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Hardball with Chris Matthews Transcript, 9/20/16

Guests: David Fahrenthold, Boris Epshteyn, Jay Newton-Small, Colleen McCain Nelson

Show: HARDBALL Date: September 20, 2016 Guest: David Fahrenthold, Boris Epshteyn, Jay Newton-Small, Colleen McCain Nelson 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Less than a week.

Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews in Washington.

Well, it's six days now to the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and terrorism is on the minds of many. In response to this weekend's terror attacks in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota, Donald Trump has called for knocking the hell out of ISIS, profiling people here in the USA, and severely limiting immigration, also treating terror suspects as, as he put it, enemy combatants.

For her part, Hillary Clinton called for better intelligence gathering, building trust between law enforcement and the Muslim community here, and smashing ISIS strongholds in the Middle East -- smashing them.

Anyway, today the country's current commander-in-chief gave his final speech to the U.N. General Assembly. President Obama never mentioned Trump by name, but it was clear whom he was talking about when he warned of a crude populism gathering around the world.

Let's watch the president.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself.

We must reject any forms of fundamentalism or racism. Instead, we need to embrace the tolerance that results from respect of all human beings.

In Europe, in the United States, you see people wrestle with concerns about immigration and changing demographics and suggesting that, somehow, people who look different are corrupting the character of our countries.

I do not believe progress is possible if our desire to preserve our identities gives way to an impulse to dehumanize or dominate another group.


MATTHEWS: Well, Donald Trump blamed President Obama and Hillary Clinton for the rise of ISIS. Today, he said Clinton's time as secretary of state, quote, "unleashed this monstrous evil upon us." He also blamed our current immigration policies.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: These attacks were made possible because of our extremely open immigration system, which fails to properly vet and screen the individuals or families coming into our country. It's just a plain fact that our current immigration system makes no real attempt to determine the views of the people entering our country. We have no idea who they are, what they think.

ISIS is torturing, murdering, executing and exterminating people in a campaign of genocide. And what is Hillary Clinton suggesting? What is she suggesting? You know what she's -- let's let more people come in.


MATTHEWS: Well, Clinton today was off the campaign trail. Her campaign said she held a conference call in the morning with her national security advisers to discuss this weekend's attack.

Anyway, yesterday, Hillary Clinton slammed Donald Trump for his rhetoric, which she said was helping ISIS recruit fighters -- helping ISIS recruit.

Let's watch her.


HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I don't want to speculate, but here's what we know. And I think it's important for voters to hear this and weigh it in making their choice in November. We know that a lot of the rhetoric we've heard from Donald Trump has been seized on by terrorists, in particular ISIS, because they are looking to make this into a war against Islam.


MATTHEWS: Well, Donald Trump fired back against that charge today. Let's watch.


TRUMP: Her claim that my opposition to radical Islamic terrorism is a recruiting tool -- what the -- how does that have to do with -- I'm being tough. Why is that a recruiting -- I'm much tougher than her on this problem, this horrible situation. Because I'm tough, it's a recruiting tool? It demonstrates a level of ignorance about the terror threat that really is disqualifying for a person seeking the presidency.


MATTHEWS: Well, how will Trump's tough talk on terrorism play with voters? David Corn is Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC political analyst. Jay Newton-Small is Washington correspondent for "Time" magazine. And Boris Epshteyn is senior adviser to the Trump campaign.

Boris, what do you think this thing's going back and forth on? I mean, I know you're with Trump and speaking for him, but this argument that somehow Trump's rhetoric is galvanizing our opposition against us -- where do you stand on that?

BORIS EPSHTEYN, TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well, no one's buying that, Chris. You have to look at the facts, right? Hillary Clinton was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. Under her watch, ISIS truly grew. It was a failed entity beforehand, under a different name. It became ISIS under her watch.

Eighty percent of people who've been killed by ISIS have been done so since she was secretary of state. And ISIS now is in about 20 countries. So ISIS has become a global threat under Hillary Clinton.

And this is a really sad way for her to try to pivot from this when she knows she doesn't have a leg to stand on. Remember, again, Libya became a failed state on her watch. Syria, Iraq, Egypt have all resulted (ph) to some levels of chaos, even though Egypt now, is after two revolutions, is out of it, but all on her watch.

So Hillary Clinton was a terrible secretary of state...


EPSHTEYN: ... and she's trying to run on a record that simply doesn't exist.

MATTHEWS: Yes, let me -- that's not going to help around here, just saying "terrible" -- those kind of comments. Don't generalize.

Look, here's the question. Trump's running as Mr. Tough. He's running as the guy that's going to be tougher on the enemy, and he's going to somehow discern who the terrorists are before they become terrorists.

Now, this guy involved in the New York thing, the suspect, apparently came here -- he was a naturalized American citizen. He wanted to become a good American, by all estimates, and then somehow became radicalized on trips back to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

My question is, how do you discern the enemy that emerges in its own - - in his own or her own soul?

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you can't because he came over when he was 7.


CORN: And nothing that Trump has said about profiling would make a difference. And I have to say this...

MATTHEWS: He says...


MATTHEWS: He wants to know what idea (INAUDIBLE). You're right, at 7 years old, he didn't have any particularly radical ideas.

CORN: And I've got to say, Boris just said something that makes no sense.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

CORN: We had Malcolm Nance on this network earlier today saying that yes, we do know ISIS is using Trump's anti-Islamic rhetoric as a recruiting tool. He said (INAUDIBLE) on this network. And then you have Boris come on and say, We all know that's not true.

Boris is spinning. He's a surrogate...


CORN: He doesn't care about the facts. And we have people on who are experts, and they say the exact opposite of what Boris just told our audience.

EPSHTEYN: May I respond, Chris?

MATTHEWS: Of course.

EPSHTEYN: Well, listen, David, to your point, I disagree with Malcolm. Listen, you may have -- you may have Donald Trump used in a video somewhere...

CORN: You just said no one believes it.

EPSHTEYN: ... somewhere here or there, sure. Fine. But we know that the threat of ISIS has come long before Mr. Trump ran for president. We know that radical Islamic jihadism, radical Islamic terrorism came long before.


EPSHTEYN: And in terms of Mr. Trump wants to do, what he wants to do, part of it is making sure that people who are coming into this country don't want to hurt it...

MATTHEWS: How would you have stopped this guy Rahami from coming into this country? How would -- when would you have stopped him?

EPSHTEYN: Well, you would have to...

MATTHEWS: How would Trump have stopped this act of terrorism?

EPSHTEYN: Listen, he came -- he did come when he was 7 years old. But you'd have to tell (ph) when he came with his family, you have look at the family, look at their backgrounds. But that's just one part of the equation, Chris.

CORN: And?

MATTHEWS: What would you have found? What would you have found?

EPSHTEYN: That -- I don't know. We didn't have the opportunity to look...


MATTHEWS: The father called the son a terrorist. The father -- whatever the father, whether he's dealing in hyperbole, angry at his son for having long hair, whatever we got him angry at him, the father was not part of some terrorist plot. Why would say that?

EPSHTEYN: I'm not here to talk about the specific father. I'm here to talk about the specific issues...


MATTHEWS: Well, you're using this case as an example of terrorism that would have been stopped had your guy been president, right?

EPSHTEYN: My -- my -- if Mr. Trump were president, what we would do is make sure people who are coming into this country...

MATTHEWS: He's already been here!

EPSHTEYN: ... do not want to hurt this country. And...


EPSHTEYN: ... specific case...

MATTHEWS: Boris, you're on the show to answer a question.


MATTHEWS: What would you do to a naturalized American who you thought might be harboring dangerous thoughts? We have a free country. Somebody's allowed to go on line, watch anything they want, so -- what you can't do is commit crimes. That's all you can do to stop a person.

EPSHTEYN: Well (INAUDIBLE) Hold on. What you can do is you can have a conspiracy to commit a crime. And what you could say is that watching videos that teach you how to build bombs and then talking to people who discussing building bombs, being on chat rooms, as we've seen in numerous...

MATTHEWS: OK, let me go -- let me go to Jay.

EPSHTEYN: ... of these episodes is conspiracy to commit terrorism. And that is something that is a crime.

MATTHEWS: Imagine putting -- imagine putting someone in jail for going on line.

EPSHTEYN: For conspiracy to commit terrorism. I would be happy to do so.


JAY NEWTON-SMALL, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, no, and so I spent much of today on Capitol Hill talking to senators about this, and from the Intelligence Committee and from the Homeland Security Committee, and they say that there are troubling signs that were missed, right, that the FBI should have taken the father's warning a little bit more seriously, the fact that he went to Quetta in Pakistan is like going to sort of -- I mean, Quetta really is a hotbed of terrorism, right, so it's like going to Berlin during World War II...

MATTHEWS: Well, where's the crime begin? Where's the crime begin?

NEWTON-SMALL: No, and you're right. If there's not -- it's very hard, and this is something that Congress is going to have to look at, the FBI is going to look at to say, if they're monitoring all of his communications, they saw no reason to arrest him, they saw no reason to detain him, how do you -- how do you stop somebody?


MATTHEWS: Boris, here's the problem. Boris, you got common sense. Here's the problem. Suppose some kids after a couple beers one night or just for fun in the dormitory, say, Let's look up this bomb-making thing they got on line, see how it works.

EPSHTEYN: OK. No problem.

MATTHEWS: Now, you're going to -- you're going to take those kids and put them in jail because they're having some fun?

EPSHTEYN: No, what you're going to do is you're going to investigate their behavior...

MATTHEWS: You would?

EPSHTEYN: ... and make sure that they don't mean to go and hurt Americans, then nothing happens. But if it's part of a larger plot, if it's part of a conspiracy, of course you have to run down -- that's a lead.


MATTHEWS: You would send the FBI -- you would send the FBI around to interview kids who checked out something on line? You would do it at that stage.

EPSHTEYN: If kids are looking at bomb-making material for a second...


MATTHEWS: Maybe they're just curious. Where do we draw the line in a free society?


EPSHTEYN: You draw the line in making sure people don't build bombs.

CORN: ... because he said the other day, I won't spy on Americans. What Boris is talking about is spying on millions of Americans...

EPSHTEYN: No, it's not.

CORN: And wait a second, Boris. You had your turn. You talk -- he's going to be tough on ISIS? We have no idea what his plan is. He's says he's going to fire the generals, but first ask them to give him a plan in 30 days. All you get out of Donald Trump is talk, no policies...


MATTHEWS: Let me go to Jay on this because here's (INAUDIBLE) If we can stop crimes -- a husband shoots his wife, wife shoots the husband, somebody does something like that, a kid robs a gas station -- if we can stop crimes because we knew they were going to commit the crime, we wouldn't have a crime problem.


EPSHTEYN: But Chris, those are lone wolf crimes. These are crimes where people need to be part of a group, and they are part of a group.

MATTHEWS: Well, we're not sure...


EPSHTEYN: Listen, he -- he had travel. He had relationships. He had contacts. These are warning signs.

MATTHEWS: But they're not illegal.

EPSHTEYN: And you -- they're not illegal...


MATTHEWS: I just don't think that -- I understand the need to get tough and the requirement politically to say you're tougher than the other person. What Trump has to do and you have to do is explain exactly how you, within the limits of our Constitution...


MATTHEWS: ... would protect people's rights and also reduce the amount of terrorism.

Now, this terrorism in this country is not regular. It's not frequent. It occurs. And I wonder whether you can actually stomp out terrorism. I don't think you can stomp it out, do you?

EPSHTEYN: You go from San Bernardino, to Orlando...

MATTHEWS: Do you think you can stomp out terrorism? Is that what you're saying?

EPSHTEYN: ... and you're looking at a pattern that's picking up and it's all tied to ISIS.

MATTHEWS: Are you saying every -- every terrorist act could have been prevented?

EPSHTEYN: What I'm saying to you is we can do a better job of preventing it if we looked into these people. Look at San Bernardino. Those -- there were very strong warning signs there, and those people, the wife especially...


NEWTON-SMALL: I mean, San Bernardino was a husband and wife, and those are very privileged communications. Those are very, very hard to wiretap, frankly. I mean, and a lot of -- I mean, what you're looking at...

EPSHTEYN: Her Facebook was not.

NEWTON-SMALL: ... for a lot of this -- can I please finish? For a lot of this stuff, if it's a conspiracy like it was in France, where you have 15, 20 people, they're communicating all over the place, that is something that is absolutely preventable. And you talk to experts in the United States, that's something that is very hard to happen...

MATTHEWS: Charlie Hebdo, yes.

NEWTON-SMALL: ... here because it's such a mass, huge conspiracy, and we do wiretap enormously. But if it's something where it's just one person logging on...

EPSHTEYN: Well, Ft. Hood, Orlando...


NEWTON-SMALL: ... and lone wolf attacks are almost impossible to prevent.

MATTHEWS: And I don't like the presumption -- you're here to support Trump, but common sense is also on this table.

EPSHTEYN: Of course.

MATTHEWS: How do you stop every case in a free society, if somebody decides -- someone is deciding to commit a crime? Individuals -- you talk about lone wolves, people that say, You know what? I'm mad at this country. My life's not so happy here, so I'm going to do something that shows my attitude to this country in a violent way.

EPSHTEYN: Well, I disagree with the...

MATTHEWS: You can't stop that, can you?

EPSHTEYN: Chris, I disagree with the premise of a lone wolf. These people are not lone wolves. They're all tied by an ideology. In this case, they're all tied to ISIS in one way or another.


EPSHTEYN: San Bernardino, these people had Facebook postings, which made it clear that...


CORN: Donald Trump attacks Hillary Clinton and the president for saying we have to fight the ISIS narrative, right? So he just said, We've got to fight the ideology. You're just saying...

EPSHTEYN: No, we have to fight the people! The ideology is the way we find out...


MATTHEWS: OK, I don't think -- I think we've got to get...


EPSHTEYN: ... access to social media and...

MATTHEWS: I don't think it's a legal conspiracy in our system, Boris, if somebody gets something on line, they're inspired by it in a negative way, a violent way.


MATTHEWS: I don't think that's a conspiracy.

EPSHTEYN: You know, as an attorney, I'll tell you, if they have one conversation about planning to commit a crime, that's a conspiracy right there.

MATTHEWS: OK, OK. Well, that's -- that gets very close to being a police state.


MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, David Corn. Thank you, Jay Newton- Small and Boris Epshteyn.

Anyway, coming up this Sunday, a special edition of HARDBALL here at a special time as we get ready for the first presidential debate, which is on Monday, of course. Join me at 8:00 Eastern Sunday night, debate eve. We'll be here.

Coming up, new information on the suspect who set off bombs in New York and New Jersey. Two years ago, the FBI investigated Rahami after hearing that his father yelled, You're a terrorist. So why wasn't he stopped then?

Plus, "The Washington Post" reports that Donald Trump used his charity, his foundation, to settle lawsuits that involved his businesses to the tune of over a quarter million dollars. We've got "The Post" reporter who wrote it, who broke the story coming here.

And with just six days until Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton meet for their first debate, we will debut our special segment tonight, how to win or lose a debate, the HARDBALL rules. We'll have a look at past debates and the great moments, the great lines where you knew one candidate had struck gold and the other was finished.

Finally, my "Election Diary" for tonight, with exactly seven weeks to go before the election. By the way, it is Tuesday, isn't it?

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: We've got new polling on the presidential race, and for that, we check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

According to our new NBC on-line poll, Hillary Clinton has a 5-point lead nationwide over Donald Trump. It's Clinton 45, Trump 40, with Gary Johnson moving up to 10. That's interesting.

In Florida, a new Monmouth poll puts Clinton up by 5. It's Clinton 46, Trump 41 and Johnson 6 in the Sunshine State.

Finally, to North Carolina, where a new Elon University poll shows Trump up by 5 -- Trump up by 5, 44, Clinton -- wait a minute, Trump -- 43 - - he's not up by 5, he's up by 1, with Johnson at 6.

We'll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Investigators are learning new details about that suspect in last weekend's bomb attacks in New York and New Jersey. Ahmad Khan Rahami appeared on the FBI's radar as far back as August of '14 after neighbors told police Rahami's father called his son a terrorist. He yelled that at him.

We also learned today that Rahami was carrying a notebook when he was captured yesterday. It offered clues about his thinking, including what's been described as rambling thoughts on slain al Qaeda leader Anwar al Awlaki, and prior terrorist attacks in the United States, including the Boston Marathon bombing. Well, today, federal officials are filing terrorism charges against Rahami for those bombings in New York and New Jersey.

For more, I'm joined by -- you guessed it -- NBC justice correspondent Pete Williams. Pete, the federal charges, that means what, that they're just proceeding here?

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They're going to be filed in both New York and New Jersey. And there's lots of new detail in the charges tonight, Chris.

The federal government says that he began -- that Rahami began ordering materials to build bombs in June on eBay using his own name. They say two days before the bombings in New York, he recorded a cell phone video -- recorded by a family member, showing him lighting something in a cylinder in a back yard near or at the home.

But 12 of his fingerprints were found on the 27th Street bomb -- that's the unexploded pressure cooker bomb -- and prints were also found on materials with the Elizabeth, New Jersey, bomb that was set off just yesterday.

And then they say, as far as this notebook that was found that he was carrying, it said -- he included such anti-government -- anti-U.S. statements as this. "You continue your slaughter against the mujahideen, be it Afghanistan, Iraq, Sham" -- meaning Syria -- "and Palestine." He praises Nidal Hasan, the army soldier who shot his fellow soldiers at Ft. Hood, Texas and killed 13 people. And he praises bin Laden and al Awlaki.

And it says that he closes with this. "Inshallah" -- meaning "God willing" -- "the sounds of the bombs will be heard in the streets, gunshots to your police, death to your oppression."

So, he's now facing the federal charges in addition to the local charges. He's charged with setting off a weapon of mass destruction and bombing a public place.

MATTHEWS: So, you may have not heard the somewhat partisan argument we just had here from someone from the Trump campaign arguing that we should be intervening in these cases long before we have the kind of evidence you're talking about.

Is that feasible in the Constitution? Like, can you go after somebody because they traveled to some place in Pakistan? Can you arrest a person for watching something on the Internet from Awlaki? Is there anywhere that you could be more aggressive that's legal and constitutional than what we do?

WILLIAMS: Well, none of those things are crimes.

But here's the issue that you talked about earlier. So, in 2014, a neighbor told the police that, during a domestic violence attack, in which Rahami was accused of stabbing his brother in the leg, while all that was going on, a neighbor said she heard Rahami's father call him say, you're a terrorist, get out of the house.

So, the police told the FBI. The FBI talked to him. And then he said, no, I was angry, I didn't mean it. I just was -- said in the heat of the moment. I don't think he's a terrorist.

Nonetheless, the FBI says it did look at its databases, did look at materials in the government's databases about him, interviewed family members, interviewed friends, and concluded he wasn't a terrorist, talked to the father one more time, who said, yes, I said it and I was mad and I didn't mean it.

So, that was then. And, of course, then he did attractive to Pakistan and Afghanistan to some pretty sketchy areas. And what the government says is that when -- that U.S. citizens can go there, but they are subject to secondary examination. When they come back, they're questioned about the reason for their travel.

Now, he says, of course, that he went overseas, he got married, he was trying to get his wife back here. And, of course, he's from Afghanistan. So it's hard to -- I'm sure some people will say, and I'm beginning to hear members of Congress saying, well, was enough attention paid here? But there's nothing here that would have put him under arrest.

And even if he was on a watch list, that would have meant that they paid a little more attention to him when he traveled. I wouldn't believe that the information that I just sketched out would qualify him for the no- fly list. So that's -- it is always a problem.

MATTHEWS: You have done it the way I thought it was. Thanks so much, Pete Williams.

Let's bring in NBC News national security analyst Juan Zarate.

Juan, there it is.


MATTHEWS: This debate we had here, it may have seemed kind of buffoonish at times, but -- from the other said, I have to say -- but the idea that we can somehow arrest someone because they're contemplating a crime.


MATTHEWS: Contemplating is not illegal.

ZARATE: Yes. And it's a very difficult spectrum for the FBI, because they're looking at not just potential criminal behavior, but preliminary investigations to find suspicious activity that could lead them to individuals who present an imminent attack or a threat.

MATTHEWS: But we're not looking for an ethnic group either. We're looking for a mind-set.

And I think that guy, Boris Epshteyn, finally admitted it, which is the argument that David jumped on him, which is, yes, it's a mind-set, it's an ideology. You could be 22 years old and not buy it, 23 years old and have bought it. And that's a reality.


And I think what this notebook reflects is that this individual, Rahami, bought into this ideology, this narrative. He clearly has followed the lineage of it over time, bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, the rest.

And you're right. It's about markers of how this ideology manifests. And that's the difficult part. How does the FBI find those markers? How do they put it together? And, frankly, how do they put it around the array of individuals that they have to worry about?

Keep in mind, they're looking at over 1,000 cases, 50 states, and you can't be on everybody 24/7, even the individuals that they know are potentially problematic.

MATTHEWS: I remember, back in the '60s, a father could yell, when your hair went too long, would yell at you, you're a hippie.


MATTHEWS: That doesn't mean you're a hippie.

ZARATE: Right.

MATTHEWS: You're not living on the street corner drugged out just because he is mad at your haircut.


MATTHEWS: So, today, this guys yells to his son, you're a terrorist, meaning, I don't like the long hair, I don't like whatever you're stating here. He's not saying you're out making bombs. ZARATE: Right.

MATTHEWS: And you can't arrest a guy for looking like a terrorist, whatever that means. But I think the father knew what he meant.

ZARATE: And the problem the FBI has is, any time there's an incident like this, you look back. Hindsight's 20/20.

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes. ZARATE: All of this looks in collection to be difficult, and then you start discovering more about it, and it becomes difficult.

MATTHEWS: Yes, there's a Tom Cruise movie about. It's called "Minority Report."

ZARATE: That's right. It's a great movie, by the way.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but it's totally sci-fi.

ZARATE: But, listen, the FBI's whipsawed, because the time they engage in arrests, where there are sting operations, they get criticized for entrapment, going too far, too aggressively.

When they don't do enough, and when, by the way, by Constitution, law and guidelines, they are required to close cases where they don't find information that leads them to further suspicion...

MATTHEWS: So, they can't just keep watching somebody.

ZARATE: They can't. It's by guideline and law.

So, the FBI agents are required to respect privacy and civil liberties, protect our constitutional rights. They're also charged with preventing attacks. That's a very hard balance. And I think we have got to be conscious of it.

MATTHEWS: You know what Donald Trump calls all that, all that constitutional stuff? P.C., politically correct.


MATTHEWS: That is the challenge we're in as a country, how free we are going to remain. If we want zero, zero terrorism, it may require going all the way to the fascistic.

And I think the American people say, you know what, we're going to do our best as Americans.

ZARATE: I think that's right. I think the expectation is zero tolerance. We strive for that, but we certainly don't give up our rights and our Constitution.

MATTHEWS: I know. I know.

Anyway, thank you, Juan Zarate, for being our expert.

Up next: another scoop from "The Washington Post" about Donald Trump's charity. You might call it that. "The Post" reports that Trump used money from the Trump Foundation, money from other people, in other words, to settle lawsuits that involved his businesses. The reporter who broke that story is coming here next right here.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I'm Milissa Rehberger. Here's what's happening.

One Air Force pilot is dead, another injured after a U-2 spy plane crashed shortly after takeoff in California. Pieces of the Cold War era plane were spotted roadside. Pilots reportedly ejected during the training mission. An investigation is ongoing.

And the head of Wells Fargo told Congress today he accepts full responsibility for the unethical sales practices rampant within the company. Lawmakers blasted the CEO after millions of fake accounts were opened in customers' names -- Back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

This morning, "The Washington Post" reported that Donald Trump is using his charity foundation to settle lawsuits involving his businesses. "The Post" found four examples where they say -- quote -- "Trump may have violated laws against self-dealing, which prohibit nonprofit leaders from using charity money to benefit themselves or their businesses."

Well, this comes just a few weeks after the Donald Trump Foundation paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS after it was revealed that the foundation had improperly donated $25,000 to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi around the same time that her office was considering a fraud investigation into Trump University.

Well, both Donald Trump and Pam Bondi deny any allegation of pay-for- play.

Trump is also under from the attorney general of New York, who is investigating whether the Trump Foundation broke New York's charity laws.

We want to mention that, in 2012, by the way, that MSNBC's parent company, NBC Universal, made a $500,000 donation to Trump Foundation.

Joining me right now for more on this, I'm joined by the author of that article in "The Washington Post," David Fahrenthold, political reporter for "The Washington Post."

David, explain this use of money, use of foundation money for business, personal purposes.

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, we looked at two cases where two businesses -- at one time, it was the club in Florida Mar- a-Lago. One time, it was a golf course in New York.

In both cases, they got into legal trouble. And they got out of their legal trouble by making a settlement. And both settlements, that business agreed to make a donation to charity, but it turned out that, in both cases, the business didn't actually pay anything. Instead, Trump used a separate charity, a charity with other people's money in it, to pay those...

MATTHEWS: So it's not Trump's money in the foundation? It's other people's money?

FAHRENTHOLD: As far as we can tell, he hasn't given a donation since 2008. It's other people's money.

MATTHEWS: Well, in other words, he's dipping into money that isn't his.

FAHRENTHOLD: It's not his. It's a charity.

MATTHEWS: And using it.


MATTHEWS: It's just like going into the collection basket at church and give me a handful of that money. Is it any different than that?

FAHRENTHOLD: Well, he's taken this money that is in the charity, supposed to do charitable work, and he's using it basically to pay off obligations that his businesses have already incurred.

MATTHEWS: Why did he stop paying in a foundation years ago, back in, what, '08? Why did he stop giving money to something he gets his name -- he gets the brand.

The Trump Foundation has the name Trump on it. If they give money away, he gives it away, he gets credit for giving money away. But you point out it's not his money. And then occasionally he uses that money to pay bills with.

FAHRENTHOLD: It's really unusual.

A lot of rich people create foundations, put their name on it, and they give their money away. It's really unusual...

MATTHEWS: That's why it has their name on it.

FAHRENTHOLD: That's why it has their name on it. That's the expectation that he trades on.

So, one, it's unusual, in that Trump doesn't put any of his own money in, and that he continues to take other people's money in and give it out, people who are under the impression that it's Trump's money they're getting.

MATTHEWS: What did you make of the fact, since you're reporting on this, what we jumped on last week, and everybody else did? He paid $25,000 to a political action committee, which is politics, with his foundation money.

And then somebody that works for him, I guess a joker, came out and said, oh, that was intended to go to some pregnancy emergency situation for young women or girls who get pregnant who don't want to have abortions out in Kansas City somewhere.

The idea that Trump is giving money to that organization is ludicrous. And that was his -- that was his alibi.

FAHRENTHOLD: It's even more complicated than that.

They say that Trump gives an order to give to this political group in Florida. And, somehow, they first confuse it with a charity in Utah. So they cut the money out of the Trump Foundation. Then the IRS tells -- the foundation's accountants tell the IRS, we didn't give any donation to Pam Bondi, to her group in Florida. Instead, we gave the money to a different charity in Kansas.

MATTHEWS: But what it looks like is, he's giving money to a politician down there, an attorney general, so that they won't prosecute.

So, anybody watching it, they would say, why would you make a contribution to the political action committee of some attorney general down in Florida whose office is investigating or could well investigate and indict you for Trump University? That looks like, you know, politics at its worst.


The real question is, when did Pam Bondi ask Trump for the donation? Because she did ask. And when she did ask...

MATTHEWS: She said she did on the record, by the way. We know she asked for the money.

FAHRENTHOLD: We know she asked for...

MATTHEWS: She had the conversation with Trump: Give me some money.

FAHRENTHOLD: Yes. We just don't know when and what the two of them knew about that possible investigation at the time.

MATTHEWS: You're doing great work.


MATTHEWS: Follow the money. Bob Woodward, right?

FAHRENTHOLD: That's right.

MATTHEWS: Follow the money.

Thank you, David Fahrenthold.

Anyway, up next: six days to go before Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton meet in the first big debate. That's next Monday night. It's almost like this Monday night, it's coming.

When we come back, the HARDBALL rules about how to win or lose a debate. We have got some of the great, you know, political people. And you are -- I know you are like me -- love these pictures of -- well, it's going to be Reagan going at it and Lloyd Bentsen going at it and all these people doing their best and worst in debates to show you, our panel and the two guys running for president, both Hillary Clinton and Trump, how not to lose a debate and how to win one.

We will be right back. It's coming up Monday night, by the way.

And on Sunday night, on the eve of the debate night, of course, join us, please -- there it is, the big graphic -- 8:00 Sunday night, this coming Sunday night, a special edition of HARDBALL, the night before the first debate.

You're watching it, HARDBALL, the place for politics.



BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": Would you go into the marital arena if she hits the you with the women thing?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think I'm looking to do that, Bill. I don't know what I'm going to do, exactly. You know, it depends on what level she hits with you, if it's fair, if it's unfair.

O'REILLY: Right.

TRUMP: But, certainly, I'm not looking to do that.


That was Donald Trump, of course, on FOX last night on whether he would bring up Hillary Clinton's marriage in the upcoming presidential debates. He said it would depend on conditions.

Anyway, and just six days to go now until our first showdown on Monday. It's sure to be high-stakes television. So we wanted to look at how a candidate can win or lose a presidential debate.

And here's what we learned over the years. Rule number one, one- liners can work, whether they're prepared or not. A well-delivered comeback is often the only thing the audience remembers after the dust settles.

When President Jimmy Carter was criticizing Ronald Reagan in the 1980 debate for his opposition years earlier to Medicare, Reagan famously dismissed Carter's attack with this memorable remark.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are the kind of elements of a national health insurance important to the American people.

Governor Reagan, again, typically, is against such a proposal.

QUESTION: Governor?




MATTHEWS: Well, in the vice presidential debate of 1988, Lloyd Bentsen famously delivered this devastating blow to Dan Quayle after Quayle compared his experience to that of John F. Kennedy.


DAN QUAYLE (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.

QUESTION: Senator Bentsen?

LLOYD BENTSEN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.


MATTHEWS: That camera angle killed.

Anyway, I'm joined now by the roundtable.

Eugene Robinson is an MSNBC political analyst and columnist with "The Washington Post." Colleen McCain Nelson is White House correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal." And Howard Dean is an MSNBC political analyst and former, of course, chairman of the DNC, and former governor, if not president, of Vermont.


MATTHEWS: Let me -- Let me ask you. You have been in these debates.

HOWARD DEAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The republic of Vermont, right.



MATTHEWS: You've been in these debates, and it seems to me there that Lloyd Bentsen was ready, he had heard that this guy was going to try that again. And like a good clubman, he said, "You're not getting in the club."

DEAN: Of all of the debates I've ever seen, I still feel terrible for Dan Quayle over that one. Bentsen just absolutely put him in a Texas barbecue and fried him in about 30 seconds. I couldn't believe it.

MATTHEWS: But he needed Quayle -- colleen, he needed Quayle to make the claim. He couldn't have done it if Quayle hadn't said, I'm John Kennedy.

COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON, WALL STREET JOURNAL: You need your opponent to set you up sometimes, and, you know, debates are made up of moments. And only a few lines survive. And so, sometimes, Hillary Clinton gets mired in the details and it's the one line that actually --

MATTHEWS: OK, Gene, you know this business like I do. Somewhere in New York now or in New Jersey, the golf course, Donald Trump and Roger Ailes are sitting around figuring, how do they construct one of these moments. Ho do we know when the time is right to whack back?

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: You know, you can only prepare to a certain extent. I mean, you can get some one-liners, you can imagine situations and have a -- you know, have a line prepared, but, you've got to have the opening. The opening has to be there. And you've got to be quick enough to, you know, to jump in.

MATTHEWS: To kill.

ROBINSON: To kill.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, go for the jugular.

Rule number two, show your heart. Candidates who are afraid to open up themselves can pay a price on the debate stage, especially if they appear too rehearsed, unemotional, or just uninspired.

Case in point, 1988, when Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, gave a boiler plate answer to this very perm question from Bernard Shaw.


BERNARD SHAW, DEBATE MODERATOR: Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?

MICHAEL DUKAKIS (D), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don't, Bernard. And you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don't see any evidence that it's a deterrent and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime.


MATTHEWS: Colleen? That killed him. I'm not completely sure why, but I think I know why. Why did it do it? Why did it kill him?

NELSON: Well, he didn't even flinch. He showed no emotion about the prospect of his wife being raped and murdered and he just focused on the principle. I mean, people -- viewers want to see someone who looks presidential, but they also want to see someone who's an actual person, with feelings.

MATTHEWS: You know what? That kind of answer worked in Massachusetts. That state, it works.

ROBINSON: But it didn't work anyplace else. It was bloodless, right? I mean, and look, this is a big opportunity, I think, for Hillary Clinton, because, she doesn't often show herself. She doesn't show the heart.

When you get to see the person, as you did, in New Hampshire eight years ago, for example, she does very well. She connects with people.

MATTHEWS: It's so true.

DEAN: I'll tell you one thing she can do. If Trump asks her about her marriage, she's going to turn him into toast. That's something she cares about, she's passionate about. And she can --

MATTHEWS: The fact that she stuck?

DEAN: The fact that she stuck by Bill Clinton. She's going to say, I've been married to the same man for 35 years, or whatever it is. She's going to look at Trump --


DEAN: I don't think Trump's going to do that. He's not stupid, but if he does do it, he's going to get skewered.

MATTHEWS: When it comes to his marriages, he's judged on the curve.

DEAN: That's the problem, he's judged on the curve on everything.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, rule number three, it's television, stupid. When it comes to style and appearance, we're talking about appearance here, the first debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960 truly revealed the power of television, this medium. Kennedy showed up tanned, rested and ready, his dark suit stood out on black and white television and he projected youth and vigor. Meanwhile, Nixon had spent two weeks before that debate in the hospital with a staph infection, there he is, after banging his knee on a car door.

Anyway, perhaps most famously, Kennedy had the help of a professional makeup artist, his name is Bill Wilson, while Nixon declined full make up and instead relied on something called lazy shave. As a result, Nixon's chin glistened with sweat under the glare of the studio lights, he was gaunt, and his light-colored suit made his pale comparison look washed out.

Nixon's appearance left such an impression that "The Chicago Daily News" even speculated on the front page that Nixon had been sabotaged by a Democratic makeup artist.


DEAN: It's true. Appearance matters a lot.

You know, a lot of consultants have showed me this, and I absolutely believe it. You want to see who's going to win the debate? Turn off the sound. Watch how the two candidates portray themselves and hold themselves on the stage. Very powerful.

MATTHEWS: It's not all --


MATTHEWS: Because Nixon beat Kennedy among women, if that means anything. It's not like, he's a charmer who's going to win the thing.

Anyway, what do you make about preparing. I mean, Hillary Clinton, obviously, appearance is no problem. Trump was the hair.

But, you know, I wonder how much prep they're going to -- I think it's psychological. We'll talk about it at the end of the show. If you come in there self-confident -- of course, Kennedy was bred like this aristocrat. He knew, I'm better than him.

And a terrible performance by Mitt Romney in the first debate, where he walked in like he's a better man than the president. It drove me crazy. I thought it was repellant, but it worked.

ROBINSON: It worked.


ROBINSON: He creamed the president in that debate.

MATTHEWS: That self-confidence.

ROBINSON: Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: What do you know? When you get in the debate, do you ever feel if you're going to win or if you're going to lose based on how you went in?

DEAN: I know it's actually true. You can get stiff -- I've been given a stiff upper cut by a couple of people. The interesting thing of being a frontrunner is I had four really confident people all ganging up on me. That is tough because you're not knowing where the next --

MATTHEWS: We were rooting for you. My whole family.

DEAN: I appreciate it.

MATTHEWS: It wasn't our fault.

Rule number four, stunts are high risk and can easily back fire. Of course, we've got to go back to Al Gore. He made that goofy attempt to intimidate Republican opponent George W. Bush by walking right up beside Bush as he was speaking. It proved to be an awkward, that's understating it, moment. Let's watch this moment.


GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can get something positive done on behalf of the people. That's what the question in this campaign is about. It's not only what's your philosophy and what's your position on issues, but can you get things done? And I believe I can.


MATTHEWS: That body check of W.'s, I know it's not intellectual, Colleen, but something about most guys I know watching, will go, what a goobah. He walks up -- first of all, men don't like guys coming in their space. They're either robbing him or whatever they're doing, get away from me.

NELSON: He's trying to be too clever by half. And it's a good remember that if you spend all of your energy trying to trip up your opponent, sometimes you actually end up tripping up yourself.

MATTHEWS: Like that long kiss?

NELSON: Exactly. I mean, you need to focus on putting your best face forward instead of trying to make your opponents screw up every moment.

MATTHEWS: I thought that kiss at the convention was almost as weird.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, the roundtable is staying with us.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics. More of these clips, coming up. Having fun.


MATTHEWS: Well, is the patriarch of the Bush family backing his party this year to vote -- I'm sorry. I'm ready.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, on Monday, the former President George Herbert Walker Bush reported told board members of his Point of Life Foundation that he planned to vote for the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. However, a spokesman for President Bush told NBC today, the vote President Bush will cast as a private citizen in some 50 days will be just that, a private vote cast in some 50 days. He's not commenting on the presidential race in the interim. In other words, it's a non-denial.

By the way, we're just six days away from the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. You can catch it all right here Monday night on MSNBC. I'll be joined by Brian Williams, of course, and Rachel Maddow for complete coverage starting at 7:00 Eastern and Lester Holt moderates, of course, the debate starting at 9:00 Eastern.

We'll be right back, by the way, with the post-game analysis from the spin room at 10:30. That will be me there in the spin room and then stay with us for midnight coverage. I'll be there until 2:00 in the evening, as usual.

And don't forget, we're on Sunday night this week. Join me at 8:00 Eastern for a special edition of HARDBALL as we get ready for debate night. We'll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We're back with our live roundtable, as you just saw -- Gene, Colleen and Howard.

Next up is debate rule number five: avoid condescension. Candidates who are too patronizing can arouse sympathy for the opponent. Case in point was then-Vice President George Bush in 1984, he actually appeared to be lecturing Geraldine Ferraro, his opponent, about the Middle East. Let's watch not to do it.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH (R), THEN-VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me help you with the difference, Ms. Ferraro, between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon. Iran, we were held by a foreign government. In Lebanon, you had a wanton terrorist action where the government opposed it.

GERALDINE FERRARO (D), THEN-VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me just say, first of all, that I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy.


MATTHEWS: What do you think, Colleen?


MATTHEWS: I know it's a little tired to talk about it. We have the first woman candidate who's probably going to be the front-runner going into next week's debate. Trump, does he have any particularly dangerous territory there in this regard?

NELSON: There's a lot of dangerous territory there for Donald Trump. We've seen him struggled not to say something offensive when women have challenged him. We can think back on the primary debate, Megyn Kelly.


NELSON: Carly Fiorina's face. I mean, just this week, when he talked about the pastor who asked him not to --

MATTHEWS: What's to stop Hillary Clinton good for the gander, good for the goose, what happens if Hillary Clinton unloads on him with every bad thing he's ever said about women? Puts right in his face? Megyn did it and I think she won that exchange.

ROBINSON: She might look -- obviously, in the Clinton camp they must be trying to figure out how to get under his skin. How to provoke what they know is there just waiting to erupt.

MATTHEWS: How about saying like, you haven't called me crooked yet, Donald. When will you get around to crooked? That's what you call me when I'm not here, but I'm here.

DEAN: She says that after she reminds him about $258,000 that he spent from his charity to bail his out --


MATTHEWS: You've been watching the show tonight.

Rule number six is that gaffes are amplified on the debate stage. Gerald Ford learned that the hard way when he made this outrageous claim about the Soviet Union in the middle of the Cold War.


GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT: There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry. Could I just -- did I understand you to say, sir, that the Russians are not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence.

FORD: Each of those countries is independent or autonomous. It has its own territorial integrity.


MATTHEWS: You imagine the Cold War and the Berlin Wall coming down about 13 years ahead of schedule.

DEAN: He did this by accident, but Trump actually believes this Putin propaganda.


DEAN: This was an accident.

MATTHEWS: Why did Jerry Ford say that Europe was independent of Russia when we know the Warsaw Pact tanks were right there?

ROBINSON: It had to be like a brain spasm. Just he blanks. I mean - -

MATTHEWS: I heard he was briefed by a guy that briefed him said that he briefed him that the people don't see themselves as part of the Russian world.

ROBINSON: So, they see themselves as German or Polish or whatever, but they definitely know the Russians are there, OK?

MATTHEWS: The tanks will roll. Anyway, thank you, Gene Robinson. This is great fun. I hope the debates are as good as this.

Anyway, Colleen McCain Nelson of "The Journal" and Howard Dean of debates past.

When we return, my election diary for September 20th, six days as I've said before the first presidential debate is coming on this Monday and seven weeks before the election.

You're watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Election diary, September 20th, 2016.

Well, there's a lot of psychology in who wins a presidential debate and psych war for next Monday's first Clinton-Trump encounter has already begun.

Hillary Clinton took much of today off presumably to sharpen herself for the big night. Trump said she took the day off because, quote, "she needs the rest."

Well, Trump's not the first presidential debater to try to get into the other guy's ear. When Kennedy went up against Nixon, he acted like he never met the guy. It rattled Nixon to the core. The two had been working in fairly close quarters in the Congress for 14 years, knew each pretty well, had, in fact, been friends early on.

Nixon expected a duel between old colleagues. Kennedy came across like a Yankee executioner. I don't think Nixon ever got over it.

Mitt Romney did the same thing with President Obama in their first debate. He talked down to him. It may have struck you as repellent, it did me, but it worked. The president just couldn't or wouldn't stand up to him. And that's why Romney won that first debate.

Fortunately for President Obama, he got it right in the second and third debates.

The question for this Monday is who will be most sure of themselves out there when they have to go face-to-face, who will have themselves convinced that they're the most secure person, who will seem in command, who will radiate strength?

Because this is one time there will be no applause to mark success. What will signal who wins is the poise of the candidates themselves, the one who sweats loses, the one who smiles wins. As the great Winston Churchill once put it, "I like a man who grins when he fights."

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.