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Trump on NK: "everybody plays games." TRANSCRIPT: 05/25/2018. Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Michelle Goldberg, James Glassman, Mara Gay, Jen Kerns, Philip Bump

Show: HARDBALL Date: May 25, 2018 Guest: Michelle Goldberg, James Glassman, Mara Gay, Jen Kerns, Philip Bump STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: The world according to Trump. Let`s play HARDBALL.

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

It`s been less than 24 hours since President Trump abruptly canceled his date with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, once again ratcheting up tensions on the world stage. Despite that though, President Trump today declared the America is back. And finally getting the respect it deserves. Trump making that statement during a speech at the naval academy earlier today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For we are witnessing the great reawakening of the American spirit and of American might. We have rediscovered our identity, regained our stride, and we are proud again. Our country has regained the respect that we used to have long ago abroad. Yes, they are respecting us again. Yes, America is back.


KORNACKI: Earlier this morning, President Trump said the North Korean summit might be back on. He told reporters the U.S. was still talking to North Korea and that when it comes to negotiations quote "everybody plays games."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, is the summit still on?

TRUMP: We are going to see what happens. We are talking to them now. And it was a very nice statement they put out. We will see what happens.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The possibility at all or is that.

TRUMP: No, no, we will see what happens. It could even be the 12th. We are talking to them now. They are very much want to do it. We would like to do it. We are going to see what happens. Everybody plays games. You know that.


KORNACKI: NBC News reported that Trump canceled the summit fearing that the North Koreans might beat him to the punch and he wanted to be the one to cancel first. That is according to multiple officials.

NBC News also reported that there were significant disagreements among the President`s top advisers especially secretary of state Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton. One official said the process was quote "like herding cats."

Despite the continues public optimism, "The New York Times" reporting White House officials are remain skeptical because as one senior official said, June 12th is in ten minutes. With campaign trail, Trump described himself as a dealmaker frequently touted his negotiating skills.


TRUMP: I will bring America to a new level. I will negotiate deals that nobody can negotiate like I do. Nobody I know everybody that I`m running against. I mean, nobody is going to be able to do the kind of things I can do.

It`s supposed to be you get along with Congress and you cajole and you go back and forth. And everybody gets in a room and we end up with deals.

You are supposed to gather people around and make great deals. I want to make great deals from my side of the equation. But otherwise, you are just going to have a stagnant country like you do right now. You have you no negotiation. You have Washington is in total gridlock.


KORNACKI: As the "New Yorker`s" Susan Glasser points out, deal making has proven challenging for the President quote "there are no deals with Trump and they are increasingly unlikely to be not on NAFTA, not on Middle East peace or Obamacare or infrastructure. Trump is a much better deal breaker than dealmaker." Susan Glasser saying that.

For more, I`m joined by Nicholas Kristof, a "New York Times" columnist, Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter from the "Associated Press" and MSNBC political analyst and Sue Mi Terry, former director for Korea, Japan and associated affairs at the national security council.

Thanks to all of you for joining us.

Jonathan, let me start with you. Just on what is going on inside the White House to precipitate the cancellation and how active are the talks now in terms of getting this back on the schedule potentially?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: This is something that the President has really wanted despite some of his closest advisers really urging caution go ahead with this deal, even some suggesting by just agreeing to the summit in the first place. You have given Kim Jong-un an air of legitimacy he did not have.

They made efforts in recent days to try to stand up logistics make this thing happen in Singapore in the middle of June. And North Korea suddenly disengaged in a lot of the talks setting off alarm bells in the White House and the state department about how seriously North Korea was taking the possibility of the summit and therefore would they be actually willing to give away what the President wants them to do.

But you heard today a little bit more optimistic from the President and from those around the White House. That they -- this is something he still wants. He sees this as not just something important for global safety, of course, but also as a real win for him.

The idea that not just a Nobel Peace prize, but the idea of accomplishing something that no American President has been able to do, to bring peace to the Korean peninsula. Something he thinks not only would bolster his poll numbers but would perhaps in inoculate him from some of these federal investigations surrounding him and perhaps have a trickledown effect to Republicans in the midterm. The idea of can you really vote against this President and his party if he is brought peace to Korea, something that no one else has been able to do.

KORNACKI: It is interesting. We will talk about this later at the board. But to look at Trump`s poll numbers specifically on this question of North Korea. Well, we will talk more about that later.

But Nick Kristof, in terms of the possibility as Jonathan Lemire is saying, this is still something the President very much wants to make happen, that line he had there today saying everybody plays games. Do you see any strategy behind the abrupt cancellation and that it would give Trump the administration and Trump more leverage in terms of picking things up now?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: No. Essentially, what it did was antagonized South Korea and our Asian allies in the same way that withdraw from the Iran deal antagonize Europe. And it seems to have been based, as well at least according to NBC, on a complete misunderstanding of North Korea`s position and the assumption that North Korea was about to back out of the deal, which is preposterous.

Just as earlier President Trump seemed to enter the idea of the Singapore talks on a complete delusion that North Korea was about to completely hand over all its nuclear weapons, which likewise was preposterous. So you know, I have been covering North Korea, I have been visiting North Korea since the 1980s. This is a moment of tremendous opportunity and risk and it is so maddening to see this being mismanaged with this combination of ineptitude and ignorance and kind of obliviousness.

KORNACKI: Sue Mi Terry, let me ask you. What is your expectation now as you watch everything being discussed here, everything that is playing out in the United States, in North Korea? Do you think there still will be a summit? Could it still be on that June date? Will it have to be delayed? Will there be no summit at all? What`s your expectation at this point?

SUE MI TERRY, FORMER DIRECTOR FOR KOREA, JAPAN AND ASSOCIATED AFFAIRS AT THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: I actually expect summit to take place. Maybe timeline could slip a little bit because of logistical issues. But Nick was absolutely correct.

I think Trump administration really misunderstood North Korea here. North Korea had no intention of canceling the summit. The two previous statements that they produced, they were to really protest all this talk about Libya and all this. They didn`t mean to cancel the meeting. So when you look at the last statement they produced seven hours after Trump canceled the meeting, it was very conciliatory. I have never seen a North Korean statement actually personally praising Trump saying he is a bold decision maker and so on. So I think North Korea is very much into having this meeting with Trump and summit will take place because President Trump also wants it.

KORNACKI: Well, NBC News reported there was significant disagreement within the administration what to do about North Korea. One person close to Trump said the President was unhappy with vice President Pence`s public remarks appearing to threaten regime changing in North Korea.

Meanwhile, according to several administration officials, secretary of state Mike Pompeo who was taking the lead in negotiating with the North Koreans blamed Bolton for torpedoing the progress that already made. Bolton announced the president`s national security advisor has a long history of calling for regime change in North Korea.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think this is potentially a meeting that begins and ends with the President saying tell me what you are going to doing to denuclearize and Kim Jong-un saying well, we will have talks about this and talks about that. So it could be a long and unproductive meeting or it could be a short and unproductive meeting.

North Korea has a playbook of phrases that they use depending on what their propaganda strategy is. I think that their history over decades is that they like Iran, like others use negotiations to buy time to conceal their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile activities.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are there any diplomatic options left in your view?

BOLTON: I think the only diplomatic option left is to end the regime in North Korea.


KORNACKI: Well, John, you see, this as a priority of the President, something he cares about. Do you have a sense who has his ear? We are showing Bolton there, Pompeo. Is there a sense within the administration whose view he is most sensitive to?

LEMIRE: That changes minute by minute as was what both things with President Trump, particularly with advisers in and outside of favor. I mean both, it is a truism within the administration that he tends to listen to sot of the newer voices in the room. Both Pompeo and Bolton are relatively new to the administration.

Pompeo, of course, has made I believe two trips to North Korea in order to sort of grease the wheels for the summit. He is certainly urging the President to move forward cautiously but believes it should happen.

Bolton has sort of suggested he will go along with what the President said but he has advised against it. And does not believed Kim Jong-un is to be trusted. He thinks that, as you were just heard him say, you know, he thinks regime change would be the best course of action here.

Within the White House now, I will say just in the last few hours, they have said that there`s a team of staffers supposed to Singapore in the next day or so to work on some of the logistics of the summit. As of now, they are still planning to go, you know. That doesn`t mean that the summit is going to happen. It certainly doesn`t mean that it will still happen on June 12th. But it`s an indication that they have not quite given up on the possibility of these talks.

KORNACKI: Yes. And it`s interesting too, Nick, when you talk about Bolton saying regime change, Bolton talking about, you know, making another Libya out of North Korea. Libya where Gadhafi gave up the weapons and a decade later, you know, he has taken from power and he is killed. It does raise the bigger picture question about any potential negotiations here, how there ever could be a middle ground if the goal from the U.S. standpoint is denuclearization. And Trump has said basically nothing sure of that. And then you have got a North Korean regime that would say, well, look what happened to Gadhafi.

KRISTOF: So there are people in the administration and I mean, a lot of Korea watchers who I think can envision a process. And it involves reaching some kind of a general statement and then North Korea blows up some ICBMs, it freezes production of nuclear materials. It stops nuclear missile test and then over time sanctions.

And then overtime sanctions, especially from China and South Korea at ease (ph). And the main thing is we are not shooting missiles at each other. It`s not North Korea denuclearizing. But at least better than where we are now.

But the problem is that John Bolton is dead set against that and you know, look, at the end of the day, Bolton has a perfect record of getting things wrong over the last 20 years on Iraq, on Iran, on North Korea.

In the case of North Korea in 2002, he helped kill the agreed framework which had halted North Korean production of nuclear materials and he seems to have, my reading of this is that he killed this Pompeo outreach possibly by misleading the President what North Korea was going to do. And likewise, in 2003, 2004, he killed an earlier European deal with Iran and now earlier this month, he helped kill the latest Iran deal.

So I think that John Bolton is -- he`s hit the trifecta of getting every major thing wrong. And now he is indeed doing it again.

KORNACKI: And Sumi, from the North Korean perspective, do you have a sense what the North Korean regime what they read is on Trump? Do they think they figure him out? Do they think they know how he is approaching this, why? Why is he approaching what is sort of a game is here?

TERRY: Well, it`s hard for any of us to have figured it out. So I`m not sure if North Koreans have figured it out. But certainly, the last statement that was released by North Korea personally praising Trump I think shows me that they also learned a little bit of few lessons how to deal with Trump.

But I think Trump canceling the summit to begin with, I think that did kind of surprise the North Koreans because they are not used to U.S. President acting this way. They probably did get away with all this kind of antics before. So I think that did kind of surprise the North Koreans. So I think they are still trying to figure out how Trump works like the rest of us.

KORNACKI: We also -- we have breaking news here. It`s not actually on this topic. It is on the topic of Trump and the Russia investigation. But one of our guests has broken this news. Jonathan Lemire on set with us here. He is breaking the news that Trump defense lawyer Rudy Giuliani telling him tonight that Trump`s quote "legal team wants a briefing on the classified information shared with lawmakers and may take it to the justice department as part of an effort to scuttle the ongoing special counsel probe. Giuliani telling the AP, if the spying was inappropriate that means we may have an entirely illegitimate investigation. Again, Rudy Giuliani telling this to John Lemire who is with us now.

What more can you tell us, John?

LEMIRE: Yes. That`s right. I spoke to the mayor -- former mayor just a couple hours ago. And he says that the White House, you know, these two meetings unprecedented meetings yesterday in which the classified informants or in the President`s parlance a spy who had contacts with the Trump campaign to determine their relationship with any Russian officials, that they want a similar briefing or at least some sort of readout that the lawmakers got yesterday. And that has certainly raised concerns that that would give them information that perhaps would impact the President who is if not a target certainly the subject of this probe.

But what Giuliani told me is they want to take this information and if they deem it, you know, damaging, they deem that it was collected inappropriately, they would take this to the justice department and make it part of their case why this probe shouldn`t be here. That it was founded on illegitimate means. That it was founded on illegitimate means. That it was founded on information from this spy in their terminology that they think shouldn`t have had access and Jim Comey, the former FBI director`s memos which they believe were illegally leaked. And they would making that case, probably deputy attorney general Rosenstein to say look, maybe this probe should be halted in its tracks.

KORNACKI: OK. Again, this is news that is breaking right now with the "Associated Press" reported by Jonathan Lemire, one of our guest joining us tonight.

Jonathan, thank you for joining us. Also Nicholas Kristof and Sue Mi Terry, thank you as well.

And coming up, a milestone moment in the Me Too movement as Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein is arrested handcuffed and charged with rape in the New York courtroom. Charges come after scores of women accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct accusations that triggers a global campaign to uproot powerful and predatory name (ph).

Plus, more and more states are teaming up to ditch the Electoral College and go with the popular vote when it comes to picking a President. Chris Matthews joins us for a look at that. Is there anything to the talk that the blue wave that some Democrats have been talking about this fall but maybe it is receding? I`m going to be at the big board breaking down what we know and maybe what we don`t know right now.

And finally, some new developments in the Russia investigation which continues despite President Trump`s attempt to distract from it.

This is HARDBALL where the action is.


KORNACKI: There is yet another eyebrow raising report about President Trump`s embattled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. According to intending summaries released by the EPA, taxpayers spend about $3.5 million on security for Pruitt during his first year in office. "Politico" reports the figure is more than twice what Pruitt`s predecessor spent in the final year of the Obama administration. The EPA maintains the increased security is needed given what they say have been an increase in threats made against Pruitt.

Be right back.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

A watershed moment for the Me Too movement, disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was arraigned today on sexual assault charges. This comes months after a slew of allegations of misconduct brought down the mogul`s career and sparked a national reckoning on issues of sexual harassment and misconduct.

Weinstein was arrested, handcuffed and arraigned in New York on allegations from two different women. He faces three felony counts, first-degree rape, third-degree rape, and commission of a first-degree criminal sexual act.

Weinstein has consistently denied having engaged in any nonconsensual sex.

His attorney, Benjamin Brafman, spoke to reporters after Weinstein appeared in court and said his client plans to plead not guilty.


BENJAMIN BRAFMAN, ATTORNEY FOR HARVEY WEINSTEIN: My job is not to defend behavior. My job is to defend something that is criminal behavior.

Bad behavior -- Mr. Weinstein didn`t invent the casting couch in Hollywood, and to the extent that there is bad behavior in that industry, that is not what this is about. Bad behavior is not on trial in this case. It`s only if you intentionally committed a criminal act, and Mr. Weinstein vigorously denies that.


KORNACKI: Weinstein is now free after posting a million dollars in bail, surrendering his passport and agreeing to wear an electronic monitor.

At least 95 women have accused Weinstein of a wide range of misconduct, ranging from harassment to rape, over four decades.

One of Weinstein`s accusers, actress Rose McGowan, had this message for him today:


ROSE MCGOWAN, ACTRESS: No more tears. Not because of you. Not anymore. Today, today, we rejoice. Tomorrow will be hard again. But today we can have a moment for all of us. This is for all of us who have been told we are nothing.


KORNACKI: And for more, I`m joined by MSNBC legal analyst Katie Phang and Michelle Goldberg, columnist for "The New York Times."

Katie, let me start with you.

So, we have 95 different stories that have emerged publicly here about Weinstein. Let`s be clear, what is it exactly he`s been charged with here? Which ones do they think they have got him on, and what`s the penalty he`s looking at if he`s convicted here?

KATIE PHANG, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: So there`s one criminal indictment that has been brought by the grand jury against Harvey Weinstein for two separate victims.

For one victim, there are two counts, one first-degree charge of rape, one- third degree charge of rape. And then, for the second victim, it`s the forcible compulsion, oral sex charge being that is brought against Harvey Weinstein.

For any of the first-degree charges, which is also the last one that we just discussed, it`s anywhere from five to 25 years in prison. The third remaining charge was that rape in the third degree. That`s actually punishable by probation.

But for a man who is 66 years old like Harvey Weinstein, five to 25 years in prison is actually a lot. And the victims in this case are going to be challenged to be able to convince a jury if it makes it that far that the conduct that was committed by Harvey Weinstein was nonconsensual, because Harvey Weinstein has basically teed up for the prosecution in this case the fact that, yes, the contact may have happened, but according to Harvey Weinstein, it was purely consensual.

KORNACKI: If it makes it that far.

Do you think there`s a decent probability of some kind of plea, some kind of agreement here?

PHANG: Well, it`s kind of a two-prong answer for you. One, we know Benjamin Brafman has announced on the courthouse steps that he plans to vigorously defend Harvey Weinstein, including filing a motion to dismiss very quickly.

The legal grounds for that motion to dismiss will challenge whether the prosecution has basically alleged enough in terms of the elements of the cause of action that are being brought against Harvey Weinstein.

But, yes, there`s always the possibility for a plea. Today is not the first time we have seen a criminal defense attorney very vigorously say on the courthouse steps that their client is innocent and that they are going to be fighting the charges. And so Harvey Weinstein can always take a plea.

But I will guarantee you that anything from Cyrus Vance`s office is going to include jail time. And whether Harvey Weinstein can stand that, from what we hear, he couldn`t even get -- he couldn`t get comfortable in the jail cell the few hours he was there. So, I don`t really think he`s going to be taking a plea anytime soon.

KORNACKI: And, Michelle, Katie talks about what may be the defense here, certainly publicly sounded like it is going to be the defense here from Weinstein`s side, that comment from his lawyer that he`s not the first one -- he`s not the guy who invented the casting couch.

What was your reaction hearing that?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, he didn`t invent rape either. That`s not the -- the idea -- I think the idea is to say, well, this was an accepted part of the exchange in Hollywood, and so how can you punish someone who thought he was entitled to behave like this?

And, obviously, what they`re going to try to do then is smear these women as saying these women were -- kind of knew what they were getting into, right, or they sort of understood the bargain that they were making.

And I think we have 95 women who testify, not just to coercion, not just to him sort of offering a quid pro quo, but to him destroying those who don`t go along with him, right, when he`s not actually physically forcing himself on them.

And so I think they`re going to try to take something that`s extremely grave and make it seem as if these women kind of knew what they were doing and now regret it.

KORNACKI: The fact that he`s being charged with this -- I keep thinking back to the -- it`s probably an inept parallel here, but the financial crisis, and hear that refrain afterwards, that none of the executives ever actually faced a trial.

GOLDBERG: Right. Right.

KORNACKI: You have got somebody from this MeToo movement that`s erupted. You have got somebody now who is actually facing a potential trial, facing a potential criminal penalty, facing potential prison.

What is the broader significance of that? Is there one?

GOLDBERG: Well, I think it`s twofold.

Well, I mean, on the one hand, it`s this enormous vindication obviously for Rose McGowan and all these other women that have come forward and sign finally that the law is starting to take these things seriously.

But I also feel like there`s something a little melancholy, that this is what it takes, right, 95 women, two Pulitzer Prize-winning investigations, to bring charges against a man this powerful.

You look at Bill Cosby. It took over 60 -- 60 women, I believe, as well as two trials, before he had to answer for what are pretty clearly established crimes.

And so, again, you know, about three months, not even -- a few months after the MeToo movement began, you heard people saying, has this gone too far, right? Is this turning into a witch-hunt? And Harvey Weinstein might have been trying to allude to a witch-hunt with his biography of Elia Kazan that he brought with him into the courthouse.

But really what I think this underlines again is just what it takes to get any measure for women who have been victimized by powerful men.

KORNACKI: All right, Michael Goldberg and Katie Phang, thanks to both of you for joining us.

And up next: It is a movement that could changing this country`s presidential elections. States across the nation looking to sidestep the Electoral College, instead choose the president by popular vote.

Chris Matthews is going to join us after the break with a look at that.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Remember, we won the election, and we won it easily. You know, a lot of people say,oh, it was close.


TRUMP: And, by the way, they also like to always talk about Electoral College. Well, it`s an election based on the Electoral College. I would rather have a popular election, but it`s a totally different campaign.


TRUMP: It`s as though you`re running -- if you`re a runner, you`re practicing for the 100-yard dash as opposed to the one-mile. The Electoral College is different. I would rather have the popular vote, because it`s - - to me, it`s much easier to win.

QUESTION: Yes, it`s a totally different set...




That was President Trump saying he would rather have the popular vote decide presidential elections, instead of the electoral vote, even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016 by almost three million votes.

Well, earlier this month, Connecticut voted to become the 12th state, including D.C., to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would require state electors to vote for the candidate who wins the national popular vote, instead of the Electoral College system, where electors are assigned based on how the state votes.

This system would only go into effect if states representing 270 electoral votes, the threshold presidential candidates currently need to win, sign onto the popular vote compact.

With Connecticut`s seven expected electoral votes, they currently have 172 votes.

I`m joined right now by James Glassman, who is a board member of the Making Every Vote Count Foundation and a former undersecretary of state in the George W. Bush administration.

Jim, thank you for coming on.

Give us a sense of how this -- I have explained the basic structure of this, that the popular vote would rule.


MATTHEWS: Tell us about why this, you think, is -- why you got into this. You`re a Republican. Why did you get into this?


And I got into because I think Americans are disengaged and disillusioned with their political system. And that`s not good. It`s not good for democracy. And most of them -- that`s what polls show -- want a system where the person who gets the most popular votes becomes president.

That`s how we elect everybody else. And that`s what Americans want. And it`s not actually all that hard to get there. So that`s how I got interested in it.

And what, frankly, I did not know that, at the point that I got interested in it, 11 states had already passed this compact. Now, I got involved in Connecticut. And Connecticut`s an interesting state, because it`s -- the Senate is evenly divide between Republicans and Democrats, and yet we won in the Senate by 21-14.

So, we`re moving ahead, and this is going to happy, I think.

MATTHEWS: Well, tell me about the psychology.

How you think knowing that every vote counts -- say, if you live in a state like -- I don`t think I have ever lived in a state where my vote really counted. They`re never close. Like, Maryland tends to go Democrat. Pennsylvania, when I voted as a kid, that`s a pretty close state.

But the fact is, this would make every vote count, no matter where you lived.

GLASSMAN: Right. And that`s the main point, Chris.

There are really -- elections -- presidential elections -- and you know this -- are decided by about a dozen states. So one of the reasons why you have lived in states where your vote doesn`t count is, three-quarters of Americans live in such states.

And Connecticut is a good example. Nobody campaigns in Connecticut. In the 2016 election, $330 got spent on presidential advertising. So people are left out. What we want and what most Americans want is a system where everybody`s vote counts and counts the same. And that`s what would happen if we had a popular vote deciding who is the president.

MATTHEWS: Suppose you get enough states for 270 electoral votes, which is enough to votes to win an election in the Electoral College.

What do those states like Montana, North Dakota, the little states that benefit from the Electoral College, what would they do, based on the fact that their candidate may lose that election in the popular vote?

GLASSMAN: Well, interestingly enough, small -- a lot of people believe that the original system was to protect small states. But that actually has not worked out.

In fact, the 12 states where the election is decided do not include a single small state, other than New Hampshire, which is not a three electoral vote state. It`s a four electoral vote state.

There are seven states that have only three electoral votes, and not a single one is among the states where the votes are contested. So, that`s really not -- that`s really not an issue.

This is a means to get to an end, this compact. And the end is that everybody`s vote counts exactly the same.

MATTHEWS: What would stop -- if we go with this system, if it comes into play with 270 electoral votes shifting to this compact, what would happen?

Wouldn`t the candidates spend most of their time in highly populated areas like New York and California and maybe Connecticut and not go to the little states? Isn`t that a problem with why the little states are afraid? The candidates wouldn`t go there.

GLASSMAN: I don`t think we really know what would happen if everyone`s vote counted the same.

My guess is that candidates would campaign much more broadly. I mean, let`s take look at California. I think it`s a good example. So, California elects its governor. There are 35 million people who live in California. It`s almost like a small country.

And yet candidates for governor campaign all over the state. The three largest cities in California only have a population of six million out of the 35 million. So I think that would happen all over the country.

You know, don`t forget, Richard Nixon campaigned in every state. Maybe that was a mistake for him. But the idea of campaigning all over the country is not some kind of weird idea. What`s weird is that we -- that candidates only campaign in 12 states.

MATTHEWS: Yes. And that`s not a good system.

GLASSMAN: No, it isn`t.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, James Glassman with the Making Every Vote Count Foundation -- Steve.

GLASSMAN: Thank you.


KORNACKI: All right. Thanks for that, Chris.

And up next: Is that Democratic blue wave starting to recede? Or are Democrats still poised to take the House this November?

I`m going to go over to the Big Board. We have got a lot of numbers to break down and a lot to talk about.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: All right, welcome back to HARDBALL.

And we have got to talk about the midterm elections, folks, because something big might be happening right now. Or maybe it isn`t.

Let`s go to the Big Board to show you what I mean.

So this is something we have been tracking, obviously everybody who is following these elections has been tracking throughout the Trump presidency, the generic ballot,.

You call people up, you ask them, do you want to vote for the Democrats or do you want to vote for the Republicans for Congress?

Well, remember, at the end of last year, Democrats built a double-digit advantage on this question. Remember, they just won that special election in Alabama. They were up 13 points on average at the end of the year in the generic ballot.

Well, guess what`s happened more recently? That thing has been tightening. It`s been closing. And now, if you average them together, the margin is just four points.

You talk to Republicans who are trying to hold onto the House and keep Democrats from getting 23 seats, they say they can do that if it`s four points. If it`s 13 forget about it. If it`s four, Republicans think they can do it.

What else is happening? Donald Trump`s an approval rating, it`s has been pretty low throughout his presidency. But there`s a question here of how low is it going to be? Because again, there`s a certain point where it might not cost Republicans the House.

It was 37 percent at the end of last year in the 30s for a lot of 2017, into 2018. More recently, it has begun to tick up. Now, again, 44 percent, we`re not talking Reagan in 1984 here. We`re not talking in that territory, but by Trump standards, 44 percent is pretty much as good as it`s been for him since he`s been president.

So, what is happening? An uptick for Republicans in the generic ballot, an uptick for Trump in his approval rating and maybe, maybe rosier prospects for the midterms? What is it? Maybe it`s the economy.

Here`s a recent poll on Trump`s handling of the economy, the key, this is up for almost ten points from earlier in the year. This is over 50 percent. This is over majority approval, on the economy.

Is it simply that rising tide lifts the president`s boat politically? Is that what`s going on? That`s possible.

How about North Korea? Now, look, the summit is off right now. Let`s see what happens. But again, recent poll here, Trump`s approval on North Korea, his handling of it, 53 percent. The key here -- that`s up almost 20 points from late last year.

So, maybe he`s been getting some credit for at least until this week, until the last 24 hours or so how North Korea had been going. Maybe that`s driving it. Maybe it`s the attention that was paid to the Stormy Daniels, to the whole sex scandal.

I remember the scandal with Bill Clinton actually ended up helping him somehow in 1998. Of course, there is a question here though of, it`s May. How much does all of this mean? How temporary is all of this?

Think back to the last major giant wave election in a midterm, 2010. At this point in 2010, if you look at the generic ballot, Democrats were ahead. This week in 2010, Democrats were talking about how all that talk about a Republican tsunami in the 2010 midterms, maybe it wasn`t all it was cracked up to be.

Democrats won a special election this week in 2010, they led the generic ballot. And, of course, we know what happening in the November 2010 elections. Republicans gained 63 seats and they certainly were leading in the generic ballot by that point.

So, it`s a long way of saying, there are some indications that are giving Republicans reason for hope. Democrats reasons for worry. We want to see if those things continue or if as we`ve seen before, they prove to be very temporary springtime blips.

A little bit of suspense here. A little bit of drama in their election season. I think everybody looking to head to November to see what happens there.

Up next, new developments today in the Russia investigation. New evidence keeps emerging in the Mueller investigation despite the president`s attempts at distraction.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: Up next, the latest on the Russia investigation. Rudy Giuliani says Trump`s legal team wants a briefing on the classified information shared with lawmakers. He may use it to call for an end to the Mueller probe. Stay with us.



REPORTER: What proof do you have that your campaign was spied on?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All you have to do is look at the basics and you`ll see. It looks like a very serious event. But we`ll find out.

When they look at the documents, I think people are going to see a lot of bad things happen. I hope it`s not so because if it is, there`s never been anything like it in the history of our country. I hope -- I mean, if you look at Clapper, he sort of admitted that they had spies in the campaign yesterday inadvertently. But I hope it`s not true, but it looks like it is.


KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump has spent the week accusing the intelligence community spying on his campaign. He continued that distraction campaign this morning with a tweet storm, writing can anyone even imagine having spies placed in a competing campaign by the people and party in absolute power, for the sole purpose of political advantage and gain, and to think that the party in question even with the expenditure of far more money lost.

As we mentioned earlier, Trump defense lawyer Rudy Giuliani telling it the "Associated Press" Trump`s legal team wants a briefing on classified information shared with lawmakers and may take it to the Justice Department as part of an effort to scuttle the ongoing special counsel probe. The west fact-checker has given Trump`s spy claim four Pinocchios, pointing out that this narrative is part of a fog machine the president has deployed for months against the probe.

Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable, Mara Gay is an editorial board member at "The New York Times," Jen Kerns is the former spokeswoman for the California Republican Party, and Philip Bump is a political reporter for "The Washington Post."

Mara, let me just start with you. What do you make of Donald Trump -- came out and said this is simple, anybody can look at the basics and they will see this is one of the worst scandals in American history. What do you think -- when he says that -- how does that read to folks, do you think?

MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I actually think that that`s an open question, right? I mean, you were just looking at midterm -- we were talking about the midterms and what`s going to happen there. I think there`s a big question about how this plays with independents, how this plays with moderates and how this plays, how much this motivates frankly Democrats to get out and vote.

I mean, we know that this is something that his base enjoys. We know his base pretty much will follow him anywhere. And so, I think the question isn`t, you know, will his base stay with him. The question is, will a middle hold? And how energized are Democrats going to be?

And certainly, that`s an open question, but when Democrats hear this, they`re not just Democrats, but when people who are living in mental space where they have actually seen reality of what`s been going on in this country and that administration for that past year and half, they see this as upside down day. This is a president who has gone out of his way to slander the Justice Department, Congress, completely has no disregard for the separation of powers, and he`s trying to discredit the investigation before the results are even in. And I think that`s extremely dangerous.

KORNACKI: Yes, Jen, I mean, what we know -- or at least what`s been reported, I put it that way, is that there was no spy in the campaign. There was nobody within the campaign, there was no mole. There was no plant in the campaign.

So it certainly sounds like to read those tweets, to listen to what the president just said there, that he`s taking some liberties here to turn this into almost a siege mentality moment for -- is that a fair way of what he`s doing strategically here?

JEN KERNS, FORMER SPOKESWOMAN, CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN PARTY: Well, I don`t know what you would call it if you have someone who`s been sent by the intelligence community and by the opposition party that has utter control of the White House and the intelligence community heads, to put a person like that inside a political campaign. I mean, this really is worse than Watergate if you really look at it.

KORNACKI: OK, let`s separate two things here. Inside the campaign, the reporting that I`m seeing, tell me if you`ve seen something I haven`t, there was nobody inside the campaign here.

KERNS: Well, there was someone who was sent, was having meetings with folks and he had been sent by the intelligence community to look into the Russia connections.

But I`ll tell you this -- I do think things are upside down but I think for a different reason. I think when you`re President Trump, you`re looking at this and saying there`s a reason the saying exists. You`re not paranoid if they`re actually following you. We know now two years down the line, there was a spy in the campaign.

KORNACKI: But again, I just -- I want -- there was nobody -- you said in the campaign there again. We`re not talking about somebody who is inside the campaign based on the reporting that`s out there. Also, this -- the suggestion there that if the intelligence community is doing it, therefore, the party in power is doing it.

Is that a dangerous connection to make? That means anything the intelligence -- you`re basically saying anything the intelligence community does at any point is inherently political and the work of the party in power?

KERNS: No, but what we know is that the Obama administration was unmasking people. You look at someone like Samantha Power who is doing that 400 times to people in Trump Tower who were private citizens working on a campaign.

We know now that this person, the word has been report infiltrated the campaign. So whether you want to parse the word and say he was outside the campaign, he was a campaign staffer, he infiltrated the campaign and was sent there by the Obama administration. And I think the longer --

KORNACKI: Again, you said two things, you said infiltrated.

KERNS: Uh-huh.

KORNACKI: And by the Obama administration. Not the intelligence community.

Let`s -- Philip, let me ask you about this.


KORNACKI: My understanding from the reports we`ve seen is yes, this was a person who had a meeting with, who, south out a meeting but was not inside the campaign.

BUMP: That`s right.

KORNACKI: And sought out the meeting, though, I would say, it looks like under some false pretenses here. So, there was -- and I think there is a question there about whether this is normal operating procedure for the FBI, especially with a political campaign, but infiltrate in the Obama administration, that claim.

BUMP: So, let`s take a quick step back. And I think those claims are both invalid. There`s a mini fog machine going on in right here I think.

But if you look at what happened, so we have -- we know, for example, that the FBI first had Carter Page on the radar in 2013 when a Russian was saying, hey, this might be a guy that we could actually convert and get to work for us. We know that the FBI talked to Carter Page again in March of 2016, well before he spoke with this confidential informant. We know as well that the investigation into what actually happened triggered by George Papadopoulos having said, hey, I`ve heard the Russians have these e-mails, that investigation started at the end of the July. And we know the confidential information didn`t start talking to Papadopoulos until September.

So, this confidential informant spoke with Page and Papadopoulos, two people who the administration was very aggressive about saying why totally distant from this core of the campaign a year ago. That`s what they were saying now, and, of course, they`re saying this is a real risk and they`re inside the campaign.

But we know that this confidential informant only spoke with them well after each of them came to the attention of the FBI. And so, there`s no indication to the point that former Mayor Giuliani was trying to make that this was somehow the nexus, the origination of the investigation was this informant talking to those folks. There`s no indication of that whatsoever.

But to your point, I spoke with a retired FBI agent who is not complimentary to James Comey and not complimentary to the FBI at this point in time, but he made very clear that distinction. If you have an informant that`s talking to someone, that`s what you do. That`s how you investigate, particularly counterintelligence investigation.

If they had sent someone in the campaign, got an employee, for example, in there, yes, that is a whole different subject. That is not what happened here. There is no one in the campaign. It`s pure semantics, pure political rhetoric to say that there was.

KORNACKI: All right. The roundtable is staying with us.

Up next, these three will tell me something I don`t know. You`re watching HARDBALL.


KORNACKI: And we`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

And, Mara, tell me something I don`t know.

GAY: Sure. So, my colleague Rosie Goldensohn came out with this piece today. I think it`s actually pretty important, which is about the criminalization of the opioid epidemic. What she discovered after many months of reporting is essentially that prosecutors across the country have begun to, excuse me, pursue charges or prosecute friends and family members or even acquaintances of those who overdosed and died from that overdose, those who were nearby them.

So, kind of in the search to look for someone to blame, prosecutors that`s what they do, they prosecute, understandably. But there`s a concern that that could actually lead to harm because this has been treated so far overwhelmingly as a public health crisis. And so, whereas actually we saw that this went down the wrong path when we criminalized people who were addicted to crack cocaine. We don`t want this to happen in this case, and I think it`s a really great story.

KORNACKI: Very significant shift.


KERNS: Well, the state of California could soon see a Republican governor as crazy as that sounds. A little known guy by the name of John Cox, full disclosure is a client of mine, I do work for him, but I`ve been a big fan of his, is making a run for it. He has taken a big gamble that the sanctuary state showdown will be a winning issue.

Sure enough, he looks to come in second only to Gavin Newsom next week during the June 5 jungle primary in California. He`s got Gavin Newsom running scared. Gavin who is normally has no shortage of words has been refusing to debate this guy.

It will be a very interesting story if this turns into a battle between Jerry Brown, Donald Trump but also the Republican and Democrat out there.

KORNACKI: Tough state for -- I think Pete Wilson, Schwarzenegger was the last.


KORNACKI: Phil, something I don`t know.

BUMP: So, Pew Research Center did a fascinating study this week that actually asked Americans if they thought there was a responsibility the United States had to accept refugees. Of all the groups that they surveyed, they surveyed by races, by gender, by education, by religion, no group was less likely to say that the United States had such a responsibility that white evangelical protestants. I thought it was fascinating. Even less than Republicans have -- only 26 percent of Republicans said the United States had the responsibility. Only 25 percent of evangelicals said the same.

KORNACKI: It was a fascinating finding.

Mara Gay, Jen Kerns, Philip Bump, thank you all for joining us.

And that is HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us. And Chris Matthews will be right back here Monday night at 7:00 Eastern.

And "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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