updated 9/9/2015 12:30:37 PM ET 2015-09-09T16:30:37

Show: HARDBALL
Date: September 3, 2015
Guest: Robert Costa, Matt Schlapp, Fred Karger, Anne Gearan, April Ryan

STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Pledge of allegiance.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have signed the pledge.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: So I will be totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican
Party and the conservative principles for which it stands. And we will go
out and we will fight hard, and we will win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Matthews in
New York.

We begin tonight with Donald Trump`s pledge of allegiance to the
Republican Party. It`s been a month-long circus since that Fox News debate
where Trump thumbed his nose at the GOP and went rogue on the RNC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS, DEBATE MODERATOR: Is there anyone on stage, and
can I see hands, who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the
eventual nominee of the Republican Party and pledge to not run an
independent campaign against that person? Raise your hand now if you won`t
make that pledge tonight.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BAIER: Mr. Trump, you`re not going to make the pledge tonight.

TRUMP: I will not make the pledge at this time.

BAIER: OK.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: But it wasn`t until today, believe it or not, that things
got really interesting. In typical Trump fashion, the last 24 hours have
been chaos.

Last night, word leaked that the RNC was engineering a coup to try to
force Trump to pledge his loyalty to the party. That story was promptly
met with derision from one of Trump`s closest allies, his former adviser
Roger Stone, who tweeted, "We don`t need your stinking pledges."

This morning, more leaks. Politico and others report that Trump will,
indeed, sign the pledge. But again, more confusion. The campaign pours
cold water on the story, telling NBC News that Trump has signed nothing.

Then the curtains part, and there`s Trump, holding a big press
conference to formally announce that, yes, he has signed on the dotted
line. He has pledged his loyalty to the Republican Party.

But here`s the strange part. The guy who wrote "The Art of the Deal"
says he got nothing in return and his decision is non-negotiable.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: What did I get for signing the pledge? Absolutely nothing,
other than the assurance that I would be treated fairly.

I have no intention of changing my mind.

I see no circumstances under which I would tear up that pledge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Michael Steele was NRC chairman, Joan Walsh is editor-at-
large with Salon, and Robert Costa is national political reporter with "The
Washington Post." He was one of the first reporters to break today`s big
news.

So Robert, I`ll start with you. Trump says, I got nothing. But come
on. He`s not doing this unless he`s getting something out of it. What is
in this for Donald Trump to make this pledge today?

ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST": There`s a big back story here.
Trump and the RNC have been in talks for over a week. They set up the
timing. Trump wanted Priebus to come to his home turf to appear to have
this be a Trump event.

What does Trump get? According to Trump`s advisers, he forces
everyone else to pledge to back Trump, in effect, should Trump become the
nominee. That`s the biggest thing he wanted out of it, to get that pledge,
because he thinks he will be the nominee.

KORNACKI: Well, let me ask you -- yes, that was the interesting
thing, Michael Steele, watching this today. Trump didn`t want to talk too
much about the idea of supporting any of the other candidates. He framed
this as, They`ll have to support me if I`m the nominee. This is a way for
him to unify the party.

But the other way I read this today for Donald Trump is he`s maybe
entering a new phase of this campaign, where the one thing that`s been
missing so far, for all of his success in the polls -- he hasn`t gotten any
endorsements yet. He hasn`t gotten any big-name Republicans to come out
and say, This is my guy. I`m with Donald Trump.

By signing this pledge today, does he make that possible?

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Probably not
likely. I don`t see certainly any establishment Republicans coming out and
making that run towards Trump because of this.

And I don`t think Trump really cares one way or the other if he has
anyone`s endorsement and probably would not want establishment
endorsements, to begin with.

I think the other big thing he gets out of this is that not only does
he now have the opportunity to have the other folks on the stage pledge
their support to him, should he be the nominee, but he gets access to the
entire network of the GOP.

He has now mitigated the fact that in South Carolina and other states,
who were planning to come after him -- they`re no longer going to be in
that posture. So he is now a full-pledged player on the GOP stage, with
very little obstacles in front of him and nothing but wind in his sails and
a big rearview mirror as he`s creating a greater distance between himself
and the other candidates.

KORNACKI: Yes, speaking of that distance, Trump continues to soar. A
new Monmouth poll out today now has Trump ticking up to 30 percent, and Jeb
Bush, despite everything he`s thrown at Trump, has fallen down to 8 points.
That`s a 4-point drop in just a few weeks for him.

Even more striking is Trump`s favorability among Republicans. It only
goes up. Right as he was announcing his candidacy back in June, it was
just 20 percent. In July, it had jumped to 40 percent. By August, 52
percent. Today, it`s near 60 percent.

So Joan Walsh, let me ask you about that side of it. Donald Trump has
positioned himself as a force that is sort of simultaneously working within
and outside of the Republican Party, the only candidate on the stage at
that debate a month ago to raise his hand and say, I`m not willing to
commit.

Clearly, that`s part of his appeal is that perceived independence. Is
he giving part of that appeal today by saying, yes, I`m a party man?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I don`t think he`s
giving it up. I think he`s taking over the party. I think what today
means is this is Donald Trump`s party, you know, which I know is
uncomfortable for Michael, perhaps, and for people who`ve tried to broaden
the party`s reach. But now the party is really stuck with that image of,
I`ve signed the pledge.

You know, so I think that he -- that he did it and he won, and that`s
what he got. And I really think Robert`s point is interesting about how
much it matters that he now gets the endorsement of other Republicans.

I mean, poor Jeb Bush. Has he really now promised that no matter what
racist, crazy thing Donald Trump says, he`s going to...

(CROSSTALK)

COSTA: Bush did. He did earlier day.

WALSH: I know. No, I`m saying that, Robert. I know he did.

KORNACKI: I mean, yes, speaking of that, we have clips here
(INAUDIBLE) Jeb Bush, no intention of letting up on Trump. Trump has
criticized Bush for speaking in Spanish at his events. And today, Jeb Bush
fired back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what was your first thought when you heard him
criticize you for speaking Spanish?

JEB BUSH (R-FL), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I laughed. I
mean, this is a joke. You laugh because it`s so bizarre. But it`s hurtful
for a lot of people, and Mr. Trump knows this.

So here I am, a candidate for president of the United States,
believing that we should campaign (SPEAKING IN SPANISH) with our arms wide
open.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And not to be outdone, Trump went on the offensive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You know, one of the things that I`m most honored about is
that so far, everybody that`s attacked me has gone down the tubes.

As far as Jeb is concerned, I watched him this morning on television,
and it`s a little bit sad. Don`t forget, he was supposed to win, and he
just doesn`t have the energy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: So Robert, I`m trying to figure out what a reconciliation
would ultimately look like here, whether if Bush wins and Trump has to
endorse him or Trump wins and Bush has to endorse him, if we go through
another year of this. I`m also thinking this is Donald Trump, who used to
be for partial-birth abortion. This is Donald Trump, who was for single-
payer health care.

He`s reinvented himself so many times so fundamentally. Is he really
going to be bound by a pledge he makes today?

COSTA: No. I checked in today with Republican establishment figures
and people close to Trump. And I said, Let`s say this plays out and that
the race becomes volatile. Is Trump going to stick to this pledge?

They say he has an out. This is not a legally binding contract, this
is a political document. It was political theater. And if you`re Jeb Bush
or Reince Priebus and you think Trump goes down a path you don`t like,
again, this isn`t a binding contract. This is a moment of unity, but it`s
a moment.

KORNACKI: Yes, I mean, is that -- Michael Steele, that`s what I`m
imagining is, I mean, look, if thing go south here for Donald Trump one way
or the other, and he wants this third party possibility, all he has to do
is say, Look, I made this deal in good faith. The Republican Party stopped
being fair to me. They pulled the rug out from you under me. They screwed
me.

STEELE: Yes, but Steve, as you well know, that -- you know, saying
the words and following up with the action are two very, very different
things. It is not the easiest thing in politics to run as a third party
candidate at a point in time that Donald Trump would be doing that. And
you`re talking perhaps maybe sometime early January, February, maybe even
as late as March of next year.

The organization on the ground is impossible. The state obstacles are
horrendous. So this is -- I mean, in one sense, the chairman, Reince, and
the party have put him in a little bit of a box in terms of the states
where he would need to get on the ballot and put together the organization.

So this -- you know, there is sort of that -- that -- that tension
that still exists there. Donald Trump still has the strength, I think, to
other points that he can go out and make a big noise. But the idea of, you
know, abrogating this agreement, though political, does have a huge down
side in terms of organization and actually getting it done.

KORNACKI: Yes, and Joan, you were making an interesting point a
minute ago about -- that Donald Trump -- you`re reading this as sort of the
Trumpification of the Republican Party. He talked about not wanting to
make this pledge before because he would give up his leverage.

What kind of leverage do you think he has going forward right now?

WALSH: Well, I think he does have these, you know, soaring poll
numbers. And again, we can all say and we all should say that it`s still
early. It`s September. We`ve seen other front-runners crash and burn.

But this is a -- this is a lead that he`s held and expanded through
thick and thin. You know, there have been many things that some of us, you
know, in this segment have said, Well, that might -- that might do it.
That might be the thing that takes him down. And nothing has. So I think
he doesn`t feel like he needs leverage.

And what he needs is the imprimatur -- it helps him to have the
imprimatur of the whole party. And it also -- you know, I think it really
helps inoculate him against what has been Jeb Bush`s attack so far, that
he`s a closet Democrat.

Well, no, he`s not. He said before, Ronald Reagan was a Democrat, I`m
like him. And now the party is -- you know, Reince Priebus has come to New
York, he`s kissed the ring, and he`s basically said, Yes, this guy
(INAUDIBLE) He`s embraced him with open arms, as Jeb might say in Spanish.

But I just want to say I did love it when Jeb Bush spoke so
passionately, and I do think -- I don`t know if that`s the secret. I can`t
say that Republican voters are going to really be excited to hear him speak
Spanish. If I was excited, they probably are not excited.

But I think he`s got to -- he`s got to be that passionate, and I think
he`s got to speak that way. How can it be -- how can there be a down side
to a president speaking another language so fluently and being able to
court citizens? We were talking about people who are here legally and want
to vote Republican. How can that be bad?

KORNACKI: Yes, well, so Robert, you`re really plugged in there. What
do the Bush people tell you about this strategy? Do they think they`re
getting traction, turning up the heat on Trump here? Do they think they`re
getting -- he always said at the beginning, he wants to be willing to lose
the primary to win the general election.

I think what Joan`s talking about is consistent with that. But what
do they think -- what effect do they think it`s having in the here and now?

COSTA: Well, there`s another chess game going on because Bush is
trying to revive his campaign, and part of that is framing, as Joan said,
Trump as a Democrat. You have Danny Diaz, Bush`s campaign manager, Bush
himself going after Trump as a liberal.

Trump`s people see this. Trump has mentioned these attacks. And now
they`re trying to counter them with this pledge. So Bush may have to
recalibrate his whole critique on Trump because Trump now is ensconced
within the GOP.

KORNACKI: All right, Michael Steele, Joan Walsh, Robert Costa,
appreciate you all joining us.

WALSH: Thanks, Steve.

COSTA: Thank you.

KORNACKI: Coming up -- the Kentucky clerk who refuses to issue
marriage licenses to same-sex couples has been held in contempt of court.
She is now in custody, and her case has become a hot issue on the campaign
trail and it is dividing the Republican field.

Plus, New England Patriots superstar quarterback Tom Brady beats the
NFL. A federal judge nullifies the four-game suspension that commissioner
Roger Goodell wanted to impose as part of "deflate-gate."

And it`s not the headline the Clinton campaign wanted. A former IT
staffer will plead the 5th and refuse to testify before the House committee
on Benghazi. What, if anything, can Hillary Clinton do to put this
controversy behind her?

And finally, back to our top story, Trump, loyalty and the GOP. Do we
have any reason to believe that Donald Trump will make good on his pledge
not to bolt and run third party?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Be sure to tune into "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS" tomorrow at
noon Eastern here on MSNBC. Andrea is going to be sitting down for an
exclusive interview with Hillary Clinton. The two are going to discuss the
presidential campaign, Clinton`s use of a private e-mail server and the
Republican field for 2016. That is tomorrow at noon Eastern time here on
MSNBC.

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: There was a dramatic turn in the case of that county clerk
Kentucky today who refused to issue marriage licenses since the Supreme
Court legalized same-sex marriage. She said doing so would conflict with
her religious beliefs.

Well, a federal judge today found Kim Davis in contempt and ordered
her jailed until she agrees to issue the licenses, Judge David Bunning
telling Davis, quote, "The idea that natural law supersedes this court
would be a dangerous precedent."

There`s been political reaction to the case. Senator Rand Paul said
jailing Davis will backfire against supporters of same-sex marriage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it`s absurd to
put someone in jail for exercising their religious liberty. You know, if
you want to convince people that same-sex marriage is something that`s
acceptable, I would say try to persuade people. But you know, if we`re
going to use the federal government and we`re going to get involved in
every state, locality, you know what`s going to happen? It`s going to
harden people`s resolve on this issue. There`ll be no open-mindedness on
this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Ted Cruz issued a statement saying, "Today, judicial
lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny. Today, for the first time ever,
the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her
faith."

And Mike Huckabee tweeted, "Kim Davis in federal custody removes all
doubts about the criminalization of Christianity in this country. We must
defend religious liberty." Huckabee also said he`s heading to Kentucky
next week.

I`m joined now by Matt Schlapp, a former White House political
director for George W. Bush and the chairman of the American Conservative
Union, and Fred Karger, the president of Rights Equals Rights. He ran for
president as a Republican in 2012.

Well, Matt, let me start with you. And I`m curious how you read this
one. We have those statements up there from Huckabee, from Ted Cruz
basically saying this is the persecution of Christians trying to exercise
their faith.

And it raises the question to me, what about a gay Christian who`s
trying to exercise his or her right to get married?

MATT SCHLAPP, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION PRES.: Well, guess what?
The Constitution allows for us to exercise our faith as we choose to
exercise it. And this is the problem when the Supreme Court in the stroke
of a pen up-ends 50 state laws on marriage. We have had a tradition where
states would adjudicate how a marriage would happen in its state, and the
Supreme Court upended it all. And in one fell step...

KORNACKI: Well, sir, so what...

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: But that`s how it works, isn`t it? I mean, the Supreme
Court...

SCHLAPP: No, it`s not. No.

KORNACKI: The Supreme Court strikes down...

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: But for instance, the Supreme Court 50 years ago, 60 years
ago strikes down separate but equal with Brown versus Board of Education,
and suddenly, laws are upended around the country. That is what happens.

SCHLAPP: You`re right. It does, and I think it happens too much. I
think when it comes to civil rights, clearly, we`re still debating these
important issues around civil rights today. But we did pass -- we had a
war, a civil war, and we passed three constitutional amendments around
these issues on civil rights.

The problem is with issues like abortion, and now we have the
questions around marriage, is that when the Supreme Court upends all the
state laws without going through that amendment process, so without going
through democratic process, we will spend another generation, Steve,
fighting about this.

And I guarantee you -- I don`t think this county clerk is interpreting
the law correctly at all. I think she needs to issue these licenses. But
I agree with Rand Paul. If people start going to jail for exercising their
religious beliefs, how is that going to get this country to any type of
consensus?

KORNACKI: Well, let me -- Fred, let me bring you in on that point
because it is interesting. I think we`re entering this interesting
cultural debate that`s probably going to define the next few years, where
gay marriage is now the law of the land in 50 states, and the people who
remain morally or opposed to it on religious grounds are trying to carve
out some kind of role in this society.

Is putting somebody like this in jail only going to inflame the
situation, and the opposition that`s still out there?

FRED KARGER, PRES. RIGHTS EQUAL RIGHTS: The clerk had ample
opportunity to enforce the law. She was warned if she didn`t, that there
would be consequences. And a very conservative federal judge, Judge
Bunning, put her in jail. And you have to obey the law when you`re an
elected official. She had so much nepotism going on in that office, it`s a
crazy place. And she is very hypocritical. But, yes, she needs to obey
the law. She needs to grant marriage licenses to everyone, or pay the
consequences.

KORNACKI: Well, the case of Kim Davis has divided the Republican
presidential field. Several candidates have come out strongly supporting
her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think there ought to
be some room for people to exercise their religious beliefs and not be told
they have to do something they find morally objectionable.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R-LA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don`t think
anybody should have to choose between following their conscience, their
religious beliefs, and giving up their job or facing financial sanctions.

QUESTION: Do you actually want to see other court clerks doing this?

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I want people to
stand up for their convictions. I want them to have the courage of their
convictions, not to acquiesce...

QUESTION: Do you want them to follow the law?

HUCKABEE: ... a court ruling that even -- well, again, I would say to
you, it is the interpretation of five unelected lawyers on the court.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: On the other side, several candidates have pointed out that
Davis doesn`t work for a private company. She is employed by the federal
government. She swore an oath to follow the law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I sympathize with
her religious beliefs. But she is a public official. And those of us in
public life have to administer the law to every American as the law is
written.

CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Given the role that she is
playing, given the fact that the government is paying her salary, I think
that is not appropriate. I think it is a very different situation for her
than someone in a hospital who is asked to perform an abortion or someone
who is a florist who is asked to serve a gay wedding. I think, when you`re
a government employee, you are put in a different position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: So, Matt, you say, ultimately, she should be issuing the
licenses. Carly Fiorina is saying that. Lindsey Graham is saying that.
But why is no one else out there in the Republican field saying this right
now?

Why are so many -- Mike Huckabee, for instance, Ted Cruz, why are they
saying that this woman should not be giving out these licenses?

SCHLAPP: Look, I don`t -- I`m trying to look at the words of these
presidential candidates as well, and it is hard to parse them. And I
think, over the next several days, we will understand it better.

I think most of them are saying that the Supreme Court did us in this
terrible place where you can go to jail for exercising your religion in
something as basic as marriage, which has been well understood in this
country`s history. So I think what they`re saying is, they sympathize with
her.

At the end of the day, if all these county clerks or elected officials
take it on themselves to interpret the Constitution and to interpret
Supreme Court decisions in their own manner, we will have legislative -- we
will have legal chaos. That`s not a good thing for a democracy.

We actually have to have the rule of law. And the Supreme Court has
spoken. I don`t like how they have spoken, but they have spoken. And
these clerks need to follow the law. I think many of the Republican
candidates will actually explain that in the end. But I think they
sympathize with this terrible position she`s in.

KORNACKI: Well, that`s interesting, because there is one candidate
who is definitely not articulating the Supreme Court ruling that way. That
is Mike Huckabee.

SCHLAPP: Right.

KORNACKI: This morning, he said that Davis was in her right not to
issue the licenses because she was following Kentucky law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE: But when you say it is the law of the land, can you quote
the statute that has been passed by the people`s elected representatives?

No. The only law she`s following is the Kentucky law, which, by
constitutional amendment, defines marriage as a man and a woman. The
specific form that she is required to fill out for a marriage license
specifically requires male and female.

Now, if the Kentucky legislature decides that they agree with the
Supreme Court, and they change the laws of Kentucky, that`s a whole
different thing. But we`re bordering on judicial tyranny here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Fred, I watched that this morning, and that was astounding
to me.

First of all, let`s clear this up. The form in Kentucky has been
changed. It no longer requires male and female. There is party A and
there is party B, so that part is inaccurate.

KARGER: That`s right.

KORNACKI: But what Huckabee is saying there, is flat-out saying, is
that if a Supreme Court issues a ruling, it is only binding if individual
states then put that ruling into legislative language. That is a shocking
interpretation of the Constitution.

KARGER: And this is a man running for president of the United States
who a year ago said that, if this happens, if the Supreme Court allowed gay
marriage, it is not the voice of God, and he encouraged civil disobedience.

So, I today am calling for Mike Huckabee to step as a candidate for
president of the United States. He is unqualified to serve. He should
drop out, refund the money and go back the money to preaching or whatever
he is doing.

KORNACKI: I have a feeling he is going to actually end up raising a
lot of money off this one, especially now that she`s been brought off to
jail.

But, anyway, thank you to Matt Schlapp and Fred Karger. Appreciate
you both being here.

And up next, victory for Tom Brady and the Patriots, as a judge
overturns the star quarterback`s four-game suspension.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only thing Tom Brady is guilty of is being the
greatest quarterback ever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We`re so excited that the judge came down and
freed him today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever we do, they can -- it`s never going to
change. They`re always going to call us cheaters and they`re always going
to hate on us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

New England Patriots fans are thrilled today after a federal judge
threw out Tom Brady`s four-game suspension over Deflategate. Judge Richard
Berman said the NFL lost the case because during the investigation, Brady
wasn`t told that he could be suspended and that Brady`s lawyers had no
access to NFL officials.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell hit back in a statement that reads, in
part: "We will appeal today`s ruling in order to uphold the collectively
bargained responsibility to protect the integrity of the game."

Patriots nation sees today as redemption for Brady and for the team.
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski tweeted, "Let`s go. This
season to be one heck of another ride. Pats Nation."

And even Donald Trump got fired up for Brady this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is really a very good
friend of mine and I just spoke to him a little while ago. He is so
thrilled and so happy. Tom Brady, I think what they have done is terrible.
And he has been exonerated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Joining me now is Mike Florio, the host of "Pro Football
Talk" on NBC Sports.

Well, Mike, the bottom line here right now, we have one week from
tonight the NFL season starts. As of right now, Tom Brady would be the
start he for the Patriots in that game against the Steelers. The NFL says
it is appealing this thing. Is this going to be resolved once and for all
before that opener a week from tonight?

MIKE FLORIO, NBC SPORTS: Well, there is no way this is going to be
resolved in the next week.

The NFL has taken no steps to try to get the suspension imposed
pending the appeal. I don`t think this is going to be resolved until after
the season, maybe not even until at some point during 2016 season. The
appeals courts tend on move at their own speed. And I don`t believe this
case is going to move any more quickly than any other. So, I don`t look
for Tom Brady to miss a single game during the regular season or the
postseason.

KORNACKI: I mean, yes, if this thing continues, is there going to be
some kind of allowance if you get into the middle of the season or late in
the season where both parties would agree, let`s just put this off to the
off-season, so we`re not talking about playoff game suspensions or
something like that?

FLORIO: Well, I think what will happen is, there will be a schedule
produced by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit as to when
briefs are due, when other information is due to be filed.

And then at some point, after all the briefs are filed and the NFL
goes first, the NFL P.A. goes second, and the NFL gets the last word since
they`re appealing. At some point after that, you get a date for an oral
argument. This is something that is going to take a period of months, not
weeks.

And it`s not going to be a matter of the two sides having to agree,
hey, let`s just wait until the season ends. This is going to be at what
point after the season ends does this all get resolved?

KORNACKI: Well, the Patriots had some fun on social media today.
They changed their Twitter profile to a picture of Brady holding the
Lombardi Trophy and showed a blinged Brady with his four Super Bowl rings
in a sweepstakes ad.

So, obviously, Mike, a very happy day in New England, but what about
from the standpoint of the league on this? Roger Goodell, as the
commissioner, has taken so much heat over the last couple years. First, it
was over his handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence situation. And
then it comes to Adrian Peterson, a running back for the Minnesota Vikings.
There`s a suspension that was also overturned by a court.

Now you have a second suspension overturned by a court. His clout,
his standing as commissioner, what does this say about that?

FLORIO: Well, it depends on who you ask.

People not connected to the NFL, fans, members the media may look at
this and say, how can the commissioner continue to lead to NFL, given all
of these hits to his credibility? But it doesn`t matter what anyone other
than the 32 owners of the teams believe. And if they`re happy with Roger
Goodell, if they believe he did the right thing, if they support him in
this fight, then it doesn`t matter.

And regardless of anything that has happened off the field, the NFL
continues to be wildly popular, making billions of dollars every year. And
the NFL will continue to make billions of dollars. And if anything, these
embarrassments tend to drive more interest. I think the ratings next
Thursday night on NBC will be even higher than they would have been, given
everything that has happened off the field the last seven months.

KORNACKI: Yes. The cynics would say, oh, what the NFL got over the
last seven months was, they he kept themselves in the news.

Mike Florio, "Pro Football Talk," thank you for joining us tonight.
Appreciate it.

FLORIO: All right, thank you.

KORNACKI: Up next, a former aide to Hillary Clinton plans to invoke
the Fifth Amendment on her e-mails, as another testifies behind closed
doors. What that means for Clinton`s presidential campaign ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger.
Here`s what`s happening.

The manhunt continues in Fox Lake, Illinois, where a police officer
was fatally shot this week. Authorities are analyzing significant
surveillance video from a home security system, hoping it will provide
clues about that shooting.

And refugees desperate to reach Austria and Germany stormed a train in
Hungary after days in limbo outside a transit station. Police eventually
stopped the train and tried to escort the migrants to a camp. That led to
scuffles and protests. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are flooding into
Europe to escape violence in the Middle East -- back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have said
repeatedly that I did not send, nor receive classified material, and I`m
very confident that when this entire process plays out, that will be
understood by everyone. It will prove what I have been saying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

More bad news for Hillary Clinton in the saga surrounding her e-mails
today. A former I.T. specialist who served as an aide to Hillary Clinton
on her 2008 presidential campaign and at the State Department has now
indicated that he will plead the Fifth to a congressional subpoena from the
House Benghazi committee.

That staffer, Bryan Pagliano, has been identified as the individual
who set up Hillary Clinton`s private server back in 2009, his attorney
writing -- quote -- "While we understand that Mr. Pagliano`s response to
this subpoena may be controversial in the current political environment, we
hope that the members of the Select Committee will respect our client`s
right to invoke the protections of the Constitution."

The Clinton campaign`s national press secretary, Brian Fallon, was on
MSNBC earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN FALLON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: This is a young man who I
think was in his mid-20s when he set up the server.

And he is an I.T. professional, a wonderful human being, according to
everybody that knows him. I think his lawyer is understandably not wanting
him to get caught up in a partisan swirl, where he will be used as a pawn
in a political -- what has increasingly turned into a political exercise on
Capitol Hill.

All I can say is, we encouraged him to testify. We agree that there
is nothing, absolutely nothing that went on that was wrong here. He didn`t
do anything wrong. Again, so that`s why we urged him to testify. But,
ultimately, it is his decision. Bryan`s lawyer in this case was judging
that he wouldn`t get a fair share from the committee Republicans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton`s State Department chief of
staff, Cheryl Mills, did testify before the Benghazi committee earlier this
morning on Capitol Hill.

Anne Gearan is political correspondent for "The Washington Post."
Alex Seitz-Wald is a political reporter for MSNBC. And April Ryan is White
House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks.

Well, Anne, let me start with you.

So, this guy, Pagliano, he sets up the e-mail server in the Clintons`
house six years ago. Obviously, politically, the headline looks bad for
the Clintons. Any time there`s a political investigation and the Fifth
Amendment is invoked, it doesn`t look good. But what are we really talking
about here? Do we have a sense of what this guy might have done, of what -
- is there some potential exposure here for him?

ANNE GEARAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, clearly, there are a couple
kinds of exposure. Right?

There`s the potential down the road for criminal exposure. There is
an FBI investigation into whether classified material was compromised
through this system that he set up. They`re a long way from getting to
that point. But looking down the road, as you would have to if you were in
his shoes, he has hired lawyers. And those lawyers in the meantime have
said to him, clearly, don`t complicate matters. Don`t put yourself in
additional jeopardy. Don`t become a political pawn by testifying before
this committee.

So, it looks bad for the Clinton campaign a couple ways. It makes it
looks like potentially they have something to hide if someone who worked
for her refuses to talk about it in a -- in that setting, at the Benghazi
committee. And it also potentially looks like they can`t control their own
troops.

I mean, he no longer works for them, and he doesn`t really owe them
anything, except political allegiance. And he said, thanks very much, but
I`m going to go my own way.

KORNACKI: Yes. So, Alex, I mean, you covered the Clinton campaign
all the time. They have to be obviously, if nothing else, very frustrated
and probably concerned about the direction this thing has taken and sort of
the relentlessness of this. I mean, we`ve been talking about this for
months now with this FBI investigation going on, with these continual
releases of parts of her e-mails. It`s not going to go away any time soon.

Do you have a sense -- do they have a plan in mind for how to deal
with this because what they`ve been doing so far is not making the story go
away?

ALEX SEITZ-WALD, MSNBC POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean, Steve, it just
goes to show how little control Clinton and her team have over the story,
as our colleague Mark (INAUDIBLE) this morning. A Democrat put to it me
this way, it`s like they`re playing a game of cards where not only are they
not dealing, but they don`t even know how many cards are in the deck. I
mean, they could wake up any day and not really know what`s coming down the
pike. This is a guy who used to work for them. They tried hard to get him
to testify. He refused to testify and there`s not much they can do about
it. It looks terrible.

They`re hoping that after all of this staffers testify and then after
Clinton testifies in October, that will be a big event. There`ll be a ton
of media attention. They hope that will kind of be the pink press
conference in the `90s and maybe get had behind him. But I`m not sure. I
mean, you know, who knows what`s coming next? Even they don`t.

KORNACKI: Yes. So, I mean, April what does, what would put this
behind the Clintons? Is it the testimony this fall, is there an
opportunity there? Is it this FBI investigation? Do they have to wait and
hope the FBI comes out and basically gives her a clean bill of health?
What do you think it would take?

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORK: I think each probe has to
literally give her a clean bill of health. Even if there is something, it
has to be so slight that it really doesn`t matter if they do find
something. And October cannot come fast enough for her to -- before
Hillary Clinton would stand before the, or sit before the congressional
hearing and talk about what actually happened.

And what`s interesting is, the Clinton campaign is trying to show that
they are transparent. They pushed for Cheryl Mills and others to have
public testimony, or public conversations, and it didn`t happen. They were
hoping that this guy with the server would come out and he didn`t. And I
asked the White House today, what did they think as this happened during
the time that secretary Clinton was within the Obama administration. They
had no comment. They don`t want to put their hands on it. And that`s
saying that there is an issue she has to deal with. She has to get it
behind her.

KORNACKI: OK. Anne, you`ve been looking at this closely. I mean,
there`s obviously a lot of controversy here. There`s a lot of hype around
this too.

Here`s what I`m kind of wondering. Here`s what we know so far -- the
Obama administration did not want her setting up this server in the first
place. She did that any way. She has since deleted e-mails. They may not
get those things back. Classified information that was retro actively
classified. It popped up and a few years later it was deemed to be
classified information.

Is that the worst of what we know happened so far? Or is there more?

GEARAN: Well, as Alex alluded to, part of the reason the story is as
confusing and confounding as it is, nobody really knows the answer to that.
I mean, the FBI investigation could go many ways. There could be any
number of other twists and turns here.

Politically, it`s just something that the campaign never saw coming
months and months ago when they were planning very carefully, what her
strategy would look like. I mean, they were focused on Iowa, New Hampshire
and what not and not the way her e-mail system was set up five and six
years before.

One thing, though, you mentioned the Obama administration. I mean, it
is not clear even now how many people knew and whether she cleared this at
any high level, with the Obama administration at the outset when she set it
up. The State Department has refused to say now from the podium for days
and days and days who at the State Department approved it.

And so, it`s an open question -- how, you know, was she even, did she
get permission? Did anybody even really know how this was set up?

KORNACKI: All right. Well, as we mentioned before, you can catch
Andrea Mitchell with her exclusive interview with Hillary Clinton. That is
going to be tomorrow at noon Eastern Time, right here on MSNBC. Pretty
sure a lot of it will come up then.

The roundtable is staying with us.

Up next, back to the big story of the day, Donald Trump signs the
pledge, averting a potential third party run. At least he says. The
question now: will he stick to it?

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: There are new numbers on how Hillary Clinton is faring
against potential Republican opponents, in the latest PPP poll. Let`s go
to the HARDBALL scoreboard.

Clinton beats Jeb Bush by four points. It`s Hillary 46, Jeb 42 in
that matchup.

Against Carly Fiorina, Clinton is up by just 2 points, 45-43 for
Clinton in that one.

And it`s a 2-point margin also in a potential match-up of Clinton and
Donald Trump. There is Clinton 46, Trump 44.

And the closest match-up, well, that`s Hillary versus Dr. Ben Carson.
It is all tied there, 44-44, Carson-Clinton.

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The chairman just left, as
you probably know. And he`s been extremely fair. The RNC has been
absolutely terrific over the last two-month period. And as you know,
that`s what I`ve wanted. I`ve wanted fairness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: We are back with the roundtable, Anne, Alex and April.

In his press conference today, Donald Trump unambiguously closed the
door on a third party run should he not win the Republican nomination next
year. Since first raising the idea back in July, Trump had repeatedly used
the prospect of an independent bid as a not so subtle threat against the
party as leverage to ensure he would be treated fairly.

The question is, why did Trump give up that leverage now? Well, in
his explanation today, he said his decision was based in part on his lead
in the polls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think the big thing, Dana, that`s changed is -- and it`s
been obvious to all. Number one, after I announced, we went up like a
rocket ship. I think the biggest thing is that I went early to number one
and the RNC has treated me with great respect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Well, April, I want to know what you made of the scene
today, because there`s two ways to look at it. Was this Reince Priebus
coming to Trump world headquarters and bending to Donald Trump`s will or
was it Donald Trump looking at the Republican Party chairman and bending to
his will?

RYAN: I don`t want -- politically, I don`t want to get into the
bending piece, but I will say this, I believe that the Republican Party
realizes what they have. And they have to deal with Donald Trump. They
have to do it in a way that appeases Donald Trump because really right now
the Republican Party is, in my opinion and many others who are analyzing
this presidential campaign, it`s fractured. And in order to keep the party
together, they have to play ball with Donald Trump.

But the issue really is, you know, he says, you know, it`s about
fairness. Well what happens if Donald Trump feels that there is not
fairness right now? Because this is not a legally binding document. So,
you know, he could move on.

We have seen it before. So, if Donald Trump were to say, next week, I
don`t feel they are being fair to me, you know, there is a little question
mark. Will he go? Will he forget about the pact and move on?

So, I don`t know. I think Reince Priebus is doing what he has to do
for the Republican Party right now.

KORNACKI: Yes. I mean, 180-degree reversals are not exactly a new
concept when it comes to Donald Trump.

RYAN: Exactly.

KORNACKI: Well, Alex, let me ask you about the question of leverage
as well between Trump and the Republican Party. A lot people look at this
and they say, Trump has given up some of that leverage today by making this
decision. I look at it and wonder if he really has the next debate. Take
for instance the next debate. If Donald Trump were to threaten not to
participate in the next Republican debate, the party would be panicked.
They`d lose 20 million viewers. Meanwhile the party, if they tried to
threaten Donald Trump with not getting into the debate, they`d be
committing some form of political suicide.

SEITZ-WALD: Yes, Steve. I mean, as he said, he still got the polls.
I mean, that means he has the power, he has the leverage down the road.
Keep in mind that at the end of this month to get on the South Carolina
ballot next year, he would have to take a loyalty oath. He has to do it no
matter what. I think it was smart to do it now when you can make a show of
the chairman of the party coming to Trump headquarters, you know, hold it
up.

And as April said, it`s not a legally binding document. He didn`t
write the right date. He wrote August 3rd instead of September 3. He`s
made tearing up trade treaties a part of his platform. Those are legally
binding. So, I don`t think he would have trouble throwing this out down
the road if he decides that`s the right thing for him to do.

KORNACKI: Trump is also facing a surging Ben Carson. On Monday, a
Monmouth poll showed both of those candidates tied at 23 percent in the
crucial state of Iowa. And now, a new national poll by Monmouth today
shows that Ben Carson has taken second place, surpassing Jeb Bush. Trump
is at 30 percent. Carson is at 18. Bush is tied in third with Ted Cruz at
8 percent.

Trump has praised Carson in the past and was less courteous towards
his rising competitor today. In an interview with "The Daily Caller",
Trump said, "Well, Carson is a wonderful guy. He thinks it would be very
tough for someone who spent life as a surgeon to handle the job. I just
think it is a difficult situation that he puts himself into to have a
doctor who wasn`t creating jobs and would have a nurse or maybe two nurses.
It`s such a different world. I have created tens of thousands of jobs over
the years."

Ann, I just -- take a step back. This is amazing to me. We are now -
- it`s basically Labor Day. We were told the Trump thing was a temporary,
fleeting phenomenon. And at Labor Day, if you add up Donald Trump and Ben
Carson, you`re almost at 50 percent now. And, meanwhile, Jeb Bush, son and
brother of former presidents, is sitting in single digits.

GEARAN: Yes, it is remarkable. I mean, I like a lot of people
assumed that Trump was a summer phenomenon and Carson wasn`t even really on
our radar screen at the beginning of the summer. To be where we are is
pretty remarkable. I will go out on a limb here and say that I don`t think
that Carson will be in the same position as he has now maybe say after the
next Republican debate.

But you see Trump is spending most of his energy attacking Jeb Bush
and not attacking Carson. He`s being very careful there. I think he
doesn`t want to take on Carson too directly and run risks there if he does,
so he goes after Bush.

KORNACKI: Yes. April, is that -- is it a different game -- going
after Jeb Bush looks like an easy target for Donald Trump. When you look
at Ben Carson, you look at the poll numbers among Republicans, there is all
these candidates running. There is no Republican candidate who the voters
of that party right now respect more than Ben Carson. That maybe makes it
more complicated for Donald Trump in trying to take the wind out of his
sails.

RYAN: Ben Carson, Dr. Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon is an
intelligent and brilliant man when it comes to medicine. He`s separated
the brains of Siamese twins -- the bender twins. How do you go up against
that?

He said, you know, Carson hasn`t created jobs. Well, Ben Carson has
kept people healthy, so they are working. So, I mean, there may be a play
on that.

But when it comes to Ben Carson, he is a minority. I don`t care any
way you put it, he`s a minority, and you also have Carly Fiorina, who is a
minority as well. She`s a woman.

So, he`s got to be very careful, particularly with the issue of women
that he`s already had a problem with and then with the minority issue.
He`s already trying to smooth over things, I can`t even talk today, with
the Hispanic community and then with the black community he doesn`t want to
go down that road. He`s already started something when it comes to the
issue of the birther issue with President Obama. So, he`s got to be
careful in how he attacks Ben Carson.

KORNACKI: Yes, I mean, it would be interesting to watch. I mean, we
are coming up on the next presidential debate. Donald Trump, making a
loyalty oath today, is that going to affect his behavior, his posture, his
approach towards other candidates when he`s on stage with them, or is this
still going to be the gloves are off for Donald Trump? It`s something to
check out a few weeks from now.

But thank you for now to Anne Gearan, Alex Seitz-Wald, and April Ryan.

And HARDBALL is back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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