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All in with Chris Hayes, Transcript 2/21/2017

Guests: Matthew Rosenberg, David Cay Johnston, Maxine Waters, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jane Eisner, Ben Jealous, Dave Weigel

Show: All in with Chris Hayes Date: February 21, 2017 Guest: Matthew Rosenberg, David Cay Johnston, Maxine Waters, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jane Eisner, Ben Jealous, Dave Weigel 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, ,MSNBC HARDBALL HOST: -- attack on anti-Semitism would be a wonderful start. And that`s HARDBALL for now, thanks for being with us. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you support the creation of House Select Committee investigating Russian interference in the election?

HAYES: The glamour for investigations continues and the top democrat calls for a recusal.

CHUCK SCHUMER, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM NEW YORK: I`ve called today on Jeff Sessions to recuse himself.

HAYES: Tonight, the evolving story from the President`s lawyer over back channels to Ukraine. More on Russian government claims of contact with the Trump campaign. And Congresswoman Maxine Waters on the blanket denial from the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s total garbage.

HAYES: Then .

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President wanted to take the shackles off individuals in these agencies.

HAYES: The White House unveils its plan for what looks like mass deportation, just don`t call it that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is one of the goals here mass deportation?


HAYES: The Town Hall showdowns continue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last I heard these coal jobs are not coming back and now these people don`t have the insurance they need because they`re poor.

HAYES: And why in the world did it take this long for the President to denounce anti-Semitism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re not accusing you -


HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.

Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. All over the country at this very moment, in fact, lawmakers are facing angry crowds of constituents at Town Halls and meetings, where one surprising issue seems to keep coming up over and over again.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need a transparent and independent investigation into the Russian involvement into our election process. That is the very core, the bedrock of our democracy. And if that - if we aren`t sure about that, then we really can`t be sure about anything else.


HAYES: That voter is at a Town Hall last night in Virginia hosted by first-term Republican Congressman Scott Taylor, the man you see there, who was shouted down after responding there`s no need at this time for an independent commission to investigate the Russian issue. Russia was the first issue to come up with this morning at a Town Hall with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with ranking member Dianne Feinstein, Grassley is asking the Trump administration for a full briefing on the circumstances surrounding Michael Flynn`s ouster as National Security Adviser including any transcripts of Flynn`s intercepted calls with the Russian Ambassador.

And that is just one of several probes into different aspects of the Russia scandal. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are both investigating Russia`s alleged interference in the 2016 election. The latter receiving a classified briefing from FBI Director James Comey late last week. Over the weekend, Reuters reported the FBI is pursuing three separate probes into Russia`s hacking of the DNC and John Podesta`s server. Now, one, trying to identify the people behind breaches of the Democratic National Committee`s computer system, another trying to identify the people who posted e-mails stolen from Clinton Campaign Manager John Podesta`s account. And a third pursuing leads from informants and foreign communications intercepts. Now that last part, that comes amid mounting questions about whether the Justice Department can investigate the Russia issue independently under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who was, of course, the very first Senator to endorse Donald Trump, held a senior role in the campaign alongside Michael Flynn. In an op-ed for the Washington Post today, Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer calls on Sessions to recuse himself.


SCHUMER: I am worried that Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General is so close to Trump in so many ways that that investigation certainly won`t have the appearance of impartiality and may not be impartial itself. So I called today on Jeff Sessions to recuse himself, and if you agree with that T.V. audience, tell your senator or congressman to do it.


HAYES: Almost every single day seems to bring new questions about the possible connections between the Trump world and the Kremlin. Yesterday, we told you the strange tale of a back channel plan for Ukraine and Russia favorable to the Kremlin and brokered by two unlikely Trump associates. First is personal lawyer, the man you see there on the left, Michael Cohen, and Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman who`s developed hotels with Trump and who has had multiple run-ins with the law.

Now, Cohen, the lawyer, has now as of today told four different stories about his role in just this tale. His so-called Peace Plan, after telling New York Times, on the record by name that he personally hand delivered the proposal to the White House, Cohen later denied ever having done so, telling Business Insider in a series of text messages, he denies quote, "even knowing what the plan is." Now, the original article in reporting about this back channel was strange enough to grab one`s attention. But the shifting stories from Cohen are, frankly, a big red flag. We`ve seen this pattern of obfuscation before. It`s the same way the White House responded when news broke about General Michael Flynn`s contacts with the Russian Ambassador.

Similarly, President Trump and his team have repeatedly denied having had any ties to Russia during the presidential campaign. But as the New York Times points out today, that`s a claim that Russians themselves have contradicted at least twice. Joining me now to discuss that, Matthew Rosenberg, National Security Reporter for the New York Times. And one of the outstanding questions enclosing a loop here, right, so we have high levels of confidence -- the intelligence agencies. It was -- it was Russian intelligence that carried out the hacks to benefit Donald Trump. This big question of was there any back channel, was there any communication between Trump campaign and the Russian officials? What do we know in terms of Russian officials being on the record about that?

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: I mean, we`ve got - we`ve got the Deputy Foreign Minister -- I think it`s two days after the election, said he`d been in contact with the Trump camp. He then a few days later walked that back saying, "Well, there were people close to Trump," he was vague about it, but he was there saying it. Then the Ambassador to Washington, who Michael Flynn had spoken with, Ambassador Kislyak, he then said, he`d spoken to Trump. And then all of diplomats do that, he`d spoken to Flynn and that people are (INAUDIBLE) with campaigns. And so, it`s one of these situations where it`s not unusual to speak for foreign governments to speak to campaigns to get to know them. The denials, though, are very unusual. That`s what`s kind of strange here. Why deny what isn`t a problem?

HAYES: And so, this is a key point, right? Because it strikes me as there`s a sort of analog to the Flynn situation. So, in the Flynn situation, if they had said flat out -- I mean, it may have been controversial, it may have been objectionable to some. But if Flynn said, "Yes, I called on sanctions day, and we had a discussions that basically said what he told the Daily Caller actually the day that he resigned." You know, "Cool your jets, we`re going to review everything when we get in." That would be fine. Some people would object to that. But that`s not what they did. They denied that he talked to the ambassador. Here again, we have Russian sources on the record saying they did talk to him. It wouldn`t be weird if they did, but the Trump campaign and the Trump White House are insisted, "No, we never talked to them."

ROSENBERG: I mean, it would have been untoward for Flynn to be talking sanctions like he was, that`s kind of not done. But, no, it`s not criminal. It`s something that you know, you just come out, and you say, "OK, we did it," and you move on. And everybody kind of - everybody gets upset but they live. But this kind of let`s deny, deny, deny, and then we can`t deny any more, we`ll kind of shift a little bit more, obfuscate some more and then somebody has to get fired. It`s just doesn`t make any sense. And that - I think, you know, when you have reports of other contacts, when you have this Russian hacking that`s been going on and a campaign that was far more than just cyber hacks, you know, where you`ve got information being put out, going out through WikiLeaks into the U.S., where you had other activities, and that just raises a ton of suspicion.

HAYES: Yes, I wonder if there`s a way to - for the Trump folks to have some sort of definitive way of talking about this, right? So we have these blanket denials, that there are a lot of denials that have been made that seem hard to credit because at least there`s contradicting evidence on the other side. Like how could they sort of demonstrate that they`re telling the truth?

ROSENBERG: I`m not really sure. I mean, I spoke to the Trump campaign for that story today, and I said, look, why deny what`s not unusual and I got this response back, a phone call back that was like "Well, it`s a dumb question, I mean, we can`t deny something that never happened." It was a stonewall, never happened and that`s that. And look, if that`s the case, that`s the case. But there`s a lot of contradicting evidence, and I think that`s going to be a problem.

HAYES: Yes. That`s well said. Matthew Rosenberg, thanks for your time.

ROSENBERG: Thank you.

HAYES: I`m joined now Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston, author of "The Making of Donald Trump", and a man who has chronicle and have reported about one of the people at the center of this story that we`ve now been covering, the back channel, Felix Sater. I talked a little bit with Tim O`Brien who`s also had opportunity to chronicle him. What popped into your mind when you saw Sater involved in these stories reported both in New York Times and Washington Post about this back channel sort of Kremlin-friendly peace deal?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AMERICAN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, that there is much more here than just smoke. And one of the people Sater was working with in this back channel deal, Andrey Artemenko is right now, the New York Times just report, under investigation for treason in Ukraine, because he wants to replace the pro-western leader of that country with a Putin puppet. And that`s a big part of what all of this is about. Is was Donald Trump willingly or not, helping Vladimir Putin recreate the old Soviet Empire in those areas with the majority of Russian-speaking people? And this sure looks like it.

HAYES: So, Sater is such a bizarre character, and to -- at one level, in some ways we get so inured to what`s going on with - we get so inured to what`s going on with the Trump administration. Just the fact that there`s a man this guy`s record who`s doing - who`s at all communicating any foreign policy to the President of the United States itself, is sort of stunning.

JOHNSTON: Well, yes. And remember, Sater got a jet - get-out-of-jail-free card by telling the U.S. Justice Department he was going to intercept missiles that were on their way to terrorists. Now, the government says that he provided valuable services but you got to ask three questions about that. Why and how did you know these people? Did we get all the missiles that were intercepted or was there a secondary market he profited from? And how in the world was he connected with these people? Felix Sater is essentially, as Tim O`Brien said last night, a thug. And like many wealthy people who`ve involved in criminal activity, he`s different and that he`s been arrested and convicted. What - so we should be asking why is Donald Trump have this deep long connection? That Donald says he hardly know Sater, he wouldn`t know him if he was in the same room. They flew together on Trump`s jet. They appeared together over a number of years in different locations. There are photographs of them, videos, you`ve put some of them on the air. He had an office right in the main suite of Trump organization offices. So Donald Trump can`t run away from this guy, and we do need to have a thorough inquiry into what`s going on, especially now that the issue of treason in Ukraine has been raised involving one of these characters.

HAYES: We should - the other character here is Michael Cohen, another man that you`ve chronicled that he`s the personal lawyer to the President. He - I first - he`s sort of first entered my radar screen during a story the Daily Beast wrote back very early in the campaign about a sort of since- retracted claim by Ivanka - Ivana Trump that Trump had raped her. That had been retracted subsequently, but it was written about, and he basically went crazy on the Daily Beast reporters, "I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we`re in the courthouse. I will take you for every penny you still don`t have. I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know. So, I`m warning you, you tread very effing lightly, because I`m going to do to you is going to be effing disgusting, do you understand me?" That`s Michael Cohen to a reporter. Now, Michael Cohen has changed his story four times in the span of about 36 hours since the story came out. And this is one of those circumstances where I say to myself, "I don`t know, maybe they were just weirdly freelancing some peace deal." But now, I`m like, "Well, what`s going on?"

JOHNSTON: You know, it`s a basic principle in law enforcement that straight stories are easy to keep straight. It`s lies that are hard to keep together. And by the way, Ivanka Trump never withdrew what she said. All she said was that when her husband raped her, she didn`t mean to imply it was a crime that he should go to prison for. She never denied that he tossed her around the room and violated her. And the statement she`s written I think was quite clear at the time. But this is the bullying you see in what Michael Cohen did. The one of the reasons Americans don`t have a proper understanding of who Donald Trump is, is the intimidation and the bullying, the non-disclosure agreement for people who are around Trump. Even volunteers had to sign them in some cases. And so, Americans aren`t seeing who Trump is, but this is, in fact, a story that`s not going away.

HAYES: Well, that certainly seems the case. David Cay Johnson, thanks for your time.

Let`s go to Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Democrat from California. And Congresswoman, I wanted to have you on to respond to something that was said by the White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus speaking about - you know, we`ve seen a sort of flurry of activity on Capitol Hill in which James Comey has briefed both the House and Senate Intelligence Committee. There was a briefing last week that everyone was lockstep silent out of. And the Chief of Staff was asked about what exactly is being told, what investigations are being pursued. Here`s what he said. Take a listen.


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I`ve talked to the top levels of the Intelligence Community, and they`ve assured me that that New York Times story was grossly overstated and inaccurate and totally wrong. I know what the Intelligence Committees in the House and the Senate were told by the FBI, and I know what I was told, and what I will tell you is that story was total baloney.


HAYES: The story he`s referring to there about the ongoing investigation that were happening and about the fact that four different people connected to the campaign had spoken to Russian Senior Intelligence officials. Do you believe that when Reince Priebus says that?

MAXINE WATERS, UNITED STATES CONGRESSWOMAN FROM CALIFORNIA: Well, let me say this. Reince Priebus has been trying to clean up for Donald Trump for far too long. He`s the one that stuck with him all during the campaign when he was making outrageous statements, when he was basically lying. And so, his time is going to run out. He can`t continue to try to defend this President who is entangled with this Kremlin clan of his, while they are all seeking really to get rid of these sanctions that are, you know, placed on Russia because all of them are connected to the oil and gas industry. Just take a look at this. Take a look at, of course, Michael Flynn, long history of ties to the Russian government, including a paid speech at a party for R.T. Paul Manafort, Trump`s former Campaign Manager, paid lobbyist for Viktor Yanukovych, the Pro-Russian politician in Ukraine who fled to Russia in 2014.

HAYES: Right.

WATERS: Carter Page, one of Trump`s Foreign Policy Advisers during his campaign, frequent guest of Russian state media, held a personal stake in Russian oil and gas interest. Roger Stone who`s worked in the Ukraine. Wilbur Ross, Trump`s nominee for Secretary of Commerce, was a business partner of Viktor. (INAUDIBLE), a Russian (INAUDIBLE) and Putin ally and a major financial project involving the Bank of Cyprus. And, of course, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who was the one who negotiate it, the multibillion dollar drilling contract with Putin where they were going to drill in the arctic, and it has been stopped because of the sanctions that were placed on by Obama, and I want to tell you, I believe that Tillerson`s real job is to get in here and get those sanctions lifted. But all of them want them lifted, because this clan, this Kremlin clan is all about getting the oil and gas money and doing the drilling and they need this president. They need this president to get these sanctions lifted. And don`t forget, the second executive order that was signed by the president that was 1504 -


WATERS: - which basically would undo the work that we have done with Dodd- Frank and making these oil companies disclose the money that they were using to bribe these countries within Africa and other places. And so, 1504 was very important because Exxon and others now will not have to --

HAYES: Right.

WATERS: - disclose all of the bribes that they`re doing. But these people are all organized around oil and gas. Why are they all in this administration? Why they all so close to them? And you alluded to and talked about what is going on with this proposal that is being pushed by Michael Cohen, the president`s personal lawyer who delivered the document. Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition --

HAYES: Right.

WATERS: - movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump`s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort. Can`t people see what`s going on? Why do you think they hacked into our election? They hacked into the election, because they have to make sure that Donald Trump got elected. So that he can help them with what I think is a huge deal. Not only to lift these sanctions but to take over you know, all of these Soviet countries and pull them back into the Soviet Union so that they can have access to all of these resources. It`s clear to me, and I just think the American people had better understand what`s going on. This is a bunch of scumbags. That`s what they are --

HAYES: Those are strong words, Congresswoman.

WATERS: -- who are all organized around making money.

HAYES: Who do - who do you mean that when you call them scumbags? Who are you talking to - talking about?

WATERS: All of these people who are organized with these oil and gas interests that`s -

HAYES: You mean the -

WATERS: - in the administration and friends -

HAYES: You`re calling the Secretary -

WATERS: - of the President of the United States. This back channeling that you see. These are a bunch of scumbags -

HAYES: Secretary of States -

WATERS: -- that`s what they are.

HAYES: You mean the Secretary of State of the United States?

WATERS: Well, I tell you this, Tillerson is there to get these sanctions lifted. I believe it, just watch him. He`s going to continue to work on it. This is important for him. He was there because he negotiated the deal for Exxon with Putin.

HAYES: All right, well that`s going to - there`s going to be a big fight over that if that happens. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, thanks for your time tonight. I appreciate it.

WATERS: You`re welcome.

HAYES: Ahead, as lawmakers come face to face with outraged constituents, President Trump shares his theory about the Town Halls. But first, the White House insists they have no plans for mass deportation, but their latest plan looks a lot like the beginnings of it. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse weighs in after this two minute break.



SPICER: The President wanted to take the shackles off individuals in these agencies and say you have a mission, there are laws that need to be followed, you should do your mission and follow the law.


HAYES: The President made clear on day one of his campaign in the first paragraph of his first campaign address when he accused Mexico of sending criminals and "rapists" to United States, his disparaging view of unauthorized immigrants in this country. Last month, he signed the executive orders detailing his plans for immigration and border security. And today, the Department of Homeland Security released a new set of memos, essentially translating those orders into policy. The guidelines, "Prioritize removable aliens who in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security." Which gives immigration officers broad discretion in deciding who to arrest. The memos also call for the "Expansion of the 287-G Program to include all qualified law enforcement agencies that request to participate." That`s a very a controversial program that had been discontinued and it means that local police officers can be deputized to detain and arrest unauthorized immigrants. The memos call for expanding expedited removal, makes it easier to deport people without court proceedings. The memos in total look like an expansion of policies that could lead to mass deportation. The White House doesn`t appear to see it that way.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is one of the goals here mass deportation?

SPICER: No. The message from this White House and from the DHS is that those people who are in this country and pose a threat to our public safety or have committed a crime, will be the first to go and we will be aggressively making sure that that occurs. Remember, everybody who is here illegally is subject to removal at any time. That is consistent with every country, not just ours. If you`re in this country in an illegal manner, then obviously that there`s a provision that could ensure that you`d be removed.


HAYES: Joining me now, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, democrat from Rhode Island, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who`s got a new book, its titled "Captured: The Corporate Infiltration of American Democracy." And I want to talk about that particularly with regards to immigration. But first, what - how are you making sense of someone who sits in the Judiciary Committee of what they are doing with these executive orders and memos? What is going on here?

SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM RHODE ISLAND: It`s hard to tell. I mean, to a certain extent, this might be theatrics for a base that expects them to do stuff. And so, this could be him doing stuff. When push comes to shove, I`ve served as our state`s United States Attorney, I`ve served as our state`s Attorney General. If the Federal Immigration folks want to get a warrant for somebody, we will arrest them.

HAYES: Right.

WHITEHOUSE: We honor a federal warrant.

HAYES: Of course.

WHITEHOUSE: And so, when Sean Spicer talks about people who are either guilty of criminal offenses or suspected of criminal offenses or who are a threat to public safety, all they need to do is to get a warrant for them, and then people can go out and arrest them.

HAYES: Right. But there -

WHITEHOUSE: But you don`t need to get into all these business of deputizing, you don`t need to -


HAYES: Right. But they`re clearly laying the ground work to massively expand the category of people that they are saying - whether they`re going do it or not. It seems to me clear that the category has been massively expanded just in the first month of this administration.

WHITEHOUSE: Well, we will see. Again, there`s a certain amount of theatrics that this administration seems to do. They will bump into first the restriction that a lot of places are only going to enforce if you can get a criminal warrant.

HAYES: Right.

WHITEHOUSE: And second, a lot of Police Departments and a lot of Sheriffs have other priorities than an immigration enforcement that doesn`t really affect public safety. So, I mean, I gave a speech recently to the Major County Sheriffs and the Major City Police Chiefs, and I made the point that they actually had law enforcement priorities that the federal government shouldn`t come in to try to trump - to use the word in a different way. And I got a really good reception.

HAYES: Right.

WHITEHOUSE: This is a fairly conservative bunch of folks. Law enforcement gets that local priorities matter. And they get that working with communities that they need to enforce the law in matters, and you don`t want to disrupt all that to get somebody`s grandmother who`s crossing the street and you help her at the sidewalk and, "You know, by the way, how are your immigration papers?"

HAYES: Well - so, here`s where it seems to me, there`s going to be a big fight with you folks in the Senate and in the House, particularly the Senate, which is money. We`ve seen huge increases in the budget and staffing of ICE, of Customs and Border Patrol which doubled roughly in all sort of, the last second term of the Bush administration. It`s gone up even more under Barack Obama, we`ve seen huge increases in deportations, although they`ve tailed down a bit. There - one thing that seems clear is they`re going to want to give a lot of money to this agency, a lot of it. Is that going to be a fight the democrats are going to have?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, they`ve got a mess on their hands because they want to give a lot of money to this agency, they want to spend a lot money to build wall, they want to spend a lot of money on their big infrastructure program, they want to spend a lot of money on the military, and at the same time, they have no plan for raising any of that money.

HAYES: Right.

WHITEHOUSE: And they have a very strong deficit hawk caucus among the republicans. So before they even get to us --

HAYES: They have to go through all -

WHITEHOUSE: -- I`m not too sure that they can get through their own party.

HAYES: Let me -

WHITEHOUSE: This could be like ObamaCare. Their budget could be a situation where they simply can`t get republican agreement on what to do.

HAYES: Your book is about sort of corporate infiltration in American democracy, the way that sort of dollars operate on Capitol Hill, and a lot of it, the analysis, you know, was persuasive to me. I`m sort of pre- disposed to find it persuasive, but it was persuasive. Immigration seems to me like an opposite example, right? I mean, all the money is sort of, it`s on the side of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.


HAYES: And yet, it hasn`t happened. What is your sort of theory of the case of why we have the immigration politics we do if it is the case that big money talks and walks on Capitol Hill?

WHITEHOUSE: I think partly it`s that there is a very broad coalition of people who are interested in this. It`s everything from Apple wanting good engineers to an almond farm in California wanting people to come and pick produce. So you don`t have the intensity of focus. It`s spread across a lot of different folks.

HAYES: It`s too diffused.

WHITEHOUSE: Plus, you have a really strong counter pressure within the Republican Party to push back against immigration because there`s been a lot of whipping up by the right of people against immigrants. And so, they`re kind of tied in a knot on that. But I tell you what, if there`s something Wall Street really wants, they have to wreck the economy for anybody to do anything about them. The fossil fuel guys just got one of the biggest tributes that has ever been paid to a pagan god in the form of Scott Pruitt sent in there. So --

HAYES: Well, we`re about to move on to tax reform bill, it`s going to be like that. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse`s book out now, available were books are sold. Thanks. Appreciate it.

WHITEHOUSE: Thank you. Appreciate it.

HAYES: Coming up, the dramatic scenes from around the country of republican congress folk are coming face to face with their fired-up constituents. Good stuff ahead.



SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, (R) : I don`t have any problem with things like living wills, but they ought to be done within the family. We should not have a - we should not have a government program that determines you`re going to pull the plug on grandma.


HAYES: Eight years later that infamous moment, Senator Chuck Grassley finds himself on the other side of the equation.

Today, at a town hall in Iowa Falls, Iowa, he faced constituents terrified not the Affordable Care Act will be passed, but that it will be ripped away from them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He discovered this year that his 23-year-old son has an incurable immune disease. He`s covered by his parents` health insurance policy under the Affordable Care Act.

What do you, Senator Grassley, have to say to my frightened friend?

UNIDENITIFIED MALE: I`m on Obamacare. If it wasn`t for Obamacare, we wouldn`t be able to afford insurance. Over 20 million will lose coverage. And with all due respect, sir, you`re the man that talked about the death panels. We`re going to create one big death panel in this country that people can`t afford to get insurance if we repeal Obamacare. And prove it.


HAYES: More on the town halls taking place around the country. They`re really remarkable and for those lawmakers who aren`t refusing to hold them next.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These coal jobs are not coming back and now these people don`t have the insurance they need because they`re poor. And they`ve worked their coal mines and they`re sick, the veterans are sick, the veterans are broken down. They`re not getting what they need. If you can answer any of that I`ll sit down and shut up like Elizabeth Warren.


HAYES: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell`s first town hall meeting since President Trump took office featured an overflow crowd of protesters just outside the venue. Republican lawmakers across the country who chose to actually hold town meetings instead of avoid them or met with similar passion. Subjects were wide ranging. Here is Congressman Steve Womack of Arkansas at the end of a rambling answer to a question about investigating Russian interference in the election.


REP. STEVE WOMACK, (R) ARKANSAS: You guys just want to investigate everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about Benghazi?

You guys spent a lot of money on Benghazi, waste a little on Trump.


HAYES: Joining me now, Dave Weigal, The Washington Post national political correspondent who has been covering town halls across the country. And Dave, you`ve been to multiple town halls in a day, somehow I`ve been tracking your travels. You also covered a lot of these in 2009. And I`m just curious what you`re sort of -- what your first sort of take away from covering a bunch of these right now. What is going on out there?

DAVE WEIGEL, THE WASHIONGTON POST: It`s a good question because the comparison is not glib at all. Sometimes you hark back to an example and it`s hard to find parallels. There are tons of parallels here.

The organization, the angry reaction from a lot of people in conservative media. This is very similar where people realize that they`ve been locked out of power. The election didn`t go their way. And they have quickly found out that the way to get accountability is to show up en masse and to ask questions that make people uncomfortable. And to tell very personal stories.

So a big difference this time is pretty simple, there are people who had theories of what Obamacare would do to their lives in 2009, there are people who have lived with Obamacare and have stories that I have yet to see a Republican member of congress -- I saw Jim Gorden yesterday, I saw Jeff Grassley today, I have yet to see them really answer it in a way that satisfied people.

HAYES: That`s really interesting.

Right, so you`re dealing with what people have as opposed to sort of the thought of what it could be. The president tonight tweeting out "so called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad."

That`s not an inaccurate quote. It just doesn`t strike me as there`s no big sort of nefarious conspiracy here. Activists and organizers get this sort of thing done.

WEIGEL: Well, anything is planned. The president`s rallies are planned actually with our money, unlike a lot of the indivisible rallies. We have tax payers are helping to organize the things the president does when he goes out in the country.

These rallies are fairly ad hoc and maybe I`m not a good enough reporter to see the strings behind everybody, but I`ve seen things before and after events, I just - after events in Iowa falls today went to the same cafe by accident as about 15 women who had just been there. Two of them knew each other, the rest of them said just of said , oh, you were at this, too. And they exchanged names. They made plans. It`s very organic. It`s very easy for people to follow up, more so than 2009.

I spent a lot of time in 2009 before and after town halls against watching people get trained by Americans for Prosperity or Freedom Works or the groups that were trying to organize them top down from D.C. There`s something similar this time, but it`s much more distributed, much less controlled from one central location.

HAYES: So you think this is more organic, or at least more bottom up in terms of the way it`s being organized that what you saw back in 2009?

WEIGEL: Yeah. And that doesn`t contradict what Republicans are saying as they get angry as these people showing up. It`s just hypocritical because they were correctly annoyed when Democrats tried to say by dint of you organizing before this, you were doing something wrong.

I will give Jim Jordan credit. I will give Chuck Grassley credit. I asked Jim Jordan and other reporters asked Chuck Grassley today, are these protests legitimate? And they both said yes. They`re legitimate. It would barely matter if they weren`t, because these people have a right to answer questions.

I`ve noticed in the crowds when you talk to the conservatives showing up -- and they`re outnumbered, but they`re supporting their Republican members of congress, they`re very worried and paranoid that there is something nefarious going on. In Iowa, it`s fun to watch because Iowans have license plates that tell you what county they`re from. And in Iowa Falls this morning, there are conservatives assuring me that everyone at this thing had driven an hour and a half from Des Moines. You can see on their license plates. They did not. And I`d asked people what church they went to, et cetera. No, they just. They were not that engaged with this. I met I`d say only one or two people out of dozens of conversations who had ever been to one of these town halls before this year.

HAYES: All right, Dave Weigel, thanks for your time. Appreciate it, man.

Still ahead, what President Trump learned on his visit to the national African-American history museum in D.C. today. Plus, tonight`s Thing One, Thing Two starts right after this break.



HAYES: Thing one tonight, words matter. President Trump repeatedly made blatantly false statements during the campaign, including wild, baseless conspiracy theories. But now he`s in the White House. He speaks for the U.S. government, at least to some degree. Those statements aren`t forgotten as easily, including, for instance, President Trump`s claim earlier this month that thousands of voters were bused into New Hampshire to vote illegally, which he believes kept him from winning that state.

Now, that did not sit well with the commissioner of the FEC who called on the president to immediately share New Hampshire voter fraud evidence.

Today, after a conservative group called for an ethics investigation into the FEC commissioner, she repeated her demand for evidence saying "I won`t be silenced."

Well, the White House has vigorously defended Trump`s voter fraud bus theory. There is one Trump loyalist who apparently got the wrong talking points. And that`s Thing Two in 60 seconds.


HAYES: Donald Trump`s foreign campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, remember him? He was asked this week about the president`s voter fraud claim.


DAVID AXELROD, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Do you think that the election turned in New Hampshire on people coming across the border and posing as New Hampshire residents?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FRM. TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I live on the border. I didn`t see buses coming across the line to say that, hey, we`ve moved up from Massachusetts. So I don`t think you have that.


HAYES: I don`t think you have that. I didn`t see buses.

Statements by Corey Lewandowski who, you`ll remember, was Trump`s New Hampshire delegation chairman. Seems slightly at odds with the official White House position as outlined by the president`s senior adviser Stephen Miller.


STEPHEN MILLER, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: This issue of busing voters into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who`s worked in New Hampshire politics. It`s very real. It`s very serious. This morning on this show is not the venue for me to lay out the evidence.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS,ABC NEWS: Hold on a second. You just claimed again there was illegal voting in New Hampshire, people bused in from the state of Massachusetts. Do you have evidence to back that up?

MILLER: George, go to New Hampshire, talk to anybody who has worked in politics there for a long time. Everybody is aware of the problem in New Hampshire with respect to...

STEPHANOPOULOS: I`m asking you as the White House senior -- hold on a second. I`m asking you as the White House senior policy adviser. The president made a statement saying they was victim of voter fraud.

MILLER; And the president was.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have any evidence?

MILLER; If this is an issue that interests you, then we can talk about it more in the future. And now have our government is beginning to get stood up. We have a Department of Justice and we have more officials, an issue of voter fraud is something we`re going to be looking at very seriously and very hard.



HAYES: President Trump toured the National Museum of African-American history and culture in Washington, D.C. this morning, taking in several exhibits about slavery and one exhibit on his Hud nominee and touring companion Ben Carson.

He also reflected on the history of race relations with our own Craig melvin.


CRAIG MELVIN, MSNBC: Why do you think those divisions exist in this country? Why do you think they`re still so deep? So persistent?

TRUMP: Well, I think it`s just age old. It`s - there is something going on that doesn`t allow it to fully heal, sometimes it gets better and then it busts apart. But we want to have it get very much better, get unified and stay together. But you`ve seen it where often times it will get much better and then it blows up.

And part of the beauty of what you`re doing here with the museum and the success of the museum -- the success is very important because it`s doing tremendous numbers. Tremendous numbers of people are coming in. I think that really helps to get that divide and bring it much closer together, if not perfect.


HAYES: Immediately after that, Craig Melvin succeed where others have failed and actually got the president to comment on anti-Semitism and anti- Semitic attacks across the country. What he finally said next.


HAYES: Today, yet another bomb threat was made against a Jewish community center, this time in San Diego. This week alone, bomb threats have been called into 12 JCCs across the country prompting terror and evacuations. So far, thankfully, no one has been hurt.

This Jewish community center in Birmingham got its second bomb threat in a month. Parents and staff again forced to evacuate small children from day care. This year alone, at least 70 JCCs have been targeted.

And that`s not all, at a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis this week, grave sites desecrated in a scene reminiscent of the Nazis. More than 100 headstones toppled over or damaged. This morning Hillary Clinton tweeted directly to the president, quote, "JCC threats, cemetery desecration and online attacks are so troubling and need to be stopped. Everyone must speak out starting with POTUS."

Now, President Trump was asked twice last week about the rise of anti- Semitic incidents and chose not to condemn them first at a press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, then again at his press conference on Thursday when he browbeat a sympathetic Jewish reporter for simply raising the question.


TRUMP; Quiet, quiet, quiet.

See, he lied about -- he was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question. So, you know, welcome to the world of the media.


HAYES: The president did finally condemn the threats today during a visit to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture first in an interview our own Craig Melvin the president denounced antisemitism generally though he included a rather odd qualification.


TRUMP: I think you maybe have had it for longer than people think and maybe it gets brought up a little bit more, but I will tell you that antisemitism is horrible and it`s going to stop and it has to stop.


HAYES; A short time later, the president was fully on script reading a condemnation of the threats from prepared remarks.


TRUMP: The antisemitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.


HAYES: Joining me now, Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of the Jewish focused media outlet the forward, and MSNBC contributor Ben Jealous, former president and CEO of the NAACP.

Jane, let me start with you. How do understand this? This president, two opportunities to just say the most obvious - you can even say just like (inaudible) got weirdly defensive about it. Finally today said something.

JANE EISNER, THE FORWARD: If you can understand this. I think that`s really hard.

Look, it`s not just (inaudible) multiple opportunities, in fact, throughout the (inaudible) and he didn`t.

There were other times when he has really not acknowledged what`s happened to Jews, for example, in his statement about the Holocaust Rembrance Day.

So I think someone finally got to him or maybe his conscience pricked him a little bit. He did say the right things. He said in the the right place. I think it was important it came at the African-American history museum and so we have to at least acknowledge that.

HAYES: Well, so Ben, you know, when I was watching this play out, it really reminded me of the way he dealt with David Duke during the campaign. Because David Duke endorsed him. There were all these headlines. And, again, like, you know, politicians are not responsible for people that endorse them. They can`t control that relationship. What they can say is I denounce the Klan. I denounce David Duke and he just wouldn`t do it. He pretended he didn`t who he was to Jake Tapper. And there was like a weird similarity of what is it that he cannot do that is just the obvious first-order thing when it comes to essentially extremist bigots?

BEN JEALOUS, FRM PRESIDENT, CEO NAACP: His brain, if you will, his chief strategist is Steve Bannon who is a big fan of white supremacists. And so there`s a problem with his brain.

But I think what`s more troubling here is that we have a tradition of U.S. presidents going back to the very first, going back to George Washington and his letter to the Hebrew congregation of Newport, Rhode Island saying that we will give no sanction to bigotry, we will have no tolerance for persecution. And Donald Trump ran a campaign that inspired bigotry, that inspired hatred and violence.

Last year was a banner year. And the problem, of course, is that that tradition in this country of standing up against attacks on the Jewish community really is rooted in the very idea that nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. And we`ve seen in the first month federal judges say that the president has begun to target people because they are Muslims.

And so this president really has to back up in a profound way and actually like he is president and he is no longer campaigning, frankly, and get out of the groove his campaign cut, which was a groove of hate.

HAYES: You know, when you look at those images -- and part of what - how do you understand what`s going on with specific threats? I mean, I saw those images in St. Louis. And I thought tomyself, I had never seen anything like this, but for footages of Poland under the Nazis. I mean, this is as horrific a desecration as you can commit. How do you understand what is happening right now specifically with these acts that we`ve seen?

EISNER: Well, Trump was right when he said yes, antisemitism is probably always there. But it`s been at record lows in America for many years now. Jews are the most admired religious group. There was just a survey that came out last week about this.

So I think this is a real shock to the system. I think the tacit acknowledgment his campaign gave, sometimes explicit use of antisemitic tropes in the campaign unleashed something that is virulent and is looking for approval from the White House, and that`s why it`s so important for a president to denounce it, but he`s now got to follow up. And really understand that it`s not --the words are very important, it`s a first step, but the next step must be policy and the policy is not just about Jews, as Ben said, this is also about way this administration has targeted Muslims and Mexicans and many other people because of their race or ethnicity.

HAYES: And there`s a kind of continuity there.

We should note that a bunch of Muslim-Americans put together a fund-raiser for that St. Louis cemetery to raise money to restore it, which is.

JEALOUS; And that`s the -- that`s what`s really beautiful, if you will, the silver lining on this very dark cloud is that it`s pushing people together, it`s getting folks to really see what they have in common. And unfortunately what they have in common is that the president is creating a situation where all of us feel more persecuted.

HAYES: Jane Eisner, Ben Jealous, thanks for being here tonight. Appreciate it.

That is All in for this evening.