All in with Chris Hayes, Transcript 8/31/17 The Trump Moscow push
Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES
Date: August 31, 2017
Guest: David Kocieniewski, Natasha Bertrand, Michael Isikoff, Erica Orden,
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: James?
JAMES PETERSON, LEHIGH UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: We`re back to school this
week, everyone knows that. But what is weighing on the minds of students
across this nation, Charlottesville and obviously Harvey.
KORNACKI: OK, thank you, everybody. “ALL IN” with Chris Hayes starts
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on ALL IN.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long was the meeting?
DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP`S SON: 20 minutes or so.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paul Manafort was on his –
TRUMP JR.: On his phone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole time?
TRUMP JR.: Pretty much.
HAYES: The NBC exclusive report about what Trump`s Campaign Manager was
doing on his phone during that meeting with Russians. He was taking notes
about the RNC.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that meeting is emerging as a major focus of the
HAYES: Tonight, what this means for the Russia probe and why the
President`s lawyers are already talking to the Special Counsel about
obstruction of justice.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I said to myself,
I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up
story. It is an excuse.
HAYES: Then, new dangers in Texas as the floodwaters cause explosions at a
major chemical plant, and how to get rich in Donald Trump`s Washington.
The story of how the man who promised to drain the swamp created an
entirely new ecosystem.
TRUMP: Drain the swamp!
HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. We`ve a lot, a lot –
a lot of breaking news tonight on the Russia investigation, including a
report by the Wall Street Journal that the President`s attorneys have been
making the case to Special Counsel Robert Mueller that the President did
not commit obstruction of justice when he fired former FBI Director James
Comey. Much more on that coming up. And get this, Daily Beast now
reporting Mueller has enlisted help from the IRS for his investigation
which could give him access to the President`s tax returns.
But first, the exclusive reporting from NBC News that notes taken by Paul
Manafort at that infamous meeting with the Russian lawyer, among others
during the campaign contains a cryptic reference to political contribution.
Ever since it was first revealed earlier this summer, the President and his
allies have sought to obscure or downplay the significance of that meeting
which took place at Trump tower in New York in June 2016 and was attended
by the President`s son, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, then the Campaign
Chairman, and Jared Kushner, the President son-in-law and now a White House
Adviser. In an initial statement, Trump Jr. explained that he and the
Russian lawyer had, “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of
It was only after he released e-mail traffic leading up to the meeting that
we learned Trump Jr. had agreed to attend on the promise of, and I quote
the e-mail here, some officials documents and information that would
incriminate Hillary in her dealings with Russia. Framed as part of Russia
and its government support for Mr. Trump, to which Trump Jr. responded if
it is what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer. Later in
the summer, the hacked e-mails would be made public. According to White
House, the President himself waited on that initial misleading statement
about adoptions that was released by Don Jr.
And now, NBC News reports that the Special Counsel`s team is investigating
whether the President was trying to hide the real purpose of the Trump
Tower meeting. In their efforts to down play the meeting, both the
President and his son have emphasized that Kushner left after a few minutes
and Manafort was said to be on his phone the whole time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long was the meeting?
TRUMP JR.: 20 minutes or so.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 20 minutes. And Jared left after five or ten?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like she said. And Paul Manafort was on his –
TRUMP JR.: On his phone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole time?
TRUMP JR.: Pretty much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty much.
TRUMP JR.: It – listen, like I said –
TRUMP JR.: Pretty really apparent that this was not what we were in there
TRUMP: It was a short meeting. It was a meeting that went very, very
quickly, very fast. Two other people in the room, they – I guess one of
them left almost immediately and the other one was not really focused on
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: But it turns out Manafort wasn`t just playing Candy Crush. He was
actually typing up notes about the meeting that he was in on his smart
phone. And according to NBC News sources, those notes contained a
reference to political contributions and RNC in close proximity. It is, of
course, illegal for foreign nationals to donate to U.S. elections.
Manafort`s spokesman responded in a statement, it is 100 - it is 100
percent false to suggest this meeting included any discussion of donations
from Russian sources to either the Trump campaign or the Republican Party.
Mr. Manafort provided the Senate Intelligence Committee with the facts and
his notes, so the speculation and conjecture is pointless and wrong. NBC`s
Ken Dilanian was one of the reporters who broke that story. Ken, what can
you tell us about these notes that Manafort wrote?
KEN DILANIAN, NBC INTELLIGENCE, AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Chris, our
sources are telling us that they`re cryptic notes, you know, of one or two
words. Certainly not a verbatim transcript or even a set of very good
notes, actually the very hard to discern and hard to understand. But some
of the words included RNC, a reference to Republican National Committee,
and some reference to political contributions. Now, earlier in the day,
Chris, our sources were saying that the word donations was explicitly in
quotes in the notes. We`re now being told now that that word was not in
there, it was a different word or set of words but the message was clear.
Actually, it`s really not clear because investigators are saying that they
are not sure exactly what is going on here, but they have an obligation to
and are very interested into looking into the question of whether the
subject of donations from Russians to the Trump campaign was even broached
at this meeting from either side. That`s a hugely important issue because,
as you just said, that would be illegal. It would be illegal for the
Russians to donate, it would be illegal for any political campaign to
accept foreign donations. And so that has got certainly the Congressional
Committees very interested in getting to the bottom of that.
HAYES: One small point that seems relevant to me here, and this is
independent of what the content of the notes are is that there has been a
story told by the folks in the Trump circle, Don Jr., the President of the
United States and others, that this was a nothing meeting, it was a bust.
They kept having to admit there were more and more people there as they
went on. And one of the main issues that Paul Manafort was on his phone.
It appears he was taking notes of the meeting, right?
DILANIAN: That`s exactly right. And I agree with you, that is a
significant thing because it`s been portrayed that he was on his phone,
paying attention to other things. And he may well have been you know,
looking at e-mail but we know he was also taking these notes which have
been turned over to the House and the Senate and the Special Counsel,
Robert Mueller. So you`re absolutely right. He was paying enough of
attention to take some notes, and those notes are now under scrutiny.
HAYES: My understanding is that when this story first broke and it was
sort of shaken loose by reporters and then Donald – at the New York Times
and particularly Donald Jr. released the e-mail to sort of get out ahead of
the story, that Mueller`s team didn`t know about this meeting. The
reporting now suggests how important is this meeting to their
DILANIAN: It is looming really large, Chris. It`s not clear whether
Mueller`s team knew about the meeting. I did see some reporting to that
effect. I don`t think that question is fully answered. But what we know
now is that they`re heavily scrutinizing this meeting. You know, as you
know, NBC News reported a couple of days ago that one of the things they`re
looking at is why President Trump crafted this highly-misleading statement
on his son`s behalf, suggesting the meeting was just about Russian
adoptions and it was kind of short and nothing to see here. This was
before the e-mails were released. You know, in fact, it was a meeting
carried out with an explicit promise as you said of help from the Russian
government and there`s a lot that we don`t know about it.
And even if it was as the Russians involved assert, you know, really a
meeting about the Magnitsky Act and this really sort of esoteric set of
sanctions and nothing specific was offered. The fact that Donald Trump Jr.
accepted the meeting with a promise of help and incriminating information
about Hillary Clinton is a red flag for investigators who are wondering
what else he accepted because it showed they were willing to play ball with
HAYES: All right, Ken Dilanian, thank you.
DILANIAN: Absolutely Chris.
HAYES: The three Trump campaign officials who attended the Trump Tower
meeting, you have Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Donald Trump Jr.,
Kushner is the one who seems to have faced the least scrutiny over his
participation. But that was not the only meeting with the Russian national
that Kushner failed to disclose. We also know that during the transition
after President was elected, he met with both the Russian Ambassador to the
U.S. in a secret meeting and the head of a sanctioned Russian bank,
contacts he repeatedly omitted from security clearance forms under penalty
Today, new reporting from Bloomberg lays out what could be meaningful
context for Kushner`s conduct. His family real estate business owes
hundreds of millions of dollars on a 41-story office building on Fifth
Avenue and has failed to secure a foreign investors to despite an extensive
search. Investigative reporter David Kocieniewski co-wrote the story for
Bloomberg and he joins me now. The lead of the story is arresting which is
basically that Kushner wakes up every morning with this problem and what is
DAVID KOCIENIEWSKI, BLOOMBERG NEWS INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: The problem is
that they have overpaid for the building. They bought it in 2007 and set a
record price at the time for any single building. And ever since, they`ve
been chasing that, trying to make it work, it was highly leveraged, to
begin with. They had to sell off the very lucrative portions of the
building where the retail is and they later had to refinance it when it was
tearing on the brink of insolvency. So they`ve been trying to find out
ways to pump money into that. They brought in different partners.
Vornado, the well-established and well capitalized U.S. company is there as
a partner now. But even now the building is not meeting – it is not – in
some quarters it`s losing money. So they`ve been chasing money, trying to
find foreign investors and it`s a question whether they can do it before
they have to – the mortgage expires in February 2019.
HAYES: So that`s – it`s a race against time and they need – they need
capital infusions. And that has led them at least in one instance to foray
in one foreign nation which might have reasons to cozy up to the son-in-law
of the President of the United States, which is China. What were they
trying to do in China?
KOCIENIEWSKI: China was the deal that as far as we know got the farthest.
The negotiation, was not a deal but Anbang which is an insurance company
that invests in real estate and lot of development elsewhere was in
negotiations with the Kushners, and they said it began in 2015, it heated
up during the end of the election and after the election but before the
inauguration. When Jared Kushner met with the head of Anbang, they
hammered a proposal that would have had about $2 billion of Anbang`s money.
There`s this plan to build a huge tower to knock down the existing tower
and build this gigantic 80 story glittering tower.
And the Kushners would have got – would have pocketed $400 million out of
the deal. They would have been able to take 400 million in cash and still
keep part of their stake in the building. When that was first reported,
there was so much scrutiny that the – Kushner had to walk away from the
deal and Anbang walks away. So they`ve still been searching elsewhere for
money and as far as we know have not yet found it.
HAYES: OK, so the context here of course is this would leave, one
imagines, Jared Kushner fairly open to the possibility of manipulative
influence from a hostile foreign actor, say, a Russian connected bank if he
is in fact as desperate as it appears he and his family company are to make
sure they can get foreign capital infusion so that this thing doesn`t go
KOCIENIEWSKI: I think you know, that is a question people in Congress are
asking. To be fair to the Kushners, there`s no evidence that there was
anything asked for at the time, and the Russian meeting you mentioned, you
know, Jared Kushner says that it was – it was a diplomatic message
meeting. The Russians say otherwise. The head of the bank, Sergei Gorkov
said it was a business meeting. And Vladimir Putin`s spokesman said that
it was a business meeting. So there`s a dispute. Jared Kushner said I did
not collude, I did not mix business and my diplomatic effort, and you know,
I think that`s what Congress and Mueller are going to be looking at now.
HAYES: All right. David Kocieniewski, thank you for your time tonight.
KOCIENIEWSKI: Thank you.
HAYES: Natasha Bertrand, a Senior Reporter for the Business Insider,
Michael Isikoff is Chief Investigative Correspondent for Yahoo! News.
Natasha, you`ve been very, very closely tracking all of this Russia news.
I mean, one be big takeaway and from the NBC News story today about
Manafort in the meeting is, any way you slice it, Manafort is at the
NATASHA BERTRAND, BUSINESS INSIDER SENIOR REPORTER: Yes. And I think that
today with the news that Mueller has enlisted the help of Schneiderman, the
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to help him investigate Paul
Manafort`s tax history, perhaps some financial crimes that he may have
committed in the State of New York really is an indication that he is
really at the center of this investigation. And it`s not – it`s the dual
purpose of Mueller kind of enlisting Schneiderman is it can help them both.
Now, Schneiderman is very much focused on the money laundering aspect. He
wants to know if Manafort laundered any cash into New York City Real
Estate. Mueller is very interested in whether or not Manafort was
compromised during the campaign whether he was in debted to pro-Russian
interests. So, in that sense, partnering with Schneiderman who can
investigate these money laundering charges in depth, he can then figure
out, well, where did this money come from, where did he laundered it, why,
and in that sense, he can help him with the Russian investigation.
HAYES: There`s one more partner that is reported Michael Isikoff, in the
Daily Beast by Betsy Woodruff as a frequent guest on this program that the
sort of criminal unit of the IRS Tax Division, the Criminal Division in the
IRS is now teaming with Mueller which also seems significant because that a
trove of information for his investigators.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, YAHOO! NEWS: Sure. And if you look at what all
indications are that Mueller is focused on here is exactly as Natasha just
said. Those real estate dealings and the business dealings that Manafort
had in particular with two Russian oligarchs. One is Oleg Deripaska, who
is aluminum magnate, very close to Vladimir Putin, and Mueller`s business
relations with Deripaska go back to at least 2007. We reported last year
on these document in the Cayman islands about the equity fund that Manafort
and Deripaska had set up to invest in Ukrainian telecommunications. They
later had a falling out. But that was – that was one big source of
concern and a red flag for the investigators are also going back. There`s
another oligarch, Dmytro Firtash who is actually under indictment by the
Justice Department and there are documents and a New York lawsuit that show
Mueller and Firtash were in business, had a scheme for –
ISIKOFF: I`m sorry, Manafort, Manafort, and Firtash had a scheme to buy
the Drake Hotel in New York, and that was alleged to have been a scheme to
allow Firtash to launder illicit funds from his business in Ukraine. So,
from all indications, that`s a big chunk of what Mueller is looking at
HAYES: You know, so there`s sort of a – I think it is important to think
about this procedurally, which is that there are a lot of loose threads
financially with Manafort, a lot of indicators. I mean, people should
remember that the reason he left the campaign was because he basically
discovered a ledger in Ukraine saying he got illegal payments, suggesting
he got a legal payments. But then there`s – that sort of the means to the
end of getting the bottom of it. And clearly close to the bottom of this
meeting, what are the questions you have as someone who has tracked this
very closely about what happened after that meeting?
BERTRAND: After the Trump Tower meeting?
BERTRAND: Well, you would have to look at all of the things that happened
during the summer after the Trump Tower meeting. So you would have to look
at the timing of, you know, when the e-mails were released, whether there
was a kind of quid pro quo that was exchanged during that meeting between
Manafort, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. and these Russians who are
very clearly closely connected to the Kremlin. So I think that looking
through everything that happened that summer through the lens of that
meeting, having occurred very early on in the summer explains a lot, or it
can explain a lot depending on how you look at it.
HAYES: The fact that Manafort now faces the possibility of criminal
prosecution – we don`t know if he – clearly he hasn`t been charged yet.
What do you think the sort of calculation he`s thinking of is?
ISIKOFF: Well, he wants to know how strong a case Mueller is building
against him. Look, standard prosecutorial practice is you throw the book,
build the strongest case you can at Manafort, and then see if he`ll flip
and cooperate in the investigation. I should say at this point so far
there`s no indication that he is open to that. My understanding is that
the offer`s been out there on a number of occasions and he`s rebuffed it.
So, you know, that may have been the big reason why the FBI conducted that
search, unannounced search of Manafort`s home a couple of weeks ago to
spook him, to let him know how serious this investigation is. But, you
know, these are the kind of, you know – this is the way the prosecutorial
practice works in the United States. You try to build the strongest case
as you can in hopes of getting cooperation. We`re just going to have to
see whether that happens in this or not.
HAYES: All right, Natasha Bertrand and Michael Isikoff, thank you both.
Tonight from collusion to obstruction of justice, new reporting the
President`s lawyers met with Mueller to argue that he did not obstruct
justice by firing James Comey. The reporter that broke the story joins me
in just two-minutes.
TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing
there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do
it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and
Russia is a made-up story, it is an excuse by the Democrats for having lost
an election that they should have won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: It has become increasingly clear that separate from any possible
collusion case, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is pursuing the possibility
of an obstruction of justice case against President Trump. The Wall Street
Journal reporting today that the President`s lawyers have met with Mueller
several times in recent months and submitted memos arguing that the
President didn`t obstruct justice by firing Comey and calling into question
Comey`s reliability as a potential witness. Trump lawyer John Dowd told
NBC News, he would not discuss his communications with Mueller. Another
Trump lawyer Ty Cobb said, “we have great respect for the Special Counsel.
Out of respect for his process, we will not be discussing incremental
responses.” On Monday NBC News reported that Mueller`s investigators are
“keenly focused on the President`s role in crafting the administration`s
misleading initial response to that report that his son Don Jr. met with a
Kremlin-linked lawyer during the campaign. They want to know what Trump
knew about the meeting and whether he sought to conceal its purpose. One
of the reporters who broke the story about the Trump`s lawyers meeting with
the lawyer, the Wall Street Journal`s Erica Orden joins me now. So how
does this work? They`ve been going over to Mueller`s office in person,
ERICA ORDEN, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL POLITICS REPORTER: They have met with
Robert Mueller in person and his team. It`s unclear whether it was at
Mueller`s office, presumably.
HAYES: And these memos, these are sort of trying to make the case ahead of
time that the President didn`t obstruct justice.
ORDEN: That`s right. There were two memos, at least two memos we know of.
The first was submitted with regard to – it was a legal argument by the
President`s lawyers concerning what they see as an argument why he can`t be
charged or investigated for obstructing justice. And the second concerned
their questions about Comey`s – Jim Comey`s reliability as a potential
HAYES: So the first one indicates to me that they have some reason to
think that – I mean this has been reported, but the existence of the memo
coming from his own lawyers would seem to concretize the reporting that
this is something Mueller is, in fact, pursuing and investigating.
ORDEN: I suppose you could interpret it that way.
HAYES: I mean, presumably they`re not just writing these (INAUDIBLE).
HAYES: Do you – is it – I guess my question, is that normal for this
kind of interactions in these sorts of settings between defense attorneys
ORDEN: It`s not unusual for criminal defense attorneys to meet with a
prosecutorial team. It`s a little bit early in the process for this to be
playing out, and it is a little bit – it`s somewhat unusual that they
actually submitted written arguments.
HAYES: Have you read the memos?
ORDEN: I can`t really get into that.
HAYES: You can`t answer that?
HAYES: Because what`s curious to me is that there is – you know, there`s
a level of sort of criminal exposure possibly for people involved in this,
and then there`s something like very intense theoretical constitutional
questions which is about what the President can and can`t be pursued for.
HAYES: And I guess what do you know, what is your reporting indicate about
how they`re thinking about that from the Trump legal perspective or
ORDEN: Well, from the Trump legal perspective, their arguments – their
primary argument would seem to be as far as our reporting shows that he –
that he didn`t obstruct justice because his executive authority gives him
the ability to hire and fire people including the Director of the FBI at
HAYES: Right, this sort of fundamental idea that definitionally the
President exercising the constitutional power vested in him to relieve of
duty someone that works for him cannot be obstruction of justice.
ORDEN: Right. And of course, that does not speak to his intent in firing
whoever he is firing which is going to be a factor in whatever
consideration of charges that Mueller`s team may weigh.
HAYES: Erica Orden, thanks for your time tonight. (INAUDIBLE) your
ORDEN: Thank you.
HAYES: With me now to break all this down, former Federal Prosecutor,
Department of Justice, National Security Lawyer, Carrie Cordero. What`s
your reaction to this news?
CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So, it`s really interesting.
The description that was just given of the memo sounds like perhaps they
try to cover a couple of things. One, perhaps whether or not the President
can be charged with a crime. It sounds like perhaps the memos talk about
that issue. And then, second of all, it sounds like maybe the memos get
into whether or not the President`s conduct constitutes obstruction. And
those are two distinct legal issues.
One, whether or not a sitting President can be charged with something and
constitutional lawyers disagree about that question. There are arguments
that a sitting President can be charged with something and there have been
counter arguments made by constitutional lawyers all over the country that
he can or cannot. So that`s a disagreement. On the obstruction piece,
it`s really interesting if they actually are arguing on the merits of
whether or not his conduct was obstruction because if they`re only focusing
– and again, this is just speculation because we haven`t seen the memos.
But if they`re only arguing that the firing of Director Comey was not
obstruction, then they`re really on their heels because that is just one
piece of what a potential case for obstruction could cover. Which I would
suggest would be a whole range of behaviors that the President has engaged
in since last winter, that you can start all the way back with the dinner
that he had with Comey trying to get the Flynn case shut down to the firing
to behaviors after the firing, which include tweets that he sent about
wiretapping, tweets that he sent that could be interpreted as sort of
threatening former Director Comey as a witness when he said there might be
tapes out there, to talking to other government officials regarding their
knowledge or their ability to shut down the investigation.
So if the memo from the White House is focusing only on the firing, then –
then I think they`re missing the bigger picture because an obstruction case
is part of a pattern of behavior of this President since last spring and
all through this summer. And we can look to a variety of events, acts,
statements, tweets that he`s made that all lend toward a case of
HAYES: You know, I know some people – I`ve reported on financial
prosecutions a little bit. I know some folks who sort of reported on white
collar defense. And they said one of the approaches of, you know, very
adapt white collar defendants is to try to sort of essentially not have an
adversarial posture towards prosecutors, particularly at the beginning, a
kind of partnership relationship, we`re working with you, we`re giving you
stuff. It`s interesting to me that`s the tone being struck by these, you
know, very accomplished and highly-compensated criminal defense attorneys
the President has retained.
CORDERO: Well, it might be part of the strategy of Ty Cobb who is one of
the newer additions to the President`s legal team to try to see if they can
work something out. But, look, you played the clip of the interview with
the President with Lester Holt that took place in May. I think that was
the clip that you played at the beginning. And the President basically
said that his purpose in firing the Director was to make the Russia case go
away. So they – I think it can`t hurt as a strategy to try to start this
off in a working type relationship, but there`s a lot of facts out there
over the course of the last six months or so that – six to eight months
that are not good facts for the President when it comes to obstruction.
HAYES: All right, Carrie Cordero, thank you for bringing your expertise in
all of this. I appreciate it.
HAYES: Coming up, there is money to be made in Trump`s Washington. How
much? Well, it depends on how close you can get to the President. That
fascinating story just ahead.
HAYES: Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy was recently so dumbfounded by a
Trump administration decision that he tweeted, “This is a joke, right?
Basically akin to nominating Influenza to be Surgeon General.” The Senator
was referring to the nominee to Head to the Division of the Education
Department that`s responsible for policing deceptive practices in Higher
Ed. That nominee comes from a university that was cited for deceptive
practices in higher ed. Julian Schmoke will be in charge of the student
aid enforcement unit. He was formerly a Dean at DeVry University which is
a for-profit college which last year agreed to a $100 million settlement
with the federal trade commission, alleging that they misled prospective
students with ads that touted high employment success rates and income
levels upon graduation. Nearly half the settlement was returned to DeVry
students last month.
Now, it`s not at all unusual for federal agencies to hire people with
experience in the industries they`re assigned to regulate. What is a bit
more unusual is that this appointment approved by a President who himself
agreed to a $25 million lawsuit to settle fraud claims against him for his
for-profit education venture, trump university. Remember That?
That`s The kind of thing that`s happening right out in the open in the
trump administration. Now Imagine for a second what the underbelly of
lobbying looks like in Trump`s Washington. The guy who wrote perhaps the
definitive piece on exactly that, joins me next.
[CHANTING: Drain the swamp. ]
TRUMP: You know when I first heard that term i hated it. I said, oh,
that`s so hokey. That is so hokey, but I said let`s give it a shot. I
tried it, the place went crazy. Then I said maybe we`ll try it again. The
place went crazy. And now i like it.
HAYES: There you have it right there. During the campaign Donald Trump
pitched himself as the outsider who would drain the swamp in Washington
D.C., but as president he created an entirely new environment. That
environment laid out in a fascinating new piece in New York Times Magazine
by Nick Confessore. He Joins me now.
As a someone who knows what the so called swamp used to be like during
President Obama`s tenure, former White House Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu.
Nick it`s a great piece, it`s really colorful. I guess the sort of top
line question is like what surprised you and what`s changed about this era
of influence peddling in Washington?
NICK CONFESSORE, NEW YORK TIMES INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: So what was so new
to me was that Trump, in fact, despite the fact he has hired 100 lobbyists
to his different agencies, he in fact arrived in washington with this
pretty short baggage train of people and obligations. He was sort of a not
known to the permanent class and so no one knew who to call.
And up sprung this whole class, a small one but a potent one, of people who
just happened to know who to call in the White House.
HAYES: Like – and – and you illustrate this. I mean even something like
the – the – the – you know, the New Zealand Ambassador or, you know, the
government wants to get in touch with the president-elect, they just don`t
have a number.
HAYES: They Don`t have a number, so in pops a guy who knows Trump and I
can make the connection for you.
CONFESSORE: That`s right. And so, you know, it started that way. And
then it became clear that there was so much chaos in the West Wing, that
there was then a heightened market for anybody who could guide you through
what was really happening. Who is up, who is down, and of course, how do I
talk to the president?
CONFESSORE: How do i deal with this guy who seems so mercurial and changes
his mind, and bashes company on twitter, sometimes costing them billions of
dollars in market cap.
So all of a sudden like companies wanted to know, what do I do? They felt
powerless in a weird way for the first time in a while.
HAYES: Chris you served in the Obama administration and there`s a lot of I
think justifiable cynicism about the economy of influence in Washington.
It`s cynicism that the – President Obama himself ran against. I mean he
talked about how corrupt and rigged the system was. What do you say to
people who say – who read this article or look at the Trump administration
and say ever was it thus? Like this is just the way Washington works.
It`s sort of corrupt. People trade favors for influence.
CHRIS LU, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CABINET SECRETARY: Look, Chris, lobbying has
been around as long as we`ve had a government. But what i`m struck about
in this piece is how brazen the selling of access is. Say whatever you
want about obama`s commitment to ethics, but this is really pay-to-play.
And this Is not about hiring people who have policy expertise or understand
arcane set of policy. It`s selling access to the president. And now more
than ever there are more ways to do that. You can sit in the lobby of the
trump hotel. You can book an event at Mar-a-lago. You Can even tweet a
photo of yourself with a silly baseball hat and the president might retweet
And this Is really not about just the insiders who are selling the access.
It`s about the susceptibility of the president to flattery.
HAYES: You know there`s also the – Chris brought up something interesting
there about policy, right? A lot of the dirty secret of D.C. is that a
huge amount of policy is developed by outside groups and lobbyist groups
that are representing their interests. Because there`s a million things go
crossing overall the time, right?
You Know, this is – this new tax code for paper mills and so who writes
that provision? Well, the paper mill – the lobbyists have it. There`s so
little policy being developed in the White House. That`s part of what was
striking about the article.
Like in Chris`s point, it`s really just access. There`s no agenda there
that they`re really trying to deal with.
CONFESSORE: The problem here was that the policy process was so broken in
this White House. It`s probably getting better now but there was no real
process to latch into for the conventional lobbyist. The big lobbyists in
D.C. Have learned to be policy experts. They have relationships with
polling firms and advertising. They come to you with the bill written and
the coalition of trade groups to support it.
CONFESSORE: And the polling that backs it up and they hand it to you. And
they know how, you know, kind of all of the pressure points in the system.
In the Trump White House there was no process. It was about who gets into
the room with the president? Who can leave an article on his desk? Who
happens to know what he`s watching on tv. If i can get a mention while
he`s watching the shows. If I`m on one of the shows.
All of a sudden like the conventional policy process was just kind of gone
and it was possible to imagine – it was possible to imagine that a single
phone call to the right person at the right time might actually just
reshape the whole decision making apparatus of the White House.
HAYES: Do you think this is sustainable, Chris? I mean I remember someone
famously – I forget. Someone said this to me about getting – you know,
people in the White House talking about people in White Houses go to jail.
It happens in almost every administration.
It didn`t happen in the Obama White House. But you know there are a lot of
legal trip wires in this thicket that it seems to me like a lot of folks in
Nick`s article are running the risk of tripping over.
LU: Well, and it`s not only the people who are trying to influence. I
mean you`ve just seen in the last couple of days – you`ve seen the GSA
Inspector General looking into the Trump hotel (lease). The EPA Inspector
General looking into Scott Pruitts travel. Now we have the Treasury IG
who`s looking into Mnuchin`s trip to go look at a solar eclipse and so this
is an administration that has not taken ethics seriously and it`s going to
catch up to them at a certain point.
HAYES: Yes is – do you think there is – I talked to someone, a young up
and coming conservative in Washington at one point who was not going to
work for the administration because they were afraid they would end up with
How much does the sort of – the spectre of that loom over all this?
CONFESSORE: I`m not sure how much. I mean look, as I see it Corey
Lewandowski`s office (is) one of three or four essential characters in this
piece. And yes Corey has been pretty brazen in his sales and his
salesmanship. But I actually take the view that Corey does what almost
everyone in Washington does, but he just has the sale directly. He says,
hey I`ll get you access. Everyone else in Washington is like, oh I don`t
do access, I provide expertise.
HAYES: They say saying the quiet part lab is always a – is always the
theme with these folks.
Nick Confessore, Chris Lu, thanks for joining us.
Coming up, they say the only thing certain in life are death and taxes.
Now Trump`s tax plan on the other hand, well that`s Thing 1, Thing 2 next.
HAYES: Thing 1 tonight, the White House has been crystal clear from the
start that they have been hard at work writing a tax plan. The president
saying as early as February that it`s almost ready to be released.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So we`re doing a massive
tax plan, it`s coming along really well. It`ll be submitted in the not too
UNKNOWN: We`re going to get this done by the August recess.
TRUMP: we are introducing a tax plan.
TRUMP: Before we do the tax, which is actually very well finalized.
TRUMP: Our tax reform and tax plan is coming along very well, it`s going
to be out very soon.
TRUMP: The tax cut is going to be major. It`s going to be simple.
TRUMP: One of the largest tax cuts in history.
TRUMP: And the whole tax plan is wonderful.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
HAYES: So on this last day of August, where does that tax plan stand?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN MALE: The president made a very impassioned plea yesterday,
support for the tax package but many on Wall Street are a little bit
confused because there is no package. Could you explain to us why there is
no package or detail about rates and things like that coming from the White
STEVEN MNUCHIN, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY: Well first of
all there absolutely is a package. Since January I`ve been working with
Gary Cohn and the leadership on this plan. So we have a very a very
UNKNOWN MALE: But when you say there`s a package, are there numbers and
rates and growth estimates and things like that in that package that we can
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: The package – what`s in the package. The Treasury Secretary`s
answer to that very simple question is Thing 2 and it`s coming along really
well in 60 seconds.
HAYES: In seven months the only tax policy document released by the Trump
administration is literally a single double spaced sheet of paper with some
broad goals and a clip art White House on the top.
Stop for months president Trump has touted his wonderful tax plan that was
coming along very well. But last week Politico reported that the White
House would not release a plan, leaving it instead to Congress. Today the
Treasury Secretary was asked is there an actual Trump plan or not?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MNUCHIN: Well first of all as I said we`ve been working on the details.
UNKNOWN MALE: Sure.
MNUCHIN: You know we came out with a statement on the group of six when we
started this process. We wanted to bring the three of us together, make
sure that there was one plan with the administration, the House and the
Senate. We`ve done that. The House and the Senate are now socializing the
plan with their members. It – we`re going to release a blueprint and it`s
going to go to committee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Did you follow that? Well the Wall Street Journal clarified tonight
after speaking to Mnuchin.
Although congressional committees will write the tax bill, Mr. Mnuchin
indicated the administration intends to stay engaged in the debate.
HAYES: New concerns in Texas in the aftermath of hurricane Harvey. After
a series of explosions add a flooded chemical plant. The plant is in Crosby
which is about 25 miles Northeast of Houston and it makes organic
peroxides, used in things like PVC piping and polystyrene cups.
But the compounds are highly flammable, needing refrigeration so they don`t
spontaneously explode, and that`s what happened earlier this morning after
floods knocked out the power and the backup power. Two tons of chemicals
ignited, blasting a trailer apart, sending flames shooting into the sky and
leaving behind a plume of black smoke.
People living in a 1.5 mile radius around the plant had already been
evacuated, but several people went to hospital after inhaling the smoke.
Now more blasts are expected because the company that owns the chemical
plant Arkema, says they cannot even reach the plant, let alone stop the
This morning, just one container exploded, but there are eight more on
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN MALE: We fully expect that the other eight containers will do the
same thing. Water is still in our facility and preventing us from
accessing the facility and we believe at this point that the safest thing
to do is to allow the other eight containers, product in those to degrade
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: The Crosby plant is far from the only such hazard. The Washington
Post reports that quote, Harris County, home to Houston, has at least a
dozen federal super fund sites, more than any county in Texas.
The are hit by Harvey is also home to a significant chunk of the nation`s
petroleum industry. The country`s largest refinery shut down because of
flooding and could stay closed for up to two weeks.
Now Harvey has finally left Texas and is slowly moving Northeast as a
tropical depression. It destroyed 7,000 homes and damaged 87,000 more. At
least 32 people were killed and that number is only expected to rise.
HAYES: When Congress returns next week lawmakers will be faced with the
decision whether to once again try to kill Obama care, or just try to make
it work better.
And their decision – what they decide to do could mean the end of one era
and the beginning of another. Now despite weeks of protests this summer and
a failed Senate vote in July on President Barack Obama`s signature
legislative accomplishment, President Donald Trump insists – continues to
insist the Congress get rid of the Affordable Care Act.
Congress could still attempt to pass a bill to kill Obamacare or the White
House could simply mismanage and sabotage the health care law into the
ground. But there is a third option, fixing the law.
Bipartisan group of Governors now offering proposals to shore up the
Obamacare insurance markets, even as the Trump Administration as part of
its continuing bid to undermine the law announce just today drastic cuts in
funds to promote ACA enrollment next year.
The governor spearheading the drive to save Obamacare, Republican Governor
John Kasich of Ohio and Democratic governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado
told me earlier why that`s a mistake.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KASICH, GOVERNOR OF OHIO: I would prefer for them to have taken that
100 million and aimed it perhaps in a different direction. Because one of
the things that we have to think about is what are the most effective
programs beyond just lowering the cost of health insurance to get young
people to sign up. You know perhaps States could offer bonuses. There`s a
variety of ways to think about it, so to me the fact that we are paying
people to do what they already should have been doing doesn`t make sense.
But I would still prefer to use that money to try and create a healthier
pool which then lowers the cost of health insurance for everybody that
HAYES: Yeah, so just to clarify there`s two – there`s two line items,
there`s the navigators, which I think you`re referring to, which looks like
it`s getting cut 40 percent. There`s also the advertising budget which is
the one being cut by 90 percent.
Governor Hickenlooper let me ask you this, are you afraid of a kind of
worst of all scenarios taking shape in which the law remains the law on the
books but the executive manages it in such a way that it becomes
essentially expensive and unworkable?
JOHN HICKENLOOPER, GOVERNOR OF COLORADO: Well certainly that`s been
discussed before and really it`s been threatened. I think right now what
governor Kasich and I have been working on demonstrates that there is an
appetite for a bipartisan solution on this and thus a good example. You`re
marketing to try and get young people to join up and get health insurance
and somehow they just don`t think it`s worth it. Well one reason is it`s a
little too expensive for many of them. So as John just said, if we`re able
to get more people into these exchanges – more people in the private
insurance, the overall pool gets larger and the rate goes down.
That`s part of it and then we can provide incentives or maybe bonuses as
John just suggested. Maybe there are ways that we could increase the
penalties a little bit and I`m not talking necessarily about the individual
mandate penalties but you know people were jumping in and out and in and
out of insurance. Maybe there should be a stiffer penalty in doing that
even then what the Republicans had said. There might be a way to navigate
this so that we don`t need as much advertising money.
But I agree with John that we should – that right now we have other needs
for that money.
HAYES: So OK – so we`ve got – you – you – the – the broad outlines
here is continue those – those what are called CSR payments, right, which
have been up in the air? A stabilization fund for two years, a little bit
of changes in what essential health benefits are. Basically in the broad
scope of things, not major changes.
My question to you Governor Kasich is this, A, can you imagine republicans
in the House and Senate voting for this? And B if that happened would it
represent some final end to the era of implacable destroy Obama care
KASICH: Well Chris there`s a couple of things here. First of all, every
time you attach a name to something it raises hackles. OK, this is –
here`s what we`re trying to do. We want to stabilize the insurance market
so millions of people don`t lose their coverage. It`s cratering right now.
So these insurance companies are uncertain about what the situation is,
they want to leave the marketplace. We can`t have that. So that`s number
But number two is to give states the ability, the power, the authority to
redesign a program within certain guardrails. So, you don`t want to have
people being stripped of coverage and you want to make sure that they have
comprehensive coverage and there`s ways to achieve that.
So we got to get beyond the naming of all this. The fact is is that the
exchange to let people to have more choice is a good thing. Stabilize it
and then move to give states what they`ve been begging for, just having
some guardrails there and then move again to make sure we reward quality
payments and not just quantity payments, Chris.
So yes, I think if we can do that – that` what John and I are trying to
do. It`s reasonable. It meets all the philosophy of – if you want to
keep Obama care, keep it. If you want to change things and design
something that fits your population in your state, you can, just within
HAYES: All right, Governor John Kasich and Governor John HIckenlooper
thank you both.
KASICH: Thank you.
HICKENLOOPER: You`re welcome.
HAYES: That is All In for this evening. The Rachel Maddow Show starts now
with Joy Reid in for Rachel.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2017 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the