All In with Chris Hayes, Transcript 8/21/17 Trump address

Leon Wolf, Wesley Clark, Ruben Gallego

Date: August 21, 2017
Guest: Leon Wolf, Wesley Clark, Ruben Gallego

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: “ALL IN” with Chris Hayes starts right now.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on ALL IN. The President in peril tries
changing the subject. Tonight, more protests, month bad polls, and more
talk of a primary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think he will end up the party`s nominee in

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It`s too difficult to say.

HAYES: As the President of the United States prepares to address the

Then, inside the anti-Trump anti-hate backlash in Boston.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ideas will die in this sunlight today. We have
won. Look

HAYES: Steve Bannon`s attack on the White House has begun.

on very late. You know that.

HAYES: And why the Secret Service says they can`t pay their agent because
of Trump family travel.

TRUMP: Excuse me. Excuse me.

HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.


HAYES: Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. The President will
address the nation tonight at what is by almost all accounts, the low point
in his time in office. It comes on the heels of the week where the
President`s words and actions rendered him essentially a pariah with
leaders in business, the arts and his own party turning against him. And
tonight, President Trump will appear on television screens across the
country one hour from now to lay out his plans to deploy American troops
and American resources in the longest war in this nation`s history. The
President returned last night from his working vacation in Bedminster, New
Jersey as a wide majority of Americans reacted with disdain to his
suggestion of moral equivalency between neo-Nazis marchers in
Charlottesville and the anti-racist protesters who challenged their

Just 28 percent of Americans approve of the President`s response to
Charlottesville, a new poll finds with 56 percent disapprove. There are
numerous signs the President is now widely viewed as unfit to be associated
with in any way. 14 charities have now canceled planned fund-raisers at
his private club in Florida, Mar-a-Lago. Two business advisory councils
and the Presidential Arts Council have been disbanded as CEOs and artist
alike abandoned the President over his Charlottesville comments. The
President announced this weekend he will skip the 2017 Kennedy Center
Honors after three of the five artists set to be honored expressed a
specific intent to boycott or said to be considering it.

There were no Trump administration officials defending the President on the
Sunday shows yesterday. Axios reporting the White House made no serious
efforts to convince officials to go on knowing the hosts of the shows would
pressure guest relentlessly on the President`s response to Charlottesville.
Instead, President Trump was represented by Jerry Falwell Jr. the President
of Evangelical Liberty University whose decision to keep defending Trump
now has some Liberty University grads returning their diplomas.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said there were very fine people on both sides.
Do you believe there were very fine people on both sides?

inside information that I don`t have. I don`t know if there were
historical purist there who were trying to preserve some statues. I don`t


HAYES: Amid the continuing fallout over the President`s comments,
Republican Senators are increasingly keeping their distance.


SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: As we look into – looked to the
future, it`s going to be very difficult for this President to lead if in
fact that moral authority remains compromised.

COLLINS: In this case, I think the President failed to meet the standard
that we would have expected a President to do in a time like that.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: He also recently has not demonstrated that
he understands the character of this nation.


HAYES: Following tonight`s speech on the way forward in Afghanistan,
President Trump will travel to Phoenix for a campaign style rally tomorrow.
The White House is bracing for an angry reception particularly if the
President falls through on possible plans to pardon notorious former
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio who was convicted of criminal contempt
of court for continuing to target and detain undocumented immigrants
despite a court order barring him from doing so.

Meanwhile, new NBC News polling shows the President`s approval rating is
now below 40 percent in three crucial Midwest swing states, Michigan,
Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Asked how the President`s conduct make some
feel only about one in four voters in those swing states say they feel
proud or more than 6 in 10 say they feel embarrassed. Ahead of President
Trump`s remarks on Afghanistan`s strategy, I`m joined by the leading
Democrat on Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that would be Maryland
Senator Ben Cardin. Senator, what do you make of the President`s address
tonight at this moment in his Presidency?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Chris, as you pointed out, this have been
16 years we`ve been in the battle here in Afghanistan. Our objective needs
to be pretty clear, and that is we do not want Afghanistan to be the
breeding grounds for terrorists. That means we need to establish a
government that can control the country and prevents terrorists from being
able to operate in the country. What I hope that we will have is a surge
on diplomacy, a surge on cooperation in the region to make it clear that we
cannot tolerate terrorists operating in Afghanistan.

HAYES: Do you, I mean, all of those, as strategic objectives seem
perfectly reasonable but we`ve been unable to accomplish them in 16 years
through two different administrations. What would make you think that an
address from the President tonight 4,000 new U.S. troops would change that?

CARDIN: Well, I don`t support a surge in troops. We tried that in the
past. We`re not going to win a military victory in Afghanistan. We should
know that after 16 years, what we need to do is establish a type of society
that can protect its people so that there are not outside groups and
terrorists that can thrive in the country. So what I hope the President
will be able to lead on is how we`re going to do a surge of the diplomacy,
how are we making Afghanistan safe against terrorists? And it`s not going
to be about U.S. military presence. That`s not going to solve the

HAYES: In a broader sense, I mean, there`s this sort of strange
juxtaposition in this evening with the President of the United States
coming back from vacation after this week in which he was roundly condemned
across political spectrum, abandoned by CEOs and artist alike to speak on
the most high stakes matters of life and death, war, and peace, as the head
of state of this nation. Do you – do you feel the President is a credible
messenger for anything of this magnitude at this moment?

CARDIN: Well, the President has certainly failed in representing American
values. His comments about Charlottesville was outrageous. He tried to
equate moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and white supremacist and those
who were protesting against their presence. That`s outrageous. The
President lost his standing in representing America strength and our
values. So I think it`s going to be a tough sell not only in the United
States but certainly globally.

HAYES: There`s increasing quotes we saw through the weekend of people even
describing senior administration officials speaking about the President as
if they themselves view him as unfit. People talking about, you should see
all the things that we kill. Do you feel that there is a strange consensus
forming in that respect?

CARDIN: You know, this is a tragic situation. We have people who are
serving in the White House saying they`re there in order to prevent damage.
You would hope that the President`s there to advance the values of America
and the progress of our country and that people want to serve in the White
House in order to help in that regard. It seems like people in the White
House to try to control the damage done by this President. That`s
certainly a healthy situation for our country. I must tell you, this White
House is not only losing the confidence of the American people but in his
own party, you see more and more Republicans that are distancing themselves
from President Trump. And then you see President Trump criticizing members
of his own party. It`s a very, very dangerous situation I think for
America`s progress will be seeing out coming of the Presidency.

HAYES: What do you mean by that word dangerous?

CARDIN: Well, we`re losing opportunities. We need global cooperation and
dealing with terrorism. We need the cooperation of other countries. We
need a President that when he meets with world leaders that he has the
credibility that what he says is believable. We have seen over and over
again the President saying things that just aren`t believable. So he`s put
America at risk.

HAYES: All right. Senator Ben Cardin, thank you for your time tonight.

CARDIN: Thank you.

HAYES: I`m joined now by Jennifer Ruben, Conservative Columnist for the
Washington Post and Michael Steele, former RNC Chairman and MSNBC Political
Analyst. Michael, what do you make of this moment in the – in the Trump
Presidency? It seems at one level this is an attempt to change the topic.
If it`s 4,000 troops they`re saying, it doesn`t seem like a major change in
the strategy going forward, yet at the same time, it is the most important
in some ways issues that a President handles.

And in one sense, Chris, it`s a reset for the President on a number of
levels. It`s a reset certainly on the domestic front to sort of change the
conversation away from Charlottesville and a lot of that. But it`s also a
reset in terms of getting focus and positions in place on foreign policy.
That has been a very sort of humbled-jumbled kind of mess from the
beginning of the administration, particularly with respect of how we dealt
with our allies.

So now, the President I think has an opportunity to sort of come before the
country and kind of lay out his understanding and vision of Afghanistan,
where he wants to go next. He`s been on the record having criticized his
predecessor for his handling of Afghanistan talking about the life and
treasure that was wasted there. Now it is on his watch. He`s looking to
commit more American life and treasure to this engagement. And so we all
now need to understand what does that mean and how does that fit into a
broader policy? So this is not something the President can just drift
through. He`s going to have to have some clarity of purpose set in stone
about where he wants to next in Afghanistan.

HAYES: Well, to Michael`s point, Jennifer, it strikes me that in some ways
it would be more illuminating were the President to face questions on this
particular topic than for him to read – to read the statement. What do
you make of that word reset?

of all, I think it would be terrifying for us our allies for him to speak
off the cuff because he is obviously incapable of doing so. You`re right,
it would be nice to have a President who could speak fluently on the
issues. We don`t have one of those right now. I think in terms of reset,
it`s really hard. Two Presidents much more capable than he have tried to
get Afghanistan right and they haven`t. And it requires a great deal of
trust in his judgment, in the judgment of those who surround him that more
troops, or better strategy or some combination is going to make any
difference. And I don`t think he has that now.

I think if he said the sky was blue, people would no longer believe him.
He has furthered that away just a couple days ago. He was talking about
this nonsense claim about General Pershing and poisoning bullets with pig`s
blood. This is the kind of nonsense that he speaks. So our allies
supposed to believe him? Are they supposed to have confidence in him or
the American people? I think this is a very precarious situation. And if
they`re doing this just to distract from the abominable week they had last
week, I think that`s a mistake. I think they should wait for a time when
he has a little bit more command of the situation and perhaps an ability to
actually convince some people. Right now, I don`t think anything he says
is going to make a difference.

HAYES: Well, to Jennifer`s point, Michael, I mean, they have the speech
tonight, the networks are taking it. Again, it`s an address on the longest
war on the nation`s history. Tomorrow night, a campaign style rally in
Phoenix where he may pardon Joe Arpaio. Any idea that there is you know,
new – you know, more Presidential et cetera, they have already cut that
off of the pass with their scheduling choices.

STEELE: Well, that`s true. But let`s hope he doesn`t do a pardon tomorrow
night because that definitely will just undermine everything that comes
from tonight. There`s no doubt about that. And I`m sure you know, the
Chief of Staff General Kelly is looking at this and emphasizing to the
President over and over again the importance of creating a message, an
important message on foreign policy, one, broadly speaking, Afghanistan
specifically that to, you know, Ms. Ruben`s point that American people can
trust because you`re right, if, you know, the President tomorrow comes out
and goes hard core political, in a way that is just you know, undermines
everything he does today, I think Jennifer`s right. In the end, it takes
away from anything that our allies can rely on, the American people can
rely on and whole idea of going doubling down if you will in Afghanistan
becomes much more suspect than it may already be.

HAYES: Well, to Michael`s point, Jennifer, I mean, there – it seems to me
there`s a democratic issue here, small Democratic issue. The President did
run on essentially curtailing American intervention in Afghanistan. It was
one of the few consistent policy positions he had. And the idea of this
sort of President who`s at 37, 38 percent distrusted at home while also
simultaneously being kind of carried away by the inertia of the things that
he said he was going to undo, it`s sort of an example of a kind worst of
both worlds scenario it appears to me that we may be entering into.

RUBIN: Absolutely. You know the President has gone after the media
something fierce because he thinks that we have somehow denied him his
credibility, somehow denied him his legitimacy. He`s done that to himself
in word and in deed and it shows you know when you need it the most when
you need the American people to be I think supportive of the President,
understand him, trust him, it is not there. This is a very precarious time
for America to have someone in that position.

HAYES: You know, to that point, Michael, the decision to pull out of
Kennedy Center Honors, which in sort of juxtaposition with life or death of
troops is tiny and meaningless but is a symbolic level, it struck me that
what a remarkable statement that was. I mean, that is where the President
presides. It`s where he does the thing the word emanates from. He
presides over something and he cannot do that.

STEELE: Yes, that to me is very disappointing. And I really think that
the President just seeds so much ground those who are in opposition to him
when he does stuff like that. Show up. You know, you put your big boy
pants on, and you go into the crowd and you show up. You make it very
clear, I`m the President of the United States. I`m here to celebrate these
honorees. I`m here to celebrate this moment. It`s one of the few times
you can sort of set the partisan crazy behind, battle with the media. And
I really think that the President miss-serves himself – does a disservice
to himself when he does that.

HAYES: Jennifer Rubin and Michael Steele, thank you both for your insight

Next, one week after those horrific events in Charlottesville, another alt-
right protest headed to Boston, the stunning scenes of the opposition that
forced the President to tweet and delete over and over after the two-minute


HAYES: A week after the horrific display of violence and racism in
Charlottesville, some of the same groups converged again last weekend in
Boston for a so-called free speech rally (INAUDIBLE) for both the alt-right
and a counter protest in opposition of their agenda. Notably, the alt-
right attendees in that gazebo there on Boston commons, a crowd of many
dozens were far outnumbered by the counter protesters marching for an end
to white supremacy, crowd of many, many thousands. And in some cases,
members of a larger crowd working to keep things peaceful.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what did – what did they do? What did the crowd
around them do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing, I just chanted at him. I just wanted to make
sure he was all right. We walked in a circle. Yes. He had his free
speech, we used ours. I wanted to make sure that idiot was safe because he
is an American citizen just like me and you. And now they`ve gotten
inside. Yes, good for them, all three of them. We won, we won. Look
around. We`ve won, all right? We`ve won.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think this rally will take place? Do you think
it`s still going to go on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn`t – yes, they should. Let them speak. Let
their ideas out there. Their ideas are ridiculous. Their ideas are silly
and they`ll die. Their ideas will die in this sunlight today.


HAYES: The President, of course, watching on T.V., we assume, saw
something different happening. Tweeting looks like many anti-police
agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart. But a short time
later, Donald Trump softened his tone to a tweet a message of healing. Our
country has been divided for decade – singular – but it will come
together again. Sometimes protest is needed in order heel – that`s heel -
- and heel we will. So (INAUDIBLE) Trump deleting that tweet and for take
two, may decades thorough but missed the heels, third try, 36 minutes after
the first tweet, he finally nailed both decades and heal and then added, “I
want to applaud the protesters in Boston who are speaking out against
bigotry and hate.”

Joining me now to talk about the President`s evolution, Christina Greer,
Social Professor of Political Science at Fordham University and Karen
Finney former Senior Spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton`s Campaign. What did
you make of the tonal turn around between the first tweet which seemed very
Donald Trump and the second which seemed less like him but I thought was
interesting given the week they have in the wake – in the wake of

Trump is. Donald Trump is the first tweet. We know – we saw it when he
came out and he says you know, both sides, both sides. We saw it when he
had that disastrous press conference and we see his tweets every single
morning and we saw him on the campaign trail when he called Mexicans rapist
and Muslims terrorists and we saw him for the ten, 20, 30 years before that
when he talked about double ax and the Latinos.

So the first tweet is Donald Trump. The second tweet that has a softer
tone may have been written by someone else or may have been written by
Donald Trump at the urging of whether his daughter or son-in-law or his
son. Insert a name family member who is calling a check from this
administration. So that`s part of the problem. We know who Donald Trump
is and anyone who still on the fence is either blind – deaf, dumb, blind,
stupid – you know, that whole – that willingness to just allow yourself
to ignore the truth and reality of who this man is.

HAYES: There was really interesting Karen, polling on that. This is –
the polling says 28 percent of Americans approve of his reaction, 56
percent disapprove. And yet, at the same time, the sort of overall
approval rate like, it was clear there`s some category of people who
disapproved to what he said about Charlottesville, it did not move them on
their approval of the President more broadly. What do you make of that?

Well, look, I think last week was a huge wake-up call for a lot of
Americans and it shouldn`t have been. I mean, we know that these hate
groups and this level of hate and bigotry has been sieving among us for
quite some time. We saw frankly the FBI and SCLC talking about after
President Obama was elected, the rise in those groups. So you know, people
shouldn`t be surprised nor should they have been surprised that you know,
last – that Charlottesville happened because certainly – I mean, it was
horrible and horrifying and I think we all wish it hadn`t happened that way
but again, I think there`s been a lot churning for a long time and
certainly we saw President Trump talk about this a lot during the election.

I mean, you know, these were many of the people who fueled his victory and
many of the people who fueled, if you listened and looked at those rallies
that he did, he still does them, I think it shouldn`t have come as a
surprise to people that this is a reality in America. So I think, maybe
the disparity in some of those polling numbers are in part people kind of
waking up to the reality that we`ve got a real problem in this country,
that to put him aside, we`ve all got to deal with this. There can`t be an
aftermath of Charlottesville. It has to be about what are we all going to
do about this?

HAYES: So one the ways that has been concretize, the President talking
about the statues and they`re taking down our beautiful statues with you
know, I don`t think people really care one way or the other about the
beauty of the statues but a bunch of statues have come down across the
country. New York Times (INAUDIBLE) graphic about Confederate Statues and
you wrote a fascinating piece that I`ve learned something new about you.
You said – this is you from the Washington Post last week. I`m black,
Robert E. Lee is my relative. His statues can`t come down soon enough.
Why did you write that piece?

FINNEY: Yes. I wrote it because of a couple of things. I wanted to put
a, you know, a personal narrative and personal story and personal face on
the pain that I know our country is going through and that this narrative
has caused and continues to cause. You know, in the letter I talk about
you know, my own family`s journey from a place of extreme hatred and
bigotry where my own grandmother, you know, tried to convince my father not
to marry my mother because she`s said – you know, mixing of the races was
a sin, to a place where and she became a very loving grandmother and parts
of my family have you know, we`ve actually been to each other`s
celebrations. It was complicated long journey. It`s going to be a
complicated long journey for our country. But I also think it`s important
to remember the symbolism behind those statues and what they mean in terms
of white supremacy in this country and racism and bias and a legacy of a
part of our history that we all need to just reckon with and move on.

HAYES: To that point, to Karen`s point about reckoning with the statue, I
saw plenty of people saying oh, no, don`t – you know, in the wake of
Charlottesville and as this week unfolded, don`t get caught up in talking
about the statues. That`s what he wants you to talk about. And yet at the
same time when you look at the Boston folks coming out in Boston and
protest happening around, you know, U.T. Austin are going to take down the
Jefferson Davis statues and others. It seems like that is a fight people
want to have because it`s an important one to have. What do you think
about it?

GREER: Yes. I think it`s really important because the distinctions
matter. These statues should come down because when they were put up, it`s
significant as well. They were put up during Jim Crow to further terrorize
blacks and others who believed in equality, right? And so, that`s one.
Two, when Trump tries to change the conversation and starts talking about
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, I have many issues with them as
slave holders and lots of things that will be in another episode. However,
they are not the same as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Stonewall
Jackson and Robert E. Lee are treasonists. They tried to overthrow the
government. They should never have had a statue. And so the types of
people who put them up in the first place put them up for a specific

HAYES: Yes, and we should note that there`s a battle happening across the
country including one really interesting one in Tennessee right now. A
bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest who founded the KKK is in the state capital
there, just one of many of those sites of conflict. Karen Finney and
Christina Greer, thanks for joining me.

GREER: Thank you.

FINNEY: Thanks, Chris.

HAYES: Who protects the President if the Secret Service runs out of money?
The head of the Secret Service is looking for an answer to that very
question and that story is next.


HAYES: Just seven months into the Trump Presidency, the Secret Service is
running out of money in a remarkable on the record interview with USA
Today. Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles said more than a
thousand agents have already hit the federally mandated caps for salary and
overtime allowances that were meant to last the entire year. The workload
for the Secret Service has been exacerbated by two things. The President
has traveled to one of his properties in Florida, in New Jersey or Virginia
almost every weekend of his Presidency. Also, an unprecedented number of
White House protectees under Trump, 42 people have protection, a number
that includes 18 members of his family up from 31 during the Obama

However, following the USA Today article, Secret Service Director issued a
press release saying, the issue is not one that can be attributed to this
current administration`s protection requirement`s alone but rather an has
been an ongoing issue for nearly a decade due to an overall increase in the
operational tempo. Bear in mind, Secret Service has had to pay the used
certain Trump Properties like you know, $60,000 on golf cart rentals one of
their – on one of his courses. And the secret service usually vacated its
Trump Tower command post in lease dispute with none other than President
Trump`s company. Another Trump-related dispute that could save the
government some money, the exit of Chief Strategist Steve Bannon who`s no
longer on the White House payroll. Bannon begins his first week on the
outside today. That`s next.



TRUMP: I like Mr. Bannon. He is a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on
very late, you know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won
all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that.

And I like him. He`s a good man.


HAYES: Mr. Bannon is now back at Breitbart where his presence is already
being felt. According to Vanity Fair`s Gabe Sherman on the day Bannon left
his White House employ, he quickly pivoted. “`Why do you sound unfazed?` a
friend asked Bannon as news of his demise richoeted across the web.
`Because,` Bannon replied, `we`re going to war.`”

Today alone, Breitbart has panned President Trump`s soon to be revealed
plan for Afghanistan as well as taking yet another swipe at national
security adviser H.R. McMaster.

Of course, Breitbart was already trying to undermine McMaster, which raises
the question how much worse could it get?

The inflection point, according to Sherman, would be, quote, if Trump,
under the influence of Kushner and Gary Cohn, deviates too far from the
positions he ran on. If that happens, said one high-level Breitbart
staffer, “we`re prepared to help Paul Ryan rally votes for impeachment.

Here to discuss how much influence Steve Bannon does or does not have over
the Trump White House, Leon Wolf, managing editor at The Blaze.

This is a quote from Bannon, “I feel” – this is an interview with The
Weekly Standard. He says, “I feel jacked up. Now I`m free. I`ve got my
hands back on my weapons.”

Why do they all talk like this? Someone said it`s like 13-year-olds trash
talking while playing Xbox Live.

LEON WOLF, THE BLAZE: Well, I mean, listen, you can`t blame a lot of the
way Trump talks on Bannon because Trump talked that way before Bannon got

But definitely kindred spirits in that respect. And Bannon has always been
a little bit like that.

I don`t have the – I think it`s good for the country in general that
Bannon is gone out of the White House. But there is a reason that a lot of
kind of my center right friends are nonetheless alarmed. Even a lot of
people who disliked Bannon, kind of like I do, they look and see who is in
Trump`s inner circle right now. And it`s Cohn, it`s Ivanka and it`s Jared,
three New York liberal Democrats and then a bunch of career military guys
without an ideological bone in their body.

And a lot of people are wondering right now, where is the conservative
voice in the White House going to come from? I mean, Bannon was not a –
you know, he is more of a populist, but he was farther to the right than
any of those people, certainly.

And so they`re wondering, you know, if Anthony Kennedy, you know, resigns
tomorrow who is going to be the guy in Trump`s inner circle who is going to
say you`ve got to nominate somebody like Gorsuch. Your base demands it.
If you don`t, they`ll turn on you forever.


WOLF: And I don`t know who that is.

HAYES: That`s an interesting question, right. So, I have heard this
conservatives, people on the right, worried now, like who is he listening
to? Last connections he had to the institutional right are gone.

Do you think – do you see it as possibility to see someone like Breitbart
actually turning on the president actively or the people that they rally
that they speak to turning on the president in that same way?

WOLF: Oh, absolutely.

You know, definitely from what I know of Bannon, he is a personally
vindictive person. And I do think that if he tends to kind of go towards
the way that I think the presidency is going to go, to where you have kind
of an increasingly hawkish stance that`s really out of step with America
because of the number of military generals that he now has in his inner
circle, his big pivot is this speech tonight where he`s going to commit us
further Afghanistan. Who wants that? Even on the right, there is not a
lot of people that I know who are really just itching to extend our
commitment in Afghanistan right now.

And on the domestic front – I mean, it`s just looking like his presidency
is going to turn into
a more left-wing version of George W. Bush. And I could definitely see the
folks at Breitbart turning on Trump if it comes to that.

HAYES: Well, I think that the folks who deal with, say, immigrants who are
being deported by ICE and the folks who are looking at the Paris pullout
would not agree with that characterization.

But I get your point…

WOLF: Not where he has been, where he is going. I think that there`s
probably a real pivot coming in the direction the White House is going to
go. I don`t know that it`s going to do him any good politically, but again
Trump is such a malleable guy. He has no ideological core. He`s also not
very well informed on the issues. So, he relies on advice probably more
than any president in our lifetimes, maybe in history. And who he is
getting advice from are not going the kind of people who are going to
advise him to continue on a lot of these paths.

HAYES: Do you – you know, Breitbart has been such a – I mean, in some
ways it`s – you know, it`s just a website, you know, it`s got a relatively
large audience, I suppose, although it has this kind of outsized role it`s
played, I think, in the characterization of the Trump era, same with Bannon
who is – you know, he`s a website publisher. He did a bunch of other
things before.

I guess my question is like how influential is it really as he enters this
period of his presidency?

WOLF: Well, I don`t know that I can necessarily answer that. But I do
know that there is kind of a real sense that if Breitbart turns on the
president, you know, in the conservative media there definitely is a little
bit of leeriness about being the leading edge of criticizing the president.

For better or worse, he is still popular with 75 percent of the Republican
base. And, you know, criticizing Trump in print or online can get you, you
know, some negative reactions from your audience.

HAYES: I`m watching euphemism flicker across your face.

WOLF: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Definitely.

But I mean, if Breitbart is out there doing it, it makes it a lot easier
for other people in this space to kind of breathe easier about kind of
being a little more honest about what Trump is doing.

HAYES: That is a fascinating point, that they can sort of change the
dynamics of how much in the conservative media people feel afraid or wary
about criticizing if they are doing it themselves.

WOLF: Yeah. I think that`s probably the biggest impact of where it is
going to be felt.

HAYES: All right, Leon Wolf, thank you for taking the time tonight.

Ahead, awaiting the president`s prime-time remarks. Is he about to issue
an about-face on one of his most consistent policy positions. What we can
expect coming up.

Plus, Thing One, Thing Two reaches totality right after this break.


HAYES: Thing one tonight, the very cool science event that united
Americans across the country: the total solar eclipse that plunged some
areas into complete darkness as seen here in this moment of totality in
Columbia, South Carolina.

Satellite images show the shadow of the moon streaking across America as
millions upon
millions gazed up along this rare and awe-inspiring celestial moment.

I watched from Brooklyn alongside New Yorkers who crowded into the streets
as my colleague, Rachel Maddow, did outside NBC studios along with these
two jabronis (ph).

Lawmakers showed off their vantage points. Four generations of Bushes held
a viewing party. And even the president watched from the White House

But as everyone – everyone knows there is just one rule about solar
eclipses, only one, you have one job during an eclipse. The president`s
extended lesson on what not to do is Thing Two in 60 seconds.


HAYES: President Trump gawked at the solar eclipse without glasses to
protect his eyes today as an aide below him shouted, don`t look, and there
are probably many, many Americans who knew better but still couldn`t quite
stop themselves from stealing a glance at the harmful rays of the solar

But this is the president who reportedly gets two scoops of vanilla ice
cream with his pie instead of a single scoop for everyone else. And so
today one or two glances skyward didn`t seem enough. He endulged just a
bit more. And despite the don`t look advice from the staff, he persisted.


HAYES: In just a few minutes, Donald Trump will give a rare prime-time
address to the nation about Afghanistan, the longest running war in U.S.
history. According to a White House statement, the president will provide
an update on the path forward for America`s engagement in Afghanistan and
South Asia with reports indicating he may authorize the deployment of up to
4,000 more troops, that`s in addition to the 8,400 U.S. troops and
approximately 6,000 troops from NATO allied countries.

This announcement will come after a campaign of criticism over the war in
Afghanistan, one of the most consistent policy positions Donald Trump has


TRUMP: What are we doing there? These people hate us. As soon as we
leave, it`s all going to blow up anyway? And you say what are we doing
there? We`re spending hundreds of billions of dollars, trillions of
dollars on this nonsense.

What are we doing? We don`t have money. We`re a debtor nation. We can`t
build our own schools and yet we build schools in Afghanistan. I`ll tell
you, our thinking is so far off. It just shows the leadership of this
country, I mean, we just don`t have it.


HAYES: And of course there are the tweets nearly 20 of them going back to
Barack Obama`s first term disparaging the war effort, calling for American
troops to come home.

For example, this one from 2013 “we have wasted an enormous amount of blood
and treasure in
Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation, let`s get out.”

Or this one from even two years earlier, “Ron Paul is right when he says we
are wasting lives and money in Iraq and Afghanista.”

Hans Nichols, NBC`s Pentagon correspondent here to help fill us in.

I guess the question is what – how did he get turned around from that
position to what it appears he`s announcing tonight?

HANS NICHOLS, NBC PENTAGON CORREPSONDENT: Well, his generals got to him,
Chris. And by generals I don`t just mean generals, I mean marines. The
troika that is advising him. That`s General Dunford, chairman of Joint
Chiefs of Staff, now Chief of Staff John Kelly, former marine. He actually
lost his son in Afghanistan; and then Secretary Mattis, himself, marine

You know this persuasion has taken place at dinners, at breakfasts. There
have been a lot of informal conversations. And the generals in some ways
have been willing and now the secretaries have been willing to sort of
endure some abuse, namely the president saying we`re losing I want to fire
general there. They say, no, Mr. President, that isn`t quite the right

So it`s persuasion, some might argue it`s – they`ve been generals co-
opted, the generals have co-opted the president.

But just to give you a sense of this, Chris, some flavor, remember back I
believe sometime this spring, that president`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner
flew to Iraq on a secret trip with General Dunford, got a lot of briefings
along the way.

They somehow manage the military to convince Trump of their world view, and
it wasn`t just Jared Kushner. Dina Powell was on a trip to the Middle East
with Secretary Mattis that I was on once. They`ve cleverly co-opted the
White House and convinced them of their views, which looks like
additional troops.

HAYES: Hans Nichols, thanks for joining us. That is quite illuminating.

With me now, retired four star Army General Wesley Clark and Congressman
Ruben Gallego, Democrat from Arizona who served in Iraq.

Let me start with you, congressman, we lost a U.S. service member just last
week, Staff Sergeant Aaron R. Butler who was killed last week fighting. He
was killed by IED by, it appears, ISIS in Afghanistan, which did not exist
when we invaded. Do you think we should be extending this war?

RUBEN GALLEGO, (D) CONGRESSMAN OF ARIZONA: At this point, we should not be
extending the war in the matter we are conducting it. What we are doing
right now is essentially just trying to put a band-aid on a gushing wound.

The biggest problem is our partner, the Afghanistan government, is horribly
corrupt. We`ve had 16 years of trying to build and train and supply this
army and has not succeed because at the core of it again you have a corrupt
government that is going to make it nearly impossible.

What you need to do is make the Afghanistan government understand that we
are not here to be the perpetual force. They need to take hold of their own
destiny. They need to understand that we are going to be pulling out and
they need to be responsible for their own security.

What is the president I think potentially is going to be doing is actually
really just putting us in a perpetual war without any insight, without any
metrics of success and I think unfortunately just to say
we haven`t given up on the war, and I think that`s a very unfortunate
situation that a lot of men and
women are going to find themselves in for years to come, if that`s the

HAYES: General Clark, the congressman`s comments sound like the kinds of
comments the president himself made for years about this precise conflict.
You heard Hans Nichols talk about the way in which the Pentagon and
generals around the president convinced him otherwise.

Do you think that`s good thing or bad thing?

WESLEY CLARK, ARMY GENERAL: I think is a good thing that Donald Trump is
exposed to the realities of the situation, but I don`t think just adding
troops the mix is sufficient.

There has to be a strategy. There has to be, let`s call it, a winning
mechanism or a defeat
mechanism for the enemy. It involves diplomacy and economic development,
political development of the Afghan government and maybe it does require
more troops.

But if you only emphasize the troop strength we`re never going to get out
that successfully and
somebody is going to say that`s it, just pull them out.

The truth is we do have some interest there. We don`t want an ungoverned
space in which ISIS can take form and threaten us elsewhere or at home, and
we are working in such a way in that area that we don`t want to appear to
be pushed out by Iran or Pakistan or Russia because that affects other
things we`re trying to do.

So there are interests at risk here, but there has to be a strategy. What
I`m listening for tonight,
from what the president says, what`s the strategy. Not what`s the troop

HAYES: So let me ask – I want to follow up on this. I want you to
describe to me the
institutional psychology here. I remember when President Obama was going
through his policy
review there was a sense in which the generals on the ground in the
Pentagon were trying to jam him a little bit.

There was a lot of controversy about this. They wanted more resources and
more troops. They were trying to box the president in.

You`ve articulated the question about what`s the strategy and when do we
cut our losses.

Why does it seem that institutionally the Pentagon is so unwilling to do

CLARK: You know, Vietnam left a long mark and nobody wants to be the guy
who pulled out and lost the war.

We might have had a different outcome in Vietnam had we followed the way we
operated in
Korea where we stabilized and then we kept forces there.

So a lot of this is all of these generals, including I and many others have
grown up in the
shadow of Vietnam experience.

HAYES: Interesting.

CLARK: So they believe that if you hang on and press – but of course the
problem with this is
it`s not – you`re looking at it only through the military eyes. It`s a
much bigger set of issues, as the congressman was indicating. You`ve got
corruption, tribalism. You`ve got other countries. You can`t just focus on

HAYES: Congressman?

GALLEGO: Chris. We`ve got to remember. This is not the decision of the
generals. This is a decision of the politicians. We`re in charge of the
military, and at this point the president needs to make the call. At the
same time Congress needs to take power back away from the presidency.

If the presidency is being too influenced by the generals in the Pentagon
and they`re not making the decisions that we think are in the best
interests for this country, and we are going to continue being in perpetual
war, then at this point we need to actually exert our influence and
oversight on the Pentagon.

We can not continue to be in these perpetual wars without any strategy or
any end game just so
some people can save their ego and say they weren`t responsible for being
the man or woman who
pulled out the last troop.

That`s been a problem for President Obama and that`s a problem now for
President Trump, and I urge members of Congress to actually start
reasserting our authority and as a member of the Armed Services Committee I
certainly am too to do this.

And by the way, I don`t think it`s a coincidence that the president is
making this announcement when the Senate and the House is out of session.
If this is a real serious proposal that was thought out we would have been
informed and had some hearings on it.

Instead he`s rushing it out. It`s not because Afghanistan is that much more
dangerous now then two weeks from now, it`s just more that he is in
political trouble and needs to change the subject, therefore they`re
rushing this out at the consequence of potentially a lot of men and women`s

HAYES: General Clark, can you imagine a time line where this continues
like this into subsequent administrations where ten years from now there
are people serving, American men and
women who weren`t born on 9/11 serving in Afghanistan and fighting and

CLARK: Well if you imagine it, you to imagine that American leadership
just isn`t very

It`s sad to me to see how long we`ve been in Afghanistan without an
effective strategy. We`re not dealing effectively with Pakistan. We`re not
dealing effectively with Iran, Russia and India who are also actors in the

And with our own forces we`re keeping our foot in the door but we never put
the resources in, either military or civilian to do the job right.

We`re relying a lot on the contractors who are overpaid and frankly
underincentivized to get
the job done in there.

It`s been sad so far. It it goes on for another ten years, it`s
unimaginably sad.

HAYES: General Wesley Clark and Congressman Ruben Gallego – Congressman,
I have to get out of this so that we can take the president`s speech.

Thank you both for joining me.

As you can see there at the Ft. Myer military base, the president and some
of his advisers and cabinet officials there surrounded by active duty
members of the armed services.

The president is minutes away from his address to the nation on what
they`re calling the new path forward in Afghanistan. Rachel Maddow picks up
our coverage next.


RACHEL MADDOW, ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us for our special coverage
tonight of
the president`s prime time address. We know you have basically infinite
choices of where to watch a presidential address on a night like this, so
thank you for choosing to be here with us tonight.

The president tonight will be speaking from Fort Myer in Arlington,
Virginia, that`s the army
post that is immediately adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. It`s
very, very close to downtown
Washington, D.C. It`s basically immediately across the Potomac River from
the Lincoln Memorial. You can see what the room looks like there tonight.

The president will be expected to be at that podium within about five
minutes or so. Most of the cabinet is there tonight.

Interestingly, the secretary of defense is not there tonight, but you see
all those uniform military personnel in the audience.

If this were a more predictable presidency, the White House announcing a
rare presidential
prime-time address on the same day the whole country came together to watch
a stunning solar eclipse.
You might expect that the topic of that presidential address would be
designed to capitalize on what happened today and the whole country being
warm-hearted about space and science today, everybody
wowed by the mysteries of the universe.

In a more predictable presidency you could imagine tonight being the
presidential address that
announced a manned mission to Mars or a back to future plan to return to
the moon or something.

That is not what we are in store for tonight. We`ve been told to expect an
announcement from the president on his strategy for the war in Afghanistan.
That war begun almost immediately after al Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11.
The war has not stopped since. It`s the longest war in U.S. history.

U.S. troop numbers have fluctuated in Afghanistan from as high as 100,000
troops in President Obama`s first term down to fewer than 9,000 troops
there today.

Five years ago tonight in 2012, the man who is now president was clear as a
bell as to what he
thought should happen with the Afghanistan War, quote, “Afghanistan is a
complete waste. Time to come home.” That was exactly five years ago
tonight, August 21, 2012 from Donald Trump.

But that was not a new sentiment from him at the time. He had already been
preaching that same thing for a very long time by then.

In 2011, when American troop strength was at its highest in Afghanistan, he
was calling the Afghan war a waste of trillions of dollars, demanding,
quote, “when will we stop wasting our money on Afghanistan?”

As a president and as a politician, Donald Trump has been accused of
inconsistency and at times
inattention on some important policy matters. But he has been consistent
and insistent over a period of many years now when it comes to this war.
“It is time to get out of Afghanistan. It is not in your national
interest.” That was sent in 2012.

Time to get out. Time to get out of there. Get out now.

We should have a speedy withdrawal. Why should we keep wasting our money?

Even when he gets some of the nouns wrong, like calling the Afghan people
Afghanis, which is
the equivalent of calling the American`s dollars. Even when he gets some
stuff screwed up, his point has been clear as day from the beginning and
invariable. Quote, “let`s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being
killed by the Afghanis. We train and we waste billions of dollars there.

“We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan.
Let`s get out.”

“We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives.”

This is the way that Donald Trump has talked about Afghanistan for years
now in public life. And for politicians rhetoric about wasted lives while
Americans are still fighting and dying overseas, that would usually be
considered thin rhetorical ice for any politician.

But Trump has been emphatic on this subject, even to the point of using
language like that. Before he became president, at least, he really had
only one consistent message on the Afghanistan War, end it. End it now.
End it yesterday. It is a total waste.

Since he has been president, though, we really have no idea if that idea
still holds for him. The only change in course we have seen since he`s
been in office was in the second week of April when U.S. forces for the
second time ever dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in the world on a
mountainous corner of eastern Afghanistan.

We still don`t really know why. The stated reason was that that bomb, that
$16 million Mother of all Bombs was necessary to blow up a complex of deep
caves in that part of Afghanistan. Our military does have penetrating
bombs that are designed for underground targets, but that giant bomb they
dropped in April is not one of those bombs.


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