Whitaker denies interfering in Mueller investigation. TRANSCRIPT: 2/8/2019, All In w. Chris Hayes.
Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES
Date: February 8, 2019
Guest: Steve Cohen, Tara Dowdell, Primila Jayapal, Ben Wittes, Nancy
Gertner, David Farenthold, Asawin Suebsaeng, Megan Twohey
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on ALL IN.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D) NEW YORK: In your capacity as Acting Attorney
General, have you ever been asked to approve any request or action to be
taken by the Special Counsel?
MATT WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Chairman, I see that your five
minutes is up and so –
REID: Donald Trump`s Acting Attorney General finally faces the public.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: We`re all trying to figure out who are
you, where did you come from, and how the heck did you become the head of
the Department of Justice.
REID: Tonight what we learn from Matt Whitaker about the Mueller probe.
REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: Would you say special – the Special
Counsel`s investigation is a witch-hunt? Are you overseeing a witch-hunt?
REID: And family separation.
REP. PRIMILA JAYAPAL (D), WASHINGTON: Do you know what kind of damage has
REID: Then new allegations about blackmail and the National Enquirer and
why it could mean trouble for the President.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`ve always said why didn`t
the National Enquirer get the Pulitzer Prize –
REID: And a Washington Post blockbuster report.
TRUMP: I`m going to end illegal immigration.
REID: On a pipeline of undocumented workers from Costa Rica to Donald
Trump`s golf course.
TRUMP: With immigration, you better be smart, and you better be tough, and
they`re taking your jobs.
REID: ALL IN starts now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Good evening from New York, I`m Joy Reid in for Chris Hayes. When,
the President appointed Matt Whitaker to be the Acting Attorney General
last fall violating the Justice Department`s order of succession and
possibly the Constitution. Democrats feared it had nothing to do with
Whitaker`s qualifications which were severely lacking and everything to do
with his loyalty to Donald Trump and with his public hostility to the
In his combative often evasive testimony today before the House Judiciary
Committee, his first public appearance in Congress, Whitaker did little to
ease concerns that he`s nothing m re than a political hack installed to run
interference for the president.
The Acting Attorney General defended his decision to not recuse himself
from oversight of the Mueller investigation despite having been advised to
do so by ethics officials. And he denied interfering with the
investigation or discussing it with the president. But given the
opportunity to declare the legitimacy of the Special Counsel`s work,
Whitaker declined to do so.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: There been guilty pleas from Flynn, Manafort, Gates, Papadopoulos,
and Michael Cohen, and dozens of ad items including 13 Russian nationals,
three Russian companies and Roger Stone. Would you say special – the
Special Counsel`s investigation is a witch-hunt? Are you overseeing a
MATT WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: Congressman, as
I`ve mentioned previously, the Special Counsel`s investigation is an
ongoing investigation and so I think it would be inappropriate for me –
COHEN: But you wouldn`t oversee a witch hunt would you? You`d stop a
witch-hunt wouldn`t you?
WHITAKER: Congressman, it would be inappropriate for me to talk about an
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Whitaker also insisted that despite having interviewed for a job at
the White House as lead attorney dealing with Mueller`s probe, his personal
views on the investigation just never came up with anyone inside the
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Did they talk to you about your prior
opinions about the Mueller investigation.
WHITAKER: No, we did not discuss it. We discussed about my background as
the United States Attorney and my legal practice.
You`re asking me whether or not I talked with anybody essentially in the
President`s circle at the White House about my views of the Special
Counsel`s investigation when I was a private citizen not at the Department
REP. LOFGREN (D), CALIFORNIA: Correct.
WHITAKER: No, I did not.
REID: But the clearest evidence of how Whitaker understands his role as
Donald Trump`s Acting A.G. was his attitude toward the Democrats on the
House Judiciary Committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NADLER: Have you ever been asked to approve any request or action to be
taken by the Special Counsel?
WHITAKER: Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up and so –
COHEN: You said that you`re not interfering with the Special Counsel`s
investigation, have you denied him any funds he`s requested at all?
WHITAKER: Congressman, I can tell this is an important issue for you –
COHEN: It`s an important issue for the American public and for the whole
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: And it must be restored.
WHITAKER: I`m sorry, what was your – I don`t know if your time is
restored or not.
LEE: Mr. Attorney General, we`re not joking here and your humor is not
WHITAKER: Just five minutes for lunch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Wow, Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said that he`s not done hearing
from Whitaker and threatened to subpoena him to get the answers the
Democrats demand. My next guest is a Member of the House Judiciary
Committee who questioned Acting Attorney General Whitaker today Democratic
Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee.
So Congressman, first of all I just have to get your reaction to that
testimony you heard today both to his demeanor and in many cases his
refusal to answer yes and no questions.
COHEN: Well, he came in to stonewall us. That was his purpose. He wasn`t
– he had an audience of one which was Donald Trump. And when he was a
football player and I could certainly see him as a football player, he was
a tight end and that`s generally a blocker in the Iowa program. He was a
blocker today too. He`s still in the same role he was when he played for
the Iowa Hawkeyes.
He didn`t show me anything to say that he should be the United States
attorney general. I`ve met many and been with people at justice, and this
man does not measure up to them in any way whatsoever. He was just
treading water and stonewalling.
REID: And in a lot of people`s eyes, making a mistake of being pretty
disrespectful to the chair, declaring his time up and repeatedly saying an
answer to questions rather than answering them. I can see this is a very
important issue to you. Did you feel he was there just to stonewall and
stall for time or did you think that he was being openly disrespectful to
the panel as a way of performing for Donald Trump?
COHEN: Well, it`s hard to say. It was kind of like you know, would you
say Luca Brasi was being disrespectful or Luca Brasi just kind of didn`t
understand things. And he was kind of Luca Brasi-esque. I don`t think
he`s very swift. And he did even with the Republicans sometimes have the
same stock start to his answers of saying, Congressman, I really thank you
for asking that question. And then finally David Cicilline said, you know,
let`s get through the thank-you stuff. Don`t say thank you.
And it was all a time killer and they coached him. And they coached him I
guess with I know that question is important to you because he used that to
Mr. Jordan on the Republican side and others as well. I just think he was
given certain talking points and he stayed on – stayed on message.
REID: Well, Chairman Nadler indicated that he doesn`t feel he`s done
hearing for Mr. Whitaker and that he might want to recall him again. Given
the performance today, you think there`s any point in calling him again?
COHEN: Well, he`d be under oath again. It`d be a deposition and we could
ask him the questions and I don`t think he`d be – I think he`s going to
start to realize the fact that he could have – he could be in jeopardy.
He didn`t answer the questions forthrightly. It`s hard for me to believe
that Donald Trump didn`t ask him as he did Jim Comey and others about the
investigation and to have loyalty and be easy on Flynn and those type of
He was upset with Sessions, he said – he didn`t have his own attorney
general. He wanted his consigliere as he would probably think about it,
and he wanted his own guy. And this Whitaker comes out of nowhere. He
wasn`t in the line of succession which Ted Deutch made clear goes through
all a group of officials who`ve been approved by the Senate and he was not
one of them. So it was an aberration there.
And then somebody brought up his (INAUDIBLE) and most of his jobs had not
been in the legal sector and then what he`d had in the political world had
been abject failure and he`d had some encounters where he headed up some
charity group where he got $1.2 million when he came to Washington to do
some work and there was the suggestion that Sheldon Adelson, a major
Republican contributor and friend of Trumps might have been the person that
gave that $1.2 million to him.
You know, for this guy out of Iowa who didn`t really ever do much to show
up in Washington, they get paid $1.2 million. That`s just talks about the
influence of money in Washington and the pernicious nature of it and how
he`s been a willing subject to it.
REID: Congressman Steve Cohen, thank you very much. I appreciate your
time tonight. Thank you. And for more on the Acting AG`s extraordinary
testimony tonight, I`m joined now by MSNBC Contributor Chuck Rosenberg,
former U.S. attorney and former senior official at the FBI. So Chuck, the
testimony today was interesting but some of the things that – some of the
areas that were gone into was what you just heard from the Congressman, his
Before as you know, before Mr. Whittaker became the Acting Attorney
General, he did write this op-ed in which he said that the Mueller probe
was going too far. Did you hear anything today from Mr. Whitaker that
disabuse – that would disabuse you of the notion that his – that his goal
in being Acting Attorney General is to interfere with that probe?
CHUCK ROSENBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, let me just take a step back and
then answer your question. I thought his performance, Joy, was
disgraceful. I`ve testified many times in Congress. Sometimes the
questions are good and thoughtful, sometimes they`re compound and
incomprehensible, but you have to answer everyone with a degree of civility
and dignity and that was sorely lacking.
Your question, so look, I don`t know that he`s the right guy for this job.
In fact, I know he`s the wrong guy for the job. I`m heartened by one
thing. The Department of Justice, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney`s offices are
primarily if not exclusively staffed by career civil servants. If someone
was messing with their stuff, if they were trying to undermine their work,
torpedo their cases, you would hear a human cry from those men and women,
and we haven`t. It seems like cases are proceeding and that gives me hope
and he`ll be gone soon.
REID: And did you get the sense you know, that what he was doing, this
tactic of saying I understand it`s very important to you and sort of being
snarky and you know, I think you could say disrespectful, that this is just
coaching. Is this the way that people are – how are people coach
generally if you know you`re going before Congress where maybe half that
paneling is going to be you know tough on you, what are you told to do?
ROSENBERG: Right. Half as antagonistic and half as friendly and that`s
fairly typical regardless of who`s testifying and where are they
testifying. People handle it in different ways. I`ve never seen anyone
handle it like that. What he did today as I said was disgraceful. You
have to treat every member with a degree of civility and kindness and
Here`s why. He`s not representing Matt Whitaker. I mean, if you were
representing Matt Whitaker, he didn`t do a particularly good job. He`s
representing the United States Department of Justice, right? He`s speaking
on behalf of more than 100,000 men and women working 24/7 around the globe.
They saw their leader today behave like an infant and that is really deeply
disheartening to me.
REID: And we know that there`s going to be a confirmation hearing for the
gentleman that Donald Trump would like to have the job permanently.
ROSENBERG: Bill Barr.
REID: Barr. And given what you saw today, what would you counsel him to
do differently besides everything – this confirmation hearings.
ROSENBERG: Bill Barr doesn`t need my advice on that. Bill Barr is a grown
up. I may not share his views politically but I do believe he`s an
institutionalist and I do believe he understands the Department of Justice.
And oh by the way, Bill Barr had new trouble denying that the Mueller probe
was a witch-hunt, nor did Chris Wray the Director of the FBI, nor did
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
So that doesn`t seem to be a big lift for most adults. I`m shocked it was
a lift from Matt Whitaker, but Bill Barr is going to be fine.
REID: Yes, all right, Chuck Rosenberg, thank you very much. I really
appreciate you tonight. Thank you very much. Well, for more on what we`ve
learned from that hearing today, I`m joined by MSNBC Contributor Sam Seder,
Host of the Majority Report and Democratic Strategist Tara Dowdell. Thank
you both for being here. I really appreciate it.
Well, indeed. I mean, there have been – it panned all around to be
honest. I haven`t heard anything but people panning this performance,
Tara, by Mr. Whitaker. You are a political strategist, you`ve done
political strategy, could you sense in that performance today any strategic
idea or goal or was he just in a mood?
TARA DOWDELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, Joy, thank you so much for the
REID: I understand this is very important to you.
DOWDELL: No, first of all, he was putting on the show as you stated. He
was putting on the show both for Trump, but I think he was also putting on
a show for himself. Remember this person used to be on T.V. and so I think
that he`s looking for a future back in that space after this is all said
One of the things that I would say about people who are sort of drawn to
Trump is that they`re not just drawn to Trump because they want to be a
part of Trump and all the chaos and the divisiveness, they`re drawing the
Trump because they want to hitch to his wagon to chart their own course in
terms of media and growth.
I saw it on The Apprentice. People have said to me why people on The
Apprentice had issues. I know people when I was on the show who wanted to
sue him, right? And now they you know they`re supporters –
DOWDELL: Full-throated supporters. And people would say to me – I`ll get
this question all the time – why would they support him now after all of
this? Because they want to be just like him. And I think that is
reflective in his administration as well, and that`s what he wants.
REID: Yes. He wants people who want to reflect in his – reflect
themselves and be mini Trumps. You know, Whitaker`s previous job,
obviously, Sam, was bit sketchy but I think for a lot of people`s at least
reading of it a conservative nonprofit with weird roots undisclosed
funders, $1.2 million in money that sort of went in.
If this was a performance, Donald Trump at this moment can`t help him,
right? He can`t get him – I guess he could get him under Fox News, but I
don`t understand what he gets out of this. Because at the end of the day,
that Democratic panel, you can see the Democratic House, they`re not going
to let him undermine the Mueller probe.
SAM SEDER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I mean, I think there were two things
that I took away from this. One was there was a sense that the scrutiny he
got on day one when he was appointed Acting Attorney General, we don`t know
what his intentions were. It`s very hard to look at that guy and say oh,
he was the best candidate for the attorney general`s office.
But he didn`t do at least in terms of what he said today, and he would have
been a pretty precarious thing to him to lie about that. He did not set up
any obstacles for the Mueller investigation. So one thing that I took away
from that was that the scrutiny on him seemed to work or at least you know,
left us at the baseline.
But the other is this is a guy from the conservative movement. I`m a
little bit more cynical about the way that these guys behave I think than
other people who anticipate these type of folk to have respect for the
institution. He`s going to go out. There`s a lot of that money sloshing
around out there. This is a guy who`s just set himself up to be running
any one of a number of conservative so-called think tanks or movement
groups or independent expenditures –
REID: Independent expenditures that make money.
SEDER: There`s Fox News, there`s a – there`s a huge industry out there
that someone like him can walk into right now if he doesn`t – if Trump
doesn`t turn around and give him another job in the administration.
REID: Well, you made a good point because he did a performance on
television where Donald Trump could probably see it. So if that was the
goal, then he – then he did it. It was an audition, yet another audition.
Let`s talk about what the Republicans for just a moment, because sort of it
seems that no matter how far off the rails, I mean, it`s universal the
panning of this performance, but Republicans are still seem to want to
protect even him.
Here`s a in exchange where Republicans tried to stop Democrats from
questioning the qualifications of Whitaker for the job.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KAREN BASS (D), CALIFORNIA: It`s my understanding that before you
move to the Department of Justice that you were the executive director of
the Foundation for Accountability and Civic and Trust?
REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Mr.
Chairman – Mr. Chair I have a point of order. Mr. Chairman.
BASS: A could set the fact–
COLLINS: Mr. Chairman, I have a point of order.
BASS: – that Conservative Ethics watching or he may full –
COLLINS: I have a point of order.
BASS: – or he made full use of the opportunity to call for investigations
of multiple Democrats.
NADLER: Gentleman will state his point of order – gentlelady was suspend.
The gentleman will state his point of order.
COLLINS: My point of order by the very statement from the gentlelady is
not outside the scope of an oversight investigative hearing of the
Department of Justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: You know, if you think of the Donald Trump presidency as sort of a
television show rather than a presidency, right, everyone is performing for
a purpose to the point that Sam just made. What is the purpose for
Republicans at this point? They`ve just gotten a shellacking in the House.
They can look at the poll numbers and see that the places where they`re
losing support are precisely the places they would need to retain the White
House to be blunt where Senate seats are up.
What is the point at this point of so jealously guarding Mr. Whitaker?
What does he mean to them?
DOWDELL: They made the political calculation that in any way going against
Trump is more costly than actually speaking out and being – and showing
some degree of integrity even with the losses that they took in 2018. They
think that if they go against Trump, the electoral results will be even
SEDER: All those people you`re talking about are there despite the fact
that they were supportive of Trump. I mean – or because they were
surprising about Trump.
SEDER: I mean, the ones who are going to lose have lost. These people
are there because their supporters support Donald Trump. And so that is
the problem ultimately that the Republicans have long-term is that they
cannot separate themselves from Donald Trump because ultimately their
voters, the vast majority of the Republican Party still very supportive of
Donald Trump. He may look – you know, what happened today may look like a
freak show to 50, 60 percent of the country but there`s 30 to 40 percent of
the country that thinks yes, that`s our guy.
REID: Yes. It looks great to them. Sam Seder, Tara Dowdell, what a show.
Thank you guys very much. Up next, one of the most impassioned moments of
today`s hearing came when Congresswoman Primila Jayapal made Matt Whitaker
answer for the administration`s policy of family separation. The
Congresswoman joins me right after this.
REID: One of the many things that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker
had to answer for today was his tenure as chief of staff for former
Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Trump zero-tolerance policy of
separating children from their parents started under Sessions. With that
in mind Congresswoman, Primila Jayapal lit into Whitaker about whether the
administration has a way of tracking these separated families.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAYAPAL: Before after the zero-tolerance policy was put into place, and I
call it the zero humanity policy, did the U.S. Attorney`s track when they
were prosecuting a parent or legal guardian who had been separated from
their child? There`s only one answer to this. It`s gone through the
WHITAKER: You know, did we track it?
JAYAPAL: Did you track when you were prosecuting a parent or legal
guardian who had been separated from a child?
WHITAKER: I don`t believe we were tracking that.
JAYAPAL: You were not tracking it. That is the correct answer. And when
parents are prosecuted and sentenced, they are in DOJ custody, correct?
WHITAKER: Correct. They are trained – their custody is transferred to
the U.S. law.
JAYAPAL: So these parents were in your custody, your attorneys are
prosecuting them, and your department was not tracking parents who were
separated from their children. Do you know what kind of damage has been
done to children and families across this country children who will never
get to see their parents again? Do you understand the magnitude of that?
WHITAKER: I understand that the policy of zero tolerance –
JAYAPAL: Has the Justice Department started tracking parents and legal
guardians who were separated from their children at the border?
NADLER: The time of the gentlelady has expired yet the witness may answer
WHITAKER: Congresswoman, I appreciate your passion for this issue and I
know that you`ve been very involved in the frontlines of this –
JAYAPAL: This is about more than my passion. This is about the children`s
future Mr. Whitaker.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Joining me now is Congressman Primila Jayapal, a Democrat from
Washington State. Congresswoman, thank you so much for being here tonight.
I appreciate it.
JAYAPAL: Thanks, Joy.
REID: Just watching that exchange between yourself and acting Attorney
General Whitaker, there`s this incredible contrast between how impassioned
you are and we`re talking about children who may never see their parents
again, and kind of the weird sort of indifference dismissiveness just the
way that he was looking away. I don`t know, did you? And then his answer
about oh I know this is important to you. Did you feel condescended to?
What was your reaction to just his attitude?
JAYAPAL: Oh absolutely. And it started from the minute he walked into the
hearing. He was arrogant, he was dismissive, he was disrespectful. And
then when it came to this, I actually think he didn`t quite know what to
do. First of all, he knew nothing about this. I mean, earlier I had said,
did you know about family separation? He said it didn`t happen. I said
there was a memo. There was a memo. And he said – he said no, that that
And I said there were four Pinocchios to that statement that the Washington
Post is afforded to this. And by the time we got to the end, I think you
know, this is such a compelling issue, Joy. You and I have talked about it
before. Republicans and Democrats agree that this was a heinous crime that
has been committed against thousands of children.
And I think he really didn`t know what to do and so he tried to be
dismissive and say oh well, I respect your passion which is a way of saying
you know, you`re getting kind of emotional about this. And then I had to
make it very clear that this is not about my passion, this is about the
future of the children.
And yes, you know what, I will say I am so proud that I am passionate about
this because anybody should be thinking about not only these children who
don`t get to see their parents ever again, but the children that were
separated for months and some of them I watched them come together with
their parents. I heard their parents say the kids didn`t want to go back
to their parents in some cases because they thought they had been
If we all don`t have real passion, real commitment to figuring out what
happened and making reparations, the U.S. government should make
reparations for what we have done to these families.
REID: And in speaking of the idea of how long this has actually been going
on, now the great producers here found some sound from March of 2017 which
people may remember when it aired. This is John Kelly who at the time was
Secretary of Homeland Security is before he was Donald Trump chief of
staff. And this was before the policy officially began. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN: If you get some young kids who are coming in –
manage to sneak into the United States with their parents, our Department
of Homeland Security personnel going to separate the children from their
moms and dads?
JOHN KELLY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We have tremendous
experience in dealing with unaccompanied minors. We turn them over to HHS
and they do a very, very good job of either putting them in kind of foster
care or linking them up with parents or family members in the United
States. Yes, I am considering an audit to deter more movement along this
terribly dangerous network. I am considering exactly that. They will be
well cared for as we deal with their parents.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: In the course of all that obfuscation that happened today, were you
able to get an answer as to how long this policy has actually been going on
and actually how many kids are actually still missing because we now know
that it`s probably – there were probably many more than the 2,737 as of
December 2018 who were actually separated, maybe thousands more.
JAYAPAL: Well, you know, the Department of Justice is only responsible for
the prosecutions. We were supposed to have a hearing on Tuesday which has
now been cancelled because of John Dingles funeral with HHS and DHS. And
those were the questions that I have ready to ask them. But I will tell
you that there are over a hundred kids that are still in custody from the
ones that we originally thought were the first ones that we`re being
And now HHS has come back and said we don`t know that we can ever separate
them. You know, that`s a court order that they`re supposed to – excuse me
– that we can rejoin them with their parents, reunite them with their
parents. The court order is that they have to do that. And now they`re
saying it`s not possible. On top of that as you said, there are the
thousands that happened before.
And I`ll tell you something else, Joy. When John Kelly says we`re doing
this to deter, that is actually illegal. The courts have ruled that you
cannot detain and do what they are doing for deterrence purposes. So
everything about this family separation policy, the zero humanity policy
was so wrong and I really don`t know first of all, how we fix what we have
done but then also how we make reparations.
I mean these kids are traumatized and the parents are traumatized. And we
know from psychologists that that is real trauma, lasting trauma.
REID: Yes. Well, Congressman, if you can`t be passionate about that, and
what`s happening to these children, I`m not sure what you can be passionate
about. Congressman Primila Jayapal, thank you so much for joining us
tonight. I appreciate it. And still to come. Is Matt Whitaker taking
part in a plot to stop Robert Mueller? What we learn from the hearing
about where the Special Counsel probe stands. That`s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHITAKER: We have followed the special counsel`s regulations to a tee.
There`s been no event, no decision that`s required me to take any action,
and I have not interfered in any way with the
special counsel`s investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: That was the line from the Matthew Whitaker today, the acting
attorney general, also
testifying that he had provided no inside information about the Mueller
probe to the Trump administration.
But Whitaker also refused to discuss his conversations with Trump, among
many other issues prompting House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler to
tell Whitaker he planned to try and force him to answer more questions.
Joining me for more on Whitaker`s testimony, MSNBC legal analyst Benjamin
Wittes, editor-in-chief of Law Fare; and former federal judge Nancy
Gernter, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Law School. Thank you guys very much.
Ben, you know, there`s been pretty much universal condemnation of this
testimony as ill-advised and ill-prepared, and ill-executed. But I wonder
if there was anything in it that told you
whether or not this gentleman poses an actual threat to the future of the
BEN WITTES, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF LAW FARE: Well, Joy, I see that your five
minutes are up. I`m here under the five minute rule, and, you know, that`s
how I agreed to appear on the show and your time is up.
REID: Well, touche.
WITTES: Before we get to the answer to your question,can we just pause a
moment to think
about like if one of your guests showed up on this show and behaved the way
the acting attorney general behaved towards the chairman of the Judiciary
REID: It would be a short segment.
WITTES: I mean, it`s an incredible thing.
All right, look, this was a disgraceful performance all around. But he did
actually say a few things that are reassuring and he said them in a
fashion that he can be held to account for. And one of them was that he
had not involved participated – he had not involved himself, he hadn`t
interfered with or directed would or directed the outcome of the special
counsel`s investigation in any way.
Now this is not a man I would trust to say the truth about anything. On
the other hand, it is not
insignificant when a person says something like that in a fashion before a
congressional committee, even one that he`s, you know, directing as to
which questions they can ask him. It`s not an insignificant thing he made
that representation. And so, look, I don`t take a lot of reassurance from
today on any points, but I don`t think that is an insignificant thing for
him to have said.
REID: Right. And, you know, Nancy, I wonder if, you know, you subscribe
to the notion that what we saw here today, somebody who seemed to be
motivated to interfere in some way with Mueller`s probe, but who clearly
can`t do it, right, either because he`s just not capable of executing the
plan or because maybe there are still some guardrails that seem to be so –
you know, strong even now that it wouldn`t be possible.
I wonder if what you saw today informs you at all about what maybe should
be asked of potential Bill Barr, right, whether or not this tells you that
maybe even putting in a Trump crony as attorney general permanently might
not actually pose as big a threat as people might have thought.
NANCY GERTNER, FORMER U.S. FEDERAL JUDGE: Well, there are two issues. One
is interfering on the one hand, and the other is this issue of
communication with the president. On the interfering issue, frankly, as
long as Rosenstein is in place, who is essentially the guardrail between
Mueller and the attorney general, then I feel reasonably confident there
won`t be interference. When Rosenstein resigns and then there is a direct
line between the attorney general and the special counsel, I would have
some can concerns about that.
Now, I don`t have particular concerns about Bill Barr, but then you are
talking – then the opportunity exists.
The communication issue is very different. In my reading, if you recall in
August of 2017, Whitaker becomes chief of staff to Sessions and it`s widely
reported that Whitaker is in regular touch with the White House, so much so
that The New York Times described him as, you know, essentially a partisan
and a a spy in the attorney general`s office funneling information to Trump
when he`s the chief of staff. It strains credibility to me that he did not
communicate with Trump about what he knew about
the investigation in the light of what he had done before.
The communication issue is a troubling issue, that`s a troubling issue.
Affirmatively interfering, as long as Rosenstein is in place, I would tend
to doubt it. Communicating with Trump about what`s going on, that`s a
REID: Well, Ben, let`s get to that a little bit. What kind of a matter
might it be, because, Ben, the question would be, you know, what kind of
risks would Mr. Whitaker be willing to take? And what are the risks if he
were communicating, let`s say, funneling information that he was learning
from the special counsel to the White House, what legal jeopardy could that
place him in? And how would that even play out given the fact that he`s
acting attorney general?
WITTES: Yeah, so I don`t think it would – this is the scary part, I don`t
actually think it would place him at risk if he did it in his official
capacity as attorney general. You know, it would we wildly improper and
offensive to the entire way the Justice Department is supposed to operate,
but, you know, the executive branch is a unitarianity (ph), and the
president does have the raw power to get information about investigations.
And so I agree that that is a serious concern that it could have happened,
and I also think
there probably isn`t a whole lot of remedy against it if it did happen.
REID: Wow, and very quickly to you, Nancy, before we go, what did you make
fact that he wouldn`t answer the simple question of whether the
constitution said that a president can be
indicted or not, that he didn`t answer that?
GERTNER: Well, you know, he could have either – he could have either
answered along what the office of legal counsel has been saying. So, I
mean, I think that that to some degree was a softball.
But when you step back from all of this, what the committee was trying to
do here was to see if there was Trump obstruction, that`s why they kept on
asking the questions about communication. So, I agree with Ben, that yes,
there may be a sort of a general right to confer with Trump, but if Trump
is saying, you know, tell me about “X” or do “Y” that`s a different issue.
REID: Yeah, Benjamin Wittes, Nancy Gertner, wish we had more time. Thank
you guys very much for being here tonight.
And coming up, the tabloid that worked to help Donald Trump get elected
president is reportedly under scrutiny by the SDNY for allegedly trying to
blackmail the richest man on the planet and putting it in writing.
The latest on Bezos verses Pecker right after this.
HAYES: Yesterday, Amazon`s CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos
revealed that The National Enquirer threatened to publish intimate photos
of him unless he stopped investigating how it had acquired texts that
exposed his extramarital affair, and unless he put out a statement saying
that the Enquirer`s actions were not, quote, politically motivated.
Well, today the face off between the world`s richest man and the tabloid
run by AMI chief David
Pecker has riveted the media with headlines like this. And it`s raised
serious questions about the National Enquirer`s tactics.
AMI, The National Enquirer`s parent company, released a statement which
reads in part “American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in
the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos. Further, at the time of the time
of the recent allegations made by Mr. Bezos, it was in good faith
negotiations to resolve all matters with him.”
It also said it would thoroughly investigate the matter.
But now, both Bloomberg and Associated Press are reporting that the office
of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York is looking into
whether AMI`s actions may have violated its cooperation agreement, which
states that AMI shall commit no further crimes.
And journalist Ronan Farrow tweeted, quote, “I and at least one other
prominent journalist involved in breaking stories about The National
Enquirer`s arrangement with Trump fielded similar stop digging or we`ll
ruin you blackmail efforts from AMI.”
MSNBC contributor Megan Twohey is an investigative reporter for The New
York Times who has reported on the ties between Donald Trump and the
publisher The National Enquirer; and Asawin Suebsaeng, White House reporter
for The Daily Beast, who first reported that Jeff Bezos was investigating
the Enquirer for publishing leaked texts. Thank you both.
Asawin, I`m going to go to you on this first. That Ronan Farrow tweet was
intriguing to folks. Do you have anything more on whether or not there
were – because he says at least one other reporter – on other reporters
that may have been threatened by AMI.
ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, we at The Daily Beast will
actually have more on what you were just talking about coming on soon. I`m
sorry, I can`t get into it at the moment, but just to give your viewers a
little bit of a back story on this.
As we first reported at TheDailyBeast.com last week, Jeff Bezos personally
underwrote this private investigation headed by a guy named Gavin DeBecker
(ph) who for years has been Jeff Bezos`s top security guy, into how exactly
the leaked text messages got to The National Enquirer.
And, throughout the course of their investigation, their list of suspects
became so narrow that in terms of who the leaker was, in terms of their top
suspects, really only one name came to the fore, and that was Michael
Sanchez, who happens to be the brother of Lauren Sanchez who is the Jeff
Now, Michael Sanchez is an interesting character here, because he just so
happens to be a close
associate, both business and personal wise, to peripheral Trump world
figures like Roger Stone and
So as Bezos`s investigators look more and more into this, they started to
suspect. Again, I`m not sure what the investigation has concluded and what
concrete evidence they have to support this, but they started to suspect
that political motivation was at the core of only at the core of not just
the leak, but also the publication, so that all culminated, into what
happened yesterday when Bezos put out that Medium post accusing AMI, the
Enquirer and the Pecker tabloid empire, of maliciously blackmailing him.
REID: Right, so by political motivation, that translates to Trump, that
that`s what was meant by political motivation?
SUEBSAENG: Well, Bezos himself in that Medium post strongly implied that
it could be Trump and/or the Saudi regime, which has had close ties to
David Pecker and the AMI empire.
So – and again, I must reiterate that this seems to be speculation or
educated guessing on the part of Bezos and his team. I don`t think they`ve
presented publicly, at least, any solid evidence to confirm either way, but
this is what he and his investigators are currently working with, they are
plumbing political motivations.
REID: And reportedly telling his investigator spare no expense. Figure
out whatever you can.
But let`s, Megan, talk about the way that The Enquirer operates both now
and before. There was another tweet by a gentleman named Ted Brittes (ph),
who is a former AP editor who said that we were warned, and he didn`t
express who the we is, explicitly by insiders that AMI had hired private
investigators to dig into the backgrounds of AP journalists looking into
the tabloid`s efforts on behalf of Trump, never saw evidence of this either
way, and it didn`t stop our reporting.
I`m wondering if this is kind of a feature, not a bug, of the way that AMI
operates that they`re running sort of oppo research potentially on
MEGAN TWOHEY, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That`s a great question. And the
Associated Press, the journalists there, were some of the folks who were at
the forefront of reporting and digging into the allegations that Trump was
actually working with AMI to cover up potentially damaging
stories that could come out about him during the presidential race. And so
obviously there have been – I mean Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to
campaign finance violations for, you know, things that happened on this
particular path. AMI itself actually entered into sort of an agreement.
They cooperated with the feds as they end their investigation that led to
Cohen`s guilty plea, and have actually acknowledged they were doing things
to help influence the presidential race.
But they have also – but at the time before this all came out, before the
feds nailed that information, there were reporters who were trying to
figure out and piece together that the pieces of that puzzle and there`s no
doubt that AMI went after, like basically pushed back against those
reporting efforts, not just at the Associated Press, but elsewhere.
REID: Right. I mean, the catch and kill operations obviously were to be
helpful to Donald Trump. Were you in your reporting able to figure out
why? What was the motivation? Or was there a revealed motivation from AMI
to be so helpful? It`s just they`re political allies or was there
something more to it?
TWOHEY: Right, so the relationship between the Pecker at AMI and Trump
goes back to the `90s. They`ve enjoyed a close relationship. And it`s
also, you know, and since then there has been
additional reporting that has showed that David Pecker and AMI has
benefited from its relationship with Trump. If Trump was able to basically
get the AMI to help cover up damaging stories about him and to also promote
negative stories about Hillary Clinton, that he in turn – right, that AMI,
that David Pecker in turn may have received some benefits from his close
relationship with the White House, especially when it came to business
pursuits that he was pursuing with the Saudis.
And so – but, you know, listen, Trump is not the only person on whose
behalf David Pecker has
done favors and has like waded into sort of questionable – and question
whether or not a illegal tactics to help benefit them.
REID: This story is just getting more and more interesting by the day.
Megan Twohey, thank you both. Asawin Suebsaeng, thank you both.
And up next, amazing new reporting from The Washington Post about a virtual
pipeline of undocumented immigrants to find work at Donald Trump`s
REID: So the thing that defined the Trump presidential campaign, more than
anything else, the
thing that most bonded him to the Republican base, was the notion that he
would finally stop illegal immigration, that he would literally build a
wall to stop those people coming in through the southern border, that he
felt the same way about those brown line cutters that they did. In fact,
Trump said so himself again just this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: No issue better illustrates the divide between America`s working
class and America`s political class than illegal immigration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Well, new reporting from The Washington Post shows just how much of
a lie this entire
foundation of Trump`s presidential campaign and presidency have been.
Thanks to some great shoe leather reporting from The Post, we now know that
Donald Trump`s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey had a virtual pipeline
of undocumented employees coming from a little town of Santa Teresa de
Cajon in Costa Rica.
David Farenthold, one of the reporters on that amazing story, joins me
REID: Reporter David Farenthold of The Washington Post has been
tenaciously covering the Trump family businesses from Mar-a-Lago to
Bedminster, New Jersey, where he and his colleagues at The Post recently
uncovered at the Trump National Golf Club has been employing a pipeline of
undocumented workers, many from the same small town in Costa Rica.
And joining me now is David Farenthold, political reporter at The
Washington Post, and MSNBC political analyst.
And the headline of your piece, all – “My whole town practically live
there.” That is the headline of your piece. Tell us how you found this
town in Costa Rica, and how many people there are actually working for
DAVID FARENTHOLD, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, this started back in December
when The New York Times wrote about one woman who was an immigrant who was
here in the U.S. undocumented and was working for President Trump at his
Bedminster course. By talking to her, by talking to her lawyer, we heard
about this much bigger picture, there were so many more people who worked
in that course in landscaping, housekeeping, and other functions, who were
undocumented, and we heard this amazing thing that there was actually a
town in Costa Rica where they had come from, and some of them gone back to.
If you just went there, you could find you can find all these houses, all
these lives built on money made illegally at Donald Trump`s course. So my
two colleagues, Josh Partlow (ph), and Nick Miroff (ph), both former
foreign correspondents, went down there to this down, Santa Teresa de
Cajon, and as you said, it was there.
They talked to all these people who had mementos, photos, shirts, evidence
of their time at Trump`s club and they talked about how, as you said, there
had been this pipeline that started small and group, pretty large bringing
dozens of people from that area, from Costa Rica, to work at Trump`s club.
REID: I guess like people would wonder was how wouldn`t somebody in the
hospitality business know? I mean, eVerify exists. It`s used very widely
in the hospitality business as in the agricultural business. Were any of
these people ever – did any of these clubs use eVerify?
FARENTHOLD: Some of Trump`s clubs do use eVerify, but this one does not.
And as you said, that is sort of most obvious easy step. If you were
Donald Trump the private businessman before he got into politics, and you
really, really cared about illegal immigration, you thought it was immoral
for people to give jobs to illegal immigrants, that was the readily
available step for him to take to make sure he wasn`t contributing to that
problem himself. He did not.
In fact, we talked to some of these workers who said it was obvious to
their managers at the clubs, sometimes they even said it to their managers,
said it in front of their managers that they were undocumented, nobody took
any action at all.
REID: And what happened – and what has happened to these workers? We
know that there have been some instances where people who are undocumented
have been quickly fired and hustled out the door, because Donald Trump –
it`s bad for messaging. What`s happening with these people?
FARENTHOLD: Starting with that New York Times story in December, the Trump
organization seems to have done a real purge of its gold courses where
they`ve gone and done a review of documents. In many cases, these are
documents that the club has had on file for 10 years or 15 years. They are
looking at those documents that have been in their files the whole time,
discover these people are all undocumented and fired them.
So, there has been firings at lease five clubs, including Bedminster. But,
remember, this is winter. And in winter time, golf courses, their staffs
shrink from a few hundred down to 20 or 25. So, in some cases at one club
in New York, Trump board has fired half of the entire winter time staff
because they were undocumented.
The real test for them is going to be this summer, how do they find that
pool of labor if they can`t use illegal workers?
REID: Yeah, and what are they going to pay them? You found undocumented
workers at Bedminster earning less than $10 for licensed heavy equipment
work that would pay $51 to $55 an hour, is that what your reporting finds
this is about money?
FARENTHOLD: Yeah, and the workers, they paid these folks – the wages they
have paid to these folks who were incredibly small. As you said $8 an hour
to operate heavy equipment to the illegal workers with no benefits,
compared to what would have been $51 to $55 an hour for a legal American
licensed worker operating the same equipment with benefits.
There`s a huge savings here. And you see the incentive to not look very
hard to accept documents that you think may have some problems. You save
so much money.
If the Trump organization is going to go all legal next year at all of its
gold clubs and really try to screen out undocumented workers, their labor
costs are going to go way up.
I`m really interested to see how that affects the whole business.
REID: Right. And your reporting also said that the head of security at
Bedminster was actually told that there were workers that were potentially
working there with illegal documents.
FARENTHOLD: That`s right.
So, one of the things the Trump organization has said in the last few weeks
was, well, we didn`t know. We didn`t know there were all these people
working for us. They fooled us.
Well, we found this police report from back in 2011 where a Bedminster PD
cop is called to a hit and run at the course. The suspect is an
undocumented immigrant who works at Trump`s course. The cop discovers all
this and tells the head of the security, look, your employee here – I`m
here because you have an employee who was in this accident and was here
undocumented. Nothing seems to have happened after that.
REID: Wow. David Farenthold, great reporting. Thank you so much. We
really appreciate you joining me tonight. Thank you.
That is all for All In this evening. You can catch me this weekend on
10:00 a.m. Saturday and Sunday morning for AM Joy. The Rachel Maddow Show
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