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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript: Military Sexual Assault


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MATTHEWS: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has been a force -- actually a fierce advocate for removing sexual assault cases from the military`s usual chain of command. And a junior senator from New York, she has been whipping up her colleagues to fight for the support.

Today, Gillibrand scored a big victory in getting closer to the 51 votes she needs to force one of the biggest changes in the history of military justice. Tea Party Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz joined in Gillibrand`s fight as of now.

Let`s watch.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I thought the motive was good for the bill, but I think the bill`s even stronger. I see no reason why conservatives shouldn`t support this. The only thing I think standing in the way is just sort of the status quo.

And Senator Boxer was actually right. Everybody says they`re against sexual assault. Why don`t we -- if it appears as if there is some deterrence to victims reporting the crime, why don`t we fix it? So, I see no reason not to fix it. I`m glad to be part of the process, if I can.


MATTHEWS: Well, if Gillibrand does score an upset victory in the Senate and getting it passed, the support of Cruz and Paul could be a long part of that, a big part of that, to winning over the Republican-controlled House of Representatives thereafter.

Senator Gillibrand joins us now, along with her colleague, the great senator from California, Barbara Boxer.

Senator Gillibrand, you`re going to rewrite the history books how to deal with these people. You`ve got two fringes here, and you managed to get them to join a mainstream good bill. How did you do it?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: Well, this is a common sense solution to a very, very tough problem. We`ve got 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact, abuse and rape in the military today, but only 3,300 are actually being reported and only one in ten are going to trial.

So what the victims have told us is they want on the activity. The chain of command is the problem. They`re not seeing justice being done and they want us to take it out of the chain of command.

Both Senator Rand Paul and Senator Ted Cruz believe in a solution -- a solution that`s common sense and frankly, it`s not a Democratic idea or Republican idea. It`s just a good idea.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Senator Boxer, who`s been in this fight a long time for sexual equity and respect I should say. Are you amazed that these two guys on the far right who may well be leading the band in 2016 on the Republican side for president are joining in what you I believe think is a
good cause?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: This gives me renewed faith that we can take an issue that makes sense and we can take it can take to it the liberal wing, the moderate wing, the right wing, the left wing -- we can take it to everybody. And partnering with Kirsten, as I have, and we have
many other Republicans and Democrats working with us, such as Senator Grassley who was at the press conference today.

I think what people want to see us do is just this -- work together. Chris, we have a 90 percent problem. What do I mean by that? Ninety percent of sexual assaults are not reported. Only 10 percent are reported.

And the reason is very clear: over 20 years, the military has been promising to take action on sexual assault. They`ve done literally very little to make it go away. We have thousands of felons walking around the military, because frankly, they got off scot-free. No one ever reported them.

And I`m so proud of Senator Gillibrand. We are working together. And I will tell you, it`s cooperation all the way, with so many of our female and male senators from both sides of the aisle.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk turkey about getting this into law. Senator Gillibrand, you have to get this on the floor. You have to pass it on the floor, get the amendment brought up and taken over. Are you going to face opposition from Senator Levin, the chair of the committee?

GILLIBRAND: Well, Senator Levin doesn`t support this amendment, but there are many, many senators who do. And we are working our way to getting the 51 votes we need to pass this amendment, to change how these cases are dealt with. We want the decision-makers to be objective, trained, military prosecutors, not the chain of command where there could be bias, where this could be a lack of training or a lack of ability to understand what these cases are actually about.

MATTHEWS: How many votes have you got?

GILLIBRAND: We have almost 51.

MATTHEWS: How close?

GILLIBRAND: Very close.

MATTHEWS: Close enough?

GILLIBRAND: Not yet. But we will get there.

BOXER: It`s very close.

GILLIBRAND: We`re very close.

My goal, Chris, is to spend the next several weeks talking with our colleagues one-on-one about their concerns.

Everyone in the Senate wants to solve this issue. They don`t want sexual assault and rape in the military because it`s undermining our military readiness. It`s undermining good order and discipline.

And the reality is if we want to have the best fighting force in the world, in the future, we have to make sure all of our best and brightest can serve, and not have these victims have to suffer through the crimes without being able to get the justice that they deserve.

MATTHEWS: You know, Senator Boxer, I`ve known you a long time. You know, I didn`t know about the gravities. These aren`t about office mismanagement or bad words used or "hey, sweetie, nice gun" or something, it was about criminal actions.

BOXER: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: We`re talking assault. We`re talking rape. And they`re getting
away with it.

Also, it affects some men -- on men on men cases which most guys weren`t even aware of.

Your thoughts.

BOXER: Well, Chris, half of the victims are men. Let me just tell you you`re exactly right. We`re talking about violence.

This isn`t about, you know, somebody looking at someone and winking at them. This is about serious violence, men on men, men on women. This is what we`re facing, 26,000 of these cases.

I`ll tell you one extremely fast story. I stood next to a woman named Stacy (ph). She joined the Marines when she was 19.

A sergeant took her out for a drink. He drugged her. He dropped her in front of the bar at 4:00 a.m.

You know what happened? All the facts were in evidence. Nobody disputed it. The commander said, you know, he said to the guy, "You just leave the military. That`s your best deal before you get into any trouble. So, he got out scot-free."

And they investigated her for drug use because of that night. And she was drummed out of the military. Finally, 10 years later as a result of this legislation, she`s come forward to tell her story.

We need the support of the American people. I hope they`ll weigh in and let all of our colleagues know to get on that bill, the Kirsten Gillibrand bill. I think it`s such a good bill.

MATTHEWS: Senator Gillibrand, who should we write? Who should people who watch this show write? Any particular targets of opportunity in the Senate that should be talked to by people watching this show, women especially perhaps?

GILLIBRAND: My view is you should let your member of coming and your senator know how you feel about this issue. We need to have justice done for victims.

We have to listen to the victims. They`re the one who is saying we don`t trust the chain of command -- the chain of command aren`t taking these cases seriously.

And interestingly, among the people who do report these crimes, 62 percent are actually retaliated against for reporting the crimes.

So I think every senator should hear from their constituents about why this is so important. It`s essential that the American people are heard on this issue.

MATTHEWS: It`s great to hear from you. The only thing I got a problem with this, I think it may be a weird problem but it may be a good thing. I think you guys unintentionally are pushing Rand Paul and Ted Cruz to the front of the Republican Party. And if those guys -- either one of them gets the nomination in 2016, Hillary will have a cakewalk.

Anyway, thank you, Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator Barbara Boxer for joining us. I`m sure that`s not your intention.


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