Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: June 1, 2017 Guest: Ted Lieu, Natasha Bertrand, Julia Ioffe, Bob Inglis, Dan Dicker
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: All I want is for Comey to be honest, and I hope he will be, and I`m sure he will be, I hope.
HAYES: Save the date. FBI Director James Comey will testify in public one week from today as the Russia probe expands to encompass Trump himself. Then -
TRUMP: It could be Russia, but it could also be China.
HAYES: Putin all but admits what Trump has spent so much time denying. Russians hacked the Democrats.
TRUMP: But also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs400 pounds, OK?
HAYES: And surging with nationalism but short on facts.
TRUMP: So we`re getting out.
HAYES: Trump abandons the Paris Climate Accord.
TRUMP: At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?
HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.
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HAYES: Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. In one week from today, James Comey will speak publicly for the very first time since the President fired him as FBI Director last month. The Senate Intelligence Committee announced today that Comey is scheduled to testify on Thursday, June 8th, beginning at 10:00 a.m. in both open and closed sessions after getting the go-ahead from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller, of course, was appointed to take over the Russia investigation following Comey`s firing. The question now is whether the President may invoke executive privilege to try and block Comey from even getting before the Committee. The former FBI Director is expected to discuss his conversations with the President in which he says the President demanded his loyalty and asked him to halt the investigation into Michael Flynn, the ousted National Security Adviser.
Courts have upheld a President`s right to keep his communications private, but it`s not clear how that principle would apply to a President who frequently makes public comments about Comey, about Flynn, and the Russia probe in general, which he continues to describe as, quote, "witch hunt." Responding to a query from The New York Times, a White House spokeswoman had no comment on whether the President plans to block Comey`s testimony. Not only does the President dismiss the gravity of the Russia investigation, but he continues to question the intelligence community`s unanimous conclusion that Russia was behind the hacking in the 2016 election.
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TRUMP: Knowing something about hacking, if you don`t catch a hacker, OK, in the act, it`s very hard to say who did the hacking. With that being said, I`ll go along with Russia, it could have been China, it could have been a lot of different groups.
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HAYES: Now, even Vladimir Putin is acknowledging a possible Russian role. Today for the first time, the Russian President himself said cyber-attacks during the campaign may have been carried out by independent Russian hackers whom he described as patriotically minded, insisting the Russian government was not involved. Putin went on to say that hackers are free people, just like artists who wake up in the morning in a good mood and start painting. Amid growing anticipation for Comey`s appearance next week, we`re learning for the first time about a possible meeting during the campaign between the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. and the President himself. Five current and former U.S. officials told NBC News they are aware of classified intelligence suggesting there was some sort of private encounter between Trump and his aides and the Russian envoy on the sidelines of a foreign policy speech last year at Washington`s Mayflower Hotel. It`s been reported previously that then candidate Trump greeted the Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during a VIP reception before the speech where Jared Kushner and Jeff Sessions were also in attendance. But this is the first indication there interaction may have been more significant. If such a meeting did take place, it would be the third meeting with the Russian Ambassador that Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, has failed to disclose. Now, both Sessions and Kushner deny having met privately with Kislyak at that event. Like so many revelations about the ongoing Russia scandal, this one was based on anonymous sources with agendas of their own. And while each story helps fill in key details about the conduct of the President and his aides, the full picture of what`s happened remains woefully incomplete. But if there`s any one person who has all the available information, who`s seen the raw intelligence, it`s James Comey. He was overseeing the investigation until the President fired him three weeks ago, and we are about to finally hear from Comey himself. I`m joined now by Congressman Ted Lieu, Democrat from California. And Congressman, are you confident that Comey is going to testify and not have some legal challenge by the White House to get him to stop?
REP. TED LIEU (D) CALIFORNIA: I am confident because Comey is a private citizen now. He could go right a book about what happened in administration like many foreign aides have. And in addition, if there`s any executive privilege, Donald Trump waived it with his multiple tweets as well as his statements about Director Comey. So I believe Director Comey will testify next week.
HAYES: The comments of Vladimir Putin today, which we`re going to talk about in some depth throughout the show, basically saying it wasn`t the Russian government, which contradicts what the Russian - American intelligence says, but, yes, maybe some Russians got up to something. How do you understand that?
LIEU: There is an unclassified intelligence report that intelligence agencies put out that state very clearly, Russia hacked our elections, and it was done under the orders of Vladimir Putin. I read the classified intelligence report. I also had classified briefings. I`m a recovering computer science major, so I read the report with an eye towards that and I can tell you there is clear and convincing evidence in the classified report to support the conclusions of the unclassified report. There is no doubt in my mind that the hacking of America last year was directed by Putin.
HAYES: Do you think that this is - how do you interpret Putin making these public comments given the context of the political dynamic here that`s taking shape around Russia?
LIEU: I think it`s quite bizarre. If you believe that Russian hackers are independent of Vladimir Putin, I`ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. It is really strange the President of Russia would even say that. I`m not sure what caused Putin to say that, but it does contradict what Donald Trump has been saying.
HAYES: I`m also curious about what you believe should be done about Jared Kushner at this point. I mean, Mr. Kushner has - he has a security clearance. He reviews intelligence every day as we`re learning from reporting. He has - he is under scrutiny and investigation not just for meeting with Kislyak, but now with the meeting with the Russian banker Gorkov. Do you believe he should still have his security clearance?
LIEU: Not at all. Last month I joined Representative Don Beyer. We sent a letter asking for the Jared Kushner`s security clearance to be suspended because we got information from media reports that he falsified his first security clearance form. Now we know that those falsifications were deliberate. These were meetings that were significant. One was with a back channel with Russia that was being discussed. Another was with a head of a Russian bank under U.S. sanctions. You don`t forget about these meetings a few weeks before you fill out your security clearance form. And when he omitted those meetings, that`s a felony. I filled out these SF86 security forms before and right on the form, it says if you deliberately omit this information, you`re liable to face imprisonment.
HAYES: You believe - so I just want to be clear, you believe that the President`s son-in-law and one his senior advisers currently with security clearance, working in the White House committed a felony?
LIEU: Absolutely. It is implausible that he accidentally forgot about these Russian meetings on his security clearance form. Now, in addition, he is now compromised because of these media reports, because the White House does not deny he omitted these meetings, the Russians know they can go to him and threaten Jared Kushner by revealing what was said at these meetings or by making stuff up. And they can leverage him. If anybody else was in the White House that was not the son-in-law of the President, they would have their security clearance yanked immediately.
HAYES: All right. Congressman Ted Lieu, thanks for being here.
LIEU: Thank you.
HAYES: Joining me now, former Justice Department Spokesman Matt Miller, now an MSNBC Justice and Security Analyst. Matt, what are you anticipating from Comey a week from today?
MATT MILLER, MSNBC JUSTICE AND SECURITY ANALYST: You know, this will be a remarkable hearing. One month ago, James Comey was the lead investigator looking into the President`s conduct and the President`s associates` conduct. And a week from today, he`s going to be the lead witness into a potential case against the President. I think the questions that he`s going to answer will help us solve what is the biggest outstanding question in American politics today. Did the President of the United States commit obstruction of justice when he asked Comey to end the investigation into Mike Flynn and then when he fired him for not doing so?
HAYES: How much - what are the guard rails here for - I mean part of what`s so strange about this entire thing, which continues to be strange day after day after day, is there`s an active investigation. It`s happening in this kind of slow-motion, plain sight - I mean not plain sight, right? It`s obscured but we get dribs and drabs (INAUDIBLE) constantly. What are the guard rails for what Comey can and cannot say in an environment like that?
MILLER: Well, it`s a great question. I`m sure he`s not going to get into the underlying investigation. You know, what happened in 2016, either financial ties between Trump and his associates and Russians and any potential collusion or coordination. He hasn`t answered that before, and I`m sure he won`t answer it next week. But I think it seems clear and there`s been reporting to this effect that he is going to talk about his conversations with the President, which would be the heart of an obstruction of justice case. Now, there was some speculation that Bob Mueller might have asked him not to testify, and in fact when he comes up - when he comes up and testifies, we may see that there are things that he doesn`t want to testify because they remain secret, and Mueller wants them to stay secret. But I think Mueller might have decided, look, a lot of this has already been reported. There have been public reports about it. The other - the other point is in conversations between two people, there`s no element of surprise to be gained. The President already knows what it is he said to Director Comey, so him publicly testifying doesn`t change that from a witness standpoint down the road.
HAYES: So this is important to me because, you know, again, there`s these sort of two stories here, right? There`s the obstruction, the sort of met a problem of obstruction, there`s the underlying problem. We`ve been getting a lot of reporting on that latter sort of first (INAUDIBLE) stuff recently. In terms of Comey, and you called it really well. I remember you on this program saying this is a person who writes memos about everything. If anything untoward happened, we`re going to hear about it. Do you think there are still things that we don`t know that he has yet to tell coming a week from today?
MILLER: Yes. I think absolutely. As long as we`re making predictions, I think one of the things that you can fairly predict about Jim Comey is he always saves something big for the big congressional hearings. That`s what he did in 2007 when he testified about that dramatic hospital room incident with John Ashcroft. It`s what he did on March 20thwhen he came up and publicly confirmed the investigation. I would expect he`ll have some big dramatic reveal, probably more dramatic than what we`ve already seen in the memos, and it will be a bombshell moment. That`s just the way he operates. He likes that - he likes that limelight.
HAYES: This is - this goes back to the President calling him a grandstander, which is sort of interesting for a lot of reasons because a lot of Democrats I think felt that way during the-during the campaign. But he also is a kind of bizarre master of congressional testimony if that`s a thing you can be a master of. I mean, he has done this a lot and he is responsible for that back in 2007. Some of the most dramatic and gripping congressional testimony I have ever reported on was him before that committee that day.
MILLER: Yes. It`s - it is - a lot of people that watch congressional hearings generally think of that as the most dramatic congressional hearing in history largely because most of the stuff he revealed, no one had any idea that was coming. Chuck Schumer was asking these questions, ask him you know, what we know now are leading questions. But just seem like open into the questions and Comey then reveals this dramatic incident in great detail. And if he follows suit, we`ll see something like that again next week. You know, Jim - it`s funny, Jim Comey could end up being the star witness at two of the most watched, most dramatic congressional hearings in history when you think of 2007 and think about what might happen next week.
HAYES: All right. Matt Miller, thank you.
MILLER Thank you.
HAYES: I`m joined now by Natasha Bertrand, she`s a Senior Reporter for Business Insider and Julia Ioffe, Staff Writer at the Atlantic. Let`s - so I want to talk about Gorkov, who`s the - who`s the Russian banker at VEB. But I want to start with Putin`s comment. Julia, what - I couldn`t - I didn`t know what to make of this. I mean, after all of this time, right, Putin is saying, OK, so maybe there were some Russians involved. What is your interpretation of someone who has reported from Moscow, from Russia, reported on Putin of those comments?
JULIA IOFFE, THE ATLANTIC STAFF WRITER: So, my first reaction to this and my only reaction to this is this is the closest thing we`re going to get to an admission from Putin for the next couple of years. And I say for the next couple of years because Putin will never admit to anything under public pressure. He is a man who values his own sovereignty and likes doing things on his schedule as he wants to do them. So if you think back to the spring of 2014, three years ago when little green men who, I guess, were also 400-pound-artists waking up in their beds and you know, painting the annexation of Crimea because they felt like it, they started appearing on the Crimean Peninsula in East Ukraine, and Putin issued blanket denial after blanket denial after blanket denial saying these are not Russian soldiers. They have - they`re just local volunteers who feel passionately about the cause. Then a couple - then a couple years later, a documentary comes out on the main Russian news channel owned by the Kremlin, which is essentially like a two-hour interview with Putin, where he said, yes, of course, they were Russian soldiers. What, are you kidding me? I did that.
HAYES: Right. So -
IOFFE: So that will eventually happen on his -
HAYES: You think we`ll have that moment eventually.
IOFFE: Yes, absolutely.
HAYES: Natasha, what was your reaction?
NATASHA BERTRAND, BUSINESS INSIDER SENIOR REPORTER: It was classic Putin. I mean this is something that he`s been doing all along like Julia said. He did it in Eastern Ukraine. He said it wasn`t the Russian state that intervened, it was patriotic Russians that wanted to fight on behalf of the separatist movement.
HAYES: Right. It was almost exactly the same language he used to describe what they were doing there.
BERTRAND: Exactly. But the thing is in Russia, the line between state and private is very much blurred, and it`s the same when it comes to cyber operations. The line between state espionage and criminal cyber activity is very much blurred.
IOFFE: That`s actually a great point, Chris. Sorry to jump in here.
HAYES: Go ahead.
IOFFE: So a lot of people I spoke to in Moscow said this -- Putin always builds in some plausible deniability here -
IOFFE: - and everything, right? So I mean, define plausible as you will, but for example, in East Ukraine and in Crimea, there were locals. There were Russian volunteers who did feel passionately about the cause who just picked up a gun and went to fight. Of course, they had tremendous help from the state. The same thing could have happened here where the Russian hackers who did this might not have been wearing uniforms. They might not have been formal employees of the GRU or the FSB, which is actually the main cyber actor in Russia. They could have been mercenaries, you know, people who will hack whatever you want. You know, they`ll do it for the highest bidder, or people who are blackmailed kind of like what you saw on House of Cards using a kind of past criminal activity against them to get you to work for the state. So he always leaves himself some plausible wiggle room.
BERTRAND: And yes, I would also just note that what was particularly alarming about what Putin said is it wasn`t just, you know, the fact that Russian citizens might have done this. It was that it was their patriotic duty to have done this. He said if the Russians hacked the Americans, then it was actually, you know, very patriotic of them.
HAYES: Right. Well, that`s the other thing is that - it was - it was - the description is essentially an endorsement of the action. When he said they`re patriot is that - I mean, and this - again, gets back to the sort of core elemental emotional part of here, which is that he genuinely bears a grudge, does not like and dislikes intentionally Hillary Clinton. Like, the idea that a patriotic Russian would rush to the barricade, the cyber barricades to submarine the campaign of Hillary Clinton which is implicit to what he said today is, Julia, sort of speaks to motive in a sort of criminal sense.
IOFFE: Yes. This is the thing is that when you - again, I was in - I was just in Russia in the spring and people don`t - and Putin himself, he didn`t kind of - he didn`t disparage the fact of the hack ever. He said in an interview with Bloomberg this winter, he said, you know, let`s not talk about who hacked whom or how it was done. Let`s talk about the information you learned.
IOFFE: A source I talked to in Russia who is very close to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, why are we talking about it as if it were criminal? The Americans learned a lot about their politicians. We did them a great service.
IOFFE: So they`ve never condemned the hack. They`ve only just denied their participation in it.
HAYES: All right. There`s some news on Sergey Gorkov I want to quickly touch on which is that - just that - The Washington Post has a thing saying that Gorkov - this is the banker from VEB - he meets with Kushner, and the next day or two days after flies to Japan, where Vladimir Putin also is, which I just feel like this meeting just, to me, keeps sending bigger and bigger smoke signals up.
BERTRAND: This meeting to me is arguably a bigger story and always has been that the meeting that Jared Kushner had with Sergey Kislyak.
HAYES: Because there`s a reason plausibly to meet with the Ambassador.
BERTRAND: Exactly. It was - you know, it could have been in his capacity as a transition official that he`s meeting with diplomats but Sergey Gorkov is you know, he was appointed by Putin. He`s the CEO of a sanctioned Russian bank. There was really no legitimate reason why Kushner would have been meeting with him.
HAYES: Yes, all right. Natasha Bertrand and Julia Ioffe, thanks to you both for your precious time tonight.
Still to come, exclusive new reporting from Yahoo! Investigative Reporter Mike Isikoff on the Trump administration`s secret efforts to lift Russian sanctions as soon as they took office. This is a really important report. And does leaving the Paris climate Accord really put America first? Debunking the President`s populist appeals, he bucks the rest of the world in climate change in two minutes.
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TRUMP: In order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. Thank you.
The bottom line is that the Paris Accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States.
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HAYES: With a lengthy speech in the Rose Garden that leaned hard on an America first theme as well as an elemental misrepresentation of the accord itself, the President kept a key campaign promise today and pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, which means the world`s second largest carbon emitter has now abandoned the most ambitious global effort to actually do something about climate change. By taking the U.S. out of the agreement, Donald Trump ignored the pleas of world leaders and heads of companies from ExxonMobil to Apple to General Electric and turned instead to a very narrow vision of nationalism.
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TRUMP: I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.
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HAYES: Joining me now is Bob Inglis, he`s a former Republican Congressman from South Carolina, and Dan Dicker, who`s an oil trader, author of Shale Boom, Shale Bust. I should note just the Pittsburgh line, the Mayor of Pittsburgh tweeted, "Hillary Clinton received 80 percent of the vote in Pittsburgh." "Pittsburgh stands with the world and will follow the Paris agreement." Bob, I want to talk a little bit about the politics here or how we got to this moment. What do you make of the fact that you have all these fortune 500 companies, you`ve got Rex Tillerson reportedly, the former Head of Exxon is the state - the department - the Secretary of State in this administration saying there`s no reason to leave this thing. And the President, 22 GOP Senators and some folks in the White House get him to pull out.
BOB INGLIS, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: Yes. It is - it is amazing, isn`t it? I mean, really the business community was looking for certainty here, looking for a path as to the future, and now we`ve basically introduced confusion, I think, by withdrawing. So - but the thing that is startling to me too, Chris, is this language of grievance, as though the United States is somehow aggrieved, which is completely inconsistent with the idea that America is the most wealthy country in the world.
HAYES: Yes. You`re right that basically, the framework was that Paris was essentially an elaborate conspiracy by 190-plus other nations against the U.S. solely, and part of that, Dan, was he was making an argument about oil - about fossil fuel extraction, energy production in the U.S. basically saying it is costing us all these things and it`s screwing us uniquely. And you`re someone who - and we`re going to bring back coal if we get out of this.
DAN DICKER, OIL TRADER: You`re someone who literally makes their living betting on what energy markets are doing.
HAYES: Is the President`s basic descriptive analysis correct?
DICKER: Well, no. It`s wrong from a - from a historical point of view. I mean, if I could draw a long arc of just energy production here in the United States, you know, we move in a progression from early in the century from wood to coal to oil and then hopefully we`re in the middle of a transition towards natural gas and ultimately renewables. I mean, nothing stops that kind of progress forward.
DICKER: All of the oil companies, everybody in corporate America understands that this is a natural progression of how energy production is supposed to move forward and progress and there`s only one guy - we may - we may argue about the timing, and I think a lot of people in the energy industry would argue about the timing. But the ultimate progression is a known quantity. It must happen. Everybody sort of understands this. And this is trying to move backwards Circa 1965.
HAYES: Which is why, Bob, which is why actually you`ve got - I mean in fact critics of Paris feel like it doesn`t do enough, right? The reason that you have, I think, fortune 500 CEOs and stuff on board is precisely because, in some senses, people understand this is where things are going to go. The idea of Paris is to sort of produce that kind of public accountability and promise and also to send market signals that the market can kind of deal with. And this does disrupt that.
INGLIS: Yes, and it basically, of course, puts the United States on the sidelines of civilization, which is such a strange place for the world leader to be, crouching over there on the sidelines with Syria and Nicaragua, somehow afraid of the competition of ideas out there on the field. Really it`s - my notion of America is more of an exceptional place where we plan to lead. We plan to be right in the midst of it, not hiding over on the sidelines, saying that somehow we`re aggrieved by these people who have done bad things to us. I don`t know where he got that idea, but it does play to a certain part of his constituency that feels aggrieved. And I guess he`s speaking to them and speaking their language.
HAYES: Yes, that - this idea of grievance, I think in this op-ed that was written by H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, you really see this zero-sum thinking that Bob was talking about where they talk about the - his first foreign trip, "a clear-eyed outlook, the world is not a global community but an arena where nation non-government actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it." The idea it`s a fixed pie, and everyone is going to get their piece. But again that`s not even how energy production works, it`s generative.
DICKER: Right. It`s in fact that - you know, I want to bring the markets back in here because that`s what I know and that`s what I`d come to tell you about. Look, there is a long-term issue about energy production here in the United States and oil companies basically fought. And this is the reason why they`re against pulling out from Paris. They really thought that coal was in their rear view mirror. We have had three straight years of enormous hydrocarbon gluts that have buried the oil markets in lower prices, have destroyed share value, have destroyed oil companies and the amount they can spend finding new oil. And now what the last thing that they need is a new competitor in a - in a reverse look back, something they thought they had in their rearview mirror in coal, to continue to destroy this market share problem they`ve had for the last three years. Now that the market looks like it`s got a chance to turn around, this is the last thing they want, which is why people like the CEO of Exxon sent a personal letter to the President saying, please stay with the Paris Accord.
HAYES: That is - that is fascinating. It also strikes me, Bob, that the one point he tallied all the possibility lost jobs, and he talked about coal, and there`s nothing - he didn`t tally anything on their side, which is that people in America build solar panels and install them and make windmills, and there`s actually astonishing growth in just the labor job sector of that part of the economy. And you would think that would be something that Republicans who represent areas that are strong in that would be looking to protect.
INGLISl: Yes. You can understand why Senator McConnell, of course, would defend Kentucky coal, but you would think that representatives from places like Texas would be more into natural gas like Dan is just talking about. And you`d also hope that rather than reading the studies that Steve Bannon was handing him, he might look for example at the Ernst & Young study just released this week by the Alliance for Market Solutions that shows a growth in GDP if we pursue this pricing of carbon dioxide.
HAYE: All right. Bob Inglis and Dan Dicker, thanks for joining us.
Ahead, reporting on the Trump administration`s secret efforts to ease Russian sanctions as soon as they took power. And up next, about that swamp draining, startling new revelations about the President`s efforts to keep the swamp alive and well in his own senior staff after this quick break.
HAYES: after initially refusing to publicly release the waivers exempting staffers from ethics rules, the Trump administration relinquished the first round of those waivers last night, backing down from a confrontation with office of government ethics head Walter Shaub. Shaub had pressed hard for the release of the waivers, which had routinely been made public in the Obama administration. And what they show is that a President who vowed to drain the swamp has routinely been flouting his own ethics rules.
According to Vox, President Trump has granted more lobbyist waivers in four months than President Obama did in eight years. There`s a waiver allowing former pollster Kellyanne Conway to work with past clients, once allowing Reince Priebus to work with his former employer, the Republican National Committee which - that one seems to make sense.
And then, there is the blanket waiver allowing all White House aides to communicate with news organizations, including those they`ve worked for in the past, which is a big deal for one person in particular.
That would be senior White House strategist, former Breitbart news head Steve Bannon, who is facing an ethics complaint sent to the White House counsel`s office over repeated contacts he had with Breitbart in violation of his ethics pledge not to do so.
Now, here`s the thing. There was no date on the waiver released by the White House last night, which suggests it was issued retroactively. And that`s a problem as Shaub told "The New York Times."
There is no such thing as a retroactive waiver. If you need a retroactive waiver, you have violated a rule.
To get a sense of how preposterous this is, imagine, for instance, if President Obama had issued a retroactive waiver to Hillary Clinton last year over her email practices.
You might as well just call this what it is, a pardon - something, I suspect, that this president is going to be issuing a lot more of.
When we come back, investigative reporter Michael Isikoff with incredible new reporting on the Trump administration`s secret efforts to lift Russian sanctions in the first week of the presidency. That`s next.
HAYES: A new report tonight suggests that from the earliest days of Donald Trump`s presidency, his administration was working hard to lift or ease US sanctions against Russia, including the very sanctions that had been put in place in response to Russian interference in the US election.
Yahoo! News chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff reporting that top Trump administration officials, almost as soon as he took office, tasked State Department staffers with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions, the return of diplomatic compounds and other steps to relieve tensions with Moscow.
There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions, said Dan Fried, a veteran State Department official who has since retired.
Fried said, in the first few weeks of the administration, he received several panicky calls from US government officials who told them they had been directed to develop a sanctions-lifting package and imploring them, please, my God, can`t you stop this.
And joining me now, Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent at Yahoo! News. Michael, this strikes me as a pretty big story because the question here in all of this, right, is if there was quid pro quo, if there was some sort of sense of collusion, what did the Russians want out of it?
And we know they wanted the sanctions lifted. And here we have the Trump administration, it appears from your reporting, looking to lift them early on. How intent were they on that?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, "YAHOO! NEWS": Well, exactly. Look, we`ve all been so focused on the meetings that took place during the transition and the questions about whether there was collusion on the campaign.
But you`re absolutely right. Policy is what mattered here. This is what the Russians were focused on. And if they had a preference in the election, it`s because they had believed or hoped that the Trump administration would take steps to achieve what they wanted, which is the lifting of sanctions.
So, early in the - in the very first weeks of the administration, even before Rex Tillerson was confirmed as Secretary of State, transition officials moved into the seventh floor of the State Department, tasked the Bureau of Europe and Eurasian Affairs with developing a menu of options to ease tensions with Russia that would include the easing of sanctions, return of those dachas that got closed by President Obama at the end of his administration.
And what`s so striking about it is that Bureau of Europe and Eurasian Affairs is the place in the State Department that had been pushing to impose these sanctions. Victoria Nuland, who was the assistant secretary in charge, had been one of the hawks in the Obama administration.
And so, the officials who got this directive felt very uneasy. And they began looking around for allies. Dan Fried, who had been the US coordinator for sanctions policy, was still there. And they reached out to him.
Tom Malinowski who had just stepped down as assistant secretary for human rights, they reached out to him as well. And they began an effort to block the administration from going too quickly in this arena.
HAYES: So, what`s interesting here is that when you look at the actual policy, right - so, they essentially successfully defeated this initiative to the extent that it was something they had their eyes on.
This reporting from the "Washington Post" yesterday about the Trump administration moving to return those Russian compounds that you just mentioned that we just showed on-air that had been confiscated as part of the sort of punitive measures after the hacking, so far, though, the policy has largely remained in please, even though the rhetoric has shifted. How do you account for that? Explain that.
ISIKOFF: Well, look what`s happened here. First of all, in in terms of what Fried and Malinowski were doing, they were going to the Hill. They went to allies on the Hill, Ben Cardin, John McCain, and there was legislation introduced on February 7 to codify - that would require congressional approval for the lifting of sanctions. That was introduced.
But just remember what happened a week later. February 13, Mike Flynn resigns. He resigns because of the blowup about his secret meetings with Kislyak and misrepresenting the fact that he was talking about easing of sanctions -
HAYES: On this issue.
ISIKOFF: On this very issue. So, it became politically toxic. They couldn`t move as quick - nearly as quickly as they wanted because of the firestorm that had developed about all this.
But I should point out, if you read the piece closely, I talk to a senior White House official today about this, making clear there is still an ongoing policy review about sanctions. These options are still on the table.
HAYES: All right. Michael Isikoff, great reporting and thanks for your time tonight. I appreciate it.
ISIKOFF: Thank you.
HAYES: Still to come, did Vladimir Putin just admit something President Trump spent months denying? I`ll explain ahead.
Plus, thing one, thing two starts after the break.
HAYES: Thing one tonight, nearly all of the president`s public events are scripted, ensuring he stays on carefully-crafted White House talking points, and that was true with today`s remarks on the Paris climate accord.
But the president also did some ad-libbing. As Hunter Walker from Yahoo! News wrote, I can read Trump`s teleprompter. This bit about the coal mine opening was an ad lib. Trump is also ad-libbing all of the stuff about other countries laughing at us.
It`s actually pretty easy to tell which line he`s reading and which ones he`s adding.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country? We want fair treatment for its citizens and we want fair treatment for our taxpayers. We don`t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore and they won`t be. They won`t be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: But here`s the problem with President Trump`s ad lib. World leaders have already started laughing at America, not just for the reason the president thinks. That video, thing two, in 60 seconds.
HAYES: World leaders are apparently becoming more comfortable criticizing President Trump publicly. Last night, we told you about the French president`s comments on Trump`s handshake style, describing it as an attempt at "diplomacy by public abuse."
The prime minister of Norway posted this on her Facebook page Tuesday, poking some fun at Trump`s lighted orb event in Saudi Arabia.
But in perhaps the most direct criticism of President Trump yet by a world leader, yesterday, the head of the EU Jean-Claude Junker openly mocked Trump`s understanding of the Paris climate accord, specifically the idea that America can`t actually leave the agreement for years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEAN-CLAUDE JUNKER, PRESIDENT OF THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION (through translator): So, this notion, "I am Trump, I am American, America first and I`m going to get out of it, that won`t happen." We tried to explain that to Mr. Trump in Taormina in clear German sentences. It seems our attempt failed, but the law is the law and it must be obeyed. Not everything which is law and not everything in international agreements is fake news, and we have to comply with it.
HAYES: President Trump has made a habit of making his spokespeople tow a line that he then undermines by refuting himself. Today, he got a taste of his own medicine because, for months, this has been his line on just who hacked the DNC and John Podesta.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don`t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She`s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don`t - maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?
But I notice anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians. She doesn`t know if it`s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.
As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.
Well, Russia, but you know what, it could`ve been others also.
So, they made up this Russia thing to try and deflect because they are embarrassed by what happened. The Russia is a phony story.
All you see is the Russia story, the Russia story. You see all of these other phony stories.
Then 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: While the president now sometimes conflates Russia hacking stories with Russia collusion stories, you get the idea. But you`ll never guess who came out today and basically said, yes, Russia was responsible. Well, you will be able to guess. That`s still next.
HAYES: Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin deviated from his standard practice of outright denial and actually acknowledged that Russians might have been behind the cyberattacks on the DNC.
While he continued to deny any involvement at the state level, Putin said that patriotic private hackers may have taken it upon themselves to initiate such activity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA: Hackers are free people, just like artists who wake up in the morning in a good mood and start painting. Likewise, hackers get up in the morning and read the news about international affairs, if they patriotic, they try to (inaudible) to the struggle against those who speak ill of Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYES: Joining me now, MSNBC terrorism analyst Malcolm Nanace, author of The Plot to Hack America, and Alyona Minkovski, former anchor on "Russia Today", currently a political writer for "The Daily Banter."
Malcolm, let me start with you. Here is my current understanding of this situation, which is that basically, to the extent this was spearheaded by the Russian state or by Vladimir Putin, it has blown up in a way that ultimately is counterproductive to them. Do you agree or disagree with that?
MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: No, I don`t believe that it is counterproductive to them. I think Putin`s statement today was very clever. And it was clever for the consumption of the Russian people.
Putin is a KGB spymaster. He is the former director of Russian intelligence. And when he does things like, say, with a wink and a nod, well, we didn`t do it, but maybe some Russian patriots did it, that was said before. That was done before when they hacked Estonia and dropped the entire country`s Internet.
That was done when they hacked Georgia, the nation of Georgia and ceased up all of their national Internet for their leadership team. He does these things because everyone in Russia knows he`s a spymaster. It`s like sitting Michael Flynn to the right hand of you at a dinner and no one knows why he`s there.
But to the people of Russia, he`s under your roof as they say in Russia. The spymaster has you in his thrall. And I think that`s who he was speaking to today, the 160 million Russians, no one else.
HAYES: Alyona, you have family in Russia. You grew up here in the states, but your parents are Russian and -
ALYONA MINKOVSKI, POLITICAL WRITER, DAILY BANTER: Yes, I was born there.
HAYES: You were born there. And you go back there a lot. And I wonder like what is this sort of conversation there like about this, like what is their understanding of what`s unfolding?
MINKOVSKI: Well, I think you have to understand a couple of things. First of all, it was actually refreshing to me to see Michael Isikoff reminding people that, hey, the Russian economy is suffering. And so, there is a reason here why they would prefer Donald Trump over a candidate Hillary Clinton.
HAYES: The sanctions have been massively - they have been effective in the sense that they have imposed a very significant degree of economic pain on Russia.
MINKOVSKI: And if you look at Russian newspapers right now, they`re talking about economic stagnation and this type of period. That`s what is concerning people. But then there is also I think a kind of amusement.
Otherwise, if you think about Russian foreign policy, geopolitics and how it works, they want to be important on the world stage again, and that`s understandable. And so, the more it looks like Russia is the number one story in America and sowing some type of chaos and they can just laugh it off, then does kind of (inaudible).
HAYES: And the other point here, to Malcolm`s point, I think this is also important, Putin, obviously - Russia is not a liberal democracy and there are all sorts of ways in which Putin is a strongman figure there, but also politics exist in Russia, right?
So, there are things that he is doing for domestic political consumption because he is trying to manage domestic popularity, particularly amidst an economy that`s not particularly well.
MINKOVSKI: Why I think that`s a bit of nuance that we often don`t understand, right, is that Russia does still have a domestic political ecosystem. There are a lot of people who are just politically apathetic.
There are some people who are very much in support of Vladimir Putin. And the nationalism that he uses really plays upon their emotions and he also is someone who uses national security, the threat of terrorism very much like our own politicians do here.
And then, of course, there is a sector of those who want something different politically in Russia, but the structures just don`t exist and it is kind of terrifying probably for them to try to speak out.
HAYES: Malcolm, to your point on that, you have said - you called this like the greatest - one of the greatest intelligence ops ever.
HAYES: OK. But to Michael`s point, here is an interesting situation. I mean, to the extent that they want the sanctions lifted, it also strikes me that it is now the case that the political heat is so high, lifting sanctions would be so brazenly incriminating amidst this that that`s almost a no-go. Right?
NANCE: Well, I don`t see any evidence of that certainly coming out of this White House. I mean, Vladimir Putin says for Trump to have a meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak and the next day he does it right after he fires his FBI director.
Vladimir Putin works through Michael Flynn to get his intelligence collection facilities in the United States reopened, voila, that`s occurring.
Sanctions being lifted here is just a matter of course. I don`t think that Donald Trump has any intention of crossing Vladimir Putin on that point.
HAYES: I guess is there any way for the - there`s never going to be an accounting here. So, the question is like what would be a way forward in this bilateral relationship, which is an actually important one.
MINKOVSKI: Now, you`re asking me to solve world peace. I think from my perspective it`s always trying to tamp down some of the hysteria, and that`s what I`ve done in some of my writing. It`s just to remind people, hey, we`re still the two most heavily armed nuclear powers in the world. We don`t want to push tensions to such an extreme level to where we are actually back in a Cold War scenario.
But the United States, obviously, needs to make sure that it is known that certain actions won`t be -
HAYES: Tolerated (inaudible).
MINKOVSKI: Tolerated, aren`t acceptable. But I also think, and this might not be a popular perspective, we kind of need to move on. The election is over. Hillary Clinton has lost. There are investigations underway.
And in the meantime, Donald Trump is pulling out of the climate agreement.
HAYES: Right. Yes, that`s true, although the moving on is not happening. Whether that`s normatively desirable or not. Malcolm Nance -
MINKOVSKI: It doesn`t mean to suck up all the air in the room.
HAYES: Malcolm Nance and Alyona Minkovski, thank you both.
This Sunday, guess what, you can hear from Vladimir Putin himself. The Russian president has agreed to sit down with Megyn Kelly for an exclusive one-on-one interview. This is video of them greeting each other before an event today, which is somehow surreal.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END