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Transcripts: Alex Wagner Tonight, 9/13/22

Guests: Matt Miller, David Enrich


President Biden says: we`re going to lower health care and energy costs. January 6 Committee might hold next public hearing on September 28.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": Senator, thank you so much. Senator Amy Klobuchar, appreciate it.

That is "ALL IN" on this Tuesday night.

ALEX WAGNER TONIGHT starts right now.

Good evening, Alex.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. Thank you, Christopher.

And thanks to all of you at home for joining us tonight.

Today, President Biden popped on his signature aviator sunglasses. He walked out to the south lawn. He took off his jacket and essentially gave the White House version of a pep rally.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Exactly four weeks ago today, I signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law, a single most important legislation passed in the Congress to combat inflation and one of the most significant laws in our nation`s history. We`re going to lower prescription drug costs, lower health insurance costs, lower energy costs for millions of families.

I want to take the most aggressive action ever, ever, ever to confront the climate crisis and increase our energy security.

We`re going to build a future -- the future here in the United States of America with American workers, with American companies, with American-made products. And after years of some of the biggest corporations in the United States paying zero in federal income tax, they`ll now have to begin to literally pay their fair share.

Making progress in every country as big and complicated as ours is difficult. It is not easy and it never has been. But I know with conviction, commitment and patience, progress does come and it`s coming now.


WAGNER: As much as the White House chalked up the timing of today`s event to the four-week anniversary of the Biden -- of Biden signing the Inflation Reduction Act, a four-week birthday party, it`s pretty obvious that today was all about the midterms, showing exactly how much Democrats have delivered for voters.

Across the aisle though, Republicans had a little bit of trouble with their midterm messaging. This afternoon, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham introduced a bill that would institute a federal ban on abortion after weeks of pregnancy.

Now, first of all, Republicans have literally spent decades saying that abortion was a state`s rights issue when they talked about Roe the sentence, almost always ended in "send the decision back to the states". But now, 55 days before the midterms, Senator Graham has decided to shift the Republican Party line on abortion rather dramatically. Here he is last month.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think states should decide the issue of marriage and state should decide the issue of abortion.


WAGNER: With Chuck Schumer in control of the Senate schedule, there is no way this federal abortion ban is going to get a vote before November. It is purely messaging for the midterms.

But don`t take my word for it, here is Lindsey Graham himself.


GRAHAM: If we take back the house and the Senate, I can assure you we`ll have a vote on our bill. If the Democrats are in charge, I don`t know if we`ll ever have a vote on our bill.


WAGNER: Democrats heard that and were like, okay, there`s our ad for the midterms. Just use the whole thing.

Sixty-two percent of the country supports access to abortion. And what makes Senator Graham`s move today all the more bonkers is that it doesn`t appear to have been coordinated with the rest of his party.

Here is Mitch McConnell, the guy who runs the Senate for the GOP, here is Mitch McConnell reacting to Graham`s new bill this afternoon.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I think most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level.


WAGNER: State level.

McConnell knows that Senator Graham`s maneuver here keeps abortion front and center for Republicans at a time when that is almost certainly not good for them. A majority of Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court`s decision to overrule Roe v. Wade, and after the Dobbs decision, the fight over abortion rights has caused women to register to vote in just unprecedented numbers, because depending on who controls Congress, something like Graham`s abortion ban could become less a messaging exercise and more a legitimately considered piece of legislation.

Every single Senate seat matters this election year. If Republicans can get a net gain of even one seat this November, they could bring his bill to a vote.


And tonight, we have an important Senate primary race for one of the purple state seats that Republicans have a shot of picking up come November, Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan`s seat in New Hampshire. To give you a sense of how close that race might be, Hassan won her last race for that seat in 2016 by about a thousand votes, one thousand.

Hassan has been running on all sorts of things but her big push on abortion is evidence that she thinks a pro-choice message is going to work in a purple state.

Now, Hassan`s race tonight is not the one that the country is focused on. Her primary is basically a sure thing. The race to watch tonight is the primary for Hassan`s opponent this November, the official candidate for the Republican Party, and both parties, Democrats and Republicans, are spending a ton of money to try and sway tonight`s race.

This is the candidate the Democratic Party, this is the candidate the Democratic Party is trying to help win tonight. The video I`m going to show you is actually two years old from when he ran for office in 2020. But I think it really captures his essence.


ANNOUNCER: General Don Bolduc.

DON BOLDUC (R-NH), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I didn`t spend my life defending this country to let a bunch of liberal socialist pansies squander it away.

I`m Don Bolduc. I approve this message and I`m asking for your vote.


WAGANER: Again, that ad is two years old but General Don Bolduc against the liberal socialist pansies. This is a guy who falsely claimed there were microchips in the COVID vaccine and who called New Hampshire`s Republican governor a Chinese communist sympathizer and who, of course, insists that Donald Trump won the election. He is out there and that is what Democrats are betting on here.

A PAC associated with Senate leader Chuck Schumer has poured $3.1 million dollars into ad spending in the past two weeks to try to get that guy, General Don Bolduc, to win tonight`s New Hampshire Republican primary and a Republican PAC has spent about $4.5 million in the same amount of time trying to make sure that that does not happen. Both parties see Bolduc as the weaker Republican candidate to face off against Maggie Hassan in November, and that is why national Democrats want Bolduc to win tonight and national Republicans do not.

Polls closed an hour ago and we are awaiting results. The past few major polls of tonight`s primary race put Bolduc ahead of the rest of the Republican pact by somewhere between 10 and 20 points. So General Don Bolduc may actually win this thing.

But is this playing with fire? If Don Bolduc somehow beats Maggie Hassan and gets that Senate seat, he would make Lindsey Graham and his 15-week abortion ban seem moderate, quaint even, and even losing just that one seat well that could give control of the Senate to Republicans. Oh, and did I mention the polling group data for progress did a hypothetical head-to-head of Hassan and Bolduc in July, and Hassan was only up by four points, the margin of error was three points. So yikes!

Now, this part is not yikes, joining us now is Jen Psaki, the former White House press secretary for President Biden, you know her well. She was -- during the Obama administration, she was a spokesperson for the State Department and the White House deputy communications director. She is immensely talented and now she`s joining the MSNBC family as an MSNBC political analyst and host of an upcoming show on Peacock.

Jen, welcome to 30 Rock.


WAGNER: We are so thrilled to have you.

PSAKI: And it is so great to be here with you tonight. I`m so excited to be here.

WAGNER: It`s finally happened.

PSAKI: We`re here.

WAGNER: We made it.

PSAKI: We`re here together.

WAGNER: We are all super thrilled and delighted.

PSAKI: Thank you.

WAGNER: I`m so honored to have you on set with me in one of your first appearances here.

PSAKI: I am honored and thrilled to be here, and so excited it`s with you.

WAGNER: I really want to know what you think of what the Democrats are doing here because I`ve talked to a lot of Democrats about the strategy of picking the craziest, wildest most seemingly beatable Republican in a key race and you get mixed feelings about it right on one hand it`s like well this is the strategic way of going about things, and then the other hand, you have some people who issue cautionary words, which is what if these guys actually win?

PSAKI: Yeah.

WAGNER: Where do you sit on a strategy like the one employed in New Hampshire?

PSAKI: Well, I think what you`re hearing and I talk to a lot of Democrats, too, of course is, it`s really risky. I mean what they`re doing is risky, not just in New Hampshire but other states in the country.

Now, New Hampshire the primary is so late that in that state, they will tell you as I`m sure they have that they also need to start to shape Chuck Morse if he is the nominee because that`s how they`ll run against him. He`s a member of the establishment and that`s what they`re doing here. But they`re also doing this in other states across the country.

Now, what`s also true is that if they can elect, they can nominate the extremist members -- or the extremist Republicans and potentially win those seats, they prevent Kevin McCarthy from being the speaker of the House.


They prevent Mitch McConnell --

WAGNER: Mitch McConnell.

PSAKIO: -- from being the leader in the Senate. And to them,, that`s the way you protect gun safety, you protect a woman`s right to choose, and that`s all on the ballot too.

So what you`re seeing here is everybody is playing a game of three- dimensional, five-dimensional chess. The Republicans do it too. The Democrats are doing it, but you don`t really know how it`s going to turn out.


PSAKI: Tat`s what`s scary,

WAGNER: Well, I think it`s scary, you know and you see it not just in New Hampshire, you see it in Pennsylvania where Doug Mastriano, similar to General Bolduc in his sort of inflammatory rhetoric. He`s running just a couple of points behind Josh Shapiro and it brings to mind the sort of state of affairs when it comes to the GOP, that these kinds of people, these kind of fringe candidates hold a very real shot of not only becoming the sort of standard bearers for the party, but elected officials in Congress. I suppose this is a strategy, high risk, high reward?

PASKI: Yes, no question.

WAGNER: I got to ask you how you think of these midterms right now, sitting as you know, where we are less than six or days out, we see this sort of back and forth among Republicans on abortion Lindsey Graham. Mitch McConnell, they`re having a hard time with this.

And we talk a lot about abortion being an animating factor here. I wonder if it`s actually changed the way we think of midterms it`s classically a referendum on the sitting president or a check on his power. One of -- Nate Cohn in "The New York Times" brings up this really interesting point which is usually the midterms are a check on power and yet the biggest piece of sort of powerful policy change has come as a result of the Supreme Court decision on Dobbs, and in many ways these midterms maybe end up being a referendum on Republican power more so than Democratic power.

Do you see it that way?

PSAKI: Absolutely, and that is remarkable if you think about it. I mean, if you look back on the NBC poll from back in January, Democrats were not that into the midterms, you know? They just weren`t that into it. They were not thinking they were going to participate. As many -- it`s gone up 20 percent -- by 20 percentage points almost the excitement and enthusiasm for participating. That is largely related to Dobbs, largely related to women across the country, young women across the country and even men being scared of a woman`s right to choose being taken away from them.

The other truth is that when you`re the party in power, and I have sat in White Houses, were you the party in power, it`s almost always a referendum to your point because people are looking at whether they`re satisfied with how things are going in the country. That`s hard to run as a referendum against you, right?

WAGNER: Right.

PSAKI: It`s much better when it`s a choice. But to your point, it`s largely flipped now where people are saying, the anger is in the part -- is among the members of the Democratic Party which is the party in power, which is so rare for that to be the case. People are enthused, enthused. They`re engaged. They want to get out and vote. They want to participate in the process.

And many Democrats women, independents, who were not that excited, were going to be in their jammies on election night, as of a few months ago, are -- they don`t want their rights to be taken away.

WAGNER: Right.

PSAKI: And that has been a huge factor that`s changed the dynamics.

WAGNER: It`s almost like a recreation of the weather patterns when Trump was president, right? Americans -- vast numbers of Americans feel like basic freedoms are being infringed upon and, oh by the way, Donald Trump is still the pr -- in some ways, not he`s not the president of the United States, in his mind he may be, but in terms of his dominance over the news cycle, the multiple swirling investigations have made him a figurehead in the Republican Party and in national politics.

PSAKI: Well, nothing`s more of a driving and an excitement factor like Donald Trump for Democrats, right? I mean, they love to be opposed to him because they are. Independents -- many are -- don`t want to see another reign of Trump, and the more he engages in the race, the more he puts himself out there, the more it`s a reminder of what`s at stake to people. And having Trump on the ballot is a hugely energizing factor in a lot of these races.

I`ll also say since you asked me broadly about the midterms, that -- well, well, I think a lot of Democrats are feeling better as they should.


PSAKI: There`s a long way to go here and, you know, if the -- if the election were tomorrow, I think the House would be a big uphill battle. That would be a bit of a leap. The Senate, more of a toss-up.

But there`s different dynamics in each of these races that we should be paying very close attention to too.

WAGNER: Well, and no doubt the Biden White House is looking at all the cross currents, right? On certain, I mean, there`s a reason that Joe Biden was out there celebrating the four-week birthday of the Inflation Reduction Act in his aviator sunglasses because they know they have to offer something else to the American people. They can`t rest on their haunches.

PSAKI: Yeah.

WAGNER: And let Trump and Dobbs do the work for them.

But there`s also storm clouds on the horizon for them, right? Like we have an inflation -- inflation is not budging, and then there`s talk of a major rail strike that could happen as soon as this Friday.

Both of those things are so huge and so deeply felt by the American consumer, where do you think the Biden administration is at this moment in time as they look out at the landscape before them?

PSAKI: Yes, well, I talked to a number of my former colleagues today and you`re always juggling a lot of balls in White Houses, right, to put it mildly. So there`s -- but there`s been a team that`s been working on preventing and addressing this potential rail crisis for some time and you can see what they`ve been doing over the past couple of days is engaging with union leaders, engaging with business leaders. Secretary Walsh is going to be out there trying to get everybody to come to an agreement because they know what have a huge economic impact. They don`t want to see that. They don`t need that headache right now to state the complete obvious.

You know, what I would also say though from talking to a number of them, of my former our colleagues today is they feel pretty good about a couple factors in the economy, gas prices specifically, and well, there`s a lot of economic data out there, gas prices is something people are experiencing on a daily basis. And if you look at the data and how it kind of overlaps, as gas prices go down, the president`s approval rating goes up, and they`re watching that closely as well.

So, yes, they have to prevent crises. That`s what you do in a White House you`ve got probably teams of people in rooms working on this. But they feel good about, you know, the fact that the president could rally a bunch of people today, and you know, I think they`re hoping they can prevent a crisis with the rail.

WAGNER: Yeah, it`s tricky though right because this is a union issue too and labor matters to Democrats it is a very careful needle they have to thread and the downside is extraordinary -- although, it`s only Tuesday. Who knows what happens?

PSAKI: Lots can happen this week, so many things.

WAGNER: You know it well.


WAGNER: One day is a year.

Jen Psaki, the former White House press secretary area for President Biden, current -- I love saying this -- current MSNBC political analyst and host of an upcoming show to be named on Peacock, thank you, my friend. Welcome to the building. Come back anytime. I love to see you.

Up next here tonight, we are learning that Donald Trump`s actions before, during and after January 6 are meeting with an extraordinary amount scrutiny, courtesy of not just the congressional committee looking into the Capitol insurrection, but also, the Department of Justice, which is operating at full throttle this week. We will have more on that.

Stay with us.



WAGNER: Well we have all been trying to sort out the daily almost hard to believe developments in the -- let`s call it the Trump and the curious case of the top secret beach club documents.

Another investigation into the former president has been moving forward, mainly out of public view. That is, of course, the January 6 committee investigation in the House. The last public hearing the committee held was nearly two months ago.

Today, the committee held a four-hour closed-door retreat at which it discussed the possibility of another hearing its upcoming report and testimony from potential witnesses. Chairman Benny Thompson said the committee is discussing September 28th, two weeks from tomorrow, mark your calendar, as the target date for the committee`s next public hearing.

This four-hour meeting comes one day after we learned that the Justice Department had issued approximately subpoenas in the last week and its ongoing probe into Trump and his allies efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Chairman Thompson was asked about those subpoenas and the committee`s cooperation with the DOJ earlier today.


REPORTER: Let`s talk about the committee`s cooperation with the Justice Department. Is that evolving at all given the DOJ is more active around subpoenas for example?

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): We have a meeting on Friday. I plan to bring it up. I think now that the Department of Justice is being proactive and addition support is another thing, I think it`s time for the committee to determine whether or not the information will be together can be beneficial to that investigation.


WAGNER: So keep an eye out for potentially more cooperation and sharing of information between the Justice Department and the January 6 Committee.

Also, today, another member of the committee, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger said on MSNBC they had a criminal referral from the committee to the Justice Department was looking more and more likely.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): DOJ has I think a pretty fulsome investigation going. That`s going to be where this baton so to speak is handed to not by us. We may have a criminal referral. I think that`s likely. If the rule of law says you can attempt a coup as long as you fail and you won`t be held responsible. That is way more dangerous for this country than some you know fear of short-term violence or riots in the street.


WAGNER: Kinzinger making the point there that is up to the DOJ and not the committee to impose real consequences for those who sought to overthrow the results of Biden`s legitimate 2020 election victory, and that investigation appears to be accelerating. We now know that when the Justice Department issued those subpoenas to Trump and his aides and allies.

According to "The Times", investigators also seized two cell phones from Trump advisors. Quote: Federal agents with court authorized search warrants took phones last week from Boris Epshteyn, an in-house counsel who helps coordinate Mr. Trump`s legal efforts and Mike Roman, a campaign strategist she was the director of election day operations for the Trump campaign in 2020.

All of that is a big deal. The Justice Department is reportedly obtaining search warrants to seize cell phones of Trump allies issuing lots and lots of subpoenas as of last week and now, we are less than days to the election. We have hit that all-important marker of less than two months to the midterms, where the department has long-standing practice of not taking public investigative steps in a politically sensitive case so close to election day. But here we are. The DOJ is not showing any signs of slowing down.

Today, NBC`s own Ken Dilanian asked the head of the Justice Department`s criminal investigation if he could say anything to help the public better understand the flurry of investigative activity in the last week dealing with Trump`s associates.


KENNETH POLITIE, DEPT. OF JUSTICE ASST. ATTORNEY GENERAL, CRIMINAL DIVISION: The attorney general shared that it is important for us to preserve all relevant evidence in that investigation in any other investigation. And otherwise, we will continue to speak through the work in the filings of the Department of Justice.


WAGNER: Importance of preserving evidence you say? You have my attention.

Joining us now is Matt Miller, former chief spokesman for the Justice Department during the Obama administration.

Matt, thanks for being here tonight.


WAGNER: So, 40 subpoenas -- I mean, I think just the number alone, the timing alone -- well, not alone, together, those things seem deeply meaningful in terms of the scope of this DOJ investigation into January 6.

How do you read all of this activity again in this politically sensitive time before the midterms?

MILLER: I think it`s clear that there is now a full circle DOJ investigation into everything surrounding Donald Trump`s attempt to overturn the election from any nexus to the violence that happened on January 6, to the way he raised money and spend it potentially fraudulently through his super PAC, to his attempts to impose alternative slates of electors and pressure the vice president into accepting them.

I think the department crossed an important threshold in June when we learned that they took the cell phones, they seized the cell phones of Jeffrey Clark and John Eastman. Up until that date, it wasn`t certain that the department -- or there`s at least there were no public signs that the department was in getting anything other than the violence at the capital.

But once they cross that threshold, I think there was no other path forward than what we`re seeing now which is first subpoenas, then people coming before the grand jury and ultimately the department having to make a decision of whether to bring any indictments.

WAGNER: So, I mean, we`re talking about all of it here, right? It`s the Save America PAC. It`s the fake slates of electors. It`s a pressuring election officials. All of this is on the table for the DOJ investigation you think?

MILLER: Yes, all of it is on it. And one of the important things to remember is that there are a number of potential witnesses and potential subjects. Obviously, we saw 40 people who received subpoenas in the last few days. I don`t think we should believe that`s the end of the department subpoenas. It`s not -- it`s probably just the beginning. These are probably subpoenas for documents and you will see grand jury subpoenas coming.

And these witnesses will have overlapping pieces of information and potentially overlapping criminal liability. So when you see the department looking at multiple threads of investigation, you can see how those might interact with each other, where witness who has criminal liability in one area, but information about another area may feel pressured to cooperate with the Justice Department, until, you know, if for example, you`re a subject in the false -- the fake elector scheme, but you have information about the fraudulent fundraising.

You come in and cooperate, you cooperate about everything. So you can see pretty quickly how the department would try to build this investigation along multiple paths.

WAGNER: Just lots of pressure points for all the officials and allies who are being subpoenaed here.

I`m old enough to remember at the outset of the January hearings there was so much pressure, public outcry about Merrick Garland and whether he was going to pursue any of this. It now appears that the January Committee and the DOJ are very much in line with one another, in a way that they haven`t been up until now it feels like.

MILLER: Yeah, they certainly are and I think the question is continues to be what happened, what turned the Justice Department on in June. If you talk to people at the Justice Department, who -- they won`t tell you anything about their investigation, of course. That`s appropriate.

But they will express frustration that in their minds, people who ought to know better, people who used to be in the department and now sit outside were criticizing them for a parent inaction, all of us who have been in the Justice Department are familiar with the circumstance where you are doing things but you have to keep it quiet. You get criticized for it, but you can`t defend yourself. So they`ve always felt like they were investigating aggressively, and just couldn`t say so. And now, we see the evidence of it.

WAGNER: So what -- I mean, what happens here? Because we have the DOJ investigation into the beach club papers, as I think we wanted to call it down in Mar-a-Lago and we have this DOJ investigation into January 6, dueling investigations.


We have -- you know, Dick Durbin is saying that the Senate Judiciary Committee is going to investigate some of the allegations put forth in Geoffrey Berman`s book about the way the Trump Justice Department was used there. I mean, there is an inordinate amount of pressure on Merrick Garland to do something and maybe offer a criminal indictment of a former president. What happens here and how untenable is his position given sort of institutional norms?

MILLER: Yeah. Look, he just has to do what he`s promised to do since day one since his confirmation hearing, which is to follow the facts and follow the law, not a false way to political pressure. And I think the way he`s comported himself, the way he has been such a cautious conservative attorney general really more than any of his predecessors in recent times is going to serve him well now when he`s really navigating these tough waters and making tough decisions.

I do think in term -- you know, at the same time, he doesn`t have to listen to the pressure. He, of course, feels it in a way the Mar-a-Lago case has delivered to him a much easier choice to go forward. I think if you look at the two cases, it is the much simpler case. I`ve always personally believed that the easiest charges to bring against Donald Trump would be charges that other people have been prosecuted and convicted for in the past, not something novel, like all the January 6th charges would be.

WAGNER: Like inciting a riot at the Capitol.

MILLER: Yeah. I mean, obviously, no one`s ever been prosecuted for a coup before in this country for obvious reasons. Those would be novel charges and would be, you know, not to say that you couldn`t sustain them, but they would be vulnerable to potential challenges on appeal and with the Supreme Court, who knows what would happen? The unlawful retention of classified documents and obstructing an investigation to them is something multiple people have gone to jail for. It`s a much easier case to bring.

I also think it`s likelier to be on a faster track both because of the -- because it already appears to be further along and because the legal issues are much more simple.

WAGNER: And so maybe that is the indictment that Merrick Garland seeks and then can put the January 6th stuff on ice.

MILLER: Not put it on ice but work out the more complicated one on a longer time frame.

WAGNER: All right. Matt Miller, we`ll be watching. Former chief spokesman for the Justice Department during the Obama administration -- Matt, it`s great to see you. Thanks for your time tonight.

Still ahead, one name stands out on team Trump`s list of possible special masters and not in a good way. There`s a hint. It has to do with his law firm. "New York Times" business investigation editor David Enrich has just written a book about that very same law firm and its extraordinary work to enshrine conservative policy and help Donald. Trump.

He will join me live to talk about it. That is ahead. Stay with us.



WAGNER: As we mentioned, there are new developments in the ongoing court battle over the classified document and former President Trump`s Florida beach club. Last week, the Justice Department and the Trump legal team each submitted two names for potential candidates to be the special master, the person who will review documents seized from Mar-a-Lago.

The Justice Department put forward two former federal judges, people whom they felt could play the role of impartial document referee. The Trump team also put forward two names, a former federal judge and a Florida-based lawyer. Now, the Justice Department has signaled that it is willing to accept one of the Trump team`s picks.

In a court filing last night, department lawyers suggested that they could see their way to accepting Trump`s choice of former Federal Judge Raymond Dearie to be that special master. Why would the Justice Department suggest it could accept one of Trump`s candidates and not the other?

Well, we really don`t know. But it could be because Trump`s other candidate for the special master job has two words on his CV that are a big red flag. The words are Jones Day.

Trump`s special master candidate is Paul Huck Jr. And he`s a former partner at that corporate mega law firm. Jones Day is one of the largest law firms in the country and like most big law firms in this country, it`s old. It`s been around for nearly 130 years.

But what sets Jones Day apart from America`s other big white shoe law firms is that it spent the last six years serving the interests of one client in particular, Donald Trump. And in return, Donald Trump has done his part to serve Jones Day.

"New York Times" business investigations editor David Enrich has just written a new book called "Servants of the Damned: Giant Law Firms, Donald Trump and the Corporate Corruption of Justice". In it, Enrich revealed how Jones Day made its way into Trump`s orbit.

He traces the firm`s history with Trump back to the beginnings of his first campaign when Jones Day decided to take on Trump as a client. In return, Trump gave Jones Day total control over his plans to appoint new judges, conservative judges to the courts, most importantly, the Supreme Court.

Now, this was important not just because -- well, you know, it`s a Supreme Court, but because candidate Trump`s list would become a crucial turning point for his campaign. Mitch McConnell would explain years later that, quote, the list reassured a whole lot of Republicans that okay, maybe Trump was doing fundraisers for Schumer four years ago but it looks like he may be okay on something that`s really important to us. The creation of the list, McConnell added, became the single biggest issue bringing him bringing our side in line behind him, him as in Trump.

After Trump became president, he appointed Jones Day lawyer, a guy named Don McGahn to be the White House counsel and immediately McGahn began using his role to fill the federal courts with Jones Day-approved judges. Enrich writes, quote: While McGahn was in the White House, there had been a saying among some Republicans at Jones Day, no vacancy left behind. It was a nod of course to how many conservatives McGahn was embedding in the judiciary.

But it had a more specific close to home meaning, too. Jones Day lawyers were among those ending up on the bench. And there was more to the relationship between Trump and Jones Day than just appointing judges. Enrich writes in his book, quote, inside and outside the government, Jones Day had arguably done as much as any private institution to help Trump and his administration. It wasn`t just defending the campaign against the Mueller investigation and it wasn`t just McGahn`s herculean efforts to protect the president and pack the courts.

Once in future, Jones Day lawyers had helped reshape a smorgasbord of federal bodies, the Agriculture, Commerce and Labor Departments, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and, of course, the Justice Department, which had been transformed into a political appendage of the White House.

The relationship between these two entities, the Trump administration and the law firm Jones Day, is really unlike anything we have seen from any other big law firm during any other presidential administration. In just four years, Jones Day basically wedded itself to Trump and his movement. The firm even represented Trump in some of his efforts to stop votes from being counted on election night in 2020, asking the courts to reject certain mail-in votes in the state of Pennsylvania.

Now, that didn`t ultimately work but the relationship didn`t end after Trump lost. This is what Enrich writes after Trump`s election defeat: Jones Day was poised to become a refuge for battle scarred veterans of the Trump administration who given the president`s toxicity would be unwelcome at many law firms. The ensuing two-year exodus from the administration to Jones Day would further alter the identity of the 126-year-old law firm.

We are watching the legacy of Trump and Jones Day play out each and every day when the Supreme Court ends the right to safe and legal abortion and with each new case that lands before a Trump-appointed federal judge.

As we look forward, what might it mean to have one of the world`s most dominant law firms in Trump`s corner as he looks to regain power and undermine American democracy.

I`ll ask David Enrich, that and so much more, coming up next.



WAGNER: What do one of America`s biggest tobacco companies, one of America`s biggest opioid manufacturers, and the man named Donald Trump all have in common? Well, for starters, they have the same attorney.

And his new book, "Servants of the Damned: Giant Law Firms, Donald Trump and the Corruption of the Justice", "New York Times" business investigations editor David Enrich details the history of how Jones Day, one of American`s biggest law firms, turn talent for representing unsavory characters into a political windfall by allying with the most unsavory character of them all, Donald Trump.

As Enrich notes, Jones Day has been known for decades to be a tireless an extremely successful defender of some of America`s worst corporate actors. The firm helped R.J. Reynolds sow doubts about the dangers of cigarettes, and helped Purdue Pharma protect its patents for OxyContin. It made a name for itself breaking in billions a year in and fees from tobacco, opioid, gun and oil companies.

But with the presidency of Donald Trump, the firm t took on another calling. Reshaping the federal judiciary for generations and working inside the White House to influence national policy. As Enrich writes in his book, for Jones Day, it marked a moment the firm achieved the position of a unique historical dominance in Washington, after decades of swelling ambition.

What transpired at the Donald Trump era was an extraordinary transfer of talent from a single law firm, to a new administration.

Joining us now is David Enrich, business investigations editor at "The New York Times" and the author of the aforementioned book, "Servants of the Damned". It is an excellent and very thoroughly reported read. David, congrats on the publication day.

DAVID ENRICH, AUTHOR, "SERVANTS OF THE DAMNED": Thank you. It`s good to be here.

WAGNER: How did this happen? I mean, we know -- we know that Jones Day leans conservative, but it`s been supercharged and the run up to the election in 2016, and, of course, once Trump was president. For people who haven`t read the book, can you explain that metamorphosis and offer more details on the evolution of this white shoe law firm?

ENRICH: Yeah, well, it started years before Trump came up in the political scene. Jones Day under its managing partner, who`s a very conservative man, started taking on not these clients, which is what lawyers traditionally do, but also causes.

And, you know, one other big issues under Obama was attacking Obamacare. They launched multiple legal challenges trying to undermine the new health care law. The firm has increasingly become a home for conservative Republican lawyers that wouldn`t have been quite as powerful at other establishments in Washington or around the country.

And so, in 2015, they hired -- 2014, they hired a group of hot shot Republican lawyers to start a new practice that was devoted to helping Republicans get elected.


And one of these people in particular, Don McGahn, would soon become a household name. When the first clients he took on in nearly 2015 was the Trump campaign. And he and Trump really saw eye to eye on the lot of issues, but more than that, he saw Trump really wasn`t burdened by particularly strong beliefs on a lot of --

WAGNER: Particularly strong beliefs. That`s one word for it.

ENRICH: Yeah, I sometimes speaking euphemisms. And McGahn saw this, saw Trump I think largely as a vessel to achieve many of his, McGahn`s, career ambitions, which included remaking the judiciary, included dismantling what McGahn disparagingly referred to as the administrated state. And Trump was very happy to have people like McGahn and Jones Day onboard because it led a lot of establishment credibility to him at a time when not a lot of people were taking his campaign seriously.

WAGNER: It is the moment when Trump sort of convinces skeptical establishment Republicans when he talks about this list of people he to point, and McGahn is the linchpin. He`s the guy connecting the Federal society and their long laundry list of conservative justices and judges for the Trump administration. And then, the list is used.

ENRICH: That`s exactly right. It`s not just McGahn. It`s a lot of other lawyers, it`s the ferments off. The list was hatched at a meeting in offices on Capitol Hill. They brought together people like Leonard Leo from the Federalist Society, a bunch of Republican lawmakers, that`s literally where this took place.

And when McGahn becomes the first White House counsel with Trump, many, many lawyers, strands himself not just in the White House counsel`s office and elsewhere in the White House but throughout the federal government, in particular the Justice Department. Together, all these lawyers who have just come from Jones Day really go out of their way to completely reconstitute the federal judiciary in a way that is completely aligned with the vision of groups like Federalist Society, just a very different court.

WAGNER: Yeah. We`re seeing the harvest of that on a daily basis. What the mentioning is not just sight of, a whole bunch of conservative lawyers doing a whole punch of conservative lawyer. This is like lawyering like we have been seen before.

The viciousness, the ferocity, the tactics that they use. I`ll draw everyone`s attention to an example in and around the Pennsylvania vote count after the 2020 election. Jones Day and its lawyers were trying to stop votes from being counted. Not because they thought there was something improper underway. There was zero evidence of that, but because they detected an opportunity to use the law to give their side a political edge. And the firm`s calculus, the consequences banning fears of fraud that would two months later erupted violent assault on democracy, those consequences were immaterial.

I mean, this is -- they`re practicing law in a way that not even the hallmark in a lot of the ways of the Republican Party in the conservative movement, but this seems like the origin story for some of that.

ENRICH: I think that`s exactly right. The origin story for Jones Day learned these tactics is that they for decades had really mastered these skills representing companies like RJR and just going to these extraordinary lengths to not only win in court and protect their clients but to get steamrolled their opponents in ways that a lot of experts and people have spoken to at Jones Day felt were really pushing the envelope in a way that made a lot of people uncomfortable.

And so, you then see these tactics, this becomes the norm in corporate litigation, being brought to bear in the political ground and litigation like we saw in Pennsylvania in 2020. And surprise, surprise, they`re using a lot of the same kind of smash mouth tactics that have been perfected in the corporate arena.

WAGNER: It`s such an important line to draw between what law firms did around big tobacco and guns, and applying those lessons and tactics and the political world. So it`s dangerous, I call it a chapter, but it could be a dangerous future for American politics. What`s also stunning is calling it a revolving door between these conservative law firm and the Trump White House is euphemistic. It`s an understatement.

There`s no analog on the left. Is there? I mean, I know those traditional watch groups of the kind, there`s an interest on the left in terms of appointing more liberal justices. But there`s not this ecosystem that it exists on the right.

ENRICH: No, there`s not. I don`t think there`s anything equal to it. I don`t think, I don`t think prior to Jones Day, there`s going to be equal on the right either. Again, this is brought to bear not just in terms of McGahn masterminding the remake of the federal court, but on behalf of Jones Day`s corporate clients who have business before the federal government in way that would be kind of funny if it weren`t so troubling in a lot of ways.

And if there is an example, that detail in the book involving Walmart which was under criminal and civil investigation from the Trump administration Justice Department, and its` a Justice Department that was staffed to the senior levels in large part by Jones Day lawyers.

Jones Day is representing Walmart and goes its former context inside the Trump administration and does its darndest to derail that investigation and away that left federal prosecutors, including some who have been appointed by Trump, just absolutely aghast at what they were saying.


WAGNER: It is -- it is shocking and very important reporting that you have in this book. David Enrich, business investigations editor at "The New York Times", thank you, congrats on the book.

ENRICH: Thank you so much, Alex.

WAGNER: Author of the new book "Servants of the Damned" -- thank you. Again, we`ll be right back.


WAGNER: One quick programming note before we go, tomorrow, I will be joined by Georgia`s Democratic candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams, right here on the show. I`ll be talking to her about voter suppression efforts and what it will take to install a Democrat in the Georgia governor`s mansion. You do not want to miss it.

That does it for us tonight. We will see it again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.