All in with Chris Hayes, Transcript 5/16/2017

Guests: Michael Schmidt, Olivia Nuzzi, Jason Leopold, Dick Durbin, Amy Jeffress; Jeffrey Smith, Joaquin Castro, Naveed Jamali, Clint Watts, Jason Johnson, Charlie Sykes, Charlie Pierce

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HARDBALL HOST: That`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.

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CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC ALL IN HOST:  Tonight on ALL IN.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:  He wasn`t doing a good job very simply.

HAYES:  James Comey`s paper trail.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D) NEW YORK:  On a day when we thought things couldn`t get any worse, they have.

HAYES:  New York Times reports and NBC News confirms a James Comey memo says President Trump asked him to end the Flynn investigation.  The fired FBI Director claims to have the smoking gun and says he`s going public.  Tonight, the Comey bombshell for the full hour including exclusive reaction from top Democrat Senator Dick Durbin, when ALL IN starts right now.

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HAYES:  Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes.  Breaking news tonight, a blockbuster report from The New York Times since confirmed by NBC News that the President of the United States asked then FBI Director James Comey to end the Bureau`s investigation of Michael Flynn according to a memo written by Comey.  I hope you can let this go, the President reportedly told Comey during a meeting in February.  On the day after Flynn was forced to resign for lying about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador.  Immediately after that meeting, Comey wrote a memo recounting his conversation with the President according to associates of his.  Part of a paper trail Comey created, again quoting the times, "documenting what he perceived as the President`s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation.  A close associate of Comey`s read parts of the memo to a reporter for the Times. 

I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.  The President told Comey according to the memo, he is a good guy, I hope you can let this go.  In a statement, the White House denied the memo`s version of events "while the President has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country.  The President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn."  That statement was not attributed to any particular spokesperson, we should note.  That investigation has not ended.  As we`ve reported and as the times points out, a federal grand jury in Virginia as recently issued subpoenas for records related to Flynn.  But James Comey, of course, is no longer overseeing that investigation, and that is because the President personally fired him a week ago.  Tonight, later, linking that discussion to the Russia investigation in an interview with NBC`s Lester Holt.

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TRUMP:  When I decided to do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.  It`s an excuse by the democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.

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HAYES:  I`m joined now by Michael Schmidt who broke this explosive story for The New York Times.  Incredible reporting there Michael, thanks for joining us.  Tell us first the context.  What - why was Comey at the White House, and what had just happened when this conversation reportedly took place?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, NEW YORK TIMES CORRESPONDENT:  On valentine`s day, February 14th, Jim Comey was at the White House for a national security meeting with the President and other intelligence and law enforcement officials.  At the end of the meeting, the President told everyone to get out of the room.  The Attorney General Sessions hung around.  The President excused him again, said he wanted to talk to Jim.  And from sitting at the desk and Comey sitting at the other side, they began to have a discussion.  The President brought up the issue of leaks and expressed to him how concerned he was about leaks.  He brought up the prospect of putting reporters in prison, saying that this had gone on many years ago and it had been effective.  And then the President turned the discussion towards General Flynn.  He said that General Flynn was a good man and that the FBI needed to move beyond the investigation of him.  This deeply concerned Comey, who immediately after leaving the White House wrote an extensive, detailed, two-page memo that outlined his conversations with the President.

HAYES:  Now, that memo you have not actually seen that memo, am I right?

SCHMIDT:  Correct.  We have not seen the memo or other ones that Comey wrote.  Comey wrote a memo, I believe, for every phone call and every meeting he had with the President because he was concerned about the President impeding the independence of the FBI in its Russia investigation.  But we were read contents of the memo by one of Mr. Comey`s associates, and we were able to corroborate the information with other folks that we spoke to.

HAYES:  I want to be clear about what the President would have known because we have to connect it to Sally Yates` testimony, right, which is that -

SCHMIDT:  Yes.

HAYES:  Sally Yates have told the - what would the President have known about the FBI`s involvement with Flynn?

SCHMIDT:  This part`s a bit confusing, but at that point the Justice Department had informed the White House that the FBI had interviewed General Flynn about phone conversations that he had with the Russian Ambassador during the transition and whether he, you know, had improper discussions with him about lifting sanctions after the Trump administration came in.  The White House knew about this at the time of the Comey meeting because the day before Comey went into the Oval Office, General Flynn resigned, and the White House said that he had resigned because he had misled the Vice President about the nature of his calls with the Russian Ambassador.

HAYES:  Right.  So the FBI interviews Flynn, Sally Yates goes and tells the White House -- Sally Yates, who`s then the Deputy Attorney General, she goes and tells the White House Counsel Don McGahn.  She says look, your National Security Adviser was interviewed by the FBI.  He`s not telling the truth about this.  He could be compromised by the Russians.  14 days later, Flynn is fired or resigns.  And the next day is when the President, at the end of a meeting, pointedly asked Comey to stay alone.  And you say Sessions wanted to stick around.  Give me more on that.

SCHMIDT:  Well, the FBI is sort of this interesting thing within the government.  It`s part of the executive branch.  It comes under the Justice Department but it really sort of operates independently, and the folks at the FBI, including Comey, really believe in an independent FBI that can sort of follow the facts and do what it needs to.  And Attorney General Sessions obviously knows this, and there are some concerns that, you know, previous FBI Directors have had about having one-on-one conversations with the President or having the President trying to influence him.  The FBI Director actually answers to the Deputy Attorney General and the Attorney General, it doesn`t answer to the President so - and Sessions knows that.  So Sessions probably wants to stay in the room because the FBI Director isn`t really supposed to be chummy with the President.

HAYES:  There was some reporting, I remember, that James Comey would not meet President Obama one-on-one, or he wouldn`t play basketball with him, I think was the -

SCHMIDT:  No, the - in a story that we wrote several weeks ago, we mentioned that Mr. Comey said that he would never play - he never would want to be seen playing basketball with President Obama because he thought that that was an - you know, an impropriety.  It was - it was a bad appearance that he didn`t want, and Comey is 6`8".

HAYES:  Yes.  And we should note here that, of course, the -- there is a question about another - this is a different meeting.  I just want to be clear so people are tracking the timeline.  This conversation which takes place on the 14th of February is different than the dinner that there is a sort of disputed account about in which associates of James Comey have said that the President asked for his explicit loyalty, which he would not give.

And that`s been disputed by the President.  Now, the President - after the dispute over that dinner, the President tweeting, James Comey better hope there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.  Our own Ken Dilanian reporting after that, a source close to Comey told me this morning, he hopes there are tapes.  That would be perfect.  This is as close to tapes from the Comey side as exist, and there are probably more of these, you say?

SCHMIDT:  Well, what Mr. Comey`s associates would say is that that they find this meeting to be more significant since the President mentioned the issue of tapes because they said if there are tapes, there may be tapes of this conversation, and it may back up Comey`s - well, they believe it would back up Comey`s account.  The thing is, is that this was just a meeting between Comey and the President, and they knew it would be one man`s word versus another man`s word.  But what the Comey associates would say is, well, there may be tapes here, and then that would back up our account.  So let`s go get those tapes.

HAYES:  You also have to just take a step back, and this is a sort of Meta point.  But I had Matthew Miller, who`s a spokesperson for Eric Holder and knew James Comey well.  And he said on this very program, this is an individual who will leave a paper trail, who will commit to writing misgivings at the time, contemporaneously.  This is someone who expertly knows how to sort of navigate through the legal thicket of Washington scandal and bureaucracy, and it appears we`re seeing that here.

SCHMIDT:  Comey knew that this relationship with the White House was heading down a bad path, and he knew there were going to be different issues that were going to come up in terms of the FBI`s independence.  And Comey who has been known in his days working at the senior parts of the Justice Department to keep you know, detailed memos about what happened, meticulously document every one of his meetings.  And in this case, it looks like it was an effort to back up his account and will certainly bolster his account in the eyes of lawmakers if he`s brought up to Capitol Hill.  They`ve already said they want to subpoena the memos.

HAYES:  Yes.  So we have a - we have a number of lawmakers talking about that.  Jason Chaffetz, who we hadn`t heard from in a little bit, says "if the memo exists, I need to see it. I need to see it right away.  We are drafting the necessary paperwork to get the memo so we will find out in a hurry if it`s out there."  "I want to read the memo first, but on the surface that seems like an extraordinary use of influence," again, Chaffetz, "to try to shut down investigation being done by the FBI.  I don`t know if this is true yet, but I want to find out if that`s actually out there."  And here`s Senator Burr, who said something interesting.  And since you`re the reporter at The New York Times who broke this story, I want you to respond to it.  Senator Burr saying that you have a burden to produce the memo.  Take a listen.

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SEN. RICHARD BURR (R) NORTH CAROLINA:  I think the burden is on the New York Times if they`re reporting it and they`ve got somebody that`s got the document, they need to get the document and get it released.

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HAYES:  What do you say to that?

SCHMIDT: Well, you know, we, unlike members of Capitol Hill, we don`t have the power of subpoena.  This was information that we felt very comfortable with.  We had a fair amount of specificity on it.  You know, Senator Burr can subpoena that document himself.  Other folks have, you know, confirmed our account of this.  And, you know, what remains to be seen here is whether Comey will be brought up to Capitol Hill and asked to testify about this because Comey has said that he wants to testify publicly about this.

HAYES:  Well, I mean the thing - the suspense that all of us who have not seen the memo, and you`ve been read portions of it, have is how many memos are there?  What`s included in them, and what is James Comey`s side of the story?  But it appears to be inevitable, and I wonder if you think this is true, that he will testify at some point in an open hearing, and those memos would probably be produced.

SCHMIDT:  I mean, look, there`s been a lot of criticism of Comey about how he handled the e-mail investigation, how he handled the Trump investigation, and you know, different speeches that he`s given in the past.  But few people have questioned his independence and his willingness to speak out publicly.  So my guess would be if there`s an opportunity for Comey to independently speak out publicly, he would probably take that.  If that`s - if we know anything about James Comey, those are two things that he tends to lean towards.

HAYES:  Yes.  This is a man whose public reputation was made in some of the most compelling testimony I`ve ever seen back in 2007 about his bedside rush to John Ashcroft to sort of get him not to sign off on a program he felt was illegal.  So James Comey is, I think it`s fair to say, pretty comfortable in these environments, wouldn`t you say?

SCHMIDT:  Look, yes.  As you pointed out, you know, he gave this testimony several years ago before Capitol Hill in which he outlined these issues that come up in the Bush administration and the way he had stood up to this.  He gave as FBI Director some pretty unique speeches.  Comey has taken a lot of criticism because of this.  Comey - you know, obviously democrats were very upset with Comey, how he handled it before the election.  Folks at the Justice Department were upset about speeches that he gave when he was FBI Director including one about policing.  And so, he`s not a controversial person -

HAYES:  Oh, no.

SCHMIDT:  - but he feels very comfortable leaning forward publicly.  I`d be very surprised by the end of this if we don`t see Comey testifying in one way or another.

HAYES:  All right.  Michael Schmidt, again, thank you for a stellar job of reporting.  That`s a very big story.  Thanks for joining me.

SCHMIDT:  Thanks for having me.

HAYES:  I`m joined now by Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  And Senator, I have to get your reaction to New York Times reporting, since confirmed by NBC News, that James Comey wrote a memo shortly after meeting with the President the day after Flynn was fired in which the President said to James Comey, I hope you can let this go about any investigation of Flynn.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS:  This is a stunning revelation.  It`s further evidence that the President has been trying to stop the investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into the involvement of the Russians in the last election.  It is a question of credibility, but certainly, Mr. Comey, since he does these contemporary memos from time to time and shares them with senior staffers on a timely basis, is going to have the edge and credibility that this did actually happen.

HAYES:  If this did happen - and, again, this is a reporting about a memo written contemporaneously about a one-on-one meeting.  There`s what, denial from the White House.  But if it did happen, is it obstruction of justice plainly?

DURBIN:  Well, it`s as close as one could get to have the President of the United States contact the Lead in an investigation by the federal government into criminal activity and ask them to let up, go slow, absolve someone from the investigation.  That`s as close as you can get to the real thing.

HAYES:  You were quoting portions of Watergate today on the Senate floor, and so obviously obstruction of justice is one of the articles of impeachment in Nixon`s impeachment as it was with Bill Clinton`s as a matter of fact.  Is it an impeachable offense if in fact that the President obstructs justice?

DURBIN:  Well, I hope you`ll forgive me if duck that question.  I have said and many democrats have said we`re not going to get into that kind of speculation.  What we want to do is deal with the reality of the challenge we face.  And the reality of the challenge we face is the awesome need for a special prosecutor as quickly as possible to take over this investigation and to conduct it in a professional way, a non-political way.  Secondly, I would hope that the White House, after this revelation, will not even consider sending a name of an FBI Director until we have time to reflect on this and make sure the next person is clearly one who will be beholden to the law and to the constitution and not in any way subservient to the President.

HAYES:  The request for a special prosecutor, you mean an appointed special prosecutor under the Department of Justice, appointed by Rod Rosenstein, who is the Deputy Attorney General?

DURBIN:  Either Mr. Rosenstein, who has the statutory authority, or his designee, which could be, I think in the safest circumstance, the most senior career employee at the Department of Justice.  I`m trying to take the politics out of the situation as much as possible.  Every day there`s a new revelation to suggest that this is way too political, raising serious questions about whether this is going forward following the rule of law.

HAYES:  Senator, I appreciate your circumspection here and your care.  Obviously, the stakes are very high.  But to people that are watching and saying to themselves, it feels like a set of rules and norms are being flagrantly violated with no check on the President because everyone in his administration will cover for him, and republicans in Congress will cover for him, who feel like there is no institutional recourse.  What do you say to them?

DURBIN:  What I`ll say to them is my quiet and personal conversations with some republican senators lead me to believe that they are at or beyond the breaking point with these developments.  We are waiting for a few to step up and to make it clear that country is first, party is second and join with the democrats in a bipartisan effort to do what`s right by our constitution.

HAYES:  And what would that mean?

DURBIN:  Well, call for a special prosecutor.  Make it a bipartisan position so that Rosenstein or whoever has that responsibility moves forward.  Choosing someone who is either outside of government or above partisan reproach, who can take this on and restore the confidence of the American people in this public process.

HAYES:  Is the American republic in crisis right now?

DURBIN:  Well, I can tell you we are knocking on the door.  You cannot have a situation where the President of the United States or anyone in high level of authority feels that they`re above and beyond the law and that they can call law enforcement and tell them to stop an investigation for fear that it might be an embarrassment to someone who is a friend or might even reach higher levels of our government.

HAYES:  All right.  Senator Dick Durbin, thanks so much for joining me.  I appreciate it.

DURBIN:  Thank you.

HAYES:  On Capitol Hill tonight, reporters looking for on-camera comments from republican senators got a mixed reaction.

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SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  If Mr. Comey is alleging the President did something inappropriate, he has an open invitation to come to the Judiciary Committee and tell us about it.  I don`t want to read a memo.  I want to hear from him.

JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA:  I need to read the whole story before I can comment on it.  I really try to comment immediately, but I just read it.  It`s hard for me to - I got to know what the White House response is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Can we get a comment about The New York Times article, Senator Cruz?

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HAYES:  Joining me now, Olivia Nuzzi, Washington Correspondent for New York Magazine, Jason Leopold, Senior Investigative Reporter for BuzzFeed News.

Olivia, there is - you know, there has been a kind of level of chaos throughout this entire Presidency, and even by that standard, the last 24 hours, it seems like on another level and particularly in the wake of this.  Is that how it feels in Washington right now?

OLIVIA NUZZI, NEW YORK MAGAZINE WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Oh, definitely.  I mean, it is just nonstop.  You cannot get a break, and I don`t think it`s going to stop anytime soon.  There is a drip, drip with this story, and I think everyone is starting to feel a little bit of fatigue.  I mean, you see it with republicans starting to not want to come out immediately and defend the President now.  I think that`s going to keep happening.  People are going to get a little bit tired of all of this going on.

HAYES:  Jason, this is a report from The Daily Beast.  A senior official in the Trump administration who previously worked on the President`s campaign offered a candid and brief assessment of the fallout from that string of bad press.  I don`t see how Trump isn`t completely F-ed.  That, I think, you`ve got to imagine is the thinking of a lot of people in Washington is going to also create different incentives for reporting for folks like yourself of who`s willing to talk.

JASON LEOPOLD, BUZZFEED NEWS SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER:  Yes.  I mean what we`ve been hearing - what I`ve been hearing actually going, you know, way back to January, is that there`s really no loyalty.  There`s no loyalty to this President, no loyalty to Donald Trump and any official or anyone in his inner circle.  Oftentimes what I hear, what I`ve been told is that in the comparing it to Barack Obama where there was extreme loyalty to that President and that extended across several government agencies.  Here, what we`re seeing is just enormous leaks that just continue to come out on a regular basis, sometimes coming from people within the president`s own - within his own circle there.

HAYES:  That, to me, is crucial, and I want to follow up on a story that you reported yesterday shortly after Washington Post broke the story about the President disclosing classified information to Russian officials that could possibly harm intelligence partnerships.  You know, that was coming - you know, obviously, you`re not going to name your source but the sourcing on that was pretty darn close to the Oval Office.  It`s quite striking that they can`t keep anything in there.

LEOPOLD:  It is.  It`s amazing.  I mean, I will tell you, Chris, that I`m amazed that there haven`t been any documents that have leaked out.  You know, in your conversation with Michael Schmidt, it`s amazing that this Comey memo, which is apparently a two-page memo, has not leaked out yet or we`re basically just hearing chatter and people quoting from various documents and just relaying - immediately relaying information from meetings.  I will note, however, that in the past 24 hours since the news broke about the disclosures that were made to the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador, there`s been quite a bit of pushback from the intelligence community and various intelligence officials saying that, look, this is not the end of the world.  Take a step back.  It`s not a huge breach.  That wasn`t the tone that was -or that was not the message that was disseminated to us in the media yesterday.  So there does seem to be an attempt to kind of contain the damage around all of this.

HAYES:  And, Olivia, there`s - you know, we get a lot of reporting about this sort of besieged nature of White House staff, which, you know, it`s a hard job, but this is what they signed up for.

NUZZI:  Right.

HAYES:  But there`s also a sense in which, you know, are they at a breaking point?  Is the - is the sense that people have outside that we`re in the midst of something that feels like a genuine crisis of institutions and legitimacy, is that the shared feeling of the folks that are working in that building?

NUZZI:  It seems to be.  The White House press briefing today, which Sean Spicer was off-camera, they changed it at the last minute.it was supposed to be, I think, at 1:30 p.m. today on camera and they changed it to 2:00 off camera, and they had McMaster brief on camera.  Spicer looked very exhausted.  He was speaking a lot more quiet than he does usually.  He was speaking very slowly.  He just seemed sort of - I don`t know - defeated.  And that`s not normally what he seems like in there, right?  He normally seems punchy,

HAYES:  Right.

NUZZI:  and he gets into it with reporters, and that`s not really what the vibe was today.  He was also being unusually careful with how he phrased things.  It seemed like he was especially cognizant of not walking into any rhetorical land mines.  And I just think there is a different tone taking place now the last couple of days with all of these crazy leaks, all of these stories.  There doesn`t seem to be an end in sight and I think people are getting truly exhausted.  And remember, they`re about to embark, most of the staff along with the President on this very long foreign trip.  And I just think they may be counting down the days until they don`t have to be in D.C. dealing with this every moment of the day.

HAYES:  And there`s - I mean, Jason, to your - to your point about intelligence pushback, I mean,  part of the problem for anyone in the press, members of the President`s own party, the opposition party, citizens, is this just deep credibility problem?  Which is that the White House -it`s just very hard to trust anything they say at all.  And so, you know, whenever a story comes out, in this case, it`s Comey`s word versus t the President`s word, I suppose or the White House`s word, you know, there`s just not a lot of capital for them to draw on.  I mean, how can anyone take a White House denial and say, OK, well, that settles that?

LEOPOLD:  It`s true.  And, you know, it`s important to note that to Olivia`s point here is that part of the frustration - and perhaps Olivia - you know, may be hearing the same is that part of the frustration that I understand is taking place is that, you know, you have the communications folks in the press office at the White House going out, trying to debunk some of the reporting here, and then less than 24 hours later, you know, you have Donald Trump on twitter more or less confirming everything.

NUZZI:  Right.

LEOPOLD:  So there`s this real sense of frustration, feeling exhausted and defeated that essentially that there`s a - you know, a trust issue.  Certainly a trust issue with the public not being able to trust anything that comes out of, you know, the White House.  But that also extends to the intelligence agencies with regard to certain information that is being shared.

NUZZI:  And it was very funny, Chris.  Today, you know, the White House has been saying for a number of days now, you cannot trust what`s said on background with these anonymous sources.  Their denial of The New York Times story today was sent out on background to the pool so they just - they have such a credibility problem.  They have been wrong repeatedly, the things that they`ve said at that lectern in the briefing room.  There`s really very little reason to believe what the White House`s official line is on anything.

HAYES:  All right.  Olivia Nuzzi and Jason Leopold, thank you, both.

NUZZI:  Thank you.

LEOPOLD:  Thank you, Chris.

HAYES:  All right.  Here`s how the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, responded just after the latest news on President Trump broke?

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mr. Speaker, any comment on the Trump story?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Hey, how are you doing?  Good to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you reading the story?

RYAN:  I`m reading something about Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  Joining me now, Jeffrey Smith, is the Former General Counsel for the CIA, and Amy Jeffress former Counsel on National Security to Attorney General Eric Holder.  And Amy, let me start with you since you worked at the Department of Justice.  I want to talk law for a second and we`re in a weird area of law in which, you know, the President sits in a different kind of legal environment than normal citizens because the recourse is essentially impeachment.  But is this obstruction of justice on its face if what Comey says is true?

AMY JEFFRESS, ERIC HOLDER`S FORMER COUNSEL ON NATIONAL SECURITY:  So I would use a different term, and to borrow from the military justice system, there`s a concept of unlawful command influence.  And so, anyone who`s ever served in the military understands that it`s unlawful for the commander to influence an investigation or prosecution.  And that`s because justice requires independence.  And the same is true for the justice system.  It needs to be independent of influence from the President and from the White House generally, which is why there`s specific procedures set up to protect the independence of the department and the FBI.

HAYES:  What would have happened while you were working with - for Attorney General Holder if President Obama had called a Director of the FBI into his office and asked them to not investigate a close friend, associate, or aide of his?

JEFFRESS:  I can`t imagine that that would have happened.

HAYES:  All right.  Let me ask you, Mr. Smith, your reaction.  You are someone who was a General Counsel at the CIA and are familiar with the thicket of building a culture of compliance in an institution and the importance of that.  What is your judgment about that culture of the White House right now?

JEFFREY SMITH, CIA FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL:  The culture at the White House right now seems to me in enormous disarray.  The word of the Press Spokesman, the word of the President cannot be relied upon.  That conveys a terrible message to the rest of this country and to the rest of the world.  It must be a very difficult place, and one would have thought by now they would have gotten their ship in order and that they would have been able to sail the waters of the world much more smoothly.  It`s a very dangerous situation, and the President does not seem to be learning.

HAYES:  What do you make of someone who worked at the CIA and worked in the intelligence, the reporting about the President`s disclosures to Russian officials about a code-word level secret program that had uncovered intelligence about ISIS?  There`s been some debate back and forth about how big a breach of protocol this was.  What is your judgment?

SMITH:  The first thing we need to find out is exactly what he told the Russians, and we don`t know.  It is certainly common - certainly common practice for the intelligence community to provide information to the President or other senior officials to warn other governments including those that aren`t really our friends, particularly if there`s a threat or a terrorist action.  The issue here is whether he sought approval in advance and had some counsel as to how much he could tell the Russians.  And he did not appear to have done that.  If, in fact, grave harm results from the disclosure, he will have betrayed the trust of all of those who work for him, especially those in the intelligence and military communities that are really asked to put their lives on the line to carry out his orders.

HAYES:  Yes.  The point about protocol, it seemed today H.R. McMaster when he came out and was asked point black in the President sort of brought it up in the spur of the moment, that that was the case, that it wasn`t run through what you`re saying would be protocol to say, we`re going to share this and what`s vet - what we can and cannot share, that`s normally how it would work if an affirmative decision was made to do that.

SMITH:  Yes, and I`ve been involved in those discussions and in some of those meetings where foreign leaders were told.  And it can be a long process, but it has to be very carefully thought through from all of the different angles.  And in this case, the information we are told came from a foreign government.  At a minimum, that government should be consulted because it`s their information.

HAYES:  Right.

SMITH:  They gave it to us in trust and we appear to have violated that trust.

HAYES:  Amy, I want to play you a part of the Nixon-Frost interview, the legendary Nixon-Frost interview.  It seems apropos.  Nixon`s position even after he had resigned and was then subsequently pardoned was that he was not guilty of obstructionbecause his motive wasn`t to cover up the crime, it was to contain the political damage.  Take a listen.

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RICHARD NIXON, 37TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I didn`t believe that we were covering any criminal activities.  I didn`t believe that John Mitchell was involved.  I didn`t believe that, for that matter, anybody else was.  I was trying to contain it politically, and that`s a very different motive from the motive of attempting to cover up criminal activities of an individual.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  John Mitchell, the attorney general.  Does the motive here -- and I can imagine a defense of the president if, in fact, what happened in the Comey memo actually did happen, that he was essentially trying to be loyal to General Flynn or felt bad for him or whatever, the motive wasn`t a cover-up of some crime.  Does the motive matter here?

JEFFRESS:  That may be the motive.  But, no, I don`t think that the motive does matter.  The problem is that it`s not appropriate for the president to talk to the FBI director about any criminal investigation, let alone one that involves his campaign and his close associates.

HAEYS:  All right.  Jeffrey Smith and Amy Jeffress, thank you both for your time.

Don`t go anywhere.  When we return, more details from our NBC reporter and congressman Joaquin Castro join us, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)                              UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  President Trump asked Comey to end the Flynn investigation. 

REP. CHARLIE DENT, (R) PENNSYLANIVA:  I haven`t seen that report yet.  I just came from a (inaudible).  It`s very serious if that`s rue.  Is it a memo?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Comey took notes about a conversation that he had with the president and the president asked him, according to the memo, to end the Flynn investigation.

DENT:  Well, again, if that`s true it`s alarming.  And I`m going to have to talk to some people and get the facts about exactly what happened.  If that`s the case, it`s going to be a very serious matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES:  Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania finding out in realtime just a little while ago the president had reportedly asked FBI director James Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn.

Joining me now, Ken Delanian, intelligence and national security reporter for NBC News.

And Ken, what have you learned?

KEN DELANIAN, NBC NEWS:  Well, Chris, just now I`m looking at a letter from the chairman of the House oversight committee requesting from the Justice Department all memos and notes that former Director Comey wrote about his encounters with Donald Trump.  And that`s as expected. 

One of the interesting things about - besides the obvious - one of the interesting things about tonight is that we`re learning that Comey memorialized all his conversations with the president, according to a source close to Comey telling me not too long ago.  So, what other memos are out there is one question we`re wondering about.

And the second question really is, did Director Comey believe that Donald Trump was trying to obstruct justice when he suggested that it would be best if he shut down this Mike Flynn investigation, Chris.

HAYES:  And these documents, Ken, just to be clear, I mean, these are documents that are essentially written as kind of deadman switches in a way, as for public consumption should something like this happen.

DELANIAN:  Yeah, absolutely.

You know, based on my conversation with a friend of Comey`s, it seems like he was walking a fine line here.  You know, one reaction to being asked to drop an investigation is to resign and go public.  He didn`t do that.  Instead, he memorialized the conversation and tried to continue on as an independent FBI director.  And the source is saying that he thought he could manage the situation.  He viewed the request as inappropriate.  He was uneasy about it, but he thought it wasn`t a deal-breaker in terms of his continuing on as FBI director.

He quickly learned that that was not the case.  and now he has all these memos documenting these conversations with Donald Trump.

HAYES:  Ken Dilanian, thanks for joining us.

DILANIAN:  Good to be with you, Chris.

HAYES:  Joining me now, Congressman Joaquin Castro, Democrat from Texas, a member of the House foreign affairs and House intelligence committees.

Congressman, is this obstruction of justice?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO, (D) TEXAS:  If the reports are true, it absolutely is.

HAYES:  And what does that mean?

CASTRO:  It means if the evidence bears out that there was obstruction of justice, I think  you likely will see the congress go down the road of impeachment.

HAYES:  You really think so?

CASTRO:  I believe so.  I believe that the events of this past week, if they`re confirmed, have really opened people`s eyes, not that they shouldn`t have been opened before, but you really hear more Republican members of congress, even, commenting that we need to get to the bottom of this request for independent prosecutors, request for subpoenas.  So I think we`re finally turning a corner.

HAYES:  Waht is the - this is perhaps a slightly strange question, but what is the working environment in that building like right now?  I mean, you`re watching members of congress coming out of meetings.  You guys have busy schedules.  You`re dealing with legislative priorities.  You`re talking to constituents.  And then finding out these remarkable bombshells seemingly hour after hour.

What is it like there right now?

CASTRO:  Very tense.  People now are living in a world where they`re are bombarded with major news either every day or every few days.  It`s been a very strange experience.  But, you know, as I`ve said, we need to get to the bottom of it.  I would say that we give James Comey and the FBI 72 hours to produce those memos, and if they aren`t produced, then we should subpoena them.  Same thing with the White House.  Give them 72 hours to produce those tapes. If they aren`t produced, then we should subpoena those tapes.

The American people are tired of people just expressing concern and offering words.  They want the congress to take action, and we should go ahead and do that.

HAYES:  And you would imagine you would agree with members of both parties who are saying that Comey should come and testify under oath in open hearing?

CASTRO:  Absolutely.

The other important part of this is that as much of it as possible should be declassified,  And as much as possible should be done out in the open so that the American people have confidence no matter what their political persuasion, they have confidence in this process.

HAYES:  Do you have confidence right now that with the acting director, Andrew McCabe, at the FBI, that the integrity of whatever their investigation in its current state can be preserved?

CASTRO:  So far.  It`s obviously very early in his tenure.  But he`s not given me a serious reason to believe that his judgment is in question.  So I don`t want to take a shot at him right now.

HAYES:  I just want to make sure that I`m getting this from you because obviously this is something that Democrats have been cagey on for very understandable reasons.  It`s the ultimate constitutional remedy, but what I`m hearing from you is if it is borne out that the president did what is asserted in this memo, which is to say askessentially to end this investigation, that would be obstruction of justice, and you believe that`s an impeachable offense?

CASTRO:  I believe so.  That`s something that of course would be debated.  And as I mentioned, this is a a deliberative body, so the evidence has to bear that out.  That in conjunction with a few days ago on national television, the president said that when he made the decision to fire the FBI director, he had foremost on his mind the Russia investigation, and then later his spokesperson said or perhaps before that his spokesperson said that part of the reason that James Comey was fired is because they wanted to bring that investigation to a conclusion.

That sounds like obstruction of justice.  If that`s the case, then the congress, I believe, will move to impeach the president.

HAYES:  Last question.  You say will move.  But of course Democrats do not have a majority in the House.  Impeachment originates in the House.  House leadership in the Republican Party has shown no interest in that and seems like it`s the furthest thing from their mind.  You think that`s going to change?

CASTRO:  I think you`re seeing a change slowly.  I do believe that some of it is overdue in terms of being aware and acknowledging the deeply troubling behavior by this president, but in the last few weeks, I do think that we`ve started to turn a corner.

HAYES:  To that point I should say we tried to get Republicans on tonight, had a few lined up, but they could not make it in the end.

Congressman Joaquin Castro.  Thank you for joining us.

CASTRO:  Thank you.

HAYES:  Joining me now, Naveed Jamali, former FBI double agent, and MSNBC contributor Clint Watts, former FBI special agent also an MSNBC contributor.

Clint, I would imagine to someone like you, the memos -- the revelation of the memos does not come as a surprise.

CLINT WATTS, FRM. FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  Not at all.  I mean you`re talking about a meticulous lawyer throughout his career.  He`s been through this before with the Ashcroft stuff and, you know, let`s sign this on your hospital bed.  He knows how to prepare for these events.  I`m sure every time he went in with President Trump, he came back, he wrote down some notes about it.

The other thing that I keep hearing is he should resign.  I think this is nonsense.  You don`t resign every time one of these challenges comes up.  Comey signed on to protect the constitution and the people of the United States.  He`s on a 10-year term, and he`s there to balance against these political pressures, whether it was the Clinton campaign connections last summer, or it`s the Trump administration now.

And had Comey resigned, who is going to be replaced by?  Somebody who is definitely going to squelsh these investigations.  So, I thought Comey did the right thing documenting these things.

The other part we look at with obstruction.  There is impeding the investigation and there`s influencing it.  It`s two very separate things.  The investigators, the agents on a day-to-day basis are going to keep moving with this.

You don`t have obstruction until you have destruction of evidence, not turning things over for subpeona, lying to investigators, that`s obstruction of justice.  It`s going to be much easier to prove against the president.  There`s no evidence that he`s done that to this point.

HAYES:  So, you don`t this clears the bar in terms of a legal sense in terms of what actual U.S. criminal code spells out as obstruction?

WATTS:  I don`t think it will clear the bar.  And I think you`re going to get into he said/he said arguments back and forth.

But I think this definitely shows influence.  You`ve got a pattern of this.  And the president admits to this influence, that`s the craziest part about it.  He brings Comey in, asks for a loyalty oath.  He comes in again, asks for him to get rid of the Flynn investigation.  He comes back after his press  secretary, his people go out, say this is about competency over at the FBI and says, no, it`s not about competency, it`s about the Russia investigation.  It`s a pattern that shows he`s clearly trying to influence this away.

HAYES:  Well, and Naveed, I mean, there`s two tracks upon which you can think about this.  One is the obstruction, right, the sort of cover up part of it.  And then there`s the sort of original sin here to the extent there is one which is Sally Yates calling Flynn`s interactions with Kislyak problematic, the idea that she told them that, that he was compromised by the Russians, that they only did something when it became public, that the day after he asked him to lay off Flynn, the Russia part of this seems inescapable every direction you turn in every story.

NAVEED JAMALI, FRM. FBI DOUBLE AGENT:  That`s absolutely right.  I mean and this very well could be two parallel tracks here.  I mean just because there`s a Russia involvement - and, look, it`s very possible that in the case of Flynn, he may have been recruited and had inappropriate  contact or been directed by the Russians, but it may not have been done so under the direction of Donald Trump.

I think that doesn`t have to necessarily be, to Clint`s point, this intersection, this connection between these two tracks.

I think what separates this and what gives this the real gravity is the fact that at a certain point Donald Trump was officially made aware of the concerns by the Justice Department of General Flynn and at that point Donald Trump, you know, essentially refused to act on those concerns.

Anyone else, if you have a security clearance, no matter how slight the concern, the derogatory information is presented, their clearance will be removed, and you would be removed from that position.  The fact that he kept him 18 days is shocking.

HAYES:  And I think that`s important to put these two facts next to each other.  One is the fact it took 18 days.  Sally Yates comes there.  She comes twice.  She makes this warning.  It`s a grave one.  Nothing is done until it gets to the press.  And then as soon as something is done, the next day the president of the United States asks the FBI director to let the guy off the hook.

WATTS:  Right.

HAYES:  Those two things sit next to each other.

WATTS:  They do.  And let me clarify my comments on obstruction.  I think where you`re going to ultimately see it when it comes out, if there`s obstruction, is you`re going to see it with the intermediaries.  We`re seeing those and we`re documenting those actions with Trump, how Trump interacted with Comey.

But there are intermediaries between Trump, the Department of Justice, the White House staff.  They were putting pressure on the FBI and the entire intelligence community.  Let`s reorient towards leaks.  Let`s not worry about the Russia investigation.  If those points in the middle there can be seen where emissaries from the White House were going over to the FBI or the Department of Justice or coercing witnesses, for example, to speak one way or another, that`s probably going to be the nails that need to be in the coffin to finish off the obstruction.

HAYES:  And as for General Flynn, Naveen, it strikes me that as much as people want to hear from Comey, and that makes sense, Flynn is going to be testifying at some point, although one imagines he may be in a position to plead the fifth.

JAMALI:  Absolutely.

And the fact that he asked for immunity, I mean, it just raises so much questions.  What is he willing to trade?  I mean where -- do these two paths connect?  I mean, this has been the assertion from the beginning.  Is there a connection between Russia and - whether it`s obstruction or what else it might be, is there a connection between those two?  And I think that`s where General Flynn could perhaps shed some light.

HAYES:  All right Naveed Jamali and Clint Watts, thank you both, gentlemen. 

WATTS:  Thank you.

HAYES:  Another day, another devastating report for the Trump administration.  It feels hard to keep track of the bombshells over the past eight days, you are not alone.  We`ll keep track for you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  Capped off by tonight`s stunning revelations, the past nine days had been astonishing and difficult. frankly, to get your head around.  Last monday, it was former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifying that she warned the White House that its then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was lying about his improper conversations with the Russian ambassador, therefore, vulnerable to Russian blackmail.  And the White House counsel responded to this urgent news by asking why the Justice Department cared.

The next day, on Tuesday, Trump fires his FBI director, James Comey, who had been leading the investigation into the Trump campaign`s possible collusion with Russia and who had recently asked for more resources for that investigation.

Then on Wednesday, the next day, the president welcomes two Russian officials into the Oval Office in response to a request from Vladimir Putin, the president says he could not say no to - or felt he could not say no to, including Sergey Kislyak, the very same Russian ambassador whose conversations with Michael Flynn prompted Yates` warning.

And it just so happens we only know that Kislyak was there in the White House at this meeting because of photos released by the Russian media, who were allowed to come in and photograph the meeting.  The U.S. press wasn`t allowed in.

The following day, Thursday, in an interview with NBC`s Lester Holt, the president undermines his administration`s claim that he fired Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation saying he was thinking of, quote, this Russia thing when he fired him.

Then day after that, the president threatened Comey on twitter, suggesting he had secret tapes of their conversations, something the White House continues to neither confirm nor deny.

On Saturday, candidates to replace Comey arrived at the Justice Department fore their first interviews.  On Sunday, the president tweeted, Happy Mother`s Day to his wife and then headed to the golf course without her.

And that brings us to yesterday, Monday, where we learned the president astoundingly gave highly classified intelligence to Russian officials in that Oval Office meeting that could have compromised intelligence gathering from an allied nation.

And now today, the stunning news that Comey wrote in a February memo that the president asked him to end the federal investigation into Flynn. 

Even before that news broke today, Democrat Elijah Cummings articulated what many Democrats were thinking as they watched all of this unfold.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND:  I look at the way they treated Hillary Clinton.  I mean for one millionth of what is happening with Trump, they would have impeached her.  I`m just telling you.  They would have been going crazy.  That`s what makes this so egregious.

(END VIDEO CLP)

HAYES:  Much more on all this along with the possible fate of the Trump presidency right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES:  Joining me to discuss today`s stunning news, Jason Johnson, politics editor at The Root; Charlie Pierce, writer at-large at Esquire; and conservative commentator, MSNBC contributor Charlie Sykes.

Charlie, I want to start with you.  So John McCain at a dinner to honor him just said that Trump scandals have reached a Watergate size and scale which is a striking thing.  And you have been writing about -- Charlie Sykes, you`ve been writing about the fact that there`s a kind of hermetic seal around a lot of the news that a bunch of conservatives are consuming such that what seems like a genuine legitimacy crisis, a constitutional crisis in the making, brewing, to a lot of people just isn`t because they are getting a story the media is essentially hysterical.

CHARLIE SYKES, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR:  Yeah.  Do not underestimate the ability of the alternative reality media on the right to defend, to deflect and to rationalize what is going on.  I mean, we really do have these different echo chambers.  And right now they live in a completely different world.  This is about nothing.  It is about fake news, OK, maybe it`s about fake news but the real story is about the leak.  OK.  He did nothing wrong.  It was appropriate plus whatever Hillary did was a lot worse than all of that.

So, you know, ultimately, this will be up to Republicans to decide the fate of the Trump presidency.  But the number to keep in mind, to look at is what is the Trump base?  The Republican base is still solidly behind Donald Trump because they get this drum beat from the anti, anti-Trump media.  And I don`t think that that`s changing.

Now, the question is at some point will they develop a sense of shame.  Will they get tired of eating the crap sandwiches the White House is serving them, but I`m not sure that we`re quite there yet.

HAYES:  Well, I heard, Jason, tonight - I kept hearing members of congress, Joaquin Castro, Dick Durbin, others, saying they are getting there sort of off the record.  But it seems to me that anyone putting their hopes in that is misplaced.

JASON JOHNSON, THE ROOT:  Right.  It`s -- it would take a lot of change in the House, like 2018 level change, for Trump to get in any sort of trouble.  But it doesn`t take impeachment for this presidency to basically be hobbled.

Look at Montana.  Look at Georgia.  If either of those two races go wrong for the Republican Party, you`re going to see people scared and they`re going to start asking more questions.

HAYES:  Well, and, Charlie Pierce, this is a great point.  I saw Erick Erickson just tweeting about, you know, hearing from Republican Politicos that the polling has moved against Republicans in those two races.  There`s Georgia Sixth, the at-large in Montana.  I mean, the calculation here is a calculation of pure politics.  And those are fundamentally, it seems to me, the incentives that are going to matter.  Do you tihnk that the case?

CHARLIE PIERCE, ESQUIRE:  I have been floored by how supine the Republican congressional majorities have been through all of this, OK.  I understand why.  All they really want to do is destroy the health care law and push more of the country`s wealth upwards.  But they can do that with President Mike Pence.

This notion that we`re going to wait for someone like Paul Ryan, who is an intellectual invertebrate, probably the biggest fake in American politics, to do something about this particular crisis, that`s ludicrous.  I don`t think even electing Rob Quist and Jon Ossoff is enough to scare them out of this stoopor they`re in right now.

HAYES:  What do you think?  Why do you - I mean, what is that about?  Because there`s two ways of thinking about that, Charlie.  Charlie Sykes, and I`ll ask you this, one is a kind of psychological phenomenon in which they`ve been essentially been effectively bullied and captured.  And maybe that`s because of what they experienced during the campaign and another is just a raw calculation of political  advantage which is basically, we have seen in the past people that did not get on the Trump train got run over.  I`m not going to make that mistake.  Which of those two do you think it is?

SYKES:  I think it`s both of those.  There is that political Stockholm syndrome, there is a real sense of intimidation.  You just - why bother have to put up with it?  You know, you`ll be attacked by the entire Trump troll army.  But there is, then, also that kind of political Faustian bargain you`re referring to.  We can`t break with him.  We can`t say bad things because otherwise we won`t get the tax cuts.  We won`t get the tax reform.  We`re not going to be able to get health care.

Now, the question is what happens when Paul Ryan or somebody else wakes up.  They lost those elections.  They realize the entire agenda is right now eclipsed.  What if, in fact, it is dead in the water.  Does that change the calculation?  This, you know - I mean, it`s one thing to sort of sell a little bit of your soul in order to get what you wan, but the pieces are getting bigger and bigger and the butcher`s bill is getting higher and higher, isn`t it?

HAYES:  Well, and to Jason`s - Jason, your point also - I mean, you know, the legislative agenda, if the trade here is we will tolerate anything, you know, up to and perhaps including him shooting people on Fifth Avenue so that we can bring the corporate rate down, at a certain point,  it imperils the legislative agenda itself, it seems to me.

JOHNSON:  Right.  They`re already in trouble.  You already have people unhappy about them accomplishing their greatest campaign promise which is to do something about the Affordable Care Act.  It`s time for Pence and Ryan to be more Frank Underwood than Fitz.  Like they should be thinking about their own political future and saying, look, we may not say this out loud, but at some point this guy may have to go.

HAYES:  Right.  And that`s a great point, Charlie Pierce, that Jason just made.  The new polling that we have at NBC is that approval rating for the revised AHCA is sitting at 22 percent, 24 percent.  The president is remarkably unpopular at the moment.  The Republican Party on the generic ballot.  Im ean, there is a sort of like every political sign is blinking red at the Republican Party right now.

PIERCE:  They are.  And yet all you get are furrowed brows and  stroked chins and people who are deeply troubled.

That`s what you get.  I mean, you don`t get anything more than that.  And you`re not get anything more than that.  I don`t think they`re going to do anything about this guy.  I really don`t.  I think they`ll pass something resembling the current AHCA, which is going to be manifestly unpopular and I think he`ll sign it because there`s very little he can do now except sign anything they put on his desk.

Then they`ll get their tax reform, which is going to shove more wealth upwards.  He`ll sign that, too.  At that point I think they will rediscover where they..

HAYES:  You think they`re basically making the calculation of just grin and bear it to get these two pieces of legislation across the desk?

PIERCE:  I don`t have another explanation for the unanimity of silence.

HAYES:  Charlie Sykes, do you think that`s a good read?

SYKES:  Yeah, that`s the reason.  That`s what they`re doing right now.  And that`s why Paul Ryan has been so reluctant to say anything because he knows at the moment that he breaks bad in this  particular environment that all deals are off and who knows what would happen.

But again, I disagree with Charlie Pierce here.  I don`t think right now I don`t think they`re going to get this legislation.  I think they are looking at the entire first year of the Trump presidency with no major legislative accomplishments whatsoever.  This is consuming everything in Washington right now.  And it`s about to get worse.

HAYES:  Jason, Charlie Pierce and Charlie pierce, thank you all for your time tonight.

Before we go, I have another book event coming up this weekend.  On Sunday, I`ll be in the burrough of the Bronx at Lehman College to talk about my new book A Colony in a Nation out now.  It`s free, open to the ocmmunity.  If you`re in the area, make sure to come out and say hi.

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

 

 

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