IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

All In with Chris Hayes, Transcript 04/23/15

Guests: Malcolm Nance, Jonathan Horowitz, McKay Coppins, Eric Boehlert,Michelle Goldberg, Christopher Swain

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST (voice-over): Tonight on ALL IN -- BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As president and as commander-in-chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations. HAYES: The president makes a stunning announcement. OBAMA: We believe that a U.S. counterterrorism operation targeting an al Qaeda compound in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region accidentally killed Warren and Giovanni this past January. HAYES: Tonight, what we know about the drone program that accidentally killed two hostages including an American. Then, the Clinton campaign under siege from multiple Clinton cash stories is responding for the first time. And two new reports proving Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have one message for voters and an entirely different message for their billionaire donors. ALL IN starts right now. (END VIDEOTAPE) HAYES: Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes. An unprecedented moment in American history this morning. President Obama appeared on camera in a surprise address to announce the stunning news that two al Qaeda hostages, Warren Weinstein, an American, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian, were accidentally killed in a U.S. drone strike. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Based on information and intelligence we have obtained, we believe that a U.S. counterterrorism operation targeting an al Qaeda compound in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region accidentally killed Warren and Giovanni this past January. As president and as commander-in-chief, I take full responsibility for all our counter terrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni. I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families. (END VIDEO CLIP) HAYES: Both of the hostages had been working as aid workers in Pakistan when al Qaeda abducted them, Weinstein in 2011, Lo Porto in 2012. Weinstein`s wife Elaine said in a statement on behalf of the family, quote, "We are devastated by this news and the knowledge that my husband will never safely return home. We were so hopeful that those in the U.S. and Pakistani governments with the power to take action and secure his release would have done everything possible to do so. But those who took Warren captive over three years ago bear ultimate responsibility." Now, two Americans associated with al Qaeda were also killed in the drone strikes according to U.S. officials. Ahmed Farouq, a deputy al Qaeda commander, and Adam Gadahn, the terrorist organization`s top spokesman and propagandist. President Obama said he`s ordered a full review of what happened. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur. But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional, is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes. (END VIDEO CLIP) HAYES: According to the White House, the drone strikes were not aimed at specific individuals within al Qaeda. They fell into a broader category first identified by the New York Times in 2012, what`s known as signature strikes, which target training camps and compounds in areas controlled by militants. Here is White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest describing the operation. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a scenario where U.S. officials had determined, with near certainty, that an operation could be carried out against an al Qaeda compound that was frequented or at least where at least one al Qaeda leader was located. (END VIDEO CLIP) HAYES: This type of drone strike has come under repeated criticism for what`s seen as a lack of precision and a greater likelihood of hitting civilians. In fact, in 2013 under pressure from the Pakistani government, the Obama administration actually scaled back its drone program in Pakistan according to the "Associated Press", instructing the CIA to be more cautious with its attacks, limiting them to high-value targets and dropping the practice of signature strikes. While the overall number of disclosed strikes in Pakistan has plummeted since its peak five years ago, that practice apparently still lives on. We still don`t know exactly who we are targeting. Joining me now, former U.S. intelligence officer Malcolm Nance who has personal experience identifying targets with drones. Malcolm, thank you. I guess the first question is, how does something like this happen from your long experience in the intelligence community and sometimes actually working on drone targeting? What do you make of this? MALCOLM NANCE, FORMER U.S. INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: First, let me talk a little bit about identifying where hostages are kept. Throughout the 1980s, I worked for almost seven years trying to identify locations of where we had hostages in Lebanon. There were 77 Westerners who were kept inside various locations inside Lebanon. It is virtually impossible to determine where a hostage is kept unless you actually see them physically move or you gain intelligence on where they`re at. Some of them were kept as long as five years in a basement. So, if we`re going to look at this with the very regrettable accident which occurred here, it would have been very hard to know precisely where those hostages were without seeing some activity. In this case, we did see the activity of people who were operating around the compound, and that is a much, much easier signature to see because we can follow and identify the weapons and see where people are caching things. But, you know, if a hostage is kept in a basement, there is virtually no way of identifying that unless you actually get intelligence about when the food is being brought in or something. HAYES: Am I correct that the way that these so-called signature strikes are being done is we may not even have any human intelligence on the ground. This is entirely through the very high resolution powerful cameras we have on the drones that we`re flying essentially start to, over a period of surveillance, make some judgments about what kind of facility the facility is, even in the absence of someone saying, oh, yes, that`s an al Qaeda safe house? NANCE: Sure. Well, let me just say this first. I`m not read into the program which killed on this particular strike, but I have used and had it downstream and see sensor data which showed me the activities that are going on in particular compounds. In the old days, we used to use repeated satellite imagery and passes to conduct the type of signature or some form of electronic censoring to determine what the signature of these facilities was. But now, we can actually sit there, and I am certain they did thousands of hours, collective man-hours, of watching what was going on in that compound, how many donkeys are in that compound, where the children are in the immediate vicinity of that compound, who goes up mountain, who goes down mountain. All of this creates a picture. And especially if you do have some indication that these are high-value targets, whether they have a large body-guard team, whether they drive in a Toyota Land Cruiser as opposed to a Hilux. These are the sort of things that give you an image of what`s going on inside that compound. Now, I personally believe that this strike was probably going after someone extremely high value like Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda. But it was probably a safe location that they believed that they could meet. And as you see, we had very high value American members of al Qaeda in that compound. HAYES: "The New York Times" notes in its write-up that Mr. Obama did not sign off on this specific strike, it said, because he has authorized the CIA and military to carry out drone attacks without further consultation if they fit certain criteria. Irony here being that, in the early part of the administration, there were lots of drone strikes, each of which at least we were told through the CIA program were signed off by the president. Now, there seem to be fewer but they do not rise to the level of actually getting a presidential signature in the Oval Office. NANCE: Well, that`s because in the early part of this program, they went after very specific individuals who would have -- once you use a drone weapon system on them, would give you a very specific chain of events downstream from the death of that particular senior commander. And now, as we degrade the organization, you still get very large numbers of people who would be coming together, training camps. We have a lot of criticism over the last few years that we weren`t striking very large gatherings of al Qaeda members in Yemen and Afghanistan. And so, that seems to have usurped the going after very individual, specific targeted personnel. HAYES: That`s a key point, right, from what was called the kill list, which is a list of names, go after these people, to what are now called the signature strikes, which appears to be what happened here although we don`t fully know. Malcolm Nance, thank you very much. Really appreciate it. NANCE: It`s my pleasure. HAYES: As of today, at least seven Americans have been killed by U.S. drone strikes. Besides the three we learned about today, four other were killed in 2011. Jude Kenan Mohammad (ph), who died in a signature strike in Pakistan. Samir Khan, accused of editing al Qaeda`s English language magazine "Inspire" killed in Yemen. Killed alongside him the most famous example, radical cleric, Anwar al Awlaki. The fourth, Awlaki`s 16-year-old son killed just two weeks after his father. Of the seven Americans in total, Awlaki was the only one intentionally specifically targeted by a U.S. drone strike. The others were killed inadvertently and they were all Americans who were supposed to have greater constitutional protections. Six out of seven killed without the U.S. knowing in advance it was about to kill them, one of them a child. If that`s just a sample, think what it says about all the other people this country has probably killed by mistake. The toll seems to have been particularly high in Yemen where the U.S. drone program has helped destabilize the country and foster the current conflict there. The U.S. doesn`t publicly acknowledge the total number of civilian deaths. But a new study by the Open Society Justice Initiative documents specific cases of Yemeni civilians killed by American drones. Quote, "The nine case studies documented in this report provide evidence of 26 civilian deaths. This evidence casts doubt on the U.S. and Yemeni governments` statements about the precision of U.S. drone strikes." Joining me now, Jonathan Horowitz, legal officer of the Open Society Justice Initiative, used to work in the American embassy in Kabul as well. So, when you listen to Malcolm, it sounds like this is a very thorough, sophisticated thing. The standard that has been used by the government is near certainty. And yet at the same time you say, well, of the seven Americans we know about, one was a child, one was targeted specifically and they, quote, "got their man". The other five just happened to be hanging out in these places and appear to have been members of al Qaeda, although a little unclear how high up they were. What conclusions can we draw here? JONATHAN HOROWITZ, OPEN SOCIETY JUSTICE INITIATIVE: Well, I think the first point to remember is that much of the drone program is done in secret, right? So the point is, what conclusions can we draw? We don`t know because the administration has been -- has been keeping everything under wraps. What does seem significant is that, in the report that we did, in those nine instances, there were civilian casualties, right? So, the near certainty threshold seems not to be met or maybe not be taken as seriously as it needs to be. That`s what today`s news about the January strikes demonstrates as well. HAYES: Yes, I want to play the president back in 2013, sort of talking about that what the standard was when he talked about near certainty. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: America does not take strikes to punish have individuals. We act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people. And when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat. And before any strike is taken, there must be near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured. The highest standard we can set. (END VIDEO CLIP) HAYES: And we don`t have any sense of what that standard actually means or what the numbers look like broadly, right? HOROWITZ: That`s absolutely right. There is very little transparency. A number of things that the president mentioned in that statement, he spoke about the near certainty standard. We have serious questions about that. He spoke about the ability to capture before a kill. In our report, we raise serious questions about that. And there`s been consistent, consistent reports by government officials saying they want to be more and more transparent. But it`s not happening. We aren`t seeing the specific details that the American people need to know as to why the U.S. is carrying out strikes, where it`s carrying out strikes, what legal criteria and authority under which it`s carrying out the strikes. HAYES: Well, wouldn`t they say we can`t tell you too much because this is a secret program and we`re dealing with people that are obviously trying to hide from us. If we disclose too much there is a safe house in a very remote area, right? If we disclose too much about the program, we will make it essentially nonviable about what it`s supposed to achieve. HOROWITZ: So, that`s the -- that`s the line that comes out. For the people that we spoke to in Yemen, they know that their family members were killed. They know they were killed by drone strikes. There is nothing to them that secret. And yet the government`s response to them for an investigation or justice or acknowledgment is silence. HAYES: So, that`s my question. Today the White House announced they will be making condolence payments to the families. When we`re talking about Yemeni civilians or Afghan civilians or Pakistani civilians, has the U.S. government made condolence payments? Does it reach out? Does it have a conversation? Does it issue formal apologies? HOROWITZ: So, again, because of the secrecy, we know very little. There are some indications here or there that some money may go. But the people who are affected, who have lost loved ones, they don`t see this as sufficient. They want an investigation. They want justice. They want acknowledgment. HAYES: They want a review, like the review that has been ordered in this case in which it happened to be an American and an Italian who were killed. HOROWITZ: So, I think that`s an important point, Chris, is that today we`re learning something about the drone program. We`re learning about it because it was an American that was killed. We aren`t learning about all the civilians in Yemen or in Pakistan that were killed. So, President Obama, rightly, gave his condolences and his regrets to the family. But where are those condolences and regrets to the Yemeni families? HAYES: Jonathan Horowitz, thank you very much. With two elections, one for the voters, one for the donors. Why Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are hitting the trail with different stories for different audiences. And after leading the charge to oppose her nomination saying she would disregard the Constitution, Senator Ted Cruz missed the confirmation vote for Loretta Lynch as attorney general today because he had a fund-raiser to get to. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: In my view, the obligation of every senator to defend the Constitution is front and center why we are here. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I want to say publicly for the first time. I`ve been looking forward to saying this, that I am very pleased that Loretta Lynch has now been confirmed. (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) HAYES: Finally, today, the Senate voted to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general making her the very first African-American woman to ever hold that post, but only after a historic delay. More than 160 days passed between her nomination and today`s confirmation, one of the reasons for the historic delay the vocal opposition of one Senator Ted Cruz. He tried to get the judiciary committee to block her nomination, asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to deny her a confirmation vote on the floor, which really didn`t work. We got late news tonight that Senator McConnell did the exact opposite. According to "The Hill" actually worked quietly to round up more than 60 votes to end the filibuster of Loretta Lynch. Ted Cruz also wrote an op-ed urging Republicans to oppose her, to vote no on her nomination. He told voters in New Hampshire this Saturday he would definitely be voting against her too. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CRUZ: My vote on Loretta Lynch is going to be unambiguously no. (END VIDEO CLIP) HAYES: Ted Cruz even left the campaign trail specifically to oppose her nomination today and to once again urge his fellow senators to join him. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CRUZ: The Republican majority, if it so chose, could defeat this nomination but the Republican majority has chosen to go forward and allow Loretta Lynch to be confirmed. I would note, there are more than a few voters back home that are asking what exactly is the difference between a Democratic and Republican majority when the exact same individual gets confirmed as attorney general promising the exact same lawlessness. What`s the difference? In my view, the obligation of every senator to defend the Constitution is front and center why we are here. (END VIDEO CLIP) HAYES: That plea didn`t work. Just under an hour after Senator Cruz yielded the floor, all 100 senators voted on whether to move forward with the nomination vote, 66 voted yes. And when that actual nomination vote happened just a few hours later, the final tally was 56-43, which if you add it together adds up to 99 senators. The one and only senator who didn`t vote, who left the Senate before the actual vote on whether or not Loretta Lynch should actually be the 83rd attorney general of the U.S., Senator Ted Cruz. And the reason he missed the vote? He had to catch a plane because he has a fund-raiser in Dallas tonight. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CRUZ: My vote on Loretta Lynch is going to be unambiguously no. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HAYES: Well, it increasingly feels like there are two elections happening in 2016. There is one for the big donors and one for the voters. They only have an incidental relationship to each other, two items of recent news. Item one. Senator Ted Cruz, the fiery populist, who announced his candidacy at the largest Christian university in the world, Liberty University. Senator Cruz was also this past Monday at the Central Park South penthouse of, as "The New York Times" puts it -- and this is an amazing phrase -- two prominent gay hoteliers. And on the subject of same-sex marriage, again to quote "The Times," the Texas senator struck quite a different tone during the gathering according to two attendees Mr. Cruz said he would have no problem if one of his daughters was gay. He did not mention his opposition to same-sex marriage, saying only that marriage is an issue that should be left to the states. This, of course, is the very same Ted Cruz who just a week ago according to the Christian Broadcasting Network news sends a letter to tens of thousands of pastors in anticipation of the Supreme Court hearing on same-sex marriage. Quoting the letter, "The church has not shared the truth about marriage well. It is tame to repent and to commit ourselves to courage on this front. The union of man and woman in marriage will always be relevant." Senator Ted Cruz is actually consistent at least in saying he would leave the issue to the states. As a policy matter, totally there is a world of difference. And there is the presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio who according to a new nationwide Quinnipiac poll leads the GOP pack among Republican or Republican leaning voters. But when it comes to keeping track of where Senator Rubio stands on comprehensive immigration reform, you really need an iPhone app or something like that because it changes like the weather. In fact, after cosponsoring the immigration reform bill that actually passed in the Senate and then urging the house to do it piecemeal instead, Rubio is now reportedly simpatico with big-money pro- business Republican donors who still want comprehensive reform. Norm Braman, the 82-year-old auto tycoon is reportedly pledged to spend as much as $10 million to get Rubio elected told "BuzzFeed" news he and the candidate bonded over immigration. The author of that piece on Senator Rubio, McKay Coppins, senior political writer for "BuzzFeed," joins me now. I love this. So, OK. So here is Rubio. Rubio is, I`m the immigration guy ,co-crafts the bipartisan compromise, passes the Senate. It dies, right? MCKAY COPPINS, BUZZFEED: Right. HAYES: Since its death, he has taken step after step away from it to the point where he basically I think has officially renounced his support for it, right? I mean, it`s a little hard to tell sometimes where he is. COPPINS: Yes, yes, yes. He has renounced the idea of comprehensive immigration reform. HAYES: He`s renounced the idea that it was the core of what he voted for. COPPINS: Right, what he`s basically said in interviews recently -- and there have been several evolutions on this over the last few years. His basic argument is, look, we tried it, it`s not going to work. We can`t do it. The way to do this is we do a series of small, bite-size bills, right? The first one has to be border security. The second one is -- the problem with -- so he goes step by step. The problem with this is, what he says is this is the more realistic, pragmatic way to do immigration reform when in fact there is no way Democrats would ever vote for just a border security bill that doesn`t include concessions. So, that`s the part -- HAYES: It`s not actually -- COPPINS: Right, it`s not actually pragmatic. HAYES: Then you have him -- he`s also struck a very different, I think, tone on the trail about immigration. Now, you got him with his donor buddy, who he and Marco are bonding over immigration. And basically this guy is confiding in you like, if we get Rubio in there, it`s going to happen. COPPINS: Well, what I did is I talked to a half dozen Republican fund raisers, contributors, big people in the Republican money world who have been courted by Rubio and his campaign. What they told me is that, when he`s in the closed door meetings with donors and the subject of immigration comes up as it inevitably does, he is enthusiastic about talking up his record on immigration. He talks up his experience working on that bill. He talks about immigration reform and how important it is. And remember, to the moneyed donor class of the Republican Party, immigration reform is extremely popular for a bunch of reasons that have to do with ideology, culture and economic interests. HAYES: Yes, although this is something I also want to zoom in on this. We`re talking about two elections here, the donors and the voters. Big money as a general rule favors comprehensive immigration reform. The Chamber of Commerce, for instance, probably the big-money donors that comprise the Republican establishment and favor it. I feel like that`s a weak preference, honestly. Like I feel like they, sure, if they could wave a magic wand in the world of the future they`d like to see it, but also it doesn`t seem to be disqualifying when people are against it. COPPINS: Oh, sure. HAYES: Scott Walker has basically flip-flopped on this, to basically renounce his support for it, and still seems to be in the driver`s seat in terms of the Kochs. COPPINS: No, it`s definitely not a litmus test issue. HAYES: That`s my point, right. COPPINS: I mean, remember, Mitt Romney in 2012 absolutely was the avatar for kind of the moneyed, pro business class. He was incredibly conservative on immigration. Severely conservative, not in favor of immigration. So, it`s definitely not a litmus test issue. I should mention that all of the people that I interviewed said, you know, this isn`t the only issue that is making donors flock to Rubio. They like his foreign policy, which is very neo-conservative. They like some of his policy proposals. But it`s definitely a help. It`s something that helps him, which is a -- pretty serious contrast from the campaign trail, where it continues to be something that`s dragging him down. HAYES: This point about neo conservative, also there have been articles about him really courting the kind of neo conservative donor class. Sheldon Adelson, sort of the top guy in that world, who apparently is -- COPPINS: We heard today is apparently leaning toward Rubio. HAYESS: Taking a shine to young Mr. Rubio. And that`s another place it does seem to me there is what voters want to hear and what donors want to hear on foreign policy. And there is a little bit of a gap between the two. COPPINS: Yes, I think neo -- on foreign policy I wouldn`t say the gap is as big. It depends on the issue, right? But certainly, I think the average conservative voter is in favor of a muscular Republican, you know, foreign policy. But I think you also, on Rand Paul and his campaign makes this point a lot, that if you actually talk to a lot of the families, military families in places like South Carolina and the south, they would not necessarily be in favor of, for example, saying all options are on the table when it comes to Iran. HAYES: Right, a limited war with Iran. COPPINS: Right. Exactly, they don`t want to send their sons and daughters off to fight in Iran. So, there is certainly a gap. I wouldn`t say as large as on immigration. HAYES: On immigration. And then, of course, the biggest gap there is, which gets to Ted Cruz, is on marriage equality. COPPINS: Yes. HAYES: I think it`s probably -- I think it`s probably inverse. I think it`s probably 75/25 and 25/75 when you look at donors in the base, wouldn`t you say? COPPINS: Gay marriage is a really interesting question. I actually wrote a story a few months ago about Jeb Bush who was at the time, you know, gobbling up all the donors and establishment elites in the party, and a lot of them were saying, you know, when we talk about marriage with him, when we talk about these issues, he is very -- seems very friendly to them. And the fact that he had stacked his campaign with very vocally pro-gay Republican operatives was a boon to him and helped him with donors. HAYES: Yes, it`s going to be really interesting to see. It`s a crazy setup that we have. I mean, it`s always been the case. Politics time immemorial, right, saying different things to different constituencies. But in the post-Citizens United era is really it running two campaigns. COPPINS: It really is. HAYES: It`s selecting for sociopaths. It is. That`s the trait that`s going to win in this. McKay Coppins, thank you very much. All right. Some late-breaking news to report tonight out of Baltimore, two people have been arrests during protests in the memory of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old who died in police custody after suffering a spinal cord injury which is as of yet unexplained. We`ll go to Baltimore live for the latest, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HAYES: We have just learned that two people have been taken into custody, according to police, yet another day of protests in Baltimore. An increasingly tense city and the site of the latest high profile conflict between citizens and police officers following the death of 25-year-old Freddy Gray one died Sunday in police custody one week after he was arrested and suffered a spinal cord injury. Police said that two people were taken into custody tonight for disorderly conduct and destruction of property. Also today, Baltimore police commissioner met with members of the Gray family. The family says that Freddie Gray`s funeral will be held on Monday. Joining me now from the scene of the protests still ongoing in Baltimore tonight, MNBC reporter Adam Reece. Adam, what are you seeing there? ADAM REECE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Chris. Six consecutive night of protest here at the western district police station in Baltimore. I want you to take a look at what`s going on. It`s essentially a standoff between about 75 police officers and about 100 protesters. They are demanding action, accountability. They want arrests of the police officers and they want indictments. Now earlier today, they started the rally at city Hall. They march through the city, blocking traffic, stopping in the street, laying down in the street. They went over to the U.S. federal courthouse and they made their way to the state`s attorney`s office. Now the investigation continues. The ME`s office released Freddie Gray`s body to the family this morning. That was a welcome sign for the family. They were happy to have him home. And as far as the police commissioner, he met with the family as well this afternoon. He said he answered all their questions. And he promised that he would change the culture of the police department here. He`s urging calm. He says let this investigation work itself out -- Chris. HAYES: MSNBC reporter Adam Grace on the scene of this protest in Baltimore tonight. Thank you. All right, the Clinton campaign fires back after a bombshell report alleges a major conflict of interest that led to a flood of cash. That`s next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HAYES: Tonight, Hillary Clinton find herself besieged by negative headlines about her and her husband`s financial interests. Its` a new cycles very reminiscent of the 1990s when the Clintons found themselves at the center of an endless series of scandals, ranging from the genuinely troubling to the utterly absurd and invented. 20 years later and Hillary Clinton finds herself in familiar terrain. Three stories over the past 24 hours have alleged at the very least incomplete disclosure from the Clintons about their financial interests. Reuters reporting today the Clinton family`s charities will have to refile at least five annual tax returns after the Reuters news organization found errors in how they reported donations from foreign governments. A Washington Post report said Bill Clinton made $26 million in personal speaking fees. Fees from entities who also donated to the Clinton Global Initiative. The most specific and possibly damning story for Hilary Clinton comes from the New York Times, a paper which had access to Clinton Cash, the forthcoming book of the conservative author, details the sale of U.S. uranium mines to Russia, a deal that required approval by a number of agencies, including the State Department then led by Clinton. The report reveals that in the years before, during and after the deal was under consideration, the chairman of the company seeking approval donated over $2 million to the Clinton global initiative, much of which went undisclosed in an apparent violation of an agreement Clinton herself made with the Obama administration before taking over as secretary of state. During that same period of time, a Russian bank, which supported the deal paid Bill Clinton $500,000 for a speech in Moscow. Today, the Clinton campaign fired back on that bombshell report. Their response coming up. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HAYES: Clinton campaign came out swinging today responding to The Times report detailing the State Department`s role in the sale of uranium mines to Russia. A spokesperson attacked the integrity of the piece and said no one, quote, "has ever produced a shred of evidence supporting the theory that Hillary Clinton ever took action as secretary of state to support the interests of donors to the Clinton Foundation." In another memo published online, a Clinton spokesperson goes on to say that Hillary Clinton was not involved in the State Department`s reviews of the sale to the Russians and that the Clinton Foundation donor featured in the piece, quote, "never spoke to either President Clinton or then Secretary Clinton about his company. Joining me now, Michelle Goldberg, senior contributing writer at The Nation. Eric Boehlert, senior fellow at Media Matters. All right, Eric, what do you make of that? ERIC BOEHLERT, MEDIA MATTERS: The uranium story is interesting, because there`s a lot of stuff missing. I mean, if you look at that deal, when you read from the Times there`s like, oh my gosh, quid pro quo, we`ve got a smoking gun here. That deal had to be approved by the White House, the State Department, Commerce, Treasury, Energy, nuclear regulators commission, Utah nuclear regulators. The idea that Hillary Clinton controls all those entities because someone paid her husband for a speech and she decided she was going to change U.S. policy? HAYES: So there`s board -- the way the process works is that there`s this board that`s... BOEHLER: Intergovernmental... HAYES: Intergovernmental board that has different stakeholders, that have to sign off on these deals and the State Department was one of the members... BOEHLERT: One of many. HAYES: Of that board. OK, so here`s my feeling, Michelle. There`s a bunch of distinctions to make here. So let`s just focus on this uranium. To me, what the Clinton people did in pushing back I think was smart in that they focused on the strongest version of what the article might allege. Which is essentially quid pro quo. GOLDBERG: The article doesn`t really allege anything. It hints and implies and juxtaposes things. The only clear allegation is about the failure of disclosure, and that`s I think the big problem for Clinton. HAYES: Right. Explain that. GOLDBERG: There`s a hint of a quid pro quo -- HAYES: There`s basically like, here`s a quid and here`s a quo, and they sort of happened around the same time. GOLDBERG: But they`re right when they say there`s no evidence. In fact, the evidence of the New York Times story I think is a little bit weaker than it appears. Some of this stuff about Kazakhstan came out in 2008 story in the New York Times, and then there was the allegation that Clinton had flown in with this, the Canadian mining magnet who`s name I`m not going to pronounce correctly, and so, but in fact they hadn`t flown in together. At least according to Forbes which got his flight manifest. Clinton was flying with Ron Burkle, the mining magnet was already in Kazakhstan, not that this makes it so much better but it does suggest that this wasn`t him bringing Clinton along to sweeten the deal. Already, some of the facts I think are a little bit weaker than the Times presents them. The one thing in the piece that I think the Clinton camp has to explain, I think it looks really bad that they haven`t even tried to explain, is the fact -- HAYES: Disclosure. GOLDBERG: Right. They had an agreement with the Obama administration to publicly disclose these donors and they didn`t, and so not only is there the kind of questionable, what were they hiding, but they just, on their face of it, violated what was a clear rule. HAYES: And it`s also not rebutted in the response, right? I mean, the response just doesn`t address that. BOEHLERT: Right, because I think the larger takeaway from that article is we caught the Clintons in a quid pro quo, we caught the Clintons selling U.S. policy for a speech to Bill Clinton but it`s not there. HAYES: Okay, but here`s the thing that drives me nuts. The strongest version of this is the Clinton bash book from what I have seen from the excerpts, is this idea of quid pro quo. So in the Colombia free trade deal, Colombia makes a donation to the Clinton Foundation, the secretary pushes for Colombian free trade agreement. That seems pretty ridiculous on its face because the Colombian free trade agreement is already a policy priority. It`s going to happen independent. What does seem clear, though, is there`s a lot of money going in the Clinton Foundation. There`s a lot of people who have interest before the state department who are donating, right? And given what Hillary Clinton was walking into, shouldn`t have there have been unbelievable care taken to put fire walls, to have ethics lawyers flagging stuff, to say to voluntarily, proactively disclose, to point out possible conflicts of interest? BOEHLERT: Well, look, I mean, they raised $2 billion and there`s no evidence that any -- yet of any criminal wrong doing, anything that even -- HAYES: There`s a standard below criminal wrong doing, there`s a standard of the perception of conflict of interest. BOEHLERT: No, that`s not where this goes. FOX News wants a federal investigator -- (crosstalk) It`s part of a larger plot. It`s always, always, always based on criminality. GOLDBERG: This is what I wrote today, is that there`s people use the phrase Clinton rules in two different ways. They use Clinton rules to talk about the Clintons don`t think they should follow the rules and then there`s Clinton rules which is the way journalists consistently kind of throw out normal evidentiary standards of going after the Clinton. And both of these kind of rules exist, right? Like, the Clintons regularly cut ethical corners and are like a little bit sloppy in their conflicts of interest and there is this kind of long-standing journalistic vendetta against the Clintons that kind of allows people to exaggerate and follow the sort of right-wing conspiracy theories, down all sorts of rabbit holes and blind alleys to mix metaphors. And so it makes it -- you sort of get a (inaudible) whiplash trying to figure out what sort of Clinton rules we`re dealing with. HAYES: So here`s what I wonder. I`ve been to Davos. I`ve covered Davos. I`ve been around reporting on some of the circles in which these folks move. And, these are circles in which like, yeah, lots of people give money to the Clinton Foundation and lots of people have business before the state department. And there`s going to be a ven diagram, right? There`s going to be a plausible case to be had about like, was one connected to the other. My point is that you have to go above and beyond under those conditions. I don`t understand why you wouldn`t put in the most rock solid ethical safeguards, why you wouldn`t have compliance officers flagging this, why you would violate your own agreement with the White House on disclosure. GOLDBERG: Even short of ethical state guards, at least follow the rules that you`ve agreed to. BOEHLERT: Well, again, I go back to the larger picture of this infrastructure. I`m just going to make a quick side note. What is in the news today? In terms of this permanent infrastructure of fishing expeditions. Hillary Clinton is going to be asked to testify about Benghazi in June about the attack, 30 months after she attacked. So the Republicans have this blueprint for the Clintons, and yes, for the Obamas too. You set up this permanent infrastructure, you get in the right-wing media, and then you lure the New York Times to chase it, too. GOLDBERG: But here`s my -- (crosstalk) HAYES: Here`s my question, though. You say lure the New York Times. And I`ve seen you on Twitter sort of attacking them on the sort of alleged partnership -- I guess not alleged. A partnership with the author. BOEHLERT: They`re going to appear on the Fox News special this weekend going after the Clintons. HAYES: Right. But, the point here though is this does seem a legitimate piece of journalism and I don`t think they got anything wrong. BOEHLERT: Well, this uranium story left all kinds of context in terms of who approved that deal. If you read that story, at the end you`d think Hillary Clinton changed U.S. policy mid stream because someone paid her husband for a speech. That is not even remotely close to what happened. HAYES: Can someone explain to me, and again, Bill Clinton can do whatever the heck he wants. The other thing that I thought when I read that article was like, why wasn`t there somebody being like, hey, Bill, maybe you should just turn down this speaking engagement? We don`t need the half million dollars. BOEHLERT: Well, we don`t know. Maybe they have. He is by far the number one draw. And he has been for a decade. HAYES: No, but I`m just saying, I`m saying a Russian bank comes in and it`s like okay, well, some formal process where you say, okay, this Russian bank wants to pay half a million dollars. Okay. Well, what are they up to? And someone who says, you know, it`s probably best if you turn down this half a million dollars. Half a million dollars is a ton of money, right? It`s easy to say like, don`t take half a million dollars. But, at the same time, these are not people that are hurting for cash generally and I don`t know why that also sort of drives me crazy about this. But I just feel like it`s one of these things -- GOLDBERG: Yeah. Why leave yourself even -- HAYES: That`s it. It`s one of these things that like, because of the permanent infrastructure you`re talking about, because they knew -- BOEHLERT: Oh -- HAYES: No, no. Respond to that. This was all they talked about in Hillary Clinton`s confirmation hearings. I was going back through the transcripts. All they talked about was the Clinton Foundation stuff. They came up with this agreement. It`s not like you couldn`t see this coming, I guess is my point. BOEHLERT: Look, the Republicans have made it a priority, certainly a year ago, that the Clinton Foundation was going to be either their top priority in terms of opposition research, and we here we are talking about the Clinton Foundation as the number one opposition research. I don`t think that`s by accident. But I understand your point, your original point, in terms of setting up a divide. HAYES: The other thing about it that I think is interesting is we`ve been going through all this archival tape of the Clintons and you know with this, Hillary Clinton from the White House, is like, at a certain point there becomes a sort of background dim during the Clinton in the 90`s. Of like, you know, scandal, quote unquote. Some somewhat real, a lot of it not. That it`s almost like living next to a train station, where like it end up becoming this sort of atmospheric thing. GOLDBERG: And now we`re kind of remembering like oh, it`s coming. (crosstalk) HAYES: Oh yeah, like, someone coming to your house and like, you live above somebody and you`re like, wow, that`s loud. You`re like, oh yeah, I forgot about that. HAYES: Michelle Goldberg, Eric Boehlert, thanks for being here. The man who celebrated Earth Day by going for a swim in a super fund site, joins me ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HAYES: The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn is one of the countries most polluted waterways, full of toxic sludge, chemicals, and raw sewage. A heady brew that gives off a distinct stench when you`re near it. I live near it, so I get a chance to smell it often. It is so contaminated that in 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency declared it a super fund site, a special designation given to hazardous waste areas. For decades, chemical plants, oil refineries and factories used the canal as a dumping ground essentially for industrial waste. As Newsweek reports, the concentration of dissolved arsenic in the water is 60 times that allowed for considered damaging to human health. A 2012 report from the cities Department of Environmental Protection also found copper, lead, mercury, and an assortment of pesticides lurking in the water. As you can imagine, not much is able to survive there. A few years back an unlucky dolphin found its way into the canal`s waters, that dolphin is no longer with us. So, knowing all of that, why would a human want to swim in it? Joining me now is that person, Christopher Swain, who looks to be in perfectly good health. This is kind of your thing, swimming in dirty waterways. CHRISTOPHER SWAIN, SWAM THE GOWANUS CANAL: Yeah, I love that dirty water. HAYES: Why did you choose to swim in the Guwanus Canal yesterday to celebrate Earth Day? SWAIN: I think I wanted to shine a light. You know, one of the things you realize when your in the dirty water business, dare we say there`s a business there, is that the temptation is always to Eastern Europe or Asia or Africa when you`re talking about, ooh, let`s find a really dirty river. And, really within sight of the United Nations are two of the dirtiest waterways in North America, the Guwanss Canal, that we are talking about today, and the Newtown Creek. And, I think one of the things that we need to look at in situations like this is, even though the Clean Water Act passed in 72, everything was supposed to be cleaned up by the mid 80`s, 30 years on, not every water had enough of a fan base to get itself cleaned up. HAYES: So, that`s the question. Let`s talk about the Guwanis. In this case, it does have a super fund designation? SWAIN: Yup. HAYES: They`re doing remediation. They`re trying to develop the area in such a way to clean up the water way right. There is a process in place, correct? SWAINE: Yes, there is a process, and there`s actually cause for hope because they`re starting to get somewhere. It`s a little bit better. So, in terms of the super fund process, the federal part, the EPA part, the way to think about that is that deals with muck, the 10 to 20 feet of black mayonnaise spiked with toxic chemicals and heavy metals that`s sitting on the bottom of the Guwanis Canal. That doesn`t deal with the runoff issues and the plumbing issues, the CSO`s, all of that -- HAYES: That`s fascinating. So, a super fund site is, there`s this residue on the bottom that`s toxic and disgusting and has to be dredged and taken out. SWAINE: Right. So the EPA will take out 6 hundred cubic yards of that. That`s great. But then the city and DEP are going to have to deal with the banks, the plumbing issues, the reason the sewage ends up in there and a contaminated runoff. That`s a separate issue. HAYES: How gross was it to be in it. SWAINE: Pretty gross. It`s certainly the worst thing I`ve swam in. HAYES: Oh, it is, really? SWAINE: Oh yeah. HAYES: Because you`ve swam in a lot of gross stuff? SWAINE: Yeah. I mean honestly, I talked to my mom a little bit about it and she said she remembers walking in `79 street Bill Basin when she was pregnant with me, in the late 60`s, and she said it was pretty bad. You know, it smelled like poop, you could see oil slicks, you could see trash, so, that was pre Clean Water Act. I think the closest thing we have to a waterway like that, something like to go on now, and for the taste and smell for the swimmer, you`re looking at -- or you`re inhaling a bouquet that`s got mud, oil, gas, trash, detergent, all these kind of tastes and that also weird grassy, grainy, bad green smoothie feeling in your mouth after. And on my gloves and on my suit, you can feel it when I grip, the foam in the Guwanis Canal that you see when you`re walking, right, that`s emulsified fates and grease that have been stirred up by the turbulence from the fleshing tunnel. That`s -- the stuffs gotten (inaudible). So then that foamy stuff slims your gloves and your body when you`re going. HAYES: How long a process is it going to be until you can kayak in the Guwanis? SWAINE: I think you could kayak in the Guwanis now, and it`s fair to say that there`s some days, there`s a few days a year when it`s actually safe for swimming, just because it hasn`t rained and everything is going perfectly. What I`m thinking about is when do we call it clean? When do we call it done? And my sense of it is that it`s not going to be with the present clean up plan more than a partial clean up. So I`m saying, what about this? What if we stay, we`ll call the Gowanus clean when it`s safe for swimming every day? HAYES: That sounds good to me. Christopher Swain, thanks for your time. SWAIN: Hey, thanks. HAYES: That is ALL IN for this evening. THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now with Steve Kornacki sitting in for Rachel. Good evening, Steve. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END