Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 4/6/2017
Show: Hardball with Chris Matthews
Date: April 6, 2017
Guest: Ben Cardin, Mike Quigley, Mark Jacobson, John McLaughlin, Ayesha Rascoe
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: War footing.
ANNOUNCER: Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Well, tonight, the Trump administration is weighing a possible military
response to Bashar al Assad`s gas attack over in Syria. And as Secretary
of State Rex Tillerson said today, all options are now on the table.
On his flight down to Palm Beach this afternoon, President Trump himself
was asked if Assad must now go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think what Assad did is
terrible. I think what happened in Syria is one of the truly egregious
crimes, and it shouldn`t have happened. And it shouldn`t be allowed to
QUESTION: Do you think that Assad should leave power in Syria?
TRUMP: I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity. And he`s
there, and I guess he`s running things. So something should happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Something should happen. You heard the president.
Well, joining me right now from London with more is NBC News chief foreign
correspondent Richard Engel. Richard, there`s something happening, and I`m
wondering what we know at this point. What do you know?
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I`ve been speaking to senior U.S.
military officials, and they say that something is seriously under
consideration, that it could happen imminently, that a wide range of
options are being presented to the president – this could develop very
quickly, perhaps even in the next couple of – next several hours, and that
the president is leaning toward a more limited option, not a massive
military campaign that would change the regime, not toppling Bashar al
Assad, not a U.S. ground invasion, more like limited military strikes,
potentially – or particularly strikes against the chemical weapons
capability. So more of a measured response.
You have to look at what the situation is like in Syria. Bashar al Assad
is a dictator. He`s been condemned around the world for using these
weapons, and now the U.S. says it has evidence, radar evidence, that links
his aircraft to this attack that was so horrific a few days ago.
But if Bashar al Assad were to go, there is also ISIS. There are al Qaeda
groups. And who would step in to fill that gap? So I think it seems that
the president and his advisers are trying to weigh what is an appropriate
response. How far can they go without destabilizing the regime and opening
an entire new can of worms?
MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the situation over there with regard to – and
I was thinking also of measured response, like during the Cuban missile
crisis, of course, where President Kennedy handled that in a very measured
way. What about the Russian air defenses? From what I can understand, you
have to penetrate them to get to any target. How do we do that?
ENGEL: Well, you might not have to use manned aircraft. There`s a lot of
talk about using cruise missiles. So you can fire weapons, and if some of
them are shot down by air defenses, so be it. The cost is only one lost
missile, not the cost of a lost pilot.
What I`m thinking of and the analogy that keeps coming into my head is if,a
you`ll remember the 1998 attack by President Clinton after there were the
two terrorist attacks in Africa, in Kenya and Dar es Salaam. There was a
series of cruise missile attacks. They targeted al Qaeda training camps in
Afghanistan and in Sudan. The idea was to send a message that there will
be a response, but not to get the United States involved in a war. That
later happened, and we saw the result.
MATTHEWS: What about the Russian casualties? I keep going back to that
because what I understand is that they`re the main military force in the
country, that they could be targeted. We could hit them unintentionally.
We can also hit civilians. I mean, how many times have we been engaged in
what seemed to be surgical strikes, and an hour or two later, we`re
watching world television with people being taken to a hospital? It just
seems there`s a syndrome here. We all know it very well.
ENGEL: Well, this is the real risk, and this is why these decisions are so
important and so difficult to make because no war plan survives the first
engagement. That`s what they all say. So if the idea is to have a limited
strike and it`s just going to send a proportionate response, that doesn`t
mean that necessarily that is what happens. There are Russian troops on
the ground. Russians have bases.
They are flying missions over Syria. If the Russians were hit even by
accident, it would escalate the situation dramatically. Also, there are
hundreds of American troops inside Syria. They`re there on the counter-
ISIS mission. If large numbers of Syrian troops were killed in this raid,
Syria might feel compelled to respond to an attack on its troops with an
attack on U.S. troops.
So finding the response that sends the message but doesn`t escalate with
Russia, doesn`t put U.S. troops in the Syrians` crosshairs or even the
Russians` crosshairs – it is difficult. That`s why what I`m hearing from
some sources is that they`re trying to find a more limited option targeting
the weapons capabilities, particularly those linked to chemical weapons.
MATTHEWS: Last question, Richard. What`s the gain or the purpose of a
punitive attack? In other words, it`s not an existential attack on the
regime over there. They remain in place. The Assad family remains in
power. The regime holds, but we somehow administer a punishment to them.
What is the efficaciousness of that?
ENGEL: Yes, no, I was thinking about that, as well. So if you`re going to
do what is effectively a big slap on the wrist, why bother doing it? Why
not go all the way and remove Bashar al Assad if Bashar al Assad is the
ANNOUNCER: The issue is who then steps into the breach. And in Syria,
this is one of the most complicated civil wars in the world. You could
have ISIS coming in, marching into Damascus. You could have al Qaeda, a
whole host of terrible outcomes.
The goal is to send Assad a message, I`m told, but also to re-establish
U.S. credibility. A lot of this goes back to that red line moment that has
so often been criticized, particularly from the Republican side but not
only, that last time, there was a major chemical weapons attack in Syria,
President Obama said there would be action, and then the action never came.
And it seems that President Trump wants to do an act and maybe do that act
quite quickly to send a message that things are different now, that he`s
different, that times have changed, that America has its credibility again.
That would be a goal.
MATTHEWS: Well, something`s going on. Thank you so much, NBC`s Richard
Engel in London.
Well, now to NBC`s Hans Nichols at the Pentagon. Hans, thank you for this.
And I get back to the same questions, and I have been hearing about phone
calls being made to different members of the Congress today. Something`s
HANS NICHOLS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, Chris, that the
Pentagon seems a little bit more busy tonight than it normally does at 7:00
o`clock on a Thursday night.
Here`s what we know. We have a very clear signal, strong signal from
President Trump himself that there could be action. We had something
similar from Secretary Tillerson. And then here at the Pentagon, the Joint
Chiefs of Staff are meeting, have been meeting in the Tank. We don`t know
if that meeting is still taking place. They went in there about 4:30.
They`re planning on presenting plans to President Trump, on the far end,
taking out the entire air force of the Assad regime, grounding them, and on
the other end, more to the point of Richard was talking about, more
surgical strikes, actually taking out the assets that did this initial –
this attack, this chemical weapons attack, which U.S. military officials
and the Pentagon clearly thinks they`ve pinned on the Assad regime. They
saw it quite clearly with their radar.
MATTHEWS: How active and up to date is our map of Syria? Do we know where
the Russians` encampments are, where they`re deployed? Do we know where
their aircraft is deployed? Can we discriminate among the embedded troops?
We have Russians embedded in various units over there, Syrian units. How
do we single out Syrians for attack without attacking Russians?
NICHOLS: Chris, you really sort of hit the nail on its head there because
they know where the Russian regime force is here. Most of the briefings we
get, those two are captured – they put those two together.
Excuse me here. I`m going to assume that is an important phone call from
an important source.
But what we do see is up to date maps, every week, every other day here.
I`m looking at a map up in my booth right now, and it`s from January 2016.
I have that map because in February, there`s a new one. In March, there
was a new one, and I borrowed it from a defense official here.
MATTHEWS: We`ll be right back to you when you get that call, Hans Nichols
at the Pentagon.
Joining me right now is MSNBC military analyst Colonel Jack Jacobs, who`s
also a recipient of the prestigious Medal of Honor. Thank you, Colonel,
for joining us.
And I guess the questions are pretty obvious. How do we avoid hitting the
wrong targets, the Russians, and opening up a larger front than we intend?
COL. JACK JACOBS, U.S. ARMY (RET.), NBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the more
limited the strike, the less chance you have of having collateral damage,
of hitting Russians, and so on.
The targeting is going to revolve around delivery means, airfields,
maintenance facilities that service airfields. But remember the Russians
have maintenance people there, and it`s going to be extremely difficult,
even if you launch a surgical strike with cruise missiles on specific
installations in the middle of the night, when it`s less likely to hit
civilians and other people who may be there, you`re still liable to have
collateral damage and have Russians killed. So there`s no guarantee that
even a limited strike is going to avoid any collateral damage.
MATTHEWS: What about the problem of embedding where you have Russians
embedded in the Syrian units? How do we avoid again hitting the other
JACOBS: Yes, I think that the objective is not to hit units, it`s to hit
facilities instead. And it may very well be that a limited strike just to
demonstrate that we`re annoyed and irritated and, Don`t do it again, is the
way they`re going to go. There is still some risk involved, but not so
much as there is in cratering all the airfields, grounding the air force,
and making it impossible for Assad to launch any planes. The more limited,
the less likely there is to be any collateral damage and the less likely it
is to involve Russians.
Having said that, the Russians are crucial to ensuring that whatever gets
resolved in this arena gets resolved. The Russians don`t care about Assad.
It doesn`t matter whether Assad is running the place or somebody else.
Indeed, there`s plenty of evidence to indicate that Assad is not really
running it. It`s the top of the military food chain there, and those are
the people who really need to be convinced otherwise.
MATTHEWS: Give me an example. I was thinking back to Ronald Reagan,
President Reagan`s, attack on Gadhafi where he hit them in their tents and
killed a member of his family. But it was certainly a painful strike. Is
that an example of a successful punitive attack in 21st century or late
20th century fighting?
JACOBS: Yes, it is in Libya, as was, but it`s certainly not as – it`s not
the fact – it`s not going to work in Syria. The top of the military food
chain is all in revetted positions. Everybody`s located in built-up areas.
It`s a very cosmopolitan country, and so on. So what we did in Libya is
not going to work in Syria.
MATTHEWS: You know, it was once said years ago that the East, or the
Middle East, they look upon us as always covering our retreat with stand-
off weapons, that we`re shooting at them and always skipping away. And
that sounds like, no matter what it looks from our perspective, from their
perspective, we`re retreating.
How do you impress a Middle East power by hit-and-run, by hitting them and
then making sure you have limited exposure to yourself, and you skip back
to your safe units, you skip back to your country, and you think you`ve
whacked them, and all you`ve done is demonstrated you`re in retreat? I
don`t know how it demonstrates power. To me, it demonstrates – if you`re
going to swat somebody and skip town, how does that impress them in terms
of the future and where you`re going to be a year, 10 years from now?
JACOBS: Yes, I`m reminded of the observation of Lewis Carroll, who once
wrote, If you don`t know where you`re going, any road will take you there.
So you have to first establish what it is you`re trying to do.
If what we want to do is to make sure that Assad leaves, that the military
food chain there ceases to exist, that all of Syria is controlled and that
we can get in there and take care of ISIS and – if we want to do that,
you`re talking about a large number of American or multi-national troops
there for a long period of time. That`s going to require a great deal of
coordination, an enormous commitment that we`re not willing to make.
If at the other end of the spectrum, our objective is to send a message,
you can do that, and we don`t care very much what other people think about
us. We just want to send a bomb there, blow up a couple of planes and
leave, and that`s not going to change the observation, the feeling that…
JACOBS: … you`re talking about…
JACOBS: Nothing`s going to change that except…
MATTHEWS: So it`s for our satisfaction, rather than deliver a message.
It`s to make us feel like we`ve done something.
JACOBS: Yes, I think a lot of it – look, everybody in the world, every
leader in the world is playing to two audiences, the international
audience, but more often than not, a domestic audience, and there`s a lot
of that in this – whatever happens, there`s a lot of that in this here.
MATTHEWS: So much to have you – great to have you, Colonel Jack Jacobs.
JACOBS: You bet.
MATTHEWS: Stick with us during this hour.
Former National Security Council member and MSNBC military analyst General
Barry McCaffrey joins me now. What`s your sober look at this right now,
what looks to be afoot right now, some sort of military action fairly
imminently right now, General?
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.), NBC MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. Well,
I think Jack Jacobs had it pretty much right. The question is, has the
Trump White House written down the political objectives they are trying to
achieve through military force? And if we`re signaling displeasure to
killing people with chemical weapons, there`ll be a consequence of that
strike that will achieve no decisive results in this ongoing war.
A half million have been murdered, self-propelled artillery tanks, AK-47s.
Now we`re going to respond with military power over 100 people murdered
with chemical weapons. So I`m not too sure there`s clarity in what they`re
trying to achieve.
MATTHEWS: What would be the reason for a military person in the Situation
Room or wherever at the Pentagon to recommend such – if it is such a
limited strike, why would – what would be the argument for it except, you
MCCAFFREY: Well, I don`t think there is an argument. I think it`d be a
mistake to conduct limited political signaling using naval air power or F-
16s flying out of someplace in the region.
I do believe there`s, you know, a chance that Mattis will table – the
secretary of defense – an option to eliminate the Syrian air force. The
Russians will not confront the U.S. Air Force and naval air in air combat.
We probably would kill some of them. But I think they would probably step
Now, the consequences of that, though, might be Iranian Revolutionary
Guards killing soldiers, U.S. soldiers in Iraq, Hezbollah going after the
Israelis. So military power invites unknown consequences when you carry it
And the question might be, why don`t we consider significant humanitarian
assistance to Syrian refugees in border regions of Turkey and Jordan and
Iraq in lieu of ineffectual military strikes?
MATTHEWS: General, if you`re sitting tonight writing down the mission plan
and telling our pilots to go over there and hit Syrian planes, wipe out the
Syrian air force while not destroying Soviet air defenses, Soviet personnel
– their forces are over there, which are embedded in those units –
avoiding any kind of confrontation with the other power in the world, the
Russians – how do you discriminate when you`re in the air looking down? I
mean how do you know which plane is Syrian? How do you know which unit is
embedded with Russians? How do you know these things from the air? Do we
have that good a map?
MCCAFFREY: Well, look, they`re awfully good. There`s no question about
it. They are going to be drones collecting intelligence and post-strike
analysis. But they are, as Jack Jacobs has said, intermixed. It`s very
likely you`d end up with significant damage to Russian forces.
It`s possible they would make a mistake and defend their airfields using
their very sophisticated ground-to-air missiles.
MCCAFFREY: So you know, this would not be a conflict in which there
wouldn`t be U.S. forces at risk. But again, to underscore, U.S. naval and
air power can definitely destroy the Syrian air force in a couple of weeks
or so. That would be a decisive military objective. The question is, what
would it contribute to the political outcome on the ground in Syria?
MATTHEWS: Let`s assume that the Syrians benefit from state-of-the-art
Russian air defenses. What`s our vulnerability – what`s the vulnerability
facing our pilots who go over that country tonight perhaps?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I think, mostly, it`s political. Look, we just had one
extremely courageous, you know – the best people on the face of the earth
are these JSOC special operations forces. We had a Navy chief killed in
action on what I think was a pretty well planned out and conducted raid,
and there was a huge political fallout.
So again, in today`s day and age, digital communications, warring political
factions in the U.S. – if we go after the Syrian air force, if there are
Russians on the ground, then there may well be consequences, one of which
would be incurring casualties in U.S. air power. You know, this is
MCCAFFREY: They`re the best on the face of the earth, but there would be a
risk, no question.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much for your experience and your wisdom. Thank
you, General Barry McCaffrey.
We are now continuing to follow the breaking news tonight, president Trump
considering military action against Syria. We`re going to get reaction
from the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. And back with
more. We don`t know when it`s coming. It could be soon.
We`ll be right back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Well, tonight, President Trump is
facing two big diplomatic tests, of course – right now, the president and
the first lady are dining with Chinese president Xi Jinping and his wife at
Mar-a-Lago, there are the pictures there of their meeting earlier today –
while administration officials are exploring all options when it comes to
responding to Syria`s gas attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We are considering an appropriate
response for this chemical weapons attack, which violates all previous U.N.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, while down there at Mar-a-Lago, the president will not
only weigh military action against Syria, perhaps very soon, perhaps
tonight, but we also have to figure out what to do with North Korea,
another dangerous country.
For more, we`re joined by Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, ranking Democrat
on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
We didn`t know what was going to happen tonight or could happen tonight,
Senator, when we booked you, but I`m glad you`re on.
Have you gotten any word asking for support or offering a consultative
role, a consultative role, for you as a ranking Democrat on the Foreign
Relations Committee about military action tonight?
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: First, Chris, it`s good to be with you.
Secondly, I`m not aware of consultations with members of the Senate in
regards to any planned activities. We were pleased to see Secretary
Tillerson reverse himself as to the legitimacy of President Assad to remain
at the head of Syria`s government. That was a good sign.
Obviously, we are concerned about military actions. Congress has not
authorized military action, and we are concerned about, what is the
mission? What is he trying to achieve? But there`s been no consultation
MATTHEWS: What does your history tell you about that? Because I`m not
sure – when Reagan went after Gadhafi and killed the people in the tent
that time, which went over very well back here at home, obviously, and,
then, of course, President Clinton also launched an attack against this
same country, Syria, was there always a full, formal approval by the
Congress before it?
There obviously wasn`t a vote. So, what kind of consultative experience
was there in those cases?
CARDIN: The typical procedure is to have consultation with Congress before
any action is taken, unless it requires an emergency response.
This is not that circumstance. So, the normal practice would be
consultation with Congress. If it`s use of force, there is the War Powers
Act. And we would like to be part of the authorization process.
But, at a minimum, there has to be consultation. There should be
consultation with Congress. We have not seen that. And the reason is, we
would like to know the mission. We would like to know what he`s attempting
to do. We want to be united as a nation, particularly when we`re using
What is he trying to achieve? Most experts will tell you that there is no
military victory for solving the Syrian problem. We`re going to have a
political solution. Obviously, we cannot stand still as people are being
gassed. We have got to do things about that.
So, I would hope the president would have consulted with us, worked with
us, because I can tell you, we want a strong response to what Mr. –
President Assad is doing.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe it would be wrong for the president to take
action tonight against Syria, military action?
CARDIN: Well, I don`t know what he`s planning to do. I don`t know what the
mission is. I don`t know what the objective…
MATTHEWS: Well, any military action? Are you against any military action
CARDIN: Well, without understanding it, it`s hard for me to respond to
I – we want to obviously protect the civilian population from the use of
chemicals. And that is unacceptable. But I`m not sure what his objective
is all about. That has not been explained.
I also don`t understand his Syrian policy. We need to know what he`s
trying to achieve in Syria. He hasn`t shared that with not only members of
the Senate. He hasn`t shared that with the American people.
MATTHEWS: Do you trust him as commander in chief, Senator?
CARDIN: He is the commander in chief, and, obviously, we`re going to have
to work with him as president.
MATTHEWS: But do you trust him?
CARDIN: I`m going to wait to see his actions as president of the United
I have already expressed serious concerns about President Trump, and –
but, obviously, at times in which he has to exercise this type of power, we
want to make sure that we are acting in the best interests of America.
MATTHEWS: OK, Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign
We`re going to continue to follow this top story tonight.
But there was a big shakeup here in Washington just today, as the chairman
of the House Intelligence Committee stepped aside and down, I would say,
from the investigation into Russia, big loss, right after Steve Bannon got
pushed out of the National Security Council. There are already casualties
in this shakeup.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back.
The embattled chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman
Devin Nunes, is today stepping aside, if you will, from the committee`s
investigation into Trump`s connections with Russia.
The decision to step aside comes as the House Ethics Committee confirmed
today it`s investigating – quote – “allegations that Nunes may have made
unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”
Well, the investigation is in response to a request filed by multiple
advocacy groups last month. It`s intended to determine whether Nunes
violated House rules or the law when he said he saw intelligence reports
over that midnight show of his that showed Trump transition officials
accidentally or incidentally picked up in surveillance of foreigners.
Anyway, in his statement today, Congressman Nunes said: “Several left-wing
activist groups have filed accusations against me with the Office of
Congressional Ethics. The charges are totally” – “actually, entirely
false and politically motivated, and are being leveled just as the American
people are beginning to learn the truth about the unproper unmasking” –
this is complete party line – “of the identities of U.S. citizens and
other abuses of power.”
Well, without Nunes as the chair of that committee, the committee`s
investigation into Russia will now be led by – catch this guy – U.S.
Congress Michael Conaway of Texas, with help from Trey Gowdy and Tom
Rooney. These guys are all right-wingers.
NBC is reporting that Nunes met last night with Speaker Paul Ryan and that
they both agreed with the decision.
Isn`t that nice? They both agreed he would step aside.
However, Ryan today said that he doesn`t believe the charge that Chairman
Nunes mishandled the classified information is true.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Do you still have faith that he didn`t do anything wrong? Did
he mishandle classified information?
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: No, I don`t believe so.
Chairman Nunes has offered to step aside as the lead Republican on this
particular probe, and I fully support his decision. Chairman Nunes wants
to make sure that this is not a distraction to a very important
investigation, so he wants to go clear himself while this investigation
continues on without any kinds of distractions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, Chairman Nunes has been criticized as a flack of the White
House, a pawn, I would call him, especially since it was reported that top
administration officials provided him those intelligence reports to defend
the president. He was working for the president he`s supposed to be
And now Nunes, who conducted frequent press conferences over the last
couple weeks, is no longer answering any questions.
What him with Kasie Hunt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KASIE HUNT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Are you concerned about potentially being
in trouble with the Ethics Committee investigation? Any concerns at all?
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: Doing all right?
HUNT: Did it become a distraction?
NUNES: You doing OK?
HUNT: I`m doing well.
NUNES: I gave you a statement.
HUNT: You believe that these are left-wing group, baseless charges?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Former chairman, now pacer bunny.
Anyway, while the White House said today that this is an internal matter
for the House, the president told “The New York Times” just yesterday that
– quote – “The Russia story is a total hoax.”
I`m joined right now by U.S. Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois, who sits
on the House Intelligence Committee. Also with us is David Corn,
Washington bureau chief for “Mother Jones” and of course an MSNBC political
Congressman Quigley, I don`t know. Maybe I`m a cynic. Maybe I have been
studying politics way too long. It looks to me like this guy had his head
chopped off because nobody takes him seriously anymore. That would be
Nunes, who was working for the White House, delivering – actually getting
information from the White House he wouldn`t share with you.
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Well, it`s interesting.
And it follows on the heels of Senator Graham and McCain both calling the
White House and the chairman`s behavior bizarre, a bizarre ordeal. The
very unfortunate part of all this is the fact that probably the most
important investigation of a White House in my lifetime has been
distracted, delayed for some time simply because of these actions.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of these beheadings? I mean, it looks like the
axe is out at the White House.
You have got Steve Bannon, who was a big shot at the National Security
Council. Now he`s off that list completely. Now Nunes, who they were all
defending right up until yesterday, he`s gone.
It seems to me there`s a lot of collateral damage to that little midnight
jaunt that this guy Nunes took to the White House, at the behest of the
president. It`s all karma. It`s all, like, going to hell.
QUIGLEY: Yes, I think there`s a bigger picture.
I think you had Vice President Biden suggesting last week that the
president needs to grow up. My suggestion is that he needs to take
responsibility. And I mean for anything.
We have talked about the Yemen raid recently. He blamed the generals for
that. He blamed the joint session of Congress the next day, issues with
his senior staff, the health care on the Tea Party and the Democrats, the
press, anybody but himself.
The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but sometimes in ourselves.
He would gain a lot more respect, I think, on the Hill if at once he stood
up and said, I own this one. The buck stops here.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to David on this.
And I will hit you with real cynicism, OK? I think I can outdo you on this
one. Here`s a president who is under incredible scrutiny for his
relations, such as they were, with the Russians in all those months that
the Russians were helping him get elected president.
And here he is tonight, apparently – we hear lots of talks about it with
guests we have had on – that there may be military action against Russia`s
number one ally in the world maybe, and certainly in the Middle East, which
Is this to cover his tracks?
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that would be the wag the dog
scenario, right? And perhaps…
MATTHEWS: No, I mean to cover his tracks, meaning, you think I`m in bed
with the Russians?
CORN: The Russians, that`s right, yes.
And it would distract from the investigation and would show, I`m not in bed
with the Russians. I can launch strikes that are inconvenient and maybe
even end up killing some Russians. Who knows where that goes from here?
MATTHEWS: Would that clean him – would that clear him of the charge that
MATTHEWS: … the Russians?
CORN: I don`t think so, but it may distract us if we get into a mess in
To me, one of the big pictures here, because you talked about what Nunes
did. We have seen the NSC. It`s only been 11 weeks. It`s been a
disaster. We are on our second national security adviser. People who want
to be fired are kept in place for political reasons. They`re involved with
Nunes in this midnight run.
And, listen, tonight`s a good example. We need sound and sane national
security policy. That – functions at the White House is centered in the
National Security Council. And so Trump has not been able to put a team in
And only yesterday afternoon, he was saying, you know, my thinking has
changed on Syria, when he always said to Obama, don`t do any of this.
CORN: And now we might be rushing into military action without him
contemplating it, without a National Security Council that works.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go back to the congressman.
Congressman, who do you think is advising the president tonight in terms of
possible military action, possibly in the next couple of hours even? Is it
Jared Kushner, his son-in-law? Is it Tillerson, who comes from – Exxon,
rather, an oil man? Where does it come from?
Does it come from what`s left of the State Department? Is there one? Or
does it come from Mad Dog Mattis at the Pentagon? I see a lot of
circulating people that don`t seem to even talk to each other.
QUIGLEY: We have absolutely zero information of how the White House makes
It`s certainly one that seems to be all over the place. I will use health
care as an example. Every 12 hours, it seemed to change, the path, the
plan, who they`re listening to among that group where they`re all a little
I hope they`re reading Barbara Tuchman`s book “The Guns of August” for the
sake and peace of all of us.
MATTHEWS: I know.
Let me ask about your role as a U.S. congressman. You have been elected a
couple terms now. You know the responsibilities of your office. Do you
think Congress should be notified before military action is taken against
another sovereign government or not?
QUIGLEY: Well, unless there`s some emergency.
But let`s put it this way. For all the criticism that President Obama got
about Syria, all the tough talk you heard about Syria, when he came to them
with some plans about what to do, there was absolutely no vote in that
For all the tough talk, you didn`t see members actually step up and say,
yes, let`s have a vote. Let`s give the president the authority, because
they knew the American public was not for doing what was going to be
suggested by some of them, putting a lot of American lives at risk.
MATTHEWS: Let me test you on this one.
If you were called in the next half-hour by the president or someone in his
Cabinet, someone at a high level, and said, we`re doing a punitive raid –
and that`s what it is. It`s not an existential assault on the Assad
regime. We`re going to whack them hard. We`re going to take out some of
their planes. They`re going to know we meant business, and somehow this is
going to change the mind-set of Assad and his people, his clique.
My question, would you say yes to that, or would you say no to that?
QUIGLEY: Yes, I have to say, I have been briefed on Syria for over two
years now. For every action, there`s an equal and opposite reaction.
It is layered, textured and complicated. This would be more than a phone
call that says, we`re going to do this. It is the – what is the long-term
plan? It is – if it is simply to make us feel better, like we
accomplished something, I wouldn`t support that.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so – well, thank you, U.S. Congressman.
Your thought on that, David?
CORN: Well, I think that`s right. I think Syria is about as complicated
an issue as we have.
MATTHEWS: Give me the fallout if we hit – if we kill a bunch of Syrians,
kill a bunch of Russians.
CORN: Well, you can go in any way you imagine.
MATTHEWS: Hezbollah strikes.
CORN: Yes, you could have Hezbollah striking. It could embolden ISIS to
move forward in Syria, and maybe that – take out Assad, but is that good?
Do we want ISIS to take out Assad?
Relations between Russia and the United States are already conflicted and
tainted. And so the issue is, is he doing this – yesterday, he came out
and said, you know what, I never thought about this before. I have changed
now because of this.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, I…
CORN: So, is he just doing this because he feels like doing something
MATTHEWS: I was at the Four Seasons this morning.
El-Sisi, the president of Egypt, is there.
MATTHEWS: King Abdullah of Jordan is there. I hope he talked to those
Anyway, U.S. Congressman Mike Quigley, thank you, sir, and, as always,
CORN: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Much more on our top story tonight, the possibility of military
action against Syria by us, tonight perhaps.
President Trump right now is meeting with the Chinese president at Mar-a-
Lago. We will go there next, actually.
HARDBALL back after this.
MATTHEWS: Well, right now, we`re live and continuing to follow the
breaking news right now. It could be really big news, that President Trump
is considering military options – actions, actually, against Syria,
NBC`s Hallie Jackson, however, is traveling with the president right now.
She`s outside Mar-a-Lago, where the president is meeting with the Chinese
Hallie, give us an update on this, what seems now a sideshow. Of course,
it couldn`t be more important in terms of a summitry.
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Right.
MATTHEWS: What`s getting – what`s getting done down there in the midst of
this war talk and conversation that`s buzzing around?
JACKSON: And it`s almost unbelievable, Chris, that we`re standing here ten
minutes outside Mar-a-Lago where you would think the discussion would be
centering around the threat from North Korea, right, and the discussion
related to how the president will be putting pressure on President Xi
Jinping of China to do something about Pyongyang. But instead Syria, of
course, has overshadowed that as we look ahead to potential more movement
on that front.
Let me tell you what`s happening right now. The president is having dinner
with President Xi. The two of them have just addressed guests down at Mar-
a-Lago, and according to the small pool of reporters who travels with the
president, he`s cracking a couple of jokes, right? He`s had a long
discussion with President Xi, but he hasn`t given me anything just yet with
a smile on his face.
Remember, this is a very quick summit between the two men. And it is a
first face-to-face. Senior administration officials tell us this is meant
to be an ice breaker. This is intentionally set outside of the White House
to be less formal setting, because they wanted to feel more like two people
trying to get to know each other and build a personal relationship, and
that is something that President Trump just tonight alluded to, this idea
that he is working to build a friendship with Xi, who has not yet commented
to the members of the media that are down at Mar-a-Lago.
We know the two of them will be in many more talks tomorrow. They`re going
to have a lunch. We expect to see both of them together again after the
greetings, of course, between both couples here in Palm Beach. And I do
think it`s significant.
We know two things are on the table and two things the president is
explicitly saying are his priority. Number one, North Korea, number two,
trade, after the president made China one of his favorite foils on the
campaign trail. Of course, there have been a couple opportunities to yell
questions at President Trump. Some of those questions related to Syria,
President Trump did not answer those from members of the pool, Chris, but
it is something that we are all watching obviously very closely.
MATTHEWS: Thanks so much, NBC`s Hallie Jackson down at Mar-a-Lago.
Up next, much more on our top story tonight. The possibility of a military
strike, perhaps tonight, against Syria.
You`re watching HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, TRUMP CHIEF STRATEGIST: The third, broadly, line of work is
what is deconstruction of the administrative state. If you look at these
cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason, and that is the
deconstruction, the way the progressive left runs is if they can`t get it
passed, they`re just going to put in some sort of regulation in an agency.
That`s all going to be deconstructed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: OK. Welcome back to HARDBALL.
That was President Trump`s chief strategist Steve Bannon, promising to
disrupt the way government institutions function, such as the National
Security Council. Bannon`s initial appointment to the NSC was an
unprecedented shake-up at the White House.
Here`s how we reported it back then when Bannon was given this position.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: In an historic restructuring of this country`s national security
apparatus, President Donald Trump has authorized his political strategist,
the aforementioned former editor of Breitbart, Steve Bannon, to join White
House National Security Council meetings as a permanent regular member of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, ever since President Trump`s tweet last month that
President Obama wiretapped him, his administration has been left grasping
at straws to explain his unsubstantiated claim. But now, Bannon has been
removed from his position on the NSC, which, as NBC News reports, has
exposed a rift between the West Wing Democrats, they`re called which
includes the president`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and economic adviser
Gary Cohn, and the nationalists like Bannon. This is fashionable anyway.
It appears that Bannon is now collateral damage as the White House
scrambles to change the narrative, but Bannon isn`t backing down, telling
Axios that, “I love a gun fight,” he says. In fact, Axios, the news
agency, reports that “the hatred between the two wings is intense and
irreconcilable. The Bannonites believe the liberals staged a coup and will
turn Trump into a conventional squish who betrays the very voters who
brought him to power. The Jared wing thinks the Bannonites are clinically
And “The Daily Beast” reports that fighting between Kushner and Bannon has
been nonstop in recent weeks.
Joining me right now to talk about this mishegoss are former CIA director
John McLaughlin, “Reuters” White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe, and
MSNBC political analyst and former RNC chair, of course, Michael Steele.
This is fascinating. If you`re a Chinese intelligence expert and you`re
setting up this dinner with the president of the United States, how in the
world do you figure out who is running the United States foreign policy?
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER ACTING CIA DIRECTOR: Well, the Chinese spent a lot
of time on this. They probably know as much about it as any American
MATTHEWS: But we don`t get it. We don`t get it. Who is Bannon? Who is
Jared Kushner? I mean what – does McMaster run the shop, or who runs it?
MCLAUGHLIN: I think this latest develop suggests that McMaster really is
in charge. He`s won this round, and that`s a good thing. When you look at
the composition –
MATTHEWS: By bouncing Bannon?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, when you look at the composition they`ve put out now, it
looks like every National Security Council that I worked with in the last
four administrations. So, it`s becoming normal in that sense. Now, also
as you know better than anyone, influence is not always on a piece of
MCLAUGHLIN: Bannon may still have great influence within the White House.
MATTHEWS: It`s who you talked to last at night.
MATTHEWS: And his daughter-in-law, I mean, his daughter. You don`t know
what role, she`s got an office in the White House, and she`s married to the
guy who`s now the spot – what`s he called? The troubleshooter in the
Middle East, Canada, Mexico, everywhere. Jared Kushner.
So, who is advising the president on how to negotiate with the Chinese or
what war to fight tonight?
AYESHA RASCOE, REUTERS: Well, Jared Kushner was supposed to be taking a
big role in that. I mean but then he was also in Iraq earlier this week.
So, I mean, it`s really unclear like who they want to be the face of their
foreign policy and who they want to really take charge.
MATTHEWS: I hear the Chinese are studying Jared Kushner. They think he`s
the guy because of his family relationships.
RASCOE: Well, I mean, that seems like the smart case. I mean, you can`t
fire your son-in-law, right? So –
MCLAUGHLIN: You know, an important point here, Chris, is that you don`t
get to be Chinese leader easily. Chinese leaders prepare to be leader for
literally decades. They apprentice at this.
MCLAUGHLIN: And when they come to a meeting like this, they are very
scripted. They`ve done their homework, and they will know who to talk to
and what strings to pull.
MATTHEWS: Let`s imagine the scenario.
MATTHEWS: I want to talk about this, Michael, this scenario. You know the
guy Trump. Several hours ago, he decided that he didn`t like what he saw
going over there in Syria, like everybody I know didn`t like it. But he`s
president, and he has fire power.
And now, he decides he wants to do something. We`re hearing all kinds of -
- we don`t know what`s going to happen tonight if it happens, but lots of
talk out there.
And the question, who did he ask for advise about what we could do
militarily, and what would be the purpose of a punitive attack, not to take
out the Assad regime. What`s the point of spanking a guy like Assad who
goes back to his palace with all his relatives and all of his, you know,
pamperers and he`s not going to get killed. He just says, is that the
worst they can do? I`m going to keep doing what I`m doing.
MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes and no. This is as
much about spanking Assad as it is about letting the Russians know that
they`re not happy.
STEELE: So, that`s something that the Russians do not want this to
escalate or elevate to a level that requires them to actually put their
fingerprints on stuff. And so, this is Trump`s way – I mean, again, the
art of his deal is, I`m going to – this is my first overture in the game.
This is my first shot across your bow. This is my first play dealing with
your puppet, Assad.
And so, now, the Russians are going to be forced to have to acknowledge
certain things and to come to the table in a certain way through those back
So, I think to your point, McMaster does have a bigger role here. The
foreign policy has taken much more central focus than it did with Bannon in
MATTHEWS: John, I understand if we go in tonight, if we go in in any way
to hit the people, hit the Syrian officials, hit their air force or
whatever, hit some of their personnel, hit some of their factories or
whatever, their munitions dumps or whatever, we`re doing it on a basically
U.N. sanction. These are U.N. decision making, it has to do with the
values of the all the countries involved with the U.N.
How does that square with the nationalist thinking of Steve Bannon, which
is only America first? What`s America first got to do with going over
because some kids got gassed? America first would say, we`ll look out for
This is to me the kind of generous internationalism that Bannon was opposed
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there`s a lot of things going on here. There`s that,
and on the other hand, there`s the perception abroad that this
administration doesn`t quite know what it`s doing. This could be Trump`s
way – we don`t know what he`s going to do yet, but this could be Trump`s
way of just saying, we`re back in this game. It could be a very limited
strike just to make that point.
MATTHEWS: Who hears that positively? Who benefits from hearing that? How
do we benefit from somebody hearing that?
MCLAUGHLIN: I think the only benefit of that is very small. It only
indicates to others – if you go to the Middle East and you talk to people
there, they will typically say, no one`s leading. It just starts to say
someone`s going to lead.
MATTHEWS: This would show our gun`s loaded.
MCLAUGHLIN: That`s what it would show. Now, it depends on what the
strikes are if there are strikes. But it could be that. It could be a
strike on military targets, fixed installations. It could be an attack on
regime targets, that is, people.
And my question, hearing any of that, would be what`s plan B? Where do we
MATTHEWS: Ayesha, your thoughts on that. Consequence is everything in
war. It`s like, to put it bluntly, it`s like playing billiards. You`ve
got to set up the next shot. What`s the next shot going to be?
RASCOE: Well, I think that`s the issue here. I mean, President Trump has
said we`re not going to be the world`s policemen. So – but he`s sitting
here saying that there are certain lines that you can`t cross. So, he`s
going to have to deal with that. And if he you make limited strikes and
then it doesn`t – the behavior doesn`t change from the Assad regime, what
MATTHEWS: Let`s go to Mark Jacobson now. He`s joining us. He`s a senior
fellow at the Pell Center for International Relations. He`s a former
senior advisor to the secretary of defense.
Mark, your thoughts about what choices the president has tonight?
MARK JACOBSON, PELL CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: Well, what I`m
going to tell is that Steve Bannon must be going crazy right now. We are
talking about the United States going to enforce an international norm
against the use of chemical weapons?
JACOBSON: It goes against everything Bannon stands for.
MATTHEWS: That`s what I thought.
JACOBSON: Being the global policemen. I think the key for the
administration right now is to determine what exactly its goals are. If
the goals of the administration in using military force are to deter Assad
from using chemical weapons again, then I think a set of limited punitive
strikes against static targets, headquarters, airfields, the air force,
stand a reasonable shot for success if there is the diplomacy to back this
up if Assad can be coerced a bit.
MATTHEWS: Why would he change now, Mark?
JACOBSON: Well, actually I don`t think that Trump`s ideology or his world
view is frankly that grounded in anything – in any deep belief –
MATTHEWS: No, I meant, why would Assad change his manner? Assad`s been
known for using chemical weapons for decades, it seems, and his whole
family has. I mean, his father destroyed an entire city. I mean, this is
– they`re not afraid of looking like the bad guy.
JACOBSON: His father killed tens of thousands. He`s well past where his
father is. I think – and I hate to say this – I think the failure of the
Obama administration to strike in 2012 and 2013 gave Assad some breathing
Now, I do not hold the Obama administration morally responsible for what`s
happened over the last couple of days. That`s on Assad, and, frankly, it`s
on the Russians.
But I think if Trump can show that he is willing to commit the United
States to use some sort of military force, it is, as John has said and
others, this sends a signal not just to Assad. This sends an important
signal to the Russians, to the Europeans, and interestingly enough, it
sends a signal to the Chinese about the U.S. willingness to use force.
MATTHEWS: John, what kind of conversation would the president have with
Vladimir Putin before taking military action? Would we have a
MCLAUGHLIN: I think he`d have to have a conversation. I absolutely think
so. It would be foolish, I think, not to have that conversation because
regardless of what he does, the Russians have to get out of the way.
MATTHEWS: Right, tactically. They have to remove themselves from the
target. Would he give away the target?
MCLAUGHLIN: There are channels that have been established for
deconflicting with the Russians.
MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at this. We`re getting our first look inside
that dinner down there – there it is, the dinner in Mar-a-Lago. The
dinner in Mar-a-Lago with President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago. Trump is
hosting him apparently to no effect yet. These are pool pictures from just
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And his incredibly talented
wife. A great, great celebrity in China. A great singer.
It`s an honor to have you in the United States. We`ve had a long
discussion already, and so far, I have gotten nothing, absolutely nothing.
But we have developed a friendship, I can see that. And I think long-term,
we`re going to have a very, very great relationship, and I look very much
forward to it.
Thank you all very much. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You just saw the Kremlin wall there, guys. You just saw Jared
Kushner there. At least in the way people are sitting at the table, he`s
above the salt.
STEELE: He`s above the salt.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of that? This Romanov family. They look
royal. There they are and it looks – I`ve been there once. It looks like
Versailles in that room. It`s all mirrors and gold gilded.
MCLAUGHLIN: You know, I think this setting is what Trump is comfortable
in, and the comment he just made that I`ve gotten nothing, and I see I`m
going to have to build a relationship and a friendship speaks to why this
setting was important, why this was not in D.C. as opposed to being at Mar-
a-Lago, which is his playground, his backyard. And he can sort of set the
tone. He doesn`t have to deal with the pomp and circumstance that comes
with having an official visit in Washington versus, hey, just come over for
RASCOE: He likes the winter palace, yes, where he can hold court.
MATTHEWS: It`s very Romanov. It`s very regal, the setting. It`s not
republican in a lower case R setting. It just isn`t.
MCLAUGHIN: There`s two points here I think we have playing out. China`s
always the bad man, the boogeyman if you will in presidential campaigns,
since time immemorial. Once a president is elected, they come to their
senses and realize you`ve got to deal with – this is the most important
bilateral relationship we have in the world.
Second thing is, although all this is good-feeling now, it`s important to
remember that the president, by backing away from TPP, by throwing that
overboard, has basically opened up a vacuum that Xi has moved into in Asia
in ways that have our allies are very disturbed by the vacuum that we`ve
created here on that score.
STEELE: And China`s more than ready to fill it.
MCLAUGHLIN: They are filling it. They`ve got at least four different
initiatives that are coming in behind what we were doing with TPP,
including a regional economic initiative.
STEELE: It will be interesting to see if the president raises that
economic piece in the discussions this weekend because of –
MATTHEWS: A Vietnamese told my wife actually who was just over there, that
we fought the Americans for 20 years and the French, but we fought the
Chinese for a thousand years and we`re worried about them now.
MCLAUGHLIN: So are the Australians. So are the Koreans. So are the
Japanese. So are the Thais. So are the Singapores.
MATTHEWS: Well, a lot to talk about. Thank you, Mark Jacobson, who`s in
another location. John McLaughlin, thank you, Ayesha Rascoe of “Reuters”
and Michael Steele.
Let me finish tonight with our hope for our country. It is the presence
here in this land of people who quietly and with dignity show us how to do
a job and do it well. In professional sports, I think of Lou Gehrig,
Jackie Robinson, Cal Ripken. In business, it`s Warren Buffett and Michael
Bloomberg and too many to count. In space travel, it was the man buried
today at Arlington national cemetery, John Glenn, soft-spoken, fighter
pilot, test pilot, astronaut, United States senator.
I love the fact that the movie “Hidden Figures” paid tribute to the quiet,
firm, good will of the man who insisted on getting the OK before takeoff
from that African-American mathematician, the woman saluted so well in that
important film. And this is a culture, by the way, that gives much of its
attention to those who step out in front, ask us to hear them, and
generally make the story about them.
John Glenn made the story about this great country itself. He stood there
for all the people we used to call squares, those who show up, do the job,
don`t ask any more for themselves than what comes with doing the job. And
today, this man who sat next to us at all those Redskins games – yes, I`m
name dropping right now. What an honor that was. He was given the honors
of his country, honors he well deserved as the last taps were played for
him – the man who fought for his country and truly helped make it great.
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