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updated 6/4/2014 6:29:38 PM ET 2014-06-04T22:29:38

HARDBALL
June 3, 2014

Guests: Col. Morris Davis, Joshua Cornelison, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Eric
Schmitt, Loretta Weinberg


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Trouble with the deal.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

And "Let Me Start" tonight with the turbulence over this prisoner exchange.
The questions most reasonable people are asking concern U.S. security. Was
it good for the U.S. to have these five top Taliban figures released back
to the region? Is it plausible that the effort by the Taliban to get them
back is strategic on its part, to have top commanders ready to take part in
the eventual challenge to the Afghanistan government once the U.S. pulls
out? Are we being unintended allies of a Taliban push to regain power?
Was Bowe Bergdahl simply a pawn in its plan to return Afghanistan to what
it was before we invaded?

And what is this claim that Bowe Bergdahl served with honor and
distinction? How does this square with the word that he mailed his
possessions back home to his parents before he left his unit? Is this
putting too pretty a picture on Bergdahl`s conduct and loyalty? Is this an
attempt to make the deal for his release a happier occasion than it might
otherwise merit?

Whatever the administration or its allies say now, this has grown quickly
into a serious debate in this country, and it`s hardly the familiar
Democrat versus Republican fight, even if the usual suspects on the right
out there are doing what they predictably do, attack President Obama.

Barry McCaffrey`s a retired four-star Army general and an MSNBC political
analyst, and of course, Colonel Morris Davis was the chief prosecutor for
terrorism trials at Guantanamo Bay.

Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. We`ve got a new development here.
Let`s get right to the breaking development this evening. This afternoon,
Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Intelligence Committee, said that
the administration violated the law by failing to notify Congress about the
prisoner transfers.

Let`s watch Senator Feinstein.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I understand, and I believe the
vice chairman does, as well, that there are circumstances when the
president needs to act quickly and that his Article 2 powers allow him to
do so. However, I also believe that given the past briefings and concerns
that we had addressed -- and these were from both committees and the
leadership of both committees, the concerns were bipartisan. And I
strongly believe that we should have been consulted, that the law should
have been followed, and I very much regret that that was not the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It wasn`t the case that he never (ph) consulted, apparently.
We`re hearing this from Mike Rogers and others on the House Intelligence
Committee side. And the question is -- these are politicians. I have
great respect for Dianne Feinstein, but she is not just saying that she
wasn`t consulted, not just saying the law was violated, she is implicitly
saying, I don`t like this deal because why else would she be causing (ph)
this objection?

General McCaffrey, what are you hearing from people about the deal itself,
the five Taliban leaders that have gone back to that region in exchange for
the one American, whose status is still very murky, what it was when he
left the service?

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.), MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: What for
sure is not a debate inside the armed forces, people are glad we got
Bergdahl back. If he`d been drunk (ph) downtown Kabul and abducted, we
will would have still wanted him back. So we got a lot of people killed
and wounded and involved in operations for five years now trying to get him
back. That`s not a debate.

The question is, why would the president and his advisers think it was a
good idea to embrace a guy who we knew walked away from his post in a
combat situation and ended up getting his buddies in difficult--

MATTHEWS: What do you mean by embrace?

MCCAFFREY: Well, I mean, the fact he walked out with the parents, the fact
we had Susan Rice, a brilliant woman, talking about serving with honor and
distinction. He risks losing credibility among his 2.3 million men and
women of the armed forces with this kind of nonsense--

MATTHEWS: The president did?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the tough one here. How do you get
him out if the other side won`t make any other deal but this one?

MCCAFFREY: Well, we have 60,000 killed and wounded. So Bergdahl`s
misconduct landed him in five years of misery with the Taliban. It`s
possible we would have never gotten him back. The question at hand is, was
it worth letting go the five most dangerous people on our hands. That`s
really the president`s call.

But at the end of the day, this was misconduct. We should not characterize
this guy as a hero. And by the way, he shouldn`t be an honorably medically
retired staff sergeant a year from now. His misconduct should have been
ruled not line of duty.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s talk about this. The five detainees released in
this deal were all high-ranking members of the Taliban, according to "The
Washington Post." They included Taliban`s army`s chief of staff, the
former chief of Taliban security in Afghan (ph) southern capital, the
former deputy chief of intelligence, a senior commander, and the former
interior ministry (sic) of the Taliban government.

Well, today in Poland, President Obama defended his decision to swap these
five leaders for one U.S. soldier. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of the
circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still
get an American soldier back if he`s held in captivity. Period. Full
stop. We don`t condition that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, the full stop problem with that is that a year from now,
if we`re still talking about this, it won`t be about Bergdahl. He`ll be
back home in Idaho. We`ll be talking about what those five people were up
to over there.

Meanwhile, the chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey,
wrote this on his Facebook page. Quote, "The questions about this
particular soldier`s conduct are separate from our effort to recover any
U.S. servicemember in enemy captivity. This was likely the last, best
opportunity to free him. As for the circumstances of his capture, when he
was able to provide them -- what he`s been able to provide them, we`ll
learn the facts. Like any American, he`s an innocent until proven guilty."

And let me go to Colonel Davis. The question I have, and I hope you can
stick to it, is the reasonableness of this decision to release five
dangerous men, who will eventually find their way back to Afghanistan, the
country they wish to take over. And the question I have is from the other
side. Why did they fight so hard to get these five guys back? They`re
leaders. This isn`t humanitarian. They want them back, it seems to me,
for some strategic reason, to be part of what their plans are once we leave
a year from now.

Your thoughts about the strategic danger of these releases.

COL. MORRIS DAVIS, FMR. GITMO CHIEF PROSECUTOR: Well, I would push back a
bit on the hyperbole about these being the most dangerous men at
Guantanamo. I mean, this wasn`t--

MATTHEWS: I didn`t say that! Don`t push back at me, sir, because I didn`t
say that!

DAVIS: I`m not. I--

MATTHEWS: I said (INAUDIBLE) was chief of staff of the Taliban. One of
the other one was a top intelligence officer, one of the southern command
guys. These guys were pretty high-ranking. And my question to you is, why
did they want him back so much?

DAVIS: Well, in 12 years--

MATTHEWS: To do what with them?

DAVIS: In 12 years, we could never charge these guys. We had no evidence
to charge them. The Taliban -- clearly, they were affiliated with the
Taliban. It would make sense they would ask for them back. Our legal
basis to detain them is going to run out at the end of the year with the
close of the Afghan war. So in my view, this was a win-win, get a soldier
back, get five detainees out of Guantanamo that we couldn`t charge, hadn`t
charged in 12 years. I think it was a good decision.

MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute! Why are they no longer a danger to the
United States in terms of that war front? We`re going to have personnel
over there. And by the way, by your logic, we could have let General Giap
free when we left Vietnam, even though we were no longer in the war, but
he`s certainly a threat to our allies and certainly a threat to our
interests.

DAVIS: We had no evidence--

MATTHEWS: These guys are an enemy of the United States, are they not? I`m
asking, are they are our enemies?

DAVIS: If we had any evidence that they had committed any offense, we
would have preferred charges against them. And in 12 years--

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s why we--

DAVIS: -- we couldn`t do--

MATTHEWS: That`s why we keep -- that`s why we keep them in Gitmo, of
course, because they`re dangerous.

DAVIS: Well, our legal justification`s been that we`re at war, and the
president has said, by the end of the year, that war is coming to an end.
So you know, we`ve got to come up with either a new legal fiction to--

MATTHEWS: Do you think -- do you think the war against the United States
from the Taliban point of view is going to be over when we check out of
there? Do you honestly believe they`re going to stop attacking us and our
interests?

DAVIS: Well, I don`t think we measure--

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: -- our behavior by what the Taliban thinks. I mean, legally, the
war is coming to an end, and that`s what we`ve cited to the courts for a
decade now.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you -- you`re -- you`re -- you`re making these
legal points, which I question because I don`t think they cease to be
hostiles. But my question is this If those guys get back in there and
start killing American GIs who are stationed at our embassy or anywhere
else, whose head`s that on, yours or the president`s? But it`s somebody`s
because the person who lets them go is responsible for them now!

DAVIS: Well--

MATTHEWS: Right now!

DAVIS: If you`re going to wait until the risk is reduced to zero, then
they`ll be--

MATTHEWS: Not zero! How about down to something--

DAVIS: -- serving a life sentence.

MATTHEWS: -- plausible? Let me ask you this. Do you think it`s plausible
that those guys are going to retire from this war?

DAVIS: Well, we don`t know. Only time`s going to tell, but--

MATTHEWS: You don`t know?

DAVIS: -- we`ll never get a--

MATTHEWS: You don`t think so? How about you don`t think so. Say you
don`t think so. That means something. You don`t know doesn`t mean
anything. We don`t know everything. But don`t you think it`s plausible
that they will continue the fight against the United States?

DAVIS: It`s certainly possible. I wouldn`t rule that out.

MATTHEWS: And you want to let them go?

DAVIS: Well, we have to have some legal justification to detain them, and
in the absence of that, then yes, that`s the alternative, prosecute or
release.

MATTHEWS: How about a conversation with one of them when they say, We`re
out to get the United States, we`re engaged in active military jihad
against the United States? Isn`t that enough evidence that they`re a
danger to the United States, when they say so?

DAVIS: If there was some evidence that we could charge them with an
offense, we would have done it. I mean, we`re prosecuting Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed. These guys were never brought up for prosecution.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK. Well, all I can tell you is they`re down there for a
reason.

Let me -- general, what -- let`s talk about our military. What`s the
reaction of our military, that you know, to the fact that we`re releasing
five people who are hostile to the United States, involved in the Taliban
fight against the United States -- that`s how they were picked up -- they
want to go back to where it was before we got there, obviously. They want
the country they had control of back again! Right?

MCCAFFREY: Well--

MATTHEWS: And we`re giving them the chance to do it, it seems to me!

MCCAFFREY: By the way, the first question I`d ask is, when the president
made this decision in the White House Situation Room, what was the opinion
of the CIA, of the Counterterrorism Center? What did the chairman of the
JCS--

MATTHEWS: Well, Susan Rice--

MCCAFFREY: -- tell him?

MATTHEWS: -- was telling them that our guy, Bergdahl, served with
distinction and honor! And we already heard that line. What else?

MCCAFFREY: Well--

MATTHEWS: That they`re also going to be kept in house arrest over there
for a year? More reporting today says, no, they`re not held to house
arrests. They have free roam (ph) of the country of Qatar. And by the
way, they do have telephones and they can get together and they can meet
somewhere over coffee or -- or whatever.

MCCAFFREY: It was a huge victory for the Taliban. And again, I`m not
disputing the president`s right to make some of these calls. I just think
in this case, it was a bad judgment. And the worst part of it, for the
morale of the fighting forces of the U.S. Army and Marines, was letting go
a guy, embracing the parents, making it a public ceremony, calling it honor
and distinction, when we knew he`d walked away from his combat unit. That
was the worst aspect of--

MATTHEWS: Why do you think they did it? Susan Rice, you said, is smart.
I think she`s smart. Why are they building up the case for Bergdahl?

MCCAFFREY: I cannot imagine how they sat around that table and came up
with a good idea to have the president of the United States go out in the
Rose Garden and announce this thing. It`s just astonishing.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Colonel Davis. I -- you know military law. I
respect that. But what about this requirement that the president notify
the Congress for 30 days before he cuts such a deal?

DAVIS: Well--

MATTHEWS: Dianne Feinstein is a solid member of the United States Senate,
maybe the solidest there is, the one true grown-up over there I think some
days. And she makes sure that we know what she just said a few minutes
ago, late this afternoon. She doesn`t like this. She thinks the president
of the United States, her political ally, has broken the law. What do you
make of that?

DAVIS: Well, I think she`s wrong. I mean, you go back to the Bush
administration and Jay Bybee`s memo in 2002, where he said Congress trying
to put any constraints on the president`s authority as commander-in-chief
is unconstitutional. He was talking about enhanced interrogation and the
torture statute, but the same rationale applies here. And the president
issued a signing statement when he signed this 30-day notification
provision, and he said he was signing the bill, but he felt that it was an
unconstitutional infringement on his authority as commander-in-chief.

So I understand her objection, but I think the president is right in this
case that he had the constitutional authority to do what he did.

MATTHEWS: So his signing of that bill meant nothing.

DAVIS: Well, it obviously meant a lot. It was the Defense Authorization
Act, but that provision of the--

MATTHEWS: But he signed it!

DAVIS: Yes, well--

MATTHEWS: How do you sign a law you have no intention of enforcing?
That`s what I don`t quite get. If he -- you take the president as a
serious man, when he signs something that includes that requirement of a
30-day notification, do you think that means something, or it doesn`t mean
anything?

DAVIS: I think--

MATTHEWS: There`s a moral reservation attached?

DAVIS: I think the Constitution trumps the statute.

MATTHEWS: Even if he signed it?

DAVIS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s certainly weird. That`s weird!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I`m not a -- sometimes, I`m glad I`m not a lawyer! Morris,
Colonel, thank you for coming on. We like to argue with you.

DAVIS: Sure.

MATTHEWS: You may be right. I always say that to myself at the end of
these shows. I may be wrong. I don`t think so. Thank you, General
McCaffrey, and thank you, Colonel -- thank you, gentlemen, for your
service, of course.

Coming up: The Army is about to launch a high-level inquiry into the
circumstances surrounding Bergdahl -- that`s Bowe Bergdahl`s --
disappearance. And some members of his own unit are bitter that he walked
away. We`re going to talk to a member of that unit tonight about that, and
it`s coming right up in a minute here.

Also, tonight`s tight-as-nails Republican Senate primary, we think, in
Mississippi. With luck, a Tea Party win could give Democrats -- let`s get
it straight here -- a plausible chance even to win in Mississippi.

Plus, what do you do when you lose two elections as a Republican in a
majority Hispanic district? What else? You switch parties, then give
yourself the name Cesar Chavez and hope nobody notices! I can`t believe
nobody`s going to notice.

Anyway, "Let Me Finish" tonight with this deal we`re talking about that
raises more issues than it resolves, obviously.

And this HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, the Republican strategy of saying Benghazi, Benghazi,
Benghazi every chance they seem to do it pays off, apparently. A new
"Washington Post"/ABC poll shows Americans support Republican efforts to
investigate the 2012 attacks. Fifty-one percent say they approve the
Republicans` new select committee to investigate Benghazi, versus 42
percent who disapprove the creation of the committee. Fifty-eight percent
say they think President Obama covered things up. Only a third say he`s
been honest about what happened. So keep saying it. People keep
listening.

We`ll be right back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Now that Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl
is no longer in Taliban hands, we`re hearing a lot about him from his
fellow platoon members who served with him. And from those who have spoken
out, we hear a deep sense of bitterness that Bergdahl left his post.

I`m joined now by one of Bergdahl`s former platoon members, Joshua
Cornelison, who was -- who was a medic, actually, in Bergdahl`s platoon in
Afghanistan. His appearance was arranged by Capital Media (ph), partners
of (ph) communications and strategy firm with Republican ties. Also with
us, Eric Schmitt, national security correspondent for "The New York Times"
whose front page story today outlined the anger felt by Bergdahl`s former
platoon members.

Another one of Bergdahl`s former platoon members, who was team leader on
the night Bergdahl disappeared, just told CNN that there`s more to this
story than a soldier walking away. The report says, quote, "Within days of
Bergdahl`s disappearance, teams monitoring radio chatter and cell phone
communications intercepted an alarming message, The American is in -- a
village two miles away. He`s looking for someone who speaks English so he
can talk to the Taliban. I heard it straight from the interpreter`s lips
as he heard it over the radio, said the former team leader. There`s a lot
more to this story than a soldier walking away."

Let me go to Joshua Cornelison. Your thoughts and your feelings about the
conduct of your former fellow soldier.

JOSHUA CORNELISON, MEDIC IN BERGDAHL`S UNIT: He purposefully and willfully
walked away from his post in our small outpost Inmast (ph). He
predetermined when and why he was going to leave. That`s unknown to
anybody except for Bowe Bergdahl. But he purposefully walked away and
abandoned his post, abandoned his platoon and abandoned his Army.

MATTHEWS: Why do you -- what -- what -- what evidence do we have that he
had a clear plan? Do you have an idea whether he had a plan to go to the
Taliban, or a plan to just walk, what, to the east to Pakistan? I`m --
we`re getting different stories as this develops, now this latest story
that he may have been going to actually make contact with the Taliban. We
don`t know it yet, but we just heard one report on that.

Did you ever hear anything like that before?

CORNELISON: No, no. You would never--

MATTHEWS: That he was going to join the other side.

CORNELISON: You would never, ever tell anybody that you`re going to walk
off the post because then you would be pulled back from the front line and
you would get mental examinations, and you would no longer be in actual
combat arms. So he never, ever told anybody, hey, guess what, tomorrow
morning I`m going to walk off the post, because that would totally
jeopardize his predetermined plan to actually leave.

MATTHEWS: Give me a sense of the position of your post at the time. I`ve
read so many really frightening stories about how people are really out
there in the -- out in the outposts out there--

CORNELISON: Yes--

MATTHEWS: -- in Afghanistan, all by yourself, and you`re always worried
every minute who`s going to come get you. It`s like the old cowboys and
Indians movies. You don`t know when there`s going to be a sound in the
night or somebody come up or -- was it that kind of feeling you were in
close contact with the enemy? Did you have that feeling when you were out
there?

CORNELISON: All the time, yes.

MATTHEWS: Or not?

CORNELISON: We were in a very small O.P., a little small outpost, where it
was just my platoon.

So, it was just 30 of us and our five MRAPs. And we were responsible for
helping train this ANP, this kind of roadblock setup, where they could help
train and figure out, you know, what they needed to be looking for as far
as suspicious vehicles or personnel coming or going.

We were about a three-hour drive from the nearest Army base. So we were in
the middle of nowhere, just the -- just my platoon, just the 30 of us, and
whatever supplies we brought with us.

MATTHEWS: So if you left the perimeter, which you were guarding, you would
have a sense you would be picked up by the Taliban, whatever your
intentions would be, you would be picked up by the enemy, if not shot on
sight?

CORNELISON: Absolutely. Absolutely.

We got blown up more times than I can count while driving to O.P.
(INAUDIBLE) you knew that they were around. You knew that they wanted to
hurt you, kill you, capture you. So stepping outside of the wire by
yourself without any authorization, without any help, it was pretty much a
-- it was just like a death wish.

You were almost expecting to get captured if you were to wander around by
yourself.

MATTHEWS: Eric Schmitt, thanks for your joining and your straight
reporting on this for "The Times."

What is your -- how does this story comport with other accounts you have
been able to report on?

ERIC SCHMITT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, clearly, Josh has just given his
firsthand account of what the situation was like in this outpost in June of
2009, very hostile environment in Eastern Afghanistan, not far from the
Pakistan border.

And it was striking that, by all -- by most accounts that I have been able
to come up with, that then Private Bergdahl walked off the base without any
body armor, without his rifles. At best, he`s naive walking into the
security situation that Josh just described.

But I see no indication yet that he left deliberately to join the Taliban,
for instance, and act against the Americans. Clearly, he had e-mailed back
to his parents back in Idaho that he was disillusioned with the war. He
talked, I think, with some of his comrades there at the post.

But a lot of what motivated this young man at the time is still unknown,
and we probably won`t know it for several weeks or months to come.

MATTHEWS: Joshua, do you think someone of sound mind would have thought
they could have walked to Pakistan without being picked up by the Taliban
from your post, when you were in that outpost?

CORNELISON: I can`t answer that. I mean, you would have to be very either
cocky or just dumb if you think that you could have just walked around in
Afghanistan by yourself without any kind of support, without your weapon,
without your body armor, just go out with your pocketknife and your
notebook and hope to survive.

You would have to be dumb, naive or something else, I don`t know.

MATTHEWS: OK, Eric. Eric, in today`s "New York Times" front page, of
course, you address charges that some U.S. soldiers may have died in the
course of searching for Mr. Bergdahl, Sergeant Bergdahl now.

You write -- quote -- "The furious search for Sergeant Bergdahl, his
critics say, led to the deaths of at least two soldiers and possibly six
others in the area. Pentagon officials say those charges are
unsubstantiated and are not supported by a review of a database of
casualties in the Afghan war."

Where are you on that right now in terms of your reporting? Were lives
lost by soldiers courageously going out to try to find him before this deal
was cut?

SCHMITT: It`s still very unclear, Chris, as to what the circumstances were
here.

They were -- as Josh pointed out, these soldiers were in a very dangerous
part of Afghanistan. So, whether or not -- even if Bergdahl hadn`t been
lost, and they were searching for him, they would have been out doing
combat controls, could very well have been coming under attack there.

So to try and link some of these very unfortunate casualties that the
Americans suffered off that post to the search for Bergdahl is somewhat
problematic, particularly those that happened later in the summer, some in
August and September that some soldiers are now blaming on the search for
Bergdahl. That`s -- that`s been pretty difficult to substantiate so far.

MATTHEWS: When you -- Joshua, thanks for your service, by the way.

CORNELISON: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: But thank you also for what I`m going to ask you answer right
now.

When you`re out there in an outpost, and I try to think about you guys,
mainly guys, out there in these terrible situations, scared to death in
some cases, but doing it for your country, who did you see on the other
side around you? Who did you see?

When you had to think about the Taliban, did you think about it in the way
all soldiers do? They`re just the enemy? Or did you have some sense of
them being weird and somehow focused on religious fury and opposition to
anything modern and any kind of freedom on the part of women? Did you get
any of that? What did you think of the Taliban surrounding you? Who were
these guys that this guy ended up being in contact with apparently?

CORNELISON: Anybody that tries to blow me up, anybody that tries to hurt
me, hurt my platoon, anybody that I care about, they`re the enemy. I don`t
care what religion they are.

I don`t care what any -- what -- how they were brought up. I don`t care
what their creed, what their ethics are. Anybody that tries to kill me or
people that I care about, that`s my enemy. So I don`t care if -- I don`t
care what their agenda is. If they are trying to kill me, I need to do
everything that I can to protect myself and my platoon members.

MATTHEWS: That`s the amazing thing about Bergdahl if he walked into a
group of people who -- and he shared your view they were out to kill him
and he walked right into them unarmed with a notebook and a pen knife or
something. Unbelievable.

Anyway, thank you, Joshua Cornelison. Thank you for your service. And,
Eric Schmitt, thank you from the great "New York Times." And I mean that.

Up next, the desperate attempt by one Republican candidate to win a seat in
Congress with a new party and a new name. Isn`t he name? Cesar Chavez is
his new name.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL and time now for the "Sideshow."

The return of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from Afghanistan has elicited varying
reactions in the country, obviously, with many critics raising questions
about the very prudence of swapping five Gitmo detainees in the exchange.

But, last night, Steve Colbert effectively summarized both sides of the
coin and then came up with another possible reason for the prisoner trade.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Obviously,
we should be happy for the family. They have gotten their loved one back.
That`s very, very important.

The methodology and what we used is very troublesome. Negotiating with
terrorists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is cause for celebration when an American is
returned home. We negotiated with terrorists.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Yes, it`s a victory and a
defeat.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: The whole situation has us pumping our fist with joy while
shaking it in anger.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: So, as happy as I am that Sergeant Bergdahl is coming home, it
also means five terrorists are now free to roam in a treeless desert
patrolled only by our Predator drones.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: Oh. Oh. Well, you enjoy that freedom, fellows.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Next up: A former Republican candidate in Arizona has come up
with an outrageous new strategy to win the Hispanic vote in his state.

Scott Fistler lost his write-in bid for Congress back in 2012. Now the 34-
year-old Republican has switched parties to run for the same seat as a
Democrat. But that`s not all. He`s legally changed his name to Cesar
Chavez, taking the full name of the famous Mexican-American laborer and
civil rights activist who died over 20 years ago. It`s like taking God`s
name.

While the move is clearly an attempt to fool voters in the largely Hispanic
district, Fistler, now Chavez, Mr. Chavez, is unlikely to do well against
his Democratic rivals, one of whom has already described his candidacy as
an affront to the community, which it is.

Finally, Karl Rove`s American Crossroads super PAC is getting creative with
their latest attack ad against Democratic Senator Mark Pryor in Arkansas.
It`s a parody of the school spelling bee that`s more cutting than cute.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your next word is Pryor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: May I have the definition, please?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pryor, a Washington liberal out of touch with
Arkansas, voted for the Obama agenda 90 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pryor, O-B-A-M-A.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Close enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Close enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What a joke.

Up next: Polls in Mississippi close at the top of this hour. Could a Tea
Party victory tonight actually give the Democrats something of a chance
even in Mississippi?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

President Obama plans to increase the U.S. military presence in Europe, a
move that will cost up to $1 billion. He made the announcement during a
trip to Poland.

Severe weather has been punishing parts of Nebraska, where a tornado
touched down earlier. A tornado watch is in effect until 7:00 p.m. Central
time for portions of that state.

And former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon has pleaded guilty to corruption
charges. It carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years, as well as a fine
of $250,000 -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As I showed you last night, the final test of the Tea Party strength takes
place tonight in Mississippi, where polls close in just under a half-hour.
Well, the contest between six-term incumbent -- that`s 36-year incumbent
Thad Cochran and Tea Party firebrand Chris McDaniel is expected to be close
tonight and the result could, at least potentially, potentially have an
effect on the Senate map this November.

Here`s why we`re focused on Mississippi. Right now, there are 12 states
with competitive Senate races we expect to be very close this November. In
10 of them, all in blue, Democrats are playing defense. In other words,
they hold the seats now. They could lose them. Republicans need a gain of
six to take over the Senate. As of today -- and things change --
Republicans are in a strong shape in the following three states, Montana,
South Dakota and West Virginia. That means they would only need to win a
net of three more in the remaining nine states. They got three shots out
of nine.

But back to Mississippi. It`s the last chance really for the Tea Party to
score an upset over an establishment candidate in this primary season.
With the arrest, however, of four McDaniel supporters in connection with
taking photos of Senator Cochran`s bedridden wife in a nursing home, that
could prevent the Tea Party from scoring what they expected to be a big
victory tonight.

And if Senator Cochran does pull out -- pull through the night, that could
be -- does that spell the end of the Tea Party for a while?

Michael Steele is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee
and an MSNBC political analyst and Joan Walsh is with Salon and is also an
MSNBC contributor.

So, Michael, as a Republican -- I`m just thinking about this. I have
always thought Mississippi was hopeless, but then again, if McDaniel is too
far to the right, there is always the chance that somebody down there, even
maybe just one term.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

MATTHEWS: They can always give the Democrat one term and say, this will
send a message. They used to do so that.

And say, you know what, I will go this moderate Democrat this time because
McDaniel is too far right. Anyway, how do you see the race going? Is
thing -- I know you have to predict in the next hour is tough.

STEELE: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: Four guys going in and taking a picture of a woman who has got
dementia is pretty sleazy.

STEELE: It is.

MATTHEWS: And to any extent that it happened, if it did happen, it does
somehow paint a picture of McDaniel as part of that attitude of it`s worth
doing that kind of thing.

STEELE: Yes, well, you know what`s interesting about this whole situation
with McDaniel and the picture is that it`s not been as much of a drag on
his campaign as Cochran`s team thought it would be and even some of the
Washington types thought it would be.

So, he`s been able to--

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, I`m one of the Washington types.

STEELE: Yes, a lot more of the Washington types.

But he`s been able to weather this storm a lot more.

MATTHEWS: So, you think he`s got a good shot tonight, McDaniel?

STEELE: Well, the latest polls going in to tonight were tied.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to the second question. If he wins, is he too
far right for Mississippi or is there not such a thing?

STEELE: I don`t--

(LAUGHTER)

STEELE: I don`t know if there is such a thing.

I don`t see a Democrat even in the best scenarios taking this seat in
November, even with McDaniel at the top of the ticket.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s take a look at this.

I want Joan to think about this now, the two steps. The way I have heard
it is 50-50 chance for the primary tonight between Thad Cochran, the 36-
year incumbent, and this guy, McDaniel and possibly, if McDaniel wins, a
50-50 race in November, the Democrat would have a chance, a chance.

JOAN WALSH, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I`m going to go with
Michael on this one. I think it`s very, very uphill.

But I think there are a couple of keys, a couple of potential things here.
I mean, Chris, you make a good point that not much has been made of the
McDaniel supporter playing that -- let`s -- I don`t know if we call it a
dirty trick. It`s dirty, whatever it is.

And let`s be honest. And you talked about this a little bit on the show
last night. The problem is that the storyline originates in rumors about
Senator Cochran possibly having an affair. I`m not validating those. I`m
not--

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What is this? Is that really true? I don`t like the looks of
that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What do you mean by affair? Because he lives in the basement?

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH: Wait a second. Henry Barbour said that to you last night. That`s
what they were trying to prove.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WALSH: And it`s ugly. I`m not endorsing it. I`m not saying it`s true.
But that`s how this whole prank or whatever you want to call it originated.

So, the Cochran campaign in some ways had its hands tied because they don`t
want to really pay a whole lot of attention to it to validate that
storyline. I think Democrats could do something different about it. I
think there are a lot of Republican women who would be horrified at the
violation of that poor woman`s privacy.

I think McDaniel has also made some pretty crude comments about hot
mamacitas and suggesting a woman politician got there because of her boobs,
literally. He used that word. So, there are some things that I think
Democrats could do more with Thad Cochran if he makes it, if McDaniel makes
it.

MATTHEWS: Well, there`s also -- not to get beyond elections, but imagine
this hot tamale or whatever you want to call him in the U.S. Senate.

WALSH: I don`t want to.

MATTHEWS: Just imagine his number, the way he`s playing these ethnic
cards. I shouldn`t even say hot tamale. All this craziness he`s doing.

STEELE: Right. Right.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: And this guy thinking that you can say anything you want.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: He`s been a little bit -- he`s been a little bit of a loose
cannon.

But I go back to my point. He`s not been damaged in the state of
Mississippi by that. And the other thing to keep in mind is Thad Cochran
-- and I have a great deal of admiration for him -- got caught flat-footed
in this campaign, quite frankly. They came in.

I think a lot of folks sort of took the Washington hype that this was going
to be an easier walk for him than it turned out to be. He came up against
a formidable Tea Party candidate and now he`s, I think, kind of paying a
little bit of that price because they didn`t get on the ground early and
work their votes so they could get 50 percent of the vote plus one tonight.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let`s talk about this. If Cochran wins, a 36-year
incumbent, this is the last Tea Party chance to win a race this year. If
they lose them, they`ve lost them all.

STEELE: I don`t --

MATTHEWS: A bad year -- bad year for the Tea Party crowd.

STEELE: Yes, I think it`s a tough year, but the Tea Party -- I think, the
Tea Party is playing long ball. You and I have talked about this. This is
as much about 2016 as it is about 2014, and getting --

MATTHEWS: Do you think you could have a Tea Party candidate for president?

STEELE: I could say something like that happening in a Republican primary
--

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: Sure.

STEELE: -- yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Winning the primaries?

STEELE: Absolutely.

WALSH: I do, too.

STEELE: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: This is news. Coming out of this, especially if this guy
McDaniel wins, it sends the signal, you would say I suppose there`s still a
lot of fury in the teapot, a lot of steam, if you will.

WALSH: Sure.

MATTHEWS: And they could actually win with a Rand Paul or a Rick Perry or
somebody?

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Without a doubt.

MATTHEWS: Without a doubt?

WALSH: Without a doubt.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe that, Joan? The Republican Party would run
somebody that far over?

WALSH: I do, because their moderates are really wounded. You know, Chris
Christie is probably mortally wounded in terms of his presidential hopes.
Jeb Bush has lots of baggage. We don`t even have to go into that.

So, there`s not -- there`s not a Mitt Romney or John McCain figure who`s
going to come through the primary and have all the Tea Party folks fights
amongst themselves, you know? If Mitch McDaniels excuse me, if Mitch
McConnell, you`re going to have him thanking Rand Paul. They have the
fire.

MATTHEWS: I`m shock already. But let`s -- I think we didn`t get to `14
yet. We`re already at `16, which happens all the time.

When I hear you and Michael agree, I`m getting a little worried here. I
really think it`s possible but I don`t like to say because I don`t know --
I think Rand Paul can win the early fights. Then, I think it`s going to be
one of those moments where the party takes a gut check and says, "Whoa!
We`re not handing this to Hillary Clinton."

WALSH: But then who is it?

MATTHEWS: I don`t know.

STEELE: Let me tell you what the gut check is going to be for the party
because every election they ask, they say, ask questions, have we nominated
the most conservative person we could? And the answer has been in the last
two cycles, no. And the feeling with the base right now is we need to
nominate a true conservative and if Rand Paul and others fit that bill, it
could happen.

MATTHEWS: Well, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton -- especially Hillary
Clinton is laughing right now. We got the center. Thank you, guys.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele. Thank you, Joan Walsh.

WALSH: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next, another bizarre example of willful ignorance of someone
close to Governor Chris Christie. We`ve got more of the hearing today,
another hearing, more developments. This story is going to cook for a
while and we`ll see if he cooks.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: President Obama announced his plan to limit carbon emissions
from coal-fired power plants. And while Republicans are overwhelming
against the president`s plan, the American people overwhelmingly support
it. According to that new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll, seven in 10
Americans, 70 percent, say that the federal government should limit the
release of greenhouse gases to reduce global warming, seven in 10. You
don`t get that kind of number often.

And when asked whether they support the president`s plan if it
significantly reduced greenhouse gases, but raised their electricity bill
by 20 bucks, nearly 2/3 stayed with the president.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back and more trouble in Trenton.

During the last round of hearings on the George Washington Bridge lane
closure fiasco, we learned from one of Chris Christie`s campaign staffers
that the order for those lane closures was given just hours after
Christie`s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, learned that the Fort Lee
mayor was not endorsing Christie for reelection.

Now, one of Christie`s appointees to the Port Authority, Commissioner Pat
Schuber, is under fire for his role in turning a blind eye to what happened
after that parent act of political payback. Schuber was made aware of
those lane closures on multiple occasions after they happened. He said he
got wind of a scathing letter by one of his colleagues warning that federal
laws had likely been broken and he also said he received a personal letter
from Democratic Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg on the issue.

When asked why he ignored all those calls to look into what had happened,
Schuber`s answer was politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT SCHUBER, PORT AUTHORITY COMMISSIONER: This whole issue had become
very, very, I thought politically charged, quite frankly, or even partisan
to a certain degree, and quite frankly, it was not something I wanted to be
involved in the middle of quite frankly. And that`s the way I felt about
it. It became somewhat political with regard to that, and my position with
regard to that, I just didn`t want to be in the middle of that.

I saw this very quickly becoming a political football and from my
perspective, I just didn`t want to be involved with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s consistent. Schuber didn`t want to deal with
members of his own staff on the issue. Here`s more of Mr. Schuber`s "I`m
not getting involved."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHUBER: I think there may have been some tension between some of the New
Jersey permanent staffers and the New York staffers. So, again, that was
another issue that played out with regard to that, and I just didn`t want
to be a part of that either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I didn`t want to be involved. Anyway, dismiss it, ignore it,
hope it goes away is the playbook. We`ve seen Christie himself, the
governor himself, use when dealing with the legal and political fallout of
the mess he`s trying to leave behind in Jersey. Well, five investigations
are under way right now. This isn`t going away anytime soon.

Loretta Weinberg herself is Democratic state senator from New Jersey, and
she co-chairs the committee investigating the governor.

And, Brian Murphy is an MSNBC contributor, and the former managing editor
of Politics.nj.com.

Senator, thank you. Senator Weinberg, thank you so much.

What did you make of this guy Schuber? A new personality for a lot of us,
but he`s on the commission. It`s his job to oversee the bridge, George
Washington Bridge, and what goes on it. But he seems to think that this
title was sort of honorific apparently, an honorary title. He shouldn`t
get involved in policy matters.

I don`t understand how a guy can take salary for being on a commission and
keep say robotically "I don`t want to be involved". What is he involved
with if not the George Washington Bridge? Your thoughts about his answers.

STATE SEN. LORETTA WEINBERG (D), NEW YORK: Well, Chris, let me correct one
thing. These Port Authority commissioners are not salaried.

MATTHEWS: OK.

LORETTA: So they don`t receive a salary, they get remunerated for
expenses. But I was somewhat surprised. I`ve known Pat Schuber for many
years. He`s a former mayor of a community I represent. He is a former
assemblyman, so he served in the legislature, and he`s the former Bergen
County elected executive.

So, I would have assumed that Mr. Schuber knew something about his
responsibilities, but an e-mail is exposed from his executive director, the
Port Authority executive director, saying, laws were probably broken here.
None of our processes were followed. People were put in jeopardy.

And his answer was, oh, I just attributed that to tension between New York
and New Jersey, and I didn`t want to be involved.

My letter, which I wrote to him very early on in September, is before any
of us knew the background of any of this. We didn`t know about Bridget
Kelly`s e-mail, we didn`t know about David Wildstein and Bill Baroni, a
whole lot of things.

He dismissed that as partisan politics because we ran against each other in
an election 15 years ago? I voted for Pat Schuber to be on the Port
Authority, and I did it proudly, because I thought Bergen County had an
experienced voice from somebody who really knew our county. And I am
really gravely disappointed in his actions over the last number of years.

And it just points out, I think, why this Port Authority needs a good
overhaul, because if Pat Schuber is indicative of his colleagues there,
seems to me the majority of them took a hands off "I don`t want to know"
attitude.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Let me go to Brian Murphy in this. It seems to me if you`re put on a
board, I stand corrected on the salary issue, it`s only expenses. But if
you`re put on the board, you`ve got a responsibility, a fiduciary
responsibility to watch it, to oversee it, and be responsible for any
political hanky-panky that goes on. That`s why you`re sitting there.

He`s a political appointment. He ought to be shrewd about what looks to be
questionable, what looks to be, you know, not quite on the level.

Now, my question is, when you look at how this trial is going -- these
hearings, they`re not a trial -- the hearings that are probably
corresponding to all the legal investigations going on, how are we moving
on this? What do you sense as a -- update everybody watching right now on
this whole question of the role of the governor, the role of his people in
this political hijinks that was probably -- it`s certainly a cause for
questions of legality or not here.

BRIAN MURPHY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think we`re at the point where, because
of the federal investigation, the sort of -- the people that I would like
to hear from and probably we would like to hear from, aren`t going to be
able to appear before that committee that the New Jersey legislature has
right now. So, we`re getting to some -- I don`t want to demean Pat
Schuber, but we`re getting a B-list of witnesses right now, because all the
A-list people are with the feds in Newark.

All that said, I think what we`re learning is that the control of the Port
Authority was tightly held, right? It`s not an effective -- the board
isn`t really providing effective oversight. So, it`s back to the executive
director and the chairman and Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, the handful
of people around Chris Christie, right, who Chris Christie has put there,
and who Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, has put there, and what we
know is they`re in pretty regular contract with Chris Christie`s office,
right, with the governor and the governor`s top staff.

So, I think, in some ways, we didn`t learn a lot about bridgegate today
specifically. We learned the way the place functions makes it, again,
extremely unlikely that we would believe that he wouldn`t have known
something about what was going on or wouldn`t have many opportunities to
learn about what was going on.

MATTHEWS: Well, this guy Schuber seems like the kind of perfect example of
this, like a mini-me of the governor.

MURPHY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: He doesn`t want to know anything.

Anyway, Senator Weinberg, Schuber told you today that he checked in with
the Fort Lee mayor at your request, and apparently, that`s the most anyone
looked into the issue, according to him. Here`s more from Commissioner
Schuber today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHUBER: I frankly -- you know, maybe more could be done, but the fact of
the matter, I think I`m the only one that reached out to anybody on this
issue at all, quite frankly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Was he responsive to you in real-time, Senator?

WEINBERG: No, absolutely not. He`s never responded to my letter. In
fact, he seemed to indicate that he just didn`t seem to realize that he
needed to respond to my letter. I spoke at four different Port Authority
committee meetings, and I addressed him directly. I said, we had a phone
call, you promised you would get back to me and you`ve never done that.
And he still hasn`t until his --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think --

WEINBERG: It`s disappointing.

MATTHEWS: I think they should have a sign on like a bridge, slippery when
wet.

Thank you so much, Senator Loretta Weinberg. Boy, is this slippery -- I
know nothing.

Anyway, Brian Murphy, it`s something to observe. But keep us up to date,
both of you. We`ll be right back after this.

WEINBERG: Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this debate over the prisoner swap.
Is the temperature rising on whether the president was right to swap five
Taliban leaders for an American who left his outfit over in Afghanistan?
Is this a matter of principle, not leaving a man behind, even a man who may
have left his uniform, his outfit and his country behind? Or is this a
judgment as to national security, was there a sound reason to believe these
five Taliban leaders will not come back at us in Afghanistan with
everything they`ve got?

I think the second question is the far easier one. I find it hard to
summon the faith that these committed Taliban leaders will retire from the
war. They`ve been fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan and all these
years in prison at Guantanamo. If someone could simply give me the
assurance that they will now proceed to peaceful pursuits in Qatar, I`ll
listen to the argument. I haven`t heard it yet. If these men were safe to
let go, why not let them go before? That they were dangerous before and
what makes them less dangerous now, that we`ve imprisoned them all these
years.

This debate is going to rage for a while. I expect it will get a lot
hotter.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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