updated 7/18/2014 11:57:55 AM ET 2014-07-18T15:57:55

HARDBALL
July 17, 2014

Guest: Michael Weiss, Michael Crowley, Dan Hampton, Daniel Rose, Jim Hall

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington
with the two big stories of the night. On any other night, we would lead
with Israel`s invasion of Gaza today and all its dire consequences. But
we`re beginning our coverage tonight with an update on the jetliner horror
over war-torn Ukraine.

Malaysian Airlines flight 17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur
with 295 people aboard, was flying normally at its cruising altitude of
33,000 feet when it suddenly disappeared from radar over eastern Ukraine
earlier today. And you`re looking at the latest images from that crash
site. There are no reports of any survivors.

Senior U.S. officials tell NBC News the Malaysian airliner was shot
down by a surface-to-air missile, a SAM. Speaking in stark terms about the
situation, Vice President Joe Biden told a group of Democrats in Detroit
today that it was apparently, quote, "not an accident, blown out of the
sky," he said.

Well, earlier today, President Obama and Russian president Vladimir
Putin spoke by phone, where, according to the White House, President Obama
confronted Putin by noting that there is extensive evidence that Russia has
been supplying heavy weapons to separatists in the region.

We`re now confronted, of course, in this country and in the world with
a highly dangerous situation, with nearly 300 innocent people dead in a
region of intense hostility. The big questions tonight for us and for the
world -- who did this? How did they do it? And why?

We start our coverage tonight with NBC News chief Pentagon
correspondent Jim Miklaszewski. We also have John Cox, who`s an MSNBC
aviation analyst and former pilot.

Mr. Cox, hold on for a second. I want to hear from Mik. Let me ask
you about this question, Mik, of the technique here used. It`s a BUK, it`s
a SAM, a surface-to-air missile. Does the Kiev government possess any such
weapon, or is it only in the hands of the Russians and allies in Ukraine?

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kiev does possess some
Soviet-era SAM missiles like this, the BUKs, or Buks, as they`re called.
And there`s -- if you read up on it, many military experts and weapons
experts aren`t sure that Ukraine -- the weapons that Ukraine has are even
operable as of now because they`ve had them for so long.

And then there`s the question of, what would the Ukrainians shoot at?
Because their battle is with the separatists, and the separatists don`t
have any aircraft. So the idea that the Ukraine may have fired this
missile was ruled out pretty quickly by the U.S. military services.

And I can tell you, you know, since February, when it appeared that
the Russians were going to invade Ukraine, U.S. spy satellites have been
trained on that border 24/7. So it was in very short order that they
figured out that it was a SAM missile that was launched, that eventually
struck the plane. And that was an infrared satellite that picked up this
heat signature of the launch and the impact into the plane.

But they`re still wondering tonight, was it the separatists or the
Russians? Because as you said, you know, the president has said that
Russia keeps supplying heavy weapons to the separatists in Ukraine. That
includes these BUK missile systems, as well as artillery and tanks. And
it`s a reason why President Obama slapped harder sanctions on the Russians.

But I can tell you the feeling here is whoever pulled the trigger --
separatists or Russians -- it was most likely a Russian weapon that did the
damage.

MATTHEWS: Do we have any reason to believe that they would shoot down
a passenger airliner, in this case a Malaysian passenger airliner, on
purpose or that they were thinking they were shooting at a bomber of some
kind, a military plane?

MIKLASZEWSKI: Right. That`s the real head scratcher here. And
analysts are trying to figure out what else could they have been shooting
at. There`s one theory that there may have been a Ukrainian military plane
in the area. You know, these weapons are not necessarily infallible.
They`re radar-guided.

So it -- you know, it -- what the satellites detected was first the
radar getting turned on, then almost instantaneously, the missile being
fired. So was it a fault of the system? Was it a fault of the operators,
who probably don`t have as much training as the Russian forces, unless
those were Russians were controlling the weapon. Nobody knows that for
sure.

But it very well could have been an accident. And every military
analyst we`re talking to said in a situation like this, there would be no
reason for the separatists to shoot down a civilian plane.

MATTHEWS: Right.

MIKLASZEWSKI: So even if that were their target...

MATTHEWS: On purpose.

MIKLASZEWSKI: ... they must have thought it was a military plane.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Listening to you, that means two options or probabilities.
One is that they thought it was a military plane and they launched. Two,
they launched toward another plane, and it targeted -- and it ended up
hitting this plane unintentionally.

MIKLASZEWSKI: Those are both definitely options on the table right
now. The analysts know for sure that this was a missile fired either by
the Russians or separatists, that it hit the plane, brought it down. But
they`re not sure about the particular motive.

MATTHEWS: Launch site -- do we know where it was? Do we know where
it was shot from?

MIKLASZEWSKI: That`s...

MATTHEWS: Was it shot within Ukraine territory or rebel-held,
separatist-held territory or Russian territory? Do we know?

MIKLASZEWSKI: Nobody`s -- nobody`s been able to tell us that, Chris.
They should be able to figure that out. But if it was right along the
border, it may be of these one step this way, one step that. And who
knows?

MATTHEWS: John Cox, tell us what you know about this, what you can
surmise based upon what NBC`s reporting, what you`ve been able to figure
out as an expert.

JOHN COX, MSNBC AVIATION ANALYST: Well, first thing that I saw was
the size of the debris field. That told me that there was an in-flight
break-up. And that would be consistent. The Boeing 777`s been in service
for 20 years. It has never experienced an in-flight break-up. That led me
to conclude that it was a possibility of an external force, which could be
a missile strike, that caused this -- the airplane to break apart.

Also, when you look at the debris itself, a lot of it is consistent
with the in-flight break-up. You look at the engines, you can look at some
of the larger pieces, and they would -- if the airplane had been intact,
they would have hit differently than apparently that they did.

So all of this evidence is consistent with the fact that it could have
been a missile. And then now, with the government confirming that, all of
the -- it all comes together.

MATTHEWS: These missiles apparently move a mile a second. Does that
suggest that the pilots had no idea that they were targeted, that they were
about to explode in the air?

COX: I think it`s very unlikely -- I think it`s very unlikely the
pilots had any idea that there was even a threat. The missile is so much
faster than the jet, they usually track it from behind. And so they would
have been flying along on a normal day. The weather looked good. And
then all of a sudden, catastrophe struck, and I think it struck very, very,
very quickly.

MATTHEWS: In a normal situation, when would we be able to nail down
what happened? I mean, I expect there`ll be disputes over this because the
Russians won`t admit it. The separatists won`t admit it. The Kiev
government has already blamed the separatists. And my question is, will
there be a tribunal that`s recognized in the world to give us the facts?

COX: I`m not sure that there will be. I think, first and foremost,
let`s look at the voice recorder and the flight data recorder and see what
actually occurred. And the report`s that they may have been recovered, and
if so, I think the world needs to put pressure on whoever has those
recorders.

Let`s get them in the hands of somebody that can read them that is not
in any way a party to this, and find out first what happened. Then we can
start looking through the military systems that -- to figure out who did
it. But let`s first get those recorders. I think that`s probably the next
step.

MATTHEWS: Let`s go right now to NBC News`s Tom Costello. Tom, this
question, trying to trust the Russians or people -- well, the Russians.
We`ve been through that. I remember the space program (INAUDIBLE) tell it
was a human being was aboard the plane after he came back safely. So the
Russians aren`t known for their transparency.

My question is, how are we going to be that black box back before it`s
been tampered with? Can they be tampered with? How do we get truth here?

TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT: I got to tell you, I`m skeptical
here. And I`m sorry, I missed part of your conversation with Mik and with
John. But you know, what we are told is that this plane went down in
rebel-held territory. If the rebels are the chief suspects in this case,
it`s hard to believe that they`re going to be objective in any sort of an
investigation here.

There are some reports that they already hold the black boxes. Will
they hand them over to Ukrainian authorities or to some sort of
international body? I don`t know. I would be doubtful myself at this
point. I did talk to U.S. sources a short time ago. The State Department
has been in consultation with the NTSB and other government authorities
about whether -- whether -- they might consider going there.

But you know, the former head of the NTSB, Deborah Herzman (ph), told
us a short time ago, if she were still in charge -- and she just left a few
months ago -- she would be reticent to send U.S. investigators into a war
zone, into a situation where all the evidence suggests that the plane was
brought down by military action.

I suspect, and I would be, you know, anxious to hear what Mik and what
John have to say -- I suspect that the conclusive word on this is going to
have to come from probably the U.S. military and intelligence sources,
which say that they have seen indications that the plane was, in fact, shot
down by a missile.

And the question now is whose missile. If it`s a Russian-backed
missile, was it from Russia? Was it from Ukrainian authorities with those
missiles? Or in fact, was it the Russian separatists?

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Mik on that. Mik, this is the question.
Will a black box really be determinant here? Because it seems to me that
the question is who shot the plane down, whether it was Russians or it was
the separatists. But certainly, they were on the same side. And my
question -- would a black box tell us who?

MIKLASZEWSKI: I have -- you know, I would suspect not, particularly
since, as you were talking a minute ago, these missiles move so quickly and
the pilots didn`t have a clue. And once that missile hit, it was over.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MIKLASZEWSKI: You know, that plane -- you know, there`ll be some
telemetry that they can use and maybe some discussion by the pilots in the
last few seconds before the whole plane just fell apart. But you know, I
think it`s going to be very difficult. Tom knows more about what those
black boxes can tell you, but I`m not sure...

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go back to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s assume there is no black box that`s recovered intact
because the people who are on the ground there and get first grabs at it or
first dibs on it will not be interested in getting the truth out. My
question to you, Mik, what will our military be able to establish
independently?

MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, you know, they can look very closely and super-
analyze whatever data they have. If they can determine, was it launched
from the Ukraine territory or the Russian territory -- and as of now, we`re
told that they`re still trying to figure out who, indeed, is it that fired
-- that fired the shot.

But you know, Ukrainians released transcripts of intercepted radio
communications that are apparently from those separatists to the Russians,
in which one of the separatists reportedly said, Hey, we screwed up here.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

MIKLASZEWSKI: So it almost sounds as if the separatists, through --
not willingly, revealed that they may have been the ones that fired the
shot. And as I said, there is intel that showed a number of these missile
systems have crossed the border from Russia into Ukraine just recently.
And again, that`s one of the reasons the president cracked down and imposed
tougher sanctions on the Russians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They could...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Chris...

(CROSSTALK)

MIKLASZEWSKI: You know, it was almost a premonition.

MATTHEWS: Does Kiev have that on tape, that conversation, between
the...

COSTELLO: Yes, Chris, we do have it.

(CROSSTALK)

MIKLASZEWSKI: Yes, and Tom used it in his piece tonight.

COSTELLO: Yes. Yes, we got...

MATTHEWS: OK, so we`ve got some evidence here.

COSTELLO: I have heard it myself, and we have also had multiple
Russian language experts within NBC News listen to it and confirm what the
translation is. The exact word he said is, We F`d up -- you know

COSTELLO: ... or it is -- something along the lines of, It is F`d
up...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

COSTELLO: ... and then goes on to describe that we have got hundreds
of bodies, and talking about the fact that they`ve come down in an area
that is residential. The man who`s alleged to have been the Russian major,
or Russian liaison, says, you know, What about the pilots? Do we have the
pilots? I mean, the initial idea in this conversation was that they may
have shut down a Ukrainian military plane. The suggestion was, are there
weapons on board? And very quickly, the conversation becomes, No it`s
passengers, it`s civilian. Again...

MATTHEWS: Boy, that points to...

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: Well, this is important. We...

MATTHEWS: It points to the fact...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... military plane and they hit a passenger plane.

COSTELLO: That`s the concern. Now, we -- I need to stress this. NBC
News has not verified that authenticity. This is coming from the Ukrainian
government that released this. And we had our own people listen to the
conversation.

To me, it hearkens back to Korea Airlines flight 007 back in 1983,
when the Russians, the Soviets then, shot down that Korean Airlines plane
when it flew over the Kamchatka peninsula, and then denied it. And it
wasn`t until U.S. intelligence released those recordings of the pilots, the
Soviet pilots, talking about what they had done that the evidence became so
overwhelming, the world realized what the Soviets had done. And then they
became the "evil empire."

MATTHEWS: Nothing became colder in our ears than the sound of the
pilots saying, We got him, target destroyed. Thank you so much, Jim
Miklaszewski...

MIKLASZEWSKI: Hey, Chris? Chris?

MATTHEWS: Yes?

MIKLASZEWSKI: Chris, to your point -- to your point that, you know,
somebody may have doctored these tapes or put them together -- I don`t -- I
don`t know that it could have been done that quickly, to then be
intercepted by the Ukrainians. and I don`t know who would script "F`d up"
in any kind of cover-up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Sounds like a slice of life and death to me. Thank you so
much, Jim Miklaszewski...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: ... of NBC News at the Pentagon, and John Cox. Sir, thank
you for your expertise for NBC, as always. And Tom Costello, you`ve been
great today.

And we`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. More now on the downed Malaysian
flight and what caused it. We`re getting to that very closely to that now.
As we said earlier, the United States believes it was shot down by a
surface-to-air missile. They`re called SAMs. But they haven`t been able
to determine yet who fired the missile exactly.

The Associated Press reported that a launcher similar to the BUK --
they`re called Buks -- system has been seen by some of the reporters in
separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine. In other words, the separatists
have these things. They saw them earlier this week. It has the
capability, this weapon, of hitting a target up to an altitude of 72,000
feet. That`s 12 miles. By the way, the 777 plane was thought to be flying
at 33,000, well within range.

Barry McCaffery, of course, is retired four-star general and an MSNBC
military analyst. And Michael Weiss is a foreign policy columnist and
editor of "The Interpreter."

Let me go to General McCaffrey. We just -- we`re going to have a clip
for you in a moment here. By the way, here`s a clip that NBC`s Tom
Costello mentioned earlier. It`s an audio released -- we don`t have it
yet? We will have that in a moment. That was the script ready to tell me
we had it. We don`t have it yet.

General McCaffrey, we`ve got a tape now we`re going to be playing here
that basically has Russians basically in cahoots with the separatists, with
the separatists saying, I think we screwed up here, using the F-word,
because we shot down a passenger plane instead of what we thought was a
military plane. We are close to the reality of the horror here.

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well,
no question. Look, Chris, what we should have known in U.S. intelligence
within an hour or two -- I personally have been on the radio and listened
to the launch of scud missiles. Our satellite IR systems get the hot
point. They know the location of the missile when it`s fired. It will
compute a that trajectory of where it`s going. So we should have known
where it was fired from almost immediately.

Secondly, it was a target acquisition radar that got the aircraft.
And we can see radars like flashlights in a dark room. So we should know
where the acquisition radar was.

And then finally, I don`t think there`s much question but the NSA
would have picked up the same background chatter and other reports out of
the Russian Federation and separatists. So we already know pretty
conclusively where it was fired from, and we`ve probably been able to rule
out the Ukrainian government, and I hope we`ve ruled out the Russian
military.

These missiles work pretty damn good when they are in part of a
brigade with radar access.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Let`s...

MCCAFFREY: But this probably was a lone firing platform.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m worried here -- and I think we can see it -- that
perhaps the minds of the people in that separatist crowd operating within
Ukraine aren`t as advanced as the systems they now have their hands on.

MCCAFFREY: Right.

MATTHEWS: Which brings me to the question, to Michael Weiss, why
would the Russians put a weapon of this stature in the hands of rebels
basically without the supervision and control, command-and-control, if you
will, of the Russian military?

They`re -- these weapons are capable of going up to, I hear, 25 miles,
knocking down any kind of aircraft. How do you trust somebody to know when
to fire it and what kind of assurances they had of what the target would
be?

(CROSSTALK)

MICHAEL WEISS, "THE INTERPRETER": Well, that`s a great question. I
mean, look, we`re fond of describing the..

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Aren`t they guilty as accessories before the fact, using
criminal language here...

WEISS: Well, the Ukrainians...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... if the Russians gave this kind of weapon to people who
didn`t know how to use it properly?

WEISS: Look, the separatists aren`t just a ragtag militia. The so-
called commander in chief of the separatist forces, a man called Igor
Strelkov, he is identified by the European Union as a Russian military
intelligence officer, that is to say, an agent of the GRU, which makes him
a Russian spy in charge of overseeing the entire insurgency.

In fact, on VKontakte Web -- a social media platform which is similar
to Russia`s Facebook, this is the platform he used, this page, to
disseminate all of his messages and press statements. he had a statement
saying, today, we have downed a Ukrainian cargo plane. And he identified
the exact location of where this Malaysian airliner had been shot down.

And then he said, we warned them not to fly in our skies.

That page -- or that message was subsequently deleted from his
VKontakte profile.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Why would he say that if the voice recordings showed that
the person who launched knew they had made a mistake well before he made
that claim of victory?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... military plane?

WEISS: Chris, there are actually two leaked conversations between
separatists by the Ukrainian security services. The second one actually
establishes that these guys were told. They said that, we watched on TV
that this was a Ukrainian military plane.

Then they got to the site and they say, well, hang on, it says
Malaysian airliner. So what is going on?

MATTHEWS: I see.

WEISS: So, I think actually there was genuine confusion in the ranks
of the separatists. They didn`t know what they were firing at.

MATTHEWS: So, they claimed victory over a military plane before they
realized it was a passenger plane heading to Kuala Lumpur.

WEISS: Exactly. And then they tried -- and then they tried to erase
the evidence of claiming victory. That`s an important thing.

By the way, the Twitter account for the so-called People`s Republic of
Donetsk, which is the separatist governmental or administrative system,
they had a tweet a few days ago showing them with Buks.

MATTHEWS: Right.

WEISS: They put up a photograph and said, look at our new toy. That
tweet was subsequently taken down.

We have a screen capture of it on "The Interpreter" and it`s been sort
of sent around on social media. So, look, when we say the separatists have
responsibility and they are blaming Ukraine, that happened later.
Initially, they said, no, good for us, rah-rah, we actually downed another
Ukrainian plane. Well, whoops, then they realized it was a commercial
airliner.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s catch the whoops in action.

By the way, here`s that clip I told you about from Tom Costello we
mentioned earlier tonight. It`s an audio that is reportedly between a
Ukrainian rebel, a separatist, and a Russian military intelligence officer
discussing the downing of Flight 17 after the fact.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes, Sasha, what do you have
there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): In short, sure as hell, it`s
a civilian plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Many people?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): A (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up.
Debris fell into people`s backyards.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Oh, my God.

General McCaffrey, there you have it, this horrible recognition by the
people who did this, who shot this plane down that they weren`t shooting at
a bomber, a Ukrainian bomber. They were shooting at a passenger plane with
almost 300 people on it.

MCCAFFREY: Yes, no question.

You know, we -- a lot of discussion about the black box. We won`t
need that black box. What we will need is access to the fuselage of that
aircraft, where it will be another conclusive evidence that this was an
external strike by a guided missile.

And so I think, at the end of the day, we are going to know
separatists did it. We are going to have to sort out, what to do about it?
It was irresponsible of Malaysia Airlines or anybody to be flying over that
region, given that threat capability.

But it`s hard for me to imagine this escaping being a localized
conflict. Neither NATO, the United States or the E.U. has any military
capability to do anything about it. So, this is a diplomatic and economic
action for now.

MATTHEWS: Let me go -- let me go to Michael on this, Michael Weiss,
because the minute I heard about this today, I thought about the Korean
Airlines flight that were down in 1983...

WEISS: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... in which a regional commander of the old Soviet Union
basically said, you come into our airspace, I launch. And they shot it
from the air.

WEISS: Right.

MATTHEWS: And they didn`t -- they didn`t -- they just said target
hit. Pretty cold-blooded. Frightening.

This is a little bit more indirect, because they gave their weapons
system to the separatists to make the -- remember the old arguments over
Barry Goldwater, who gets to make decisions?

WEISS: Right.

MATTHEWS: Here, not even a field commander. A separatist made the
decision.

WEISS: Right.

I mean, look...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Who is loyal to what, to what -- to what higher moral
authority do they respond to? They -- you said he`s a member of the
Russian military, but he`s really a leader of a rogue operation, isn`t he?

WEISS: Well, there is a question, Chris, as to what is exactly
happening within the separatist ranks.

It seemed clear that several weeks ago, particularly actually last
week, when the separatists lost Slavyansk. Putin has now decided that,
look, there are too many amateurs running the show here. We need to impose
a little adult supervision.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WEISS: So, there is a new battalion on the ground, actually not so
new, but it`s now risen in prominence, called the Vostok Battalion.

This is the name of a Russian GRU-controlled army unit that used to be
comprised mostly of Chechens and people from the Caucasus. Suddenly, it`s
been reconstituted and dispatched into Ukraine. The head of that unit is
actually a defector from Ukraine`s security services, the SBU. He was
based in Donetsk and now he`s leading what is very clearly a Russian
military intelligence-run separatist militia.

There is a question as to whether the Vostok Battalion are now in
charge and they are trying to pull power from Mr. Strelkov and some of the
other separatists who were on the ground earlier, before they see, as you
say, that these guys are kind of going rogue and untrustworthy and can`t be
given all this heavy-duty hardware.

MATTHEWS: Well, this is the most horrific example of that.

WEISS: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Michael Weiss.

WEISS: Yes, sure, my pleasure.

MATTHEWS: Just brilliant reporting.

General Barry McCaffrey, as always sir, thank you for your knowledge.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We are back.

We will have much more on that plane and the investigation, which has
gone pretty quickly, you might say.

But, first, thousands of Israeli soldiers crossed the border into Gaza
just hours ago, commencing a full-scale ground invasion after Hamas
rejected a proposed truce agreement to end the 10-day fight across the
border.

Israel has announced that the mission is open-ended, their going into
Gaza, designed to eliminate infrastructure and weaponry, which is dispersed
throughout the densely occupied neighborhoods of Gaza. They have again
stressed their intention to minimize civilian casualties.

But today`s escalation follows an Israeli missile strike yesterday
that killed four young Palestinian boys, the images of which were splashed
across the front pages of morning newspapers.

Joining me is Richard Engel with NBC News from Gaza and Andrea
Mitchell, NBC News` chief foreign affairs correspondent.

We can`t do better than you two. So, let`s hear it.

Richard, how far have they gotten so far. How far will the IDF go in
getting control of those weapons system and reducing the danger from Hamas?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: It appears that
Israel does not intend to come into the center of a built-up Palestinian
area.

We are now, right now in Gaza City. This is the biggest city in Gaza.
It is a densely populated area. There are no Israeli troops here.
Instead, we are hearing Israeli drones in the sky. We have been hearing
some impacts, some explosions, airstrikes on the port area, which is not
very far from here, and in the distance.

Most of this operation at this stage is focused on a very small
sliver, a band of territory around the Gaza Strip, specifically the border
areas between Gaza and Israel, because Israel says it is focusing this
ground assault on the tunnels that Hamas has been digging and has used in
the past to infiltrate into Israel, to sneak up on Israeli towns, to
capture or kidnap Israeli soldiers.

This, as far as we understand, is not an attempt to take over the Gaza
Strip, not an attempt to go through cities like this very densely packed
Gaza City to look for rockets, to look for Hamas leaders, but to focus on
the border areas, destroy the tunnels and be closer to carry out
operations, drone strikes against Hamas leadership if they see those
targets available.

MATTHEWS: Andrea, in political terms, in Israel, obviously Bibi
Netanyahu, the prime minister, responding to the dangers to his people.
They are getting hit by rocket attack every hour. How does this action,
going into Gaza, stop those rocket attacks instrumentally? How do you do
that?

(CROSSTALK)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it`s
very clear that since the withdrawal from Gaza, Israel no longer has the
ground truth, the intelligence to be able to really target the rocket
emplacements.

So, even though they have just hammered Gaza over the last week or so
from the air, from the sea, the bottom line is that they have not gotten to
the rocket emplacements. This tunneling system that Richard was just
referring to is more extensive.

And the rockets themselves are longer-range, better supplied. And so
they have not minimized the threat. Netanyahu is under tremendous
pressure, even within his own Cabinet, the coalition government, and from
the Israeli people. He now has more support than ever to be much tougher.

And this was the most telegraphed ground invasion ever. They thought
by arraying those tanks in the last couple of days that they might threaten
or bluff Hamas into agreeing to the cease-fire. But Hamas wasn`t about to
do that without getting its terms. And so they believe they need to go
after them, but they need to go in on the ground to find the rocket
emplacements.

MATTHEWS: Richard, it seems to me Israel is as wise to public opinion
in the world their own in many cases isolation from the world, except for
us a few other countries, that they know the costs they will pay in
international press.

The world press will be against anything Israel does generally.
That`s my assessment. They must have known that this was the best thing
they could do. They couldn`t just withstand the rocket attacks. They
couldn`t put up with relentless shelling. But, in this case, the full cost
could be very high, couldn`t they, the consequences of them going into
Gaza?

ENGEL: Well, this is -- as you know full well, this is the third time
we have seen a war between Hamas here in the Gaza Strip and Israel in the
last five-and-a-half years.

Each war has been different. Each time, we have had different
calculations. The first war was right after Hamas came to power, and Hamas
was trying to show its strength. And Israel wanted to come back and hit
Hamas hard so that the group wouldn`t think about becoming a threat.

The second time was in the middle of the Arab spring. And the Muslim
Brotherhood was in power in Egypt. And Hamas launched this war against
Israel. And Israel -- Israel fought hard. Hamas says it was Israel that
launched the war. But whoever started it -- and there`s always
recriminations on both sides -- the Muslim Brotherhood was on the rise and
the Arab spring was on the move.

And Hamas felt it had the whole Arab world with it. Times right now
are very different. Egypt is no longer controlled by the Muslim
Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood across the Muslim world isn`t nearly
as popular.

And I think Hamas felt quite isolated. One of the big reasons that
Hamas is fighting this war is to try and break its isolation, to put its
situation, to put its case back in the news, to put it back on the Arab
television stations. And so far that`s working.

If you watch Al-Jazeera right now, they are not covering the downed
airliner nearly as much as they are covering this ground invasion here in
the Gaza Strip.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ENGEL: On the Israeli side...

MATTHEWS: OK, Richard.

ENGEL: ... they have to be careful of drawing in public support, draw
-- creating aggression against Israel.

But I don`t think they need to be as worried as they were a few years
ago, when the Arab spring was under way, and just next door in Egypt there
was the Muslim Brotherhood in power.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ENGEL: Hamas is a lot more isolated than it was.

MATTHEWS: I think it`s the old David and Goliath story used against
Israel, the way that Nasrallah did it with Hezbollah several years ago.

Anyway, thank you, Andrea Mitchell.

MITCHELL: rMD-BO_ You bet.

MATTHEWS: And thank you, Richard Engel.

Up next, more on that shooting down of that Malaysian airliner over
Ukraine -- the White House reaction coming up next and the investigation,
which is look -- looks to me like it`s really getting places very quickly,
finding out who did this.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We are going right back to our top story.

This afternoon, President Obama promised to offer assistance to help
in the investigation of downed Malaysian Air Flight 17. The president also
offered condolences to the victims. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obviously, the world is
watching reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border.
And it looks like it may be a terrible tragedy. Right now, we`re working
to determine whether there were American citizens on board. That is our
first priority.

And I have directed my national security team to stay in close contact
with the Ukrainian government. The United States will offer any assistance
we can to help determine what happened and why.

And, as a country, our thoughts and prayers are with all the families
of the passengers, wherever they call home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It was only yesterday the president announced a new round
of sanctions on Russia, tough ones. "The New York Times" described them as
the most punishing measures taken to date in this fight, targeting some of
the crown jewels, so-called, of the financial, energy and defense
industries. That`s the president hitting Russia hard, before this event.

Kristen Welker is a White House correspondent for NBC News, of course.
And, Michael Crowley is "Time Magazine`s" chief foreign affairs
correspondent.

I`ve got to start with Kristen from the White House.

The president has been sad. He`s been saddened. He`s talked of the
tragedy. But none of the judgmental way in terms of the guilty, it seems.
Your view? Your reporting?

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think
that`s right, Chris. The administration, the president being extremely
cautious in their language. They don`t want to get ahead of the
investigation.

Of course, Vice President Biden sort of made the strongest remarks in
regards to what happened today, saying that it appeared the plane had been
blown out of the sky. So -- but the president, taking a much more measured
response to what happened, saying that the investigation is what`s
important now. He spoke with the president of Ukraine, Poroshenko, offered
U.S. assistance in the investigation.

One thing that was really interesting about that phone call, Chris, is
that President Obama stressed the need to keep the investigation scene
intact, to make sure that it is not hampered, changed in any way so that
they can get to the bottom of exactly what happened. As you pointed out,
this comes against the backdrop of yesterday. President Obama announcing
the stiffest sanctions to date against Russia.

Earlier today he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and it
was during that phone call we are told that President Putin told President
Obama about reports that the plane had gone down.

If there is any link to Russia in this, as you know, lawmakers on
Capitol Hill have been saying that will change the equation seriously from
the perspective of the United States. Senator John McCain saying there
will be, quote, "hell to pay".

MATTHEWS: OK.

WELKER: But the administration is being very cautious in its response
at this hour, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Kristen Welker, from the White House.

Let me go to Michael Crowley. It seems that if what looks like
happened happened, the separatists did this. They had access to this
weapons system, this very advanced SAM system, they did it. It was a
mistake. They were aiming at a military target, they thought. They hit an
airliner.

What would be the repercussions?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, there is a new blast wave of
pressure to hit with more.

PINSKY: Would the world blame him for putting the weapon in the hands
of those who used it?

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Or used it recklessly?

CROWLEY: You know, there are reports that the separatists captured
missile systems. So, we don`t know exactly what the finger prints.

MATTHEWS: Did Kiev have these kind of BUKs? These BUKs.

CROWLEY: Evidently, in late June, a Russian pro -- Kremlin-aligned
television station reported that the separatists had captured a Ukrainian
BUK missile system. So, it`s possible they didn`t get these directly from
Moscow.

But it almost doesn`t matter. I mean, I think that what the world is
going to see, quite properly is that this is a problem that Putin has
essentially created. He`s the mastermind here. He`s the puppet master.
And he may not be directing every single action. He may have not supplied
the smoking gun, so to speak, but essentially, the moral culpability
belongs to him.

MATTHEWS: I think in common law, if you aid -- if you are an
accessory before the fact, you are blamable.

CROWLEY: Sure, and he will --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I mean, Putin is. OK.

CROWLEY: Now, the question, Europe remains not enthusiastic about the
sanctions, because I think there is a view in Europe that there`s really --
you`re not going to be able to change Putin`s behavior, the thinking goes
in Europe, without a degree of sanctions --

MATTHEWS: This isn`t a European. This is a plane coming from
Amsterdam.

CROWLEY: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I think this might have something to do -- there were a lot
of Europeans on board.

CROWLEY: It will cause Europe economic pain. However, public outrage
now could push the leaders of those countries to take a little more action.
There is a question of the dead Americans and what is President Obama`s
response now that we may have unconfirmed dead Americans, I should say.
What is his response?

MATTHEWS: I asked you the question, Michael. But my feeling is, if
you get people killed from different countries, every single one of those
countries is going to ill want a hide on the wall.

Anyway, thank you so much, Michael Crowley. And thank you, Kristen
Welker from the White House.

And we`ll be right back with more on the investigation. We`re getting
there, especially these tape recordings. We haven`t been able to
authenticate them. There are tape recordings out there talking about the
Russian in cahoots with the separatists, talking about how they screwed up,
using the F-word. It certainly seems like a slice of reality to me, a bad
slice.

We`ll be right back. We`re going to let you know what we know, but we
think we know what`s going to happen.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We are continuing with our breaking news coverage of the Malaysian
Boeing 777 Airline which was shot down in Eastern Ukraine, killing 298
people aboard.

There is now a photo of this self-proclaimed leader of the pro-Russian
separatists, Alexander Borodai, arriving at the crash site of the Malaysian
airliner. The plane went down in rebel-held territory in Ukraine.

A senior Obama administration official told NBC News today that the
U.S. will offer assistance to investigators. Here he is. "Initially" --
this is the quote -- "it would be investigative assistance focused on
determining the cause of the crash -- recovery, reconstruction, black box
analysis."

Joining me right now here on HARDBALL, Dan Hampton, a former combat
pilot, Daniel Rose, a military trained pilot and aviation attorney, and
James Hall, the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety
Board.

Let me go to -- let me go to Mr. Hall now. What do we -- what further
evidence are we looking for here if this tape recording, let`s look at this
tape, by the way. It will take a couple seconds to get this up.

This is a conversation which was picked up by the Kiev authorities
involving a conversation between a Russian officer, a military person, and
someone in the separatist movement, in which the separatist movement
basically the guy basically admits that he screwed up, or his phrase, F`d
up the situation by hitting a passenger airliner rather than a military
target.

Let`s watch this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GREEK: Yes, Sasha, what do you have there?

MAJOR: In short, sure as hell, it`s a civilian plane.

GREEK: Many people?

MAJOR: A F-up. Debris fell into people`s backyards.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, there you have it. Mr. Hall, tell me what you think
of that -- it hasn`t been authenticated completely but it has been --
that`s part of the NBC report tonight by Tom Costello.

JIM HALL, FORMER NTSB CHAIRMAN: Well, Chris, I think what`s important
here is the integrity of the investigation. It should be important to both
Russia and the United States because both of us have a substantial economic
interest in the safety of international aviation.

MATTHEWS: But why were the Russians -- well, let`s hope that they are
interested in truth, but I`ve never thought of the KGB as a source of
truth, and I wonder why Mr. Putin would want it out, if you will, his
allies on the Russian separatist movement and say they`re the ones that did
this, even if he knew it? What would be his motive for telling the truth?

HALL: Well, they may possibly come forward with that admission in the
next 12 to 15 hours. But regardless, I think it`s important that this
event be fully investigated and the investigation be conducted by an
international body.

MATTHEWS: Mr. Rose, you think that`s reasonable? Is that going to
happen?

DANIEL ROSE, MILITARY TRAINED PILOT: I wouldn`t bank on it for the
reasons I think you`ve articulated. You know, he`s got his motivations to
maintain the image that he wants in the world, and it`s not consistent with
our concept of openness and transparency.

So, I think, you know, we may have a very serious problem in terms of
getting some of the evidence that we would like to get. I don`t think that
means that you`re not going to figure it out or figure out exactly who shot
the plane down. But I don`t think you`re going to get any cooperation from
Putin.

MATTHEWS: Well, in order -- Mr. Hampton, first, then the rest of you,
can you tamper with a black box once you get control of it, can you
manipulate it to produce different evidence than it should normally
produce? Mr. Hampton, first.

COL. DAN HAMPTON (RET), FORMER COMBAT PILOT: You`ve got to remember
that the Russians don`t really control this area any more than the
Ukrainians do. It`s a battlefield. So the whole notion of getting an
investigative team in there and figuring out what`s happening, you know, I
think is a pretty far-fetched hope at this point.

MATTHEWS: So this is not going to be adjudicated by any objective
tribunal, it`s not going to be like it is in the United States when we have
an accident?

HAMPTON: No, it isn`t going to be like that, but, again, you have to
-- you have to remember, Russians are chess players, OK? So, Putin`s going
to try to figure out a way, I think, to turn this around and use it to his
advantage.

And one thing that I would seriously consider if I were him is using
this whole incident as an excuse to declare marshal law. And move into
that part of the Ukraine saying, look, we can`t afford to have all this
stuff happening. We`re not doing it because we want to, because we`re good
guys. We`re doing it for the safety of everybody else. That`s something
that a Russian would do.

MATTHEWS: Which would be to protect us from their friends, the
separatists, which sounds outrageous.

Gentlemen, let me ask you all this. Do you think -- I`m going to
start with Mr. Hall. Will we get the truth here eventually or faster than
we think? It seems like this conversation we just heard between the
Russian and the separatist seems to be pretty interesting already.

HALL: Well, it`s certainly interesting, but to answer your earlier
question, that`s a very sophisticated black box on the 777 with over 1,000
parameters of information. It that black box is tampered with, I think
there are experts that would be aware of that.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Thank you so much, Dan Hampton, Daniel Rose, and Jim Hall. We had to
be brief tonight. There`s a lot coming at us.

When we come back -- well, we`ll be right back.

(COMEMRCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with a flashback. From the moment I
heard about today`s shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, I
remember that 1983 shooting down of a Korean airliner over Soviet airspace.
Back then, the Soviets still in a Cold War mindset refused to even admit
responsibility for the deliberate murder of 269 passengers including U.S.
Congressman Lawrence McDonald of Georgia who was aboard.

Here`s how President Reagan reacted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: What can we think of a regime
that so broadly trumpets its vision of peace and global disarmament yet so
callously and quickly commits a terrorist act to sacrifice the lives of
innocent human beings? What can be said about Soviet credibility when they
so flagrantly lie about such a heinous act?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I can tell you, he was speaking for the American people
back then who were absolutely furious at what the Soviets had done. Their
cold-blooded killing of so many innocent people, their brutal destruction
of so many human lives, their utter lack of compassion for the people
aboard that plane.

Here`s the way our president and we, the American people, felt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAGAN: We know it will be hard to make a nation that rules its own
people through force to cease using force against the rest of the world.
But we must try. This is not a role we sought. We preach no manifest
destiny.

But like Americans who began this country and brought forth this last
best hope of mankind, history has asked much of the Americans of our own
time, much we have already given, much more we must be prepared to give.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: There are events like this today that no one forgets,
especially not today.

And that`s HARDBALL for now, on a very dark day. And thanks for being
with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
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