All In with Chris Hayes, Transcript 12/20/2016

Guests: Jess McIntosh, Sarah Isgur Flores, Chris Murphy, Newt Gingrich, Rick Wilson, Richard Painter, Tom Perez

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: December 20, 2016 Guest: Jess McIntosh, Sarah Isgur Flores, Chris Murphy, Newt Gingrich, Rick Wilson, Richard Painter, Tom Perez

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on ALL IN.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: There were leaders in congress who did not support his presidency, which was not something that was good for the country.

HAYES: After eight years of obstructing President Obama, it`s now 31 days until President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s over. You lost. Quit whining.

HAYES: Tonight, the debate of with whether democrats should follow the republican playbook back to the White House. Plus, new questions about whether the Trump kids are already selling access to their father.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s called pay for play.

HAYES: Senator Chris Murphy on new concerns about Trump ties to hard-right Austrian nationalists. Labor Secretary Tom Perez in his first interview since announcing a run to lead the democrats and why Mobile, Alabama is apologizing, so Donald Trump could say Merry Christmas in front of a 50- foot tree.

TRUMP: Wishing you a very merry Christmas. Merry Christmas.

HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAYES: Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes. The recounts are over. The Electoral College has now spoken. And in 31 days, Donald Trump will become the President of the United States. Republicans have a message for Americans frustrated about that fact. "Get over it".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have a message for cry baby, sore loser left and that is "Donald Trump won. Stop whining. Accept it already."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The election`s over. We all know it. And it`s time to move on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Donald Trump`s victory is verified, certified, and a done deal, get over it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, anti-Trumpers. It`s over. You lost. Quit whining.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We won, you lost. Grow the blank up. Move on with your life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Democrats have not figured out in politics that when you lose, you don`t get a second place trophy, you don`t get a juice box or therapy dog.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR TRUMP ADVISER: Hillary Clinton and her team spent $1.2 billion, lost an election they should have won, didn`t see us coming and got a lot of help, frankly, from people in the media who are still trying to fight the last war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess, what I`m -

CONWAY: (INAUDIBLE) is over. This man is the President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: It is worth noting that Trump himself hasn`t really gotten over it, even though he won. Instead, he`s been holding victory rallies exclusively in the states that voted for him where he has spent much of his time just re-litigating the election. Today, after Bill Clinton reportedly said Trump, quote, "Doesn`t know much," the President-elect of United States took time out of his day to tweet, quote, "Bill Clinton stated that I called him after the election. Wrong, he called me." Before adding it`s actually Bill Clinton who doesn`t know much -- not him. And there`s the fact that this was no normal election and not just because Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the popular vote by just under 3 million votes.

According to U.S. intelligence agencies, foreign power Russia intervened in the election specifically to help one of the candidates, Donald Trump win. But one might ask whether republicans would have just moved on, just gotten over it, had Russia intervened to help a democrat. Plus, we now have new evidence that FBI Director James Comey really may have swung the election with his highly publicized letters about Clinton`s e-mails. When pollsters re-interviewed a set of voters they talked to in mid-October, just before the first Comey letter, they discovered that Trump saw a net gain of 2.3 percentage points among the same voters between mid-October and election, while Clinton saw a net loss of 1.7 points, a total spread of four points.

Now, we can`t attribute this all to Comey, but the timing is hard to ignore, as Nate Silver tweeted today, "These were the same voters being re- surveyed, so data suggests Trump win wasn`t `baked in`. Something changed at the end of the campaign." But, let`s say you somehow put all that aside, you bracket Putin and Comey, and the popular vote, all of it, there is still what we call, in honor of the (INAUDIBLE) Public Service Announcement the "I learned it from watching you" factor. Republicans have spent the last eight years engaged in historic campaign of obstruction that began right from the start on the night Barack Obama was inaugurated, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy reportedly told his colleagues, "If you act like you`re the minority, you`re going to stay in the minority. We`ve got to challenge them every single bill and challenge them in every single campaign." As Michelle Obama discussed in a new interview, that`s pretty much how it played out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: There were people in congress -- there were leaders in congress who did not support his Presidency, which was not something that was good for the country. It was good for politics. But it wasn`t good for the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Michelle and Barack Obama said they`re refusing to take that route for the good of the country. They`ve been supportive of Trump since the election and say they plan to help him succeed. Many Americans want democrats to fight to adopt many of the same tactics as the Republican Party, that for instance, shut down the government or risked default to get its way that refused to let President Obama name a Justice Supreme Court for over 300 days, that just recently, in the State of North Carolina, engaged in absolutely unprecedented, legislative maneuver post-election to take power away from the new democratic governor.

Yesterday, Kellyanne Conway claimed that the professional political left is attempting to foment a permanent opposition that is corrosive to our constitutional democracy. And then the left is trying to delegitimize his election. A remarkable statement from someone who ran the presidential campaign, that the candidate who built his political career on the racist conspiracy theory, the President wasn`t born in the U.S., in an attempt to literally delegitimize President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I would like to have him show his birth certificate. And can I be honest with you, I hope he can. Because if he can`t, if he can`t, and if he wasn`t born in this country, which is a real possibility. I`m not saying it happened. I`m saying it`s a real possibility, much greater than I thought two or three weeks ago, than he has pulled one of the great cons in the history of politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Joining me now, Democratic Strategist Jess McIntosh, who worked on Hillary Clinton campaign, Republican Strategist Sarah Isgur Flores, former Deputy Campaign Manager for Carly Fiorina. Jess, let me start with you. You know, I see people - I`ve seen folks on the left and conservatives basically say, liberals are losing their mind. That they`ve - that they`ve totally lost their mind.

JESS MCINTOSH, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, no, we`re just fine. Everything`s fine.

HAYES: That they`ve totally lost their mind and one of the examples they give is -- was all this run-up to the Electoral College, this idea that they were going to persuade electors that that was a weird use of energy, that they`re getting pulled hither and yon and in Russia conspiracy theories. What`s your response?

MCINTOSH: Look, I think that there are a lot of places to put your anger and your outrage and your concern and your genuine fear in this election. And I think that the -- I can see the frame that democrats are doing it wrong, being an easy one, because you know who the democrats are and you know where to put your outrage, and you know who -- you know, which congressional offices to call. The truth is, we dealt with foreign interference in our election. We dealt with an FBI where day after day, some new revelation comes up that says they acted hugely inappropriately. We dealt with the Electoral College which for the first time took away the presidency from somebody who had 3 million more in the popular vote. And we dealt with Republican gerrymandering that just strategically disenfranchised black people across the country. Those are terrifying institutional issues that we have in our democracy.

So, asking whether democrats should have undermined our principles and democracy more, I think, probably, isn`t the best way to go about challenging these things. But I don`t know who to call to fix those.

HAYES: Right. So, Sarah, the -- I for a long time -- I remember covering the Tea Party and people thought, wow, those people are losing their minds. They`re screaming at people in rallies and then I remember covering birtherism and thinking, this, OK, this is really -- this is deranged. This is a deranged theory that is being promoted by a con artist and huge parts of republican base are going for it. They`re flirting with it, he`s going to get the Mitt Romney endorsement, he`s going to show up at CPAC. This is a group of people losing their mind. It turns out that was incredibly politically effective. Isn`t the answer here that sustained efforts at total de-legitimization, no matter how deranged, is actually the path back to power?

SARAH ISGUR FLORES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think as long as democrats continue to blame these, you know, very but-for causes, let`s even stipulate that the Comey letter did actually affect people`s votes at the ends. How did we get did the Comey letter? We got the Comey letter because Hillary Clinton decided to have a secret server in her basement, and then Bill Clinton, who now seems to have forgotten how this all came about, had tried to have a secret meeting with Attorney General Lynch, who then had to recuse herself, putting Comey front and center.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: By the way, the server wasn`t - the server - the server wasn`t secret. I have to correct that. The server was not secret.

FLORES: They had a meeting on a tarmac at a private airport when they were exchanging out of their private planes and hoping that no one saw them.

HAYES: Right, but there`s a million other (INAUDIBLE) right? There`s a million other (INAUDIBLE) about that right? I mean, you - the (INAUDIBLE)

(CROSSTALK)

FLORES: That`s right. But democrats don`t want to acknowledge how he got there. That`s right, democrats don`t acknowledge that until they just want to pretend that this was taken from them, the sense of entitlement. I think just politically isn`t a very smart move.

HAYES: But that`s my point.

FLORES: If we`re trying to look at 2018, when they`re on defense and a lot of these states that Trump won, they`ve got to protect their senators and they`re not doing it the way that they`re setting millions of dollar on recounts. These things that don`t even matter if you flip them.

HAYES: Sarah, but that`s exactly my point. I would normally -- I think actually agree with you. I genuinely think that`s like descriptively, right? I would normally agree with you. But then I look at the way the Republican Party responded to Barack Obama`s election, which was the normal thing you think if this guy has very high approval ratings and you got to give republican senators cover, so that they can vote with him on some things, bring some things tangibly back home. They didn`t do that. It paid off huge. They engaged --

FLORES: I hear you. I here you but --

HAYES: They engaged in all sorts of insane conspiracy theorizing that turned out to elect the next President of the United States. So, it just seems like the playbook, the model here is the more deranged, the more obstinate and the more you obstruct, that actually is going to be the thing that benefits you most politically.

FLORES: That is not why republicans won in my opinion. But on top of that, republicans didn`t challenge the constitutional basis of how we run elections based on the Electoral College who says democrats are talking about the popular vote.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: Because they said - they said the President is not constitutionally

FLORES: We didn`t have recounts in 2008, saying that it was John McCain`s election and Barack Obama took it from him. You would have lost your mind, your head would have rolled off your body if we have said that.

HAYES: They said ACORN -- they said ACORN stole it, first of all. But just to be clear here, the entire point of the Birther Movement was precisely that. I mean, it was actually a perfect mirror argument. The Birther Movement said the man is not the legitimate President of the United States because he`s constitutionally ineligible because he`s not a natural- born citizen as required by the constitution, and the person who is the most prominent advocate of that position is the next President of the United States. So, this was not a totally a fringe theory, Jess.

MCINTOSH: We can`t just play the -- I guess we should all just try to delegitimize as hard as possible because that`s the right way to win strategy, because there actually isn`t. Like, I`m going to appeal to the media on this one, false equivalence has to stop. Democrats can`t play the same game that republicans can play because we think that government can work for people and we think there are people who need it. Republicans don`t believe either of those things. So de-legitimatizing those who take power and the ways they take power and what they do with them, always will serve their interests. Democrats can`t play that game because we believe things that can be done for people who need them done.

HAYES: So, you think something like - OK. So, to game this out, and I`ll come back to you in the second --

MCINTOSH: I mean, our Donald Trump is the probably Alan Grayson. We couldn`t get him elected President if we tried, I wouldn`t vote for him.

HAYES: Well -- but - so, the way that -- the way that it cashes out, right, is that when you`re talking about something like an infrastructure bill, that you`re -- what you`re saying is if you`re a senator who thinks we do need an infrastructure bill, you work with new President Trump to say, "Yeah, how can we come to terms on that?" Do you think they should do that?

MCINTOSH: I think that it`s tough. I don`t believe that they`re going to be met with people coming to the table in good faith. But I think that they need to be incredibly skeptical, possibly more skeptical than they were under George W. Bush about the terms that they meet with the Republicans.

HAYES: What about Sarah`s point, though, and I`ll come back to you in a second, Sarah. So what about Sarah`s point, though, I think which is a good one, which is, look, in this tangible sense of 2018, right? Like, let`s say Comey and, you know, and Putin, right? Sure. None of that has anything to do practically with a party that`s lost almost 1,000 legislative seats during the Obama years, lost a whole bunch of state houses. And then now is defending a lot of people at the senate -

(CROSSTALK)

MCINTOSH: But let`s talk about how and why we lost those state houses. Let`s talk about gerrymandering, let`s talk about voters disfranchisement. Let`s talk about voter I.D. log -

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: Sure, but how is that -- OK, but how is that operationalized to help those senators?

MCINTOSH: Well, I think that if we`re allowing people to vote in the numbers that they are constitutionally allowed to vote, we are going to see more democrats elected. That`s why I know I`m on the right side of this fight, is I want more people voting.

HAYES: Sarah, do you think -- Mitch McConnell said fascinating to me right after the election. He said parties have the tendency to over interpret their mandate. And I -- you know, there has been this sort of pendular swing. And I remember 2004, thinking everyone said the democrats are a dead party. After -- you know, they`re dead. And 2006 later, they, of course, win the house. I remember 2008, saying the republicans are dead and immerging democratic majority by yada, yada, yada. Do you think republicans have internalized that fear about the pendulum?

FLORES: Well, I actually want to also agree with something that was just said which is that there is this asymmetric warfare between republicans and democrats. On both sides by the way, benefit and lose from it. Yes, democrats say that government works for people. But why Donald Trump actually got elected is that the government hasn`t been working for people. It`s grown incompetent and corrupt. And so, people wanted change from that. And so, yes, republicans offered that and democrats lose with that. On the flipside, democrats are often attacked for offering free stuff and republicans are like, no, we don`t want to get stuff. So I think that asymmetry works both ways. And I also --

HAYES: But didn`t Donald Trump offer stuff?

FLORES: I don`t think so.

HAYES: He said he`s going to open the coal mines back up.

FLORES: Yeah, those are jobs. That`s a jobs policy. For both sides I think generally proposed their jobs policy. But look, gerrymandering can`t be blamed for losing 12 Governorships, 13 Senate seats. Fine, if you want to again stipulate the house seats, OK. But this idea that democrats can keep feeling this entitlement that, well, it`s just being taken from us, you`re going to keep losing.

And yes, I do think democrats, or republicans shouldn`t overplay their mandate. But there is a mandate for change. And there is a mandate for making government work. And for getting rid of this enormous bureaucracy that is just feeding itself. There`s a reason that there`s cranes all over D.C. when the rest of the economy was in recession. It`s got to stop.

HAYES: It`s doing pretty well in Austin, too. Jess Mcintosh and Sarah Isgur Flores, thanks to you both.

Coming up, new allegations of pay for play after the Trump brothers appear on a draft brochure auctioning an access to the President-elect. Tonight team Trump is rapidly doing damage control. But first, why is Trump`s pick for National Security Adviser meeting with a Foreign Political Party founded by Nazis? That story in just two minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: One of the quirks of Donald Trump`s transition is that we`ve had to find out details about the President-elect international meetings like, say, with his Indian business partners from foreign sources. Now according to The New York Times, the leader of Austria`s far-right freedom party just posted on Facebook that he visited a couple weeks ago with General Michael Flynn, Trump`s pick for National Security Adviser. The freedom party was founded in the 1955, literal Nazis. Its first leader was a former member of the S.S.

Earlier this month, the party`s candidate narrowly lost Austria`s Presidential election. Its popularity fueled by heightened fears about refugees from the Muslim world. The espouse brand of Islamophobia not unlike that had -- what has been expressed by Flynn himself who has declared on Tweeter the quote "the fear of Muslims is rational." According to The Times, the freedom party didn`t just announce the meeting with Flynn, it also unveiled the new cooperation agreement with Russia`s ruling political party, United Russia, led by Vladimir Putin. And that`s no accident.

In recent years, (INAUDIBLE) de facto in some cases explicit alliance has been formed between Russia and right-wing Nationalist parties throughout Europe. Like Great Britain`s UKIP, which spearheaded the movement to leave the E.U. Or the National Front in France, which has gotten millions of dollars in campaign loans from Russia. The kind of access of Nationalism which increasingly seems to extend all the way to our own shores. Donald Trump has never been shy about his admiration for Putin`s leadership style. Now, it appears, that could have real policy implications. Foreign policy obtain an internal Pentagon memo detailing the Trump transition team`s priorities for defending the country and Russia was nowhere to be found.

This, in spite of an assessment from the current chairman of the joint chief of staff that Russia poses the greatest existential threat to the U.S. They compared Trump`s attitude towards Russia and his continued refusal to acknowledge Russia`s role in the campaign hacks targeting democrats as the intelligence agency stipulate, with what we`re learning about President Obama`s dealing with Putin before the election. U.S. officials told NBC News that after warning Putin in general terms against tampering with the American electoral process from the (INAUDIBLE) September Summit meeting, the President used the so called "red phone", a direct line to Russia used only in times of crisis to issue more forceful message.

International law including the law of armed conflict applies to action in cyber space and said according to senior U.S. official, "we will hold Russia to those standards." That message from President Obama came on October 31st, 10 days after a massive cyber-attack on American website, which officials reportedly believed to be a dry run for an Election Day attack on our voting systems.

I`m joined now by Senator Chris Murphy, democrat from Connecticut, member of the Senate Foreign relations committee. And Senator, I guess, first your response to this reporting which, you know, the "red phone" is sort of iconic. You think of it as an -- as institution to Cold War and the nuclear-armed powers facing off with each other. Your reaction to hearing the President used it to talk to Putin about this.

CHRIS MURPHY, UNITED STATES SENATOR FOR CONNECTICUT: It`s probably hard for the Americans to think of a cyber-attack as an act of war, but the fact of the matter is Russia has perfected the use of cyber-attack, the use of propaganda, the use of its oil and gas to gain influence in the region around the world in a way that their army never could. And so, I think as we look forward to have a deal with ever-surging Russia, you have to start rethinking the whole nature of what we believe to be an act of war. Now, we don`t know exactly what Obama said, I know he was urged, it was reported he was urged to say that if they attacked us on Election Day, try to screw up our election, that would be considered an act of war.

But we are just very badly resourced right now in the federal government to combat these types of Russian influence and interference. Right now, we have the biggest, baddest army in the world but we really don`t have the capabilities to rebut their energy bullying, their corruption attempts and their cyberattacks. And we`re going to have to rethink the way that we defend this country in the next few years.

HAYES: A colleague of yours, a Republican Senator (INAUDIBLE) Cory Gardner of Colorado now told POLITICO that he would introduce a bill that if passed would mandate a new select senate committee on cyber security. I believe this would be essentially the select committee that would be tasked with an investigation to what happened in the election. It seems to me crucial that there does now seem growing bipartisan support for such a committee. Is that your sense, as well?

MURPHY: That`s my sense. And I like Senator Gardener`s idea here, and that he acknowledges that this, you know, also is about the fact that China is trying to hack into American systems, both public and private, virtually every day. We know what the North Koreans did. I do worry that his proposal may be a bit of a feint to try to water down what needs to be a very focused inquiry on the question of Russian interference in this election on behalf of Donald Trump. And so, I think that we do need to have that broader look at cyber-attacks on U.S. soil, but that shouldn`t happen at the expense of a very public inquiry into the extent of Russian hacking in this election.

HAYES: I want to ask about what we`re learning about what happened in Berlin, 12 dead, dozens injured, a truck running into a crowd there yesterday - still a manhunt. We don`t know who did it. There`s been some reports from different sources inside the German government. There is a tremendous amount of backlash against Angela Merkel just sort of waiting because of the refugee policy of the German people. You have Geert Wilders saying that, you know, Merkel has blood on her hands and Drudge picking that up today. What is your read on the situation there because at one level, there really is -- I understand why people in Germany would be worried and panicked and scared and this is a horrible mass murder that was pulled off, and there is also real worry about the continued rising strength of the sort of nationalist right in the Europe?

MURPHY: Listen, we don`t know the yet who was responsible for this attack. There`s also some reports, but we haven`t gotten definitive evidence yet. And listen, I`m a worried, worried about a world in which one refugee -- let`s say this was a refugee or someone applying for refugee status that one refugee essentially pollutes our thought about the millions of other peace-loving refugees who are just trying to seek asylum in a place like Germany or in the United States. There are all sorts of German citizens that do bad things, there are all sorts of American citizens that do bad things, but the vast majority of refugees that want to go to Europe or want to come to the United States have no intent to do harm.

Here in the United States, we do have to learn some lessons from Europe, though. I mean, they have been under a higher degree of attack from Islamic radicals than the United States, in part, because they`ve done a pretty bad job throughout parts of Europe in integrating Muslims into their general population into society. The United States has done a better job. And so, we need to double down on that policy of inclusion if we want to avoid that fate.

HAYES: Before I let you go, I want to get your reaction to the news about General Flynn meeting with the AfD in Austria. This really is -- I mean, this party is at the real right flank of European parties -- extremely hostile to Muslims, to immigration. A language of sort of purity of the nation that has some really uncomfortable relation to the past of European fascism.

Does it trouble you that General Flynn met with them and that we only learned from a Facebook posting of the AfD?

MURPHY: Yeah, this is an incredibly disturbing meeting. Although, it`s not really surprising. Flynn is a very dangerous character inside the White House. This is someone who regularly trades in conspiracy theories and who is going to be sometimes the first and last person that President Trump sees when he gets up and leaves the Oval Office at night. And it also speaks to this much broader effort that`s happening to link far right parties around the world. We saw reports of this linkage between the freedom party and Putin`s party in Russia.

Putin is attempting to link all of these parties so that he can ultimately make the case to have sanctions lifted and to give him a sphere of influence in and around Russia. And to the extent they have a spokesman in Flynn inside the White House, we all have to be very, very concern about that.

HAYES: All right, Senator Chris Murphy. Thanks for joining, appreciate it.

MURPHY: Thanks.

HAYES: Coming up, the man who wants to help lead democrats right now, Tom Perez joins me for his first T.V. interview since throwing his hat in the DNC ring ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: Donald Trump canceled what was supposed to be a big press conference last week, announcing, finally, how he would disentangle himself from all his businesses to avoid conflicts of interest. It was rescheduled vaguely for next month.

The President-elect has already been quite clear what he thinks of this issue, telling New York Times in an interview not long after the election, "The law is totally on my side," meaning the President can`t have a conflict of interest. The President of the United States is allowed to have whatever conflicts he wants." Trump has got it, more or less, right on the law. While the president is subject, of course, to the Emoluments Clause of the constitution, he is totally exempt from conflict of interest laws that apply to employees of the federal government, but crucially, it`s a different story for every single other person working around the President. The way things are looking now with neither Trump nor his kids seemingly inclined to fully part ways with the business, if the Trump children or anyone else affiliated with the Trump organization ends up in the west wing, they could be exposed to possible criminal prosecution for flouting conflict of interest laws. Luckily, Newt Gingrich has a solution. Not complete divestment from the family business but a blanket Presidential pardon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: In the case of the President, he has a broad ability to organize the White House the way he wants to. He also has frankly the power of the pardon. I mean he - - it is - it is a totally open power. And he could simply say, look, I want them to be my advisors. I pardon them if anybody finds them to have behaved against the rules, period. And technically under the constitution, he has that level of authority.

HAYES: We`ve come a long way from "lock her up". If he needed any more proof, the entire Trump campaign was long, long exercising projection. Now, it appears that members of the Trump family established their own foundation, non-profit as a slush fund to pedal influence. That`s ahead.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Tom Perez has been, I believe, one of the best secretaries of labor in our history. If you look at his body of work on behalf of working people, what he`s pushed for in terms of making sure that workers get a fair deal, decent wages, better benefits that their safety is protected on the job, he has been extraordinary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: When President Barack Obama was asked recently about whether the future of the Democratic Party should in some ways be a continuation of how he has approached things politically, he was quick to extol the accomplishments of his labor secretary Tom Perez.

Perez is the latest candidate to throw his hat into the race to chair the Democratic National Committee, a decision that`s largely seen as a way for Democrats to continue with the Obama approach in the post-Obama era.

Though Perez only announced his decision to run for DNC chair last week, he`s now seen as the strongest challenger to representative Keith Ellison who has been in the race for over a month.

The contest ahead of the DNC is now widely viewed as a kind of proxy battle between Democrats loyal to President Obama and those aligned with Bernie Sanders wing of the party who is supporting Ellison. It`s a race that could either energize Democratic voters, or leave them with a bitter reminder of the primaries.

And joining me now for his first television interview since announcing his candidacy is Tom Perez.

Mr. Secretary, will you explain why you got in this race?

TOM PEREZ, SECRETARY OF LABOR: I got in this race, Chris, because this is one of those where were you moments? You know, our children and grandchildren are going to ask us when our nation`s heart and soul was at stake, where were you? And where I`ve always been my entire life is fighting for folks, fighting to make sure that everybody has that opportunity to punch their ticket to the middle class, fighting to make sure that everybody who is in need of education gets that education.

And I`m running for the DNC chair because this position is so important. We have to get back to basics. We`ve got to communicate our message of opportunity and inclusion that optimistic message. We`ve got to organize, organize, organize. And we`ve got to make sure we build those relationships with state parties, because we have -- we`ve lost touch with our voters and we`ve lost touch with our state parties.

HAYES: So, I wanted to ask about that, right. Because you know under the eight years of President Obama, the Democrats have lost about 70 seats in the House.

PEREZ: True.

HAYES: 13 seats in the senate, ten governorships, about a thousand -- about, a thousand state legislative seats. What is your explanation for why that has happened during this period of time?

PEREZ: Well, I think we`ve got to get back to basics. There`s no substitute for organizing and persuasion. I worked in the grassroots in Maryland where I live and we helped take an organization from the basement of a church to one of the largest non-profits in the Mid-Atlantic empowering people, fighting for people.

And I`m a big believer in data analytics, Chris, but at the same time is, data analytics cannot be a substitute for persuasion and organizing. And I`m also a believer in what Howard Dean called the 50-state strategy. I would call it will 57 state strategy, because we`ve got to include the territories and District of Columbia.

We`ve got empower our states. We`ve got to talk to people everywhere. We`ve got to build the bench of candidates. If we`re going to take over the redistricting process, we`ve got to be running candidates for state legislature. And the way you do that is to get out there in the communities, not just in urban areas, but in suburban, exurb, and rural America, and talk to people and listen.

And that`s what I`ve been doing my entire career is being an active listener fighting for the values that people care about, whether it was taking on Joe Arpaio in Arizona, taking on Texas on the voter ID cases, whether it was fighting Wall Street because so many people got screwed by this foreclosure crisis. And I helped negotiate the two the largest fair lending settlements in our department`s history under the Fair Housing Act.

We need to a fighter and we need a fighter who can win those fights. And that`s why I`m jumping in.

HAYES: So, what I`m hearing though, and I`ve interviewed Keith Ellison on this program about this position. It`s funny because in some ways I don`t think there`s actually -- for all of the acrimony within the Democratic Party, which is intense if you`ve ever stepped on Twitter, there doesn`t seem like a huge difference in the vision there in terms of what he`s described on this program, and you`ve described.

And so I guess the question is, the perception is that this was the White House and Barack Obama and the people around him saying we do not want this Bernie Sanders dude running the party, and Tom Perez is our guy. Is that an accurate assessment?

PEREZ: No. This isn`t about Bernie Sanders, it`s not about Barack Obama, it`s not about Hillary Clinton, it`s about the future of our Democratic Party. It`s about who can take the fight to Donald Trump and win. It`s about who can communicate that optimistic message of inclusion and opportunity. It`s about who can run a complex organization.

The Democratic Party, Chris, is a complex organization. The Department of Labor is a complex organization. We have 16,000 employees, a $45 billion budget when you take into account everything. We have a headquarters presence and a presence in every state.

And you know what I hear in my job? I hear sometimes from people in Washington that people out in the field aren`t listening to them. I hear from people out in the field that people in Washington aren`t listening to them. And you know what, in my Democratic Party race here I hear that a lot.

And I think it`s really important to have somebody who has a proven tack record in taking complex organizations and leading them and succeeding. And that`s what I`ve been able to do at the Labor Department and before that at the Justice Department in which we inherted a mess after the Bush 2 debacle.

And, you know, the reason we`ve been able to make progress, I think, at the Department of Labor and DOJ before that, Chris, is because I believe that good leaders are good listeners. And I`m not afraid to admit to you, Chris, that I`ve seldom had an original idea in my life but I do pride myself on being a good listener. And as a result of that listening, you know we at the Department of Labor, we did an overtime rule that`s going to help people when we win that battle in court. We help protect people in the retirement space. We`re helping people get access to apprenticeship.

These are the things that our kitchen table issues. And at the Justice Department, we fought those battles you know for to make sure that women can access reproductive health care at clinics. We fought the battles on behalf of those victims of lending discrimination and on behalf of people with disabilities.

You need to make sure that the leader of the party can inspire people, can bring together the entire big tent and can lead this big ship. And you know, I`m ready for that fight. You know, I keep telling people you know, we`ve got to the stop fretting and we`ve got to start fighting because Donald Trump and his billionaire boys club, their vision of America is not our vision of America and I don`t think it`s the vision of the majority of Americans.

But what we`ve got to do is get back to basics and sit at those kitchen tables and organize not just every other year for two months, but a 12- month a year organizing strategy, getting into those communities, making sure our state parties are equal partners.

I`m optimistic, Chris. I think we can win these fights. I`ve been in fights like this before. I`ve had some success and that`s why I`m moving forward.

HAYES: We`ll have you back on a lot. We`re going to cover this race very carefully. Tom Perez, thanks for joining us. Appreciates it.

PEREZ: Thank you.

HAYES: Still ahead, allegations of a new pay for play plan with the Trump boys at the center of it. The transition team is responding tonight.

But, first, a seasonal Thing One, Thing Two next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: Thing One tonight, a tree went missing from a public park in Mobile, Alabama Friday. The beloved 50 foot old growth cedar was reduced to a stump by the afternoon, a hacked off piece lying next to it to indicate the site of the crime.

Local residents were shocked, emailing the mayor about the missing tree. But by Friday afternoon, the tree reappeared, now being hoisted by a crane to sit atop this football stadium.

Why was the 50-foot tree hacked down and moved to a huge football stadium? That`s Tthing Two in in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: A beloved 50-foot old growth cedar tree in a public park in Mobile, Alabama was hacked down and installed atop a football stadium to prevent this past Saturday. That the event, well, a rally for President-elect Donald Trump serving as a Christmas tree for the backdrop in that shot there.

According to the mayor`s office, the Trump team asked for a tree for the rally because the war on Christmas is now over. The mayor`s chief of staff tweeted a 50-foot Christmas tree for a visit of President-elect Trump, how we roll in Mobile.

And then great day in Mobile.

Well, not all of Mobile`s residents agree.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENITFIED MALE: Rules are for the fallen.

UNIDENTIIFED FEMALE: Mobile tree commission member Cleveland Formwald (ph) says he understands the city wanting to put its best foot forward for President-elect Donald Trump`s visit, but Formwald (ph) said he didn`t realize the city had cut the huge tree from a city park for decoration.

UNIDENITIFIED MALE: I didn`t know the city had trees that they were cutting for Christmas trees.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another commission member was also caught by surprise.

WILLAIM ROCKS, MOBILE TREE COMMISSION MEMBER: I was not aware of it and I`m like you`ve got to be kidding me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: The Mobile tree commission.

By Sunday night is, the city began to understand the mayor`s chief of staff issuing a statement saying, "in an effort to make sure every detail was covered in the expectation of the president-elect`s team were exceeded I became overzealous. I accept full responsibility for having this done." Sort of his own George Washington moment.

Then yesterday the mayor himself addressed the issue saying, "at my direction, the tree will be repurposed and our city staff has a plan in place to replant three cedar trees in Public Safety Memorial Park. Moving forward, we will ensure this mistake does not happen again."

So rest assured, Mobile residents, it appears this was the first last alpine sacrifice in the name of our president-elect.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Today we had a very, very big thing going on all over this country. And it`s called pay for play. Pay for play. Called pay for -- you`re not allowed to do it. It`s illegal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Pay for play. Candidate Donald Trump displayed a great deal of concern about unproven allegation pay for play with regard to Clinton Global Initiative and Hillary Clinton`s tenure at the State Department.

Yet, the president-elect`s transition team has now been forced to deny and apparently change the Trump family`s participation in an event that looks very much like selling influence otherwise known as pay for play.

It`s called Opening Day. According to these draft brochure obtained by TMZ honoring President Donald J. Trump, something special happens when you step into nature. It is, essentially, a big fund-raiser thrown by a brand-new non-profit with a net proceeds going to unspecified conservation charities.

As described by the Center for Public Integrity, prospective million dollar donors to the opening day 2017 event receive a private reception and photo opportunity for 16 guests and also a multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion for four guests.

It`s the names that landed at the end of those sentences that has caused the Trump transition team to repeatedly respond tonight. That, after the break.

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HAYES: It`s a big fundraising day called Opening Day 2017, contains some truly notable sweeteners. Its honorary co-chairman were listed as the president-elect`s two grown sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. And a million dollar donation will get you, among other things, according to this draft invitation, a private reception and photo opportunity for 16 guests with President Donald J. Trump on the day after the inauguration.

Also a multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion for four guests with Donald Trump Jr. and/or Eric Trump and team.

The net proceeds go to unspecified conservation charities.

As this event began getting some traction today, the Trump transition responded in a statement reading, "the Opening Day event and details that have been reported are merely initial concepts that have not been approved or pursued by the Trum family. Doanld Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are avid outdoorsman and supporters of conservations efforts, which align with the goals of this event, however they are not involved in any capacity."

And then just hours ago, Trump transition team released this new brochure. It still lists Don Jr. and Eric as honorary co-chairs, but new brochure omits any mention of any Trump involvement in donor prizes?

So, were they simply caught?

Consider this, on the filing documents with the Texas secretary of state, Don Jr. and Eric are listed as co-directors, not merely honorary co-chairs. Trump transition tells NBC News Don and Eric weren`t aware they were being listed as directors of this newly formed entity. And their names will be removed from the filing.

Joining me now, Richard Painter, former chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush and professor at University of Minnesota law school, Republicans strategist Rick Wilson, former senior adviser Evan McMullin.

And, Rick, I`ll begin with you. What is notable about this to me is there are so many opportunities for sort of what you might call side hustles that are going to sprout up in the D.C. in the Trump era. Do you agree in.

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look, I think the entire Trump organization has become a side hustle now. I think you will see -- look this particular event, we don`t know all the details yet. But there cetaintly -- it certainly fits into this mosaic of problems about the Trump involvement with his brand, his companies, his business and his continuing willingness to draw a bright ethical line about how they are going to handle this, not only individually him as the president, but the family as well.

HAYES: Yeah, and it`s the family connection here I think that people keep focusing on.

Mr. Painter, let me ask you this, I want to go back to the Newt Gingrich quote. The president is not exempt from the constitution, so the emoluments clause presents problems for him, but he`s exempt from statutory restrictions on conflicts of interest.

That said, my understanding is that the office of government ethics, a fairly little known body, actually has to certify that everyone working for him is conflict free. If they can`t do that, what happens?

RICHARD PAINET, FRM. CHIEF WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Well, the people working in the White House have to be conflict free. I don`t think the OGE certifies that, but financial disclosure forms are filed with the Office of Government Ethics, and it`s the responsibility of each person working in the White House to make sure they`re conflict free or they commit a criminal offense.

And no, they can`t just be pardoned by the president. Yes, the president has that power under the constitution, but if he were to even think of start doing that in his own White House, I think that you would have a response with the House of Representatives, where they`d start talking about impeachment.

So Newt Gingrich is way off base on this suggesting that type of thing this early in the administration.

On all this fundraising, I have got to say the politicians have done this for years, only the fundraising is mostly campaign fundraising, -- photo ops with the president. If you give money to the political party of the president.

So, you know, this charitable thing, it`s a new level of tackiness. The Clintons were doing it, now the Trumps are doing it. But the pay-to-play game has been going on for years in terms of campaign finance, and that`s been blessed by the Supreme Court unfortunately. We really have to shut down the corruption in Washington. And I`m not encouraged by what I`m seeing thus far.

HAYES: The line you just said I wanted to go back to the first point you made about ethics here, Rick.

I mean, one of points I think Mr. Painter points out, right, is that ultimate the check here comes from congress. Which is to say, when you are dealing with the president of the United States, it`s not like -- you know, it`s not the U.S. attorney of the District of Columbia who is going to start going after White House staffers, right? I mean, ultimately it is going to be some congressional check, whether it`s investigations, whatever it is, are you confident that that`s going to be there?

WILSON: Honestly at this point, given the way the House has behaved towards Donald Trump so far, you know, they have been very willing to look away from some of the impending ethical questions that are obviously going to be, you know, playing a role here. But, look I think the way they`re treating him right now -- Vladimir Putin could sneak into the White House wearing a hamburglar mask carrying a sack of cash right now and they`d say, hey, MAGA, make America great again. we`re not going to do anything yet.

This is going to be a long way until the House gets some gumption and does their constitutional due diligence about this. And it really is something that is going to be a very interesting test about whether the House -- you know, for years they wanted to take back some of the power the executive has taken across various administration, not just Obama but Bush 43 and everyone else, and the House has said they want that power back with the Reigns Act and other things, we`re going to see if they take it back with some very obvious ethical tests I think fairly early on in this process.

HAYES: Yeah, is that your sense, too, Mr. Painter that ultimately the sort of the White House counsel`s office acts as one kind of internal check, but if that legal advice is ignored or the legal advice is poor or licentious, it is ultimately congress that will provide the check.

PAINTER: Well, yes. And I think they are eyeing a very good White House counsel. It`s just when you hear people like Newt Gingrich talking about pardons before we`ve even started the administration -- I mean, I was on that show with Speaker Gingrich, and that`s an embarrassment. And it`s it`s very important that President Trump listen to his White House lawyers, talk to the government -- office of government ethics, to the Department of Justice and do the right thing and stay out of trouble. He needs to be an effective president and not be mired in scandal for the next four years.

And to be talking about pardons this early in the administration, I mean, that`s pathetic.

HAYES: Well, not exactly the route that you go if you are an ethics lawyer.

Richard Painter and Rick Wilson, thank you both. Appreciate it.

WILSON: Thanks, Chris.

HAYES: All right, that is ALL IN for this evening. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END