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All in with Chris Hayes, Transcript 5/12/2017

Guests: John Dean, Clint Watts, Linda Chavez

KATIE TUR, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Thank you Nick Confessore, Catherine Rampell, Harold Ford Jr.  That will do it for HARDBALL.  Chris Matthews is right back here on Monday.  "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:  He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on.

HAYES:  Dinner with Comey.

JAMES CLAPPER, UNITED STATES FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE:  He mentioned that he had been invited to the White House to have dinner with the President and that he was uneasy with that.

HAYES:  New reporting contradicting the President`s claims and tonight, new questions about Oval Office recordings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did President Trump record his conversations with Former FBI Director Comey?

HAYES:  As the President threatens his Former FBI Director with tapes.

Plus, as the Deputy Attorney General reportedly signals no special prosecutor --

TRUMP:  Should we do the pledge?  Raise your hand.

HAYES:  Who else was asked to take the Donald Trump pledge?

Then David Cay Johnston on Trump`s new claim of new Russian income with the few exemptions. 

TRUMP:  I have a certified letter just so you understand. 

HAYES:  And my extended interview with Senator Elizabeth Warren.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  The American people want us to get to the bottom of this.

HAYES:  When ALL IN starts right now.


Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes.  It certainly seemed like a threat.  President Trump today sending a warning shot to his former FBI Director, tweeting James Comey better hope that the tapes -- there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.  Asked if the President had secretly recorded his conversations with Comey, who was leading the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia until Trump fired him on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer today pointedly did not rule out the possibility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did President Trump record his conversations with former FBI Director Comey?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I assume you`re referring to the tweet, and I`ve talked to the President.  The President has nothing further to add on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why did he say that?  Why did he tweet that?  What should we interpret from that?

SPICER:  As I mentioned, the President has nothing further to add on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are there recording devices in the Oval Office or in the residence?

SPICER:  As I said, for the third time, there is nothing further to add on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Does he think it`s appropriate to threaten someone like Mr. Comey not to speak?

SPICER:  I don`t think that`s -- that`s not a threat.  He simply stated a fact.  The tweet speaks for itself.  I`m moving on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I`m hoping you can answer this in a yes or no fashion.  Is the President of the United States currently recording conversations taking place in the Oval Office?

SPICER:  I think the point I made with respect to the tweet is the President has no further comment on this.


HAYES:  The last time a President who fired the people investigating his conduct was revealed to have secret tape recordings, things did not end well.  For the record, according to former White House -- Obama White House Lawyer Daniel Jacobson, if Trump is actually taping convos, the Presidential records act requires they be archived and it would violate criminal law to delete them.  Comey, for his part, appears to be pretty unfazed by the President`s threat.  A source close to him telling NBC News`s Ken Dilanian today, quote, he hopes there are tapes.  That would be perfect.  If there are tapes, House Democrats want to hear them.  They sent a letter today asking the White House to turn over any recordings the White House has made.  Trump and those close to Comey are telling very different stories about their interactions.  Trump claiming that Comey requested a dinner with the President, and Comey`s associates saying the FBI Director would never do such a thing.


CLAPPER:  He mentioned that he had been invited to the White House to have dinner with the President and that he was uneasy with that because of even compromising -- even the optics, the appearance of independence not only of him but of the FBI. 


HAYES:  According to the President at that dinner which took place a week after Trump was sworn in, Comey asked to keep his job and told the President he was not under investigation.  Comey`s associates say none of that is true.  They told The New York Times that what really happen is that the President on multiple occasions demanded that Comey pledge his loyalty to him and that Comey declined to do so.  The President was asked today if he asked Comey for loyalty.  Here`s his response.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  People suggest that the question that apparently The New York Times is selling, that you asked Comey whether or not you had his loyalty was possibly inappropriate.  Could you see how they would think that?

TRUMP:  No, I don`t think -- I read -- I read that article.  I don`t think it`s inappropriate.  Number one --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Did you ask that question?

TRUMP:  No.  No, I didn`t.  But I don`t think it would be a bad question to ask.  I think, loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is important.  You know, I mean it depends on how you define loyalty, number one.  Number two, I don`t know how that got there because I didn`t ask that question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What about the idea that in a tweet you said that there might be tape-recordings?

TRUMP:  Well, that I can`t talk about.  I won`t talk about that.  All I want is for Comey to be honest, and I hope he will be, and I`m sure he will, I hope.


HAYES:  Joining me now is John Dean, former White House Counsel to President Richard Nixon, who knew a thing about taping things in the White House.  John, I can`t tell if this is a distraction or a fib or a bluff, but your reaction to the pointed non-denial both from Sean Spicer and the President himself about taping people in the Oval Office?

JOHN DEAN, PRESIDENT NIXON`S FORMER COUNSEL:  It is very hard to believe that he`s actually got any kind of formal equipment to record in the Oval Office.  The only thing that occurred to me was he -- if he`s capable and understands how to turn on his recording device on his smartphone, he might have had that on when they were having dinner.  But I don`t -- I just can`t imagine any President commencing a taping operation in the Oval Office given what happened to Nixon.  I just -- it`s so imprudent, and it was so costly, and it ultimately comes out.

HAYES:  We should say that there`s a -- there`s a history of Donald Trump dabbling in surveillance.  Two great pieces in Buzzfeed`s Aram Roston Inside Donald Trump`s Surveillance Operations and sources Donald Trump listened in on phone lines at Mar-A-Lago.  Though that said, I think that the imprudence here is pretty clear.  Let me ask you this.  There`s also a degree to which the White House seems to be having a hard time getting their story straight in a fundamental way.  What do you make of that?

DEAN:  Well, it seems they have a President who is out of control, who moves at his own strokes.  He doesn`t brief his staff on what he`s going to do, doesn`t talk it through with them and do any kind of planning.  He has no sense of really how the Presidency operates and how to effectively do these things.  Eventually, he`s going to get burned so many times, he will figure it out.  But the learning process is just one eruption and more chaos every week and chasing down lies.  It`s really quite striking.

HAYES:  Earlier today, Sean Spicer said that the President is very clear.  He believes the notion there`s collusion is a hoax.  It`s been reaffirmed by several people including Senator Grassley.  Later in the day, Senator Grassley`s spokesperson says he has not spoken to President Trump but what he`s learned in briefings related to investigations into Russian interference in our elections, he`s never referred to the notion of collusion as a hoax.  So every time they sort of try to cite some authority outside of their sphere, it gets knocked down, it appears.

DEAN:  That`s true.  And, Chris, in the end, what caught Nixon was not some blatant criminal act.  He was caught in a lie after lying -- after he hung himself out on a position, took a firm position month after month on it, and then finally got caught in the lie, that`s when he really had to end his Presidency.  So --

HAYES:  And what lie was that specifically?

DEAN:  That was that he had no knowledge of the cover-up in Watergate until I had told him on March 21st that there was a cancer on his Presidency.  He said that was the first he learned of the cover-up.  I didn`t know how much he knew.  I knew he knew much more than he was pretending to me.  And when the smoking gun tape came out, what it did is it showed him ordering the CIA to interfere with the FBI the first week after the arrest, and that was the -- that`s what did it for him.

HAYES:  The timing here is crucial in terms of this dinner.  Yates warns the White House about Flynn on January 26th.  Spicer says Trump was briefed immediately.  Then Comey and Trump have dinner the next day.  What do you make of the stories of this -- of this loyalty ask and whether that`s appropriate or plausible?

DEAN:  Well, it is not appropriate, and he -- again, it could be ignorance.  It could be his standard operating procedure from his business days.  I`m surprised he didn`t ask him to sign a non-compete or a non-disclosure of some sort, to fill it out.  But I think, you know, it`s a combination of the ignorance and arrogance as I see it.

HAYS:  All right.  John Dean, thanks as always for your time.

DEAN:  Thank you.

HAYES:  Joining me now, Matthew Miller, Former Aide to Attorney General Eric Holder and Justice Department Spokesperson, an MSNBC Contributor, Clint Watts former FBI Special Agent and Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy Institute.  Matthew, let me start with you as something you said earlier today.  You said one thing I learned at DOJ about Comey, he leaves a protective paper trail whenever he deems something inappropriate happened.  Stay tuned.  What did you mean by that?

MATTHEW MILLER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  There was this kind of remarkable incident that started in 2005 when the Bush administration was debating whether to approve torture or not, waterboarding and other torture techniques.  And Jim Comey had a meeting with the Attorney General and he, along with others, approved those techniques but apparently told the Attorney General that he thought it would be as a bad idea to actually use them and it would end up being embarrassing to the country and the administration.  And then after that, he went back to his office and wrote an e-mail to his Chief of Staff, which, you know, Deputy Attorneys General don`t usually do that.  He wrote this long e-mail explaining the conversation.  It was basically the modern-day version of a memo to the file.  And in 2009, when the New York Times reported that Comey and others had authorized these techniques, magically they got their hands on this e- mail, and I think what I took from that event was Comey had the foresight to write that e-mail, and then when he left the Justice Department, to print it out, put it in a file, and hold on to it until four years later when the times went to write on this and magically they got a hold of it.  So I think we`re going to see more of that from him in this instance.

HAYES:  That is a remarkable story.  Clint, the -- I guess the question we have this dinner, and we`ve got a sort of he said/he said situation.  The President of the United States and people close to Jim Comey.  Who do you believe?

CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  I`m going to go with track record, which is FBI Director Comey since just based on today, I have no idea if there`s any truth to anything President Trump said.  It doesn`t make any sense to make that loyalty pledge.  Any President that understood the relationship with the FBI, the Department of Justice to the President and their role, which is to the public first, to serve the public first, it`s fidelity, bravery, integrity.  That`s the motto of the FBI.  Director Comey is going to follow that.  He`s not going to respond well to being pressured like that.  Even having the invite to dinner, which you heard Director Clapper talk about, made him uncomfortable.  He`s going to have issue with that, and every time Trump, I think, tried to bring him under his umbrella, Comey would naturally push himself away.

HAYES:  Do you think -- so you don`t think that he requested the dinner?  You don`t think that`s plausible?

WATTS:  Director Comey?

HAYES:  Comey, that Comey requested --

WATTS:  No, not at all.

HAYES:  What do you think -- do you -- the President said that -- twice now -- he said it in interviews with Lester Holt, and he said it in the letter famously in which he fired Director Comey that the director told him three times he was not under investigation.  Could you conceive of any plausible scenario in which that might have happened?

WATTS:  No.  I can`t imagine why the Director would say that other than his testimony where he confirmed that they had some active investigation going on with his campaign.  That`s the only time he did that, and Director Comey is particularly careful, as we just heard with his words.  He`s not going to make these statements which put him in a position of his own compromise.

HAYES:  Given Comey`s level of skill in navigating this that you have -- that you have identified, Matt, and it`s really a remarkable thing to go back and look at his 2007 testimony when he talked about that famous night at the bed of John Ashcroft.  He has an ability to preserve his reputation amidst many controversial things.  What do you anticipate the next chapter of this story is?

MILLER:  Well, I mean, look what we`ve seen in just the last 24 hours.  We`ve already seen leaks about this loyalty request.  We`ve already seen leaks about the request for the dinner came from Trump.  We`ve seen a number of pieces of information already.  But I think given -- look, he doesn`t like the spotlight.  I mean, that`s one thing about him that I think both -- people in both parties agree with.  I suspect that we will eventually see Comey at that table in a Congressional hearing with the lights on and the cameras rolling again as he did in 2007 and as he did on March 20th when he confirmed this investigation and, I think, started the chain of events that led to him eventually being fired.  I think that`s probably where this all ends up.

HAYES:  That`s a-that`s a great point.  Well, we know that he`s declined an invitation for a closed session with the Intelligence Committee,  I think the Senate Intelligence Committee.  But you also think that ultimately we will see James Comey giving his side of the story under oath before Congress?

WATTS:  Yes, and I also think for Director Comey, he would turn down a closed session because he would rather be in an open session.  I mean his - -

HAYES:  That`s interesting.  That is interesting.

WATTS:  His pattern -- his pattern is to come out and talk to the American public.

HAYES:  Sure is.

WATTS:  You know, he`s done this repeatedly.  And if I were in his position, that`s exactly what I would do.  No closed door.  No rumors going back and forth.  No democrats or republicans --

HAYES:  Right.  No leaks -- no leaks coming out about what you said.

WATTS:  No.  Whatever I actually say is going to be coming out of my mouth, and you`re going to hear that --

HAYES:  That`s why you think he turned down the invite for the closed door session?

WATTS:  I think it`s both that and he wants time.  He wanted to see how this is going to play out.

HAYES:  There was reporting about that President considering a visit to the FBI -- to the Bureau and that being turned down because the message was sent that he probably wouldn`t get a particularly warm reception after what happened. What do you think the mood is there right now?

WATTS:  Well, it was dumb to ever think he should go to the FBI Headquarters.  That`s just a very novice White House staff.  We`ve already tried that at the CIA.  We saw how that went with President Trump.  And now to go to the FBI and try and talk to them or sway them and win them over is a disaster.  I think the mood right now is they`re going to be extra vigilant in their independence.  They`re going to pursue the investigation the way it should, to its logical conclusion.  And I think they`re also trying to figure out how they can insulate themselves against the DOJ, that you can`t really tell how biased they are or not or independent.

HAYES:  Speaking of DOJ so much comes down to Rod Rosenstein right now.  And Matthew, I got to ask you.  You were on hours on this show the day that Comey had the press conference about Hillary Clinton, in which he opined about how careless she was.  Derogatory information about a person not charged is the phrasing of Rod Rosenstein in the letter condemning Comey.  What do you make of people now coming around to that conclusion?

MILLER:  Well, if everyone came around to that conclusion for legitimate means, then fine.  But let`s be honest.  That`s not why Rod Rosenstein wrote that memo.  That`s not why Jim Comey was fired.  That was an excuse to fire him for something else.  And I think actually, you know, you expect this kind of thing from Donald Trump.  You even expect it from Jeff Sessions.  The person that I`m most disappointed in and that if you talk to anyone else who worked at the Department of Justice, they`re most disappointed in, is Rod Rosenstein.  He was supposed to be the institutionalist that would protect the department from political interference, and he just didn`t when completely buckled to pressure and gave Donald Trump the excuse he needs to fire Jim Comey.

HAYES:  You feel the same way?

WATTS:  Yes.  It`s interesting that Comey once had Rosenstein`s job, and that was with the Ashcroft scenario.

HAYES:  When he did the opposite.

WATTS:  He did the opposite. 

HAYES:  That`s right.

WATTS:  He chose country over party. 

HAYES:  Right.

WATTS:  It doesn`t look that way this week.

HAYES:  Matthew Miller and Clint Watts thank you both for being here tonight.

Ahead, so who else has been asked to take the Trump loyalty pledge?  More on President Trump`s obsession with personal loyalty above all else and how the republicans in Congress are apparently still falling in line after this two-minute break.



TRUMP:  I read that article.  I don`t think it`s inappropriate, number one --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Did you ask that question?

TRUMP:  No.  No, I didn`t.  But I don`t think it would be a bad question to ask.  I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is important.  You know, I mean, it depends on how you define loyalty, number one.  Number two, I don`t know how that got there because I didn`t ask that question.


HAYES:  The President denies asking fired FBI Director James Comey to take a loyalty pledge, but that account first relayed to The New York Times by Comey associates has a ring of truth if for no other reason than we know how much this President puts a premium on loyalty.  Here was Kellyanne Conway in an interview yesterday.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT:  The President expects people who are serving in his administration to be loyal to the country and to be loyal to the -- to the administration.


HAYES:  Don`t forget the President even made his own supporters swear loyalty to him during the campaign.


TRUMP:  Raise your right hand, everybody.  Do you swear that you`re going to vote for Donald Trump tomorrow?  Raise that hand.  I love you.  I love you.  All right.  You can`t go back.


HAYES:  The President has also demanded the utmost loyalty from republican lawmakers and by and large they`ve submitted.  We saw House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes scrambling to do the White House`s bidding, an embarrassing episode that forced him eventually to recuse himself from the Russia probe.  And then there`s House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, who has largely refused to investigate the Trump administration, for example, telling reporters in February the Flynn situation was, quote, "taking care of itself."  Only a week earlier, Chaffetz himself had been summoned to the White House for an intimate Oval Office meeting with the President.  I`m joined now by Linda Chavez, Conservative Commentator, former Official in the Reagan and Bush administrations.  Linda, do you find behavior of republicans this week surprising?

LINDA CHAVEZ, REAGAN AND BUSH ADMINISTRATION FORMER OFFICIAL:  I find it both surprising and disheartening because frankly the only way that this President is going to be stopped from doing the things he`s doing, which are irrational, erratic, and dangerous, is for republicans to march up Pennsylvania avenue and to say to him, stop it.  You have got to stop this, Mr. President.  He is endangering his own agenda.  He is endangering the republican party, and ultimately he`s endangering the country.

HAYES:  The republican leaders that have essentially given him cover this week and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell among many others, they`re reflecting the republican base.  I mean so far as polling indicates, 79 percent of republicans approve of Comey`s firing, 84 percent give him a high approval rating.  Aren`t they just basically listening to their -- to their voters in their base?

CHAVEZ:  Well, first of all, you know, everyone takes who`s in office takes an office -- an oath of loyalty, but that oath of loyalty is to defend and protect the constitution of the United States.  It is not to the office holder, it is not to the President of the United States.  And all of these officials, I think, are ignoring that they can`t simply look at public opinion polls, hold their finger up in the wind to see which way the political winds are blowing and act accordingly.  They`ve got to do what`s right.  And frankly, I mean, what is so mysterious about this whole event this week is that last week was a pretty good week for the President and for the republicans and their agenda.  They got a health care bill passed, which regardless of what you or not -- you think about it, was certainly an achievement.

HAYES:  They did get it passed, yes.

CHAVEZ:  They got it passed.  And they were starting to take on tax reform.  They were making changes in other, you know, programs, dealing with the trade issue, talking about renegotiating NAFTA.  There was a whole lot on the Presidential agenda.  But this President seems to have a way of stepping on his own good news.  He can never just let good news play out.  He has to create a mess that then diverts attention away from what ought to be his focus.

HAYES:  I wonder if -- I have a theory about republican behavior, and I wonder -- I`d like to get your feedback on it.  You remember the Access Hollywood tape when which the President boasted about serially sexually assaulting women, touching them without consent.

CHAVEZ:  Right.

HAYES:  And there were a lot of republicans who freaked out when that happened and said they`re not going to defend him.  They said that either in private or public.  And then it turned out they thought, well, this was the end, the guy is melting down.  And then he didn`t and he became President of the United States.  How much do you think that experience is now seared into the minds of every republican that no matter how bad it looks, don`t get off the train?

CHAVEZ:  Well, I think that`s right.  I mean you remember the President famously saying he could walk down 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and he wouldn`t lose support.  But, again, that`s what`s so worrisome.  You`re supposed to have courage when you`re an elected official, and these guys just don`t have that kind of courage and I think it`s going to destroy the republican party.  If we don`t see a change, if we don`t get back to having the republican party stand for something and not just stand for Donald Trump, but stand for principles, one of which is the rule of law.  You know, this administration and President Trump could do himself a whole lot of favor by just saying, we believe in the rule of law.  We believe in the resources of the FBI.  We believe that they`re going to get to the bottom of this investigation.  And we`re going to ignore it until they`re finished with that investigation, and we`re just going to move forward with our agenda.  If the President were capable of doing that, the country would be a whole lot better off and certainly, the Republican Party would be.

HAYES:  I definitely agree on the latter.  Linda Chavez, thank you very much.

CHAVEZ:  Thank you.

HAYES:  Coming up, the President presents what he think is proof that he has no Russian business ties with a few exceptions.  That`s a quote.  David Cay Johnston will join me to fact-check that claim ahead.



LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  Can you tell us whether you, your family, your businesses, your surrogates have accepted any investments, any loans from Russian individuals?

TRUMP:  Yes.  In fact, I just sent a letter to Lindsey Graham from one of the most prestigious law firms in the country, a tremendous, highly rated law firm, that I have nothing to do with Russia.  And I have a certified letter just so you understand.  I`m not just saying that.


HAYES:  The White House released that certified letter today from the same law firm that participated in Trump`s first press conference as President- elect when he said he was handing over leadership of his company to his sons surrounded by prop stacks of legal papers.  What his certified letter does and does not say about the President`s ties to Russia next.


HAYES:  President Trump`s legal counsel has written a letter to him, which attempts to sum up the president`s financial ties to Russia based on ten years of tax returns, the same tax returns the president refuses to make public.

The letter says that with a few exceptions, the president doesn`t have financial entanglements with Russia.  Those exceptions, according to the letter, including the 2013 Miss Universe pageant held in Moscow and the 2008 sale of a mansion in Palm Beach, Florida to a Russian fertilizer king for more than twice what Donald Trump paid for it in 2005.

Now, there are some striking aspects to the letter.  For instance, it was dated March 8th, two months ago and we don`t know why.  We also don`t know why it was written to the president as opposed to the FBI or to congress or to someone else, particularly since the president then forwarded the letter to Senator Lindsey Graham of the Senate judiciary committee to show he has no financial ties to Russia.

Joining me now, Julia Ioffe, national security and foreign policy reporter for the Atlantic; and Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, David Cay Johnston, columnist for TheDaily Beast, author of The Making of Donald Trump.

And David I want to start with you, And I want to read you a series of tweets from John Cook who used to run Gawker that I thought perfectly illustrated the issue here.

You know whose tax returns also didn`t show equity investment by any Russian entities?  Gawker Media`s.  Of course Gawker did receive a substantial investment from a New York LLC called Columbus Nova, and Columbus Nova is an investment vehicle for Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian plutocrat, but no Russian entities invested in Gawker Media.

Is that the nub of the problem with the letter?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, THE DAILY BEAST:  Yeah.  Clever letter, but it is entirely deceptive, and I must say I admire Sheri Dillon and William Nelson, the lawyers at Morgan Lewis, who wrote it for their skill at deception.  But this is absolute nonsense.

Just as a simple example, if I set up a company tomorrow in the UK and called it Chris Hayes, Inc., and gave money to a British politician, I could say there`s no British money.

HAYES:  Right.  Right.  That`s right.

Yes, so anything that would happen -- and, Julia, you`ve reported a lot about Russia and particularly about the sort of Russian oligarchs and, you know, this is true of very wealthy people the globe over, which is that they don`t move their money around in their own name, they move it through vehicles that are anonymous and localized and don`t have anything to do often with the country they live in.  Is that true generally of Russian oligarchs?

JULIA IOFFE, THE ATLANTIC :  Absolutely.  And it`s done with a very clear or very clear  reasons.  First of all, it`s to get themselves and their companies established elsewhere so that -- in areas with fair and independent courts, because they don`t exist in Russia, and it`s to get their money out of Russia.

So even somebody like Viktor Veksleberg investing in Gawker, in some ways it`s a way to get just that money out of Russia.  It`s a highly unstable place.  Any day that money can be taken away from you.  You just want to park it somewhere.  And often the best place to park it is an expensive piece of real estate, even if you`re paying double, you`re still parking that money somewhere where it`s out of reach of Putin.

Also, you know, you don`t technically own it.

A terrific example of this was a couple years ago, The New York Times did a multi-part series on luxury real estate in New York City, and it took them months to find out, for example, who owns the apartments in the Time Warner Building on Columbus Circle.  You can`t just, you know, look up the lease records, you know, or the deeds to the apartments, to the condos, because they`re owned by a shell company, which is owned by a shell company, which is owned by a shell company.  You get the point.

And a lot of that eventually led back to Russian money, Chinese money, Saudi money.

HAYES;  Right.

IOFFE:  So if you`re -- you know, it would not be out of the ordinary for somebody like Donald Trump, who does business -- did real estate business in New York and Florida to have come in contact with and received really shady Russian money.

HAYES:  Yeah.

Here`s Donald Trump Jr. himself at a real estate conference in New York in 2008.  "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate crosssection of a lot of our assets.  We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

And David, the thought I had today was it`s interesting they wrote this letter, because it sort of  opens the door on the tax issue once again, but also made me think I wonder how much we could actually learn from the taxes themselves given what Julia is talking about, given how adept this sort of international plutocratic class is at hiding money to begin with.

JOHNSTON:  Well, the tax returns are the starting point for audits, but tonight, Chris at, that`s the non-profit news service that I set up, we break a major story by Richard Behar, a longtime investigative reporter at Forbes magazine about Trump Kazakhs money.  It goes everywhere from a strange real estate deal in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, and it`s further evidence of how Trump keeps carefully wording what he says to keep us from paying attention to the reality that Ms. Ioffe talked about, and that is it`s all done through empty companies and individuals.  It has nothing to do with the Russian government directly, only its agents.

IOFFE:  Chris, can I just say one thing?  There was a fantastic report in the Financial Times last week about how money got -- Russian money got from Russia to Marine Le Pen, the far-right nationalist candidate, who ultimately lost in France last weekend.  All the money -- I mean after going through shell company through shell company through shell company through shell company, the reporters found the Moscow address where that last shell company was registered, and it turned out  hundreds of other shell companies registered to the same address.

HAYES:  Fascinating.

IOFFE:  And it was literally just a plaque on a wall.  There was nobody there.  It was just like a multi-apartment building on the outskirts of Moscow.  Nobody was there.  It was just -- it`s nothing.  It`s nothing.

JOHNSTON:  So, Chris, that`s what we show at DC Report, the same sort of thing, only here in America, so that you understand why this letter that Trump put out is just garbage.

HAYES:  David, let me ask you a final question here.  We`ve had this strange thing where it occurred to us that no one had asked the president if he had filed his taxes this year.  Everyone knows he`s not going to release them.

But, you know, you go the to file them.  Or, for someone like him, almost certainly you file an extension.  People with very complicated taxes, they file an extension, they go to October.

So we asked the White House.  We said, have you filed or filed an extension? They referred us to Sheri Dillon, the tax lawyer.  We asked her and we got a no comment.  Does it strike you as odd that they won`t answer the very simple question of whether they even filed an extension?  That`s weird, isn`t it?

JOHNSTON:  Yes.  And I think it goes to the utter contempt that Donald Trump actually holds for the American system.  This is a man who has never read the constitution.  He seems to think it has 12 articles rather than 17.  And so in everything he does, in the way he fired Comey, in the way he got rid of two other high-level officials digging into the Russian connections, he is continually showing us exactly what he promised on the campaign trail.  He spoke of the presidency as a dictator.  And he`s doing everything he can to undermine those institutions that make our constitutional democracy and our liberty persist.

HAYES:  All right.  Julia Ioffe and David Cay Johnston, thank you both.

Still to come, Attorney General Jeff Sessions unveils what could be the single most destructive move in the Trump era so far.  Details ahead.

Plus, the president talks catapults in a truly amazing Thing One, Thing Two after the break.


HAYES:  Thing One tonight, aircraft carriers are incredible marvels of engineering, especially because planes can take off from an incredibly short runway and they use what`s called a catapult, which gives a plane the extra boost it needs to get up into the air.  Now, for 60 years, the navy has been using a steam-powered system to launch aircraft from the deck.  But they`ve made it a priority for decades to update the system to something called EMALS electromagnetic aircraft launch system.  It cost a billion dollars to develop.  The navy says it can launch heavier aircraft and more efficiently.

Now, the first carrier to use EMALS it is the USS Gerald R. Ford where President Trump visited in March.  But it turns out the president is not a fan of the new system they spent a decade building.  In fact, he told them, you`re going back to, quote, goddamned steam.

More of the president`s musings on catapult technology in 60 seconds.


HAYES:  Earlier this week, during a long and winding interview with time, the president recounted a conversation he claims he had with someone at the navy regarding the catapult system used to launch aircraft from the deck of carriers.  He said, quote, "you know the catapult is quite important.  So I said, what is this?  Sir, this is our digital catapult system.  He said, well, we`re going to this because we wanted to keep up with modern technology.  I said you don`t use steam anymore for catapault?  No, sir.  I said, how is it working?  Sir, not good.  Not good.  Doesn`t have the power."

The president continued, "it sounded bad to me, digital.  They have digital?  What is digital?  It`s very complicated.  You have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out.  And I said, and now they want to buy more aircraft carriers?  I said what system are you going to be?  Sir, we`re staying with digital.  I said no you`re not, you`re going to goddamned steam."

The system for the record is not digital, but electromagnetic.  A navy spokesperson told The Atlantic anonymously they were, quote, blindsided by the president`s comments.  The navy has yet to release an official response, but a Pentagon official told The Washington Post, and I quote here, you can see some elements of reality in what he said, but I think he may have spoken without having all of the information in front of him.



TRUMP:  Look how much African-American communities have suffered under Democratic control.  To those I say the following, what do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump?  What do you have to lose?


HAYES:  During the campaign, Donald Trump would often ask African-Americans what they had to lose by voting for him.  Well, it turns out one thing they had to lose was Obama administration reforms to drug sentencing where racial disparities are particularly pronounced.  because today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the toughest possible prosecution for drug offenses, telling federal prosecutors to, quote, charge and pursue the most serious readily provable offense.

Adding, "the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines, sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences." 

This step towards bringing back the heyday of the so-called war on drugs rolls back policies put forth by former Attorney General Eric Holder.  Mr. Holder responded with a statement that reads in  part, "the policy announced today is not tough on crime, it is dumb on crime.  This absurd reversal is driven by voices who have not only been discredited but until now have been relegated to the fringes of this debate.:

Joining me now, Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

First let`s start with what the impact of this is.

SHERRILYN IFILL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND:  Well, the impact of this is that it`s taking us back.  It`s interesting in the clip you just -- you know, Trump said try something new.  This has been tried.  This has been tried and discredited.

And so now we`re back to something that really was pressed by Attorney General Ashcroft, which is that you charge, you know, the highest, most serious offense you can charge of anyone that is violating the laws, the federal laws under the drug laws.  And what that`s produced is like this swelled federal prison population, because you`re sending people away for exorbitant periods of time for what are essentially minor offenses.

What Attorney General Holder did in 2013 when he announced the smart on crime initiative was to say you don`t do that.  You target the most dangerous criminals who are engaged in the most  serious offenses and that`s where you put your resources.  And under that, you know, new policy, the prison population actually was reduced under the federal--

HAYES:  Started to come down.

IFILL:  Absolutely, from 220,000 to 190,000 between 2004 and today.  So that`s thousands of people.

HAYES:  Right.  So we`re talking about -- I mean in terms tangible impacts on people`s lives, this is major.  This is thousands of people.

It also -- talk about how important prosecutors` decisions and discretions are in terms of driving what we call mass incarceration?

IFILL:  Well, prosecutors have the most discretion of any actor in the criminal justice system, more than police officers, more than judges.  And the decisions they make really are the decisions that result in incarceration for many people and the length of incarceration for many people.

And what we recognize is that we need to give prosecutors the tools, particularly reform-minded prosecutors, to make smart -- what Attorney General Holder would call smart decisions about who to prosecute and what kind of sentences to seek for those individuals.

The good news is that, you know, at the state level, I think that`s been kind of inculcated.  You might have heard today that the new president- elect of the DA`s Association said, you know, states, we`re probably not going back to that.  We recognize that wasn`t smart.

HAYES:  That`s a professional organization of prosecutors.

IFILL:  Professional organization of prosecutors.

So what we had hoped before was that the federal government under Attorney General Holder and Attorney General Lynch was going to lead and make an example for the states.

Now we`re going to need the states to make an example for the federal government because Sessions is wedded to this old way.

HAYES:  You know, there was this -- was Paul Ryan last year I believe on criminal justice reform.  I think we overcompensated on some of our laws.  We had some many mandatory minimums.  Three strikes you`re out.  We ended up putting people away for long prison term.  We could have had alternative means of incarceration.

Jeff Sessions now defends what he`s doing saying it`s not low-level drug offenders. 

What does this mean for the politics of crime, which many people thought the Koch Brothers and Cato and all these conservatives were coming along towards decarceration.  Now you`ve got this?

IFILL:  Well, honestly, Chris, this is where it gets scary and we`re going to have to see, because we`ve seen around a number of issues that the Republican leadership has been unwilling to push back against President Trump and his administration`s policies, even when they had formerly taken positions that demonstrated so.

And so I want to know.  John Cornyn from Texas, Chuck Grassley was a leader in the effort to try and get that criminal justice rofrm bill passed.  And Senator Mike Lee, where are their voices in response to Sessions` announcement?  That`s what I want to hear.

HAYES:  Jeff Sessions one of the people who blew up that bill, we should note.

IFILL:  He certainly did.

HAYES:  Now, at the head of the DOJ.

Sherrilyn Ifill, it`s always a pleasure to have you.

My interview with Senator Elizabeth Warren after the break.



WARREN:  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 an 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.


HAYES:  And Elizabeth Warren joined me on Tuesday night to talk about the Comey firing.  That was actually the second time we`d spoken that day.

A few hours before the Comey news broke, I interviewed Senator Warren about a whole range of topics from her new book, This Fight is our Fight: the Battle to Save America`s Middle Class, to the still percolating Republican health care bill and exactly what it will actually do.


WARREN:  It`s about knocking 24 million people off health care coverage.  It`s about raising costs for middle class families.  It`s about opening the door to discriminating against people with preexisting conditions and capping out treatments for things like cancer.  And all put together so that the Republicans can provide a tax break to a handful of millionaires and billionnaries.

You know, in some sense, Chris, I just want to point out we should not refer to this as a health care bill.  This is a tax cut package that is maneuvered through the device of cutting health care out for millions of people so that the top can get another delicious tax break.

HAYES:  There`s a lot of obfuscation about what this bill does or won`t do.  And it`s very rare to get little moments of honesty about what the kind of ideological fundamental political and philosophy stakes are.  But Raul Labrador said this thing the other night at a town hall, "nobody dies because they don`t have health care."  And he sort of issued an apology.  But that`s -- I mean, you and your colleagues believe that people do die because they don`t get health care.

WARREN:  We don`t just believe it, we actually see it.  I mean, this is what the data shows.  You know, Chris, this has really been a part of my work long, long, long before I ever got involved in politics was studying families that had gone bankrupt because of medical problems.  And a part of that is about what happens when you can`t get health insurance. 

It can turn family upside down financially, but it also means that people may deny themselves the very health care that they need because they don`t want to bankrupt their families.  People die without health care coverage.

HAYES:  So then here`s my question.  If that`s the case, and obviously there`s the sort of substantive and moral case against kicking 24 million people off or reducing the insurance roles by 24 million, but then how is even the status quo defenseble in that sense?  The Affordable Care Act -- it aims towards universal care, it`s reduced the rate, but it hasn`t gotten all the way there.  And it seems to me if the argument from you and your colleagues is there`s something just egregious about letting people die because they don`t have care, then the only natural collusion is you need total and complete universal care.

WARREN:  And I think that`s very much where we want to head on the Democratic side.  You know, I just came from lunch with my fellow Democrats.  And what we were talking about is how we stand ready to try to make this health care system better.  And what does better mean?  It means fuller coverage and lower cost.  And we`ve got to aim for both of those if we`re going to get good outcomes.

HAYES:  Does that mean single-payer?  Does that mean Medicare for all?

WARREN:  Look, I am willing to negotiate and put it all on the table on the ways you get to universal coverage.

Here in Massachusetts, we`ve worked hard.  We`ve gotten ourselves to 97 percent coverage.  We need to be where everybody in America gets health care coverage, but we also need to bring down the cost.  These two work together. 

And I`ll just give you one example of that.  Right now the Democrats are ready to go on cutting the cost of prescription drugs.  We`ve got multiple plans on the table.  And say sit down with us and negotiate this.

But what do the Republicans want to do?  They are driven by trying to produce a tax cut for millionaires and billionnaries.  And the way they get there is knock people off their care coverage, raise the cost for middle class families and open the door to letting insurance companies discriminate against  people with preexisting conditions.

We can`t get them to come to the table for the things that people really need for us to do, and  that is make this health care system work better across this country for everyone.


HAYES:  All right, I want to thank Senator Elizabeth Warren for being so generous with her time twice on Tuesday.  My full interview was the senator is up on our website.  She talks about her new book.  Again it`s called This Fight is our Fight: The Battle to Save America`s Middle Class.  Really interesting look at the sort of trajectory of the American middle class.

Speaking of books, a quick reminder, if you`re in the Detroit area, I have an event this Monday for my new book, A Colony in a Nation, which is out now.  I`ll be speaking at a luncheon at Burton Manor.  You can find all the details on our Facebook page and another event coming up in New York that I`ll tell you about next week.

All right, that is All In for this evening.  The Rachel Maddow Show starts right now.