updated 9/3/2014 6:41:33 AM ET 2014-09-03T10:41:33

HARDBALL
September 2, 2014

Guest: Bobby Ghosh, Anne Gearan, Amy Walter, Anup Ghosh


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Another American beheaded.

This is HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight with a horror that appears to have no ending. The
Islamic State has beheaded yet another American, this time, journalist
Steven Sotloff. It seems bent on continuing the beheadings as long as it
holds one of us Americans in its hands.

This is not some bit of news to absorb, move on and forget. It`s a sharp,
sadistic assault on our country`s pride, on the dignity and courage of our
leader, Barack Obama, on the American people, on the country we love.
Cutting off the head of one of our compatriots is a taunt. It`s a
humiliation. It debases us in the eyes of Syrians, of Iraqis, of our
countrymen. It`s an insult to our patriotism, to our guts.

The American intelligence community is working to confirm the authenticity
of the latest video that shows Mr. Sotloff being executed. In the video,
Mr. Sotloff is seen in an orange jumpsuit, speaking directly to the camera
and saying that he`s paying the price for President Obama`s intervention in
Iraq. Obviously, that was scripted.

This latest video comes two weeks after the beheading of American
journalist James Foley and this plea for Sotloff`s life from his mother.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHIRLEY SOTLOFF, MOTHER OF STEVEN SOTLOFF: As a mother, I ask your justice
to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over. I
ask you to use your authority to spare his life and to follow the example
set by the prophet Mohammed, who protected people of the book. I want what
every mother wants, to live to see her children`s children. I plead with
you to grant me this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Anne Gearan`s "The Washington Post`s" diplomatic correspondent
and Bobby Ghosh is the managing editor of the digital publication Quartz.

Bobby, I want to start with you. This looks like it`s going to go on.
This is going to be a battle of nerves and whatever else in our visceral
reality. This is very personal between the president of the United States
and Baghdadi, who`s leading the Islamic State.

BOBBY GHOSH, QUARTZ: Yes, it does. And they`ve already said they will
execute a British prisoner next. They have other prisoners. They have,
it`s worth remembering here -- they have been executing prisoners of other
nationalities for weeks and months now, Syrians, other Arab nationals.
They`ve been doing this for a while, and they clearly take a great deal of
enjoyment from this. So for political reasons but also for perverse
personal reasons, they`re going to do this a lot.

MATTHEWS: So it`s sadism.

GHOSH: Oh, absolutely it is sadism. This is -- this is beyond any
political message. This is not a religious message. This is people taking
a perverse pleasure in slaughter.

And this is not -- these are not the only examples. There have been lots
and lots of videos that they`ve posted on line of atrocities -- it`s hard
to say this at this moment, but atrocities even worse than this, of dozens
and scores, hundreds of people being lined up and killed.

And we`ve been seeing reports from Amnesty International, from other
international bodies and from people who survived -- we`ve been seeing
reports of women and children taken prisoner, sexual slavery, depravity of
a kind that we shouldn`t really be mentioning on a show like this.

MATTHEWS: Well, Anne, this is an attack on our being, really. It shows --
it gets to our guts, our sense of ourselves, our vulnerability to somebody
doing this to us. These are just Americans. They`re not guilty of any
particular behavior. They were just picked out because they got their
hands on them.

ANNE GEARAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well --

MATTHEWS: And they`re going to keep doing this. I think that`s the
message the president`s going to get confronted with here. He goes to bed
tonight, President Obama, and as cool a customer as he can be, he`s going
to bed tonight, when he puts his head on the pillow, he`s thinking about
they`re beheading our guys over there.

GEARAN: He goes to bed tonight also as the president who just said a few
days ago, When you come after Americans, we come after you. I mean, he has
already answered this challenge rhetorically. So now I think this really
increases the pressure on him to do something more. The big question and
the huge problem for him is what. What could he do --

MATTHEWS: Well, we think --

GEARAN: -- that is actually effective?

MATTHEWS: I know we like to think we`re the high-tech country. We can
bomb a country with impunity. We can make a statement, and they can`t
touch us because we don`t put people on the ground. Well, to me, the
message from them is they`ve got our people on the ground.

GEARAN: That`s it. There are people on the ground. There are people who
are within reach of this organization and others simply because they`re
there doing their jobs, in this case journalists, but also aid workers,
sometimes businessmen, sometimes diplomats, people who are there not
because the United States government sent them as soldiers, but because
they`re there doing some other job.

MATTHEWS: I mean, just a few days ago, the president said -- and a lot of
people jumped all over him for it, for saying he doesn`t have a strategy
yet. Well, put together this. They`re going to continue doing this,
obviously. They made that clear. They`re going to keep looking for
Americans, missionaries, business people, tourists, the average backpacker
they can get a hold of somewhere, lost somewhere. They`re going to keep
looking for Americans to behead.

But as I said, during his news conference last week, President Obama made
this blunt admission, which I think is going to throw -- float (ph) through
the air for the next several days.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t want to put the cart
before the horse. We don`t have a strategy yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "We don`t have a strategy yet."

Well, today, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said we do
have a strategy. At least the Pentagon says it does. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: Absolutely, there`s a strategy
for our approach to the Middle East. Now, I can only speak from a military
perspective and for the Pentagon. But we have been consistently going
after the terrorist threat in that part of the world.

The military strategy with respect to the Middle East also has been very
clear. And it`s not just something that -- you know, that we just started
doing. I mean, we`ve been -- we`ve been going after terrorist networks in
that part of the world for more than a decade with very good success.
Doesn`t mean it`s been eliminated. But we certainly have been very active
and very energetic, and the objectives have been very, very clear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Bobby, of course, that`s an absurd statement he just made
because we went into Iraq, blew the country apart, created the opportunity
for ISIS to grow. It grew out of -- where was nothing, and a much bigger
and a larger threat to us than anything we faced from Saddam Hussein. So
the idea we`ve been on the aggressor side here, we`ve been winning this war
against terrorism is ludicrous.

GHOSH: And --

MATTHEWS: We`re facing a new danger now that is going after our people
over there, which is threatening to become an actual country, and no one
seems willing to take it on in the entire region. And we`re not taking it
on! How can you say we`re winning, like he just said, the admiral just
said? I don`t get -- I don`t understand that statement. I guess he has to
say that kind of stuff because of his position, but -- we`re not winning
the war against terrorism over there.

GHOSH: Well, certainly not in Syria and in Iraq. And it`s always a bad
sign when you have to start by saying our position is very clear. If it
was, then you wouldn`t really have to say it.

Yes, there have been successes in other parts of the world against
terrorism. Even this morning, we heard of an air strike in Somalia. But
that`s not where the world`s attention is focused right now. That is not
where Americans are being killed in this brutal fashion.

The president said that he will respond, and if you kill Americans, we`ll
come after you. Who is the "you" here? Is it simply Baghdadi, the leader
of this group? Is it all 5,000 to 7,000 to 10,000 of these fighters? Who
is the "you," and --

MATTHEWS: That`s my question.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: This isn`t a criminal matter. If it`s a war crime, you first of
all have to have a war. And we`re not engaging in a war. And the fact is,
you -- at some point, you do single out, after you`ve won the war, who are
the most egregious, you know, betrayers of what`s considered acceptable
behavior, even a military campaign. And that`s when you get to Nuremberg.
We`re nowhere near Nuremberg. The idea we`re going to go send Eric Holder
over there with a bunch of G-men and find Baghdadi -- I think you hit the
point there without intentionally doing so, Bobby. It`s absurd to say
we`re going to go there and grab somebody and put them in a -- you know,
Eichman-type raid, like the Israelis do. Anne --

GEARAN: Well --

MATTHEWS: We can`t go after people like -- we`re not a little country!
We`re a big country!

GEARAN: Well, and this is all -- it`s furthering the whac-a-mole problem
here.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

GEARAN: I mean, some new part of this organization or a related one or
fellow travelers pops up in Somalia, or you know, throw a dart at the world
and --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: There are people in ISIS now who weren`t in ISIS two weeks ago!

GEARAN: Right. And the idea that we can surgically go after, you know,
little bits and pieces, parts of that, is -- is probably not going to work.
But what Obama`s got to articulate is some larger architecture and --

MATTHEWS: No, he needs a plan, not more words. If this latest execution
of an American -- his name is Steve Sotloff -- leads to military action
against the Islamic State, we could end up fighting along the same side we
threatened to oppose a year ago. This is the conundrum, the government of
Syrian president Bashar al Assad.

Here is NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent Richard Engel on that
very point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Like it or not, the U.S. may now be
forced to take action against ISIS not only in Iraq, but also in Syria.
This, critics say, could mean helping the Assad regime, which the president
said had to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: This is the weird thing. And it`s so sad because it shows how
screwy our situation is. We were going to go to war on one side a year
ago. Now we`re thinking about going to war on the other side! I can`t
think of a time in history where we actually switched sides in the middle
of a -- of a -- of a campaign like this.

Bobby, last word on that.

GHOSH: Well --

MATTHEWS: I think that`s the quagmire we`re in here. If we went in -- if
we had been on the side of -- against Assad last year, we would be the ISIS
air force right now! If we go in right now, we`ll be Assad`s air force
against ISIS! We choose sides. We choose friends. We take enemies to
our side. And I have to tell you, it looks -- Assad`s getting to look like
a lot more impressive an ally (ph) than this guy, these people, Baghdadi`s
people.

GHOSH: Well, I don`t think Assad is any kind of ally, frankly. And as you
said, we are a big country. We should be able to fight on two fronts. We
certainly spend enough on our military for that. And we can and we should
be gathering a coalition of countries to do that. We can walk and chew gum
at the same time. We can fight Assad and ISIS at the same time.

And there have been successes in Iraq recently, in recent days. The murder
of Sotloff sort of overshadows all of these things, which -- as it should.
But only in the past couple of days, Iraqi forces with American help have
managed to drive ISIS away from one village not far -- about 180 miles from
Baghdad. And that`s a good sign. We retook that dam near Mosul, again
with American help but with Iraqi boots on the ground. That is the
beginning of an idea. That is a combination -- local boots on the ground,
American and international air power.

MATTHEWS: Anybody else --

GHOSH: That`ll solve the problem.

MATTHEWS: Can any other force join our effort besides Iraq?

GHOSH: I gather there`s a lot of effort to bring the Turks in, and that
would be a good start because the Turks also face a very grave danger. A
lot of this is taking place on their border. Now, Turkey has allowed a lot
of these fighters to go through their territory into Syria. Well, just
like Pakistan, Turkey is now facing the prospect of these people coming
back over their territory --

MATTHEWS: OK --

GHOSH: -- and bringing with them this poisonous ideology of theirs.

MATTHEWS: What a predicament. Thank you, Bobby Ghosh. Thank you, Anne
Gearan of "The Washington Post."

Coming up: What should President Obama do about the ISIS threat? And what
can he do? This is a direct, personal humiliation of our country, as I
said. Americans want action. It`s the president who now has to act for
us.

Plus, the battle for control of the U.S. Senate. We`re going to take a
look at the four blocks of states and how they look right now.

And in an alarming violation of privacy, of course, hackers steal hundreds
of private nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebrities.
It`s another reminder that in the digital age, what people do in the
privacy of their homes doesn`t always stay there.

Finally, "Let Me Finish" with this "damned if you do, damned if you don`t"
situation facing our president.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: The United States Justice Department is in federal court today
in Texas, arguing against that state`s voter ID law. Opening statements
began today in a lawsuit led by Attorney General Eric Holder and minority
rights groups themselves. They say the law is designed to tamp down
turnout by minorities and young people, voting group that tend to vote for
Democrats. A ruling isn`t expected until after this November`s midterm
elections.

We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. More now on that gruesome execution
of yet another American at the hands of the Islamic State. In the video
released today, the terrorist group`s barbaric slaughter of U.S. journalist
Steven Sotloff is part of a message delivered directly to President Obama.
It could be summed up like this. If American missiles continue to strike
our people -- that`s them -- we will continue to strike yours.

We`re going to show only a very short portion of the video in order to be
able to hear, in this case, the accent of Sotloff`s executioner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m back, Obama. And I`m back because of --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: "I`m back, Obama. And I`m back" -- that`s all we got.

At least some other Americans or two other Americans are believed to be
held by the terrorist group in waiting for more of this mayhem. Something
this terrible goes beyond politics, obviously. This is about presidential
leadership in the world and strength. Who`s going to lead our country out
of this humiliation?

Michael Steele was RNC chair, and of course, Eugene Robinson is with "The
Washington Post." Both are MSNBC political analysts.

You guys are seasoned in thinking about these kinds of things. And if
you`re president of the United States right now, I don`t know what you
think because it`s clear they`re taunting him, humiliating the president
with the bodies and the heads of Americans. This is tribal. This is what
probably the most primitive people on this planet used to do to each other.

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and the
thing that Obama faces that`s very difficult is he can`t appear to be
reactionary. But the other side of the coin is you can`t appear to be
distantly removed from it, as well. You`ve got to figure out a way, that
very thin slice, to connect yourself to this so that the American people
understand that you`re planning to do something.

So he undermined his real effort in that regard at the press conference
when he says, We don`t have a plan. We`re still working that out. This is
not something that just crept up in the last six weeks. This has been in
play diplomatically --

MATTHEWS: But the beheadings are -- raises this to a level of visceral
reaction. Most Americans like me --

EUGENE ROBINSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: -- are calling it murder (INAUDIBLE) get those guys. And he
didn`t want to do that last week.

ROBINSON: Right. Right. I mean, this -- it`s theatrical in the sort of
vilest and most despicable sense, and you can bring out all the adjectives
you want. In the end, you know, the adjectives don`t take you very far.

President Obama`s general MO is, Don`t get mad, get even. And so I think
he has to try to communicate that to the American people, that we are -- we
are not going to let this lie. We are going to respond to this. But we`re
going to respond to it in a way that we think will work, in a way that will
be effective, and not just, you know, react and say, Oh, you know, gee, we
got to do something --

MATTHEWS: Gene, I agree with you. I`ve always been the one that -- hot
(ph) off the trigger. I (INAUDIBLE) one with the itchy trigger finger
(INAUDIBLE) when he was 20 points behind Hillary Clinton in the fall of
`07, I said, Let`s get going here! But he did have a plan --

ROBINSON: Right.

MATTHEWS: -- in that case, to win the delegates.

ROBINSON: He certainly did.

MATTHEWS: But there weren`t people being beheaded every couple weeks
during that time! There`s a price to be paid for his deliberation now!

ROBINSON: Absolutely --

MATTHEWS: That`s the difference!

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: And that`s the problem because there are -- there are at least 26
other Americans that are known to be being held by the Islamic State. And
so the question becomes, if this video say, you know, as it noted, you
know, This is because of you, Mr. President, that we`re doing this, how
does the president then respond?

I think the early steps of bringing the diplomatic community into this in a
bigger way, our partners, those who have as much of an interest in this as
we do, getting them out in front so you create -- you begin to create a
wall (ph), a phalanx to really go after these folks. It`s not just about
American air strikes. It really is really communicating globally, This is
the line that no one is allowed to cross. And the global community --

MATTHEWS: Well --

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: -- the president leading --

MATTHEWS: The only time I can remember --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- the Arabs in that region uniting was against Israel in `48,
`56 and `73 -- and `67.

ROBINSON: Well- --

MATTHEWS: They get -- when are they going to get together and attack?

ROBINSON: Look, there is a confluence of interests in the --

STEELE: That`s right.

ROBINSON: -- in the region, clearly, but --

MATTHEWS: An attitude!

ROBINSON: Right, in attitude, and you know, in confluent interests against
--

MATTHEWS: In interests.

ROBINSON: -- ISIS. Right. Now --

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) action?

ROBINSON: -- how do you get those actors to act in concert? That`s not
an easy thing. You`re right, it doesn`t happen very often. There`s been a
lot of diplomatic ground work already done on that score. My colleague,
Walter Pincus, covered a lot of that in a column today, actually. There`s
a lot more yet to do.

One thing you could do, and I think the administration is probably trying
to do, is you could take one shot at that guy, OK? If you have a sense of
where that guy is, I think you could -- you could do that and -- and --

MATTHEWS: The United States.

ROBINSON: Yes, the United States could do that --

MATTHEWS: Do you think a decapitation would work?

ROBINSON: -- with a drone or something like that and --

MATTHEWS: Do you think that would work?

ROBINSON: Huh?

MATTHEWS: That would -- that would achieve something?

ROBINSON: Well, what it would -- what it would achieve is, I think, giving
you and me and Michael the sense that, yes, you can`t do this. We do --
did have to respond to this.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: There`s a price.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: If you behead Americans on television like that, you`re going to
-- now, but that`s -- that`s essentially a lucky shot. And who knows if
they know exactly where that guy is, exactly --

MATTHEWS: We couldn`t get Saddam Hussein, and he was president of a
country.

ROBINSON: Well, exactly, exactly.

MATTHEWS: We couldn`t find the head of a country.

ROBINSON: Yes.

STEELE: That is the challenge.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: It`s not an easy thing to do.

STEELE: It`s not an easy thing to do.

ROBINSON: I`m just saying that, hypothetically, if you had a shot, you
would take it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: This is the pressure. I think the president is pretty good at
withstanding some of the partisan stuff. Here`s President Obama. He is
facing renewed pressure from Republican critics, of course led by hawks
like Senator Lindsey Graham, who put out this statement about the Sotloff
killing.

"Condemnation is not enough to deal with this scourge. It is time we act
decisively against ISIL wherever it resides. Whenever American airpower
has been employed in coordination with reliable partners on the ground,
ISIL has been devastated. It`s a tactic that should be aggressively
pursued both in Syria and Iraq. Mr. President, if you can`t come up with a
strategy, at least tell us what the goal is regarding ISIL."

The problem with that is, he`s now confronted by a direct challenge
Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State, that if you keep bombing me, I`m
going to keep beheading people.

STEELE: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Americans.

STEELE: Well, and that`s the problem that the president has to work out,
and, unfortunately, he has got to work it out publicly.

We are going to be as much a part of the decision-making process as anyone,
the American people. The problem, the president, he doesn`t have a safe
harbor here. He can`t look at rhetoric from the right and think that, oh,
we are going the to push this, as some Dems are talking about, the
Congress, the Republican Congress needs to step in and lead on some of
this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You mean -- how would that work?

STEELE: Well, in other words, that they could reauthorize the president to
--

MATTHEWS: Oh, sure.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That would put him in a worse situation.

STEELE: That would put him in a worse situation.

ROBINSON: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: No, the president has to clearly define what this mission
objective is going to be and what his goals will be once the objective is
reached.

In other words, what does it look like when we are done? Because do we
leave an enemy in place that`s matter and still capable of attacking us
closer to home?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Go ahead. I`m sorry

ROBINSON: Well, no, I was just going to say the reality is though that
ISIS is going to continue beheading people, whatever we do, right?

STEELE: Right.

ROBINSON: If we say tomorrow, OK, gee, please stop beheading, they are not
going to stop.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You know, the horror here is that those people are facing --
they`re facing horror in the middle of the desert with a camera running
knowing their country is not coming to save them.

ROBINSON: Exactly.

So, I think we have to assume that it`s not easy to figure out exactly how
the to save them. For example, as Lindsey Graham said, airpower with
reliable support on the ground. Well --

STEELE: Well, who`s that?

ROBINSON: Who is that? Who is that in Syria? Who is the reliable support
on the ground in Syria?

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: The French, the British?

ROBINSON: And the answer is, you don`t know, and I don`t know and
President Obama doesn`t know. Nobody knows. Lindsey Graham doesn`t know.

MATTHEWS: It`s easier to criticize.

ROBINSON: It is.

STEELE: It`s much easier, much easier than to have to make the decision to
commit U.S. resources, not necessarily forces, but resources to solving a
problem as delicate as this --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What would we have done? What would we have done? I worked for
Jimmy Carter as a speechwriter at the time. And I have never felt worse
than I did then.

I loved the job, but the humiliation every day morally of -- and all we
were watching was 50 American hostages not being hurt really, but sort of
marched around with blindfolds on, and they burnt the flag. Nobody liked
that. But now we`re -- imagine if this happened and we hadn`t gotten war-
weary, if it wasn`t 2014, it was 2001, and they were beheading Americans
somewhere. Would we still sit and watch?

STEELE: No, I think it would be a vastly different response.

MATTHEWS: Or is just that we are war-weary now?

ROBINSON: Well, we are war-weary. And the world, especially Syria and
Iraq, are more complicated than anyone could have imagined in 2001.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: Remember? There were two dictators there. It was very simple
who was running those places.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Last question. If we have to write the capsule on this
presidency, will the big issue of the Obama presidency on foreign policy be
Iran, and dealing with their nuclear threat or Syria and dealing with this
fanaticism? What`s going to be the biggest story by the end of this --

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: By the end of -- for all I know, it could be Ukraine. So, who
knows? I don`t know.

MATTHEWS: It won`t grab us like these two.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: I think this has the potential to be defining, definitional,
because of the loss of life.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think Iran is going to be pushed on, pushed back.

STEELE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I think this is going to be at center stage.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: Iran is on our side against ISIS.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: The enemy of my enemy --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It`s September `14. We are not going to sit through `14, the
rest of this year, the rest of `15, all of `16 watching Americans being
beheaded every two weeks. I can tell you that.

STEELE: No, we`re not.

ROBINSON: No, we`re not.

MATTHEWS: We are not going to put up with that. Something else is going
to have to happen.

STEELE: I agree.

MATTHEWS: Or we else have got problems with leadership of this country.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: The American president cannot sit there and watch this. And
grieving isn`t going to help. Thank you.

That mother wanted to do the right thing. She did everything right.

STEELE: She did.

MATTHEWS: Everything. It didn`t work.

And we really do worry for you and pray for you. Thank you for that. You
are a great example of a great American, Mrs. Sotloff, doing what you could
do.

Anyway, thank you, Michael Steele. Thank you, Eugene Robinson.

We will be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Still ahead on HARDBALL: There are just two months now to go
before the midterm elections. We are going to look at who`s got the best
shot in the biggest races for the Senate around the country and whether
Democrats or the Republicans are going to control the Senate come November.

Plus, that massive computer hack that led to the exposure of private
pictures of celebrities, including actress Jennifer Lawrence.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

U.S. officials tell NBC News that Monday`s airstrikes in Somalia killed
three suspected members of Al-Shabab. It will be two to three days before
America can confirm whether the group`s leader is among the dead.

Another American doctor working in West Africa has tested positive for
Ebola. A missionary group SIM USA says the doctor working in Liberia
wasn`t treating Ebola patients.

Joan Rivers remains at New York`s Mount Sinai Hospital, where she`s on life
support. Rivers went into cardiac arrest during throat surgery last week.

And Home Depot may have been the target of a massive data breach. The
company says it`s looking into some unusual activity -- back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, Summer is over and the sprint to November has begun. Republicans
need to pick up a net of six seats in order to win control of the United
States Senate.

Let`s get right to it`s. The big races break -- break into four groups.
There are those two states, Georgia and Kentucky, where Democrats can knock
off a Republican. Keep your eye on those babies. There are three states
where Democrats are hoping for someone to pull off a major upset in races
where Republicans are heavily favored.

Then there are four close races in red states where Democrats are fighting
the anti-Obama wave down there. And finally there is a group of Democrats
in four blue states just looking to hang onto what the party`s already got.

Let`s talk predictions right now, to the extent we can here the day after
Labor Day. Howard Fineman is editorial director of The Huffington Post
Media Group and Amy Walter is the national editor of The Cook Political
Report.

Let`s start now with those two potential Democratic pickups. Georgia,
Michelle Nunn`s campaign has been given a boost recently thanks to an
endorsement by former Georgia Governor Zell Miller. Remember him? He was
going to have me for a duel.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: And in Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is
running head to head with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Amy, thank you for coming on. And I know you`re an expert and you hate to
be definitive, but here we are. We have got to start doing this. Of the
two women down there about to possibly pick up Republican seats, who is
running the best race right now?


AMY WALTER, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Well, I think who has the best
chance may be different from who is running the best race, right?

MATTHEWS: Go ahead.

WALTER: So, I think, in Georgia, Michelle Nunn`s chances were diminished
after the runoff, when David Perdue came through the runoff, as opposed to
a candidate who was going to be much easier to tag as an extremist.

MATTHEWS: More of a wacko.

WALTER: Yes, you could call them a wacko.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: To use a technical
term.

WALTER: Yes, exactly. So, I think that`s a problem.

In Alison Lundergan Grimes` case, she`s running a very good campaign. And
I think that`s even surprised a lot of Republicans, the McConnell campaign
especially, that they weren`t at this point able to catch her in some sort
of slip-up, goof-up, first-time-candidate mistake. And so she`s been able
to --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So, in terms of the trajectory you see Alison on her way to
possibly winning this?

WALTER: Well, I think she`s in a better --

MATTHEWS: Possibly winning.

WALTER: Yes, possibly. She`s in a better position right now than Michelle
Nunn.

MATTHEWS: You agree with that? You`re a Kentucky expert.

FINEMAN: Well, yes, I lived and worked there, and covered the races there
is and kept up with what`s going on.

I agree with Amy. I think Kentucky is a slightly better shot for the
Democrats for the reasons Amy said. They have also managed -- the
Democrats have also managed to put Mitch McConnell, the incumbent, who
would become majority leader if the Republicans take over the Senate,
managed to put him on the defensive in a way that he hasn`t been in most of
the races that he has won, most of them narrowly.

So, I would say right now, especially according -- we have a new poll,
polling methodology for The Huffington Post. We have a new Huffington Post
poll. And the Huffington Post poll shows Grimes with a slightly better
chance of winning than Nunn.

MATTHEWS: OK, than N-U-N-N.

FINEMAN: N-U-N-N.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: -- most difficult. These are what you would call in the
Olympics 10-point difficulties for Democrats.

Democrats face an uphill battle in three states, as I said, West Virginia,
Montana and South Dakota. In all three, the Democratic incumbent isn`t
running. That`s one of the problems. President Obama lost all three
states in 2012. At the moment, Republicans are heavy favorites in these
contests. The question is, where is the Democrats` best chance Montana,
West Virginia, South Dakota, Howard?

FINEMAN: Well --

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: You`re giving us a tough one, because I think, with our poll, I
keep mentioning the Huff Post poll because that`s -- I think it`s the best.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: It`s -- I don`t think we bothered to rank those. I think it`s
difficult.

MATTHEWS: All three are tough.

FINEMAN: It`s all very, very tough.

MATTHEWS: Very red states.

WALTER: Really, Montana is the hardest, right, when you don`t have a
candidate. Then you have to pick one out at the last minute. That doesn`t
help you very much.

MATTHEWS: You got caught cribbing.

WALTER: That`s a little bit of a problem.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Yes.

WALTER: Look, I think, in this case, West Virginia, the toughest state for
Barack Obama. But they have a decent candidate there. Still, I don`t know
that you can -- you`re sort of splitting hairs.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN: South Dakota.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s go on to some other red states where Democrats are
fighting the Republican anti-Obama wave. There are four red states.

Alaska, polls show Democrat Mark Begich with a narrow lead over Republican
challenger Dan Sullivan. In Arkansas, Senator Mark Pryor is in a close one
against challenger, Congressman Tom Cotton. In Louisiana, Senator Mary
Landrieu is now battling questions about her residency. "The Washington
Post" reported late last week that she didn`t have a house of her own in
Louisiana. She`s registered to vote at her parents` old basement home. By
the way, she has an eighth share apparently there.

And a North Carolina poll shows Senator Kay Hagan is deadlocked with
challenger Thom Tillis, the speaker of the House there.

Amy, which one do you think is the best bet of those fours for the Dems to
win, survive, Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, or North Carolina?

WALTER: Well, if you talked a couple of days ago, you talked to the folks
on the Democratic and Republican side, they would tell you Alaska is one of
the toughest because it`s the campaign that Mark Begich has been running.

He had a tough day today where one of his ads was taken down. We will see
what the reaction is to that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: In Louisiana, how does that residency hurt Mary Landrieu?

WALTER: It`s not even about the residency thing. It`s about the runoff
thing. There are very few people who think she will make it whether she
gets in first place or not beyond -- she will be forced into a runoff in
December.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: What`s the best bet?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Is it North Carolina?

WALTER: So, then I would put Alaska and North Carolina.

MATTHEWS: As the best bets. Well, that`s North Carolina.

FINEMAN: Are you getting ready to fill out your --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I wait until Thursday night. I wait until Thursday night before
the election.

FINEMAN: That`s what this is all really about.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Thursday night. Go ahead.

FINEMAN: I am going to say Alaska is the best shot, despite the problems
with Begich has had.

And the reason I say that is having travelled the country a lot, in the
South, Barack Obama`s very name is poison.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: And the only one of the four that escapes that basic cultural
fact, at least to some extent, is Alaska. That may in the end have nothing
to do with it. But for that reason, I would say that Begich has the best
shot.

MATTHEWS: Well, the South thing, we will talk about that some other show.
But that`s a problem.

Anyway, there are now four blue states. This is to me the wide open
country. This is like General Grant winning the war in the Civil War.
States where Democrats find themselves in unexpectedly close contests.

Recent polling shows that Colorado Senator Mark Udall`s lead against
challenger Cory Gardner is within the margin of error. That`s not too
happy. In Iowa, Republican Joni Ernst, the hog castrator`s notorious ad
about castrating hostages has helped catapult her into a dead heat. By the
way, she`s probably carrying the men despite that. She`s running against
Democrat Bruce Braley. That`s one of the great ironies. I won on
castration.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Anyway, in Michigan, Democrats are fighting to hold onto Senator
Carl Levin`s seat there. Levin announced last year that he would not seek
reelection again.

And in New Hampshire, a recent WMUR poll -- that`s in -- what`s that town
up there? Anyway, Manchester. Showed that Senator Jeanne Shaheen`s lead
over former Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown has gone from 12 points
down to just two in less than a month.

Let`s talk about that New Hampshire thing. I have said to people if you
turn on our network election night in November, and you see that it`s too
close to call in New Hampshire, look out for the Democrats. And if it`s
too close in Kentucky, look out the. The Republicans aren`t going to
sweep. Those are two early calls. I think Kentucky is 7:00.

FINEMAN: Early.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know what time. I guess New Hampshire is probably 8:00.
But I am amazed that Scott Brown, who has just toodled his way into that
state -- is that right word, toodled his way into that state -- has a real
chance to be a senator from that state.

(CROSSTALK)

WALTER: Why are you surprised about that?

MATTHEWS: Because he just moved there.

WALTER: Well, we have had plenty of candidates who have just moved there.

The bigger question in --

MATTHEWS: But he`s not Bobby Kennedy or Hillary Clinton. He didn`t --
he`s not a national name brand.

WALTER: No. That`s true.

And we have seen the polls bounce all over the place in New Hampshire. But
-- and I think you`re exactly right.

MATTHEWS: But they are bouncing down.

WALTER: But you know that there`s a wave, New Hampshire is one place that
we would see it. I think the bigger question is Colorado and Iowa are
really the two states that are going to be the closest and are going to
tell us a lot about 2014.

MATTHEWS: Is Braley running a good campaign?

WALTER: No.

MATTHEWS: OK, that`s what I heard.

WALTER: But it`s about Bruce Braley.

MATTHEWS: Good campaign manager, good manager.

WALTER: It`s about Bruce Braley the candidate versus the campaign.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: But, right now, about two months
out, I`m going to go with our poll. And our poll narrowly --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: That`s "The Huffington" poll?

FINEMAN: That`s "The Huffington Post" poll, says of those four, that Iowa
is the one the Democrats need to worry most about, at this point. Iowa has
been --

MATTHEWS: Is that creativity and a funny ad about ?

FINEMAN: No. It`s because I think Iowa has been trending -- you know,
this is the holy grail for people like Karl Rove for years and years to try
to get that part of the Midwest trending Republican. Karl thought he saw
it in Minnesota. It didn`t materialize.

I think it is materializing to some extent in Iowa. We look at the
Republican primary, caucuses there, and we sort of wonder at the
evangelical activism there. That bespeaks a certain amount of cultural
change in Iowa I think is tough for the Democrats.

MATTHEWS: Why is that the state that`s always had somebody from the pretty
hard left and from the pretty hard right in the U.S. Senate?

FINEMAN: Well, I think it`s because they are somewhat contrarian in Iowa.
They like to think of themselves as independent. They like ideology in
politics more than most states do. That would be my --

WALTER: And Minnesota has that reputation, too. They also seem to find a
way to get the most left and most right.

FINEMAN: For the same reason.

WALTER: Wisconsin now has that as well.

I think they also reflect the election that they came -- the year in which
they were elected. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin is a product of the 2010
election in the same way Ernst would be a product of the 2014 election.

MATTHEWS: When you`re look at this, and you do it all the time, is it more
important this year to have a really good candidate or not to be Obama?

WALTER: Hmm.

MATTHEWS: Is it party label this time or -- I always like to believe that
the best candidate generally wins if they put on the best campaign. They
do the best people, like them the most. Joe Biden, for example, won in `72
when nobody else was winning. (INAUDIBLE) out in Utah.

You can beat the trend if you`re really a good candidate. Is that still
true or not?

WALTER: It is only true if you`re a very good candidate running against a
not so good candidate. I don`t think it`s enough to be just a really good
candidate to beat back the national tide.

FINEMAN: Can I say I think the Senate elections have become more and more
nationalized.

MATTHEWS: I think so.

FINEMAN: And that makes President Obama`s low ratings a problem
nationwide. These are becoming like parliamentary elections. This is
really Mitch McConnell versus Harry Reid in the two brands.

MATTHEWS: Electoral votes.

FINEMAN: Yes, it`s become more of an electoral vote type of election.

MATTHEWS: Remember looking at a movie when Mitt Romney knew he lost the
election because he didn`t do as well in Virginia as he thought he would,
so he knew he lost Ohio.

WALTER: Right.

MATTHEWS: So, it`s going to be like that. So, like I said --

FINEMAN: The demographics.

MATTHEWS: And you see it is close between Alison Lundergan Grimes and
Mitch McConnell, that means the Democrats may not get wiped out, because
that`s a pretty good showing, right?

WALTER: I think that`s fair. Yes.

MATTHEWS: But if Scott Brown --

(CROSSTALK)

WALTER: But if Scott Brown, I think that`s a very big sweep.

MATTHEWS: I still think the Democrats are going to lose the Senate, but I
don`t know. I think --

FINEMAN: Generically, the Republicans should be farther ahead than they
are given the lay of the land. And that gives the Democrats a glimmer of
hope.

MATTHEWS: They have all these possibilities. These are most --

(CROSSTALK)

WALTER: They need to win five of nine seats, they win control in the
Senate.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know. Thank you.

WALTER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: It`s a mood-changer.

Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. Thank you, Amy Walter.

Coming up, that massive computer hack that exposed hundreds of nude
celebrity photos, including those of actress Jennifer Lawrence. This is a
big story about hacking and getting into our stuff. Everybody`s stuff.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Chris Christie is taking the next step toward a possible run for
president. He`s trying to learn some foreign policy. The New Jersey
governor is in Mexico on what`s being billed as a trade mission. But for a
guy with White House aspirations, it`s a chance to show he gets world
affairs, especially after a couple of missteps earlier this year like
calling the West Bank the occupied territories in front of Sheldon Adelson
and a like-minded Jewish group out in Las Vegas.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The FBI is now involved and looking into the massive leak of nude celebrity
photos. The targeted stars include Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence and
supermodel Kate Upton. The anonymous leaker claimed to have gotten the
pictures through the Apple online storage service, iCloud. Apple today
said celebrity accounts were hacked by a targeted attack on usernames,
passwords and security questions.

One actress Mary Winstead said this on twitter. If to those of you looking
at photos I took with my husband years ago in the privacy of our home, I
hope you feel great about ourselves." It`s pretty good line there.

The alarming incident raises the question. In 2014, with more and more of
our lives happening online, is nothing secret or sacred anymore? Whether
it`s the phone conversation of British royals or private artwork of George
W. Bush, or personal information about millions of customers at Target --
everything gets out apparently.

Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer from "The Washington Post" and MSNBC
contributor.

And Anup Ghosh is a research professor and chief scientist at the Center
for Secure Information Systems.

Anup?

ANUP GHOSH, CTR. FOR SECURE INFO. SYSTEMS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Tell me. My general view is to blame the criminal.

GHOSH: Mm-hmm.

MATTHEWS: Not the person who is the victim. So, I`m not going to talk
about Hollywood movie stars and their problems, and the way they choose to
photograph themselves.

Criminal activity -- we saw it with Rupert Murdoch over in London. These
people went to prison or were sentenced to prison.

Talk about that as and why it is a crime. Hack.

GHOSH: Yes, in this particular case, chances are the people that were
after these celebrities are were after these celebrities are trading that
information for something of value. It might be extortion, it might be re-
selling it to other people who are interested in its content, but I also
think users, all of us including celebrities expect some measure of privacy
when we take pictures and, sure, upload it online to iCloud service. I
think what`s happened here is Apple`s failed to secure that data on behalf
of its users.

MATTHEWS: When I go to the bank to get my money out or put some money in
even by going to the bank window, you know, and PNC, and I put the money
in. It`s very complicated d when you go on the computer and figure out how
much you have in there to get your latest account balance, right?

You got to go through of what`s your favorite first girlfriend`s name --

JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, that`s if you forget your
password.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, sometimes they just seem to do that for sport. I
don`t know.

But how did they get through these kind of password situations is what I`m
amazed by?

CAPEHART: Well, from what I`ve read, maybe Anup can correct me, but the
way these criminals were able to do this was through something called brute
force, where they just hammer a site with all sorts of combinations of --

MATTHEWS: Is this like a monkey will type "Merry Christmas" if you keep
punching the typewriter? They keep going, there`s eight letters or
something, and run all the permutations?

CAPEHART: Yes, that`s how they were able to do it, so there was a flaw on
the side of Apple, but this also speaks to our responsibility as consumers
to make sure that we have strong passwords and that we actually have
passwords. I left -- I left an iPhone on a plane that I had not locked.
And so, I had to spend the rest of my time trying to change all of my
passwords for all of my --

MATTHEWS: Did you ever hear from this person that picked it up?

CAPEHART: No, never did.

MATTHEWS: How did they know? They`re now thinking about, I found this
home.

CAPEHART: Long time ago.

MATTHEWS: The question is, how do you get through? It is hard to get
through these systems. These -- you know, I was about to throw out my
password there, but, I mean --

GHOSH: Well, I say, most of the online service providers, whether it`s
Google, or Twitter, they`ve adopted more secure technology called two
factor authentication, and what that really means is not just your user
name and password but something else as well, right?

So even if I gave you my username and password, unless you have this other
code, which is usually texted to you, you can`t log in with my credentials.
Apple needs to do that at a minimum. You know, this brute forcing, you`re
right. Pretty much everyone has developed systems that eliminate brute
force attacks.

MATTHEWS: And will they be sued on this?

GHOSH: You know, it`s not probably a big enough problem for Apple today.
It`s a media issue as opposed to celebrity.

MATTHEWS: No, suppose these stars, (INAUDIBLE) nude pictures all over the
place.

GHOSH: Yes, good point.

MATTHEWS: Well, in a statement, a publicist for Jennifer Lawrence, who`s
one heck of an actress, said, "This is a flagrant violation of privacy.
The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the
stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence."

You know, my view is I don`t care about the Kardashians and I don`t care
about Paris Hilton and giggle-worthy crap. I don`t care.

But I do care about people of talent, who work hard to be a talent, and
somebody as good as her in the business she`s in of acting, these people
are being abused here.

GHOSH: Yes.

CAPEHART: And they`re not the only ones being abused. We know about this
because they`re actors, they`re famous and have the platform to make us
think about this.

But for every Jennifer Lawrence out there, there are hundreds, thousands,
maybe even millions of people who become victim to these hackers who take
their information, whether it`s pictures, whether it`s their bank account
information, whether it`s all sorts of other information, and ruin their
lives with that information.

GHOSH: Sure. What`s gone unnoticed in all of this celebrity news is Home
Depot is likely hacked on a scale that will match Target. That happened in
the same day. Of course, the celebrity photographs make the news, but all
of us, all of our credit card information is getting hijacked because of
the insecurity of these systems, and as consumers, we need to demand better
security from the people that develop these systems.

MATTHEWS: I was thinking when I read this story, is it more difficult to
do what they did, hacking in these people`s nude photos than it is to hack
into your bank account and start pulling the money out?

GHOSH: You know, it depends on the particular system. I hate to say that,
but some people implement security better than others. We need to demand
better security out of our retailers. I mean, the DHS put out a report
last week that said, 1,000 retailers have been hacked by one particular
malware, 1,000 retailers. That means basically all of our credit data is
out there now. Someone has access to it and could ruin our lives because
of identity theft and fraud.

That`s a much a bigger problem than a particular celebrity.

MATTHEWS: Is this a partisan issue where the libertarians have one side,
and the Democrats another? Is there a fight over regulation here between
the two parties? In other words, I bet we`re going to see something like
this on the party platforms in `16. They`ll be up to date on this.

CAPEHART: If not `16, definitely by `20. But you would hope that
something like this knows support for making sure that Americans`
information is protected knows no party, that it is a nonpartisan issue
where folks come back to Washington and actually do something.

Here`s thing that they can actually get done if they come together and do
something to protect the American consumer. Yes, good luck.

MATTHEWS: Advice I heard years ago in politics -- if you -- if you can say
it, don`t write it. If you can grunt it, don`t say it. Keep it to
yourself. Your communication could be the worst enemy you ever had.
Richard Nixon taught me that.

Anyway, thank you, Jonathan Capehart, and, Anup Gosh, for joining us.
We`ll be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this terrible challenge now facing
the country. I put the question to you, you`re president of the United
States and an enemy is beheading one of your people every couple of weeks.
What do you do? Can you do nothing? Can you sit and watch it happening?
This open-ended barbarism against your people?

But what if the one thing you can do to stop the beheadings is invade Syria
and begin taking control of the country, city by city, village by village?
How do you know who is ISIS and who are the people it`s terrorizing in
order to conceal them in their midst? And how do you avoid becoming
enmeshed in a country that will soon come to hate you, to find the enemy
amid the innocent? And how do you avoid the fact that by entering Syria
militarily, we are choosing sides in a war between the Assad government and
ISIS.

A year ago, we were pushed to back the rebels. Now, we`re being pressured
to take on the ISIS rebels on the side of Assad. Well, this is an exact
situation of damned if you do, damned if you don`t.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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