A.G. Sessions testifies before senate committee Transcript 10/18/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Ashley Parker, Yamiche Alcindor, Rachel Bade, Annie Karni, Charlie Savage, Maria Cantwell, Anne Gearan, Eli Stokols, Jeanne Shaheen

Show: HARDBALL Date: October 18, 2017 Guest: Ashley Parker, Yamiche Alcindor, Rachel Bade, Annie Karni, Charlie Savage, Maria Cantwell, Anne Gearan, Eli Stokols, Jeanne Shaheen

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bad call.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

With precious few legislative days this year and a White House agenda crammed with tax cuts, health care and other priorities, the headlines today were all about President Trump`s handling of a phone call with the family of a fallen soldier.

One reason is because President Trump decided to engage in this fight, showing once again he`s unwilling to let any perceived slight go, no matter how sensitive the topic. It began with this statement by a Florida congresswoman, who was with the family of Sergeant La David Johnson when the president called. Johnson was one of four soldiers killed in Niger earlier this month. Here`s what the congresswoman said the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: He was almost, like, joking. He said, Well, I guess you knew he -- something to the fact that he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but I guess it hurts anyway -- you know, just matter-of-factly, that this is what happens. She was in tears. She was in tears. And she said he didn`t even remember his name!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the president responded, "Democrat congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action, and I have proof. Sad."

He was asked about that tweet later this morning. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Mr. President (INAUDIBLE) Sergeant Johnson`s widow on the phone?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Didn`t say what that congresswoman said. Didn`t say it at all. She knows it. And she now is not saying it. But I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife, who was -- sounded like a lovely woman, did not say what the congresswoman said. And most people aren`t too surprised to hear that.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) the proof, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Let -- let her make her statement again and then you`ll find out.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) had said this.

TRUMP: OK, let her make her statement again, and then you`ll find out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Congresswoman Wilson tweeted after that, "I stand by my account of the call." And she criticized Trump for not using the widow`s name, Myeshia Johnson. Anyway, the aunt of the fallen soldier who raised him as her son supported Congresswoman Wilson`s account, telling "The Washington Post," "President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter, and also me and my husband."

Well, what exactly was the proof President Trump was referring to? According to spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders today, the conversation was not recorded, but there were several people in the room with the president, including chief of staff John Kelly. She was pressed today during the White House briefing about whether the president denied saying what he was accused of saying. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president`s call, as accounted by -- multiple people in the room believe that the president was completely respectful, very sympathetic, and expressed condolences of himself and the rest of the country and thanked the family for their service.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) didn`t say those words, it was that the context. He felt that she put it in the wrong context? Is that it?

SANDERS: I`m not going to get into the back and forth. I think that the sentiment of the president was very clear. And I think it, frankly, is a disgrace of the media to try to portray an act of kindness like that and that gesture and try to make it into something that it isn`t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m not trying to portray anything. Trump`s engagement with Gold Star families has been a story for three days now, thanks to comments he`s made. On Monday, he falsely accused President Obama of not making calls to soldiers` families, and yesterday, he invoked the son of his chief of staff who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

I`m joined right now by "The Washington Post`s" Anne Gearan, "The Wall Street Journal`s" Eli Stokols, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who`s on the Armed Services Committee.

Senator, I mean, as United States senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee, you have some sensitivity, I think, about these kinds of conversations which occur. I`m holding my powder dry on this one because I just don`t know what happened on that phone call. And I don`t know the full context. And I wonder why the president would make a call of sentiment and conciliation and in any way take a shot at the guy who died for his country. It doesn`t make any sense to me in that context. How do you see it or hear it?

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, I think the American people expect their president to honor the sacrifices of fallen soldiers and their families, to console families when service members are lost. And to politicize something as sacred as that is just unforgivable.

MATTHEWS: Well, who`s doing that? Who is doing that?

SHAHEEN: I`m disappointed that this has become a political issue, that the president has made this a political issue.

MATTHEWS: How has he done that?

SHAHEEN: By -- by raising questions about what previous presidents have done, by -- by making an issue of a response from the family of one of the soldiers that he called.

Look, I`ve been in the position, as governor and now as senator, to have to make some of those very difficult calls to families. And what I want to do when I`m talking to the families is to let them know how much I appreciate the sacrifices that they have made, how much I honor the person who`s been lost, and how I want to help in any way that I can. And the last thing I want to do is to make public any of the information on those calls.

MATTHEWS: Well, I agree with you. What do you think of -- what would you do if some member of Congress accused you of making a disrespectful comment to a widow of a soldier? What would you do? Would you say nothing?

SHAHEEN: Well, what I would say, again, is to honor that soldier and the sacrifice that the soldier has made and the family has made. That`s what I think we need to do at times like these, to console the families, to recognize the heroes that we have lost.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m with you on that.

Anyway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked today about General John Kelly, the president`s chief of staff. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Can you describe how General Kelly feels about it? Is he comfortable with the way his son is...

SANDERS: I think that General Kelly is disgusted by the way that this has been politicized and that the focus has become on the process and not the fact that American lives were lost. I think he`s disgusted and frustrated by that. If he has any anger, it`s towards that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, who is actually politicizing this issue? Let`s watch what the president has said since Monday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn`t make calls. A lot of them didn`t make calls.

As far as other representatives, I don`t know. I mean, you could ask General Kelly. Did he get a call from Obama? You could ask other people. I don`t know what Obama`s policy was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Anne, I think we can agree that the president began this sort of stream of consciousness discussion of this whole thing. I think it`s very hard when we don`t hear the conversation with him and the congresswoman and the aunt of the person who was killed in the war over there in Niger, and of course, his widow. We don`t know what the wording was, what Trump -- maybe he mishandled it.

But to say that he knew what he was getting into could -- to me, it covers a whole lot of bases, the possibility of how you could say something like that.

ANNE GEARAN, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes. I mean...

MATTHEWS: I mean, he was a man of courage. He knew he was facing horrible danger in Africa. He knew all this. I mean, that could be said in a way of saluting him. I can hear it a number of ways.

GEARAN: Yes, it is entirely possible to hear that a number of ways. And I think, you know, we`re at a disadvantage here because we honestly don`t know the full content of any of these conversations. What we know...

MATTHEWS: But the congresswoman wanted us to know about the conversation.

GEARAN: The congresswoman...

MATTHEWS: Apparently, the widow wanted us to hear about it. And the aunt wants us to hear about it. And so we`re hearing about it. And the president reacts to it. Once again, we`re caught in one of these back and forths.

GEARAN: Yes. I mean, there`s a he said/she said/she said going on here. And to your point, the conversation with La David Johnson`s family, it could have been simply the president saying, Look, you know, your son made a -- and your husband made a terrible sacrifice, that`s what members of the military sign up for, in a sympathetic way.

What we have is the congresswoman`s account that that -- whatever was said upset the widow, left her in tears, and the woman who raised the soldier corroborating that in a conversation with "The Washington Post" today. So that`s -- I mean, that`s all we know, is how those...

MATTHEWS: Right. We also know the woman`s politics. The congresswoman`s politics, Eli, are pretty tough on Trump. I mean, we`re tough here, too...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... his lack of mental health. Well, she went after his lack of mental health. She talked about impeachment. She`s very strong from the other side politically...

ELI STOKOLS, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": But she`s not the only voice here, as Anne just said. We have the voice of the woman who raised this soldier. And we have Sarah Sanders`s own words today. While she excoriated the media for taking Trump`s words out of context, she did not deny, when she was asked, point-blank, Did he say that exact -- that word, that phrase, about him knowing what he signed up for...

MATTHEWS: But how do we -- how do we know what that meant, though in terms of that (INAUDIBLE)?

STOKOLS: We don`t. But another thing that she said that was honest, when asked about General Kelly being in the room, she said, General Kelly and others in the room felt that the president conveyed as best he could his empathy and condolences. So that may be a true statement. It`s just that the president`s best in terms of...

MATTHEWS: I agree with you. Boy, there`s so many...

STOKOLS: ... trying to convey empathy may not have been good enough for...

MATTHEWS: Senator, so many options here. One is he just handled it very bad -- an almost bedside scene very badly. The other is he may have meant something that may not have come over as well as it should, which is soldiers face death. They go into the jungle, as he did. They are Green Berets. They are men and women of incredible physical courage. They know when they go into -- on the line, they go up the line, they go into combat, in a situation like they are over there, and they know what they`re facing, is a way of saluting the guy.

I don`t take it on face value as some kind of insult or slur. I just don`t. But obviously, the relatives have a right to take it any way they want. How do you take it?

SHAHEEN: Well, as you point out, I don`t think we can speculate on what was in the conversation. I think what we need to do, as I said, is to honor this sacrifice, to thank the family, tell the family how much this country appreciates what their husband, son, brother have done and to continue to honor that and not politicize the loss of our soldiers.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s a whopper. By the way, I`m trying to be very defending of the president here in this instance. But here`s a whopper. "The Washington Post" reports now President Trump in a personal phone call to a grieving military father offered him $25,000, 25K, and said he would direct his staff to establish an on-line fund-raiser for the family, but neither happened, the father said.

Well, he offered the money -- I don`t even know if that was right -- and then the money didn`t come, nor did the money fund-raising operation. Anyway, a White House spokesperson responded "The check has been sent. It`s disgusting the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture made privately by the president and using it to advance the media`s biased" -- well, there we go again.

Eli, how do we -- how do we straighten out this another kettle of fish? On one level, it strikes me, at least, as crass to offer a check to somebody who`s lost a child, a son, in battle, but...

STOKOLS: I think it struck the family as crass and surprising when they were made that offer. And it just -- this is a president who really struggles not just with empathy, but with identifying...

MATTHEWS: We have a reporter here.

STOKOLS: With sacrifice. Right and...

MATTHEWS: You broke it.

STOKOLS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Tell us what you think of it?

GEARAN: It was a colleague of mine. And...

MATTHEWS: Did they find it offensive, the 25K, or what? Or not the -- or that the money hadn`t come?

GEARAN: No, I mean, what my colleague who spoke with the father some weeks ago -- he didn`t find the offer offensive at all. In fact, he found it welcome. He was upset only that the check hadn`t arrived.

MATTHEWS: And now they`re saying it`s in the mail. That`s a government answer.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Well, what do you think? Is that conceivable?

GEARAN: Well, I mean, we don`t know. We...

MATTHEWS: But it was two weeks ago, and the check hadn`t come.

GEARAN: It was a number of weeks ago that the conversation happened, and as of...

MATTHEWS: So we have to check the postmark then?

GEARAN: We don`t know when the check was sent or whether it has arrived.

MATTHEWS: When did your story arrive?

GEARAN: Our story arrived at approximately the same time as the spokesperson`s comment.

MATTHEWS: Yes, well, I think the postmark will probably be very close to your deadline.

Anyway, thank you, Anne Gearan. Thank you, Eli Stokols. And always thank you, Senator Jeanne Shaheen. This is a tough one.

Coming up, the Russian investigation. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified on Capitol Hill today, but was hesitant to say whether he`s been contacted by Bob Mueller, the special counsel. Why is he being so squeamish on that point? This comes amid news that Mueller`s team has interviewed Trump`s top former aides, Reince Priebus, and of course, Sean Spicer.

Plus, in the past 24 hours, President Trump has done a 180 on health care. He`s done it again. At first, he was on board with a bipartisan plan to stabilize the insurance markets. Today, he`s distancing himself from the same proposal he was for the other day. So where is he on something really important to a lot of families?

And a party in meltdown. Steve Bannon is once again going after McConnell and little Bob Corker or Bobby Corker, but he`s not the only Republican doing battle with members of his own party.

Finally, "Let me finish" tonight with something truly important. It`s about nuclear war. And we`re getting close to it in North Korea sometimes, and I worry about it in Iran.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the ongoing protests within the league earlier today. Goodell said players should stand during the national anthem, but he stopped short of imposing a rule that would require them to do so. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: We believe everyone should stand for the national anthem. That`s an important part of our policy. It`s also an important part of our game that we all take great pride in. And it`s also important for us to honor our flag and our country, and we think our fans expect us to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: God, he gets $35 million a year to do that. Anyway, Goodell says he has not spoken with the president. But Trump responded (sic) the NFL`s decision on Twitter -- to the decision, writing, "The NFL has decided that it will not force players to stand for the playing of our national anthem. Total disrespect for our great country."

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Most, if not all, of the president`s men have come under increasing pressure in connection with the ongoing federal and congressional Russian investigations. In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was extremely hesitant to say definitively whether special counsel Bob Mueller had interviewed or contacted him in connection with the probe.

Here he goes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Have you been interviewed or been requested to be interviewed by the special counsel either in connection with Director Comey`s firing, the Russian investigation, or your own contact with Russian officials?

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I`d be pleased to answer that. I`m not sure I should without clearing that with the special counsel. What do you think?

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: I`m just -- have you been interviewed by them?

SESSIONS: No.

QUESTION: Hasn`t your office been contacted to request an interview with you by the special counsel? That`s a yes or no...

SESSIONS: Well, I don`t -- I don`t think so.

QUESTION: You don`t think so? Are you sure?

SESSIONS: I don`t recall that I have been contacted. My staff handed me a note that I have not been asked for an interview at this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Much like in June, Sessions also refused to answer any questions about his private conversations with President Trump.

This comes after Politico reported that former press secretary Sean Spicer was interviewed by Mueller`s team yesterday.

"Spicer was grilled about the firing of former FBI Director James Comey and his statements regarding the firing, as well as about Trump`s meeting with Russian officials."

Well, that`s a lot.

Former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was also interviewed, last Friday in that case. And Corey Lewandowski met today with the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

I`m joined right now by the author of that story, Annie Karni of Politico, Charlie Savage, who is covering the Sessions hearings, of course, for "The New York Times," and Malcolm Nance, of course, MSNBC`s analyst.

Thank you.

Hold on, Malcolm, for a second.

I want to go to Charlie about this Sessions thing.

What`s this mealy the mouse thing going on here, this mousy, gee whiz, cute? I mean, he`s a grown-up man. Why can`t he answer a question yes or no?

CHARLIE SAVAGE, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": There were a lot of weird moments in this hearing. And surrounding the weirdness was an unwillingness to answer questions about his conversations with Mr. Trump, both about Russia and about other issues as well.

MATTHEWS: How about with Mueller?

SAVAGE: At first, he didn`t even want to say that.

MATTHEWS: Why?

SAVAGE: You get the sense of a man who`s really being careful not to get tripped up.

He said this thing in his confirmation hearing about not having communications with Russians that has just really damaged his reputation, when it turned out he had. And he said, well, I didn`t understand the question as to be what you were asking.

And now he`s just dancing around these things and, on top of that, refusing to say anything about topics like his conversations with the president surrounding the firing of Jim Comey or about the attitude towards the Mueller investigation or about whether it would be appropriate to preemptively pardon people who Mueller wants to talk to and derail that investigation.

One of the interesting themes that emerged from this hearing was not just that he was refusing to answer questions, but he was invoking the notion that this stuff might be covered by executive privilege over and over as the shield to not answer these questions.

And Democrats, you could tell, were extremely frustrated by that, because President Trump has not invoked executive privilege. They`re saying he`s stretching this doctrine way beyond the limits of where it can go.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

You know, Malcolm, I`m reminded. I have been doing a lot of reading about Roy -- Hoffa, the crooked labor leader of old days, the dirty old leaders with the Teamsters, and he never took the Fifth. He just kept doing that kind of waddle, that constant waddle of, oh, I don`t know what you mean, maybe, I don`t know, could be, I forgot, blah, blah, blah.

What`s he up to? He`s the attorney general of the United States, this guy. He`s not some guy off the street that got caught up in some sort of gang -- what do you call it? I`m trying to think of something. What? Just what -- man in the street interview, is like he`s behaving.

MALCOLM NANCE, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I heard today that, you know, Sessions may have been playing around with the limitations of, you know, the questions, so that he could avoid perjury.

I mean, several times before, twice, it was brought out that he had actually said that he had no contact with the Russians. And then he had incidental contact with the Russians. And now it was contact with the Russians, but it didn`t involve me collaborating or, you know, colluding on the campaign.

Those are really big loops to jump through, when the question originally was, do you have any information or knowledge of this?

I think he`s very cognizant that the Mueller campaign is eventually going to come to him as a witness or as somebody, as a person of interest. And he just does not want to put himself out there.

That being said, he had an audience of one today. Trump wants to see him push back from these things.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

NANCE: And he did a good job of saying, I was offended. You know...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, well, let`s -- we have a tape of that. Let`s take a look, if we can, at all the things that Sessions has said about his possible meetings with Russian Ambassador Kislyak.

The attorney general has exhibited a pattern of what I like to call rolling disclosure after the last nine months.

During his confirmation hearing in January, as you said, Malcolm, Sessions said at first that he had no communication with the Russians.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I didn`t have -- not have communications with the Russians, and I`m unable to comment on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "I did not." That`s pretty clear.

Once his meetings with the Russian ambassador were revealed, however, by the press, Sessions said in March he said he never discussed the Trump campaign with the Russians.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And now let`s watch what Sessions said today when asked if he had discussed the Trump campaign with Russian officials.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Have you discussed with them any policies or positions of the campaign or Trump presidency?

SESSIONS: I -- I -- I`m not sure about that. I don`t think there was any discussion about the details of the campaign, other than it could have been that, in that meeting in my office or at the convention that some comment was made about what Trump`s positions were. I think that`s possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s possible.

It`s like we`re sitting on a porch in Mayberry. Like, it`s like, OK, maybe, I don`t know.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: He`s under a probe here. This is serious business.

Let me just talk about Sean Spicer. What were they getting out of him and what do you think they got out of Spicer in these interviews with him?

ANNIE KARNI, POLITICO: Well, it was a daylong thing, about seven hours, is what I was told.

And they grilled him about the firing of FBI Director -- former FBI Director James Comey, his statements afterwards, the drafting of the Don Jr. statement about his meeting at Trump Tower with the Russian officials aboard Air Force One. And what else? There was a few other things that -- oh, and there was also some questions about the timeline surrounding Michael Flynn`s exit.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk to both of you.

Annie, you start.

Who`s in the room when Trump is first president, the first couple of months, when he`s sitting around there, you know, like politicians do? I have been with them. They`re blue-skying it. They`re thinking about what they should do. They`re thinking out loud, including about stuff that`s tricky, like legal stuff.

KARNI: Well...

MATTHEWS: Who was in the room? Spicer wasn`t in the room that much. Reince must have been in there a lot, but he shooed him out of the room when something tricky got going, remember?

KARNI: Yes.

MATTHEWS: He moved him out.

Who was a trusted, in-the-loop person?

KARNI: Jared Kushner was in the room a lot. Hope Hicks, who`s now his communications director, has been in the room since before there was a room, since before the campaign started.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KARNI: That`s why I think that Mueller`s team is going to talk to Hope Hicks. They`re going to talk to Don McGahn. Those interviews are probably going to be next month.

I think those will potentially be more interesting than Spicer, because for the same reason that Spicer is no longer in his job now is why he might not be the most important witness, in that he was not an insider player the whole time.

MATTHEWS: This whole thing revolves, I think, about obstruction of justice in the White House. And the question is, I think the cardinal question is, did Trump -- and this goes way back to his original sin of firing Comey -- did he fire Comey to protect himself from legitimate prosecution?

And now, again today, he`s attacking Comey, saying he was looking out for Hillary Clinton, he was a partisan.

Charlie, why is he doing that? Why is she showing again motive why he would want to get rid of Comey?

SAVAGE: I mean, it`s interesting in many ways that Trump keeps returning to Clinton as if he`s still in the campaign of 2016.

MATTHEWS: Or returning to the scene of the crime.

SAVAGE: Well, I think he`s reminding his base that might -- or the Republicans, normal Republicans, who might be frustrated with all his antics is that the alternative is a Hillary Clinton presidency.

He really needs that foil to keep people in line.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

SAVAGE: And he just constantly returns to that theme, as if we`re still in last year and these issues still matter, which they don`t, except for this purpose.

MATTHEWS: Malcolm, I feel like I`m sitting in your study somewhere and hearing your casual remarks to all of this.

Tell me what you were nodding about or concern here. What do you make of all of this we have been hearing? What do you think he`s up to with going after Comey again, claiming that Comey`s a partisan?

NANCE: Well, I think he`s afraid. And it`s very patently clear that he`s afraid.

Bringing Spicer in and bringing Priebus in sets up two sets of guardrails that can only channel Trump in one direction. They`re going to give up the casual information that the chief of staff would know before he has those closed-door, Boss Tweed-like sessions with his gang of four, right, the people who he is most concerned with.

Mueller is going to want to know every witness who -- that he can bring in that will show the pathway right up to where obstruction was done. And if Spicer has no information about that, he will have all of the information about what went on in that hallway right up to there or on Air Force One right up to the minute that he was shut out.

And that`s where Mueller will have every -- you know, the three -- or four people that were in the room that could have had some form of, you know, discussion, he will have them in a box at that point.

MATTHEWS: You`re thinking like I am. Thank you so much, sir.

Annie Karni, of course, and Charlie Savage, thanks for your reporting here that helps so much. And Malcolm Nance, as always.

Up next: President Trump is sending mixed signals on health care again. First, he was for this bipartisan stopgap deal. Now he`s doing an about- face. Will the president get on board with this thing to keep people from getting hurt in the next several months? And does the Senate have the votes to pass the bill?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Authorities have apprehended the man suspected of shooting six people in Maryland and one in Delaware. Radee Labee Prince allegedly killed three of his co-workers and injured two others at an office park in Maryland. Police say Prince then drove to Delaware, where he shot and injured a man at a car dealership.

IBM gave Wall Street a boost today. The Dow gained 160 points, closing above 23000 for the first time ever -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Washington is trying to figure out just where President Trump stands when it come to the Senate`s bipartisan deal to fix the Affordable Care Act. The president has changed his position a number of times in just the past 24 hours. Let`s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Has the White House been involved in those negotiations? And will you support that deal?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, we have been involved. And this is a short-term deal, because we think, ultimately, block grants going to the states is going to be the answer. That`s a very good solution.

While I commend the bipartisan work done by Senators Alexander and Murray - - and I do commend it -- I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess, instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies.

We`re going to see the bipartisan, and Lamar Alexander`s working on it very hard from our side. And if something can happen, that`s fine. But I won`t do anything to enrich the insurance companies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the draft legislation proposed by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington state is a stopgap measure, as Republicans decide if they want to negotiate a future for the Affordable Care Act at all.

Late today, Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch rejected this deal, saying the bill was too costly.

For the latest, I`m now joined by MSNBC political analyst Robert Costa of "The Washington Post."

Robert, I have got to ask you the first question. I know I`m catching you off-guard with this.

How do you figure out this conversation that the president had with the widow of the serviceman who was lost in Niger, and he got somehow bollixed into a situation where he was offending this woman, or this Gold Star wife? How did this happen? You think Trump

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The president has made calls to some of these Gold Star families, tragic situations.

And to one mother, he reportedly said that he -- the soldier knew what he was getting into. That statement was reported by the mother and by a Democratic congresswoman, who said they were offended by that statement. The White House denies, the president denies that that`s exactly what he said.

He also stirred some controversy today, the president did, when a father claimed the president said he would donate $25,000 to the family. And then it took four months, until today, for the White House to say they would pay that up.

We`re seeing the president having these kind of conversations and be very extemporaneous, and in the minds of some of his critics, offensive.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this deal.

Are we going to get a deal on this stopgap thing, so that people who are getting subsidies under Obamacare, people who have the Affordable Care Act? Are they going to get it or not? It doesn`t look like it right now, because the president is going 180 on this thing.

COSTA: I was calling around House Republicans today, and, Chris, they say this is going nowhere in the House.

So Senate Republicans may want to see some kind of action to prop up the Affordable Care Act and really address the question of the cost subsidies. At the same time, you have a conservative House GOP, and they don`t want to take it up.

MATTHEWS: Sounds right to me. That`s the same difference I have seen on the Hill for 40 years. The Senate tends to be a little more bipartisan, because senators represent whole states. Congresspeople represent districts which are clearly conservative or pretty clearly liberal, and they don`t want to play ball.

Thank you, Robert Costa.

Senator, thank you for joining us.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D), WASHINGTON: Well, I think here is an issue of whether you`re going to stabilize markets or whether you`re going to try to sabotage markets.

And this plan by my colleagues Senator Murray and Senator Alexander was about stabilizing things, while we still explored ways in the individual market to bring down costs.

MATTHEWS: Stabilizing means what?

CANTWELL: Stabilizing means, for those states that expanded Medicaid, they actually saw in the private market a decrease in premiums.

So covering more people got them out of the emergency rooms and basically helped us drive down the price. So now, if you pull the plug on all of that, it`s just going to raise the price in the private market, and we don`t want to see that.

For the individual market, 7 percent of the health care market, those small employers, individuals, we want them to have leverage in the marketplace, just like a big employer would, in buying a package of insurance. And that`s what we should be talking about.

MATTHEWS: You know what I find just completely confusing about the Republicans. And I understand the Democrats are for Affordable Care Act. They voted for it, they believe in it. It`s a landmark achievement. I think most people watching this show are for it.

The Republicans seem to be schizoid about it, to use a clinical term. They like to say they don`t like it, and they will vote against it as long as it doesn`t get signed into law. And they will vote to repeal it 60-some times.

But when it comes down to the reality, they`re scared to death to get rid of the only national health care plan we have, and they don`t want to replace it, because that makes them look like socialists to themselves. They don`t want to do anything. They can`t replace. That`s why they`re afraid to appeal, because they don`t know how, ideologically, to do anything.

(CROSSTALK)

CANTWELL: Well, I would say -- I agree, but I would probably go one step further, in that, what ideas do they have for the individual market?

If you take this association plan idea across state lines...

MATTHEWS: Oh, that thing, yes.

CANTWELL: ... it`s literally -- so it`s either cut people off or basically cut the health care benefits.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CANTWELL: And we don`t want junk insurance.

MATTHEWS: It`s the least common denominator.

CANTWELL: We don`t want junk insurance.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CANTWELL: We want individuals to have the same clout as if you work for a large employer.

MATTHEWS: So, if you work in New York or New Jersey, you can get an insurance plan that comes out of Mississippi, and as long as it -- it covers catastrophic, and that`s about it. Right?

CANTWELL: Well, you don`t want to show up in an emergency room and not get health care because you`re not covered for a procedure.

MATTHEWS: What do you think about this president and this phone call to this widow, the military widow? Do you think he blew it, or he just didn`t know how to talk or what? Or are they screwing him?

CANTWELL: I don`t know the details on it.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s an honest answer.

Thank you very much for joining us. Thank you very much, Maria Cantwell of Washington state. It`s great to have you on. We don`t have you here enough.

Up next, Senator Bannon -- actually, Steve Bannon -- he`s not a senator yet -- wanted a civil war in the Republican Party, and now he`s got one. Bannon is crusading against Senator McConnell now. He wants to bop him off politically. McCain`s calling out the president now. And now Senate Republicans are turning on each other.

That`s next with the HARDBALL Roundtable. It`s going to be a real scramble coming up here.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: My goal as the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate is to keep us in the majority. The way you do that is not complicated. You have to nominate people who can actually win, because winners make policies and losers go home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was, of course, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell taking a shot at Steve Bannon over the war with the Republican establishment.

Bannon returned fire last night out in Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, BREITBART NEWS: The last couple of days, Mitch has been saying this big thing. Hey, you`ve got to win. You know, winners make policy, losers go home.

Hey, Mitch, note to self, Mitch. Big Luther Strange and Little Bobby Corker are both going home. These people, Mitch, it`s 2-0.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Bannon called for a civil war on the Republican Party. Now, it appears he`s got what he wanted -- a full-blown range war on his hands. It comes amid the warning from Senator John McCain on Monday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: To abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the last best hope of earth, for the sake of some half- baked spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems --

(APPLAUSE)

REPORTER: You heard what he said yesterday, Senator McCain.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, well, I hear it, and people have to be careful, because at some point, I fight back. I`m being very nice. I`m being very, very nice. But at some point, I fight back and it won`t be pretty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Trump says his fight with McCain won`t be pretty, the battle between Republicans and Congress has gotten downright dirty, threatening to derail the party`s agenda.

Here`s what Senator Lindsey Graham had to say about his colleague, Rand Paul`s opposition to the Senate budget.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Senator Paul just said that you are torpedoing the budget. Are you?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think Senator Paul was trying to find a way to vote no, and he always does. Senator Paul can`t vote yes on anything because it`s never good enough.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Lindsey Graham wouldn`t know a conservative if he met one, all right? He`s never been a conservative. He`s probably a big part of why we have such a massive debt in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in the HARDBALL roundtable.

Ashley Parker is White House reporter for "The Washington Post." Yamiche Alcindor is national political reporter for "The New York Times." And Rachel Bade is congressional reporter for "Politico".

So, we got all the heavyweights here.

Look, I don`t know where to start, so why don`t you start, Ashley? It so seems to me that when you only have a two-vote plus to get anything done, you know, if they lose 51 and 52, they`re left with 50, that`s barely enough. And now, they`re fighting as if they`ve got some surplus of votes they can have a lot of fun in the schoolyard with.

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, they don`t really have the room for that sort of philosophical debate, intellectual debate. What they need is a strong leader in the president, strong leader in Mitch McConnell to sort of say, look, fall in line. This isn`t all perfect. Let`s come together. And that`s clearly not happening.

MATTHEWS: Yamiche, that doesn`t look like anything what we`re seeing here. They`re not going to get anything done this year. How`s that for a bet? They`re a loser team. As the president would say, losers. They`re not getting anything done, because they can`t figure out on 50 -- they can`t figure one thing that 50 people agree on. How`s that?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think that what Ashley said is really important and key, the fact that they need a strong leader who could bring them together. But instead, people are essentially mirroring President Trump`s actions. They`re going after each other much like President Trump went after Mitch McConnell, much like President Trump went after Jeff Sessions.

So, yes, when they have all this laundry list of things to do, remember, tax reform, health care. Let`s not even talk about infrastructure and the opioid crisis. All the things that the president --

PARKER: Immigration.

ALCINDOR: Right, immigration. All the things that they have to get done, they have no room for this. But this president is essentially saying, this is what we do. We -- this is attack dog mentality that the Republicans are going to have. And when you have Steve Bannon out there saying that he`s going to primary people, why wouldn`t they be arguing with each other?

MATTHEWS: You know, Bannon`s out there like Luca Brasi in "The Godfather". I mean, he sends them out there to scare the hell out of people, right? He`s Luca Brasi. He`s a henchman, and he basically acts like when he talks like a street brawler, you know, he`s 2-0, you know, 2-0.

Is that going to bring any victory? He doesn`t care about past -- and then, of course, you know, McConnell just sounds like a Washington inside swampland hero, who all he cares about is keeping his 50 votes, so he keeps his job and extra money as leader. He just says it. All we`re here for is to keep the majority -- not any ambition for the country, not any policy ambition, or agenda. Just to hold on to these jobs.

RACHEL BADE, POLITICO: Look --

MATTHEWS: Isn`t that what he talks like? I just heard him do that?

BADE: Look, Republicans are in the middle of a civil war right now, because you have Steve Bannon and the populist wing of the party behind Trump. They`re getting frustrated with the establishment leaders who control Congress, not getting the president`s agenda through. There`s no repeal, the wall hasn`t been -- there`s no down payment on the wall. Tax reform is stalled right now.

So, the irony here is that the more they attack and the more that they go after leadership, Bannon goes after leadership or talks about primary fights, the more -- the less likely it is that Republicans can actually right this ship that`s going off-course right now. I mean, there`s a reason that Speaker Paul Ryan and every single press conference says, I am not going to comment on the inner party drama.

You know, we are always trying to get him to say, what do you think about the president`s latest tweet at Bob Corker or Bob Corker saying the White House is basically a day care where they have to baby sit the president? And that`s because he doesn`t want to get off message and he wants to keep the talk about agenda, but the problem is they can`t do that because there`s so much blood.

MATTHEWS: Is Trump interested in the agenda as such?

BADE: Well, I think --

MATTHEWS: Is he interested in the scoreboard? Does he care about these things? Do you think he cares about what we`re doing for the subsidies on affordable care? Do you think he cares?

ALCINDOR: I think he does want wins.

MATTHEWS: He wants to win.

ALCINDOR: But one of the things I should say that helps President Trump is when we have reels like that where you have senators going after each other, because President Trump can say, I tried, I tried through my executive orders to do all that I can do, but Congress just doesn`t function, so I need new people. I can see them making that argument in 2018.

MATTHEWS: Let me (INAUDIBLE). Three smart people, and you can (INAUDIBLE) these things without opinion. What do you think Trump would rather have, a second term or a wall?

PARKER: A second term.

ALCINDOR: A second term.

BADE: Absolutely, a second term.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, what would you rather have, a tax reform to help the middle class or a second term?

PARKER: A second term.

ALCINDOR: A second term.

BADE: I`m going to take issue with that, though.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You tell me whether he cares about something besides his own self-adulation?

BADE: He might not have a second term if he doesn`t get tax reform done.

MATTHEWS: No, don`t change the question. What`s his priority?

PARKER: He actually does care about -- when it comes to the actual issues, he cares about tax reform more.

MATTHEWS: How so?

PARKER: Because it`s something he inherently understands.

MATTHEWS: He wants to get rid of the estate tax? He wants to get rid of the high corporate tax?

PARKER: It`s something that affects his cohort. He understands it more than he understands health care.

MATTHEWS: He understands the 1 percent will benefit. Well, also, the stock market will keep growing. If he gets a huge tax cut through, let`s give him that. If there`s a lot more cash flowing into the stands of stockholders, obviously, by definition, there`ll be more stocks sold.

BADE: And there`s redemption, if he gets tax reform passed, I feel like Republicans can really come back in the midterms and actually keep Congress. Another thing is, there`s a poll this morning --

MATTHEWS: Did you see the number on the Democrats, way ahead now on the generic? Democrats are way ahead in who`s going to run Congress, almost - -

BADE: That`s because Republicans --

(CROSSTALK)

YAMICHE: Look at Alabama, right? Alabama being split, right? How --

MATTHEWS: Just let me tell you something, you are as expert as I am, Yamiche. It says registered voters.

This is not the way the poll, you register likely voters. This is an odd- numbered year, all right?

YAMICHE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: `17. OK. Do you think the people that -- all registered voters are going to show up? No. The best way to do it, who`s voted in the last two elections and who`s just registered?

Now, they`ll vote, but not this number. I think I could make a lot of money voting on the Republican to win in what, Alabama, yes, I think so?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: The roundtable is sticking with us. This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: The roundtable sticking with us. And up next, they`re going to give me three scoops I promise you that you`ll be talking about tomorrow. I`m raising the bar here tonight. And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back with the HARDBALL roundtable.

Ashley, tell me something I don`t know.

PARKER: Bannon world said there`s no one that Steve Bannon respects more than Donald Trump. He`s fighting for his agenda. But I ask a top Bannon associate what he would say if the president called him and said, cut it out, and they said, he`d listen respectfully but I don`t know that he`d change his behavior.

MATTHEWS: He`s on his own?

PARKER: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Yamiche?

ALCINDOR: The widow of Sergeant La David Johnson was actually weeping in a fetal position while she was talking to President Trump. Both Representative Wilson told me that, but also the mother of the sergeant told me that that version is accurate.

MATTHEWS: What do you think was wrong with the president? Why did he do it?

ALCINDOR: I think -- well, the idea is that he really hadn`t prepared for this idea. Hadn`t really talked to people about who he was talking to and as a result was kind of rushing through this talk.

MATTHEWS: Rachel?

BADE: News nugget. Even though we`re hearing that Alexander/Murray is dead, we are hearing from Republican sources on the Hill that they are considering adding these subsidies to a bipartisan budget deal in December. So, this fight is not going anytime soon.

MATTHEWS: Alexander/Murray is not a person but a bill. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray.

Thank you both, all three of you -- Ashley Parker, Yamiche Alcindor and Rachel Bade.

And when we return, let me finish tonight about something truly important. It`s about avoiding nuclear war.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with something truly important. It`s about the role of an American president in the age of nuclear weapons.

Fifty-five years ago today, President Kennedy was confronted by the startling fact that the Soviet Union was facing intermediate range nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba. These weapons were capable of reaching every major city in the United States with the possible exception of Seattle, up in the far northwest.

Our first reaction was to carry out a surprise attack on Cuba. The danger of such an attack on Soviet ally, Cuba was clear, the Russians had threatened to counter any invasion of Cuba with an invasion of West Berlin, which the United States could only resist using nuclear weapons. We were simply too outmatched in conventional weapons.

Then on October 18th, again, 55 years ago, someone raised a second argument against a Cuban invasion. Quote: For 175 years, Attorney General Robert Kennedy said, we had not been that kind of a country. A sneak attack was not in our tradition. Thousands of Cubans would be killed without warning and a lot of Russians too. It would be like the United States carrying out a Pearl Harbor in reverse.

Well, the decision was then made to blockade Cuba (ph) rather to invade it. It worked. The scariest episode in the nuclear age was resolved basically because the American leaders decided to act in the best moral tradition of the country.

And today, we have a leader who appears to lack a moral compass. He speaks of destroying all of North Korea, tries to undercut the nuclear weapons deal we have with Iran.

But a country that loses its sense of moral direction, its sense of who it is, will face a terrible time finding the patriotic unity that is the heart of our national strength.

"Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit" arrives at the end of this month.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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