updated 7/16/2015 10:04:16 AM ET 2015-07-16T14:04:16

Show: HARDBALL
Date: July 15, 2015
Guest: Susan Page, Matt Schlapp, Willie Brown, April Ryan, Ryan Grim

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Go ahead, knock this deal off my shoulders, I
dare you!

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews out in San Francisco.

Dares go first! That was President Obama today daring his critics for
a better way to keep Iran from a nuclear weapon. Go ahead, tell us. Tell
us what you would do. How would you drive a harder bargain that keeps the
major countries behind us, that gets the Iranians to accept it? Because if
you can`t find a tougher diplomatic route, admit that the only real
alternative is war. It`s going in and bombing Iran now and hope we can put
them back a few years, accepting all the mayhem that comes with it.

Also tonight on HARDBALL, dueling banjos, Trump and Cruz joining
themselves on the right. Is Ted Cruz positioning himself as the country
mouse to succeed when the city mouse falls on his tail? Is he the
sorcerer`s apprentice?

And the president calls it rape if someone drugs someone to have sex.
He was talking about the accusations against Bill Cosby. We`ll get to that
tonight, too.

But about the huge question that right now trumps all others,
especially Trump, President Obama gave a strong defense today of his
nuclear deal with Iran, and he challenged critics of the deal to present an
alternative.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m hearing a lot of
talking points being repeated about, This is a bad deal. This is a
historically bad deal. This will threaten Israel and threaten the world
and threaten the United States. I mean, there`s been a lot of that. What
I haven`t heard is, what is your preferred alternative?

There really are only two alternatives here. Either the issue of Iran
obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a
negotiation, or it`s resolved through force, through war. Those are the
options.

If the alternative is that we should bring Iran to heel through
military force, then those critics should say so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Howard Fineman`s global editorial director of the
HuffingtonPost, Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for "USA Today,"
David Corn is the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones."

Howard, Golda Meir once had a great phrase I`ve always loved, which is
"new facts." And now we have a new fact. We have a deal on the table, and
nobody thinks we can get back to that table again if we leave it ourselves.

Is that the choice facing the U.S. Congress in the 60 days ahead,
whether to accept this deal, agree that there won`t be another deal, and
then go to military action? Will the Congress accept that as the choice?

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST GLOBAL EDITORIAL DIR., MSNBC POLITICAL
ANALYST: Well, Chris, they`re not going to have much of a choice but to
accept it that way because presidents who come back to the United States
with agreements manage, usually -- and I think the president brilliantly
framed it that way today -- to make it a choice between the deal on the
table or nothing, the deal on the table or chaos, the deal on the table or
maybe war.

The president didn`t focus all of his efforts on the question of
whether he could have gotten this concession or that concession, or some
other piece of the puzzle. He said, Look, this is what we could do with
the global partners we have, with the leverage that we had. This is it, or
nothing.

And I think in this situation, especially with the fact that we have
to have the world with us, he`s right.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask Susan that question because it comes down
to, if you`re a member of the Senate or the House of Representatives, you
have this choice, kill this deal or accept this deal.

Can the enemies of the president, his critics, make it, No, that`s not
the question, it`s a question of whether he could have done better? Can
they -- even though that question`s irrelevant at this point because
there`s only one deal out there. Your thoughts.

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": Well, I think what we saw today was the
beginning of a 60-day campaign. President Obama has run very successful
campaigns in the past, and that`s what he`s just begun with this Iran deal.
And he`s got the bully pulpit with the presidency on a very complicated
issue. That makes it tough for his opponents.

That doesn`t mean we won`t have a resolution of disapproval in
Congress. I`m sure that`ll be introduced. I don`t know if it will pass or
not. But it will never be able -- they will never be able to override a
veto. So President Obama is making the best case he can so that he shows
the most united America he can.

But this deal, I think the odds are excellent, almost certain, that it
survives because of the arrangement that he made with Congress when they
insisted on the ability to review it.

MATTHEWS: David, it seems to me that he wants more than to avoid
disaster. He seems to want approval. Is that reasonable? Can he get a
majority support in the two houses?

DAVID CORN, "MOTHER JONES," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I doubt
Republicans will give him that majority support in either house, but
particularly in the Senate. There`s no way I think the GOP will accept
this. And they have this abstract form of opposing it -- It should have
been better, it should have been better, it should have been better.

The president, as he started doing today and the past few days, say,
What`s your better choice? What`s your better choice? And no matter how
many times you ask that of Ted Cruz, of John Boehner, of Mitch McConnell,
of Lindsey Graham, you know what? All they have is, You should have been
tougher. You should have gotten a better deal.

Well, that`s in the abstract. And they -- so they`re going to keep
hanging onto that, and because, particularly led by the presidential
candidates, there is no political gain for them agreeing with the
president. They`ve already laid the foundation that whatever he came back
with, whatever the deal was, it wasn`t good enough for Bibi Netanyahu, and
that meant it wasn`t good enough for them.

So this is going to be a tooth-and-nail fight, at least over, you
know, the idea behind the agreement, let alone what happens in terms of the
vote count.

MATTHEWS: Yes, well, that`s a good argument last week, but now we
have a deal. And if this deal goes down, most people agree, don`t they,
we`ll never get this team of partners together again, the Chinese, the
Russians, the Europeans. We will not be able to go back to the table.

Anyway, speaking of Netanyahu, here he is in an interview on NBC
today. Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu had a message for Americans -
- Be afraid. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I fought and I said that
this deal poses a great danger to Israel, and I believe it poses a great
danger to America and the world. When you let the number one terrorist
regime in the world have a sure path to the bomb and hundreds of billions
of dollars with which to finance its terrorism around the world, that`s not
good for any of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: American hawks echoed that message of fear. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: This proposed deal is a terrible,
dangerous mistake that`s going to pave the path for Iran to get a nuclear
weapon.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRES. CANDIDATE: We`ve ensured they
become a nuclear nation. You`ve created a possible death sentence for
Israel. This is a virtual declaration of war against Sunni Arabs. This is
the most dangerous, irresponsible step I`ve ever seen in the history of
watching the Mideast!

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FMR. NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Why would you make a
deal with someone who`s lied to you before? And would you play poker with
somebody who cheated you before? We`ve made a deal with a murderer, with a
homicidal maniac, the ayatollah -- the ayatollah of Iran.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is catastrophic. If
it goes through, it will result in funding terrorism. It will endanger the
lives of Americans. It will endanger Israel.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Israel has reason to worry, and so should
you.

MARK LEVIN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Barack Obama has now planted the
seeds of World War III, and one day, World War III is going to break out
right here because of his actions today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Howard, it looks like the safest position for a Republican
running for president is the hardest, nastiest assault on this deal.

FINEMAN: Yes, Chris. I think there are two things here. First of
all, that opposition to the deal is largely -- not entirely, but largely
now a partisan matter, with the conservative Israeli government under
Benjamin Netanyahu basically having thrown in its lot with Republicans in
the Congress. I think, politically, strategically, a terrible mistake on
Israel`s part, but that`s what Netanyahu`s done.

The other interesting thing here is it seems to only be about Israel,
when, in fact, the Sunni Arab Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and the others, are
just as frightened, if not moreso, about Iran getting $100 billion in --
you know, in relief from sanctions, but they`re not front and center.

And because Bibi Netanyahu has very little credibility and very little
popularity in America and in the world as a whole, he turns out to be a
very, very poor advocate in the court of public opinion, and I think
President Obama knows that.

They have not liked each other from the beginning. I think it`s
personal also. And I think the president is willing to take this on in a
way that`s very interesting. Now, Israel will get money out of this.
They`ll get more military support. The Gulf states will get more military
support to balance it out in terms of non-nuclear equipment. But this is a
high-stakes game I haven`t seen quite like this in a long time.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s remember we also have a former vice president
who can be just as hawkish as Bibi Netanyahu. Dick Cheney emerged
yesterday on Sean Hannity`s TV show last night. He warned that the deal
with Iran could lead to nuclear war. Let`s watch Dick Cheney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What Obama has
done is, in effect, sanctioned the acquisition by Iran of nuclear
capability. And it can be a few years down the road. It doesn`t make any
difference. It`s a matter of months until we`re going to see a situation
where other people feel they have to defend themselves by acquiring their
own capability.

And that will, in fact, I think put us closer to use -- actual use of
nuclear weapons than we`ve been at any time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in
World War II.

I try to understand what it is Barack Obama thinks he`s achieving
here, why he looks at the world in different light than anybody else does.
But he clearly does not understand or chooses to ignore reality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: That`s Dick Cheney talking. In the past, Cheney has
offered his preferred alternative for dealing with Iran. Quote, "There
have been a number of times where we have been faced with the potential
threat of a nuclear Middle East. And what`s worked is military force and
the willingness to go in and use military capability to strip nuclear arms
from places such as Iraq, such as Iran, such as Syria. And unfortunately,
Barack Obama doesn`t seem to understand that."

Susan, he talks about Obama being the odd man out in the world
discussion. I wonder if it isn`t Dick Cheney who`s the odd man out, given
the fact that he did take us into Iraq, and that 200,000 people are dead,
including the 4,000 American soldiers, and in a war that made no sense,
that removed the only buffer to Iran in that region -- that`s Iraq -- that
created, basically, the officer corps, the high-ranking officer corps for
ISIS and cost all those lives.

I wonder why he comes back into American debate as if he`s somehow
been, oh, triumphant here in the national argument. Your thoughts.

PAGE: Well, he`s been -- Cheney`s been completely consistent from the
beginning of the Obama administration, in sounding these warnings over and
over. And he`s right, he and President Obama see the world in very
different ways.

Obama is doing now exactly what he said he would do in the 2008
campaign, which is deal with adversaries, try diplomacy, military options
as a very last resort, unlike Vice President Cheney and his advice during
the Bush administration.

So he`s right. But President Obama is clearly in tune with other
Western leaders, who are also in favor of this deal. We talked about
Israel being concerned and Saudi Arabia being concerned, but our main
allies are in favor of this. And in fact, some countries that are not
really our allies also think this is the right way to go.

CORN: You know, Chris, the amazing thing here is that the Bush model
was the U.S. more or less on its own could go into the Middle East, use
military force and change reality on the ground, come what may. And that
proved to not work.

And in the face of Obama getting together with allies, and even China
and Russia, and working out a deal, they are still sticking to that model
and they`re still being treated credibly in a lot of places.

MATTHEWS: And he was elected -- I just want to make a little
editorial point here. Barack Obama was elected by the majority of the
American people knowing full well this would be his approach, a new
approach, as you said, David, from what we had before, an attempt to find a
way to debate and to negotiate and to find a hard (ph) agreement with
people who are hostile to us.

This where he had the great debate with then Senator Clinton, with
Hillary Clinton, when she said we shouldn`t be negotiating with our
enemies. He said, No, we should. And it was on that basis that the
Democratic Party voters chose him. It was on that basis they chose him
over McCain.

So we are getting, ever since the Cairo speech by this president, a
different approach to the Middle East. It may be wrong -- one never knows
in the near term -- but it clearly is what he promised. And that to me is
refreshing, a president who`s giving us what he promised to give us.

Anyway, Howard Fineman, my friend, Susan Page, thank you, David Corn.

Coming up -- is Ted Cruz auditioning to be Donald Trump`s -- dare I
say the word? -- apprentice? The two presidential candidates met today in
New York, and now Cruz is sounding a lot like Trump when he talks about
illegal immigrants in this country. Cruz is staking out the farthest-right
position, right there in Trump`s slipstream, if you will.

Plus, one thing the nuclear deal with Iran doesn`t address is the
plight of those four Americans held in captivity by the Iranian regime.
We`re going to talk to the sister of the ex-Marine who`s jailed in Iran
right now.

And President Obama`s surprisingly strong answer to day about Bill
Cosby. He says if you give someone drugs and then have sex with them
without their consent, it`s rape. Well, he was blunt, he was truthful, and
he certainly cleared the air with that statement, the president did.

And today`s, by the way, the day the far right was (ph) feared most,
the U.S. military exercise today they say is a federal invasion of the Lone
Star State. And it began today. Wow.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, the latest Suffolk University/"USA Today" poll shows
Americans choose Hillary Clinton over seven possible Republican candidates.
Let`s go to the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

Clinton leads Jeb Bush by 4 points -- that`s not much -- 46 to 42.
She tops Florida senator Marco Rubio by just 6, 46 to 40. But Clinton
beats Mike Huckabee by 9, 49 to 40. She`s ahead of Kentucky senator Rand
Paul by 10, 48 to 38.

She leads Wisconsin governor Scott Walker by 11, 48 to 37. She leads
Dr. Ben Carson by 13, 49 to 36. And the candidate Clinton fares best
against, Donald Trump. She leads in that potential match-up 51 to 34, a
17-point margin.

It all makes sense to me. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I like Donald Trump.
You know, there are a lot of folks in Washington right now that seem to be
crawling all over themselves to smack Donald Trump. I`m not one of them.
I think he`s bold, I think he`s brash, and I think he`s got backbone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was, of course, Ted Cruz on
HARDBALL last week. And as we showed you last night, Trump has catapulted
to the top of the Republican presidential field by railing against
Mexicans, blasting immigrants there as criminals.

Now it appears Cruz is auditioning to be Trump`s apprentice. Trump
says Cruz called him, wanting to arrange a meeting today, and "The
Washington Post" added the location, Trump Tower up in New York for that
meeting.

Why is Cruz meeting with Trump? Well, earlier today, Cruz answered
that question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: I`ll say this. I think Donald Trump is bringing a bold, brash
voice to this presidential race. Indeed, many of the politicians who are
running out of their way to smack Donald Trump have for years or even
decades been vocal advocates of amnesty.

I for one am grateful that Donald Trump is highlighting these issues.
They are critical issues. They`re issues I`ve been fighting for a lot of
years.

In 2013 alone, the Obama administration released 36,000 illegal aliens
who had criminal convictions, including 116 murderers. One question anyone
should ask President Obama, or especially Hillary Clinton -- does Hillary
Clinton think it is appropriate for the federal government to release 116
murderers who are illegal aliens? I don`t.

Does Hillary Clinton think it`s appropriate that in 2013, the Obama
administration released over 15,000 illegal aliens who had drunk driving
convictions? You know, my girls are 7 and 4. They`re driving on the road
every day to school. The idea that this administration is releasing over
15,000 people with drunk driving convictions who are here illegally -- that
doesn`t make any sense. People are fed up with it.

And I think that frustration with politicians in both parties who say
one thing and do another -- I think that`s going to be front and center in
the 2016 election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Matt Schlapp, who is the head of the American
Conservative Union, was President Bush`s political director. And Willie
Brown was the Democratic mayor of San Francisco.

Let me start with Matt Schlapp.

It seems like it`s a combination of anti-illegal immigrant and Willie
Horton here. What do you make of this focus on crime now, rather than
immigration itself, illegal immigration even? Your thoughts?

MATT SCHLAPP, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Look,
the fact is, is Donald Trump is doing well in these polls because he`s
striking a chord and he`s not striking just a Republican chord.

He`s striking a chord with people out there in the country who say,
when you have a border that you`re not policing, when you have a visa
system that`s really out of control, we don`t know who`s staying in this
country, you don`t always get the best people inside your country.

And the fact is, crime is a part of this, and we ought to cut down on
it; we ought to cut down on crime, we ought to crack down on crime. And
anybody who`s going to defend the criminals in these situations, it`s just
beyond me.

MATTHEWS: When is the Republican Party going to take steps to do
that? You have had the presidency for eight years under W.

SCHLAPP: He tried.

MATTHEWS: You have had power in Congress.

No, when are you going to do something about arranging a uniform,
fair, progressive immigration system and hiring system in this country you
intend to enforce? Everyone knows the reason people come here is to get a
job, not to commit a crime. If somebody comes here to get a job, shouldn`t
they have to do it legally? And why does your party oppose true
enforcement of that law? They have.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLAPP: I think George W. Bush tried very hard to get a
comprehensive immigration bill through Congress.

And there`s no question that one of the reasons that this has totally
broken down in this Congress is because President Obama acted unilaterally
with his executive pen, which does not acknowledge the fact that this is a
big problem for this country.

MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. He did that after he failed to get the --
no, no, get the timing right here, Matt.

SCHLAPP: No, no.

MATTHEWS: If you can`t get the House of Representatives to agree to a
comprehensive deal which had been passed in the Senate, with pretty strong
Republican support, by the way, how can you blame the president for moving
-- moving on his own, if he couldn`t get something done legislatively?

SCHLAPP: Because, just like Ronald Reagan in 1986, who signed an
immigration bill, you have to acknowledge that sometimes you don`t control
Congress and you have to work with those Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Wait a minute. Congress passed a good bill. Congress
passed a very good bill back in 1986, and they never enforced it because of
people that said we have to have illegal hiring in California and other
places because for the economy. They basically said, for economic reasons,
we couldn`t stop illegal hiring. OK? You know the history.

SCHLAPP: You worked on the Hill.

MATTHEWS: I did.

SCHLAPP: The president just doesn`t get to dictate what`s in a
comprehensive bill. He has to work with the people the American people
have sent to Congress to get it.

MATTHEWS: OK. You`re saying it`s all the Democrats` fault?

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLAPP: No, I`m not. No, I`m definitely not saying that.

MATTHEWS: OK. All right.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLAPP: But I`m saying Obama bears a lot of the blame for the fact
that we can`t get a bipartisan solution.

MATTHEWS: OK.

Willie Brown, thank you, sir.

Look at this. Trump brand has taken a U-turn among Republican voters
in the wake of his tough comments about immigrants, but not in the way you
might think. These are new numbers ,by the way, from "The Washington
Post"/ABC poll just out today. In May, before his talk about illegal
immigrants and crime, Trump was viewed favorably by just 23 percent of
Republicans, unfavorably by two-thirds, 65 percent.

Now those numbers have flipped. He`s viewed favorably by 57 percent
of Republicans, unfavorably by 40.

Mr. Brown, Mayor Brown, why do you think Republicans like the sound of
this guy now?

WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO: Well, I think that
he`s offering simplistic solutions and responses, in view of a violent act
that was done right here in San Francisco.

He`s taken full advantage of that opportunity and he is, in fact,
ignoring, and so are they, all of the other things that need to be
considered when you react to such a violent act.

MATTHEWS: Late today, CNBC`s John Harwood asked Ted Cruz about his
motives for supporting Trump all of a sudden. Let`s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Do you see him as
a plausible occupant of the Oval Office, plausible president of the United
States, or are you simply defending him because you expect him to collapse
and you want to inherit his votes?

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, let`s be clear.

I`m running to win, so I expect everyone to collapse. I would like to
inherit all their votes. So, at the end of the day, I will readily plead
guilty to that.

HARWOOD: OK.

CRUZ: But also say I like Donald. He`s bold. He`s brash.

Part of the reason people are supporting Donald Trump right now is
they`re fed up with politicians in Washington who don`t tell you the truth.
They don`t do what they said they would do. And a lot of his support
reflects that right now. I appreciate that brashness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: As the head of the American Conservative Union, Matt, do
you see him as a plausible president? Because you notice then Ted never
answered that question that John Harwood put to him. Do you have an
answer?

SCHLAPP: You know, I, like a lot of Americans, are watching him.

We`re trying to figure out what this guy`s all about. He`s a
phenomenal media presence. He understands the media.

MATTHEWS: Yes. We know that .

SCHLAPP: Is he somebody who can operate inside the Oval Office and
lead the country? That`s what this process is about. And we`re going to
find out.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: So you think it`s -- you think it`s -- he`s plausible, in
other words, to answer John Harwood`s question?

SCHLAPP: Yes, definitely.

MATTHEWS: He`s a plausible president of the United States, Donald
Trump?

SCHLAPP: Definitely.

MATTHEWS: Mayor Brown?

BROWN: No, of course not.

As a matter of fact, I think Mrs. Clinton is just hoping the
Republican Party continues with its insanity towards Donald Trump and
nominate Donald Trump. That will almost ensure we will have the first
woman president in the history of this country.

SCHLAPP: Well, what about Bernie Sanders? Is he plausible?

BROWN: He is. He is. He has the talent. He`s been elected to the
U.S. Senate. Trump has been elected to nothing.

SCHLAPP: So you have to get elected in order to qualify to be
president.

I wish they had put that in the Constitution. But they didn`t. And
being an outsider at this particular time in American politics sure seems
to be an advantage.

BROWN: Well, I disagree with you wholeheartedly, unless, of course,
you show extraordinary talent, skill, humanity and common sense. Trump
provides none of those things.

MATTHEWS: That`s the American debate.

Thank you so much, Matt Schlapp.

Thank you, Mayor Willie Brown.

Up next, the Iran nuclear deal comes as four Americans are still being
held in the country of Iran. I`m going to speak tonight with the sister of
a former U.S. Marine who is in prison right now in Iran who at one time was
sentenced to death.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Even as some in Washington and in Tehran are heralding the Iranian
nuclear agreement, four families of U.S. citizens held in Iran are
disappointed that their loved ones weren`t part of the deal. The families
of Saeed Abedini, Robert Levinson, Jason Rezaian, and Amir Hekmati thought
the protracted months of high-level diplomatic negotiation might have made
Tehran bend, but so far no movement.

Abedini, Rezaian, and Hekmati are all being held in Iranian prisons on
charges related to spying. Levinson is a former FBI agent who went in Iran
in 2007. His exact whereabouts are currently unknown.

Well, President Obama was asked about those Americans at his news
conference today. Here was that exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: There are four Americans in Iran, three held on trumped-up
charges and according to your administration one whereabouts unknown. Can
you tell the country, sir, why are you content with all the fanfare around
this deal to leave the conscience of this nation and the strength of this
nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have got to give you
credit, Major, for how you craft those questions.

The notion that I`m content as I celebrate with Americans citizens
languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that`s -- that`s nonsense, and you
should know better.

I have met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody`s
content. And our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to
get them out.

Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their
release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly, Iran realizes,
you know what? Maybe we can get additional concessions out of the
Americans by holding these individuals. It makes it much more difficult
for us to walk away if Iran somehow thinks that a nuclear deal is dependent
in some fashion on -- the nuclear deal -- and, by the way, if we had walked
away from the nuclear deal, we`d still be pushing them just as hard to get
these folks out.

That`s why those issues are not connected. But we are working every
single day to try to get them out, and won`t stop until they`re out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Joining me right now is Sarah Hekmati, the sister of Amir
Hekmati.

Amir, by the way, is a former U.S. Marine born in Arizona and raised
in Michigan who was visiting his grandmother over in Tehran in 2011, when
he was arrested and charged with spying.

Thank you, Sarah, for coming on.

What was your reaction watching that back and forth between Major
Garrett and the president?

SARAH HEKMATI, SISTER OF AMIR HEKMATI: You know, it`s hard for us as
a family.

We`re really hurting, Chris. And I have to admit that it`s never
enough for our family until Amir is home. The announcement of this deal,
although diplomacy for us is better than hostility, and we don`t doubt that
Amir`s case has been tied, unfortunately, to the outcome of these
negotiations -- we hope now -- for us, this is just the beginning.

We want to see that, moving forward, Amir -- bringing home the
Americans is a priority now, it`s not just raised on the sidelines, and
it`s something that is going to result in positive outcomes and no longer
the reassurance that it`s going to continue to be raised.

What is it going to take to bring Amir home? This August, he`s going
to be there now four years, and Amir will now be the longest held American
in Evin prison in history since the overtaking of the Iranian -- or the
U.S. Embassy in 1979. So it`s very painful. We`re really struggling as a
family.

MATTHEWS: Do you have any reason for hope that -- well, can you --
maybe you are going to have to answer this obliquely, but are there any
signs out there that they may be willing to budge now that we`re working
together on the nuclear front, that they might be willing to consider this
as a another sign, another opportunity for cooperation, any hope or sign
out there that that may be the case? Or is it just as bleak as it was
before?

HEKMATI: No, I think that we were reassured even up until the
announcement that, on both sides, an outcome that was positive would only
reinforce a positive outcome for Amir. And our attorney in Iran has
reassured us that there are viable options for Amir.

This administration has also reassured us that they will continue to
push and continue to raise this case. So, again, for us as a family, going
on four years, I will believe it, I want to believe it, I want to see these
efforts in place, but until my brother is home on American soil, it`s never
enough.

MATTHEWS: Well, I`m not sure this is helpful, but Republican
presidential candidate Donald Trump says there should not have been a
nuclear deal without the release of the Americans, including Amir.

Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have four prisoners over
there.

We should have said, let the prisoners out. These people, they
shouldn`t be over there. You have wonderful -- one`s in there because he`s
-- because he`s a Christian. He`s a pastor. One`s in there, a writer. I
mean, they shouldn`t be in prison.

So he should have said, we`re not doing anything. Let them out. They
would have let them out in two minutes, if the right messenger delivered
that message. Now, I will go a step further. They should have been out
from the beginning of the negotiation, not the end. But who would think we
would do a negotiation and we have our four prisoners?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: This is so tricky. I`m just going to ask you, do you think
tough talk is the answer, like we just heard, tough talk, like do this or
else whatever?

HEKMATI: You know, I can`t speak from a policy standpoint.

All I know is that the urgency needs to be made clear. We -- my
husband and I were in Vienna. We passed letters to the Iranian delegation
through the State Department. My brother went as an innocent man, as a
tourist.

What he`s being held accountable for is his service to the U.S.
military. We`re not even sure if that -- those are really indeed the
charges, but we speculate, because when they say he`s being charged for
cooperating with a hostile country, that`s the only thing that we can
understand.

And so, unfortunately, now that hopefully there`s this diplomacy and
America is no longer a hostile country, we hope the Iranian government can
revisit Amir`s case, that they can give Amir access to his Iranian
attorney, that his case can be reviewed.

And the viable options that even the Iranian government had presented
for Amir were amnesty on one-third of his 10-year sentence, which has
already passed, for him. Given the fact that my father has been diagnosed
with cancer and has suffered two strokes, a humanitarian or a conditional
release, again, these are options that are viable that they themselves have
raised in their own mandate.

So, we hope that they will take that into consideration, given the
fact that there`s improved diplomacy, and, moving forward, bring Amir home.

MATTHEWS: Let`s hope. I hope it`s all doable.

Thank you, Sarah, Sarah Hekmati, whose brother is over there in that
prison over there.

HEKMATI: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Up next: President Obama speaks out on the Bill Cosby
controversy.

I`m going to speak with the reporter who asked him whether the
comedian`s Medal of Freedom should be taken back by our country.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Riots gripped Athens, as lawmakers debated austerity measures required
for a new bailout. Protesters threw gasoline bombs and smashed storefronts
in the latest rounds of clashes.

President Obama is in Oklahoma, where he gave a speech about economic
opportunity. Tomorrow, he will become the first sitting president to visit
a federal prison when he visits a correction center in that state.

And NASA has released the first ever close-up images of Pluto. They
were taken by a spacecraft launched more than nine years ago. It came
within 7,700 miles of the dwarf planet -- now back on HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In his press conference today on a recently completed deal with Iran,
President Obama was confronted with a question about Bill Cosby. The
president gave a forceful answer, I think.

And here`s what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

APRIL RYAN, NATIONAL URBAN RADIO NETWORK: Would you revoke the Medal
of Freedom from Bill Cosby?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There`s no precedent
for revoking a medal. We don`t have that mechanism.

I`ll say this -- if you give a woman or a man for that matter, without
his or her knowledge, a drug, and then have sex with that person without
consent, that`s rape. I think this country, any civilized country, should
have no tolerance for rape.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Historically, the crime of rape was deemed of capital
offense, punishable by death right up to 1977. According to court
documents out last week, Cosby said that in 2005 legal deposition that he
gave sedatives to women he wanted to have sex with. That revelation
followed numerous accusations of past sexual assaults.

Cosby has never been charged and denies the assault allegations. Now,
many are petitioning the White House to revoke Cosby`s Medal of Freedom,
which was this country`s medal. It was awarded to Cosby back in 2002.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York joined in that effort last week.

We`re joined right now by the roundtable: White House correspondent
April Ryan of American Urban Radio Network, who asked the president about
Cosby today, and "Washington Post" opinion writer and MSNBC contributor,
Jonathan Capehart, and Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief of "The
Huffington Post."

April, back to you, did you have any hesitation about bringing that
question into the other set of questions you had that really departed from
the whole talk about Iran? Was it hard to bring that up for you
personally?

RYAN: It was hard, number one, as a journalist, you know the
president`s trying to keep a tight ship because he has an hour, and you
just want to ask one question, but when you get the president, you try to
throw it all in there, as you know, Chris. So, I had three questions and
the last one was Bill Cosby.

And I had been asking in the White House briefing room of Josh Earnest
about the possibilities when we were hearing the women`s groups were asking
for the president to revoke his Medal of Freedom. And then, the
congressional leaders were looking into it.

So, it was -- it was presidential. You know, Bill Cosby did receive a
Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush. It was a presidential question to
ask. Everything comes to the president from war and peace and everything
in-between, and that`s the in between.

MATTHEWS: Are you satisfied with his answer that there`s no mechanism
to withdraw or revoke it?

RYAN: Well, he`s -- some of the thought in the White House, and the
president did say that, he didn`t want to set the precedent, and there
would be a precedent if he did it. And the thought in the White House,
there are so many medals given to so many different people who deserve it
for what they have done, but then you have people who received it could
have done other things as well.

So, what do you do? You start a chain reaction of pulling everyone
else`s medals.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

RYAN: So, that`s some of the thought in the White House that I was
getting prior to the president`s answer today.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Jonathan. I liked the answer because it was a
sharp statement of rights and crime. Rape is a crime. It used to be
settled by execution in the old days before the Supreme Court said it was
cruel and unusual. But in terms of its severity, I thought he nailed it.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, THE WASHINGTON POST/MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, and,
you know, the other thing about the president`s response, I felt like we
had gone full circle. Remember the White House press conference where he
was asked about the arrest of Harvard professor Skip Gates at his own home
and he spoke openly about how he thought the Cambridge police, quote, acted
stupidly in arresting the professor at his own home.

The fire storm that erupted after that, as a result, many people point
to as the reason for the president being very reticent to talk about
anything related to race, either directly or indirectly.

Today, we saw the president snap back to that Barack Obama, someone
who was forceful, someone who was speaking his mind. But this time, aware
that because there`s litigation involved, that he had to make it clear that
he wasn`t going to get into the details, but generally speaking, if you do
X, then Y is the case, and the way he did it today, I thought, was
incredibly forceful.

RYAN: And I want to piggy back on what Jonathan said. Some of my
sources in the White House said the president has zero tolerance for rape.
And, you know, President Obama has been very much in the forefront of
dealing with women`s issues. His first law he signed into law was the
Lilly Ledbetter Act. Then, he had the women and girls initiative that`s
headed by Valerie Jarrett, his senior adviser, who is a woman.

Then, you also have the president dealing with issues of sexual
assaults in the military and on college campuses. He`s against that. So,
I was told that he`s very passionate about the issue of rape. He has zero
tolerance for it.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Ryan. You get in here, because I think that
was so smartly said here, because I do think, of course it was a capital
crime, of course it`s a major crime on the books. It is a crime. You
don`t have to argue about it being zero tolerance. It`s done, it`s evil,
it`s evil.

I thought he handled that with a sharpness that showed he`s up to date
in the public conversation with women and men. I thought it was up to
date. That`s what I liked about it.

Your thoughts?

RYAN GRIM, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Yes, he did it extremely well. Just
as Jonathan was saying, there is no precedent and no mechanism to do this,
and then a pause, however, let me describe the precise situation that
everybody knows has occurred, and then let me pass judgment on this general
type of situation, everybody knows that we`ve now passed judgment.

So, for all intents and purposes, that, you know, his medal has been
revoked, the president of the United States condemning you in front of the
entire country. And partly --

CAPEHART: The world.

GRIM: The entire world.

CAPEHART: And partly what he means by no mechanism, there was some
practicalities involved here. There was an actual ceremony where he was
handed a physical object, which he walked out of the White House with and
took it back it his house.

RYAN: It was placed around his neck actually. Yes.

GRIM: So, SWAT teams have gone into houses for less. But there`s no
practical way to go retrieve, there`s no mechanism set up like the Olympic
Committee has a mechanism take up, that if they take away a medal, this is
how we`re going to -- this is how we`re going to get it back. They don`t
actually have that for these types of medals, so it raises all these
questions. But like I said, for all intents and purposes, it has been
symbolically revoked.

MATTHEWS: And I think the principle of the president of the United
States not getting involved in a legal, or certainly a criminal or civil
case is smart. I remember Nixon years ago, talking about Charles Manson
being guilty, of course, he was guilty, everybody knew it, but don`t say
so, that gives his criminal defense attorney something to argue from. I
don`t think the president should be trying cases.

Anyway, thank you. The roundtable is staying with us, of course.

And up next, paranoia in the Lone Star State. Conspiracy theorists
down there are worried that a military exercise that began today is really
a front for a government takeover. But don`t worry, Ted Cruz has called
the Pentagon and they say it`s not a government takeover. Did he really
make that phone call?

Anyway, this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Three newspapers in early voting states are jumping ahead
of the first presidential debate on FOX News August 6th. "The New
Hampshire Union-Leader", "The Cedar Rapids Gazette", and "Charleston Post
and Courier" will invite all GOP candidates to their voters first forum, to
be broadcast on C-Span three days before the FOX debate.

FOX News is limiting the number of candidates to ten based on an
average of national polls. There are currently 15 Republicans in the race
for the nomination.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back at the roundtable: April, Jonathan and Ryan.

Well, right wing conspiracy theorists have been warning a military
training exercise is actually a front for a takeover of Texas by the
federal government. That exercise began today and will last eight weeks.
Some on the right have trumped up fears that it`s actually a government
invasion of Texas after the military released this map showing the area of
operations for the exercise. The southwest of the United States labeling
the state of Texas and other areas, hostile territory, hostile being in
quotes.

Anyway, Texas senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz sought
assurances from the Pentagon that this isn`t a military takeover of the
state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: You know, I understand the concern that has
been raised by a lot of citizens about Jade Helm. It`s a question that I`m
getting a lot. And I think part of the reason is we have seen for six
years a federal government disrespecting the liberty of the citizens.

My office, we`ve reached out to the Pentagon to inquire about this
exercise. We`re assured that it is a military training exercise. And I
have no reason to doubt those assurances, but I understand the reason for
concern and uncertainty, because when the federal government has not
demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural
consequence is that many of the citizens don`t trust what it`s saying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Let me to go Ryan Grim on this.

Ryan, in what world of metaphor or what does a person who is a United
States senator, I certainly respect that position, calls up the Pentagon or
has a staffer call the Pentagon and ask them, are you invading Texas?

First of all, if there was this sort of "Seven Days in May" kind of
thing going on or whatever it is, where there was a military coup afoot or
something, a dictatorship afoot. They wonderful say of course not. So,
what is this conversation really? Is this a faux event, a phony event?
There was such a telephone call, there was such an inquiry, a serious
inquiry? Are you invading Texas?

I mean, is this the crazy clown car taking over our universe? I mean,
how do we think like this? Your thoughts.

GRIM: I don`t think the question would have actually been formulated
in the way that he is describing. Is this an invasion? Or, you know, is
this a coup? I just don`t --

MATTHEWS: OK. So, what assurances was he getting then? Be liberal
in your thinking here.

GRIM: I just don`t -- I just don`t believe that the staffer who was
asked to execute this request would have carried it out. I think he or she
would have reported back. I talked to the Pentagon and they said don`t
worry, you know --

CAPEHART: Ryan, one could only hope the staffer didn`t do it. You
know what, Chris? The thing here is Senator Ted Cruz is one of 100 people
in the United States Senate which is a branch of government. I think it is
incumbent upon him, he doesn`t have to call the Pentagon.

He should tell those people who he represents, calling asking whether
the United States military is going to invade Texas to tell them, no -- the
answer is no. The fact that we`re talking about there at all is the height
of ridiculousness.

RYAN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Are you saying to me that he actually draws a check from
the U.S. government on a monthly basis? That he actually paid by -- that
he actually has 100 staffers being paid by the government? That all his
expenses and everything, his health, everything is covered by the federal
government? Are you saying he`s part of the federal government? Ted Cruz?

CAPEHART: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much.

April Ryan, thank you, Jonathan Capehart, and Ryan Grim.

When we return, let me finish for what must be called the deal.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me close tonight with the Iranian nuclear deal.

Here`s a blunt direct way to look at the choice now facing the U.S.
Congress. If they dump this deal, no one believes there will be another
deal for the basic reason we will not have other major countries in on the
deal. They believe we`ve gone as far as we can with diplomacy as far as
the Iranian government is willing to go. So, there you have it, the
challenge to the critics. If you don`t like this deal, you`re basically
calling for a military attack on Iran. If you`re calling for that, be
prepared to defend the potential consequences.

Not being a large fan of Dick Cheney on such matters, I believe his
position and now the former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton serve a public
service here. They both want to bomb. A clear alternative to the
leadership we`re getting from President Obama.

And let me leave you with one perhaps more important point, it`s about
the upcoming presidential election. The minute we started talking about
Iran`s nuclear danger, I realize the oddness of considering Donald Trump in
this context. Does anyone really want him on our country`s military
trigger? Does anyone believe he should be the one making decisions on
nuclear matters?

If you believe the Iranians are temperamentally unsuited for a
negotiated deal, imagine having them on one side of the table, Trump on the
other. If that`s what you want to have, you should be celebrating that
Trump is now leading the polls for the Republican presidential nomination,
believe it or not.

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

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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