Pentagon probes U.S. casualties in Niger Transcript 10/19/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Sam Stein, Ed Markey, Betsy Woodruff, Eugene Scott, Ginger Gibson, Susan Page, Glenn Thrush

Show: HARDBALL Date: October 19, 2017 Guest: Sam Stein, Ed Markey, Betsy Woodruff, Eugene Scott, Ginger Gibson, Susan Page, Glenn Thrush

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: A soldier speaks.


Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. This afternoon in the White House press room, General John Kelly spoke to the country about how this country shows its respect for those who give their life for this country. Kelly told of the steps the military take to preserve the body of those fallen, how it honors and respects the beloved ones of those who feel the loss most greatly.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Most Americans don`t know what happens when we lose one of our soldiers, sailors, and the Marines or Cost Guardsmen in combat. So let me tell you what happens. Their buddies wrap them up in whatever passes as a shroud, puts them on a helicopter as a routine and sends them home. Their first stop along the way is when they`re packed in ice, typically at the air head (ph), and then they`re flown to usually Europe.


MATTHEWS: General Kelly spoke in some detail, as you heard there, including an account of the words his fellow officers spoke in consoling him, John Kelly, on the loss of his son in combat. And those, he said today, were the words he advised President Trump to use in consoling the loved ones of the four soldiers lost in Niger, Africa, that their sons died doing what they`d signed up to do, to serve their country in harm`s way.

That the president`s chief of staff took this duty upon himself today to take personal responsibility for the president`s words to the widow of La David Johnson dramatized the heat that has arisen around this event and the politics it has exposed. The general said today that nothing is sacred today, not even the private words of consolation of a president to a Gold Star spouse.

Let`s listen.


KELLY: Let me tell you what I tell them. Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me because he was my casualty officer. He said, Kell, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we`re at war. That`s what the president tried to say to four families the other day.

I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning and broken-hearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing. It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation, absolutely stuns me.


MATTHEWS: Well, the congresswoman he mentioned, Frederica Wilson, said she listened in to that phone call between the president and the family of the fallen soldier and described what she heard. It was an account backed up by the relatives of the soldier. Let`s watch the congresswoman.


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.


MATTHEWS: Well, I`m joined right now by Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," Jason Johnson, politics editor at TheRoot, and Glenn Thrush, White House correspondent for "The New York Times."

Susan, you`re first. And to me, I was overwhelmed by the general today. I think he looked like a president. He talked like a president. He talked like a guy who had lost a son in combat and knew what that meant and tried the best way he could do as chief of staff to this president, who`s unfamiliar with this whole world of combat and loss -- and maybe human existence sometimes, I wonder about Trump. But he did his best to advise him on what words to use. He used those words, and he was crushed politically for doing so. Your thoughts.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": You know, no one since President Trump was inaugurated has defended him more effectively than General Kelly did today because General Kelly has both the personal standing by virtue of his service and the service of his family, and also by his manner. His manner was completely matter-of-fact and totally compelling.

MATTHEWS: Authentic.

PAGE: And authentic. And so he did -- he did a lot for President Trump today in trying to explain what happened.

MATTHEWS: You know, Jason, I like the man`s style because -- I was never in the military, but I will say this. He doesn`t flap his arms around. He doesn`t use these gesticulations that Trump uses, like Jesus`s (ph) and all those crazy gesticulations Trump does. He doesn`t show off. He`s very calm and has a command presence, like Colin Powell did, or does.


MATTHEWS: And I thought what he said was authentic. He said, These are the words I recommended the president use. He used them. Now, when he goes on to characterize the behavior of the congresswoman, that`s politics. I accept that. He has a right to make that shot. But up until that point, I said, God, he was true to form.

JONES: Well, he`s a good soldier, right? And it`s his job to protect his boss, like a good soldier does. But the problem is he could have stopped there. I do think it was a problem that he attacked a member of Congress. It`s not just that there`s a member of Congress there, but she knew La David. She had mentored this guy since he was a kid. So she had every right to be there. I really think that weakened the beginning of his statement.

MATTHEWS: OK. I think -- Glenn, let`s get to this news story, the news aspect of this, the fact that it took us until this afternoon, a story that I think some of the press was running pretty far ahead on. And I -- around here, I think we were restrained last night, but there were some people were raising (ph) pretty far ahead. One of the papers today, not yours, was jumping on this as if one side was right and the other was wrong, when this is one of those murky cases of tremendous emotions. The loss of a husband in this case, the loss of a son, is so horrible, especially in murky circumstances in a war we didn`t even know we were in.

What are we doing in Niger? You know, when he gets knocked off in some sort of ambush, we go, My God, who was looking out for him? Lots of reasons for anger, not just grief.

And then the president walked into it. Of course, he had to. This is an area that`s so fraught with trouble, especially in the environment we`re in right now, where everybody is on one side or the other. They`re for or against this president. That`s clear.

GLENN THRUSH, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, there`s so much to unpack in this -- in this one, Chris. First off, let`s just get it out there. The main function of him coming out there was to say that the president essentially misspoke or articulated himself in a way that could be misunderstood. He gave the predicate by talking about Dunford in that incredibly moving passage of what the president probably intended to say. And in that instance, I thought that was extremely clarifying (ph).

MATTHEWS: Well, how did the president misstate what he was advised to say by the general?

THRUSH: Well, first of all -- by the way, we have to say Kelly completely contradicted what Sarah Sanders said the day before and what Trump had said, that there was nothing to what had been said. Kelly gave you kind of the pre-translated version of what Trump had been expected to say, that this is the kind of thing...

MATTHEWS: What was the differential? You got to help me here. What did Trump change from what he was advised to say by the general? Just help me here...


THRUSH: Well, we don`t know. But in the way that Kelly described talking to Trump, really putting Dunford`s words into his own mouth so that Trump can understand the predicate, essentially what he was saying is, You have signed up to do this at a time when many people in your country aren`t. This was your job. You`re surrounded by the greatest people on earth, and this is the potential price when you put yourself in that position.

Trump, it appears, if we`re just going by what the family said and what the congresswoman said, did a shorthand version of that that fell flat. That is not -- that is not, by the way, an outlier. We`ve seen that a ton of times before. Donald Trump...

MATTHEWS: Well, could it be -- how about giving some edge to the president? Could it be it fell on ears that weren`t particularly receptive to the mouth of President Trump?

THRUSH: All of those things. I thought -- I thought there was a tremendous -- I think there has been a tremendous rush to judgment on this. We`ve not gotten a clear...

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

THRUSH: ... sense of exactly what has happened. And Trump didn`t help himself saying he had proof in terms of the tape of the call. I think Kelly...

MATTHEWS: I know, all that...


THRUSH: ... was exactly right, yes.

MATTHEWS: You know, Glenn and everybody, I think -- I remember -- I immediately thought when I heard this the other day because I`m a Churchill buff -- when Churchill talked to Harry Hopkins, who was Roosevelt`s top guy, a really great American -- he had lost a son in combat. So Churchill quoted from Shakespeare about your son has paid a soldier`s debt. It sounds rough, but it is, in fact, the way it is. It`s the horror of war. The young man or young woman walks into harm`s way knowing that could happen. And that`s what -- for whatever good great reason they had to go there, they did. It isn`t like they stumbled into something. I know what he was trying to say, but it is rough. The whole situation is rough, and I don`t know if there is a nice way to say it, especially to your political enemy, as the congresswoman is clearly -- she has already accused him of being mentally unstable. She said he should be impeached. She`s very clearly at the other end of the spectrum. Nothing wrong with that. A lot of my friends are. But That wasn`t going to be a great conversation.

JONES: I got to be honest with you, Chris, like, if you separate -- and I thought this myself. If you separate the actual words from the president, if George Bush or Barack Obama had said this, we wouldn`t think it was strange. But remember, this is a president known for his tone. This is a president known for occasionally shooting off the hip. So it`s highly possible that he came off...

MATTHEWS: A lack of empathy, too.

JONES: A lack of empathy on a regular basis. So that`s -- it`s perfectly reasonable for people to see it that way.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s General Kelly. He said he was stunned that a member of Congress -- this is the political part. We`re going to say that -- would listen to the president`s conversation with a grieving military family, something he said was sacred. But she was in the car when it happened! It wasn`t like she`d called in, Put me on the party line, or something, you know?

Let`s watch.


KELLY: And I thought at least that was sacred. You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That`s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life, the dignity of life, was sacred. That`s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone, as well. Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer.

But I just thought the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield -- I just thought that that might be sacred.


MATTHEWS: Well, critics, of course, say it was the president, of course, President Trump, who first politicized the issue of fallen soldiers by invoking President Obama. Let`s watch what the president said just last week.


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.


MATTHEWS: Well, look, guys, I thought the general, when he stayed within his position, in his lane, he was fantastic, talking about what it`s like to lose a son, what the protocol is, he went through the icing of the bodies and all -- I mean, how can you beat that? That was so authentic.

But this thing about the sacredness of women -- I think of Trump, I think of "Access Hollywood," I think of all that, I think of Harvey Weinstein. I think of the whole thing that`s going on right now. And I have to say I thought that was a shot, a culture war shot that he didn`t have to take in this case.

First of all, the sacredness of a woman sounds like women up on a -- these fragile little deers, you know, that all kind of thing, you know, the better half and all that old nonsense. It`s harmless, you could say, unless you`re fighting for equality.

PAGE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: And then you go, We don`t need that.

PAGE: And I`m...

MATTHEWS: And also about choice and life, an old shot in there. And I just thought it was a general cultural attack line against all the enemies of Trump.

PAGE: I`m not sure women were treated so fantastically well in some previous golden era. We`ll leave that. You know, here`s what we could probably all agree on...

MATTHEWS: Don`t put me in this box!


MATTHEWS: I know what -- I`m trying to take your side of this. This fragile little deer thing isn`t what people want to hear today.

PAGE: Right. That`s exactly right. However, maybe we can all agree that the issue of Gold Star families -- can`t we get it out of this political debate? We`ve a partisan debate about every single thing in this world, and maybe this is an area where both sides, the congresswoman and the president, could take a step back.

MATTHEWS: DMZ (ph). Pull back. Thank you. Well said. I`m glad you said that. You always say the right thing. Or almost always.

Thank you, Susan Page of "USA Today." Jason Johnson, sir, thank you, and Glenn Thrush. Glenn, you`re tough.

Coming up, the real fake news. Senior members of the Trump team, including Kellyanne Conway -- would you believe it? -- Donald Trump, Jr. -- of course! -- trafficked in Russian propaganda during last year`s election by retweeting messages that came from, you guessed it, Russia, a Russian troll farm. That`s ahead. Yes, they were, I think, colluding.

Plus, what were those four American Green Berets actually doing in Niger over there in Africa? What was the mission? Lawmakers want answers, but let`s put this straight. Have they ever put in Congress any limits on where a president can send our troops? I never hear of them drawing the line. Presidents seem to be able to do whatever they want, send people wherever they want to.

And plus, Obama is back. We like that. Former president hit back in the campaign trail early today in New Jersey, and tonight, he`s set to stump for the Democrat running for governor down in Virginia. He`s back. Our boyfriend`s back. It`s a tight race down there in Virginia, by the way. Does Obama still have the political weight to tilt it his way?

Finally, the star and director of the new movie "LBJ," Woody Harrelson, who`s fantastic in this movie, and Rob Reiner are here tonight to talk presidential power from Lyndon Johnson to Donald Trump.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Former president George W. Bush seemed to take a thinly veiled shot at President Trump earlier today. Speaking at a forum in New York City, Bush condemned the current state of politics in this country and warned about the threats to our democracy. Let`s listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In recent decades, public confidence in our institutions has declined. Our governing class has often been paralyzed in the face of obvious and pressing needs. Bigotry seems emboldened. Out politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.

We`ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. We`ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism. We`ve forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.


MATTHEWS: Well, you took us into war that cost the lives of 100,000 people. That had something to do with this country`s division.

A spokesman for George W. Bush told NBC News that the president was not criticizing Trump, insisting these are the same things President Bush has spoken on for the last two decades. Hmm.

Be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Here`s a truly disturbing statistic. Nearly half of all Americans, 46 percent, believe news organizations like this fabricate stories about Donald Trump and his administration. That`s according to a new Politico Morning Consult poll just this week. The number is significantly higher, no surprise, among Republicans. Three quarters, 76 percent, of Republicans believe that what`s said about Trump isn`t true.

President Trump likes to call news he doesn`t like fake news, of course, but real fake news is pervasive now and has real consequences -- real fake news. Today, the Daily Beast reports that some of President Trump`s family and closest aides promoted tweets from professional trolls paid by the Russian government. According to this report, a Twitter account using the handle @10GOP called itself the unofficial Twitter account of Tennessee Republicans, but was actually operated from the Kremlin-backed Russian troll form or Internet Research Agency. Kellyanne Conway, Don, junior, Michael Flynn, Michael Flynn, Jr., and of course Roger Stone all promoted tweets from that Russian account, which has since been shut down.

"The Washington Post" reported the same thing. And yesterday, the attorney general was asked about Russian election interference. Here he is.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think we`re doing enough to prepare for future interference by Russia and other foreign adversaries in the information space?

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Probably not. We`re not. And the matter is so complex that for most of us, we`re not able to fully grasp the technical dangers that are out there.


MATTHEWS: Well, today President Trump refused to even acknowledge Russian influence in our election. Here`s what he said instead.


TRUMP: Uranium is a big subject. If the mainstream media would cover the uranium scandal and that Russia has 20 percent of our uranium, for whatever reason, and a lot of people understand what those reasons may be, I think that`s your Russia story. That`s your real Russia story, not a story where they talk about collusion and there was not. It was a hoax.




If the mainstream media would cover the uranium scandal, and that Russia has 20 percent of our uranium, for whatever reason -- and a lot of people understand what those reasons may be -- I think that`s your Russia story. That`s your real Russia story, not a story where they talk about collusion and there was none. It was a hoax.


MATTHEWS: Well, President Trump has yet to implement punitive actions on Russia overwhelmingly passed by Congress. He hasn`t put them into action, which he begrudgingly actually signed in August, but won`t do anything with.

Senators Mark Warner, Amy Klobuchar, and John McCain have introduced a bipartisan bill now that would seek to curb foreign governments` influence on American elections.

For more, I`m joined by Betsy Woodruff, who wrote the piece on the Trump campaign staffers for Daily Beast.

Tell me about the -- just give me the reality here. How did this stuff get from Moscow through this Tennessee front group thing online into the words and the messages put out by the Trump people?

BETSY WOODRUFF, THE DAILY BEAST: Essentially, Kremlin operatives masqueraded as a nonexistent group, @Ten_GOP. They were pretending to be grassroots conservative activists.

And in some ways, the tweets that this account put out sounded like typical Tea Party talking points. But there were a lot of signs that it was fishy. For instance, @Ten_GOP was frequently quoted in Russia Today articles.

And one piece of this that`s important to understand is that @Ten_GOP was operating long after Election Day. And that points to something quite sobering about Russian influence operations, which is, it`s not just about elections.

@Ten_GOP actually tweeted that they thought Michael Flynn should have been reinstated as national security adviser after he was fired, which is exactly the kind of thing you would expect to hear from the Kremlin, not necessarily from Tennessee Republicans.

MATTHEWS: OK, what is the umbrella of all? R.T., you say, was using some of this stuff.

WOODRUFF: They frequently cited @Ten_GOP.

MATTHEWS: And that`s on television, all over the place. It`s here. We have it.

So, somebody is the puppet master that says put this out online on this phony group, this front group, this Russian operation online. Then have it picked up on R.T., to give it more reverberation. And there`s somebody with the puppet strings saying, let`s get this out into the mainstream media. Let`s get it out there, so people will think it`s real.


And I can`t necessarily point to the specific individuals in Russia who are the puppet masters. But what we can say, with proof, is that many high- level folks in the Trump campaign amplified the message of @Ten_GOP.

Now, to be clear, we have seen zero evidence that those Trump campaign people, including Kellyanne and John Jr., knew that @Ten_GOP was affiliated with the Kremlin, but they helped it push its message.

MATTHEWS: What led them to it then, if it wasn`t being directed by some -- why would they just happen to pick up this crap that is coming in that is obviously -- I always wonder, by the way...

WOODRUFF: It`s a good question. It`s a good question.


MATTHEWS: It`s just about language and interpretation.

How good is their English that they`re able to fake us with what sounds like American English?

WOODRUFF: Some of the English is not great.

MATTHEWS: Oh, really?

WOODRUFF: If you look at some of the Russia propaganda efforts, particularly in a previous story, we have highlighted...

MATTHEWS: Well, why wouldn`t they spot that and say, this is bogus, they don`t sound like Americans?

WOODRUFF: One Republican data analyst who I spoke with said that he followed @Ten_GOP for a long time and noticed that it didn`t seem quite right, it seemed fishy.

And a really important thing about this @Ten_GOP account that I think people have to understand is one of the tweets that it tweeted that Donald Trump Jr. retweeted baselessly accused Broward County, Florida, of voter fraud. That`s a lie the Russians...


MATTHEWS: I`m sorry.

If you don`t want to call it collusion, fine. But it looks to me like hand in glove, that the Trump people knew where to go, they got it, it suited their purposes, the Russians` purposes. They were on the same team.

Thank you, Betsy Woodruff. Great reporting.

Up next: President Trump has faced criticism over his handling of the deaths of four U.S. soldiers in Niger, Africa, but the mission itself is also raising questions. What do we know about that ambush over there and what about those operations and -- well, who put us over there?

Under what authority did President Trump or President Obama before him send our service people into harm`s way in the middle of Africa? What war are we fighting?

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


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

The wildfires that killed 42 people in California caused at least a billion dollars in damage and destroyed nearly 7,000 buildings. The state insurance commissioner says he expect both of those number to rise.

Apple`s stock fell 2.5 percent amid speculation over poor demand and production cuts of the iPhone 8 ahead of the November launch.

Former President George W. Bush received the Thayer Award from West Point graduates today. It is presented each year to someone who embodies the West Point motto of duty, honor, country. His father, former President George H.W. Bush, received the award in 1994, making them the first father- son pair to be honored -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The deaths of four soldiers in Niger, Africa, two weeks ago on October 4 has not only prompted questions over President Trump`s response to the American loss of life, but questions over what happened in the first place.

NBC News reports that the Pentagon has sent a team to Niger itself to answer questions, such as, where were U.S. forces when the attack occurred? Did they have adequate personal protective equipment? And were they even prepared for the attack? And was there adequate intelligence in advance of the mission and adequate response to the attack when it occurred?

Republican senators are also asking for more information from the administration.

Let`s watch them.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: We have a little bit of information, but not what we should.

It`s evident to me that they`re not even fully certain what has happened there, or they wouldn`t be having this -- quote -- "inquiry," not investigation, inquiry, into what`s happening.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: So, we all most certainly want to learn not just about what happened in this particular event, but more importantly about the broader mission and how it`s being executed.

QUESTION: Do you feel the administration has been forthcoming up to this point about what happened there?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Of course not.

QUESTION: Will you wait for the Department of Defense, their own investigation, to carry out (OFF-MIKE) ground?

MCCAIN: That`s not how the system works. We`re co-equal branches of government. We should be informed at all times.


MATTHEWS: Well, Senator John McCain, who is chairman, of course, of the Armed Services Committee, also said that he talked to National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster about setting up a briefing for the Congress, and said he wouldn`t rule out subpoenaing the administration on this matter if necessary.

Defense Secretary James Mattis said today that this is under investigation.

Let`s watch him.


JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: And the loss of our troops is under investigation.

We in the Department of Defense like to know what we are talking about before we talk, and so we do not have all of the accurate information yet. We will release it as rapidly as we get it.


MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, when we lost those people, including Chris Stephens, our ambassador, over in Benghazi, the Republicans spent years, enjoying it politically, embroidering it with every possible conspiracy theory.

What do we know now about the four soldiers that were killed in Niger, Africa, two weeks ago?

SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, obviously, we don`t know enough.

We don`t know what their mission was. We don`t know what the intelligence was that they were acting upon. We don`t know what the support was that went in to help them once they came under attack.

And that`s the reason why Senator McCain and General Mattis in the White House are both saying that they`re going to be conducting investigations, because the American people and the families of these fallen soldiers deserve to know the answers.

MATTHEWS: Can this president or any president send soldiers to Timbuktu in Africa, anywhere he wants to or she wants to, without authorization of Congress?

Is there anything that authorizes, let alone mandates, sending troops into Africa, into a country like Niger, where we have had no real history?

MARKEY: Well, you`re right. We were invited there into Niger in 2013 by the Niger government to provide military support, training of personnel that could help their government to thwart al Qaeda or ISIS or any other radical group.

But, in truth, the authorization for use of military source that was the justification for going into Afghanistan has now been used very loosely to move us into country after country, although it was not the basis for Niger.

But, ultimately, we need to have public hearings. We need an explanation from the president, from the White House on why we are in each one of these countries, what our mission is, what the exposure of our troops are.

In each and every one of these instances, we`re long past the point where we need a national debate on a new authorization for the use of military force, so the American people can understand our mission overseas.

MATTHEWS: Give me a sense of how you grasp this new president`s position on foreign policy?

He ran as basically a dove. He said, we`re involved in too many stupid wars, as he put it, especially the Iraq War and the Afghanistan war, and he thought we shouldn`t be getting involved with toppling governments in Libya, trying to go after the government in -- the Assad government in Syria. He said, basically, don`t be a neocon. I`m not going to be one of those people.

And yet he`s out there trying to break apart the Iranian deal, which does keep us from war with Iran. He`s now -- he doesn`t seem like he`s a dove anymore. How do you read him? He seems more like a neocon with the people around him. What do you make of him?

MARKEY: Well, I think, ultimately, what he`s doing is, he`s reflecting upon what President Obama did in Raqqa, in Mosul, in Niger, in other countries.

And he`s come to a deeper understanding of what those decisions were. And he is not fundamentally reversing those decisions.


MARKEY: And I think it`s probably a reelection of hiring a General Mattis, hiring a General Kelly to be his adviser.

But, nonetheless, that still does not in any way mean that it`s not time -- and it is -- to have a full-blown debate in our country on a new authorization for the use of military force.

This is something that is happening, and in many ways, on an ad hoc basis, with each president almost ignoring the Congress, ignoring the American people.


MARKEY: And it`s time for it to come to an end. It`s time to give the American people the answers to the questions they`re asking.

MATTHEWS: I`m with you, Senator. I think it`s great thinking you just gave us. And I think we have got too many Gulf of Tonkin resolutions out there.

Anyway, thank you, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

Up next: President Obama returns to the campaign trail. Obama is back tonight to stump for candidates in New Jersey today, Virginia tonight. Will it be enough to drive voters to the polls, especially in an odd-year, off-year election?

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Former President Barack Obama, Obama, is back on the campaign trail today for the first time since leaving the White House.

This afternoon, he stumped for the Democratic candidate for governor up in New Jersey, Phil Murphy.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can`t take this election or any election for granted. I don`t know if you all noticed that.


OBAMA: But you can`t take any election for granted.



MATTHEWS: He`s going to make a pitch in Virginia for Ralph Northam. He`s the Democrat running for governor against Republican Ed Gillespie in what is clearly the most closely watched race in the country this year.

Recent polls of likely voters are mixed down in Virginia. The latest FOX News poll down there shows Northam, the Democrat, with a seven-point advantage over Gillespie. But a Monmouth University poll shows Gillespie on top by one.

Christopher Newport University, which is a great poll, found Northam with a four-point lead. I think that is where it`s at. Northam is hoping the former president can help lock up the race in his favor. Here goes.


RALPH NORTHAM (D), VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: We have got less than 20 days left until the election. And our job between now and November the 7th is really to energize our voters, to make sure that they`re enthusiastic and that they get to the polls on November the 7th.

And Barack Obama coming into Virginia tonight is just very exciting. And he`s going to energize our voters and just kind of close that loop for us.


MATTHEWS: Let`s bring in the HARDBALL Roundtable.

Ginger Gibson is political correspondent for Reuters. Sam Stein is politics editor at The Daily Beast. And Eugene Scott is a political reporter at "The Washington Post."

All of you, give me a call on this. Is this going to be a close race?

GINGER GIBSON, REUTERS: Virginia is going to be very tight, but I think we`re going to see a real test of how angry Democrats in the northern part of the state are about Donald Trump and whether or not they turn that anger into votes.

MATTHEWS: So, this is a negative vote?

GIBSON: I think that it`s an enthusiasm question. Are people really riled up?

MATTHEWS: No, but you`re saying they`re coming in to vote against Trump.

GIBSON: I think that that`s a motivation, and they`re engaged in the process because they`re unhappy with Trump.

MATTHEWS: Factors, Sam?

SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, certainly, Trump is the main factor.

And you have a history of these elections going against the person who is sitting in the White House.

MATTHEWS: Because it comes the year after every election.

STEIN: Correct.


MATTHEWS: It`s buyer`s remorse.

STEIN: But there are other factors, obviously, as well. And we can get into them, but I think top of the list is immigration for Gillespie, health care for Northam.

MATTHEWS: Negative on immigration?

STEIN: Negative.

MATTHEWS: Negative on crime.

STEIN: Well, you see all of these MS-13 ads being run in Northern Virginia. And for Northam, he is running a lot of abortion-themed ads.


Interesting. It always seems the same in Virginia. Northern Virginia is a lot of single women who come to Washington to work. They work, they commute every day. They`re pro-choice. They`re pro-social issues. They tend to be liberals.

You get down in the south of Virginia, it`s like we grew up with Virginia. It`s rural. It`s conservative.

EUGENE SCOTT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. It`s coal country.

MATTHEWS: It`s a bit old-time religion in a way, right?


And Gillespie is actually wrestling with how to respond to this right? And so he supposedly made some promises to some of those suburban moms in Northern Virginia that he`d be a little more progressive in the areas that they would like.

But he`s also made it clear to some of the more traditional voters that he`s a little closer to Trump than he`s let on in some other places.

MATTHEWS: So, how is he nuancing it? Is he with Trump, but Trump has not been invited in?

STEIN: Right.

SCOTT: Right.


MATTHEWS: I hear he`s with him on issues like immigration, which he can get the conservative vote on, but not with him personally.


MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

EUGENE SCOTT, THE WASHINGTON POST: He nuanced them with Pence, bring in Mike Pence. But everyone knows that Mike Pence isn`t Donald Trump and doesn`t get the same type of reaction that Trump would get --

MATTHEWS: Well, more religious, let`s face it.

SCOTT: Sure.

GIBSON: I think we`ve seen a difficult balance that Gillespie is trying to strike. You know, Trump talking about Gillespie on Twitter but not showing up with him to campaign.


GIBSON: Gillespie hoping that some of that rub off without having all of it --

MATTHEWS: He wants what Trump has to give.

GIBSON: He does.

MATTHEWS: This is why I think Gillespie might win. Ed Gillespie has also lagged in the polls in his last statewide race. He ran for the Senate three years ago. In the month leading up to the election, incumbent Senator Mark Warner held a nearly 10-point, he`s about 10-point, here it is, 10-piont advantage. Look at it.

But the final result was Warner defeated Gillespie by less than a point. So, whatever Gillespie does, he underpolls, Sam.

SAM STEIN, SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes. The caveat being that 2014 was a terrible year for Democrats and Obama was the anchor on the party in this time.

MATTHEWS: Why do the pollsters get positive results for Senator Warner?

STEIN: Well, I wouldn`t -- you know, the thing is I wouldn`t trust any of the polls. What we`ve reported in "The Daily Beast" is that the campaign internals which are probably better reflection of where things stand have Northam at a -- in the margin of error type lead. So, we`re talking about two to three maybe four at the most. But mostly, a two to three point lead.

I trust those more than the public polls to be honest because that`s what the campaign is operating off of, not making them public.

MATTHEWS: I expect a lot of negative stuff the last two weeks.

STEIN: What? You cynic.

MATTHEWS: Women are going to lose the right to abortion. It`s going to be a lot of scare tactics on the left.

And on the right, it`s going to be some ethnic stuff. It`s going to be about immigration, criminals who are here, illegal immigrants who are criminals and saying it`s all the fault of Northam for voting against this ban on sanctuary cities.

SCOTT: Yes, I certainly think so.

MATTHEWS: A really hard number.

SCOTT: Those are definitely the issues that many of the Trump supporters in the areas that you spoke about earlier got on the Trump train in the south western part of the state. I think they`re going to try to pick up what was effective, seeing if they can bring some of the votes on, especially if it`s really tight.

MATTHEWS: Just to bounce this back to your direction, Virginia has not lately gone crazy right wing. They didn`t put Ollie North into the Senate thank God. They basically have been Democrat for a long time now. They voted for Hillary by five points, basically the way the polls said they would. So, it`s not a crazy right wing. It`s a -- I would say, somewhere near the middle, a little bit to left of center, maybe very little.

GIBSON: It`s very much a swing state and we`ve seen that since Obama won it for two terms. And I think that what we`re going to see is, you`re right, a lot of aggressive push on the northern part of the state in the last couple of days. Gillespie trying to win some of those suburban moms - -

MATTHEWS: Will the president -- the former president get out the African- American vote?

GIBSON: He can. He has the ability to and I think it`s going to be a big test --

STEIN: It really is, it really is -- I mean, that`s really why they`re bringing him to this.


MATTHEWS: -- African-American, Eugene?

SCOTT: Yes. That`s the hope, right? I mean, black lawmakers in Virginia, we have people like Bobby Scott who are definitely hoping to get people on board who quite frankly did not get involved in the 2016 election to a degree to the numbers that Barack Obama was hoping they would.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think he`s going to a cri de guerre tonight.

Anyway, the round table is sticking with us, and up next, these three will give me some scoops. We`ll be talking about tomorrow.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


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

Ginger, tell me something I don`t know.

GIBSON: NAFTA has made a lot of business community very nervous. We`re going to see them pump the gas on trying to push back on this Trump administration which so far they`ve had a good relationship with but I think we`re going to hear more vocal criticism in the next week as they worry.

MATTHEWS: You think we`re going to keep NAFTA or lose it?

GIBSON: That`s yet to be seen. Sources tell me there`s still a question of whether or not he`ll pull out of NAFTA. And it`s an if not a when --

MATTHEWS: The Canadians going to keep us, do you think?

GIBSON: The Canadians are going to try but they`re really hoping that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce delivers big for them in the next couple of weeks.


STEIN: You might not know this but you probably suspect it. I called a bunch of small dollar donor to the Trump campaign to ask if they`re comfortable paying a billionaire`s legal fees for the Russia probe, and they are. They thought it was stupid for even asking.

MATTHEWS: It`s a solid line, isn`t it?

STEIN: Yes. They will not bend.



SCOTT: Texas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson is getting pushback today for saying that women hold some responsibility in preventing sexual harassment involved in the Harvey Weinstein conversation. But she did say that men should be held responsible for --

MATTHEWS: What did she say women did?

SCOTT: She said, they should be aware of how they dress and their behavior.

MATTHEWS: That will no go over well.

Thank you, Ginger Gibson, Sam Stein and Eugene Scott.

Up next, actor Woody Harrelson and director Rob Reiner are going to join me on the set to talk about presidential politics and their new movie "LBJ." It`s great.

And you`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

There`s a new film coming out set to release next month about the value of perseverance and leadership in American politics. It stars Woody Harrelson. "LBJ", that`s the name of the movie. It`s the personal and political story of Lyndon Johnson, the former president and vice president who as a southern Democrat became an unlikely champion of civil rights. It portrays a man who as vice president felt overshadowed by the glamour of the Kennedy family, stifled by his limited role in the administration. He often butted heads with Bobby Kennedy, the president`s brother and attorney general.

Yet after tragedy struck in Dallas, it was by advancing Kennedy`s agenda that Johnson finally emerged from the shadow of his predecessor. Here`s an excerpt of the trailer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a surprising upset, Senator John Kennedy has won the west --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you mind if I ask you a question, Lyndon?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re out of your damn mind, Jack. All of the liberals hate it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need southerners.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No power in the vice presidency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Power is where power goes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m guessing you don`t do a lot of deer hunting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s an embarrassment around the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You submit this bill now it will never become law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are we waiting for?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don`t waste any time, you, Lyndon?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me? I`d rather not have it this way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now the country needs a man who can deliver.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There will be no compromise. This is about making President Kennedy`s vision a reality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will define your presidency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can only hope.


MATTHEWS: "LBJ" hits theaters nationwide on November 3rd. That`s coming up.

Joining me right now, actor Woody Harrelson plays Johnson in the film, and Rob Reiner, the critically acclaimed director who brought this story.

First of all, congratulations. I am a political nut since I was 2. Same way this guy is. We read the papers. You are unbelievable in this movie. The first second I go, oh, I know Woody Harrelson, he`s played Steve Schmidt. He`s played everybody.

How can he look -- you were LBJ. You caught the insecurity of the guy. The worry about will they love me? Like an 8-year-old. He`s not this big troll, he`s this boy. Boy-man. And you got him.

WOODY HARRELSON, ACTOR, "LBJ": Thank you so much.

MATTHEWS: When you did it, the nervousness. And, Jennifer Jason Leigh --

ROB REINER, DIRECTOR, "LBJ": She`s incredible, absolutely incredible. Ladybird.

MATTHEWS: You`re in a lot of bedroom scenes, not sex scenes -- there`s pretty gross scenes in this movie. There`s scenes where you lie in bed like men do, in bed at night asking their wife, what do you think, how am I doing? You think I`m all right? That`s the same thing, LBJ.

REINER: That insecurity, that desire to be loved, feeling unloved at times, that came out. I read Caro books and he`s a brilliant --

MATTHEWS: Caro`s the guy.

REINER: Yes, he`s a brilliant chronicler of LBJ. But in Doris Kearns Goodman`s book, that`s where I got it. She was very close to him because they -- you know, she worked for him, she wrote the biography.

She talked about -- two things I picked out. One was he had this recurring nightmare of being paralyzed. He also had this fear that his mother didn`t love him, because she would withhold her love at times. It was conditional. When he wasn`t doing the things that she wanted him to do. And that`s what we wanted to get.

Because everybody knows LBJ, the arm-twisting bull in the China shop guy. But they don`t know this other side to him. And that`s what we tried to do. That`s what this guy was able to pull off.

MATTHEWS: I like the line in Winter Park where you`re watching Bobby and Jack run the country, the glamour guys, and you`re sort of in the back room, you`re not getting any -- you`re sitting over in the Old Executive Office looking across the avenue at the guys running the country, you`re nobody.

And then in one split second down in Dallas, you become the leader of the Western world. You emerge, you stand up, you start giving orders lickety- split. How do you do that? That was a real switch-on.

HARRELSON: Well, I think that is kind of the way it happened. Obviously there was the shock of it. But then he just -- he had these leadership qualities that were from all those years in Congress and the Senate and everything. And so, he just kind of stepped up. And you know, I just -- I listened to what this guy told me to do.

MATTHEWS: You had the accent, too. You got the Texas accent, which is not exactly a Southern exactly.

REINER: You want to hear the crazy part? He`s from Texas.

MATTHEWS: Oh, really?

REINER: And he agonized over the fact that his accent was from outside of Houston, and LBJ was from the west Texas country.


HARRELSON: There are distinctive accents so it really plagued me. It`s just be like --

MATTHEWS: You`re talking to Richard Russell, who`s a real segregationist, I mean, he`s revered, the Senate building`s named after him. You`re talking about these statues we argue about today, the name of the building.

REINER: Which I always questioned.

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at this. He`s the guy who didn`t like what you did. And the struggle in the past, civil rights. Johnson had to confront members of his own party. It was the Southern Democrats, not the Republicans, who opposed civil rights. Here`s the scene between Johnson and, of course, the leader of the Senate southern bloc, Richard Russell.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The best leaders of the time, from both our states, voted for secession. And they were great men who nearly destroyed America. I don`t ever want a history book to say that about me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me ask you something. When was the last time you had a meal with a (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She`s an employee, but if you think I`d have any objection to breaking bread with her, then you`re a fool.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re telling me she`s your equal?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That woman spent more time in this house except anyone except Ladybird, she is family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know how I missed the resemblance. Look, what I`m talking about here is freedom. I`m talking about the preservation of a certain way of life, a way of life that you and I both grew up with. There`s nothing wrong with that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then why are we whispering?


MATTHEWS: Great script. I thought the fact that he -- that Johnson ends up calling him a racist, to husband buddy that made him, Richard Russell was his godfather.

REINER: His mentor.

MATTHEWS: All those years.


MATTHEWS: And now he comes out and this southern guy, I think it`s an amazing story. How Johnson -- I don`t think Kennedy could have gotten the civil rights -- 71 votes they had to get to beat the filibuster. They had all these Southern Democrats.

You know, when I first came to Washington, the southern Democrats still ran this city. You could smell the grit in the kitchen and the Southern cooking. They ran every committee. They were segies (ph). They were. Now they`re all Republicans, of course.

REINER: What Johnson says there, he knew it, if he`s going to pass this, he`s going to lose the south for generations. Turns out it was many more than one generation.

MATTHEWS: They kept Texas, though. I like the fact that Texas stayed Democrat and voted for Humphrey and voted for Carter.

REINER: For a while.

MATTHEWS: It did for a while. That`s why I don`t think it was stolen. I don`t buy all those theories. Congratulations.

HARRELSON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: I thought you were Steve Schmidt in that movie. Name change. It was unbelievable.

But you are Johnson. You got it. Not just the makeup, I think you inhabited the guy.

Woody Harrelson, the great actor, and Rob Reiner. The movie once again, "LBJ", it hits theaters nationwide, November 3rd.

And we`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Well, let`s see how the general`s words go over overnight as everybody absorbs them. Certainly, he sounded better today than the president has at any time.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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