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

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

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


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

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

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


MYESHIA JOHNSON, WAR WIDOW: What he said was...


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

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


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

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

The congresswoman rejected the criticism.


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

PRZYBYLA: Well, all right, Chris...

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

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

MATTHEWS: What have they got in common?

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

MATTHEWS: Well, he thinks McCain is...

PRZYBYLA: ... or "little Bob Corker."

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

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


PRZYBYLA: This was not some kind of strategy.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

MATTHEWS: Oh, I see.

SWAN: There`s no politician on earth...


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

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


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

PRZYBYLA: It sounds like all things could be true.

MATTHEWS: They could all be horribly true.

PRZYBYLA: ... that he -- that he thought...


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


GENERAL JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: On the 4th of October, U.S. and Nigerien forces began moving back south. And en route to their operating base, the patrol came under attack from approximately 50 enemy using small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades and technical vehicles.

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


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

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, Chris, my colleague, Courtney Kube, Carol Lee and I have been asking questions all (INAUDIBLE) about what the heck happened here? How did they get into this situation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


DILANIAN: ... guys they go after, militants.

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

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

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

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

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

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

BESCHLOSS: Exactly. Both of those things...

MATTHEWS: Those could be both true.

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

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

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

BESCHLOSS: It`s going to be fascinating.

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

MATTHEWS: Thank you, sir.


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

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

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

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

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

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

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

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

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


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

That is wrong. That is wrong.


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


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


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


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

QUESTION: What is your relationship like with the president?

MCCAIN: Almost none.



QUESTION: That`s terrible.

QUESTION: Almost none.


MATTHEWS: Well, that`s an honest answer.

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

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

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


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Within 24 hours of each other, there were three speeches, President Xi in China, our beloved President George Bush.


BANNON: That`s a piece of work.


BANNON: And John McCain.




MATTHEWS: Well, you heard it, "Hang him."

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

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

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

Could you hear that guy yell "Hang him"?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I mean, what`s going on here?

KEN VOGEL, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, it`s in some ways...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARINUCCI: That`s right.

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

Anyway, let`s take a look at that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I will tell you, it`s amazing. I can`t even believe it. I have been so lucky...


TRUMP: ... in terms of that whole world.

STERN: You have never gotten a social disease?

TRUMP: It is a dangerous world out there.

STERN: It is.

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

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

TRUMP: It is my personal Vietnam.

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


TRUMP: Like a great and very brave soldier.


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

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


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

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

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



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

Your thoughts?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

MARINUCCI: Absolutely.

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

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


MATTHEWS: Anyway, Ken Vogel.

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

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

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

So true.

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

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


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

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


MATTHEWS: He was there with Kasie Hunt.

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

Larry, you know your stuff. How do you call this race right now, two weeks out? LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: It`s leaning to Northam and, in fact, the whole Democratic ticket, but not overwhelmingly so.

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

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

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

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

SABATO: Well, that`s a good point.

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

So it`s exactly the opposite situation.

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

Here is how President Trump characterized it.


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

QUESTION: White nationalists.

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


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

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


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we`re going to talk about our history, then we should do it in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds, not in a way that divides.


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


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

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

MATTHEWS: Yes, I do.

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

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

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

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

SABATO: Thank you. Come down.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, up next -- you heard me.

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

You`re watching HARDBALL.


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


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will bring America to a new level. I will negotiate details that nobody can negotiate like I do. Nobody -- I know everybody that I`m running against. I mean, nobody is going to be able to do the kind of things I can do.

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

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

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


MATTHEWS: He has been going every weekend.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

MATTHEWS: One of the 50 he needs?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

MATTHEWS: Not at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MATTHEWS: Like what? What is that?

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

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

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

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


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

Here is President Obama Saturday night.


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


MATTHEWS: That`s a good picture.

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

And we`ll be right back.


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

Alexi, tell me something I don`t know.

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


MCCAMMOND: -- fighting against Dianne Feinstein who are establishment.

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

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

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

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

MCCAMMOND: Well, we`ll see.

MATTHEWS: Who will the Republicans vote for?

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

MATTHEWS: Will the Republicans vote for her, Gabe?

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

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

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

MATTHEWS: Like Ralph Northam.

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

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

Go ahead.

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

MATTHEWS: Can bullies be skinny?

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

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

You`re watching HARDBALL.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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