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All In Chris Hayes, Transcript 5/17/2017 Russia Special Counsel

Guests: Ron Wyden, Maxine Waters, Leonard Lance; Barney Frank, Josh Barro, Ross Douthat, Jennifer Rubin, Barney Frank, Scott Olson, Jamie Raskin, Natasha Bertrand

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: May 17, 2017 Guest: Ron Wyden, Maxine Waters, Leonard Lance; Barney Frank, Josh Barro, Ross Douthat, Jennifer Rubin, Barney Frank, Scott Olson, Jamie Raskin, Natasha Bertrand

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HARDBALL HOST: - whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: With all due respect, I want to see it done properly.

HAYES: Another day, another bombshell. There will be a special counsel in the Russia investigation.

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: To be clear, Mr. Mueller`s purview will be the entire Russia issue.

HAYES: Former FBI Director Bob Mueller takes over. Tonight, reaction from a stunned White House. Barney Frank and Maxine Waters with reaction from democrats, and what this means for the investigation going forward.

TRUMP: This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.


HAYES: Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. Tonight on the 117th day of the Presidency of Donald J. Trump, the U.S. Department of Justice has appointed a special counsel to oversee an investigation into the Trump campaign`s potential ties to Russian interference in the American Election, the momentous development coming two hours ago. The Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man who wrote the memo that the administration initially used to justify President Trump`s firing of FBI Director James Comey, announcing he is appointing Former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve in the role of Special Counsel, to oversee the FBI investigation into Russian government influence in the 2016 campaign, and any possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Rosenstein saying in a statement, quote, "my decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination.

What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command. The White House reportedly blindsided by the news, just a short time ago, the President himself releasing a statement that reads, "as I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know. There was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country." Meanwhile, we may soon hear from James Comey himself. The Former FBI Director now being invited to testify before three separate committees. Senate Judiciary, Senate Intelligence, and House Oversight, with House Oversight planning an open hearing with Comey if he agrees one week from today.

At issue, of course, whether the President asked Comey to halt the investigation into his Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as Comey reportedly documented in a memo he wrote after a meeting with the President. A request that some legal observers argue could constitute obstruction of justice by the President. This morning, a republican lawmaker, Congressman Justin Amash, told The Hill Newspaper that the claims in the alleged Comey memo are true, it is grounds for impeachment. Joining me now, NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams. Pete, what does the special counsel role mean?

WILLIAMS: It means that he now makes all the decisions about the case that would have been made by the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. So he basically stands in the deputy`s shoes in terms of making decisions about the case. He can also act as a prosecutor. He can file charges. He can do anything that a U.S. Attorney would. He has all those powers. How do I know the answer to that question? Because this is under longstanding rules that have been in effect basically since 1999 when Congress let the so- called independent counsel law lapse. That`s what Ken Starr was during the white water investigation. So we know what the rules are that govern special counsel, and of course, we also have, as required by the law, the sort of charter, if you will, that Bob Mueller will have in terms of what to investigate.

And it`s the Russian matter. It`s whether any Trump campaign associates were in collusion with the Russians in their attempts to influence the election. Anything that is peripheral to that, if Mr. Comey wants to expand it, he`ll have to go back to the Deputy Attorney General and get permission to do that. But he will - he will now be overseeing the investigation, making all the big decisions that the Deputy would have made. And I should say one other thing here, Chris. When Rod Rosenstein talks about doing this in the public interest, that`s exactly what the special counsel law says. It says the Attorney General, or when he`s recused as Jeff Sessions is, the Deputy Attorney General can appoint a special counsel when he thinks it would be a conflict for the Justice Department to handle the case and it would be in the public interest, and that`s what Rosenstein says.

Hayes: Now, the normal sort of criminal procedure would apply here, right? So if for instance, investigators wanted to subpoena anything from any relevant party, they would have to impanel a grand jury and go through all those steps, correct?

WILLIAMS: No, not impanel a grand jury. Typically prosecutors don`t impanel grand juries. Those are special grand juries.

HAYES: Right.

WILLIAMS: They use standing grand juries. That`s already happened in this case. We know that a grand jury here in Alexandria, Virginia, just across the river has already issued some subpoenas in the Michael Flynn matter. So they use standing grand juries. I think one thing to point out here, and this is a little different from a normal criminal case in this sense. This is a counterintelligence investigation, if you will, a counterespionage investigation at its heart. Now, if it touches on criminal matters, of course, they can use the normal criminal procedure. But basically, this is an investigation into what were the Russians up to, and was anybody in the U.S. involved in helping them try to interfere in the election? So it`s a little different in that sense.

Now, I think it`s worth pointing out that it`s going to take a little bit of time for Bob Mueller to get up to speed on this case. It`s been, you know, this investigation has been going on for months now, and Jim Comey was a person who was following it day to day. So it will take some time for Mueller to get up to speed. He knows the FBI. He`ll know a lot of these people. He has experience in these sorts of cases. But nonetheless, there is a learning curve here. He can bring in his own people if he wants to work with him. He can use Justice Department people. Those are all - that`s all the procedures that are spelled out by the special counsel rules.

HAYES: And finally, Pete, there are a lot of questions tonight about Mueller`s possible removal given that Comey was removed directly by the President. he was fired in that letter. What does the statute say about how and under which circumstances Mueller could be removed?

WILLIAMS: Well, I hadn`t thought about that. A perfectly - a perfectly fair question, I guess. I think that he could be removed, but I`ve got to look at the - it`s been a while since I looked at special counsel rules. I`ve got to look at them again.

HAYES: I`m just gaming this out given that we just had an FBI Director fired -

WILLIAMS: Yes, it`s a perfectly fair question. He works for the federal government, so, yes, he could be fired. He could be fired by the - by the Deputy Attorney General or, I guess, by the President just as any U.S. Attorney could. Remember the President just got rid of all the U.S. Attorneys around the country, and in the process of nominating new ones. So in theory, yes. Let`s all hope it doesn`t come to that.

HAYES: All right. Pete Williams, thank you for that update. I appreciate it.

WILLIAMS: All right.

HAYES: Joining me now is NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Hallie Jackson. We have reporting the White House did not know this was happening, which is apparently appropriate it would seem. What`s the reaction there been like?

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so listen, Chris. Let me kind of walk through with you how this unfolded. We saw the Attorney General Jeff Sessions enter the White House not via the driveway where I`m standing but a different driveway. He kind of ducked in where these VIPs who come into the west wing typically go. This was just after just around the time that these FBI Director candidates had been coming out, being walked out by the members of the press office. So the assumption was that perhaps that was why the Attorney General was here. Not long after that, that was about 5:20 tonight, not long after that, we learned the news that the, in fact, Special Counsel would be appointed by the Department of Justice. That`s a little bit of the tick-tock for you behind the scenes of how this went down. As has happened every night this week, a number of reporters then went and gathered near the press office. The press office by the way that is preparing for this hugely important, very high-stakes, international trip, the first of Donald Trump`s Presidency. He leaves on Friday essentially. The members of the press leave tomorrow, right? So there`s a lot of scrambling and planning and logistics around this. And this news comes out at the same time. A spokesperson for the Department of Justice is telling NBC News that the President was not told or the White House Counsel`s Office, right, Don McGahn, his counsel, was not told until after the order was signed. We don`t know exactly what time that order is. There`s nothing specific on that at this point. But we do know that this was signed and then the White House Counsel`s Office was informed. And presumably, the President if not immediately, then almost immediately after that. We received that written statement that you read at the top of the show. Other than that, nothing from the White House. Nothing on camera at least, and we are obviously working to report out more on how this is all going down, How this is playing out behind the scenes in the west wing, Chris.

HAYES: Are they shell-shocked over there?

JACKSON: You know, I`ve had a lot of conversations over the past 24 hours with people inside and outside this administration frankly who are close with folks inside, who are in touch a lot. And here are some of the adjectives. If you were to make a word cloud, I think these are the words you would include, frustrated, angry, exhausted, sad is one word that somebody said. Demoralized, I heard the phrase "body blows" as in what has happened over the past week, the series of events that has occurred. At the same time, some of the more optimistic folks will say, hey, people are at least still showing up, right? They`re putting in these long hours. And I really don`t mean that as - I mean people are coming to work, they`re doing their job.

HAYES: No, I mean - yes. That would - if people stopped going to work every day at The White House, that would - that would be bad.

JACKSON: Right. So I do think there is a conscious effort to try to boost some morale here, but there is a concern that all of the - which you may call drama is getting in the way of actually getting stuff done. I will also say this. There`s a real sense of frustration and deep suspicion in the White House over where these leaks have been coming from -

HAYES: Right.

JACKSON: - and information that has been coming out. And that is - listen, that`s been reflected publicly too. You don`t need me to tell you that. I heard that from the podium here in the briefing room and frankly from republicans on Capitol Hill as well.

HAYES: All right. Hallie Jackson, thank you for that.


HAYES: All right, joining me now, Ken Dilanian, he`s the Intelligence and National Security Reporter with NBC News Investigative Unit. And you and Tom Winter have a piece up walking through essentially what the status of this investigation that Bob Mueller will now be inheriting is. What do we know?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Chris, this is a follow the money investigation so far. And it`s in its early stages although it seems like it`s been going on for some time. And we know that there are grand jury subpoenas flying around, and we`ve learned that Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort - Mike Flynn, the Former National Security Adviser, Paul Manafort, the Former Campaign Chairman, are key figures in it, not because any evidence has emerged at least publicly suggesting that they colluded with Russia in this hacking and leaking campaign, but because of other elements of their business activity. You know, in Mike Flynn`s case, he failed to register as a foreign lobbyist for Turkey. He didn`t tell the truth about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador. He didn`t disclose his - that he was paid for a trip to Russia in 2015. In Paul Manafort`s case, there`ve been a series of real estate transactions that have come under federal scrutiny. And by the way, both of these men deny any wrongdoing. They have not been charged with crimes. But they are clearly in the crosshairs of a sprawling FBI investigation that spans multiple FBI field offices across the country, and it`s both a counterintelligence and a criminal investigation, Chris.

HAYES: You described it as both a counterintelligence and a criminal investigation, and this might be too fine a point for us to zero in on now because we don`t know. But referring back to what Pete said, I mean, there are two elements here, and I think sometimes it gets lost. The President`s statement referencing collusion. We still don`t have a full accounting of the Russian actions here. Let`s put aside for the moment any possible collusion. The actual means by which the Russians carried out - what they carried out has not been fully accounted for. We haven`t got to the bottom of that. And then there`s the possible links. What you`re saying is that both of those are being pursued, and this is a big undertaking.

DILANIAN: You`re absolutely right. In fact, it began as an effort to look at what the Russians did and how they paid for it and who they - who, if anyone in the U.S., leaving aside the Trump associates, who if anyone in the U.S. participated. And that`s, as we understand it, one of the largest aspects of this. What gets all the media attention, of course, is this question of whether anyone in the Trump campaign colluded? And that`s certainly a part of this investigation. The other aspect of it, you know, I`ve been talking to former FBI official who is deeply involved in this, and he laments the fact that this became public because he said it really took a lot of investigative tools away from the FBI. Particularly in these type of investigations they like to operate in the shadows. As soon as it becomes public, if there is a conspiracy, the conspirators change their behavior, the way they communicate. So now they`re just looking backward. There`s really little chance of them catching current criminal activity. They`re looking at record, that`s why we see all these record requests and grand jury subpoenas and financial transactions. They`re really looking closely at any business relationships between Americans and Russians in this, Chris.

HAYES: All right, Ken Dilanian, thank you for that report. And joining me now, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, he`s a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Senator, your reaction to the news that Robert Mueller has been named as a Special Counsel in this matter.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D) OREGON: Chris, I`ve had some strong differences of opinion with Bob Mueller on governments, surveillance authority over law- abiding Americans, but I have always considered Bob Mueller to be both professional and an honorable man.

HAYES: Mitch McConnell put out a really sort of almost comically understated statement in which he essentially described what has happened. He says that your Committee`s investigation continues. Does this change anything from your perspective about what your Committee has been tasked with uncovering?

WYDEN: Well, we felt very strongly about ensuring that we had somebody independent because if you look, for example, at Jeff Sessions walking back his commitment to recuse himself from these matters, we needed an independent voice. But I also think if you look at what the President admitted to on national television at the end of last week, that he fired Mr. Comey to make this investigation go away, it was extraordinarily important to have this independent look. I regarded that statement of the President at the end of last week as really an attack on our democratic institutions. So we`ve got to stay at this. I`m going to continue to lead the follow the money effort because there are certainly questions about shell corporations and money laundering and property transfers. And by the way, this letter the President`s lawyer sent up last week was just ridiculous. It was kind of like that physician who during the campaign just wrote a letter and said, Donald Trump`s about the healthiest guy around.

HAYES: You`re talking about the letter that certified that there was no Russian involvement with a few exceptions. That one?

WYDEN: Yes. Underline exceptions. And, of course, you know, the real question is the Russians investing in matters relating to the President and his associates, and we`ve got a lot of work to do. I also have put a hold, a public hold as we call it up here, Chris, on a key treasury appointment to make sure we get those documents. I`m on both the Intelligence Committee and the Finance Committee and both committees have got to have them.

HAYES: You referred to the President`s actions and what he said about his mindset when he fired Director Comey, and I want to ask you about that because there are two matters at hand here. There`s the fundamental first order question of the Russian involvement and what happened, what possible collusion. That`s the investigation Bob Mueller will be overseeing. And then there`s the question of obstruction. Do you believe - first of all, you`re going to hear - we`re going to hear from Director Comey. Do you - are you inclined to believe his account as reported in the memos of what the President asked him?

WYDEN: That`s why it`s so important that we get Director Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee in an open session. And from about an hour after Mr. Comey was fired by the President, that`s what I have said was central. And, look, we need to know whether the President asked Comey for a pledge of loyalty. Did he tell him he could keep his job if he ended the Russian investigation? And suffice it to say did he ask Mr. Comey to commit to end the investigation? So we need to be able to look Jim Comey in the eye in an open hearing and get answers to those questions.

HAYES: If Comey were to lay out in an open hearing - to confirm that, that he was asked a pledge of loyalty as been reported, that he - the President explicitly asked him to go easy on Flynn, can we let this one go? Would that constitute - would that rise to the level of obstruction of justice in your mind?

WYDEN: You know, I ran a legal aid program for the elderly, so I don`t profess to be a lawyer with expertise in this field. But what I can tell you is based on what we know now and what the President admitted to on national TV, this is a pretty grim situation.

HAYES: All right. Senator Ron Wyden, thanks for your time tonight.

WYDEN: Thank you.

HAYES: Joining me now, Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California. Congresswoman, you`ve been very outspoken about the President`s behavior. Your view of - you believe that there was collusion, I think, is your operating thesis. What do you make of Bob Mueller`s appointment?

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I have said this recently. I want to see all of the investigations go forward. We are in a very difficult situation, trying to get to credible investigations without conflicts of interest. We have a President who is, I believe, under investigation, who has fired anybody who has gotten close to really getting into these investigations and coming to conclusions about his or his allies` involvement and collusion. And so while I welcome Mueller being appointed by the new Deputy Attorney General, don`t forget, it was this Deputy Attorney General who was involved in preparing a memorandum that supposedly was involved with firing Comey. Also, we know that the President could fire the special counsel. The President still has the ability and the Deputy Attorney can also fire the Special Counsel.

Also, I`m worried about what role Jeff Sessions is playing in all of this. First of all, he certainly should not be involved in hiring the next Director of the FBI. Don`t forget he had to recuse himself because he lied. And so you have so many possible conflicts here, but I want them to go forward with Mueller. I welcome his involvement. I wish they had given him special declaration so that he could not be fired. I understand that could have been done. But let him go forward. Let the House Intelligence Committee continue to do whatever they`re going to do. Also, allow the Senate to continue to do whatever they`re going to do. I`m convinced that if we follow the tracks of those who have been involved with the Kremlin, those who have been involved with Ukraine, those who have been involved in the circle that I call the Kremlin clan, we`ll get to the truth, and I believe the truth does - means that we`ll get to collusion, and collusion will lead to impeachment.

HAYES: You - I should say obviously that collusion has been denied by the White House, denied against tonight. Manafort and Flynn have denied anything of that sort. But my question to you is, you just used the word "impeachment." There aren`t that many democrats who are using that word. It`s about, I think, about a dozen, dozen and a half. What do you make of that?

WATERS: Well, here`s what I make of it. I think too many people, impeachment is a huge thing. It is an extraordinary thing. And I think there are many people and politicians in particular who are cautious or who tend to want to protect themselves from making mistakes. And so it has not been easy, despite the fact that they have seen enough that should make them at least curious enough to get to the bottom of this. You know, any politician, democrat or republican, seeing this President fire Comey, seeing him fire Sally Yates, seeing him fire Preet Bharara up in New York, should wonder why is he firing all of these people who appear to have some role in these investigations that may implicate me. They should all be also be concerned about this President who just shared - shared rater with Russians, the Russian Ambassador, and the Russian Foreign Minister, classified information. They should also understand that Mr. Flynn, who got caught lying, didn`t want to tell the truth about him discussing sanctions with the Russian Ambassador - all of this should make them really want to know if, in fact, any of this occurred because they know that if it occurred, it would lead to impeachment. And so they should come forward. They just perhaps don`t have quite the courage yet.

HAYES: Just as I noted at the top of the show, Justin Amash has referenced impeachment. Curbelo down in Florida, who represents a district, if I`m not mistaken, Hillary Clinton actually won, I think, has referenced impeachment, at least has used the word. I want you to respond finally to this quote. You`ve served in your capacity as a member of Congress for some time, and this was a longtime House GOP staffer was asked by Molly Ball where things are headed. This is like reservoir dogs. Everyone ends up dead on the floor. Do you think republicans are panicking privately?

WATER: Well, I do. I do think that they are worried. I think that they are really upset with this President about these revelations that`s unfolding every day. I think that they don`t know how this is going to play in their districts. They wish it would just go away. But they know it`s not going to go away. That`s why we got to the point where we have a special counsel that will certainly make the White House and the republicans in both the House and the Senate look better, that they are at least trying to do something. And so they had no choice but to try and make some movement on this. Yes, I think they`re worried. I don`t think they`re going to roll out easily. But in the final analysis, I`ve always said, if we connect the dots, if we get the facts, and if we find that this President has been involved in undermining our democracy, if we can bring forth the facts that will show that he tried - they tried to undermine and disrupt our elections, they won`t be able to stand with him. They won`t be able to claim that they love America. They won`t be able to claim that they`re patriots. They`re going to have to get away from him, and they`re going to have to join with those of us at that point who are calling for impeachment. I believe that.

HAYES: Well, I don`t think anyone disagrees that if the fact pattern that you are confident exists emerges, then that`s the case. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, thank you for being with me.

WATERS: You`re so welcome and thank you.

HAYES: All right. Joining me now, Republican Congressman Leonard Lance of New Jersey. Congressman, are you confident - are you glad to see Bob Mueller named to this position?

REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think it`s a fine decision by the Deputy Attorney General, and I`m sure that Mr. Mueller will do an excellent job, Chris.

HAYES: Are you troubled by the reporting of what Comey apparently wrote in a memo about the President of the United States asking him to essentially stop pursuing an investigation of his fired National Security Adviser?

LANCE: That`s why I think we need to have Director Comey come to Capitol Hill as soon as possible with open testimony, and I`m certainly willing to listen to that testimony. And obviously, the American people deserve the testimony of Director Comey.

HAYES: If that were true, would that be obstruction of justice to your mind?

LANCE: That`s an open question. I, of course, would be a grand juror if there were such an action on the floor of the House, and so I don`t want to prejudice myself at this time. But I certainly recognize that this is a serious matter. And, Chris, I take my responsibilities seriously. I was the first member of the House to suggest that Jeff Sessions should recuse himself in any matter regarding Russia, and I`m pleased of the decision of the Deputy Attorney General. And I think it proves the point that the Deputy Attorney General is acting in the best interests of the American people.

HAYES: Do you think Jeff Sessions violated his own recusal by writing a memo affirming a decision to fire the man who is investigating the Russia connection?

LANCE: I think that that`s possible, but that`s why I think it was so important that this decision, this special counsel decision, be made by -

HAYES: So you think it is possible that Jeff Sessions violated his own recusal in taking that action?

LANCE: That is possible, yes.

HAYES: Do you - here`s what I can`t understand about the psychology of the members of the Republican Party on the Hill right now. You can`t possibly know what`s underneath all this, and it just seems like the downside exposure you all have is tremendous. It`s almost boundless unless you`re 1,000 percent confident that nothing more is going to come out. Are you 1,000 percent confident nothing more is going to come out?

LANCE: I am not, Chris. I want the entire facts and truth to come out.

HAYES: Isn`t that terrifying?

LANCE: No, I don`t think the truth is ever terrifying, and I think that we should get to the bottom of the whole situation. And that is why I think that this was an appropriate move by the Deputy Attorney General today. I also have confidence in the two intelligence committees and, of course, you`ve just had Senator Wyden, who is on the intelligence committee in the Senate, and I think that they are going about their work appropriately and in a bipartisan capacity.

HAYES: There`s a lot of talk on Capitol Hill from republicans that we`ve got to put this aside so we can get back to the healthcare bill, that we can get back to tax reform. What do you make of that?

LANCE: I didn`t vote for the health care bill on the floor of the House. I was one of 20 republicans not to vote for it. I certainly hope that the Senate takes up this issue. But I suggest that the Senate move in a different direction from what occurred in the House, and I know the Senate is working on that. And I was involved in a meeting today with the Secretary of the Treasury, and the economic adviser regarding tax reform. But I think those issues will take some time, Chris. And certainly, we should be involved in this issue as well regarding the investigation.

HAYES: Final question is this. There are people watching who say two of the following things. One is if Hillary Clinton had taken these same actions, the republicans would already have drafted articles of impeachment. And, number two, is there anything the President could do that would make republicans in Congress essentially condemn him, rein him in, produce oversight? What do you say to those people?

LANCE: I would not have suggested articles of impeachment regarding Secretary Clinton if she had engaged in the discharge of Mr. Comey. I certainly think we should get to the bottom of any issue. And then regarding the President, I support him when I agree with him, and I do not support him when I disagree with him, as, for example, I did on the health care legislation.

HAYES: Can you imagine though that`s a - that`s a sort of substantive agreement on a piece of policy of vote here or there. I think there`s a more profound institutional and constitutional question which is people are concerned that Congress provide the constitutional check on the President that may be necessary. And my question to you is are you willing to do that?

LANCE: Certainly I am willing to be a check and balance on either of the other branches of government, including the executive branch and let the facts determine the future in that regard, Chris.

HAYES: All right. Congressman Leonard Lance, thank you for making time.

LANCE: Thank you.

HAYES: Joining me now, Former Congressman Barney Frank, Democrat From Massachusetts.


HAYES: Hi. What do you make of all this as you watch this having lived through the Clinton years and the impeachment proceedings there? How are members responding to this and figuring out what they`re going to do about it on both sides?

FRANK: Well, first of all, I have a recommendation to my former Republican colleagues having listened to my friend Leonard Nance and some others. I think they should shake up their campaign staffs, basically fire one of their consultants and hire a choreographer, which is what they need because of their insistence on dancing around every tough question with Donald Trump.

I understand they face a politician`s nightmare, namely a split between the people who nominate you in the primaries, exacerbated by the redistricting, and the rise of the very fervent right-wing in Republican primary voters, and the general electorate. And that`s the issue that deals with it.

As to the Clinton impeachment, I will say it was important that this was investigated in an interesting way. Kenneth Starr, obviously, unlike Bob Mueller -- and I think that was a wonderful appointment. I am very not only impressed by that, but Bob Mueller deserves a lot of credit.

This is say man with a great career behind him, a great job that he`s got in the private sector. He`s put himself on the line. He knows as a result of this, he`s going to get unfairly demonized by somebody or other.

HAYES: Right.

FRANK: And I admire Bob for willing to step up and do that.

I also want to say people talk about prior experiences. I remember him as a man who helped deal with the whole question of fair treatment for LGBT FBI employees, and I spent one very memorable gay pride day at the FVI with Bob. And he set up a task force. So I`m a great admirer of his.

The thing is this, about - and people forget this. The Republicans did throw a whole barrage of charges against Bill Clinton. Sadly they were revived with not enough refutation against Hillary. You remember the FBI filed to the travel office and Whitewater.

HAYES: Oh, yes.

FRANK: Kenneth Starr, ultimately after the election. In a question I asked him, he reported to us that, yes, Clinton had had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky and lied about it, but on every other accusation, everything that would have affected the use of governmental power -- and let`s be clear about this, Clinton had sex that he shouldn`t have had and he lied about it. But with regard to every charge of the misuse of presidential authority, specifically the FBI files in the Travel Office, and then go back to Whitewater with the suggestion of some financial mistakes, Kenneth Starr said that the Clintons were not guilty of any of them.

So, I asked Kenneth Starr...

HAYES: So this is...

FRANK: The whole thing is it - all I`m saying is - go ahead.

HAYES: Oh just to your point, I mean, the exoneration on the -- I mean the development of Kenneth Starr was basically he started on, a, and he ended up all the way at z, right? I mean, he started on a land deal in Arkansas, and he ended up with a White House intern which, to me, illustrates the way these things can kind of mushroom.

FRANK: They can. But he wound up exonerated. The point I want to make is this, this is not comparable in this sense. If Donald Trump is found to have done the things that credible people have said he did, these are far more serious than anything Bill Clinton did. Bill Clinton was impeached in the House, ultimately not convicted in the Senate for a private sexual activity that he shouldn`t have engaged in.

Members of the House, Democrats, were ready to censure him for it.

But what Donald Trump is being accused of - so, there`s no comparability in that sense. Beyond that, I do - one other point I`d like to make, and obviously Trump`s behavior on this is -- look. One, I hope people will not, out of this, confer sainthood on James Comey. Being a victim as he was, being unfairly treated does not make you a good guy, it makes you a victim.

I think Comey still bears a great deal of responsibility for the badly way he treated Hillary Clinton -- the badly way I`m speaking English here while I`m at it. But I do think that - and I think thre was a good point. I am disappointed that Comey is not coming forward. He shouldn`t have to be subpoenaed. A commitment to the truth, and I can understand why he didn`t quit. I think that would have been giving Trump an unearned victory. But now that he was fired, I do think the American people have a right to know that.

The other point I would make is this, I hope this doesn`t get too personalized. That is Trump is obviously a disaster. He is a mix of impulses and arrogance, and he`s just clearly personally unsuited for serious responsibility.

But I hope we won`t forget that there`s a policy side to it too. That is this presidency has been a disaster not just in his cover-ups and his blustering, but in his total inability to carry out the policies he`s tried to carry out. And so I hope that as I said, the judgment -- and I think it is entirely appropriate to say this is the worst presidency in anybody`s memory, but it`s not simply because of trying to quash an investigation, it is because of the miserable way he governs across the board.

HAYES: That is a point that I think Democrats, particularly Democrats who are running in these special elections, Democrats across the country would do well to listen to. Former Congressman Barney Frank. Thanks for joining us.

Joining me now, former FBI special assistant for leadership development and FBI legal attache Scott Olson. And Scott, first let me get -- I imagine you worked with Bob Mueller, personal testimony, and if you think he`s up to this.

SCOTT OLSON, FRM. FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Oh, yes, Chris. I think that this assignment is well within Bob Mueller`s comfort zone. As challenging and as controversial as this is going to be over the next couple of months, he`s an experienced prosecutor. He is very familiar with the landscape of national security investigations. He is going to -- he`s going to give us what we need in terms of the fact pattern. B ut this really is right in his comfort zone.

HAYES: I want to correct something a little bit when we were talking earlier with both Pete Williams and Maxine Waters about his role and how he can be removed. My understanding is the statute at issue makes it impossible for the president to directly fire a special counsel, but they can be fired by, in this case the deputy attorney general. And what happened with Archibald Cox is that Nixon ordered people to fire the special counsel until he got to someone who was willing to do it, had to go through a few.

So he is not necessarily entirely protected. And my question to you is are you confident, having worked at the bureau, that this investigation can be undertaken under these extraordinary circumstances?

OLSON: The actual ability of the president or the attorney general or the deputy attorney general to remove Bob Mueller from this role is something that I`d have to agree with your very first guest. I`d have to review the statute, and I`m certainly not expert there, but I think the only way that we`re going to get a good understanding of the facts is with someone like Bob Mueller driving this investigation. And quite frankly, I can`t think of another person who could do it better than Bob Mueller could.

HAYES: What do you think the mindset, obviously, of the bureau is 35,000 individuals. You can`t, you know, generalize. There`s people who have all sorts of different opinions. But I wonder what the mindset is of the bureau right now, and particularly people that are tasked with this investigation? What do you think of that?

OLSON: Yeah, so setting aside political opinions and with 35,000 people, you have the gamut of political opinions with bureau employees. But the one thing everybody agrees on is the FBI`s job is to investigate, it`s to find the facts, and that`s what this team is going to be. I don`t have to know the names of the investigators assigned to this thing to be absolutely certain that every single one of the men and women assigned to this thing care about finding the facts and making sure that Bob Mueller has what he needs to do his job as the leader of this investigation.

HAYES: It`s my understanding that Mueller and Comey are actually fairly personally close. Is that your understanding?

OLSON: It`s my understanding that they`ve known each other for a long time. I wouldn`t be surprised to learn that they`re personal friends, but I think they have great professional respect for each other as well.

HAYES: Yeah, in that respect, it`s sort of interesting that Rosenstein making this announcement - if you were the White House, you can imagine them not being super happy about it for that reason.

OLSON: Yeah. I suppose they wouldn`t be super happy. But the president has said that he wants the facts to come out. The facts are going to come out under Bob Mueller.

HAYES: all right, Scott Olson, thank you for being here.

I`m joined now by Congressman Jamie Raskin, Democrat from Maryland. Congressman, you are of the belief that -- you`ve signed on, I believe, to an effort in the House to essentially try to begin the process of removing the president, though not through impeachment. Is that correct?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN, (D) MARYLAND: Well, the constitution, Chris, gives us a bunch of different tools. And so one tool, of course, is impeachment, another tool is prosecution, which is taking place now with the appointment of the special prosecutor, which is excellent news and a good choice. But another tool is the 25th amendment, which deals with the problem of presidential incapacity. It was adopted in the 1960s. It`s been used for temporary incapacities where presidents have signed over to the vice president powers temporarily.

But there`s another provision, section 4, which says that the president can be removed by a majority vote of the cabinet or a majority vote of the cabinet, or a majority vote of a body to be set up by the U.S. congress. And that body has never been set up, and so this legislation would establish that body, not for Donald Trump specifically but just in general to have in cases of presidential incapacity caused by either mental or physical problems.

HAYES: So there`s a column in The New York Times by a conservative columnist Ross Douthat, which we`ll be talking about later, that essentially calls for this option to be exercised. But I want you to respond to this. I mean, there`s part of the country that is seeing news through the lens of this is a hysteria driven by the media, that people are out to get the president of the United States. And what do you say to people who say that is massively, massively putting the cart before the horse for Democrats to be talking about ways to remove the president, impeachment when we`re 117 days in and people don`t know what the underlying facts are.

RASKIN: Well, I think it is too early to make any decisions about what`s going to happen. We are still in the fact-finding mode here. That`s why the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the Russian connection in the Trump campaign`s and the Trump administration`s complicity with it is an excellent development today.

And I think everybody can be cheering that.

We also need a comprehensive 9/11-style commission outside of congress, not controlled by either party, but just to go after the facts because it`s not just a question of whether this or that person committed a crime, but it`s a question of an attack on American electoral democracy.

HAYES: What`s the argument now? I mean, you saw Mitch McConnell very pointedly essentially dismissing the idea of an independent commission, and I think Republicans on Capitol Hill will say, look, you`ve got the special prosecutor. Why do you need belt and suspenders? Why would you possibly need an independent commission on top of someone like Bob Mueller?

RASKIN: Well, it`s not a question of us getting anything. A special prosecutor was appointed by the relevant DOJ official, the deputy attorney general, Mr. Rosenstein, because he believes that there`s got to be reasonable grounds to think that there may be crimes that have been committed here. So there are a series of rules that he`s got to follow, and a special counsel was appointed. And that is good news to know that the president`s apparent effort, if Mr. Comey is to be believed, to interfere with that investigation has been blocked within the Department of Justice. So that`s good news.

But, look, there was an attack on American democracy, we know, from the intelligence agencies` report that came to congress and came to the American people. And we`ve got to deal with the reality of that. We know the Russians tried to interfere in the French election, in the Dutch election, and so on. You know, the internet makes us vulnerable, and we`ve got to figure out how this happened, what exactly happened, and how to prevent it in the future.

The 25th amendment deals with the problem of mental health, which is no laughing matter. It`s a serious issue, and it deals with the problem of physical health. And, again, this was adopted by the framers of the 25th amendment back in the 1960s. And so we`re just establishing the body that was called for in the 25th amendment itself.

HAYES: All right, Congressman Jamie Raskin, thank you.

We`re following the big breaking news tonight that the Department of Justice is appointing a special counsel to pursue the investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian government interference in the 2016 election. It`s a story so massive, threatening to overshadow what would otherwise be a blockbuster news of the day, a report that the number two House Republican claimed Donald Trump is on Vladimir Putin`s payroll. That`s coming up next.


HAYES: Last June, about a month before Donald Trump accepted his party`s nomination at the GOP convention, the number two Republican in the House California`s Kevin McCarthy, made a pretty provocative claim to some of his colleagues on Capitol Hill. "There`s two people I think Putin pays, Rohrabacher and Trump," McCarthy said, according to a recording of the June 15th, 2016 exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post.

Now, Dana Rohrabacher is a famously pro-Russian congressman from California. According to The Post, some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy`s comment, then McCarthy quickly added, swear to god.

House Speaker Paul Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying no leaks. This is how we know we`re a real family here.

Spokespeople for Ryan and McCarthy both denied the conversation ever happened until The Post told them it had an audio recording of the whole thing. Then they changed their story, calling the remarks, quote, a failed attempt at humor.

In the last hour or so, McCarthy tried to explain his comments to NBC News.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) CALIFORNIA: If you listened to it, it said everybody laughed. So you know it`s a bad attempt at a joke. And that`s all there is to it. No one believes it to be true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you still have confidence in the president?

MCCARTHY: 100 percent.


HAYES: Joining me now, Natasha Bertrand, she`s a senior reporter at Business Insider; and Josh Barro, senior editor at Business Insider and MSNBC contributor.

And Josh, you just wrote a column on this.


HAYES: Which basically, I think, is exactly right.

BARRO: Yeah.

HAYES: Which is basically you think it both is and is not a joke.

BARRO: Right. It`s one of those jokes that`s funny because of the kernel of truth behind it. I don`t think that McCarthy thought that Trump was literally in the pay of Putin. I also don`t think Trump is literally in the pay of Putin. The joke is that Trump behaves as though he were in the pay of Putin, which should be a very alarming thing. Your political party has just nominated this guy for president who acts like he`s a Russian plant. And then instead of you know trying to make sure that guy doesn`t become president, trying to make sure at your upcoming political convention that you wave your arms and stop your party from making the huge mistake it`s making by nominating this guy, you sort of do gallows humor about it and then go out there and try to foist him upon the country out of partisan interest even though you know, and that`s why you`re joking about it, that the guy`s loyalties are really unclear between the U.S. and Russia.

HAYES: Ahe joke to me, Natasha, is that the Republicans -- I just can`t help but think they must be -- they don`t know what the facts are, right? I mean that`s the thing about Republican behavior in this environment is they are flying blind.

NATASHA BERTRAND, BUSINESS INSIDER: They are flying blind. But on the other hand, there was an element of truth to, I think, he understood there was something going on between Trump and the Russians.

I mean the DNC had just been hacked by the Russians. Reports had just surfaced that this had happened. So there was an element of truth to what McCarthy was saying in the sense that there was this thing going on.

And it just kind of showed that he understood that there was this threat, and he was joking about it, which is very kind of unnerving.

HAYES: Right. Well, exactly because it`s also in the context of then, this is back in June. It`s starting to dawn on people, it`s like an unguarded moment in which it`s starting to dawn on people and a reminder of how nuts the entire thing is.

BERTRAND: Well, what`s even more shocking is that this conversation came on the heels of Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy`s meeting with the Ukrainian prime minister who had just warned them about...

HAYES: Had walked them through.

BERTRAND: ...right, who had just warned them about Russia`s efforts in Ukraine to undermine democracy there, and they were firing 30 to 40 shells into Ukraine every day. They were financing anti-western politicians in Ukraine.

So, these were all things that Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy had in mind when they were having this...

HAYES: They come out of this briefing when they have this conversation, which is a briefing from the Ukrainian prime minister basically about Russians` attempts to, you know, infiltrate, meddle in other governments` internal affairs.

BARRO: But I think - there`s actually something Paul Ryan said this morning which I think is relevant to this. When someone was asking him about the Trump investigation, and Ryan says you, well, I don`t worry about things that aren`t within my control.

And I think there was this attitude among lots of Republicans, including Republican leaders last spring, about how it was very unfortunate that Donald Trump was taking over their party and that they were going to nominate this person who was awful on a number of dimensions. They were also concerned that he was not really a conservative and one of the dimensions they were concerned about was this weird Russia stuff.

But they acted like it was a matter beyond their control. I mean, it`s not like Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy walked out there and were like, nominate Donald Trump. They didn`t want this to happen if you go back a year and a half, but they behaved as though it was a matter completely beyond their control when in fact there are things they could have done to stop it. It was just that there were things that would have been politically costly for them to do, and they chose not to do it.

HAYES: And that calculation has continued. They continue to act on Capitol Hill as if they are not in control.

BERTRAND: Yes, and it remains to be seen whether they`ll continue to do that as Trump`s base of support kind of erodes. There was a...

HAYES: Or if he does.

BERTRAND: Or, right. I mean, there was a poll that came out recently on Monday, I believe, that showed that his support, his base of support was eroding a little bit. If that keeps going, then we`ll see what they do. But until then, it`s kind of unclear.

HAYES: They`re down to, you know, the polling average at this point is deeply upside down, right. It`s 40-55, 40 approve, 55 opposite job approval. You do wonder how bad it has to get until they start jumping ship, and at what point -- I think this is the key thing - their calculation of let - whether legislation is going to happen or not.

BARRO: Yeah. I mean, I think not only are the numbers deteriorating a little bit. You`re also seeing - you know, they ask you do you strongly approve or just approve, and there`s been worse deterioration in the strong approval numbers. He`s got more Republicans basically saying I approve, but I don`t strongly approve.

The flip side of this is that even if his numbers deteriorate a lot, he`s going to have a really large base of support. If 20 percent of Americans really like Donald Trump, that`s tens of millions of people.

When Richard Nixon left office, he had a 24 percent approval rating. And it`s sort of, imagine if Richard Nixon had been run out of office by the Republicans, if he had not resigned and forced them to impeach him. And then he`d run around the country in 1974 talking about how the Republicans had betrayed him (inaudible) and then he did that again in `76 and `78 and `80.

It`s very easy to imagine Donald Trump doing that, throwing a world of hurt on Republicans that make them actually worse off breaking with him even if his numbers get way, way more dire...

HAYES: That is an excellent point and I think that`s probably running through their minds as well.

Natasha Bertrand and Josh Barro, thank you both.

Ahead, more on the appointment of a special prosecutor in the Russiam investigation. The absolute flurry of devestating reports for the White House over just the last few days right after this break.


HAYES: It is only Wednesday, but it`s hard to overstate the degree of genuinely massive stunning news that has come out of Washington, D.C. over the past three days. On Monday, the week begins with Sean Spicer refusing to confirm or deny whether the president was secretly recording conversations in the White House.

Then at 5:00 p.m. monday The Washington Post reports the president had revealed highly classified information to two Russian officials in of an Oval Office the previous week. Two hours later, H.R. McMaster, the president`s national security advisor, says the story as reported, quote, didn`t happen.

But the next morning at 7:00 a.m., the president appears to contradict previous administration denials, defending the information he shares.

Four hours later McMaster does not deny that classified material was shared by the president, but repeatedly calls wholly appropriate.

Then at 5:30 p.m. that evening, the bombshell report from The New York Times that former FBI director Jim Comey had written memo detailing a meeting in which President Trump asked him to end the Flynn investigation. That night, largely eclipsed by the fallout that report, news that federal investigators had subpoenaed records from Trump`s former campaign manager Paul Manafort for a $3.5 million mortgage he took out through a shell company after leaving the campaign.

That brings us to today, when at 5:45 p.m. The Washington Post reports on audio of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy telling colleagues last year that he thought Putin pays Trump. They say it was a joke.

15 minutes later, news breaks the Justice Department has appointed Robert Mueller, the former FBI director, as special counsel to oversee the investigation in the Russian meddling into the election.

And keep in mind, it`s just Wednesday.

Joining me now, Jennifer Rubin who writes the Washington Post Right Turn column, and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.

And Jennifer, I just -- I keep wondering what the psychology of Republicans and conservatives has to be as they watch this all develop. How would you characterize it?

JENNIFER RUBIN, WASHINGTON POST: I think they`re deluded. I think they somehow think that if they soft pedal it enough they can get back to marginal tax rates. They need to show the voters they have accomplished something.

I think what they are failing to appreciate is the voters see a party that is intellectually and morally exhausted, that does not take their constitutional job seriously, and that has never taken this investigation seriously. Thank goodness we have a special prosecutor, special counsel. But I think they`re kidding themselves in thinking first of all that they will go back to this agenda, secondly that this agenda is anything the American people want, and third of all that they`re not going to get punished for sort of off their schloffing off their constitutional responsibilities.

HAYES: Speaking of constitutional responsibilities, Ross, you wrote a remarkable column in the New York Times today calling for the Republicans to use the 25th amendment to the Constitution of the United States to essentially remove Donald Trump from office, which is way out past where even, say, Maxine Waters is at the moment.

ROSS DOUTHAT, NEW YORK TIMES: Yeah, it was a mildly insane proposal. But the theory that I offered was basically that I think it is at least somewhat unlikely that we`re going to come to a point where we can say with certainty Donald Trump has committed some definitively impeachable offense.

At the same time, I think we can say right now reasonably on the basis of not only the wild stuff that`s come to light this week, but the consistent leaked testimony of his own inner circle joined to everything that he has done on the campaign trail and in the presidency, that he is not actually up to the job of president.

And of course the 25th Amendment is designed for situations of deep mental incapacity, an assassination attempt, a stroke, and so on.

But I belong to the textualists rather than the originalist school of constitutional interpretation. And the text of the amendment says nothing specific about mental illness, it simply talks about one`s ability to, again, execute the basic duties of the presidency. And that is what I think is going to remain in serious doubt with this president, regardless of what happens as this investigation drags on.

And honestly, you know, the news tonight is huge news, but it`s also a weight off Republican shoulders in certain ways. It leaves them only with the problem of whatever is in Jim Comey`s memos to deal with and the Mueller investigation, based on past special counsels, special prosecutor cases, is likely to take months or even years to sort of wind its way through, possibly leaving this presidency paralyzed, but not necessarily bringing us to any kind of resolution.

HAYES: What do you think of that, Jennifer? I think secretly - I agree that I think some Republicans probably breathed a sigh of relief at Mueller. And I think White House staff and campaign staff probably got terrified.

RUBIN: Yeah, I think that`s exactly right.

I think Mueller is exactly the kind of person that Trump doesn`t want. He`s absolutely - pardon the expression - unimpeachable in terms of his character and he also knows what he`s doing, he`s a former FBI chief.

I did write a rather harsh piece, Ross, I thought you were being serious. Maybe you were kidding me, really disagreeing with what Ross outlined and what he just talked about.

I actually think it`s a very, very bad idea. And first of all, clearly, this is not incapacitated. He is able to discharge, he just discharges his duties miserably. If we to down this path of kind of shortcuts, we are never going to get to the place where we have a consensus in this country about who is a legitimate president. If we get rid of Trump through those wacky ideas, how would a President Pence or if we get down to a President Ryan if we`re getting down this far...

DOUTHAT: President Hatch.

HAYES: Yeah, we may get to the Ag secretary.

RUBIN: Yeah, exactly.

The Postal Commissioner, how are we ever going to establish a sense of legitimacy. We really do have to stick to the rules here.

And I would only say one other thing, I got an extraordinary number of emails and texts and so on from mental health professionals. They really do not like it when we as journalists throw around the term crazy or incapacitated when we mean something else.

DOUTHAT: But the 25th amendment does not use the term "incapacitated," it talks about...

RUBIN: No, it says unable to discharge.

DOUTHAT: I`m not going to quote it exactly right. But it doesn`t talk specifically about mental health. And I wasn`t trying to talk about any kind of diagnosis. It`s more a case of I think that there are situations given the burdens of the presidency and the nature of the human personality where certain people can be not technically mentally ill, but not capable of behaving and sort of achieving a baseline of responsibility.

HAYES: Ross is saying is he`s sane - in a sane mind and sort of in a deep essential way not up to the task.

Jennifer Rubin and Ross Douthat, thank you both.

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