Niger ambush may have been a “set up” Transcript 10/23/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Alexi McCammond, Gabe Debenedetti, Ken Vogel, Carla Marinucci, Larry Sabato, Sophia Nelson, Jonathan Swan, Michael Beschloss

Date: October 23, 2017
Guest: Alexi McCammond, Gabe Debenedetti, Ken Vogel, Carla Marinucci,
Larry Sabato, Sophia Nelson, Jonathan Swan, Michael Beschloss


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

When you`re in a hole, stop digging, especially when you`re in that hole
with the widow of a lost serviceman who died in a dangerous mission in

Donald Trump would be wise to learn that lesson. Instead, the president
seems incapable of letting it go, letting anything go. Last week, he
attacked a U.S. congresswoman for reporting what he told the wife of that
American soldier. That`s sergeant – Sergeant La David Johnson who was
killed in Niger. He called that congresswoman, Frederica Wilson, a liar.
Well, today, the widow, Myeshia Johnson, said Congressman Wilson was 100
percent correct.




JOHNSON: Yes, the president. He said that he knew what he signed up for,
but it hurts anyways. And I was – it made me cry because I was very angry
at the tone of his voice and how he said it. He couldn`t remember my
husband name. The only way he remember my husband name because he told me
he had my husband report in front of him. And that`s when he actually said
“La David.”

I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband name and that were
hurting me the most because if my husband is out here fighting for our
country and he risks his life for our country, why can`t you remember his


MATTHEWS: Well, the president still couldn`t let that go. He responded a
short time later. Quote, “I had a very respectful conversation with the
widow of Sergeant La David Johnson and spoke his name from beginning
without hesitation.”

Over the weekend, Trump continued tweeting his attack on Congresswoman
Wilson in starkly political terms. On Saturday, he said, “I hope the fake
news media keeps talking about wacky Congresswoman Wilson in that she as a
representative is killing the Democrat” – that`s how he said it, “the
Democrat party.” On Sunday, Trump followed up with, quote, “Wacky
Congresswoman Wilson is the gift that keeps on giving for the Republican
Party, a disaster for Dems. You watch her in action and vote Republican.”

The congresswoman rejected the criticism.


REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: That`s the way he is. And I`m sick of
him giving people nicknames. He doesn`t want me to give him a nickname.


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump also strongly defended the performance of
his chief of staff, General John Kelly. Let`s watch that.


He is a tough, strong, four-star Marine. (INAUDIBLE) a four-star Marine,
you`re – you`ve got something special to start off with, OK? He was so
offended because he was in the room when I made the call, and so were other
people. And the call was a very nice call.

He was so offended that a woman would be – that somebody would be
listening to that call. He was – he actually couldn`t believe it.
Actually, he said to me, Sir, this is not acceptable. This is really not.
And he knew. I was so nice. I was – look, I`ve called many people, and I
would think that every one of them appreciated it. I was very surprised to
see this, to be honest with you.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by USA Today`s” White House reporter Heidi
Przybyla, Axios`s national political reporter Jonathan Swain – Swan, of
course, and NBC/BLK (ph) contributor Sophia Nelson.

Sophia, I want you to start here. We were talking before (INAUDIBLE) on
the show. This seems to be the battle that`s not going to end. It`s a
battle between a widow who is obviously distressed. She lost her husband.
They`re young married people, obviously beautifully in love. And it`s so
obvious. And very cloudy circumstances, fighting in a front we didn`t even
know was there. I`m sure she knew. But you know, he didn`t sign up –
they said he signed up for this. What, to go to Niger and fight in Africa?
Who`s he fighting? How did this happen? It`s still – questions still
have to be answered.

I think she`s distressed. She gets a call from the president. He bungles
the conversation to some extent. Explain how you see it. This doesn`t
look like it`s going away, ever.

comments. First and foremost, the president`s tweet this morning after the
young widow was on “Good Morning America” and she was expressing how she
took the call, which is consistent with what Congresswoman Wilson said –
the president tweeting after that is stunning, I think, to everybody, that
he doesn`t understand that this is not something he can win, that for him
to basically – he called her a liar in nice terms. He didn`t say the word
“liar,” but he said I remembered his name. I said it often. And then he
said that, you know, he had a nice call with her, which is in direct

The second thing that`s a problem for him is now he`s got the ire of black
women in America, who, whether right or wrong, see this as a racial attack
on two fronts, the young widow and Congresswoman Wilson. And so now you`ve
got the CBC members, who are black women saying, We want him to apologize.
General Kelly, they`re talking about, and then Trump to the widow. So it`s
escalating now into a racial issue, which it probably wasn`t.

MATTHEWS: I think “wacky” is a term I think we can agree on. If it
doesn`t carry a gender reference – I`m not sure – it does carry something
that`s pretty dismissive, Heidi.


MATTHEWS: It`s not like – I will argue about “empty barrels” because I
grew up with nuns calling us “empty barrels” making the most noise for
eight years of grade school at St. Christopher`s (INAUDIBLE) So I`m
familiar with the “empty barrels” shot. But “wacky – ” I get a feeling
that wouldn`t be addressed to a white guy. Just a guess, but I don`t know.

PRZYBYLA: Well, all right, Chris…

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

PRZYBYLA: … let`s run down the list here – the mayor of San Juan, the
Khan family, Judge Curiel, Megyn Kelly and Elizabeth Warren.

MATTHEWS: What have they got in common?

PRZYBYLA: What do they all have in common? They`re either a minority or a
woman. And not that he hasn`t picked fights with other people like

MATTHEWS: Well, he thinks McCain is…

PRZYBYLA: … or “little Bob Corker.”

MATTHEWS: Well, we`re going get to that in the next segment. He`s
definitely going after McCain.

PRZYBYLA: Right. But there is a certain pattern here that can`t be
denied. But at the same time, I think Sophia is right that we cannot, as
the media, continue to also try to rationalize that any of these outbursts
are some kind of clever ploy to the base. No. There is also a pattern
here of – this tweet went out almost immediately after the interview.
There was no contemplation to this.


PRZYBYLA: This was not some kind of strategy.

MATTHEWS: Why does he waste his weekends – I`m sorry – waste his
weekends of the American presidency with grudge matches, Jon? Because it`s
Saturday and Sunday morning. He gets up early, not to go to church, he
gets up early to continue this crazy firefight that he knows he can end in
a minute by simply saying, You know, out of respect for the lost
serviceman, I`m going call it right here. This is the end of it.”

JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: Because the way he`s lived his life for 30 years has
been waking up in the morning, watching obscene amounts of television. And
now that he`s got Twitter as a tool, it`s effectively he`s live tweeting.
I mean, we see him responding in real time to television.

MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump defends his use of social media,
especially Twitter. It`s not really social with him actually. It`s a
means of settling scores. Let`s watch.


TRUMP: It`s such an interesting question because I have friends that say,
Oh, don`t use social media. See, I don`t call it tweets. Tweeting is,
like, a typewriter. When I put it out, you put it immediately on your

And you know, they`re well crafted. I was always a good student. I`m,
like, a person that does well with that kind of thing. And I doubt I`d be
here if it weren`t for social media. And I have a tremendous platform. I
think I have 125 million people between Twitter and Instagram and all of
them and Facebook. I have a tremendous platform.

So when somebody says something about me, I`m able to go bing, bing, bing,
and I take care of it. The other way, I`d never be able to get the word


MATTHEWS: You know, Sophia, what bugs me here – a couple things,
obviously, what bugs you, as well – the use of the partisanship here – I
mean, he is president of the United States talking in his role as head of
state, the guy – if it`s a woman or a guy, who has to tell people their
kid`s been lost in war, or their husband in this case. And that`s a role
that`s sacred and it also has nothing to do with politics because every
president has to do it, regardless of what war it is. And this wasn`t a
war we`re officially declared (INAUDIBLE) It`s just the hell that happened
to this guy.

And yet he keeps talking about the Dems and the “Democrat” party and how
this is going to hurt them in the next election. His mindset is totally
next (INAUDIBLE) it`s one thing to think like a politician. He talks like
one. And he ran against those people. 2020 is on his mind. He says, This
is going to hurt the Dem party, this is going to hurt the Dems. Why is he
talking like a pol when he ran against pols?

NELSON: Well, Chris, President Trump has not yet grown into the role of
commander-in-chief and president. That`s the disconnect. He doesn`t
understand, as George W. Bush said so eloquently last week in his remarks
at the Spirit of Liberty conference, that a president sets a tone for the
children. He sets a moral leadership. What he says actually matters.

He doesn`t get that. It`s obvious or he wouldn`t be tweeting about a widow
who just lost her husband under, as you say, difficult circumstances.


JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: I completely disagree with you. What politician
would speak like this about the widow…

MATTHEWS: I agree with you. I`m saying that.

SWAN: So yes, but you said he`s talking like a pol.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I see.

SWAN: There`s no politician on earth…


MATTHEWS: I get you. I get you. I get you.

SWAN: … being unable to control your impulses. Like, he immediately –
he sees her on TV and makes no distinction that she is a pregnant widow
who`s in the depth of mourning…


MATTHEWS: … in love with her husband. I mean, it seems we`ve seen a
real – and there`s the question mark in her head and heart, How did it go
for him? What was it – you always think this. What was it like for him
at the end? Was it quick? Was it horrible? Was it scary? Was it all
those things? Was it torture that was going on? Did they haul him away
into the jungle and torture him? Why was he found so far away from the
site of the fight? What was going on here? You know, you got to wonder
about this.

PRZYBYLA: It sounds like all things could be true.

MATTHEWS: They could all be horribly true.

PRZYBYLA: … that he – that he thought…


MATTHEWS: And by the way, he was never in a situation like that, Donald

PRZYBYLA: He thought he was being sympathetic – that he thought he was
being sympathetic, Chris, but that in trying to regurgitate the words given
to him by John Kelly, he wasn`t able to show the compassion that most

MATTHEWS: OK, can I offer an objection (INAUDIBLE) I`m a little bit like
Trump that way. Sophia, I know you quoted eloquently George W., but I
don`t really like what he did to our country, OK, when he was president.
He took us into a war, killed 100,000 people, killed 4,000 of our people in
a war that makes us look worse than we were. It was not a good leadership
from that president. And I blame him personally and not just Cheney and
those other people around him, all the neocons. But I do like his turn of
face about this stuff. I like the turn of face. I wish he`d say something
clearly about why he went down that primrose path with Dick Cheney and what
it did to our world. It didn`t help us.

Thank you, but – you`re great. I absolve you all sins.


MATTHEWS: But thank you. It`s great having this panel. Heidi Przybyla,
of course, as always, Jonathan Swan. I need a translator, but great
anyway. And Sophia – no, just kidding.

There are new questions being raised about the U.S. role in Niger. It`s
Niger, not Niger. Let`s watch.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I didn`t know there was 1,000
troops in Niger. John McCain is right to tell the military because this is
an endless war without boundaries, no limitation on time or geography. You
got to tell us more, and he`s right to say that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You heard Senator Graham today. He didn`t know we
had a thousand troops in Niger. Did you?


MCCAIN: Americans should know what`s going on in Niger…


MCCAIN: … should know what caused the deaths of four brave young
Americans, should know what kind of operations we`re engaged in. And one
of the fights I`m having right now with the administration is the Armed
Services Committee is not getting enough information. And they deserve it
because we represent their families, too.


MATTHEWS: Well, a new coalition there, Whoopie Goldberg, Joy Behar and
Senator John McCain. You know you`re powerful when that big three gets

Anyway, Senator McCain said he will receive a classified briefing on Niger
this week. Meanwhile, Sergeant Johnson`s widow, Myeshia Johnson, said she
was still trying to get her questions answered. Good for her. Here we go.


JOHNSON: The questions that I have that I need answered is I want to know
why it took them 48 hours to find my husband. Why couldn`t I see my
husband? Every time I asked to see my husband, they wouldn`t let me.


MATTHEWS: Well, this afternoon, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
General Joseph Dunford, briefed reporters on the investigation into this
month`s attack. He promised transparency for the families and the country.


and Nigerien forces began moving back south. And en route to their
operating base, the patrol came under attack from approximately 50 enemy
using small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and technical vehicles.

The only thing I`m asking for today is a bit of patience to make sure that
what we provide to you when we provide it is factual. With regard to being
transparent, I think we do (ph) all the families and the American people
transparency into events like this. And we intend to deliver just that.


MATTHEWS: Well, NBC News has some new reporting on that investigation.
Right now, for more,I`m joined by national security reporter Ken Dilanian.
Ken, thank you. What do we know now about that fight in the jungle?

Courtney Kube, Carol Lee and I have been asking questions all (INAUDIBLE)
about what the heck happened here? How did they get into this situation?

And what we`re learning is that the prevailing theory is that this was a
setup. This team of Green Berets was on a reconnaissance mission, as the
general said. They stayed overnight, and in the morning, they visited a
village that apparently was infiltrated with ISIS supporters. And the bad
guys were made aware of their presence and essentially ambushed them on the
way out. Now, they were in light vehicles. They were not anticipating a
fight. And so they engaged in a firefight.

They moved a mile down the road to another location. The fighting got
really intense. And it wasn`t – it wasn`t – an hour elapsed before they
called for help. And when they finally called for help, it was another
hour before French Mirage jets arrived on the scene and sort of flew low
over the situation and, our sources are telling us, dispersed the enemy

But this raises a host of questions about why these guys were in this
situation where they supposedly thought there wasn`t going to be a
conflict, how these enemy were able to amass without the U.S. military
knowing about it, Chris.

MATTHEWS: And there were how many people attacking them, 50? Is that

DILANIAN: That`s right. General Dunford confirmed today that the number
of enemy was 50. And they had technicals, which are sort of pickup trucks
with heavy weapons, RPGs and mortars.

MATTHEWS: And why – explain to me in a situation where they`re in the
jungle supporting a government set of troops, why it was a complete shock
that they would be attacked by an enemy that they were pursuing? I mean,
they were going out there doing reconnaissance on an enemy. Why would –
look, I`m not knocking anything, but I`m just wondering why this is
considered a surprise. I don`t know.

DILANIAN: You have just – you have just raised the fundamental question
that we are all asking, right? And it`s kind of a balance. I mean, they
are in this region because there are ISIS militants around. But these are
Green Berets. These are not the kind of special operations forces that
target HVTs, that go on these door-knocking missions. These guys are
about, you know, visiting villages, offering support, gathering

So we don`t understand and the military has not answered how it was that
these guys got into this engagement, why there was no overhead surveillance
initially to realize that this enemy, these militants were assembling for a
fight, why they didn`t realize this village was compromised, if, in fact,
it was compromised. These are the questions that the investigation is
trying to answer, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`ve still got to get some more. By the way, what`s HVT?
What is that?

DILANIAN: Oh, sorry. High-value target, you know…


DILANIAN: … guys they go after, militants.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK. Thank you so much, NBC`s Ken Dilanian. Thanks for
that report, a big NBC break tonight.

Anyway, coming up, John McCain`s biggest battle. He`s under fire from
Trump outrider Steve Bannon right now, but McCain remains every inch the
maverick, of curse, hitting Trump for getting out of the draft during
Vietnam. I thought this was coming. It has come. John McCain has
remembered who dodged the draft.

Plus, 15 days to go before that must-win election in Virginia. Can
Democrats close the deal on a state they`ve come to claim as their own?
They`re getting nervous. My opinion, they should be nervous about

And so much for Trump the deal maker. There`s new reporting from “The
Washington Post” that lawmakers in both parties find the president
untrustworthy, inconsistent, and easily distracted. No surprise there.
They don`t trust him as a negotiator because he`s not getting anything

Finally, “Let Me Finish” tonight with the documents that are coming out
this Thursday on the Kennedy assassination. They could be very

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. This weekend, President Donald Trump
tweeted that, quote, “Subject to the receipt of further information, I will
be allowing as president the long blocked and classified JFK files to be

In 1992, Congress ruled that all documents related to John F. Kennedy`s
assassination could be released within 25 years, unless the president at
that time asserts that doing so would harm intelligence, law enforcement,
military operations or foreign relations, according to NBC News.

Well, the deadline for the declassification of those documents is this
Thursday, October 26th. I`m joined right now by NBC News presidential
historian Michael Beschloss.

Michael, what do you want to know or what do you think might come out of
these documents that are apparently going to be released on line this

Number one, what was Oswald doing in Mexico City just a few weeks before
the assassination? We know that he was talking to Soviets. He was talking
to Cubans, that the United States had some surveillance of all this. What
was going on? Did he make a threat against John Kennedy that should have
been transmitted to the Secret Service?

And the other thing is, did the CIA and FBI pick up information not only in
Mexico City that should have warned the Secret Service and the people
around John Kennedy in Dallas, might have spared us the trauma of that

MATTHEWS: It seems to me there`d be two motives for what you`re
describing. First of all, one big motive would be to avoid stirring up a
real hot war between us and the Soviet Union if they were in on this


MATTHEWS: … in any way, even knowledgeable about an attempted – or
planned assassination. And number two, just CYA. The CIA and the FBI knew
a little bit, didn`t act.

BESCHLOSS: Exactly. Both of those things…

MATTHEWS: Those could be both true.

BESCHLOSS: Yes, both true. And we know that Lyndon Johnson privately was
saying at the time a few weeks after the assassination and later he thought
that Kennedy was trying to kill Castro, and Castro got to Kennedy first.
He never said that in public, but Johnson in the weeks after the
assassination was terrified that information would get out to the general
public that suggested that the Soviets were behind this, the Cubans were
behind this, because he felt if that was the case, there`d be enormous
pressure on Johnson to either invade Cuba or even retaliate militarily
against the Soviet Union.

He didn`t want to do either of those things.

MATTHEWS: Everything you say is true, Michael Beschloss, and I mean it.
Everything you said is so helpful. It`s so helpful to have you here for us
to give us the history of all this stuff, because it`s – history is going
to come alive this Thursday.

BESCHLOSS: It`s going to be fascinating.

And, congratulations, by the way, on the great new book, “Bobby Kennedy,”
next week.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, sir.


MATTHEWS: You have done more than your service here tonight.

Thank you, Michael Beschloss. It`s called “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging
Spirit.” It comes out next week.

I will have more on the Kennedy documents at the end of the show. It is
going to be fascinating this Thursday.

Coming up: John McCain turns up the heat in his battle with Donald Trump,
going after him for evading – this is something I knew was coming – it
has come – evading service in Vietnam with some concierge doctor who
looked out for some little boys.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Senator John McCain has again proven why he is known as a maverick within
his party.

In an interview about his service during the Vietnam War, McCain took a
thinly veiled, very thinly veiled swipe at President Trump, who, in 1968,
received a medical deferment from the draft because of a bone spur on his

While he didn`t mention the name of the president by name, the implication
was very clear.

Here is McCain on C-SPAN rMD-BO_last night.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: One aspect of the conflict, by the way,
that I will never, ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest income
level of America. And the highest income level found a doctor that would
say that they had a bone spur.

That is wrong. That is wrong.


MATTHEWS: Well, McCain expanded upon that comment in an appearance on “The
View” today. Let`s watch this.


MCCAIN: It still makes me mad when I think that, if we are all asked to
serve, wonderful.


MCCAIN: But if some of us are allowed not to because of our income or our
position or our influence, then that is a disgrace.


MCCAIN: I don`t consider him so much a draft dodger as I feel that the
system was so wrong that certain Americans could evade their
responsibilities to serve the country.

QUESTION: What is your relationship like with the president?

MCCAIN: Almost none.



QUESTION: That`s terrible.

QUESTION: Almost none.


MATTHEWS: Well, that`s an honest answer.

As a candidate, Donald Trump famously questioned McCain`s service in the
military, saying he is not a war hero. And, as president, he has continued
to jab at the senator.

On Friday, ousted White House strategist or outlier Steve Bannon took on
McCain, as well as the second President Bush, in a speech to California

Here is how the audience reacted when Bannon mentioned McCain`s name at
that event.


other, there were three speeches, President Xi in China, our beloved
President George Bush.


BANNON: That`s a piece of work.


BANNON: And John McCain.




MATTHEWS: Well, you heard it, “Hang him.”

As Politico reported at that event, when Bannon mentioned McCain`s name,
someone in the audience yelled – and we all heard it – “Hang him.”

Well, joining me right now is Carla Marinucci, who covered the event for
Politico, and Ken Vogel is with “The New York Times.”

Carla, it`s good to see you again. I haven`t seen you since “Chronicle”
days. But thank you for coming on.

Could you hear that guy yell “Hang him”?

CARLA MARINUCCI, POLITICO: Oh, yes. I mean, this was one of the most
shocking things I have seen.

I have covered these conventions for almost 20 years. And to listen to
Bannon mention McCain and that cry of “Hang him,” I was expecting someone
in the audience to respond, to say, no, to get up and walk out.

There was complete silence, Chris. It really showed how, there we were in
Orange County, the birthplace of the Reagan revolution…


MARINUCCI: … and the 11th commandment, thou shalt not speak ill of
another Republican.

That incident showed me the 11th commandment has been shredded, I think,
among the GOP today.

MATTHEWS: Ken, I think it was Gene McCarthy who said he knew he could run
against Lyndon Johnson when he could go into any bar in America and trash
Johnson and not get punched in the nose.

And I guess now you can go into any Republican or Trump rally in this
country, say something terrible about a war hero like John McCain, and not
get punched in the nose, but, in fact, have something yell out like they`re
Jane Fonda.

I mean, what`s going on here?

KEN VOGEL, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: Well, it`s in some ways…

MATTHEWS: What happened to the ideology of being supportive of our troops,
and especially guys – he got shot down over Hanoi. He ditched the plane
to – he didn`t the plane, crashed into the – I have been over there in
that little lake in Hanoi. Right?

And he didn`t surrender, put his arms up in the air. He crashed into the
enemy capital and got beat up in the water, barely got out of the water
alive. And then he went to prison for seven years, while he`s beat up for
another seven years. And this guy questions his service?

I don`t – this is pure – I don`t know what it is. Your thoughts?

VOGEL: Yes, I think Bannon`s speech and the reaction to it from the crowd
there in California in some ways encapsulates these two prongs of the Trump
zeitgeist, if you will, this ferocious anti-establishment sentiment, as
well as this sort of rejection of what they see as political correctness,
that they can be as brash and as sort of unpolitically correct as they

And, certainly, there is no less politically correct thing to do in
American politics than to scream out “Hang him” about not just any war
hero, but John McCain, who went on, of course, to have a very decorated
career in the U.S. Senate.

MATTHEWS: Let me – Carla, I don`t see McCain as establishment. I think
he is a maverick. He always has been. He is the guy that pushed McCain-
Feingold. They really cleaned the swamp.

Unfortunately, the politicians and the courts overruled them, because they
wanted to have their access to the honey bin again or the honey jar, lots
of campaign, unlimited money.

MARINUCCI: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: But he really did try to literally empty the swamp, drain it.



MATTHEWS: And how can you call him Mr. Establishment? I don`t think.

MARINUCCI: I think what you`re seeing too is this battle-scarred, grizzled
veteran fighting his last war for the soul of the Republican Party.

I mean, he is there talking about, as he did with his Liberty Medal speech,
talking about lofty ideals like America being the last best hope.

That is not the kind of rhetoric we`re hearing from Trump. Those are –
and the folks that were there in California cheering and catcalling Bannon
on, I think, are a lot of younger Republicans who like the mano a mano, who
like the aggressive talk. And, frankly, a lot of them, Chris, I think, do
not remember the Vietnam War, were not born in the Vietnam War…


MARINUCCI: … and can`t really respect what he has been through in that

MATTHEWS: Well, Trump remembers the Vietnam War, is was when he was
fighting – trying to avoid V.D. I think that`s what he was saying.

Anyway, let`s take a look at that.


it`s amazing. I can`t even believe it. I have been so lucky…


TRUMP: … in terms of that whole world.

STERN: You have never gotten a social disease?

TRUMP: It is a dangerous world out there.

STERN: It is.

TRUMP: It`s scary. It`s like Vietnam, sort of like the Vietnam War.

STERN: It is. It is your personal Vietnam, isn`t it?

TRUMP: It is my personal Vietnam.

STERN: It is. You have said that many times.


TRUMP: Like a great and very brave soldier.


MATTHEWS: There he is bragging about not getting a sexually transmitted
disease as his alternative to service in the jungles of Vietnam.

Anyway, last week, Senator McCain scathingly rebuked a reporter for asking
whether he would oppose all of Trump`s initiatives because of their
relationship. Let`s watch.


QUESTION: Has your relationship with the president degraded to the point
that you are not going to support anything that he comes to you and asks

MCCAIN: Why would you say something that stupid? Why would you ask
something that dumb, huh?

My job, as a United States senator, is a senator from Arizona, which I was
just reelected to. You mean that I am somehow going to behave in a way
that I am going to block everything because of some personal disagreement?
That`s a dumb question.



MATTHEWS: Ken, have you ever been rebuked by a politician that powerfully?
He really made the guy look like a doofus.

Your thoughts?

VOGEL: In fact, I think I may have been rebuked by Senator McCain that


VOGEL: But it does go to show that Senator McCain sees this as about
something bigger than him vs. Donald Trump. It`s about the honor of public
service and the honor of our institutions of our public life, including the
Senate and the executive branch, as well as the military.

And I would just, say per what Carla said and what you asked about there,
McCain being held up as sort of an avatar of the establishment is not

And it really undermines, undervalues the way in which he has bravely stood
up against his own party, not just on campaign finance reform, but on
immigration reform, on climate change. And the way that it`s come around,
I don`t think that Steve Bannon or Trump has really taken such a hard stand
against a sacrosanct issue in the Republican Party like John McCain has.

So it`s a little ironic that they`re calling him out.

MATTHEWS: Ken, your intellectual capital is wonderful. That was all true.

Carla, it is so great to see you back reporting for us too with Politico.
But please come back.

MARINUCCI: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Carla Marinucci, formally of “The San Francisco Chronicle” and
now of Politico out of Oakland.

By the way, good luck with the Warriors. Anyway, I don`t think they need
my luck.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, Ken Vogel.

Up next: Democrats around the country are getting nervous about that must-
win governor`s race right near – across the river here in Virginia.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With 15 days to go before the must-win election for governor in Virginia,
right across the river here, “The Washington Post” reports Democrats are
getting jittery, writing: “The Democratic National Committee gathered in
Las Vegas over the past week with one worry on every activist`s mind. We
better not lose the Virginia governor`s race.”

So true.

Democrat Ralph Northam is in a neck-and-neck race right now – there he is
on the left – with Republican Ed Gillespie on the right in a contest where
turnout is key to an off-year election – not only an off-year, an odd-year

Virginia`s current governor, Terry McAuliffe, says the path to defeating
President Trump in 2020 will run through this statehouse.


GOV. TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), VIRGINIA: We spend too much time focusing on
presidential, and then we don`t focus on state and local.

The DNC, I`m happy. They just gave us a million-and-a-half for the
Virginia`s governor`s race. So, I`m very excited about that. But we have
got to focus more on these local races. Governors are the future. And
those governors are critical to the redistricting effort in 2021. So,
let`s focus on the governors. Let`s win control of the Congress, and 2020
will take care of itself.


MATTHEWS: He was there with Kasie Hunt.

For more, I`m joined by Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics
at the University of Virginia.

Larry, you know your stuff. How do you call this race right now, two weeks

leaning to Northam and, in fact, the whole Democratic ticket, but not
overwhelmingly so.

And, Chris, you and I remember last fall. We will never forget it, when
all the polls and pundits, including us, we said Hillary Clinton would win.
So Democrats are right to be nervous.

It actually helps to be on the edge, and not overconfident.

MATTHEWS: You know, I remember when Gillespie, who is the Republican
nominee for governor this time, was running for Senate against Mark Warner,
and he was up 10 to 12 points. He only lost that race by 0.8, less than a
point. So, he underpolls.

I`m wondering, if a guy underpolls by double-digits, which he does, how can
you trust a margin-of-error poll by anybody?

SABATO: Well, that`s a good point.

But I would counter it by saying Ed was running in 2014. And he had the
wind at his back because President Obama was really the cause of the
takeover of the Republicans in many of those seats. And now the wind is at
his face because of President Trump.

So it`s exactly the opposite situation.

MATTHEWS: Well, the issue of Civil War monuments, of course, helped spark
the protest down in Charlottesville, which turned out so bad, and all – it
turned violent, of course.

Here is how President Trump characterized it.


TRUMP: Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch.

QUESTION: White nationalists.

TRUMP: Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the
taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.


MATTHEWS: Well, that was not a good moment for the president.

On the stump for Northam in Richmond, President Obama addressed
Charlottesville and his successor, but not my name.


talk about our history, then we should do it in a way that heals, not in a
way that wounds, not in a way that divides.


OBAMA: We shouldn`t use the most painful parts of our history just to
score political points.


MATTHEWS: You know, Larry, I think that Trump is sort of chastening there
or warning the Democratic candidate for governor, don`t push this issue.
This is a wedge issue from the other side. It`s not going help you.

SABATO: It`s absolutely right, because I think Northam got too far out
front on that issue…

MATTHEWS: Yes, I do.

SABATO: … in the summer. And that could hurt. And Obama had exactly
the right balance, which is honor the past, but add to it and give it
texture. That`s the right approach.

And Northam has moved more toward that. But he almost went off the rails
in August with this.

MATTHEWS: I think, if he loses, it will be because of that.

Anyway, Larry Sabato, you`re the best. Thank you so much for coming on
HARDBALL. Invite me down there some time. I love Charlottesville.

SABATO: Thank you. Come down.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, up next – you heard me.

Up next: Donald Trump told us he was great negotiator, a real deal-maker.
But after nine months in office, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say
they don`t trust this president to make a deal. Why should they? Nothing
has gotten done.

You`re watching HARDBALL.



Candidate Trump – remember him? – sold himself as the great negotiator, a
real estate deal maker who knew how to get things done. Here he was. Was.


new level. I will negotiate details that nobody can negotiate like I do.
Nobody – I know everybody that I`m running against. I mean, nobody is
going to be able to do the kind of things I can do.

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

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

If I get elected president, I`m going to be in the White House a lot. I`m
not leaving. We have deals to make. Who the hell wants to leave?


MATTHEWS: He has been going every weekend.

Anyway, but roughly, nine months into his term, there is little evidence of
a deal maker in President Trump. It`s begun to show.

According to “The Washington Post,” congressional Republicans seem to
agree, quote: Some Republicans are openly questioning his negotiating
abilities and are devising strategies to keep him from changing his mind.
The dealmaking skills that propelled Trump`s career in real estate and
reality television have not translated well to government.

For more, I`m joined with the HARDBALL roundtable tonight: Alexi McCammond
of “Axios”, Gabe Debenedetti from “Politico”, and Phil Rucker who wrote
that article for “The Washington Post.”

Phil, you start here. It seems the big difference between real estate and
politics, a real estate baron, tycoon, can walk away from the deal. If he
doesn`t like the deal on the table, he walks away from it.

Presidents have to do certain things. He has to pass a budget. He has to
deal with the debt ceiling. And this month and next, he needs a tax bill.

difference too, which is that in real estate, and when you`re negotiating
as Trump did, in New York, he could make one offer and totally change his
mind and make another offer, and there is no expectation that you act
ethically or morally or tell the truth all the time. In politics there is,
because he`s a public servant.


problem that congressional Republicans are dealing with, which is that they
don`t exactly what – you know, whether to take him at his word at any
given moment. And they decided in many of these cases, they don`t actually
want to bring him into the table on the discussions until the very end
because they`re not counting on him to sell these deals and they`re not
counting on him to be a reliable partner in the negotiations in the first

MADDOW: Alexei, do you believe he has any ideology, any philosophy of

ALEXI MCCAMMOND, REPORTER, AXIOS: I mean, he doesn`t understand that the
business dealing strategies does not work in Washington. A GOP aide or
congressman told me last week he is not well versed in any details of the
tax plan how. So, can you negotiate what`s on the table if you don`t know?


MATTHEWS: OK, let`s explain. Alexi, look at this. Tomorrow, President
Trump is taking a rare trip to the Capitol to meet with Senate Republicans.
They`re supposed to discuss the path forward on tax reform. Among the
guests tomorrow, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Here`s what he said about tomorrow`s presidential appearance.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: More of a photo op – nothing more,
nothing less. And I think to read anything more into it would be spending
a lot of time on something that shouldn`t be spent a loft time on. So, I
don`t know, it`s – this is – it`s going to be up and down for the next
three years. And people just – I mean, this is just the way it`s going to


MATTHEWS: That`s rather fatalistic. But he thinks it`s just going to be a
picture taking ceremony. That`s all it`s going to be.

DEBENEDETTI: Well, that exactly illustrates one of President Trump`s
problems here. He`s totally lost Bob Corker who`s going to be an extremely
important partner on this –

MATTHEWS: One of the 50 he needs?

DEBENEDETTI: Yes, he certainly is. And he has essentially said I`m not
going to vote for something like this if it increases the deficit. Well,
that`s one of the central issues that Republicans are dealing with right

MATTHEWS: OK, now, he has probably lost McCain on everything in that one,
and that leaves him now with nobody else to lose.

MCCAMMOND: Right. Well, I think Bob Corker`s demon reflects Trump is good
at engaging on the service level. But there is little to no significant
follow-through with them, right? And that`s reflected from his business

MATTHEWS: So what is he good at? All three of you. Jump off. What is he
good at?

RUCKER: He is good at picking up the phone and making somebody feel like
they have his support. He talked to Lamar Alexander, Senator Alexander.


MATTHEWS: He did a great job with the widow of the serviceman, didn`t he?

RUCKER: But he talked to Alexander four times on the phone, made Alexander
think that the president would back this bipartisan health care deal with
Patty Murray and totally did a 180 last week and now it isn`t supported.

MATTHEWS: He did the same on DACA with Chuck and Nancy when they had
Chinese. They say with Chinese, you`re hungry an hour later. Well, the
same deal. You`re how hungry for a deal an hour later.

DEBENEDETTI: That`s one of the reasons that he has this ever rotating cast
of allies on Capitol Hill. If you look at who he`s most recent top allies
are someone like Senator Lindsey Graham. Well, Lindsey Graham and Donald
Trump do not have a good relationship going back just a few months ago.

MATTHEWS: Not at all.

DEBENEDETTI: But when you have someone who, you know, can`t really decide
what his legislative priority is going to be within these large properties,
these large pieces of legislation, this is what happens. You have
different people trying.

MATTHEWS: Let them buy everywhere. We`ve heard stories. We all hear them
from people who have done business with him in New York.

Now, two things you hear about them. You can`t trust him to pay his bills.
Let`s start with that one. If he never pays his bills in New York and
somehow challenges the other side to sue him for the money, then he
counter-sues and ends up not paying anything. That`s not a good way of
building the next deal.

MCCAMMOND: No. You know, I`ve heard from so many Democratic aides that
say there is no trust among their bosses with his word, or what he said
he`s going to do. I think we`re going to start seeing this reflected in
his base supporters as well.

MATTHEWS: Is Corker just given up on this guy? That was a pretty profound
fatal statement, I`m not going to hope for anything. The next couple of
years is going to be useless. We`re stuck with this guy.

RUCKER: It sounded that way, although you talk to other Republicans on the
Hill, and they actually – they see some reason to hope with this tax

MATTHEWS: Like what? What is that?

RUCKER: They`re just so much at stake, not only for Trump, but for the
party, for Mitch McConnell`s leadership in the Senate, for the midterms
next year. They need to show that they can govern and they have the
majority –

MATTHEWS: And you`re all coming back here. The roundtable is sticking
with us.

As always, I say it this time. You`re going to give me three great scoops
that everybody watching will be talking about tomorrow with a frenzy. It`s
going to be so exciting.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Well, all five living U.S. presidents, ex-presidents shared the
stage Saturday night at a benefit concert for the hurricane victims down
there. President Carter, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama came together
in Texas to help raise money in the aftermath of the three hurricanes, and
a rash of deadly wildfires as well.

Here is President Obama Saturday night.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: All of us on this stage here tonight could
not be prouder of the response of Americans when they see their neighbors
and they see their friends. They see strangers in need Americans step up.


MATTHEWS: That`s a good picture.

Anyway, the event comes after Obama and Bush 43 spoke out last week against
the state of American politics under the current president, Donald Trump.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL round table.

Alexi, tell me something I don`t know.

MCCAMMOND: So, there is a fascinating Democrat versus Democrat fight
happening in California between young members like Kevin de Leon who are
progressives –


MCCAMMOND: – fighting against Dianne Feinstein who are establishment.

MATTHEWS: Who will challenge her in an all-party primary, yes.

MCCAMMOND: Exactly. So, that`s reflective of this sort of Hillary Clinton
versus Bernie Sanders fight that we saw in 2016. Sanders supporters are
still upset after the election. Not because of Trump, but because Hillary
beat him out.

So, now, we`re seeing these progressives – grassroots progressive Dems
fighting against these establishment Dems.

MATTHEWS: Who is going to win in California next year? Feinstein or this
other guy?

MCCAMMOND: Well, we`ll see.

MATTHEWS: Who will the Republicans vote for?

MCCAMMOND: I think De Leon has a lot of support.

MATTHEWS: Will the Republicans vote for her, Gabe?

DEBENEDETTI: Republicans will likely vote for DiFi in that one. But
keeping with the Republicans – keeping with the Democrats for now, you
know, coming off their meeting in Las Vegas for the last week, Democratic
National Committee itself is really hurting for money right now. They
don`t have that much cash to operate ahead of the midterms. That may

MATTHEWS: So, the Republicans are beating them in money?

DEBENEDETTI: Definitely beating them in money. But when it comes to
individual Democratic candidates, not the DNC, they`re actually swimming in
it. So, according to reports that have been coming out over the last few
days, up to –

MATTHEWS: Like Ralph Northam.

DEBENEDETTI: Like Ralph Northam, for example. But individual House
candidates, there are three dozen, roughly, Republican incumbents House
candidates who are already being outraised by their Democratic challengers.

MATTHEWS: I hope they`re the ones that matter.

Go ahead.

RUCKER: So, Steve Bannon in the two months since he left the White House,
he has not only been declaring war on the Republican Party, but he is
trying to lose weight. He is on a hippie diet of Kombucha, cider vinegar
shots and green smoothies.

MATTHEWS: Can bullies be skinny?

Anyway, thank you, Alexi McCammond, and Gabe Debenedetti, and Phil Rucker.
Congratulations on the scoop.

When we return, let me finish tonight with the documents that are coming
out this Thursday, three days from now, on the Kennedy assassination.
We`ve been waiting years to hear this stuff.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with the release this Thursday of the JFK
assassination files.

I`m hoping that the records will show clearly and finally whether Lee
Harvey Oswald acted alone on November 22nd, 1963, or whether he received
help, or the promise of help in his planned escape.

I`m hoping to release the records also this Thursday. We`ll answer some
vital questions. What did Oswald say to the Soviet and Cuban officials
when he visited their embassies in Mexico City that September? Did he
alert them to his plans? Did he even have a plan then to kill the
president at that point?

How much did the CIA or the FBI know about Oswald prior to the
assassination? Was he on their radar after returning from the Soviet
Union? Did they think it important that he joined up with the pro-Castro
Fair Play for Cuba Committee?

Well, the president`s brother Bobby could never give up his suspicion that
his brother`s particular enemies were behind his killing, that he was not
simply killed for being president of the United States. Those enemies were
finally actually really Bobby`s enemies as well. It`s why his early
reaction to his brother`s death was – I thought it would have been me.

The initial suspects included right wingers who resented the
administration`s push for civil rights, the mob Kennedy spent years
pursuing, the CIA that resented Kennedy`s refusal to support the Bay of
Pigs with a full U.S. attack on Cuba, anti-Castro forces bitter for the
same reason, and finally pro-Castro elements angry because of the Kennedy
brothers` campaign to remove Castro from the scene.

That last group included Lee Harvey Oswald. Again, the question is,
whether he acted alone or with help from Havana or Moscow?

And that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.


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