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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 9/8/2016

Guests: Bob Shrum, Cornell Belcher, Ruth Marcus, Rudy Giuliani, Susan Page, Leon Panetta

Show: HARDBALL Date: September 8, 2016 Guest: Bob Shrum, Cornell Belcher, Ruth Marcus, Rudy Giuliani, Susan Page, Leon Panetta

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Two months left.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews back in Philadelphia.

It`s the day after Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both appeared before veterans and answered questions about protecting our country. Donald Trump made the most news and stirred up the most heat. He ridiculed American military leaders, saying the generals had been reduced to "rubble," and he suggested he`d fire them. He praised Vladimir Putin, calling him, quote, "someone who has very strong control over his country."

He said he could tell based on their body language that national security officials giving him his intelligence briefing were not happy with President Obama.

And today, Hillary Clinton reacted to that.


HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He trash-talked American generals, saying they`d been, quote, "reduced to rubble." Meanwhile, bizarrely, once again, he praised Russia`s strongman, Vladimir Putin, even taking the astonishing step of suggesting that he prefers the Russian president to our American president.

What would Ronald Reagan say about a Republican nominee who attacks America`s generals and heaps praise on Russia`s president? Every Republican holding or seeking office in this country should be asked if they agree with Donald Trump about these statements.


MATTHEWS: Well, traveling overseas, President Obama was also asked about Trump`s performance last night.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t think the guy`s qualified to be president of the United States, and every time he speaks, that opinion is confirmed. And I think the most important thing for the public and the press is to just listen to what he says and follow up and ask questions about what appear to be either contradictory or uninformed or outright wacky ideas.


MATTHEWS: Well, for his part, Donald Trump slammed Hillary Clinton for her performance. Let`s watch.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The whole country saw how unfit she was at the town hall last night, where she refused to take accountability for her failed policies in the Middle East. Her policies unleashed ISIS, spread terrorism and put Iran on a path to nuclear weapons.


MATTHEWS: Well, joining me right now is one of Donald Trump`s top advisers, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. By the way, in recent weeks, Mayor, you`ve said the following about Hillary Clinton`s health. Let`s watch that.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), FMR. NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: She has an entire media empire that constantly demonizes Donald Trump, fails to point out several signs of illness by her. What you got to do is go on line...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her campaign and a number of people defending her saying there`s nothing factual to the claims about her health.

GIULIANI: Go on line and put down "Hillary Clinton illness," take a look at the videos for yourself.

I think Hillary`s tired. I do. When I saw Hillary at the press conference sitting down with the police, with the Democrat-appointed police chiefs, pretending she`s pro-police, it one of the most pathetic press conferences I`ve ever seen.

QUESTION: What do you mean?

GIULIANI: Well, first of all, she looks sick.


MATTHEWS: Well, Mayor, you had a good look at Hillary Clinton last night. I guess you saw the performance by her and then by her opponent, Mr. Trump, who you back.


MATTHEWS: Do you think there were any signs of illness last night by the former secretary of state -- signs of illness?

GIULIANI: No, but I thought there were the day before...


GIULIANI: ... when she coughed for about, I don`t know, 15 minutes and then she coughed on the airplane and then she spit something up and -- I don`t know what`s wrong with her, but they kind of hide her...

MATTHEWS: Mayor, Mayor, Mayor, have you got any evidence besides...

GIULIANI: I don`t.

MATTHEWS: Do you have any evidence that she`s ill? What is the evidence?

GIULIANI: I don`t. But I -- I -- the evidence is I...

MATTHEWS: You have no evidence that she`s ill, but you say she`s ill.

GIULIANI: Chris...

MATTHEWS: You don`t think like that!

GIULIANI: Chris, Chris, let me answer the question, OK?

MATTHEWS: Sure. Go ahead.

GIULIANI: I have eight times on line since January in which she`s had massive coughing fits, in which she couldn`t complete her speech. I`ve seen her lifted onto airplanes and -- I don`t know what`s wrong with her.

And then in the FBI report, it says that she can`t remember her exit interview from the FBI because of her concussion because she didn`t have the memory. But she was acting as secretary of state at the time, which means we had a secretary of state who was acting who doesn`t have a memory of what she was doing. So these are not illegitimate issues. Beyond that...

MATTHEWS: Well, then you were surprised, then -- you must have been surprised then, Mr. Mayor, to watch her performance last night, when she was quite professional, quite smooth. She didn`t sweat. She didn`t seem to act in any way harbored (sic) by an illness at all. Were you surprised at how healthy she looked like night?

GIULIANI: I was surprised how angry she was last night. I thought I saw...

MATTHEWS: How healthy she was. Did you think she was healthy last night?

GIULIANI: Well, look, I don`t -- I don`t -- I don`t know whether she`s not -- whether she`s sick or she`s not. I do know that there are 14, 15 videos of her that show her in very, very strange condition. I don`t know what it is.

But that`s not my real issue. My real issue is that the woman exposed thousands and thousands of classified documents, which if I exposed one of them when I was in the Justice Department, they would have put me in jail. That`s what I know.

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s...

GIULIANI: And -- and...

MATTHEWS: OK, I`m not getting anywhere with you.


MATTHEWS: Mr. Mayor, you are adamant on this subject.

GIULIANI: I will tell you this...

MATTHEWS: You are adamant. I just want to end this. I want to...


MATTHEWS: You are adamant that there`s a health concern with the candidate for president of the Democratic Party.

GIULIANI: I don`t know.

MATTHEWS: You say there`s a health condition problem.

GIULIANI: I don`t know.

MATTHEWS: Well, what are you saying?

GIULIANI: All -- all -- all I do is see all these incidents of her coughing all the time. I don`t know what it is. And I`ve seen her in several other situations where she didn`t look healthy.

And then I see in the FBI 302, which was put out on Memorial Day (sic) weekend in print about this big, where you needed to use a magnifying glass to read it -- but I read it twice -- I saw something that really concerned me. It said she can`t remember her exit interview from the CIA (sic) because she had no memory for a period of time after she had a concussion. She was secretary of state when she had no memory! Now...


GIULIANI: ... there`s something really seriously wrong...

MATTHEWS: ... you think these next debates coming up -- do you think these next debates will be a test of her health? The three hour-and-a-half debates coming up...


MATTHEWS: Will they be adequate to test her health?

GIULIANI: I think this is -- I think -- I think these debates coming up are going to be a test of who the American people like better, who they want in their living room more, who they think is better capable of being president of the United States.

And I don`t think a woman who has revealed numerous classified information, doesn`t know that the letter "C" means confidential...


GIULIANI: God almighty, I mean, Chris, I was in the Justice Department for three years. I remember my entry briefing by the CIA. I can tell you the date of it. I remember my exit interview from the CIA.


GIULIANI: And I remember that "C" in parentheses means confidential. She said she thought it meant alphabetical order. But nobody bothered to ask her, did she ever see an A, a B, a D or an E. If I were cross-examining her, I darn well would have asked her that question.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go to the commentary last night by your candidate last night. Donald Trump said he welcomed praise from Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Let`s watch this point he made.


MATT LAUER, NBC: When referring to a comment that Putin made about you -- I think he called you a brilliant leader -- you said it`s always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his country and beyond.

TRUMP: Well, he does have an 82 percent approval rating, according to the different pollsters, who, by the way, some of them are based right here...

LAUER: You want to be complimented by that former KGB officer?

TRUMP: Well, I think when he calls me brilliant, I`ll take the compliment, OK? I mean, the man has very strong control over a country. Now, it`s a very different system and I don`t happen to like the system, but certainly, in that system, he`s been a leader far more than our president has been a leader.


MATTHEWS: Now, there`s two ways to address the question of what do you think of Putin. One is what do you think of him as a leader in the sense of -- I`m now putting a scale together of toughest world leaders. OK, Putin`s up there.

But in terms of our adversarial relationship with him, should we be saluting him as a great leader at this point, or should we be telling the American people we`ve got challenges from this guy, who may be threatening NATO, who may be threatening the Baltic states, who may be causing us trouble in the Middle East, maybe, instead of just saluting his grandeur? Shouldn`t we be tougher on him in our public statements...

GIULIANI: But Chris...

MATTHEWS: ... than your candidate is being?

GIULIANI: Chris, what you left out of that was he went on to say that all of that praise wouldn`t mean anything to him in negotiating with Putin. Plus, that day, he gave a speech in which he said he`s going to take our Navy, which is now at World War I levels -- he`s going to take it up to 350 ships. He`s going to take our Army up to 6,000, and Obama and Hillary are going to take it down to 4,200. He`s going to take our Marine Corps from 23 battalions to 35 battalions, and he is going to reestablish and modernize our nuclear program.

So Ronald Reagan (sic) is going to go into negotiations with Putin from a position of strength. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama gave up the game on day one when they reset the relationship with Russia and they gave up the nuclear defense of Poland and the Czech Republic. Putin took a look at them and said, I can push these guys around the world. These are children compared to me. Donald Trump is not a child.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a decent argument.

GIULIANI: Donald Trump...

MATTHEWS: You didn`t mean Ronald Reagan. You meant Donald -- you said Ronald Reagan there a minute ago.


MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) you really meant Donald Trump.

GIULIANI: Because I see...

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Trump last night...

GIULIANI: Because -- because...

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

GIULIANI: ... I see -- I see a comparison between the two -- peace through strength!


GIULIANI: What you don`t -- what -- what -- what you don`t grasp is that day he gave a speech in which he said he`s going to build the U.S. military up to Ronald Reagan levels. If we build our military up to Ronald Reagan levels, Putin`s not going to push us anywhere because he can`t match us -- 6 percent, 5 percent of our GDP. For him to match us, he has to spend 25 percent of his GDP, and it will bankrupt his country. Donald Trump knows...

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about something else...

GIULIANI: Donald Trump...

MATTHEWS: That`s all right.

GIULIANI: ... knows how to use leverage in negotiations. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, never being in business, never really negotiating, give away for nothing things they shouldn`t give away. They gave away the defense of the Czech Republic and Poland to reset the relationship with Russia for nothing.

The day they did that, Putin, who`s a KGB killer, figured out, I can push these guys around the world. They will not -- he will not be able to push Donald Trump around the world. Believe me, this guy is not going to get pushed around.

MATTHEWS: You say that we`ve given up our support of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, those countries and Poland. Why so? Because we didn`t put the monitors there, the nuclear monitors. Why is that giving up on defending Europe? Where have we done that? Where`s Obama done that?

GIULIANI: This -- this -- if you read history, right, if you read Gorbachev`s...


GIULIANI: Gorbachev`s memoirs said the key in -- in -- in winning the cold war was our insistence on nuclear defense because they knew they couldn`t match us. We have proven with Israel that nuclear defense works. Our technology...

MATTHEWS: Iron Dome works, of course, and "star wars" was never proven. But you`re right, Mayor, it was a brilliant bluff of the Russians. We said we could do it...

GIULIANI: Not a brilliant bluff.

MATTHEWS: Well, we didn`t do it, so -- we don`t have a shield, a nuclear shield.

GIULIANI: Let me make the following point. Here`s why -- here`s why nuclear defense makes sense. And I know something about this. A missile can take an airplane out of the air. A better missile can take a missile out of the air.

We are technologically ahead of Russia and China. We can develop a nuclear shield for the United States, for Poland, for the Czech Republic. Russia is deadly frightened of that. They have been trying to get us to give that up for 20 years since Reagan. Clinton wouldn`t give it up. Bush wouldn`t give it up.


GIULIANI: He gave it up on the first day...

MATTHEWS: We don`t have a strategic defense...

GIULIANI: And here`s the worst thing...

MATTHEWS: We don`t have a strategic defense system.

GIULIANI: I asked -- I asked Secretary...

MATTHEWS: We just don`t have one.

GIULIANI: I asked Secretary Gates what did they get in return for giving up the nuclear shield of Poland and the Czech Republic. You know what his answer was? Nada. They got nothing.


GIULIANI: You don`t go...


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you one last question. I have to ask you one last question. I know you don`t like this question, but I think it`s appropriate, given you are a major -- as you just demonstrated, a strong surrogate and defender of the candidacy for president of Donald Trump.

A couple of his people, including his vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, and of course, Dr. Ben Carson, have both come out in the last days, hours, practically, and said they believe that President Obama is a legitimately elected president of the United States. In other words, he was born in the United States.

Do you confirm that? Do you agree with that?

GIULIANI: I confirm that, and Donald Trump now confirms that. You know, Hillary Clinton...

MATTHEWS: When did he do that? When did he do that?

GIULIANI: He did that...

MATTHEWS: When did he do that?

GIULIANI: Two years ago, three years ago.

MATTHEWS: When did he -- he has now accepted that birtherism was nonsense?

GIULIANI: Look, Hillary Clinton...

MATTHEWS: When did he do that?

GIULIANI: Chris, Hillary Clinton`s campaign...

MATTHEWS: He did not do that yet. I am waiting for him to do it.

GIULIANI: Hillary Clinton`s campaign was the first one to bring up the fact that there was a question...

MATTHEWS: Where did they do that? Where did they do that?

GIULIANI: Donald Trump has said that...

MATTHEWS: Give me an example of when they did that. You just said that Hillary Clinton accused the president -- has Hillary Clinton ever accused the president of being foreign-born, ever?

GIULIANI: Her campaign -- her campaign during the primary.

MATTHEWS: Her campaign...


MATTHEWS: ... the Hillary Clinton for president campaign did this?



MATTHEWS: No, it didn`t. There`s no evidence the Hillary campaign...

GIULIANI: I was always responsible for...

MATTHEWS: I want to know whether you believe that your candidate for president believes he would succeed a legitimate president or not.

GIULIANI: Yes. He believes...

MATTHEWS: Does he believe he would succeed a legitimate president?

GIULIANI: Donald Trump believes now that he was born in the United States. But that issue was raised originally...

MATTHEWS: When`s he going to say it?

GIULIANI: That issue was raised originally...

MATTHEWS: When is he going to say...

GIULIANI: ... by Hillary Clinton for...

MATTHEWS: ... that this president is legitimate? This is a fundamental question, Mr. Mayor. Is the president of the United States legitimate or not?

GIULIANI: He believes...

MATTHEWS: Do you believe it? If you believe it, why doesn`t your candidate state it?

GIULIANI: I believe it. He believes it. We all believe it. But it took a long time to get it out...

MATTHEWS: He does? Are you speaking for him now?

GIULIANI: ... and the first one...

MATTHEWS: Are you speaking for -- are you speaking for Donald Trump tonight, on live television? Are you saying for him, I`m saying he`s about to buckle and say, finally, that Barack Obama is the legitimate president of the United States?

GIULIANI: He is the one who got him to finally produce the birth certificate. Hillary Clinton`s campaign first raised this issue.

MATTHEWS: OK, and...

GIULIANI: He picked this up from Hillary Clinton when she...

MATTHEWS: He has subsequently said he does not accept that as the final word.

GIULIANI: He -- he picked it up...

MATTHEWS: OK. Can you commit to your candidate saying within the next 24 hours that President Obama`s a legitimate president? Can you commit for him...

GIULIANI: He has said it already.

MATTHEWS: ... that he will say that?

GIULIANI: He has said it already. And the fact is...

MATTHEWS: No, he hasn`t.

GIULIANI: ... that is an issue that was originally...

MATTHEWS: You`re wrong on the fact here, Mr. Mayor.

GIULIANI: ... introduced by Hillary -- well, every once in a while, I am. But I think he did. And the fact is, I believe...

MATTHEWS: I think you`re wrong.


GIULIANI: But the point is that Hillary Clinton`s campaign is the first one...


GIULIANI: ... to do it because all she does is engage in negative campaigning...


GIULIANI: ... against Barack Obama and against Donald Trump. Her only -- her only...

MATTHEWS: That`s -- first of all, she`s never said that. And your candidate has on numerous occasions, and I`m asking you the final word -- we`ll end this back and forth. Can you say authoritatively on behalf of Donald Trump that he was wrong in saying the president was born in another country? Can you say that now?

GIULIANI: I believe he picked up on what Hillary Clinton`s campaign said. He pushed Obama, Obama finally produced the birth certificate, and it showed he was born in Hawaii.

MATTHEWS: And therefore?

GIULIANI: Therefore, he`s an American citizen.

MATTHEWS: As per Donald Trump.

GIULIANI: As per Donald Trump. But for me...

MATTHEWS: Donald Trump says so? He`s told you that? Has he ever told you this privately, that he believes this president is legitimate?

GIULIANI: He has told me that he is proud of the fact that he finally got Obama to produce his birth certificate.

MATTHEWS: OK. Fine. I think we have it on the record, Mr. Mayor. I`m glad you came on. But I do want to put this to rest.


MATTHEWS: I don`t think this is funny. I think when you accuse the president of the United States of being someone who snuck in the country...

GIULIANI: Now, wait a second! Wait, wait, wait, wait...

MATTHEWS: ... and assumed an identity -- because that`s what Trump has been doing for years now.

GIULIANI: Not when your -- not when your opponent in the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton, who has lied probably 1,000 times over her e- mails...

MATTHEWS: Let me just tell you, there`s no record at all, Mr. Mayor, on the record right now -- we checked this before you came on because one of our producers, senior producers, thought you might say this. There`s absolutely no record ever of Hillary Clinton or anyone in her campaign ever saying...

GIULIANI: Her campaign...

MATTHEWS: ... that President Obama is not legitimate.

GIULIANI: Her campaign raised it.


GIULIANI: Originally.

MATTHEWS: You`re wrong.

GIULIANI: I`m not wrong. I`m right about that.

MATTHEWS: Look, anybody can say anything they want, but she can control her own campaign, and she has never said so, nor has anyone speaking for her.

GIULIANI: Her campaign...

MATTHEWS: Now you`re speaking -- now you`re speaking for Donald Trump. And we`re ending this now because we`re spending a lot of time on it, but I think it is important. You say this president`s legitimately elected president of the United States...

GIULIANI: I believe...

MATTHEWS: ... and you say your candidate agrees with you.

GIULIANI: ... he`s a legitimate president. And instead of -- instead of talking about the fact that Hillary Clinton violated probably about 40 different federal laws, we`re talking about this, which is ridiculous.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. Well, it is ridiculous, and I`m trying to put the ridiculousness to bed.

GIULIANI: So -- so let`s talk...


MATTHEWS: We`re trying to pick the next president, not review the birth of the current president. Anyway, thank you, Mayor Rudy Giuliani...

GIULIANI: So let`s talk about the next president being someone who would be prosecuted if she wasn`t a Clinton because I would have prosecuted her.


GIULIANI: And I`ve seen plenty of people prosecuted for much less, like Martha Stewart!

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much.

GIULIANI: You know how many false statements she made to the FBI? They`re so long, I can`t count them.

MATTHEWS: And the FBI had the right to review that, and they did and found her not in any criminal violation. Anyway, thank you, Mr. Mayor.

GIULIANI: Three days -- three days after the...

MATTHEWS: We have to go on. It`s a live show.

GIULIANI: Three days after the interview...

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Mr. Mayor.

Joining me right now is "USA Today" Washington bureau chief Susan Page, MSNBC terrorism analyst Malcolm Nance. He`s the executive director of the Terror Asymmetrics Project.

Susan, thanks for joining us. And you cover all kinds of things. What do you make of that, what we just heard?

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": Well, I think that Mayor Giuliani was misstating some facts. In fact, Donald Trump was asked about whether he stood by his birther comments about -- birther questions about President Obama just this week by reporters, and he declined to respond.

And so far as I can recall -- and I haven`t had a chance to research this fully -- I have never heard Donald Trump say definitively that he accepts that Barack Obama was born here. He has dropped the issue as he`s become the nominee and moved on, but so far as I know, he`s never made that kind of statement.

I`m also not aware -- and again, it would be good if I had time to research this -- I`m not aware of Hillary Clinton ever raising questions about...

MATTHEWS: No, she...


MATTHEWS: We have evidence. Politifact said -- Politifact has ruled on this, and they`re a very legitimate organization. They said neither Hillary Clinton nor anyone officially or in her campaign has said that. Of course, people can all join in any chorus they want. But all she can control is her own campaign.

Malcolm, here`s a question I didn`t expect to ask you, sir, but one reason why people in the minority community, African-Americans especially, have a problem with this candidacy of Donald Trump is because of what he has continued to say and has never taken back, his charge that the president was illegitimately elected by the American people, that he somehow snuck into the country under some sort of strange guise and managed to convince everybody he was born in Hawaii, when he was not.

This went on for months. It has never stopped. I would like to end it. Rudy Giuliani almost ended it, but he wouldn`t say that he could speak for the candidate yet tonight, except to say he believed it and he thought that Trump had stopped doing it. But Trump hasn`t stopped doing it. He has not changed, as Susan just -- just explained.


Well, you know, birtherism is the ultimate form of racism, when you consider that it`s the first black president of the United States. By claiming that he`s an illegitimate entity, that he had no right to even be in the United States because he was born in another nation, did a convoluted plan that took decades which involved his mother to show that he was not actually allowed to be here, in the face of all the investigative arms of the United States government, it`s just a form of -- it`s beyond political. It`s just racist.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think -- let me ask you this, Susan.

Why do you think Rudy Giuliani -- he`s not comfortable with the issue. He`s very aggressive, of course, but not comfortable defending birtherism. He said he doesn`t believe in it. Dr. Carson, Ben Carson, doesn`t believe it. Mike Pence, Trump`s running mate, doesn`t believe it.

But Trump won`t give on this. What`s that about?

PAGE: Well, I don`t know. I don`t know why Trump doesn`t give on this. Maybe it`s because he`s staked out a position, and he doesn`t want to back off on it.

I will tell you, Rudy Giuliani was pretty aggressive in pressing questions about Hillary Clinton`s health. And this is yet another case where there is no evidence that there`s a problem with Hillary Clinton`s health. She had a coughing fit. Big deal.

And we will have a good opportunity to see the stamina of both candidates in three 90-minute debates.

MATTHEWS: That`s what I said.

PAGE: So, this is another case of pressing an argument on which there doesn`t seem to be any factual basis.

And I think this is one of the things that a lot of Americans find so frustrating about politics in general and this election in particular.

MATTHEWS: There`s an old movie line in "Anatomy of a Murder," the Jimmy Stewart movie, and Ben Gazzara movie, where the lawyer in the case said to the jury, don`t think of a blue cow. Of course, you do think of a blue cow.

Suggest something like he snuck in the country, blah, blah, blah, or suggest that Hillary has a coughing problem, some serious health problem, get that into the power of suggestion, get it out there so some people on her side can at least start spreading it around and has something -- it`s what they did to Dukakis when he was accused of having psychological counseling.

Reagan pushed that out there. This is an old dirty trick.

Anyway, thank you, Susan Page. Thank you, Malcolm Nance.

I will talk to you about this stuff we planned to talk to you about later.

Coming up: About the intelligence briefing, Donald Trump says the intelligence officials who briefed him on national security evidenced an unhappiness with President Obama. We are going to ask the former director of the CIA about Trump`s claim and what to make of it.

Plus, a big campaign blunder for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. You probably know it by now. Did Johnson kill himself politically with his response or lack of it to a question about Syria from Mike Barnicle this morning?

And Hillary Clinton response to Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus hitting her for not smiling during last night`s forum. Is Secretary Clinton being held to a different standard here? She`s supposed to smile about national security? Since when is Mr. Reince Priebus, by the way, Mr. Happy Face?

Finally tonight, with two months to go, I will have my election diary for today and where this race now stands after last night`s commander in chief forum here on NBC and MSNBC.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, we`re still two-and-a-half weeks until the first big presidential debate, but the first voting actually begins tomorrow, believe it or not. The battleground state of North Carolina begins early voting tomorrow with the availability of mail-in absentee ballots.

Roughly two-thirds of the state`s vote is expected to be early or absentee. Believe it, North Carolina.

We have got new polling, by the way, from the state now. And let`s check the HARDBALL Scoreboard.

According to a new poll from Suffolk University, Donald Trump has a three- point lead over Hillary Clinton down there in North Carolina. It`s Trump 44 percent, Clinton 41 percent, with Libertarian Gary Johnson a distant third. But those numbers are reversed in a new Quinnipiac poll of the state. In that poll, it`s Clinton with the lead over Trump 47-43, just the other way.

We are going to have more swing state polls later in the show.

We will be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Let`s review what Donald Trump said at NBC`s Commander-in-Chief Forum last night, particularly when it comes to Russia and that classified intelligence briefing he received as the Republican nominee.

Last night, Trump said that he could tell that the intelligence officials were -- quote -- "not happy" -- close quote -- with President Obama. Here`s Trump.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I did learn is that our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our experts and our truly, when they call it intelligence, it`s there for a reason, what our experts said to do.


TRUMP: And I was very, very surprised in almost every instance. And I could tell. I am pretty good with the body language. I could tell they were not happy. Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending.


MATTHEWS: And here`s how Hillary Clinton today reacted to Trump`s characterization of those briefings.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think what he said was totally inappropriate and undisciplined. I would never comment on any aspect of an intelligence briefing that I received.


MATTHEWS: And we saw Donald Trump heaping more praise last night on Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing Putin`s popularity, so-called, in Russia and calling him a better leader than President Obama.


TRUMP: Well, he does have an 82 percent approval rating. The man has very strong control over a country. Now, it`s a very different system and I don`t happen to like the system, but, certainly, in that system, he`s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.


MATTHEWS: Well, when it comes to polling in this country, the USA, Putin is among the most unpopular figures NBC has ever polled. According to an NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll in May, just 8 percent, one in 12, say they have a positive view of Putin, while 59 percent say they have a negative view.

I`m joined right now by an expert, Leon Panetta, the former CIA director and former secretary of defense who supports Hillary Clinton for president.

Mr. Secretary, first of all, the body language, is this Trump`s way of getting across something about the experts not agreeing with Obama, not respecting, without giving away a briefing? Why would he talk about -- well, what is body language in the context of a briefing by professionals?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: You know what? I have no idea what he`s reading into that presentation.

All I know is, every intelligence briefing I have ever had is done by professionals. They provide objective intelligence. As a matter of fact, it would be a violation of their responsibility and tradecraft if they even suggested anything related to whether policy decisions were right or wrong.

So, my view is that Trump didn`t hear any of that. He was basically listening to the intelligence. And the intelligence is probably pretty rough intelligence about what`s going on in the world. And he decided to read into that the failures that he sees in the policies that were applied.

But this is a guy who, as president, is going to get a PDB every morning, an intelligence briefing, every morning. He`s got to listen to what`s being presented. He can`t spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the body language is of those making the presentation.

MATTHEWS: What did you make of -- I got a comment on this, but I want to hear from you, an expert, because you have dealt with the world as defense secretary, as Pentagon chief.

What do you make of his love affair with Putin? He seems to clearly respect his leadership swag, as if he`s, like, judging best dictator in the world contest. Like, he`s not looking at him as a guy who is a potential adversary of ours, where most Americans do see him as a potential adversary.

What do you think he means when he says, "I think he`s a better leader than Obama"?

PANETTA: You know, I think this is the real estate developer coming out in Trump, that, you know, he loves to sit down with people, even though he may not like them. If they`re tough and they`re good businesspeople, then he loves to sit down and talk with them.

And he`s got -- he`s applying that same kind of standard when it comes to somebody like Putin. Putin is an adversary. Putin is somebody who has not only invaded the Crimea and gone into the Ukraine, gone into Syria, continues to come at us in a lot of different ways.

He`s an adversary. And as president of the United States, Trump has to be smart enough to keep his feet on the ground and be able to weigh this guy based on what he`s doing to the United States, and protect United States` interests. He can`t get enamored by the fact that Putin is nice to him and plays to his ego.


It`s almost like it`s Dick Nixon talking about John Connally, you know? I like the cut of his jib, rather than, how are we going to deal with this guy? Anyway...


PANETTA: You and I know politics -- politicians love to be praised by people.

But when you`re president of the United States, you got to be very careful about being praised by Putin or the head of North Korea or Saddam Hussein, because you got to protect the United States` interests first and foremost.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about that, because I think you are a moderate centrist, a progressive, but you are pretty close to the center in terms of national security.

And I have always wondered how you see Hillary Clinton, because my hunch about her, watching her from a bit away, is that she`s going to be a notch to the right of Obama in terms of readiness to use force. Is that correct?

PANETTA: Chris, I think that at least my experience in the National Security Council and dealing with a number of decisions that had to be made, that she is somebody who feels strongly about advancing our interests.

And if it requires that we use some of our power in order to be able to do that, I think she`s willing to do that. Does that mean she`s not cautious? No. She is cautious. She`s thoughtful. She uses good judgment.

But when it comes to protecting our interests, I think she`s a little more willing to try to engage in the kind of power moves that you sometimes have to do if you want to protect the United States` interests.

MATTHEWS: Well, compared to President Obama, because I know you respect President Obama. But in your book, you said, he avoids the battle, complains and issues -- and misses opportunities.

So, where would she move where the president hasn`t, do you see, I mean, generally? What would she be like, as compared to him?


No, well, I think she has been pretty -- I think she has been pretty with that. For example, she has said that she would increase the number of airstrikes in Syria. She`s talked about establishing a no-fly zone in Syria. She`s talked about adding additional special forces on the ground.

She`s talked about trying to increase our intelligence capabilities. So, what you`re looking at are some of the key Obama steps, but she would just be a little more energetic in terms of the effort to try to go after ISIS.

MATTHEWS: That`s very helpful. Thank you. That`s the way I sort of see it as a hunch, but you know it as an expert.

Thank you so much, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Up next: a big stumble by a candidate, a serious stumble, who needs every break he can get. Libertarian Gary Johnson blanks after being asked about a battlefront city in Syria. He`s apparently never heard of the place.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s not just the major-party candidates who are on the defensive today. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who did not participate in last night`s forum, was asked by my colleague Mike Barnicle earlier this morning what we do about a battlefront in Syria if he was commander in chief.


MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC ANCHOR: What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?


BARNICLE: You`re kidding.


BARNICLE: Aleppo is in Syria. It`s the epicenter of the refugee crisis.

JOHNSON: OK. Got it. Got it.


JOHNSON: Well, with regard to Syria, I do think that it`s a mess. I think that the only way that we deal with Syria is to join hands with Russia to diplomatically bring that at an end.


MATTHEWS: Well, since mid-2012, Aleppo has become a key battleground, of course, in the Syrian uprising.

Johnson`s response immediately went viral today. And it comes at a time when the governor is trying desperately to reach the 15 percent in the polls that he can be allowed to be included in the presidential debates at the end of the month.

For more on all this, I`m joined by Democratic strategist and Warschaw professor of politics at USC, Bob Shrum.

Bob, this is one of those moments in a campaign where a candidate is asked a question and he comes up blank.

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He certainly did come up blank. I was watching and I was tempted to say that Donald Trump is the second worst informed person in this campaign. It is unbelievable that a serious candidate and he wants to be a serious candidate for president, wouldn`t know what Aleppo is. But worse than that, if you listen to the rest of his answer, it was pretty incoherent. It was pretty confused. It said we have to join hands with Russia and that will solve all this.

Well, guess what? The administration`s been trying to do a deal with Russia for a long time. It`s not been able to do that. So, I don`t think Gary Johnson knew what he was talking about at all, in addition to forgetting Aleppo. And, by the way, I don`t think he`s --

MATTHEWS: Forgetting? I`m not sure forgetting is the right word. Are you sure he knew about it?

I think there`s something going on here. I don`t read everything in the papers. I don`t know much about hockey. There`s a lot of things I know nothing about. I admit it.

SHRUM: Right.

MATTHEWS: But I think we have a problem with Sarah Palin, who got a problem with Katie Couric when she asked her very good question, what papers do you read? If you don`t read the newspapers, if you don`t recognize names in the news, then you got a problem.

Jack Kennedy said the newspaper reading habit is key to leadership. You have to have your eyes on what`s going on in the world as an instinct. You can`t just do it because you try to do it. You have to really want to do it.

Does this show that Mr. Johnson, the former governor of Colorado doesn`t keep an eye on the news? New Mexico rather. I have missed that one myself.

SHRUM: I think he has -- that was just a slip of a tongue.

I think you`re right about him. I don`t think he knows what`s going on in Syria. I don`t think he`s serious about following foreign policy.

I think he`s kind of a libertarian doctrinaire person who is out there running for president. He knows he`s not going to get 15 percent and get into those debates. He wants to get 5 percent so that Lord help us, the federal government will finance the Libertarian Party in 2020. That`s his aim.

But that was a stunning moment. You don`t know when they`re going to come, you can`t predict them. They happen in every campaign. That was just unbelievable.

MATTHEWS: Well, we are still hoping to get him on the air soon. That would be the governor of New Mexico, former governor, of course, of Massachusetts, Bill Weld. They are running as the libertarian team. They do have an outside shot still at getting into the debates, but it`s becoming more outside.

Thank you, Bob Shrum, for your expertise.

SHRUM: You`re welcome.

MATTHEWS: Up next, let`s get back to Rudy Giuliani, what he said at the top of the show, that Donald Trump now believes that President Obama was born in the USA. That`s a big one. It`s been a long time coming, if it`s come.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a close supporter of Donald Trump, told me just a few moments ago here on HARDBALL that Trump, who led the birther movement, now believes President Obama was in fact born in the USA.

Let`s watch.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Donald Trump believes now that he was born in the United States. But that issue --

MATTHEWS: When`s he going to say it?

GIULIANI: That issue was raised originally --

MATTHEWS: When is he going to say that this president is legitimate? This is a fundamental question, Mr. Mayor. Is the president of the United States legitimate or not? Do you believe it? If you believe it, why doesn`t your candidate state it?

GIULIANI: I believe it, he believes it, we all believe it.

MATTHEWS: He does? Are you speaking for him now? Are you speaking for him? Are you speaking for Donald Trump tonight, on live television? Are you saying for him, I`m saying he`s about to buckle and say finally, that Barack Obama is a legitimate president of the United States?

GIULIANI: He is the one who got him to finally produce the birth certificate.


MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable tonight. Cornell Belcher is a Democratic pollster. Ruth Marcus is opinion writer for "The Washington Post", and Michael Steele, former chair of the RNC and MSNBC political analyst.

Michael, you first. All three of you, I want to hear from you all.

Rudy Giuliani, under a little pressure there, came out and said Trump has changed his position, he now believes the president is legitimate. He didn`t sneak in the country, there wasn`t a conspiracy, birtherism was nothing, he`s a president like any other president, dutifully and constitutionally elected. That`s new.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Gee, what does it say that that`s new?


MATTHEWS: What does it say about Trump?

STEELE: But no, I think you created a box and the mayor found himself in it and it will be interesting to see what`s going on right now, whether or not in the next 12 hours, 24 hours, there`s going to be more on this from Donald Trump himself. I`m sure the press tomorrow is going to pick up your lead on this and ask the question. I think for Donald Trump, though, just looking at it from a political standpoint, given the efforts that he`s been making to have a conversation with African-Americans, I know that they have said that`s a problem for us.

We need to know where you are on this, because we see our president, not as a black president, but our American president, as an American. How do you see him? So, I think that this is an important development in that step.

MATTHEWS: Ruth, it`s been coming this week because Pence, his running mate, said he believes the president was American-born. And, of course, Dr. Carson, who has been running with him, campaigning with him, also said so. I said if those two guys are willing to do it, are you, Mr. Mayor. He said I am. OK, is your candidate? He said yes. We got it on the record.

Go ahead.

RUTH MARCUS, THE WASHINGTON POST: Rudy Giuliani has read Donald Trump`s mind and said something that Donald Trump has not been willing to say, which is that apparently Donald Trump now believes that President Obama was born in America. But as much as the African-American community has wanted to hear it, as much as Trump wants to curry favor with them, he has been absolutely religiously resistant to saying it.

Every time he`s questioned about it, what he says is I don`t talk about that anymore. He doesn`t say yes, he was.

MATTHEWS: Cornell, your thoughts. Cornell, what do you think? Cornell?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I think they`re trying to have it both ways, Chris. I think, you know, first, Rudy Giuliani is unhinged but he`s part of an unhinged sort of movement that`s going on. He will say whatever he wants to say whenever they want to say it and think they will get away with it. That`s exactly why Americans don`t like what`s going on right now.

No, Donald Trump is not going to say it because the base of the Republican Party doesn`t want him to say it.

MATTHEWS: That`s a prediction.

BELCHER: He will lose support.

MATTHEWS: Cornell, you`re a pollster, not a predictor. You don`t know what he will say tomorrow. I don`t either. I bet through will be questions tomorrow. Does Rudy Giuliani speak for you, or you`re going to fire him? Because he`s your surrogate. If he says you said something, you better say it yourself or say he`s not your surrogate anymore because --

BELCHER: He`s put him in a box. You put him in a box.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. The roundtable is staying with us. Still ahead, a slew of new battleground polls.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Well, here`s more polling from the three biggest battleground states. Once again, let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard.

According to new polling from Quinnipiac University, Donald Trump has a one-point lead in Ohio. It`s Trump, 46-45. And you need Ohio if you`re Republican.

Next to Pennsylvania where Clinton is up by five points. It`s Clinton 48, Trump 43, here in the Keystone State. We`re here right now.

Finally to Florida, look at this, all tied up, 47-47. Clinton and Trump both at 47.

And we`ll be right back.


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

People are going to tell me something I don`t know. Starting with Cornell Belcher.

Tell me something.

BELCHER: Chris, you may not know this, but as a political consultant in Washington, D.C., what you don`t want to have is to wake up one morning and see a confidential memo that you wrote to your client in the pages of "The New York Times." It`s not a very good thing. It`s egregious and quite frankly what it`s about, it is about the cynicism of young voters, and not so much aimed at one person.


MARCUS: Even while we`re debating whether the current president of the United States was actually born in America, the transition teams for the two people who might be the next president of the United States are working behind the scenes not just to present the nominees or the candidates once elected, with cabinet secretary, but with slates of under cabinet officials so we don`t have another "Home Alone" phenomenon in the Obama administration where people are not confirmed for a long time. We`ll see how that works.

MATTHEWS: Must see if it works. They`re doing the draperies already.


STEELE: Despite what we`ve heard and seen at the top line about the inability to really pull the grassroots campaign by the Trump campaign, there`s a great deal of coordination that`s under way right now amongst the states and around the country that is getting boots on the ground and organization in place that is actually going to make this race a little bit more competitive than people thought originally.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thanks so much, Cornell Belcher, Ruth Marcus, and Michael Steele.

I`ll have something to say when we come back in a moment about what just happened on this show tonight.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Election Diary Thursday, September 8th.

Well, you just heard it here tonight, Rudy Giuliani, the number one surrogate for Republican presidential nominee, now says Trump no longer believes that President Obama was born overseas, that he was, in fact, born in this country. And that`s news. We`ll see in coming days whether Trump confirms what his surrogate said tonight.

I put this question to Mr. Giuliani tonight because in recent days, both Governor Mike Pence, Donald Trump`s running mate, and Dr. Ben Carson both, he`s also a top supporter, both said President Obama was born here and is therefore a legitimate president. As of tonight, the only person in the Trump campaign who has yet to follow suit is the candidate.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.