Texas Church Shooting Transcript 11/6/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Joaquin Castro, Larry Sabato, J.C. Watts, Susan Page, Darlene Superville

Show: HARDBALL Date: November 6, 2017 Guest: Joaquin Castro, Larry Sabato, J.C. Watts, Susan Page, Darlene Superville

ARI MELBER, MSNBC ANCHOR...not just people who work here. Our viewers, you guys, have strong opinions. Douglas posting, "Anything for a pen." Michelle adding, "Really enjoyed the show, I want a pen." And Bill wrote in to say, "Would love a pen, how about one of those nifty mugs?"

Well, guess what, folks, if you go to our Facebook page and you tell us a guest you want to see on The Beat, any guest nomination, you will be automatically entered into the pen contest. That does it for our show and taking a turn here, I`m told we have some breaking news law enforcement officials have an update about the Texas shooting. We`re going to listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...expertise and we`re using that expertise to do a very, very thorough investigation. As far as the investigation, we`ve collected a substantial amount of evidence to piece together what happened here.

Bodies have been removed and transported to the medical examiner`s office for autopsy. A substantial amount of evidence -- physical evidence has been collected including hundreds of shell casings, more than 15 magazines, 30-round capacity magazines have been recovered. The suspect vehicle has been processed with the suspect`s body inside.

Multiple interviews have been conducted in numerous cities and other states. Victims have been identified and next of kin have been notified. What needs to be done from this point, we need to finalize the list identified in the deceased victims and complete the notifications of next of kins. We plan to have that done and release the victim`s names as soon as possible.

Tonight, we hope to finish the evidence collection process and we will begin forensic mapping and trajectory analysis tomorrow. What I can tell you is today the autopsy was performed on the shooter and if you noticed, I used shooter instead of the suspect`s name, we do not want glorify him in what he`s done.

But the autopsy was conducted this morning and what I can tell you is he sustained three gunshot wounds. Two gunshot wounds were from the armed citizen, one of those was in the leg and the other one was in the torso. And he had a gun -- a third gunshot wound which the medical examiner describes as being consistent with being self-inflicted.

There`s no change regarding the victims. We still have four in serious condition, ten in critical condition, and the number of deceased has not changed. Texas DPS Victim Services continue working with the victims and their families through this horrible tragedy. And with that, you know, I`d like to thank you all for coming. We`ll entertain any questions, I believe the FBI Special Agent in charge has some brief comments, Chris Combs.

CHRIS COMBS, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Good afternoon. So I just want to commend the commander from DPS for not mentioning the shooter`s name. We certainly don`t want to glorify what has happened there. There`s a couple of campaigns out there, one is called Don`t Name Them. We don`t talk about the shooter. We don`t see his name out there in the press, so it doesn`t encourage other people to do horrific acts like this.

I can tell you that the scene in there is -- horrific is not even a word to describe it. I certainly want to commend the first responders who went in there, from Fire, EMS, and the Police Department, and the FBI, and the DPS Ranger evidence teams that are in there now taking care of this. I think that`s an important part, we should always remember.

I know there`s a lot of questions about the FBI NIC System and how did the person get the weapons. I can tell you that for four purchases that he made, the NIC System did their required checks and there was no prohibitive information in the systems that we checked that say he could not have purchased that firearm.

The three checks that are conducted, one is of NCIC, one is a criminal history check, and another one is in indices on the NIC System itself. So in all three of those databases, there`s not information that we would`ve said it was prohibitive for that man to get the firearm. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question was -- the third gunshot wound was to the head, the one that was self-inflicted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that failure of the US military to not (inaudible)?

COMBS: So obviously everybody`s taking a look at what happened there. I believe the Air Force released a statement about 30 minutes ago, so we`re working with them to try to figure out what happened there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, was the shooter`s grandmother-in-law among the victims?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m sorry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, was the shooter`s grandmother-in-law among the victims?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was he fired from the Army?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m sorry, I couldn`t hear you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was he fired from the Army?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know he was released from the Army and we would have to refer to the Air Force on that. It was the Air Force.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where was the self-inflicted gunshot wound?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To the head.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There have been unconfirmed reports that the suspect may have taken a hostage in the car (inaudible). Is there any truth to that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is -- that is not public.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (inaudible) today mentioned, apparently he thought that the shooter might have attended the same church, is that true?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not aware of the shooter attending this church. He had family members that attended. His spouse attended this church.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m sorry, Commander, did you say that the grandmother- in-law was not a victim?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, the grandmother-in-law? We`re not aware of that at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, earlier you told us that the suspect had called his father, can you expand on that conversation a little bit and tell us if the family has been cooperative and if --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have been cooperative and I really can`t expand on that because of that cooperation and communications and out of respect for the--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Director, one of the -- one of the victims was reportedly pregnant, will that change the number of murder counts charged?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That number was included. One of the victims was pregnant. I`m sorry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was this intended to be a revenge shooting (inaudible) that came to the church regularly?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can`t comment further on that. We know there was conflict between the families...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...and whether that was revenge or not, would be speculation on my part.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you say (inaudible)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re not aware of -- if -- we`re unaware if she`s one of the victims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re unaware but you can`t say no for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can`t.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, can you speak to the messages that the shooter sent to his mother-in-law?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can`t. Those -- the phones are being explored at this time. And I don`t have that information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Officer, officer, officer. If the crime -- if the crime was not racial, not, you know, religious motivated, can we say right now that he came to kill the mother-in--law?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are many ways that he could have taken care of the mother-in-law without coming with 15 loaded magazines and an assault rifle to a church. I think he came here with a purpose and a mission. And I have, you know, that`s not--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many magazines? Can you clarify the weaponry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m sorry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many magazines? You said 15, earlier you said four.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were 15 magazines collected here at the crime scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many of those magazines were empty?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for coming out, ladies and gentlemen. That will be the last question. We will have a briefing for you tomorrow. Continue to follow us on Twitter and we will also through email as well. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What time do you think...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`ll announce that through email and Twitter as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (inaudible)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I ask you a question about the timeline (inaudible)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible)

MELBER: On the joint federal and state law enforcement briefing in Sutherland Springs, Texas on the shooting there. As I mentioned, we will continue to bring live updates when warranted. We return now to an edition of Hardball already in progress.

MALCOLM NANCE, AUTHOR, NAVY SENIOR CHIEF/JEDI MASTER: ...offer you something and get you to do a favor. What we`re seeing and what is so consistent about all the players here is that they were all eager to take the bait so to speak, these dangles that were put out in front of them, about information and access to Russia.

You noticed that there are no financial connections here other than Turkey which we may understand Flynn may have actually had, Turkey`s connection was through a Russian but, you know, this isn`t like they have lots of South African financial contracts or Brazilian. They`re all consistently Russian.

The Russians put a lot of emphasis on this election and they clearly decided this was their Super Bowl and they were going to go after as many people as possible and every one of them may have bitten. And we`re going to find out from the Mueller investigation if in fact some of these people are just unwitting assets or if some of these people might be actual agents working for Russia, in their employ, knowing what they were doing.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Is that what you see?

NANCE: Oh, I -- what I see -- as I see many people who just see Russia as this financial pot and that all of them may have had some stake in future financial holdings, whether it`s Michael Cohen`s email about the future Trump Towers, whether it was just, you know, about getting Hillary Clinton.

But all of them seem to understand that raising the sanctions and getting rid of the Magnitsky Act would make these oligarchs in Russia very rich, and that`s an inducement for them to be rewarded. And if that`s the case, then it clearly spells out why everybody took on all of these meetings, from Sessions to these low level guys.

There was going to be something financial in their future for it. And it wasn`t just for good relationships with the United States and Russia but it`s all very, very suspicious, you know, especially when you consider the amount of effort they did.

MATTHEWS: That`s when I begin to think RICO and a RICO charge, anyway, running a criminal operation that they`re all doing it together. Anyway, despite being portrayed as a low-level volunteer, NBC is reporting now that George Papadopoulous who has pled -- pleaded guilty in connection with the Russian probe had a more public role in behalf of the campaign.

Those activities include a panel discussion at the Republican National Convention along with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Senator Bob Corker and other lawmakers. He also spoke on behalf of the campaign to the Russian news agency Interfax in September and met with Israeli leaders during the inauguration as a foreign policy advisor. What do we make of that, Tom Hamburger? What do you make of this guy, this nobody being presented as a somebody throughout the campaign?

TOM HAMBURGER, WASHINGTON POST, REPORTER: Well, George, there is that seeming contradiction, the president and the campaign staff, the Trump campaign staff tell us George Papadopoulos was a nobody, had no influence on the campaign.

And that may in fact be the case. He wasn`t paid. He was named by then- candidate Donald Trump as one of his foreign policy advisors. But the fact is, he was not paid by the campaign, he wasn`t active in the campaign and wasn`t well-known at least in Trump Tower.

But what we do know as you just suggested is that he led some seminars both at the time of the Republican convention, led some in Europe and in Israel and would discuss when doing these seminars, would represent himself as an advisor to the Trump campaign. Did the same when he met with some foreign government leaders. And some of those meetings we think set off some alarms and may have led the FBI, the Justice Department to become interested in George.

MATTHEWS: And I just wonder whether we shouldn`t all be buffaloed by this nonsensical distinction between unpaid and paid. I don`t think Henry Kissinger gets paid. It`s all about influencing, getting in close to somebody who may be president of the United States. That`s a tremendous asset for people in their business.

Anyway, we`ve learned now -- as we`ve learned now, the attempt to downplay Papadopoulos`s role in Trump`s orbit fits the same patter we`ve seen from Trump`s defenders in the case of Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and JD Gordon. Let`s take a look back at some of those moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP: They weren`t even a part, really. I mean they were such a minor part. They -- I hadn`t spoken to them -- I think the one person -- I don`t think I`ve ever spoken to them...

SEAN SPICER: But even General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign. And then obviously there`s been discussion of Paul Manafort who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the case of Mr. Page and Mr. Gordon, some others that they really had very attenuated contacts to the campaign that I managed for the last three months.

TRUMP: I know Mr. Manafort. I haven`t spoken to him in a long time but I know him. He was with the campaign, as you know, for a very short period of time.

MICHAEL CAPUTO: I never heard of Papadopoulos. He never showed up at Trump Tower, never had any interaction with any of the campaign leaders around me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Remember George Papadopoulos during that March meeting?

TRUMP: I don`t remember much about that meeting. It was a very unimportant meeting, took place a long time. Don`t remember much about it.

You know, Paul was not there very long. What people don`t mention, Paul was not there for a very long period of time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was it that convinced you that he had to be let go?

TRUMP: Well, I think we found out something about he may be involved with certain nations and I don`t even know exactly what it was in particular.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, he headed up the campaign the entire summer. Anyway, let me get back to Julia. What do you make of this "I don`t know nothin`" approach to all these people?

JULIA AINSLEY: Well, of course, it makes sense that the Trump administration would want to be distancing themselves from this, but it also makes sense that the Russians would want to go after people who might be at a low level who might be able to exert -- who might be looking to exert their influence like a George Papadopoulos, knowing that they could pinpoint these people, you know, it is a way for them to sort of cozy up to the boss and move up.

MATTHEWS: Yes, make their bones.

AINSLEY: ...That is the pattern -- right. And it`s...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

AINSLEY: And, of course, that`s a pattern that Mueller wants to show that even people who may not have been directed by the boss, is it was understood within this campaign or this administration that this is how you please your boss, that shows something there.

And so I think it makes sense that the Russians would start with lower level and the Mueller investigation would start with lower level. But when we get to someone like Michael Flynn who was appointed to be the National Security Adviser, I think it`s a hard argument to make that he was some low level person that had no contact with the president.

MATTHEWS: Julia Ainsley, we rely on you so much day-to-day, so much for your great reporting. Tom Hamburger as well, thank you, sir, from the Washington Post. And Malcolm Nance as well.

Coming up, President Trump says the gunman who killed 26 people at a Texas church was deranged and the issue he says isn`t guns, but mental health. He says predictably it`s too soon to talk about guns even though, once again, Americans including children were gunned down by a man with a military-style rifle.

Plus, it`s the night before the big election for governor down in Virginia. Now polling shows a -- new polling shows a very tight race now. Democrat Ralph Northam has a slightly, I mean slight. But will Republican Ed Gillespie`s campaign using Trump tactics pay off in a state that Trump lost?

And Trump`s not backing off his fire and fury talk against Kim Jong-un. He`s over in Asia right now, we know. And he says, weak rhetoric has gotten us nowhere with North Korea. It has now been revealed that the Pentagon has determined that the one sure way to destroy all of North Korea`s nuclear sites would be by a ground invasion. And that is scary.

Finally, let me finish tonight with a right -- the right and wrong way of dealing with a possibly nuclear conflict. This is Hardball, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Senator Rand Paul is recovering right now after being physically assaulted by a neighbor at his home in Kentucky on Friday afternoon. According to the criminal complaint, the neighbor, Dr. Rene Boucher, walked onto Senator Paul`s property and tackled him to the ground.

The senator suffered five broken ribs and bruises to his lungs. Given the severity of his injuries, it`s unclear when Senator Paul will be able to return to work. Dr. Boucher was arrested and charged with assault. His lawyer released a statement today saying that the altercation had quote, absolutely nothing to do with either politics or political agendas, it was a very regrettable dispute between two neighbors over a matter that most people would regard as trivial. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to Hardball. We`re following the latest from Sutherland Springs, Texas, the site of another horrific mass shooting; 26 people were shot dead as they prayed inside their church yesterday.

The victims range in age between -- well, from 18 months to 77 years old. As many as 14 of the victims were children. Another 20 people were injured; 10 are in critical condition.

The suspect, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, fled the scene. Authorities say it appears he shot himself a short time later. He had three firearms, including an assault rifle. Police say a domestic issue may have been a motive here. His mother-in-law attended that church, and he recently sent her threatening texts.

The church`s pastor Frank Pomeroy, and his wife, Sherri, were away yesterday, but their 13 -- their 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, was killed in the attack.

Well,, today, they spoke to reporters. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK POMEROY, PASTOR, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH: We have had a long night with our children and grand-babies we have left. And she is going to share this with you.

SHERRI POMEROY, MOTHER OF VICTIM: Our church wasn`t comprised of members or parishioners. We were a very close family. We ate together, we laughed together, we cried together, and we worshiped together. Now most of our church family is gone. Our building is probably beyond repair. And the few of us that are left behind lost tragically yesterday.

As senseless as this tragedy was, our sweet Belle would not have been able to deal with losing so much family yesterday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: For more, I`m joined by NBC`s Steve Patterson, who is in Sutherland Springs.

Steve, these children -- do we have any idea what it seemed like, the horrible incident? So, was it just a guy going into the church with a semiautomatic weapon, an AR-15 or whatever, and just spraying the room, including the children? Was he targeting the children?

STEVE PATTERSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: And keep in mind, he was clad in all black as he entered there. It must have been a terrifying situation for the parishioners who were inside the church.

What we do know, Chris, is that I can tell you, just being on the ground here in Sutherland Springs, that if the homesteads and the mom and pop shops and the farmsteads are the lifeblood of this community, that church was the beating heart here of this community.

The community members now dealing with the fact that if it`s not broken, it has at least now fractured, this sense of community, because of the terror that was inside that church.

What we do have is seemingly a clearer portrait of the shooter pretty early on in this case and, as you mentioned, the motivations here, which are becoming apparent.

We have been speaking to authority figures who have been telling us those threatening text messages were sent almost as early as Sunday morning to that mother-in-law who is believed to be a member of that congregation, ironically, not in the church at the time of the shooting.

So we know immediately right off the bat here that this was not a shooting based on radicalization, on racial motivations, on religious motivations, that this may have been a targeted shooting based on an ongoing domestic situation from family members.

That`s the word that we`re getting from authorities. That`s who we believe he may have been targeting inside that church. We`re also getting a clearer portrait of Kelley himself, who was a member of the Air Force, was on an Air Force base in New Mexico from 2010 to 2014, with his wife and infant son, court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his wife and stepson, fracturing his skull, court-martialed for that violent incident.

Investigators now are trying to piece together how he was able to buy that weaponry that was on him seemingly almost every year up until the shooting, including the piece of weaponry they believe he used to bring inside the church and commit mass murder -- 20, as you mentioned, injured from the gunfire, 10 of them still in critical condition, clinging to life after that shooting -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, NBC`s Steve Patterson in Texas.

Well, President Trump, who was in Japan today, called the shooting an act of evil. He blamed -- quote -- "mental illness," not guns. He said that. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that mental health is your problem here. This was a very -- based on preliminary reports, very deranged individual. A lot of problems over a long period of time. We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries.

But this isn`t a guns situation. I mean, we could go into it. But it`s a little bit soon to go into it. But, fortunately, somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction. Otherwise, it would have been -- as bad as it was, it would have been much worse.

But this is a mental health problem at the highest level. It`s a very, very sad event. It`s a -- these are great people and a very, very sad event. But that`s the way I view it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I`m joined right now by U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas.

Congressman, we live in North America. We have got two other countries in North America, Mexico and Canada. They don`t have it like this. They don`t have mass shootings regularly. They don`t have assassination attempts or assassinations throughout their history. What makes us different? And why do we allow it?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Well, most of all, the government`s unwillingness and Congress` unwillingness to do anything about it at this point.

And, you know, it was an incredibly sad and tragic event yesterday, but, unfortunately, one that we`re not unfamiliar with at this point in the United States.

And for me to think that the gunman bought that weapon in my hometown of San Antonio is very sickening and sad. It`s also for Texas another haunting episode of mass violence. You know, in 1966, we had the shooting at the U.T. tower.

MATTHEWS: Sure.

CASTRO: When I was in high school, we had the 1991 Luby`s killing in Killeen. And now this generation has suffered through this.

MATTHEWS: And Lee Harvey Oswald, of course, got his rifle by mail order. Why not? It`s easy.

Let me ask you about Trump, President Trump, and his position. Didn`t he oppose efforts to make it difficult for someone who has mental problems from getting guns? And now he says, well, this is just a mental incapacitation issue. It`s not a gun issue.

Well, they`re related. The guy had a semiautomatic, an AR-15, that was capable of shooting all those rounds in a matter of a couple of moments. If he had an old musket from the times when the Second Amendment was passed, he would be able to maybe fire off one round, not very accurately, every half-hour or so.

I mean, weapons were -- we got the right to carry arms back when they weren`t that dangerous. Now we`re talking about weapons that can fire in sprays, basically, killing 7-months-old and 77-year-olds all in the same minute.

CASTRO: Yes, there is no question that the founders never accounted for the idea that you would have a gun that could kill 26 people in a matter of seconds.

And we keep being presented with this false choice that the issue is either one of mental health or of guns. And, in fact, it`s a combination of both. What we need to do is two things, first, do everything that we can to prevent guns getting into the hands of the wrong people.

So, that includes things like background checks, universal background checks that are supported by 90 percent of Americans, but also...

MATTHEWS: I think this guy got through one. Congressman, I think this guy got through one...

CASTRO: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: ... despite his military record and dishonorable service and beating up his wife and hurting his child very grievously, and still he managed to swim right through it.

CASTRO: Well, and that`s why you need the second part or the second strategy, which is, it`s a fact that some people are going to be able to get guns illegally or even legally, and still go out and try to kill people.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CASTRO: So, the second part of this is that you have to do something to limit the damage that these weapons can impose.

That means either banning assault rifles or limiting the number of bullets in a cartridge. I think it requires both of those strategies to be successful.

MATTHEWS: You know, maybe we need licensing of certain kinds of weapons for certain kinds of people. Maybe if you live out in the boonies and completely -- you`re shooting up old cars or you`re totally safe.

But it ought to be highly restricted to have certain kinds of weapons, I think.

Anyway, U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro, we`re still watching your career, sir. We`re rooting for you, sir.

CASTRO: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: There`s a lot of future up there, way up there, maybe -- maybe in a few years.

(LAUGHTER)

CASTRO: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Up next: We`re down to the final hours in the race for Virginia governor. And the Republican, Ed Gillespie, has adopted the Trump playbook by turning the election into a culture war. But is this tactic really going to pay off? I don`t think so. I don`t.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hello. I`m Milissa Rehberger.

New information coming out of a news conference on the Texas gunman. The autopsy is now complete. He sustained three gunshot wounds, two from an armed citizen. One was self-inflicted.

The Air Force says it failed to enter the gunman`s domestic assault charge into a federal database that would have prevented him from buying the gun he used to massacre 26 people.

Florida State University has banned all Greek life following the death of a 20-year-old pledge and the arrest in an unrelated case of a fraternity member charged with the sale and trafficking of cocaine -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It`s election evening in Virginia. And as voters prepare to choose their next governor, a slew of new polls show the race is very close.

Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie have been running neck and neck for week news. And five new polls out in the last 24 hours give Northam the edge, but indicate the race is still up for grabs.

A poll by "The New York Times" and Siena College has Northam leading by three. Christopher Newport University shows a six-point advantage. Quinnipiac has Northam on top by nine, while FOX News also shows the Democrat leading by just five points.

The very latest poll, however, from Monmouth University out just this morning shows a two-point race.

For more, I`m joined by the great Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at UVA, the University of Virginia, and former Oklahoma Republican Congressman J.C. Watts.

Larry, tell us what you think of this race overall, the color of it, the nastiness of it, what the cultural messages should be to the country so far on election eve.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Chris, it`s not been a thing of beauty, that`s for sure.

First of all, there have been a lot of mistakes by both sides, and lately by the Democrat. And then you have those vicious negative advertising, again, on both sides, but most of the recent ones have been on the Republican side.

So it`s not a campaign I would recommend for a course in campaigns and elections. It`s not a model campaign.

Having said that, look, Virginia, as you know well, has been spinning more and more Democratic. That`s in presidential years, when you have a turnout of mid-70s in the registered population.

That`s going to drop tomorrow to somewhere in the 40s. And Democrats disproportionately drop out of the electorate in these off-off-year races. That`s where Gillespie has upset potential.

I would still say Northam is the leader and the most likely winner. But Gillespie has put it in a position where he can win. He can upset Northam.

MATTHEWS: What`s the smart move by Gillespie? I know all -- is it not -- being Trump-esque, but not bringing Trump in? Is that the smart move if he wins?

SABATO: Oh, absolutely. He kept Trump at arm`s length in person. But he took all of Trump`s issues and put them into some vicious television ads that were saturated throughout the state.

And, sure enough, the Trump voters have responded, and it`s almost like Trump had appeared.

MATTHEWS: In a political sense -- forget morality or history or any values -- was it smart for Northam to come out for bringing down all the statues?

SABATO: No, it was not.

I understand, as you said, the morality of it. And, of course, I`m here in Charlottesville. I get it. But, no, from a political standpoint, that was not a wise move. He backed off of it. But, of course, he`s stuck with the original position, as politicians always are.

MATTHEWS: Yes, let me bring in J.C. Watts, my friend.

J.C., thank you for this. I know you`re from Oklahoma, and that`s your home and pride.

But looking at this Virginia race, what do you make of this problem on the Democratic side on an ethnic front, where they basically say, as we say in Philly, cut somebody from some promotional material, some leaflets? The African-American running mate was dropped from -- his name and face weren`t even mentioned in this county there in this leaflet distribution.

What do you make of that as a political issue that the Republicans and some African-American Republicans are trying to exploit?

J.C. WATTS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Well, Chris, I have seen that happen for the last 20-plus years.

When I first ran for Congress, you know, my Democrat opponent took a picture of me and my high school senior picture with the big afro that was so big you couldn`t have gotten it in your frame here, and then put it in a commercial and basically said, is that who you want as your congressperson?

And I know that those kinds of things happen, that Northam took his black lieutenant governor off of his push, some of his mail pieces. That happens. And my thing is, as I have said for the last 20 years, it`s going to happen. But when it does happen, just be consistent. If it`s a Republican that is doing it, you need to beat him up. If it`s a Democrat that`s doing it, you need to beat him up.

And I think Northam, over the last few days, I understand, from talking to your producer that, you know, there has been some highlighting of what has happened. And I saw an article over the weekend where Governor Wilder was consistent, as I said, that he came out.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WATTS: The former governor, black Democrat governor of Virginia, came out and was critical of that. And kudos to him. And I hope that when it happens on the Republican side, you know, black Republicans, white Republicans ought to be consistent and do the same thing.

MATTHEWS: And Doug Wilder matters in that state.

Anyway, a digital advertisement being run on Facebook now is imploring black voters of Virginia to oppose Ralph Northam, the Democrat, over his treatment of his African-American candidate, his running mate, for lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Ralph Northam`s campaign deliberately took Justin Fairfax, the only black statewide candidate, off his campaign flyers to appease other supporters.

If Northam can`t support his black lieutenant governor, why should black people support Northam? Send a message to Ralph Northam loud and clear. We won`t be thrown under the bus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Larry, decode the results tomorrow night.

Let`s say Gillespie pulls an upset. What would that tell the country?

SABATO: It would tell the country and tell Republicans running in 2018 that they can do what Gillespie did. Hold Trump at arm`s length, that they`re in a purple competitive state or a blue state, but adopt some of the Trump issues. It will cut even in suburbs that normally vote liberal.

MATTHEWS: I think Northam is going to squeak it. I think you do too, Larry. So, let`s see what happens tomorrow night. I hope you`re around, Larry Sabato, the great professor at the University of Virginia.

And former Congressman J.C. Watts, a great friend of our program.

We`re going to have all the results from Virginia tomorrow on HARDBALL at 7:00 Eastern.

Then I`m coming back, our whole program is coming back at midnight for an hour to go through all of it and what it means, especially those assembly votes that could tell us in Virginia how the rest of the country is going to vote for Congress in 2018.

Up next: Ahead of his trip to South Korea, President Trump ramps up the rhetoric against Kim Jong-un. It comes amid a scary assessment from the Pentagon that the only way for us to destroy North Korea`s nuclear sites is through a ground invasion, a second Korean war.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump`s in the middle of a 12-day, five-country trip through Asia where along with navigating diplomatic relationships, he is focusing on the threat that North Korea poses, of course. Here is what he said yesterday about that in Japan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The era of strategic patience is over. Some people said that my rhetoric is very strong, but look what`s happened with very weak rhetoric over the last 25 years. Look where we are right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, this comes as the Pentagon said in a letter to Congress that, quote, the only way to locate and destroy with complete certainty all components of North Korea`s nuclear weapons programs is through a ground invasion.

Well, Democratic Congressmen Ted Lu and Ruben Gallego had asked the Pentagon for that hypothetical casually assessment in a conflict with North Korea.

Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL round table, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today", Eli Stokols, White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" and an MSNBC political analyst, and Darlene Superville, White House reporter for "The Associated Press".

In that order, Susan, what do we make of the fact that this document, this assessment of the need to go in on the ground to get those nuclear weapons knocked out has gotten out into the papers, has reached Pyongyang? Is that provocative in itself?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: You know, I think it is actually might have a calming effect on some of the provocative rhetoric we`ve heard from the president because believe me, Americans do not want to see a ground war in Korea.

MATTHEWS: That`s for sure.

PAGE: -- with U.S. troops going into North Korea to secure nuclear weapons.

And by the way, that report said not only would it require ground troops, but the North Korea might respond with chemical and biological weapons. So this strikes me as being something that underscores how very costly the military option would be in North Korea.

MATTHEWS: Eli, do you think that -- maybe you know more about the trade craft of reporters involved. Do you think that was leaked in an attempt to do what Susan just said, to forestall such an option being taken?

ELI STOKOLS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Perhaps. But, you know, aside from that, I mean, the military option -- again, there doesn`t seem to be public support for a prolonged ground war. The consequences of any sort of military action against North Korea would be probably immediately felt and devastatingly felt by the 20 million people in Seoul, South Korea.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STOKOLS: And so, what you`re left with in this situation is what you`ve had all along, and that is diplomatic efforts. And it`s hard to see this administration engaging real seriously in that. About a month ago, the president undercut his own secretary of state saying, Rex, don`t waste your time talking to North Korea, secretly channeling and trying to work something out with the North Koreans.

And you heard his rhetoric this morning, talking about, you know, my rhetoric. My rhetoric. Some people say it`s tough. But weak rhetoric hasn`t gotten us very far.

It`s not about rhetoric. Strong or weak, that`s not a plan. That`s not true diplomacy. And it just seems that the consensus among foreign policy folks that I speak to is that this administration has not really engaged seriously enough in the really detailed conversations with the Chinese, with other allies in terms of pushing a more unified, a more intense diplomatic effort in this area.

MATTHEWS: Darlene, what does the associated press, and what do you know about the possibility of Russia helping, of Putin and our president sitting down perhaps in Hanoi or Saigon and trying to work out some deal whereby the Russians really help put the pressure? Because the Russians under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, were the ones who approved the Korean War in 1950.

DARLENE SUPERVILLE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, it`s possible. President Trump on his way to Japan told reporters on the airplane that he wanted Putin`s help on the North Korea issue. They`re supposed to meet when they get to Vietnam later this week. And we`ll see what comes out of that meeting.

MATTHEWS: What about the whole question of the president? Do you -- you know, normally, I don`t mind -- I don`t like politicians who kick the can down the road. But sometimes kicking the can down the road avoids a nuclear war. You kicked that can down the road during the entire Cold War from `47 to `91 and it avoided a conflict between the United States and Russia, a direct conflict.

And I just wonder, does Trump have a point here? To say you know, we`ve kicked the can down the road in terms of nuclear development in North Korea, and look what it`s gotten us? A country on the verge of having all that it wants and we`re sitting there watching it happen. We better move.

PAGE: Well, that`s certainly true. And it is true that the policy that his -- several of his predecessors have followed did not succeed in forestalling the continued development of North Korea`s nuclear program. But some people do look at the Cold War as a kind of example of what can work in keeping the peace in a positive way because -- it urged the administration to consider a policy of containment, to accept the idea that North Korea is a nuclear power and to try to contain it the way we contained the Soviet Union for decades, that is not a policy that Pesident Trump has been willing to embrace.

He continues to say that a weaponized -- a North Korea that has nuclear weapons is unacceptable to us.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s a position he is going to have to fight for. Your last word from you, Eli. How it is going to end up in the next few days do you think in the trip? Is this trip going to have a salutary effect, advantage of having at least move this towards some sort of alliance with Russia against Kim Jong-un?

STOKOLS: I think it`s going to be pretty tough to get Russia to move on this. I don`t see what leverage the Trump administration really has in getting Vladimir Putin to stop some of the economic relationships and deals that he has made with North Korea. But I think to Susan`s point, you know, it`s not emotionally satisfying for this president to accept and to publicly state that containment may be the smartest policy here.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

STOKOLS: He likes -- it makes him feel good to talk about how this is the people who came before him. It`s their fault, and we can do it better. It just doesn`t betray a fully nuanced understanding of a really complex situation that really, you know, if you talk to foreign policy experts, folks who were involved in the last set of talks with North Carolina, they will tell you, there are no good options here in dealing with the North Koreans.

I think politically, Trump would like to tell people we`ll handle it. But at this point, beyond rhetoric, I don`t really see a plan to do that.

MATTHEWS: When we come back, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, all three will tell -- well, they give me scoops you`ll be talking about tomorrow.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: I`m up here in Boston on my tour for "Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit".

Tonight, I`ll be speaking to what I`m told will be a sold-out crowd at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. The book has definitely tapped into something.

I`ll be back in Washington, D.C. tomorrow for coverage of the Virginia governor`s race. As I said, I`ll be on HARDBALL at 7:00, the usual time as the polls close. And then back again for a special hour of coverage starting at midnight Eastern.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Darlene, tell me something I don`t know.

SUPERVILLE: Well, this is something you probably do know. But I think it`s something that`s not getting the attention that it deserves. And it`s the fact that almost seven weeks after Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, significant numbers of people there are still without electricity and without drinkable water.

MATTHEWS: I think we all should know that in spades. Anyway, Eli?

STOKOLS: Well, today on Capitol Hill, some people caught this, but the House Republicans began the markup of their tax reform plan. And we got -- started to get a sense of some of things, the cuts and deductions that are not going to be -- not going to exist anymore if this bill is signed into law.

The tax policy center also released an interesting study today saying that by 2018, if this bill goes forward, 12 percent of Americans would actually see their taxes go up. And in 10 years out, nearly 30 percent of Americans would actually see their taxes go up and in ten years out, nearly 30 percent of Americans would see their taxes actually rise as a result of some of the deductions and things that this bill threatens to take away.

MATTHEWS: That`s why they`re rushing it through.

Anyway, Susan?

PAGE: So, we`ve been keeping touch with a panel of Trump voters for the past year. And since we`re coming up on the one-year anniversary of Trump`s election, we asked them to name the best thing and the worst thing Trump has done over the last year. No consensus on the best thing all over the map.

The worst thing, more than half say it`s his tweets and his provocative behavior. They say Trump`s mouth is undermining the prospects of him to actually be able to get things done.

MATTHEWS: The one part that will never change.

Anyway, thank you, Susan Page, as always. Thank you, Eli Stokols. And good to have you on, Darlene Superville.

When we return, let me finish tonight with the right and wrong way of dealing with possibly a nuclear conflict.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this North Korean danger.

I`m up here in Boston speaking tonight, as I said, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library on the topic of Robert Kennedy. With President Trump in Asia visiting Korea on the trip, it`s important to recall America`s past success in avoiding a nuclear war. We are obviously getting close, far too close to that kind of nuclear standoff this country faced in the early 1960s.

The main thing we learned that time when the Soviet Union was caught placing intermediate range nuclear missiles in Cuba was to give the other side a way out. A nuclear standoff is no time for a test of testosterone to battle over who is more macho, who has the biggest hands.

The trick in the case of Kim Jong-un of North Korea is probably not to make fun of him, to make him feel diminished, to make him feel he needs to prove his whatever. The trick here is probably to give the North Korean dictator a sense of having achieved what he needs, enough stature and importance to his people to hold on the power.

The trick I would think is to get through this episode and hope we have a more stable situation in the years ahead.

In 1962, a couple of steps got us through. First, the Kennedy brothers, the president and Bobby decided not to launch a surprise attack on the Cuban missile sites. For one thing, it might trigger a Russian drive on West Berlin, a pressure point which could quickly go nuclear. For another thing, Bobby Kennedy argued we Americans don`t launch sneak attacks. We don`t do Pearl Harbors.

What the Kennedys did do is cut an under the table deal to pull our outmoded missiles out of Turkey in exchange for the Russians pulling theirs out of Cuba. It worked. When you`re looking at the prospect of nuclear war, it`s good to have cool hands at the table, people who can imagine consequences, who act on those consequences and not on their gut. The gut can be an extremely dangerous guide when dealing in weapons that can destroy millions in a potential war that could kill billions.

I hope short of having someone like Bobby Kennedy representing us in Asia right now, that President Trump has someone along with him like that.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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