updated 6/5/2014 1:31:36 PM ET 2014-06-05T17:31:36

June 4, 2014

Guest: Clarence Page, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Michael Tomasky, Stephanie
Schriock, Amy Walter, Jim Webb


Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with the new, startling video of Sergeant Bergdahl
being handed over by the Taliban. Since Saturday, we`ve watched a
deteriorating picture of the deal that led to his release. In rolling out
the news, the White House painted a happy picture of American victory,
something of a celebration. Our soldier, basking in the glory of honorable
and distinctive service, was coming home to what looked to be a justified
price. "A national hero" one Republican member of Congress called him.

In exchange, we were told five Taliban prisoners were being sent to what
was described as a house arrest in Qatar. They would have no communication
with their fellow warriors in the Afghan war front. They would be out of
action, completely out of the fighting for at least a year.

Today, Wednesday, the deal is less joyous, of course. There are huge
questions about the soldier we are getting home. Was he loyal to the
country? Did he desert? Did we cut too loose a deal with the enemy to get
him back? Did we let the Taliban regain some of its top military
commanders to prepare for a final assault on Kabul?

Did we create a firing squad, if you will, against our own troops who will
be left behind to guard our embassy over there and provide other support a
year from now, when these five Johnnys come marching home. And are they
even now engaged in war planning as they assemble in the Taliban
headquarters in Doha?

Chuck Todd is political director for NBC News and chief White House
correspondent. He`s the host of "THE DAILY RUNDOWN" here on MSNBC. And
Clarence Page is a columnist for "The Chicago Tribune."

First, let`s start with those dramatic videos released today of Bergdahl`s
handoff by the Taliban to American special forces. Bergdahl is shown here
sitting in the back of a pickup truck, talking to the Taliban escorts while
waiting for Americans arrive. Eventually, American special forces do
arrive by helicopter.

Bergdahl and his Taliban escort move toward them. You can see the
Americans briefly shaking hands with the Taliban people, and then taking
Bergdahl back to the helicopter. The Americans frisk him, load him onto
the helicopter, then they take off. It all takes about a minute on the
ground there.

Anyway, Chuck, you`ve got a lot of things to do tonight, so I`m going to
get your thoughts here now. Did the White House anticipate today, last
Saturday? Did they know how the picture would deteriorate, the picture we
have of Bergdahl as a loyal American, or not, the picture we have of these
Taliban detainees as dangerous or not? How`s the picture changed, or has

thought five days later, if there was going to be a robust debate, if this
was going to be a political firestorm, they figured it would almost be
solely focused on the decision to release these five members of the Taliban
back into, you know, the house arrest in Qatar, or whatever you want to
call it, that that would be the firestorm, that that would be the debate,
that that would -- there would be a back-and-forth.

They did not anticipate the focus on Bergdahl himself. They knew the back
story, but there was an assumption that they had, given, you know, perhaps
some of the bipartisan calls for trying to find Bergdahl that were coming
from Capitol Hill, doing whatever it took, to a certain degree, to get
Bergdahl back into U.S. hands -- that there wouldn`t be this public outcry
against him.

They also, obviously, didn`t do their homework on this front. They thought
there would be some members of the military, people that knew Bergdahl,
that served with Bergdahl, that would stand up for him. They have been
surprised that, basically, nobody that`s served with him is standing up for
him, and anybody that did serve with him that has chosen to speak out has
been critical of either Bergdahl`s service or raised questions about how he
disappeared from -- how he might have ended up in Taliban hands.

And in fact, the political infighting -- I`ve had a few aides -- and I said
this earlier -- refer to this, they didn`t expect the quote, unquote,
"swift boating" of Bergdahl, trying to bring back memories of --

MATTHEWS: Well, wait a minute!

TODD: -- the whole political fight --

MATTHEWS: Wait a minute!

TODD: -- with John Kerry back in 2004 --

MATTHEWS: Swift-boating of John Kerry was a dishonest --

TODD: I think it`s rough language, but --

MATTHEWS: -- PR campaign.

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: No, no! Swift-boating is totally misused here. Swift-boating
is when you make up stories --

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- and you misconstrue the evidence from -- you don`t like the
way that John Kerry opposed the Vietnam war after he got back and turned it
into an attack on his service over there -- totally dishonest.

These are questions raised about a guy who left post, wrote letters, sent
signals --

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- that he was leaving post as a matter of principle, he
didn`t believe in the war effort. And we don`t know what`s worse here, but
the idea that there`s -- where`s the dishonesty in the portrayal of
Bergdahl so far? I haven`t seen it. What`s been misconstrued about him so

TODD: Well --

MATTHEWS: I know there`s questions raised. I have --

TODD: Hey, I -- you`re --

MATTHEWS: -- those questions. Most Americans do.

TODD: This is not -- Chris, I understand. This is not my portrayal. I`m
simply reporting to you how the White House is viewing this. Now, there is
a part of the White House that thinks, Hey -- and you`ve heard it from
defense officials -- give Bergdahl time to tell his side of the story.


TODD: And they believe, at a minimum, that it`s been unfair that Bergdahl
hasn`t been able to give his side of the story, that we don`t know his
version of events, of the circumstances that got him into the hands of the
Taliban. And that`s why they are calling this a swift boat, that it`s a
one-sided version of events.

MATTHEWS: OK, well, I think that`s --


MATTHEWS: -- but here`s the question --

TODD: What happened right now, Chris --


TODD: This is a big political fight all of a sudden --

MATTHEWS: OK. Hillary Clinton --

TODD: -- and everybody is in their corners --

MATTHEWS: -- opposed this --

TODD: -- the red corner and the blue corner.

MATTHEWS: A lot of good people in that White House around the president
didn`t want to make this deal, including Hillary Clinton, which is a highly
important fact here. Now she`s going along with it because she`s a team

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: And she`s (INAUDIBLE) back the president because he`s going to
back her when she runs, apparently -- obviously. So she was against it.
Panetta was against it. The defense team was against it. The idea that
they did this so easily --

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- Oh, it`s going to be an easy rollout -- why did they think
it`d be an easy rollout if so many smart people opposed the deal on the
Democrat side?

TODD: Well, you got to remember the timing of the deal here. In 2011, the
reason Clapper, the head of the intelligence, Panetta, and Hillary Clinton
opposed this deal, because there was concern that these five members of the
Taliban would have an opportunity to go back into the fight.


TODD: The reason now both that Clapper, and in this case, Hagel agreed to
go along with this version of the plan, because as the White House has
outlined it, these five guys are in Qatar for a year. By the time they end
up back in Afghanistan, U.S. forces are basically out of the country --

MATTHEWS: Well -- OK --

TODD: -- and the war is essentially over. That is their rationale of
the difference --


TODD: -- between `11 and today.

MATTHEWS: OK, look, I`d like to believe that, but everything we`ve gotten
today from different sources is they`re already back in the Taliban
headquarters in Doha. They`re hanging around all with each other.

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: They`re in direct contact with the Taliban. They`re in the
Taliban. This idea they`ve been sequestered and put in some kind of time-
out, like in grade school -- they`re not in any time-out! They`re already
collaborating with the enemy. They are the enemy. Look at the pictures
there. They`re back home. Johnny has marched home. They`re where they
want to be.

These are the top commanders. We find out that this guy was the chief of
staff of the army! He wasn`t some little guy picked up in the field, he
was the head of the army! The other guy was a top security guy, top
intelligence guys, top interior minister. These are top leaders that they
hand-picked that they wanted back to help their takeover of Kabul! Isn`t
that clear to everybody?

TODD: There is, but there`s also another --

MATTHEWS: This was strategic.

TODD: -- aspect to this. Hang on. Don`t forget, the U.S. government
has been trying to start peace talks with the Taliban. Even the Afghan
government is trying to start peace talks with the Taliban. At some point,
these five guys were going to get returned.

And there was an interesting comment today from the State Department
spokesperson. I`ve heard this comment -- I`ve heard this rationale behind
the scenes. First time I`ve heard it publicly. Spokesperson Marie Harf
over at the State Department said, Well, we were going to be releasing
these guys at some point in the next year, we might as well have gotten
something for them.

And this is a reminder, Chris, at some point, we didn`t have a legal reason
to keep them anymore. They weren`t being brought up on any specific
charges. They were scooped up early in this war --

MATTHEWS: I know all that, but --

TODD: -- very early.

MATTHEWS: -- we still have men in harm`s way --

TODD: -- not in the middle of it.


MATTHEWS: We`re still in a war --

TODD: That`s right.

MATTHEWS: -- that they are fighting. We may say we`re ending the war,
but as long as the Taliban is fighting the war and we`re stuck over there
in Kabul in our embassies and diplomatic services and the support troops
are still there, we are targets of the Taliban.

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS: How can we say the war`s over, let these guys go and back to
join the other side? How can we say the war`s over when it ain`t over?

TODD: Chris, you`re putting me in a position as if I`m somehow part of the
decision-making process.


TODD: I`m not. So I don`t -- I don`t -- I understand your question-

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m using you as a sounding board --


MATTHEWS: But I think these questions --

TODD: I understand that.

MATTHEWS: -- are nonpartisan. These are reasonable questions, and I
wish the Republicans --

TODD: I -- no, of course --

MATTHEWS: I mean, this is a hopeless hope -- that they wouldn`t turn
everything into their list of hell they love to put everything together,
the same little charm bracelet they put everything on.

TODD: Well --

MATTHEWS: But the fact is, they`re going to do it. But I`m still going to
say what I have to say. I wonder about this deal.

TODD: No, I understand that.

MATTHEWS: I don`t think it looks as rosy as it did on Saturday, and I
wonder why they thought it was just another lousy rollout.

TODD: Chris, I guess what I would come back to you on this front is, if
the war is not over, then they wouldn`t have released them. There is this
mindset in the White House and in the national security community that the
war is winding down. And if you`re winding down the war, then at some
point --


TODD: -- you have to do something with these folks that were held at
Guantanamo and return them. And you --


MATTHEWS: I agree. When the war`s over --

TODD: -- charges against them.

MATTHEWS: By the way, we got our POWs back in Vietnam --

TODD: So that`s the -- that`s the box.

MATTHEWS: We got our POWs in Vietnam when we got out of that war. When
the Taliban gets out of the war, I`ll be surprised. Chuck, thank you.
This is a tricky one, very tricky.

TODD: All right, my friend.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much for joining us.

Clarence, you only have a little time, but your thoughts about this whole

CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Yes. One thing to remember about the
Taliban is this is not Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and al Qaeda, who we know
have attacked the United States. Taliban never come here and attacked us,
to very much simplify history, but it`s true. We are leaving Afghanistan.
Our legal rationale for keeping these Taliban leaders hostage or -- hostage
-- keep them in detention, indefinite, quote, unquote, "detention," not
permanent detention but indefinite, that excuse is evaporating.

MATTHEWS: Suppose they go back to the war front?

PAGE: That`s why the White House --

MATTHEWS: Suppose they go back to the war front?

PAGE: So what? It`s not our war anymore.

MATTHEWS: Our troops are still there.

PAGE: You might not think we`re out, but most of the American people --


PAGE: -- get back in.

MATTHEWS: Clarence, you can`t poll on this. Are we still going to have
soldiers over there that will be targets?

PAGE: They`ll be advisers at the most.

MATTHEWS: Then they`ll be targets.

PAGE: Well, if you`re in Afghanistan, yes, you`re a target, but --

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s my point!

PAGE: -- but our main troops are pulling out. And you can`t hold -- how
long are you going to keep them, Chris? I mean, you just heard Chuck
saying it and the State Department believes this, the White House believes
it, and most of the American people say --


PAGE: -- the sooner we get out, the better --


PAGE: Don`t forget --


PAGE: Don`t forget --

MATTHEWS: We`re still there!

PAGE: We`ve still got a man who we have released now from Taliban custody.
If he was still sitting over there, this would be a different debate,
wouldn`t it.

MATTHEWS: OK. Not -- my problem is this. If any of our Americans now
from this day forward get killed over there because of the work of these
five guys once they`re back in authority over there, whose fault is that?

PAGE: Oh, you`re going to see the headlines if that happens.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, I don`t --


PAGE: -- see the headlines anyway, wouldn`t you.

MATTHEWS: Well, I don`t want to see them. I don`t want to see them.
Maybe we`ll get them by drones. That would be great, catch them in the
act. Clarence, we sometimes disagree.


MATTHEWS: Thank you, Clarence Page of "The Chicago Tribune."

Coming up: Was the Obama administration right to release five prisoners to
the -- of the Taliban, those who they wanted back in exchange for an
American soldier who could be guilty of desertion? We`re going to have
that hot debate. This is just a prelude. That`s coming up here in a

Plus, the neck-and-neck race for the Republican Senate nomination in
Mississippi. The challenger looks like the winner. Could the Tea Party go
too far, or is Mississippi already ahead of it? That`s pretty scary!

And hard as it is to believe, U.S. Congressman Steve King may have topped
himself even with his latest removed-from-reality comment about the Obama

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with this deal that was driven by our
enemies to release Bowe Bergdahl.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Hillary Clinton`s now speaking out about a possible run for
president. In advance of her upcoming book release, the former secretary
of state told "People" magazine, quote, "I know I have a tough decision to
make, a decision to make, but part of what I`ve been thinking about is
everything I`m interested in and everything I enjoy doing, and with the
extra added joy of I`m about to become a grandmother. I want to live in
the moment. At the same time, I am concerned about what I see happening in
the country and in the world."

Well, Clinton`s book -- the title is "Hard Choices" -- is due out next

We`ll be right back.



SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Opponents of President Obama have
seized upon the release of an American prisoner of war -- that`s what he
was -- using what should be a moment of unity and celebration of our nation
as a chance to play political games. The safe return of an American
soldier should not be used for political points.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That`s, of course, Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid today on the Senate floor criticizing what he calls the
political games being launched over Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl`s release.
While there are legitimate questions, I believe, to ask about the
president`s handling of the prisoner swap, we want to stick to the main
issue here. Was the Obama administration right to release five Taliban
prisoners in exchange for an American soldier, who it appears walked off
his post?

Joining me right now is U.S. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee.
She`s a Republican. And Michael Tomasky`s a special correspondent for the

Let me start with the congresswoman. Your views about how you would have
handled it differently, what -- what your main critique is here of the
president`s decision. He made it. What`s your critique?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: He did make it. And I think that
this is like so many decisions that they make. You know, they seem to make
mistakes in their information. It leads to illogical conclusions. The 30
days -- why they didn`t come back to Congress and provide that information
-- this is something that Congress has put in place because there had been
questions about detainees. And Chris, why he did not do that is causing
great concern.

And then also, as you said, the five masterminds that were sent back to
Qatar that you don`t know if they`re going to be active in planning actions
against our troops, our men and women in the field. I have a major
military post in my district.

MATTHEWS: I understand.

BLACKBURN: This has caused great concern.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s get back to those two questions. Was the 30-day
requirement -- the president signed it, he agreed to as part of the law of
the land -- he broke the law. He may even admit so. He`ll also go back to
Article II of the Constitution, which makes him commander-in-chief of the
armed forces.


MATTHEWS: The second question -- do you think it`s reasonable to assume
that these five characters -- we`ve seen pictures of them, Taliban guys --
are not going back to fight the war?

TOMASKY: First question, that`s troubling, the question about the law.
There`s no doubt about that. Now, you might say that the spirit of that
law is so that he wouldn`t empty Guantanamo. That`s really why they passed
that law, so he wouldn`t empty Guantanamo in one or two fell swoops. And
he`s not doing that. This is just five guys.


TOMASKY: There`s still 100-something guys there. So -- and then there`s
the constitutional questions you address. So --

MATTHEWS: What about going back to fight the war again?

TOMASKY: -- now these five guys -- we have some statistics about this,
Chris. People have studied the recidivism rates of people who`ve gone back

MATTHEWS: But they fought to get these guys back! They asked for this

TOMASKY: I know that, but --


MATTHEWS: -- in the fighting. They were -- they negotiated to get --
look at them hugging! They got these five -- this is the former chief of
staff of the army, the former deputy --

TOMASKY: I understand that. Look, they`re --

MATTHEWS: Former interior secretary.

TOMASKY: -- dangerous guys. They`re dangerous guys. There`s always --


TOMASKY: -- a risk. But look, the Bush administration sent back more
than 500 guys. Obama has only sent back about 80. So the Bush
administration sent back far more guys and with far looser standards. Now,
you know, I don`t know what these guys are going to do. Nobody knows what
these guys are going to do. But recidivism rates are actually --

MATTHEWS: OK, let me go back to --


BLACKBURN: Well, let me -- yes --

MATTHEWS: Let me -- let me ask you this --

BLACKBURN: Let me --


MATTHEWS: Look, I have to go back and forth here in a reasonable way, or
we`re going to get into one of those stupid cable fights. I`m not doing
that tonight.


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you another question. If you could have gotten a
better deal to get Bergdahl back, what would it have been? I mean, you got
to think, five, four, three, none? What would you have given the Taliban
to get the American serviceman back, or would you give them nothing?

BLACKBURN: Well, that is a question, a hypothetical, that you really can`t
answer. What you --

MATTHEWS: No, it`s the question the president had to answer himself! He
was --

BLACKBURN: You`re right, but --


MATTHEWS: What price would you pay?

BLACKBURN: The deal that he took -- the deal that he took, you had Panetta
and Clinton --


BLACKBURN: -- and others --

MATTHEWS: I said that.

BLACKBURN: -- that already said, do not do this. And --

MATTHEWS: We said that on the show.

BLACKBURN: -- it was not a good deal.

MATTHEWS: Well, what would you do?

BLACKBURN: I don`t know. You never know what you`re going to do in a
given situation. You do know that five for one and what we have learned
causes tremendous concern. What we also --

MATTHEWS: Well, what about --


MATTHEWS: You got to help me here.

BLACKBURN: Chris, no --

MATTHEWS: There has to be a counter-position here.

BLACKBURN: Now, listen just a second --

MATTHEWS: What`s your position that we should have done?

BLACKBURN: What we should do is be more judicious in how we`re looking at
these detainees. Last week, I had a bill on the floor that would have
closed the Thompson (ph) facility in Illinois --


BLACKBURN: -- to keep those detainees from coming to the U.S.

MATTHEWS: How would you --

BLACKBURN: The president --


BLACKBURN: -- has decided he is going to empty Guantanamo Bay --

MATTHEWS: I know. I want to talk about Bergdahl.

BLACKBURN: -- sending these individuals to the fight.

MATTHEWS: What price would you have paid -- you`ve got to help me on this,
Congresswoman. You`ve always been a good guest. It`s a tough, but nasty

What price would you, as a member of Congress, pay if someone had asked you
beforehand, how far are you willing to go to get this American back? How
far would you have gone? That`s the question the president had to answer.

BLACKBURN: What I will do is look at the classified file and the
information that we will have access to now and then be able to make that

See, what you have to realize, the president broke the law. Congress was
not informed.


BLACKBURN: We are not privy to what is in that classified file on Sergeant
Bergdahl. That is something that our committees, our intel committees have
returned to D.C.


BLACKBURN: There are going to be hearings on this. What we need to do is
approach this in a very thoughtful and thorough manner. And that`s a
different manner than the president has done.


MATTHEWS: OK. Let me give you a little backdrop. I`m a bit older than
you, Congresswoman, and I have lived in this city a long time, for good or
evil. I have been here.

And every year, they have the MIA guys come to town with the ponytails and
the motorbikes.

BLACKBURN: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: And they are still talking about MIAs. They`re talking about
people we left behind.

Let me just try this by you, Michael, first.

Suppose we had left this guy behind. We said, no deal, this deal sucks,
that guy sits over there and rots over there. He looks really skinny in
these pictures, but he`s going to rot because we ain`t going to give any of
these guys away.


MATTHEWS: What would have been the attitude of the far right -- and I`m
talking about not just the far right, the really angry right in this
country -- if we had deliberately turned down a deal and left that guy over

TOMASKY: You and I both know --

MATTHEWS: I`m just asking.

TOMASKY: You and I both know what they would have done.

MATTHEWS: These guys are still mad about MIAs in Vietnam.

TOMASKY: Yes, of course.

But they would have exploded. The far right would have exploded on Obama
if that guy was left over there. If he died over there, God forbid, the
far right would have exploded on Obama for that, weak president,
unconscionable, this, that. You know that they would have done all of
those things.


MATTHEWS: Well, let`s ask the congresswoman.


MATTHEWS: What would have been the reaction if the president had said,
kibosh this deal, it`s too dirty, I`m not giving away five bad guys to get
one American of questionable loyalty even, certainly questionable service?
What would you have said to that? Would you have said that was a smart
move on his part, if he`d said no to this deal?

BLACKBURN: I -- you never leave a man behind. That`s why we`re all so
concerned about what happened in Benghazi --

MATTHEWS: Well, then he --

TOMASKY: Here we go.

BLACKBURN: And what you have to do is have consistency.

MATTHEWS: OK. No, you`re changing --


BLACKBURN: And this administration has no consistency. Now you`re asking
for a specific, what would you have done?


MATTHEWS: You said you wouldn`t have left him behind then.


MATTHEWS: Go back to the question of what price you would have paid.


BLACKBURN: You don`t know until you look at the file.

MATTHEWS: But you just told me you wouldn`t have left him behind.

So, the president, in the first instance, was doing the right thing,
getting him back. So the price was wrong. What was wrong about the price?
If you said the deal was good from our end, we got the guy back, the other
end of the deal you don`t like. How would you have changed the other end
of the deal? That`s all you have to know, the other end of the deal,
because you already know about Bergdahl. You said we want him back.

Irrespective of the paperwork, you said you don`t have to look at the
paperwork. You said we got to get the guy back. OK. What`s the second
half of the deal look like to you?

BLACKBURN: That`s not what I said.

MATTHEWS: You said we have to bring him back.

BLACKBURN: I said you never leave a man behind.


BLACKBURN: You never leave a man behind.

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

BLACKBURN: And that is what has people upset about Benghazi. We all know

MATTHEWS: No, wait a minute. You left him behind.

BLACKBURN: And they want to get to the answer for why you left people
behind in Benghazi.


MATTHEWS: I know you want to change the subject to Benghazi. I know you
do. I know you do. I know. You know, I`m not going to do this. I will
have you back to talk about Benghazi. We talk about it all the time around
here, but not right now.

We want to talk about Bergdahl.


MATTHEWS: You said it was important not to leave that man behind. What
would you have done to keep him, to get him back to the States?

BLACKBURN: These are the questions that you don`t know because you don`t
have the classified information. And we will look at it.

MATTHEWS: But you said you knew you were going to do it. You said there
was a principle involved. We have to bring him back.


BLACKBURN: To go in here and let go of five people that is their dream
team that they personally asked for.


MATTHEWS: OK. I agree. I have these questions, too.


MATTHEWS: But I`m not elected. You are.

TOMASKY: She`s not going to answer.


BLACKBURN: Why say it has to be done immediately and why say is that you
can`t wait until this is fully vetted and Congress is informed? Why --
they have to do it in this time frame? We know the president broke the
law? Why did he choose to break it?


MATTHEWS: Can we stop for a second? I`m sorry, Congresswoman.


MATTHEWS: I just want to -- I want to get back to Mike here.

It seems that there`s a lot of agreement. I think the congresswoman speaks
for a lot of people. The important -- and you hear this from right, left,
center, if there is a center left.


MATTHEWS: We got to get the guy home.


MATTHEWS: Find some way to do it.

And the questions is over the terms of the trade. It will was get him
home. Nobody`s saying leave the guy over there to rot. In fact, when we
saw those earlier pictures, he looked like he was in really bad shape. The
information they had was, you know, get him home fast. There is a quick
window here.

The question is over the deal on the other side. What`s going to be the
thing we`re arguing about three months from now? I think it`s the other
side. I think we`re not going to be arguing about Bergdahl. Everybody`s
going to say we should have got him back, but that`s easy to say if you
don`t say what the price is. Everybody wants a new Cadillac. If it`s $5,
we will take it. If it`s $50,000, I don`t know.



TOMASKY: Bergdahl`s going to go through a process. Bergdahl`s going to
come back. He`s going to speak his piece. He`s going to apparently go
through the military court system. And they are going to determine whether
he was a deserter or not a deserter. And that`s going to happen. That may
take three months.

MATTHEWS: Will that help us understand this deal better?

TOMASKY: It probably will.

BLACKBURN: That is correct.

TOMASKY: We will see his side.


MATTHEWS: Do you think that information is important to know,
Congresswoman, whether he was a good soldier or not?

BLACKBURN: Yes, I do. I do.

MATTHEWS: Why was it important to know?

BLACKBURN: I think that that is very important to know, and I think the
fact that the people that served with him, his unit, are now coming out and
speaking, that all of this is beginning to cause so many questions.


BLACKBURN: It is causing the White House some problems, and those are the
things --

MATTHEWS: What would you have done? What would you do? Would you say
this was a worse deal if he turned out not to be a good soldier? Or
doesn`t it matter? We still have to bring him back?


BLACKBURN: The inconsistency is one of the things that`s troubling to

You don`t leave people behind. We all know that.


BLACKBURN: He should go through the appropriate system. And if --


MATTHEWS: No, but I`m asking you a question. Does it matter whether he`s
a bad -- you raised the issue.


BLACKBURN: -- military courts, he will -- they will do that. They will
do that.

MATTHEWS: Suppose it turns out that he was a deserter. Was it right to
bring him back at the price we paid, if he was a deserter? Should we have
left him there?

BLACKBURN: This is -- once all of the due diligence --


TOMASKY: I will actually answer that.




MATTHEWS: -- elected official.


BLACKBURN: We will know the answer to that.

MATTHEWS: No, no, but should we have let him go sit there if he was a

BLACKBURN: We will know the answers to that once we go through the
appropriate process.


MATTHEWS: No, the question. I just want to ask you the question. Should
we leave him there -- should we have left him there if he was -- because
you said it matters what his fellow platoon members thought of him.

Why does it matter?

BLACKBURN: I think that what we want to --

MATTHEWS: Why does it matter? Why does it matter? You said you want to
know what his fellow platoon members -- you want an investigation. Why
does it matter whether he`s a bad guy or good guy if he`s an American and
we got to bring him back?

BLACKBURN: If he needs to face the justice in the appropriate system, he
will do that.


BLACKBURN: I think that it`s important to note that you do bring people

Our military men and women are -- you know, they are so upset about this,
because you look at the five that were released. And, Chris, you have to
ask, how many people lost their lives or their loved ones in -- fighting in
battles that were instigated by these five?

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

BLACKBURN: How many lives did we lose there?


MATTHEWS: So, you`re raising a question I hope you can answer.

BLACKBURN: And all of this -- we hope for those answers, too, and then I
will be able once we have those and have been able to see those files and
have been properly informed, then I will be able to answer some of the
questions that you have about this. I appreciate your attention to it.


MATTHEWS: Thank you. There`s so much conflict here.


MATTHEWS: I want to end with this.

People say there`s a principle involved, we have got to bring it back. But
then we want to know whether he`s a good soldier or not. We want

You don`t need an investigation if you have decided we`re going to bring
him home.

TOMASKY: You absolutely bring him back.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, we`re talking about the president of the United States`

Anyway, thank you, U.S. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn.

BLACKBURN: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: By the way, the U.S. military has going to decide on this guy`s
fate. They got to decide.

MATTHEWS: Michael Tomasky.


MATTHEWS: Not a Congress committee.

Thank you, Michael Tomasky of Daily Beast.

We will be right back after this.



fact, negotiated with terrorists, and I don`t think they got a very good

talking about? We always negotiate with terrorists. Saying we don`t
negotiate with terrorists is our opening negotiation bid.


STEWART: We are not negotiating with you, terrorists. And your response



MATTHEWS: Time now for the "Sideshow."

That was, of course, Jon Stewart last night on the political drama
surrounding the release of Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for those five Taliban
prisoners. Well, there`s legitimate debate, as we have been having here,
about the president`s decision, but as often happens in politics, critics
can sometimes go too far.

Here was Jon Stewart`s reaction to a segment on FOX about Bowe Bergdahl`s


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He says he was growing his beard because his son was --
because his son in captivity. Well, your son`s out now, so if you really
don`t want -- no longer want to look like a member of the Taliban, you
don`t have to look like a member of the Taliban. Are you out of razors?

STEWART: First of all, who the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) are you to judge what a
guy does if he thinks it might help him get his son back?

And I don`t want to complicate your hatred of facial hair there, friend,
but my guess is if you gave Bob Bergdahl a bandanna and a duck, you would
like him just (EXPLETIVE DELETED) fine.





MATTHEWS: He`s a genius sometimes.

Anyway, worse yet, U.S. Congressman Steve King of Iowa criticized National
Security Adviser Susan Rice on Twitter yesterday, implying that she works
for al Qaeda. Quote -- this is from a U.S. congressman -- "Rice lied to
the American people again. Bergdahl taken in battle? Looks like the both
sides, the swapees and negotiators, are working for al Qaeda."

Really, Steve?

Up next: That Mississippi Senate race is heading to a runoff and if the
Tea Partier wins, his presence will bring a real live far-righter to the
U.S. Senate. I mean really far right. Wait until you hear what this guy
says. You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.


PAGE HOPKINS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Page Hopkins. Here`s what`s

While in Poland, President Obama met with Ukraine`s president-elect, Petro
Poroshenko. The president called him a wise selection to lead the country
through this difficult time. Afterward, Mr. Obama flew to Brussels, where
he attended a dinner with G7 leaders.

An event in Hailey, Idaho, to celebrate the release of Army Sergeant Bowe
Bergdahl has been canceled due to security concerns.

And the NBA and Donald and Shelly Sterling have agreed to sell the L.A.
Clippers to Steve Ballmer for two billion, with a B, dollars.

Now we`re going to take you back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, Mississippi Republicans are on the brink of nominating yet another
extreme right-winger as their standard bearer for the United States Senate.
Chris McDaniel is his name. He leads 36-year-old incumbent Senator Thad
Cochran right now by half-a-point, 49.5 as of last night for him, 49
percent for Cochran. Can`t be closer than that.

Because both candidates are under 50 percent, however, there needs to be a
runoff three weeks from now, a runoff most observers now say the Tea Party
candidate tends to win.

But McDaniel has some radical positions on the right that Democrats hope
they can exploit in the fall, I think nationwide.

When he was a radio talk show host not too many years ago, McDaniel spoke
of the government passing legislation to compensate for slavery and said he
would stop paying taxes if that happened, and more.


reparations and my taxes go up, I ain`t paying taxes. Isn`t that sad?


MATTHEWS: He also said he would leave the country. Got that? He will
leave the country if taxes go up because of reparations, which leads to
this strange conversation about Mexico.


MCDANIEL: I tell you what`s better. Why don`t we all immigrate south?
Let`s go to Mexico.


MCDANIEL: See, Jeremy is with me. You know a dollar bill can buy a
mansion in Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we have to learn Spanish?

MCDANIEL: Yes, regrettably. You will have to learn just enough to ask
where the bathroom is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I`m still not going.

MCDANIEL: Banos, banos, that`s what you say.

Do you have a sister? How do you say that in Spanish, Jeremy?

What about mamacita? Mamacita works. I`m an English-speaking Anglo. I
have no idea what it means, actually, but I have said it a few times just
for fun. And I think it basically means, hey, hot mama. You`re a fine
looking young thing.


MATTHEWS: Don`t expect his vote for immigration reform.


MATTHEWS: Anyway, and here is his general view about the Democratic Party.


MCDANIEL: What does a party that supports the homosexual agenda have to
say about morals? Hmm. The party of sex on demand, the party of Bill
Clinton, the party of Monica Lewinsky, the party of Ted Kennedy, what do
they have to say about morals?


MATTHEWS: Sex on demand. Where`s this planet he lives in? What`s this
bacchanal that`s going to begin when the Democrats take over?

Anyway, is he really going to be a United States senator from anywhere,
even Mississippi?

Stephanie Schriock is a Democratic strategist and president of EMILY`s
List, which helps get pro-choice women elected to the U.S. Congress and
other big offices. And Amy Walter is senior editor of The Cook Political

Amy, I have got to ask you this about sex, what is it, on demand. What is
it, sex for everybody?


MATTHEWS: I`m just curious. I`m just curious. I can`t -- I don`t know
where else to go. I could go to Stephanie. I could ask myself, but it
just sounds like what world is he talking to that believes there`s going to
be sex on demand? What is this world?

AMY WALTER, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: I don`t know. Or on the Internet
maybe? Is that what it comes to? I don`t know how that works. You push a
button and it comes out.


MATTHEWS: Physical love for everybody if the Democrats take over.



MATTHEWS: I know a lot of prudish Democrats that would be surprised at
this, I`ll tell you. They would think this is a strange world to live in.

Anyway, how far can you go in Mississippi and get away with it?


MATTHEWS: Is he too far -- he can get away with anything?

SCHRIOCK: I think he is crossing over the line. I really do.

And, I mean, it`s interesting to see this runoff. Here, he`s leading by a
little bit. There will be this runoff.


MATTHEWS: He might have won by more if they hadn`t been caught with their
masks on sneaking in and taking pictures of the guy`s wife.


SCHRIOCK: That`s very, very true, and outrageous, and outrageous.

But what we do -- what we`re going to see in the next three weeks, because
the turnout is probably going to be lower in the runoff.

MATTHEWS: And more right.

SCHRIOCK: It`s going to be more right. We`re going to more things
actually coming out of both of them, because the one thing that we have
seen in primaries this year on the Republican side is the Republicans who
are winning are moving very far to the right and embracing Tea Party, right
wing politics.

MATTHEWS: What do you make, Amy, of the fact these far right, almost
clownishly right people have been getting their butts handed to them this
year? The Republican establishment knows it`s still about winning
elections and they can`t win with this crowd of crazy people.

This guy may be the only one to get across the line, but if he wins, well,
certainly, he`s going to make a lot of noise between now and November --
which Democrats can exploit nationally, I would think.


MATTHEWS: Hispanic voters would love to hear his comments about mamacita.
They might like to hear that.

WALTER: So, Democrats are going to try to do this in every single race,
not just in Mississippi, but make, whoever the Republican is, way too far
out of step, way too far on the extreme.

MATTHEWS: Is it fair?

WALTER: It`s what they got. They`ve got to work with what they`ve got.
And on some issues, they will be out of the mainstream and some issues it
won`t be as dramatic as they make it out to be, but they`ve got to be able
to make that case, they got to localize this contest, because if not, then
2014 is going to be a referendum on Barack Obama. Democrats can`t afford

The one thing I`ll say about Republicans and getting the picture, they
finally got the joke after 2010 and 2012, which is, it`s this crazy thing.
If you run a campaign, you raise money, you put candidates with real
campaign managers and real campaign infrastructure into it, you can win.

MATTHEWS: Joke last time about it`s not nice to say, but had to ask, which
rape candidate, because you had Akin and Murdoch in Indiana and the other
state, Missouri, I guess, and you had to find out which one the crazies
you`re talking about.

But I wonder about these comments, like nobody`s talking compensation for
slavery, the 300 years of free labor we got for African-Americans in this
country. Nobody is talking about it. But the fact he would bring it up,
why would you bring up, you know, reparations unless you wanted to start a
fire against black people? Why else would you bring it up? Because it`s
not going to happen.

I wish there was a way to figure out what a proper reparation would be, but
nobody could figure out what it would be, how it could be fair and useful
and bring them up, but there`s no way to figure it out.

SCHRIOCK: Well, I think you`re looking at candidate -- this is his world
view, and someone like that wants to move policies that are going to reach
his world view, and I think that`s what`s so terrifying.

MATTHEWS: Well, all the people he wants to vote for him, sounds like in
his radio show.

SCHRIOCK: Well, that`s why I believe, like, do I think we`re going to win
in Mississippi? Boy, that`s a big step. But all of a sudden, you can see
a Senate race that is competitive in Mississippi. He is out of the
mainstream of that state. He`s way out of the mainstream of the rest of
the country, and you`re right --

MATTHEWS: Do you think Mississippi is not ready for this guy?


MATTHEWS: Ha! You think he`s too far for Mississippi even?

SCHRIOCK: I think he`s too far.

MATTHEWS: I`m afraid that they will not vote Democrat until we get rid of
the civil rights laws and voting rights laws and everything else.

SCHRIOCK: It`s going to be about the candidates.

MATTHEWS: The last Democrat to win a Senate race, I don`t want to rain on
the parade.


MATTHEWS: But let`s face it, John Stannish, who`s right wing as any
Republican today, his Dixiecrats their party label and didn`t change
anything else about him.

SCHRIOCK: Right, but our candidate down there, you know, is going to make
this about the state of Mississippi. It`s not going to be -- as long as
it`s about the people of Mississippi and the economic needs of Mississippi,
which is really what this election`s going to be about, then this guy`s way
too far right. Nationally, the policies that he wants are the same
policies economically.


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this, objectively, it`s now June, we`re
getting close to November. I think things can happen, the market`s up, the
economy`s getting a little better. Is this still lean slightly to the
probability that Republicans will get six or more, or do they actually get
control, or would you say it leans the other way?

WALTER: Yes, the environment is such of that, yes.

MATTHEWS: The anger over coal and things like that in Kentucky and

WALTER: It`s just that the anchor, the weight of the president`s
disapproval ratings and the economy, approval rating to the economy, those
are so important.


WALTER: You got to have a great candidate against a terrible Republican.

MATTHEWS: The best Democrats, they`ll be the ones that win. If Landrieu
pulls it out and --

SCHRIOCK: Kay Hagan, yes, we have some great candidates.

MATTHEWS: She faces one great challenger in North Carolina, which for
whatever reason, is turning right.

Anyway, Amy Walter, thank you.

Stephanie Schriock, who may be running the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Up next, former Senator Jim Webb -- boy, we`ve got the power house coming
here. He`s going to talk about the Bergdahl deal, the scandal at the V.A.,
and whether he`ll challenge Hillary in 2016. Where`d that come from?

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.


MATTHEWS: Hey, we`ve got a big new poll number in one of the hottest
governors` races this November.

Pennsylvania, let`s check the HARDBALL scoreboard. According to a new
Quinnipiac Poll, Democrat Tom Wolf has a 20-point lead over incumbent
Republican Governor Tom Corbett. It`s Wolf, 53, Corbett, 33. Corbett has
long been considered among the most vulnerable sitting governors in the
country and this poll certainly confirms that claim.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back.

There weren`t too many moments in a presidency that are truly pivotal, but
this looks like one of them. President Obama is under fire right now. The
commander-in-chief is facing simultaneous and intense criticism on three
fronts right now, all having to do with our men and women in uniform.

There`s the Veterans Affairs scandal, a real one, by the way, which has
produced an onslaught of terrible press and shakeup of the president`s top

There`s this announcement to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by 2016,
despite ongoing fears of a Taliban resurgence there.

And, of course, as of this week, there`s this most recent decision to swap
five high-ranking Taliban leaders for sergeant, Army Sergeant Bowe
Bergdahl, whom officials are now looking at for questionable conduct on the

There is perhaps no better person to bring to HARDBALL to talk about these
political and military crises than our guest sitting with me right now.

Jim Webb was a Democratic senator from Virginia, but that`s not who Jim
Webb is. He`s decorated combat marine, who among his distinction served as
secretary of the Navy under President Reagan. He`s out with a new book
about his experiences in the military, titled, "I Heard My County Calling:
A Memoir."

Well, people love war stories and they love the fact that real people serve
our country with real stories and come back from them. And they tend to
come back wiser. They tend to come back better at seeing what the world`s
all about.

So when you look at these scandals, I`ll ask you to just run through them.
You`re going to be very sure with this -- this Bergdahl thing, when you
look at the trait of an American service member with a murky service record
and status, for five guys, four of them were apparently big shots, who are
going back to the battlefield, what do you think of the deal?

FORMER SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: Let me first say, this is a book about
growing up, which includes my time in the military, and it`s not a
political book. You got a lot of people on your show who come in, who
either had ghost writers or whatever, and written their book --

MATTHEWS: You wrote it.

WEBB: I`ve written all my books and it took a long time to do this. I`m
very proud of this book. It`s a piece of literature. It`s not simply a
political book.

With respect to the Bergdahl situation, I watched your show waiting to come
on, and I think the best thing I can say, really, as someone coming from
the Senate is, I would want to make sure I have all the facts before I
venture an opinion.

I know there was a top-secret briefing that was given to the Senate this
afternoon, where they were laying this stuff out. The president could have
done a lot better by giving this kind of a briefing earlier. I think
there`s been a number of questions about presidential discretion over the
past several years, including, by the way, Libya, where I was a very strong
voice warning against unilateral action in that case.


WEBB: So --

MATTHEWS: But what`s your biggest question you would like answered?

WEBB: I`d want to hear all the facts on both sides.

MATTHEWS: Do you think there`s any doubt these leaders are going back to
the front?

WEBB: I would like to hear the briefing.

MATTHEWS: Because what we`re getting right now is they`re going to a
Taliban hangout, a headquarters in Doha, where they`re immediately
integrated back with their guys.

WEBB: I don`t know -- I`ve watched your -- I know you`re on this tonight,
but just for me --

MATTHEWS: OK, you want more information.

What about the troop patrol, announcing a date of departure, total
withdrawal? Is that smart?

WEBB: I don`t think we belong as an occupying power in that part of the
world. And I think we can accomplish the strategic objectives we have with
maneuver forces rather than these forces on the ground. So, I don`t really
have a problem with withdrawing from Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS: But a date certain?

WEBB: It doesn`t matter.

MATTHEWS: It doesn`t alert the enemy as to a chance to jump us on the way?

WEBB: Well, no. First of all, I think General Dunford a tremendous
officer. I think he`s the finest serving officer in the United States
military today. He knows how to do what they call a retrograde. I don`t
think there`s a problem with that.

MATTHEWS: A strategic withdrawal is always most difficult, right?

WEBB: Well, retrograde, yes.

But I think they`re fine. I think we`re fine as a country by removing our

MATTHEWS: We`ll get OK.

WEBB: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the V.A., last thing, because it`s all over
the place. I don`t think this is a partisan thing. Of all the partisan
so-called scandals, this is the real one. And I wonder what you think of
it having served?

WEBB: I`ve been involved with veterans issues all my adult life. I was
council in the House Veterans Committee many years ago. I was mentored by
the World War II veterans.


WEBB: And I introduced -- wrote and introduced this post-9/11 G.I. bill.
The best G.I. bill in history, I`m very proud of that.

I was surprised when I got to the Senate, looking at the backlog, that it
was 600,000 people, trying to get their cases adjudicated, not even talking
about the medical side.

It was 900,000 when I left the Senate. And that`s leadership. That`s a
leadership problem. That`s not a policy problem.

And if you look at budget, which I was a committee council all these years
ago, we had 30 million veterans and a budget of about $20 million. We now
have about 22 million veterans and we have a budget of $260 billion.

You know, it`s not apples to apples, but I think congress is attempting to
put money where the problems are, but we need the leaders to really shake
that place up and identify how to fix things like backlog.

MATTHEWS: In your book, you paint a bleak picture describing why you left
the U.S. Senate. Quote, "The main reason I decided not to run again that
spending another six years or more as that paralyzed body, I faced the
Hobson`s choice of either turning into a perennial scold or surrendering a
part of my individuality to the uncontrollable, collective nature of group
politics. I was not ready to do either."

You didn`t like to be one of the creatures of the Democratic Party, didn`t

WEBB: I think we did a lot of good when I was in the Senate. We passed
the number one piece of veteran`s legislation since World War II. We
brought criminal justice reform out of the shadow. We led the pivot to
Asia before Obama was elected.

We brought --

MATTHEWS: Did you like being a senator?


WEBB: We brought economic fairness to the forefront, in my response to
President Bush`s State of the Union. The floor of the Senate is completely
paralyzed. There`s no question about that. So, it was time to step away.
And, you know --

MATTHEWS: I think that`s all I`m going to get from you today.

Anyway, the book`s called, "I Heard My Country Calling" by a great patriot
and a great writer, a real writer with military background, Jim Webb.

And we`ll be right back after this.


MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight on this note. Not being president of the
United States or even one of his aides, I have no direct information on how
he made the decision on Bowe Bergdahl.

What I do know is that the trade of prisoners was not the stuff of
celebration. It was a nasty deal, one driven by our enemies. If we wanted
our guy out alive, we had to release five of their killers.

Not all combatants in war are the same. Not do all fight for the same
rules or fight for the same causes, obviously. The Taliban fight so they
can suppress people, so they can punish those who reject or disregard its
dictated code, its 24/7 regime on dress, food, sex, religion, life itself.

The Taliban inserts a total control over what a person does all day, every
day. It hates and destroys anyone who believes in anything but what it
believes. It is, let us agree, as ruthless, brutal and bloody on the
battlefield as it is on the home front.

Well, these are the people who we went in to fight in Afghanistan. The
people we`ve been fighting to keep out of power, obviously. The people we
just released from our prison in Guantanamo, the five of them.

I have a strong disagreement with anyone who thinks we should normally
release these people, as long as the war in Afghanistan continues, and we,
Americans, have troops and diplomats in country, as we will after these
five Taliban figures have gotten past the even limited detention they now
face in Qatar.

To say this trade is messy is an understatement, which sadly does not mean
it wasn`t the only deal there was. To get Sergeant Bergdahl released, we
had to do something disreputable. It`s up to the partisan critics to say
how they would have got than soldier home under less disgusting terms.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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