falling out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Why did you have a falling out with Jeffrey Epstein and did you ban him from Mar-a-Lago?
TRUMP: Yes, and I did have a falling out a long time ago. The reason doesn`t make any difference, frankly. But I haven`t spoken to him in probably 15 years or more. I didn`t want anything to do with him. That was many, many years ago. It shows you one thing, that I have good taste.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Yamiche, let me bring you back in there. Just in terms of your reporting, what you`re hearing at the White House, what do they tell you about that Trump-Epstein relationship? What do they tell you about their expectations as the legal drama with Epstein now plays out?
ALCINDOR: I should say, White House aides really have been very reluctant to talk about this story and talk about the President`s relationship with Epstein. What we do know is that there is obviously this public information which is that, at one point, President Trump was saying that Jeffrey Epstein was a good guy. He did like women on the younger ages, but that he -- but that they were close friends.
Now, you see the President is saying that there was some sort of falling out, but he wouldn`t go into detail, and I think those details might be critical. It`s really critical to find out what did President Trump actually know. If, in fact, he is in some way -- we come to find out that he knew a little bit more about what Jeffrey Epstein was up to, he maybe knew the ages of these women and didn`t alert authorities, that might be politically and criminally damaging to the President.
But I will say also that I`ve talked to a lot of Trump supporters, and a lot of women Trump supporters. The one thing that they seem to always have a soft spot for is children and this idea that even immigrant children who are being separated from their families, when you have people that have hard line immigration stances, when they think about children being mistreated, they start to question the President. So I think when we start seeing here whether or not the President knew about whether or not 14-year- old children were being abused by Jeffrey Epstein, that might open up into a different kind of problem that President Trump hasn`t quite had to deal with in the past.
KORNACKI: And just to be clear, and I think I heard you say it, but just to make sure I heard you correctly, you`re saying in terms of talking to folks at the White House, they`re just not giving you any indication of what this falling was about?
ALCINDOR: Exactly. They`re not -- they`re not at all saying anything about what this falling out was about. The President obviously was troubled enough that he banned him from Mar-a-Lago and told him that he didn`t want to be around him after years of hanging out with him. So we just have to figure out what those details are and why they actually fell out.
But it obviously had to be something very serious for him to go from hanging out with him and having private parties with him to banning him from his private golf course.
KORNACKI: All right. Yamiche Alcindor, Danielle Moodie-Mills, John Podhoretz, thank you all for being with us.
And coming up, Robert Mueller`s congressional testimony is scheduled for next Wednesday. Well, now, suddenly, it might not happen, at least not next week. We will tell you what the holdup may be all about.
And brand new poll numbers from the key early primary State of South Carolina. We showed you the national numbers yesterday. Now, we`re showing you the first big state with a large African-American voting bloc, new numbers to tell you about there.
Plus, presidential retreat, Trump backing down on the census, part of a growing pattern of bold talk followed by little or no action. Here is something you don`t see every day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And I`ll tell you something about Nancy Pelosi, that you know better than I do, she is not a racist, okay? She is not a racist. For them to call her a racist is a disgrace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: There is the President defending the Democratic Speaker of the House while also trashing her republican predecessor. Much more ahead. Stay with us.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Despite Robert Mueller`s agreement over three weeks ago to testify before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, the date of his testimony is now up in the air.
NBC News is reporting that the Mueller hearings that were slated for next Wednesday may now be delayed until July 24, though the negotiations remain fluid.
According to Politico, lawmakers have been seeking -- quote -- "more time to question the former special counsel." Yet the possible new date is just one day before lawmakers are scheduled to depart for a month-long summer recess, leaving little time for impeachment advocates to seize on my momentum.
"The Washington Post" is also reporting late tonight that it was Mueller who proposed the new date to give lawmakers more time.
The latest ABC News/"Washington Post" poll shows that 59 percent of Americans now say that Congress should not begin impeachment proceedings. Only 37 percent say they should.
All of this comes after the House Judiciary Committee authorized 12 new subpoenas yesterday for big-name witnesses, including Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and Jeff Sessions. However, the administration has already proven they will block or limit witness testimony at many turns.
I`m joined now by a member of one of the committees that was scheduled, may still be scheduled to interview the former special counsel, Congress Steve Cohen of Tennessee, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
And Caroline Fredrickson is president of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and the author of "The Democracy Fix." Caroline testified today before the House Judiciary Committee in a hearing about addressing presidential misconduct.
Thank you both for joining us.
Congressman, let me start with you.
And let me just see if we can get some news out of you. When is Robert Mueller going to testify before your committee?
REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Well, that`s still being negotiated by the committee and committee counsel. So we don`t really know.
But I suspect he will testify on I would guess the 24th, but that`s all up in the air.
KORNACKI: Is this reporting from "The Washington Post" correct that it was Mueller who came to the committee and said, perhaps a delay would be in order here? He was the one who suggested this?
COHEN: I don`t know that for a fact. I just know that they had negotiations, and part of it was to have more time for the Judiciary Committee, so that we could operate as we normally do, with every member having an opportunity to participate in questions, which the Republicans, as well as the Democrats, sought.
And I think that was fair. Originally, it was based on the Intelligence Committee wanting two hours, which covered five minutes for all of their members, but didn`t take into consideration the Judiciary, and it might have just fallen through the cracks.
KORNACKI: Right. So, originally, this looked like it would be two hours for each committee. That would be for next week, if it goes as schedule.
If it goes, say, a week later, so how much time would you have?
COHEN: I don`t know. That`s being negotiated. I would hope it would be enough, at least three hours, maybe four. But it`s up to Mr. Mueller and his folks and the committee.
Caroline Fredrickson, let me ask you about just the expectations for this. And I`m curious, because we have seen and we have heard from Robert Mueller in public for the past two-and-a-half years basically at that press conference, now a couple of months ago.
I say press conference. He didn`t take questions. He talked for about 10 minutes. I think the impression he left on everybody, measured, very precise in what he was willing to say and what he was not willing to say.
Whether it`s two hours in front of these committees, or whether it`s a more expansive questioning, is there any reason to believe he is going to be any more expansive in what he is willing to say publicly?
CAROLINE FREDRICKSON, AMERICAN CONSTITUTION SOCIETY: Well, I doubt that very much.
But there are -- simply reading from his own report in his own voice, I think, would be incredibly forceful for the American public.
And we all have to be honest. Few people have read the report. Not very many people even have read the summaries that were released.
But there is incredible content in there, very disturbing findings about misconduct by the president and by his campaign and his associates that having Mr. Mueller, with the reputation that he has, with his measured delivery, with his history of public service, his military service, just telling people what happened, I think will have an enormous impact on how people -- how much people understand about what has really occurred.
KORNACKI: Congressman, let me ask you about that, because we put the poll number up there. This was from a couple of days ago, the ABC/"Washington Post poll; 37 percent say impeachment, go ahead; 59 percent of Americans say, no, don`t do impeachment.
If you have Mueller, if you hear from Robert Mueller, and those numbers don`t change, is that the end of it in terms of the push for impeachment?
COHEN: No, not at all.
You know, when they started looking at Nixon, it was about 19 percent were for impeachment. Mueller will be very important in his words and to affirm and to remind the American people that what was in that report is that there were over 100 contacts with the Russians, and the Trump campaign did not refuse them. They sought them.
They called for them, and that there were many instances of obstruction of justice, and that Mueller could not say the president didn`t violate the law. And he said the only reason he didn`t indict him -- or one of the reasons, if it`s the only reason, was because of the Office of Legal Counsel`s determination that they couldn`t legally indict a president.
Otherwise, he would have been indicted, and he would have been like Individual 1 in New York and been with Michael Cohen up the river in New York.
We need the direct evidence, the people we have subpoenaed, the folks that paid off Stormy Daniels and helped do that and bought the story of Ms. August, the people who were asked to get Mueller to resign, to ask Sessions to unrecuse himself, to ask McGahn to put out a false paper trail and to lie about the president, asking him to fire Mueller.
Those are obstruction of justice charges.
KORNACKI: Congressman, I think what I`m getting at is this, though. Between the polling we put up at 37-59 -- and I hear the case you`re making right there. I have heard you and I have heard other Democrats make that case.
Here we sit, now well into July, and those are the numbers on impeachment. You have got Mueller potentially appearing. Let`s say maybe it`s the 24th. As soon as he finishes, then Congress is supposed to go on a recess basically until the end of the summer.
So you`re laying out all these other things you need. Between the poll numbers that show the public is not there right now, that looming recess that is going take you to Labor Day, going to take you into September, is the clock just running out here for folks like you who want...
FREDRICKSON: Steve, it possible for me to jump in here?
Because I think we`re sort of missing the bigger picture. Impeachment is obviously something that Congress could be considering, but there is so much more at stake.
And I was thinking about during your last section, where Mr. Podhoretz mentioned the "Access Hollywood" tapes, and how that didn`t affect the election.
Well, I also, if I recall, remember that that was the very day that WikiLeaks dumped all of the e-mails that had been hacked by the Russians from Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.
And so, you know, we have to be concerned about our elections and the integrity of our elections. And Congress needs to get to the bottom of that. Whether it leads to impeachment or not, we still need to understand how to protect our elections.
KORNACKI: All right, but quickly there, Congressman, I just want to ask you...
COHEN: Our committee has talked about...
KORNACKI: ... if you guys are going on recess for the rest of the summer, you just went through a whole list of people you want to hear from. Does that run the clock out?
COHEN: Well, first of all, there are subpoenas, and that`s going start a court process. I don`t expect that the Trump team will not try to stop each and every one of these people, even Corey Lewandowski, who was not a part of the administration, and find every way to stop us. And so I don`t think it will happen soon.
But the committee has talked about meeting in August, having hearings in August, and continuing our work in August. We`re not going to stop because of the recess. We`re going to continue to try to pursue the truth on behalf of the American people.
That`s our duty, as the Judiciary Committee of the United States Congress, under Article 1.
KORNACKI: All right, Congressman Steve Cohen from Tennessee, Caroline Fredrickson, thank you both for being with us.
FREDRICKSON: Thank you.
KORNACKI: And be sure to tune in Sunday night, a special report with Ari Melber on the biggest revelations from the Mueller report. That`s right here, 9:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC.
And up next, going to head over to the Big Board. We`re going to dig into some new poll numbers.
And, remember, they go Iowa, New Hampshire, there`s Nevada, and then South Carolina, first in the South, first state to go, with a giant black population; 60 percent of the voters in the South Carolina primary will be African-American.
Is Joe Biden still number one there after his recent controversies?
Find out next on HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, yesterday at this time, we were showing you our new numbers, national numbers, in the Democratic presidential race from our NBC News poll, our first poll after the Democratic debate.
Joe Biden in first place, but Elizabeth Warren not that far behind him, only seven points behind him. A question we have been asking coming out of that first Democratic debate, how much damage was there to Biden, and, in particular, how much damage to Biden was there among black voters?
Because, remember, the controversy there on the debate stage and in the days after, it was that showdown he had with Kamala Harris. It was the issue of busing. It was racial politics. What about black voters in particular?
And so guess what? There is also a new poll, in addition to our national poll. Our friends at FOX News have a new poll from South Carolina, first- in-the-South state with a big black population, certainly on the Democratic side.
And here you go. Look at this. Overall, in South Carolina, there is Joe Biden out in front, 35 percent. This looks better than numbers we have seen for him in New Hampshire and Iowa lately, 35 percent for Biden in South Carolina, Sanders in second place, Kamala Harris back in third place here.
Let`s take a look, though, at the racial split in South Carolina. So, first of all, among white voters in the Democratic primary, there is Biden. He`s in first place, Kamala Harris actually running in second.
But we say, more than 60 percent of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina is going to be African-American in the primary next year. And among black voters in South Carolina, here it is. Look at that, Joe Biden in first place still, 41 percent, Bernie Sanders actually running in second, Kamala Harris down at third place here at 12 percent.
This is a big dynamic to keep an eye on in the weeks and months to come. South Carolina right now is shaping up as Joe Biden`s strongest of the early states. And the reason it`s the strongest for Biden of the early states is because of the support he has from African-American voters in South Carolina right now.
We also showed him running strong nationally with African-American voters. Does that last for him? Or is Kamala Harris able to surge there? That`s something to keep an eye on.
We mentioned this, though. Again, in Iowa, in 2016, 91 percent of the caucus electorate for Democrats was white. In New Hampshire, 93 percent of the primary electorate was white. In Nevada, only 59 percent, large Hispanic population here.
You get to South Carolina, 61 percent African-American electorate, that`s the first big test for Democratic candidates next year where African- American voters are clearly going to be decisive. It`s 61 percent in South Carolina.
And, remember, if you add up all the primaries across the country, one out of four votes cast next year in the Democratic primaries are going to come from African-American voters. So, South Carolina looms large as a state individually, and as a barometer potentially of what`s to come.
Biden leading with African-American voters in South Carolina right now. Does it last? Let`s see.
Up next: Trump`s latest retreat on the census is part of a familiar pattern in the Trump White House, talking tough, then backing down.
You`re watching HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, I`m here to say, we are not backing down on our effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population.
I stand before you to outline new steps my administration is taking to ensure that citizenship is counted, so that we know how many citizens we have in the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Trump yesterday claiming he was not backing down on his demand to add that citizenship question to the 2020 census, when, in fact, he is giving up on that idea.
The president pulled the plug on the effort just nine days after he declared in a pair of tweets that he had asked the Justice and Commerce Departments to -- quote -- "do whatever is necessary to bring this most vital of questions and this very important case to a successful conclusion."
It`s the latest in several examples of the president seeming to back down in recent weeks. At the end of May, he threatened to impose tariffs on Mexico if that country couldn`t stop the flow of migrants into the U.S. Two days before the deadline, though, he announced they were indefinitely suspended because a deal had been struck with Mexico.
However, "The New York Times" reported that key points of the deal had been agreed on months before.
And a few days later, the president announced nationwide immigration raids.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Immigration officials say they don`t know anything about a planned roundup of millions of people next week.
TRUMP: Well, they know. They know. And they`re going to start next week.
The people that came into the country illegally are going to be removed from the country. Everybody knows that. It starts during the course of this next week, maybe even a little bit earlier than that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: A few hours after that statement, though, Trump tweeted he had delayed the raids for two week -- quote -- "to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution."
There was also his authorization of airstrikes to retaliate for Iran`s downing of a U.S. drone, with Trump calling them off, he said, at the last minute.
In a pair of tweets, he acknowledged that -- quote -- "We were cocked and loaded to retaliate," adding that, "Ten minutes before the strike, I stopped it."
And then, today, the president offered a new explanation for this latest retreat on the census.
That`s next. You`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump, as we said, backed down from his demand to add that citizenship question to the census yesterday, two weeks after the Supreme Court rejected his administration`s rationale.
But even after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross conceded defeat, the president refused to take no for an answer, contradicting Ross and saying the administration was -- quote -- "absolutely moving forward."
Today, the president insisted again that he had not backed down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Not only didn`t I back down. I backed up, because anybody else would have given this up a long time ago.
The problem is, we had three very unfriendly courts. They were judges that weren`t exactly in love with this whole thing. And they were wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: For more, I`m joined by Christine Todd Whitman, former New Jersey governor and former EPA administrator, and Tim O`Brien, executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion.
Tim, let me just start with you, because you have -- you have observed the Trump method for years.
This is a situation, as we -- talking about for the last 24 hours, where the Census Bureau had given the president weeks ago, months ago, the option of doing what he`s ultimately settled on doing here, instead of pursuing this through the courts.
But you don`t see a president out there saying this is any kind of a -- any kind of a back-down from where he was last week.
TIM O`BRIEN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLOOMBERG OPINION: And, you know, we saw this very early on when they tried to overturn the ACA, and they failed. And then Trump had a Rose Garden ceremony in which they said it was a victory that they were unable to overturn this core policy that they had come into office to overturn.
He`s done this for years, which is -- it`s obvious what he`s doing. He`s trying to say, but it`s not a failure, it`s a victory.
I think the larger issue, beyond just the methodology that he`s deploying here, and that he deploys all the time, is that he`s really divorced from the policy itself. Whether it`s about overturning the ACA, or trying to change citizenship questions on the census, he`s not really invested in the outcome of the policy.
He`s more concerned about the theatrics of the event, and more concerned about spinning it so he`s not seen as a loser. And, in the end of it, he doesn`t -- at the end of the day, he doesn`t care about its impact on the people who the policy affects or, sometimes, when it comes to immigration policy, his own Border Patrol.
He wants to make sure he`s on a camera or he`s saying "I won." And if he gets that far, he considers that a win for himself.
KORNACKI: Well, so, Governor, let me ask you.
We set up the example here of the planned immigration raids a couple of weeks ago, that, the night before, the president said, never mind, they`re off.
Now they`re being teed up again potentially for this weekend.
CHRISTIE TODD WHITMAN (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Right.
KORNACKI: Do you have an expectation whether it`s actually going to happen this weekend?
WHITMAN: Who knows with this administration?
What fascinates me is that there`s no outrage that they always seem to do this on a Sunday, on a Sunday, when people are going to go to church. They`re not going to go to church if they know that`s where their -- ICE is going to go, which is where it has been going.
I mean, this is an administration that wraps itself in the Bible and talks about how Christian they are. All these policies are anti that.
But I would go a little further on what you were saying, because I really believe that part of this is calculated for the base. He doesn`t care, at the end of the day, because he doesn`t care about the policy. You`re right. And he doesn`t care about -- the end of the day about winning.
In fact, he`s happy to lose in the courts, because then he can blame it on the courts. Then he can gin up his base a little bit more to say, see how the terrible things are?
KORNACKI: Is it -- when you say the base, is being seen as the toughest person in Washington on immigration? Is that...
KORNACKI: It`s the image, you`re saying, is....
WHITMAN: On everything on this.
I`m the toughest person, and there are all these obstacles that are thrown my way, so we ought to do away with them.
I mean, he is dismissive of the courts, our legal system. He is undermining the very basic institutions that make our country what it is today. And that`s one of the scariest things that I think we see happening.
KORNACKI: I was curious too.
I wanted to ask you about what we saw yesterday at the announcement, at the press conference about the citizenship question. You had the president. You had the attorney general. You had Bill Barr get up there twice.
We say this idea of the president selling this as a victory. The attorney general was very much selling this as a victory for the administration as well, twice, I think, congratulating Trump. "Congratulations, Mr. President on this victory today."
What did you make of that dynamic?
WHITMAN: Well, I`m very disappointed in William Barr, and have been from the beginning, when he -- I had high hopes for him.
And then, in the beginning with the Mueller report, when he tried to preempt it and came out and spun it as, there was complete exoneration. That`s what he implied through it. And he knew better than that.
He misappropriated the whole thing. And it was -- it was a concerted effort. It was something that Trump wanted him to do. And he fell right in with it.
And he had a better reputation than that. I was expecting better from him.
KORNACKI: All right, we have some breaking news. I just want to get to this.
I`m finding out about it just as you are here.
But we can tell you, Vice President Mike Pence and Republican lawmakers have just toured a border facility in McAllen, Texas, where migrants are being detained, amid concerns over the conditions at these centers.
And according to the reporter who has been accompanying the vice president inside the facility -- that reporter is Josh Dawsey of "The Washington Post" -- the vice president just witnessed 384 men sleeping inside fences in the facility on concrete, with no pillows, no mats, according to Dawsey, again, the reporter accompanying Vice President Pence here.
The men said they hadn`t showered in weeks. And the stench was overwhelming. When the men saw the press, they began shouting they had been there for 40 days or longer.
Again, just getting a look here, Tim, at what the vice president is seeing.
I can also tell you, according to the reporting here we have got from Josh Dawsey, the vice president just asked about what we were describing and showing there.
He said: "I was not surprised by what I saw. I knew we`d see a system that was overwhelmed. This is tough stuff."
O`BRIEN: Well, this choreography -- and I think of it as choreography.
I`m very confused about why Mike Pence is at the southern border right now, when they`re about to launch an immigration sweep on Sunday across the country. I`m very confused by Mike Pence, who is a Christian -- and I think he`s a devout and authentic Christian -- is tolerating policies that are creating a humanitarian crisis. It`s not an immigration crisis at this point. It`s a humanitarian crisis.
He`s done nothing, as far as anyone can tell, on the policy front to try to stem this tide and turn back what is going to be a long-term blight on the U.S.` reputation. And yet he`s there saying, I didn`t expect to see anything more grotesque than what I`m seeing. And, in fact, it`s more grotesque than I imagined.
What`s he going to do with this experience? Is he going back to Washington to tell the president he shouldn`t launch raids on Sunday? He`s going to go back to Washington and tell the government, there`s a better way to help migrants either get from there to here or to go back home as they need to, but we don`t have to leave them without beds, water, toilets and medical care?
KORNACKI: So, the argument that you hear from the administration, Governor, is that they say they have gotten Mexico to get tougher with arresting migrants in Mexico on their way to the U.S. border. They say that`s led to a reduction.
They say they have got this humanitarian aid package through that, in their view, will eventually, I suppose, help the conditions like we`re describing right here. And then they put the onus, they say, on Democrats to change what Trump refers to as a loophole.
It gets back to this 1997 consent decree. That`s what the administration - - I think that`s what you`re hearing from Pence here, the idea of, these are terrible conditions, but we have done our part, is what he seems to be arguing there.
WHITMAN: Well, first of all, he can`t in good conscience look at that and say, oh, this is what I expected, and kind of dismiss it that way.
It is a blight on this country.
But the other side of this is, this administration has been cutting back on aid to organizations like Catholic Charities operating in Venezuela, in the countries where we need to -- where people -- from which people are coming. And that`s what we need to do.
We need to support them there, so they don`t feel they have to come to this country. It`s fine for Mexico to do more on the border, but they don`t have the resources either to handle the people that they`re getting.
And they`re trying. They`re making an effort. But it`s never going to be enough, if we don`t understand that where we need to solve the problem is back in the countries that are causing the problem.
KORNACKI: That`s a -- that does seem like a -- I have heard others put the idea out there of a Marshall Plan, I have heard people talk about, for Central America.
That is a long-term proposition, though, isn`t it, in terms of changing conditions there in a way that`s going to address the desire to come to the United States?
WHITMAN: Yes, but, unfortunately, there are not short-term solutions that we have got, save what you see, which is not helping -- making us any more secure, particularly when you do things like separate children from their families and hold them in those kinds of conditions.
It affects them. They`re young. Their brains are forming. They`re not going to be our friends when they get a little older, and especially the teenaged ones.
They`re where ISIS and other -- other groups of people who don`t want to do us good are going to go to recruit. I mean, this is -- this is not good for the country. It just isn`t good for the country. And these conditions are appalling.
KORNACKI: And that -- Tim, it does strike me we always try to figure out the politics of immigration. I think they`re very complicated.
People often have contradictory views within themselves. But the two moments I have noticed in the last year, I would say, was the revelation of the child separation policy, and then the description and now pictures of the conditions at these facilities.
KORNACKI: Those two seem to be moments there when you start to get a broad consensus out there among people, that it does seem to cut across some of the familiar divides, and people seem to say, no, this overall is not a good idea.
O`BRIEN: Well, and, overwhelmingly, when there`s polls on immigration, there is a broad national consensus that immigration is a good thing for the United States.
That`s not where the divide emerges. The divide emerges on, how do you handle immigration? What`s the right way to bring people into the country?
And this administration, however, is trying to score political points for its base. It`s not actually trying to develop a sophisticated policy that does two things, what Governor Whitman said, which is address the economic distress and the drug wars in Honduras, Guatemala, in other parts of Central America that are driving largely women and children to the border.
These aren`t Mexican laborers who came in the past. It`s a different population of people. And then having a system at the border that actually welcomes them and then makes decisions in a rational, constructive way about what their future is going to be.
That`s not building a wall, and that`s not putting them inside jails.
KORNACKI: All right, Tim O`Brien, Christine Todd Whitman, thank you both for joining us.
We will be right back.
KORNACKI: And that`s going to do it for HARDBALL for now. I`m Steve Kornacki. Chris Matthews will be back here on Monday.
Thank you for joining us.
And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
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