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CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC ALL IN HOST: Tonight on ALL IN.
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government`s efforts to interfere in the 2016 Presidential election.
HAYES: James Comey is out.
COMEY: That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
HAYES: The President of the United States has fired the man leading the investigation of his own campaign.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He`s become more famous than me.
HAYES: Tonight, how the White House is explaining its seismic power play. How Democrats are reacting with Senator Elizabeth Warren. The shades of Nixon with John Dean. What all of this means for the Russia investigation and what it means for American government when ALL IN starts right now.
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Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. Absolutely explosive news out of Washington tonight. One Senator says it has plunged the country into, and I quote here, "a full-fledged constitutional crisis." The President of the United States firing the man who was leading the investigation into possible collusion between the government of Russia and his own Presidential campaign. That man, of course, FBI Director James Comey, who just last month confirmed under oath in open hearing the FBI investigation into what the President has repeatedly dismissed as, quote, "fake news." Speaking on the Senate floor just a short time ago, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois warned the investigation is now in jeopardy.
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SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINIOS: The termination and removal of James Comey as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation raises the critical question as to whether the FBI investigation of Russian interference in the last Presidential campaign will continue and whether the investigation into any collusion or involvement by the Trump campaign will also be investigated by the FBI. Any attempt to stop or undermine this FBI investigation would raise grave constitutional issues.
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HAYES: President Trump cited as his reason for firing Comey the FBI Director`s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton`s e-mails, which many of course believe ultimately cost Clinton the election. Last week, after Clinton blamed Comey and WikiLeaks for her loss, the President tweeted, quote, "FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds." After the news broke this afternoon, The New York Times Michael Schmidt reported, the White House and Department of Justice had been working on firing Comey since at least last week, adding that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had been working to come up with reasons. Schmidt also reporting Comey only learned of his firing as he addressed FBI employees in L.A. when TV screens in the background flashed news of the firing. Democrats, including Senator Charles Schumer, say it is now essential that the Deputy Attorney General appoint a special prosecutor to investigate any possible Trump/Russia connection.
CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY) MINORITY LEADER: If Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein does not appoint an independent special prosecutor, every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire Director Comey was part of a cover-up.
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HAYES: Joining me now, NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams. Pete, what is the latest that you know?
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest I know is that we`re waiting to find out if James Comey will keep a scheduled commitment to speak to, of all things, a recruiting event for the FBI at its -- in Los Angeles. He was in the FBI`s L.A. field office earlier today when the word came that he was fired. This came as a total shock to him, to everybody else in the FBI. They absolutely had no heads-up on this. They did not know it was coming. It is a total ton of bricks falling on the FBI. They did not know that this was going to happen or that it was even in the offing. That`s how closely held this was even though apparently discussions were going on between the senior people at the Justice Department and the White House about this for the past several days. So the question is, is Jim Comey going to keep this appointment to speak tonight? We have been told that as of an hour and a half or so ago, they were still debating it. It seems unlikely now, but that was something he was still thinking. What his thinking now is, now that this is soaking in, whether he`s going to do it or not, we don`t know. And we`re waiting to find that out. But that`s how he got the word. That`s how little heads-up there was. He did not get a call from the President. A letter was sent over there to the White House -- or to the FBI and to the Justice Department, hand-delivered. But because Mr. Comey was in L.A., he was not there to receive it. He was told about it on the phone. It`s still unclear to us how he originally found out about it, but he was meeting with people at the FBI field office. He has met -- he`s met with someone at every FBI field office since he`s been FBI Director, and now he`s sort of going back and going through them again. But that was the -- that was the letter from the President that you just saw there. So as I -- as we understand it now from several officials, this -- what the Trump administration now is saying is that this idea began with the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, a career prosecutor, who has worked for both Republicans and Democrats, and shortly after coming into the job, we`re told, he decided that the FBI Director had lost public confidence and that he had lost Rosenstein`s confidence and should go, made that recommendation to Attorney General Sessions, who agreed, they made their recommendation to the White House, but of course it was ultimately the President`s decision and we now know the President made the decision to fire the FBI Director. So -- go ahead, Chris.
HAYES: Well, I just want to say that in the context of -- I mean, what the White House is saying is this went up the chain from the DAG to the Attorney General to the President. Each letter above the DAG cites DAG`s the letter making that conclusion. The President thought does say this. While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau. Now this is in a letter ostensibly ratifying a determination by the Deputy Attorney General about Comey`s conduct with respect to the Clinton matter. It is downright bizarre for the President to include that in that letter.
WILLIAMS: So I`ll leave that up to you to decide the -- what it means -- what -- how to -- try to characterize it. I will say that it`s obviously an attempt to say, I`m not firing Jim Comey because he`s investigating me.
WILLIAMS: That`s why it`s in there. But a couple of things that need to be said. One is, there is a Deputy FBI Director, Andrew McCabe. Obviously he`ll take over. There`s been a conference call of all the FBI senior leadership going on now for the last half hour or so all the special agents in charge of the -- all the bureaus around the country, they`re all -- they`re all lashed together now talking about what to do. They have these video hookups they can use. So they`re all in touch now trying to make sure that continuity in the FBI goes ahead because whenever there are these changes in the top, it`s obviously a critical moment. You don`t want anyone to think that the FBI is not keeping its eye on the ball. They want to make sure there`s continuity. That`s the first thing. The second thing is that the investigation of the Trump -- potential connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians hacking the election, that`s not going to stop. That`s not going to change. There is a day-to-day person at the FBI in charge of that. It`s being led by the counterintelligence division at the FBI, and that will go on. So nothing there will change even though James Comey will be gone. So we`ll have to wait and see whether he shows up in a couple more hours out in that event in L.A., Chris.
HAYES: That would -- that would be truly astounding. Pete Williams, thank you so, so much for your time tonight.
All right. Joining me now by phone, New York Times Reporter Michael Schmidt. Michael, I want you to tell us your reporting, what it indicates about where this emanated from. Was it the fact that Rod Rosenstein made this determination and passed it up the chain?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER (via telephone): Well, first Comey will not speak tonight at that diversity thing. The real question is how Comey is going to get home. He`s out in Los Angeles with the FBI plane, and he`s no longer the FBI Director. So will he have the ability to use the plane to fly home? My guess is that that will probably happen, but that`s sort of the question right now. You know -- you know, he didn`t know this was coming as Pete Williams pointed out. And you know, this is something that we know the Justice Department had been working on for at least a week. I mean, if you read the Rod Rosenstein letter, it`s obviously pretty detailed. They had spent a fair amount of time on this and they had obviously been charged with coming up with these reasons.
HAYES: What do you mean by that? I mean, that to me seems the key here because it seems that there`s -- what the White House is communicating is that the White House was just going about its business and the Attorney General is going about its business. But it`s Rod Rosenstein, the widely respected bipartisan career individual who made this determination. He passed it up to Sessions would approved of it. He passed it up to the President who approved of it. And yet it seems possible that actually the people sent the word that they wanted to find a reason to get rid of Comey.
SCHMIDT( via telephone): No, no. My understanding is that it -- that it - - you know, the idea that this sort of organically came out of the Justice Department, I think it`s false. I think this had come from the top and they had to come up with a reason to do this, to get rid of him. You know, they may have known that something like this had been in works for a while and was sort of sitting on a shelf but this is not something that organically just bubbled up from inside the Justice Department.
HAYES: Yes. It would seem -- that would seem a little -- a little difficult to believe. I want to just give a little sense of the -- of some democratic reaction and to get your sense -- your reporting in response to something I`ve heard. So this is Ron Wyden saying "Comey should be immediately called to testify at an open hearing about the status of the Russia/Trump investigation." The time he was fired Brian Schatz of Hawaii, "we are in a full pledge constitutional crisis." Justin Amash, Republican from Michigan, "my staff and I are reviewing legislation to establish an independent commission on Russia. The second paragraph of this letter is bizarre." That was characterization used earlier about the President`s letter. Now, I`ve heard reporting from others that the White House is surprised by the blow back. What is your sense?
SCHMIDT (via telephone): Well, the interesting thing is to watch democrats come to the aide of Comey. I think the only thing that they like less than Comey is the world without Comey. The Democrats have been sharply critical of him for what he did around the election and for his decision to reopen the Clinton e-mail investigation 11 days before the election. So they`ve now positioned themselves as the defenders of Comey because they think -- I think they realize that Comey was their best bet to try and get some type of independent result out of the Russia investigation. We have heard as well that the White House is surprised by the blow back to this. But it -- you know, I find -- I don`t know how they couldn`t anticipate that. You know, someone like firing the FBI Director really resurrects -- you know, the idea of the -- you know, Saturday night massacre, and that kind of thing, you know, is -- you know, pretty troubling to some people.
HAYES: All right. Michael Schmidt, thank you so much for joining me. I`m joined now by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. And Senator, your reaction to the dismissal of James Comey?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D) MASSACHUSETTS: Well, let`s put it in a little context. Remember, Sally Yates was Acting Attorney General, and one of the things she told the Trump administration was that his inner circle adviser Flynn was compromised by the Russians, and she gets fired. Preet Bharara is the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he`s the one who has jurisdiction over any investigation into what happened at Trump tower. And after Donald Trump originally embraced him and said he wanted to keep him on, Preet gets fired. And now it turns out that James Comey, who says he has an active and ongoing investigation, will not rule out investigating Donald Trump directly and the connection with the Trump campaign and the Russians, and now James Comey gets fired. You put those together, and it`s pretty clear what`s going on here. Donald Trump doesn`t want anyone coming anyplace close to an active investigation into the relationship between the Russians, the Trump campaign, and Donald Trump himself.
HAYES: Rod Rosenstein is now the Deputy Attorney General, and were there to be a special prosecutor appointed, it would be under his power because Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, has recused himself. Do you believe a special prosecutor should be appointed by the Deputy Attorney General?
WARREN: Absolutely. We need a special prosecutor right now. I mean yes. He needs to announce he`s going to do it this evening and figure out who the right person is and then have a special prosecutor. Look, the only way we go forward here is if we`ve got someone who`s independent, who`s going to conduct a transparent investigation into what`s going on. We`ve had enough of the partisanship here. This is now something that matters to every single American. It doesn`t matter what your political affiliation is, whether you have no political affiliation at all. What matters as Americans is that we need to get to the bottom of this question of what is the relationship between Donald Trump and the Russians. We need to know that as Americans, and now that Trump has fired three people directly and his own Attorney General has recused himself from having anything to do with the investigation because he lied to Congress about his own relationship with the Russians, the American people want us to get to the bottom of this. We must get to the bottom of this, and that starts with an independent prosecutor.
HAYES: So I want to -- I want to present to you the substantive case the White House is making here and get your reaction to it. So what they are saying, if you read the Deputy Attorney General`s letter, it is actually a condemnation of James Comey`s conduct that aligns quite closely with what I heard from Democrats, prominent and not so prominent, and the Clinton campaign about his conduct, the situation to arrogate to himself, the unilateral ability to make these determinations to offer his judgments on her conduct. This is -- the Director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General`s authority on July 5th, 2016 and announce his conclusion as I recall that the case should be closed without prosecution. They`re basically saying this is a substantive critique of him essentially going rogue during the campaign, and that means that he`s no longer fit to serve because he still says it`s the right thing to do. And the Attorney General and the President agree, and they`re saying, don`t Democrats agree? You guys have been calling for his head forever.
WARREN: Comey was not fired because of Hillary. Comey was fired because of the Russians. The timing makes this, I think, entirely clear. The fact that all during the campaign, Donald Trump kept citing Comey and using Comey. Once he was elected, he embraced Comey. And now to turn around months later and say, oh, yes, that was just terrible, no, come on. There`s nobody left in America who believes that Donald Trump fired James Comey in order to try -- because James Comey was mean to Hillary Clinton. That`s -- you know, there`s a lot --
HAYES: Well, when you put it that way.
WARREN: -- that Donald Trump says that makes you -- yes exactly. Come on --
HAYES: Let me ask you this.
HAYES: At one level, there`s precedent for this. Bill Clinton was the last President to terminate an FBI Director. It`s within the powers of the President. It`s a ten-year term. There`s some independence, but they do serve at the pleasure of the President. The President can fire them. How big is say deal is this?
WARREN: It is a big deal. In fact, I think that`s the only time an FBI Director has been terminated, and that FBI Director was terminated not because of any ongoing investigation. He was terminated for ethics violations. And so terminating someone because they have behaved in ways that are ethics violations, yes, of course. But that`s -- you know, in a sense, though, that really is the point here, isn`t it? No one is above the law. The Director of the FBI is not above the law. But here`s the point. The President of the United States is not above the law. And if there is a relationship between Trump, his campaign, and the Russians, then the American people need to know about that. And if it is not lawful or was not lawful, then we also need to know about that. No one in America is above the law, and that includes Donald Trump.
HAYES: It seems to me that in this context in terms of how the constitution deals with possible lawlessness by the President -- and I`m not saying that`s been established -- that there`s a political question at the heart of this, which is that you`re going to need republicans to come to the same conclusion that you have. Whether it`s in the confirmation of the next person to lead the FBI, whether it`s in the possibility of some sort of legislation that -- you know, creates an independent prosecutor. Do you think that`s a possibility?
WARREN: You know, there are some moments that transcend politics, and I think this is one of them. This is a moment when all of us should care whether we`re democrats or republicans. And this is true in the House, in the Senate, and all across this country. We need an independent investigation into Donald Trump`s relationship to the Russians, an investigation that all of us can believe in, an investigation that is not shaped by one political point of view or another, an independent, transparent investigation. Even Donald Trump`s most ardent supporters should want that. There should not be a cloud hanging over the White House about how Donald Trump is tangled up with Russian oligarchs. What we need now is an independent investigation, and I hope that all of my colleagues in Congress will call on the Deputy Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor right now. He said during his confirmation hearings that if called upon, if the circumstances warranted, that he was ready to do that. He was prepared to do it. That`s what the law puts in place for him to do now that -- now that the Attorney General has been -- has been blocked out from any part of this process. So let`s get it. Let`s do it right now. Let`s have an independent special prosecutor, someone who can pursue this all the way down and find out exactly what the relationship is between Trump and the Russians. We all want to know the answer to this.
HAYES: All right. Senator Elizabeth Warren, thank you for taking time tonight. Appreciate it.
WARREN: Thank you.
HAEYS: Joining me now is Michael Isikoff, Chief Investigative Correspondent for Yahoo! News who has been on the Flynn story and the Russia story like a dog with a bone. What do you know, Michael, about the remarkable developments of this last four hours.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, YAHOO! NEWS CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: The big question here, Chris is why now? The conduct cited has been publicly known for more than nine months now. That`s when Comey first made his public recommendation about the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, and there are a couple of things that leap out. Number one, they did this without having any replacement ready to go. To nominate, to have in place.
HAYES: That`s a good point.
ISIKOFF: If the purpose was to restore credibility and trust in the FBI, you know, they don`t have a leader.
HAYES: That`s a good point.
ISIKOFF: Number two, there was an ongoing inspector general investigation review into the very conduct that Rod Rosenstein cited on this.
HAYES: That`s correct.
ISKOFF: And I can tell you because I confirmed tonight that that review is ongoing. It has not -- it is not close tocompletion. They don`t expect it completed until the end of the year. So we`re several months into -- that was announced in January. They`Re several months into an investigation as to -- about Comey`s conduct. So they did this without waiting for the findings of the inspector general, which obviously would have given this move a lot more credibility --
HAYES: That is -- that is a -- excellent.
ISIKOFF: -- if the inspector general made that. And number three, the new acting head of the FBI is the Deputy Director, Andrew McCabe, who was in charge of the Hillary Clinton investigation. And if we just go back to Comey`s testimony from last week, he said that his decision to write that letter was concurred in by all of his senior staff. So Andrew McCabe, the guy who is now in charge of the FBI, we can presume if Comey was honestly depicting what happened, was -- concurred in the very decision that Rod Rosenstein is saying makes Comey ineligible to be head of the FBI.
HAYES: That is a great point. I also want to -- I mean the idea of whether the scams that the handling. This is the President himself last November talking about Comey`s conduct, the conduct that is -- which the White House is saying is the reason he was relieved today. Take a listen. Do we have that?
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: FBI Director James Comey, are you going to ask for his resignation?
TRUMP: I think that I would rather not comment on that yet. I don`t -- I haven`t made up my mind. I respect him a lot. I respect the FBI a lot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was it a mistake not to ask Jim Comey to step down from the FBI at the outset of your Presidency? Is it too late now to ask him to step down?
TRUMP: No, it`s not too late but, you know, I have confidence in him. We`Ll see what happens. You know, it`s going to be interesting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the President still have confidence, full confidence in FBI Director James Comey?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have no reason to believe -- I haven`t asked him. So I don`t -- I have not asked the President since the last time we spoke about this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: So that`s different than the sound I wanted to play, but the point there is --
HAYES: -- the point there though is that in all of those conversations, all of the conduct that he`s being cited for for his dismissal had already taken place.
ISIKOFF: Well, in fact, you know, Trump had -- then candidate Trump had fulsomely praised the conduct in late October and talked about how great it was that Comey had written the letter that is now being cited as the grounds for dismissing him. So, you know, clearly that doesn`t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Now, look, Rod Rosenstein is a career prosecutor, served under republicans and democrats. It is hard to imagine that he would be part of a political hit job like this, but the timing is so curious that it -- that it almost calls out for a full testimony, a tick-tock of how and why this came about. Were there -- where there signals sent from the White House to the Justice Department that they wanted grounds to dismiss Comey?
HAYES: All right. Michael Isikoff, thank you for joining me. I`m joined now by a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Eric Swalwell, Democrat from California. And from your perch investigating the Russia issue, what does -- what does today mean?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL, (D) CALIFRONIA: Chris, I`ll also say from my perch as a judiciary committee member who oversees the FBI, the separation between our Justice Department and the FBI from our leaders, the independence that they must show, is a bedrock principle of our democracy. And the President firing the guy who was investigating his campaign is a violation of that bedrock principle. And so, I`m very worried about the future of the FBI`s investigation into the President`s campaign. I hope whoever is appointed next is someone who is independent, who is completely removed from the 2016 campaign, and can continue to allow this investigation to proceed.
HAYES: Well, but what the White House would say -- and they would say, look, the prEsident has this authority. It`s both statutory authority in terms of the FBI and constitutionally it is the executive branch. All the people in that branch serve at the pleasure of the President. And you know, lots of people complained about James Comey from all quarters. So what`s your problem, Congressman?
SWALWELL: Well, that authority, though, a great leader, someone who respects our democracy, would restrain themselves once they become under investigation. And so on January 20th, if the President had fired James Comey, I think you can make a different argument. But when James Comey came to the House Intelligence Committee and told our Committee and the world that the President and his campaign were under investigation, any decisions on Comey should have been frozen until that investigation was complete. That is where the violation of independence between justice and our leaders, I think, was violated.
HAYES: Are you confident at some bedrock -- in some bedrock since your confident with the integrity of whatever the FBI has done so far is preservable? I mean, how much of a threat do you think is posed by this action?
SWALWELL: Well, I know that the people at the FBI and at the Justice Department love our country. They understand that our sovereignty was violated by what Russia did and that they want to follow the evidence wherever it goes. But it`s much harder when you have the President firing the leader of that investigation. I`m also concerned, Chris, frankly that reports are saying that Jeff Sessions was a part of this decision. Jeff Sessions, someone who has recused himself from the Russia investigation, should be nowhere near this decision. I hope we learn more about that, and I hope the Judiciary Committee also looks into whether he played any role in the firing of James Comey.
HAYES: Well, he clearly played some role in the sense that he wrote this letter that I have here, you know, recommending it. So -- that`s his signature.
SWALWELL: That doesn`t sound like recusing one self, does it.
HAYES: Right. I mean, he says, I you know, I must recommend that you remove Direct James B. Comey Jr. and identify an experienced and qualified individual to lead the great men and women of the FBI. That is the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions. I want to get your reaction to the part of the letter from the President, the second paragraph letter which is a lot of people- Justin Amash called it bizarre. A lot of people raised eyebrows of this. From your perch, while I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you`re not able -- you`re not able to effectively lead the bureau. Now, it strikes me that either the President lying about that or he`s telling the truth, in which case there are communications between the chief investigatory officer and the subject of the investigation about the status of the investigation.
SWALWELL: Very, very bizarre, Chris. And you know, it`s a position where the Director cannot speak about whether the President is or is not under investigation. He can`t tell the public whether that`s true or not. And so the President allows himself to really tell that story. This is all the more reason, speaking of Justin Amash, that we need an independent commission. I have written legislation with Elijah Cummings to have an independent commission. I hope Justin Amash is the second republican to join us in that pursuit, and I hope that we can do it in a bipartisan manner because in prior events in the history of America, it`s always shown the most progress when republicans and democrats come together, and never before have we seen a moment like this where we need republicans and democrats to really join together and say, this democracy is worth defending.
HAYES: Do you -- Walter Jones I imagine is the other co-sponsor on that piece of legislation, the other republican that you have -- that you have signed on.
HAYES: How does this affect the -- immediately what happens right now? I mean, A, there`s a concern that like, you know, Saturday night massacre style. The files are being sealed in the FBI and protected. But also the investigations of the two committees. It seems to me you`re going to have questions for how this all came about.
SWALWELL: Right. We`ll be back in session next week and hopefully the Judiciary Committee who oversees the FBI on the day to day basis will be able to bring before our Committee Jeff Sessions and other members who are involved in this decision to understand just what is the status of the investigation into the President`s team because the last thing we want to see is for this investigation to be buried. And so it must go on. And again, it`s in the President`s interest, Chris, if these are all mere coincidences as far as his prior ties to Russia, that he is cleared. And this just made it a lot harder for us to get to the bottom of what happened.
HAYES: All right. Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you for joining me.
I`m joined by Philip Rucker, White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post. The big question, Philip, why now? Why now? Why now?
PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTO POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Yes. And Chris, good to be here. We don`t have a clear answer on that yet. What I can tell you from talking to sources in and outside the White House is that the President kept this very closely held. Only some of his most senior officials knew that this was in the works and even knew about it until this afternoon. And one indication of why this was such a personal decision for President Trump, he actually dispatched Keith Schiller, who is his longtime bodyguard and head of personal security at Trump tower. Keith Schiller is now the Director of Oval Office Operations at the White House. He was dispatch to the FBI Headquarters to deliver -- hand deliver Trump`s letter.
CHRIS HAYES, ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES HOST: Keith Schiller, his personal bodyguard, was the person who delivered the letter firing the man investigating the president`s campaign.
RUCKER: That is correct. It was not delivered by the Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, or by any other official in the White House. Trump gave the letter to Keith Schiller to personally deliver to the FBI. Of course Comey was in Los Angeles at the time --
HAYES: Did they know that? Did they know that?
RUCKER: I don`t know that they knew that. The letter was delivered to the FBI building for Comey to receive, but Comey was not there in person. So I don`t know if the White House knew that in advance or not, but I think the fact that Schiller is the person tapped to do that speaks volumes about how personal this was for Trump.
HAYES: The president has gone back and forth on Comey. He`s expressed criticism. He`s expressed endorsement of him. Here he is in last November praising the Comey letter. Take a listen to this.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they`re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution. You know that. It took a lot of guts. I really disagreed with him. I was not his fan. But I`ll tell you what, what he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back. He`s got to hang tough because there`s a lot of -- lot of people want him to do the wrong thing. What he did was the right thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Now, there are people in Clinton world who believe and people in right-wing media Iƒ_Tve seen who think that the ultimate aim here is to actually investigate and prosecute Hillary Clinton.
RUCKER: You know, they might be exactly right there. The public explanation that President Trump and the attorney general and deputy attorney general have given is all about Comey`s handling of the Clinton email investigation. But I know from sources that Trump over the last several weeks and months has been sort of bothered by some of the things that Director Comey has been saying in his testimony on Capitol Hill about the Russia investigation. This of course is an investigation that Trump dismisses as fake, as phony, as sort of an imaginary thing by the fake news media when in fact it`s very real, and Comey has spoken truthfully about the seriousness of that investigation in his testimony on the hill.
HAYES: Philip, I just want to let viewers know that what they`re seeing on the left part of their screen there is a live shot of the -- of James Comey motorcade in Los Angeles. We believe it to be that, I should say. He is in Los Angeles for a number of speaking events. And again, speaking of recruitment event tonight, he was speaking at the bureau in Los Angeles today when got word according to reporting that he had been terminated. That word flashed across television sets that were on in the room.
He was told via the phone that after the president`s bodyguard, personal bodyguard and head of security, who is on tape from early in the campaign for punching a protester, hand-delivered the letter terminating James Comey to the FBI headquarters. Of course Comey was not there. He was in Los Angeles. And there he is right now that the reporting from Michael Schmidt of The New York Times suggests he will not be speaking at that event.
Our own reporting can`t confirm that, but there he is on the way. One imagines possibly to an FBI plane on a tarmac to fly back to the East Coast although he is no longer the director or employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. So maybe he will just be flying on Spirit Airlines. Philip Rucker, you still there? Yes.
RUCKER: I am here.
HAYES: So Philip, so the question here also is about the political blowback here. I mean, this was kept close to the chest by the president, his closest circle of advisers. There are some reporting indicating they weren`t, quote, anticipating the blowback, but I got to think that this is -- this is going to dominate every newscast everywhere across the country and water cooler talk in offices of folks who aren`t news junkies, that the president fired the head of the FBI.
RUCKER: Yes, it`s a pretty explosive development here. And the important thing in terms of the political impact is it`s caused immediate reaction from democrats in the senate and the house to call for this special investigation for a different approach to dealing with the Russia probe. We`re going to see if that picks up some air among some republicans on Capitol Hill. I don`t know. But clearly the pressure is mounting to really get to the bottom of these questions regarding the Russia connections.
HAYES: All right. Phillip Rucker, thanks for joining me. I should say in terms of the republican side of the ledger, Lindsey Graham has essentially endorsed the actions taken. Richard Burr, who is the chair of that intelligence committee that is investigating the Trump possible Trump- Russia connections says he`s troubled by the timing of it. Bob Corker also issuing a statement showing some trepidation. No full-scale condemnations emanating from the republican side so far as Iƒ_Tve seen so far.
We`ll keep you the rest of that. Iƒ_Tm joined now by John Dean, former White House Counsel to the republican president, President Richard Nixon. And John, the obvious analog everyone is talking to is the famous Saturday Night Massacre, Archibald Cox. That was when the president essentially tried to get rid of the man who was investigating and prosecuting, possibly prosecuting him. What do you make of that comparison?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL TO PRES. NIXON: Well, he did get rid of that man, and he shut down the special prosecution office, which is why it was called a massacre. I don`t think this comes quite to that level. It is somewhat in the same style. It has been as ham-fisted as Nixon`s removal of Cox. The question is whether there`ll be the same kind of blowback. I -- Iƒ_Tm interested in the response where people at the White House are not -- hadn`t anticipated this. The same thing happened at the Nixon White House. They were not ready for the blowback that occurred as a result of firing --
HAYES: Is that true?
DEAN: Yes, it is.
DEAN: And they were quite surprised by it. While they knew there`d be some repercussions, nowhere near what did happen had they anticipated. In fact, what did happen is that`s when the congress decided this is serious. This is when the bills of impeachment started being introduced, and it really changed the, you know -- the investigation at that stage.
HAYES: It had the opposite effect is what you`re saying.
DEAN: It had the opposite effect.
HAYES: That rather than ratchet things down it threw fuel on the fire.
DEAN: Exactly, exactly. And so that`s what I -- that`s the parallel, the closest parallel I see and I -- there were so many ways to handle this other than the way Trump did. They could have told Comey, "Listen, it`s just not working out. We have difficulty with the way this is proceeding," and they could`ve done it in a way where he would have resigned and it wouldn`t have been the same kind of blowback.
They didn`t have to fire him or he could`ve well been shown the door several ways but -- and I think particularly after he screwed up his testimony most recently on Hillary again and was laboring over this how do I correct my testimony, which was silly, you just correct it. Apparently he`s already now done that. But Iƒ_Tm surprised at the way the White House has learned nothing from history.
HAYES: Well, from there there`s -- there are two things at play here. One is legal questions. What can the president do under his authority? And then norms, right? So the president tomorrow, for instance, could say, "I am announcing the nomination of 20 new members of the Supreme Court," that would be a fully constitutional thing to do. It would be constrained by both tradition and the politics of confirmation. And in this case I guess the question is the president has the full ability to do this. Can he do other things? Can he for instance order an end to any investigation closed to him? Is that within the president`s power?
DEAN: It`s theoretically within his power. That`s what he did with Cox. He told Cox, "I don`t want you investigating me. I don`t want you to go after and pursue any more of my tapes. And if you do, Iƒ_Tm going to remove you," and that`s what he did. Now, Jaworski, when he took over the job, picked up where the investigation had left off because he had the wind in his sails of public confirmation and a desire to get to the bottom of the investigation.
So this could come up when he appoints another director. At some point he`s going to have to fill that chair and it`s going to be a real engine. Is he going to put somebody in like, say, when the FBI was on shaky ground post-Watergate and they put somebody like a retired judge or, excuse me, a sitting judge. Bill -- what`s his name? (INAUDIBLE) from St. Louis. Anyway, they could put somebody in like that and steady the FBI or they may just try to plow ahead and get control, even greater control than they just have statutorily. That seems to be what is going on in Sessions` mind.
HAYES: That I think is precisely the question. It gets -- it gets to this, which to me is the sort of the takeaway here from you as someone who is at the center of a genuine constitutional crisis. This doesn`t -- you said this doesn`t quite rise to the Saturday Night Massacre and in my independent judgment, I would agree, but where -- has there ever been anything that rose to this level other than the Saturday Night Massacre in the time that you`ve been an observer of American politics?
DEAN: I can`t think of it. When we -- when Sessions was removed, it was for very good reason, from the FBI.
HAYES: William Sessions, the FBI Director that was fired by Bill Clinton.
DEAN: Right, right. And we don`t have any parallels. In fact, the statute that was created giving FBI directors a ten-year term was designed to somewhat insulate them and make it extraordinary to remove.
HAYES: That`s right.
DEAN: Make it -- that`s why they wrote out all those explanations in the deputy attorney general`s letter, so there was cause to remove him. I don`t think anybody does believe that the cause they`re stating is the true cause. I think it`s more than they really want to try to get control of the FBI, which they didn`t feel they had with Comey, who was a fairly independent person.
HAYES: All right, John Dean. Thank you for joining me tonight.
DEAN: Thank you.
HAYES: I want to bring in now Karen Finney who is a former Senior Adviser, Senior Spokesperson for the Clinton campaign. And the -- I guess the line from --
KAREN FINNEY, FORMER SR. ADVISER 2016 CLINTON CAMPAIGN: Where to begin?
HAYES: The line from the White House, I guess, is well, look, you got what you wanted. You thought he did -- he did a terrible job and he was unfair to Hillary Clinton and now we fired him. How could you possibly complain?
FINNEY: Well, obviously as others have said, I mean the timing of this is what is problematic. And a couple points Iƒ_Td make. I mean, number one, on the timing, this actually shows you how far Donald Trump is willing to go to change the narrative and change the headlines. In addition to the points that have been made about whatever concerns there may have been in terms of how close the FBI may have been getting in their investigation on Russia or levels of uncomfortableness with the way he was conducting the investigation.
I mean, I think it`s interesting that, you know, it is the acting -- it is the deputy attorney general who initiates the letter, who just also happens to be in charge of the Russia investigation.
FINNEY: Calls for the firing. I think some of that is going to be very -- continue to be very suspicious. And I think with this move what -- I mean, just the level of incompetence in the way they handled this, I mean, they have just bought themselves an independent counsel. I do not see how they get away with not doing that. And I, you know -- there -- I can`t imagine that republican members of congress are going to feel comfortable defending this.
And, you know, Chris, one of the things I find most ironic, I actually remember when that press conference first happened. You know, this is a document that we did during the campaign that cited a hundred former members of the Department of Justice. They pull from this actually for that letter, the initial letter citing reasons why Comey should be fired. So I find that ironic --
HAYES: Wait. That`s in the dag`s letter? They cite your briefing document from the campaign?
FINNEY: Yes. So as you may recall, back when this -- when James Comey first did the press conference, which was the incident that they seem to cite as the inappropriate way that he handled this, you had first former Attorney General Eric Holder wrote an op-ed that appeared in The Washington Post.
HAYES: That`s right. I remember that.
FINNEY: And then you had people like Mike Mukasey and you had Alberto Gonzales appearing on television, talking about both the op-ed and also criticizing the attorney -- the former I guess now FBI Director Comey at the time. And then a hundred former, you know, senior members of the justice department put out a letter which we actually also re -- rereleased. And so the quotes that are in the letter from the acting -- from the deputy attorney general to Sessions actually cites some of the same -- very same quotes.
HAYES: So -- wait. So you -- this is really remarkable. So the campaign says -- the campaign puts out a document drawing together the collective judgment about the mishandling of the Clinton matter by James Comey by a bunch of people who have worked in the justice department.
HAYES: Those quotes are then put into a campaign document and those quotes then show up in the deputy attorney general dag, Rod Rosenstein`s letter when he is coming to the conclusion of why Comey should be fired.
HAYES: He is citing the same reasons from the Hillary Clinton campaign document?
FINNEY: Yes. Yes. Essentially, yes.
HAYES: Like actually the same quotes?
FINNEY: As a reminder -- I believe yes. And also using some of the same quotes that folks like Alberto Gonzalez and Mike Mukasey and former Attorney General Holder used at the time. So I mean, I find that very ironic.
HAYES: I mean, so the -- I guess the -- what -- it`s so through the looking glass, right? Because at one level the, sort of, most vociferous critics, I would say, of James Comey`s conduct, particularly as it pertains to the Clinton matter, are people close to -- including Hillary Clinton, people close to Hillary Clinton, people that work for her, lots of professionals too that don`t have a dog in the fight were very critical of his -- of his behavior.
HAYES: But I guess like -- but here`s my question. Rod Rosenstein is someone who has a very good reputation.
HAYES: He is not viewed as a hack. He is not viewed as a yes man. He is the one ultimately who puts his name to this letter with this rationale that is then cited. I mean, what do you then make of that? Are you saying that he is not a (INAUDIBLE) here? Like, what -- how do you process that?
FINNEY: Well, I process that as the same level of cowardice that we`ve seen from Donald Trump time and time again where he, you know, blames Barack Obama for General Flynn`s behavior, right? I mean, he never takes responsibility. He`s such a coward. He is willing to have his bodyguard, I guess, go and deliver -- you know, that`s not a scene from The Godfather, right?
FINNEY: Deliver this letter to Jim Comey. Iƒ_Tm not sure what he expected was going to happen there. But he is -- and, you know, not willing to stand up like a man and just make his argument as to why he thinks this person should be fired. Instead he is citing the deputy attorney general who, again, is citing quotes from back in the campaign days. But, again, you know, Chris, I don`t want us to lose sight of two very important points. Number one, the timing.
Yesterday Sally Yates -- I mean, my God, she is a stand-up American citizen who did the right thing, you know, tried to do the right thing, was fired for it, and clear -- and just decimated their arguments. And they had to be afraid of that and the damage that that was doing, and they did -- they probably knew even last week if that`s when they started collecting this information, you know, to try to collect the -- to put together the argument. I mean, clearly they knew that her testimony would be damaging.
I think it`s also suspicious obviously again, this deputy attorney general is in charge of the Russia investigation. I do think that raises questions. And the last thing, though, that I think is most important, as Americans we need to ask ourselves who will Donald Trump now put in this position?
FINNEY: Because if he puts in this position someone who is beholden to him and will protect him over their responsibility to protect the American people, that is a -- that is a big deal. That is something that we should all be concerned about and that is -- that`s part of why this goes beyond, this is the, you know -- these are Washington insider games. This is very dangerous to the security and the safety of our country.
HAYES: All right. Karen Finney, thank you. Joining me now, Delaware Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And what is your reaction, sir?
SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D-DE) MEMBER OF JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, Chris, this is simply a stunning development. I don`t think I could have been more surprised. In two weeks where Sally Yates testified in front of us earlier this week and where Director Comey testified last week. I thought Iƒ_Td heard all the surprising news there was going to be. That President Trump took this striking and sudden action and relied upon advice from Attorney General Sessions, who is supposed to ever accuse himself from the ongoing investigation into the possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
It raises an obvious question. Why did the Trump campaign -- excuse me, why did President Trump wait until now to fire Director Comey? The cited reason are all public facts that have been for months. And well, there have been some who have questioned and criticized the FBI director for his handling of the investigation in the Hilary Clinton`s emails last summer and last summer. The Trump campaign -- the Trump administration hasn`t made any previous comments about it and that`s what they cite as their justification for firing him abruptly today.
HAYES: Senator, that`s James Comey on tarmac at LAX and I do not know if he is getting into the FBI plane to fly back or if that`s just a private plane. It doesn`t look like a commercial aircraft that he`ll be boarding there but it looks like he is on a plane and we`ll be heading back to the East Coast. So you do not trust the reason. I mean, I guess the question to me, what -- how, you know -- how big a deal is this from your perspective? The president has this power.
It`s in the statute that created the directors -- the position or amended it after Watergate and after Hoover and, you know, they say that he was roundly criticized from across the aisle and so, do you have confidence that the FBI can continue to function and that you can carry out normal confirmation hearings for the -- for the replacement?
COONS: Well, Chris, that`s the really question. Can the FBI continue to conduct an independent investigation into the possibility that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians? Particularly in light of the abrupt firing of U.S. attorneys, the firing of Sally Yates, and now today the firing of FBI Director Comey. It was particularly striking that he found out that he had been fired through news reports while he was addressing FBI personnel in Los Angeles rather than having a direct conversation.
It is hard for me to believe that the entire reason for his firing is what was proffered by the attorney general and the deputy attorney general. And so I think we need to focus on whether or not the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to be allowed to, able to continue its bipartisan independent investigation, whether or not the FBI will be able to conduct an independent investigation, and I think we ought to recall FBI Director Comey to the Senate Judiciary Committee and ask him to testify about whether, in his opinion, this investigation has been compromised.
HAYES: That would be -- that would be striking. I think he`s scheduled, I believe, for some testimony on Thursday, if Iƒ_Tm not mistaken. And it`s unclear whether --
COONS: That`s correct. He was scheduled to testify, I believe, in front of the senate intelligence committee in open session. And I frankly think it would be important for us to know. Getting to the bottom of Russia`s interference in our last election is one of the most important things we can do to defend our democracy. And Iƒ_Tm encouraged that you`ve heard several republican committee chairs in the senate this evening express their concern that there is a disconnect between the explanation for the firing and what they expect to be appropriate actions by the president.
So whether or not we`re going to be able to have a constructive confirmation process for the next FBI director, whether or not we need to have a special council appointed in order to ensure an independent investigation are important and pressing questions the senate should be taking up this week.
HAYES: OK. So I want to ask about the appointment of the special prosecutor because it`s something that your colleagues in the senate have focused on. Chuck Schumer calling for one, Elizabeth Warren earlier in this program. Do you support the appointment of a special prosecutor by the deputy attorney general?
COONS: Well, Chris, I think that`s something that`s almost certainly called for now. I want to make sure we`re being careful about the difference between special prosecutor, special counsel. What really matters is independence. And I have some questions now about whether we`re going to be able to get someone who is a career prosecutor, who is able to conduct themselves independent of any interference, particularly given that the attorney general who had recused himself from the Russia investigation played a role in this firing of the FBI director.
I would support the appointment of an independent prosecutor or special counsel to manage this investigation going forward. I think our critical question has to be, can they really be independent?
HAYES: All right. Senator Chris Coons, thank you for making time tonight. I appreciate it. Joining me now --
COONS: Thank you, Chris.
HAYES: Amy Jeffress, former counselor to the attorney general, Malcolm Nance, former U.S. Intelligence Officer and MSNBC terrorism analyst and Karen Greenberg, Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, author of "Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State." Amy, let me -- let me begin with you because you worked in a legal position in the department of justice. It struck me where, sort of, unchartered territory here in so far as when is the last time that we had an FBI active counterintelligence investigation that had the president`s own campaign within its scope and then the president fired the FBI director?
AMY JEFFRESS, FORMER COUNSELOR TO THE ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, all of these events are clearly unprecedented. It`s a sad day for the Department of Justice. And I did work there for 20 years. I don`t like criticizing the Department of Justice but the Department of Justice is all about process. And this firing was not handled according to process. As you`ve already talked about there was an ongoing inspector general investigation of Director Comey`s handling of the Clinton email investigation.
And the proper course would have been to let that investigation play out and if any action needed to be taken as a result of that investigation`s conclusions it could have happened then. There`s no urgency to this. The events that -- or cited is the reasons for Director Comey`s firing took place last July and last October and it`s now May. So it seems that they could`ve followed the proper process and sad that they did not.
HAYES: Every -- Karen, everyone that I know that Iƒ_Tve been texting with in the last several hours. People that worked as U.S. prosecutors in the FBI offices, legal circles, are stunned by this. I mean, they`re -- I mean, it is unanimous and these are people that are not necessarily partisan people but sort of career folks are unanimously stunned by what`s happened.
KAREN GREENBERG, DIR. CENTER ON NATIONAL SECURITY AT FORDHAM LAW: Correct. And the reason they`re unanimously stunned is this is not how you do this. This is not how you -- if you want to fire somebody. And it makes you ask the question, why did President Trump do this in a way that Jim Comey was unprepared? So I think that`s actually a very important question that isn`t being raised. Is that -- was the investigation about to go into another step?
Or did Comey not have chance to part -- to prepare for this? And so the question is, really, did Comey have some sense that he needed to put his house in order in case he were taken out? And so I think that`s a very important question. I think it is true, everybody was stunned. Iƒ_Tm not sure they should have been, but I think that, you know, you wonder why this didn`t happen in January and was the reason to sort of not do anything to catch him off guard and to catch the department and the FBI off guard. So I think that`s right.
HAYES: Malcolm, do you -- do you have confidence that whatever the status of -- and I want to be clear here. It is totally possible that the counterintelligence investigation of what happened with the election would find no collusion, would actually in some public demonstrative way end up absolving of the sitting President of the United States in a way that I think would probably get that where the case and where the facts led probably good for the general, sort of, vibrancy of our democracy.
But whatever the facts are, do you have confidence in the integrity of that investigation which is sitting right now on some laptops and hard drives and physical files somewhere in some buildings that that integrity can be preserved under these circumstances?
MALCOLM NANCE, FORMER US INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Well, I believe the integrity can be preserved right up until the moment we find out who is going to step into the office as director of the FBI. Jim Comey for all of his warts, we know that there`s one thing that he will not and would not discuss. And that is the most sensitive type of investigation the FBI could ever do. And that is this counterintelligence.
Counterespionage investigation related to the White House and people associated with the White House. At this point, I think that, you know, that we`re having to wonder whether the United States has taken another step toward, you know, out of the Russian autocrats playbook and whether this is not just a decapitation of the FBI but it indicates that whatever the FBI was doing, however the FBI was progressing, it worried the White House to the point where they felt that they would go back and use these excuses like Karen Finney said which came from July and October of last year in order to take Director Comey completely out.
That smacks of someone who feels that the FBI was getting too close to something that they shouldn`t have. And don`t forget, that`s a counterespionage investigation, not just some regular investigation of petty crimes.
HAYES: Amy, if you read Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general dag, if you read his letter, one of the subtexts you can draw from this is essentially that Comey functionally went rogue during the campaign, that he ran roughshod over Justice Department procedure and essentially wrote the attorney general out of the process, which he quite publicly did and tacitly concerned that he could do that again. Is that a fair critique?
JEFFRESS: Well, certainly there are, you know, grounds that you could use to criticize Comey`s actions, and it`s hard to defend everything that he did. I don`t know anyone that agrees with every step he took along the way, but I think that those of us who know him and Iƒ_Tve worked with him and I think he`s a -- you know, man of extraordinary integrity. I don`t think that he ever was motivated by anything other than what he thought was the right thing. He was really trying to do the right thing and he may have made mistakes, but I think that the criticism, you know, it shouldn`t go to his motives.
HAYES: Yes. I should say that to a person almost everyone that works with James Comey has good things to say about him. There you say, inspired intense loyalty. I want to bring in Representative Jerry Nadler democrat from New York. This is remarkable news. Where does this put us now?
REP. JERRY NADLER, (D) DEMOCRAT: This puts us in a constitutional crisis perhaps worse than October 20th, 1973, when President Nixon fired the special prosecutor who was investigating him. You can`t fire the investigator who is investigating you and expect anybody to believe, A, that you`re innocent, or, B, that you`re going to have an honest investigation. The fact of the matter is the Russians we know tried to subvert an American election which is one of the worst things in American history.
Evidence of maybe sufficient, maybe not, that the Trump campaign colluded with them. If so it would be incredibly heinous and need really strong measures, and we need an honest investigation of that and President Trump just eliminated the possibility of an honest investigation of that.
HAYES: Is a special prosecutor enough from your perspective? If Rod Rosenstein were to appoint one, what would that mean? Would they be able to be insulated from all the forces acting here?
GREENBERG: It`s hard to say because you have a president and an administration right now that are willing to do things that other administrations would never have considered, whether it`s go after the courts and the judges, whether it`s attack the attorney general`s office, whether it`s attack the FBI. So it`s what we can do for now. It`s how our system is constructed. But there`s going to be questions through any process now.
HAYES: If we`re in a constitutional crisis, what is the proper response?
NADLER: Well, the only response at this point is there`s got to be a special prosecutor appointed and an independent commission like the 9/11 Commission. Whether that`s sufficient is another question because as some people have pointed out, even a special prosecutor is still dependent, an FBI agents who report ultimately to whoever the president appoints.
HAYES: And right you it`s Andrew McCabe, the acting director.
NADLER: And we know that the house and senate investigations just by the fact that they haven`t staffed up, that they`re -- are not real investigations.
HAYES: We also know that the White House has appeared to take extraordinary measures in particularly in the house and Devin Nunes and all that back and forth to throw in a monkey wrench.
NADLER: And we -- and we also that this White House has attacked the press, attacked the judiciary. They seem to be systematically attacking all the institutions that put checks on the power of the president. And that is very dangerous.
HAYES: Amy Jeffers, Malcolm Nance, Karen Greenberg, and Congressman Nadler. Thank you all for joining us. That is "All In" for this evening. "The Rachel Maddow Show" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks my friend.
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